Petach Tikvah – Central Israel
Rachel lay awake in bed wondering who would come home first. Though her four oldest offspring were married and settled, her three youngest were all teenagers, and so she still couldn’t sleep any better than when she had four in elementary school and three under the age of five. It wasn’t that she was seriously worried something bad would happen to any of them. But still, disaster seemed to strike most often at night – and she was not prepared to join the ranks of Israeli parents harshly woken by pre-dawn knocks on the door, only to hear the worst possible news that could never wait till morning.
So Rachel read the newest Jodie Picoult novel until she heard her 13 year old slam the front door shut and then sing his favorite rap song while urinating with the bathroom door left open. She glanced at her watch. 10:27. Not bad. Three minutes shy of his curfew. What he found so enthralling about sitting in the park with friends when it was cold enough to see your breath she couldn’t imagine. But actually, she could. She had been there, done that too. Though in tenth grade, perhaps, not eighth.
Rachel got up to brush her teeth, and then went into the living room to fold some of the perpetual flow of clean laundry that was relegated to the couch after she transferred wet loads from the washing machine to clothes lines, and then dry to a basket. The amount of clothing that passed through her hands every day was astonishing and seemed to be on the rise. On numerous occasions in the last few months she had burst into one of her children’s rooms without knocking, shaken a suspiciously familiar looking shirt or pair of jeans in the air, and demanded to know, “Did you even wear this before chucking it into the hamper for the third time this week?!?”
But she was thankful for something mindless to do as she fought off her fatigue. There was no point getting back in bed again until her youngest daughter made an appearance, because she was the child who invariably missed the last bus, or lost her cell phone, or forgot her key. She was also the one who could be counted on to call home to say she was delayed, that she was sleeping at a friend’s house after all, or that her mother should leave the door unlocked – she’d be there in half an hour. She promised! If only those phone calls didn’t always come exactly five minutes after Rachel had finally dozed off. This time she would stay awake. Disturbed sleep was so much more annoying than insufficient sleep …
At 11:15 her daughter waltzed in, giggling with a friend on her cell phone. Without removing her earphones, she smiled at her mother and gave her a conciliatory peck on the cheek, and then disappeared into her room and quickly shut the door behind her. Rachel sighed. Verbal communication with her 16 year old was perhaps too much to expect. She should be grateful the girl even made eye contact with her once a day.
Two down, one to go. Rachel knew her 18-year-old son wouldn’t be home before midnight, and she was fa
r too tired to pass the time by baking cookies or watering plants at such a late hour. She decided to surrender herself to her bed’s magnetic draw, and in the morning she would check to see that her son was safely beneath his blankets – destined to remain immobile at least until noon, thereby granting her several hours of worry-free maternal peace. The minute Rachel laid her head on her pillow and curled up on her side, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The hum of the apartment’s central heating woke Rachel up with a jolt. She squinted at her bedside clock and saw it read 3:30 AM. Her 18 year old had evidentially returned and wanted to take the edge off the chill in the bedroom he shared with his younger brother. Heaven forbid he should try to maintain perfect silence while preparing for bed two hours before the rest of the family was due to start waking up. He then flicked on the hall light – finding pajamas in the dark was a skill he didn’t yet possess – and while he avoided waking his brother, the glare was strong enough to startle his mother into an immutable state of cognizance.
Rachel was so irritated by her son’s lack of consideration that she wasn’t able to fall back asleep, and then scowled at her husband, who was such a deep sleeper that even his own raucous snoring didn’t ar
ouse him. Rachel lay in bed for another 10 minutes listening to what she could only compare to a sawmill, and finally got up in frustration and wandered back into the living room. After turning off the glaring hall light, and the heat, Rachel searched for a corner of the couch still free of laundry. As she lowered her body onto the well worn cushions, she grabbed her cell phone off the table. With a level of dexterity that was impressive for someone from her generation, she slid her thumb across the screen until she opened the Whatsapp application and began to type.
“I can’t sleep. Every little noise wakes me up. That’s because I’m a mother. What can I do?”
She pressed send and waited. Was anyone else in the family group online?
Suddenly she heard the telltale “gling.” Someone was responding.
The sender was her second to oldest son, Eli, a platoon commander in the IDF. She worried about him too, but not as much as the others. For despite the inherent danger in his profession, she always knew more or less what those dangers were, and so didn’t fall victim to her rich imagination every time he didn’t answer his phone.
“Why can’t you sleep?” Eli texted.
“All my night owls have been arriving home one after another, and only now the house is quiet. But now my adrenaline thinks it’s morning. So here I am. Nice to talk to you!” Rachel attached a smiley face with a kiss to her message.
Before Eli could answer, Rachel typed again. “And what are YOU doing up at this hour?”
But of course, Eli ignored her question. “Good night, Ima. Have a good sleep.”
“Good night to you too, my sweet one.” Rachel pressed “send” and then turned off her phone and put it back on the table. Crossing her arms behind her head, she leaned back and closed her eyes, bringing her soldier son’s image to mind and praying silently for him to stay safe.
Rachel knew, of course, that Eli couldn’t tell her why he was awake just then. It was lucky he even found the time to respond to her post. Ever since he had been drafted into the IDF ten years earlier, he had shared stories of his training, the guard duty and missions, the special courses, and then more missions. But nothing too frightening for a mother’s tender heart to bear, and never any details that might jeopardize the security of even a single Israeli soldier. She knew he did things he would never describe for her, and that she would in fact rather not ever know about. She read the papers. She had done research on his unit on the internet. She had mixed feelings of fear and pride that he was involved in coordinated raids to apprehend terrorists, and her only real gripe was that his name and photo never appeared in the media. He could never receive credit for the work he did. For his own protection, he wasn’t even permitted to have a Facebook page where he could brag of his accomplishments.
Rachel began to feel drowsy again, and began to make her way back to bed. As she fell asleep for the second time that night, she wondered for a split second if Eli – who as a child had always stubbornly balked at wearing his coat in the winter – was dressed warmly enough that frigid winter night.
Eli, too, turned his phone off, and put it in the glove compartment of the armored jeep. He whispered to his driver, “Don’t even t
hink about playing with that while I’m gone,” and winked in an uncharacteristic show of levity. Then, accompanied by his signaler, he got out of the vehicle and walked over to the group of soldiers waiting for their orders. Just 800 meters away, dozens of youths were hurling rocks and Molatov cocktails at the checkpoint on the road leading to their village, and not even the whipping February wind could drown out the sound of their frenzied shouts.
Silat al-Harithiya Village, Jenin Governorate – Northern West Bank
Maryam lay awake in bed wondering who would come home first. Though her four oldest offspring were married and settled, her three youngest were all teenagers, and so she still couldn’t sleep any better than when she had four in elementary school and three under the age of five. It wasn’t that she was seriously worried something bad would happen to any of them. But still, disaster seemed to strike most often at night – and she was not prepared to join the ranks of Palestinian parents harshly woken by pre-dawn knocks on the door, only to hear the worst possible news that could never wait till morning.
Batya Shevach is a freelance writer living in Israel. When she isn’t writing, she gets inspiration for more stories from her nine children and growing number of grandchildren. So many words, so little time …