You hear it time and time again, the resiliency of the military child is astounding. They truly are works of art, forged in the fires of constant PCS's and Deployments. So many times we defend our lifestyle, and we tell those who attack it that our children are strong, adaptable, and that "r" word... resilient. And they are. I grew up this way, and I have no qualms about being an army brat and the person it's made me.
But I was not brought up in a time of war.
So yes, our kids are tough, strong, and if someone says "army strong," I might need to vomit. But while we may feel the need to defend our lifestyle and the nomadic way we're raising our kids to civilian families, for one kid in particular, my son, I need to raise up my hand and say this one time:
The Kids Are NOT All Right.
Hang me out to dry for not toeing the line, or unpatriotic, but he's not all right. A whole heck of a lot of our kids are not all right.
Aaron's been having a rough go of it lately, and I can't say I blame him. Since August, Jason's only been around less than 1/3 of the time, and Aaron knows deployment is knocking on our door and dad will be gone again. In the past month, out of his mouth, I've heard everything from "it's normal when he's gone and weird when he's home," to "I hate him... I mean this, I hate this." Like any other boy, he just wants his dad around.
Aaron will turn ten in less than a month.
Maybe ten doesn't seem that big to anyone else, but to me, it's everything. You see, when Aaron was born ten years ago, he was almost 4 weeks early thanks to a nasty case of pre-eclampsia and non-functioning kidneys for mama. We were so thankful that he was healthy, and even more thankful that he was early. Why? Because we knew his due date flirted with Jason's deployment to OIF 1, as Iraq was starting. Do you see what I'm saying?
Ten years ago, Aaron was born and had to cram every second he could into the six weeks he had with Jason, which were almost the only six weeks he would ever have with him. Ten years later, Aaron is in the same exact situation. This is all he's ever known.
Do you get it? Because I do. And I hate it. I hate it with a vehemence that can only be described as the blackest anger that threatens to consume me. Nothing has changed for Aaron in a decade. A DECADE, and he is right where he started, waiting for dad to leave for another deployment.
Let's try a visual.... From THIS:
|Saying goodbye as he deployed for OIF 1 (2003) (Also the last picture we have pre-wounded)|
He's grown into a little man, and nothing has changed in our world.
The unfairness of his life is bringing me to my knees.
Last week, Jason took our little man, looked him in those identical green eyes and told him he'd have to miss his tenth birthday for a training exercise out-of-state, even though he'd only been home from this one for two days. We were supposed to have these two months uninterrupted to spend together before deployment. I watched Aaron's face fall, and even while Jason promised him a Daddy/Aaron day, nothing would bring back the light to those eyes. For the first time in the nearly 11 years of our marriage, for that instant, I hated Jason. I was past "hating the situation," or "blaming the army." No, in that heartbreaking moment, Jason wasn't the love of my life, he was the thing hurting my baby, and it was unacceptable.
I had to walk away and gain perspective. Aaron can be angry all he wants; he didn't choose this life... I did.
I know this hurts Jason just as much, and that hate came and went like a flash fire, but it burned me. I keep thinking how exhausted I am, how it's 4 deployments in 11 years of marriage, and what I would give to see this end. Then I realize it:
Aaron's lived through every single one of these deployments with me.
The night before Jason left for OIF 1, he rocked Aaron's small frame for hours, unable to put him down. At 21, it was the first moment I realized what our family was about to sacrifice. It was Aaron I held while I sobbed, scared to death that Jason had lost his eyesight and half his face in the explosion, that surgery in Baghdad would take him from me. Aaron was the second person to hold Jason after he stepped foot on US soil after he was wounded. Aaron became a big brother and watched Jason deploy again, and again, and now again. His entire life has revolved around a war conducted on the other side of the world.
So no. The kid is not all right.
His grades are great. His friends are fabulous. He loves boy scouts, and hockey. But there is something breaking within him, slowly squashing this miracle of childhood, and I am powerless to shield him from it all anymore.
Maybe he's not typical. Maybe your kid handles everything with a smile and wave. Awesome, keep it up and wave that flag proudly. But I feel that I would be failing Aaron if I didn't speak out for him, and the others like him, and let them know that we hear them. So I'm waving his flag because he can't; because he doesn't know that it's not supposed to be like this.
I fear that after a decade of war, we are scarring a generation of children who have never known the peace of stability, or knowing that dad would be home, would come home.
Having been raised "Old Army," I'm frequently told that Aaron doesn't get to be angry, because this is life. Well, this is the one time I'll tell Old Army to.... um... yeah. This is how we of the "New Army" are handling this one.
He gets to be mad. Why? Because the kid goes through Hell, so if he wants to be angry, he deserves to own those feelings. He's scared Jason won't come home. He's scared of what will change when he does. He's sick of not having dad around on the first day of school, or holidays, or birthdays... you get the picture. So yeah, he gets to be mad, and tell me, and write about it, and draw about it, and shout it as loud as he wants. Because I want him to work through it.
I will help him to be okay, but I won't force him to be.
So I'm going to hug him. A lot. Like embarrassing amounts. We're going to work through this together, and I'm going to do my best to keep from stretching this resilient kid of ours too much.
Yes, military kids are strong, and adaptable... and resilient. But there are days they shouldn't have to be.
And I'm okay with that.