Mom wore combat boots

I never understood the meaning of love until I held my very own newborn baby in my arms. I should have been exhausted — depleted of strength and consciousness. I should have felt wilted and weak. But adrenaline and a joyful curiosity kept me wide awake the entire 28 hours we were in that hospital room. Was I really a mother now? Was that really MY baby swaddled in a baby blue blanket in the clear plastic crib next to my bed?

I was broke, should have had a job, and I should have had a husband, according to my family. Truth be told is that I had a great job. Unfortunately, I was forced to separate from the military because my status as a single mother was apparently an automatic qualifier to be “voluntold” for deployment to Saudi Arabia once my six-week maternity leave was over — or at least that is what I was told by my prick of a first sergeant back in 1999. “The military does not issue you a family,” he reminded me when I approached him with the list of names of several squadron members who voluntarily were willing to take my spot on the team for that tax-free, hazardous-duty paycheck.

“You’re still going,” the shirt said. “Fill out the family care plan and figure it out.” He might as well have called me a slut and told me that I was getting what I deserved — because that is what he meant.

I was considered a “hard-charger” as I had already distinguished myself as an honor grad, and was qualified to wear my expert marksmanship ribbons in both rifle and pistol. As an MP, I even had a drug-bust the first day on duty at my new command. As much as I loved my job and serving my country, I no longer wanted to be a part of an organization that would take a newborn infant away from his mother just to prove a point. But I certainly got the point: the art of war was a man’s job and those men could make all the babies they wanted and laugh about how they tell everyone their girlfriends are whores when they will not concede to an abortion.

The one-bedroom apartment I had secured for my two-member family was completely devoid of decoration and resembled a hotel room. Our “home” consisted of one couch, one lamp, one bed, and one dresser where I hoped the TV would go when I could afford one. But I was blissfully ignorant of our poverty at the moment, because I had Love and it really was enough at that time.

It was a few weeks into motherhood that I finally understood the plight of the single parent and the meaning of motherhood. I was learning what my own mother’s tired gaze meant when she kissed me goodnight. And it was a few years later that I learned what my dad meant when he had once said, “I know what you’re thinking and feeling by the sound of your voice.”

I quickly realized that there wasn’t ever really anything that I could do that would change that love my parents had for me just like there was nothing my children could do that would ever change the way I felt about them. Despite my parents’ imperfections — and there were many — they did the best they could with what they had at the time. That was Love, too, right?

When you are a mom, you are never alone in your emotions or thoughts. You think and feel for two (or three or four, and so on depending on how many times you thought you could endure the “joys” of pregnancy and child birth). My son’s happiness was my happiness. His pain was my pain. As a newborn, could he feel my fear? Could he sense the self-absorption of youth leaving my body?

In truth, I gave my son life, and in return, he saved me. This new little soul gave me purpose. I would fight. I would fight for employment, independence, for food, for a roof over our heads, and for a place he could call home. Eventually I also learned that a home wasn’t a place at all — it was wherever we were together, as our own little family. A hotel room could be a home. A room in friend’s apartment could be a home. A car could even be a home.

Beyond the daily struggles of a young single mom, a great resolve was forging my character. At first I could hardly bear the disruption of dreams at 4 am when the little man woke needing a diaper change or a feeding. His whimpers turned into wails and he cried for the both of us by the light of the sympathetic moon.

Unbeknownst to me, these early morning rituals — the feeding, the comforting whispers, the snuggles — were teaching my son his place in our world. He was safe. He was Loved!

I knew I would never give up. I would never quit, never surrender, and each day brought me closer to my redemption of mistakes I had made in my past and for the inevitable stumbles yet to come.

I still remember that hospital room, especially the view. I wanted nothing but to hold him forever. With a long sigh, I gave my single, carefree life a nod, and respectfully said good-bye to youthful arrogance.

I remember staring out the third floor window at the tall pine trees and rosy mountains and realizing in a way, I was reborn, too. What I lacked in experience in parenting, I could make up with Love. My son and I would learn as we go. My arms ached from holding his tiny body right next to mine and I heard the knowing whispers of the millions of women that had walked this path before me: “Welcome to motherhood.”