Celebrating April as Month of the Military Child was first established by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986. It is meant to recognize and celebrate the important role the children of our Armed Forces community fulfill. They are the youngest, serving alongside their parents. Yet also, they might just be the most compelling force behind the service of our military members and motivation for us spouses. The military life is one that children have little say in choosing but still sacrifice so much with multiple moves, multiple deployments (over ten years of war) and the myriad of stresses that come with having a military parent. According to Military K-12 Partners, a DODEA partnership program, today there are more than 1.2 million military children, and since 2001 approximately 2 million children have experienced deployment of a parent. In recognition of my three military children, I dedicate these letters.
To My Michael,
Oh my thirteen, going on twenty son! My first-born and most experienced military child. You have your dad’s wit and now as a teenager the inept ability to drive me crazy, just like he does. You were the first; the first to take over my heart and the first to make me question my parenting skills and abilities as you began your transition to adulthood. But oh, how YOU give me strength! Though you and your brother have both been through three deployments I know you are the only one to see it from your vantage point. You were just a little five-year old when your daddy left for his first deployment. Back then I could do my best to try and explain away the reasons your dad was gone and for the most part it would suffice, just enough. Back then you really didn’t know what daddy was doing; just that he had to do it out of town for a very, very long time. Now, on a third deployment, and just shy of fourteen, you know full well our reality. You have no idea how it breaks my heart that you, and your next brother, have to live each day with the full implication that your daddy is serving in a war. How I sometimes wish you could not read or understand the news, as if you were still just five.
As parents your dad and I know full well we cannot protect you from everything. Even as an adult it pains me knowing what we know about your dad and the duty he fulfills. This is how you bring me strength. If you can wake up each morning, go to school, do what you have to do in your young life, than most certainly I can! Not to mention that at your age, with your newfound knowledge of the world we live in and how it functions, you now have your own independent thoughts. I know how perceptive you are, how you question everything, and that you are forming your own opinions on daddy’s job, our country and the purpose of the armed forces all together. Yet, you march on. Thank you for being a helping hand with the littlest in our family and doing your duties around the house. You are turning into a great young man….and I love having a teenager who can cook a full breakfast on a Saturday morning!
My Dearest Timothy,
At eleven you are full of wonder, excitement, still boyish and still need your mama sometimes. I LOVE your outlook on life! You are full of questions, soaking in all you can, not yet jaded… and I see the pride you have to be a part of this military family. You have ideas in your head ranging from being a priest to being a soldier like your daddy. Whatever you will do, I know it will be wonderful! This is also deployment number three for you, though maybe only the second one you have vivid memories of. I will never forget the most recent farewell to your dad, as the helicopters buzzed from the flight line. “Mom, I don’t want to be in the Army anymore.” “Okay baby, you don’t have to.” That’s all I could say, all I could think to say. With tears in our eyes, I knew exactly why that moment led you to say that.
You still take each day head on though, even if you’re a little bit nervous or scared… you get that trait from me. I know having a single mom right now you have had to settle for second best when it comes to your scouting, and we might be just a bit behind, but we will get there soon enough. Because of our situation you also go this road alone, none of your friends are experiencing life as you are. Now, just shy of a homecoming, and at the end of another school year, you still have the world at your feet! You amaze me with your great grades, the joy and accomplishment you get from being a big brother and your evident resiliency when you now can say, “mom, if I become a soldier….” That right there, that resiliency, you get from your dad!
My Baby Jacob,
Wow…it’s amazing, and so true, the greatest of things can truly come in the littlest of packages! Just a couple weeks away from your third birthday, you are my joy! Abundantly overwhelming, 110% more than what I need, you shatter my joy meter! I remember, though your grandma may deny it, she and others wanted you to finally be the girl to our troop of merry men. I had come to terms either way, a little girl or another boy, it really didn’t matter; I was going to love you just the same. Grandma insisted and believed I needed a little girl to keep me company, to get me through the loneliness and all of everything from yet another looming year-long deployment. Well, she was right about one thing…you would get me through another deployment!
Through dirty diapers, bath time and messy meals, you have brought me through. I know we are not quite done, even with the finish line in view. I know there will still be some bad days before our family is together again and your dad is holding you tight in his arms once more. I also know that there will be a lot of smiles, kisses, cuddling and laughter for us to pass the time! It breaks my heart every time you question “where’s daddy” and “when’s daddy coming home”…I wish I had the perfect answer, but in this situation there isn’t one. Right now you don’t understand everything that’s going on, and for now I just pray you never have another chance to figure it all out. Though we don’t know our future, I can tell you no matter what, we WILL make it through. Your laugh is infectious and brings happiness to all of us! We have the honor of being a part of your life. Thank you my lil man, my baby boy, my joy!
My three boys, you will always be my babies, my STRENGTH, my RESILIENCY, my JOY….my everything!
To all military children, may we celebrate what we love about them, embrace what makes each of them unique and put into practice what we can learn from them, our smallest of heroes!