As I strolled around the Cracker Barrel gift shop Monday night, I passed a display that’s been there for a long time; one that I never really thought about. It was a display of T-shirts, cups and other items representing the branches of the military. As I stood there scanning the shelves, my eyes landed on the bottom shelf and saw items for the United States Marine Corp. At that moment, it all hit me. All the emotions and fears surfaced and like most moms, I forced them back down so I wouldn’t cause a scene.
Now, it’s Tuesday and having some time alone, the dam has broken. My sweet boy will be leaving for boot camp in a few weeks and as proud as I am and as much as I know he is ready, I am not OK–I am not ready.
It’s hard to put into words–the bond between a mother and a son. In my mind and heart, he is still that shy little boy that smiled from ear to ear when I appeared in his preschool doorway. That adorable bundle of joy who cuddled up as I read his favorite book for the 1,000th time. The kind soul who gave all his quarters away to his third grade classmates on a field trip to the zoo so that everyone would have a chance to feed the fish.
School wasn’t an easy journey for us. Academics was not something he particularly excelled in, but he was never a troublemaker. I worried about it constantly but despite his struggle with grades, he was dependable, fiercely loyal, incredibly compassionate and a constant defender of those he felt were treated unfairly–all qualities that I now know will serve him well as he leaves for Parris Island.
I have never seen my son so focused on a goal. The twinkle he would get in those big blue eyes when he was a little boy reemerges when he talks to people about the Marines. I see his commitment. I see his passion for this. I see that this is what he wants and is ready for, so why is this so hard?
I know I am not alone as I have watched my friends’ sons and daughters leave for the military. I watched while thinking, “Wow, that’s really great!” I just thought it was this exciting time for everyone. I never stopped to think about the fear and uncertainty that comes along with the decision. It’s easy to spot the other military moms. They are the ones that pull you aside and ask, “How are YOU doing?”
To the other moms out there who are preparing themselves for similar goodbyes, you are also maybe caught between being incredibly proud and incredibly emotional. I don’t know how y’all are coping but know you are not alone. For me, I daydream about the day of his graduation from boot camp and when I get to hug the neck of my Marine.
I realize this can come across as a bit selfish, but the reality is that letting your child go is profoundly difficult. You hope and pray that, as a parent, you have adequately prepared them for life without you, though I was caught off guard. I never considered whether or not I myself was adequately prepared for life without him.
I often write veteran memorials for the Tribune. I enjoy interviewing our local veterans and especially those who served during World War II. I am amazed by how young they were when they fought for this country and the freedoms we enjoy. I am awestruck by the maturity and courage they possessed in the face of unimaginable situations. The one thing they all tell me, regardless of their experiences, is that they have no regrets and would do it all over again with no hesitation.
I hope this is his experience. I want nothing more than for him to be happy and where he feels he belongs. The bond mentioned earlier, I know is strong and it will always serve as a beacon of light when it is needed.
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