Navy Son – moving through training

I think I have written before about my trepidation about my kid joining the Navy. I have nothing against the military. I soooo appreciate our armed forces. I just never saw this son as a military man. He is sensitive and quiet and shy. I was also worried what may happen in this political climate. But I soon realized that anything can happen at any time -and he signed up to serve his country. He wants to be doing this.

Boot camp seemed to go so fast and was also so long at the same time. For me it was waiting for letters and phone calls. For my son it was waiting for letters and being able to make phone calls home and waiting through three two-week quarantines because of Covid! But at the end of June he made it! He became a sailor in the US Navy.

We are so very proud of him. And as a mom I am nervous still and I think I will continue to be. It is just a different thing to have a kid in the military. And if you don’t have one you just don’t know. Thats why there are loads of Facebook groups for mom of military kids. Its a great help I can tell you. And the groups are not only a comfort but a great source if info for this newbie military mom.

My son will be on subs. He will study to be a MT (missile tech). Right now he is completing sub school in Connecticut. Then he moves to Kings Bay Georgia to A school. This is where the MT training begins.

The Navy moves on its own time. I am getting adjusted to that. I get frustrated because patience is not my best trait. I was asked to send an important document to my son at his base – and it is now lost there somewhere! I can replace that one – but another document is now needed and I don’t want to send it! There is no replacing it as it pertains to my son’s international adoption and many items cannot be replaced if lost. I said I would drive it there! But you know Covid and no visitors- no leave – etc. I just have to chill. This is the military way. I am a parent but I don’t hold any authority. If the Navy says I need to send something I have to do it. So not I am trying to find the safest way to send this document.

I don’t know when I will be able to see my son. We haven’t seen him since March. Some families have gone a couple years without seeing their Sailors. At first the time went slowly and I was really missing my kid now it is better. I have moments of really missing him but mostly I am dealing with it. It is nice to be able to FaceTime some. But when he is on the sub there will be that time of no contact – except by email I think- but that is sporadic. That will be tough – an adjustment. I am learning to be more flexible I suppose – maybe…sort of.

It is hard- and I write about this as a mom and about my feelings. I deal with these feelings and accept my worries and fears because I know this choice for him to be in the military was his and it was something he really wanted. I also know it is a good thing. However fearful I am for him at times and however much I miss him – I still think this was a good path for him to take. He was lost- college wasn’t his thing, working and doing community college wasn’t his thing. Serving his country and getting education, a salary, and great benefits it a great choice- and it will have to be his thing for at least 6 years!

I see his growth in this short time. He is still the same sweet kid- but he’s is building confidence and learning skills. He’s been to new places and met new people. He has been pushed out of his comfort zone. And he has done it with great courage. I am very proud of him.

The Sailor

In May of 2001- eight months after my son was born in a far away place called Kazakstan – this little boy was placed into my arms in front of the airport terminal from where he had just arrived. My first child – my son. You have dreams for your kids when they are that age- you lay out a path in your head of what their life can be. I will tell you none of my three kids took a path that I envisioned for them! But they are making their own way – taking their own paths.

It is not always easy as a parent to let them make their choices. You want to help steer the boat- but in the end you realize you can’t. You can help at the dock to set them a-sail – you can be their anchor when they need reassurance – – but they have to decide their course. It has not been easy for me to let go and let live – I am not that easy going. But I am doing it- trying to keep myself from trying to steer the boat. Basically I am learning to shut up! Each of my kids is on a different path and I am learning you just love them right where they are.

Maybe this Navy mom is learning.

Navy Son- Part 2- How we got here…

My son has been at the Navy training center for about a week now.  He is in quarantine as is the protocol at the moment for new recruits.  We did get word yesterday that a recruit in training tested positive for Covid-19 and had been placed in isolation.  I can’t imagine getting that call as a parent – but it is a reality we have to consider.  The Navy is making changes daily to it’s normal procedures and it can be frustrating but it is understandable that they are dealing with something never conceived of (a world crisis of this magnitude) and they are trying to adjust as best as they can.

