April is the Month of the Military Child, and my soldier and I have three of them, two born on the same day, three years apart. (Count back nine months from April 4 and you’ll see that July 4 is a very important holiday in our military household. Just call us patriotic.)
At some point over the last decade, all three of our boys — enamored by the camo-clad man they consider to be a real-life superhero — have requested a birthday party with a superhero theme.
But as Supersoldier and I watched our superheroes don their homemade capes and fly faster than a speeding bullet over shoe box sky scrapers at last year’s party, I couldn’t help but consider how their character costumes somehow betrayed their real superpowers. Because while Superman, Spiderman and Batman might have strength, skill and speed, they have nothing on the superpowers of our military brats: flexibility, adaptability and a can-do attitude … no matter what it is we have asked them to “do.”
Our 10-year-old, for example, has lived under eight mailing addresses, endured seven deployments and attended four different schools. Our 7-year-old has slept in as many different bedrooms. Our 4-year-old has called two states and two different countries his own.
Together, the boys have endured five full DITY moves (something we have now banned for the preservation of our sanity and our relationship), visited more than 40 churches (where the Sunday School class with the best snack was often promoted as the best new duty station option) and dragged a life-sized, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out of their father everywhere from the baseball stadium to the local Mexican restaurant (where Flat Daddy indulged in chips and a sombrero) over the period of one deployment.
It’s the beauty of the military child — the flexibility, the resiliency, the spirit of adventure that so many adults I know have failed to find from the comforts of the homes they’ve lived in all their lives. Though they face hardships many of their civilian counterparts may never have to endure, military children seem to learn so much earlier in life that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence; it’s greenest, as Robert Fulghum says, where it is watered.
So as we’ve tended to (and sometimes killed) our grass from Alaska to Texas, our children have somehow learned along the way to pack their watering cans (in the car, of course, not in the Penske where they may as well bid them adios for the year).
When Superhero 1 said goodbye to his best friend in Washington, he simply learned how to Skype to keep in touch with her from the Lonestar State.
When the fish she gave him for his birthday died on the move from Texas to Kentucky (and my husband and I pulled off at a gas station looking for a proper burial site in the middle of Texarkana, U.S.A.), he didn’t cry. He didn’t complain. He didn’t protest military life and blame the wicked PCS move for Jorje’s demise. He simply said, “That’s okay, Mom, we’ll get another one at our next duty station.”
When Superhero 2 watched me melt into a mama puddle while farewelling a church family I couldn’t imagine my life without, he, then a preschooler, simply took my hand, kissed my cheek and told me, “I will miss them, too, Mom. You can cry on me. We can miss them together.” And for weeks, continued to offer the hugs, kisses and compassion of a man far beyond his years.
When Superhero 3 joined our family at the age of 2, he flew from China “home” to Washington State, where he faced his fear of doctors to see multiple specialists in multiple hospitals in a few short weeks. When the military gave us orders to move just three months later, that brave little boy hopped in the car seat he absolutely hated, rode in a moving vehicle he had only recently discovered and made the 13-hours-a-day journey through snow and ice from his first American home to his second, and, one year later, to his third, where he overcame more fears and more diagnoses. Multiple surgeries and 14 casts later, he now thanks the military “big much” for providing the healthcare that gave him a quality of life he never knew was possible.
Although it’s never enough, my husband is often thanked for his service to our country through 16 years of military life. Simply because I’m married to that awesome man, I am often thanked for my service on the homefront. But rarely are the angels who choose joy from their places below the piles of duct tape and moving boxes thanked for their service in this military life.
I had a choice. I married a man in uniform knowing what a call to service might mean for our relationship and for our family. But our children didn’t. They were born, or brought, into this family without any choice about whether Dad would make it to every birthday or would even be present for every birth. (The poor man is at a 33 percent birthing room success rate.)
But real superheroes don’t complain about their circumstances; they change their attitudes about them. They view obstacles as opportunities and turn perceived burdens into abundant blessings.
And when given the chance, they’ll almost always tell you that challenges and conquests are part of what makes being a superhero so much fun.
That’s why our superheroes wear kid-sized capes.