Thursday, May 26, 2016

Growing Hope: The Tale of the Gardener's Son

1995

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

2010


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.

May, 2016


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.

68 comments:

  1. What a touching post Tammy. We follow you emotionally at every stage. Enjoy your time together!

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Lisa! I would love peace in the middle east but I think it is a very long way off. :(

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  3. I have no words, Tammy, other than to say I am so, so happy for you! I can't imagine all the worry and concern you must have felt these last months. Please thank your son from me for his service. So glad he is home safely!

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    1. I will! He's visiting friends for a few weeks and then will be home to visit us. I can hardly wait! :o)

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  4. Wonderful story to put it all in perspective, your joy shines through. Enjoy these special days!

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  5. Oh HURRAY! That is so wonderful! Happy Day, Happy Day!

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    1. I started bawling before his platoon even entered the gym for their quick welcome home ceremony. I just couldn't help it.

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  6. I can't even imagine your relief. I'm so very happy for you, Tammy. XO

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    1. I slept better Tuesday night than I have in months. It was so comforting to know he was in the next room and not in Iraq.

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  7. That made me cry (and smile)! Enjoy those hugs.

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    1. I wish I had a video of my daughter running through the crowd to jump into his arms like a monkey. It was incredible to finally be back together as a family. :o)

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  8. You are one tough cookie and brave Mama. The garden will probably be a good place for your boy right now.

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    1. I'm tough but tender and my tender side is quite squishy, indeed. My son got a lot of tough love growing up but it has paid off well. He lives in the barracks so there isn't any gardening in his life right now but I see it in his future. He has a gardeners soul. :o)

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  9. Thank for sharing this story, Tammy.

    Best wishes to you and your son.

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  10. It's hard to say which of the two of you is the braver one. I can't imagine living with the level of uncertainty for so long. I'm very happy that you have time to enjoy being together now.

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    1. He is braver, for sure. As for me, it's simply a matter of endurance. Uncertainty and silence are like Chinese water torture to me but luckily we were able to stay in touch weekly through Messenger. But as the ISIS attacks became more intense, media blackouts kept him from communicating with us and we had to just take the "Military brass hasn't come by to tell us he's dead so he must be alive" tactic. It's how I got through my husbands deployments to Afghanistan and Desert Storm. But it felt so good to just hold him and feel his aliveness.

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  11. Lump in throat, teary eyes. Hugs to both of you.

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  12. Aw, so wonderful that he is safe and back at home! That must have been such a hard nine months. So very happy for you!

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    1. It was much harder for him than me but I am so relieved it's all over.

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  13. Cheers and tears of joy! God bless, and thanks to your son for his service to our country. :)

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  14. Every mother can feel your joy at your son coming safely home after standing guard for all of us at home. Have yourself an absolutely marvelous Memorial Day. Please thank your son for his service. :-)

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    1. I will pass these wishes onto him. It does make Memorial Day all the more bittersweet, though, knowing they don't all make it back.

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  15. OMG - that is wonderful - love, love, love it! You must be so intensely relieved... Happy Mother's Day to you! (Tell him that in Sweden, Mother's Day is celebrated this weekend - his timing is perfect! ) :D

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    1. I was!! It was like a huge weight was taken off my chest. Kuwait is very safe and once I knew he wasn't being shot at or having to deal with rockets that were launched at his base in Iraq, I just started crying huge tears of relief. It was the best Mother's Day gift ever!

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  16. Oh gosh I'm crying tears of joy for you both.
    So happy for you...I knew it was hard during those long months but you did manage to keep it together and also you kept us on the ride of a lifetime with your funny posts.
    No matter how old they are they will always be our babies.
    Welcome Home Son!!!

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    1. Exactly!! My babies are 21 and 24 but I still worry about both of them. But I'm very skilled at putting on a happy face and holding it all together because falling apart never solves anything!

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  17. Best and kindest thoughts to you and your son from this mother of a son- and fellow gardener.

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  18. Reading this I even got tears in my eyes, but what a joy for you he is back again, can imagine your happiness.

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  19. That's a really beautiful post, Tammy and those are some really precious pictures, particularly the last one. I couldn't imagine the rollercoaster of emotions going through your head but I understand you, your amazing quirkiness, your garden, art and creativity all the more from this post.

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    1. Thanks, Sunil. He was a challenging teenager being raised mostly by me while my husband traveled for work so I learned the art of creative discipline. But the day I jumped on that chair diffused an ongoing argument. It was so spontaneous and the only way I could literally look him the eye without having him stare down at me. I can be a little feisty when I'm mad!

