Every Mother’s Day, you ask me when is it going to be your day? My standard answer is your birthday and you always reply with, “but you also have a birthday.” And this is true. But you have another day, too.
April is the month the country sets aside to recognize and honor our military children. But there is usually one chosen day, Purple Up Day, when the community stops to exclusively focus on our military kids. Where we live now, that day is today.
Before you were born, when we were first stationed in Georgia, a friend of mine relayed a conversation one of her sons had with the new neighbor kid. Her son fired off 2 questions right away: What is your name? How long are you here for? That interaction has always stayed with me, even 9 years later, because it sums up life in the military…but especially life for military kids. It doesn’t really matter how long you’re there for. Short-term moves aren’t a deal-breaker, it just might mean we’re going to need to hurry this friendship along. Because at the end of a tour, whether it’s a year or three, there will still be tears. And when those have dried, we can talk about what that friend has added to our lives.
Here’s a little secret, Blue: your dad and I go through this, too. You are not alone and you will never be. Even though you have no siblings to hold hands with as you walk through the doors on that first day at a new school, even when we have just moved to a new state a week before your birthday, even as you wave goodbye to the last U-Haul truck of the summer, your dad and I will be right there beside you. But you know what else? You won’t need us for long. Because within a week you will discover that the boy three doors down has a cache of Pokemon cards and an itch to trade. You will be begging me to host a sleepover with someone you met at lunch. You will be doing what you do best: finding your tribe and loving them hard. Then you will get mad at them for getting mad at you and you’ll “never be their friend again.” And that will last until someone wants to jump on the trampoline and look for lizards on the hill.
Here’s another secret: I will always worry about you landing on your feet. Whether it’s after a move or after your friends have moved, I will watch you from the kitchen – looking for signs that it’s all about to fall apart. I will ask you questions and try to distract you. We will always talk before bedtime as I constantly check the pulse of your resiliency. And if the past is any indicator of the future, you will continue to surprise me by simply rolling with it. Our dandelion children, as they say. Hardy, able to take root wherever you are blown. Life is going to try and mow you down. You will meet kids who aren’t kind to the “new kid”, especially one from a military family. Please try to understand it’s hard for them, too. They aren’t as practiced at saying goodbye and it’s scary for them. Daddy and I meet adults like that, too. But just keep showing up, proving that you are worth the time and the tears and they will come around. They always do. We need those people to anchor to and they need us to feel what it’s like to float for a little while. We are good for each other.
And if Daddy ever has to deploy again, we got that, too. In the meantime, you have friends right now with daddies who are on the other side of the world. On the last day of school when you walk hand-in-hand up the hill with your dad, grab their hands, too. Being in a military family means you are part of a team…Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines – we are all for one and one for all. More than once I’ve heard someone whisper about us, “they all stick together.” You’re darn right, we do. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, but always be the first to help, even before it’s asked. See that new kid eating alone and sit down beside him or her because you have been that kid before and you will be that kid again. Remember, as we pull away from friends who have become family, what it was like to be the one left behind. Because you have been that kid before and you will be that kid again. And remember the lessons you’ve learned along the way so you can spread them to your friends who haven’t had a chance to learn them:
Be happy to make a new friend, whether they are white, black, brown, or purple.
Love until the last day, because the world is small and there’s always the chance you will see them again.
Share your snacks, your toys, your trampoline because a day will come when all of that is on a truck and you might be hungry, bored and needing a friend.
Out of sight is not out of mind. Everyone we meet changes our lives, some a lot and some just a little. Some for the better and some remind us of how not to be. You may not remember their names or their faces, but remember the things they did. And know that’s how you will be remembered, too. Act accordingly.
Finders is not keepers, unless it’s put on the curb on Bulk Trash Day, then it’s fair game.
The world is forgetting this, but never underestimate the value of respect or honor. Pick up a wind-blown flag when no one is looking, stop to salute the National Anthem, stand up for someone who is getting bullied.
Earn your medals and your patches. Then you can wear them with pride.
For better or for worse, rank is not exclusive to the military. Whether it’s a job or a sport or somewhere in between, there will always be someone above you and someone below you. If you ever forget how to behave, just remember the Lorax: A person is a person, no matter how small. And don’t forget that your dad has been a private and a major. Someone’s rank only classifies them, it does not define them.
Very few things are absolute in this world. Most of it is unknown. You don’t always have to know what to expect or have it all planned out. There will be flashes of unexpected, wonderful moments that you couldn’t have planned anyway. Enjoy them and share them with friends, when you can.
And finally, you do not always have to bloom where you are planted. Sometimes you just do your best and go dormant for a little while. Life is not always sunsets on Manhattan Beach or the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Sometimes it’s Friday night traffic on the 405, a winter full of snow storms, an oppressive summer heat that burns the grass and kills the peaches. Ride it out, it will get better. And when it does, you’ll appreciate it even more.