Out There: Mud slides

Painting by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Painting by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
The 27-second video clip starts with six soldiers standing under the grim, half-exposed, concrete shelters that dot the firing ranges on IDF bases around the country. The sky is gray, the terrain looks like a moonscape.
Off camera, an officer gives an unintelligible shout, repeated much louder and with greater gusto by the full-throated, fired-up soldiers.
Then, holding light machine guns and wearing full military vests laden with canteens and additional rounds of ammunition, they dive into the mud beneath them. I mean they really dive, head first. They don’t just gingerly ease themselves into the soggy soil.
One kid in particular jumps in with great relish, not a belly flop into the sludge but, rather, a vertical leap off his feet to get more elevation, before thrusting himself horizontally to the ground. You’d think he was diving into a shimmering lake.
That’s my boy. And I don’t mean that figuratively, as in “atta boy.” I mean it literally, as in, “That’s my No. 2 son, the one known as Skippy.”
“AD ELAI! (Unto me!)” the officer cries, his words now intelligible. And the soldiers – belly and face down in the muck – repeat the call with great macho enthusiasm.
Then they set off on a crawling race – slithering on their stomachs, propelled by their elbows, lugging their machine guns – to the feet of the officer.
You see them sloshing through the mud of the flat terrain, seemingly impervious to the pain as their bodies and legs roll over large stones in their path. You hear the grunts and the sound of the machine guns clunk-clunking on the ground as the crawlers drag their massive weapons alongside them.
My son wins the contest by a gun’s barrel. I well up with pride.
Funny thing, that. Never would I have imagined, growing up in Denver, that the thing that would one day bring me great pride from a 21-year-old son would not be a degree from a fancy college, nor an entrance- level job at a high-powered company, but the ability to crawl as a soldier like a Rocky Mountain reptile.
Now that’s naches.
IT IS obvious that the things that bring us joy from our children change over the years. You thrill when, as babies, they turn over from their backs onto their stomachs. Then you go nuts when they say their first words, or take their first steps, or sing their first notes of “Maoz Tzur” at their first Hanukka performance in their first preschool.
There is the bar or bat mitzva, the positive remarks from teachers, the high-school graduation, and – once in a great while – the kind treatment shown to one of their siblings.
On most occasions, The Wife and I can concur – even without verbalizing it – when a proud moment has arrived.
For instance, when Skippy read his first book, I could honestly tell him – speaking for The Wife as well – “We are proud of you,” not only “I am proud of you.”
Not so with the military mud video. The pride I felt was not universally shared in our home. Indeed, to a certain extent it turned into our family’s own little Rorschach test.
MY PRIDE after watching that clip is a result of the heavy Zionist baggage I bring to just about everything I look at. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, seeing any of my kids in an IDF uniform, watching them train in a Jewish army to defend a Jewish state, just always – but always – does it for me.
It’s pride at his being part of the first Jewish army in 2,000 years; pride in his willingness to put himself through this, when he could have opted for a much easier route; pride at his physical ability to be able to do it.
In other words: Damn, does that boy crawl like a trooper for his people.
His crawling aptitude, by the way, was something neither The Wife nor I knew the young man even possessed. I mean, go know. How could we know? Once he reached two or three, he stopped crawling around the house.
I don’t remember ever crawling during my truncated shlav bet army service, nor ever in my 15 years in the reserves. Not once. I also don’t remember my first son coming home from his IDF service, as this one does, with scratches all over his body, and cuts all over his hands from crawling.
But Skippy, he seemingly crawls all the time, everywhere. Over all kinds of terrain. Through thistles and thorns, over rocks, up hills and down, under the moonlight and in the sunshine.
“If you gotta crawl, you might as well be good at it,” I think to myself, watching that mud video for the 12th time and beaming – just beaming – with pride.
But The Wife? She thinks I’m nuts.
“WHAT ARE you so proud about?” she said. “He didn’t have to leap into the mud, he could have just lunged in like the others. You’re proud that he excels at crawling?” The emotion that overcomes her, as we watch the clip, is less pride, more concern. It’s a concern for his safety, crawling over all those rocks; and about his judgment, opting to plunge with great enthusiasm into the mud, rather than just “getting by.”
Though no less ardent a Zionist than me, she brings with her all that added motherhood baggage: not wanting him to hurt himself or strain too much.
“He should just take it easy,” she said. “What’s he trying to prove, for goodness sake?” The Lad, my oldest son, had a different take altogether.
Having been in a select combat unit himself – been there, done that – his feeling was not pride, nor concern, but a pity born of over-identification. “Misken (Poor guy),” he said. “Why do they make him do that. What’s the use, really? Misken.”
And my daughter, she just thought her younger brother was a total freak. No pride, no concern, no pity – just wondering what kind of mutant jumps headlong into the mud with so much relish, so he could more swiftly pull his body through the muck.
Most interesting, however, was the reaction of my youngest son. Like his older brother, he, too, felt bad for what his other brother was enduring. He watched the video in a warm room, on his smartphone, and it hit him hard that while he was all warm and snug, his brother was cold, sore and muddy.
But what hit him even harder – something that didn’t hit anyone else in the family – was the realization that what he was watching comfortably today would probably be what he will be experiencing in the flesh tomorrow.
While the rest of us saw a grime-sliding, dirt-chomping Skippy, he saw himself, because in about a year he, too, will be in the army.
And when he is, he can rest assured of one thing: No matter what he does, I’ll be full of pride, even if – nay, especially if – he’ll be crawling through the mud.
A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com