It wasn’t even on my radar. The Army had always been a “no way mom, that’s not for me” conversation. Then one day our son decided that he wanted to just go and ask some questions and get some information. The next thing I knew, he was handing me enlistment papers.
He had joined the Army.
He was 19. He had been out of school for a year working jobs that he really didn’t like. I knew he was miserable and lacked direction. As his parents, we did everything we knew to do to help him succeed, but nothing was helping. If anything, we were just making matters worse.
I’ll never forget the night he walked in with his papers. I felt like someone had kicked my legs out from under me. He would be leaving in just 4 short months.
I spent those four months trying to prepare. That’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do…I plan. It grounds and comforts me.
I told him we should buy the stuff he needed to take with him. He said he didn’t need anything.
I told him that we should go through his room and pack up the things that couldn’t just sit around for three years. He said he would do that after Basic Training.
So he spent four months hanging with his friends and going to weekly fitness tests.
I spent four months fretting and losing sleep and trying to act like everything was just fine.
He's In The Army Now
Then the day arrived - August 22, 2016. The last time my little boy would ever be in my house. He would come back four months later a man.
We left our house that day and took him to the local Army recruiter’s office. They would shuttle him a couple of hours away to the nearest base. That day wasn’t terribly awful because I knew that I would see him the next morning. We were going to drive to the base to spend the morning with him before he left for Fort Benning. Still, watching him walk away with that recruiter was hard…SO hard.
The next day we set out early for Fort Jackson. We were able to spend several hours with him while he finished processing, took his oath to serve and waited for his turn to leave.
They had the families line the walkway and wave little American Flags while all of these brave young men and women boarded vans that would take them to their new lives. I stood there watching them file by thinking they are all so young. They are really just babies, barely beginning to understand what the world is really about, and they are prepared to die for their country.
By the time my son walked by I could barely keep it together. I waved my little flag and smiled and clapped because I wanted him to see how proud we were of him. Inside, I wanted to die. I wanted to hug him and beg him not to go. I wanted to be selfish and keep him safe with me.
He hopped on his shuttle van, we hopped in our mini-van, and we went in opposite directions.
I spent the two-hour ride home in a daze. I couldn’t even cry. I needed to process all that had happened in the last 24 hours, but my brain just couldn’t grasp the enormity of it.
Nothing….NOTHING….could have prepared me for this journey.
I Didn’t Expect This
You see, I knew absolutely nothing about the military. No one in my immediate family had even been in the military. I knew only what I had been told or seen in the movies, and we all know how reliable that is.
No one bothered to tell me what came next.
Oh, they told me that he would go to Fort Benning and stay in processing for at least 5 days up to 2 or 3 weeks, depending on a variety of factors. I knew sortof what he would be doing while he was there. I had watched all of the Making of a Soldier videos on YouTube. I was informed! (sarcasm)
What no one told me was that it would feel like he was dead.
One day he was here, the next day he wasn’t. There was no packing, no transition period, he was just gone. I couldn’t call him, talk to him, text him. I had no idea where he was or what he was doing, or even if he was ok. It was as if he had dropped off the face of the planet.
I cry just thinking about it. It was horrible.
Maybe stronger women handle it differently. I was a blubbering idiot for weeks prone to crying spells in the middle of the grocery store or driving down the road.
I’m 8 months into this journey, and I still have moments when I just cry out of the blue.
I miss my kid.
I can’t help it.
I wish someone had told me how hard it was going to be.
Let’s Get Real
If you are reading this because you are about to become a military mom for the first time then allow me a moment of complete and brutal honesty.
You cannot prepare for what is about to take place.
Your life will never be the same the moment your child gets on that bus, or plane, or shuttle van. I thought I knew that, and you will too, but the truth is that we don't.
There are some things that you can do to make things a little easier at least. Things that I wish someone had told me about a year ago when this journey began. Hopefully, these suggestions will make your journey a little easier.
Lean on Jesus
If you don’t know Jesus, please get to know Him. My faith has sustained me. Knowing that God has my son’s, and our family’s, best interest in mind - no matter what - has been the thing that grounds me and encourages me and keeps me from falling completely apart.
I honestly don’t know how anyone does military without God, I truly don’t.
If You Don’t Read Anything Else…
Buy the book Be Safe, Love Mom by Elaine Brye.
Read it, and then read it again, and again. Read it every time you think you might go insane not knowing what is going on with your kid. Elaine is a mother of four children, each of them in a different branch of the military. She has been through it all, and wrote a book about it! Her wisdom is so incredibly helpful.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
During Military Mom Basic Training, we learn to let go - or at least to try to let go, to start to let go. Our sudden lack of control over our son’s or daughter’s safety and destiny becomes painfully obvious, as we have no access to our kids at all..
