What Do Soldiers Want From Their Mothers?

Sal Giunta and his mom

The Army says my work as a mother is done. They sent me a letter this year to tell me that I could no longer claim my son on my income tax.

Even though Sam is still, technically, a student, he has taken the oath. He is officially emancipated. He's in the Army, now, ma'am. Soldiers don't need their mommies.

I am good with that. I don't need the Army to tell me he is not my little boy. Ever since the kid got his driver's license, I have been well aware of how little control I wield over him.

These days, my job as a mom has dwindled to Oovooing with the man on Sundays and sending him extra-spicy Chex Mix. That's the grand total of my mothering someone in uniform.

My relationship with my civilian daughter is the complete opposite. We talk or text every day. We fight. We laugh. We encourage. We commiserate. She comes over on the weekends to cook.

I love that. I love knowing how to mother a young working adult. I have no idea how to mother a soldier. This part of mothering a soldier is such a nothing place. There doesn't seem to be anything for me to do.

So when I heard Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta speak about his mom last month, I had a glimpse of what moms are still supposed to be to their soldiers.

In the clip that runs before Giunta speaks, his mom Rosemary tells the interviewer that the only thing she knows about That Day is what Sal told her. And he has talked to her about it exactly once.

"When I had to tell my mom, that's what made it real. That's when the loss was real," Giunta told the audience.

I could see the job that the soldier holds for his or her mother then. For Giunta at least, his little mother living her life in Iowa was the marker of his truth, the keeper of his soul.

If you have to tell your mother what you did in a war, about rounds that were fired, about soldiers that you lost, about enemies that you killed, then war is real in a way nothing is so real.

For Giunta at least, his mom wasn't there to baby him or make him pancakes or keep after him about whether he was keeping his socks clean. His mom was there to keep him honest, to keep him whole.

In some ways, that seems like a very old-fashioned job for mothers. Something a little too noble, a little too come-home-with-your-shield.

Then again, I've never been in combat. I don't know all the things that it takes to keep a soldier whole, to bring them back to the life they are supposed to live.

Like every mother, I hope my soldier is never challenged the way those in fiercest combat have been. I am still his mother. I want him always safe -- as unrealistic as that might be.

I guess the job of my motherhood now is to live my safe little life in Virginia in such a way that my soldier still trusts me to hold on to that part of himself. And I'll even throw in a few pancakes.

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