The normal abnormalcy of September 2020

Not the “normal” Commissioning Week celebration, but we’ll take it.

Since we left Annapolis after our faux Commissioning Week, there seems to have been a return to normalcy.

The Mids are back on The Yard, Navy is playing football, new USNA parents are asking a lot of the same questions us older parents asked a few years ago, there are conversations about liberty and signing 2 for 7s, and Mids are griping about the Dant’s enforcement of rules and regulations.

But then again, things are not normal. The discussions about the last “real” Plebe Summer have probably ended. If this year is any indication, the Class of 2023 is the last one who can rightfully argue they had the last “real” Plebe Summer.

The Mids came back to The Yard not in massive waves but small groups only to find themselves without weekend town liberty and with the gyms shuttered. Before classes started, one Mid said to me, “basically, we can sleep, eat, sit in our rooms, and take runs around The Yard.”

Navy is playing football … kind of. In the spirit of COVID-19 safety, Coach Ken kept the team from hitting until the season opener against Brigham Young. When the dust finally settled, the Midshipmen had been throttled by the Cougars, 55-3. It was the worst home loss in program history, which dates back to 1879 (for context, Rutherford B. Hayes was president at that time). As if that weren’t abnormal enough, there were no fans in the stands at Navy-Marine Corps stadium. The Brigade did not walk from The Yard to the stadium. There was no Brigade march-on. The 25th Company bearshark was not there. There were no Plebes doing three pushups after the only score. The Brigade was not there at all.

The Supe has granted town liberty, but with a whole new set of guidelines that have the Mid meme Instagram accounts running full throttle.

The discussions amongst parents on Facebook have a few familiar themes, but the undercurrent of COVID-19 colors almost everything. I have said before that the only reason I was able to make it through Plebe Summer and Plebe Year was that many “experienced” parents went out of their way to share their perspective and knowledge. But when Plebe parents ask about things in the current environment, I am totally lost.

Home football games were great on many levels, not the least of which was a chance to see your Mid. This year? Not so much. Another thing lost – the chance that a home victory could earn the Plebes a Beat Army weekend. As we parents know, it’s the little things …

I won’t be hyperbolic and say, “everything has changed.” Clearly, everything hasn’t, but enough has that I feel like any advice or guidance I give has to have an asterisk or caveat included. And there are questions being asked now that would seem ridiculous in previous years, like do you think there will be an Army-Navy game? Not who will win, but will there even be a game. Most fall sports have been cancelled or like both the “big boy” football team and sprint football, radically modified.

I recall all the trips I made to Annapolis, using my trusty laminated green card to get on The Yard to see my Mid and bring supplies to him and his buddies. That wouldn’t be possible this year. My mind boggles when I think of how we would have handled it.

When I heard the Brigade wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving – not unprecedented, of course, it used to be SOP – my heart stopped. They are doing the same thing at the Air Force Academy and I panicked. Luckily, my daughter confirmed that the Prep School still planned on sending her and her classmates home at Thanksgiving to finish the semester remotely.

When I was a Plebe Parent, I often felt hopeless and helpless. The kindness of other parents pulled me through. Now as an “alumni” parent, I want to pay it forward, but I’ve gone from hopeless and helpless to useless. Hopefully, that’s not the “new normal.”

Shameless plugs

If you want to reminisce about the “good old days,” here are few suggestions:

My book, Anchored In Tradition is available on Amazon. An unofficial collection of fun, facts and figures about life at the United States Naval Academy.

One of my favorite books, Chester Midshipmouse, is also available on Amazon. This beautifully written and illustrated book will remind of everything you know about the Academy (and maybe a few you don’t) while introducing you to your new favorite Mid – Chester. Spoiler alert – the next part of Chester’s story is in the works and I guarantee, you are going to LOVE it.

Spend some time scrolling through the beautiful Academy-inspired artwork of Kristen Cronic at Easel on Stribling. The former Mid and Navy officer continues to produce amazing art and I’m willing to bet if you spend time on her site, you’ll find one that makes you say, “ah, that’s my favorite spot.” My conversation with her remains one of my favorite moments in running this site.

AN Shine’s book, A USNA Mom’s Journal: Plebe Summer through Commissioning and Beyond! What You Need to Know, will remind parents of what we came to believe was “normal.” Even with the pandemic, it’s filled with a lot of useful information.

Finally, a couple of podcasts. Below you’ll find a conversation my son and I had after Plebe Year, which provided a peek behind the curtain, if you will. You can also listen to my visit on Grant Vermeer’s podcast where we talk about the challenges of being a USNA parent.

2 thoughts on “The normal abnormalcy of September 2020

  1. If anyone can guide people through unmapped territory, it’s the guy who’s helping student journos at his alma mater learn their way through the new media minefields.


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