It Never Stops….61

It was an unspoken rule that Christmas had to be at my mother’s house. She decorated her house up big for the holiday and the boys always said it just didn’t feel like Christmas anywhere else. So, of course since Travis was home this year she happily obliged. As expected, Ken spent weeks getting the house decked out in lights and the yard scattered with all things Christmas. Inside, every corner of the house had something representing Christmas. One Christmas tree isn’t enough for my mother. There is one in the Florida room and one in the living room. Each would fill up throughout the day as everyone piled in. One was designated for the adult gifts and the other for the children. It is fun every year to see what new goodies she has added to her Christmas collection. Travis marveled at the house as he had done every year as a child and he enjoyed looking at a lot of the ornaments and decorations that he had always been thrilled to see as a child. This year he was amazed at the extent of her additions. It didn’t take mom long to add to her Christmas room. She starts after the holiday when everything goes on sale and will buy anything remotely Christmas themed at flea markets and yard sales throughout the year. We pick on her about it but find ourselves buying Christmas trinkets for her knowing she will have them on display somewhere.
It was wonderful having Travis home this year and I know he was thoroughly enjoying his down time with the family. He was surprised at how much some of the little ones had grown and I think he felt a little out of the loop at first. While he had stayed in touch with us, he rarely spoke with the rest of the family and what little he saw of them was through pictures. Being home once or twice a year made it difficult to connect when he was only catching a few hours here and there with everyone. He was quizzed on how things had been in Alaska and Iraq and I cringed. I didn’t want him to think about the Army while he was home. He was great about it though. He endured the questions knowing everyone was just curious. Thankfully it didn’t last long and he was able to leave it all behind for a little while.
When Aaron called it went just as I had expected. I cried. This year the phone was passed around yet again but this time it was to wish my youngest soldier a Merry Christmas. It was a little odd for me when Travis took the phone to talk to his brother. Travis knew what he was feeling as he had already been there more than once himself. Aaron was getting a Christmas dinner so that made us all feel better. He wouldn’t be with us but he wouldn’t be alone. But, I couldn’t help but think about him there with no family with him. I knew he was thinking of the house all decorated and the family gathering together and I knew he was missing it. I hated it for him and I hated it for me. I would have been happy to skip the holidays but like they say, “the show must go on.” So it did. All in all it was a wonderful day. Having Travis there was icing on the cake. We were just going to have to get used to these rotating holidays I guess. I dreaded the year when neither of them would be home. It was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.
Travis had to return to Fort Walton before the new year and while we were disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to celebrate with us, we knew that just because he was closer didn’t mean that we would get every holiday with him. Given a choice I would have chosen Christmas anyway. I guess you could say I was getting used to taking what I could get.
Anything concerning my boys was literally out of my control and I still stumbled over that from time to time. Would I ever get used to this? Every parent on the planet goes through this. Why was I having such a hard time with it? Are they just better at hiding it than I am? Well, truth be told I was better at hiding it than I gave myself credit for. Much of what I was feeling or going through hadn’t come to light until now. I had confided to my mother and Karen and certainly to Wayne, of some of my worries and misgivings, but always felt it was an annoyance to them. My concerns seemed to always sound more like whining, even to my own ears. How long were they supposed to listen to my rambling? So, when it started to sound irrational, even to myself, I would shut down and clam up. I am an emotional person by nature and know it can sometimes make others uncomfortable.
I continued to obsess about Aaron and the distance between us as he went in for yet another surgery, this one on his other foot. Knowing he had been fine after the first one did little to alleviate my anxiety. Anything can go wrong, no matter how minor the surgery. He’d had some difficulty coming out of the anesthesia after the first surgery and had stopped breathing. There was little that anyone could say to keep me from worrying so I kept my mouth shut and stayed sick to my stomach until he called. I was so glad to hear his voice I almost cried. He seemed to sense my distress and assured me over and over that he was fine and eating well and would not be leaving his room anytime soon. He would be on profile for a while and wouldn’t have to do much of anything except heal. By now the ground in Germany was covered in snow and ice and my mind wandered to Travis’ mishap back in Alaska when he had fallen and hit his head suffering a concussion. Great! Just what Aaron needed with a bum foot! My own imagination would by my undoing and gave me many sleepless nights. I had to find a way to stop the self- torment.
I once asked my mother, “They’re all grown up now. When does the worrying stop?”  She just looked at me, shook her head and smiled, “It never stops.”

Travis’ Turn….60

Wayne and I were adjusting to our extremely quiet house pretty well for the most part. We still had moments where we missed the boys being around and would sit and talk about all of the little things they used to do to drive us crazy. We spent alot of time with Karen, Jim and the kids or at my Mom and Ken’s. We looked forward to phone calls from the boys. They kept in touch as often as possible so we stayed pretty up to date with how things were going for them. Aaron was doing well in Germany but was having a hard time with the language barrier. It wasn’t so bad on base but off base it was difficult to get anything done. He needed to take his computer in for repairs and had to take a friend of his who spoke German with him to translate. It was a huge pain for him and while he was picking up little bits of the language it certainly wasn’t enough to communicate effectively. As expected, he was spending his money like crazy. We had warned his brother about the same thing. As a single soldier with no responsibilities we tried to convince him to bank his money as much as possible. He was living in the barracks so he didn’t pay rent or utilities. He had no vehicle or insurance payments and didn’t really have to buy food unless he wanted snacks or drinks for his room since he was able to be fed at the kitchen for two dollars a day. But, he of course had to have his toys. Games for the x-box, new TV and stereo system, phone, recliner and alot of movies. It seemed he was always buying something. We hoped it was a phase since this was the first time he had been making any real money and he was enjoying it. I tried not to be too critical. I am myself, a terrible compulsive shopper. I have a bad habit of buying what I want and don’t need and certainly don’t have the money for. I always use the excuse, “I work for it I should be able to indulge every now and then.” Of course, when the next round of bills show up I always regret it no matter how small the purchase. So, while I tried telling him to be careful I knew that, like his brother, and myself, he would have to learn the hard way. I always wanted better for my kids and just didn’t want to see them struggle and get themselves into the financial bind that I always seem to find myself in. Live and learn is a nice quote but you have to live first, right?
