I remembers not too long ago preparing for my children to return to the Yard and as their leave was ending, being awash in nostalgia. My husband and I often counsel other US Naval Academy parents about what to expect at certain times, and beginning on I-Day or any time after spending time with family and friends when Mids are returning to the Yard (as we fondly call the USNA campus) can be a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Mids and us as parents. I discuss this at length in my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal – Plebe Summer through Commissioning and Beyond: What You Need to Know.
Prior to I-Day you may notice moods changing. At times, I almost did not recognize my even-tempered children and you may find this as well. After visits or leave when they have spent time with you at home or away from the rigors and structure of USNA, you will see it as well: they will usually begin to “shut down”, get quiet, irritable, argumentative at times, and very introspective. Some may get extra chatty, and for some it is an imperceptible change. Each one handles it differently. As our oldest put it, they need to get their game face on and prepare themselves mentally to detach from loved ones and/or home and return to the rigors and demands of the military. And as their parents, the best thing for us to do is to give them space and not take it personally.
I was awakened very early one morning by the thought that I can also go through my own “shutting down” of sorts. For the first time in the past several years of our children coming home and returning to the Yard, I have felt irritable, sad, and downright ornery at times much to my better half’s dismay. Sorry honey! But it finally hit me – last fall was the first time in almost a decade that we have no Mids returning to the Yard, but rather, we have Officers in the fleet…
For Firstie parents, this is a year of many last “firsts” – the last summer of trainings, the last reform, the last time that Firsties will leave home after their holiday leave to return to the Yard. In May your Firsties will be commissioned into the Fleet and will have earned their place as a Naval Officer and the world of adults. Not that they are not an adult already – they may be far more centered, more mature and fortunately, wiser than we may have been at that age in many respects. Our job as parents has been done for quite awhile, but it is coming closer and closer to being completely finished. They will be off finding their own place to call home, paying their own bills, pursuing their dreams, and working to achieve the goals they sets or themselves, and leading men and women under their charge as they serve our nation. That is amazing!
What has brought on my nostalgia is not the fact that my former Mids and your Mids are all grown up. For me, all three of my children are grown up too. It is the renewed sadness at their departure after a visit or the need to feel “needed”. It never gets easier but I do not “hang on” to my children. I have always strived to let them fly free to follow God’s path.
I have been reminiscing about the past eight plus years and marvel at how much our oldest, his siblings, and their friends have matured and grown into responsible, hard working, individuals. They definitely live up to the motto “Don’t give up the ship”, persevering through difficult times, always choosing the path less traveled – usually a much more difficult one, and I admire their humble, thankful spirit when things are going well. My cup runneth over… Thank you Lord!
I remember so many moments, so many memories made together, a lifetime ago, it seems! I pray that they will remember them lovingly and that these memories will be a source of strength in times of doubt or strife, and a source of renewal when they have families of their own. I pray they remember their childhood and their time at home as a time of unconditional love and acceptance. I always ask God to erase the mistakes that we have made as parents, and that He would use them to edify each one and make them stronger in their walk with Him.
As I prepare for their departure, I am nostalgic as I see how far they have come; what they have accomplished, what amazing individuals they have grown into, and how far we have come as parents as well. Letting go is hard, and for all of us, as USNA and military parents, it is even more difficult. After many goodbyes, I have found that there are five things that help to maintain sanity as a parent of a Mid or former Mid (now Officers):
1 – Connect Spiritually – Pray every morning (if that is your thing). I have found that it does make a difference in my mindset for the day!;
2 – Connect with Yourself – stay active, set challenges and goals for your activity;
3 – Connect with Your Creative Side – pour energy into something you enjoy and be creative;
4 – Connect with Others – reach out to fellow Navy parents and find / lean on your Battle Buddy;
5 – Connect with your Community – Find something that allows you to serve in your own way and to Give Back.
My prayer for our Mids and Officers is that they always put God first, that they are little in their own eyes (I must decrease the He may increase), to be compassionate toward others, humble in all things, to be servant-leaders following in the footsteps of Christ, to be prayer warriors, and to always return to the path their Father in Heaven has laid out for them, that no matter how far they wander off as they go through life, that God would bring them back to Him.
I also pray that they are lifelong students – that they never stop learning or taking on challenges and that they don’t reach a point where they think they know more than everyone else! I know that God is faithful and I know that He keeps His promises.
So as you say goodbye to your “kids” – one of many in our journey, for Firstie parents whose Firsties are leaving home for the last time before they join the Fleet or Marine Corps – you will experience many “lasts” as the race toward Commissioning begins. Plebe parents, you are saying good-bye to your sons and daughters after I-Day, PPW, or their first Christmas/Holiday leave as they are looking toward the finish line – Herndon and the end of Plebe Year; Second Class parents, as you begin to look toward Firstie year as your Mids assume greater responsibility and look to Commissioning: enjoy every moment. It flies by! And last but not least, Youngster parents, your Mids prepare for the semester ahead and the journey to come as 2/Cs and leaders in the Brigade. I invite all of us to remember that each Class Year is precious and will fly by and every year we once again have to let go – we have to let go because our children have chosen to serve and it is something that as USNA parents we learn well because the goodbyes never get easier.
What has always helped me get through is to trust in the One who made my children: trust that He will keep them safe and healthy, guide their steps; give them wisdom beyond measure; surround them with his angels and His great mercy that is renewed each day; that His word will be a lamp unto their feet and light unto their path; that he will make their paths straight; and that He will bring them safely home soon! All I can say is that growing up is hard – for children – and parents too… It never gets easier.
Just a message away if you need!