Daniel was the “easy” baby. Unlike his colicky older sister, he slept longer, more deeply and woke with a smile. On the nights when he needed a little extra soothing after a feeding or a change, or when teething or a temp left him fussy, I’d sit in the rocking chair in his darkened room, singing softly to him until he fell back to sleep.
So I blame myself a little, as 17 years later, he prepares to enter college with the ROTC program. When he graduates in 2017, he will have a four-year active duty military commitment and a four-year reserve duty commitment. He talks about it being a lifelong career, though, if his dream of working for the FBI or Secret Service in counterfeiting operations doesn’t come true.
I was the smartass college student who disapproved of the ROTC guys. It was the late ’70s, and memories of Vietnam were all too fresh. I couldn’t understand these young men with their fatigues and short haircuts. Being drafted was one thing, and supporting troops was a given. But why would a college-educated person with the world in front of them opt to do this? I didn’t get it.
A few weeks ago a local Army major pointed out a truth to me, however. Military personnel don’t ask to go fight wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or Korea or Vietnam or wherever, he told me not unkindly. They go where a civilian president and Congress have determined the nation should have a military presence or participation in a crisis. So if we don’t want our sons and daughters in the world’s hotspots fighting what we perceive to be useless battles, we should not blame or think less of the military.
I’ve thought about that a lot in recent weeks, as my youngest talks excitedly and endlessly about basic training this summer, future summer training programs, military careers, airborne, deployment, etc. The words spin around me.
Would I rather he set his sights on Wall Street and making a million? No. I’m proud that both my kids seems to be focused on careers that are not about money or fame, but about service to others and ultimately, helping their fellow humans. But in the case of a military career, the parent in me is proud, but the Mom in me is screaming, “No! Not my son.”
Dan was the kid I pictured we’d experience a “Failure to Launch” with. I envisioned him living in our basement at 35, surrounded by Legos and Star Wars posters. But in the past few years, he has really come into his own. Not only does he tower over me now in height, he has an assurance about him I could only have hoped to see. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He has goals and a plan for reaching them. That’s more than a lot of parents can say about their 17-year-olds.
I’ve been breaking down while doing housework, in the car alone, or in the shower — places he can’t see me. The reality that he will come home for short breaks, but probably never truly live with us again is hitting a little hard. He’s my baby, my sunshiny little boy. I thought I’d have more time to come to terms with his adulthood, but it’s arrived more suddenly than expected.
Is he in harm’s way any more than anyone else’s child? Not really. I think about those parents in Sandy Hook who sent their 5-year-olds to school that morning in December, never dreaming they were in danger. It’s true that we are only given our children for a short while. We do the best we can and hope we’ve done the whole “roots and wings” thing right.
As my Danny boy prepares to take flight, his sister dreams of grad school in some far-away places the following year. The nest will likely be empty by the end of 2014. They’re finding those wings.
I always thought the sleepless nights, the illnesses, the emotional crises, the education, the bullying, etc., were the hardest things in parenting. I didn’t realize the hardest thing would actually be letting go of all of that . . .
I am so proud of my selfless kids. The tears I am shedding and will likely shed in the months to come are selfish ones. My baby birds are going to fly high and do some amazing things, and the world will be a better place for them being in it.
It doesn’t hurt any less, but it makes me smile through the tears.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.