When I think of our fallen military, I am reminded of a speech by Colin Powell. Answering his critics, he said “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.” This is our hallowed ground. And, tomorrow we honor the soldiers buried oversea and within our borders. Thank you for your sacrifice.
One of the best parts of being a mom is creating new family traditions. Prior to my son’s birth, Memorial Day was for barbecues and laughing with friends. It was great to have the day off. Everything shifted with my son’s arrival. Instead of burgers and beer, we started a new tradition of racing to the emergency room.
“He’s not breathing,” I screamed, as I scooped up my son and ran down the stairs. I found the Epi pen and quickly treated him. Even with the epinephrine, he was barely breathing. We rushed him to the hospital for treatment. When he finally started breathing on his own, I was so relieved.
“What can we give him to stop these attacks? I asked the doctor. “They are getting worse!” They sent us home with a nebulizer and referral to an allergist. With the nebulizer, we were better able to treat the wheezing before it would turn into a full blown allergy attack. In order to get him to put the nebulizer tip in his mouth, we told him that it would give him special powers.
In fact, the Albuterol had the power to make him crazy. He would run in circles, making himself wheeze and vomit the length of the house. We invented a new family game called Stop the Toddler. My husband would take one end of the living room and I would take the other. We would gradually move in on the target until we could tackle him and make him sit still. During one such game, he broke loose and ran face first into the refrigerator, bouncing back and then continuing to run. It was like watching Wiley Coyote.
Looking for a way to change this family tradition, we went to an allergist. “There isn’t much we can do at this age,” the allergist said. “Until he is 4, you need to keep him away from his allergens. We can draw his blood and test it for allergies.”
After 6 vials and one terrified 2 year old, we met with the allergist again. “His immune system is still forming, so the test was inconclusive. I recommend that you keep him away from anything that you are allergic to.” He continued, “to be safe, I would keep him away from nuts as well. I find most of the children with allergies have some kind of nut allergy.” So, along with avoiding wheat, dairy and soy (which he had vomited back at us), we made sure that he did not eat any nuts.
Also, since he seemed to have a severe reaction to the pollen in May, we built a play land in our house. Instead of going to the park, we created a park in our living room. By isolating him and keeping him in a bubble, we reduced his attacks and he stabilized for a while.
So, we thought that we could try to go to a barbecue again. Within minutes he started coughing so hard from the mucus in his lungs that he vomited the mucus and his food all over us. In our family, this is called getting slimed. Apologizing to our friends and cleaning up the mess, we went home for another game of Stop the Toddler.
Hoping to create new Memorial Day traditions, we have started a new round of testing and treatment for his allergies. Keep your fingers crossed. If we get our wish, he will barf next year from too many hotdogs and not the pollen.
After the wonderful speeches and Taps have been played and everyone has left, there stands a lone figure at the graveside. A piece of her heart lies in this grave and she cannot bring herself to leave it. She remembers the day that this soldier was born, when she anxiously listened for his first screams of life. “Yes,” she said in relief, “he sounds very strong.”
Smiling she turned from the kitchen sink to see him raise himself up and take his first steps. She dried her hands to reach for him as he toddled towards her falling into her arms. “Look at you;” she cooed at him, “you are such a big boy. You are walking.” She was so proud of him and grateful that he was safe in her arms.
On Memorial Day, she dressed him in his little suit and showed him how to salute as the soldiers marched by. She told him how brave they were and how they served our country. “When I grow, I’m going to be brave,” he proclaimed, standing up straight at attention. “I’m going to be a soldier.” She smiled and patted him on the head, “yes, you are my very brave boy. I know that you will do great things.”
She was not surprised when he joined ROTC in college. “You are so handsome in your uniform,” she said as he marched towards her. “Have you received your orders yet?” she continued with a twinge in her chest. As proud as she was of her boy, she was afraid for his safety. Turning to wipe a tear before he could see it, she said, “I’m so proud of you.”
Standing resolutely in an Air Force hanger, she smiled and waved at him, throwing a kiss to her son. “Come home soon,” she yelled over the sound of the jet engines. “But, not too soon,” she said softly. “Come home alive.”
Her next meeting in the Air Force hanger was to greet a flag draped coffin that held a piece of her heart. With her shoulders slumped and her head hanging down, she bent down to kiss the head of the coffin. “My sweet boy you are home,” she choked. Stroking the head of the coffin, she said “rest easy my son your battle is done.”
Sitting in the center chair, she faded in and out as members of the military spoke about her son’s bravery and how many lives he saved. She looked up as they handed her a metal of honor and a folded flag. She wanted to get up, but her legs would not work. She was frozen in her seat. She softly mumbled, “Thank you,” and shook their hands.
Filtering past the coffin, family, friends and military members, stopped to say “we are sorry for your loss.” She forced herself to look up and say, “thank you.” Once everyone was gone, she sat quietly with her son like she had many nights in his youth, making sure that he was okay. She could hear him say, “Mom I’m okay. You don’t need to stay.”
Leaning forward to kiss his head one more time, she fell on top of the coffin. “I’m not ready to let you go,” she sobbed. “Come home with me,” she begged. When she regained her footing, she slowly shuffled to her car. She turned to look at him one more time. Raising her shaking right hand, she saluted her brave hero. “Good night my son. Rest in peace.”