You may or may not find that your Plebe-to-be has become very introspective, quiet, perhaps withdrawn or even downright argumentative or moody. I can tell you that it is a normal reaction. They have the weight of their decision on their shoulders right now as they prepare to embark on their journey, and the seriousness of their commitment may be heavy on their hearts and minds as they get ready to report. While their friends are shopping for comforters and the latest campus fashions, your son or daughter is preparing physically and mentally to serve. As a parent, I also found it difficult to relate with many of my friends, and they had no idea what our family was preparing for either, so you may find some friendships shifting. Our Mid certainly became very pensive and argumentative, which he had never been, but it was his way of “separating” and preparing for what was ahead. You may find that they do this over and over again after each visit or time spent with family. He told us later that he had to get his “game face” on and that is what many of them need to do to survive the demands of Plebe year and the Naval Academy. We learned very quickly to recognize the shift and we gave him his space and offered extra encouragement. It is normal and a part of growing up!
As parents, it is our part to continue to positively encourage them, learn to respect that they need their space, not take things personally (even when you feel hurt), and to learn to let go as painful as it is. This class is undergoing very different circumstances – months of quarantine, USNA requested self-isolation for two weeks prior to reporting on I-Day, then two weeks of ROM, and then four weeks of Plebe Summer. This year will truly be a test of resilience. It may be a good idea to speak to your incoming before hand and help them to think about and prepare for the journey and to determine some strategies that may help. Definitely write letters and send encouraging notes and care packages weekly. They are embarking on a path less traveled. Remind them that they were selected for a reason – the Admissions Committee has seen their potential and their strengths. They can do it but will need to hang in there. And you too!
For us parents, it is difficult as well. I remember crying at the drop of a dime or when I heard the national anthem or saw a flag. I remember thinking how things were about to change and would never be the same – and I would cry some more! I would pray for peace and strength for us to be more hands off and let them do their thing and to be thankful for the opportunity that was before our children. When I saw our Plebes at the end of Plebe summer I realized first hand that they were where they belonged. Trust me, it is worth the sacrifice and the journey!
Our family focused on spending lots of time together, but also realized our son and daughter would want to see friends, many that they will never see again. We also did special things with fellow incomings – granted we were not in the middle of a quarantine. For example, we got together with a friend of our son and his family for sympathy crew cuts. His mom specialized in “all gone” hair cuts, and dad and brothers joined the fun. We had received the advice for our son to get a close cut to avoid scalp sun burn during Plebe Summer, so we made it a celebration. For our daughter, she and I had a girls’ day out and both got our hair cut super short. My daughter’s goal was to avoid getting her hair cut by the USNA staff, so she got a really cute bob about an inch above her chin, and she was the envy of many fellow Plebes because she did not have to worry about her hair during Plebe Summer.
The bottom line? Find your own way to make the journey special to you and your family and spend as much time together as possible! And USNA parents that have walked on this road before you are here to support and encourage you. Remember you are not alone! I am a message away.
A podcast episode that may help: Not Your Usual Summer Camp