Pretty early on, after arriving in Germany, Aaron started having trouble with his feet. Wayne, Ken, Aaron and Karen all have foot issues. I always tell Wayne he has the ugliest feet I have ever seen. They are a bit deformed I guess is a nice way to put it. Anyway, Aaron was having trouble. We were afraid he would eventually and had always told him that his feet might keep him out of the military but because they had never hurt him before it wasn’t an issue. Now, with the combat boots he had to wear, along with the amount of time he was on his feet they finally became an issue and he was going to have to have surgery. They would be doing one foot at a time. I was so upset. I couldn’t stand the thought of him having any kind of surgery without me being there to help him and take care of him. He assured me that he would be fine and that Key was staying with him to help but I wasn’t appeased. Key wasn’t me. The day of his surgery arrived and I cried. I obsessed over every little thing that could go wrong. Aaron had promised to call me or Karen but neither of us heard from him and couldn’t reach him on his phone. I suddenly had the same dreadful feeling that I had had when Travis was in Alaska and hit his head on the ice. Something was wrong. While Karen was also worried, she did her best to keep me calm. My mother had also called a few times throughout the day to check on him and was surprised that I had not heard from him. Wayne finally stopped asking if I had heard anything when I almost took his head off. “No! Don’t you think I would have told you if I had. Something is not right! He should have called by now!” Wayne did his best to make me feel better. “He just had surgery. He is probably all drugged up and sleeping.” We knew he would be sedated and that the last thing he was probably able to do was call home. Still, the waiting was difficult. Surely someone would call us if anything went wrong. Then finally, he called. When I saw that silly sixteen digit number come across the phone screen, I pounced. He was groggy and in some pain but he said that would be remedied as soon as he took another pill. I felt so bad for him and asked him how it went. “Well, it went fine until I got in recovery.” That didn’t sound good and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath while he continued. “Apparantly I had stopped breathing. I woke up to someone digging their fist into my chest. It hurt like hell. They were trying to get me to come around with painful stimuli. It worked! So, I had to stay a little longer for observation.” There it was again.. Mothers intuition. I knew it. Say what you will but I am not always overly crazy for no reason. I just wanted to go to Germany. Right then and there I just wanted to blink my eyes and be there with him. I knew he was going to have a rough night. I think it is some kind of unspoken rule that the first night after surgery is horrible. He said he would be fine. He was taking more medicine and a few of the guys had already come in to check on him. He had his recliner to kick back in so he would be all set. No he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t be all set until I was there. Yeah, like they were going to let me go and stay in the barracks with him. I just felt so helpless but I finally calmed myself down and was reserved to the fact that he was going to have to endure this without me. He was of course, on profile until the doctor released him for duty so I knew he wouldn’t have to be going up and down stairs all day. He would pretty much be confined to his room and wearing his soft padded shoe. I asked him if he had eaten yet. Yes, a motherly question I know. But I was concerned about him taking pain meds on an empty stomach. He said he was eating ramon noodles, he seemed to live on ramon noodles, and the guys were going to bring a pizza by later. So, feeling somewhat relieved that he would not be completely alone, and with his promise to call the next day, I told him I loved him and got off of the phone hoping he would be able to get some rest. I called everyone and updated them on how he was doing and took a deep breath. I still hated it but what could I do. Wayne, again, told me that he was a big boy and that there were alot of things that he would have to go through without me. I understood but still didn’t like it.
Travis was actually coming home often. Every other week or so he would come home for the weekend. He would pack up and leave right after work and drive the six hours to get home and leave Sunday evening to head back. It was wonderful seeing him so often. After going such long periods without seeing him it was a refreshing change. He asked about Aaron often and having been through alot of the same things already, he could relate.
The holidays were quickly approaching again and I was not looking forward to them. I just could not get in the holiday spirit. I was thankful that Travis would be home for the first time in years and I knew he was really looking forward to finally getting to spend the holidays with the family. But I was dreading the thought of Aaron being so far away. I just kept thinking back to that first Christmas when Travis was gone and how forlorn Aaron had looked going through his stocking by himself. Now he was the one gone and on his own for the holidays and I felt the same sad longing that I had felt a few years earlier. Actually, for every year now it seemed. It was so hard being happy with the life my boys had chosen when it seemed it would mean I would always be missing one or both of them. I had to give myself the infamous pep talk and get with it. I was still luckier than most. Travis had made it through deployment alive and well and was finally home. I had to attack that attitude and hang on to it. I didn’t want to bring Travis down for the holidays, but, Aaron had been witness to how miserable we were when his brother was gone, now it was Travis’ turn.

