He stands barefoot in the kitchen and calls to me, "Mom. Mom. Mama!" He is too tall to only be three, his face serious, hair white blonde from the sun. I am alone for four months with an infant and a toddler, my husband thousands of miles away at military flight school.
"I'm gonna go pull weeds. I need to think." He is intelligent and precise, too small for such big thoughts.
A small patch of zinnias grows in the back amid grass and dandelions, stems thin and dry. I slide the baby monitor in my pocket and follow him outside. He crouches in the soil, knees to his chest, tiny fingers slipping between the plants to pull what doesn't belong.
"It's okay, Mama", he says softly "I'm gonna feel better."
My son, age 3
His truck rumbles into the driveway loaded with mulch and the garage door slams. I stop and look up, his eyes meeting mine. The conversation is tense and I'm tired of dealing with him alone. It's the same argument we've been having for years and I'm exhausted. He's bored with my questions and I don't like his answers. He towers over me, 6'5" of muscle with massive hands and arms tight like steel. His response is delivered with machine gun accuracy and his words strike wounds still tender, ripping the flesh to bleed again.
I jump on the nearest kitchen chair and stand with my hands my hips, staring down at him. "I'll stand on a chair to kick your ass if I have to!" I growl. He laughs, a baritone roar that thunders through the house.
"Hey, don't laugh at your mama!"
He stops, wipes his eyes, and keeps chuckling before his laughter erupts again. "Mom, I'm sorry but seriously, I can't stop laughing. Please get off the chair."
We are the same: expressive, strong, stubborn. My anger, brief and bright like a firecracker, is ebbing and I feel a smile starting, the corners of my mouth inching upward as he waits. He may look like a man, I tell myself, but he's still just a kid.
We sit at the table and talk, debate, and try to understand each other. I take a deep breath and pull him close.
"Damn, Mom, why do you always have to hug me?"
Tears of joy!
My son returned from a nine month deployment to Kuwait and northern Iraq on Tuesday.
The dogs bark and pace in front of the back door as I dump my purse on the table and follow them outside, hungry for sunshine after a day in a windowless classroom. The flash of the answering machine blinks and I stop to play the message, my eyes on the garden.
"Hey, it's me. I'm calling from Kuwait and just wanted to let you know my time is Iraq is over. Love you."
His deep voice fills the kitchen and my throat tightens. Tears held behind a wall of Keep It Together overflow their banks and cascade down my cheeks. I take a deep breath and let the sobs pour onto the counter, my shoulders shaking as I drop my head onto my arms. Months of waiting for his messages and hoping he's okay are over.
My son is alive and coming home.
Exhausted from 30 hours of travel, my son, now 24 and an Iraqi war veteran, patiently posed for just one more photo.