Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the Army Now

Fort Jackson SC, Basic Combat Training Graduation, 3rd Battalion 34th Infantry Regiment Delta Co.
 Delta Co. on parade at the conclusion of graduation.
 My boy.
My boy and his girl, who was at first unsure, but then made up her mind that Army Daddy was actually real daddy after all.
 Daniel, Sarah (fiancee) and April (World's Cutest Grandbaby)
 Hug for mom.
Here the babies are having a silent communication - "Your dad looks kinda like my mom, who really doesn't look like my mom any more..." "Yeah. And your mom looks kinda like my dad, and he's not really him, either. Are we sure we're ok here?"
 Child training, Army style: learning to work the camo.
Army Daddy, Army Baby, Army Bear. Army Bear and Army Daddy have graduated from Basic and have their berets. Army Baby cannot go to Basic for, thankfully, a few more years.
Army Mom.

Graduation struck me in a way I had not anticipated. It made me think a lot about many things. I am not a fan of war. I am not a lover of conflict. In fact, I flee from conflict whenever possible. I was reared in a family that has generational military ties. Not career, mind you, and not hard-core pro-military, but we were reared with an awareness that service is noble and necessary for the security of all Americans. How, I wondered, did I end up with a soldier son?

I was reared on the patriotic songs that many of us know by heart and that more of us should know now, and do not. I remember singing the Battle Hymn of the RepublicYou're a Grand Old Flag, My Country 'Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, and of course The Star Spangled Banner in the car with my sisters and my father. They were things we shared together driving around the county I still inhabit, driving in late summer through amber waves of grain and toward the purple mountains as we sang about them. Those songs were as familiar and as stirring and as emotional as the hymns we sang in church on Sunday and the Christmas songs we sang from the end of November until January 1st. I shared them with my children on our drives, assisted by an 80's Wee Sing America cassette and songbook (I wish I still had this.).

My intent was to create loyal, aware, thinking people, with respect for their traditions and beginnings and an awareness of their duty and responsibility in being specifically an American person. But I also taught them about the not so great parts of our heritage;  how exactly we had come to be on this continent, the people we had hurt and killed to stay here, the land and humanity we had thoughtlessly plundered and exploited. It's an odd upbringing they had, and not really one that would necessarily lead them to consider the military as a career.

We had a flag that we treated correctly. We watched presidential inaugurations. We discussed the electoral college, taxes, individual freedom, rights and responsibilities. Freedom isn't free, and it should not be free for anyone. You do not respect or appreciate what you do not suffer for or work to earn. Sometimes we said things about America and Americans that were less than complimentary, even if they were completely honest.

We talked about selfless service to others; about giving to others for the sake of giving. Giving back but in the way that Jesus taught us to. ("But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matt 6:3-4). Altruism was the name of the game, and it extended beyond people to the natural world around us. If you fail to recognize and respond to the suffering of the living things around you, how are you better than the animals?

I tried to raise them with respect. Although there were times when it was a significant challenge, I tried to model the respect for others that I wanted to see in them. Simple things. You don't need to be first in line. Hold the door for others. Say please and thank you, and mean it. Acknowledge the humanity of those around you in a way that shows that you value them.

Integrity is huge for me and my children were reared with it. Be truthful. Do the right thing, even when those around you do not. I believe in God, and I believe in moral truths and the concept of right and wrong. Some things are just wrong. Don't do them. Other things are right. Do those instead. It's really very simple. If it will hurt another person, do not do it. If it fails to show respect for another person, don't do it. And don't lie. It will only make things worse in the long run. I made them make restitution if they hurt others.

I tried to teach them to face their fears head on and not run from them. As Roosevelt said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. In fact, the fear of the thing is often worse than whatever it is we are afraid of. This is a hard one for me; I tend to be a fearful person. I hate to fly. I don't like new situations. I am afraid of people in large groups. Cities make me edgy. Public transportation scares me. I like small, confined, controlled environments - you should see my hotel room when I travel. Everything must be just so. This was something I could only teach them by example.  I confronted people I was afraid of and told them to get out of my way. I went to college. I made friends. I got on an airplane. I wrote books. I went to New York, and I rode public transportation. Sometimes my example wasn't the best - as evidenced by a minor meltdown in 2000 in Orlando International before boarding - but I did the things I feared and came out the other side a better person.

What I didn't realize while I was doing all this bizarre (I am, remember, a bit of a freak) blend of moral, values-laden, pro-Republic, Libertarian, crunchy-granola, tree-hugging, Jesus-loving, natural-child-led-homeschooled-child-rearing was that I was apparently beating into them, with my many failures and flaws, core Army values. As I stood in the stadium at Hilton Field at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and I heard the songs of my nation over the speakers above, and I saw the flag that represents who we were, who we are, and who we should be on the field before me I found myself discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, a new sense of patriotism and nationalism. I know - that's a dirty word in some circles now, isn't it? Maybe I should whisper it, for safety...Nationalism. Or maybe I should just pick my head up and yell it. Regardless.

There are approximately 1.5 million active US military serving all around the world. The population of the United States was most recently calculated to be around 310 million. 1.5 million people defending us, 1.5 million people defending others, 1.5 million people doing their duty, heeding a call, obeying a chain of command that they may not always agree with or support but that they recognize as their authority. I don't always like or approve of what our military or our government does. I am, for example, fanatical about liberty, freedom, and individual rights in a country that seems to be increasingly intrusive and legalistic and that seems at times bent on dictating my every liberty - which wasn't the plan in the beginning and it confuses and confounds me that it has become what it has. 

