Childcare issues beyond the pale: Army mom arrested
I heard this morning on NPR about Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, an Army cook who joined the service in 2007. When she had Kamani 10 months ago, the little boy's father chose not to help raise him. Shortly after her baby was born, her unit in Savannah, Georgia got deployment orders to Afghanistan.
Soldiers with children are required to submit a dependent care plan before they can be deployed; Alexis had done so. Her mother, who lives in Oakland, California, agreed to take care of the boy; but she has in her home an ailing mother and sister, as well as a special-needs daughter and, during the day, up to 14 children in an in-home daycare. After two weeks of watching Kamani, Alexis' mom threw up her hands and sent the little boy back to his mother.
Alexis told her commanding officer her problem, and says she was given 30 days to develop a new plan; but then the deployment date was moved up and she panicked, without options. What looks like the miscommunication of a young, freaked-out mom occurred; she thought she'd lose her baby if she showed up for the airplane to Afghanistan with her child, so she hid.
Within a day, she'd turned herself in, and was arrested for failing to deploy. Her little boy was taken from her for the night, and the next day her mom arrived to take him back to California. Now Alexis is facing prison time; she may be court-martialed, although for now the deployment is on hold until the military sorts it out.
According to the Army, if Alexis had arrived at the airfield with her little boy on schedule, she wouldn't have been deployed. She says her commander told her that, if she didn't find care, her little boy would be placed in foster care. Even putting aside the he-said, she-said, it's a terrifying story (especially given my own possession of a husband scheduled for deployment, now, in the early spring) and shows just how great a toll the Army takes from young families and, most especially, their children.
Because by any indication the alternatives for Kamani all fall short. Where the boy is now, in his grandmother's home, is obviously too busy and demanding; can the primary caregiver devote even a tenth of the attention and energy an infant requires? As a young single mom far from home and with only a few years' experience in the Army, it's likely that Alexis has no friends with enough space in their lives and homes to care for such a small child. And if she were to find an acquaintance to take the boy? Would the burden mean the little boy would be resented, not necessarily neglected but most definitely not loved sufficiently? Would you take the 10-month-old of even a moderately good friend, for a year?
It's too much, I think. Too much for babies to have their only parent deployed for a year. Too much for babies to live without their mothers to fight unwinnable wars for so long. It's just too much.