Elana Diner
Elana Diner Elana is 34 years old, mother of four children, married to a husband with a military career who is rarely home. Elana Lives in Talmon and is in charge of the town's cultural and community activities. Sunday 19.6.16 No comments 1568 views

To Be a Military Wife

This year, on Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, things were different.

Suddenly it hit me. Suddenly it was closer to home.

The man who has been by my side for 14 years went back to the army and enlisted as a career soldier about six months ago. Suddenly, my family and I found ourselves spending time on army bases, eating Shabbat meals with soldiers and officers and their families. We’re getting to know other families who also come to the bases for Shabbat to be with their loved one. Suddenly, we’re becoming familiar with the reality of the army – for better and for worse. Getting called in the middle of the night. The inability to make plans, because at any given moment everything could change. Suddenly, the reality of our lives changed.

Before he enlisted, I told myself that this will be no big deal! Sleeping alone for a few nights a week – no problem! Piece of cake!  Thank God, I have two little ladies at home who help me immensely and back me up – I’ll be fine. But I didn’t completely understand what it means to be a military wife. I didn’t know what it means to be demoted from being in first place, number one on his list of priorities, to being second place. Because first place is the IDF. It’s the welfare of the soldiers. It’s the security of the State of Israel.

I naively thought that if he wasn’t in a combat position, his job must be less important and so he would be at home more often. But I quickly understood that this was not the case; his job is extremely important and his presence in his region is essential. I suddenly understood that the IDF is a huge system composed of so many different roles – most of which are of vital importance. Every soldier is important and necessary, and if one of them doesn’t do his job properly, it could affect the entire system. Suddenly, I understood that I’m in second place because in first place is all of us; that I gave my own personal husband for the greater good; that my children’s own private father doesn't only belong to them.

 

The moment that I internalized that idea, my attitude changed. My dependency on him disappeared when I suddenly understood that I had to manage alone because my other half was busy with something much bigger than me. Suddenly, I realized what I had gotten myself into and I accepted it with love. We learned to enjoy the Shabbat and holiday visits on the army base with the soldiers. We learned to enjoy the few special days that Dad is home. We learned to take advantage of the weekends to recharge, to energize for another week of being alone. I got used to sleeping alone, taking care of plumbing problems, taking out the garbage, packing up the car, checking oil and water in the car’s engine, putting air into the tires, taking the car to be serviced at the garage and tons of other things that he once handled.

I learned to revel in my cup of coffee that he makes me on the days that he comes home. I learned to enjoy the few days during the week that he functions as the father, while I allow myself to shift down my gears and crash in my bed. The children have gotten used to it too. They have gotten used to taking responsibility, helping out more at home, taking care of the younger kids and sometimes making Mom a cup of coffee when she’s really exhausted. They have learned to lend an attentive ear when Mom needs one and to be partners in this important task. They have learned how to get along on an army base and they await the unlimited bags of chocolate milk and chocolate-vanilla puddings that are so freely distributed there. They have learned how to pack up the car with our suitcases and take them out when we get home. They have learned to remind me to lock the front door at night, because that was always Dad’s job. They understood that they are also part of something much bigger and more complex that our small nuclear family. We’ve also learned to give in and compromise because there’s no choice – that’s how it is in the army.

 

We got used to our new life, and then Memorial Day and Independence Day arrived. At first, everything was normal - the ceremony at night, the stories, the pictures, the faces. But then, as the sun began to set and the day was coming to an end, when that impossible transition between Memorial Day and Independence Day was already close by – he showed up. In uniform. The tailored Class A dress uniform – and something inside of me suddenly cringed. I suppressed it for a few hours. I enjoyed the Independence Day ceremony at night, the fireworks and the celebrations. In the morning, when I got up for the festivities, I suddenly discovered that the tailored dress uniform was hanging on our bedroom door, our private and intimate door. The public becomes mixed with the private, and my husband is one of them. He visits the graves of the soldiers who are no more. He represents the IDF. I suddenly saw them before my eyes – those youthful soldiers who eat Shabbat meals with us. The soldiers who don’t sleep at night because they are guarding the border. And I also saw those who are no more. Those who left behind a beloved wife and sweet children. A wife who, like me, got used to being alone, but who also knew that he would be coming back, and then he would pamper, hug, caress. She knew that it was worth putting in the effort all week long because he would come back at the end of it and be hers again, and she would be in number one on his list for a few sweet hours…But everything shattered in her face suddenly, and he wouldn’t ever be coming back again. He wouldn’t arrive suddenly for a short visit or a weekend. He wouldn’t make her coffee or give her a few hours of rest from the heavy burden of raising their children alone. Nor would he be calling at crazy hours between meetings and briefings. And she wouldn’t be able to share with him what happened with the children or consult with him about something important at work. She wouldn’t be able to send him cute pictures via WhatsApp or tell him what the car mechanic said. And she wouldn’t be washing uniforms and every shade of gray socks. They wouldn’t drive to the base again to spend quality time together, to eat with the soldiers and sleep in the old-fashioned rooms. He wouldn’t be coming into the house anymore with a huge smile and throwing his young children up in the air. They wouldn’t ever get excited again hearing Dad’s footsteps approaching the front door. They wouldn’t send him the material for their test via WhatsApp so that he could study with them over the phone, between his meetings and briefings. They wouldn’t be asking her each day, “Mom, is Dad coming home today?”

Like every year, this day passes. Everyone goes back to their lives, their routines. Only the bereaved families stay deep in that sorrow and those memories. We, the families of career soldiers, go back to our slightly abnormal routines. A routine of alerts, briefings and being together only on the weekends. A routine of Shabbat on the army base, of practice and drills. A routine of “Dad will be home in a few days,” of survival and of purpose. A routine of every shade of gray socks filling the laundry basket, of olive green undershirts and bulky uniforms that take up the entire washing machine. A routine of pride every time he leaves the house, and of hope and prayer. A routine of a sigh of relief as his footsteps are heard approaching the front door, just before he opens it with a huge smile and throws his young children up in the air.

The difficult emotions disappear or get tucked back into their rightful spot, until they spring up again next time.

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