When my youngest son was born, I wrote a blog from the hospital that started something like this. “And just like that it’s over. And, yet, it’s just beginning.”
I was thinking about those words this morning as we brought our oldest son to Givat HaTachmoshet (Ammunition Hill) to join the Israel Defense Forces.
And just like that it’s over. Poof. Just like that the baby that I held in my arms on that warm May morning, the little boy that jumped on the plane to make Aliyah, the brave young child who waved goodbye to us from the entryway of his kindergarten class in Israel (without one word of Hebrew) has left for the army.
All of these events are in the past, tucked away in our collection of favorite memories.
As we drove home from the army drop off, tears cascading down my face, I thought about the recent trip that we took as a family. I wish I had enjoyed every second even more. I wish I had enjoyed every moment of having Matan home even more.
But I know it is silly. I’ve enjoyed every moment; I’ve relished in having him as my oldest, as my son, as my gorgeous self-sufficient, navigating-savvy, friend-loving, big brother son. I’ve loved every minute. But as of this morning, those carefree days are over because I passed him over to the army.
What a strange and overwhelming thought that is. He’s no longer on my health insurance. He’s no longer obligated by my home patterns, our plans, our expectations. He belongs to the State of Israel, to the army, to the Am.
And yet, it’s just beginning. It’s a strange feeling to have a moment – an exact moment in time – when you can say that a person’s childhood is over and their adulthood has started. When you can stand on the precipice and say we’ve given you everything we could possibly give you. Now it’s time to spread your wings and fly. You are on your own and it’s time to show what you’re made of.
Matan has paved the way for every one of our parenting experiences, and certainly all of our Aliyah parenting experiences. And now, with the army service, he will continue to pave that path. We never served in the Israel army (obviously) and none of our family did so. Matan is, once again, forging a new path for our family and teaching us through every step that he takes. These lessons actually started a few weeks ago, when we discussed what types of rituals people have before their kids join the army.
In the weeks leading to today, we did a few lovely things that are very common here (but perhaps not as well known to our friends and family in the States). Yehuda spent countless hours collecting pictures of all of Matan’s friends and family and getting meaningful thoughts from them. He compiled a book that includes a glimpse of Matan’s life up to this point, with words of encouragement and love from Matan’s childhood friends, high school friends, Yeshiva friends, family, and teachers. It was a touching moment when Yehuda gave him the book, and a sweet one watching Matan sitting at the table by himself reading through everything.
We also had a party for Matan with his friends. In these crazy COVID days, we didn’t want to have too many people over, and I’ve been very worried about Matan getting put into quarantine and missing his induction day. So, we had the party in our backyard 15 days ago. (So that if something went wrong and he was put in quarantine, he’d still be out in time!) It was a beautiful, festive night filled with love and admiration for Matan and his friends enlisting this month.
And then there were the underwear and sock purchases, the medical supply purchases and the send-off breakfast today.
And that’s it.
We fought our way through the crowds to find a parking spot; we gave him a bracha before he went in; we took pictures.
And we cried. A lot.
We waved goodbye, he smiled through the fence that separated us and he walked away.
To his future.