Mother without Mothering….59

Wayne and I took turns driving home. After a long night and an emotional day, we were exhausted. Staying awake was a challange and we fell into bed for a much needed nap as soon as we got home. It was strange being back home knowing the boys wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon. Up until now we had one or the other home for brief periods but now we wouldn’t see either of them for a while. Travis would be able to come home from time to time so that made things a little more bearable but we knew his visits would be sporadic at best. It was still better than him being so far away in Alaska and definitely better then having him in Iraq. At this point we were willing to take what we could get.
Travis called when he arrived in Fort Walton Beach. His orders had him going to Eglin Airforce Base but upon arrival he learned he would be at Camp Rudder. He was a bit disappointed. The airforce base was beautiful and he was excited about living there as he rolled through the gate. Camp Rudder however, was just that, a camp. It had a few buildings and some barracks surrounded by dirt, dirt and more dirt. It was more of a training facility. Whether he liked it or not, this would be home for the next few years.
Aaron had called throughout his journey to Germany and updated us on his progress. Once arriving he was assigned a room in one of the barracks. He wasn’t thrilled to find that he would be sharing a bathroom with another soldier next door. Their rooms were seperated by the bathroom. But at least it was better than having a roommate so he dealt with it. His room was like an efficiency apartment so it was quite comfortable. He seemed excited and only a little overwhelmed so I was happy for him. His military career had started and I knew it wouldn’t always be easy for him but since he had limited options here at home, I knew this was the best choice for his future.
It was still an adjustment for Wayne and I. We relished our newfound freedom and our empty nest but we also went day to day waiting for phone calls from one or the other. Our alone time was spent discussing the boys and wondering how they were doing in their new “homes.” We had to remind ourselves that they were also going through an adjustment period. The first few weeks for them in a new place would be like the first day of school. Meeting new people and adjusting to an area they were not familiar with was I’m sure, an adventure in itself. The boys called often and always asked how the other was doing. The time difference and their busy careers made it difficult for them to keep in touch so they relied on us to pass information along. One of Aaron’s favorite discoveries in Germany was that the legal drinking age is eighteen. Travis couldn’t believe it when I told him. “That’s not fair, I had to wait until I was 21!” While Aaron didn’t call us much while out on his excursions to the bars, the same wasn’t true for Karen. His sister often got drunken phone calls in the middle of the night. Most of the time she found them funny and entertaining and would call me the next day to ask if I had heard from him and fill me in on his antics. I am sure there were some phone calls that I never knew about and that’s fine with me. Karen wouldn’t worry me unnecessarily and I’m sure she kept some of her little brother’s secrets. Just like when Travis was first out on his own, Aaron reveled in the knowledge that he really didn’t have anyone to answer to. For the most part if he wasn’t on duty he was free to do whatever he pleased. This usually meant going out drinking with the guys. Karen and I had worried alot about Travis and how much he seemed to be drinking when he first went to Alaska and when he returned from Iraq. He eventually slowed things down considerably and we figured he finally got the partying hard out of his system. We hoped it would go the same for Aaron. I understood that it was all part of growing up and about experiencing freedom as he never had before. Aaron had never been much of a partier and really didn’t drink as a habit so this was all new and liberating for him. For the most part we thought it was funny and just hoped he stayed out of trouble. The fact that I had no control over him or what he did was a little difficult for me. I will admit to babying Aaron while he was growing up. I am guilty of pampering him more than the others because he was the baby. He got away with more and I gave in to alot of things just because I didn’t want to see him cry. I ended up creating a monster as Aaron seemed to cry about anything and everything. But I had always been there to set things right and punish his wrong doers even if he was the instigator. And truth be told, he usually was. But while I was always there to dry his tears and keep the meanies away, I had also sheltered him a bit more. I kept him close and he didn’t socialize much outside of school or family. I think alot of it stemmed from Aaron’s size. He had always been much smaller then his peers and seemed to always be the target of their bullying. As much as Travis liked to tease his little brother, this was not allowed by anyone else. So, Travis too, became his protector on more than one occasion. Travis was never a big kid either but he would always stick up for Aaron when he felt he was being mistreated. Some of this was also because it was apparant very early on that Aaron had a big heart and his feelings were easily hurt. Not just for himself but for others as well. He always went out of his way to be helpful and always seemed to feel the hurt of others. His empathy showed what a kind heart he had and it was always a joy to witness. We all try to teach our children to be caring and unselfish but for Aaron it just seemed to come naturally. How can you let someone like that get picked on? You can’t, so we didn’t. As sweet as Aaron is, he also has a temper. Oh my, does he have a temper. It can be very frustrating and I suppose I couldn’t expect him to have one emotion and not the other but he seemed to take them to the extreme. He was either going out of his way to make someone’s day or flipping out at the slightest disappoinment or mishap. He had no idea how much I worried about him and that temper. I was sure it was going to get him into more trouble than he could handle someday. His temper and attitude would go hand in hand so where he could be sweet and thoughtful he could also be angry and cocky. Angry and cocky usually equal unreasonable and unreasonable is frustrating and infuriating to deal with. So with Aaron, I usually got both sides of the coin. You can figure out which side was tails. Either side, I loved him dearly and had high hopes that he would have a smooth transition into army life. His happiness was they key to my survival. Meanwhile, I was back at square one again, trying to figure out how to be a mother without mothering.

