color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: You Always Worry

Sunday, December 12, 2004

You Always Worry

As a parent, you always worry about your kids. First when they walk - those little stumbling steps... tottering, weaving while you tried to keep your hands as close as you could so that when they did fall, they didn't fall too hard. Or into some piece of furniture. Next running. Then on to playing in the yard. Then riding bikes. Skateboarding. Rollerblading. Snowboarding. Then the worst --driving. Each new progression with a little more danger, a little more speed. A little more independence.

Looking back now, it's plain to see that those steps in their abilities were also steps in their independence and steps in my trust in their growth ... let the rope out a bit... let go of the back of the bike... And not a little of why you worry and the basis of your fear is that you have "been there." You remember what it was like to suddenly realize that no one was holding onto the seat of that bike. First the panic and then the elation. You remember what went through your head the first time you hit that mogul... or how fast your heart was beating the first time (hell, every time) a pitcher decided you needed to be brushed back off the plate.

And you do those mental gymnastics of balancing the need to protect with the need to let them achieve. Those split second calculations in wee recesses of your brain between the "you" part of the exercise and the "them" part. There are parts of every parent that never accept that their child's successes and eventually their complete independence from you is total validation of the fine job you did as a parent. At that moment, all you are aware of is the worry.

This is especially difficult for me as a military mom. My sons were so completely confident in themselves and so willing to serve, that they each volunteered to serve in the US military. I admit that I am exceptionally proud of my children (as if I were unique in that regard!) Even though my husband was a career Navy officer, most of his 24 year career was ended and his civilian career begun by the time the oldest was in high school -- the youngest barely remember it -- so I did not really consider us a "military family". That is, until all three sons enlisted in the span of five years.

While both of the oldest boys joined -- and one completed his stint -- before the war in Iraq, the youngest joined immediately before the war. He didn't join because the country was going to war. He joined in spite of it.

After having survived the usual "raising your children" worries, I have come to realize that there is a whole new level of worry associated with being a military parent. When they go off to basic training (or boot camp, depending on what branch of service), you start your day -- every day -- wondering what they're doing and whether they're doing it well enough. You read everything you can find on the training. You talk to the people who know. For mothers like me who have "been there" before, you worry more. You seek solace from the other sons who tell you, "Don't worry, Ma. He'll be fine. He's tough. He can handle this." You're not so sure.

You know the brothers and their Dad have talked to one another. You think it must not be that bad -- otherwise, why wouldn't one brother have talked the others out of it? You talk over the dinner table about what the training syllabus says they're doing that day. The letters come fitfully. An occasional phone call when permitted. You worry he's sleep deprived. You worry he's cold and wet... his feet hurt... he's hungry. Or maybe he got the DI who hates his job and therefore hates his recruits. Or maybe just your recruit. You discover that there are an endless supply of things to worry about. Then, the same way you forgot the pain of childbirth and had another, the pride that explodes from you when you get to pin on that blue braid -- and watch as your son parades with his new brothers as Honor Platoon erases every ounce of worry.

Now it's Airborne training. You worry about how quickly they learn to jump. Shouldn't they take like 6 months to train people to jump out of perfectly good airplanes with 100 pounds of equipment tied to them? You take little pleasure in the descriptions of what it's like to jump and how great he thinks this is. Once again, the pride that overwhelms you when you get to pin those wings on and stand next to that beaming man erases all trace of the worry you endured every day.

And the whole time your son was in training, soldiers and marines have been dying in that war. You guiltily tell yourself, "ok, by the time he finishes his training, the worst of it will be over... and maybe he won't have to go." And you know your son is feeling poorly about the situation because guys he went through basic with are there. Some are wounded. Some have died. Others may yet be wounded or die. He feels that deeply. He worries for them. He wants to go and contribute to the effort.

Now he's with a unit just back. He sees first hand the effect the war has had on his new compatriots. And you worry that this will affect him, too. The rumors come and go about where they will deploy and when. You worry. He tells you that they are out in the field training. He tells you they are going to Louisiana to train some more. You worry while he trains, but you know that the more they train the safer he might be... and the longer it will be until they go. You worry they're not training enough.

Then you hear. They're going. You know where (well, the country). You know when (kinda). A whole new set of worries. The news -- which you have followed religiously since he enlisted and which has always brought to mind the other mothers -- becomes unbearable to watch. You try hard not to read too much into the stories. You avoid looking at the pictures. At least you try.

You spend hours making up mental lists of things you want to say.... things to remind him to do about his car, his insurance, his phone... lists of things to send once he's left for there. You try not to worry. You try not to do or say anything that will worry him. You try to stay upbeat, positive, encouraging. Don't want to do anything that might distract him from the mission -- staying alive. But the worry takes up a little more of your time -- my time -- every day. I am more emotional whenever a brother or sister asks and I wonder how I will be able to hold it together for the holidays... Then I tell myself "Today I will do what I can do today."

I worry. As a parent, you always worry.


At 7/16/2005 10:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You always worry, as a parent", touches right where I am now. My son told me on his call from the base yesterday to try to stay positive. Being positive is essential to safety and keeping your focus and wits about you. He says he can understand the momma tears, but needs to have a lot of positive input as well. So here is the task of support, magnified and intensified 1000 times but repeated, as you said, over the years with each new challenge. Seems being a soldier's mom is a lot like being a soldier yourself in a war to control your thoughts and behaviors. He doesn't need me for the practical matters, he and his wife are doing better than I could with those. He just needs me to believe in him - after all who knows him better, has watched him longer, has helped him meet challenge after challenge for the first 20 or so years of his life!
The one thing that still mystifies me, after raising 2 boys and a girl, is just when and how did they become men? With women,(at least myself and my daughter), childbirth seemed to work some mysterious change that took me from being squimish about bugs to being able to act like a mother bear to protect her children. More than hormones really, just necessity and my role - it was mine to do. I hear my son talk like that about this assignment, but it sounds so foreign to me.The heart sees him as the youngster that needs to be protected while the mind is trying to accept the man who wants to protect me. Mysterious but inevitable.


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