In the middle of last week Eitan was formally released from the army - approximately one week before completing a full three years. As is customary for combat soldiers, for about two weeks before his formal release he was on a pre-release furlough. During much of that time he was either traveling around the country visiting friends (primarily army friends who were also about to be released), or sleeping-in late. He wasn't (yet) under any pressure to start work, and even now, when questions of how to make some money and cover his expenses are becoming an issue that does have to be dealt with, he seems to be in no particular rush. Frankly, I don't see any reason to rush him - he has numerous skills that can help him get a passable job, and I can well understand that since he knows this, he prefers to hold out for something more than just "passable". Of course it won't hurt for him to actively try and find something, but I trust he's starting to do this.
One evening a couple of weeks ago, when he was just starting his pre-release furlough, someone was visiting by us when Eitan was by us as well. She asked him how old he was and he jokingly replied "18". I doubt that he had any particular intent with that answer, but to a certain extent there's a great deal of truth in it. Three years ago, when he was 18, he went into the army. In the three years since then he acquired a number of "skills" and accepted numerous responsibilities - often above and beyond what might be expected from a "normal" or "regular" kid his age. But although he did these things, it's still hard not to feel that these three years were a detour from what might "normally" be considered a regular trajectory. In that sense, even though these three years are the accepted route for a large majority of Israeli youth, three years ago he was 18, and now he's again 18 ... and getting started.
As the links at the bottom of this page suggest, three years ago I thought that I'd be writing a monthly update - though less about Eitan's experiences in the army, and more about the way that his father reacted to them. I didn't. I occasionally posted photos, primarily around "significant" stages of Eitan's service such as the completion of his tank commanders course, but I quite quickly realized that there wasn't really that much to report. He was in the army, he was doing what many other soldiers do, he was getting home on leave with a passable frequency, and time was passing. We became considerably more involved with picking him up at the road to the kibbutz when he'd get home for leave, or getting him to a bus for getting back to his base after that, and of course laundry, laundry and more laundry. If at the beginning of his service we expected a phone call almost every day, somewhere after the middle of his service we'd realize that a full week had gone by without a phone call, and though we were sorry not to have heard from him, it was clear that even more than "no news is good news", he hadn't called because he knew that we understood that everything was (under the circumstances) fine. There really wasn't anything to report. Even though "army" and "usual" really shouldn't be part of the same sentence, his service had simply become "business as usual", a routine that really didn't merit constant reporting.
An additional aspect should be acknowledged here as well. Shortly after Eitan passed the halfway point in his service Nadav started his. Nadav has now almost passed his halfway mark, and though his experience has been quite a bit bumpier than Eitan's we've learned to take his in stride as well. Three years ago I reflected that there must be something wrong with me because I seemed to so readily adjust to the reality of having a son in the army. And then I had two, and it still seemed so distressingly "natural".
This photo was taken while Nadav was still in basic training. Not too long afterwards Eitan would get home without his weapon, while Nadav, stationed in the territories, would.
So while Eitan and Nadav were away in the army we did our best to be worrying parents, but I have the uncomfortable feeling that at least on my part I wasn't worrying enough. Previous experience prepared us for not having the boys at home. They'd spent three nights of each week at the regional high school (as Hila now does as well) and this experience has no doubt made it relatively easy for us to get used to their being away. Still, "being away from home" and being in the army would appear to be two quite different things. And yet, to a large extent, for me they weren't.
I've already noted that it was with only a relatively small degree of discomfort that we moved from expecting a call every evening to realizing at the end of each week that Eitan hadn't called. Phone calls from Nadav were/are more frequent - primarily because Nadav had (and still has) a tendency to get into hot water by opening his mouth more than the army wants him to. He then "complains" to us, though there's little we can really do to help (and if there's something I can actually do he's far from sure he wants me to intervene). So I'm used to getting SMSes throughout the week, or a phone call telling me about a problem. But although I suppose that issues of dealing with (or accepting) authority should be viewed as being directly related to the army, our continued involvement with Eitan through his three years, or with Nadav at the halfway point of his service, are primarily around day-to-day, "normal life" issues, and not around issues that might be considered "military".
At first I suppose that our time at home was divided into two parts. On the one hand we had our daily tasks of work and taking care of the house. On the other we waited expectantly for phone calls and worried - to a large extent because we didn't know what we should be worrying about. As time went on our "worrying" became little more than "normal" parental concern. I think that more often than not I feared a traffic accident while on leave more than something that might happen in the army itself. So these two ostensibly separate parts quickly became joined in a "normalcy" that I've already numerous times acknowledged should, on its own, be considered abnormal.
I don't really know what sort of "adjustment" to the army the boys went through. Learning to accept authority, or at least to keep your mouth shut, may have been the hardest thing to learn (and as I've noted, Nadav still resists learning this). Beyond, that, however, I think they adjusted (if that's the right word for it) quite quickly. Perhaps faster than I did, even though I've written here that my own adjustment seems distressingly swfit. One of our more difficult "adjustments" was accepting the fact that when the boys would get home on leave their contact with us was relatively limited - leaving their laundry and raiding the refrigerator before leaving for their own rooms on the kibbutz and spending time with their friends, either on or off the kibbutz. There's nothing particularly "military" about that, though when they'd get home they would leave the bolts of their rifles by us, a security/safety precaution that rendered the rifles (stored in their own rooms) unworkable. This was a clear reminder that they really were in the army, and not just going away for a couple of weeks. But again (and again and again and again???), what all this basically shows is that the reality of the army quickly embedded itself into our already hectic lives, and even though a good case can be made that it should have been the predominant aspect, or at least very prominent in our consciousness, for better or for worse, more than anything else it simply became one more aspect.
So this uneventful diary is drawing to a close. It makes sense (at least in the name of fairness) that in another year and a half I'll add another installment - closing Nadav's chapter as well. Then again, this has, consciously, been less about my sons' army service, than about how I have related to the experience of having a son (and then two sons) in the army. Once I realized that (even if I resisted acknowledging it) this experience was distressingly banal there really wasn't all that much to write. As soon as Eitan was formally released he was also placed in a reserve unit. That's another experience we'll all have to go through.
And the day after Eitan was formally released Hila, starting eleventh grade this coming school year, received her first "call-up" for registering for the army. Never a dull moment.