When we met in college, I was a music major and Ian was wearing an ROTC uniform. I didn’t run into soldiers in the orchestra, so I didn’t think much about it. All the term “cadet” meant to me was that, three mornings a week, Ian left my bed early to exercise, and that he ironed his uniform every Wednesday night.
About a year after we started dating, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and I had the first flash of what it meant to love a soldier. Ian assured me, correctly, that the government wasn’t going to yank him out of college to fight, but I realized then that when I chose to make a life with a man in the Army Reserves, I was donning a uniform by proxy. It’s a volunteer army, but soldiers’ families are drafted.
On September 11th, I was seven months pregnant with our first child. Ian was contacted by his superiors and told to put on his uniform and spend the evening at the Reserve center “just in case.” I cried alone in front of the television and wondered if the stress would harm the baby squirming in my belly.
The next few years were a mix of joy and uncertainty. We had one daughter, then another. I was doing a variety of part-time work – teaching, performing and repairing violins. Ian couldn’t find a job in his field (I suspect, but can’t prove, that no one wanted to hire a reservist in wartime). During the week he was a stay-at-home dad, and he spent many weekends doing reserve work for the unit he commanded.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq, we knew it was only a matter of time before Ian would be called overseas. I didn’t want him to leave, and I’ve never approved of the war, but Ian was frustrated honing skills he wasn’t using and watching other soldiers go off to do jobs he knew he was qualified to do. And, in a way, we were tired of waiting for the inevitable.
Ian was called up in April of 2006, when I was two months pregnant with our third child. We had less than a week to prepare. He showed me where the fuse box was. He explained the bills and our bank accounts. He handed me power of attorney papers and his official Army will. At five in the morning, I dragged our little girls out of bed and we took their daddy to the airport. This is what it means to be parenting alone: if I had to go to the airport, we were all going to the airport.