My Turn: A Quilt of Lost Memories

I looked into the half-forgotten box I'd pulled from a dusty shelf. In it lay various sizes of baby clothes I'd saved throughout the first years of my 4-year-old son's little life. I was going to make a quilt for him, cutting patches of the cloth into quilt-size squares and sewing them together until they eventually became a collection of memories that would cover him as he slept. And each time he asked for a story from his childhood, I'd point to a square on the quilt and tell him a tale about it.

With a deployed Army husband and time on my hands, I started the quilt. After the kids were in bed each night, I'd gather some squares from the box and spend my evening sewing. The needle clicked against the thimble in an otherwise quiet house as I sewed the patches together. And as I sewed, I got to thinking about the memories connected with each one.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." I looked at the patch I'd chosen to start with—a swatch of light blue cloth with dark blue flowers on it—my old maternity nightgown. My mind wandered back to the day I brought my son into this world wearing that gown. Except for the doctors and nurses, I was alone. Alone because my soldier husband was a billion miles away in Iraq, unable to attend the birth or come home any time soon thereafter. Alone because my parents were at my home with my other child, my 8-year-old daughter, Tori, and still being new in town, I didn't feel close enough to anyone else to have them in the delivery room with me. It is sometimes the price you pay when you marry into the military, and you have to adapt accordingly.

Another patch was made from soft white cloth and came from the outfit I brought the tiny baby, whom I named Scout, home from the hospital in. With the brand-new baby boy in tow, I gave the semblance of an excited new mother, but deep down inside where I'd tell no one else, I doubted my strength. My parents, visiting from New York, couldn't stay with me forever. And although there were tons of support groups out there, ultimately I alone would shoulder the burden of being both mother and father to our children until my husband reasserted himself into our lives. There is a lot to be said for the Family Readiness Group, a support system for military wives, and reaching out for help when you know you need it, but eventually, at some point in your Army-wife life, there will come a time when you have to stand on your own two feet. It's what separates the women from the girls. Oh, Eleanor, if you only knew …

Another patch was of blue cloth with little airplanes on it—Scout's first pajamas. How many times I'd rocked him to sleep in those PJs, kissed his tiny blond head, gave him a kiss from Daddy, too. A patch of green—the pants he wore the day he tottered his first precarious steps across the floor, bittersweet memories I witnessed alone. Then there was the little red Spider-Man shirt. He was wearing the "Fider-Man" shirt, as he called it, the night when he ran a fever. I rocked him in my arms with a cool washcloth placed on his little forehead until his fever subsided and the only other sound in the house was the tick-tick-tick of the hall clock, its hands poised somewhere between 2:30 and 3 a.m. My tears dropped silently onto the Fider-Man shirt that night, and I'd never felt so alone in my entire life.

And yet somehow, some way, I got through every single day, hour and minute of that hard, hot-watered year I spent alone with my children. Sometimes I reached out for help, and sometimes I walked that unforgiving Army-wife road alone. And then my husband was home, and the patches of cloth held happier memories, like the square of green plaid cloth, from the shirt our son was wearing the day he saw his daddy for the first time, at 11 months of age.

I would like to say that it was the last time my husband went away, but it wasn't. There have been other deployments since then. And again, there were plenty of hot-water moments and memories missed. But I battled through, sometimes with support, sometimes alone, and ultimately came out on the other side better, wiser, stronger. We military wives live our lives like patches on a quilt, lives we stitch together to make a blanket of memories, and of strength, that covers us forever, no matter where we go, no matter how hot the water gets.