21 May 2012

First Days and Worst Fears

In 2010, while preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, my biggest dread was missing the first day of kindergarten. I worried about what it would be like to leave my young children for a year. I was worried more about how they might change, rather than how I might change.

A recent Minnesota Public Radio story about post-deployment parenting quoted Kevin Ross, 31, about how he hardly recognized one of his daughters when he returned from an 18-month deployment to Iraq in 2009. At the time, Ross was a member of 682nd Engineer Battalion, Wilmar, Minn.:
"The night I got home I remember we are standing in that final formation in the armory," he says, "and I looked out and I saw a little girl sitting on the floor crying. As I got closer I hugged my wife and realized that that was my child."
That sounded a little like my own worst fear.

The strange thing about worst fears is that they seem so different in retrospect.

The way things worked out, I didn't deploy. I didn't have to miss kindergarten, although, ironically, my Army job at the time eventually kept me away from the Lena's official first day of school.

Turns out, however, the first day of school was just another day. By the time kindergarten rolled around, Lena had already spent a summer in a school-based "camp" program. Drop-off at the school building was just another day at the office. A non-event.

The last day of the 2011-2012 school year was last Friday, so, for us, today was the first day of summer. On the school rolls, Lena is now counted as a second-grader. Rain is preparing for kindergarten. Both kids went off to school "camp" this morning.

Rain is more of an introvert than his sister. While dropping him off this morning, he skirted the perimeter of a large room of kids and adults playing tabletop games, promptly found a set of toy tools, and set to building something by himself. I hardly got a good-bye out of him. He was wearing a hard hat when I left him, ready to get to work.

I wasn't expecting it to be so easy. Or so hard.

Walking outside to my car, I suddenly felt like I'd been smacked by a ball peen hammer, right between the eyes. That hasn't happened for a long time. Still, it made me remember everything that's happened in the past couple of years. And also to appreciate that I've been around to see most of it happen.

Time passes. Fears change.

And kids grow up, no matter what.

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