Saturday, April 24, 2010

A soldier's passing

I never planned to be standing at the ending of my subdivision with my hand over my heart and tears streaming down my face. I planned to be camping with my son. Had he not awoken with a fever, had we not spent 45 minutes in the "Minute" Clinic, had we not picked up a dozen suddenly necessary items while we were in there, we would not have heard about it.

Had we not taken the route we did home, so we could stop by the pharmacy for his antibiotics, we wouldn't have seen them -- the scores of people standing on the side of the road, flags in hand, waiting, patiently for the procession to pass.

I had read the headline about the fallen soldier earlier in the week as I flipped through the newspaper to, more than likely, read Sound Off comments while I ate my cereal as I do most mornings. And, like most mornings, I was interrupted with the sounds of "Mom, can you please sign this? Have you seen my shoes? Can you pour me some more milk?"

And, like most mornings, I placed the newspaper with the headline about the fallen soldier on the stack of books, magazines and items for me to read later when I have some extra time, which never seems to arrive.

It wasn't until I got home and told my husband what I had seen, how people were lining up, that I learned the fallen soldier was a young man from our area. He was killed in Iraq. He was someone's son, and his funeral procession would pass right by our neighborhood. What could we do?

"Do we have any little flags?" My husband asked.

"We had some on the Fourth of July, but I think we threw them away after the parade."
I shook my head at what I had just said. Young men and women are fighting and dying for our right to throw flags away when we are finished waving them.

We walked, feverish son and all, to the corner and stood and waited and waited. We gave up, thinking we'd missed it, and walked back to our home. On the walk home, my husband told me how the soldier graduated from the West Point Military Academy, and how his parents did, too.
We got home but couldn't forget it. I heard a siren, and we ran down the street, only to wait and wait some more. We discussed the timeline where the procession might be and then made the walk back to our house, thinking once again we'd missed it.

But, we couldn't let it go -- a young man, someone's son, a soldier had died. We knew his name. We knew where he graduated. And we knew he did it for us, for our country. As I made my son lunch, I heard the sirens, lots of them. I ran outside in time to see the first patrol car pass. This time we didn't walk or run. We jumped into our truck, and my husband backed all the way down the street to the corner.

We got out, flagless, and placed our hands over our hearts. We saw our hero pass by, followed by hundreds of motorcycles with riders bearing flags. My husband told me what I had heard before but was proud and awe-struck to hear again. They are called Patriot Guard Riders. They travel to military funerals as invited guests. If people protest -- I can't bear the thought -- they shield them from the mourning family by riding alongside, quietly revving their motors.

To my amazement, the riders nodded to us, some waving low, one or two mouthing the words, "Thank you." I could not and still cannot fathom how they could possibly thank us. We couldn't even find a flag.

"Mom, why are they thanking us?" my son asked, his hand over his heart, his faced flushed.

As he spoke, I realized they weren't looking at my husband and me. They were looking at my son -- the little 8-year-old who had just over breakfast that morning innocently declared "War" as the theme for his birthday party. It was then that I broke down into tears and, despite my son's fever, was thankful the series of events had worked out like they did that day. We were exactly where we needed to be.

"To show their appreciation, son," I replied, as I put my arm on his shoulder and babied him for the rest of the afternoon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Things that go bump in the night remembered

Fresh from what my son called a "seven-hour" bike ride across remote Cumberland Island on an ill-fitting bike with a crooked seat, I am rallying for my next adventure -- camping with his scout troop.

I can't believe it's that time of year again. I can remember our last trip just like yesterday. I spent most of the night awake listening to strange sounds -- whistle, honk, growl, snort, moan, rattle and repeat. No, we weren't being invaded by wild animals. That's the chorus of noise that comes from very tired adults sleeping on the ground.

One man sounded like an elephant or a weak trumpet. It was unreal. Finally, I asked aloud, "What is that noise?"

To my surprise an answer came back to me in the dark, "I don't know, but it's the fourth time it's come on."

Actually, I was sleeping pretty well at first, exhausted from a full day of hiking (our campsite was located on Agony Hill, and to get to Agony Hill one must hike up aptly-named Agony Trail), helping my son with archery and BBs, packing and unpacking, and ignoring the large amount of dirt on my son's hands.

So, when it came time for bed, I climbed in my sleeping bag and went right to sleep. Around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., while I was having an unusual dream in which Donald Trump was trying to court me with diamonds and gold (OK, perhaps, I shouldn't have told that one), I reached over and felt something. No, it wasn't The Donald's lush head of hair.

It felt slippery and rubbery and coiled up like a -- snake! Suddenly fully awake and alarmed, I grabbed whatever it was and flung it onto the floor. Not wanting to scream and alarm my son and the other snoring campers, I woke up my husband, who was in the cot next to me, and said, urgently, "Give me your flashlight."

And what do you think he said? (I would love to hear your guesses.)

He said, "What do you need it for?"

"Just give it to me," I said, growing increasingly panicked and a touch frustrated. "Trust me on this."

"I'm not getting it unless you tell me what it's for," he said.

"There was something in my sleeping bag! Give me the flashlight -- now!"

He complied, and I shined the light on the floor, hoping it hadn't slithered into my bag. But, no, it was right were it landed.

Maybe I killed it, I thought.

I'd forgotten my glasses, so I leaned closer and closer until I realized -- it was a rubber snake.
"Why me? Who would do this to me?" I shouted to God and whoever else was in earshot.
I knew my husband and son weren't brave enough so that left one other culprit -- my best friend who has a wicked (or warped) sense of humor. Plus my son recognized the snake as belonging to her son.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep a wink afterward. I kept my flashlight tucked under my chin and even turned it on a time or two to make sure the toy snake hadn't moved. While I was awake, I tried to match the whistle, honk, growl, snort, moan and rattle to its source and planned my revenge -- my sweet, sweet revenge. Suddenly, I'm not dreading this trip so much after all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Killing 'em with Kindness

Baseball season is in full swing -- pun intended -- and my son has worked his way up to kid-pitch. I must say I've learned a lot about sports while raising my first boy, and I don't mean just the catcher inference rule. I mean the crazy things that happen on the sidelines.

