A Few Lessons from Boot Camp for Mom

A Few Lessons from Boot Camp for Mom

May 9, 2011 ~ He’s really doing this! When my son walked out the door to head for Boot Camp, the first thing that hit me was the fact that he wasn’t simply talking about it anymore. He was doing it. He wanted to say good bye from the house.  His recruiter came to the door and after giving my boy a couple of clingy hugs, he was gone.

I’m not sure how the other branches do it, but the Marine Corps isolates their recruits from the outside world.  With the exception of letters, they are not allowed to communicate with anyone who is not standing right in front of them.  I know this is necessary for training the new Marine, but, as much as I hate to admit it, I think it’s probably the best way to get the new Marine Mom ready for war.

We all have to learn to let go when our children leave the nest.  We are preparing for the empty nest syndrome for years, whether we realize it or not.  We are forced to release our children, a little bit at a time, from the day they come into this world.  Do you remember the first time you handed your child over to a babysitter so you and your husband could spend a couple of hours together – alone?  What mother could forget the day she drops her child off at Kindergarten?  What about the first time our child spends the night with a friend or goes to camp for a week?  You know you still hold your breath thinking about the first time that child drove off in a car with a brand new driver’s license.  Each of these moments is forever etched in our minds because we had to let go and trust that they would come back to us safe and sound.

For most, the release of our children happens gradually.  As well, we are now spoiled with the evolution of texting, email, and social networks. We can keep in touch with our kids in an instant, or at the very least “spy” on them by keeping up with their status on Facebook.

When my son left for USMC Boot Camp, the release was more of a violent slamming of a door – in my face! I knew that for the next thirteen long weeks I would not see my boy’s face or hear his voice.  At the time, I did not know any other Marine parents so I had gotten all of my information from the recruiters.  I had spent a lot of time with them, asking a lot of questions, but I could never quite get my doubts and curiosities completely satisfied.

My son entered the Marine Corps through the Delayed Entry Program.  DEP allows someone to enlist into an inactive component of the Marine Corps while specifying a future reporting date for entry into active duty service.  My son’s target date of entry was the moment he graduated from high school.  He begged us to sign for him the moment he turned 17.  He needed our permission prior to turning 18. We really didn’t want to do this.  We wanted him to go to college first.

He had spent his sixteenth year of life researching the branches of service and had made the decision that the Marine Corps was where he wanted to serve.  I wouldn’t go sign on his seventeenth birthday.  I remember making him wait a few days.  I guess I kept thinking he would change his mind.  The war in Iraq was in full swing and I was scared.  He made it clear that he would enlist anyway, the minute he turned eighteen, and then he wouldn’t get his chosen Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), and of course, it would be my fault that he didn’t get the job he most desired.

After awhile, I caved in and signed on the dotted line but not before grilling the recruiter with a bzillion questions.  As we sat on the comfy couch in the recruiters office, I fired off question after question.  At one point the recruiter commented that he had never had a mom ask so many questions.  I couldn’t help but wonder why not.  I gave birth to this child and I wasn’t simply going to hand him off to the front lines of a war without knowing every tidbit of information my tiny brain could contain.  Surely other mothers were the same way.  Besides, this recruiter was all of about 25 years old.  What did he know about life?

My biggest fear was that my son might get to Boot Camp and change his mind.  I asked the recruiter what would happen if he simply decided, a couple of weeks into the training, that he would rather not be a Marine.  I changed my major in college three times and I don’t think I was the only young adult who had trouble figuing out what to do with the rest of my life.  The recruiter looked at me and said, “Don’t you think it will be a valuable lesson for him, ma’am?”

“For four years?!?!?!” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am.  He will learn, whether he likes it or not.”

That comment should have sent me out the door without signing the DEP permission.  I’ve always been more of a softy than one who dishes out the tough love routine, but when I looked at my son’s hopeful face and saw the stars in his eyes, I knew I was going to inevitably sign his life over to the United States Marine Corps.

On that day, I let go and gave another release to the big world outside of our home, but it still didn’t seem real because my son came back to live in our home for the next twelve months.

I had no idea his senior year would pass so quickly and I suddenly found myself standing on the front porch watching the recruiter’s car turn the corner, driving our son away to a world about which I knew nothing.  I honestly thought he would change his mind and the Marine Corps would disappear from our lives. I numbly walked inside the house, up the stairs, and into my son’s room where I threw myself on his bed and cried.  After a few minutes, I sat up, dried my tears, and took a good look around his room.  Military posters covered the walls.  Scattered amongst his baseball trophies and his collection of seashells were pewter soldier sets from the Battles of Gettysburg and Yorktown and books about military history.

Why did I not see any of this when he was in the 4th grade?  I guess I just blocked it out.

During the thirteen weeks my son was at Boot Camp, the only communication we had was through handwritten letters.  He wrote to us about twice a week.  I found that I needed to sit down and write him every day.   I shared family news, funny things about our dogs, and never closed a letter without telling my son how much I loved him and missed him, and I always reminded him that I was bursting with pride because he was willing to serve his country.  It was my way of keeping the lines of communication open. This was one way that I could still be in control, managing a way to deal the mandatory communication gap created by the Marine Corps. It occurred to me later that this was likely a part of their plan to train me to deal with upcoming deployments.

He turned eighteen while at Boot Camp.  To him, it was just another day on Parris Island.  We later read in one of his letters that he didn’t even know his birthday had come and gone until a nurse made a comment to him while reviewing his file. On the other hand, I had always viewed his birthday as more of a national holiday so, at home, we made a cake and blew out his candles.  It wasn’t the same without our birthday boy, but I managed to live through the day.  I now see that this was another step in my own “boot camp” training because the next five years would find me celebrating his birthday without him.  Deployments, training, and hospitalization would be defining upcoming birthdays.

When our children deploy, they can’t take our phone calls from the front lines.  Cease fire!  My mom’s on the phone!  If only it were that easy.  We have to learn to wait for the phone calls, the emails, and the letters.  We have absolutely no control over any part of their lives.  It was a huge process to get used to this life change during Boot Camp, but looking back, I’m glad it took place.  It was a lot easier to learn how to adjust to this monumental release without also having to worry about IED’s and firefights.  That is an entirely different pill to swallow.

Originally published at comfycouchcommand.com

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