Thursday, December 6, 2007

COMMENTARY >>Kindergartener teaches life lesson

By Lt. Col. Shirlene Ostrov
386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) — As anyone with children would attest, little ones tend to surprise you and teach you a life lesson when you least expect it.

This past May, my 5-year-old twin girls came home from their kindergarten class each with a “book” they had been working on for weeks at school. It was an end-of-year project of sorts. The kindergarteners were instructed to write and illustrate a story all by themselves and then the teacher tied these pages of construction paper with yarn, creating a very rudimentary book. I can’t tell you how excited I was! Even with all the misspelled words I anticipated and “unique” drawing styles, I knew it was something I would love and keep forever. So my husband and I got a pizza and as a treat, we all sat down in the living room to read their wonderful creations.

First up was my sweet tomboy, Julia. She’s one of those kids that will play soccer in a tiara. Her book was entitled, “The Kitty Cat Princess.” It was delightfully appropriate, even though many of the words were misspelled and the cat she drew looked more like a moose than a feline. Her father and I gave her the biggest hug and told her we were thrilled to have something to place in my hope chest. Both my children know that I put only very special things in my hope chest, and they love looking at the things my husband and I collected over the years. She looked very pleased with our reaction and skipped off to find a shoe for her Barbie doll, singing her favorite Disney song.

Next up was my thoughtful diva, Jessica. She is in a stage where she wants to change outfits five times a day and even cut her own hair once because she wanted it to be like “Dora the Explorer.” Her book was entitled, “My Mommy’s Uniform.” Wow! I was honored to be the topic of her book! I gave my husband a smug look that told him I was proud she chose me to write her book about. She was sitting on her daddy’s lap and something in his eyes told me to brace myself... but for some reason I did not heed his warning and opened the book to read about “me.” “I hate my mommy’s uniform,” the first line read. What??? Wow, I wasn’t expecting that! I couldn’t help my curiosity and read on. “Every time my mommy puts on her uniform she has to leave my sister and me. She doesn’t know how much I cry when she goes away because daddy tells me to be brave.”

At that point, there was a lump in my throat and I quickly blinked because I thought tears were going to fall down my cheeks right then and there. My thoughtful little Jessica was telling me how she felt about my chosen profession. “One day I tried to hide her boots and she found them and still went away.”

I distinctly remember that day when I found my boots in her closet and until this moment I couldn’t figure out how they got there. My heart broke right then and there. It was all I could do to put the book down and grab my little girls, both of them wondering why their mom all of a sudden started weeping.

When we serve in the military, we ask a lot of ourselves, but we ask even more of our families. All of us in uniform understand that military service is not a job, it is a lifestyle. This is not unique to military members with children. For those among us who are single, our families and friends have to deal with us living far away and being deployed, and many times not being able to come home for Christmas or special family events. While this makes us sad to miss these things, our families (whether they be children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, etc.) sacrifice as well. They would love to have you home for these events, but know that you cannot do this easily. I like to think of them as “stay at home patriots” because they are making some personal sacrifices of their own that allows you to serve.

My husband of almost 18 years is a fellow active-duty officer, but every time he gets deployed, I worry more. I constantly worry if he is safe, I worry if he is eating enough, and I worry if he is lonely. For me, it’s definitely easier for me to put myself in harm’s way than to imagine him getting hurt or being in an unsafe situation. That’s the same for all our families — they may not tell you this all the time but when you are gone, they are constantly worried for your safety. We unknowingly ask a lot of them by serving.

Right now, there are close to 700,000 children in the United States with at least one parent deployed, according to the American Psychological Association. And many of us are on our second, third or fourth rotation, so both the parent and the child are missing large amounts of time together. That effect is profound if we don’t pay attention to our families and listen.

The next time you talk to your spouse, children, parents, siblings, families and friends, please don’t forget to tell them “Thank You” for allowing you to serve. Too often, people are worried only about the military member and the sacrifices that our loved ones make gets overlooked — or ignored. But their sacrifice is very real. They are key to keeping our military strong, we depend on them ... and our country depends on them.

So, after I sobbed for five minutes (yes, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I did) I looked at my family and I said how sorry I was that I made them sad and that I had to be away a lot (the last two years I averaged about 220 days a year TDY), but Jessica looked at me puzzled.

My husband patted me on the knee and turned to the last page where there was a drawing of a family of four holding hands and standing in front of the American flag. It was the last page of her book and the words read: “Even though I miss my mommy and daddy when they are gone, I am very proud of us that we can all serve our country.”

“Stay at home patriots”...that’s what they are. And I had one more thing to put in my hope chest to treasure forever. 


Post a Comment