Like Pulling off a Bandaid….58

My first response was, “your kidding right?” Aaron was like his dad, always the jokester, so I didn’t know whether to take him seriously or not. “Nope, I’m not kidding, I’ve got my orders right here.” I was stunned. Wayne and I just sat there looking at each other for a minute, unsure of how to respond. “Oh wow, Germany!” Wayne said. “That’s a haul!” Then we just laughed. I couldn’t believe my son was going to Germany. I had felt like Alaska was on another planet but Germany suddenly felt like another galaxy. I was excited for Aaron. What an experience it was going to be for him. But just as one son was going to be closer to home, my other son, my baby, was going to be so far away. What was this trade off cycle I seemed to always be stuck in? Between the two of them we were certainly never sure of what was next. Aaron seemed unsure of the idea of Germany himself but I think he was excited about it once he got over the shock. I wasn’t sure how long it would be before the shock wore off for me. He was going to be home in just a few weeks for only a few days and then we would be sending him off to parts definitely unknown. And his buddy, Key, from basic was also going to Germany. I will admit that my thoughts strayed for a bit to Travis and Heath. Travis and Heath had gone from basic to Alaska together and now Aaron and Key would be going from basic to Germany. It was ironic and I hoped Aaron’s experiences wouldn’t continue to mirror his brothers. I called the rest of the family to fill them in on Aaron’s news. The reaction was the same across the board. Shock and dismay with a little bit of excitement mixed in. We were all disappointed that he would be so far away but knowing that he was going to be seeing a place that we would probably never lay eyes on made us happy for him. Travis wasn’t thrilled for him. He had hoped, like the rest of us, that he would be closer to home. He had known of a few guys who had been stationed in Germany and said they hated it. I guess, like anything else, it all depends on your frame of mind and how you approach it. Knowing that Aaron was having a hard time with the thought of going so far away, we tried to lift his spirits and tell him what an adventure it would be. He would never have an opportunity to see Germany and we had another awesome place to take vacation! How much would that cost? I wished he would have been stationed closer to home at least for the first few years, but like his brother, he was going to be starting his military career off with a bang and a very long plane ride. I tried to put my misgivings aside. It was his time to shine and make his way in the world. But as happy as I was for him, and all he was going to experience, I was also selfishly depressed. Germany was just too far away.
I had to prepare myself for yet another inevitable departure, actually two, but in the meantime I had to get his room ready for his arrival. He and Travis would be home together for only a few days. Travis would be going to Fort Walton a few days after Aaron got home and Aaron would be leaving before Travis could get back. We already knew how fast the time would go by and made plans for everyone to get together. Aaron would not be home for Christmas.  Yet another trade off since Travis would be able to drive six hours to be home for Christmas and Aaron would be far away in Germany.
We were unable to make the trip to Aaron’s AIT graduation but he understood and knew how awful we felt about it. He knew we would just never be able to keep up with the demands that the Army threw at him and his brother simultaneously. Waiting to see him at the airport was torture. Mom and Ken went with us to pick him up but he didn’t know they were coming. They sat in chairs off to the side so he wouldn’t see them right away. He had called to say that he was getting off the plane but it looked like everyone else was already off collecting their baggage. Where was he? And then, suddenly he was there coming around the corner all by himself with his arms raised in the air, as if to say, “I made it, “I’m here!” . We were only allowed to go to a certain point at the gate and he just wasn’t getting to me quick enough. I rushed up, past the point of where I should have, but no one said anything. They saw where I was going…my soldier was home! I grabbed him in a hug with Wayne at my heels. He laughed and squeezed us tight and said how great it was to be home. We started to go to collect his bags when Mom and Ken stepped up to him. He was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t wait to see everyone else. My mother decided to do a combination Thanksgiving/Christmas day dinner for him. We all pitched in to get him a laptop computer for Christmas so he could keep in touch with everyone. With the time difference it would be easier for him to stay in touch through cyberspace. Wayne and I also got him a plug adapter since the wall plugs in Germany are different than they are here. Now there was something else I hadn’t thought about before. Who thinks of needing an adapter in order to plug something in? Mother’s who send their sons off to another world, that’s who.
Travis and Aaron were able to spend some time together before they had to go their seperate ways again. While growing up they would fight relentlessly making me question when the brotherly love I had always heard about would kick in. I was pleased to see that it finally had. They were both becoming men in their own right and each had a growing respect of the other. They spent time at Karen’s house together which was a huge treat for all of them. The boys had always loved spending time with their big sister and she had missed sister mothering them. They were all really close and it always made Wayne and I proud that we had three great kids. They were all grown up and making their way in the world and here I was back at square one trying to figure out which way to go. When they were all little it seemed I was alway wondering if I would ever get a quiet peaceful moment to myself. Now I had too many and found myself constantly pulling those crazy hectic moments from my memory vault. What annoyed me and made me crazy then, now made me smile, shake my head and wonder, “how did I get through it all?” I was, however, glad that the boys didn’t decide to go back in time to one of their backyard brawls. With both of them now trained in hand to hand combat I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be jumping in to break it up.
We all made the most of the last few days we had together and not knowing when we would have it again made it bittersweet. Travis had to go back to Fort Walton and wished his brother well before he left. It was an awkward moment watching them say goodbye. I tried not to be sad and as he drove away Aaron voiced the question I had been silently asking myself, “I wonder how long it will be before I see him again?”
