Last week a squirming toddler with a shy, sweet smile reminded me of the power of my extended Army family. Childcare had fallen through, and Lorelei was hanging with the big girls at a monthly board meeting. It was more of a bored meeting for little Miss L, and I could see her mom’s frustration slowly building as she wiggled and chirped. My girls are now 12 and 15, but I remember the days of constant curiosity, movement and snack puffs. I played a few games of peek-a-boo and then reached my arms out to her. She reached back, and quickly settled on my lap and happily played with a capped pen and notepad. I was not an aunt, sister, cousin or grandma, but at that moment I was family. Army family.
April is the month of the military child, and my two Army brats have been raised in an ever-changing and evolving village that has strengthened and encouraged their development into well rounded and much-loved individuals. There is constant change in our military lives, but another constant is our Army family. Positions on our family tree are never replaced by the new family members we gain along the way but instead, branches are added that strengthen our tree and create a protective cover that literally reaches to the far corners of the world.
My Army family has bathed my children and tucked them into bed during a 14-month deployment that was taking its toll. They have cradled my newborn babies and snuggled with my finicky toddlers. They have made sure my daughters never felt the full brunt of their Daddy’s absence at family events and cheered a little louder on the sidelines. They have saved us from consecutive cereal for supper nights, celebrated birthdays, attended First Communions, Confirmations, Christmas plays and school events from A-Z. They have reminded me of the kind and nurturing side of my teens that I do not always have the ability to see. My girls have loved and been loved by people who enter their lives for short periods of time but leave lasting imprints on their heart.
The other day my husband randomly started singing, “Good morning to you, good morning to you.” He asked my oldest daughter, Ellie, if she remembered me singing to her in the morning when she was little and I still dared enter her room to wake her. She quickly replied, “No!?” I was completely bummed. How could she not remember our old routine? She walked out of the room, and my husband tried to console me, “It is part of her. She doesn’t remember, but subconsciously it is all part of who she is now.” His words helped ease the sting, and I knew he was right. The influence of our Army family is much the same. The love and memories my girls have experienced are woven into the fabric of who they are becoming. They might not be able to see many of our family and friends on a daily basis, but they are always there.
The lines between my family and my Army family are blurred. I do not delineate. Our family is a big mix of many people, and there is room for everyone. No person can ever replace another; instead, they add to the layers of love that produce children who know there is always room at the table for one more and realize the gift of a new neighbor.
My Army family isn’t perfect, but it has yet to fail me. They will always remember my children frozen in the ages they were when we lived next door 5 assignments ago. They are part of our history, and I will forever be thankful for the family members that arrived on my doorstep one plate of cookies at a time.
“Friends are the family you choose for yourself.” ~ Edna Buchanan