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The Strength that Lies Beneath: Our Children and their Dragon Hearts

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Every year since we returned from Europe, our children’s schools have held assemblies to honor Veterans. Every year our children have asked their dad to attend. He refused to do so the first two years, but has been swayed since then by the righteous indignation of our children, especially our daughter. He attends now, but refuses to be named and otherwise tries to stay as invisible as possible. This is an acceptable compromise for our girl.

Of interest to us is not the difference of opinion between the kids and their dad, but why it is so important to them that he be present at the assemblies. Part of their desire to see him there is certainly because they are proud of him and his service. We’re sure part of it is their desire to show him off a bit (a direct reason for his early refusals). But, the deeper reason, we think, is that in honoring his service, they also are able to honor their own.

As adults that join or marry into the services, we make conscious choices regarding the sacrifices we are willing to make and difficulties we are willing to go through.  We embrace the life of the military; the moves, the deployments, the constant shuffling and re-shuffling of friends and jobs. We create our own coping mechanisms and develop our own sense of “normal”. If it gets to be too much, we work with our spouses and make other choices, like seeking different postings, discharge, or retirement.

Our children, on the other hand, do not have this luxury of “choice”. They are brought into a life of service and this life creates a framework for their growth and development. They gamely pack up their things and move when the family is given orders, they endure holidays and birthdays without their service member, they learn to know their extended families through letters, e-mails and pictures. They are not asked if they are willing to sacrifice their parent or loved one in the name of national security or duty. Yet, they live with this reality, specifically the potential loss of a parent, every day in which someone they love serves.

Now, lest we sound too maudlin, the vast majority of military kids we’ve had the pleasure to know have risen to this challenging life with grace and fortitude. They accept, without complaint, the life of which they are a part. They live the military life because it is what they know and is a part of who they are, it is the path they were given to live and live it they do. Most military kids are proud of their “brat” status, proud of their families, their travels, their adventures, and their diverse experiences. But, don’t think for a minute that they don’t understand the potential consequences of this life. As much as we may try to shield them, they know what they stand to lose.

In our own experiences, we’ve seen the signs of deployment stress on our children. We thought we understood what they were going through, we tried to acknowledge their fears and worries. It is only now though, since our oldest two have begun to write and reflect on their life growing up in the military that we have truly begun to see our military service through their eyes. Their observations are a powerful insight into their feelings from those times when their father was deployed. Their words convey their mixed emotions between pride and fear, pain over his absence and the joy of reunions, their efforts to reconcile why “their” dad had to go and their friends’ parents did not. It is clear that they knew from an early age and deep in their souls that certain goodbyes had every chance of being permanent farewells. Thankfully, for us, our goodbyes remained temporary and our children get to laugh with their dad on a daily basis.

So as we take time as a nation this week to honor our Veterans, both from the past and those still serving, let us also be sure to honor their families. For those of us that made the choice to serve, let us remember to acknowledge the amazing strength of our kids, who did not choose to do so, but gamely face each day as if they did. We know that when we stand at the school assemblies this week, we’ll be standing up not for our service, but for theirs.