A Lifetime of Aftershocks

  

It’s Mother’s Day, and today I find myself considering the suffering that entails. It’s not an original thought, certainly. But it is one that touches me personally.

Childbirth seems to be the physical earthquake that leaves a lifetime of emotional aftershocks. Motherhood and sacrifice appear inextricably linked–so much so that it becomes all too easy to take for granted.

Our plans for my wife’s special day fit into a crowded schedule at work. Sunday turned out to be the one day she’d have me all to herself, the one day I could get the kids out of her hair for some length of time. I worked a full week and then some. And Saturday’s duty came with bad news.

My wife was about to find out Saturday night that I would have to depart first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day for a few days’ trip off island to avoid an inbound typhoon so that my unit can still perform our missions for the United States even if our home station is socked in with weather.

There’s no doubt in my mind that–though undeniably and appropriately frustrated–she would give me a hug and kiss, tell me she loves me, make sure the kids did the same, and settle in for a few days alone with four kids in the house awaiting the storm’s arrival and departure. Four kids–three of them battling a bit of cough, congestion, and fever. Four kids who get a lot of their, let’s say, “charm, creativity, and character” from me, much to my wife’s chagrin (and occasional delight). 

That I don’t have to worry or question her commitment astounds me, and makes me all the more grateful to this wonderful mother of my children. 

We luck out, and discover that we won’t have to leave quite so soon. Mother’s Day is back on.

It strikes me that I’ve spent more of my life in the military than out of it, a threshold I crossed a couple years ago, in fact. The pressures of sudden schedule changes and cancelled plans are nothing new. And I’ve had it incredibly good over the years compared to so many of my peers in the service. So I am not complaining or seeking pity here. That said, the life we’ve chosen sure comes with its share of challenges. 

My own mother spent hours listening to me play piano. We shared interests in music and creative expressions. I gained her laid-back “Type B” personality and sensitivity where my older brother and my father both loved history books, strategy games, and argumentative debates. Mom feared my soft-spoken personality would get crushed by the bullies and jocks of high school. She often wondered how I was doing and worried whether I’d be safe and out of trouble in my first few years away from home.

Being a parent now, I can see how there’s always a level of care and maybe even fear about your precious little ones. It’s a program running in the background of a parent’s mental computer, a constant blip on the radar. When I think of how mothers bond with their babies even before they’re born, I know my experience only scratches the surface of that attachment and concern.

Over the years, my mother (and father) bore the near-constant separation of military life with the bittersweet mixture of pride and longing one might expect. My family and I have been stationed in Japan for the majority of my 20-plus years of service. Through it all, Mom dealt with the painful distance between her and her grandkids on my side with what grace she could muster. Modern tech comforts like Skype and MagicJack make things a little easier.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up at 0-dark-thirty to get ready for a few days away from home. And I’ll make a phone call back to the States to thank my awesome Mom and wish her a happy day. Then, while the kids are still (hopefully) asleep, I’ll thank my wife for her own awesome mothering and slip out the door.

The Air Force has been focused on “resiliency” over the last few years, trying to educate and help its Airmen find ways to bounce back from stressful situations and potentially overwhelming experiences in their lives. I wonder if they’ve considered everything moms go through, and what makes a mother get back up and press on each time life brings another wave of hurt or weariness. 

Seems to me there’s a lot we could learn.

To my mother and my wife, who have made so many sacrifices that I’ve seen and probably many more that I’ve overlooked, thank you. To them both, and to the many women out there who do the same for their loved ones, their biological children, or those they’ve adopted literally or figuratively as their own:

You are awesome and the world is a better place due to your part in it. Your sacrifices matter, and your profound love is appreciated. 

Thank you.  

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