It’s a strange situation we moms are in. We have to develop our calluses and get hardened to the hurt but at the same time stay flexible and make the best of what we do have. We have to stretch beyond where we thought we could stretch yet keep our feet firmly planted on the ground…Because at some point, all hell breaks loose.
And perhaps the hardest sentence to swallow in the entire book…
As far as the military is concerned, mothers don’t ever need to know.
Education is Key
Learn as much as you can about the branch your child is joining. Learn all of those military acronyms and what they stand for because your kid will suddenly have a whole new cryptic language.
Find out what happens during Basic Training and what happens afterward. What about the MOS they’ve chosen? Do you understand what it is and what is involved? What will their daily job be like after Basic?
There are numerous places on the internet where you can find out just about anything you’d want to know.
Find a support group of military parents. I found a fabulous support group on Facebook and the mother’s there were amazingly helpful women. I strongly encourage you to find one before your child leaves for basic training.
As Elaine Brye shares in her book (mentioned above):
The band of military mothers and fathers is strong, and its members know the price we all pay to let go time and time again. Other military parents can help you carry your backpack on the days it feels loaded with cement blocks. Whether you find them in person or virtually or simply know they’re out there battling with you in spirit, it’s a comfort and a gift to realize that you are not alone.
I couldn’t agree more.
These groups can be rather difficult to locate since a lot of military stuff is so secretive. If you’re looking for a support group and can’t find one please feel free to contact me. I will do my best to help you find one.
Blue Star Mothers
Find your local Blue Star Mothers chapter and attend a meeting. Networking with other military moms who understand where you are is immensely helpful. Even if you don’t FEEL like it, go anyway.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
It took me quite a while to realize that I needed to grieve. I had all of these incredibly strong emotions that kept bubbling over (at the most inopportune times I might add) and I could not make sense of them.
I kept telling myself to pull it together, that I was being a big baby. After all, my son is a grown man right? Why on earth couldn’t I just move on??
Then it hit me one day...I had to grieve.
Grieve the loss of life as we knew it, the loss of control, the loss of being able to protect my child, the loss of his presence in our home, the loss of who he was before he entered the gates of Fort Benning, the loss of my normal!
When we think of grieving we generally associate it with death, but there are times when we just need to grieve because life will never be the same again.
This is one of those times.
Embrace that and go through the grieving process.
I’ll part with a few encouraging words…
I’d like to leave you with a rather lengthy quote from Elaine Brye’s book. I have this section of her book underlined, highlighted and starred repeatedly because it has been the source of the most encouragement these past few months. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I read it as a reminder.
When a child leaves home for college or a job, it can be an unsettling and sad transition, even if it’s exciting too. Your child has just left home not for college, or for a job, but in order to become a warrior, to willingly fight in some of the most dangerous places and situations in the world. It makes sense that the experience feels daunting to you, even harrowing.
Every military career begins with a grueling, intense, and agonizing initiation period…It’s designed this way because our sons and daughters must immediately and irreversibly strip themselves of their old identities, their former lives. Because life as they know it will never be the same.
The same is true for the families back home. While our loved ones are away, acclimating to their new lives as soldiers, we also are undergoing our own initiation period, adjusting to our new identities as military mothers and fathers and wives and children. The shock of this new life is not absorbed more easily just because we have the comforts of home and other family and friends around us. The loss is just the same. Letting go - of our sons and daughters, of our control, of our old lives - requires the courage of a warrior and the endurance of a marathoner. We need to understand that we are at the beginning of a long and steep road.
I do know this: after you take the first step on that long and steep road, the second step will follow. And then the third, and the fourth, and eventually, the process will be almost as automatic as breathing: one foot will follow the other, again and again and again. Each day you’ll wake up and letting go will get just a tiny bit easier.
But you must take that first step. You must let your children climb aboard that bus to follow their calling. And we will all march on.
Amen sister, amen!
When I first read that I called Mrs. Brye a liar - out loud if I recall correctly. My son had barely been gone a week and I was in so much pain. I didn’t believe her at the time, but I’ve learned that it’s all true. It does get easier.
And when you see your child in their uniform you are going to be so incredibly proud that you'll feel like you will burst. He (or she) will return to you more complete, more confident and sure of himself, and more appreciative of his family.
It’s so hard to go through, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but in the end, it’s so worth it.
Are you a military mom, or soon to be one? I’d love to hear your story! Please share in the comments below.
Linking up at Mommy Moments