I’ve written a lot about the things I love about the military life. But you know what? I can get in a funk about it, too. Sometimes I feel so over the TDYs, the deployments, the changes, the uncertainties… I’m done! I think to myself. Just let me plant my roots! I want roots!
I want the cute little neighborhood with neighbors I’ve known for years, the cracked window panes from rogue baseballs that we never got around to fixing, the dirt under my nails from toiling in my very own garden in my very own yard and the ugly sun hat to go with it (yes, Mike, I hear your objection to the sun hat and the request for a bikini and a killer bod). I want to decide to put up a porch swing and to be able to just go ahead and do it – no permission from landlords needed, no “nice alternative” considered. I want to walk into my house that I spent a substantial amount of time searching for and choosing, and I want to walk into it without thinking “it’s only temporary.” I want to not have to worry so much.
All right, all right… that last line was too much. Anyone who knows me knows there’s no chance that “worry” would someday not be synonymous with my name. But anyway…
Sometimes I catch glimpses of all those “wants” in this temporary place we’re calling home, tantalizing suggestions that maybe life isn’t so lacking. In fact, recently I’ve been catching handfuls of them, and they’ve gotten me thinking about the importance of focusing on those glimpses, on catching them and holding on to them for dear life…
Not long ago, a good friend from a previous assignment, Jill, decided to swing by with her daughter on a whim, and we spent some time letting our kids play outside. Soon Cheryl, a neighbor who’s become a good friend over the last year, rounded the corner with her dog and daughter, saying, “I heard noise outside, so we decided to come join you.” And in recent weeks my son has spent nearly every day riding bikes and swinging toy light sabers with the three boys down the street, utterly submersed in the language of outdoor summer play: imagination and role play. Cops and robbers and epic battles. Races down the street. Rules followed. Rules broken. Sweat. Oh, the sweat….
And I’ve been thinking, I love this.
I love that Jill is able to just come on over. I love that Cheryl heard us outside and just came out to play. I love that these kids ride their bikes and push their trucks, empty the toys out of garages, and squabble over each others’ wheels. I love that the moms gather in patches of shade and swap stories of hilarious or desperate or just plain typical episodes with their kids. We laugh, we commiserate, we offer advice… we spell a lot of curse words. (Little Johnny hasn’t caught on yet, right?)
Just tonight Mike and I broke our Cardinal rule, our oh-so-sacred and rarely flexible bedtime, and let the kids play outside past dark, while we chatted with the neighbor kids’ mom. It got dark enough that we couldn’t even see our kids down the street. But I found myself thinking that I wasn’t worried. I knew the kids knew their parameters, and what’s better – I knew the older boys watched out for the littler ones, which includes my son. Lo and behold, as I later wandered up the street to bring my son home, my almost two year old hanging onto my finger with one hand and waving a glow stick in hypnotic swirls with the other, we found the four boys sitting in a circle and playing cards in the driveway. A couple of them still had bike helmets on. They all needed a hose.
The innocence of that scene, the perfection of that circle of serious boyhood games… that was one of those glimpses. I know my son will remember this. I know he’ll look back on our time in Virginia, and remember those boys, remember how he looked up to the older ones, remember how they taught him to play cops and robbers. I know my daughter will be reminded that she made her very first friend here, and perhaps this life will bring them back to each other’s lives from time to time. I know I will always feel grateful for the women around me – all of them – who help, support, sympathize, cheer, and rejoice. They cultivate a real and memorable community around us. It may not have deep roots, but its vines are wide and long.
And man, are they ever the stuff we want in life…
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