Changing Roles, Tiger Cruises, and More
This Mother’s Day is the first without my Mom and this has led to much introspection as we arrive at Commissioning Week. As Moms and Dads we have a definite purpose – to raise our kids, take care of our families, and manage our careers to allow for the first two. It seems like an unconquerable task at times, but somehow, we get it done – we Don’t Give Up the Ship, as a matter of fact, we steer the ship to where it needs to go!
Our kids are finally leaving the safety and comfort of home and Mother B – all out of college and living as independent, responsible adults, and this season of life and its purpose are complete. The new task then becomes to find a new purpose. All of the grit, energy, effort and work need to be funneled to something new.
As my children have moved on to the next steps of their N*avy journey, I have to admit that I have struggled to find a new purpose at times and I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up! My Officers, on the other hand, have had a definite purpose that they have worked toward for these past several years: to serve, to live out the values of Honor, Courage, Commitment. As Midshipmen go in general, my now Officers have an incredible work ethic and dedication and at times have given up so much, yet their compass is fixed on their service.
As a family, we have learned to rejoice over and enjoy the fleeting moments that we get to gather together, which happens all too infrequently. I live for the calls when my help is needed – usually for moves and to organize their new homes, or for recipes, or advice on a home-related topic (how do the colors go again when you do laundry?).
My favorite experience as a Fleet parent was definitely when I had the opportunity to spend nine days on my oldest son’s ship when they returned from deployment several years ago. I met my Oldest in Hawaii (if you want the 8-hour tour of Oahu, feel free to reach out!). I arrived late at night and was up bright and early the next day to see the Island – I had to meet my son at 3 p.m. so my time was limited. I drove all around the island and at times felt that was I in a movie – sure, the views are breathtaking, but what I focused on as I would pull up to a solitary beach or water fall was that there was no one else there… In my head, I could hear the incidental music playing in the background, an ominous tune announcing that something was going to happen that I surely would not like, so I snapped a few images, took the scene in and ran to my car only to start all over again at the next stop – funny, I know!
After driving around, seeing the most amazing sights, and eating delicious Hawaiian staples, I met up with my son and we went aboard the ship. It was surreal to see the sailors saluting my son as we boarded and walked by. I was greeted by a Chief who showed me to my accommodations – I was assigned to the enlisted female quarters and had about 400 roommates. We shared a common bathroom, or head, with about 12 showers and 12 sinks. My berth, or coffin as they are affectionately called, was against a bulkhead and I was delighted to see that I was sharing that particular space with only two females instead of 8. This set of three berths was in a corner, isolated from main berthing, and not too far from the head!
I have to say that navigating the enormous ship was a challenge and a test of my memory and navigating skills but I slowly began to get the hang of it. In a couple of days I became a semi-expert getting around in my part of the ship, and I also have to admit that I got very lost many times, but simply enjoyed exploring and figuring things out. There was a Chief in charge of all visiting “Tigers” or guests, and they organized tours of the various areas of the ship, activities, and generally kept us in line. I had the opportunity to see the sailors in action as they explained their jobs and we got to see what they actually did. I am so proud for these young people – they are truly amazing and dedicated to what they do, and it is amazing to me that many were really just young kids!
My favorite part of the nine days – besides going up to the deck every morning to see the sunrise, watch the exercises and training with helicopters, Ospreys, and F-35 fighters (my son’s ship was the first to have them and he was OOD the first time they were officially used in combat – WOW!), or going down to the well deck to watch the LCACS maneuver in and out as they moved equipment and Marines – was of course, spending time with my son.
It was the first time since he left home to attend USNA that I was able to have three squares a day with him and a chance to talk and catch up. I met all of his fellow Junior Officers and friends, spent time just hanging out playing cards or listening to stories, standing watch with him, observed him doing his various jobs, navigating the ship or as OOD (Officer of the Deck). I was beaming with pride, so much so, that I had a lot of dust in my eyes for some reason – wink, wink! I met his Captain who I concluded was a great leader simply by the way he interacted with both JOs, Officers and enlisted personnel, the care that he took when listening, and the way he empowered his crew.
My son even gave me a personal tour of his areas of responsibility and much to his chagrin, his sailors found out that he actually had a Mom and was not spontaneously generated from seafoam by Neptune himself. I was amazed by all he had to do and how much respect he and his sailors had for each other. They ribbed each other but in the end, they looked to my then-Jr. Officer for direction. They were so proud to show off their spaces and what they were doing. I am sure that he put up with a lot of comments from having his Mom there…
Evenings spent in the Wardroom playing cards or games are seared into my memory, and eventually, I lost track of the day, month, and even year… I could finally relate to my son when at one point he had mentioned that the only way he could keep track of the day when his ship was underway was by the food that was being served on a given day – Tacos for lunch? Must be Tuesday! I finally got it. The day in, day out predictable and mundane daily routine made one day the same as the next and I was hard pressed to differentiate between them.
