Home of the Brave

That’s the headline on the front page of The Fayetteville Observer today, and it gave me pause. Beneath those four words were accounts of the various Memorial Day events that took place yesterday in the Fort Bragg area.

The same story, more or less, is in the paper each year on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. I’ve gotten used to reading it in the nine years I’ve lived just a few miles outside of Bragg’s gates. People here pay a bit more attention to Memorial Day than people in other parts of the country. There are probably more commemorative events in this region than elsewhere and almost certainly more people in attendance for whom Memorial Day means a specific name and face. Here it’s not just a day off work and definitely not just a day for beach trips and grilling out. But that headline, “Home of the Brave,” seems especially poignant here. This, this area where I live, truly is the home of the brave. Not the only home of the brave, certainly there are lots of brave people living elsewhere, but Fort Bragg is America’s most populated Army post and is home to the greatest concentration of military first responders. “When the President calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg,” or so the saying goes. I daresay there are more brave people per capita here than anywhere else in the United States.

There’s a downside to that, to be sure. Simply driving Yadkin Road at the end of the workday (aka, “the Yadkin 500”) feels like a kamikaze mission. Working as a bar bouncer in this town, I’m told, is the best training a man can get in hand-to-hand combat. Bouncers here don’t just check IDs and give menacing looks: they really work. Even the kids here are jaded. When youth soccer season started this spring on post we heard a rumor that the Golden Knights, the Army’s parachute team, were going to jump in for the ceremony (a false rumor, btw) and no one was even surprised or excited. In other parts of the country the Golden Knights are the primary attraction at air shows; here they’re a shoulder shrug. On a post where every child has a parent who jumps out of airplanes, parachutists aren’t all that impressive.

But that headline today really got me thinking this morning: Home of the Brave, indeed. Ours is a country where health insurance is fast becoming mandatory and where we tsk, tsk retirees for not contributing enough to their IRAs. Codes inspectors check and recheck our buildings against a list so nit-picky that laymen don’t even understand the logic, and health inspectors do the same in our restaurants. (Tell me again why it is that a broom can’t be touching the ground?) It is against the law to drive without auto insurance (a necessary law for any who drive the Yadkin 500); we have our homes sprayed for bugs before we’ve seen the first creepy-crawly; we download directions or set the GPS before pulling out of our driveways; we fill our bodies with preventative supplements and slather ourselves in sunscreen before venturing outdoors, and our kids are padded down in so much protective gear that they look like Haz-Mat inspectors on bicycles.

America, that former “home of the brave”, that nation of pioneers and explorers, is decidedly risk-averse these days.

But not here, not at Fort Bragg. Here families still stand at Green Ramp and say goodbye, knowing that they could be sending their loved one off to die. Here, on most any regular day, soldiers wait for the light and watch as the jumpmaster extends his body into the rush of wind to look for the drop zone … and then they jump, possibly with “Blood on the Risers” echoing in their ears all the while. And here, soldiers and spouses still dare to take on these risks for 20 years or more, knowing that Congress is ever-chipping away at the security package they were promised when they enlisted. And that is perhaps that’s the riskiest decision of all.

There is a home for the brave in America, but it is not America. It is here.


The Mommy Wars

This image provided by Time magazine...



The cover of the latest edition of Time Magazine shows an attractive young mother in skinny jeans and a tank top, one breast exposed as she looks at the camera defiantly and her preschool-aged son stands on a chair to breastfeed. It’s provocative, to be sure, but not nearly so provocative as the headline, “Are You Mom Enough?”, the implication being that anyone who doesn’t choose to continue nursing a child who is old enough to work an iPad is not mom enough. Critics and commentators are saying that the cover and the accompanying article on the attachment style of parenting will ratchet up the so-called Mommy Wars.

Here’s what I think: There are no Mommy Wars.

In fact, the whole concept of “mommy wars” seems so 1980’s to me, like there should be two Electric Boogaloo moms in parachute pants, a ghetto blaster off to the side, head-spinning it out in a break dancing duel to determine which one is the bigger badass. The reality? Every mom is barely getting through her day, and most of us are much more concerned with the size of our ass than with fighting other mothers.

When I first became a mom I stayed at home with my son because my husband was deployed and I really had no other choice. We don’t have family nearby and newspaper reporters often have to work late into the night, long after daycares have closed. There was no way I could go right back to work. But a year later my husband was home and I was going nuts so I began to polish my resume, looking for jobs that would allow me to work more reasonable hours. Back then I mentioned that I wanted to go back to work to a baby-boomer aged woman I admire, a woman who chose to stay home with her children, and she chastised me. She even went so far as to say that I must not love my child very much if I could even consider “abandoning” him like that. I won’t lie — her comments stung.

I immediately recounted the conversation to my sister and to a good friend, both of whom went right back to work after giving birth to each of their kids. They don’t even know each other, live a thousand miles apart and work in very different careers, but they both said the same thing: “I think I’m a better mom for knowing that I don’t have the temperament to stay home with my kids.”

Their comments felt right to me, then and now. In the end I chose a hybrid path, freelance writing from home. (And I count myself blessed to have been able to choose and to have the option to work from home.)

But there seem to be no shortage of opinions on all things motherhood and I’ve noticed that the most opinionated and outspoken critics are those whose own parenting years were during the 1970s and 1980s, the years when moms really did have to pick sides. They had to choose the “stay at home” team or the “working” team, and their battles were brutal at times. They had to fight about every personal choice a parent makes: breastfeeding, scheduling, spanking, even whether or not to allow gender specific toys and games. There was always someone on a soapbox somewhere insisting that their way was right. Problem was, that meant simultaneously insisting that all other ways were wrong. It was a relentless time for parents and many of them haven’t been able to repair the considerable chips on their shoulders.

