cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

how do we know if we are giving enough? - September 6, 2005

I haven't talked much about Katrina, but I've been thinking a lot about it. I gave a little bit of cash in the great Weblogs, Inc. Red Cross staff donation (in which my wonderful "employer" matched all network blogger donations to the tune of $5,000), and I committed to shipping clothes and toys to anyone who responded to my post on Been There. And then, Jonathan told me his decision: he wanted to volunteer to go to Louisiana with the Army.

I wasn't at all opposed to him volunteering for duty such as this; after all, if we had the money, I would have had us both go as Red Cross volunteers and bring along a nanny to watch the kids in a tent somewhere while I did PR, or something, and Jonathan built houses, or drove trucks, or headed up a cleanup crew. Heck, I'd even bake cupcakes for displaced Louisianans and Mississippians.

What I have a problem with is the reality: the Army doesn't call up its reservists to work on relief efforts like this. He'd have to switch to the National Guard. And if he switched to the National Guard, he would be much more likely to be deployed, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Southern Oregon to fight forest fires (which is at least as dangerous as Iraq, although that doesn't stop my honey from longing to do it). And if he went, it would probably be vastly affecting; he'd be loading dead bodies onto trucks. He'd be sparring with residents over whether or not they needed to evacuate. He'd slog through toxic water. He'd see destruction and death on a level he's never come close to.

I had wondered to myself, when do we know we've given enough? Sure, we can all donate stuffed animals we never wanted and clothes our kids have grown out of. We can donate cash and canned food and blankets. We can make a quilt square for an auction, or join in a rummage sale with proceeds going to victims. We can give a lot. But how do we know when to say when? How do we know whether to give ourselves to the effort? Do I have a larger responsibility to my family, or to the world?

By the time I finished typing this post, the point was moot. Jonathan's buddy Private Miller was called up, and so he called her corporal and asked if he could volunteer. The Corporal called back that night and thanked Private Hanson for his dedication and desire, but said their docket had already been filled. Private Miller is giving us regular updates from her post in New Orleans, and I can tell it's a strain on her - but not yet an overwhelming one. It's exciting, and makes her feel as if she's really doing something. But she's young, single, without a mortgage. It's ok for her to give herself to this effort.

It's still a question I need an answer to, for myself, for Jonathan, as we navigate our young family and his burgeoning career as a reservist...and maybe more. When has he committed enough to the world? Where do we draw the line between his obligations at home and his desire to save humanity? I hope that the line will keep being drawn for us, and I hope the line will stay close for a long time. A daddy is a lot to give up.