My now-ensign’s last three years at the Naval Academy are something of a blur, but his Plebe Year remains relatively clear in my mind. And with February quickly approaching, I can feel the deep chill of our first experience with the Dark Ages. They lived up to their name because those were some dark, cold weeks in both the physical and emotional sense.
Now that he’s more than 18 months removed from commissioning – and experiencing his second post-USNA winter – I’m seeing that while some things are different – and quite different – some things remain the same.
Wrestling with your Mid’s schedule is a constant challenge because it never seems to be solidified. Sure, classes are pretty much set, but that doesn’t account for EI (extra instruction) or tutoring. If their an athlete, the season never ends but workouts can vary by day, time, and length. Is your Mid restricted this weekend? Is the Brigade restricted? Does your Mid have watch? Even if they don’t, will they suddenly have a watch dropped on them at the last minute?
So my son is in the last leg of training before being assigned to his first submarine. And his schedule never seems solidified. Yes, there are 12-hour shifts, but they change every week. Oh, and not every week like, every Monday, but instead an arcane combination of 12-hours shifts and weekends and transition (or “T”) weeks, which aren’t really weeks, but a few days fitted in-between days off. Is he “off” during “T” week? Yes. No. Well, sort of.
“Why is my Mid always tired?” Because he or she is carrying a massive academic load at an Ivy League-level institution in addition to a slew of military duties and athletic commitments all while living under a strict code of military behavior. “Why is my ensign always tired?” Because he or she is enduring intense training on managing a nuclear reactor over the course of 12-hour days on constantly changing shifts, etc. Same song, different verse.
We were blessed to be able to see our Mid more often than most, though if I’m being honest, it never seemed like enough. Even when he was technically “free,” there were always X factors. Now in addition to the physical distance (about 10 hours away in Goose Creek, SC vs. less than 3 hours away in Annapolis), there’s that crazy shift stuff to deal with. I recently saw a Facebook post in one of our Class of 2020 groups where a mom lamented not being able to share experiences with fellow parents like we used to since our kids have all scattered to the Four Winds. Then she mentioned that although she regularly Face Times with her officer, she hasn’t seen him in a year.
I’m used to seeing parents talk about long deployments and the distance and the time. It’s always tough to hear and the instinct is to push it aside and essentially pretend it doesn’t exist. Because for me, it doesn’t. At least not yet. But it’s coming and the last two years have slowly taken me down the path of preparation.
But with all that’s changed and all that’s going to change, there’s one thing that hasn’t – the joy I feel when I get an expected conversation … especially when it’s not a crisis or emergency. 🙂 I have found that once my son got past Herndon and was confident he was in the right place and on the right path, I found great joy in the most mundane of conversations. Lately, that’s included everything from the new wheels he was considering for his 20-year-old truck to options for his next road trip to “do you think this is a sinus infection?”
It’s also comforting that he still asks me about important things, too, of course. As he was working through his “Wish List” that he submitted toward getting his first post-training assignment, we batted the options back and forth, me mostly asking questions and him mostly thinking out loud, weighing pros and cons and variables. In some ways, that’s how it’s always been with us. I rarely gave (or now give) directional advice, rather I ask questions and offer considerations. Sometimes he goes in the direction I thought he should go, but other times, he’ll make a left turn. *Shrug* It’s his life and his path, after all.
The conversations may take place on the phone or on Instagram or Facebook Messenger, but they always feel like we’re sitting across a table from each other. And just like his time at the Academy, that will have to do until we can really sit across a table and talk.