Memorial Day Reflections

Flag of the United States at the memorial to P...

Flag of the United States at the memorial to President Kennedy in Hyannis, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last weekend my son played in a memorial tennis tournament. It was held in the honor of a promising high school tennis player whose life was cut short last summer. The story I read about him was very moving and I am not surprised that my son immediately wanted to sign up to commemorate this young man. The police report indicated that the boy was just a passenger, on his way to tennis camp, and had the ill-fated luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Memorial Day is when we honor all the men and women who bravely serve in the military, protecting this country’s freedom and principles. Parents who send their children off to fight in wars have much trepidation and anxiety. They know that the odds are high that their son or daughter will come back wounded or worse. Parents who send their teens off to summer camp never anticipate such a horrible thing happening.

It makes me think about the adventures of my own children. They are both going to spend time at separate camps this summer. These should be exciting adventures for them and expand their worlds beyond our suburban town. Meeting new people and learning new things are the best part of camp. Should I reconsider letting them go? Absolutely not! In fact, they probably face worse possibilities at home.

For all the attention that airplane crashes seem to get, it is actually far more risky to be in a car. Everyday there are stories about fatal crashes, many not the fault of the driver. This summer my daughter will be getting her driver’s permit. Like myself as a teen, she has been counting the years, months and now weeks until she turns 16. I will be spending time on the road with her and doing my best to teach her defensive driving skills. She is a very cautious person and will be a safe driver; but it is all the other crazy ones who worry me.

I learned to drive on Long Island- on one of the busiest highways outside of NYC. My family had temporarily relocated there and my parents obtained special permission for me to enroll in driver’s ed. On Long Island one had to be 17, but they must have convinced the official in charge that they would supervise any time I was driving. When I return to the area these days and realize how much traffic there is and the speed at which these drivers race and swerve, I wonder why my parents went out of their way to get me in the class. If I was living there today, I would not be in such a rush to get my daughter behind the wheel. It’s funny how I thought it was fantastic at the time, but when I look back on it I can only imagine how nervous they must have been. I am sure the reason they agreed to it, was because they knew how important driving was to my sense of independence.

My son rides out on the roads, too. He and his friends have been expanding their bike rides to a couple of miles down to the ice cream stand. The last time he and a friend went off, I had to stop them and remind them to wear their helmets. I’m not sure how much protection they would actually provide if either of them crashed, but at least it makes me feel like I am doing something to take care of them. Hopefully they did not ditch the helmets as soon as they rode out of sight. I think I have made it clear how important I think their safety is to me.

My family also does alot of carpooling to practices, the mall, movies and amusment parks. So far all the driving has been done by adults- other parents whom I feel I can trust as safe drivers. That will start to change soon as our children reach the point where they have a junior license and can take passengers. Even with the best laid rules and plans, things can go wrong.

I still feel strongly about the right to independence, though. Our job as parents is to give our kids these experiences, whether they learn how to take care of themselves at summer camp or how to navigate around town on a bike or behind the wheel. We don’t want them to reach the age of adulthood and suddenly find themselves off at college with no idea of how to manage.

The other day, my son called me outside to the spot where a baby robin was splayed on the ground. I am sure it was one of the fledglings from the nest on our front porch. One who had flown away only a few days earlier, prodded by its parents to fly and see the world. I still see its siblings flitting about in the trees and hear them calling to each other. It is sad to see that one of them did not make it beyond his first day of freedom.

Obviously, there is no comparison between that baby bird and the boy who died last summer. His loss will leave a permanent hole in the hearts of his family and friends. This Memorial Day tennis tournament is a way of helping to heal that wound, but it will never go away. Likewise, when we watch the parades we remember all the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice that can not be repaid in medals of honor or ceremonial flags.

Most of us view Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to take a much needed break from work or school, throw a party, or take a mini vacation. While I am happy to have the extra day off, I am glad I was able to find at least a few moments to reflect on the real intention behind the holiday. My thoughts, prayers and appreciation go out to all the families who have lost members who fought to protect the freedom of the American people and their allies.

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