Five years ago, in the very first column I wrote for Growing Up In Santa Cruz, I talked about my son Daniel’s choice to join the Marine Reserves. At the time, Daniel was nineteen. A college student in Boston, he wanted a sense of order and discipline in his life. He decided to look for it in the Marines.
As liberal Santa Cruz parents, we were appalled at the idea of our son voluntarily signing up for the Marines; it was contrary to all of our values and beliefs in non-violence. But as the weeks and months went by, we humbly realized that this was Daniel’s choice. Besides, there was nothing we could do to influence the course of events. He was resolute and committed. He went to Boot Camp without our encouragement or approval.
In the five-and-a-half years Daniel has been in the Reserves, he has grown into a man we respect, enjoy and admire. Some of that is just who he is and always has been, and some of it has been the Marines.
Two years ago, Daniel graduated from college and moved back to Santa Cruz. He’s been living across town with his wife, Carolina, and we’ve enjoyed having them close by. A month ago, less than a year before his commitment to the Marines was due to end, Daniel’s unit was activated and he was ordered to report for duty. He will be leaving for a year.
Carolina is five months pregnant with their first child. Her new husband is being sent away, and she is moving in with us. We, who thought our days with babies were over, are being entrusted with one of the most vulnerable, precious times in a woman’s life – the days, nights, weeks and months when she learns to be a mother.
For the past month, we’ve been consolidating Justin and Emily’s belongings into one room so Carolina can have a bedroom of her own. We’ve folded the kids’ clothes into one dresser, rather than two, moved toys and fairies out of Emily’s room into other nooks and crannies in the house. We’ve sent away clothes that are too small and stuck boxes out in the shed. We dismantled Emily’s bed and packed it away, cleared off a shelf in the bathroom, and emptied a closet. As we filled each box and emptied each drawer, we created space in our home and in our hearts to shelter the precious young people in our lives.
I feel like I am living in a World War II newsreel – the young man going off to war and the daughter-in-law moving in with her in-laws. I don’t personally know anyone else who is doing this right now, but I know this is happening all over our country. People a generation older than me are telling me stories about the Big War, how they grew up with their grandparents, the way families doubled up and took each other in. I feel honored to be part of this tradition. We are doing what families have always done. Our non-traditional family is acting on our traditional family values – and there is deep pleasure in doing the right thing. It feels good to fold these young people into our lives.
The night we sat down with Carolina and Daniel and talked about the possibility of her moving in, Carolina said, “But how can we ever repay you?”
“You don’t have to repay us,” said Joan. “When you’re older and you’re in a position to help someone else, do it for them. It might be one of your kids or it might be someone else. Pass it on that way. It just keeps coming around.”
Daniel is leaving in a few days. Today, he and Carolina started moved their things in. Emily’s room filled up with their bed, dresser, and bookcase. Their books. Carolina’s photographs. Her makeup. Her shampoo. Smoked oysters and canned peaches and Nutella blossomed on our kitchen shelves. A can of Crisco appeared on our counter.
Joan made one of Daniel’s favorite dinners – veggie pie. We ate and the two of them did the dishes. Then they went out for a movie. We put the kids to bed. Tonight our young adults will come home to us, where they will share their first – and one of their last – nights together in our home.
There is poignancy and sadness to these days, but also a sense of joy. Our home will once again be filled with new life and we have the honor of shepherding Carolina into motherhood. Emily and Justin are learning what families are and what they do – and I couldn’t think of a better lesson.
Besides, it’s just what life is bringing us. And we welcome it with open arms.