Seven days from now, I'll be driving Elie to the drop-off point. This week, after my daugther's wedding, it's all about him. What he will need, what we should still buy. He still needs a strong backpack and locks, underwear and extra socks. He looked so handsome at the wedding, dressed in the suit he didn't want to wear, in the shoes he didn't want to buy. Everyday pants and his hiking boots would have been his choice, but he made us all happy by dressing for the occasion.
There are the physical things we concentrate on to avoid thinking about the emotional issues. What he will need, where he will go the first week, the second week. Months of basic training and then additional training for his unit. When will he be allowed to come home.
I don't believe wisdom necessarily comes with age, but fear certainly does. The older we are, the more we learn to fear. When I was expecting my first child, and my second, and even my third, I was too young to fear, to understand that we aren't always blessed with beautiful, healthy babies. Only as I got older did I realize what an incredible miracle each child was.
Now, with age, comes the reality that just as we are given this incredible gift, we must cherish it and watch over it at all times. This becomes hard to do when the child goes off to a new place, leaving you to wonder and worry.
Elie does not seem to be afraid; this is a stage in his life, an experience. Many boys love the army. It gives them direction, training, companionship and life-long friends. Only we mothers focus on the more serious aspects of where our sons will go and what they will do. We are the ones left crippled behind as they soar in triumph. They are free of their studies, free of daily routine. Life is new and exciting for them. Responsibilities come with trust. The state of Israel puts its faith and its love into its soldiers. They are treated with love as they travel from place to place. People stop to give them rides or hand them candy and food when they are on patrol. It is a love affair that never ages. There are few countries, if any, in the world who can claim the relationship that Israel has with its soldiers. Each is a son of the nation and the whole nation celebrates and mourns together when it comes to our soldiers.
Perhaps, despite the worries, my son is right. This is an adventure, a new road he will take. I should be excited for him. I should be (and I am) very proud of him. In other countries, 19 year old boys are drinking and driving and focusing on girls. It will be years before they grow up while here in Israel, they are given responsibility, life and death decisions.
In a matter of a few weeks, my son will come home with a gun and the training to know when to use it and when not to use it. He will be given responsibilities to protect whole communities and our country. All this on the head of a soon-to-be 20 year old. He celebrates this time while I quietly mourn the boy he will leave behind.
So, as Elie sees the adventure ahead, I take one last look at the boy knowing that all too soon, the army will return him to me as a man, having experienced new and exciting things, having gone where I've never gone, done what I've never done. He'll hold people's lives in his hands and learn things I never dreamed he would need to know. How far to shoot, how to aim a massive weapon capable of bringing down a building. They'll teach him the human side of war - our responsibility to avoid civilian casualties when possible and even to endanger his life to protect our citizens (and the citizens of other lands). He will learn how to defend himself, how to recognize the enemy and how to react. All this is new to him and it will change him, as it does each boy because in the end, he will be not just a boy, not just a man, but a soldier too.