Here’s the thing about life, the toughest lesson to learn. Ready?
We always think we have more time.
So we squander the time we have. We put off until tomorrow what could be done today. We hold off on reaching out and making an effort in relationships because we erroneously believe there will be this magical later.
Or at least that’s how last week came crashing down for me.
The boy was scheduled to leave for bootcamp on September 12th. We were prepared for that date. It was comfortably in the distance. We watched him graduate and patted ourselves on the back for having three whole months to be with him, to enjoy him, to treasure our togetherness. The reality is, with the military, they own him.
When July 12th arrived, I remember thinking…okay, so we have two more months. Only then on July 17th, we didn’t. He sent me a series of text messages while he was out with his girlfriend.
I took a deep breath. Then I grew needy.
So I waited and worried and knew in my gut this was the beginning of the end. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. Life was already crazy with trying to fix Kenna’s insurance and the painters had been there all day every day since the Friday before. It was a zoo. Everything was crazy. Now we were adding heartbreak to this too.
All of my friends have been incredibly supportive. They tell me to thank him for his service. They remind me that I have raised an incredibly giving young man. They tell me I must be so proud of him. One even suggested I needed this sweatshirt:
Ignore that it says Army, while my boy will be a Marine. The sentiment is true. Only, the boy became my hero long before he ever decided to join the military. Keenan was the original boy who lived. He was here before Harry Potter. In fact, he’s the reason I started reading the series. Rachel needed to be challenged. She was six and reading years beyond her grade. Keenan was home sick. We picked up the first book and were completely hooked. That line resonated with me: the boy who lived.
Keenan has done very nearly everything early his whole life. He was born ten weeks early, he still had teeth by four months, and managed to have multiple surgeries before he was even a year old. That his military career would start early shouldn’t have surprised me at all. It didn’t, really. I just wanted more time.
I never had a chance to really tell him how much he matters to me, to our family. I never could find the words to explain how much I valued I valued our relationship, his quiet ways, his easy devotion, his constant love. Keenan never complained aloud, would simply do as he was asked. Maybe I’ve been grooming him for this life. He had Rachel, his second mother and first drill instructor.
Determined to make this week count, I tried to ensure he had time to see everyone, do everything, say his goodbyes, and relax some too. We planned, despite the chaos, to have a dinner here with his girlfriend and her family on Saturday night, whether I had a kitchen or not. We’d make it happen.
When Saturday arrived, I decorated because…I had to. There were blue plastic tablecloths on the tables set for twelve. There were patriotic paper plates and red cups with stickers everyone could etch their name on. The food from Olive Garden’s catering menu was great, but I enjoyed the company more. For the first time all week, I had stopped to breathe. For once, after being ruled by the clock and calendar all week I hadn’t worried about time…how little we had, how much there was to do to prepare.
The past few days had passed in a flurry of appointments: bringing him to the recruiting station to go off for his final pre-ship stuff, then picking him up the next day, then going back to meet with the recruiter. Finally, we could just be.
And when it was over, long past Kenna’s bed time, Keenan thanked me. Out of nowhere. Without prompting. Simply because that’s the kind of young man he is. He wrapped his arms around me and planted a kiss on the forehead. I did what I do, and put on my brave face. He didn’t need to know that the night before, I had cried when he came home from dropping off his girlfriend as I considered what life would be like around here without him. How could I tell him I’d stood in the kitchen while Sam held me, leaving big wet spots on the chest of his Under Armour shirt while pouring out all my thoughts, fears, and sorrows? Barely hidden beneath the surface, Keenan is the most loving and sensitive guy I’ve ever known.
Raising him has been such a pleasure. Being there for him every step of the way has been an honor. Sharing him with the military…that’s hard. Still, I want him to be happy. I want him to follow his dreams.
Somehow the boy who refused to ride rollercoasters and feared waterslides, the boy who was once backed into a corner by an ant, the one I’d never let play with guns…has now joined the Marines. This is what he wants. So, I’ll support him every way I can.
This morning, his girlfriend met me at the house and we went to the ceremony where he swore in and signed in. Then we hugged on him, kissed him, and cried. Yeah. He cried too. I told you he was sweet.
We congratulated ourselves on not being big sloppy messes. Then we drove away. It was anticlimactic for sure. In the meantime, I’m going to hang in there and stay strong, be tough for him. I’ll be sharing tons of happy stuff with him through letters. I’ll give him roots and wings.
Hopefully, I’m through the worst of it. Unlike the girls, being pregnant for Keenan didn’t nearly kill me. I mean, the emergency c-section wasn’t a picnic, but the pain was manageable. It was nothing compared to this broken heart. Unlike the girls, I had no idea how to raise this little boy I never knew I always wanted. I did my best, following my special brand of loving him through it. I suffered the bullies with him. I took him to Tae Kwon Do. Thankfully, he was never much of a joiner, so while Rachel had me running the roads for all her activities, Keenan mostly hid in his room or played with friends. Truly, the hardest part of raising him has been this: letting go. Saying goodbye, knowing it will be hours before I hear his voice, knowing it could be weeks before I hear from him again.
So be patient with me for a little while. It’s not easy functioning with a hole in my heart.