Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dear Lone Soldier's Mom

If there is any harder path to follow as a combat soldier's mother, it is to be the mother of a lone soldier. A lone soldier is a young man or woman who has decided that they must serve the country of Israel, as my son has. But there is a difference, a huge difference in that Elie can call me at any time, at any moment. With four words, he would have me running to my car, driving beyond the speed of light to get to him. With a simple, "Ima, I need you" I would be gone.

He knows this, as all my children do. Call me and I will be there. It doesn't matter where, when, why. The call is enough, the need the most critical thing. There are the silly little things that can be answered in a phone call - loneliness, the need for information, the need to talk. This can be given no matter where the mother is, though time and expense can be a factor.

And then there is that which is priceless, to us as mothers, and to them. Driving them to base when they are tired or have to get there at a ridiculous hour; loaning them a car for their day off; doing their laundry or helping them at least; home-baked cookies. It's the smile, the hug, the quiet discussions that make my life (and hopefully Elie's) easier as he follows this path.

I got the following comment from a lone soldier's mother and wanted to add it here because she shares a side of being a soldier's mother that I don't experience but is so important for others to understand. I live with much of what she experiences, and so much less.

She didn't choose her son's path, didn't anticipate it, didn't expect it. I did. I chose to bring my son to this country as a young child, knowing that this meant he would be a soldier some day in the distant future. I knew and was as prepared as I could be. I knew from the time Elie was six years old, even before he was born, to some extent, that the day would come when he would wear the uniform, carry the gun, and go places I don't want to imagine. I knew; she didn't.

She writes of his maturity and I see that in Elie too. She writes of things her son must do, things that Elie does too.

She has learned to live with uncertainty. Yes, that has become my constant companion.

She writes of the years after the army, as her son enters the national reserves, in many ways the true fighting force in Israel and I share with her the knowledge that she and I will be soldiers' mothers for decades to come.

And finally, she writes that she doesn't believe she has the same grace under fire that we Israelis have and here is the first time I will disagree with her. From the moment Elie entered the army, I knew that I belonged to a family much larger than the one I had started forming when I married my husband and we began bringing children into this world. Suddenly, everywhere I went, in meetings after meetings - there was a diversion, a comment, talk of where our sons and daughters were, what they were doing. What unit, what base - became a binding force between complete strangers. It happened just yesterday during a conversation with a woman who came here to discuss a new line of courses specifically for women...and soon it I learned that she has two sons who are soldier. It is the way of things in Israel and elsewhere.

I learned something else last year when Elie went to war - there is an even larger family I had never dreamed of joining. They are mothers in America and Europe, who have sons in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over, anywhere, who fight the same enemy, the same cultural values that seek to destroy my country (and theirs). They live with a grace I envy, a deep sense of faith and belief and a commitment to the same values our sons defend.

As I began to write here, I realized that American mothers who believe I am so brave, so filled with grace under fire...don't realize that I am awed by them. They are all mothers of lone soldiers - their sons far from home. Like this mother who wrote to me, they are so far from their sons, hours and hours, even days away from them. They cannot go to them, but must wait for them to be brought to some other place or brought all the way home. I am haunted by the thought and marvel at their grace that they live with this challenge.

I am so blessed to be so close to Elie; to have him come home every few weekends. To know, at a moment's notice, I could throw everything away and get in my car and drive to him. Sometimes, the drive is an hour away. Sometimes two, sometimes four. It doesn't matter. I don't see the grace she speaks of, the bravery others tell me I possess.

But what I do know is that she is in America. I am in Israel. We, she and I and you and them, are everywhere and our sons know our love, feel it through the telephone lines and deep in their hearts. We support them, love them, bless them, pray for them.

