As I have mentioned before and talk about in my book, A USNA MOM’S JOURNAL, when our USNA journey began I was feeling sad, empty, and felt like crying for no reason. In a way, as parents, we are grieving the sudden separation…. We have given our most treasured possession to USNA. There are so many unknowns to us and the whole experience can be scary. Yet I was also excited for my children’s new beginning and future. I knew that things would never be the same, and I think in addition to the separation, that sense that there was an irreversible change is what made me feel such a great sense of loss that I described as an immense hole in my heart that hurt so deeply, sometimes I could not breathe.
It is difficult when we are so used to being involved in our kids’ lives, to all of a sudden be in a black hole and know NOTHING! This is an important time for your Plebe’s formation, but also for us as military parents. It is a tough thing to let go but try to look at the silver lining… you know exactly where your Plebe is, exactly where he/she is when they wake up and when their head hits the pillow. You know they are not allowed to “skip class”, and that they are safe and well looked after. You know they are not out drinking or worse… You know they are being stretched and are growing personally, physically, emotionally and mentally, to be men and women of duty, honor, and integrity – Honor, Courage, Commitment.
Our children are beginning a new life, and although we will hear the stories, we will not hear all of them; we will hear about their day but will not be a part of their daily routine or their daily life. That is a part of growing up strong men and women of character that are productive citizens, and that is especially what the military is all about… During Plebe Summer we can’t see them, hear their voice, know how they are feeling at the moment, text, call, or communicate on a regular basis – believe it or not this is training for us as parents – for the next four year of the journey and when our children become Officers.
When you see them next they will be grown men and women in their own right. They will be seven more self-sufficient and responsible. We “N*ot College” parents can rest assured that our kids are where they are supposed to be! They are on their way to becoming leaders and Naval Officers. Take heart, Trust the system, Trust the Academy – Know that they are fully committed to our sons and daughters’ success! Those of us who have gone before you have survived and so have our kids. That sense of separation does not go away and can be tough to navigate through at times…
I still feel this way every time there is separation – after a visit, holiday or other time together – and you may also be feeling that there is a big hole in your heart that nothing can fill. I remember vividly having to pack my son’s and daughter’s things after I-Day to return home. Packing my daughter’s things was particularly difficult for me. She had left everything kind of everywhere – unusual for her at the time but not any more (tell you about it in my book!). I carefully packed everything into her bag and when we arrived at home her suitcase remained packed in her room. I could not bring myself to unpack it and I think it is because if I did, it would be admitting that she wasn’t home… I would try to at different times but could not bring myself to do it. Weeks went by in this silly game. I told her about it when I finally saw her and she laughed and gave me a hug. In the end, I finally put everything away right before she arrived home for Thanksgiving break.
You may also find that the house seems much quieter. I also remember the first time we went out to dinner post I-Day, just the four of us, and making dinner reservations for five and having to correct myself and subtract one… Or going into their room expecting to see them and they are not there. Or you remember something you have to tell them and you call their name they don’t answer or you think of texting and suddenly you remember that they are at not at home but are elsewhere – where they are supposed to be. I can’t say it will pass but it does get better as time goes on, There is a void because things have changed and will be different from now on. And that is OK, it’s just hard.
Just as our Plebes are being trained and growing stronger, we are in training too. It is a double learning curve – theirs and ours. As hard as it is, we are in the training ground for what is to come. Our children, and therefore we, are walking the road less traveled… Less than one per cent of the population serve in the military and it is hard for civilians and others to relate to how we feel and what we are going through. Every small separation, every time there is a period of no communication like Plebe Summer or some of their future trips, trainings, these are all preparation for when they join the fleet, and ultimately, for when they deploy. And remember OPSEC!
I remember preparing for our oldest to deploy. It was nerve wracking! My family and I are now preparing for our second one to begin their duties in the Fleet and for the day when they will deploy. Looking back, I am thankful for the training that we as parents have undergone during the last seven years as a part of the USNA family. Our children are being prepared, but we are being prepared too. If we trust the system, follow the same rules and protocols that they need to follow, we will be better prepared and equipped for when the “real” day comes.
I am with all of you in heart and spirit and can tell you that this shall pass – maybe very slowly right now, but looking back it will have flown… With that in mind, here is my PLEBE SUMMER CHALLENGE TO YOU:
- Connect Spiritually and Rise Early – One of the things I committed to was getting up at the same time as my Plebes and praying for them during their PT time. So every day at 5:15 I was awake – without an alarm clock(!) – and prayed and meditated for them during the PT hour. I read books and verses that helped me to think and learn more about the inner me in the midst of the current situation where I found myself.
- Connect Physically – The other thing I did, is work out. I thought that if they can do it, I better be able to do it! I am now a warrior Mom, and I need to be strong, not only emotionally, but physically, and mentally too. We are the only ones that can be there for our children unconditionally. During Plebe Summer, we will be the ones that receive the brunt of their bad moments – they can only vent safely with us, whether in a letter or a phone call, and then they are all better, but we are a mess – until the next letter or phone call. So we need to be strong physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and take things with a grain of salt and learn to let things go and not to take things personally.
- Connect with Others – I connected with fellow Navy and Plebe Moms. Whether it was online or in person with local Moms, we met for coffee, dinner, and just kept in touch. Although this is a challenge at this time, do try to connect. Find a Battle Buddy to lean on and find prayer warriors for your Plebe if prayer is your thing. It is important to do so, and you will hopefully find your Battle Buddy or Buddies!
- Connect Creatively – I chose to do creative things that would allow me to have a “single focus” – to just think about one thing. So I returned to previous interest of mine such as crafts, sewing, writing – and of course, Waldo Hunting! Find something that you are passionate about and dive in head first.
- Connect in Service – We also became very involved in our local parents club and other organizations that support our military like the Travis Manion Foundation, Medal of Honor Foundation, and organizations that send packages to our deployed military personnel. The Navy League is another great organization that we have been affiliated with and offers seasoned Navy parents to connect with. Honestly, being involved helped to give me the focus and the sanity I needed to make it through. I probably took on more that I needed to, but designing and updating the website, setting up an online store, and other projects for our local USNA Parents Club kept me busy and learning. If you have a local parents club or Navy League chapter, look them up and dive in!
And in honor of your awesome Plebes, I am committing to working out with you each morning – let’s do this together… A little bit every day for the next six weeks! What are you going to do to be a better, more focused, and stronger MidParent?
Do it for your Plebes – Be strong and know that you are NOT alone. You can do this! Remember the Plebe Summer Challenge: Get stronger mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually and share in their adventure as your Plebes endure Plebe Summer.
Feel free to reach out with questions. We are always here for you.