Sending a Child to War

Does a mother ever get to the point where she can look at the amazing man her son has become and still not see her little boy?

I choke up whenever I see this picture. My little boy in full body armor is not a comforting image a mother likes to see. I look at this image and I am reminded of the first BB gun Will got…his only request for his 9th birthday. (I, of course, thought he’d shoot his eye out.) I’d like to have that little boy back again, to sing Happy Birthday to, make him his favorite cake and hold in my arms again.

Before he left for his first deployment, I lectured him hard. I said, “Do NOT be a hero. I want you home in one piece. Do your job, keep your head down and don’t take any chances.”

He looked at me with his crystal clear, baby blue eyes, broke into a big cheesy smile and with more than a subtle note of sarcasm said, “Yeah mom, cause that’s the way you raised me, right???” (Seriously this kid has a smile that can melt ice and his baby blues actually twinkle!)

I hate it when he’s right. I raised him to be exactly what I was now telling him NOT to do. I taught him to defend the weak, to slay dragons and to be strong, brave and courageous, especially when it’s hard to do so. But to my defense, I’m pretty sure it’s what all of us red blooded, wonderful, wacky, moms do. We teach our children to be fiercely loyal to God, family and country. We drag our kids to every 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day parade and teach them to stand with their hands on their heart as the vets walk …or in wheelchairs, roll, by. We teach them about the sacrifices that were made by so many, that we might all enjoy the freedom we have today.

So, when my son, like his sister before him, choose to join the USAF I was very proud. In the back of my head I knew he’d eventually have to be deployed but I tried to not think about it. But then it happened. It was his turn to go. I cried for two days and it was something like four months away! Once he was gone, I’d catch myself almost hyperventilating at the thought of him being there. When he sent home this picture, with the same big, charismatic smile he’d given me before he left, I sobbed uncontrollably. Do NOT let my smile in this photo fool you. I was inconsolable.

My son is home now. He is now a Major in the JAG (that’s fancy, military talk for being a lawyer) and he is based at the Pentagon. I will never pretend to be happy that my son had to go to war. However, I am so proud of him I could burst. I am grateful for all the young men and women like him choose to serve our country and stand ready to defend our freedom… but I’m still not happy about it.

Mothers should not have to bear sending their children to war. Somehow, I think things might be different if wars were decided by mothers whose children would be the ones fighting. War would simply be a concept and not a reality. No mother would ever tolerate it… from any country.

A side note about my son’s wife: It’s tough on my son, having to leave his family for his military obligations, but it’s even tougher on his wife and their five kids. Today, in hindsight, as I think about her, JoAnn, is the real hero of this story. She selflessly held down the front line and kept the home fires burning with a houseful of little kids with the youngest only being 4 weeks old at the time he left. (Tell me that isn’t the tougher job!) She is amazing– strong and tough as nails. She never complained and is still, today, giving my grandchildren a rock-solid foundation at home. The smartest, most clever thing my son ever did was to convince her to marry him! Oh yes, my son chose well.

As Father’s Day approaches, I am reminded of the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

I grew up my “mama’s girl. I look like her, act like her and talk like her. My only sibling, my sister Cathy, was “daddy’s girl.” Of this there was never any doubt. We were both nurtured in a home of faith, love and security. Our parents raised us to believe we could do anything we set our minds to, and that the sky was not the limit… there simply was no limit. While they pushed us both to be and do our best at everything we tackled, whatever we accomplished was always enough for them. I never, ever once felt that I was in any way a disappointment to them.

Because of my Dads job he worked long hours and traveled a lot. When he’d come home, we were always excited to see him and both Cathy and I vied for his attention. But no matter the fuss we made; he’d briefly acknowledge us, but then headed straight to my mom to give her his 100% undivided attention.  Without exception, the first half hour after he got home, Mama would shoo us both away. This time was always reserved for just the two of them. They’d sit out on our back lanai in a big wicker swing with something cool to drink and just talk. We were not allowed to interrupt. Oh, we’d try from time to time but we were always put in our place.  I can remember thinking at the time, when my childish needs would flare up, that it was unfair that we couldn’t join them. Now, in hindsight, I realize this was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

My parents were putting each other first. Their love was built on a solid foundation and they intended to keep it there…for their sake as well as ours. They were deeply devoted to one another and nothing could divide them. That strength and foundation gave my sister and I a security that no attention or physical gifts could ever replace.

After I married my husband, who was widowed with four children, and took on all the responsibilities of what that encompassed, it was easy for me to be so overwhelmed with kids that there was never any time left for myself much less my husband. The kids quickly learned how to manipulate one parent against the other in an attempt to vie for attention. They were good at it and it was working. The monkeys were running the circus!  At one low point, practically in tears, we stepped back and tried to look at the chaos and make sense of it. Both of us decided that it was far more important for our relationship to be nurtured than to fret over all the little things that were slipping through the cracks. We needed to prioritize our lives and put each other first. We hoped that if we did, everything else would fall in to place. At first, it was hard for me to fathom as kids were crying, whining and throwing tantrums. They were young and I felt needed me 100% of the time.   Then, as if I was watching a B-  sci fi movie with low budget special effects, I could see my minds eye zooming in on the visions of my own childhood where my parents were sitting on the swing, being fully present, together. United and inseparable. In that moment it all became crystal clear. We decided to mimic their example and devote one on one time to each other each day and vowed to put each other first, no matter what.

The results were amazing. Our wounded, broken little family took on a new attitude. The children saw that once again there was stability and security in their world. Sure, they fussed a bit but we were committed. Slowly, life moved on and the family settled into the new routine. What now seems like a moment in time fast forwarded to the kids all grown up now with children of their own.  As I see them all struggle a bit, as young families always do, I see them trying to mimic that same example my own parents started so very long ago.

So now, it’s time for me to sign off on my blog for this week. You see, today, like every day, I have a date with my sweetheart. I need to get home to my “Big Al” who today will be waiting for me to go for a walk on the beach with him. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just that precious one on one time, with no phones, no kids and no stresses, being fully present, and together, united and inseparable… the wonderful daily task of maintaining that strong foundation with the love of my life, we built so very long ago.

Thanks Mom and Dad for this gift.