By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I never had a burning desire to have children. When I was childless, I tolerated kids. I felt uncomfortable around them, and I didn’t know what to do with them.
Late last month, the younger of my two children flew the coop.
Jordan took his final oath at a swear-in ceremony at the Seattle MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), before getting shipped off to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego for 13 weeks.
Four weeks prior to that, my daughter did the exact same thing, except she chose to join the U.S. Navy.
It was my son, Jordan, who was the first of my children, to decide he wanted to enlist in the armed forces. He had just turned 17 and was entering his senior year in high school. I was stunned … and a little disappointed. Joining the Marine Corps seemed like a step backward for my intelligent and talented son. I was of the misguided mindset that people with options don’t join the military. Still, I signed the forms allowing him to enlist, but I did it with trepidation, fearing he was throwing his future away.
I developed a newfound respect for him after chatting with his recruiter. Jordan didn’t enlist because he needed a job or money for college. He was looking for a purpose, for something bigger than himself. It’s not the path I would have chosen for him. But now I understood why, and I couldn’t help but respect it.
Over the past year, I watched my son transform. He used to groan about doing chores and would make excuses to put them off. One day, I said, “Please do the dishes.” He stopped what he was doing, I saw a split second of hesitation, and he said, “Okay.” I could see it in his eyes as he was about to utter an excuse, then remembered: honor, courage, and commitment — the core values of the Marines.
I watched him juggle being a full-time Running Start student, holding down a part-time job, doing PT (physical training) three or four times a week, maintaining a relationship with his girlfriend, plus all the chores he was responsible for at home.
He changed his diet — gave up some of his favorite foods including pizza — and gave up drinking juice and soda. He drank a gallon of water, which he used to hate, every day. His bedroom was still a mess, but in the two months before he left for bootcamp, that got cleaned up as well. I watched him interact with adults my age, and he would say, “Yes, ma’am. No, sir.”
When my daughter told me of her decision to join the Navy, I was already at peace with my son’s choice, so her announcement was a lot easier to accept.
But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have both my children in the service.
Especially being Asian. It’s just not an Asian thing.
Now, as I get to know other parents of Marines, sailors, and recruits, my heart is bursting with pride.
My second-generation American children are saying to their peers, “I’ll take the watch while you live your life. I’ll serve our country so you may enjoy your freedom.”
I may have never wanted to be a mother decades ago. Now, I am prouder than ever to call myself, “mom” — especially to my amazing children.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.