Identity: A Time of Transition

Identity: A Time of Transition

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Identity: A Time of Transition

Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.

Karen Kaiser Clark

Sweat dripped from my forehead as I pulled the last items from the bottom of the dishpack in our new quarters. The coffee mugs strewn on the kitchen counter represented our travel, activities, interests and all nine assignments for the past twenty-three years. I smiled when I unwrapped the plastic Winnie the Pooh dish our three boys had used as toddlers.

No more plastic dishes now that all three boys attended college in northern California. My husband, Denny, and I had moved to our final assignment at Edwards Air Force Base in the southern part of that very long state. We worked at our own pace, with no need to cook huge meals or investigate the schools. We missed the laughter, the extra hands and the muscles, yet we intended to enjoy the novelty of an empty nest.

Coming from a house off base, the two of us could live in this smaller space. No problem—until we tried to fit in furniture for five. We still had their three dressers, three beds, a weight bench, out-of-season clothes, skis and tons of memorabilia. The pianist was at college playing water polo, living in a dorm room. Where could we put that piano? Frustrated, we shoved it against an inside wall in the dining room.

Slowly, I realized that this tiny house, overflowing with boxes and stuff, was vast, vacant and too quiet. Just the two of us.

We moved on to other tasks. “Twink, do you still want your toys kept in the hall closet?” Denny’s voice came from inside a large box.

My toys! Years ago, our sons collected the surviving preschool toys—wooden blocks, a few Fisher-Price faithfuls, books and small trucks—and dubbed them “Mom’s toys.” For the last fourteen years, these relics lived in hall closets, available when little ones happened into our home. “Yes, please. In the hall closet, down on the floor, just like always. Soon, neighbors will drop by, and their kids can play with my toys.”

But no young mothers came. For a year, the remnant of my identity lay in the hall closet with those toys. I met young mothers at church and base functions. They chatted about schools and teachers, disposable diapers and teething, about the soccer game and Boy Scouts. I listened; I understood. After all, I’d been there. But they didn’t know I knew. My gray hair seemed to say I didn’t care about children.

As the young moms talked, my heart remembered. Our boys had so many teachers at twelve different schools. Boy Scouts? I served as a den mother in two countries and raised two Eagle Scouts. Trips to the emergency room? Plenty. Sports? T-ball, baseball, basketball, football, swimming, tennis, water polo, track, cross-country, soccer. Late dinners and carpooling. Piano lessons and driving lessons. I’d witnessed the heartache of their friends moving away, or, worse yet, uprooting our boys away from friends. First dates, late dates and sweetheart separations. I know! Ask me! my heart cried.

At previous assignments, where people knew our boys, mothers asked me how to handle thorny situations. But these new friends didn’t know about our three sons; we were simply the old couple who moved in down the street.

The year dragged. One irksome problem harassed me: Who am I? I’d lost my identity and couldn’t pull it out of the past. While I hadn’t changed, my circumstances had. People didn’t understand or care who I had been.

We escaped our lonely situation by traveling up and down the state to watch our youngest son play water polo. After the games, we spent time with him, and, often, his devoted girlfriend joined us. One afternoon, I looked at this tall young man, full of excitement for the future, and realized his life was moving ahead much faster than ours. Yes, we would always be his parents, people whom he could count on for love and help. But he no longer needed me to watch over him.

Then, I understood. My role as mother had undergone a complete makeover. My past will always be a part of me and help me understand others. But I must concentrate on who I am, the woman people know today. I had to get to know this new me.

For twenty-some years, caring for family had taken precedence over other roles. But I had found time to work at the thrift shop and family services. I participated in Protestant Women of the Chapel and taught Sunday school. I could assimilate those experiences with new interests and long-forgotten hopes and dreams. Just as motherhood evolved as the boys grew, the new me would develop into a more complete woman.

It took time, perhaps six months, to discover living in the present far surpasses living in the past. Occasionally, when I pulled a jacket out of the hall closet, I’d see my old toys. I’d straighten my shoulders and smile. My identity no longer resided in those tattered toys.

Identity, I learned, is not who I was, but who I am.

Twink DeWitt

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