Once upon a time there was a girl, a young one, who fell in love with a boy. Not in the way you’re thinking, mind you. This wasn’t a romantic kind of a love affair. This girl fell madly in love on one August morning with a boy much smaller and younger than herself. She was too young to understand then just exactly what this new love would do to her life. She only knew that he was small and soft and smelled like new things. He began to grow, as many small things will. For a long time the relationship was pretty one sided. She carried, he threw. She fed, he burped, pooped, and on occasion threw up. She gave. He took.
It changed a little at a time, slowly, over months and then years. One day he smiled at her. Another day he said her name, her new name, “Mama”, as if he meant it. She still gave, he still took. But the giving was never as hard as it maybe should have been and the taking never seemed selfish, only necessary. He walked when she showed him how. He learned to blow bubbles, wave bye-bye, and from her masterful example he learned to talk more than most humans ever do. She showed him letters and numbers, and he learned to use them. He got very good at writing things like “I hate you Mom!” on pieces of paper and leaving them on the kitchen counter for her to find in the morning. She sighed, and made him his breakfast, and waited for him to grow some more.
People never seemed to understand this boy in the way she did. Some people made excuses for everything he did and said she was too hard on him. Others said she wasn’t hard enough, that she gave too much and he took advantage. She didn’t care so much. She followed her heart, and she waited some more.
Twenty four years went by in the blink of an eye, faster than she ever thought they would, faster than she thought even possible. He left her one day, which was fine in its way because it was time. It hurt a little, but she knew it was right. He rarely called. She worried, she wondered, she checked in now and then to see how he was. Boys, it is true, must find their way in the dark world, and a person once called “mama” isn’t always who they need to shine that light for them. They have to do a lot of it themselves.
She learned more about herself in those twenty four years than she thought possible. Ugly truths, gentle and tender secrets, deep things and shallow. Loving that boy made her a different person in the best and worst of ways. It was painful, scary, joyful, delightful and unbelievably real.
In four days, more or less, she will begin a new wait, and he will begin a new chapter of his life. The tables have turned; the demanding infant has become the young man willing to sacrifice himself for his country. In a uniform she’s not sure how she feels about some days, this boy will stand in front of her and swear allegiance to the country in which she reared him, the one she taught him to love and respect, the one she believes in, way deep down inside. He will become the property of a nation, the servant of a people, the protector of a country and she will be proud and scared. Mostly proud.
When you see him in his uniform in an airport, on your tv screen, in your newspaper you’ll look at him and think, depending on your politics and opinions, that you’re proud, or shamed, or angry, or sad and scared for his future. You will see a man you don’t really know, and you’ll think you do know.
But you don’t. While you see all of that or some of that, and think all of that or some of that, I will see and think only one thing.
Once upon a time there was a girl, a young one, who fell in love with a boy. Not in the way you’re thinking, mind you. This wasn’t a romantic kind of a love affair. It was motherhood. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.