As a parent of a Seaman Recruit  (SR) it is not easy when there is so much in flux and all I can do is remind myself that my kid is in good and capable hands. They will care for him if gets ill, they are caring for him now.  Over time I have come to an acceptance of my son’s decision to join the Navy- it didn’t happen overnight. But I have gotten there.

When my son first said he wanted to join the Navy he was a senior in high school that was in 2018.  I was not a fan. Kevin and I both encouraged him to apply to college and maybe do ROTC or apply to the Navy after he graduated.  I think at the time I thought it was an idea that came with not much thought or it was a fantasy of an immature kid. Like when he was little and wanted to be superman. Though he did wear out two pair of superman sneakers over the years! But still I felt that he wasn’t mature enough to make a decision as big as joining  the military.  He also mentioned  that he wanted to be a police officer- which again we suggested he wait on. I think in our parent point of view we thought getting a college degree would be best. 

He did a year in a university  – and never pursued ROTC- but then at the end of his freshman year decided to change to a major (criminal justice) they didn’t have at the university he was attending so he withdrew from there and decided to live at home with us and he began local community college last fall. 

I could tell he was not thrilled going to those classes. And I could tell by the amount of gaming he did that he wasn’t studying. His heart was not into it. I was beginning to realize it was a waste of money if he didn’t have a desire to be in college. That’s when during yet another discussion about drive and motivation and his future he brought up the Navy again. And again I admit I wasn’t a fan. He wondered out loud why I was so against  him joining the military since my stepfather was a career Navy pilot and made it to captain. My son had heard some stories about my stepfathers career – teaching young Navy pilots to fly on and off the carriers at night, fought in two wars.  To me that didn’t extrapolate into my kid enlisting. I wasn’t a Navy kid or considered myself part of a Navy family.  My mom married into one when I was a young adult. So I didn’t feel a pull to have my kids join. Do not get me wrong. I was thankful for my stepfathers service andI am so thankful for all military service men and women. I just wasn’t sure I wanted MY kid to be part of the military. I was scared. And I still am. 

I told him that if he wanted to join the Navy he needed to do all the work himself – because normally he needed my help to figure most things out for him, jobs, banking , school admin issues etc.   I decided that if he was really serious about the Navy he had to do it on his own. I was not going to facilitate it. If he went and hated it later  he only had himself to blame. And I figured since I left it up to him he would not do anything about it.

I was wrong. Within a day he had a meeting with the local recruiter in nearby Frederick, MD. And that morphed into more meetings and once he was told he was eligible he went to officially sign-up. I have to admit I was not a fan still. My anxiety about it ramped up. But since he seemed so excited- and he rarely gets excited by much – I wanted to be excited for him. We looked over the jobs he could choose from based on his testing scores. 

He chose cryptology- but then when he went to our local MEPS (the place where you they do recruit processing) the job wasn’t available. Kind of a bait and switch? But I realized later he could have waited for that job to come open but he wanted to leave sooner than later…so he chose a job in a Sub. Missile tech to be exact. Holy cow this freaked me out because  just the week before he said he didn’t want subs and I was happy with that. Then he picked subs!  He told my husband he did exactly the opposite of what he had said he wasn’t going to do. But he had had options and he could have waited. So I guess this is something he wanted to do. Or he thought he did. Or he was being a teen.  I really lost my cool when I found out he chose subs- first I was mad …then I sobbed- I am sure this was me letting out all the anxiety I had been having over his decision to go to the Navy- I will say I was going through some seasonal effective depression when this all occurred so I think my reaction was more dramatic because of this. But a Sub- 800 ft underwater….why?