For one, I found myself standing up and cheering when my son got hit in the leg by a pitch.
"He got on base!" I yelled to another mother next to me, who was equally as excited, before it dawned on me to wonder if that might have hurt.

I used to think sports was a male-bonding thing, until my baby started playing. It was then that I realized the intense level of female camaraderie that happens while sitting on the bleachers.
First of all, we may not know the rules of the National League versus the American League, but you can bet by the second game, we'll know the names and jersey numbers of every kid on the team and about half of the kids on our opponent's. Mothers talk, which means we know which kid has been sick, which could use an extra loud cheer, and which one could probably use a spanking if that weren't so passé these days.

But the main -- albeit unspoken -- reason for learning who the players are so quickly is so we can alert each other when our kid does something great. And, he will, the minute you turn your head or try to go to the restroom.

Recently, for example, one of the boys scored a run. Sure enough, we looked around, and his mother was coming back from the concession stand, Gatorade in one hand for her slugger, and nachos and pickles to pacify her younger daughter in the other.

"You saw his run, right, Mom? He just scored. You saw it, right?" we asked her.

And she responded just like she will when her son asks her after the game, "Oh, yes! It was great!" With a little wink, slight smile and a nod our way.

Unbeknownst to the men, we moms also keep rowdy fans in check. Yes, they have rowdy fans at the 10-and-under games. At a recent one, a man who didn't seem to be related to anyone on the team started shouting at the boys -- not encouraging words, but barking orders at them. Suddenly, he was yelling at the slowest boy on the team to steal home, fussing at a boy who's never pitched before for walking players, and, worst of all, critiquing the coaches, who happened to be our husbands.

The man was making me so nervous that I got up and walked around some, but not my mom friend. A veteran to Little League games, she stayed firmly on the bleachers, looked the man in the eye, smiled sweetly, and said, "You need you a coach's shirt on!"

Not taking the hint, he laughed and continued hollering.

Undaunted, she said in an even sweeter voice, "You keep yelling like that, and we are going to give you a job."

We mothers nodded in agreement. We knew this play. It takes skill and finesse to execute, but my mom friend was at the top of her game.

He chuckled and walked away for a few minutes, but soon began hollering yet again.
Then my friend smiled and threw him the toss up, "Why didn't you coach?"

He mumbled something about his work schedule and walked away -- defeated.

She had killed him with kindness.

About that time, another mom yelled, "Oh, look, your son's up to bat!"
She turned in time to see him lay down his bat and take his walk to first but not before glancing at the bleachers to make sure his mom was watching.

"Good job, son! Good job!" as she turned to give us a little wink.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Traveling with Auntie Garmin

It's spring break, so that can only mean one thing in the Knight family -- we've been packing for a solid week to go away for two days.

It was shortly after our daughter was born that my husband and I realized traveling light was no longer an option.

"Want to run to the store?" he asked.

"Sure!" I said, hopping up, and heading toward the door.

It was then that we stopped short and looked first at our precious child and then at the mountain of equipment surrounding her -- baby carrier, diaper bags, bottles, rattles, stroller, car seat, pacifiers and a baby swing that we couldn't leave home without.

"Uh, I think I'll just stay here," I said.

Though we soon realized that staying home for the next 18 years wasn't an option, we never managed to streamline our outings. In fact, the older our children grew, the more stuff we simply couldn't leave behind.

It finally culminated with our last trip to Florida. We went for a week, and my husband and I both declared it would be easier to move. Our truck just wouldn't hold the three kayaks, five bicycles and the vast majority of our earthly belongings, so we decided to haul it all in a 6-by-12 trailer. It was a great idea until we realized we only got eight miles to the gallon.

Despite our packing, however, we always seem to forget something. For my son, that's his toothbrush.

"Can't I just finger brush?" he asks -- every single time.

One item we never forget when traveling is our Global Positioning System (GPS), or as we like to call her, Auntie Garmin. I welcome her on every trip because that means I no longer have to struggle to read the maps or apologize for getting east and west mixed up, or strain my eyes to read the road signs ahead.

Now when we are traveling, I relax and let "her" tell him what to do. And therein lies the problem.

It seems my husband isn't used to taking orders from a non-Southern gal. Somehow, we Southern women have a way of sweetening our commands. You know, we can make it seem like it really was HIS idea to take the scenic route and stop by the antique stores, since it's on the way.

But not Auntie Garmin. She's crisp, harsh, abrupt and doesn't sugar-coat it when you turn in the wrong direction. Although my husband appreciates her input, it's her accent, or lack thereof, that really irks him.

I began to wonder -- why not make a GPS with a Southern accent? I would even volunteer to do the voice-over. It would sound something like this, "Turn rite here, sugah," or "Go down past Bubba's filling station and take a left."

I even imagine she would toss in a few bits of advice. as Southern women are apt to do. For instance, if you make a wrong turn, I can hear her say, "I don't like to impose, but I don't believe I would go that way if I were you," or "Slow down now; what's your hurry?"

In the meantime, however, we are stuck with flat mid-western snippy-sounding Auntie Garmin. She's the one responsible for getting us where we are going. She's the one to blame if we get lost. So, if we drive in circles for hours on toll roads looking for Disney World with three hungry kids because she couldn't tell the difference between east and west, it's all her fault now -- not mine. As we Southern women like to say, bless her heart. Now, if she could just remind my son about his toothbrush.