Army lends power to boy's dream
I cannot speak directly to the dreams of 9-year-old boys since I have never been one and my own son is only 6. But my daughter is 9 and shares a class with boys, and this combination of age and proximity makes her a reliable informant as to the proclivities, dreams and general goofiness of this age.
I'll skip the burping and go straight to the dreams.
It is my understanding that a 9-year-old focused on a particular wish or dream turns his attention to that wish with full force. It enters the heart and the imagination and occupies all corners of being, so that an exasperated parent might say, "Could we change the subject now," only to find there is no other subject, just as there is no adequate explanation for why this dream has overtaken the child now.
So Debbie Coleman cannot say why, exactly, her son, Ethan, decided he wanted to be a soldier.
Correction: an Army soldier.
She knows only that it began as one might suspect: with video games and toy soldiers. I picture here the little plastic men my brother and I played with, the poor fellows who flew helmeted head over firmly planted feet through the air, only to die by firecracker.
But what for Ethan began at 7 years old with toy soldiers led to camouflage- style clothing and sheets, to voracious reading of all things Army and computer printouts of vehicles, which he learned to identify.
And this dream, unlike his pro football player fantasy, did not pass.
Ethan woke up one morning with a swollen face. Allergies, his mom thought. It went down by midmorning and all was normal until the next morning and then the next and finally, one morning he woke up with lips so swollen it was as if he had been in a fight.
It took a while to figure out what was wrong. Between the blood tests and Debbie's Internet searches - she has since become a licensed practical nurse - they discover he has a kidney disease. Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. It means it he'll be on blood pressure and cholesterol meds for the rest of his life. It means a strict diet. It means one day he might need a kidney transplant. It means, to his dismay, six teaspoons of fish liver oil a day.
Ethan is a sick kid, though you wouldn't know it to look at him. His diagnosis brings, one December day, a lady from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes it can to those children with life-threatening illnesses.
They cannot take away his kidney disease, which is Ethan's first desire. But what about a vacation trip, a chance to meet someone famous, a big-screen TV?
We are, however, talking of one 9-year-old and his very particular wish:
He would like an Army base to relocate into his backyard.
Not gonna happen, mom says.
Maybe you could meet the Kansas City Chiefs, she counters.
"But Army, Army, Army," Debbie tells me. "It all kept coming back to the Army, and you know as much about why as I do. We have no military in our family."
There's Disney World, the Make-A- Wish lady says. Half the Make-a-Wish kids choose Disney World. Or Hawaii.
Look, his mom says, I will even fly on a plane if you want to go to Disney World. And mom is terrified of flying.
Not even Mickey Mouse sways him.
The Army pulled out all the stops on this one. Maj. Cort Hunt, commander of the local Military Entrance Processing Station, put the offer out to Make-A- Wish late last year, not sure anyone would take it. Hunt has arranged for Ethan to go through the same drill as any other recruit today. They plan to test him and his buddy, Jake Smith, fingerprint them, hand them uniforms and swear them in.
And so this is how Ethan Moyer, a fourth-grader from Emporia, Kan., finds himself in Denver Sunday night, in a fancy conference room with an Army recruiter and glass pitchers of ice water and a bunch of people hanging on to his every word because no Make- A-Wish kid picks being a soldier.
We forget what it is like to be 9 years old and building cities out of cardboard boxes and positioning soldiers as lookouts in a battle in which there are no countries and no politicians, where nothing is permanent and the only truth is that there will always be good guys and bad.
So, Ethan does what you'd expect a 9-year-old with everyone looking at him to do:
His "recruiter," Sgt. 1st Class Nancy Alessandri, manages to get out of him that he likes to play Army video games and play basketball and that he wouldn't mind an Army job that would let him be a bomber on a tank.
"I'm told you like Special Forces," she says. "What do you like?"
"That you get to sneak up on people."
During a break, I take him out into the hall and we sit on the floor and he tells me how he sets up his cardboard cities and his tanks and we talk about how far soldiers can fly and how many men a tank can take out. Then I tell him they might ask him to do push-ups today and ask him if he's ready.
"I do push-ups every morning," Ethan says. "I can do 15. And I can do 20 sit-ups."
He drops in a plank and pulls off a stunner of a push-up. Then he sits backs on his knees and grins, a 9-year-old boy on the edge of a dream.