I could not speak to him for like two days. I hated myself for this. I read up on subs and saw he could be under the ocean for ten weeks…with no contact. I felt claustrophobic for him. A projection onto him of my issues of enclosed spaces. But I also began reading about subs. I do tend to research things – probably more than my child did.  I am sure I do this as a way to come to terms with things. The more knowledge the better I am able to process things.

In my research I read about some of the scary tests they have to perform in sub school (where he will go after he passes bootcamp).  My kid doesn’t swim well ( I am told they will teach him to be a better swimmer in bootcamp) and they have a test where four of them have to go through a sub hatch in a simulation of a sub escape. They wear air filled plastic bags (I am sure it is more technical than this) over their heads and float to the surface. They have a room flood while they fix equipment, they have fire simulation. Oh Lord!  But the more I read the more I saw that the testing is obviously important  and they want them to pass so they help them to get there. And if there are issue like severe claustrophobia then they will help them move to another job not in a sub.  But most important I read about the camaraderie that builds among the soldiers in subs and on ships, and the sense of pride these seamen have for their Navy, and their country, and themselves. He needed this. 

My son needed a direction, he needed to find something that could build his confidence, and he needs friends.  If he feels that this is the vehicle to him finding himself who cares if it comes before , after or instead of college -and there are many benefits to being in the military as far as schooling goes.  It has taken time for me to wrap my mind around all this. The positives and the negatives, the risks and rewards.  It was never a case of me letting him join the military. If this is what he truly wanted then I wasn’t going to stand in his way. But I know he wanted and needed my approval. He wanted to know I was proud of him.  I have settled into the fact that my kid wants this and he needs it.  I am very proud of him and I have told him that many times.  But it doesn’t mean I am not scared too.  It is very hard not to be during this pandemic. 

My son once told me he rather live a shorter life helping others than a longer life not doing so. That is sobering coming from such a young person.  It may have been a thought of an immature young man not realizing his mortality but it was one of the most authentic and honest things he has ever said to me.  It makes me sad too- because of course I want him to have long beautiful life so his discussing his mortality at all is not easy. But I believe he feels a call to service of others. And if that calling was to join the Navy than I now call myself a proud mom of a Navy recruit. And will try to navigate my own fears as I root him on  -and – I let him go on his life’s journey.

I just miss him.

Guilt

Author Note—Each day I have meant to break this unplanned writing hiatus but it just hasn’t happened. I have plenty of topics to write about – I just don’t make time for it- or when I do the words seem to fall flat. Usually when that happens I know maybe it because I am not being as honest in my writing as I should be. Sometimes there is a balance being able to be honest and keeping a boundary in my writing so as not to bring hurt to others I care about. Sometimes I just can’t find that balance and I don’t post what I write – but it still exists perhaps as a journal entry – or something I can go back to later. Either way the words inside me have been purged and sometimes- if I am writing in distress -that helps and there is no need to send it out to the “webisphere”.  But I want to make writing my habit again. I really do. So I just need to DO It!

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Soon after my son – I am going to call him SonA- went out of state to rehab I found myself sitting in front of his PA at the primary care office we all go to. I was there with another family member about their medical issue – and there I sat quietly in the small exam room- but there was that elephant in the room. PA knew about SonA and that he was in rehab. We had briefed him on the phone about it. So I wasn’t sure if I should bring it up to brief him on the latest info or stay quiet. 

 I didn’t want to bring SonA up because it was my other family members time but between the hellos , how are you’s and getting to the medical issue at hand – it came up. It began with just an update. SonA was going to be moved to a transitional program because there was an issue with insurance. A big issue that had required involving PA -but that is another story entirely – but it had been rectified by the time I saw PA. SonA was to look for employment, go to group meetings daily and see a therapist weekly. 

We chatted a bit about addiction and mental health issues. And all at once PA looks at me and tells me not to feel guilty. I looked at him trying to form a sentence – was I going to cry? He continued to say that so many parents blame themselves for the choices their kids make and that I shouldn’t because this was not my fault. I thanked him and told him I didn’t feel guilty because I know the choices SonA made were his own. Just as any bad choice I have made over my lifetime is not anyone else’s fault. Even though I blamed some of them on others in the past.

