I’m sitting here tonight in a crappy hotel room in Sierra Vista Arizona. I’m away from my kids. I’m alone but for the bright white screen of my computer and I’m thinking. It’s never a good sign when I start getting introspective but sitting here tonight, I am, so here goes.
See, the last time I was out here in sunny Arizona, I’d left my kids with my mom, kissed them goodbye and said I’ll see you in a week. And they were relatively okay. Granted, Daddy had just deployed and then Mommy took off right afterwards, but they were cool because Grammy had come to see them.
The week came and went without incident. Until it didn’t. I was waiting in DFW airport when the voicemail came through. My youngest had fallen and hit her head. She’d fallen off the bunk beds and she was throwing up so my mom decided to take her into the emergency room. The short version is that I landed in Killeen with enough time to go straight to the hospital and get on the Life Flight. My little girl had been evac’d from Fort Hood down to Dell Children’s Hospital where she spent the next 4 days in intensive care, ordering bacon and cookies and watching How to Train Your Dragon. Me, on the other hand? I sat there and cried and worried and tried not to scare my husband with Red Cross messages that said Call Home NOW.
As I was sitting there, worrying about whether or not my daughter had torn the lining on her brain, worrying about whether she would need surgery, about whether this vibrant four year old who says the damndest things was going to be okay, I went back to the same thought. I wasn’t there. For the second time in her life, my little girl had gone to the ER and I wasn’t there.
Luckily, she was fine. She pulled through like a champ and she’s right back to terrifying all of us because the little bugger has no fear. And as she healed, I put away my worry and my guilt and I went on being a company commander. We worked hard this summer. When I say I literally didn’t see my kids, there were whole weeks where I saw them for five minutes at bed time.
But before you feel bad for me, remember, I made my choice. No one made me interview for command. No one held a gun to my head and said take the guidon. I wanted this job for the sole purpose that I wanted to make a difference. Not for the report card. Not to check the command block on career progression. I wanted to make a difference. Hopefully, that difference would be a positive one. Just like every soldier in uniform, I volunteered. I had a choice and I chose this job.
All that said, I’m sitting here tonight in Arizona and I can’t shake the heavy weight deep in my belly. I know my daughter will be fine. But what if something else happens? What happens at the end of the day that you don’t get another tomorrow. I’ve been so busy this summer, I barely saw my house. I barely saw my kids. I planned an entire day’s schedule last week around one task: I would not fail in bringing cupcakes to school for my daughter’s birthday. I promised her last week that I would be home on time and I broke that promise to her. Blew it right out of the water. That’s what I get for promising. All I could do was apologize to her and tell her Mommy was sorry she wasn’t home. She smiled and said “were your lieutenants acting up again?” She made me laugh at least.
But I don’t get to fix that broken promise. I hope I have plenty of tomorrows left to try and make it up to her. What if I don’t? Will I honestly look back at the summer of 2011 and say I wish I’d worked harder? Or will I regret that I wasn’t at the pool on the weekend with my kids because command had taken every single thing that I’d had that week and I just needed to lie on the couch.
A few weeks ago, one of my young sergeants asked me how I did it? How did I come to work and put in so many hours and not feel the guilt tearing me up that I wasn’t at home at night, putting my kids to bed. I looked at her honestly and said I don’t. There is no balance. My babysitter is with my kids. There is no way to do it all. It’s not possible. But when she goes down range, she has to find a way to put aside the pain and the guilt and the regret and focus on doing her job. Because the guilt and the regret will eat you alive if you let it. And at the end of the day, if she decides she can’t be a mom and a soldier, then that’s okay. Because she served and served well. She’s one of the best and brightest I’ve got and the Army needs young leaders like her to help shape the future of our great force. But so does her tiny man.
But you know, as I come to the end of my time as a commander; as I looked that young sergeant in the eye; the truth came home to roost once more. There are no truer words than these words of the Army Song: And the Army goes rolling along.
Because it will. So my fellow brothers and sisters in leadership roles, have some compassion when you have a young soldier look at you and say I just need time to take care of my kids. Don’t judge them and call them a pussy because they choose their family over the Army. If you want to keep good people in the Army, figure out a way to help them achieve that ever elusive thing we call balance.
As for me? I’m still a commander. I have a duty to do my job to the best of my ability. My soldiers deserve nothing less. But so do my kids. So I’ve got some more work to do myself on that elusive thing called balance.