As far as time management, I marveled at how this former Mid had managed to get his SWO pin in under 10 months, studying and taking exams, passing boards – including his Murder Board – all while running his two big areas of responsibility, standing watch, acting as OOD in the rotation, or navigating the ship or whatever else he had to do, and doing all of that with maybe two hours of sleep per day. You see, he had the 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. watch for about eight months – not as punishment, but his CAPT told me that he trusted my JO and knew that he could handle anything that came his way, and that only in the most dire circumstances would my son need to call his CAPT up to the Bridge in the middle of the night.
I followed my son and his friends around the ship in awe and enjoyed joining in on their conversations, observing them as they carried out their duties, and just being part of their ship life in general. I was glad that I could get a small glimpse of what my son and his fellow JOs had to do each day and to relate to the hum drums – after only 9 days. I could not imagine 9 months!
I got up at 5 a.m. every morning to beat the rush to the showers and the head, watch the sunrise, and meet my son for breakfast. If you wonder why the berths are called coffins – I am glad to illustrate. During my visit I slept on my side and found the gentle rocking movement of the ship very soothing. I have to say that I slept very well and am blessed with an iron stomach so did not get seasick with the rough seas we initially encountered. One night, I wanted to read and decided to finally turn on the overhead light in my berth. I immediately saw that the top part of my berth was maybe five inches from my nose. I felt as if I were in an MRI tube. I am not claustrophobic but let’s just say that I never turned the light on again and I chose to read in the Wardroom or out on the deck instead… I got many laughs from my son’s friends as I retold the story and was glad to bring a smile to their exhausted faces.
I adopted several daughters on that visit and became known as Momma Shine. I still keep in touch with several of them and apparently, I am Momma Shine on their contacts! I also did my best to be an encourager and always stopped by the galley to offer my congratulations and thanks for the delicious meals. I can’t tell you how many smiles a simple thank you garnered from the galley staff. They are the least appreciated and among the hardest working sailors with the lowest morale in the Navy. Their work never ends – very much like being a Mom. You finish cooking one meal, clean up, and have to turn around and do it all over again – day in, day out.
In the end, what I appreciated most, is that my job as a parent is complete – my husband and I have raised our three Officers to be self-sufficient, independent, and responsible adults with a heart for service. But being a parent does continue – just in a different way. This is a confirmation of what I learned during my son’s Youngster Year – you can read all about it in my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal. Being “Mom” is still a part of my purpose – but the role is not the same, and as far as finding something to pour all that energy into – in other words, my new purpose, it is to make a positive difference in my community and to help my fellow N*avy parents which is why I have this blog and the podcast, for which I publish every few weeks. I am still working on the rest, but have definitely learned to appreciate any time that I can spend with my kids as they are scattered all over the globe, and of course, with family and friends – like the amazing parents of the USNA Class of 2022 who invited me to participate in their Firstie Weekend and the USNA Class of 2023 where I had the privilege to speak to my fellow parents during Youngster Weekend. A BIG Thank You for letting me spend time with you, for helping me to find and fulfill my new purpose, and let’s always remember, that the ultimate gift and purpose is time together...
CHALLENGE: As Firsties Commission this week from the class of 2022, my question to N*avy parents is: We have done our job as parents, so now 1) How can we give back and pay it forward? 2)As our Mids and Officers are making a difference, how are we as parents going to follow in their footsteps and make a positive difference of our own?
Always just a message away… Go NAVY!!
Other blog articles that may be helpful:
Some thoughts on Commissioning
Planning Commissioning in the Midst of the Unknown
Who Said It Gets Easier?
Surviving Deployments, Grunts, and Fleet Life
Why N*avy Moms and BFFs for Life
My Prayer for the next step in the Journey
Embrace the Suck and Other Words of Wisdom
I invite you to explore my USNA MidMoms and More website where you will find many helpful Resources and links, places to stay, Commissioning tips, and more…. The Life at Navy tab has a helpful overview of Life at Navy over the four years. You will also find my Blog and Podcast and can visit my My Shop to find out more about my book, A USNA Mom’s Journal as well as my exclusive handcrafted N*avy spirit items.
You can listen to the narration of this Blog Post on my USNA MidMoms and More Podcast, A Journey of Finding Purpose | Episode 18.