Lone Soldier's Mom has left a new comment on "Hearts and Rockets":
If someone asked me what is the most important thing you have learned about yourself since becoming the mother of an Israeli, and in particular, the mother of an Israeli soldier, I would say I have learned that I can live with uncertainty.
I have found out the hard way that rockets can hit where they have never hit before, that there is no such thing as a quiet checkpoint, that the IDF can send a unit from a brigade which has never been stationed outside the West Bank into a war zone.
I don't always know where my son is and what he is doing there. Things change quickly and when you least expect it. I no longer trust that I can sleep well because he is safely on base for the night because too many times I found out the next day that he wasn't. There is never going to be an end to all this uncertainty. After the army is reserve duty. In a war the reserves are called up and he will be anxious to go. In everyday civilian life, he goes from one place to another that I recognize as the sites of terrorist attacks, this bus station, this restaurant, that street.

It has all been a hard lesson for a suburban American mom who had a different kind of life all planned out and under control until three and a half years ago. My son has gained a lot of maturity and a different sort of confidence since he's been in the IDF. He's got a stronger backbone now. He's got guts.

I think this will stay with him forever, the knowledge that he had to do some really hard things for the benefit of people he will mostly never know and he was up to the task. Somewhere along the line, I realized that the IDF has changed me for the better, too. I'll never have that grace under fire that is so, so Israeli, but maybe a little bit of it has rubbed off on me.

14 comments:

Caroline said...

To a Lone Soldier's Mom:
I find it very courageous from you to have let your son fight for Israel. This shows that you respect his choices.

To A Soldier's Mother:
This comment is related to your previous post. Have your ever asked your son how he felt when he heard the news of a bomb attack or prior to a fight ? Did he experienced fear and hopelessness ? It is very hard to be in the army; to concile responsibilities towards the engagement taken and the emotions that emerge afterwards.Has he ever wanted to run away ?

Kind regards to you both mothers,
Caroline

A Soldier's Mother said...

Hi Caroline,

I'll start with the end of your question - no, Elie has never wanted to run away because he understands that there is no place to run. Elie has to do what he must...and he does it.

How does he feel before a fight? I can only tell you about speaking to him before the Gaza war (there we both knew "action" was coming). He doesn't call me before a fight or an operation, and if he does, he wouldn't say anything anyway so I wouldn't know.

Before Gaza - he was...perhaps the word is "energized." He was dedicated to doing what he knew had to be done to stop the missile threat to Israel's population. He knew that in a very real sense, he and his unit stood between the Gaza terrorists firing rockets into our cities, and over a million people - his people, ours.

I don't think for a single moment Elie experienced hopelessness. He doesn't believe the Arabs will ever grant us peace and knows that until Israel has a true peace partner...all these negotiations and pressure from the US government is simply a waste of energy and unfair.

Has Elie been afraid? I can't answer that because it's a question I haven't asked. If I did ask, he would probably say no. Most 22-year-olds would - especially those in the artillery because they don't go IN to Gaza. They shoot from the outside.

Beyond that, if Elie were to tell me he was afraid, I would crumble...and I think he knows that. I saw Elie afraid when he was standing by his friend's bedside after a terrible car accident. I wrote about it - two years ago. I can find the link if you like (it was something like How Do You Tell Him? or something like that).

Elie was afraid then - afraid his friend would die; afraid his friend would remain crippled. In fact, Re'em is in a wheelchair, but thankfully has regained most of the use of his arms and emotionally and mentally, he was in very good shape last time we saw him. He joked, he laughed...and helped Elie tremendously.

Beyond that - Elie has never told me that he was afraid. He's very well trained - both from the army and from the ambulance squad. When something happens, he knows what to do and all the rest goes away.

And finally, how does Elie feel when a bomb goes off? Angry. Angry that there are people in this world who believe that the answer to a problem rests in killing others. Sad if they succeed; defiant.

No, Elie has never thought to run - not since he was 9 years old and heard a katyusha missile slam into Kiryat Shemona in the north. He wanted to run home then...and I sat with him and we talked and I told him if we run from here, the vacation apartment where we were staying, we might as well run from all of Israel.

