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Archive for the ‘Navy’ Category

I’ve always had an acute sense of loss and sorrow and this summer has provided a heap of fodder for my analytic brain and thin-skinned heart.  I was going to say that this all began in late spring of this year, but that’s not accurate.  Then I was going to say that this all began 20 years ago, but realized that’s not quite right either.  This all began at least 40 years ago and really, much further back than even that.  Believe me, I think about it . . . a lot.  But a blog isn’t the place for those kinds of tales.  Those kinds of tales play themselves out between the hard covers of a bound treatise.  Or on the 30 foot screen.  So I will stick to discussing my feelings of late, for the sake of the blog . . . FOR THE SAKE OF THE BLOG, I SAY!

Twenty years ago, when I was nineteen, I found out I was pregnant with my son.  I was only one year into my tour with the U.S. Navy.  On May 1st of this year my son turned nineteen, and by the end of that month I’d realized, yet again, that my teenage boy was floundering and I needed to guide him.  The problem was that I was close to the end of my rope.  I mean, how many times and in how many different ways can you try to teach a young man before you just want to quit, because hello? is anybody really listening?  So I suggested he consider the Navy.  He was adamantly against it.  For about a day.  Then he started listening.  This was at a moment in time when he was faced with moving forward with registration for fall classes at community college and applying to four-year universities for next year.  Suddenly, he did an about-face and headed to a recruiter’s office.  What he knew and I didn’t was that he’d screwed up his semester grades royally.  When I found that out, I gave him an ultimatum: by August 1st either move into your own apartment or have a ship date for Navy boot camp.  For one thing, I wasn’t going to continue to provide him with all the luxuries of a free ride if, instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to study enough for straight A’s, he was going to treat me like his proletariat housekeeper while he engaged in some grotesquely modern version of teenage bourgeoisie, complete with social texting hours, social gaming hours, and secret drinking parties made legendary by the cell-phone pics uploaded to the cyber-salon called Facebook.  And so, today is August 18th and this morning I am up early because my body wouldn’t let me sleep in on my baby’s first day as a seaman apprentice in the barracks at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command, i.e., Navy boot camp.  I know from personal experience that he’s been up for two hours already.

When my son turned 19 years old in the spring I became prone to musing about my 19-year-old self.  I remembered how fresh and wide-eyed I was then and how I thought the world was my oyster.  Sure, I’d made mistakes, especially concerning college, but then I found the right path.  I was in the Navy, stationed in beautiful San Diego, California and paying my own way.  I was nervous and unsure about my original plans to follow through into an officer’s program.  Was I good enough?  Did I like the Navy enough to want to serve after they sent me to college?  I thought maybe I should just give my four years and use the G.I. Bill to go to college on my own when I got out.  I wasn’t sure of anything, but I felt good about the possibilities.  The beauty of the situation was that it was exactly what I’d been screaming about for the previous 5 years; “I know what to do for myself!  You can’t tell me what to do anymore, I can figure it out!”  I was the master of my own destiny no matter what that may be.  There were so many, many possible paths to take, it seemed like the world was spinning quickly around my head so that it was a complete blur.  If I could just reach out a finger and stop it from spinning, but when?  Where?  In the meantime there was a boy who was directing his attention towards me and despite my uncertainty about everything else in the world, I knew I wanted a boyfriend.

