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Letting go: we look forward to our children growing up, until they get serious about their adult responsibilities.

OLDEST SON TOM, 17, DROPPED A BOMB A FEW WEEKS back. In the kitchen one night, I asked when he might check out universities for next year--"Can I book you a flight to visit Thomas Aquinas College, Tom?" After a pause he replied, "I don't think I'm going to school next year, Mom. Actually, I don't think I'll be going for a couple years." One year I could understand, to make some money, but why more? "What are you going to do?" Without missing a beat, as calmly as discussing the weather, he said, "I'm going to join the U.S. Marines."


"Oh," was all I managed, before retreating to my room to cry. And remember. When I was pregnant with Tom in sunny California, my husband had a dream in which our still in utero first son was a square, over-stuffed dumpling, toddling about on its corners. Later, Tommy's babyhood nickname was Sausage Boy, because he was so fat, his sleepers always popped their snaps. His big apple cheeks and mass of blond curls made him the spitting image of Harpo Marx, yet his baby homeliness was somehow cute.

My man-boy now shaves lean cheeks, and his body is compact and well-muscled. He craves intense physical activity. He joined an indoor soccer team with a notorious coach, and after each practice he regales me with the gruesome details; the tougher they are, the more wounds he has, the better he likes it.

But Tom has another side to him. Having learned to read in kindergarten, he did a grade one book report on The Hobbit. Teachers loved his eclectic knowledge and unbounded curiosity, but found his inattentiveness to details frustrating. He was the kid whose school tie was always undone or missing, whose shirttail was never tucked. Only in the last year has he started to tie his shoes. And well into his teens, he regularly came to me for hugs.

The mom in me fears what will become of her golden-haired, book-loving boy at the hands of a tough marine drill sergeant--not to mention my fear of his going over there, to Iraq. I'm trying to understand, but I'm not male and 17. I can see the restlessness, the need to be challenged, but I can't understand it like my husband, who almost joined the marines himself. I tell myself, if I expect anyone to defend our freedom, how can I not let my own son? But reason doesn't ease a mother's heart.

Yet, I am learning. I'm beginning to realize how mature and personal a decision this is for Tom. I overheard my brother-in-law ask him his plans for next year. Tom just shrugged, so his uncle said naturally, "Just going to bum around for a while, huh?" Tom grinned and said, "Yeah."

He has the quiet determination of a man who's made up his mind. There's no need for affirmation or checking around, as girls so often have, to feel out who approves and who doesn't.

In late November, instead of visiting colleges, Tom quietly booked a flight to Montana to visit a recruiting office. When the recruiter asked, why the marines? Tom said he liked their traditions and discipline. The recruiter thought he'd come to the right place--as do all of Tom's friends. Why is mom always the last to know? How could I live with him so intimately, yet all this be a surprise?

Last night, Tom called me over to his laptop, to read enthusiastically a quotation from a novel by G.K. Chesterton, a challenge to a duel between a Christian and an atheist: "Said MacIan, after a pause. 'I swear to you that nothing shall be in my heart or in my head till our swords clash together. I swear it by the God you have denied, by the Blessed Lady you have blasphemed ... and by the chalice of the blood of God.' The atheist drew up his head. 'And I,' he said, 'give my word.'"

Tom's delight in that quotation gave me comfort, because of what it revealed of his heart. Semper Fi, as the marines say, "always faithful."
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Title Annotation:FAMILY
Author:Woodard, Kathy
Publication:Western Standard
Date:Jan 15, 2007
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