Seven Is Too Young to Join the Army

This entry, originally dated July 20, 2011,  is courtesy of Bloomingdale Patch Columnist Lynn Nankervis, writer of The Brady Bunch Plus One blog.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Nankervis.

By Lynn Nankervis

Today I sat in an Army recruiter’s office while a camouflage-wearing, big-muscled, tough-talking soldier insisted my 7-year-old son was ready to serve his country by enlisting in the military.

Not really.

Sam is actually 17 years old, entering his senior year in high school and considering joining the Army under the Delayed Entry Program, essentially meaning he signs the papers now but doesn’t report to boot camp until after high school graduation next June.

But as I sat with my son in that office listening to the recruiter proclaim all the benefits of a military career, my mind flashed back to a front-toothless Sam at 7 asking me to take him to “McDongals” for a “mikswake.”

This is my baby, my first-born son. How is it possible he is old enough to be thinking about the military? He’s supposed to be playing cowboys and Indians, not defending his country.

My goodness, he can’t even stay all night at a friend’s house.

Or at least 7-year-old Sam couldn’t. I remembered endless attempts at slumber parties, only to receive countless 2 a.m. phone calls where I was forced to drag my pajama-clad self out in the middle of the night to pick up my homesick boy.

How in the world is he supposed to go to basic training if he can’t survive a slumber party?

I write often about quality of life, about slowing down, about smelling the roses. Do I practice what I preach?

Sitting in that office, memories washed over me like rain.

Sam at 3 years old, holding his new baby brother for the very first time.

Sam at 5, refusing to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in the Christmas pageant because, “Everyone was looking at me, mommy.”

Sam at 8, sneaking into the master bedroom to sleep with me because he was afraid of the noises in his room.

Sam at 12, angry and heartbroken over the sudden death of his father.

This boy sitting next to me listening intently to the recruiter couldn’t possibly be that same boy, could he?

Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that the doctor placed all 6 pounds 13 ounces of him in my arms?

WWI recruiting poster.

Yet, there we sat as the recruiter droned on an on about basic training, post assignments, GI bill, college education.

“Excuse me,” I wanted to say, “my son should be getting his college education on a college campus. And not for a few years yet. After all, he’s only 7.”

But the boy next to me with the firm jaw and whiskers on his chin was nodding enthusiastically at the recruiter’s talk of combat engineering and weapons training.

“Weapons. Oh no, not MY son. He’s not allowed to touch guns. And I just took away a pocket knife that I found in his room yesterday. They’re much too dangerous.”

Suddenly the boy stood up and I, instantly brought back to reality, stood, too, and noticed how much taller the boy was than I remembered. Quite a bit taller than me…six inches at least.

When did that happen?

This is the same boy I taught to walk, to read, to ride a bike, to stand up straight and tall, even when life dealt some serious blows.

As I think about it now, I bawl. There’s still so much I haven’t taught him. There’s so much he still doesn’t know. Have I failed him?

The Army recruiter tells me that they will “tear him down” in basic training to rebuild him as a soldier, but this is my baby, for heaven’s sake, and this is not the life I have envisioned for him.

Did I say that?

“Not the life I have envisioned for him.”

But that’s just it. My baby is 17 years old, 18 in a few short weeks. Not a baby at all. He can make this decision with or without me. Just because it’s not what I have envisioned doesn’t mean it’s not right.

We raise our children to be responsible adults, fully capable of making their own decisions.

My son is joining the Army, and all I can do is support him, be sure he knows how much I love him, how proud I am of him…and then simply pray.

I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot of praying.

I know he will serve our country well. I’m proud of his determination, his dedication and his desire to defend his country. He’s intelligent, strong and motivated.

But I miss him. Already I miss him, and he hasn’t even left yet. He still has his entire senior year in high school yet I am already missing him so much.

I worry about him. I worry about where this path will lead him, where this adventure will take him.

I wonder if he will be safe, if he will return home to me without the physical and emotional scars that so many carry. I wonder if he will be homesick, if he will want to come home in the middle of the night.

But there will be no more dragging my pajama-clad self out to pick him up at 2 a.m.

I have a year to get used to this idea. A year to make sense of it all. A year to allow my 7-year-old to grow into my 18-year-old, and then proudly watch my handsome soldier go off to the Army.

5 Responses

  1. Life moves by so fast! Enjoy every moment. Congratulations on raising a son who wants to serve his country. Best wishes to your family.

  2. Thanks so much to Bobbie O’Brien for sharing my column on http://www.offthebase.wordpress.com. I would love to be a regular contributor to the site. 🙂

  3. Thank you for your post. You did a very good job explaining what it is like to be the mother of child serving our great nation and the reason I helped start Military Families Ministry. As you navigate through your son’s military career please know that there are a lot of other parents out there that know how you feel. God bless both of you!

    • I am sitting at my work desk crying like crazy. We go tomorrow to see if my sons weigh in. One is 17 and a half (as he points out) and the other 19. I feel the same way. I have to keep it together but dont think i wont be whaling when we get into the car. I will be a mom of 3 soldiers as my daughter also did the Army. Good luck to your son and may God keep him safe and happy to return to you. You did a great job..

  4. […] “Seven Is Too Young to Join the Army” – Lynn Nankervis. […]

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