Peacemonger Mom

My son just enlisted in the military. I'm a peace activist. Why couldn't he have rebelled in some other way, like being republican?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Parental Connections

Isn’t it funny how we can imagine things one way, and get that image ingrained into our minds, only to have that image totally deflated by reality?

We spent a few days this past week with TB – he was supposed to graduate from Basic Training, and move on to AIT. He didn’t though, because he missed the run by only a few seconds, so they will be moving him on to FTU – a fitness training unit. If he’s really serious about this, he’ll be out of there in no time. If he’s just doing the typical TB stuff that he’s done throughout his teen years, then he will futz around in FTU until the Army tosses him out on his can. I think he’s going to be moving on to AIT rather rapidly, because I saw things in him this past week that I had no idea existed within him.

I have spent so much of his life seeing only his father within him – and that was my fault. I have spent so much of my life being afraid, being intimidated, allowing that portion of my life that was violent and scary to be the pivotal, central aspect of me. The part of TB that seemed to reflect his father frightened me and made me worry all the more for him. Will he be a violent man like his father? Will he treat women poorly, like his father?

We are not stuck in the roles that we are given. We are all given the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to move on, to morph and to grow. I have been mistaken in seeing TB as a carbon copy of his father. TB is not his father, and he is not me. He is himself, nothing more and nothing less. I saw that this past week, as he stood next to his father and his hazel eyes – unlike his fathers, and just like mine – radiated out at me, and as he played dominos with friends, I watched his hands move, hands that are so unlike mine, and so like his fathers, but neither of these attributes were exact in their mirroring of me or of TB’s father. Each of them had been touched and altered by TB, and that made them unique, not solely of me, or of TB’s father. I could see TB now as something more than I did before, and I feel so grateful for this opportunity to have presented itself, and that TB’s father actually was able to be there. He was a central part of my awakening to this fact, even if he didn’t know it.

My father was down here too, to go to the graduation with me. He was excited about the trip, and excited to see the changes within TB. We also took the chance, Hon and I, to show Pops around our little corner of academia – he went to both our schools, met important people to us, and saw important things. He understands more now about my discipline, a discipline which previously he simply didn’t understand at all (largely due to a difficulty in listening, but that’s a different post).

It was a weekend of learning, and I was blessed to be so educated.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

That's a Poncho, Not a Tumor.

Who knew? I mean, really, who would have imagined? I received a letter a few Fridays ago from TB, saying that he would be within two hours of me, attending a college football game. Would I want to go?

Everything immediately went out the window that I had planned for the weekend – a party get together that I had been planning to attend with my peeps, the work and writing I was going to do on my prospectus, everything. The questions were asked: did I really think I would find him in a football stadium? Did I think that the Drill Instructors would let me speak to him? Various embarrassing scenes rushed through my mind – having TB paged, as if he was a lost child in a Wal-Mart, having his name put on the score board, taking the field with the cheerleaders to be tossed into the air, clutching a sign that read, “TB! Your Mom Loves You and is at Gate 7!” I knew that each of these ideas, while excellent in and of themselves, would likely have the opposite effect than what I desired, i.e., I wanted to be able to talk to TB, not be escorted from the premises, or ignored by my son due to my profligately embarrassing behavior.

Thus I knew that I had to be crafty, I had to engage that aspect of the body which does the heavy lifting involved in parenting. I knew I had to go. I couldn’t not go. But if I go, and don’t find him, don’t even see him, have I gained anything? At the risk of sounding all Donald Rumsfeldian, heavens to betsy, yes! I have to go.

So I went, with absolutely no plan in my mind – a concept which filled Hon with horror, dread and caused his immediate refusal to attend said game. “You don’t even know if you’ll find him!” he exclaimed at one point. “It’s a FOOTBALL STADIUM,” he pointed out to me, slowly, as if speaking to the chronically deaf, chronically stupid or chronically optimistic (of those, I believe that I am only one, and I will leave the decision as to which one up to you). Hon wished me luck, asked me if I had my Google map, cash and identification (I would need that should I be arrested for rushing the field). I took off for the game, wondering how in the world I would find the stadium, much less my son amongst goddess knows how many other similarly attired young men (said attire being specifically designed so that they could not be easily spotted).

I arrived at the stadium with what seemed like a billion other people, all slogging through the rain and mud to get through the parking field (the parking lot, complete with asphalt and pretty lines seemed to be reserved for alumni or something) and as I approached the stadium, I saw a rainbow – faint, but hanging over the parking lot nonetheless – and I felt some hope stir. It wasn’t THAT big of a football stadium, after all.

