Now in the throes of November, we train our eyes on Thanksgiving which will provide another glimpse of how life connected to a military academy and the military changes your perspective.
As a kid, Thanksgiving meant two things – football and food, plenty of both. Upon becoming a parent, it provided a welcome respite from the workaday grind and time together.
Once Noah entered the Naval Academy, the holiday changed. Plebe Summer had been awful, Plebe Year had been only slightly less brutal, and all of that combined with the limited communication built the anticipation of his arrival home for the holiday to something of a frenzy. We all had so many questions we wanted him to answer and we hoped he would regale us with stories about life on the legendary Yard. We imagined him striding through the door, tossing his sea bag and cover aside, and after a long series of hugs, sitting down to tell tales well into the evening. We anticipated a weekend full of activity – the local drive-through light show, pictures with Santa, and friends coming and going.
Instead, he staggered into the house, unceremoniously dropped his gear in the foyer, then plodded upstairs where he would sleep for several hours. It proved to be the beginning of a pattern for that long weekend. Yes, we did finally get some important context around his life at the academy and about the people he spent every day with, but that was between long stretches of sleep or catching up on his favorite YouTube creators, or connecting with a small handful of high school classmates. Trips outside the house were quite limited and if I’m being honest, taken somewhat grudgingly. While a lot of things changed over his next few years in Annapolis, this pattern did not. He would arrive home for Thanksgiving and spend most of the long weekend sleeping, going to the gym, and hanging out. Still, we were thankful, mostly because he was home. Just seeing his cover on the bench by the front door brought a sense of comfort.
Some of my fellow USNA parents (and almost ALL of the parents I knew with kids in civilian college) would flood my social media feed with highlights from trips to NYC to see a show or a fabulous ski trip or some other series of Hallmark movie moments. It provided an early lesson in my mantra “your experience is the right experience.” Looking back, it also provided foreshadowing.
Fast forward to this year. Spoiler alert: What I wouldn’t give for him to trudge through the front door, grunt something akin to “hello,” and then collapse in his bed for a few hours. Instead, not only will I not see him, not only will I not hear his voice, I won’t have any communication with him as he is somewhere below the surface of an unnamed body of water, doing what, I don’t know. And there’s no telling when I’ll hear from him next. That’s life in the Fleet.
But wait, you say, don’t you have a daughter? Why yes I do, thanks for asking. While the majority of the cadet wing at the Air Force Academy will be surrounded by family at the holiday table, my Little Dragon will be in San Diego with the cheerleading squad as the Falcons take on the San Diego State Aztecs. Yes, being part of a varsity sport comes with many perks but sacrifice is baked into it as well. Someone suggested I head out to the game. After all, there are worse places to be in late November than San Diego. My daughter put the kibosh on that, telling me she would have almost no free time to hang out.
To be clear, this doesn’t belong in the Complaint Department. No, this is more about being thankful for what is, not what you wish it would be, and not being selfish along the way. The academies make men and women out of our sons and daughters, but it seems to me they have helped me mature as well.
And for that, I am thankful.