I have three sons (and two daughters) and I’m always glad to hear from them. But when the conversation starts out with, “Hi Mom! I’m fine!” my blood pressure goes up. It’s nice to know they’re fine, it’s the stories that follow that make me cringe. My daughters’ greetings seldom evince the same level of anxiety. (With them, things always start out so reasonable. The anxiety builds throughout the conversation. I will cover their respective antics in another blog.)
“Hi Mom! I’m fine,” it’s my youngest, age 14. “Scott took me to the emergency room, cuz I didn’t want to bother you and we’re already on our way home!”
He continues, “There’s no cast, just an ace bandage, you can’t even see anything, but my shoe won’t go on cuz it’s all swollen and I have to use crutches for a couple of days.”
“What happened to your ankle?”
Then comes this sort of stream-of-consciousness debrief. “Well, I tried to jump this half-pipe out by Julie’s house, behind the school there’s this big park and a drainage ditch and we were skateboarding down there. I was doing real good too, it was SO awesome! But I was getting tired cuz we were out there, like, all afternoon and it was getting dark, and I just wanted to make this one jump, but it was dark, and I’d been kind of working up to it. Julie said I couldn’t do it, I shouldn’t try, but Scott said he thought I could, and Brandon did too, so I got back really far and tried it and, Mom, I al-most MADE it! It was awesome, I was SO high! I just caught a tiny bit of the board on the edge…”
“Wait, Julie’s house? What happened to the movie? I thought you were going out to Folsom to the movies…”
“Oh…uh…well…Scott didn’t have the money, and Jules didn’t really care and Brandon was there so we decided to go skateboarding instead.”
I’m thinking, “Movies, skateboarding, hey, it’s almost the same thing, isn’t it?”
“Hi Mom! I’m fine!” This report is in person, and I can see that he’s fine, but I can tell there’s a story coming because his eyes are wide open and he’s grinning so wide his ears are going to touch at the back of his head. “I killed a rattlesnake!”
This is the oldest, and he’s been working at a miniature golf course. Doesn’t that seem like a nice, safe place for a son to be working? Six weeks into his stint there I find that as part of his job, the first thing he does every day is to go through the whole course banging on everything with a golf club to scare the snakes out of the holes. I try to sound proud of my adventurer as I am regaled with the details of how this particular six-foot snake was not just slithering away like they usually do, and how they took a shovel to it and…I ignore the gruesome details and admire the two-inch set of rattles he brought home. Yaaaay.
“Hi Mom! I’m fine!” This is very good news this time, but the adrenaline in the voice tells me I’m in for another adventure in long distance parenting. My oldest again, only four months out of high school now, decided to travel instead of jumping right into college. Seemed like a good idea at the time. He was going to visit a missionary friend-of-a-friend in Thailand. Come to find out, this particular missionary is also an ex-Army Ranger who regularly crosses the boarder into Burma/Myanmar, backpacking medical supplies to villagers who are the victims of ongoing genocide there.
“Yeah, we just got back to Chiang Mai…the Army chased us out of Burma! It was so cool! They were following us…but we’re fine! Chuck is awesome! I’m really thinking about a military career…Mom you should meet this guy, he’s amazing! He’s so smart! We went in [to Burma] about two weeks ago, we took a bunch of supplies to the Karin. We saw this one village that had been destroyed a couple weeks before, and met these other guys in the jungle, Chuck found them, I don’t know how, he is just so amazing! And we slept in this hut, they build their huts up on stilts to get away from the bugs, and I realized, I’m here with this guy with a price on his head, and some bad guy, just for the money, could just roll a grenade under this hut and we would never know what happened, and he’s sound asleep! He is SLEEPING! And I’m thinking, ‘What the hell am I DOING here?’ but it was cool and we had to really run, it was hard keeping up, but we weren’t scared, not really, we just had to keep moving. We’re fine, I’m fine! How’s Dad?” Dad’s fine. I, on the other hand…
I’ve always tried to encourage my children in their various interests, letting them know it’s okay to take chances, and be adventurous. At the same time, I also drilled into them, “Safety first”. No doubt this is what has led to the greeting that I’m sure is intended to be reassuring. It has also led to a certain amount of subterfuge, I think. They have come to believe it’s best if mother doesn’t hear about certain plans until they can report a fait accomplii. I’m sure this is wise. I’m also sure this is why I didn’t find out about the skydiving until two years after the fact and then only because somebody let something slip.
“Hi Mom! I’m fine!” The middle son. He’s in Iraq, at the front end of ‘the surge’. We’re using a computer chat room. He typed quickly because the connection was tenuous, but he needed the debrief. “Weh-heh-eellll, I just had the scariest 72 hours of my life! Stupid 45 minute out-and-back to pick up a downed pilot turned into a three day FUBAR. We ran out of gas, and we were surrounded! It was a freakin’ trap and only one truck had coms, and there were snipers, which meant we could only communicate between trucks after dark, and we ran out of water and no food, but Abdul can’t shoot for shit so we were okay, but MAN it sucked being out there! They finally managed to drop some supplies to us, water and food & stuff, and two guys, two Marines got killed by an IED trying to help and then finally we got outta there…it was SUCH a mess!” Due to op-sec he was unable to give me more details, but we had heard about the two Marines on the news. He continued to assure me he was fine.
“Hi Mom! I’m fine!” A couple months later I got an actual call from the same son, now stationed in Karmah, a charming little bedroom community just outside of Fallujah. “It was like something out of Band of Brothers!” But this time the edge is off his voice, the adrenaline is not pumping. Whether he’s calm because combat is now an everyday affair, or because of simple fatigue, I can’t tell. But he’s fine. He is. I can tell. He’s fine. “This was about the only coordinated attack we’ve seen. Snipers, mortars, and these truck bombs, Mom, it was just amazing.” This is not the boy talking, but the man. “These guys, two of them, drove trucks right up to the compound, but Connelly saw them and pumped several rounds into the first one and he hit the driver, I guess, cuz the truck detonated just outside the wall, and the second one…see the first one was supposed to breach the wall so the second one could get in, but the first one never made it, he just blew up outside, but the second guy, he just keeps coming!” The rate of speech picks up now, and the boy is back. “And by now we’ve got mortars coming in and snipers and all kinda automatic fire going off all around, it was crazy, everybody’s shooting everywhere, but then somehow, I don’t know if he got shot or what happened, but the second truck goes off right at the same spot. Heh heh! You should see the size of the crater! It’s like seventy-five feet across! It’s just amazing…so sad though,” more quietly, “you know? Cuz those guys are so fucking stupid…to just blow themselves up for nothing. Craziness. Anyway, only one of our guys got hurt, took some minor shrapnel, a little first aid and he’s fine.” He’s fine. We’re all fine. Thank you.
“Hi Mom, we’re all fine! The baby is fine, Karissa is doing great!” Middle son again, reporting on the birth of his first child. “It took hours and at first they were like, ‘we don’t do water birth here, no one is qualified to assist’ but we knew they had the tub cuz we had done the tour. We had to sign a waiver so they would let us use it. Karissa had done all this research and we had this ginormous birth plan, like 20 pages, and so they had to let us in. It was just amazing, Karissa is amazing. I got to be in the tub WITH her! All the while she was in labor, and she had to get out once so they could check her, and she was about 6 cm., but then things seemed to pick up, and then she was pushing and I got to sit behind her in the tub and hold her legs for her while she pushed! And she caught the baby, she just, like PULLED him out, it was freakin’ awesome. So amazing. He’s fine, she’s fine, we’re all fine! How are you, ‘Grandma’, heh heh?”
“I’m fine.” Now it’s your turn.