Miss C woke me up this morning. She was hovering over me like a helicopter, shifting her weight from side to side, seemingly at odds with herself, debating in her mind whether to whisper in my ear or shake me violently to consciousness. I could just sense it.
“Mom,” she finally whispered. “Mom? Hey. You’re coming to lunch today, right?”
“Yes, honey,” I mumbled, wiping the sleep from my eyes. “I will be there.”
“You got to wear your military clothes, okay?” she explained. “You have to wear your boots. Oh, and don’t forget your hat. And the buttons and your straps.”
I sat up as she kept talking.
“And the dog tags. And make sure it says your name. And…”
I held up my hand to stop her.
“Should I bring my weapon, too?” I joked.
She tilted her head to the side to think about this.
“Um, no,” she said slowly. “You should probably leave that at home. But good question.”
And with that, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and bounded out of the room to leave for school. That’s when I noticed her shirt.
My second-grader was marching off to school wearing her U.S. Air Force shirt.
As you may already know, today is Veterans Day. Miss C’s school invited military friends and family of its students to come have lunch with them. Ever since they sent home the flier, Miss C talked about this day nonstop. She was nervous I wouldn’t be home from my Air Force Reserve duty in time to attend, but when I rolled into town Tuesday evening, she was very relieved.
Even though her lunch time is only about 45 minutes long, I made sure my uniform was in perfect order.
I didn’t want to disappoint.
I arrived a few minutes early for Miss C’s lunch session. They had the main hall decorated in red, white and blue, with candy from the USO put out next to the sign-in sheet. I was amazed to see all the names on there, although I didn’t see any other female names.
There was a Coast Guard dad hanging around the hallway, too, waiting for his second-grader, so we chatted a little bit. Like most of the military people living in this area, he works in Washington D.C. We talked about the commute, the Pentagon jungle and memories of time spent overseas. A school volunteer approached us to tell us a group of them chipped in to pay for our lunches. It was incredibly sweet.
We heard our kids coming before we saw them. Miss C saw me and bounded down the stairs swinging her lunch box alongside her. Her face lit up when I told her I was going to buy her lunch through the lunch line.
The lunchroom was a bright, colorful and chaotic bubble of energy. Kids sat at numerous round tables, a good mix of boys and girls, military parents and lunch room volunteers. Miss C proudly held my hand as we walked to her table.
“Hey, your mom is in the Army?” a little boy asked her.
“No, the AIR FORCE,” she corrected. Other kids called out to us, thanking me for serving our country. It was obvious they had talked about the holiday in their classrooms, and it was cute seeing their excitement at the sight of people in uniform.
We sat at Miss C’s regular table with her friends, many who I knew by name but not yet by face. Their questions were totally adorable.
“Did you ever shoot a bazooka?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I answered.
“Oh. I really like bazookas.”
“Are we ever going to have a war here?”
“I saw war once on a video game I played. I got to blow up this tank and that was cool.”
“I bet that was interesting,” was all I managed to think of as a good answer.
One little boy watched me from across the table. He gave me a friendly smile as he chewed on some grapes.
“My dad was in a war,” he said. “He was in Iraq.”
“My mom was in Iraq, too,” Miss C replied. The boy perked up.
“It was awhile ago,” he said. “He was shot in the hand.” He held up his small hand to show me where his dad got injured. “It got him right there, but he put pressure on it. It’s important to put pressure on a wound like that.”
As he continued to talk about the time his dad was away, I fought off the urge to swoop him up and give him a hug. Or cry. I could only imagine what this sweet little boy had been through the past few years with his family. I let him talk and share as much as he wanted about his dad.
“Is he feeling better now?” I asked.
“Yes, he is home. That was a long time ago,” he said. “He has a career now. He’s not in the military anymore. He went to college.”
I was relieved to hear that.
It was a touching reminder to me that military service and sacrifice isn’t exclusive to the people who wear the uniform, and that our family members are just as amazing for all they endure, too.
Before I knew it, lunch time was over and my girl had to get back to class. She gave me a huge hug and a kiss, and made me promise I’ll share my USO candy with her when she gets home.
Then she thanked me for my service and ran back to join her class.