When they’re small, we tend to think of them as staying little boys, even though somewhere in our minds we may have dreams for their futures.   Sam just graduated Marine Boot Camp and is now on his way to schooling that, when done, will send him to an active unit.  He’s eighteen.  He’s my son.  He’s a United States Marine. 

Other than proud of who and what he is, I’m not sure how I feel about all this. 

We were riding in the car last week, he’s home for his ten day leave following boot camp, and I asked him how he felt about being a Marine.  “Good, mom, it’s what I’ve always wanted.”  I know and he has, since he was seven or eight or nine.  I found a nine-year birthday card I’d given him that starts “To my future Marine”.  Did I really think about what that meant when I wrote it?  I’m sure I didn’t.  At the time, he was a blond-haired, green-eyed kid who collected socks for the homeless men, fed stray cats at hotels where we stayed on vacation, and prayed earnestly for policemen, firemen and the military.  He was busy getting straight A’s and getting into trouble with his posse of friends that seemed to terrorize our household every summer.  He was inhaling every food in sight and we were up to buying four gallons of milk a week.   He was still throwing his arms around me in private and sticking his pinky out as our signal of “I love you” as I dropped him off at school. 

His ten day leave has been not only quick, but enlightening.  We sent a young man who was full of energy, often uncontrolled, and filled with all the angst of a young man whose had his fair share of life’s hardships already.  We got back someone who looks like our son, smells like our son, even feels like our son as we throw our arms around him, but there is a subtle difference that I’m not sure how to handle. 

He’s a man now.  And he’s a Marine.

I see it in how he walks – taller, more graceful, more confident and assured.  It’s there when he talks to you.  He makes eye contact and listens.  It’s in the quickness to open the door for me, the “take your time” instead of “hurry up” during lunch or dinner.  It’s the immediate reply of “I love you, too, Mom”.  And it’s the paperwork in his safe that he handed over to me this morning that holds letters and information should anything happen to him. 

He’s always been Sam.  He still is Sam, but he’s not the boy Sam anymore.  He’s a fine young man who is responsible and dependable.  He told us this in one of his letters:  “Thank you for raising me the way you did.  I’m able to take care of myself and I understand what work is.  I have good values and I have grown spiritually.  It takes leaving home to realize how good you had it, and I thank you and Dad for all you’ve done for me.  You are great parents, and I love you.” 

We can ask for no more than that.   We did our job, my husband tells me as he wipes the tears that fall and fall and fall.  Yes, we did our job, but does it have to be over now?  I love my Marine and I’m terribly proud of him, but somewhere in my heart, in that place of wishes and what ifs, I want my boy back.  I couldn’t hold him enough while he was here.  I couldn’t look at him enough while he was here.   I couldn’t listen or be amazed by him enough while he was here. 

As I walk into his room with clean laundry I washed for him yesterday, I see a t-shirt in the bottom of a perfectly clean hamper.  The smell is still there, his smell, and it’s a mixed one – part my boy, part my Marine.   I breathe it in and the tears are there again.  

Once more, I give my son to the Lord because, as he told me his first sargeant said to them, “The Marines belong God, Mom.  Jesus leads us.”   And, as always, He does.

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