In a recent Facebook exchange, one of my favorite people started talking about at what point, you should quit calling your children “kids.” There was a pretty spirited conversation, along the line of “your children will always be your kids,” but my friend, whose children are in college, felt at some point we needed to move past that. He finally ended the conversation with, “I tell ya I’m not a KID anymore!” While it was a fast-paced exchange in which we all freely abused each other, it really made me stop and think. And what I began thinking about, isn’t what you call your children – I really don’t care if you refer to them as adult children, kids, progeny, or blights on society. It’s about how I think of the people in my life.
For those who don’t know, I have no children. I openly admit to not being a baby person. Please don’t ever hand me your miniature human that screams and then leaks from every orifice. They absolutely terrify me and always have. I’d rather face a hungry grizzly bear, than have to hold a baby. I have babysat for exactly one child in my life and I’m quite frankly surprised that poor Alex wasn’t completely traumatized. As his mother was teaching him to say light and truck, I was teaching him to say b****. She took him home to visit family and Alex performed admirably. He said the b-word at every opportunity. He was an exceptionally talented child.
In truth, I didn’t want children because I never wanted to be responsible for another person. How ironic that I would eventually wind up being responsible for so many over the years.
The reality is that I never lacked for kids. I don’t remember a time growing up that my father didn’t bring home his troops or a time that my husband and I weren’t family to any number of ours. That “chosen responsibility” only grew with rank. The more stripes, the more young people. This was something all of us in the military understood. As we moved up through the ranks, we went from being the kids who the senior people looked after, to being the brothers and sisters who looked after each other, and finally to being the surrogate parents to the new crop of kids. It’s part of what makes the military a family.
When I became a First Sergeant, I frequently referred to my troops as kids. It did seem as though the bulk of the ones I was dealing with were very young. But in reality, age had nothing to do with it. It was a function of responsibility. Every enlisted person in that squadron, from the Chief down to the lowest Airman, was one of mine. It was my job to get between them, and whoever was messing with them, and fix the problem so my kid could do his job. When they messed up, regardless of rank, I stood for them with the boss. I fought for them, I protected them, and I did my best for them in whatever way I could. They were my responsibility. At some point in every relationship, the roles change. Those who I had responsibility for, stood up and accepted responsibility for me. In the unit, I was the one who would fight, protect, and do my best for them. In the field, they would have to take on that role for me.
So are they still my kids? Well… I still call them that, but I honestly don’t think of them that way. Hell, some of them are older than I am. I also doubt they think of me as their mother. At times, I have called them my guys or my men. Some of them I lovingly call, “My brother or my sister.” That particular term has real meaning to me and I hope to them – I use it sparingly. There are people I communicate with only once or twice a year, and some I abuse almost daily, but the bond between all of us is the same. I also openly admit to having given my heart away to a few of them over the years. They are the ones, who if they called for help, know I would be there. At least I hope those special ones know that. There are a few that I trust with my life; based on nothing more than what I know to be true in my heart – they are men of honor.
As for my friend on Facebook – I know you’re not a kid anymore. You never were a kid to me, any more than your closest brothers were. You, and this small group, were my men. You became my friends, and now I think of you as my brothers. When you call me “Shirt,” it has the same meaning to me as “Sister.” No matter what we call each other, it is always done with love and respect.
So finally, on Mother’s Day, I send greetings to all the mothers of my troops, and I thank you all for sharing your “kids” with me. Kids no more – it was my honor to serve with the brave men and women entrusted to my care.