I was honored to meet a soldier on our Toys for Troops mailing list a few weeks ago: SPC Chris Pearson. His parents showed up to the Christmas event, and packed their little hearts out, and I've been corresponding with his Mother, Carol since.
It's been interesting, talking to her, and tagging up to my own past emotions. Looking forward to his having him home after being deployed for the first time, her e-mails were wrought both with excitement and angst: "Yayyy! He's coming home!" is followed by "Will he be ok?" and scarier yet, "Will I know him?" She also wondered: "Should I drag him out and show him off, or let him call the shots?"
Being the Big Know-It-All, Been-There, Done-That Mom, I advised: "Hell yes, drag him out! You're the Mom! Grab him by the ear, and show him off! He still has to do what you say, and he has to come out and be surrounded by people that want to pet him!" (Like me.)
I don't know that my advice had anything to do with it but I got an e-APB a few weeks ago that Mom & Pop Pearson would be trotting Chris out to the Esquire. Clint and I burned rubber on downtown to meet him.
Polite introductions were made...and would never do—I didn't come all this way (3.5 miles!!) for a handshake, kiddo. Bearhugs for everyone! Yayyyy!!!
I really was happy to see him home, to meet him. Happy for him, happy for his parents. He was so gracious, and thanked me several times for all we do, reinforcing that care packages are much-loved. In my heart of hearts I wanted to monopolize his time, but there were others in and out waiting for their turn with him. I gave him another hug (and maybe one more), and let him back to other friends and family lined up to see him.
I rounded the pool room back to our table, and stopped in my tracks, at the room full of people dining and merrymaking there. I felt, momentarily, paralyzed. Panicked. I had a sudden urge to knock over the jukebox and silence the room and scream "We have a soldier, here, on leave! You HAVE to get over there and get in your own hugs! Go thank him! Wish him well! He's has to go back, back to Iraq! Do you hear me?"
I also had the wherewithal to consider "Maybe that would embarrass him." So I bucked up and moved back to our table, behaving myself like a good...somebody else's Mom.
SPC Pearson flew out of Chicago this morning, on his way back to Iraq.
I know what it's like to send your kid back to Iraq. Right now, here he is in your driveway, and tomorrow, he'll be in a war zone. It's hard. It sucks.
I also know that it's comforting to know that he's getting on that plane knowing that there are more people that care for him, and more people praying for him and his comrades than he ever, ever imagined.
As a parent, there's some comfort in sending him off with that information. "See?" we can say..."See, I TOLD you how many people asked us about you, how many people care."
We have to tell them we care, people. We have to tell our soldiers, and we have to tell their loved ones. I'm telling you that sometimes we're fine, and sometimes just knowing you're here is the only thing that gets us through a given day.
I've been there.
And I'll be there again, in about 6 months. It is already comforting to know that when my son deploys, and returns on leave, and when I trot him out to the Esquire, that one Mr. & Mrs. Pearson will be lined up with bearhugs for mine.