She had never been away from her children until she joined the military in 2002. It was a beautiful evening in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I needed to drop her off at the recruiter’s officer. The recruiter would be taking her to the hotel where she would spend the night before leaving for basic training. I had never been this anxious, as she would be gone from the family for the next six months or so. Suddenly, I felt nauseated and my stomach was churning with that kind of queasy feeling, like I was about to throw up.
As our children and I said goodbye, I could see the sadness in her eyes as she gave them a hug and left for the car. She turned again for one more look before she got to the car. Oh my…… what have I done? Was this a good idea after all? Would she survive the training, especially being away from the children? Lord, please help her to know that everything will be okay while she is gone.
The children and I got into the car and our oldest, who was only three-and-a-half years old, said, “Daddy, I want to go with mommy.” The other children were fussier and more restless than usual, and I could tell they were beginning to feel the fears of separation in their own way. Oh boy, this is going to be a difficult time. “It’s okay, mommy will be back soon. Who wants McDonald’s?” Everyone screamed “Me! Me! Me!”
I knew this was their favorite meal, since they only got to eat a “Happy Meal” on special occasions. The fifteen-minute drive to McDonald’s was different than other drives; as short as it was, I was filled with anxiety and confusion, as thoughts about what it meant to be a mother and a father ran through my mind.
I succeeded in distracting the kids from the sadness of saying bye to their mother, at least for a moment. I needed to hide my tears from them because I felt a deep sadness like never before. The kids had a good time with their “Happy Meals.” “All right, let’s go watch a movie.” We turned the night into a movie night when we got home. I wanted to do everything I could to keep the kids distracted from this sad experience.
Well, I knew I would need to set a schedule while trying to maintain the kids’ routine. How was she able to juggle the daily tasks, housekeeping items, etc.? She was also in charge of the bill payments and children’s medical appointments, among other things. I couldn’t imagine how she was able to juggle these. I really appreciated what she had done for our family. I guess I did not understand the magnitude and gift of her presence until I was faced with the dual task (being a father and a mother). Oh no, our youngest was very fussy again, she was on the floor kicking and screaming, I think she is ready for the night. I know she has had a rough day. Well, off I went to give the kids a bath and settle them for the night.
Augustina Mushale is a retired Air Force Nurse. She completed her Master’s Degree at UC Davis. She currently works as a triage nurse and an independent consultant.