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.