But I wasn’t really being truthful – there is guilt – it is multifaceted. So often I think to myself – did anything I did as parent push SonA into addiction? Did we have a bad phone call while he was at college and he went off angry and with a Fxck You attitude and guzzled a bunch of booze and that was the domino that turned into alcoholism? Did I not try hard enough over the years to get him to talk to therapists we took him too- where he would chat about his brilliant ideas (and he is amazingly smart) but he would never open up about his troubles? I begged him to give them a chance – he really never could. Or as he was growing up did I add onto the trauma he already had from being and adopted child? 

I wasn’t a great mom. I was in over my head. I got angry, I yelled, and I spanked my kids. I believed in spankings. I don’t anymore. My dad believed in spankings, we got the belt, or we were threatened with the belt. As a mom, when the kids were young, I had many convos over spankings vs no spankings, time outs vs time ins etc etc. All I can say is in hindsight I have changed my tune on many things. But I know I thought when I was raising my kids I was doing my best – and I was. But now I spend time hating myself for being so rigid, so stressed- just not the mom I thought I would be.

 I have guilt that I am trying to work on. I have apologized to my kids. Told them I hope I was fun sometimes. Was I fun? I think I was. I remember shopping in Walmart so many times for art projects that we could do on a hot summer day, or after school. We painted, and glued. Once or twice we all made gingerbread houses. I played with my kids, I love toys and I loved to play. I remember all of us dancing in the family room to classic rock. So I was fun too. But I still have guilt. 

I guess when you have kids that go through hard times because of their choices any parent may feel some of the way I do. I truly know I did not make my son into an alcoholic, I know that my son has had some mental health issues for a long time. But what I do know is that we spend our lives trying to undo the damage that our childhoods inflict on us. I hate to think I contributed to my son’s issues.

I think even the kid who grew up with the best parents like my husband did will not come out of childhood unscathed. He himself is an alcoholic with 34 plus years of sobriety under his belt.

We never come out of childhood without battle wounds. As we are developing our brains as young kids – becoming a more fully formed individual -we are effected by so much around us.  Then we spend much of our lives making choices based on our early experiences and we inflict that damage onto others and but hopefully we give them our good stuff too- it is why there are cycles of the same behaviors in families. If we are lucky and we begin to see the issues then we can begin to do the work to better understand ourselves –  and we can learn how the experiences in our lives have driven how we behave…and then we can work to have better reactions and to make better choices. Some people never get to this self discovery part. So I guess I should be happy I have. 

But that still doesn’t take away my guilt. I just have it. I want to forgive myself for not being an awesome mom. I am working on it because I do know I did do some good things. But there are so many things I would like to redo. Maybe thats why some people dive into grandparenting with a vengeance so they get a redo. Some things are so much more clear in hindsight. We can do so much better when we have gained some wisdom. 

SonA called me early on in his rehab and I again apologized to him. He said it wasn’t my fault. He said that I had been a good mom and he had been a shitty son.  That hurt too. You never want your kids to feel so badly about themselves. 

I told SonA he wasn’t a shitty son. Had he been challenging? Yes. But I told him he was a kid and I was the adult and I have to own my part- there were times I could have done better – responded better.  He has a beautiful mind – a beautiful soul. He just has some things to work on if he will trust the program he is in and the therapist he is seeing. I don’t want him to live with guilt. 

Are we just destined to it? To live with guilt? Maybe when we feel guilty it is an opening to begin to dig deep into that feeling – own the mistakes, learn from them and heal. That is what I am trying to do. Own my mistakes – look at them and then work with them – if I need to apologize for something I do.  I try not to soak in the guilt because I get stuck there and that isn’t healthy.  I am a bit stuck now. I probably need therapy and will look in the fall for someone – I have so much going on this summer. Maybe I will pull myself out before then. Writing this helps…even if the mom police want to shame me. 

