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Month of the Military Child: My brat makes me proud

Nathan Heiney, son of Senior Airman Brian Heiney, 403rd Security Forces Squadron and Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney, 403rd Wing Public Affairs, sees a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft up-close for the first time during the 403rd Wing children's holiday party Dec. 12 at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

Nathan Heiney, son of Senior Airman Brian Heiney, of the 403rd Security Forces Squadron and Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney, of the 403rd Wing Public Affairs, sees a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft up close for the first time during the 403rd Wing children's holiday party Dec. 12 at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Parents worry; it’s just what we do.

We worry our child will get hurt. We worry we aren’t making the right decisions for them. We worry they’ve become irrevocably addicted to their iPad and that they really shouldn’t spend so much time watching videos of a 5-year-old millionaire open new toys.

Maybe that last one’s just me.

As military parents we have an extra thick layer of worry. Will our children adjust well to another new place? Will they understand why I’m doing this? Am I missing too much?

We all worry because we can’t help it. But these kids make it through separations, they adapt to new surroundings, and they become independent. According to the Department of Defense Education Activity, Month of the Military Child was established more than 30 years ago to honor the sacrifices military children make and the challenges they overcome.

While they often face struggles others may not understand, military children also often get to see places and things others don’t. For example, how many kids can say they’ve sat in the flight deck of an aircraft that flies into hurricanes?

My 3 year old can, though I’m not entirely sure he even knows what a hurricane is. I’m also not sure he actually knows my husband and I are in the military. The uniforms we wear are our “work clothes,” when we leave on temporary duty assignments we’re going on “work trips,” and he identifies a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft by saying, “Hey Mom, look! That’s your work airplane.”

Even though he might not understand it, he sure acts like a military brat. (Sometimes with the emphasis on the brat, but he’s 3 and that’s an entirely different story.) He wants to do everything by himself, he fits in at a new school on day one and he’s beginning to become completely un-phased by our absence. The other day I told him I had to go on a work trip, but I was only going to be gone a night and he said, “No, I want you to be gone three nights.” (See, brat.)

I’ve tried to explain some different aspects of the military to my son, but I never realized how difficult that can be until he learned how to ask why. Three year olds are not satisfied with the answer at the surface, they make you peel away a concept layer by layer.

“Hey Mom, what’s that song called?”

“It’s called the national anthem.”

“Why do we have to stop?”

“Because it shows respect.”

“Why?”

Respect, it turns out, is particularly difficult to explain in 3-year-old concepts. Eventually, I threw my hands up and said, “I don’t know, that’s just what it is.” A few weeks later when retreat began to play, I knew that maybe I’d explained it just well enough. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his small blonde head glowing in the sunlight and his hand on his chest. My heart swelled with the music as I watched him stand (mostly) still until the last melodic note of our national anthem faded.

Month of the Military Child is an opportunity for us to recognize the contribution our kids make. When my son mimics our core values or shows strength or succeeds despite challenges, it makes me intensely proud. Maybe that pride is even strong enough to quell the worry, just a little bit.

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