September 9, 2011

Children and Families in a Post 9/11 World

We're only beginning to understand how wide spread the impact of that day was.  We're only beginning to really feel the weight of history having been made.  We're only beginning to learn to exist in a post-9/11 world.

That's the world my children live in.  It's the world most children live in.  There is a distinct line between those who remember that day and understand anything about it and those for whom it is only the vaguest of memories, or who have no memory of it at all.

I think about the Shoa Foundation, who have made it their mission to record video testimonies of Holocaust survivors, so that once they have all passed away we will remember what that time was.  How I, through the dedication and effort of an entire community of Jewish people who I never have and never will meet, have a visceral and personal cultural memory of Kristalnacht and train cars to Auschwitz.

I think about children who ask questions like, "If Osama bin Laden flew the plane into the World Trade Center, how did he escape to get all the way to Afghanistan to be killed ten years later?"  We haven't really begun to explore how we explain this event, so different from any other attack in history, that so altered the landscapes of our lives.  There is so much we take for granted about what we know, simply by being there when it happened.  How do you explain the twin towers?  How do you convey the sense of the invulnerability of the Pentagon?  How do you explain how, in a world where camera phones didn't exist, where there was no Twitter, where even digital cameras weren't ubiquitous, that as something momentous and horrifying occurred, it was still shrouded in mystery and confusion.

Nobody in the towers posted Twitpics of coworkers jumping out of windows.
Nobody on the streets uploaded video to YouTube showing that they were okay.
Nobody on Facebook created groups for people stuck in airports.

Nothing like it had ever happened before.  Nothing like it can ever happen again.

And our children's lives will be shaped by what we've done to and for the world since that day.

The attacks of September 11th changed the lives of uncountable American families.  I was fortunate enough to have a friend share the story of her family- her husband enlisted one month before the attacks.  This isn't a story about September 11th, but it is a story of a family that was built, in a way, from September 11th.  With September 11th as a personal connection to why and how their family came to be the way it is.  Just as my family came to be the way that it is because of our personal connection to brain cancer.

Abby blogs over at The Half Heart Chronicles.  Please show her some love, and welcome her to the blogosphere.

Half My Heart (Our Story)

My daughter is eight months old this week.  Sweet Baby Vrai is rolling all over the place, babbling fairly constantly, and working hard on filling her ready smile with sharp little teeth.  She is the spitting image of me at her age, with round cheeks and a little turned up nose.  However, she’s painted with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes that are foreign to my bloodline but familiar to me, as they come straight from her daddy... who is 6,781 miles away.

Her daddy is my lover, and my husband, of approaching 6 years.  We have known each other since we were basically kids and over time we grew to be best friends.  We were very communicative about our hopes and dreams and all that good stuff.  We were planners.  And we were unprepared for what life had in store for us.  But really, who is?

DOMC (or the Daddy Of My Child) was the first born of four siblings, a real role model and all around responsible guy.  He was determined to go to the private college where his father went, that in four years would wrack up $100,000 in tuition, room and board, and fees.  DOMC knew that with three siblings besides himself to put through college, he couldn’t expect his parents to foot the bill.  He went out and got himself scholarships (he’s very smart) and did the one thing that would alter the course of our life many times over.

In August 2001, he enlisted in the Army.

Let’s do the math people, what happened one month later on September 11th, 2001?  Shortly thereafter, DOMC was recruited to join ROTC and become an officer in the United States Army National Guard.   They needed good people and DOMC was ‘Good People.’

Our relationship grew over time and a few years in we were madly in love and ready to get married.  He proposed to me the winter before his graduation from college and commissioning into the military.  After graduation he would head out for the late summer and fall to Officer Basic….stuff…  We would come back together for six weeks to celebrate the holidays, hold our January wedding, and generally prepare for life as a young married couple.

Meanwhile, the aftermath of September 11th was still churning away and the world was changing in many ways.  The Minnesota National Guard was pledged by the Governor to help “protect freedom”.  That meant that a huge number of soldiers from the MN National Guard were called up to go overseas.  My not quite yet husband was called to war.

I remember where I was when he called me from his Kentucky training.   I was standing in my closet in the house that some rugby teammates and I rented in college.  As he was telling me that yes he was called up to go to Iraq, and yes he was due to leave around early December, and no, we could not have the wedding we planned.   I think I neatly re-folded all my sweatshirts and t-shirts during that conversation, in some numb way trying to bring order from chaos.  We were not on our carefully planned life timeline anymore.  We were young and had to grow up fast.

We were not allowed to spend the first two years of our marriage together.  He did his work in Iraq and I went to school.  I built a small business and a new social network without him.  I learned to be an adult without my partner and I built the appropriate defenses to facilitate that.

When DOMC returned from deployment, we had a difficult year.  He was his own person and so was I, but we were dropped back into what was supposed to be a two year old marriage.   We had to start all over again in a lot of departments.  Reintegration is in many ways harder than the separation is.   3 years into our marriage, and we were working hard just to make it normal.

Things moved forward.  We continued to heal as a couple and life fell into a gentle rhythm.   We had saved up to finally go on a belated honeymoon to Mexico.  We both had steady jobs and fulfilling hobbies so we decided to start trying for a child.  We would gaze gooey eyed at each other and talk about names and aspirations for parenthood, and, of course, have lots of sex.  We bought a 100 year old house in the city, worked on being healthy, and continued to try for a child.   Wouldn’t you know it that as soon as we moved to a new house with a long, long list of projects and responsibilities, we got knocked up.

