“What’s War Mommy?” Five Years Later

Originally posted March 17, 2008

The comfort of my anonymous little existence, in which I mull over major life decisions like meatballs vs. meatloaf (or take-out vs. drive-thru), hasfor five years nowbeen overshadowed by the stark and sobering intrusion of war. Though most of us have long since given up the daily vigil in front of our TVs, the death toll creeps steadily higher toward yet another “milestone.” Nearly 4,000 American service men and women (never mind the countless Iraqi soldiers and civilians) have been killed in Iraq since March 19, 2003. Since the war started, each milestone my children approach seems more profound, somehow, and more precious.

I felt the impact of the war immediately. The day we dropped the first bombs on Iraq, Baby Holly abandoned “Mama” for “Mommy” while Noah graduated to calling me “Mom” for the first time. It may seem like a small thing, but it meant that they were growing up. Good, yes, but hard. Did they know, while they snacked on goldfish crackers and apple juice, that their blossoming could reduce me to a pathetic pile of mommy-rubble, slumped against the kitchen door, my cheeks wet with surprised tears?

The day Noah set off for his first day of Kindergarten five months later, on the cheerful yellow bus that spirited him away from me, my arms were still fragrant with the gamey sweetness of his little boyhood. I felt a mixture of relief and pride, but oh, how I held my breath, anxious for his safe return several hours later. And I wondered: did the mothers of the young American men still fighting in Iraq realize – while they helped their sons queue up for their first pairs of Buster Brown school shoes – just how soon it would be before their boys would be required to register for the Selective Service?

Their boys were near my son’s age when the last Iraq war was being fought. I get chills whenever I watch somebody else’s baby boy, all grown up, don his gas mask in the Iraqi desert halfway around the globe. Will my precious son, who still collects rocks and stalks ghosts with a plastic sword and a makeshift cape tied around his neck, be ready for active duty in eight years?

I have watched the inevitable horrors of war unfold in my living room, and heard countless stories of beautiful young men and women already dead, whose love letters continue to arrive home – though they never will. I read accounts of confusion and need, of fear and bewilderment, from every front. I recall seeing an early television news report which captured the mayhem at an Iraqi hospital. Included in the coverage was a fleeting glimpse of a small boy crying in anguish, bandages wound around his small dark head. I wondered where his mommy was as his image was captured by a dozen hungry photographers.

I wonder too, if war will ever directly touch my own children. While I can, I ply them with Pooh bear and play dates.

One afternoon a few months after the war started, Noah said he wanted to play “bomb drop.”

“What’s that?” I asked, wincing; fear seized my heart as I decided I’d ruined him by unwittingly exposing him to too much war coverage.

“That’s when Daddy bounces on the bed with me and Holly,” he explained with a grin.

“Sounds like fun,” I replied weakly, as I calculated the cost of a new bed and regretted how easily war-language creeps in to our vernacular.

But then I got a direct hit:

“What’s war, Mommy?” Noah asked, momentarily letting me have my old name back.

How on earth do I answer? I held my breath and pulled him close for an extra moment, before he ran beyond my reach.

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