The Polar Shift
We do not come from a military background. None. Nada. Zippo. My youngest son, 25, didn't tell us he was thinking about joining the military until he had a Navy SEAL contract in hand. We were at dinner, and somewhere between the water glasses arriving and placing our order my personal world took a direct hit and I felt it's poles wobble, then shift, within seconds. "I leave the first part of December . . . no, I won't be home for Christmas . . . no, I will be in BUDS and can't be the Best Man at my brother's wedding . . .actually, I probably won't be at the wedding at all . . .no, Mom, I never thought about becoming a fireman in a highly flammable area but, no, it is not an option . . ".
"What the hell is BUDS, anyway?", my inner voice was screaming. I had a lot to learn, and the first thing on my educational platter was how to hide a crushed and fearful heart under a thin veneer of "something". It certainly wasn't courage or strength that kept my true reaction from rampaging unchecked in public that evening. I went home, cried my eyes out, and suddenly realized that over the course of dinner that night a new creature had been conceived and born. I was a newly created Navy Mom, but it had been a messy birth.
My son, bless his little civilian heart, had just thrown a curve ball to my psyche by announcing he had already secured a SEAL contract, was joining the Navy, and would soon be leaving behind the world as we knew it and heading to boot camp. I reacted how any mature, rational mother would respond to such fantastic news and cried my eyes out for two weeks solid before leaving the house in search of chocolate, ice cream and anything fried. Finally, 'Sanity' once again became my friend, led me away from'Despair', and introduced me to the new kid on the playground, "Fear'.
Fear, it seemed, had a best friend named Imagination, and together they made dangerous companions. We played together for just a short time before I kicked them both out of the house and bolted the door shut. They would come knocking and rattle the locks, especially after dark, promising to behave if I would just open the door a crack. But I had found two new friends and we were getting pretty chummy.
In no time flat, I found that I was no longer able to communicate with my son with our usual banter. As a military neonate, when he talked about MEPS, BUDS, PST and deppers, my eyes would glaze over as I wondered exactly who, or what, was standing before me. It looked like my son. It sounded like my son. But he was speaking in tongues, and I was at a loss to decipher the gibberish coming out of his mouth. My call for help was answered by my two new pals, Knowledge and Information, who came to my rescue and have yet to leave my side.
I embarked upon my NEP4M (Naval Education Program for Moms; two can play this game, you know) with a lengthy, detailed documentary about SEAL training: "NAVY SEALS: Class 234". Yes, this was quite educational, if you call a good three hours of watching all the gut-wrenching things your son will suffer through in order to achieve his goal instructional. The first run through (yes, I watched it twice) I held one hand over my eyes and peeked through my fingers, had the sound turned down low to minimize the sensory overload, and held one finger over the "Pause" button at all times. Even though Fear was happy to hold my hand through all three DVD's, I was glad for the company. And when the lights came back on, Know and Info were there to bring me back home.
After that, a flame had been lit, and it consumed books as fast as I could download them into my Kindle Fire. First on the list was "The Warrior Elite"by Dick Couch. Excellent, excellent, excellent! After that, "Lone Survivor" by Marcus Luttrell, a must-read for EVERY American citizen (although it should come with a pocket in the back cover filled with Kleenex, so bring your own.) "The Hand & the Fist", " The Finishing School" , the list goes on. With each page turned, my understanding of the magnitude of what my son was trying to accomplish grew. My knowledge grew. My expectations and military awareness grew. My pride, my fears, my hopes, my dreams for my son . . . all of them grew.
A few months later, at my sons BC graduation in Feb, 2013 he looked at me with a question mark in his eye. "Mom," he began," you know all those cards you sent me and you were asking about Ricky Heaven, Peanut Butter shots, and PIR? Honestly, I had no idea what you were talking about at the time. How did you find out about all that stuff before I did?"
"Son", I thought to myself as I stood there smiling my sweet Navy Mom smile, "let me introduce you to two good friends of mine . . . "
When my son announced he was joining the Navy, a whole new dimension in my Matrix formed. It developed out of vapor with no intent or effort on my part. All of a sudden it was just there, crowding in with all the other aspects of my life. My identity had just been hacked, and I wasn't sure who this new "military mom" was that kept looking back at me in the mirror.
