Monday, May 6, 2013

In which I am honest

Last Wednesday night I sat in a packed auditorium with my husband and daughter, watching the students of the JROTC receive their annual awards. My son, my small, skinny, sweet little son sat with the other JROTC students, standing only when his name was called. He got an Academic award, as well as some chevrons that go on his shoulders that I still do not fully understand. Unsurprisingly, I was so proud I nearly burst.

I will also admit that I teared up just a tiny bit when the veterans took the stage and led the crowd in the pledges and prayers that typically accompany such a ceremony. I haven't had an occasion to put my hand over my heart and pledge my loyalty to my country in quite some time. It felt good. It felt right. It felt very positive.

That night my son casually mentioned, again, that he might like to change his track in school to JROTC instead of the college track that he's currently on (emphasis on history). I told him that the intent of the "track" that you select is to prepare you for whatever you plan to do after high school. I then asked him, "Are you seriously contemplating a military career?".


He said maybe.

I will now admit that every patriotic feeling I had during that ceremony only a few hours before fell into my heart and then fell further into my feet. I felt like I was going to puke. None of this felt very positive anymore.

I don't want my son to join the military.

There. I admit it.

I love my country. I support our troops. I have absolutely nothing but the deepest respect for the brave men and women who fight and who have fought for my freedom. My dad is a Vietnam veteran. Other family members have served. Some of my best friends are in, or have been in, the military.  I dated a military man and while he was a huge dick, I honestly don't hold it against other service members.

I don't want my son to join the military.

Because he's my son. My son. My only, only son. Even if he weren't my only son, there would never, ever be another boy like him. There is no one else on this planet that makes me laugh the way he does. There is no one in this world who is smart the way he is, no one who is kind just like him. He is incredibly precious. He is my baby. My skinny, little, just as tall as his mama, size 11.5 feet baby. I cannot imagine my baby in harms way.

I know all moms feel this way. I know this. I know every single mom who sends her son or daughter off to the military has these same feelings. I know that every mom thinks "My son is precious. There is no one on this planet like my boy." I know this. I know I'm not alone. I know that no one, no one ever, wants their child in harms way. I know that, God forbid, my child could be killed in an auto accident, could fall ill with some horrible disease, could just slip out of my hands for any number of reasons. Not joining the military won't necessarily keep him safe.  I know all this.

The other part of this that I know? Is my dad.

My dad, the Vietnam veteran. The Vietnam veteran I am extremely, extremely proud of.

I say that I know this, that I know my dad, but I only know part of the story. I don't know that I will ever be able to piece together the puzzle that is my dad. I don't know if he can either.

Of course I did not know him before he went to Vietnam, in 1969. He was nineteen.

I cannot even begin to pretend I know what my dad went through. I cannot imagine the things he saw. The things he smelled. What he felt. What he had to live through, when he was only four years older than my little boy. He was just a boy himself, from the coal fields of Virginia. I cannot imagine zipping up a body bag on a friend. I cannot imagine not knowing if you would ever come home to your wife and the baby you hadn't met.

It's been forty-four years. He's still living with this. He's still dealing with this. He still jumps when a loud noise occurs, he still watches every plane that flies over his head. Part of my daddy is still there, in those jungles. I never got to have that part of him. My brother didn't. My sisters didn't. I'm irrationally angry and sad that I never got to have my whole dad because of this horrible war. He worked so hard, still works too much really, and could never escape that horror. That even as a very young child, I knew that I could not ask about his experience. He never, ever talked about it. That he's good and kind and wonderful, and he has to suffer. Every. Single. Day.

As a child I looked at his pictures from Vietnam. There were so many of the children. Little Vietnamese boys and girls who would gather around him, wearing little hats like I'd never seen before in East Tennessee. I remember being maybe eight years old and reading magazines at my grandmother's house. She kept everything, forever, and the magazines were old. There was an advertisement in one of the magazines which for some reason talked about the little Vietnamese children who carried pen bombs into the crowds of soldiers. I don't remember, at all, what the ad was actually for. For weeks I dreamed of those children. I wondered if any of them had exploded. I wondered if my dad was just lucky. If any of those children in those pictures had ever tried to blow my daddy up.

I knew it was horrible. I didn't understand how horrible it was. Still don't. I watched the movie Platoon when I was about twenty-five and I called my dad, in horror, and asked him if this was real, asked him if this was what it was really like. He paused for a long moment and told me yes. It was. I couldn't get that movie out of my head for weeks. For months. I still think about it sometimes.

It's nothing compared to what is in his head.

I don't want that for my son. I don't want my son to hurt. I don't want him to suffer. I don't want him to be afraid.

I know I can't shield him from everything. I know this.

Am I a horrible person for wanting to shield him from this?


Jana Holdeman Frerichs said...

I agree with everything you say. And for what's it worth, I feel the same way. I don't want my son to join the military either. You are NOT a horrible person.

Karen said...

The only horrible thing would be is if you kept him from doing something he truly wanted to do. But really? At 15? Who knows at that age what they really want. Maybe he could continue on the college track, and then attend college, entering the military after his degree, and go to OCS (Officer Candidate School)? That way he could make the decision about going into the military when he's old enough to properly make such a decision. Just a thought from a stranger who has two grown boys, and who's son very nearly went into the military straight out of high school, nearly scaring his mama half to death. Hugs!

Jessalee said...

