She called across the parking lot saying the day was beautiful and we exchanged pleasantries about the recovery of our lawns from the summer drought. She escorted her granddaughter to their car as I kept an eye on my sons in the park playing with their three buddies. We were hosting an end-of-summer blowout for their good friends. It was most probably the sight of a mom pulling up on her bike followed by six boys, 12 and under, that signaled familiarity to her. I was perhaps an approachable "mom".
Within six sentences of our conversation she shared that she had two sons in Iraq; a boy in the army in "constant combat" near Mosul and a marine who only just left this last weekend and will be stationed near the Syrian border. My instinct was that she needed to talk. I approached her where she stood as her 4 year old granddaughter crawled over every square inch of the beat up American made car with a small "Support Our Troops" magnet on the back.
I told her my niece had come home from Iraq in January and I feared my nephew would soon be deployed from Ft. Hood. I asked her how she was doing, how was she holding up? She averted her eyes and I knew I had been too personal. At the risk of stereotyping, but for the purpose of explanation, I "know" this woman. This is the small town Wisconsin Republican. This is the matriarch of a family of boys. This is the tough mom who loves her country, knows good from bad and who has an initial air of diplomacy but still renders the liberal feeling frowned upon. She is steadfast in her beliefs. However, she is first and foremost a mom. Deeply and entirely dedicated to her family. I said "It's getting really bad over there".
We bantered about the impossibility of the situation. On the one hand she acknowledges the insurgency growing because of our presence. On the other, how can we not help stabilize this country? And with a look of helplessness and a small pool of tears in her eyes she shook her head. A glint of anger whipped through those eyes when I mentioned our Senator Feingold's proposal to set a time table for withdrawal but it softened quickly when I introduced his word `flexible'. And then the tired look, with the tears, again swept over her face. This, a face of anguish, was obvious every time our conversation led us to an impossible solution.
"That mother down in Texas...I grieve for her. But that doesn't change anything. It doesn't help. We're still there. We still have to deal with the situation" she explained pragmatically. I responded that I had listened to or read every word possible of Cindy Sheehan's and that I think she wants to shine a light on the lies of this administration. The administration which was going to bring back personal accountability and responsibility to Washington. She nodded, clearly understanding that we have been lied to. But you know what? To her that does not matter one bit. Her sons are there NOW. She must live every moment of every day with not knowing whether her sons made it today or not. "I would rather not watch the news but I have to. If I hear of a soldier dying I check to see what city. If it's Baghdad then I know we're alright".
"You lived through Vietnam. Does this seem similar to you?" I asked. She nodded in agreement. She added that Vietnam has taught America a lesson in that the veterans are not treated as poorly as they were back then She laughed as she said her sons have received hugs and gratitude from strangers at the airport...before they had actually even gone anywhere. She asked me, though, why some people fall silent when she mentions her sons are in the service. She felt there was a clear anti support sentiment coming from these people. I was not very good on my feet but proposed a confusion that for some all these things are political and those things are black and white.
My eight year old then ran up and told us that a boy in the park had just used the "f" word, the "h" word and the "a" word while breaking up their sand pile. This soldier's mom laughed and told my son "Good job with your alphabet!". I hugged her, which perhaps was again too personal, and told her I would keep her sons in my thoughts and went to find the sailor-talking boy on the playground.
To see the anguish in this mother's eyes, to feel her reach out days after her second son was deployed, to bear witness to the face of the quagmire has branded my heart somehow today. When I brought my sons home and slipped into the bathroom to get a moment to myself, I looked in the mirror and saw the tears well in my eyes, for the soldier's mother.