She wasn't wearing any of the usual hats. I knew the "Mom" hat, her favorite, looks like a helmet covered with bits of spaghetti, grime, tear stains, and grease from raising two boys. Her "Honey" hat is intertwined with satin and metal mesh and has been a prized fashion accessory of hers for the past 28 years. Her "career" cap is a bit trompled, but has served her well. Her "Spiritual" hat remains the purest white regardless of how much dirt she drags it through, which is a lot, and it always seems to sit a little crooked on her head for some reason.
But, now, the woman staring back at me in the mirror had no hat on at all. And then, I remembered. People in the Matrix don't wear hats; they wear dark sunglasses. This I could work with! I grabbed my favorite pair of shades from my purse, slipped them on, and stept out the door protected from the harsh brightness of this new dimension. My son had been signing his paperwork at the recruiter's that morning and we had plans to meet for lunch. I was late to pick him up.
He greeted me in his normal fashion when he opened the door with that charming crooked smile, a shrug, and a warm hug. The twinkle in his eye turned into a beacon as he told me about his meeting with the recruiter just hours ago, and my pride in him swelled. As we turned to leave, I noticed a bag on the stairs emblazoned with a 'US NAVY" logo. He followed my gaze and walked over to it, explaining he had brought it home from the recruiters. "I thought you might want this," he said, reaching in and rummaging through it's contents. I loved it at first sight, this baseball cap in the perfect shade of navy with gold lettering. "AMERICA'S NAVY . . A Global Force For Good". When I slipped it on, my Matrix upgraded from Beta testing to Live in one heartbeat.
I wear my Navy hat now at every opportunity. I wear it with love . . in support of my son and all military families, past and present . . . and I wear it with great pride. I wear it to identify myself as a proud Navy Mom, and I am very grateful to have found it. I never was a long, dark trenchcoat kind of girl.
Coming Up For Air
Breath is Life. I heard that somewhere, and have recently discovered just how true it is. There is no getting around it; Navy Mom's need to learn how to breathe. Not Yoga breaths, or shallow breaths, or deep breaths . . but Navy breaths, or NB's, because in the miltary it seems everything is referred to by initials.
NB's take you by surprise. They occur when your son/daughter tells you they are enlisting . . NB . . you watch them mingle among friends and family at the Send-Off party . . NB . . you wait with them at MEPS while they take the Oath at their swearing in . . NB around the lump in your throat . . you grab that last hug, and follow their back with laser vision as they walk away . . NB in gulps . . . you anticipate boot camp phone calls . . NB and wait, NB and wait, NB and wait . .you watch them graduate at PIR . . NB while choking back tears of pride. As fledgling Navy Moms, we become inhalation experts in no time! The funny thing is, even though my son is the one who decided to become a SEAL, I felt like the one who was holding my breath underwater.
After boot camp, though, things have changed. My son has more freedom . .NB sigh . . I can call him, text him, skype him . . NB ahh! We don't communicate a lot, and he doesn't answer texts as quickly as I'd like (if at all), but still, life and breathing are so much more . . natural. The intensity of sending a loved one off to the Navy has lessened a bit, and suddenly I am treading water, instead of being immersed in it. My head has popped above the water line, and even though I recognize my old familiar world on the distant shore, I don't swim towards it. My life has changed, and with that change comes a whole new shore waiting to be discovered. It lies somewhere beyond BUDS . . breathe . . beyond Hell Week . . breathe, breathe, breathe . . and I begin to feel the current pulling me away toward . . something. I don't feel scared or fearful, though. I feel expectant. I know there are many other Navy Moms out here in these waters, and we will find each other sooner or later in the current. I also know that when we do all of us will be perfectly fine because, as Navy Mom's, we not only have learned how to hold our breaths for a very long time, but each of us has already discovered, and earned, our water wings.
(This is a continuing blog which will be added to on a regular basis. As a fledgling Navy Mom, I find myself growing in fits and starts with the help of other Navy families that I have been truly blessed to meet and share this experience with. Please feel free to send a "friend request" to my page if you would like to stay in contact.)