The first calls from a son in the army are precious. You listen to the voice. He sounds ok, he’s being taken care of, he’s happy. He’ll tell you the plans, as the army tells him. No one to argue with, when what they tell him isn’t logical – that too is part of the army.
So, as Passover approaches, we are told that Elie will be able to come home for the Seder on Monday night, but have to return to the army Wednesday morning. He’ll then be able to come back home on Friday, but have to return to the army on Sunday. He’ll be able to come home on Monday for the last day of the holiday, but have to return again on Wednesday after that. Is it logical to endure a three hour trip on Friday and Sunday and Monday and Wednesday? Wouldn’t it be better to let him stay at home from Friday to Wednesday? How much training will he really be able to do? A few hours – maybe the equivalent of one full day?
This is the lesson we are to learn, and learn it early. You do not question the logic of the army. You take what they will give you and be grateful for it. There are so many questions we’d like to ask, but each call home is only for a few minutes.
His day starts early and ends after something like 17-18 hours. Elie gets up at 4:30 a.m. and has a long and detailed day.
“How are things?” we ask.
“Fine. Good,” he answers.
“So, did they cut your hair on the first day?”
Ok, that’s good. “Did you get all your supplies?”
“Some,” he answers. “We got the pack and sleeping bag.”
And he explains about there being two kinds of uniforms – essentially those that are worn on the base for training and those that are worn when a soldier goes off-base. He’s only been issued one type so far.
I ask more questions. He answers and tells me what is happening. And, of course, as soon as we hang up, my mind fills with questions I didn’t ask.
Is it cold there? Are you warm? Is the food good? Are you tired? It seems silly to ask him if he has made friends – this isn’t school or camp.
But the thought of him being alone is scary for me. Of course, he won’t be alone. He’s on a very large base “somewhere” in the south. Alone is the last thing he will be for the next three years. He’ll sleep with others in the same room, even shower in close quarters. Everywhere he will go, will be with others. But I want him to have people he can talk to, boys he can laugh with. There is no time off – except an hour before bed. I have to resist speaking in terms that are foreign to the army and while he will gain brothers-in-arms and in many cases friends for life, I worry about who he has to talk to now. They are all going into this as a new experience, depending on their commanding officer to guide them through. Faith is a wonderful thing, but somehow the mother in me still thinks of reasons to worry.
I’d like to think that some part of me is always aware of my children. Through business meetings and work or resting or shopping, at any moment, I am “aware” of my children in my heart. But so far, this “awareness” is different than it has ever been before. Now, it is a small ache buried deep inside. At any moment, it can swell up to the level of worry and then settle down. It can ignite my imagination (something that I am prone to at the worst of times) into thinking dim and dark thoughts and then I force myself back to reality. He is safe. He is on an army base going through basic training, for Heaven’s sake! He won’t face any really real danger for…for…days? Weeks? Months? Years? Never – will I even know when that moment comes. Perhaps that is the scary part. I may not even know. You could drive yourself insane if you continue on this road. Better to stop and look at the moment. Today, he is safe. He’s ok. He’s good. Today until it fades into tomorrow, I will not worry. Tomorrow – always tomorrow, I will allow myself to worry, but today, I will force the worry away because in all the years he was growing up, there was no other place I wanted him to be, no other country I wanted him to call home.
He will be safe and we will get through this all – one day at a time. We have survived three days already. I will get used to this new method of communication – short conversations, quick, intense. He’s ok. He’s safe. One call the first night; another the second night.
Today, a – text message “Ima, everything is good. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Everything is good – he’ll call me tomorrow. What more can a mother ask for when she has already determined that the next three years will pass one day at a time.