Drandonake! That was my first thought when suddenly awakened at 3 a.m. Peering through the mini blinds, the sticker identifying the window’s size, type and manufacturing company was still affixed to it. The light reflected off the patio ceiling giving the cedar a beautiful golden glow. Inside the room, I could see the black ceiling fan, round and round it went. Filling the room was the sound of the oscillating floor fan humming rhythmically and our two pugs snoring softly as they slumbered at the foot of the bed. A sudden tightening hit my chest and tears began to burn my eyes.

“It’s hot in here!” said Shirley, interrupting my sudden swell of emotion.

“Want me to lower the A.C.?” I said, choking back any sign of distress in my voice.

“Would you?”

“Sure.” I said as my feet hit the cold, dusty cement floor.

As I rounded the corner of the bed, the tears spilled over my lids and down my cheek. I could see the hallway light shining beneath the bedroom door. That light meant the kids were awake. I quickly wiped the wetness from my face and wondered what I’d say if I ran into Blake or Blaire. If Blake were to see me, he would be less inclined to ask me directly, but he would launch a subtle investigation over the next few days as he questioned others trying to figure out what was wrong. He’d worry, but he wouldn’t share it until later, if ever. He’s my negotiator, a persuasive mediator. If I ran into Blaire, she would ask me directly, express sympathy and want details. While she listened she would decide if my current situation was a result of being unfairly treated. Her motivation is justice. While amazingly empathetic, she is less inclined to sympathize if she deems it deserved. She is the Judge in our family having a strong constitution for right and wrong, cause and effect, truth and consequence. The light from the hall invaded the room as I opened the door. Thankfully the hall was empty. A few more steps, a couple of taps on the thermostat and I was safely back in the room.

“Thank you!” Shirley said.

The door closed behind me sealing off the light from the hall, leaving us in a cloak of darkness. Shirley is my best friend. My comrade in arms. The one who has my back on the battle field. In a word, the Equalizer. Whoever caused me pain must die and anyone interested in the facts will need to figure it out without the testimony of the perpetrator because, well, unfortunately…

As I knocked the dust from my feet and slid back into bed, I could hear her deep, steady breathing indicating she had quickly fallen back to sleep. I was thankful. The tight chest and burning eyes commenced. We were not counting down the months or weeks or even days. We were counting hours. My mind wandered back to Drandonake.

Near the front of our 38 home neighborhood is an esplanade. The esplanade has very narrow roadways on each side allowing for only one vehicle and zero room for passing. It makes mail, furniture and other deliveries to those homes interesting. When planning the neighborhood the developer built the esplanade trying to save the mature trees living there. Eventually the disruption to the land was too much for the trees to overcome and they died leaving the esplanade, an eye sore, void of anything mature save the weeds. Petitions, discussions and investigations into cost of its removal eventually stopped as we were all lulled into acceptance.

Once I was unable to stop and talk to a neighbor who lived in front of it due to a car following closely behind me. Frustrated by the inconvenience and engineering absurdity, I murmured my discontent as I rounded the corner to my home. I could see my kitchen through the front window. To my shock, it was on fire. That night with the kids home safely, the fire out, the smoke cleared and fire trucks gone, I thought of the irony. That esplanade had suddenly become a blessing.

Tonight we are cocooned in the middle of 700 acres spending time with friends and family. I am lying in a bunk bed, in a room built for the cook of a hunting lodge in a small town in Texas thinking of that esplanade and today’s activity; target practice. The last time we were here for target practice it was with air-soft guns. Those air-soft guns replaced the Nerf collection Blake spent years accumulating. Not surprisingly, before the Nerf guns he owned western cap guns that he holstered in his belt and wore plastic chaps, a straw cowboy hat, red bandana and boots. Today, I was a proud mother as I watched Blake. He wore steel toed boots, a pair of Levis strapped on by a belt with a clipped holster where a Glock 17 rested and a blue US Air Force ball cap rested on his shaved head. I frowned as I noticed his Carhart t-shirt was too short. Spread out on the table in front of him were magazines filled with 9mm and 223 rounds of ammo for a mini 14 and a Keltec Sub2000. I worried even as I heard him repeating and following recommended gun safety measures like; don’t laser anyone, open, empty chambers, and finger resting on barrel and not on trigger until safety is off and ready to fire. He’s vigilant, ensuring all of us are adhering to these safety measures. But, I am still a mother, which meant after target practice, all chambers emptied and open, magazines out; firearms in one room and magazines in another. He voiced a slight objection reminding me that in 72 hours he would be leaving for BMT where they will train and groom him to defend this country against those who are intent on doing us harm.

He is an adult, but that doesn’t stop the nagging voices of self-doubt. I should have sent him to more training. The money spent on Brian Hoffner’s class was worth it, but I should have done more. He should have spent more time with David, more time with Grandpa Pete, more time with George, more time with me, more time with family. See the emerging theme? More time. Instead, we are out of time.

After 18 years the maternal dichotomy is as strong as it ever was. Such opposing drives isn’t easily explained or taught. It is unique to parents. It’s not understood by people often heard sitting in restaurants, churches or other public places ignorantly saying, “If I had children,” as they sit in judgment on those of us who do. I’ve learned, when another person begins a statement with, “If I had Children,” that which follows should be summarily ignored. No matter how much one reads, studies, or tries, they don’t understand the drives, instincts and motivations of a parent to propel their children beyond the current boundaries of maturity, growth and education and the equally powerful resolve to protect that child from the very thing to which we are propelling them. Blake, at 18, is still confounded by it.

No matter how old, tall or mature he becomes, he will always be that little boy who begged for the freedom to walk with his buddies eight houses up the street to that ridiculous esplanade. I won’t pretend to know the appeal but the kids in the neighborhood reveled in the entertainment it provided. From that esplanade they collaborated together, created battle plans, established rules of engagement and built a military which they divided into squadrons. They elected leaders and established roles and responsibilities. They had disputes over processes and policies one of which was whether to allow those dreaded girls to join and if so, in what capacity. They eventually voted on the measure, which passed, paving the way for the neighborhood girls to join. The story of how they earned entry is replete with espionage and double-crossing schemes.

It was their base and that base was dutifully named by combining the names of its founding members, Drew, Brandon and Blake – Drandonake! That weed infested esplanade. It once saved my house from burning to the ground and later helped develop rule, order, collaboration and the democratic process. If someone were to ask Blaire about women’s liberation, I wouldn’t be surprised if she referenced Drandonake!

No wonder in these last few hours before Blake departs my mind drifts back to that inconvenient piece of land, haphazardly placed in the middle of tiny neighborhood in Seabrook, Texas. Awkwardly positioned and an utter failure for its intended purpose despite the efforts of engineers, architects, city officials and local homeowners who tried in vain to keep the trees alive. That plot of land served a far greater purpose. The soil trapped within the confines of cement barriers helped raise boys and girls making them young men and women.

I wish Air Force BMT were a few houses up the street, but it isn’t. Yet that same worried feeling is ever-present. That maternal dichotomy; letting go, hanging on. It all becomes relative. He is 18 years old, an adult. But the 250 miles he will travel in just under 72 hours feels an awful lot like the day I finally consented to let my tanned, blond-headed little boy walk alone, eight houses up the street to a place called Drandonake!