Last week I dreamed there was an enormous, beautiful, leafy tree growing in the middle of my living room. The gardener and I were discussing what this meant for the other stuff in the house: for the roof, for the light, for the smaller, more appropriately domestic plants I had growing nearby. He was cautious and advised replanting outside, even though such transfers were risky; it might not re-root.
I looked up, saw the light coming through the roof where the tree was starting to grow through; I looked down, and saw the root system in the floor. This tree was strong right here – let it grow, I thought.
I told the worried gardener, in real life a small Iraqi man who gives unsolicited (good!) medical advice while trimming roses, that we’d make an atrium. The extra light was nice, where we’d have to open the roof. I liked the tree where it was, and I wasn’t scared.
I remembered the dream only mid-morning the next day, and it hit me like a falling branch: My son was being drafted in 24 hours. My subconscious mind, definitely much smarter than my conscious one, was making room for a fully-formed being that was outgrowing our home, but not quite leaving. It was going to change things; it would be OK.
I like the light, I love the tree, and I simply can’t be scared.
Becoming the mother of a soldier is bizarre.
For one thing, this is a person who, when I was just a shade older than he is now, called Quaker Squares “man cewawal,” and would carry a threadbare picture of me and my husband to nursery school every day in his pocket. It was the only way we could get him to go. Now – perhaps owing to all that man cereal – HE is a man, and I am the one showing pictures of him at work.
Also: Soldiers. Are. Hunks. When did they become simply very big children who come eat the refrigerator with your son? People to care for and not stare at? These are clearly not my peers, but neither am I ready to turn into Mrs. Cunningham. (Google, Millennials.)
There is a time glitch in the Matrix.
Which brings me to this: A year ago, a popular song on Israeli radio had a soulful young woman questioning what she would tell her (not yet born) child one day about the cruel, broken world. It was the anthem of 20 somethings for months, a rally to fix society, if this were even possible, before settling down.
I never was a 20 something, having skipped the entire stage of questioning and angst in favor of laying down answers and commitments as the only bridge between childhood and forever. I didn’t even look down into the chasm as I crossed – becoming a university graduate, a wife, a new immigrant (olah), and a mother in the same 11 months, before I could legally have a beer in my native Maryland.
What I would have seen, if I had looked down, is an entire world of things I never did: Serve in the Israeli army. Travel with friends. Worry about finding a husband. Pubbing and clubbing. Think for millions of angst-filled hours about having a baby. Consider all the pros and cons of two students with no income moving to a new country. A triple-barreled graduate degree to support any future career.
Of all of these things – some of them clearly blessings, some of them things I just have to make terms with – it’s the lack of service in the IDF that I most regret. For one thing, I can still theoretically travel, go clubbing (roll your eyes, Flanders-like people, go right ahead), and go back to assorted grad schools, but I very much doubt the IDF has a mother-son draft arrangement.
It’s not only that I can’t get a do-over; it’s that I spent almost 20 years as juggler of motherhood and loss and career and entrepreneurship and community and budgets and leadership and complex human relationships to achieve certain essential qualities military officers usually gain in a quarter of that time.
For starters: Unapologetic decisiveness. Quiet confidence. Discretion. The ability to live for long periods of time in a state of uncertainty, remaining calm but not paralyzed by inaction. Being completely driven and logistically-oriented, but knowing how to cut off before the point of obsessive. Acceptance of Plan B while still revising Plan A in your head. The ability to separate emotion from intellect, but to keep passion alive – in the same minute. Raw ambition, mitigated by a sense of something larger than yourself. Discipline. Respect for authority, even if they don’t deserve it. There’s more, but you get the picture.
I would have loved just a fraction of this at 25 with some bars on my shoulders, when they call you a rising star. Instead, I took the very long way around, and now they just call it wisdom.
I could talk about the national pride angle of this draft. How my grandmothers, one of whom survived Auschwitz with great dignity, and one of whom ultimately defeated it, must love showing God, from their perch next to him, pictures of their great-grandson in his beige Israeli Navy uniform.
How it feels to now be a real Israeli family, via Eastern Europe and South America / Cuba and North America – the Czech, Romanian, Russian, German, Spanish, and English in our veins turned to a Hebrew infused with all of them.
There is Zionism aplenty in our family story, but I am by nature not terribly jingoistic, and this is not the main reason I am filled with a sense of deranged Jewish mother pride, a pride that makes fear irrelevant.
What it is about, for me, is my son as an individual with a sense of greater purpose. This is a “kid” who spent the week before his draft tracking down and interviewing old timers with a naval command history. Decorated sailors in their 80’s who were happy to give advice to a young man who knows how to listen.
It is about the man he will continue to become over the next several years as a naval officer:
An always moving and powerful but also steady force – who believes he can change the shape of the planet, even as he knows that it is the planet that changes him. Someone for whom silence and depth and darkness are not frightening, but part of being. Someone with a gravity which does not pull him down, but challenges him to crash against expectations.
Like the ancient sea he is now in training to serve, and to tame.