A few months ago, my son brought up the idea of joining the National Guard.
As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, I was raised to respect the military, to honor our servicemen and women, and to always show patriotism. Because of that mentality, I’ll admit, that for a moment, my heart swelled with pride as I thought of my son choosing to serve his country.
But, as quickly as my heart swelled with pride, my mind filled with fear. I’ve heard the stories of basic training. I’ve seen the officers get in the faces of the recruits in the movies. I’ve listened to those who’ve served talk about the rough days they’ve endured.
Those are the images that invaded my thoughts as I thought of my son, my baby boy, in those scenarios and I wanted to scream, “NO!” However, I kept that to myself as I listened intently to his reasons behind the notion and we discussed the pros and cons briefly.
He talked of meeting with a recruiter and I offered my support and presence when needed. The meeting day came and it was cancelled due to weather. I inquired about the reschedule date but was told he was just going to wait until after basketball season.
With that, I thought it was over, a fleeting idea that had come and gone.
Basketball season ended and college plans had been progressing steadily with no more talk of the military. I assumed we were set. The college was chosen, acceptance received, dorm building assigned, orientation scheduled, and then BAM. With only a few hours of warning, my son informed me of a meeting…with a recruiter.
I tried not to think a lot of it. I showed up, took some notes, and asked some questions. I learned a lot and was honestly impressed with the benefits. My son expressed his desire to graduate college with no debt and even asked about the possibility of paying for law school later. He asked questions about basic training and the required schooling afterward, the jobs available, and the time investment. He asked good questions and made good points.
I found myself beaming with pride at this young man who was concerned with taking charge of his future yet dying a little inside thinking how close we actually were to this possible reality.
That was yesterday and I would be lying if I said I had stopped thinking about it for even a minute. There are so many emotions spinning around and fighting for space between my head and my heart. I want so much for my son. I want him to have the full college experience that I didn’t have.
I want him to go through orientation and all the pre-class activities they offer to help students adapt and get to know each other. I want him to meet up with his new roommate on move-in day and experience the excitement of meeting new people and making new friends on those first days.
Unfortunately, if he decides to go to the National Guard, plans will change. He will be spending those first days in basic training instead of on a college campus.
Orientation will be replaced with a plane ride to boot camp. He’ll be meeting dozens of other new recruits instead of a lone roommate. Instead of hanging out at the school cafe, he’ll be throwing down grubb at the cantine and rather than staying up late taking it all in, he’ll be going to bed while it’s still light outside.
He’ll wake before dark and start his day with workouts in lieu of choosing a fun activity to head to after sleeping until lunch. It will be completely different than anything he’s ever imagined and harder than anything he’s ever done and I will be helpless to make it anything more than what it is.
I have expressed my thoughts of the benefits versus the downfalls. I have hugged him while I cried. I have offered my wisdom and my support without judging his opinions and now I wait. I wait for him to come to me to talk some more. I wait for him to tell me that the recruiter sent the follow-up text he promised. I wait for him to make this decision that I cannot believe that he is even old enough to make.
As I wait, I pray. I pray that I will be the parent I need to be in this impossible situation. I pray that I will offer him the right amount of support and guidance without taking away the independence he is longing to claim. And as I wait and pray, I will prepare to accept whatever decision he makes with the knowledge that with this first act of adulthood he will gain lifelong lessons and memories.
Lora Mae Sullivan lives a quiet life in a small town in Kentucky. She lives with her husband of 26 years, Danny, and her 17-year-old son, Daniel. She works as an instructional assistant in her local high school’s special education department. Lora Mae loves to travel, read, and work with missions through her church.