Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The UPs, The DOWNs, and the COLD

I'll start with the COLD. It's cold in Israel. Not much when compared against those cold winter days in the US Northeast and nothing compared to the US Midwest. But for Israel, which rarely has winter days that are cold unless it is raining also, we've had almost a week of sunny days that are simply cold. Temperatures have, at the coldest times, just touched freezing and mostly hover slightly above during the night and even during the day, there's a nip in the air and a need for sweaters and coats.

Days in the desert are still wonderful, sunny and comfortable. Not hot, but nice. But the nights are very cold. Israelis are more accustomed to hot weather than cold and so the army has ratings for the levels of hot days. The highest level requires the army to cancel all outdoor activities. Soldiers are monitored and reminded that they must drink often to avoid dehydration, which can quickly turn deadly in the heat of the Middle East.

Elie even told me that during basic training, before going out on one of their long marches, at one point the soldiers in his unit were told to stand in a circle and given time to drink a full 3/4 of a liter of water in one standing. Their commanding officer then instructed the soldiers to hold the empty bottle above them and turn it upside down (spilling whatever they didn't drink onto their heads).

It turns out there are also levels or ratings for the cold. In the "extreme" cold, as in the extreme heat, the army alters its training program. Elie was supposed to have slept outside in the field two nights this week, but his unit was brought in because of the cold. During the day, they are still out in the field training, but at night, wary of the cold, the army takes extra precautions and this teaches the soldiers a message they will likely remember all their lives. Respect the weather and the land.

A few nights ago, I sent Elie a message on his phone, wanting to know how the Navigation went last Saturday night. It was an off time - he was still in the course, so he called me back later that night and told me that he'd found all three points and it was indeed both fun and successful. He told me about how he met up with the jeep and was given something warm to drink. He told me the other soldier had found two of the points but apparently missed one - still, a success all around. That's when he told me about the cold and asked me to buy him thermal underwear. We made plans to meet Friday morning on his way home so that I could quickly take him shopping.

He told me that his unit has a huge water thermos that contains hot tea and that where he is sleeping has two heaters working to keep the place warm. As for when they are outside, he's wearing several layers, a constant in the Israeli weather and, at the worst, two pairs of socks. He's wearing long underwear under his army pants; an extra warm undershirt; the heavy army fleece, etc.

It was silly, but long after we hung up, I thought about Elie in the COLD. That was my "DOWN". I fell asleep missing him and feeling just a little sad that he's far away...and cold. It is clear that the army is responsive and responsible, understanding and addressing the needs of the soldiers to meet whatever challenge the weather presents so I know there is no logic to these feelings - but that's what makes them feelings.

I tend to suffer from the cold. My kids think it is funny (and it is), that sometimes - most often on Friday nights when I have reached the end of my week and I'm just so tired, that I come to the Sabbath table with layers and layers of clothes, while the boys stand there in their white, short-sleeved shirts. I often tell them, "Please, put a sweater on. I'm cold just looking at you." And they laugh and pile another blanket or sweatshirt on top of me. Elie's youngest brother sleeps, even in the winter, in shorts and sometimes no shirt. I can't stand it...I freeze just thinking about it.

After talking to Elie, I went to sleep thinking about him and the desert cold, and in the morning, I woke up his little sister to get ready for school. The heater in her room isn't very strong and on the coldest of nights, there's a chill in the room. In her warm pajamas and her blanket, her body is warm and sleepy. And like any child, she didn't want to wake up and come out of the warm bed. So I cuddled her into my arms, wrapped in the blanket, and slowly coaxed her into dressing for school. She's very petite, but the day will soon come where she is too big for this, and so I enjoy these last few times when I can still pull her onto my lap, snuggle and cuddle.

That's when I thought of Elie and the cold and realized that it was very likely his sister was colder than he was. The difference, again, was that I could reach her, cuddle with her and know that she would be warm soon. And that's when the UP started, when I laughed to myself thinking of trying to pull Elie (who is taller and stronger and bigger than I am) onto my lap. Even if he were not in the army, he'd be cold here too. Or he'd warm himself; dress with more layers; make himself tea. In short, he's a man now (and how hard that is for a mother to admit).

The army is responsible, but so is Elie. That means, as per my son's very intelligent request, this Friday we will go and buy him thermal underwear which might be even warmer than the long underwear (pants and undershirts) that he already has. He'll dress in layers, as we all do. He'll drink tea when he's chilled and he'll warm himself by the heater in his room.

And he will never know that I had even a moment's worry about the cold...he's probably still laughing about me worrying about his going out on the navigation exercise last week...so maybe I'll skip telling him about the ups, the downs, and the cold that mother's worry about when their sons are in the army.


Anonymous said...

My son is on a base way up north. Their overnight "camp out" was canceled because some of the soldiers don't have winter hats. He is happy and excited about the cold weather and ice - a true Midwesterner! -an American mom

MR said...

Another riveting post... I chack your blog daily for updates.

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