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My Fourth and My First

My fourth child was the first born in Israel. Four months ago, he followed his two older brothers into the army. As a third-time mother of a soldier, you’d think I have this thing down to a science. Easy, obvious, clear.

It is anything but.

David is 20 years old and a long-time volunteer for the local ambulance squad here in Maale Adumim. For years, he has rushed to help others with all sorts of injuries. He has come home to tell me when someone lived because he helped…and when someone died. He was asked if he would serve in a combat unit, and like his brothers, he answered that he would. He has IMG_3381spent the last four months learning to run farther than he ever though he could. He’s learned to scale walls, shoot a gun, throw grenades.

And amazingly enough, I’m as worried and uncertain as I was with my first. I long for him to come home every week, only really feeling calm when he walks through the door. What amazes me, again, is the commitment these young men take to heart so quickly and so easily.

A boy who was never the most on-time kid, now rises early and is ready to leave when he knows he has to catch a bus. He speaks of countries and army units with an ease that comes from hours of discipline but more, from an immediate acceptance that this is where he is meant to be.

In the early months of training, the commanding officer is called simply, “Commander.” Everything is “Yes, Commander.” This weekend, he came home to tell me that after four months and a swearing-in ceremony, David is now allowed to call his commanding officer by his first name.

This is the essence of the army of Israel. The timeless concept of a commanding officer leading and his men following, is instilled in these first months. A few weeks ago, my youngest child asked her brother why he was working so hard and why he couldn’t sort of pretend to work so that the others would do more and he could do less. David looked at her for a moment with surprise and finally found the words, “they’re like my family,” he explained to her, “you don’t do that.” david

So on Friday, my son walked through the front door, happy to see his family. After a weekend filled with food and sleep, and endless conversations with his older brother using abbreviations I’ll never understand, David went back to his other family. I see pictures of these brothers of his and know he is where he needs to be. His commanding officer came to me and told me that my son is a good soldier. I’m not sure that’s something I ever wanted him to be but then he told me that David was quick to help others.

The one lesson that I remember from my first in the army is that you have to conquer each day, push the fear and the worry aside today. It will come back tomorrow. News comes that a soldier has been hurt and you can’t breathe until you know it wasn’t his unit; it wasn’t where he is. And then the guilt comes because even if it wasn’t yours, it was someone else’s child. This is the life of a soldier’s mother, taken one day at a time.

He won’t be home for the seder this year. It will be the first time in 20 years that I won’t see him, have him there. He’ll be with his other family – those soldiers who call out to him in the background when I speak to him, the ones who make him laugh and tell me he has to go. He is 20 years old. He went into the army just weeks short of his birthday and I could still see the boy inside, sometimes looking out at me or teasing his sister. The boy is almost gone, and I miss him but I love the man he is becoming.

He brings his rifle home and quickly secures it in his room. This too is something that I have to get used to, something I have to accept. I’ve never fired a weapon, never loaded one…I don’t actually know how to anyway. He straps this fierce looking thing around his neck as he swings his heavy backpack onto his shoulders ready to leave. I hand him a box of brownies that I’ve made; a bottle of water for the trip and I remind him to send me a message when he gets there.

Days will go by before I can speak to him again, before I’ll get to see him. He was born in this country, the fourth child, but the first born here. He is today, a soldier of Israel. Sometimes, just that thought is enough to make me cry and sometimes, most of the time, it fills me with great pride. He may not be doing what I always wanted him to do, but he is doing what he has to do. Someday, we all hope, it won’t be necessary. But today it is…and so today my son is somewhere patrolling, watching, guarding, protecting.

May God watch over my son…all our sons and daughters…and bless them and protect them.

About the author

Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

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.
Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

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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