A Soldier's Mother's Day Reunion

Michele Spencer and her two sons, Miguel and Clay

Michele Spencer and her two sons, Miguel Carodine (left) and Clay Carodine (right). Michele Spencer hide caption

itoggle caption Michele Spencer

Maj. Michele Spencer of the US Army Reserves returned home this week after being deployed to Iraq more than a year ago. Spencer talks to Farai Chideya about parenting during wartime, as well as her plans to spend Mother's Day with her two sons Miguel and Clayton Carodine.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now we've got an update on a story that we brought you last month. Major Michele Spencer of the U.S. Army Reserve was deployed to Iraq more than a year ago. While stationed in Baghdad, she was a medic training officer, and off-duty she taught power yoga classes.

Last week Michelle returned home to Gainesville, Florida and this Sunday she will spend Mother's Day with her two sons, Miguel and Clayton. Welcome back Michelle.

Major MICHELE SPENCER (U.S. Army Reserve): Thank you, Farai. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. I really enjoyed talking to you last time, and tell me about what it's like to be away from your family, from your children for so long.

Maj. SPENCER: Well, Miguel is a college freshman. He just finished his first year at the University of Florida, National champion football team, and then 15-year-old Clayton, he's a sophomore at P.K. Yonge. They have been my heroes, and without them doing what they needed to do, I know I could not have been the strong mother, the strong soldier that I needed to be to serve my country.

CHIDEYA: Now, when you think about the choices that you have made, do you have any regrets about being someone who has spent so much time away? And I know it sounds as if you've got a great family, but did you ever think while you were in Iraq, you know what, this - I don't know if I can do this?

Maj. SPENCER: Oh, yeah. I mean, though this is my 21st first year and I asked myself, can I do it another day? There is so much that I have missed because I have chosen to serve. But there were so many times, Farai, that I'm like, is this worth it? Can't I just be a suburban mom?

CHIDEYA: Let me ask you this. When you came home and you saw your sons again for the first time in months, what was the first thing that you did that was just, like, okay, I'm mom?

Maj. SPENCER: They had flowers from me at the airport, and then Clay, when you take him to school the very next morning. One of the first things, of course, that I really, really wanted was just to take a bath. And it is true about the stress and the transition because I was in Wal-Mart and I could not decide what type of detergent. I thought like I was having a anxiety attack, and so those everything things of making breakfast or going to the grocery store is sensory overload because we haven't had to make those decisions, you know, even though we may have had to make…

CHIDEYA: You've got to make some very tough decisions but not those kinds of decisions. (Sound of laughter)

Maj. SPENCER: Yeah, I mean…

CHIDEYA: Why don't you bring Clayton on the line?

Maj. SPENCER: Okay. Hold on. Here's Clayton.

Mr. CLAYTON SPENCER (Son of Michele Spencer): Hello.

Maj. SPENCER: How are you doing?

Mr. SPENCER: Okay.

CHIDEYA: Why did you make your mom drive you to school?

Mr. SPENCER: I missed her taking me to school, so…

CHIDEYA: Tell me what it meant for you to miss your mom.

Mr. SPENCER: I have a mom and she's like (unintelligible) she's like a kid herself. You can say anything to her, so (unintelligible) to her like that. And I missed her emotionally like, she's just ain't my mom, she's my best friend; she's always been there for me. Just kept a picture of her every day with me in my wallet so I know that she's with me every time, even though she isn't with me.

CHIDEYA: This Mother's Day you have together, you got any plans?

Mr. SPENCER: We're going to keep that as a surprise.

CHIDEYA: Ah, that's good. Well, is your mom there? Michele, you there?

Maj. SPENCER: Farai?

CHIDEYA: What is your feeling about the possibility of you being called up again? You're still on active duty and I understand that as long as you are on active duty, there's at least a chance of that. Are you afraid on any level?

Maj. SPENCER: I am continuing my active duty service and leaving my children again, unfortunately, come July, because I've accepted a position in Virginia with the Wounded Warrior and Family Program, and that program is to advocate and assist family members through their transition for injured or ill, to get them with the proper resources, to help them through medical issues, financial, employment, whatever else.

So yes, I am afraid to - let me temper that. No, no, I'm afraid. I do not want to go back there any time soon. I really want to spend some time with my boys. And it's fun to be so proud of your children, and this is the best Mother's Day, to be able to be home, share it with them, at any given time, to be able to see my boys grow up, and we are working together so we can be a family. And strong families build strong nations.

CHIDEYA: Well, that's a great way to look at all of it. Michele Spencer, Major Spencer, thank you.

Maj. SPENCER: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: And Clayton, thank you too.

Mr. SPENCER: Oh man, it's my pleasure, man.

CHIDEYA: So, have a great Mother's Day folks.

Mr. SPENCER: Oh, we will.

Maj. SPENCER: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Michele Spencer is a major in the United States Army Reserve. She just returned home after serving a year in Iraq. We also heard from her 15-year-old son, Clayton Carodine. Michelle plans to spend this Mother's Day with her sons, Miguel and Clayton, in Gainesville, Florida.

You can hear our first interview with Major Michelle Spencer at our Web site, npr.org/newsandnotes.

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