On March 2, 2003, on his 17th birthday our son enlisted in the Marines Delayed Entry Program without many comments from friends and family. As the year progressed and he went to monthly recruit events, I got the impression that others thought he had signed up for summer camp or something like that.
No one seemed to notice the gradual change I saw in him as he began his journey to become a Marine. I’m also sure that no one, other than my husband, noticed the change in me during the 15 months of preparation. I regarded his senior year of high school differently than I did with our three daughters. I remember sitting at the last baseball game of the year and thinking to myself that today my son is on the boys’ baseball team and in a couple weeks he would be at boot camp. It was an extremely sobering thought. From boy to man in one giant leap.
At his going away to boot camp open house those that attended were sincere in their well wishes to him and to us, but I still felt there was something they weren’t seeing. There were feelings building inside me that I hadn’t yet defined. Feelings of immense pride, not only in my son, but also in America, and our military. Feelings of fear at not knowing what the outcome of this enlistment would be. Different feelings for me, but feelings I also thought others should be able to relate too.
As the months passed and we all survived boot camp, then he continued his training at SOI and his MOS of heavy infantry, I began to sense an invisible barrier building between my co-workers, friends, my family and myself. It was nothing I could really identify, but it caused me to hesitate when talking with them. I had no problem sharing all our son was accomplishing; it was sharing how I was doing that caused me to hesitate.
I finally was able to pinpoint my struggle after mentioning to someone that he would deploy exactly one year after his enlistment .The response from this person was, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just like sending your kid to college.” I was shocked. I had sent three daughters off to college in different states and although I had never done it before, I knew that sending a child to war didn’t compare. Yet, I how could I explain it to them? What I was feeling all along and causing me to hesitate when sharing was that no one else ‘got it’ and this response was proof.
After hearing that comment, I became more aware of others like; “He’ll be fine, nothing is going to happen to him”, “So and so’s son was deployed and he said it was no big deal”, “It will be like a vacation, for him”, “Seven months isn’t that long not to see an adult child”, or “He’s an adult, you have to let go”. I had other mothers that if I had refused to sign on the dotted line for him, I wouldn’t have to deal with deployment. The more I heard the more frustrated and angry I became at the American public for not understanding how hard it was for a mother to have a child sent into a combat zone.
Trying to explain it didn’t seem to make any difference, so eventually I internalized my frustration at what I considered not only a lack of understand, but ignorance and sought out the company of other military moms.
However, my mindset regarding the general public’s ignorance began to subside as I realized that there was no way for them to really get it. It wasn’t an ‘ah ha’ moment that changed my attitude, but rather observing others’ lives and situations. How could they ‘get it’ if they hadn’t experienced it? Could I understand the pain of cancer without ever personally fighting it? What about the loss of a child or a job? Life has so many issues that take a toll on the emotions that it’s impossible for everyone to grasp the situations others are facing.
I was always a proud American, attended parades, flew Old Glory, was thankful for our freedoms, but never had a clue as to all that military families endured until I lived it. Now I cry freely with other military moms, just as one breast cancer survivor would do with another. We understand those with whom we have common bonds. We shouldn’t get frustrated with those that ‘don’t get it’. It really isn’t their fault. We should be patient with them while sharing our story. They’ll grasp what they can, and as for the stuff they can’t grasp, that’s okay because we have other military families that understand all too well.