The boy with flyin' shoes
There was a boy and he was partly mine. Through the miracle of international adoption, my oldest son came to Colorado from Seoul, Korea in the spring of 1985 when he was seven months old. His father and 9-year-old sister traveled to Korea to bring him home and were admonished by his foster mother.
"Only a sister?" she fretted. "Boys need brothers."
Barely a year-and-a-half later, brothers arrived. Identical twins who grew taller than him but still stand in his shadow.
A serious baby, only two things made him laugh -- romping with our little gray kitten, battling her with chubby fists like a clumsy bear cub, and the roar and siren of fire trucks. We lived across the street from an old Depression-era fire station and sat on the front porch swing, always listening excitedly as the groaning engines departed and returned to their red brick station.
"Firetruck" was his first word.
Fast-forward two years. At three he is a swashbuckler, a soldier in battle, a policeman spinning out on a plastic motorcycle. He spends hours concentrating on the construction of a tank, a helicopter, a battleship with Lego blocks. At five, he is an expert kite-flyer and his greatest joy is watching model rockets go up, flying hundreds of feet above the sweeping lawn of the high school near our house.
Here is my favorite image of him at that age: In a photograph, he is fast frozen in mid-air, leaping off a stone wall. Arms up, the tail of his jean jacket flying out behind him, his tennis shoe laces flopping in the breeze. His shiny black hair flies around his face. His expression can only be described as ... airborne.
Throughout elementary school, my oldest boy chose a uniform to wear each year -- one year it was a red Mickey Mouse sweatshirt with gray pants; one year it was a coat and tie with khakis. Simplicity and uniformity have often been his hallmarks. Now, as then, he listens fiercely and only from time to time lets you know how much he has taken in.
The chaos of the junior high years didn't suit him at all. Always the little man, he found himself surrounded by boys who did cruel, mean and dangerous things to make themselves feel more manly. He took solace in learning to fish from his uncle and cousin. Far younger and smaller than either of them, he always reeled in the big one.
High school was a godsend -- a place to be serious and to be taken seriously. Sometimes I worried that he was too serious, then I read the inscription in the scrapbook of a much beloved friend, a senior girl, who said no matter how bad things were, he always made her laugh. Of course, he made me laugh too. How had I forgotten?
At 17, a junior, he signed up for the Army Reserves. This week, on a blustery summer afternoon, he left for nine weeks of basic training. We shopped for the bare essentials he was allowed to take along. Letter writing campaigns were organized. A celebratory send-off saw friends and neighbors gathered to congratulate him on his decision, weeping as his father told him in front of all of us how proud he was of his oldest son.
On the evening of his departure, many tears of fear, worry and that distinct heart ripping of giving your child away. I wondered if his biological mother in Korea could feel the reverberations across the continents.
The next day I was better prepared to analyze the terror and grief that was eating me up. Respecting his decision and his constant focus on this goal from an early age, I couldn't reconcile his actions with those of the highest leaders of our country. Two years ago, in one of our many debates about a career in the military, he stopped me mid-sentence, his eyes filling with tears, and said, "Mom, how can you discourage me from wanting to save lives?"
I never again argued my points, which were not ill-founded but lacked the buttress of experience and the strength of his conviction. He would save lives.
I've talked to military guys who've told me he will find the experience he's looking for in the Army. I have no doubt he will.
But I will rest easier when I can believe, once again, that our country's aim is indeed to save lives, not to secure a foreign oil supply at the cost of thousands of civilian lives. When I am assured that corporate leaders who are given massive tax breaks by our President and Congress are not committing fraudulent acts and are serving their country with as much honesty and dignity as my son, I might sleep better.
For now, I will think of him at five, jumping off that stone wall, airborne with delight. And I'll whisper across the night to his foster mother in Korea: Don't worry, he has plenty of brothers now.
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