But the good thing is I am still a parent and I  get to be an improved parent to my kids. I get to make the adjustments and changes I needed to make. My parenting goes on though it has a changed role now that they are young adults.

But guilt can run deep. I have learned that others might forgive you, God forgives you, but sometimes the hardest thing to do is to forgive ourselves. 

Difficult things

This is a topic that is rather private  for me and very hard to talk about. I have not been one to share too much on family issues over the years. I do feel that by sharing some of my experience on this issue that perhaps it will help other families in this crisis. Or maybe at the least they won’t feel so alone. So here goes…

My neighbor – whom I’ve never met (we live in the country so houses are further apart)-  startled me the other day as I was about to grab some dog food out of the garage. I was harried and late for feeding time and bone tired from lost sleep. She said something as she stood in my driveway. “Pardon?” I asked. But I thought I knew exactly who it was and I was right.

“Are you Mrs. Sweeney?”. She asked again. “Yes” I answered.. “It was your son who….the other night”

I am going to save you the exact details of that event but my 18 year old son fueled by alcohol became a volatile and crazed the other night –  and he ran out of the house as I was calling the police and subsequently terrorized our neighbor. I feel so awful for what they went through. I am sure in his state he thought he was trying to get into our house but he can’t remember any of it. I know it was terrifying for this neighbor and what I heard I can never un-hear. You never want to know that your child is in such a terrible state of mind.

It turns out he was suicidal that night and I have found out since this episode that he has been this way for months and even tried to kill himself over spring break in our home and we never knew about it. A friend came to his aid and my son promised to tell us he was in a bad way the next day – he never did.

The severity of his issues at this time is a shock to my husband and me – his having depression/anxiety is not.  He has been treated for years for ADHD and Depression/anxiety.  The problems we ran into over the last few years were twofold- our son didn’t want to confide in anyone – he was a locked up safe – so therapy was futile though we did send him.  And secondly getting a Psychiatrist for a teen is not easy. We have a definite crisis in this country with the mental health system and it is even worse if your child is and adolescent.

This is really a country crisis not a family crisis. If families can’t get help for their mentally ill children we can have more mass shootings and suicides. I know the problem. There aren’t enough beds so if you have to have your kid seen in the ER and want him/her admitted it is almost impossible – even when the person is suicidal. If the patient stabilizes they release them. And if you are afraid for your own safety or other family members and you want your minor child not to come home then you can be criminally charged in some states or charged with abandonment in others if you leave him/her in the ER.  And if CPS get involved then life can become hell.

In my son’s case he should have been admitted but because he was drunk – a new issue since he began college- they waited for him to sober up. By the time we called in the AM and asked to speak to the mental health specialist in the ER he had already been put into an Uber and sent home- in fact he already had snuck back into the house.  And the fact he was 18 and an adult gave us really no say in anything anyway.

I was so angry with the system. I was angry with myself to? I had been trying to get him to tell me what was going on all semester as I saw his grades plummet and work not being handed in. He rarely would answer my texts or calls and when he did he was short with me. I thought it was motivation- he is brilliant – so I knew he was smart enough to understand the concepts. He just wasn’t doing the work. I am sure my lectures on motivation, asking for academic help,  and my frustration over the lack of drive was not helpful as he was overcome by the feelings he was having. I feel like I missed the mark and now we are here.

This kid has not been an easy one to raise. Our relationship has been ok at best and non-existent at the worst.  But regardless you never want to know your child is hurting in this way. And you never want to see their trajectory in a downward spiral. I knew my kid could lash out in anger at us.  He could be a handful at home but he never directed anger toward friends or in school. But I can see he was crying for help and he was getting his comfort from alcohol and binging to relieve his pain. And then he blew.