When I started this post by pointing out that this all began more than 40 years ago, what I was thinking of is how my mentality, my perspective on life, my desires are directly rooted in the existences of my ancestors, up through to the family members that raised me.  (And those that didn’t.  Voids can be just as influential.)  Them and television, actually.  And my being has a direct affect on the existence of my son and will affect my grandchildren and so on.  None of us lives in a vacuum.  That is why I was always offended when my elders expressed utter disappointment and disgust in the things I did “wrong”.  I mean, my behavioral patterns were based on something, right?  What I am getting at here is that, in a nutshell, I knew from the time I was 3 years old that I wanted to be a wife and a mother but by the time I was old enough to consider those roles in reality, I hadn’t attained the knowledge of what is required to be a successful wife and mother in a successful relationship.  I’d grown up in a single-parent household.  Our extended family was small and I was the eldest grandchild, so there were no examples to follow.  In fact, it never even occurred to me that anything more than the desire for these things was necessary, I mean, it looked so easy (and joyful) on tv shows.  So when I found myself pregnant, though I was surprised, I never wavered from what had to be done.  My son’s conception is what stopped my world from spinning.  His existence was like a heavy anchor, dropped to the bottom and keeping me grounded.  In a sense I have considered that he was just what I needed to keep me from making any more mistakes.  On the other hand I have often wondered what I could be, where I could be, who I could be if I hadn’t changed the course of my life to raise him.  These wonders were made more poignant by the fact that when his father and I divorced, his father chose a distant role.  3,000 miles distant.  His father put himself before his child, and was free to do as he pleased.  My dreams and expectations of life changed the instant I understood that I was a mother because I was filled with love and commitment beyond my self.  I found sacrifice challenging and natural at the same time.  I had anticipated sharing the duty with a like-minded husband, but it was not to be.  The resignation of my personal choices and prospects was something that continued to exist in my mind, and possibly my soul, like an old chair in the basement, badly in need of a thorough cleaning and new upholstery, acquired for a song from some wealthy old neighbor years ago, which has the potential to look as if you couldn’t have afforded it, but there is simply never enough time or energy to devote to the project of restoring it; after all, it would please no one but me.  When my son made the decision to join the Navy this summer, I was given all the more reason to mull over the last 20 years in anticipation of living alone in this house where I raised him and wondering what to do next.

Specifically, I felt the first thing on the agenda would be to breathe a sigh of relief.  I was still stinging from curse of my son’s teen-age years.  He’d been a complete joy before 14 but starting in the middle of his freshman year he became a regular pain in the ass.  His defiance, his mistakes, his disrespect, his dishonesty, made me question my strength, my abilities.  Had me asking why?  Where is the joy in this?  What is the reward?  So, bitter-sweetly, it seemed the reward would be the relief that would follow his departure. But that is not how it was supposed to happen!  The folks on Facebook praise their children up and down, posting daily affirmations of their undying love for their perfect children, “thank god for my perfect little sally (or johnny) – everything I ever wanted in a child”, and so on.  I am left thinking the worst about my situation.  I feel like I never had any business having a child and bringing him into this disadvantaged existence; no father, an ill-equipped mother (obviously, otherwise he’d have been perfect like everyone else’s children).  I feel like karmic retribution has occurred, for he reminds me exactly of myself and I see-saw between believing that he will be okay and cringing at the realization that I have sent him off into the world without a mature inkling of how to succeed; the flip-side of believing that despite how awful I was to my elders as a teen, I turned out okay and then calling “bullshit” on myself because if I think this is success, then I have another think coming!  I have to be reminded by caring and logically thinking friends that those parents on Facebook don’t share their trials online; that they are all “keeping up with the Jones'” in a neighborhood where nobody even knows where the “Jones'” really live.

I don’t know if you are still reading this, but it is now August 22 and this evening concludes my son’s 5th day at boot camp, away from home.  The first few days after he left I felt pride and happiness mixed with fleeting moments of shock, together under a veil of surrealism.  Any and all ill feelings have evaporated into thin air.  Before he left I decided that I would do “boot camp on the home front” as a challenge to myself and as a symbol of solidarity with my son.  I left for Navy boot camp myself on August 21, 1989, and I love to test my mettle.

I am much older now and out of shape, but yesterday, after meditating and 5 yogic sun-salutations, in the swelter of afternoon heat I ran my “beginner’s mile” and did 20 push-ups and 50 sit-ups.  As I ran I recalled my days at boot camp in Orlando, Florida, running in formation on the macadam.  I wished for my son to find strength when he needs it during this demanding time in his life.  Then I got home from my run and I cried because I miss him so dearly, that kid.  I love him more than anything and that is why it is easy to say that he has been the perfect child, for me.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

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