Friday, November 9, 2012

Growing a Man

The tears started before the plane landed. My daughter looked at me, her eyes creased in frustration.
"Are you crying again?"
"I can't help it," I sniffed, looking away. "I can hardly wait to see him. I'll probably cry all day tomorrow, too." She grunted in disgust and turned toward the window. I could feel my chest tighten and my breath catch, stuck and tripping on twenty years of raising a boy.



We'd been working quietly in the kitchen when he slowly announced he didn't want to go to college but into the Army. Bent over a pile of apples, he rolled them in his massive hands, scraping the peels before gently passing them to me. I stopped rolling the crust and stared at him. The daughter of a Vietnam veteran married to an Air Force aviator, my family's military history dates to the Spanish American war. I am a pacifist and have seen enough of war. Family memories are intertwined with deployments to Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. My children proudly rattle off the nearly 40 countries their father has traveled to without comment to the birthdays and milestones missed.


He put down the peeler and turned to me. Keenly intelligent and comfortable with the military, he has wanted to enlist for years. History, foreign policy, and the philosophy of warfare are fascinating to him. I asked about waiting until after college but he silently shook his head. "I'm tired of experiencing life through a book, Mom. I want to go live it." When the tears started he pulled me towards him and let me cry.


Freezing in the metal bleachers, I listen to the announcer describe the challenges of Army basic training and start to cry all over again. I had seen the changes in his letters home and had felt the frustrated teen slipping away. Words I had thought wasted on deaf ears flowed from his pen as he described the commitment required to survive the training. Always loved but seldom liked, my lessons of personal responsibility and natural consequences had burrowed deep. I hadn't raised a boy but grown a man. Itchy to see him, I scrambled down the steps and across the field. I spotted him bent over, hugging his sister and began to run. He lifted his head, smiled, and opened his arms.

83 comments:

  1. Well, now you've got me crying too. Very touching. I know you're so proud, and you should be :-) Thank him for his service for all of us!

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    1. I will! During his official graduation he wore his dress uniform and asked me not to cry on it. I managed to keep it together. :o)

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  2. Tammy, I understand your feelings, always find difficult to detach. But he's a solder now. How well he has come home safe and sound!

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    1. He'll be home at Christmas! We have plans to make another pie together. :o) I'll probably start crying all over again.

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  3. Oh, you must be proud of your son. He didn't choose the easiest way... I'm married to an officer as well.

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    1. My dad was enlisted and my husband is a retired officer. You and I have a lot in common!

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  4. I had tears in my eyes reading this, Tammy.

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  5. Lovely story and how proud you must be and how thankful everyone else is for their duty to their country.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I'm extremely proud of him. It wasn't an easy choice and many of the young men and women didn't make it through the training. Freedom isn't free is painfully true.

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  6. As a long-ago boy-man volunteer solider, I understand his choice. Wonderful that you do, too. All best.

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    1. Thank you. As proud as we are of him, he's more proud of himself, which is beautiful to see.

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  7. You brought tears to my eyes! You must be very proud of your son, but as the mother of three sons it is too easy for me to feel your emotions. The photos are very moving, as well!

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    1. The photos are from Family Day, the day before graduation when we got to see him for the first time in 10 weeks. No one expected them to come through the woods. Watching them march through the smoke was powerful.

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  8. You have worded this so eloquently... we can feel the love for your son, the pride of your son... and the bond between a mother and her son! May he always be in safe in hands...

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    1. Thank you! When I hugged him for the last time before flying home, I told him I loved him for about the 20th time in 2 days. He hugged me back and said, "I know." That made it easier to leave. :o)

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  9. A mother's heart, how strong it has to be.

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  10. Tammy, it is always so hard for us mothers to live with our children's decisions sometimes. I know that it may not be your first choice for him as a career, but it is where his heart is leading him....he will be happiest where his heart is.
    Continue to be proud and supportive of him, he will need that from you. Wishing him the best in his chosen field.
    Loved the photos, and if I do say, your well-written post makes for a wonderful intro to your first book.

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    1. He is incredibly happy in the military. It's so vital that everyone find the spot where they fit in, like pieces in a puzzle. He's planning on finishing his college degree while in the military. :o)

      As for that book,it's one tiny chapter long. I'm not sure if it will ever get any longer but thanks for the compliment! :o)

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  11. Beautiful tribute to your son and I had tears just reading this. You clearly did a wonderful job growing a man.



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  12. Great tribute Tammy. I reminded me of my time spent with son and hug I recieved after his marriage. It just shows once a mother always a mother. ditto on being a father. Thanks so much for the story...I needed it today.

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    1. Thanks, Greggo. It took a lot of tough love to get him to this point, which made his graduation from basic training even sweeter. :o)

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  13. My thoughts are with you and your family. Both our kids went into the Air Force after college - one is still serving; the other has since gotten out. We, too, come from a family with many members who have served in the military: my husband, my father, both my brothers, and my husband's brother. It's certainly a bittersweet time when we see our children following in family footsteps into this career....

