An Outreach Program of MarineParents.com
I've been talking to a lot of Recruit parents lately, and having "flashbacks" to January 2009, when we dropped our son off at the Recruiter station to be sent to MCRD San Diego via MEPS. Seeing him walk away from me -- the little punk didn't even turn around and wave one more time -- was heart wrenching. Getting the ever-famous "phone call" was a shock, because I didn't know that was part of the program (pre-discovery of MarineParents), and didn't quite know what to make of my son shouting at me then disconnecting. After I dazedly hung up the phone, my husband asked, "Was that Andy?" I said, "I think so." He said, "Why didn't you let me talk to him?" I said, "Ummm . . . I don't think that was actually a conversation."
I haunted the mail box a lot, and cried over the first few letters:
Week 1: I hate the DIs. They are really nasty to some of the guys. This is stupid.
Week 2: I hate all these jerks who can't get with the program, and then we ALL get in trouble.
Week 3: The DIs trashed our barracks. We just divvied up the work and got it put back together (ah, a ray of light).
Week 4: I had a really good talk with my DI today. He's a really smart guy.
From there, it just got better. His platoon earned a privilege. He bragged about how he and his buddies earned every single thing they got. He wrote a lot about the Marine Corps values and their amazing history and traditions. He spent one whole letter apologizing for being such a jerk as a kid, and how he realized now how lucky he was to have us as parents . . .
But still, I had this empty room that I avoided tidying up, because it was his, and it still smelled like him. I'd sit on his bed sometimes and look around at the books and the Legos, the pile of drum sticks and sheet music, all the t-shirts hanging in his closet with the dirty running shoes thrown below, and remember how he'd never go to sleep even as a baby. I'd rock and rock and rock him, and he'd finally doze off. I'd move as carefully as I could, slip him into his crib, put my hand on his back for a moment, then step away. UP went that little head and he'd glare at me, and I'd sigh, lean against the crib and rub and rub and rub his back until he finally dozed off for good. Even as a teenager, he would sit on the floor in front of the couch, lean forward, inch up his pajama top and say, "Mom, scratch my back, OK?" He was very specific in his instructions -- it had to be "with the nails, in a circular motion" to be right. We wrote a little instruction manual once, and I told him I would have to give it to his wife if he ever married. I guess I'll have to find that now and give it to her.
All that came back to me today when I read a pained, unhappy comment from a Recruit parent: "I've lost my little boy, and I'm never getting him back."
I can't promise you anything, but if my experience is any measure, I can tell you this:
There is no question that you won't grieve, miss him terribly, fret to almost the point of madness and despair. And that's not just a boot camp phenomenon -- that's why we call this a roller coaster.
But if you had the boy once, you'll get him back. After you see the man your son has become, look into his eyes and heart and here's what I think you'll find: that boy is still there, carried in the heart of a man whose experiences cause him to treasure you more, not less. That boy will sneak out at the oddest of times, and he'll grab old mom and dance her around the kitchen, he'll flop on the couch and start reminiscing about that vacation in Disneyland where he made his sister cry because she's a just a wimp, and wasn't that funny?
If he's a talker, he will just pick up the phone and call you at random times -- on his way home from work, when you are just sitting down to eat dinner, or in the middle of your work day, which he knows darn well -- and he really doesn't have anything in particular to say, he just felt like talking to you.
And occasionally, he'll sit down next to you, lean forward, inch up his shirt and ask, "Will you scratch my back, mom?" while his wife rolls her eyes, and his three dogs slobber on his face, and your husband says, "Yeah, and make sure it's with the nails, in a circular motion," and your son sighs and says, "Yeah, just like that."
So, yes, the Marines got your son, and you got a lousy empty room. But then you get a man with the smile and eyes and memories of your boy . . . and a man's strength and courage, that can carry good old mom through the end of her days.
Way better than a t-shirt.