Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and tiptoe to the window that looks out to our front yard. I carefully part the blinds and check to see if his truck is sitting by the curb. It almost always is right there where it’s supposed to be and when I see it, I can creep back to bed and rest better.
In a weeks time, that truck, and the sweet boy who drives it, will be gone. And this time, it won’t matter if I get up in the night to peek through the blinds because it will be a long time before they return.
This boy, my middle son, was born with a love for all things Army. When he was two, he loved motorcycles and wore a pair of dirt bike pajamas and black rubber boots from Walmart almost every single day for a year straight. Uniforms mattered.
Soon after, camouflage became his favorite attire. For a while, we could get away with just a camo hat, but anytime he had the chance to dress up in full gear, he grabbed it. Halloweens were easy for him. Soldier again. Over time, he amassed a collection of military gear that now fills multiple foot lockers that are just about ready for storage.
I’ve known this day was coming, but did my best to live in a state of denial. His older brother is attending The University of Texas and his best friend/cousin is now at Texas A&M. Even his girlfriend is in College Station, so up until last week I held out hope that he, too, might decide that staying in state and getting some sort of degree (business?) would suit him.
But I couldn’t have been more blind or more wrong.
Instead, last week while his brothers and friends were in school and his parents were at work, he visited the recruiter’s office, scheduled his ASVAB test, drove to San Marcos and aced the hell out of it.
He did so well that he qualified for any job in the Army he wanted and that job happens to be as a member of the 82nd Airborne Infantry. A last minute opening came up and it looks like my red Ford driving, lifelong soldier at heart gets to follow his dreams. He leaves in less than two weeks.
My heart is an absolute mess. I’m so proud of him. I’ve never seen anyone ever, in my almost half a century of living, follow their dreams like this child is. It’s awe inspiring and humbling. And yet, I’m completely undone. As a borderline pacifist, my fear and worry and anxiety is off the charts. I want my son to stay safe and I want to be able to know his whereabouts as often as other moms whose kids went off to college can expect to.
But being an Army mom doesn’t mean that’s what we’ve signed up for.
What I think I’ve learned so far is that being an Army mom means that we don’t say ‘goodbye’. We say “see you later”. We steel ourselves for going weeks, possibly months at a time, without hearing from the same kid we talked to, texted or at the very least creeped on their Snapchat on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. I’ve learned that while I will “lose” my child in the here and now, I will, in an instant, gain an immense new family and will have many sons and daughters.
I’ve learned that while people I see regularly may not understand, there are moms across the country who I may never meet, but who will understand in an instant the things I can’t say out loud.
I’m so scared. I’m so worried. And I’m sad for me. I worry about deployment. I worry about war. I worry about combat. I worry about landmines. I worry about hazing. I worry about equipment failure. I worry about our government leaders. I worry about drugs and alcohol. I worry about PTSD. It’s exhausting.
I’m jealous of my sister and my best friend who sent their beautiful children to schools that we can all drive to within half a day. I hate this feeling, but if I didn’t acknowledge it, I’d be dishonest.
Henry joining the Army just changes everything. Everything. And I can’t even begin to know all the ways our lives will actually change.
But, soon I will become an Army mom. I will fly the American flag more often than just on the 4th of July. I will wear red on Fridays to keep all those deployed on the forefront on my mind. I will plan and carefully send care packages and letters written from home. I will proudly talk about my solider without jeopardizing his safety or privacy. I will become an Army mom, sister, friend. I will pray like I’ve never prayed before.
But, for two more weeks…I will sneak into the bathroom and lift those blinds. When the truck is there, I will catch the sob in my throat and breathe a sigh of relief and release.