As a child growing up, mom was always there. Mostly. Except when she wasn't. See, she somehow managed to work full time as an RN, raise 4 daughters, and also serve as a nurse in the army reserves. This was quite the balancing act I'm sure. When I was 8 (and my sisters were 9, 6, and 4 respectively), my mother was called to active duty and sent to Saudi Arabia. She was gone for about 8 months total, which for a child is pretty much forever. My parents explained to us the best they could about WHY mommy had to leave and so on, but still--it was tough. My dad became responsible for a number of things I'm sure he never anticipated: picking out our outfits, fixing our hair, buying my big sister her first training bra. He also worked full time and was taking night classes to get his MBA, so we spent a lot of time with grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, and my parent's friends.
I'm not going to lie--we all felt a little abandoned. I cannot imagine the tears my mom cried over the whole thing or way my dad must have felt. It burned a lasting feeling into all of us that people we love can go away. Upon my mom's return, I remember her crying about how much we'd all changed--we were so tall!, my youngest sister was in glasses now, etc. This was before the days of Skype. We literally had not seen our mother in months. We had very few opportunities to talk to her. Looking back, we probably made her feel worse when she got back the way kids do sometimes, by giving her the cold shoulder or bringing it up a lot. I'm sorry mom.
The year she got back, she also had a surprise pregnancy! Our whole family was super excited (especially when we learned it was another girl!). I have a hard time remembering my mom being pregnant and I'm not sure why. Maybe I was too into my own stuff at the time? Maybe she did such an awesome job of keeping up with us and the house and her job that it never occurred to me that she would need more sleep, less stress, and more help while pregnant. Or maybe it's because every picture of that pregnancy has probably been thrown away or tucked away in a secret box somewhere. Who knows.
My youngest sister, Johnna Suzanne was born in February 1992. When my mom went into labor, my sisters and I were sent off to grandma's in our jammies, knowing by the time we woke up we'd be big sisters! Something didn't go right. Time stretched on. We heard hushed phone calls between my grandma and parents. We weren't told anything. Finally, grandma let us know that our sister had been born but she had some complications and that later on my dad would come get us.
My dad explained to us that Johnna had a heart problem (which I now know was a pretty rare condition called Tetralogy of Fallot) and that she had been transferred to a special hospital for children. We couldn't hold her because she was in the NICU. It was scary and sad. Eventually, she was sent home with us and my parents were told that she would likely not live long. She lived 2 weeks and died in my parents' arms at the hospital after struggling to breathe. We were at school and never got to really say goodbye. Later reports surfaced that many men and women who served in Desert Storm went on to have children with a variety of birth deffects, including a higher than normal rate of Tetralogy of Fallot, which served as an additional painful blow.
After that, my mom was never the same. I can't begin to speculate on how she felt. I can only say that I now understand the fear and grief I feel at the mere thought of losing my child. I understand the joys (and struggles) of pregnancy and childbirth. The absolute love you feel for your child when she's born and the physical exhaustion and hormonal high that follows.
I understand why you might burn the candle at both ends so you can spend time with your children while also trying to make more money to hopefully give them a better life. I understand the pain of leaving your child to go to work--the worries that something will happen to them when you're not there, the guilt in knowing they'll miss you. I can better understand why you might occasionally snap when your child is kicking your seat and you've asked them to stop and you've only had 3 hours of sleep and you know you'll only get 3 hours again tonight. I understand that all the trips to the zoo and the amusement park, the camping adventures and road trips were for US. That my parents probably worked all year and saved money to try and do nice things for us (Mom, I'm sorry for all the backseat fighting and the "she's touching me"s and the "are we there yet"s). I understabd that the fear of not having enough for your child can drive you to do just about anything, including going to Saudi Arabia to live in a giant tent and take 2 minute showers every other day and miss your kids and your husband like crazy.
I get it now, Mom. And I want you to know that while I didn't always agree 100% with your choices, I now understand. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift you could have ever given me--I can only hope to be as strong, gracious, and loving a mother as you.