Aaron would only be home for two more days and spent those last few days seeing everyone as much as he could and making sure he had everything he would need for the trip. We stayed up late laughing and joking and just being silly. We were all exhausted when we got up after only a few hours of sleep to take him to the airport. Aaron got dressed and I was surprised to see that he was wearing his jeans, dress shirt, cowboy hat and boots instead of his army fatigues. He explained that they had been instructed to wear civilian clothing. We waited outside the airport for a little while just sitting out on the cement wall dreading the thought of going inside. Always the voice of reason, Wayne finally said we couldn’t put it off any longer so we went inside for him to check his bags. Aaron wasn’t in military clothing but it was obvious by the bags that he carried that he was on his way to somewhere on the military’s dime. He recieved nods from passersby while Wayne and I recieved looks of sympathy. Lord knows I tried, and Aaron knows I tried but the floodgates opened up when he finished checking his baggage. I had done this so many times already and it just didn’t get any easier. He wasn’t going off to war but he was going away period and I hated it. I had the same worries for him as I did for his brother a few years before when he was whisked off to Alaska. Now he was really going to be on his own and I wouldn’t be there to help him. Travis had done just fine and I knew that Aaron would too but it was just so hard to believe that my little boy, my baby, was now a man and would be responsible for so much on his own. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him if he was ok. I couldn’t ask him if he was scared or nervous. What if the answer was yes. There is nothing worse for a mother than the thought of her child being afraid. Of course, in my own mind, I knew that he was. Who wouldn’t be? We have all been there, in that moment when we are so unsure of ourselves and where we are going next. I have been afraid many times, much like I was at that moment, and I knew that my mother was somewhere worrying, not only about Aaron, but about me and how I was dealing with this particular moment. Had she had this feeling when first myself, then my brother and sister struck out on our own. What a strange feeling of accomplishment and loss.
It was somehow different that it was Aaron. He was the one who had kept me grounded and sane for so long. I suddenly realized that I had probably needed him more than he needed me. He wasn’t just going off to basic or AIT for a few weeks this time. It would probably be a year or more before we saw him again.
We had been trying to keep the mood light but we were all a little lost in our own thoughts just waiting for the dreaded moment when we would once again have to say goodbye. So, there we were, going through the motions with Aaron promising to call as soon as he could and Wayne and I telling him to call no matter what time it was. And then Aaron was hugging his dad and I had to look away as they said their I love you’s and Wayne choked back tears. And then it was my turn. I tried to make it quick and painless, like pulling off a bandaid, but gave up when I decided I had a right to my tears.

Punch in the Gut….57

    Once we returned home it didn’t take long to get back into the daily grind. Back to work and home again. We were getting things ready for Travis to return home. It was beginning to look like we would always be sending one off as another returned and we knew that all too soon they would both be gone for lengthy periods and we were mentally preparing for that. All we could really do was go with the flow. Travis was having a difficult time making arrangements to have his truck sent to the states so it looked like he was going to be driving home from Alaska. The plan was that Wayne was going to fly out to meet him in Alaska and they would drive back together. That way he wouldn’t have to make the long trip by himself. What a great way to have father and son time. Wayne was really excited about it. It was going to be an awesome road trip. The only problem was going to be getting a passport since he would have to cross the border. Travis would be fine since he had his orders from the Army but Wayne would have to get one. So I went to the local clerks office to get the application for him to apply. They said it could take up to two months to get back. Two months! We didn’t even have that much time! I went online to see about getting one that way but was uneasy about whether it would be legal or not. I even paid one hundred and twenty dollars for an expedited passport and I had to fax in his drivers license. It seemed like everything I did took me to another road block! I was getting so frustrated. How in the world did everyone else get one so quickly and easily? Needless to say the passport never arrived and not only were we out one hundred and twenty dollars but Wayne wasn’t able to make the trip. I know they were both disappointed and I wasn’t happy about Travis traveling all that way on his own but he promised to call often and let us know where he was and how his progress was going. He figured it would take him 6 or 7 days depending on how often he stopped.
    Aaron was able to call home often and let us know that things were going well at AIT but he couldn’t wait to get it over with. That wasn’t a big surprise since school had never been his favorite thing. He updated us on his daily schedule and told us that all in all it wasn’t too bad and they did have alot more free time than was allotted during basic. He was shocked that Travis was going to be driving from Alaska but agreed that it was going to be a nice trip if he stopped to take in the sights. There was still no word on where he would be stationed but he said they should be getting their orders about a week before graduation. Ugh! That was still a few weeks away! You would think that by now I would be used to the waiting game but it just wasn’t easy wondering where he would end up. I tried to put it out of my mind since there really wasn’t any point in guessing. 
    Meanwhile, Travis had called to say that he had his clearance paperwork in order and that he was going by to see Sara and Ethan before leaving.  I knew it would be hard on both of them. Saying goodbye was never easy under any circumstances and I felt sad for both of them. Travis was moving on and felt a little guilty for doing so.
