Paula R. Stern is CEO and founder of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company offering documentation services and training seminars. She made aliyah in 1993 when her oldest son was 6 years old. In March 2007, her son Elie entered the Artillery Division of the Israeli army and Paula began writing about her experiences as A Soldier’s Mother. The blog continues as Elie begins Reserve Duty and her son Shmulik is now a soldier. She recently opened a publishing house, helping other authors fulfill their dream to publish.
I started this blog on February 13, 2007 - it was my first post and it was titled, "Starting Young."
Starting from a very young age, Israeli boys (and girls) know that they are destined to go to the army. It's part of how they grow up, where they are headed, who they will become. For those of us who came to Israel as adults, it's something that is harder to assimilate. It's so easy, year after year, to deny that it will happen, to postpone dealing with it. So, here I am, six weeks away from when my son will enter the Israeli army, suddenly having it all become real. This blog is a soldier's mother's story.
Elie is 19 years old. A handsome boy with the most incredible blue eyes. He's smart, a volunteer in the ambulance squad, and lest you think that I think he is perfect, he's got a mighty fine temper and his room's a terrible mess. Elie is the manager of the family, the one who analyzes everything.
It's been three years. Elie is 22 years old. He's a handsome man with the most incredible blue eyes. He's smart and will likely take a course in the next few months to become an ambulance driver. And though by now, you must know he isn't perfect, he's learned to control his temper most of the time, has learned so much, and promises to clean his room this very week.
Tonight, as soon as the Sabbath ended, Elie called me. We'd made plans that I would travel to pick him up from his base later tonight, but things shifted, his schedule changed, and it was possible for me to pick him up right away. I left half an hour later and now he is home. Three years to the day since I started this blog...Elie is home. He has another week of training for reserve duty and a day when he has to go turn in his gear, but he's home, he's done. He brought home bags and bags of stuff - his blanket, his running shoes. He's home.
On the way home, he explained why there were so many army vehicles on the road - waved goodbye to the soldiers at the checkpoint. He's home. It comes with such joy, such relief...and a bit of fear as well.
So - Elie is all grown up now, a man about to go to the army. We got his "marching" orders last week - artillery unit, and already I am panicking. Not because I don't want him to go, but because I haven't had the time to accept it all. My daughter, Elie's older sister, is getting married in a few weeks and two weeks after that, Elie goes in. I've been up to my elbows in wedding plans and jitters. Dresses and caterers and invitations and most importantly, smoothing out the nerves of a happy and excited bride. And, in the middle of all this, quietly moving closer and closer was this date - end of March, 2007, my son will be a soldier.
Three years ago, it was my daughter's wedding that softened the days before Elie went into the army. This year, it is Elie coming out of the army that has softened the days before Shmulik goes in. We got Shmulik's "marching" orders...and marching orders they are. He will be part of the Ground Forces...Kfir Brigade...and already I am panicking...Not because I don't want him to go, but because I haven't had the time to accept it all. I have no excuses this time - he doesn't go into the unknown and yet even without the lack of knowledge, my heart still hurts just a little bit, my stomach dances just a little bit.
I have focused on this day, today, when Elie would come home. I've wanted it to come, terrified that in the days or moments before he would come home, something would happen and he would be hurt. When I started this blog, I was terrified that I would ever have to write my most horrible and terrifying thoughts. I have been blessed - frightened out of my wits plenty of times - but so incredibly blessed. And now, now I dare to ask God to bless me yet again, to watch over my Shmulik as he watched over Elie. What nerve I have to ask and yet, what else can a mother do?
Tonight, for the first time in almost three years, Elie came home without a gun. He has already returned it.
"How does that feel?" I asked him.
"Weird," he answered.
Weird. That too is a blessing. Tomorrow, he plans to get a haircut and clean his room. He wants to fix up the computer, empty and reorganize his closet. He asked if I needed his help in the office. He's already feeling at loose ends, a bit lost, I think. He knows his long term goals, but not his short term ones. For the first time, no one is telling him what he has to do, when. The rules are essentially gone and now he has to pave his own path. For him, it is probably even scarier than going into the army. I have to remember that he still needs my help and while I focus on Shmulik, I still need to watch and see what Elie needs.
Tonight, before I went to get Elie, I stood next to Shmulik as my husband recited the blessings that separate between Shabbat and the rest of the week. Soon, I won't know where he is, what he is doing. Soon, I'll write more on Shmulik so that you can learn about him and see how special he is...so different from Elie in so many ways, looks, personality...and more.
For now, I'll stop the worry for one night, perhaps even for a few weeks. Elie stands down after three years. His gun is back with the army, soon to go to another son of Israel. Tonight he sleeps in his bed, still a soldier for a few more weeks, but it is now a technicality. For at least a year, there is very little chance he will go on patrol, man a checkpoint, and have the responsibilities of command that have been his for so long.
Tonight, I close my eyes and will sleep deep and with the normal fears of a normal mother. I have no sons on the borders of Israel, none at a checkpoint or deep in the desert. I have two sons who are technically soldiers and neither likely to be called in the coming days.
I love my country, Israel. Long ago, I chose to bring my two sons here, knowing that some day they would serve. I gave birth to another son and knew all three would serve. I am proud that Elie served; that Elie defended his country and with a bit of shame, I am so glad he is home, so so glad to be done, at least for this round.
May the God of Israel watch over our soldiers this night and every night.