Monday, May 24, 2010

Military Service of Parents and Adult Children

Mollie writes:

Let me tell you, parenting doesn't get any easier once your kids are adults and fully independent.  I was on the phone with my oldest when he told me that he would be redeployed into a war zone.  Being normal, my heart sank.  Internationally, we have some nasty issues that have to be dealt with, and I'm not even close to being literate on what they are, how to deal with all things political, etc.  But I do know it's a bigger world than my own backyard, and I try to honor it in my ignorance.

But deployment I get.

When your child packs their kit and heads off to war, there isn't much a parent can do but wring her hands.  She can bake cookies, pack gift packages, send silly items for the kid (ok, only adults go to a war zone, but he'll always be my little guy) to play with when not working, and just send messages of love.  That's the long and short of it.  Ok, my rosary beads come out, because even for a lapsed Catholic, a little prayer and faith help.

But that's the extent of what I can do, that and keep the star on the back of my car and continuously thank every uniformed military person for their service when I see them on the street, at McDonald's or shopping at Target.  But I do understand that for every mother whose offspring goes off to war, there's a parent whose partner goes off to war.  

It's just the way it is.

Remember the Persian Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – February 28, 1991), when reservists were called up and sent off to Iraq/Kuwait?  I sure do - my husband was a naval reserve officer and was told to stand ready for deployment.   That meant his bags were packed and at the door for when the call came.  Luckily, in the end, it wasn't a "wet war" meaning that reserve naval personnel were largely safe and stateside, but as we know now, there's no telling when a reservist can be called up.

But in the early days of the war, things were dicey.  We wanted to keep life as normal as possible for the boys (then 8 and 6) while still maintaining our alert attitude.  We'd answer questions about Daddy's return to active duty when they arose from the children, but we didn't badger the kids for their feelings.  

Sadly, this attitude was not the same in our local school district.  Just when our service people were invading Iraq, the principal of our boys' elementary school decided that it would be a good idea to have an anti-war rally at his school to protest the war.   As a result, my barely literate 8 year old was instructed to write an essay about how bad war is, and then, during school hours when the media was on site, take part in the protest.   This was an 8 year old, ladies and gentlemen, a kid who barely knew how he felt about low-fat milk.

You can imagine how appalled John and I were.  I could list the issues but you all can figure them out for yourselves.  Kids shouldn't be exploited - not sexually, not politically.  They should be allowed their innocence until legally adults.  Having the principal of the local elementary school use the students as a vehicle for his own outrage was wrong.  Not advising parents in advance was wrong.   Taking a high profile on the evening news was wrong.  The whole thing stunk.

So, of course, I spoke up at the next school board meeting, but didn't feel better.  How could I have been so trusting of our local school district, our son's teacher?  A basic need for trust was violated, not just with the child and the schools but with the community and the schools.  I was livid.  How could they toy so arrogantly with the psychological welfare of an 8 year old whose father was packed and ready to deploy?  Would he remember his protest as an adult?  What if his father went off and didn't come back? 

What I learned was that kids have no place at political rallies.  Let the grown-ups present their rants for themselves, and not hide behind children.  If there is a salient discussion to be had, let it be, but do it without kids.

So Peter will be off again, soon, and thankfully, we've evolved as a society to be a little more respectful of the military families left behind.  If you are a family impacted by military duty, please accept my deep respect and gratitude for your service, as well as that uniformed soldier you love.  

You are in my prayers as much as Peter is.

Millie Writes:
I was a military wife for several years - Joy was born on an Air Force base in Japan - but I am a newcomer into the world of Military Parenting. Our Bender, who is celebrating nine days of wedded bliss, marked the occasion by returning today sans bride to his military base - in South Korea.

We handle it in different ways. Lance compulsively reads anything he can find about the Korean conflict, and I maintain a deliberate ignorance on the subject. Whatever your politics are, they undergo a dramatic shift when you can substitute the words, "my baby and his buddies" for that good old UPI euphemism, "American troops." This is not the path I would have chosen for Bender, yet I have to be proud of him - not only because he is doing something I consider noble, but because he's an adult making adult decisions.

Decisions like this affect the whole family. His brother texts him a flip "If you get killed, I'm never speaking to you again." His younger siblings relay news reports heard at school followed by an anxious, "Is that where Bender is?" Bender being (above all else) Bender, there's always the sneaking suspicion that he joined up mostly because he felt it was the right thing to do but partly because he knew it would cause his parents grief.

At times like this I remember our family trip to Washington, D.C. and Bender's fascination with the inscription on the reflecting pool by the Korean War Memorial: Freedom Isn't Free.

And I know that Benders and Peters and Millies and Mollies are paying the price daily all over the world.


  1. I think somehow, somewhere down deep Bender is where Bender needs to and wants to be. He seems to be doing surprisingly well for one that does not like doing what others tell him to do. I wonder how many push ups his platoon had to do during basic due to him......

    With love always L.

  2. God bless both y'all. My little brother is in the army, and has been since he got out of high school. It was good for him, even if I didn't like him going off to one of the Sandboxes. Now he is married and his wife is due literally days before me.



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