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  20. Many thanks to your Iraqi war veteran for his service. And a big hug to you, Tammy.

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    1. Thanks! I'm always up for a hug. :o)

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  21. What an amazing son you have Tammy ... and you are an amazing mother, never forget that.
    The time spent with our loved ones away in a war zone is harder on those who wait for them to come home .. it takes one to know one and appreciate the resolve and stamina we share ... the relief is beyond compare .. but some times the aftermath doesn't show up until much later ... I hope it doesn't for your family .. but if it does, you are not alone. Remember that Tammy : )
    I love the early story ... my son was a little blonde energy force unto himself as well ... they grow up too soon !
    Did he actually pull those weeds and not the flowers ? LOL
    Joy

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    1. Thanks, Joy! You and I do speak the same military language. My dad had severe PTSD from VietNam but I think my son is ok and my husband never suffered from it despite his deployments. My son was very interested in anything I did outside when he was little and would watch me weed. I think he just wanted to rip stuff out of the ground so I took a binary approach to letting him know which plants to pull. I taught him what a zinnia looked like and told him everything else was a weed. It worked and he was a great weed puller!

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  22. Within our troubled world, there is so much love in your family and its joyful to see Tammy - beautiful photographs of you together. I see you have added a new rock. Although my husband was a police officer, I can only imagine the stress and worry you have had to deal with as a military wife and mother. Does this mean your son will now forge a new career?

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    1. Military life is stressful but you learn to just deal with it. He has two more years to go and then has plans to attend university to become a teacher like his mean mom! ;o) But I think being the wife of a police officer would be very stressful, too. I much prefer a world where everyone just got along.

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  23. Such a moving post, Tammy. You must have had some difficult times with your son away, but it's so lovely to see you back together. How proud you must be of him.

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    1. I am very proud of him. He chose the Army over college but has received an education that a university never could have offered.

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  24. You have so much to be proud of. As the mother of three sons, I can identify your emotions; I can feel them in your words and see them in your eyes. My own eyes are a little teary after reading your post!

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    1. There were lots of tears in the writing of this piece. But I was able to communicate with him while he was gone and sent over 2 doz care packages. A few were able to be shared with the other soldiers. That felt so good! :o)

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  25. I am so happy for you. Tell him each and every one of your blog readers wants you to hug him on our behalf. That's a LOT OF HUGS.

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  26. Thank you again Tammy for the sacrifice you and all military families make on behalf of service to our country. I'm so happy for you and for him that he's home and safe again in his mama's arms. He looks like you! Your expression in the last picture is simply beautiful - pure happiness.

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    1. He does favor my side of the family and looks a lot like my Swedish grandfather. I was pretty blissed out in the last pic. It just felt so good to have him next to me. :o)

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  27. I am so happy this had a happy ending. It must have been such a scary time. Both of you are very brave.

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    1. Since this is Memorial Day, I wanted to highlight that many of our soldiers do come back although a few my son worked with didn't. My husband has a friend with a grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery although the grave is empty because the body was never recovered. I've been through other deployments and know they don't all end happily, which made my sons absence even harder. Ignorance would have been easier.

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  28. I love the beaming faces in the pictures of you two together. So glad he's home safe and sound!

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  29. Blessings to you and your son, Tammie! A real and heartwarming story.

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    1. It is very real. I'm not very good at sugar-coating anything.

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  30. Ahh, you have me tearing up reading this!I'm so very happy to see your beautiful boy returned safely to you, what a bonny lad, he's the image of you. It must have been terrifying not knowing how he was, I can imagine how you must have suffered. A happy ending! Phew. Gorgeous post.xxx

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    1. I just kept hugging him, so grateful he was home!

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  31. What a great post, my friend. I'm so glad your boy is home. Now maybe he can haul a load of compost for you. :)

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    1. He's still at his base but when he gets to VA he'll probably head for the hammock. :o)

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  32. I'm late with my comment, happy belated Memory Day, Tammy and your son, he's veteran now. Your post is so touching, I understand you as a mother, I know what is long waiting. As we say here: all things are good when end well. Happy new life to your son!

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  33. A wonderful post - and profuse apologies for the late Happy Memorial Day. I was so touched by this wonderful story of your son and how fantastic that he is home!! Thank you to him for all that he has done and Thank You to you for allowing him to serve and for your sacrifice in letting him go! So happy that he is safe!
    - Kate xx

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