An Outreach Program of MarineParents.com
I don't know about any of you, but when I was the 20 year old mom of a brand new baby boy, the hospital sent me home with blankets, bottles, even pacifiers and diapers, but somehow failed to give me an instruction manual on what to do with this wrinkly, crying, pooping bundle of joy. Fast forward 20 something years later, throw two more kids in the mix, and somehow they all managed to come out of childhood in one piece, relatively unscathed....purely by miracles, accident and God's good graces combined with His sense of humor, I'm sure.
June of 2012, the last one walked across the aisle, received his diploma, and a month later turned 18, and much to my chagrin, there was no huge sigh of relief on my part. I was disappointed...I had been waiting for this huge weight to be lifted from my shoulders. You know the weight I speak of, the one that you feel from the moment they are born, through their first steps as they stumble and teeter, to their first day of school while they walk in like a trooper disregarding the fact that you are sobbing, bumbling ball of nerves in the hallway of that school, to the late nights waiting up playing the 'bargaining game' with God on what you would be willing to do if He will be gracious enough to let them come back from this late night with friends in one piece, to the day you fight back the lump in the throat watching 13 years of schooling culminate into their first steps into the real world of adulthood. So, there I sat at that ceremony....waiting.....waiting....nope. No sigh of relief.
Instead, what I got a month or two later was like a bad remake of "Groundhog day" or karma playing a nasty trick of dejavu. My baby went from a wrinkly, crying, pooping bundle of joy (or not so much at 2 in the morning) to a muscled up, lanky, crap-talking man-child who was speaking a language I didn't understand. It had terms like ' boot camp' and ' DI' and ' MEPS'. It required me to learn an entirely new language to be able to speak to him, which was very parallel to the same scenario 18 years earlier when I had to learn what cry meant ‘hungry’, ‘annoyed’ ‘sleepy’ or ‘wanting attention’.I went from watching him take his first steps, teetering and tottering (and me fighting the urge to catch him as opposed to let him learn it on his own) to me watching him take the first steps into this new life of a Marine. I went from watching him walk into his kindergarten classroom like a trooper to watching him swear in and ship out all the while I was STILL a sobbing, bumbling ball of nerves from the moment I walked out of that MEPS station watching him ship out to the very anxious moments I received that first letter. I went from playing the ‘bargaining game’ with God on hoping he got back from outings with friends in one piece, to thoughtful, trustful prayer (see, I HAD learned something in all those years!) praying he made it through the inevitable weight loss, tiredness, recruit pneumonia of boot camp to come out a Marine. I went from fighting back that lump in my throat from watching 13 years of schooling culminate into his first steps into adulthood, to watching my baby boy walk across that parade deck as a new Marine…..and this time the tears flowed proudly!
There never was an instruction manual as a parent. I made mistakes…some small ones that taught me I probably shouldn’t do that again to some huge ones that I learned once-in-a-lifetime life lessons from. I wasn’t perfect. You would think with each child I would have gotten better….but each was different and unique and it required a huge gambling game of trial and error to see what worked. Eventually, I found my niche, my groove, and we all made it through.
It’s been very much the same with this new phase…this Marine Corps life. I’ve learned to tone down some emotions. Let him fight his own battles. Let him make his own mistakes and learn to deal with consequences. Let him reach his own accomplishments and bask in his glory when he does. Boot camp, graduation, ITB, PDS, deployment….it’s all been a learning curve. Trial and error are still my main tactic. My prayer life has grown tremendously. My support system has become more selective. My skin has grown thicker, my heart has grown larger and has had to be repaired a few times, but has made it through. I’ve learned to seek the wisdom of parents who have ‘been there’. I’ve learned to lend quiet support and advice, only if asked for, to parents who are footsteps behind me in their journey. There was no instruction manual 20 something years ago. There is none now. But I’m learning as I go….as we all are…..one step at a time.