It’s part of my morning routine.
Get a glass of water. Turn on the coffee maker. Check my phone for overnight news.
Last Saturday, however, a CNN breaking news alert stopped me.
North Korea was planning to launch a missile as soon as Sunday, it read. As in the next day.
I put down my phone and went to tell my husband.
That’s a big, serious news story and would catch anyone’s attention. It’s made bigger and more serious to us because our youngest son is stationed just across the demilitarized zone in South Korea.
His Army unit arrived there two weeks ago to begin a nine-month deployment.
Thanks, Kim Jong Un. Nice timing.
My journey of military mom-hood began about five years ago over breakfast at a Denny’s in Pullman.
Jared was a sophomore at Washington State University, and we’d gone over to spend a weekend with him.
For several months, my husband had been telling me that our son was asking questions about the ROTC program and how it worked. My husband earned his college degree through ROTC and went on to have a wonderful 21-year Army career, during which we raised two boys.
He wasn’t coaxing our son, he assured me, only answering his questions. You just need to know that he’s asking, he said.
Yes, Jared would make a fine Army officer, I thought, but I figured he’d stay on his criminal justice track and end up in law or law enforcement. I poo-pooed the signs.
Then came The Breakfast.
Denny’s always was our final stop in Pullman, a chance to take the boy out and fill him with food before we started our drive home.
On this Sunday morning, my husband and I sat on one side of the booth with Jared on the other. We had a great meal and conversation.
Then as I pushed my plate away, my husband popped the question: “Isn’t there something you want to tell your mom?”
The color ran out of Jared’s face as he put down his silverware. His eyes grew wide as he looked into mine.
“Mom,” he said, “I’m thinking about ROTC.”
I could have done a thousand good-mom things at that moment.
Instead, I cried.
Not a tear or two, but a steady stream that had my husband handing me napkin after napkin until I could turn off the faucet and find my words.
“That’s not the reaction I expected,” Jared offered.
“It’s not the reaction I expected, either,” I replied.
I told him why.
In spite of knowing this might be coming, in spite of all the pride I was feeling in him, his joining the military flew in the face of what I had spent the previous 20 years doing — trying to keep him safe.
It scared me.
Tens of thousands of soldiers were at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I reminded him.
“You married Dad, and he was in ROTC,” Jared reasoned.
That’s when I pulled the someday-you’ll-understand card. Some day, when you’re a parent, you will understand why it’s a much different proposition, the thought of sending a son off to war.
Then I hugged him and and said all the things I should have at the beginning.
Two years later, Jared graduated and was commissioned. He went to a brigade that had just returned from overseas and didn’t get called back into combat. Thank you, God.
As a citizen, I had mixed emotions about whether and when the Untied States should pull out of Afghanistan. As a mom, I prayed for a quick drawdown.
My son — and his wife — have served for more than three years. They have endured months of separation during training missions, but not a deployment like this one.
I am only one of thousands of parents with children serving in South Korea. They are helping to enforce a peace and protect the people of that country, the surrounding countries and ultimately our country.
Other families have service members in even more immediate danger.
Sometimes, particularly when war is no longer a front-page story, we lose track of that.
In the meantime, I’ve been texting with Jared, even if we haven’t been able to talk yet. I sent him score updates last week during the Super Bowl because he wasn’t able to watch the game.
I bookmarked his location on my weather app so I know how cold it is there and on my clocks-around-the-world app so I know what time it is. I’m baking cookies for a care package. I scan his company’s Facebook page for a picture of him.
And I watch the news closely.
I remain proud of his service and confident in his training, but I worry.
It’s what moms do.