We didn't run then...and Elie has never run since.

Caroline said...

I am speechless. I can't elaborate on my comment more than that. Thank you for answering.

Kindly,
Caroline

A Soldier's Mother said...

Is that a good speechless or a bad speechless? :-)

P

Lone Soldier's Mom said...

Caroline, thank you for the encouragement. In a sense, I am letting my son fight for Israel because he is my only child and therefore I had to give my permission to the IDF to draft him as a combat soldier. I could have withheld that permission, but like you said, I respect my son's choices. However, an important distinction: my son is an Israeli citizen, has been for three years. He is fighting for his own country, to keep his fellow citizens safe.

Lone Soldier's Mom said...

I've been reading this blog for about two years now. I started out just trying to figure out in a practical sense what was going on in my son's life as a soldier. But it has become so much more important to me than that. This blog has truly been a lifeline for me. Nowhere else can I share this experience of being an Israeli soldier's mother. Being a lone soldier's mother can be pretty lonely. So, thanks for the support and understanding. It means a lot to me.

Caroline said...

To A Soldier's Mother, Haven't you received my comment ? :s ...

A Soldier's Mother said...

I thought I responded to your comment above. Did I miss another one? Sorry....tell me again, please.

Caroline said...

I think that there was a problem with my internet connection at that moment but I wasn't sure then.

It's a good speechless.

I'm very impressed by what your son does and the values in which he believes in. His self-confidence may come from the fact that he knows his family will always be there for him and support him in every action he takes.That's why in some way, he's not afraid and will not run away. It's the most important thing I think ; to trust yourself.

By reading your blog, you allow me to travel to another country, a new world. So, Thank You :)

Kind regards,
Caroline

brat said...

You know I do not get here as often as I would like, but I have to comment on this post about military mothers. I am NOT a military mother or wife, but it is my priviledge to know more than a few.

I KNOW that grace is an incredibly ephemeral concept, which sometimes escapes all of you, but what awes me the most (well, among many other attributes.lol) is that, even when any of you think you cannot go another step, another sleepless night, you dig deep within and you DO. You go forward, for the love of your precious children, for the love of your countries, and because you know, better than most, that peace for any of us will only come because YOUR children (and "our" children. They are all mine, too ya know..) are willingly well trained to stand in our defence.

If you, ISM, are anything like the American mothers, the Canadian mothers, the British mothers and wives that I am blessed to know, I know you would say that you are doing what you must do, so that your children can do what THEY must do.

It is porecisely HOW you all do what you do, day in day out, that humbles me. Of course, I could say a lot more, but you know.....lol)

Thank you from my heart.

Andrew said...

I wanted to comment on two things here-- First,
And then there is that which is priceless, to us as mothers, and to them. Driving them to base when they are tired or have to get there at a ridiculous hour; loaning them a car for their day off; doing their laundry or helping them at least; home-baked cookies. It's the smile, the hug, the quiet discussions that make my life (and hopefully Elie's) easier as he follows this path.

I'm a 'lone soldier'. My mom is in the States.
I've never had a ride to a base, but I've hitchhiked all across the West Bank to get to and from my bases. I don't have a car, but that's ok with me. Until about six months ago, I did all my laundry at the coin-operated laundry in Shuk HaCarmel. I never cared so much about the money, but it was a waste of time. A few times, my mem-mem or friends parents took my laundry. I never got home-baked cookies, but my mom sent sweet care packages in basic training. I've certainly been fattened up by my friends' parents, however.
I've seen my mom for less than 60 days over the past 3-4 years...I don't have that smile, I don't get those hugs, and we pay quite a bit of money to have any kind of discussion. I'm sure it crushes my mom not to be able to provide me with what you're able to provide Elie, but look at the Israeli people's support!!
An officer doing his soldiers laundry?
Jews in Hebron or Nablus giving soldiers rides to and from their bases/bus-stops?
Meals and cookies and all kinds of treats from strangers? (I once had an old woman pull out a chocolate bar from her purse and give it to me! During a patrols and guard duty this happens too)
My mom has been fantastic in her support, but we shouldn't forget the support of the Israeli people either!

