My son Aryeh has been in Israel for five months. He’s been in Ulpan improving his Hebrew, and settling in to his new forever home. Ten days ago he started his army journey with Garin Tzabar. He met his new social circle who will be his constant companions for the next three years, and they all moved to kibbutz to learn more Hebrew, and to prepare for their draft in March.

Today they had their Tzav Rishon – their initial army meeting, where they were subjected to all kinds of physical and written tests, where they get their all-important physical profile and intelligence score that decides which units they can apply to join. This was just a regular low-key day – no actual soldier stuff going on.

I didn’t sleep last night.

All along I have been proud of my son, proud that he will serve his country, proud of him doing the right thing. But the pride was in something not-then tangible. Today’s tzav rishon has made it more real. This isn’t children’s horseplay anymore. This is the real deal, serious and important.

As I tossed and turned the whole night through I was treated by my psyche to memories from Aryeh’s childhood. I banned all toy weapons from coming in to the house – that’s what we parents did back then – but somehow he was able to turn anything into a toy gun. There was nothing my boys loved more than to dress up and play war, and to play-fight. At a certain point I just had to embrace that boys will be boys.

Within a few months my son will be toting a real gun with him wherever he goes. My sensitive, sweet-hearted teddy bear of a son will be a soldier, having to deal with the idea of war every single day. He will get to know that gun and its contours better than anything he has ever known. He will have to attune himself to watch for threats everywhere he goes. His life will not be his own.

I thought I was prepared. I thought I was ready. Of course, this is about him, and not about me, but as a mother this is hard. The letting go of the child, and embracing the adult – that’s been easier than I thought. The accepting that any decisions he makes are his and his alone and he’ll have to face the consequences of these decisions as a grown-up – I can deal with that. It’s the whole idea that I as a mom can no longer protect him – and that his job is to protect others – that seems to be the hard part to swallow.

In November Aryeh and his buddies did a week of Gadna (an Israeli military program to prepare youth for their mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces) and he posted a picture of himself in his uniform. Honestly, it was like a thump to my heart when I saw that image. I cried. I cried for the little boy he used to be, so pure and innocent, and I cried for myself upon realizing that Aryeh’s soldier dream is becoming a reality.

I realize that my thoughts and feelings are probably not so unusual for any parent watching their child enlist. Being so far away adds a few dimensions. Knowing that my other sons are extremely likely to follow in their older brother’s footsteps before long – well, that tells me I have to get a handle on my feelings here. I am going to be a soldier’s mom for a very long time. There won’t be a prouder mother.

I reserve the right to worry. I reserve the right to cry happy and sad tears. I reserve the right to be at their tekasei kumta (passing out parades) front and center, cheering them on, my voice being the loudest of all the parents. I also reserve the right to remember how it used to be my place to protect them, and how strange the way life goes that that role is so soon reversed.

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