I’ve been absent for a bit-we were getting ready to send Joe off to Boot camp, and from there he would go down to Charleston, SC for Navy Nuke School.
And it’s hard! SO very hard. I didn’t want my blog, something I’ve enjoyed writing for years to be months of me crying and weeping that I was going to miss him, so I kept to myself a bit. We helped him clean out his room, get his accounts in order, and just get ready. I peppered him with little tidbits here and there.
"Please make sure you eat healthy, ok?" I would tell him over breakfast, "Eat some fruits and vegetables, promise me?"
"Stay away from those girls that are just looking to marry a guy in the military, ok?"
"If you need help with laundry, just give me a call."
And to his credit, he rarely snapped at me, and he promised me he would do all those things. If he needed help with his nuke classes, he would ask for it, and he would study hard.
He promised that he would write, and call when he could.
I told him he had to make time for fun too, I don’t want him burning out. He promised he would, and that he would make friends.
I want him to be 18! Nuke school is the top (and forgive my bragging here a bit!) 10% of Navy recruits! The top 3% of high school seniors are the qualifiers here, and our Joe is one of them! I know the school is grueling, the hours are long, and at the beginning the pay off might seem far away, but in the end, if he finishes this school, he’ll be set. This type of training can translate into a good job in the private sector if he chooses not to make the Navy his career.
But he’s still only 18. The boys he will be going to school with, and they are boys, will be his age or just a few years older. They need time to be kids, and I hope they take advantage of their liberty-responsibly!-but they need that time.
And yesterday was the day.
Driving down to the recruiting station I thought back to exactly one year ago. We were on our way to a family vacation in Gatlinburg, TN. I looked behind us as Roy drove-Joe was asleep, they younger boys either staring out the window or playing games.
"I only have a year left with him." I told Roy, choking on the already present tears.
Roy reached across the seats and gripped my hand, “We still have a year.”
And we tried to make sure Joe was ready-we made memories, and pushed him to get his license. We made sure he prepared himself physically, and encouraged him to get a job to save some pocket money.
We kept on top of him, it was his senior year after all, in regards to his grades. And before I knew it, he was graduating.
"We still have a month." Roy told me.
And we watched movies, went to the ‘water hole,’ and I fixed his favorite foods. And that month became a week, and that week became 24 hours.
I struggled-do I pack as much as I can into those final 24 hours at home, or keep things normal-as Joe is the type to appreciate normality.
I decided to keep things normal. I let him sleep in-as surely days of sleeping until 10 am will be few and far between.
I did make a big breakfast-it was Corey’s 20th birthday too, but I kept it simple. Corey’s favorites, and everyone around the table.
For dinner I made something I figured everyone would like-but it wasn’t a five course meal.
And I think Joe appreciated it. It was a final day of being taken care of by mom. He played with his younger brothers and assured Dean that he could have his room when he left. He took out the dogs and watched a silly movie with Roy and I.
And then, when he finally went to sleep I crept into his room at around 2 AM. It was the last night this would be HIS room.
Sure, he’ll come home, but barring an emergency (knock on wood) Joe has chosen his path and is finding his way. And because this is how things are supposed to work, I have to let him go.
And I did, though there was some tears on my end. Joe is just like Roy in this respect-he’s a rock, a stone wall, but he hates to see his Mom hurting. So, I tried not to cry in front of him too much. I didn’t want to make him feel guilty for being excited, for looking forward to this next step in his life.
But I couldn’t help it yesterday. We didn’t have much time in the recruiter’s office. We got to say goodbye, and then Joe was off. I know Roy purposely wanted to not prolong anything-the more upset I got, the more upset Joe would get. And that isn’t any way for him to start this amazing new phase in his life.
I hugged him, and had trouble articulating what I wanted to say:
That we were so proud of him. That no matter how hard things get, we know he can do this. That despite being bigger than me, he’ll always be my little boy.
I wanted to tell him that I loved his big heart, and his amazing kindness. I wanted to thank him for making me laugh over the years, and for being a truly wonderful big brother.
I wanted to tell him that he was taking a piece of my heart with him, and that I love him more than he would ever know.
But all I came up with was, “Be careful, and do your best.”
Roy hugged him next, and I couldn’t hear what he said, but Joe turned to me again, hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I love you Mom.”
I felt his arms around me, and remembered the little boy that would hug my legs and ask me for a ice pop. But these arms were strong, and I wanted to cling to him for just a moment longer.
"I love you too sweetie. So very much."
Roy put his arm around me and said to the recruiter, “Take care of him for us.”
And I felt the tears course down my face, as I saw him smile and wave at me one more time before the door closed.
The ride home was quiet. I looked out the window, and remembered so many things: His smile, how excited he was to graduate. His pride at being accepted to this program.
When we got home, Roy said he was proud of Joe.
I nodded and Roy took me in his arms, “It’s going to be ok, honey. He’s going to be great.”
I just nodded.
When we were dropping Joe off, one of our favorite songs came on the radio. “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas.
"Are you kidding me?!" I said, and the three of us laughed.
Joe’s not wayward. He’s not unpredictable or volatile, he’s a rock. A calm port in the storm, just like Roy.
And Roy reminded me of something yesterday, and no doubt he will again:
Joe is finding his way down that path we call life, and we should be proud of him.
But still, when I walked into his room this morning, and looked around, it felt strange. He wasn’t at his desk, in fact his computer is gone-he sold it to a friend that couldn’t afford a brand new one. The books he wants to keep have been boxed up, and stored in our basement. The clothes he didn’t want passed down to the younger boys. All the little things that made it his room-are gone. Either packed up, passed on or thrown out.
I stood there, and looked around and the tears came again.
This is what happens next. The kids move on, and I have to hope we did all we could to get them ready for whatever comes next.
But still-I miss him so very much. I see his face in my mind constantly, and it sucks that I wont’ get to see it every day anymore.