Random thoughts during Plebe Summer

The shock and awe of I Day are in the rearview mirror. The Plebes are learning how to march, run, sweat, eat, and just about everything else the N*avy way, the Detailers are making sure everything is shipshape, and the rest of the Brigade is off doing summer training. A few random thoughts as we hurtle through summer…

If you have a Plebe, take a deep breath. There’s probably a lot racing through your mind right now but if we’re being honest, there’s not a whole lot you can do about any of it. There are two things I would offer in terms of advice: 1) Don’t compare and 2) Do whatever makes you most comfortable.

In our world dominated by the constant sharing on social media, it’s difficult not to compare. People are going on better vacations than me, certainly driving nicer cars, living in more beautiful houses, and eating more sumptuous meals. The same holds true for military academy parents. It’s inevitable – there are some parents who share a bunch of photos from Waldo hunting showing their DD/DS smiling and that every letter is filled with how much they are loving it and every call is a reinforcement of “I know I’m in the right place.” Maybe that’s you. If so, enjoy, and don’t stop sharing, we all need positive reinforcement.

But if every picture you find of your Plebe shows a grim or distressed look, if every letter reads like the backstory to an emo song, and if every phone call ends with you contemplating a trip to Annapolis to bring your DD/DS home, don’t despair. Plebe Summer is intentionally designed to give these young adults more than they can handle and since most of them are high achievers, this may well be the first time they’ve found themselves unable to meet a standard. It’s all part of the process. You know, I worked in my father’s machine shop when I was a kid and we used to send some parts out for heat treatment. I asked him what that was all about. Basically, he said the metal was put under intense heat and pressure and that made it stronger. That’s the essence of Plebe Summer.

Both sets of parents described above are getting moments in time, not the entire picture. Every Plebe will have good moments and bad. Some will have a disproportionate amount of bad ones. That’s just the way it goes. And if you are one of those parents getting depressing notes and calls, take another deep breath. Remember, your Plebe doesn’t really have anyone else they can unload these feelings on. Their fellow Plebes are all in the same situation and the Detailers aren’t really there to be a shoulder to cry on. So maybe that’s your role for Plebe Summer, to be that shoulder, that ear, that soothing voice that says, “I’m sorry you’re going through this, but I love you and know you can make it.”

As a parent, you know how your role has changed over the years. This is just the latest iteration. And by the end of Plebe year, your role will change again. But for now, don’t let yourself be brought down by comparisons. Just understand your new role and do the best you can with it.

This brings us to the second item, do whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve documented many times the way we helped our son get through Plebe Summer, as well as helping ourselves get through it. I freely admit I went overboard with sending correspondence to my son and have had more than one parent point out that he probably didn’t have time to read it all. That’s probably true, but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t write them all just for him, I wrote a lot for myself. I felt like I was doing something in a situation where I felt like I couldn’t do anything else. Was he able to consume all the stuff we sent in his care packages? Probably not, but the same principle applies.

You may find that all of your Waldo hunting turns up photos of your DD/DS looking distressed while everyone else seems OK. Remember, it’s just a moment in time. At the same time, it’s OK if you need to avoid Waldo hunting for a while. Don’t feel guilty. Maybe more importantly, if you need to step away from the parents’ pages on Facebook for a bit to avoid the aforementioned comparisons, that’s OK, too. Here’s the only thing I wouldn’t do – don’t isolate yourself.

The Mid showing off the way he organized his stash of Gatorade during PPW.

The thing is, I learned all this firsthand during my son’s Plebe Summer six years ago. We had a horrific I Day experience and Plebe Summer was a series of grim letters and uneven phone calls along with a stream of other parents posting on Facebook about how awesome their kid was doing. But I happened across an experienced Mom whose kid had long since commissioned. We struck up a conversation off the pages and she listened patiently, offering comforting words and solid advice. I’m not sure I would have made it through that summer without that connection. So if you’re distressed by Plebe Summer, reach out and find your support system. It may be with other USNA parents, but it could be your friends and neighbors or your pastor. Just don’t try to go through it alone. There are too many people who not only can help but are ready and willing to help.

Bottom line: Your experience is the right experience.

A few other thoughts:

  • You look good in blue and gold.
  • The answer to the question, “how much Navy stuff do you have?” will forever remain the same: “Not enough.”
  • If you have friends who say you have gone overboard with the Navy stuff, get new friends. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

One final thought … while this may be a difficult time, embrace it. Even though it seems like the days are dragging on, you will hear people talk about how the time at USNA flies by. They are right. Your time as a Naval Academy parent is split into three blocks – Plebe Summer, Plebe academic year, and the final three years. By the time Plebe Parents Weekend arrives, you will be one-third of the way through your journey. Embrace it.

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