Recently I had the privilege of being part of a Zoom call with a number of Class of 2026 parents along with the brilliantly talented Steve Wade (author of The Naval Academy – A Parent’s Ponderings from Home Port: Untying the Bowline on I-Day) and Annie Shine (author of A USNA Mom’s Journal: Plebe Summer through Commissioning and Beyond! Everything You Need to Know! and the powerhouse behind The USNA Mid Moms And More website). Several hundred folks participated in the event pulled together by USNA Superparent Michael Ngo.
Not surprisingly, we covered a lot of ground from logistics to expectations but I think the underlying theme was one we can all embrace, your experience is the right experience.
Steve mentioned the morning workout as a must-see. My response was simple, “not a chance.” My Mid didn’t want us there at Oh-Dark-Thirty and I certainly didn’t want to try to drag the rest of our crew out that early either. So we skipped that. This year, some parents will attend, and others will not. Both are the right choices.
Some will love the formal parade while others will simply be waiting for their Plebe to be dismissed. I find the parades fascinating but my son told me it was not among his favorite things. I’ll be honest, while at that first parade, after I spotted my son, I mostly found myself watching as Plebes crumpled to the ground and were attended to by medical personnel.
I do think we can agree on two things regarding Plebe Parents Weekend: 1) That first hug is one of the greatest feelings you will ever have as a parent. 2) There is something dramatic about seeing your kid in that dazzling summer white uniform for the first time. I’ll be honest, I think that was the first time I actually thought of my son as an adult. Up until that point, he was simply my son. In fact, when I look at the photos from I Day and recall the gut-wrenching trauma, I absolutely saw him as my little boy. Once I stepped back and saw him in that uniform, I knew the equation had forever changed.
My advice to parents on PPW is pretty clear – enjoy your time your way. With Facebook, it’s easy to get Plebe Envy. Some Plebes will enjoy huge gatherings with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, significant others, and more. Some Plebes will give their families extensive tours of The Yard and embark on adventures in Baltimore and Washington or take in the sights of DTA. If that’s your plan, enjoy. We followed the advice of some sage USNA parents who suggested we let our Plebe take the lead.
We did just that. He just wanted me, Mid Mom, and Mid Sib. He did NOT want to stay in DTA but wanted to be close enough not to have to worry about getting back. So we found a nice hotel near Riva Road. He said the plan was simple – he wanted to sit in the air conditioning, play video games with his sister (“please don’t forget the Playstation”), snack on comfort food, and sleep. So that’s what we did. He wanted to go to the mall – buying sunglasses and a watch were high on the priority list – and he wanted to eat in the food court. No, he didn’t want to go to a fancy restaurant, he didn’t want to eat with a bunch of people, he just wanted to grab something and sit down in the food court. That was all fine with me.
We spent most of our time in our hotel room and, as he suggested, he sat in his PT gear, basking in the air conditioning (which was cranked to the max), enjoyed a lot of snacks, played video games with his sister and, yes, he slept. A lot.
Every Plebe is different, but Steve, Annie, and I all shared that parents should expect a change in mood come Sunday. I had been warned about it, but even so, it took me a little by surprise. As Sunday wore on, Noah got more quiet and I could see the tension building in his countenance. It became clear that he was putting on his game face. He knew this two-day carefree pleasure cruise with frigid air conditioning, ample snacks, and plenty of nap time was coming to a close and the detailers would soon once again be in control of every movement and every moment.
As we pulled toward Gate 1 and found ourselves jammed in gridlock, he joined several other Plebes making a rushed goodbye, jumping out of the car, and jogging toward the gate, for fear of the retribution for being late. It wasn’t exactly the Kodak moment we expected to close out PPW, but it seemed appropriate.
That weekend seems like an eternity ago, but every year since, I’ve looked forward to combing through Facebook groups to find the photos of that first hug and the families’ adventures throughout the weekend. Whatever happens, I hope each family embraces their unique experience, from that first hug to the Sunday drop-off. It will mark an end to the first third of their time with USNA. The second third arrives with the beginning of the Plebe academic year and I hope they enjoy this milestone in whatever way makes sense for them.