That old school style of side-choosing also meant that once you committed to a particular philosophy you had to stay committed for life. You’d been jumped in, in a “ride-or-die” way. That’s why that one boomer mom spoke so harshly to me. She viewed me as a traitor. In her eyes I had committed to be in her gang but had chosen to defect. Thankfully,  that’s not the case at all for modern moms.

I joke with friends that I want to write a parenting book called, “Shitty Mom” or perhaps, “De-tachment Parenting” because I tend to embrace a more free-range style of raising kids. But truthfully, I’m not detached from my kids and I’m not a shitty mom at all, I’m just doing it my way — a way that often changes from child to child and from day to day. I’m more like Mom-surfing: Catching each wave as it comes, riding it however it needs to be surfed and hoping like hell to just stay on the board.

The actual Mommy Wars involve only an Army of one: ourselves. We do fight relentlessly against ourselves and we do constantly compare our choices to the choices of others. That’s why those of use who weaned our children before they had teeth look on with shock when we see a child who can write his name still nursing.  We don’t do it to tear down others, we do it because we’re so worried that WE are doing it wrong.

Here’s the bitter truth: Moms who work feel guilty when they see stay at home moms with their kids and moms who stay home feel inadequate when they talk with moms who work. Parents who spank wonder if they’re scarring their kids and parents who don’t spank worry that their kids will grow up spoiled. We are NOT fighting with each other — we are fighting with ourselves. We all know that we get only one chance to get this parenting thing right — and that thought is far scarier than the fiction of some kind of war.


Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day!

So today is officially Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and it really is an official day. Military Spouse Day was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan on May 23, 1984 and every year since then it’s been celebrated on the Friday before Mother’s Day. Here’s this year’s White House proclamation about it.

A snippet: “Our military spouses are a vital part of communities across America and around the world. We know them as our neighbors and friends, colleagues and coaches, teachers and nurses. They move from duty station to duty station, picking up their families and careers whenever their country asks. They keep their households running while dealing with the strain of deployment. They support our wounded warriors, preserve the legacies of our fallen, and find ways to give back to our country day after day.”

Of course, the date chosen for this is no accident. It falls in the same month as Memorial Day and just before Mother’s Day, because many (dare I say, most?) military spouses are women and mothers. But that day doesn’t seem quite so appropriate anymore, not since yesterday, when Jeremy Hilton was named Military Spouse of the Year, the first time a male spouse (and stay-at-home dad) has received the award. Jeremy, an Air Force spouse and a Navy veteran himself, is well-deserving of the honor and will definitely do us all proud.

I got a special honor today. Myself and three other Army wives, Teresa Sicinski, Catherine Woyee-Jones and Malinda Cox, were honored by Sen. Kay Hagan during a ceremony at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville for the volunteer work we’ve done on behalf of military families. There were many, many other military spouses who could (and should) have also been honored and I’m extremely flattered to have had the opportunity to represent my sisters, though — with Jeremy’s MSOY win —  I suppose I need to start being gender neutral and say “family”.

The program from today’s event had this beautiful bit of prose, written by Petey Cox, the late wife of Col. (R) Jack Cox:



I am an Army wife … a member of that sisterhood of women who have had the courage to watch their men march into battle and strength to survive until they return. Our sorority knows no rank for we earn our membership with a marriage license, traveling over miles and nations to begin a new life with our soldier husbands.

Within days we turn a barren, echoing building into a home and though our quarters are white walled and unpapered, we decorate with the treasures of our travels for we shop the markets of the globe. Using hammer and nail, we tack our pictures to the wall and our roots to the floor as firmly as if we had lived there a lifetime. WE hold a family together by the boot straps and raise the best of the “brats,” remembering the motto: “Home is togetherness.”

Through experience we have learned to pack a suitcase, a car or hold baggage and live indefinitely from the contents therein. As Army wives, we soon realize the only good in “Good-bye” is the “Hello again.” For, as salesmen for freedom, our husbands are often on the road, leaving us behind for a week, a month or a year. During the separation we guard the homefront, existing till the homecoming.

Unlike our civilian counterparts we measure time not by age but by tours … married at Ft. Knox, a baby born at Ft. Belvoir, a promotion in Germany. We plant trees and never see them grow tall, work on projects that are completed long after our departure. We leave a part of ourselves at every stop.

Women of peace, we pray for a world in harmony, for the flag that leads our men into battle will also blanket them in death. Yet we are an optimistic group, thinking of the good and forgetting the bad, cherishing yesterday while anticipating tomorrow.

Never rich by monetary standards, our hearts are overflowing with a wealth of experiences common only to those united by the special tradition of military life. We pass on this legacy to every Army bride, welcoming her with outstretched arms, with love and friendship, from one sister to another, sharing in the bounty of our unique, fulfilling Army way of life.



Military Family Lifestyle Survey


For the third year in a row Blue Star Families has produced and intensive and exhausting Military Family Lifestyle Survey. You can read the results here:

(and you should. It’s fascinating.)

The survey results were released today in D.C. to a group of lawmakers and policy formers in hopes that they’ll actually listen. (fingers crossed) But the fact that so many elected officials were willing to attend does say something.

Similar to the past two years, this year 95% of respondents said that they don’t think American’s civilian population understands or appreciates the sacrifices military families make. That’s heartbreaking, but I concur. We’re going on 11 years of war now. If our civilian neighbors don’t get it yet, I doubt they ever will. Other survey findings were equally interesting. For examples most of those surveyed said the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has had little to no effect on the military. And for the first time worry about retirement benefits ranked as a top concern, likely because of all the waffling Congress has been doing in the last 12 months.

Maybe those lawmakers will listen. The survey also found that a whopping 89% of respondents are currently registered to vote and 91% believe that voting is our duty as Americans.

You can read the full report here.