When Mother’s Day came that year, we were 12 weeks pregnant.  We told everyone the news.  We also got an adorable black lab puppy that would grow to 100lbs of slobbery sweetness.  We christened him Yoshi, after our love of all things Super Mario Brothers.  I planted a veggie garden; we took a Bradley Method birth class, and moved along in a fairly gentle pregnancy filled with wonder and awe.

In the back of my mind I worried how long we would have with DOMC before he would be whisked away again.  As you may have noticed, the war is still going on.  I prayed that the “draw down” of troops would mean that DOMC may escape the deployment cycle.  We would get to have this baby together, raise it as a team, and we would be good at it.

I don’t know if it was new mother’s intuition, but it was not a complete shock when DOMC called me to tell me the news.   I was in the bathroom, as pregnant women often are, and I answered my phone and just stayed in there as he told me that the deployment had been announced.   He gave me the approximate timeline and I did some mental math and soothed myself with the fact that DOMC would be home for the birth.   He could be with me in pregnancy and birth and we would have the first half of a year with our baby and we would get to be a family.

Time has a way of going slow and fast at the same time.  We waited impatiently for the baby to decide to be born, and when the day finally arrived and Sweet Baby Vrai came stubbornly into the world at a sturdy 10lbs 3oz, my heart ached, along with most of the rest of me.  Our little family was together, whole, and time sped mercilessly up.

1…3…5 months blurred by in a way that time does when you are anticipating something awful, while experiencing something wonderful, though hopefully not many of you out there will ever experience that particular phenomenon.  Baby Vrai was beautiful, strong, and good natured.  We got over hurdles like cloth diapers and nursing, as a team.  DOMC would walk Baby Vrai to sooth her before going to sleep, letting her listen to the beating of his heart.  He would strap her in a baby carrier and work on preparing our dinner while I would rest or do chores.  Our house wasn’t that organized, but it was full of love and food, and only the occasional tumbleweed made of dog hair and baby drool.  We were sleep deprived, but happy.  Each day moved into the next and then slid silently into the past, to become mere photos and videos and memories.

At the time I am writing this, we are now two months into DOMC’s deployment to Kuwait.  I am going to skip going into details about the actual days surrounding his departure from our home, because that’s what I do in my head.  DOMC and I each did our best to make the transition easier for the other.  We did not skimp on the comforts of takeout food, expensive co-op cheese, or the occasional family nap.  Lists were made, resources were checked, and the babe was excessively cuddled.  Then one day, he was gone.  It wasn’t a surprise, but that didn’t make it suck less.

I’m not quite sure the best way to articulate it, but each day is new, because it has to be.  Sweet Baby Vrai and I have to meet the morning, each morning and we have to figure it out.  I know there are single moms out there who do this every day of their children’s lives, and I applaud them.  I know there are other military families out there who have both parents deployed or are under financial hardship due to the deployment, and I feel for them and wish them better.  But my world is small and under the gravity of this tiny human DOMC and I made together. I can’t look at her and not see him.  I can’t wake in the middle of the night and not want him to take a turn with a wet diaper or a walk up and down the hallway, for his heartbeat to soothe all of us to sleep.  I can’t help feeling physical pain when Sweet Baby Vrai rolls over or makes a funny face or tries zucchini for the first time.  I can’t believe he’s missing this.

It’s not all a sob story, this situation we are in. Wonderful family and friends have stepped up to help out with babysitting so I can go to a dance class, or clean the house occasionally.  People have actually volunteered to walk the dogs with me, (yes, now there are 2…) or have agreed to come to our house to visit so I can get the baby to sleep in her own crib.  My younger sister is living with me so that this house that is a great size for a family, doesn’t feel so cavernous with just me and Sweet Baby Vrai.

Life moves on, one day at a time.  I miss the Daddy of My Child every day.  Some days I feel like heading for the hills, pulling tufts of hair from my head.  There have been occasions when I call my own mommy, weeping about my lack of sleep or the little nail marks on my face or the giant muddy hole the dogs worked as a team to dig in the yard.  And there are some days when I feel downright super. Some days, I have a babe that sleeps through the night.  Some days, I get to our destination with a happy baby and realize we have not forgotten one single thing.  I am finding new strength in places I never knew I could make strong.  Like my ability to go with less sleep and my ability to handle being burped up on many times a day with patience, and maybe even a little grace.  I also am becoming somewhat of an accomplished archivist with a small flip video, and then have become just tech savvy enough to upload the videos and move them to the right place for DOMC to retrieve them overseas.  Small victories, I keep telling myself.

I actively count my blessings.  I actively curse our government.  I actively love my baby and her daddy who is so far away.  I kiss her twice each night.  And after I put her to bed, I check my email as the little light on the baby monitor blinks away, and I allow myself a peek at the countdown clock I have placed in the corner of the computer screen.

9 months, 26 days, 6 hours and 15 minutes.

It’s an approximation, I know.  But it keeps me moving forward.  And it keeps DOMC moving towards home.

Originally posted here:

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