The third son

A big question that pops into my mind all hours of the day and night is where Davidi, my youngest son, will go when he enters the army. What unit? We already know he will go into a combat unit but not which one.

It’s actually a quite silly debate because other than the “special” and “elite” units, the non-war time “activities” for most combat units are amazingly similar. The guys in tanks are in tanks during war, but non-war finds them on patrol and stationed at many bases and checkpoints. Artillery fires massive…well…artillery…but the rest of the time (most of the time they are in service), they too are assigned to checkpoints and patrols.

Givati, Golani, Kfir and others…once you are in a combat unit, it is…well…a combat unit but the illusion that some units are “safer” than others is there and I hold on to it.

When I moved to Israel, it was with one little girl and two little boys. And though my head knew that the day would come when my sons would be drafted, my heart focused on their childhood, school, life. I watched them grow in the Israeli sunshine and marveled at every stage. I smiled when they fought with each other in Hebrew. Less than three years after we came, my first sabra, my first child of Israel was born. We named him David Levi, after his grandfather and we called him Davidi.

Davidi is the name of a child, a young boy, who runs after his older brothers, not the young man who has passed both his brothers and his father in height. Davidi would come over at random times and give me a hug; but it is David who now has to be asked for a hug and he’ll give it, but the look that comes along with the hug is one that says it’s going to be me asking from now on. Davidi was “order-able;” David…not so much.

As Davidi got older, he would ask if he could do a “meshmeret” — a shift serving on the local ambulance squad; David at 19, now tells me that he’s coming home to do a meshmeret…and it is often in Jerusalem, a big and busy city where ambulances are in action all the time.

As for what’s coming at him, he’s more aware of what the army is than his brothers were at the same age. My oldest son had no one really to speak with before he encountered the army and so he carved a path — for himself and for the others. My second went through the Hesder program; different in many ways than the experience that my oldest had.

David has lived with the army not just in our society, as my older boys did, but in our family. David was 11 when Elie went into the army; 13 the first time Elie went to war. He was 14 when Shmulik went in to the army and 15 the second time Elie went to war. He sat around our table listening first to Elie, Shmulik and the two lone soldiers we adopted as they spoke about their experiences in the army.

More and more, he speaks a common language with his older brothers — it is a language of the army, of cars, of computers and smartphones. In November, he goes into the army and though he says it will likely be towards the end, I worry that it will coincide with a 5-day trip/conference I have agreed to attend in Europe.

I’m experienced enough with the army to know that it is a silly thing to feel this dread. Even if…even if…I am abroad – all I will miss is that ride to the drop off point, where, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a kiss and a hug and a quick wave…and then I’ll talk to him later and he’ll tell me he’s wearing a uniform. And he’ll call me when he gets on base. And he’ll call me the next night during the single hour they allow them their phones.

The first week is nothing. It goes so slowly with your son suddenly gone; a thousand things you wanted to tell him and a million questions you meant to ask go unsaid,  but it passes and then the army sends them home for Shabbat. Even the first six months are nothing, I remind myself repeatedly. He’ll be in training at least that long, if not longer.

The “relative” quiet is holding – a few rockets here or there, not many – certainly not enough to trigger a war…so it looks like the pattern will hold and there will not be a war this summer. In 2009 there was one — my oldest one fought in it. Four years later, another in 2012 — my oldest fought in that one too. Then last summer, another war.

If I do the math, the summer of 2016…before/after — David will be finished with basic training there may well be another war. For as long as we have lived here, war has never been far away.

Givati, Golani, Shiryon…ground forces, tanks, artillery…it’s all too frightening to consider and it’s really only a mind game because we never know. A dozen times there will be hints that a war is about to start and each time, suddenly, it will fizzle…almost quiet returns…just enough to deter a response…until the fizzle turn. A whisper of mobilization, and then war…

My third soldier, my youngest son. In a few weeks, more soldiers will be inducted; and then, the next time there is a major group going in a few months after that, my David will be called up.

In the quiet of my heart, I don’t believe I’ll survive this one. And before you ask, I’m fine…I am…except, of course, I’m not.

My brain has already kicked in, yelling at my fingers for typing that first part about not surviving this next son going in…drama and stupidity, says my brain to my heart. You didn’t think you’d survived the first one going in, or the second one, either.  But you did, says my brain with no patience left, and you’ll survive this one. My heart looks away, muttering to a brain that will not listen. Stupid brain, I’m allowed my feelings and it isn’t like I’m telling anyone else!

Did you not see the fingers type out your thoughts? My brain smirks at my heart.

Leave me alone, my heart says again. Just leave me alone. I’m breaking with this one, I am, says my heart.

Drama and stupidity says my brain, again and though my hand doesn’t move, the brain registers a slap to my forehead.

And while the debate inside of me rages, the words I’ll never say; thoughts I’ll never share float to the surface. I can’t do this again.

I know that I will…and I will. Really.

The heart sometimes lacks the logic of the brain. It feels, so deeply. Everything is magnified, extreme. It breaks, it fears, it mourns, it shatters, and is rebuilt.

The brain is so much calmer, almost embarrassed by the heart. The brain is happy that the mouth is close by so it can be controlled more easily and words the heart would utter are never spoken. The mouth takes its instructions from the brain, after all, leaving the deepest expressions of the heart unsaid.

Usually. Sometimes, despite the brain’s intentions, the heart wins and the mouth speaks our greatest fears or the fingers type them. It is a battle as ageless as time – the brain, the heart, the mouth, the fingers.

I’ve got a bit over three months to pull myself together, to be ready to drive David to the drop off point where my heart will promise to remain silent, where the brain will be filled with sentences and topics that will assure David I have not a worry in the world. And as it speaks to David of silly things, it will watch the heart very carefully, not trusting for a moment that something won’t slip.

The mouth will smile and transmit the brain’s words, under strict orders to ignore the heart. The eyes will remain dry and do their best to reflect the smile, with the promise that tears can come later, after Davidi does inside, and only after I have reached a safe zone, a place where no one will see.

The arms will offer a quick hug and despite the heart screaming to hold on, to not let him go, the arms will release my youngest son, as I released my older two when they went. And like his brothers, David will go off with a wave and a smile and never once give my heart notice. And the arms that wanted to hold, will wave back, even as the heart feels as if it is shattering.

And I will watch him go, my Davidi and my David, as his brothers did before him and I will be what I have been for more than eight years now…a soldier’s mother.

I don’t know how, but I’ll do it. I will…I think.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.