Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thinking about kids whose parents are in war

When I was a kid, my dad was a Weekend Warrior. Meaning, he was a member of the Hawaii Air National Guard. Two weekends a month, two weeks a year. He was in from 1985 to 1988.

For National Guard training he'd go to Pohakuloa Training Area and Hickam Air Force Base. He recently told me they did anti-terrorism simulations. He was in communications with "top secret security clearance."

My parents tried to explain about "war games." They'd say there were guns. The men wore uniforms and color their faces with camouflage paint.

My parents had a routine to prepare for Dad leaving for "war games." At some point he might come home with shirts and pants and patches. Mom would sew the patches onto his uniforms, and iron and fold everything before arranging them in his duffel bag.

Mom would tell my brothers and I that two weeks was a long time and Dad would miss us. He couldn't call to tell us goodnight or ask how we did in school. So, we would draw pictures on construction paper and stash them in his bag, down deep so they wouldn’t get lost.

The night before leaving, Dad would shine his boots. He’d get the tin of thick black shoe polish, a damp cotton rag, a stiff brush, and set everything out on sheets of newspaper at the kitchen table. Sometimes he would let me help.

He'd leave early in the morning, when it was still dark. I can't recall what time of year it would be, but it would seem very long, especially at nights.

School teachers didn't talk about any of this, even though the Guard was probably the island's top "employer" and many students were home without a parent for two weeks each year.

Every regular night, we'd all say goodnight to each other, like a choir repeating the phrase: "I love you, see you in the morning." When dad was on the training we would say good-night to him anyway. When he came back he wouldn't tell me much about it, only that it was kind of like a hunting trip. He actually told me more about his days in Vietnam than the Guard training.

To a kid, two weeks is a really long time. Of course, it doesn't compare to the months and months for kids whose parents who are in a real war.

Thinking about how many people are in Iraq and other foreign countries we don't know about really makes me wonder about the traditions and routines like my family had. If my dad was sent off to an actual war and never came back? For example, would we have continued saying goodnight to him every night even if he wasn't there?

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