Earlier this year, as U.S. military personnel geared up for war with Iraq, two marines, Elijah and Tiffany Ring, received orders to leave on Jan. 11 and Feb. 12, respectively.
There was one hitch, though. Going to Iraq would mean leaving behind their two children, Brian, 8, and Tylor, 5.
So last year, when talk of war began, Elijah Ring asked his mom, Paula Ring, if she would care for the children if he and Tiffany were deployed overseas. Her answer was yes Ñ even though she lives in Maine and her son and his family reside near Camp Lejeune, N.C.
To complicate matters, Paula Ring is a student at UCC-related Bangor (Maine) Theological Seminary, pursuing her M.Div. degree.
"I never gave it a moment's thought," says Paula Ring about putting her life on hold to move south. "It was never an option to have the children come to Maine," she says. "I realized my grandchildren needed me, but more importantly, they needed to continue with their routine, not mine."
So, with the blessing of her husband, Richard, who works in a paper mill, she chose to do her "tour of duty" in North Carolina.
So far, she and the children are fending well. Tylor calls her Miss Tutu, the Hawaiian name for grandmother, a word they learned when their parents were stationed in Hawaii.
Tylor reigns as the princess in the household, Brian is "all boy." Their mother, a staff sergeant stationed in northern Kuwait, sends weekly emails, which bring Ring comfort. Ring's son, an officer in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare stationed in Iraq, e-mailed his mom on April 10 and let her know that he was fine.
"A typical day for us begins at 7 a.m.," she says. "They have breakfast, go to school, I pick them up, we have supper and then it's homework, baths and bed. On Mondays and Wednesdays Brian plays soccer."
Ring admits to some bad days, but those are rare. "The kids spend a lot of time making plans for when Ômommy and daddy come home,'" she says. On weekends, activities include watching videos, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, along with flying kites, watching dolphins at the beach and attending church. Before bedtime, Brian usually reads to his grandmother and Tylor. His book of choice: "Henry and Mudge."
While the kids don't see the war on television, Ring says Brian does want to read the newspaper. She allows this and answers his questions. Sometimes, carefully selecting the least offensive websites, she shows the children pictures of the war so they can see where their parents are. She knows that both parents told the children that if they went to war they would be going "to take care of the bad guys and make the world a safer place for them to grow up."
Many of Brian's and Tylor's friends have one parent in the war, but they are the only ones they know with both. Brian participates in a support group at his school with other children whose parents are away at war.
Ring also has her support network, including regular e-mails from friends and professors from Bangor and weekly phone calls from her husband. A candle is lighted daily for Ring and her family in Bangor's prayer chapel and their names are lifted up in daily prayer. Ring acknowledges that her faith is tested every day. "I know I'm supposed to learn something from all of this," she says, "but I don't quite know what. I do know that God didn't bring me down here on a fluke."
Even though seminary is on hold, Ring plans to complete her last three semesters. She worries about her son and daughter-in-law and wonders when they will be back, safe at home.
"My daughter-in-law and my son have chosen jobs that serve their country," she says. "What they do will help their children and the children of others." Contemplating their work, Ring thinks of words from the third verse of "America The Beautiful:" "Who more than self their country loved ..."
Those words are a constant reminder of Elijah and Tiffany's career choices, whether it be in war time or peace. Those words make Ring proud of them, and pleased that she, too, can do her own tour of duty.