The Hardest Days

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One of the hardest things to get through when you have a son in the army is his birthday. Today is my youngest son’s 21st birthday. He is about as far away from me as you can get and still be in Israel. He’s on a border “somewhere” in Israel and I don’t know if anyone there knows it is his birthday.

We’ll have a cake when he gets home. I tried to call him but he’s clearly on at night and so I woke him without knowing I would. He was drowsy and didn’t even laugh when I used my usual joke, “Happy born day.” Today is the day he was born but clearly, I tell my children, today is MY birthday because I’m the one that gave birth. It is their born day.

I miss him more today than most. There are different schedules in the army – some soldiers come home every night (typically not combat soldiers, though). Some come home every weekend or every other. Some come home every third weekend, some not for months at a time. David is on one of the longer stretches and I’m waiting to hear if they will allow him out for a family celebration in the coming days.

His older brother had a son. He is an uncle but has barely been able to see and hold his new nephew. This is one of the hardest things to get used to in Israel – the months when you are not in control; when the schedule he lives by is determined by others.

We are lucky, in that our enemies are close and so therefore are our sons. American soldiers are lucky if they get home once or twice a year. For us, only under rare circumstances are our sons away even three weeks without at least one visit home.

But along with that reality is the difference between how my son is and how he would be if he were growing up somewhere else. His life is one of discipline; his body has been trained. He runs distances I can’t imagine; carries burdens that frighten me.

Before my eyes, over the last year, the boy he was has turned into the man I knew he would be some day. He is still playful at home but as he slips on the uniform, the man takes over. It’s days like today that I realized I’ll see that boy less and less and though I love the man, I’ll never really be able to wish the boy didn’t stay longer.

My baby is 21 years old today, celebrating or not, far from home. No cake and no candles. No present and no going out with friends. No drinking, no partying. The day will pass as all others do – on patrol, on alert, on the border.

I do not, for a single second of a single minute, wish that I had not made Israel my home; that this son was born to me here in this land. He wasn’t born to be a soldier; none of our children were. But when the time came and he was called, he went without hesitation. More, he went with pride and determination and a willingness to serve.

Happy birthday, David – may the stars in the night sky be the candles of your cake. May the smiles and cheers of your fellow soldiers be in honor of your birthday. May all your tomorrows come in health and safety. May God bless you and all the soldiers of Israel this cold night.

I love you, kiddo. Happy birthday.

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Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier’s Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.

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