Andrew said...

Second--

Someone asked how soldiers feel before the fight?
Here's the best way I can explain it:
98% of what soldiers do is ridiculously boring. Plain ennui.
Of the remaining 2%, 1% is apprehension and 1% is execution.
We live for that 1% of apprehension!
I'm a trained and tested combat soldier, I sleep on average 4 hours a day (often not consecutive). I wash dishes for 12 hour days more than once a week, I clean and clean and clean, I am surrounded by noise, I ride around in vehicles that basically have no shocks, and I do all kinds of simply boring work that the average non-soldier doesn't see or really think about. I open gates for cars, I clean rifles, I polish my boots...before any guard shift I have to pass 2 briefings!!! TWO!! I've done the same 5 guard shifts for 6 months, and *every* *single* *time* I have to hear a recitation of these briefings. Once from my commander, once from an officer. This is the equivalent of someone explaining to the McDonalds worker how to make french fries, every time he goes to work for 6 months.

Meanwhile, in the middle of all this boring work, only three things keep me motivated: Thinking about when I'll get to sleep next, thinking about when I'll get to go back home to Tel-Aviv, and waiting for a Hakpatzah.

Hakpatzah is the emergency call. It means something is going down, and backup is needed. Most of the time, it's for nothing (some kids throwing rocks, or by the time we get to the place the situation is defused).....but sometimes.....

Here's a quick list of things I've been called for in the middle of the day or the middle of the night when I was trying to sleep or washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom or smoking a cigarette:
-A burning tire got thrown at me
-I had to enter a Palestinian house without any previous information about who might be inside because an explosion occurred nearby
-A terrorist entered a settlement and pulled a knife on the settlement-guard and was subsequently shot in the head-- they told us he wasn't alone (this happened to me twice, but the second time was a false alarm)
-Shin Bet decided to do a surprise arrest of 10 suspects in broad daylight, and I served as the "search and rescue" squad (in other words, if they all die, pick up the pieces and get out ASAP) that resulted in a near riot only put down by my officer hurling stun grenades and firing into the air

I am well trained. Trained to a degree that is just unreal. I didn't get an adrenaline rush from *any* of that, because the operating procedure and training was so thorough that my instincts were to act exactly as the army dictated that I was supposed to act. The fry guy at McDonalds doesn't get an adrenaline rush when he runs out of salt, he just goes and gets more from the store room because that's what he's trained to do. The army never gave me an option to be scared. They never said it was alright. They never told me that it was my right as a soldier, or that someday I would receive an order to be scared. I've done so many live fire drills that I can distinguish between types of ammunition, and I know when some Arab is lighting off fireworks in celebration or shooting an AK-47. Fear was never part of the equation. That's the truth no matter how unreal it might sound.

I live for that 2%. I worked for it, I trained for it, and I spent 98% of my time in the army doing banal and trivial things. I'm happy my service has now passed in peace, but I *wanted* action for my whole service, and never got enough.

Lisa said...

for parents of lone soldiers as well as other parents, I recommend Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon's new book: Lone Soldiers: Israel's Defenders from Around the World. It is available from Amazon.com as well as in bookstores in Israel. It tells the stories of 14 lone soldiers - men and women - from 10 different countries. It is a beautiful, engaging and inspiring read that pays tribute to those who sacrifice to defend Israel.

Anonymous said...

sorry to do thread hijack.... but was it you, or Batya - who mentioned being a fan of country music? Well look at this:


www.myspace.com/meirshitrit


sabra kid who plays real laptop slide; but (sad to say) C6 tuning so you don't end up with a Nashville sound. But these sabra kids think that LA is the real America, so that's not surprising.

US Navy Officer (about to deploy)

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