Written By: Anna M. Rodriguez
© Emma Lopez 2009 all rights reserved
Each time it happens I wonder how she can do it, but I know she has to do it. I don’t think I could, but I do recall feeling that I wanted to do it for my family and for my country. It was on the afternoon of September 11th, the day had brought so much confusion, astonishment, worry, fear, and by the afternoon…anger! I remember commuting my child home from school that day, a thirty minute drive at the time, and feeling the American pride as motorcyclists, waving the American flag, blew past my American-made truck where I had the American flag flying proudly from my antennae for all to see as we drove down the highway. I recall hearing the fright in the voices of all the local radio disc jockeys. They had been up to their usual antics the day before, but now our country was in this numb and wide-eyed confused state of sheer shock!
For many days after the terror I contemplated the idea of joining the air force. I was angry! I was angry that this country I loved so much was no longer the same place it had been. I was angry that my Grandfather, uncles, cousins, and countless other family members and friends already fought for this beautiful country and now we are no longer feeling safe in our own homeland! I was angry that I had a beautiful child that was now a part of a country that could have catastrophic and horrendous attacks occur in our own backyard.
My father had served in the air force when he was first married and I was even born on an air force base. I have all the photos of my baby-hood posing with my dad dressed in his fatigues or dress blues. American pride was something that I was raised on. I was taught at an early age to take my voting privilege very seriously. I do and it is something that I have instilled in my children. Therefore, all of my emotions from September 11th turned into anger that made me want to fight for the love and pride of this country…my home and my family’s home!
I looked into my options and learned that many young Americans had felt the same way I did. After the uneasiness of what was to come and the amount of questions that my child had for me on a daily basis, I decided that I needed to continue to be a good and loyal citizen, but I couldn’t leave my little child. I just couldn’t have done that. I was glued to the television and watched and cried for all of the young Americans who departed from the clutches of their parents’ arms. Many of the fathers knowing all too well, from their service during the Vietnam War, the violence that awaited their children. I saw all the husbands hugging their wives so tightly each of them nearly suffocated; the daddy’s that kissed their little girls gently and gave their sons the nod as if to say, “You’re the man of the house now, son. Take care of your mom and siblings.” Then, I saw all the news footage of the women who left: married women, mothers, and single mothers. They were all leaving this country, the comforts of their homes, and…they were all leaving broken and worried hearts behind. I knew in my heart that I wanted- maybe even needed- to do something to show my appreciation for what these brave heroes are doing for all who reside in the United States. I just didn’t know what I could do.
Years passed and we are still fighting a war, and some might even say we are fighting several wars in many places. It doesn’t really matter to those who have someone “over there”. The fact is they are not here- at home- and they aren’t even in their own homeland. I have had cousins and acquaintances “fight in the war” and we’ve even prayed for them weekly at church. I’ve seen our local soldiers depart and return and I’ve seen the local news reporters outside the homes of those who did not make it back. Still, I didn’t know what my part would be.
My daughter’s junior high years were suddenly upon us and with it a new friend was made when she transferred to my daughter’s school. Laurie* was in a grade younger than my daughter, but they played on the same school basketball team and soon became fast friends! Laurie’s mom would pick her up after practices, dressed in her army fatigues. We soon talked and I learned that Sgt. Jackie*, a single mother, had five children: two high school boys, Laurie, and a seven year old son, and a two year old son. Our girls were similar in age and our babies were the same age. We live near a base therefore, we’ve met many military parents over the years, but we were not as close to any as we became to Sgt. Jackie’s family.
Shortly after the basketball season began we noticed that Sgt. Jackie had not been to games in quite some time. When I asked my daughter about it she informed us that Sgt. Jackie had been deployed to Afghanistan. She is gone for months at a time and the kids are left with friends, the youngest boy stays with his babysitter’s family. The eldest son must carpool the younger kids to school and pick them up from day cares when he is done with his high school basketball practice at the end of the day.
This is where I found the service that my family could do. We, along with another school family, have become Laurie’s second family whenever her mother is deployed. We have a place for her to sleep, stock up on her favorite foods, and my husband even stayed up well past 1:00 a.m. one Sunday night, as we’d do for our own children, to help Laurie finish a school project. We have a bag of Laurie’s clothes in our home and it is not unusual to do a load of laundry and find a sock, t-shirt, or pajamas of Laurie’s in the mix. Sgt. Jackie’s younger children became our own children and we love them as such.
Sgt. Jackie has been deployed many times over the years and can be gone for weeks to months at a time, but with no family in-state, she must rely on help from trusted friends.
Sgt. Jackie’s children are pretty tough and resilient. They are happy and make friends easily. I love the energy that Laurie brings to our home. She jokes and teases with me as I do with her and my other children. She is fully aware that this is her second home and when she is here we can often find her rummaging through the refrigerator at midnight for a snack. I bring her lunch as I do for my own and I deal with school issues on her behalf as her own mother would do if she were here…and not “over there”!
I can’t even begin to fathom the strength that Sgt. Jackie has to have in order to leave her children each time and to allow herself to fully focus on the challenges she faces. I don’t know how her children are able to cope, but they do, and they do it well. I know they miss her immensely, but they know that their mommy is a true American hero! And for that we are all very grateful and blessed!
*names have been changed