    I was anxious when Travis finally called a few hours after leaving. He had stopped for gas and knowing that it was getting late here and knowing we would be going to bed soon he called to let me know that he was gassing up and getting something to eat before hitting the road again. I told him to call no matter what and at any time. “Promise you will call whenever you need to, if you need me to help you stay awake just call. It doesn’t matter what time. You can call grandma or Karen too. Either one of us will talk anytime you call.” Just as expected his response was, “No, you guys have to work so I won’t call in the middle of the night.” And so the arguement insued, “You better call me or your grandmother or your sister, Travis! I don’t want you falling asleep because you are too stubborn to stop for a few hours or make a phone call to one of us!” He finally agreed but I didn’t completely take it to heart. I knew he was just saying it to shut me up. I didn’t see myself getting much sleep over the next few days while he was on the road anyway. But low and behold and much to my dismay, my phone rang at about three in the morning. I snatched the phone up and quickly answered when I saw that it was Travis. He was beat and said he had driven with the music blasting for a little while but was having trouble staying awake. He didn’t want to stop for sleep yet so, as much as he hated to do it he had called as promised. I assured him it was fine. I would be getting up in a few hours anyway so I went to the kitchen and made a cup of instant coffee as he told me where he had been so far. The roads there were still a hazard and was slowing him down a bit but all in all he was making good time. He asked about Aaron so I updated him on how he was doing. I stayed on the phone with him until he assured me that he had his “second wind”. I kept the phone close to me all day and hoped he would update one of us at some point. Thankfully he called my mother in the afternoon and she stayed on the phone with him for over an hour. Later that evening he called and talked to Karen. She told me he was planning to drive a few more hours before stopping for the night. When Wayne got home I updated him on Travis’ progress. He hated that Travis was making the trip by himself. He would feel so guilty if anything happened to him. I understood where he was coming from and while I would have been just as nervous with both of them traveling that distance, it just seemed worse since Travis was alone. True to his word though, Travis finally called to say that he was stopping for the night. We had a good laugh as he described his hotel room and said he didn’t know if he would be able to sleep there. “It has a creepy vibe and just looks like something out of a Stephen King novel!” I laughed as he went on to say that the lighting gave off an eery glow that made everything look red. I couldn’t help but tease. “As long as you don’t see redrum written anywhere or a creepy clown you should be fine.” He informed me that I wasn’t helping and told me that he would call if he made it through the night (good way to shut me up!) and let me know that he was on the road again. I was relieved to know that he would be getting some sleep. I called everyone to let them know that he was stopping for the night and didn’t expect him to be on the go again until morning.
    For the next few days I seemed to be checking my phone constantly to make sure I hadn’t missed any phone calls from either of the boys. Aaron called often to check on how Travis was doing and Travis called someone at least twice a day to let us know he was getting closer. Travis actually made it from Alaska to Florida in just five days! That must be some kind of record and I didn’t want to know how fast he must have been driving to make that kind of time. It was great to have him home again. We had seen him just a few weeks before but it was still nice to have him with us and the rest of the family was able to spend time with him. He made sure to spend alone time with his nieces, Kaylie and Gracie and his nephew, Andrew. He was home for only two weeks before he had to report to Fort Walton Beach. The goodbye wasn’t the punch in the gut that it normally was. Fort Walton was only a six hour drive so we were elated that he would be so close.
    Aaron called to say that some of the guys were starting to get their orders and hoped he would be getting his soon. We asked if he had recieved his orders every time he called. Each time the answer was “not yet” so when he called one evening we answered the phone and the first words we heard him say were, “I got my orders”. We couldn’t tell by the sound of his voice whether he was happy about it or not. Both Wayne and I sat there with him on speaker phone in silence, each waiting for the other to ask him where he was going. Finally, the silence was broken when Wayne said nonchalantly, “Oh did you? Where are you going?” I closed my eyes and waited. “Your not going to believe this but….I’m going to Germany!” There it was, that punch in the gut that we had dodged only a few days earlier.

Nothing In Between….56

    Aaron surprised us all with T-shirts from his platoon. On the back it had all of the names of those who made it through basic and for those who hadn’t made it there was a line through their names. We were all excited to see his displayed with no mark through it. It didn’t seem fair. We had traveled for hours to see him and we would only be able to spend a total of six hours with him! Unlike when we went to see Travis, we would not be allowed to take him overnight. We would only have a few hours with him since he would be on a bus to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) that evening. He was going to Fort Leonardwood Missouri for his AIT and we would not be allowed to drive him there ourselves. We were limited on time but took our time eating our meal. We laughed and joked and Aaron talked about all of the things he had endured during basic. He also had a DVD of his training so we were eager to be able to see that when we returned home. It was nice to just sit and relax with him. Like Travis, I noticed a bit of a change in him. His confidence seemed to have soared to new heights and he was very proud of his accomplishments. He seemed all grown up now and although the moment was bittersweet, I was thrilled to see that he had not lost his sense of humor. He could still make me laugh until my stomach hurt and for me that was more refreshing than anything else. We all made sure we got a picture with our newest soldier! 
 After dinner Aaron wanted to show us around the base so we went to the PX. As we were going into the PX, strangely enough, Aaron ran into a guy that he had gone to school with. It was actually funny because they both stood there looking at each other like they were trying to place each other. I imagine it was startling to see someone familiar which is probably why they looked confused. I’m sure the short military haircuts that they each now sported also made it harder to recognize each other. They had spent all this time in the same place and each never knew the other was even there. Small world. They chatted for a few minutes and exchanged numbers.
   As we had done at the previous bases during our trips to see Travis, we bought souvenirs and bumper stickers. Aaron bought Wayne an Armydad sweatshirt and me an Armymom T-shirt and hat and a plaque with a military moms poem. We were walking out of the PX when another man in uniform approached Aaron and barked, “Where is your hat soldier?” Aaron turned red in the face and snatched his hat from his pocket and promptly placed it on his head while saying “Sorry Sir!” We all stood there quietly as the man walked away and Aaron put his hand on his heart and said, “Holy crap, that was a Colonel!” Our eyes widened and we quickly made our way to the parking lot. Military rule is that their hats are to be worn everywhere while outdoors and must be promptly removed upon entering a building. This is something we had learned after one of our visits to Travis. It drove us nuts. It seemed like he was constantly putting his hat on and then removing it. I don’t think I would remember to do that all of the time!