Not bad. I have three boys, and I don't want any of them to join the military either. Every single male member of my family has served, from my grandfather, uncles, brother -- even grandmother and aunt! My sister was married at one time to a military man. My mom was married to a military man. I am the ONLY one not affiliated somehow in my adult life with the military. And I do NOT want my boys to join. I feel like we've already sacrificed SO MUCH as a family to the military as it is.

But... if my sons or daughter decide that that life is for them? I'll do what I can to come to grips or terms or whatever it is that a mom does because ultimately we're raising them to have minds of their own, with thoughts and ambitions and dreams that are their own, and I've got to respect that. Dang it!

Anonymous said...

Not a horrible person.

I don't understand how you aren't a more recognized author. You are seriously one of the best young authors of our time.

Robyn said...

I have two sons, and come from a very military family, but I too, do not want my sons to join the military. It's a rough life for a family of a deployed soldier and I selfishly admit that I don't want that life.

But, if they were to seriously choose it, I know deep down there is nothing I can do about it. I would be proud of them, while silently picking up the pieces of my heart in the background!

Anonymous said...

You are not horrible at all!!! Had these exact same thoughts and feelings when the recruiters started calling my son's senior year.

I'm thankful every day he didn't enlist.


Kristie said...

When my son was five, he told me he was going to be a Marine--at four he was going to be a Marine Biologist, so I figured he didn't understand that there was a huge difference between the two.

After three years of JrROTC, when he was 17, he wanted me to sign the papers to let him go to boot camp between his junior and senior years of high school. I refused. I told him that he would be giving up what would be one of the best summers of his life, and that if he was going to join the military, he would be giving up plenty soon enough. He was mad at me, and his recruiters called me to try to make me change my mind. He later thanked me for not allowing it.

My boy joined the military not long after his 18th birthday. When his friends were coming home for Christmas after their first semester of college, he was on a bus headed to Parris Island for Basic Training.

After four years including two deployments to Afghanistan, and after seeing and doing things that no young person should see or do, my son reenlisted for the Marines. He loves it. He's very good at it. I couldn't be prouder oh him, and I support him 100%.

But I can't tell you how much I hate it, and I can't begin to express the depth of my worry for him every single day.

It's okay for moms not to want their children subjected to the things that being in the military subjects them to. It's part of our job to protect our children, and watching them do something that goes against that mission is heart breaking--no matter how noble the task and no matter how much they want to do it.

All that to say: I understand. I hope your boy chooses college or some other path. He seems to have a sweet soul, and the world needs more sweetness.

Further down the line, if you want him to talk to someone who will be honest with him, and someone who made the choice to join today's military right out of high school, I'm sure my boy would be happy to do that.

In the meantime, I'll keep driving around with my bumper stickers: "Proud Parent of a US Marine," "Peace," and "Coexist."

You're an awesome--and patriotic--mom. :)

Anonymous said...

No, you're not a horrible person for wanting to shield him from this.

You're a typical mom.

But as the mom of a 22 year old boy, I can tell you - boys will pursue their dreams whether moms approve or not.

You will do yourself a favor if you figure out how to support him even when he makes choices that scare you.

{Unless of course those choices are illegal, and well, you know, then you can beat him or lock him in a closet, or whatever works for your particular family. ;) }

We've been through a lot with our son in the last couple of years. I've finally come to believe that God truly does have a plan for him, and I need to trust Him to to manage that plan. It's so hard, though. :/

Jill said...

You're not a horrible person. it's understandable. My dad watches for helicopters. He was in the Navy in Vietnam. Apparently he had to go in the water after bodies. His hearing is damaged from the sulfur cannons they used to light the sky to attack. He speaks Japanese in his sleep sometimes. No one gets close to him then. He doesn't talk about it much. Most of what I have found out is from my husband, who apparently he told these things.

I wouldnt' want my girls to go in, either. Even though my husband was in the military, and my step FIL, and my nephew is and my niece is headed toward using ROTC in college to get into officer school in the navy.

It scares me to bits. Thank you for being honest.

BakingSuit said...

ARMY Sister here who was offered the "big" life/job in Chicago one day and gave up it up the day when her brother signed his ROTC commitment paperwork.

It seems like another lifetime ago that my brother turned down the AXP fraternity bid to join the biggest fraternity in the world. Then again 10 years is a lifetime - at least it should be.

Please know that it was not a choice he took lightly, but a choice he made none the less, based on his very own reasons of familial duty, love for his country, a sense of duty to protect his sisters and the rights we all enjoy.

You're not at all a horrible person for not wanting your son to do this, it was not what we wanted for my bother, but if it's what he really wants, let him go in with his eyes wide open.

After college.

I never wanted this life for my brother, but he loves it and I can't say that that's wrong for him. It's hard, so very very hard, but he's so dang proud of his accomplishments and so am I that the fam just sucks it up and deals. We also hope that he does not reenlist when his tour is done, but that he exercises his degree to teach English or History instead.

Misty said...

I am glad you were honest. My son IS in the military. My daughter in the reserves... I really want to say I hate it, but it's hard because I love them and these were their choices. When my son was in Afghanistan- every day was torture. He's in Germany now and there are mornings that I wake up just wanting to know his boots are on American soil.
We see the people that give up their first class seats to my kids, buy them drinks and tear up to thank them. I am so incredibly grateful for these beautiful human beings. But these are MY kids. MINE... Or their God's. Whatever. The point is that it's a hard, hard, beautiful, rewarding (when they remain uninjured and alive anyway, which is all I have to go on) journey...
My heart swells more than I knew possible at the National Anthem. But there is always this little voice in the back of my fearful heart that says" For now..."