But what I discovered, or more rightly remembered, on that field on Wednesday was that for better or worse and in spite of all of her many flaws and failings (and I do believe they are many) we still have the best game going (see. Nationalism!) and we owe it to ourselves and our children and our children's children to make it better (Patriotism!). America the beautiful. Land of the free, home of the brave.

Now if you will excuse me, I think I shall go and knit something red white and blue, and wear it with pride.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Knit it Forward

Potter Craft has teamed up with Warm Up America! to help in accumulating knit and crochet blocks that will be assembled into afghans, hats and other items for distribution to those in need. If you have a little time and a little yarn to spare, consider this worthy cause. Potter has even posted two patterns from Nicky Epstein's new book to get you started.

Mail your blocks by December 2nd to:

CrafterNews c/o Potter Craft
Crown Publishing, 12-1
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Post a photo of your block (or blocks) on the CrafterNews Facebook page. The first 25 people who send in their blocks will get a copy of Knitting Block by Block by Nicky Epstein. The next 25 will receive another free pattern. And if you're not in the first 50? Well, you get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that during this holiday season you took some time out to help people in need. Be sure to come back here and post in the comments that you contributed. You never know when the MMO 2-at-a-Time yarn fairies might start tossing things out!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Indigestion, It Goes Straight to the Heart.

Anyone remember this post? If you've been here long enough, you may. If you don't remember it, you can read it now. Go ahead. I'll wait. But you may want a tissue.

We have children, most of us, for noble purpose. Or by accident. Or maybe a little of both. Or even none of the above.

I had mine, both of them, by a direct act of God. I know this because I had been labeled infertile at a fairly early age - long before I was really ready to have children, actually. I married young and my (then) husband and I were waiting to adopt. Never mind that I was 18 and he was 23. I knew I wanted babies. In fact, I wanted a whole farm house stuffed full of them. Millions. Or at least a dozen. And since having them on my own wasn't likely, adopting was the way we were going.

The week before Christmas 1985 I sat crying over ceramic ornaments I had painted by hand, ornaments I knew I'd never hang with a baby born of my own womb. I tried to make peace with that. When my cousins announced that they were pregnant, all I could do was cry. I cried a lot. In fact, I cried constantly. And sometimes I felt pretty nauseous. Really nauseous. And I almost passed out at work once. Or maybe twice. But it was hot in there. And then...well, and then in the normal manner of womanhood it came upon me that I might be, just might be, pregnant. And I was. And I was joyful. I quit smoking. I drank milk. I hate milk.

It wasn't easy, but then nothing worth having ever is. The baby made a few early attempts at departure. I spent a lot of time trying to lie down and trying not to do things like move refrigerators (I saved that for my second pregnancy - and almost lost that baby in the process - but if you know me, you know that sitting still and waiting for help is not on the menu). By December 1986 I was proudly carting around this beautiful, amazing, shining baby boy. You'll have to either read that post I linked to up there or take my word for it, because I am not in a place where I can get baby pictures right now. Trust me. I make amazing babies. The kind that go right to your heart the first time you look at them. And they stay there.

I am not at home today. In fact, I am a few hundred miles from home, spending my first ever holiday away from my (now) husband, waiting patiently for tomorrow.

What's tomorrow?

Tomorrow the indigestion I had on a warm and stormy August night in 1986, the stomach ache I have carried since 1986, the one that wormed it's way into every thread of my life is going to graduate from basic training. Army basic training. He's giving 8 years of his life. For me, and for his daughter and his fiancee and for us all. He's one of thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. All of them nothing like each other in most ways, but all alike in one. They're willing to put their lives on the line - not an imaginary line, but a real one.

I don't know how, and he keeps saying it was me that did it (and I swear I am not paying him), but somehow I reared a soldier. For now this is what I have of him:

That is my son. Goofy weird grin, chowing down on government-issue turkey. Tomorrow when he graduates I'll have more. And for 24 hours I'll take all the pictures I can, but it won't ever be enough. I don't know where he goes from here (Ok, fine, I do. AIT in Virginia. But then, well, then I really don't know, and neither does he), but here's what I do know.

Somewhere today a soldier died. Maybe of old age or maybe of a gunshot or maybe s/he got blown up by a bad guy. And sometime before today that soldier had a mother, and that mother is now me. And if you think the first 24 years of indigestion were rough, try that on for size.

So what am I thankful for? On this day, and the next day, and the day after that, ad infinitum? I am thankful for indigestion. And the tens of thousands of indigestions that came before him, and the tens of thousands that will come after.

I don't get political here. It's a matter of conscience. How you or I vote, what we believe, how we feel about war or peace or anything in between. I don't go there.

But right now, right this minute, I am going to tell you something. I am going to go so far as to tell you what to think. And here goes.

You damn well better be thankful too. And if you aren't? You might not want to say it in front of me. Because while you debate your politics, and your yes or no to war and yes or no to troops here, there or anywhere, my kid - MY kid - and tens of thousands of other woman's kids - are standing by someplace willing to take a bullet because their nation and their president tell them they need them to. Get off your horse, high or otherwise, and the next time you see someone in uniform you remember this post. You remember that for every American in uniform there's a mother.

Now do what your mother said you should, and say thank you.