Kids love to tell their mothers things they really, really don’t need to know. As they get older, they become more sensitive and don’t tell us…and, amazingly enough, that is so much worse (except, of course, when they do tell us). I know that makes no sense, but if you are a mother, you understand it; if you are a father, you accept that the mother of your child understands it; and if you aren’t a parent…wait, wait.
So, Elie asked me if I happened to be in the neighborhood, could I drop off the hair-cutting machine. With a meeting in Tel Aviv, it seemed I could hop, skip, and jump over there. I stopped at the bakery and bought the onion rolls and pastries he loves – another reason why I just HAD to stop by and see him. I called him as I was leaving for the first meeting of the day – he was asleep. I joked with him about his sleeping on the job, and said I’d see him later.
Called him when I got off the highway – he had gone back to sleep and was now getting up and he said he’d meet me at the front of the base. I waited about 5 minutes before I saw him walking towards me, backpack and gun strapped to him. I know that he can’t go anywhere without the gun. The backpack too was obvious – dirty laundry.
We stood outside the base for a few minutes and talked. He explained that his 8 hour patrol the night before had turned into 12 hours and that’s why he was still asleep. And then he began to explain. There’s an Arab village nearby that has caused many problems. Recently, the Arabs have been watching the patrols and as soon as the patrol passes, they light tires and roll them against the security fence. Of course, if the fence wasn’t there – they’d be rolling their fire-tires into Jewish towns, Jewish fields and who knows what, and so the fence stands until the violence stops.
“So, what do you do, knowing the Arabs are waiting to send the burning tires?”
Elie smiled, “we circle back a lot.” Well, that wasn’t what I really wanted to hear. It was something like, go hide on base and let them do what they want so long as I’m safe…but that isn’t realistic, I know.
“So what happened?”
Elie continued. The more they circled, the longer the Arabs simply waited. They decided to give the Arabs more time, hoping to catch them in the act, and so they made a bigger circle and finished out their patrol on the other side of the area they were watching. They shut the engines and waited a while. Then, as their patrol was ending and they were about to head back to base, confident that perhaps the violence was over for the night, the Humvee wouldn’t start. And, just then – they got a call that the Arabs had thrown more burning tires and were heading to the fence.
“Wonderful,” I asked, “what happened?”
Another patrol was sent out, they made their way back to the base, switched vehicles and decided to head over to see if the first patrol needed any help. By the time they finished, they had been on for 12 hours.
Yes, I realize that Elie is a soldier and faces dangers. Yes, I realize that those dangers include facing those who would want to harm him and our country.
And yet, hearing him talk about facing tires set aflame doesn’t calm me. Except, of course, for one thing. My second son, who goes into the Israeli army in about a year, is threatening not to tell me at all and that would be so much worse. I’ve learned so much over the last two years but the one thing I know I haven’t learned is where the balance is between needing to know, and knowing too much. My first thought when Elie told me about the burning tires was that this was more than I needed to know.
But the comfort came soon enough in realizing that I’d still rather know where he is and what he is facing than allow my imagination freedom to create even worse scenarios. Years and years ago, I heard a psychiatrist speaking about allowing our children to watch the aftermath of a terrorist attack. In the minutes after the bomb explodes, the carnage is horrendous and the television cameras roll without having time to edit images. Only later, when you catch it on the news are the images “cleansed.”
I would have spared my children these first moments, and did, for as long as I could. But the so-called experts disagreed with me. They said that a child’s imagination would come up with worse images, though I could not imagine that this was possible.
Sit with them, talk to them, listen to them, I heard again and again, until I finally surrendered. Now, years later, after Elie and his older sister and middle brother have grown up and seen so many attacks, I understand that the imagination is an incredible and powerful thing. I saw this during the recent war in Gaza. I could handle the news, I could eve handle hearing explosions in the background as I spoke to Elie. What I could not handle were the hours and days when he was beyond a phone call, when I couldn’t reach him.
So, a few nights ago, Elie was involved in an operation against Arabs throwing flaming tires. I can handle that because I spoke to him the next day and knew he was safe. Yes, there are things that a mother doesn’t need to know, but sometimes, despite the worry, knowing even these things is better than not knowing.