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.