Reflections on Veteran’s Day
It almost feels normal, making dinner, driving kids to school, hosting back yard gatherings, taking care of the routine and mundane “to-do lists” of the day, until the moment I remember…my husband is in Iraq. He’s in Iraq.
It’s just me, and the kids and this house and life happening so fast. At those moments my thoughts splinter. I’m traveling at light speed to where Cooper is, only I’ve never been to Iraq, so my imagination is a Fox News version of the Middle East, an urban desert landscape where men with long beards and zealot’s eyes chant, “Death to America.” I think of the Christian’s being killed, girls kidnapped and raped, children who can’t walk the streets safely. The headlines of the day ticker tape through my mind in a series of jolting images that makes me question what kind of world do I live in?
And then my six-year-old says, “Mom, I need a snack.” It is after school and she is hungry. I gaze at her dimpled cheeks and dark eyes and I am present again, putting carrot sticks and ranch on a plate with Babybel cheese and crackers, arranging a silly face that never fails to make her smile. We sit at the table and I pour myself a cup of rooibos tea and instead of getting on my phone to check the latest updates, I watch her and we talk.
She tells me who was coughing at school and who upset the teacher. She tells me she played freeze dance and her best friend Kennedy* copied all her dance moves and that is the BEST Kennedy HAS EVER DANCED! She tells me she likes getting hot lunch and doesn’t want me to pack anymore, but says it in a way that I can tell she’s trying not to hurt my feelings. I am swept up in our conversation and forget I need to take Jonah to soccer, right now. I also need to change the laundry so I can get sheets back on our beds, before I’m too exhausted.
We drive to soccer and Maggie brings her scooter. While Jonah is at practice we go to the nearby park and for the next hour try to step on one another’s shadows and make obstacle courses. We could have gone home. I could have made dinner. But I think to myself, Wendy’s is close by, Dave can do the cooking.
After an hour we’re too cold to play outside. Jonah still has thirty minutes of practice so we sit in the car and wait for him to finish. There’s an IPad on the back seat, but it’s not charged. So we talk. “Since our country has freedom, why don’t they give us free Wi-Fi?” Maggie wants to know. She also wants to know if I’ve bought her a stuffed Olaf yet and if I’m going to get her one for Christmas since she’s been wanting it “forever.” She finds the Sour Patch Gum she thought she lost in the pocket of the chair and puts two sticks in her mouth and chews loudly. I ask, “Does that sound bother you?” And she replies, “Maybe it would if you were making it.” I tell her no more gum until we’re out of the car.
Jonah finishes practice and he’s cold. His ears hurt. He’s forgotten how to dress for cold weather since we left Sweden. He still wears t-shirts and shorts as if it’s 115-degrees outside, but the weather has changed and when the sun goes down it’s freezing.
We drive to Wendy’s. I tell the voice asking for my order in the Drive-through that I haven’t been to a Wendy’s in over ten years. I don’t think they believe me. And “Do you still have baked potatoes on the menu?” I ask. The voice says they do and I order one with broccoli and bacon and sour cream. I also get a half-size Chicken Pecan Salad that I hope tastes as good as the picture. Jonah wants the “Son of a Baconator” and a frosty. Micah texts, wrestling is over, he wants the same. Maggie’s happy with a hamburger but not apples, she wants fries.
Twenty-eight dollars and I’ve got dinner and no dishes. We pick up Micah from the high school. Our car smells like fries and I wonder how many days it will take to dissipate. When we arrive home we go to the table with our five paper bags and eat on plates and pass the ketchup and talk about our day. It’s fast food but we don’t eat fast, except for Jonah, who still needs to shower before I take him to Boy Scouts.
At 7:00 pm I’m back in the car yelling, “Jonah, come on.” He’s gelling his hair—it takes longer these days. I am patient. I sit in the car and check Facebook. The picture I posted of my parents on Veteran’s Day is getting lots of likes. They look handsome, young and beautiful and at the start of the lives. It’s 1951 and my dad is in Indiana with the Pennsylvania National Guard. Soon he will be shipping off to Korea and later Vietnam. Did they know then that he would serve his country in the Army and Air Force for 24 years, I wonder?
I was born the year he retired, in 1972. I never moved anywhere. I didn’t know that life, or that fathers were gone from home for years at a time. But looking at their picture now, thinking of Cooper in Iraq–the years we’ve spent apart–I know what it means. I’ve seen this photo my whole life, and yet it’s like I’m seeing it now for the first time.
Strangely, I feel reassured. I see their life, and the trajectory of my own, playing out. This photo marks their beginning. I’m just somewhere in the middle. They had difficult times and so do I, but they became who they are because of their sacrifice, not in spite of it. Married now for over 65 years, I hope I can do the same.
Jonah gets in the car. “I’m ready, put away your phone. Let’s go,” he jokingly orders. I take a deep breath and pull out of the driveway, onto the suburban streets. The sidewalk, in front of each home, is lined with flags. The sight of so many flags waving, red, white and blue, makes me proud. Even as I miss Cooper and wish he were here, I’m grateful he’s serving our country. I drop Jonah off at Scouts. He’s working on the orienteering merit badge. Orienteering began in Sweden. He’s already learned the skills they’re teaching tonight, but I’m not worried about him reading maps. I want him to learn another kind of orienteering—a compass for life, the Scout Oath. “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and country [and] to help other people at all times.”
Back at home, I pull sheets from the dryer and make our beds. I feel grateful for clean sheets, for warm beds, for children to tuck in, for a country where we are free. We can sleep well tonight. It’s been a day of reflection and a chance to remember those whom we should never forget. I hug my kids just a little longer after family prayers and tell them, this one is for dad.
* means the name has been changed