A little over five years ago we moved with our five sons from one state to another; a different city, jobs, schools, community and friends, lots of changes for us and for our kids. We already had two sons in college and the other three were in various stages on that same path more or less. I was pretty sure I knew what I was in for down the road, middle school, high school, college, jobs etc. Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Somewhere along that path my sons decided that Israel was the place they wanted to live and once they were there they needed to do their duty to protect the country by serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Now we’ve found ourselves suddenly cast into a world that we know nothing about. A world where we don’t speak the language, and what I mean by that is army Hebrew, it’s a language unto itself! This experience is all made more difficult because we, the parents of lone soldiers, are doing this from across an ocean or continents away, with little or no knowledge of how anything in the IDF works.
So here we are five years later, on a completely unexpected path, with two active duty lone soldiers and one who has finished his service but will go back for miulim (reserves). And then there’s our youngest, waiting in the wings, chomping at the bit for his turn to go. And all of my kids want to be in combat units, they will absolutely not entertain the idea of a “mother approved” unit — if there is such a thing.
But this piece isn’t about my kids, amazing as they are, this is about me (I try to tell my kids that really everything is about me, but they refuse to believe it).
As a mom of three lone soldiers I’m often asked, how do you do it? How do you cope? I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought recently; after all, I have all those extra hours in the middle of the night when I’m not sleeping to just think. Each of us has a strategy for dealing with stress, I can’t tell someone else how to do it, but I do have a cornucopia of strategies I rely on.
Sometimes denial works. Not complete denial mind you, but when something bad happens in Israel I have a wonderful husband who reads every article so I don’t have to, I just glance at the headlines and rely on him to give me any relevant information. That’s my defense mechanism, if I read everything I’d be curled up in a fetal position crying. Yet I know fellow lone soldier parents who have to read everything, they have to know, it’s one of their ways of coping.
Then there’s technology, it’s a life-line. Being able to WhatsApp — getting a text, voice note, pictures or talking to my sons always makes my day. I don’t know how parents did it years ago when just a short phone call cost a small fortune. Yet this ability to theoretically reach them anytime anywhere has its down side. If I text them and I don’t see that WhatsApp “double check” next to my text for hours, sometimes days, that always kicks my worry meter into the red zone. Especially since I don’t always know where my kids units are or exactly what they’re doing. As I’ve said before, with my kids I have my own version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; more denial you say — nope, I call it survival.
One of the most important coping mechanisms I have is my literally world-wide support group. Fortunately, in this age of social media there are some great ways to connect with others having the same experience. Closed Facebook groups run by wonderful organizations that support lone soldiers, groups for Anglo parents or groups just for lone soldier parents or just moms. All these groups are hate free zones, places for us to complain and kvell, share our experiences and worries and virtual hugs, a place to just support each other. I have found fabulous friends here, other moms I “talk” to in the groups, one on one via messaging or on WhatsApp and Skype, and even a few I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in person. And while we initially found each other because of one common thread, our kids serving in the IDF, we’ve bonded, become friends. They are my shoulder to cry on, someone who really, truly understands the worry and the pride. These are my comrades in “arms.” And while I know my extend family and friends are extraordinarily proud of my sons, and worry they for them, I don’t know what I’d do without “The Moms” as they are referred to in my house.
As I mentioned before, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I cope with the worry. It’s definitely not just one thing and yes vodka, at times, is involved. But what I’ve finally come to realize is that it’s not denial that keeps me going, its acceptance. Accepting that this is an extraordinary path my sons (and all lone soldiers) have decided to take. Accepting what an important job they’ve taken on, protecting the homeland of the Jewish People. Accepting that it’s out of my hands and that there’s a higher power watching over them as well. And accepting how much all of Israel, all of Klal Yisroel appreciates them, and us, the parents of these incredible kids.
So thank you to my most wonderful coping mechanisms, all my comrades in “arms.” May we and all of Israel have a happy, healthy, sweet and peaceful New Year.