We spend every day of our parenting years hoping that our children grow into responsible, law abiding, patriotic citizens. We involve them in programs that encourage teamwork - things like sports, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, thespians, foreign language classes and mountains of other activities. We celebrate the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Flag Day and Presidents' Day among our holidays.
So why are we so surprised that our kids grow up and serve their country?
It doesn't surprise me much since my better half spent 20+ years in the Navy and Naval reserves. One weekend a month, John would put on his khakis or dress whites and go to the reserve center where he'd spend a weekend protecting our country. Reservists have a large spectrum of duties; John, an electrical engineer, was an engineering duty officer and spent years keeping up to date on electronics, dry docking large watercraft and other related naval activities. Once a year, he'd spend two weeks on active duty, usually at a base stateside, completing some short term project that required his expertise. So I wasn't surprised that our kids saw this as a natural progression.
When Peter, our oldest, went to college, he landed a full scholarship with the Air Force ROTC program. This allowed him to attend University of Portland, live comfortably on campus, and pursue an electrical engineering program that took five years to complete. The apple really doesn't fall far from the tree. Upon graduation, he went directly into the Air Force as a second Lieutenant. He continued his education as a navigator, earned his wings, and then went on for more training. He'd graduated from college magna cum laude and the Air Force was quick to place him in an advanced electronics program. So his first years in the Air Force were state side, in training.
The interesting thing about his career, where he is now a Captain, is that it's so "cutting edge" that he can't tell us much about it. Not that I'd get it anyway, I'm not a digital person. But after completing his training, Peter would get deployed to interesting places for months at a time. We didn't know where he went, what he was doing, or exactly when he'd come home. Talk about stressful!
But we wanted to be supportive and loving. So with each deployment to the Middle East, we'd send "care packages" to his APO address for forwarding on to his service site. This got to be fun since we tried to keep things humorous, light.
In the past I've sent him cookies. I, personally, think that I make the best chocolate chip cookies this side of the Atlantic Ocean. But by the time Peter would get them, they'd be less than fresh and often melted. So we started sending him packaged foods like sunflower seeds, chips, and other munchies that were hard to find in the Middle East. He liked this a lot more.
We'd send books, e-mail (not one letter, just electronic mail these days, snail mail takes so long) and would wait for his frequent phone calls. Since he couldn't tell us much about what he was doing, most conversations were stilted. "How are you?" "What's new?" Things like this would take up a full minute, so unless there was something amusing that had happened lately, conversations would be brief. We didn't want to worry him over things that he couldn't fix, so we kept small matters like kidney stones to ourselves.
Some of the better boxes we sent we'd actually purchase for his whole crew. We'd sent flying shrieking monkeys so that they could have air battles, water pistols and balloons (cammo, naturally) for water fights, the list goes on.
When we got back from our recent escape to the San Juans there was a "Thank you" note from a bunch of Air Force folks. This time, we'd sent them a pinata in the form of a bat (their unofficial mascot) cammo taffy, and a collection of kits that would allow each service person to "Make Your Own Medal." This went over well.
My point here is that we never really know what Peter is doing, but we love and respect him for it. Our way of showing it is by not troubling him over the small stuff (and yep, most of it is small stuff) and communicating with him frequently. We make sure that there are nice things for him in the mail, and nice things to share with his crew members. And when he returns from deployment, we try to meet him in Tucson where he is formally assigned, or have him come up to see us on Whidbey Island.
Right now, Peter is on deployment in a war zone and this lends to a parent's anxiety. But I know he'll be home sometime in September, so I'm looking forward to that. I'm also scouting the local stores for inexpensive silly things to send to him and the other crew members. If you have any ideas, I'm all ears!