These past several months have prompted some huge adjustments for me. You see, my son finished high school in June, ending a very successful run in which he completed four years of NJROTC and graduated with High Honors and a GPA of 4.4. He was even awarded a couple of scholarships.
Needless to say, I am extremely proud of him and had always assumed he would go on to earn his college degree. I never seriously considered that he wouldn’t. My son had often expressed that he wanted to join the military after he finished college, which I was totally fine with. He’d most likely enter as an officer, and would be less in harm’s way. Just get that degree first! That’s all I really cared about. Of course I didn’t want him to major in basket weaving, but so long as he studied something he was interested in that gave him a pretty good chance of earning a decent living, I was happy.
However, during his first couple of months of college, I was getting the warning signs. Signs that I pushed aside. The following comments often fell from my son’s mouth:
“Why am I doing the same exact thing I did in high school?”
“When am I ever going to use this stuff?”
“Why did I bother taking all those Honors and AP courses, just to be starting all over again?”
I understood his frustrations because I remember feeling the same way, and I tried to tell him those feelings were normal. And though I was also a high achiever in school and experienced a sense of academic burnout, his experience was still quite different than my own. He took far more rigorous courses than I did. I was in Honors classes throughout high school and graduated salutatorian, but I never took Anatomy, Honors Trig, AP Calculus, etc., like my son. My courses had more of a liberal arts emphasis, and by my senior year I’d met all my requirements so that I could basically enjoy a final year of fluff.
My extracurricular activities consisted of Yearbook and Theater, while my son’s spare time was spent taking part in NJROTC commitments such as community service, lengthy daily practices on the Armed Drill team, parades, competitions and the like, in addition to challenging coursework.
If I’m being completely honest, I shouldn’t have been at all surprised when my son informed me that he was quitting college and planned to enlist. But oh! What a shot to the heart! Was my son, my high-achieving, made-for-college son, really quitting school? This could not be! No, no, no! My kids go to college!
I knew it was coming, as much as I wanted to deny it. And my son even admitted that the comments he’d been making over the prior months were meant to prepare me for his decision, but I still wasn’t prepared. In a world that’s gone crazy with major unrest ever since 9/11, my son has informed me he’s joining the military. After already having lost one child, my mind takes me to places I don’t want to go.
Yet, his unmistakable unhappiness since he started college was no good either. In the end, I would much rather he pursue his own dreams and be happy, than continue in a direction that's not for him, simply because it’s what his dad and I want.
Right around the time all of this came out, and I was mourning the loss of my dreams for my son, a parent who’s part of a Facebook group I belong to was mourning the loss of her young adult daughter to cancer.
It brought me back to when I lost my own daughter to the disease. She was only eight, but I remember for a long while pretending that she wasn’t really gone—just living somewhere else—happy. Living her life in another part of the world, but not gone.
It made me realize how blessed I am that my son is still here. No, he may not be choosing the path that I had chosen for him. No, I won’t see him nearly as much as I do now, and after this holiday season, who knows when the next time will be that we’ll have another Christmas with him. But he’s still here, healthy and free to live his own dreams. I won’t have to pretend that he’s happy somewhere else. He really will be—God willing.
Given that he could be leaving as early as February, this Christmas is most precious to me, and I’m going to spoil that little brat as much as I can. I usually make a ham for Christmas because I’ve only made a turkey once in my entire life, but when my son asked if we could have turkey this year, of course I couldn’t say no. Send a few prayers my way that it won’t be gross.
I guess my message in all this is that, even when we think the hard part of parenting is over, it never truly is. These guys will continue to throw us for a loop, no matter how old. The best we can hope for is that we’ve prepared them to be successful no matter which path they choose. I’m confident my son has what it takes to succeed on whatever road he travels.
And with that, I wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season with your loved ones. Peace!