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The Marines Got My Son. All I Got Was this Lousy Empty Room.

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.

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Comment by alex2toes on December 1, 2015 at 8:40am

{{Hugs}} to you Proud Mom! It has often been said on these boards that Boot Camp is for the parents & loved ones just as much as for our Rcts.; which you have just proved again with your post. Stand tall & be proud Momma! You have earned your EGA!

Comment by Proud Mom on December 1, 2015 at 8:35am
I found out my son's grad date and I attended with my family. I was so proud to see him out there standing tall as the great man he has become. I reflected on all the time that had let up to that day. I thought of all the time we had together n all the more time I should have made for him but now the opportunity is gone.
My son graduated boot camp. Came home for 10 days without even a phone call to me. Just a text to tell me he is busy and is going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Then he went off to train for 28 days, had a graduation out there that he only told his girlfriend about, and then went out of state for some additional training. I've spent my days crying and trying to think of what I could've possible done wrong to make my son not want me on this journey. We had always been so close before.
And then...I got a call from him. He told me that he didn't want me to write him in boot camp because he knew he won't have time to write me back because he had to use his extra time to write his girlfriend or she'd be upset. He said that he was so happy that I made it to his graduation. He told me that I have always been a great mom.
So I got off the phone and I realized that I've had this selfless son for 18 years. In those 18 years he cared for not just me, but his siblings. He was always helping, protecting us...standing in the place of the man of the house because his father wasn't around. And now, its his time. He doesn't mean to hurt my feelings or neglect me. He is just taking his place in life and doing what he wants to for himself and now his fiance.
So, I think back to his grad day standing there as tall and strong as he could in his uniform and instead of reflecting on the past, I see the future...my son has chosen the most selfless job he could as a US Marine. He has become a man that not only I am proud of, our country is proud of him too.
Comment by rhondac1966 on November 29, 2015 at 7:43pm

I dropped my son off at MEPS on November 16. I held on to him tight when he told me he had to get on the bus to take him to the airport. I didn't want to let him go. He told me I was crushing his potato chips, so I unleashed my grip. Later when we got home, I went into his room and sat on his bed. The bed was not made, dirty clothes laying everywhere, and his stinky tennis shoes on the floor. I cried my eyes out. Where had the time gone that I wanted back so desperately. It's been 3 weeks and his room is still the way he left it.

Comment by alex2toes on September 11, 2015 at 7:03am

Proud Mom, some kids just can't or don't know how, to talk to their parents. They will talk to anyone else but their parent. Be patient, keep writing him letters of love and support, not looking for anything in return. My son is very gratefully that in his time in the Fleet, I allowed him to be silent. 

Go to his Graduation with as much joy in your heart as you can muster. This is a landmark event in his life, one you do not want to miss.

Comment by Proud Mom on September 10, 2015 at 11:11pm
Your post was amazing! I do not feel like the Marines took my baby boy...I feel like he left me. He left home a year ago to live with his girlfriend. I was so used to my son being near me ever day that I was crushed when he left. He did it because he knew I would let him grow up on his own. The longer he was gone the more he distanced himself from me...not sure why. He just left to boot camp in July. We are weeks away from graduation and I've gotten not one call or letter. I just get information through his girlfriend (which I am so grateful for). This is a boy that used to hold my face with his little hands and tell me that I was beautiful. Now i can't even get a letter.
Every day I pray I get my baby boy back. I miss him so much. And although hurt, I am so proud of the man he has become. My baby boy is going to be a US Marine.
I LOVE MY BABY BOY!
Comment by matty2616 on September 10, 2015 at 8:06pm
Wow absolutely powerful and so true! Just left my Son again after being with him for two days of on base liberty & his MCT GRADUATION. It doesn't get any easier when we have to leave each other, but our time together is priceless & he appreciates it more than he ever has.
Comment by proudmom2015 on September 9, 2015 at 2:13pm

that was a really good read. thank you it made me smile amidst my tears. 

Comment by ShawnIGGYmama on January 15, 2015 at 11:36pm
Julie, we wouldn't miss it for the world! I was there for his kindergarten graduation, 6th grade graduation, and his high school graduation (they didn't have one for junior high). Every graduation is a growth and monument of his life. Each one is also more important than the last! I saved his kindergarten graduation ring (he had no idea) and I gave it to him to put in his pocket for luck at his high school graduation. He needs no token now; he'll be carrying our hearts! ♡
Comment by 1~17smom (Julie) on January 15, 2015 at 10:13pm

Shawn IGGYmama:  Ooorah, and congratulations!  It is these moments of celebration that help keep us Marine parents going.  And yeah, they all look 3 years old.  We can still see our "boy" in the man he has become. After my son's 4 years in the Corps and 2 years as a "civilian Marine" I finally had to take down the boot camp Dress Blues photo of him because every time I looked at it I thought:  'Who is that KID?!"  In it's place, I've put his deployment picture, his wedding photo (!), and him again in his Dress Blues at his last Marine Ball.  He still looks like a kid to me . . . oh, may 12 or 13 years old :)  He doesn't seem to be aging as fast as I am.

Enjoy graduation, I hope you get to go!  Have somebody else take all the photos so you can feast your eyes on him in real time. :)

Comment by ShawnIGGYmama on January 15, 2015 at 10:03pm
Crucible ended this morning. My son is now a Marine! We got a short video at the beginning of week 11 that showed his platoon. I noticed him immediately, but I had to watch it a total of 3 times (and even ask my husband), but there he was! He looked all of three years old. I can't wait to see my man-child next week! What you said about the letters is true. He also went through pneumonia and having all his wisdom teeth removed. He fought to get out of the hospital and graduate on time (which he did). I have a Marine son! He's accomplished his dream. How many people can say that?

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