As I write this, my 18-year-old son has been at Navy boot camp for about 10 hours. (Maybe 11 — I don’t do well with timezones.) I got the scripted phone call yesterday at 9:08 pm. “I’m supposed to tell you I got here, you’ll get a box from me next week, and you’ll hear from me again in about a month. And I love you.” He sounded confident and strong. Maybe a little nervous, but that could have just been my ear.
Because I’m a Navy mom veteran now, I know the box is what we call the “Kid in a Box.” It contains everything — down to his lucky boxers — that he had with him when he left home. I picture them standing inside the box, stripping down, then stepping out naked and shivering before they slip on their boot camp clothes.
He’ll be there for about two months before he graduates. After graduation, he’ll leave Chicago for San Antonio for a couple of months for his training to be a Master at Arms, a Navy cop. He’ll have so many options after that, from Counter Narcotics (which I don’t think has anything to do with retail sales) to K9 units to Counter Terrorism (again, nothing you can buy) to Fleet Protection Force. Very heady stuff for someone who just earned the right to buy a cigar.
We had dinner with him the night before he left and tried to cram in 18 years of advice we might have forgotten to tell him along the way.
He’s kinda following in the footsteps of his older brother Adam who has been in the Navy for a year-and-half, except he is a corpsman — Navy medic — stationed in Okinawa.
When Adam left, I was more afraid of the unknown, but with Jeff, I think I’m more nervous about what I DO know.
Some of the things I thought I knew about the Navy have proven to be untrue. For instance, I pictured the young enlisted guys as being in a protective bubble of Navyness. But the reality is that the Navy treats them as the young adults they actually are, free to make mistakes — big and small — and take unfortunate risks.
I probably wouldn’t know much about that part of Navy life except that Adam divides his time between working at a fire station on the ambulance crew and in the ER in one of the base hospitals.
He had a rough couple of shifts over the July 4th holiday. One of his patients was a fifteen year old who drank so much that “his brain forgot how to breathe.” I asked what they did and he said, “We tried to breathe for him.”
Another patient remembered driving himself to a bar, driving away from the bar, and being in the ambulance.
Two patients were ginormous, combative Marines who had to be chemically as well as physically restrained before they could be treated for their drunken injuries.
All of these young men will face severe consequences from the Navy and from their mothers. My heart breaks for everyone involved, but I’m so proud they had Adam to take care of them. I know it affects him, as it does all ER workers. How could it not? I hope he continues to share his work — the funny stuff as well as the tragic — with us and with other people and that he’s able to keep perspective.
He’s a confident, competent, generous and warm-hearted person, both with his patients and with his family. Especially his younger brother. Jeff is lucky to have him to answer his questions about boot camp, solicit his advice about Navy stuff, and as a confidante.
Honestly? I’m not sure how I feel right now. It’s hard to see the last little baby bird fly away, but I’m not exactly unhappy about it. I know he’s been looking forward to this adventure for a long time. Frankly, it will be nice to have only the two of us non-risk adults on the auto insurance. I can’t wait to buy half as many groceries every week and not have anyone say, “There’s nothing to eat around here — only ingredients.” I’m looking forward to not having to keep up-to-date on his constantly-changing social schedule. And the whole spare bedroom thing? I’m all over it.
I stood today in his newly emptied room. Bed made. Furniture dusty. Floor needing vacuuming. I looked at the things he left on a single shelf. Samurai sword his brother sent him from Japan. Obama button. Eagle Scout medals. Belt buckle collection. Bottle of Jones root beer specially labeled with a picture of his friends.
That was his life last week, but this week it’s altogether different. And so is mine. Neither of us will ever be the same.
I know I’ll miss the little boy who, while packing up his room, found a box of Star Wars action figures and played with them for two hours. He’d just seen Toy Story 3 and felt bad for them. And I’ll definitely miss the little boy who, just a few nights ago, wanted to watch a Disney movie to cleanse his palate after watching an über-scary one.
He’s a man and a child.
May God protect him out in the world.
Bravo Zulu, son. Be safe. Be smart. Bedazzle.
ps —I’ve written lots about my older son’s experiences — and mine — as we started our Navy journey together. In the sidebar you’ll see a “Navy Bits” category with all the posts. Scroll to the very first page. Also, if we’re Facebook friends, you can read his letters home from boot camp in my “Notes” section. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel like hugging your children. Friend me but send a message with it that says something about the Navy. I don’t friend just anyone!