Tammy Lence wears the black and cobalt blue uniform for Laz Parking.
She wears the black and yellow, star-spangled Army lanyard around her neck for her son, Michael McCarroll.
“I won’t leave home without it,” said the petite and lively Lence, 44, who has worked as the attendant in the Laz property at Franklin and Liberty Streets for the past eight years.
McCarroll is serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Lence thinks about her 23-year-old son every day, but will especially miss him today — Mother’s Day — a day that traditionally means family gatherings. Other mothers in the Capital Region also deal with absent family members on Sundays in May, and Sundays throughout the year. Kathy Buckley of Melrose and her daughter-in-law, Shannon Buckley, will both be missing David Buckley, a sergeant in Afghanistan.
“Everybody knows my son is in the Army,” said Lence, who lives in Schenectady’s Stockade section. “My son is my life, he’s my everything.”
Lence keeps reminders of Michael inside the small parking attendant’s booth. An Army star, which signifies deployment, is in the window. A calendar is tacked to a side wall, and Lence has been crossing off the days of 2013. Michael is scheduled to return to the U.S., to his home in Georgia, around the end of June.
Lence, sitting in the back of the Ambition bistro on Jay Street during a coffee break from her job, knows her son’s important facts. “He’s 19 Delta, front-line cavalry scout,” she said.
McCarroll, who attended both Ballston Spa and Schenectady High Schools, joined the Army in 2009. He’s on his second tour of Afghanistan, and has been away from home since last November.
As a mother, Lence said worry and anxiety are always in the mix.
“It’s anxiety, but it’s more,” she said. “I’m very proud and I have trust in him now. When he first went in, I was scared to death. I cried on a daily basis. But
once he got through his first deployment and he became a sergeant — and he became a sergeant in April of 2012 — I felt more comfortable. I felt like, ‘OK, my son knows what he’s doing and I can’t do anything but trust him.’ ”
Keeping in touch
In a way, modern communications are the both the best and worst things for parents with sons and daughters in military theaters.
“My family, they keep me away from the news a lot, try to shelter me from the news,” Lence said. “But with my phone here, I have CNN alert, so if anything happens in Afghanistan, my phone will alert me. There’s no sheltering me.”
And the Internet has given Lence the chance to communicate with her son daily.
“Thank God for Facebook,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Facebook, I don’t know how I would have gotten past either one of these deployments. Social media is phenomenal. He [instant messages] me. When he’s going to sleep, I’m getting up. Our times are totally backward … then he calls me once a month on Sunday. We got to talk for an hour and 15 minutes a few days ago. He won’t tell me anything a mother doesn’t need to know.”
Whenever McCarroll has visited his mother, he’s always left behind some gear. Lence has her son’s camouflage-colored cap from basic training and a tag that indicates his blood type. “He told me to use it as a key chain,” she said.
Lence added that parents can always use support when their children are deployed. She suggested that mothers whose kids are about to ship out find a support group. Lence never had to join one — she said her customers are always to happy to talk to her about Michael, who worked as the attendant at Franklin-Liberty in 2007.
Many of them know about the calendar game Tammy has been playing.
“Some of them ask ‘Countdown?’ when they walk by,” Lence said. “They’ll ask how I’m doing, or if I’ve heard from that day. I have people who don’t even come down to park who will make it a point to just check how I’m doing. They’re very, very supportive. Metroplex, one of our clients, took it upon themselves to put up his picture in Metroplex and they’ve sent boxes and boxes full of stuff every other month to my son and his friends.”
‘Just come back’
Lence only gave McCarroll one order when he left for his latest tour of duty. “I just told him to come back in one piece,” she said. “So I think about that a lot.”
Lence is also thinking about June.
“We talked about this the other day, in that 1 hour and 15 minute phone call,” she said. “The first thing he wants to do is get off that plane, get on that bus and run to the beach. That’s what he wants to do and whoever’s with him, they’re going to the beach whether they want to or not. Those were his exact words.”
Lence said she will “probably” be in that group. “If I can get my job to work with me,” she said, “I’m definitely going to be there.”
Kathy Buckley, who lives in Melrose in Rensselaer County, said her son David checks in often. That makes two moms who live on Sherman Hill Road happy — Kathy and her daughter-in-law.
“He’s constantly in touch with Shannon,” said Buckley, 57, who works as a baker at Lindsey’s Country Store in Clifton Park. “That’s the wife. The mom isn’t in the picture, now that there’s a wife. To me, having four sons, any day I can have them here and be able to tell them I love them is a mother’s day. Why do you have to have a national holiday to honor them?”
David Buckley, 33, has been in the Army since 2001. A member of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Buckley is a wheel mechanic and recovery mission specialist and is on his sixth tour of duty. He and Shannon have four kids.
Boxes for soldiers
Kathy Buckley said both David and his brother Dan were in Iraq when war was declared in 2003. She worried, and decided to start her support group Military Mom in Action. “MMA” packages cookies, crackers, granola bars, gum, toiletries and a personal letter into small boxes and sends them to soldiers overseas.
“I was able to turn the stressful situation into something positive, and even when they aren’t deployed, I still send out thousands of boxes,” she said. “That’s how I cope with it. I send out boxes to him, to people in his unit. And we pray a lot.”
Like Lence, Buckley said communication helps sooth nerves.
“They always say ‘No news is good news,’ ” she said. “Daniel was over there and it was like a month had gone by. He was just apparently playing some games. He didn’t bother to call or email his mom. One of the guys in his unit said, ‘Buckley! Go email your mother! Now!’ ”
Dan Buckley is with the Army reserves now, and lives in Johnsonville.
Lence likes Facebook. The Buckleys like Skype, which employs microphones and webcam to make video calls.
“Social media is a big part of it,” Buckley said. “In the Vietnam era, they were lucky to get letters.”
Shannon Buckley, who married David in 2007, said Skype has allowed her husband to see the antics of his 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, and 6-month-old son, Oliver. The couple also has two older children, Daphne and Mason.
Shannon, 39, said Sadie understands a little about her father’s time away from home.
Something from daddy
“She knows that he’s at work and that he is there to help other people,” she said. “She knows she can’t talk to him all the time. He sends post cards or a card or something for her in the mail, so every day she races for the mailbox to see if there’s something in there for her.
“She tells anybody and everybody who will listen that her daddy’s a soldier. She is very proud of her daddy.”
Kathy Buckley said mothers who are sending children into the military — and far away from home — should pray for them. And encourage them.
“Always encourage them,” she said. “Send them boxes. There are a lot who don’t get support from home, and I know a lot of moms when they send boxes they send additional stuff they can share.”
Shannon Buckley tries to do her share by providing easy, non-stressful conversation when she talks to David.
“I try to make light of everything when we talk,” she said. “He doesn’t give me details and I don’t ask for details. There are reasons wives don’t know things and I like to keep it that way. I don’t get overly curious. It’s ‘You had a bad day? Oh, I’m sorry. You’ll never believe what Sadie did.’ I just totally try to turn it.”
Soldiers and veterans often hear “Thank you for your service.” Kathy Buckley doesn’t hear anything like that as the mother of military men — it’s enough that she knows her sons are patriotic.
“We’re very honored that our boys have chosen to do this,” she said. “When I’ve asked them sometimes ‘Why?’ It’s because they love their country.”