Plebes & Firsties turn an important corner on a new year

When it comes to the Academy calendar, a lot of us literally or figuratively circle Christmas break as it’s the time most families reunite in the midst of the academic year and the Mids are, more or less, free of responsibilities.

There are exceptions and variations. One Mid will spend the time after Christmas and before returning skiing in New England with some buddies, another family went to Las Vegas. There’s no set script.

Never too old for this (I hope) …

The relentless cycle of USNA life continues and not only are we at the halfway point of the academic year, but we are also at a turning point. For Firsties, it’s the homestretch. Service selection is complete, so they know (more or less) what’s next. They can now create a punch list of the “must-dos” and “nice to dos” before commissioning.

I can’t speak for all the Firstie Parents, but for me, it’s all moving too fast and becoming too real. Commissioning Week, once a far-off, abstract idea, is now less than six months away. I’m reading Facebook posts not just about vague ideas of things that might happen but people planning picnics and get-togethers with actual dates and places. My Firstie has enlisted my help in planning a cross-country trip during “basket leave.” Basket leave? Wait, what?

Despite all this – or maybe because of it – I’m harkening back to Plebe Year. Christmas break was such a welcome reprieve. Our Mid had struggled during Plebe Summer and about mid-semester, had endured what “Chester Midshipmouse” author Susan Weisberg would describe as his “dark night of the soul.” Having him home for an extended period gave him time to really relax (Thanksgiving was too quick of a turnaround to allow that) and allowed us time to get a better understanding of what his life was like.

It also proved to be one of those, “your experience is the right experience” episodes, too. As break neared its end, I recall seeing the Mid’s mood slowly turn from relaxed and carefree to pensive and, I don’t know, resigned. As a Firstie, now he knows the ropes. As a Plebe, not so much.

13886496_10208259384715723_5517844204768598053_n (2)More than anything, Plebe Year was about milestones for our family – Induction Day, the three phone calls during Plebe Summer, Parents Weekend (above), going down for a football game, Thanksgiving Break, Army-Navy Game, Christmas break. And the milestones got tougher after that. The Dark Ages were coming.

On one hand, the Plebes had survived the first academic semester. On the other hand, well, here they go again. The wind would blow cold off the Severn, their days would begin in the dark and by the time they crossed The Yard for dinner meal formation, the sun would be gone. The Saturday reprieves football games provided would be a distant memory and Spring Break? Well, that was a long way off. Before long, there would be whispers about the grueling Sea Trials.

Some Plebes will roll with it. Some will struggle with it. Some, truth be told, will finally decide this is not for them. Once again, your experience is the right experience.

For us, we knew the first month or so of the second semester would be crucial. By the time Christmas break neared its conclusion, we felt like our Mid had turned the corner, but we weren’t convinced he was in the clear. So I continued to write to him regularly – short notes and the magazine-style letters I had done during Plebe Summer and parts of the first semester. We kept sending care packages and arranged calls when his schedule allowed. The Dark Ages were a thing for us that Plebe Year, but we managed to keep things bright enough.

This time around? I’m guessing I’ll need more support than him.

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