My children are adopted and that fact in itself make them have a much higher percentage for mental health issues and substance abuse issues. We talked openly about this in our family. I myself have anxiety and have fought a battle with that for years. We went to family counseling for years. For me there isn’t shame in mental illness but it is hard to talk about for many.  But when it came to my kids issues I only confided in a few people close to me. But we should be able to talk about this. Parents should not feel alone.

I was lucky because I found a support group for parents with adopted kids and it really saved my sanity. We weren’t alone anymore. I had a group that understood the specific issues of the adopted child. But I kept silent in my writing most of the time. There is so much parent shaming/mommy shaming out there. And if you haven’t raised adopted kids you really don’t know the issues. But mental health issues and addiction can effect all of us and that is why I share this. It is not easy for me. My heart breaks for my child that I have wanted to reach all these years but haven’t been able to. Who I have often not liked  but have loved and tried so hard to help in every way to succeed and to be happy. It is what we want for our children. But sometimes they have to want that for themselves more than we want it for them…hopefully now we are on the right path,

The good news is that for the most part my son has allowed us to help navigate him when it comes to his mental health care. But the bad news is that he has not been open about how severe his issues have gotten so he wasn’t getting the help he truly needed.

The depression and hopelessness he was feeling was the gasoline and alcohol has been the flame. Thankfully his friends were very forthcoming when they realized my son was in crisis last week.  When I reached out they told me of their worry for him and told me of things he had done or said that helped the mobile crisis team -that came to our home after the ER failed us – understand that my son needed intervention. I must thank these friends for caring so much for my son who they recognize as a troubled but loving and caring friend. I felt happy that he has made these friends -that wasn’t always easy for him. I hope they remain a support for him in the future.

I know that such swift help is not usually the case as I briefly discussed above.  But if not for the mobile crisis team I would not have known where to turn for the help that my son had agreed to. I would have probably taken him back to another hospital and sought to get him admitted. But the crisis team had other options.

How did I find this team – that came to our home less than two hours after we called them? The police officer that came to our home the night before – after they found our son and got him transported to the hospital- handed us a card and explained that this team might be of some help.  At the moment I didn’t picture our son coming home. I wanted him admitted and then after that I didn’t know. So I didn’t think we would use that card but I set in on the bookcase and sure enough the next day we used it.

I had given my son two options- we will take you to a homeless shelter or you can get help.  I said to him whatever he’d been doing up until now was not working and things were just getting much worse for him. He was lucky he didn’t get arrested or shot when he not only trespassed but terrorized our neighbor. What would be next for him if he didn’t get help? I waited for his answer- and he chose help. I thanked God.

Once that crisis team got there they asked many questions and my son was very honest and became very emotional during this time. I felt so bad for him but also maybe this was a small breakthrough to releasing the pain he has been living with. The team got him a place at a rehab- which at first I didn’t feel he needed but once we realized that he had alcohol issues we realized that a rehab would be the best place for him. They will work on the substance abuse and also the underlying issues he has been dealing with. He will see a therapist and a psychiatrist. He will attend group sessions on many subjects.

They got him in a good one…one that is based on music as a therapy- he loves music. He flew that night to another state and is now on this journey to recovery. We were very lucky that we got him help so fast.  I thank him for being so open to getting it. I know he was faced with an option but I can tell he knew the best option was to help himself by getting help.

This can be a new beginning for him. I don’t want to have expectations – this is his journey with many battles and there are many things he has to deal with before he knows what his next steps in his life will be.  I hope he can shed his demons or at least begin the process. It can be so freeing and maybe he will see many possibilities for his life.

This is not an easy share for me but I felt I needed to be open. I do want to stress – If you are suffering or have a child who is don’t be afraid to speak up. If you have had a hard time getting mental health help perhaps a mobile crisis unit might be of help. And if you are a friend of a person having trouble please report it to someone. You could save a life.