I remember the day you were born. I was only a mere 20 years old and scared out of my mind. My life was in turmoil and the relationship with your father was toxic, if I may say so politely. I was blown up by about 65 lbs and waddled like a penguin. I was HUGE (insert Trump voice here). Ask Bob, and he will tell you because he has seen the pictures. He laughed so hard he cried. I’m not sure why I believed wearing a Mumu back then would highlight my pregnancy well.

There was so much emotion running through me as I laid in that bed on June 1st. I was so young, excited, hopeful, nervous, and uncertain about the future with your dad. Nothing worked to dilate me and they discovered the umbilical cord was wrapped around your body. So c-section it was and after the surgery they laid your chubby 9lbs 14 oz body in my arms. There we were, two kids, staring at each other in the eyes. You were like, “Okay, girl, don’t screw this up because I’m counting on you.” I was like, “Okay, baby, I’m scared as Hell, but I guess we will figure this out together.”

I wish I could paint a beautiful, picture-perfect family and life that followed. It wasn’t. Spoiler alert: the life I wanted to provide for you didn’t start off as planned and heart-shaped clouds weren’t real back then. It was hard. I made a ton of mistakes. I gave up hope. I walked away from responsibility. I wanted to die. I wanted the pain and abuse I suffered to stop. I wanted it to be normal. I longed for stability for you. I wanted to skip down the street holding you, and your father’s hand, with the sun beaming on our faces and heart-shaped clouds splattered in the sky.

Here is the thing though, it doesn’t matter how you started but how you finish. Looking back I realize I did the best I could under the circumstances I was handed. I was broken, sick, and wounded. While some people push through that unscathed, others are worn down to the bone and one isn’t better than the other. We all face adversity differently. I healed through the years and worked at being a better person and mother. I provided an amazing stepfather for you and recreated a better life. We poured into you and tried our best to heal your broken heart and restore your feelings.

We pushed you. We stretched you. We invested so much into your tumultuous early teenage years. We encouraged you. We watched you turn from an unsure child into a confident and flourishing teenager. It was hard. Hard on you and hard on us. While we can take a little credit, it really says a lot about you. You are strong, adventurous, brave, and a risk taker. You persevered through some major traumas in life and remained resilient. It comes as no surprise you are an United States Marine.

I am in awe of you, Alex. You see…I was terrified at your age. Weak. I had no ambition. I was scared and pregnant. Here you are at 19 years old doing something so incredible and selfless. You are sacrificing your freedom. The freedom to do what you will and when you want. While the other 99% of the United States population wakes up and carries on their day as they deem fit, you are getting into your uniform and strapping on your boots. There are days of extreme exhaustion and mental anguish. You have dug 8 foot trenches in the rain and in the back of your head you were thinking about your friends zipping around town, and stopping at Chipotle for the 7th time in a week. Infantry is no joke. Of course, you are in one of the hardest units in the Corps. Your luck, right?!

You have suffered through rashes, bug bites, torn heels, flesh missing from your feet, achy back, people yelling at you for breathing, extreme heat, 70lb gear on your back while taking a brisk 20-mile walk and so on. At times you have trained on no sleep in nearly 48 hours and only ate a snack in that time. You train to kill or be killed. The everyday reality looming over your head that somewhere out in the world children are being trained at the tender age of 10 years old to hate you for being an American and learning how to kill you.

I recently received an email from your Unit Commander and it hit me hard. The reality of what lies ahead. The possibility of where you are going in the near future. The steps a family takes to prepare for deployment including assigning a Power of Attorney and writing out a will. I remind myself, you signed up for this. I remember what you said to me on the phone one day, “Mom, I know I am doing what I am supposed to be doing right now.” I will rest in that. I will rest knowing you are currently on the path you are supposed to be on even if it doesn’t make sense to me.

This doesn’t change the fact there are days you feel defeated or regretful. Days you wish you could throw in the towel, hang with friends back home, and overindulge in Chipotle while listening to that crappy rap music you listen to. Haven’t Bob and I taught you anything about the quality of rap you should be listening to?! I’m sure there are nights you are awake asking yourself, “What have I done?!” There has to be. We all do it. We all question why we do the things we do or why we make the decisions we make. I’m sure you are questioning yourself right now as you are training somewhere in the mountains down south at this very moment.

Wow, may I just say, you are my hero! I look up to you. I am proud of who you are and who you always were. You are one of the bravest, strongest, grittiest, selfless, and compassionate humans I know. My heart beams with pride when it comes to you. I know you aren’t perfect, nobody is, but you sure do blow the competition away. You will stumble through life lessons many times but I am confident you will overcome anything that comes your way. You are a devil dog. You are a fighter. You are sacrifice. You are freedom. You are my son. I thank God for you and allowing me to be your mother. I did not deserve you but He believed in me anyway.

The future is unknown—really for all of us. In the meantime, I will be thankful for the opportunity to finish stronger than I started and be your number one supporter and fan. I love you, Alex, with all my heart. I never doubted the greatness within you. OohRah!!

Thank you to all the service men and women serving all over the world. The ones on the frontline, sidelines, and waiting to jump ahead of the lines. We will never be able to sufficiently express the gratitude we feel toward your everyday sacrifice. Thank you to the families that sacrifice their husbands, wives, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and friends. You are just as strong and brave and you have a very hard job, too. 

*This piece was originally published at danielleleonard.org 

Danielle Leonard

I'm just a girl, with some ridiculous dreams, stumbling through this thing we call "life" by the grace of God.