My Mother Wears Combat Boots

Originally written:  November 3, 2005
            Not many 30-year-old women are on the receiving end of panicked phone calls with bombs blowing up in the background as their mom yells, “Don’t worry, I didn’t get hit! Call Nanny and tell her I’m fine. Talk to you later.” While countless mothers across the country watch their young children fight for freedom, I am among a small group of adult daughters who watched their mother head to war. But it wasn’t always this way.
            For nearly two decades she was a good wife and a wonderful mom. During the earliest years of our family’s life, mom stayed home and raised three children who would grow into people she “not only loves, but truly likes.” Fast forward to the late 90s and you have a single woman in her early 50s; her three kids nearly done with college. Inside she believes that there’s something more. She could have put in a few more years at her unchallenging job and sailed to retirement.
Instead she bought a map, nailed it up in the kitchen and began to study the world. Soon after, she took the written part of the Foreign Service Exam and passed. Then it was onto the oral exam, a grueling eight-hour session with the country’s brightest brains putting hers to the test. She passed. At the age of 52, she was accepted into the Foreign Service and the U.S. Department of State.
            The decision wasn’t an easy one for her, but ultimately she took the State Department up on their offer and went to Washington, D.C. to be groomed, educated, and refined. She was the oldest one in the class. After her official training period ended, off she went: first Australia, then to Africa. The conditions in the western part of the country weren’t exactly enticing. So in April 2003, when the call came for volunteers to go to Iraq in January 2004 she jumped at the chance. Surely the war would be done by then. When the time came she packed her bags. Despite what the president said, the war was still underway; it was not “mission accomplished.”
            She came home to Alabama for the holidays and then to D.C. to learn how to tote a gun. I’m sure she did more important things than this; the image of my 5’6” mother toting a shotgun sticks in my mind. The final phone message she left stays with me always, “Just know you were always loved.” After hearing that, I grew scared. While she was gone, I refused to talk about the war. I assured myself that she’d be back before long. Time crept, but in mid-July she was home, complete with a medal!
            My mom, now in her later 50s, was never the typical mom. In third grade she told me to improve my handwriting because “you’ll never get married with bad handwriting.” She used to deny saying that. Now she simply shrugs, “Well, I was right.”  In her mind, she always is. My brothers and I will tell you how she can’t read a map, but somehow made her way through Sadaam’s palaces in Baghdad and the bombings in Mosul during the height of the attacks, all the while living in a storage container. She can’t bake but two things, but chewed her way through pounds of chocolate when the fighting got to be too much.
            I am becoming my mother: the way I sit, the way I hold myself, my laugh, the wrinkles. I will never be as intelligent as her. She’s always making a plan to move ahead. I’m the last to figure out where I am. She dines with Presidents and Ambassadors; I enjoy lunch with friends sometimes, but mostly alone. She can recite Shakespeare; I can tell you what Carrie told Big when she saw him the morning of his engagement brunch.
            Last December, I asked her if she wished for a daughter more like her, one she could discuss politics with; one who didn’t spent time making faces in the mirror; one who ran meetings, not races; one with countless accolades, not countless shoes. “Nope,” she replied. “I love you because you are everything I could never be.”

            Although it’s hard to bring this daughter to her knees, I am humbled by my mom. I am humbled by her unconditional love – for her family and our country. While mom and I may never agree on mules, pumps, or sling backs, I am proud to say my mom wears combat boots.


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