Those Army Rules Again

Just when you think it’s safe to plan…

Elie IS getting off for the five intermediate days of the holiday…but not quite. He’ll come home on Wednesday (and yes, I’ve arranged to go to my client so that I can bring him home even though I typically don’t work during this period – but the client has an urgent deadline…and there is the fact that Elie’s base is right there…so…).

On Thursday, instead of the family trip we’d planned – the one Elie specifically requested and I felt was a bit of a consolation for his not having gone on vacation with us – Elie will instead travel to Beit Totchan, the Gunner’s House and national memorial for the fallen of the artillery unit. He’s supposed to be there most of the day. Thursday gone.

He’ll return home Thursday evening, though one of the other commanders lives nearby and so that boys have arranged to get together and relax a little in the evening. We’ll all have the Shabbat together and then the other full day we would have had together – Sunday, the army has told Elie that he and the other soldiers need to go to another city to take part in something there.

It’s a very Israeli thing. First, during this intermediate week, Israel celebrates a holiday. While you can work, many Israelis don’t. Even those who do, recognize it is a holiday and either take vacation or work only half days. The other days are dedicated to living. We go to the national parks; we get outside and just enjoy. There is both the symbolism of the holiday and the last breathes of summer fading away. We celebrate both. It’s been long and hot – now it’s cooler and so beautiful outside.

Having the soldiers “out there” is both a security advantage and a social one. Growing up in America, I don’t remember ever seeing soldiers in the street, except, perhaps, on the 4th of July, Independence Day. Otherwise, never.

Soldiers are an integral part of this country – again for security reasons as well as social ones so this week, instead of being with us, as planned, Elie will be spending more time than expected, “out there.” We’ll still go as a family, and wherever we go, as always, we’ll see soldiers. And some mother out there will see my son and think of her son, as I’ll be seeing her son and thinking of Elie.

Elie didn’t sound upset about it and that was a comfort. He’s accepted that the army will do what it wills. He’s happy to have a chance to relax with his fellow commanders. Considering he is there with them so often, it’s nice that he chooses in his free time to be there as well. It’s also nice to know that he feels the strength and independence enough to not need to be home.

It’s a parent lesson I learned long ago – if you want your children to be independent when they grow older – hold them tight and long when they are little. The more you hold them, the more confidence they have to go, knowing you’ll be there when they come back. This past Shabbat, my youngest daughter was outside the synagogue playing with her friends while I was attending services. In the middle of a rather important prayer (one that you don’t interrupt), she came to my side, reached in the “green” bag of goodies to take out her water, kissed my arm and left.

My heart swelled at that moment and my eyes literally filled with tears. That is the purest of love messages that a child can give to a parent – a kiss not begged or bartered. My youngest son at 12 is just now outgrowing the need to come over and give a hug now or then. I don’t remember the last time he did it – but it’s a common thing for a child to do and all my children, even Elie, though he’d cringe to hear of it, did it when they were young. And that has always been one of my greatest treasures as a mother.

Elie’s making plans to go to be with his friends after a day spent in the army when he expected to be home – is much like my daughter’s kiss. It’s a message – I don’t have to come home…because I know home is there for me. You’ll be there when I need you and so I’m free to fly now.

As babies and young children, my kids were in my arms all the time – I can’t tell you how many times people suggested that I would be spoiling them or that they didn’t need to be held (like when they were asleep). I held them then because I needed it as much and sometimes more than they did. Now, Elie needs to know home is here…we are here. He talks about the next rotation and what it will bring and one factor for him is how often he’ll come home.

There is talk of his being a commander of the commander’s course – and he likes that idea “even though” it might mean his being home less. I want to tell him that it doesn’t have to be a factor – he should do what he wants, but it is a factor and my telling him that it doesn’t have to be may make him feel worse rather than better.

Tonight starts the holiday of Sukkot. A boy from the neighborhood…oh wait – no, a young man from the neighborhood who was in Elie’s unit previously is going to visit his friends on the base and attend a brief ceremony there. He offered to take something to Elie and Elie asked for cookies “or the ones you make with brownies and cookies together.” I sent that and a bottle of ice tea along.

I’ll pick Elie up on Wednesday and bring him home. We won’t be going on a family trip on Thursday – at least not with Elie. It seems almost cruel to go to the Sea of Galilee with him after he asked to go specifically himself, but we’ll see. We’ll have the weekend together – Shabbat as a a family in our Sukkah. This Friday night, I’ll watch my husband bless each of our children and I’ll thank God for the time we have together.

The army makes its rules and changes them. Perhaps the greatest of life’s lessons is one that we are all learning now. Life (and the army) makes plans – and they change. It is our to accept and thrive or not accept it and suffer. I’m so proud to have a son who has learned to accept and thrive even prosper from it. Elie will have time with his family this long weekend. Thanks to the army’s sudden shift, Elie will also have an evening with his friends and two days with “Israel.”

If you see a beautiful boy with blue eyes wearing a blue beret, black combat boots and that grin I love – say hi to my son…and if I see your son…I’ll say hi to him too.

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