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    1. When he was younger he never wanted to be in the military because his dad was gone so much. As he got older, he understood what the TDY's and deployments were about and his attitude changed. He's been to Arlington several times to visit the graves of people we know. (We live outside DC.) He has a very different perspective on war than most kids his age.

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  14. A beautiful and happy post Tammy.
    Best Wishes to you and your family
    Karen.

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  15. Such a beautiful and moving post, Tammy. I have no husband. No sons. And no close family in the military, but your tribute to your son (and you), made my heart ache. Bless you all.

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  16. One of the most eloquent posts I have read in a long time...on a gardening blog, no less! Count me in on those who teared up at reading this. I, too, consider myself a pacifist with a clear dislike of war and the men who start them. But there's no limit to my respect for the men and women who have to fight them. Best of luck to your son and his support team (your family)!

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    1. Thanks. I promised him I wouldn't wear my Make Cupcakes Not War shirt to his graduation. :o) More people need to understand your point of view - that you can support the soldiers without supporting the war.

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  17. You are a strong woman! This story brought tears to my eyes. I have three sons but it was my daughter who first considered joining. She has since decided otherwise but I don't think I would deal with it as well as you. This is a very moving post with your words and the photos! My upmost respect for your son and your family!

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    1. It wasn't easy to accept but I knew it was inevitable. My dad struggled with PTSD when I was growing up and I worry about my son. But I am convinced he is being guided by a higher force and pray for him daily. It's all I can do.

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  18. You didn't raise a boy, you grew a man --- that to me is the most beautiful part of this very moving post. This was a treasure to read this Veteran's Day. Like the rest of the country, I am grateful to you and your family for all they have done in this generation and in the past too, whether I agreed with the wars and conflicts or not. But no question the people who serve, raised by people like you and your family, are awesome!

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    1. Thanks so much, Laurrie. Your comment means a lot to me. :o)

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  19. This is so touching. You have done a wonderful job in raising your son with a strong sense of commitment and responsibility. My best wishes to your son and may he have a fulfilling career in the military.

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  20. Congratulations - you should be very proud. My brother served in the Army and it was stressful for all of us, so I have s small inkling of what you have been going through. Best wishes to you and your son.

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    1. Thank you. :o) Every day that the military brass doesn't show up in dress uniform at my door step is a good day. It means he's alive. Right now he's still in training, so he's very safe. :o)

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  21. I wish him a long and successful career which never includes fighting in a war.

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  22. Thanks! I told him the only deployment I want him on is one called Operation Let's All Be Friends. He just rolled his eyes and groaned. :o)

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  23. He sounds like an amazing young man, you raised a person who will make a difference. What a moving post.

    Jen

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  24. Beautifully written and felt. Thank you for your family's sacrifice during those deployments, thank your husband for his service, thank your son for his. I share your point of view - that war should cease, that fighting for peace is like having sex for virginity but have nothing but respect and admiration for the men and women who serve. My father was a WW 2 vet and I never see the flag withoug silently thanking him and all our military families that it still waves.

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    1. Thank you. :o) If more adults acted like rational adults instead of giant spoiled children, there would be less war. It's wonderful to know how supportive most of the public is towards our soldiers. I've choked up reading all these comments. I appreciate every one.

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  25. Oy and WOW -- our daughter's boyfriend is now in officer training at Ft Rucker, which will be followed by Apache helicopter training. I no longer do I have to tease my hair, it stands on end all by itself.

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    1. When my husband deployed to Desert Storm, after having 30 mins to pack and report to the squadron, I learned to avoid all news reports and just carry on. As long as his commander and the chaplain didn't show up at the house in dress uniform, all was well. It meant he was alive. My son has become a combat line medic so it's possible his path may cross with your daughter's boyfriend. I pray hard every day. It's all I can do.

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  26. dear Tammy, I had tears in my eyes reading this. I am a pacifist too, and it is easier for me because I have no family connections with any of the armed forces. But I am aware we have to let our children go to find their own way once they grow up, and your son sounds like a loving beautiful person.

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    1. He's a gentle giant who has become a combat line medic like his grandfather. As a mother what I want for my children is for them to find happiness by creating an authentic life where they are following their hearts and are content with their choices. This is what my son has done and he has my total support. When I told him I loved him for about the 20th time, he just smiled and said, "I know." It was so good to hear! :o)

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  27. Oh gosh, this is so moving Tammy. On so many levels. And a perfect tribute on the perfect day. My dad is a Korean War veteran. My niece will be commissioned into the Navy in December. It's tough, but gosh we're so blessed to have folks who feel called to serve! Please thank your son for his service, and I'm glad he plans to work on his degree while in the Army.

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    1. My dad was in the Navy. They still work closely with the Marines. Congrats on your nieces commission. :o) I was very relieved when I saw my son to hear that he still has very specific career goals that include college. My dad was enlisted and struggled to find a good job after he retired. My husband was an officer and was able to find an excellent job. The military was definitely a calling for him. It's where his heart lies.

