Mothers mobilize for soldier sons

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Mothers mobilize for soldier sons

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If the army is “homework” for Korean men, as it is often called , then it is a “prayer service” for the mothers who send their sons off to play soldier. If the day is good, they pray in thanksgiving, if the day is bad, they pray in hope. Such mothers are always praying.
Since 2004, a “privates’ moms” club has been a place where mothers whose sons are serving their mandatory military service can gather to share their worries and thoughts.
The group was founded after novelist Eun Roh (50) wrote a series titled “A Letter From a Private’s Mom,” for publication on the Web site of a monthly magazine, Cho-eun Saeng-gak, in 2004. (The series has since been published as a book called “A Private’s Mom’s Mailbox.”)
Several other mothers posted replies to Eun Roh’s letters, sharing their stories and encouraging each other. The mothers eventually met offline, and have continued to do so irregularly since.
The JoongAng Ilbo joined a meeting of the group earlier this week in An-yang, Gyeonggi province.

Mothers of new privates sometimes feel as if they are broken faucets. When people question what it feels like to send a son off to the army, their eyes redden and well up with tears. “When the time neared for the boys to go into training camp, an intercom broadcast for them to quickly go in. That announcement made my heart pound heavily,” one mother said. “After seven weeks, my son called for the first time. I cried, my husband cried and my son cried,” said another.
Just looking at her son’s belongings in the family home can cause a mother pain. When she comes home after being out, the thought of her son not being there is upsetting. For most, the first week their sons were away was filled with sleepless nights, and life dragged for the first hundred days until they could see their sons again.
“When I was on the Internet, I clicked everything that had to do with the army,” said Yeon-hon Jin, 48, who checks the Web site of her son’s training camp every day to learn his schedule.
Such feelings about their sons were hard for the mothers to share with friends or neighbors, because they were worried others might criticize them as being excessively sentimental. That is why the “privates’ moms” club became so popular. The mothers became each others’ “handkerchiefs to wipe away the tears,” one said.
The mothers get together to prepare food and visit each other’s sons as a group. They said that gives them more emotional support than going alone. They also fast and pray for each other if one of the sons is sick. The Korean name for the club is “bu dal sohn sohn” ― an acronym for “we’ll be there when you call, and hold your hand when you reach out.”
With no prior experience of the army, it can be difficult for many mothers to know how to help their sons during their service. The “privates’ moms” club is one place to get tips from other mothers who have more experience with the army way of life.
“[Privates] need a watch that is waterproof and glow-in-the-dark. The alarm should be the kind that vibrates,” is some of the advice given.
Other advice seems more suitable for sending a child to English camp than a young man to boot camp, but the mothers want to be well-prepared. They are told to ensure their sons take extra glasses in case they break and string to tie the glasses on to prevent them from falling and breaking during training. Band-aids and medicated creams to take care of small injuries are also handy. The mothers are informed that letters mailed using postage stamps usually get delivered in two to three business days, while military postage can take anywhere from a week to 10 days. (If mail is allowed, that is ― some training camps do not allow soldiers to send letters home.)
When visiting their sons, the mothers know that chicken and pizza are popular menu items so they search online to find restaurants near their sons’ training center. They send care packages of chocolate, crackers, candy and other food items that can be easily shared with other soldiers in their sons’ barracks and are advised to include vitamin C tablets so their sons get their necessary vitamins.
Mothers also share information on how to help their sons get through emotional struggles.
One mother, Lee Myeong-sook, 44, said, “Most soldiers break up with their girlfriends while away in the army. It hurts a mother’s heart to see her son go through such struggles.” Ms. Lee sends a letter everyday to her son who recently went through such a break-up.
Eun Roh also comforted her son through letters, writing, “My son, your love is not over. You will learn to love again just as you did the first time. Time is medicine. As time flows by, it will ease your pains.”
As time flows by for the mothers, and their sons are promoted from privates to privates first class, corporals or even sergeants, the mothers’ pain eases as well.
“As much as I miss my son, I should focus on other things and be productive,” said Lee Young-wook, 48. She has taken up hobbies and started volunteering.
The “privates’ moms” all agree that “mothers grow with their sons.”
Having seen both her sons off to military service at the same time, Kim Ok-jin, 47, said, “When a son goes to the army, the son learns to stand independently of his parents and the parents learn to be independent of their sons, blending in to society. Perhaps this is why a mother’s concern for her son in the army is no longer personal.”


by Lee Ji-young
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