Yesterday, I stood in the Starbucks line behind a female soldier and a child who I can reasonably assume was her daughter. It was lunchtime and from their conversation, I gathered that her Mom had come to get her for a fun lunchtime date in the midst of a busy day. There was playful giggling and the type of joy that I find refreshing in a world where complaining incessantly about one’s children is almost a pastime.
Not that we shouldn’t ever vent, mind you. Lord knows I need to get it out of my system sometimes or my head will explode.
But you all know the type I mean. The parents who some part of you, during every conversation, is forced to wonder “do you even like your kids?” Which I’m sure they do. Love them even. But in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of a childhood in which somehow we are supposed to supervise when we barely know what to do ourselves, it’s easy to forget “I’m lucky.” I’m guilty of it too, no judging here.
It seemed to me that in this moment, this Mom was not. With all of the things that are unique to the life of a Mom-soldier, I can see how this perspective would color one’s relationship with her children. There are deployments, long hours, forced relocations. It’s something that that we military-wives deal with but in a completely different way.
We get to be the comforting force. The welcoming arms. The safe haven. Us Mamas do this well. To be the one to have to say goodbye has to be gutwrenching. We don’t all quite get that full appreciation of what it is to be forced to cherish those moments with our children because they are so few and far between.
I watched it from afar recently. A friend from college who is now a nurse in the Air Force recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. I watched this scene play out on Facebook as she expressed her heartache at missing her children, praising them for their accomplishments from afar, recounting fun Skype calls, and praising again and again their supportive father who took on both his role and her own. On more than one occasion, I found myself staring at the computer in tears at her words. Do you know how amazing you are?
I wanted to tell her so many times. I just never knew how to say it without sounding condescending. After all, deployment isn’t just hard for the mothers. Fathers spend years away from their children, too. They love them just as much. And really it’s not fair to make a big deal out of a female soldier like it’s some kind of novelty. They work just as hard and there’s absolutely no reason why there should be any distinction made. Yet, as a mother myself, I remember those first moments of my child walking, talking, crawling, and even just the silly little moments of cuddles and laughter. Imagining losing these moments, as a mother, simply makes my heart hurt. And instead of these moments, they chose to fight for something so much bigger than themselves; they chose all of us. That's huge.
All I could do was be amazed. Amazed and grateful that this woman and so many others chose to serve and protect anyway, when the easiest choice would have been to stay at home and hug their babies as tightly as possible.
I studied this relationship between mother and daughter in the Starbucks line carefully and with awe. As they left in a cloud of giggles, I heard three women behind me, clearly Army wives, snicker. “She’s in my husband’s company. Just got back from a deployment a few weeks ago. How could anyone do that to a kid? What a crappy Mom.”
It was a reminder to me that the Mommy wars wage strong.
Yes, those Mommy wars, where our insecurities play out in a public arena, nitpicking over one another’s perceived faults rather than sharing a hug and a kind word of encouragement knowing full well that we all feel inadequate. But no, instead we find the weakness, the miscues, and missteps and point them out. Sometimes even in places where they don’t exist but simply in a different path and different choices, ones are all rooted in the fact that we love our kids. And we are just trying to do what’s best for them.
For one Mom, that looks like waking up every morning and making breakfast and teaching ABC’s. For another, it’s showing her daughter what it looks like to serve and protect. Strong and selfless takes on a lot of different forms.
So why on Earth do we do this to one another? Here stood a woman with the strength to stand for all of us, myself and all of these insecure women, and set a shining example of strength and courage for future generations of women. Yet, here were three women rolling their eyes saying “get her to the kitchen.”
Well, they can keep their insecurities, thank you. As for me, I’m going to be grateful.
I had a conversation with a neighbor the other day whom I barely know. She too is a soldier-Mommy, a single Mom at that. It was after a long day at work and I happened to cross her path and asked her about her day. In a barrage of honesty, she vented her frustration about a childcare system that wasn’t working for her with her long hours with extra fees and the stress she felt between the cost and barely seeing her daughter. When she had admitted her frustration and financial troubles to her childcare provider, the woman shrugged and told her, “then maybe you need to actually raise your own child.”
I wasn’t even there and I wanted to scream. Why do women do this to each other?
She admitted to me in her desperation that sometimes she feels like the woman is right. She loves being a soldier and knowing she is making a difference, making the world a safer place for her young daughter. But… the list of buts was a mile long. But she feels guilty… but she feels angry… but she wonders if she is being fair to her daughter.
The last thing she needs to hear is the comments of the women behind me in line, just fighting a Mommy war that is so much less significant of a war than the one from which the mother in front of me that day had just returned.
I don’t care if someone chooses to babywear. I don’t care what type of car seat someone uses. I don’t care if someone joins the workforce or stays home. I care about love, whatever it happens to look like. And today, I care that this woman gets to spend a well-deserved lunchtime break with her daughter just enjoying being a mother in the best way she knows how. One that this particular writer thinks is pretty spectacular.
Despite the fact that I’ve tried to be diplomatic, maybe someone needs to say it. Maybe a whole lot of women out there need to hear it. Military Mommies: I think you are amazing. I think it takes strength to protect not just one life, but many. It takes courage to rise above a chorus of self-doubt and negativity to do what you feel in your heart and soul. And it takes a heck of a lot of strength to do what you do.
So from one appreciative fellow Mommy, thank you.
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