Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Flag

There are days when my relationship with the US flag is a conflicted one.  By turns, I both love and hate this emblem of our country.  There is such a pull to it, holding us tight, demanding that we give and give and give, and so rarely giving back.  Then there are the days when I am so proud to be a citizen of this country, that the pure and lonesome beauty of its stars and stripes nearly brings me to weeping.

It is a powerful thing, that flag.  Over 20 years ago, he raised his right hand and swore to uphold it, to fight for it, and to die by it if necessary.  Over 20 years ago, I made a vow to him, which in turn binds me to that selfsame flag.  Our children have made sacrifices because of his original oath, and have grown up stronger for it.  And yet…

Our lives are very different from what I had grown up imagining our lives to be, and certainly different from that of most Americans.  

Most Americans, when they hear the National Anthem, or they recite the Pledge, do so unfettered, unbound by its power.  There are some, not all, who realize and appreciate fully the freedoms they enjoy because our country is a unique one.  They are proud, loyal, and steadfast.  Some, I am sad to say, are blithely uncaring, or unaware, or both. 

Most Americans are not asked to fully support that flag.

And most Americans would surely not die for that flag.

Most Americans do not move because their country needs it.  They do not go without their families for months, years at a time because their country demands it.  They do not serve at the needs of the Army, nor at the needs of any part of this great country.  They do not bathe the flag in blood, sweat or tears.

Most Americans do not occasionally hate the demands that their flag puts on them, because most Americans have not had much demanded of them.

There is much to say that is good and positive and right about this country.  All of those reasons, plus family tradition, are the inspiration for my husband’s original and continued oath.  Those are the predominant reasons he has stayed with this service, and we have all given so much.  We are free to do so much that in other countries is forbidden, or unavailable, or unheard-of.  We are freer than free, in so many of the ways that count.  Speech, Religion, Press, Self-protection.  Some days it feels as though those freedoms are under attack by the very forces that are supposed to uphold them, yet still they endure.

Most Americans pay absolutely nothing for this tremendous privilege, short of grumbling at the tax office.  Freedoms are, by their nature, not free.  Their cost is far deeper than a monetary one.  Their cost cannot be purchased except through the unfailing loyalty of those who have promised their lives to it.

Some days, that cost seems far too high.  Some days, that cost makes me weep for the lost days and months and years that we have sacrificed.  Some days, I could hate that flag. 

Most Americans do not understand.  They do not see the conflict that pulls at our military families, where fealty to “home” and “country” must constantly be an either-or, all-or-nothing choice.  Many Americans blithely say, “Well, at least it isn’t…” or “It could be worse,” not realizing that each change and each sacrifice must be weighed on an individual occurrence.  Gone is gone, and we miss the time we might have spent together.  Let us grieve a moment, let us feel comforted and not forgotten while we are half of the family we once were.

I am proud of the choices that we have made, to follow and support and remain loyal to this great country and that beautiful, terrible flag.  Most days, I would not change a thing except to be more appreciative of the freedoms it represents.  But there are times, when the anthem plays and the flag is flown, that my heart aches inside at the price we have paid.

There are days, I will admit, when there is no comfort there.


Friday, May 24, 2013


I won't be going to sleep any time soon...  Little G is on her way home from a long field day with her class, and I am waiting for the bus to safely deliver her.  The waiting is difficult, but not unfamiliar.  It's fairly early in the evening, but I'd really like to be in my jammies and ready for bed.

Sleep is something I've learned to postpone, to do without, to occasionally fantasize about like I once dreamt of seeing my name published prominently.

What's that you say?  My kids are older?  Oh, how if that makes any difference!  Easy and consistent sleep is, I believe, one of those things we simply sacrifice for our children on occasion.

Before that baby’s even born, the physical and emotional upheaval of pregnancy keeps us awake.  Dreams, wild and sometimes theatrical, keep us from sleep.  Joints and ligaments and body parts we never knew we had, are suddenly calling to us overnight. 

People tell us, “When the baby comes, you can sleep when they sleep!”

Once the sweet bundle of joy is placed in our arms, a whole new reason for our sleeplessness appears.  Absolute dependence shines from those sweet eyes.  When they do sleep, we find ourselves watching them, guarding against the night. Or bathing. Or grabbing bites of lukewarm dinner.  Or staring into space, wondering, “Why can’t I sleep?”

Toddler years, terrific and temperamental, show us how even the most exhausted of children won’t necessarily sleep when they’re tired.  They fight, bleary-eyed and puffy-cheeked, against the rest that their parents desperately crave.

We briefly think, “We can rest now that they’re older!” when it’s time to send them off to school.  But, alas, we are mistaken. They have sleepovers , stomach bugs, school projects and insomnia. They wake us on Saturdays for sports.  They wake us to share the nightmares of the night before. Tossing and turning, we sleep lightly and wait for nighttime visitors.

Independent and growing fast, our children soon no longer visit us in the middle of the night.  They sleep as late as we will let them, they have whole sections of their lives that don’t involve us (much). Do we sleep now, secure in their growing autonomy?  

Now we think about who their friends are.  What their grades are.  Their futures, their present, the diaphanous and distressing unknown that arises as our children begin to stand on their own.  We await curfew. 

People tell us, and we believe, “When they move out, you can sleep.”

I have come to suspect, though, that parents are never going to rest well.  We will never consistently lay our heads down at night, safe and secure and utterly at peace.  Once our kids move out, we think about college, and safety, and whether they’re happy.  We dissect conversations, life choices, events and aspirations… 

The phone rings with a wrong number, at the dreaded darkest hour, and we lie awake wondering if it might have been them. If they are okay.  If they, in turn, are sleeping.