  As always we had to make our trip to the local Wal Wart (remember our unconcious goal?). Aaron wanted to get a few toiletries and other necessities for his trip. One must have purchase was a small DVD player and a couple of movies. He would have alot more freedom at AIT and he had asked me to make sure that I bring his cell phone to him, so he made sure to buy plenty of minutes for it knowing that he would be calling home often. He was thrilled to have it back and said it was his lifeline to the outside world.  He also made sure to grab some snacks and something to drink for the bus.  We had to go pick up his pictures and of course I couldn’t wait to get them. He looked so handsome in his uniform. I couldn’t wait to show them off to everyone! After getting his pictures we really didn’t have a lot of time left so we opted to just stay on base and he showed us where his dorm was and where he had trained. It was crazy how fast time was moving. Every hour seemed like only a minute. We were going to have to leave him soon and I was dreading it. The only consolation was that the hardest part of training was over for him. While he would still have PT and very early wake up calls it would not be as rigorous and he would be spending much of his time in classes. Before we knew it, it was time to give him back and soon after arriving he was called into formation. We hugged him and said our goodbyes and watched as he got into formation in the front of the line. I had my video camera rolling as he stood there with the others doing cadences. It was strange to see him this way. He went from my laughing, fun loving son, to soldier in seconds. Later, when Travis was able to see it, he commented that Aaron was the only one there that looked like a true soldier. While everyone else was still giddy and fidgeting around, Aaron stood erect and at attention and never lost focus on the Sergeant in front of him. I could tell that Travis was proud of his little brother.
I heard the Drill Sergeants dismissing the families but couldn’t pull myself away. I was mad that we wouldn’t get one more goodbye. But really, how many did we need? One was always too many. He glanced my way once and cracked a small smile. I gave him a little wave letting him know that we were leaving and he gave a slight nod letting me know that my message was recieved. I knew it was probably easier on him this way since there wasn’t really any time for the emotions to set in for him. So, there we were again. Another goodbye and another long trip back home. Tissues and sniffles again as we loaded up and headed out. At least now we would be able to talk to him more since he would be able to call home. We had already told him that we wouldn’t be calling him much since we didn’t want him to get in trouble and didn’t know what his schedule would be like. He said he understood and promised to call as often as he could. We had already explained to him that we would not be able to make the trip to Fort Leonardwood for his graduation from AIT. After all of the traveling we had already done we just didn’t see how we would be able to finance another trip. He said it was no big deal and that there was no reason for us to travel for something that would only last an hour at most but we still felt terrible and told him that if there was any way we could make it we would. He was so sweet about it which made it worse. But he knew that we lived paycheck to paycheck and that luxeries for us could be a hardship.
Aaron called before they loaded onto the bus to let us know that he was on his way. A few hours later, while we were still driving home, he called again to say that he was on the side of the road. The bus had broke down! I felt so bad for him. All of the guys were tired and waiting for another bus to arrive and take them the rest of the way. He was glad for the trip to Wal Mart and his purchase of the small DVD player and movies. It would keep them occupied for a little while until the other bus arrived. He said the wait might be as long as two hours. Plenty of time to watch a movie!  
We were soon back home and calling the rest of the family about our trip and how great Aaron was doing. We were just a little proud and it showed! In the days ahead we set our sights on when we would have him home again for a little while. We still didn’t know where he was going to be stationed after graduating so that was on my mind alot. It was almost time for Travis to return home for a little while so we found ourselves back on the emotional roller coaster. Up one minute and down the next. It seemed as though there was nothing in between.

Smiles All Around….55

I couldn’t get over how refreshed I felt when we left the springs. It was natures hot tub and we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We went in search of a late night diner for coffee and a bite to eat and ended up at the same restaraunt that we had stopped at our first night there. We didn’t want the evening to end but with a full day of traveling ahead of us we headed back to our room. With full bellies and feeling more relaxed than we thought possible from the hot springs it didn’t take us long to fall asleep. We awoke early the next morning and made sure we had all of our belongings packed and than loaded in the truck. We went to breakfast and than set out as Travis had promised to see the buffalo! As we approached the clearing Travis slowed the truck down so we could get a good look. As Travis looked for a place to pull off the road we continued to search for buffalo but all we saw were cattle! Wayne just had to poke fun….we all did! “I thought your mother taught you your animals in kindegarten!” And “the buffalo in Alaska look like the cows in Florida!” Travis couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He had always thought he was seeing buffalo! We had a great laugh over it, at his expense of course. To this day, when we pass a cow pasture we can’t help but remember that day and say, “Look! Buffalo!” There wasn’t a lot of time left so we left our buffalo cows behind and went to the airport. We checked our baggage and sat around joking and just being silly. The goodbye this time was a pleasant, relaxing one. Travis would be home in a few weeks and there was no sadness in that. On the long flight home I looked back on our trip and sorted through some of the pictures we had already gotten developed. I still couldn’t believe we had been to Alaska and Wayne and I commented that we would love to go back again someday. My thoughts soon turned to Aaron and the fact that we would seeing him soon. His graduation was only a few weeks away and we couldn’t wait to travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky to see him. Suddenly we felt like world travelers. For two people who don’t get out much, our kids were certainly keeping us on the go. There were a few letters from Aaron when we got home. He was doing well and counting the days until we got there. He had made a few friends but was eager to get out of basic and move on. He would be going from basic to AIT at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He would be able to have his cell phone once he arrived at AIT so it was nice to know that we would be able to talk to him more often. Travis wouldn’t be able to make it to Aaron’s graduation but Aaron understood that it might be difficult for him given the time it would take for all of his out processing paperwork to get done and to get his travel plans together to come home. Aaron’s letters were becoming more upbeat as graduation and family day grew closer. He had hurt his knee and it was giving him a lot of trouble with some of the drills he had to do. The rigorous training was taking its toll but he was bound and determined to make it through. Failure at this point would mean that he would not be able to participate in family day. We had hoped to be able to drive him to AIT after graduation, which would give us more time with him, but he was told that wouldn’t be an option. He would have to travel on the bus with the rest of the unit.
