Recently, my husband and I were talking about the military and that we both, had we stayed in, be at our 20 year mark now. With that in mind, many of those memories are coming back to me, and I'm finding myself discouraging my kids from joining the military. We are a multi-generational family of military members. Both our fathers were in the military, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and great-great grandfathers have served in this nation's military, and yet I am telling my kids not to join. I worry it would be too hard for them. The military is a melting pot of people from all walks of life. In a small unit you could have any number of religions, people that grew up in foster care, people that grew up in upper class homes, people that were in trouble with the law as kids and now want to make something of themselves, people that think the military will get them in shape, people that didn't know what they really wanted to do, and people that are there for the benefits. Some are thieves and liars, some are the most loyal and honest people you will ever meet. But you never know, and you don't have a choice many times in what job you get or where you are stationed or when you get deployed. They don't always care that you just had a baby 6 weeks ago, and they don't always allow you time off to go home to your mother's funeral. I wasn't prepared for racism, hormonal lieutenants, sexual harassment, or immoral situations that abounded. It was hard to be in the military. It was hard, as a 19 year old, to figure out what was going on all the time, socially, professionally, or even physically. It was almost like junior high school again! The new airmen didn't know who they were or what they were doing. Everyone was trying to figure out their new definition and what it meant to be in the military. Most were scared of what was expected of them, or didn't understand what was expected of them.
One morning we heard on the news there had been a bombing in Saudi Arabia. The Khobar Towers were dorms to our airmen stationed there in 4 month rotations. We knew some of our unit had been deployed there but didn't think much of it. We went to work that morning and came home that night, watched the news and life went on. We knew we had not lost anyone in our unit in that bombing. A few months later however, one of our friends in the unit had been there and helped to recover some of the bodies. Does anyone wake up and say, "I'm ready for a bombing!"? No. Nobody wakes up and says that, I hope. But the point is, we all wake up and expect our day to go off without a hitch and be easy. We don't expect to pull dead bodies from a building, loose our jobs, get a disappointing diagnosis for our kids, stay by a sick parent's bed, or even break down on the side of the road. These things are hard, and we aren't programmed to naturally expect to do hard things.
These thoughts then turned to my kids, and more specifically, my oldest two boys, ages 12 and 14. I kept my 12 year old home from a winter camp out because, one, he had been sick, but two, I was worried he would get too cold or slip and fall, or get hurt. I let my fears of a situation being too hard affect him. I should have sent him. It would have been uncomfortable and, well, hard, but he could have come back with such confidence! He could say, "I did hard things!".
My oldest son has mild cerebral palsy. While I always suspected it, we didn't get an official diagnosis until this past summer. The mornings are particularly hard. His medications have worn off and he is spastic. Putting on his shoes and tying them takes 14 minutes. Getting out of bed, finding his clothes and getting dressed takes 35 minutes. If we run late at all, it turns into a panic session. He can't eat quickly because the more stressed out he gets the more spastic he gets, spilling his cereal, and in turn, requiring another change of clothes. I resort to putting his shoes on for him, getting his lunch in his bag and zipping it up for him, and putting medication in his mouth for him. We have this expectation that by age 14 he should be able to do this stuff, and guiltily, I have found myself yelling those same things at him, but he isn't doing these things on purpose. I see the hurt and tears well up, and I hug him and apologize, sending him out the car door to school with a "Have a good day and I love you". Putting him in school was hard. We homeschooled for 8 years because we had less stress. But he wouldn't be able to learn the hard things he needs to learn here at home. It was becoming evident that he couldn't learn the social aspects of life interacting with just his siblings, and I discovered rather quickly, I could not teach math in a significant manner for him to learn and use. He needed more help in many areas of his life that I could not supply. I needed to step back and become just his mom. This was hard, because I had been the one to teach him everything, and now, I had to step back and be his support group, cheerleader, organizer and pillow. I needed to be a soft place for him to land when girls were rejecting and boys were rude and classes were too hard and lunch was gross. It is hard to be just that to my son that for several years I was everything to my son. However, this is the natural progression in life. Moms won't always be there to shelter their kids, but I did need to learn to be the one constant and dependable thing in my kids' lives. Again, this is hard!
My realization was this: I need to prepare my kids to do hard things, and I need to stop making life so easy for them. I think this is the natural order of parents to want to make life easy for their kids, however, we won't always be there to make our kids' lives easy. They need to learn to cook, clean, wash clothes, live with other people, help others, and become self sustaining and independent. I want them to be more productive, which means limiting TV, video games and computer screen time. I want them learn what deadlines mean, take initiative, and be motivated to learn new things, which means putting them in situations with consequences and exposure. (Ok, let me clarify here. I want Jesse to take a literature class, and Isaac is participating in debates at school..nothing illegal or immoral). I'm making more of an effort to talk about movies, shows and books we read in depth so that we start to relate stories to real life situations, and how to deal with them. In a world of distractions and convenience, this is hard!
I have another beautiful friend that has lost over 100 lbs. I managed to loose 5 lbs. in 3 months. Loosing that 5 was hard, and maintaining it, is hard! I never realized how hard it was to loose weight, when most of my life I was struggling to gain weight. Walking with my friend most mornings has taught me how hard it was for her. This was a struggle and there were many things that could have stopped her, but she kept going, eating healthy, kept moving. These are hard things, and it requires diligence and effort, changing habits and rearranging your schedule, and discipline. Changing your perspective in the face of adversity is very hard, but my friend did it. I am doing it.
There will always be hard choices to make. Hard decisions, hard experiences. Through these things, we learn faith. We move on and later say, "I did hard things", but there isn't dread and sadness, it is said with humbleness and confidence, and gratefulness for the experience and learning. Don't fear doing hard things. Good things come of it, even if you can't see it in the moment.