Our youngest daughter, Cynthia (who is 19), told us a couple of weeks ago that she joined the Navy and would ship out for boot camp on July 15th. She knew we would try to talk her out of joining the military, so she decided not to tell us until she'd signed her final paperwork. To say I was shocked...would be an understatement. The ins and outs of how all of it came about, and the details that lead up to her decision, do not really matter at this point. What's done is done.
Suffices to say, I love my daughter more than life itself and stand by any choice she makes for her life. She was raised to be her own person, and she is doing just that - being her own person. We will all learn to live with the choice she made,...even me. Even though I don't like it.
Now, I don't say that for you to pass judgement on me or how I feel about it. I'm telling you this to be honest. I never expected, when I gave birth to three daughters, to have a child who joined the military. It just wasn't something I was prepared for. I respect people who serve in the military, and I am grateful for their service. I just didn't want my baby girl to be one of them. My father served in the Air Force, my father-in-law served in the Army, and my son-in-law served in the Marines. Again, I am grateful for their service. I just didn't want my baby girl to join the elite club of veterans in my family. Of course, as a parent, I know we don't always get what we want. Our children have minds of their own.
Enough said about that, moving on...
processing - to put through the steps of a prescribed procedure
My husband and I spent a good six hours on Monday with our daughter at the processing center in Dallas yesterday. This is where recruits finish up final paperwork, take another drug test, and have their final swear-in. Truth be told, it's a lot of "hurry up and wait" - something I've been told the military is famous for. Once all recruits have been processed, they ship them out on a bus to the airport to fly them to their various boot camps. Where you fly depends on what branch of the military you joined. The processing center is for all military branches.
We were the first family members to arrive that morning, though not the last, and we had the opportunity to get to know some of the other recruits sitting around in the waiting room. There are several different waiting areas in the processing center, but we were in the main one - in the middle of the room - where the rows of chairs face each other. Needless to say, it's conducive to conversation.
Being the true social person she is, Cynthia had already gotten to know some people. We found out, in a room full of recruits, only nine of them were for the Navy and three of those (other than Cynthia) were female. All the rest of the recruits were going to the Army or the Marines. Cynthia had made friends with the Navy recruits and a few others from the Army.
I really enjoyed getting to know the new recruits. They explained why they chose to go in which branch and what they hoped to specialize in. I heard about their families and how their parents felt about their choice to join the military. We talked about movies and photography and favorite foods. We laughed at Cynthia imitating her favorite television commercial - more than once. I watched them eat snacks, drink down sodas, and play on their phones. They were all very aware those things would be unavailable very soon.
It would be hard for me to tell you what those six precious hours meant to me. It would be even harder for me to tell you what it would have meant to so many of those young people if just one family member had shown up to see them off and sit with them during their time at the processing center. You could see it on their faces, you could hear it in their voices. One young man looked at me, after he got off his cell phone, and said, "My mom was supposed to be here, but she couldn't get off from work. But...she was supposed to be here. I know she'd be here if she could." He walked away for a bit before coming back to the group.
processing - to gain an understanding or acceptance of; come to terms with
The time I spent at the center with those young recruits gave me time to process, too. It was time I needed to absorb the commitment my daughter was making for the next four years of her life. It was time I needed to understand some things about her and the people she would go to boot camp with and serve with. I had really been having a hard time accepting Cynthia's choice to join the military until those young people touched my heart.
When the time came to "ship out," all 88 recruits lined up to head to the bus. All family members were told to go outside by the bus and wait. As my husband and I stood in the parking lot, I felt tears come to my eyes when I saw those recruits walk out in a line. They all looked so young to me. We made our way back towards the end of the line where our daughter was lined with her new friends. The commanding officer gave the command, "Recruits, if you have family members here, fall out - give them a hug and tell them you love them." We both reached for Cynthia to give her one last hug. After we did, the commander said, "Recruits, if you do not have family here but you feel you need a hug, fall out - I'm sure the family members here would be happy to give you one." My husband and I happily hugged some of the other recruits, we wished them well, and told them we knew they would do great!
Before that day, I didn't know what a military processing center was, much less what it was for. It was my assumption, once I was aware of it, that it was a center where recruits go through the final steps of completing their paperwork. While that is one of its purposes, I no longer think it is the most important one. I believe its purpose is to allow time for recruits to process the commitment they've made and what their life is going to be like for the next four years. Six to eight hours of sitting around in a room, bored out of your mind, gives you some time for reflection and anticipation about the next steps you're taking in life.
For me, personally,...I had a unique processing time of my own. Things happen for a reason, you know. I am grateful to the young people who helped me at the center, just by being themselves and sharing their lives with me. I remember all their names, have pictures of all their faces, and they are forever imprinted on my heart.
I am proud of my daughter - of course, I always have been. She is who she is. I would never want her to be someone else for me. I will worry about her, I will miss her, and I will love and support her as she embarks on this new journey. I will pray for her safety and well-being and happiness, as I have always done.
A mother's journey is not an easy one. Our first instinct is to protect our children. When we sense danger, our first reaction is to hold our child close and shield them. As they get older and become more independent, it is a struggle to deny that instinct - no matter how old they are - and even when we know we should. We eventually get better at it, but it takes time...
What can I say? It's a process.
|On their way to boot camp