We had borrowed my sister in laws van for the trip to Kentucky. It was easier for us to pile into one vehicle instead of taking two. We all fit comfortably making the ride bearable. Wayne and Ken took turns driving while Karen, mom and myself slumbered on and off in the back or took turns sitting up front when one of the guys needed to take a nap. It seemed to take forever to get there. I learned that a mile can feel like ten when you are trying to get to your kid! We wouldn’t be able to take Aaron overnight as we had hoped but we were super excited to be able to spend some time with him. I just couldn’t wait to hug him! He was my baby and it was more difficult than I had thought it would be to let him go. I thought I had been schooled well enough after Travis left home but I guess I didn’t pay attention somewhere because I flunked that test! I still didn’t know how I was going to handle things once his life as a soldier began. He would be away from us for long stretches of time and I just couldn’t picture our lives without him close by. But, I couldn’t think about that now. We were on our way to him and I was going to enjoy every minute we had with him. Aaron was always our little comedian and I hoped that hadn’t changed. I didn’t think I could handle it if his personality had disappeared during his training. His smile could light up a room and his laughter was contagious. I couldn’t see him any other way. We arrived at our hotel late in the evening and got settled in. We were all excited and couldn’t wait for the morning sun to come up. I couldn’t believe I was just a few miles from him but would still have to wait to see him. I knew he was probably lying awake wondering if we had arrived yet. We hadn’t had any communication since his last letter. We all got up and ready in plenty of time but I felt like we were all moving in slow motion. I couldn’t get out the door fast enough! We arrived on base and made our way to the field where the ceremony was to be held. We saw a large group of soldiers on the other end of the field standing under the trees getting ready to march in. While Mom, Karen and I found seats, Wayne and Ken decided to walk down to the group hoping to spot Aaron. I figured there was no way they would spot him in that crowd so I stayed behind. Wayne and Ken came back a few minutes later. Wayne was so excited. He had spotted Aaron standing in formation and knew the instant Aaron saw him. “His face broke out in a big smile. He looked so happy to see us there.” I was so glad Aaron knew we were there. He wouldn’t have to wait until the end of the ceremony to know for sure if we had made it. The band started up announcing the arrival of the graduating soldiers and the crowd of spectators were on their feet and cheering as they marched in. I didn’t think we would be able to pick him out in the group. There was nothing to distinguish one from another. We scanned the faces as they made formation and then Wayne spotted him and pointed him out to us as we shouted, “Where? Where?” And there he was! He stood so proud. He looked so good. We looked like a bunch of groupies seeing a rock star as we bounced in our seats with silly smiles on our faces! We had chosen our seats perfectly. Aaron was almost in the back of the formation but he was on the end and just to the left of us so that we could see him clearly. Had he been directly in front of us we would have been unable to see him in the back. They stood in formation some distance from the bleachers so I was immediately thankful for the zoom button that brought him closer to me for pictures. About twenty minutes in I started to feel so bad for him. Unlike Travis, he had to stand in formation during the whole ceremony. It was very hot out and the sun was shining right in his face. I knew he had to be uncomfortable but he was hanging in there. The ceremony ended and we are all disappointed that we would not be able to see him right away. He had to return back to the barracks to sign out and change clothes and then meet with us outside. We gathered with the other family members anxious to see their soldiers. The wait was excrutiating. We would only have a few hours with him and the drill sergeants were taking their time releasing him. We saw him when he came out of the building and put his hat on. We all grinned from ear to ear as we watched him get into formation with the others. Karen and I giggled at how cute he looked in his uniform. When he was finally released he came running over to us and picked me up for a big bear hug. It felt so good to see him and know he was ok. He had made it. The hard part was over for him and I was glad we were there to help him relax and enjoy his achievment. We were so proud of him. We took pictures and he introduced us to a couple of the other guys. One in particular he had become very close to. Joshua Key. The two were like night and day in appearance. I called them, “David and Goliath.” Key was rather tall and husky, while Aaron was much shorter and thinner. They had become fast friends and had encouraged each other throughout basic training. We only had about six hours with him before we would have to return him to base so we asked him what he wanted to do. The next few hours were his. He wanted “real” food. We all chuckled and Wayne told him to name the place. Aaron didn’t hesitate. “Cracker Barrel!” His wish was granted and off we went. We enjoyed a nice meal with him and it was so funny to see him just look around the table at all of us. He couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could we….

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