Courtney 1“While we try to teach our children all about life, in the end it is our children who teach us what life is all about.”-Angela Schwindt.

My wife, Courtney, and I became mothers at a younger age. Life handed us the opportunity to become moms through the element of surprise and so we embraced it. I am not sure anyone really stops growing or learning in a lifetime, even if they try; we are by our very nature, continuously evolving. When embracing parenthood, we also embraced a tremendous amount of growing up very quickly, and doing so right alongside of our son, Campbell, and daughter, Aubrey. As most parents, we have days where we find ourselves looking for our sanity, that must have disappeared as inexplicably as the thousandth sock that has joined the ranks of those lost in the “Bermuda Triangle,” otherwise known as the journey from washer to dryer to drawer. Overall, our lives as mothers have been so full of beautiful ups and downs, I cannot imagine life unfolding in any other way. As we celebrate the month of the military child, I salute my son and daughter, and all of our amazing milkids, as it truly is children who are teaching me, and maybe you too, what life is all about.

I recall the morning, my then fiancé Courtney, raised her right hand. I hadn’t seen her in a few days and had never been to a military entrance processing station (MEPS). My heart raced, I felt out of sorts and not sure who to make eye contact with. I also remember keeping very quiet the whole ride up while waiting to see Courtney again, which is a trait I typically do not possess, as I am sure my wife and children would vouch for. I knew life as I was comfortable with, was about to change dramatically, and I’ll admit, I was struggling with it. I was surprised by my behavior, I told myself to toughen up, as I am my father’s daughter, and I can do this. My father retired after twenty years of active duty service in the Air Force, however my time as a milkid was very limited, as I didn’t come along until the very end of his career. So maybe I had a lot more to learn than I had realized. In my moments of discomfort and uncertainty, I looked to Campbell and Aubrey who were also sitting in a sea of unfamiliar faces, just as uncomfortable and uncertain as their mother’s, in rows of chairs all facing a few televisions with news reports flashing on and off their screens.

My kids were not uncomfortable or uncertain. They were playing “ISPY”. Sayin, “I spy with my little eye, something….BLUE” and they’d laugh and accuse each other of cheating as just about everything in sight was blue. I found so much comfort in watching and listening to them, which was a welcome distraction from my racing thoughts, “distance, separation, deployments, her safety, how she will be treated, how will our family be received.” My then seven and five year old were able to soothe each other by playing a simple game. They didn’t need a board, dice, or directions (do kids still play board games? Ok, then, they didn’t need an outlet); they adapted to the situation with what they had available, and smiled throughout that day. I quickly snapped to a whole new thought process, “the love of my life gets to live her dream, AND be free from persecution for who she is, and the family she has, and I get to be the one that supports her.” I learned SO much about being a military spouse in that moment, and I learned it from my children. When Courtney took her oath of enlistment, Aubrey and Campbell stood and watched her in awe. Maybe it was because she was the only female in the group, maybe it was foreign to them to see their spirited, charismatic, playful, momma being so…official. Or maybe they were silently, metaphorically raising their right hand behind hers. I speculate to this day, the latter, because they serve in every way a milkid does from the moment Courtney was sworn into the Army.

Courtney 2What began that day, with the four of us, and her oath, soon saw us to that cold day in October. Her ship date was finally here and like most things in the military, felt like it came without enough warning after waiting what seemed like an eternity, a fun facet of the phenomenon service members, their spouses, and kids alike call “hurry up and wait.” We went through the events of the day; the moment we pulled out of the drive way, knowing she wouldn’t be home for months and months, arriving at the airport, checking Courtney in, obtaining escort passes, and making it to her gate felt like mindless movements in a dream. It was like some magnetic force pulling us forward, without our own will. That force was basic training and the moments were reality. I had by this time really felt I had grown after the experience at MEPS. I was about to be SUCH a great Army mom and spouse for my kids and for her. I was Courtney and my kids’ biggest cheerleader, and because of this I told myself, I had already “embraced {my part of} the suck.” I was ready to live without my other half and be strong doing so, because I knew it meant the whole world, and then some, for her to become a soldier, and my children deserve nothing less from me. I felt solid holding onto those thoughts. But what about the kids? My worries swirled around in my head the way a feather caught in a stream of air does. I wanted it to be a Band-Aid, ripped off as quickly as possible because I knew I couldn’t absorb the pain associated with its removal. I was worried for my babies and how they would deal with this. I wanted to blow a magical bubble around my precious children, because as parents we always want to soften the blow, even when it might not be what they need most. My father has always told me, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it’ll give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” His words rang true, my kids didn’t need a magic bubble, they needed the chance to learn and grow.

courtney 3My bright, spunky, smiley seven year old Campbell was, true to his usual form, the friendliest kid at the airport; he must’ve told twenty or so staff we encountered that his “momma was off to be in the Army.” He said it matter-of-factly to anyone who would listen, because he was endlessly proud, and he got to say all this and say it about his “momma”, all with a huge smile on his sweet face. He wore his very own pair of ACU’s, before mom got hers. He wanted to help carry things to the gate, stay right next to Courtney, and make sure Aubrey wasn’t far behind him. My compassionate, old soul, five year old, Aubrey, was also true to her usual form, curious and caretaking. She has this quiet way of knowing what someone needs before they display the need or ask for assistance. It’s as if her curiosity lets her take in all of her environment and she can put sunshine in the cloudiest moments. She was quiet and comforting with lots of hugs, and “let me help’s”. Aubrey, too, wanted to tell the world where her momma was going. When Campbell would waver, Aubrey would be at her strongest, when Aubrey’s clear blue eyes would brim with tears, Campbell had her back. My heart leaps recounting, watching them behave like such adults, in such little bodies.  After watching all this strength exude from my kids, that had never experienced their mother’s absence for any length of time, I knew everything I needed to know. They would absolutely get through this, and we would all love each other enough to never let one another fall. That, I believe, makes up the fibers of the very cloth that weaves together a military family, or any family, for that matter.

courtney 4The moment came when we had to let Mom go. We said “see you laters”, hugs, kisses, one more “I love you’, fingers outstretched to meet one more time, and for the first time my little ones really fell apart. They grabbed at the window yelling, “Momma!!!” Tears fell down reddened cheeks until they had exhausted their ability to cry. I felt the “punch in the stomach” of it all. I had spent just about every day of the past years, all the way back to my own adolescence with the woman that just left for the better part of a year; but most importantly I could see, hear, and feel my children’s anguish and fear, their uncertainty and discomfort. My kids had already shown me how to soothe them, without their knowing, they had given me some very precious tools that I will use throughout my lifetime. So we adapted to the situation with what we had available, and smiled throughout the day. We love each other enough that we’ll never let one another fall. That day we left the airport, went home and played for hours in the woods behind our house, and we got through it. That day and every day since, we have tried, tested, and found these tools to be true. We have days where our defense mechanisms work better than others. We have days where we have to improvise. When my wife is called to train and leaves us for any length of time, or in the face of knowing she will receive deployment orders, we’ll adapt and we’ll hold onto that love. We have one another, and not one of us will fall, no matter what.

These are just pieces of what our milkids learn and grow from, and ways that we as parents can learn and grow from our milkids. If there are any children, toddlers through young adulthood, that have no use for that magic bubble, it’s our military kids. They learn that to survive, means to adapt, and they do so in the most profoundly inspiring ways, in the most difficult, trying, and varying of circumstances. Military kids define resilience and strength; and they do it all while witnessing our incredible service members at work, and many parts of our country’s history. Let the celebratory atmosphere of The Month of the Military Child stay present all the months of our years, as they are truly little heroes.

courtney 5