The past few weeks have been a strange mix of emotional, exciting, weird, tiring, fun, and amazing. Let’s dive in…
Emotional — I haven’t said on here, but our second oldest child left for the United States Navy Recruit Training Command (boot camp) in early July. We had known he would be heading out for over a year. But when the day came (in fact, it ended up being a day earlier than expected), it was an emotion-filled day. My wife and I saw it with a different pair of eyes. I was overwhelmed with pride for Joe. I was excited for him. He is following his path and leaving footprints behind. Christina, on the other hand, saw her baby leaving the nest. Sure, we could see it from each other’s perspectives and have those same feelings — and we did. Trust me, we did! But, in the grand scheme, our feelings on the matter were quite different.
I love Joe dearly. And it sucks not being able to run upstairs and bang on his door to scare him as I would do so often. Or to have his wit at the dinner table with us so we can razz on each other. But that’s okay. He’s finding his way. And Christina and I both agreed that Joe would do great!
Exciting — As I noted, I was so excited for Joe. I was and am overflowing with pride. He chose a path that I chose not to. And it’s such a noble path. Not only that, the sky is the limit for him since he has chosen a very demanding field. On the same topic of excitement, we found this process to be rather strange. Don’t get me wrong, it was filled with so many great moments. But it’s strange. Let me elaborate in the Weird section.
Weird — Both Christina and I come from military families, but Joe is our first child to leave home, and our first to go through military boot camp. We did plenty of research to educate ourselves along with Joe, but nothing prepares you for the ride. Joe headed out the morning we dropped him off at the recruiter’s office. We were told we would hear from him soon and to have our phones nearby as he would only get one chance to fill us in. We heard from him via cell phone throughout the day. But then the call came in — the following night at 11:30pm. And boy was the call quick. He told us he made it, he was safe and sound, and he’d be able to call and write in a few weeks. It was quick. See. Weird! Throughout the weeks, we got a few letters and phone calls, and it was great to hear from him. But it was still weird. In this age of digital marvels, it’s odd that they are so shut off from the rest of us for the duration of boot camp. It’s weird not to be able to reach out when needed. Sure, we wrote lots of letters, and in some cases it took weeks for them to show up and be read. But we all persevered nonetheless. There were a few other weird moments — like Joe being such a healthy boy all his life and for some reason breaking out in hives during boot camp. Almost every Recruit got sick at some point during boot camp. Crazy!
Exciting (again) — The 8 weeks of boot camp offered plenty of exciting moments. Chris and I joined and even started Facebook groups, so other supporters of Recruits could keep in contact. Throughout the weeks, when one parent or spouse or sibling would sound the alarm that calls were coming in, we’d all grab our phones and make sure the ringers were on and we were ready. When one got a letter telling them how well the division is doing, we’d all applaud. It was great to have others going through the same emotions and interesting times. We all just wanted our Recruit to do his/her best, but we also wanted to know everything that was going on. Knowing Joe’s division was passing tests, inspections, and some of the bigger milestones with such great scores and times was so great to hear. Christina would check mail as soon as it would arrive hoping there would be a letter from Joe. Every time the phone rang, we’d hope it was Joe. Many times it was not, but then it would be, and we’d be ecstatic.
Tiring — Christina decided that it would be best for us to drive out to the Recruit Training Command Pass In Review (graduation) in Great Lakes, IL — it’s right outside Chicago. On top of that, due to our schedules, we’d have to push through and drive overnight. That would ensure we got there in time for the Meet And Greet the night before graduation, and be rested up enough for the weekend’s events. We left about 6pm Wednesday. We arrived about 9am Thursday — note that’s not including the hour time change, so it was still 10am in our minds. We crashed soon after arriving and got a few hours of rest. It felt so wonderful!
Fun — Speaking of the Meet And Greet, that was our opportunity to meet all of the other supporters we had been chatting with and really getting to know via social media, text, etc. We met a few as soon as we walked into the hotel lobby. Others didn’t get in until later in the afternoon due to weather delaying flights and traffic. However, our division all met up either before or during the Meet And Greet, and it was great to finally meet those folks in person. I guess the roller coaster we had all been on made us grow closer than one could imagine. Sure, Christina and I wondered if we’d meet folks’ expectations. It’s not like we were dating them, but it’s just one of those feelings you get. No matter, we had a great time meeting everyone, and we greatly enjoyed the company of others. Unfortunately, I will say that due to all the traveling and the emotions, the time with the other supporters was just not enough. We had a blast at the Meet and Greet. Sure we had to call it a night kind of early since we were so tired. But we enjoyed the time we did have. And the next day in the bleachers, while we waited for the ceremony to begin, the fun continued. But once graduation was over, we all split up and spent the rest of the time on our own and with our Sailors. While the opportunity to spend time with the other supporters was short-lived, it was still a wonderful time.
Amazing — Graduation day came, and we all shuffled out to the event. The entire event was wonderful — minus the freezing bleachers. The best part — arching our necks, standing on tippy toes, bending over… just to get a glimpse at Joe in his uniform. His chin was up high. His chest was pushed out proudly. He looked great. And WOW, we were proud. His division held every flag. They won field day. They earned Hall Of Fame. They scored amazing across the board. They learned to work together and get to task. They did it. They were no longer Recruits. They were Sailors. They are Sailors. It was such a great day. And better yet, we’d get to spend the rest of the day with our son.
We spent the day grabbing some famous Chicago pizza. We went to a nice mall, as Joe wanted to be out in the normal world for a bit. It rained like cats and dogs for a while, so we hid out while it fizzled out. Then we headed back to the hotel for a bit to relax — something they hadn’t been able to do much of. He told us stories. He showed us pictures and told us about his peers. He had so much to say — and that was something new about Joe. He’s always been kind of quiet. Not this day. And we loved every bit of it. After a while, we went to Costco and Target to get a laptop for him for his next stage of training. While shopping isn’t very amazing or exciting, he needed some things, and we just wanted to be with him and smile together, laugh together, and talk. It was a great day.
We dropped him off at the base around 8:15pm. He had to be there by 9pm. We were assured that he did NOT want to be late. So we made sure he wasn’t. The Sailors would be hauled to the airport around 3am and hang out there until their flight. The good news, we could hang out at the gate with him.
The next day, Joe would be off to South Carolina via plane. So, bright and early, Christina and I checked out of the hotel, packed up the truck, and made our way to the airport. We made our way through airport security, and we all grabbed breakfast. We continued to chat and laugh and enjoy the company. We called family via phone and Facetime. And then we made our way to his flight’s gate. We chatted with some of the division friends and their Sailors. We relaxed. We ensured Joe had everything he would need for the next few days. And before we knew it, it was time for him to board the plane.
Emotional (again) — I can’t say this time was worse than the first, but Christina was very emotional when she had to say goodbye to Joe. She had done it once, and the very few hours we got to see him on this visit just weren’t enough. We wanted more. But we hugged him tight. We told him how proud we were. And we assured him that we’d see him soon. Then, I told him, “Go get ‘em.” Joe is an amazingly smart boy, and he’ll do great in his next stage. And we’ll be there to cheer him on and to celebrate with him.
Tiring — Not only did we drive out to IL overnight, due to schedules, we had to drive back home overnight, so we could be home by early Sunday afternoon. Oy! By the time we got home, we just wanted to pile-drive ourselves into our bed.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. It had rough patches and vibrant ones. In the end, all that mattered was our son is a Sailor. He did what he set out to do. Step 1 complete. Now, we’ll see where he goes from here.
I am so proud! So proud!