Empty Nest: Step 1

IMG_4227IMG_3877Sean was always drawn to anything having to do with the military.  The only question at Halloween was camo or full dress?  He would pour over military books, and I am not talking small paperback fiction works, he had tombs describing military strategy, equipment, fire power, deployment activities, and decommission dates.  And he knew it all.

Family vacations were generally planned around trying to visit some military museum, and there are plenty of them in the United States.  One of our favorite is outside Pensecola FL; we have been there many times.  Sean would tour the facility informing those around him of each piece of equipment, why it was developed, how and when it was used, and when it was decomissioned.  We heard words of thanks from the vetran military staff, who are mostly volenteers that shared Sean’s passion for all military facts; more than one time over our many visits.  Sean was always more comfortable talking with adults than peers his age.

Sean was a good student.  His grades were always excellent until high school. He attended a private school that had more than its share of liberals; and it made him seeth.  I realized just how rigid he was when he failed an English class because he decided not to turn in the final paper.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t written it; to the contrary; he had written a wonderful 7 page paper, it was A material.  He just didn’t turn it in because the teacher had made repeated negative remarks about a former conservative US President and Sean wanted nothing to do with the teacher.

As Sean entered his senior year of high school we started to get serious about helping him figure out what the future looked like for him.  He would sit and listen, occastionally getting excited about something we brought up; but in the end took no action on any of the options we discussed.  A month before graduation I determined I would be doing an injustice if I didnt create some friction so I informed him that as of graduation he would need to pay rent to live at home and I was not shy about the amount; he would just clear $100 off his part time job after I took my share each month.  He seemed unfazed, and as the days and weeks passed and graduation loomed nearer I genuinely started to question my ability to lead my oldest into a secure adulthood.

Then my husband stepped in.  He spoke to Sean and they decided to go visit the Army recruiter.  Neither my family nor my husbands are what you would call “military” .. so the idea was a bit scary and maybe a mark or two under what I had dreamed for my beautiful baby boy.  But that night Sean glowed and raved about what he had discussed with the recruiter.  I saw a fire in his eyes that made my heart sing!  Sean wanted to go enlist the next day.  I begged him to talk to Navy and Air Force first; so he had all the information to make the best decision.  He agreed.

The next day Sean went to see the Navy recruiter, and a few days later he enlisted in the Navy.  He had tested into the highest tier of training and opted for nuclear engineering, then volenteered for a sub.  Everything was right about the Navy’s offer and plan for him.  All the sudden his life seemed to be mapped out!  And he was happy.. more than happy, he glowed with confidence and anticipation.  He would have to wait until the winter after high school graduation to start, but all the sudden we were in no rush to see him off.  I cherished the that I would have 8 months more of him.  He quit his part time job later that fall and travelled a bit with his father.

He started working out and lost weight and gained muscle.  Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of him and smile to myself.. he had become a man.  Watching him and my husband together was amazing.. they were so alike in their actions.  He was 18 years old, and so handsome.  Yet I still saw him at 18 months old!

He started basic in February 2017.  I didnt know what to expect.  They had him stay at a hotel near the base the night before active enlistment; so I met him the next morning at the training center where he would be checked over, sign all the douments and be sworn in.  It was a tense and exciting morning.  Finially he told me to leave; they would be taking them to the airport to fly them out soon.  He said he would call me if he could but most likely I would get one last call before they took his phone away for the 8 weeks of basic.. he said they would allow him 30 seconds to give me instructions and say goodbye.

I got that call at 9:38 pm that night.  I was in the Dairy Queen drive thru with my two other children.  Sean’s name and face came up on my phone and I immediatly answered he said; “I am in the Navy now mom.  You will get a box with all my personal belongings within the next few days.  I will call you when I can.  I love you.”  and the line went dead.  I immediaetly texted him back and it never showed delivered.  A few days later I got a letter with some copies of documents and an address I could write him at.  I have written him every day since.

A week after that I got a box from him; I opened it and smelled his clothes and cried.

We got a few letters and he sounded great.  He was in his element; we were elated!  We could not have asked for more.  But there were no calls; until 4 weeks in, on a Saturday am my husband and I had taken a walk before going into the gym to work out, and both left our phones in the lockers at the gym.. trying to disconnect from them for a short time after a long work week.  When we returned an hour later we both had 50 second long voicemails with Sean sobbing and telling us how much he missed us and how homesick he was.  We both tried to call back but the man who answered informed us it was an unsecured line and Seaman Recruit Sean S was no longer in the area.  We were devastaed and stood in the lobby of the gym openly crying.  A woman stopped and hugged me without saying a word.

I have gotten two calls since then and a few more letters.  The second call I couldn’t hear a word he said – but I knew he was there and talked for all of 3 minutes til the line went dead (a letter a few days later confirmed he heard us and clung to every word, but the phone was broken so apparently we couldnt hear him!) The other we had a few good minutes to chat and he spoke with his brother and sister.  Even his younger sister who he had major friction with for many years was open and loving talking on the phone with him.  Small blessings!

He will graduate in a few weeks.  I feel like all the worry leading up to him leaving was wasted based on the reports from him; but I wont truely be settled until I see him with my own eyes.  I realize that they are probably prepping us for the years to come where he will be travelling the world and not able to contact us.   Basic training isnt just for the recruits!

Heartfelt thanks to the men and women who serve; and love and peace to the families they have left behind.



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