After I purchased my THIRTY TWO DOLLAR ticket (Hello Highly Overpriced Event! I’m Broke College Student! Have some money! And give me a few of those $4 bottles of water too!) I walked around the stadium towards the large bus that said “Go Army!” on it. I figured that would be a likely place to start (why yes, I AM a graduate of the Sherlock Holmes School of Brilliant and Incredible Deductions, why do you ask?). As I got closer to the entrance, I noticed a long, long, line of recruits at the Chik Fillet counter. Well there’s my answer, I thought with a mental head slap. I’ll just wander around the food vendors and ask other recruits if they know him. If need be, I’ll ply them with fried food, sodas and wave my cell phone at them. Surely they’ll help out when offered such a bounty of riches.

I walked among the be-cammo’d troops, peering into each face, and feeling like I was swimming upstream, surrounded by thousands of fish, all identical but with one being the golden sneetch, the baby in the Fat Tuesday cake, the needle in the haystack. I began to be glad that they all had their names on their hats as well as their uniforms. I walked to the end of the stadium, still peering and hoping, and turned around to walk again, determining that if I didn’t find him at the food, I would start asking other soldiers soon. I looked to my left and suddenly locked eyes with TB – his pizza smeared face (some things never change) breaking into a giant grin as I could feel my face doing the same thing. I was reminded of the first time I held him and he opened his eyes and looked at me – a look that I felt inside as much as I met it on the outside with my own. I ran over to him and gave him a hug – and he hugged me back. No little pat on the back, or “God Mom, do you mind?” A real hug.

He introduced me to his buddies, who I would imagine were somewhat confused as to why some woman would bolt up and grab one of them out of their midst. “It’s my mom,” he explained, while I apologized for crying. I seemed to have lost control of my facial muscles in a most embarrassing fashion, as well as my tear ducts. It happens a lot these days.

“Your MOM?”, one of the others almost shouted. “Your MOM is here? THAT’S EXCELLENT!” I began to think that perhaps he had stood too close to a recently detonated hand grenade, or perhaps had suffered some sort of unfortunate Ipod injury while a civilian. “I wish MY MOM was here!” With that, he and the other soldiers sort of wandered off, leaving me to spend time with TB to my heart’s content.

He pitched the rest of his pizza (what? Incompletely consumed pizza? From TB? UNHEARD OF.) and polished off his soda. He was sunburned, nearly zit free, and had lost scads of weight. Prior to going in, TB could have been the poster boy for the “Before” picture for a weight loss/zit cream/bad attitude medication. And now, suddenly, contrary to all I had thought I would see, it appeared that he was the poster boy for the “After” as well. Could it be that the structure of the Army provided him with everything he needed and was incapable of accepting from me, his father, his grandfather, his step parents, his sister, his school and the legal system? Why? Would it last? Would he live through his enlistment without getting a limb or body part shot off, and without getting this new Nice Kid shot off as well? Do they make body armor for this new aspect of him, as well as for his physical self?

Our visit was excellent, and I had only a couple of brief moments of grief – when I first saw him, obviously, but I recovered from that quickly. When they left I didn’t see him leave, I must have been looking away, because he was there, and then he was gone, just like that – it was so sudden, the space occupied by The Boy one second was empty the next, and I didn’t even get a last wave in. But the worst, far worse than that was the benediction, the anthem and the introduction of a wounded soldier and a soldier about to head to Iraq for his third tour. I got angry – so angry, so furious, so incredibly livid that this athletic event, this game, was filled with people willing to send others out to fight for them, to die for them, to die for some ill-defined, amorphous, ultimately empty cause. Give me the option of holding on to “freedom” or the right to cast a vote which can then be cast aside, against the option of holding the hand of my boy? I’m taking the hand of the live boy over the vote any day of the week, and twice on November 7th. No, I didn’t sing the anthem, I didn’t put my hand to my chest, instead I put my hands to my face and wiped away the angry, furious, boiling tears that I could no more control than I could stop TB from signing on the dotted line and putting on the BDU’s that he is now so proud of. Motherhood is a state full of power and strength for 18 years, then suddenly overnight, it is an ideal to be fought for, it is something to be attained by the young, but it’s no longer a place of power – it’s a sunset, it’s a card, it’s a little old lady and antimacassars. I have no say in his life. In any way at all. I see lights in the tunnel, and think “TRAIN!” TB sees the lights in the tunnel and thinks he sees where he needs to go. Which of us are right? What if we both are?

Family Day is this Thursday, and Friday is graduation – TB will be headed into his last 6 weeks or so of training, his AIT training. I’ll try to do better to post more about it at the time that we return – writing about this brings out things that I Scarlett O’Hara away, and hope not to have to deal with, but of course, that’s never a good option, is it, because you know, Rhett always boogies at the end, and Scarlett always is left sitting on that damn staircase, and procrastination really never gets anybody anywhere, unless the whole point is inaction, and isn’t inaction really a decision to act in a specific way anyway?