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  28. Such a powerful and heartfelt post - my keyboard is now wet with tears. You must be so proud of him, as well as worried, but you have obviously grown him well!

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    1. I'm extremely proud of him. But to see how proud he is of himself is beautiful.

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  29. I'm not a mother, but I am a pacifist. I do admire each mother who raises a child, to be independent and to put something back into society. Not the path I would have chosen - but in South Africa, when I left school we still had the Border War and compulsory military service for men. My niece went to George Military College, she said her friends had to, and she went in solidarity.

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    1. I admire your niece for her difficult choice. I raised my kids to find their own way in life, love, religion. That means they haven't always made the same choices I would have, but I have to trust that they are following their heart and living life as they see it, being who they truly are instead of who they think they should be.

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  30. I truly don't know what I would do if one of my sons decided to join the army. I worry now when they go into the city and aren't home when they said they'd be. Wishing you and your son, peace and happiness.

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    1. Thank you. :o) I remember watching my kids sleep as babies to make sure their tiny chests were rising and falling. That impulse to protect and make sure they're safe never leaves, even as they become adults. Because of his career field (medic) it's likely he'll deploy. I just try not to think about it til I have to .

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  31. It is so hard to watch our children make decisions that we feel are so dangerous in so many ways. As parents all we can do is keep praying for them, and peace for all of us.

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    1. Sometimes I comfort myself with statistics - that more come home alive than not. But numbers are so cold, especially when it's your child. So I just pray a lot!

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  32. Well okay you made me cry and I wasn't even there. But I have two sons and, though they have not chosen military paths, as a mom and a pacifist I can imagine how torn you are, wanting him to follow his heart, and trying to keep yours from cracking. Beautifully written.

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  33. "wanting him to follow his heart, and trying to keep yours from cracking" sums it up perfectly.

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  34. I have been AWOL or is it AOL? Whatever it is I hope your son is safe on his military journey. We are losing a generation because of conflict that didn't need to happen. My thoughts are with your family, CM. xxoo Nancy

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    1. AWOL means Absent With Out Leave and means you've snuck away from your base. :o) Iraq/Afghanistan has become the VietNam of my children's era. So many kids their age are just numb to war because they've grown up with it. Very sad. Thanks for your support.

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  35. You must be very proud of your son!

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  36. As of a mother of four sons of my own, your post tugs at my heart strings. I can only imagine. Stay strong and know that there are myriads who pray for their safety... and I am one of them. Thank you for raising such a fine young man.

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    1. I firmly believe he is in God's hands. Mine aren't large enough.

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  37. what a beautifully written post. what a wonderful parent you are to be supportive of your son when you don't always agree with his choices. Now where did you get that 'make cupcakes not war' t-shirt? must have one of those

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    1. Thanks! I posted to link to Johnny Cupcakes on your blog. :o)

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  38. Thank you for sharing this very private moment. I think you are very brave and a great parent to be able to let go. Christina

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  39. That was so beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. I have a seventeen-year-old boy, and I feel about the same. He is not much for college, but says he'll go. I wouldn't be surprised though if he told me he was joining the service one day. Hugs to you Mom.~~Dee

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    1. Thank you. :o)I'm proud of his choice. There are many military positions that don't have a high risk of danger or deployment. I wouldn't discourage a teen from considering the military, but would advise them to seriously think about what job choice they choose.

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  40. Wow, so many wonderful commenters here. It's not surprising given that your writing is amazing, so engaging. I was thinking of my own grown MAN as I read. I admire you so much for your strength. It has got to be difficult seeing your husband and now your son fly off on their missions. I can totally understand how you pray. It's all you can do when so much is at stake and you're so powerless over it. Sending hugs!

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    1. Thank you so much! Two of my favorite photos are of my daughter in her dad's flight helmet and both my kids hugging their dad when he came home from Afghanistan. The idea that my son might be deploying to fight the same war his dad fought is terrifying. One day at a time is how you get through. I'm so tired of war.

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  41. Have tears in my eyes reading your post. Husband, father, father in law, brother, brother in law, four nephews and two nieces serve or served. Neither daughter went into the military. I am like you, a pacifist. Husband did Desert Storm, nephews have seen Iraq and Afghanistan too many times. Godspeed to your son. Hope we have many years without war.

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  42. Oh my gosh! So many have served! A huge thanks to your family for supporting their choice. It isn't one that everybody understands.

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  43. The garden of our lives grows much and sometimes it is a man. This is a wonderful story describing that transition of boyhood to manhood and a parent who suffers the loss but encourages the growth. Beautiful!

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  44. What a moving post, came across your name on another blog and called by to be nosy due to your use of Italian. I am sure I will be calling by again.

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    1. Hola and ciao! Wonderful to meet you. Thank you for your kind comments. :o)

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  45. Like everyone else, I have tears in my eyes. What a heartfelt and moving post Tammy. You must be so proud of him.

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