Yesterday I received the first letter from my son, Recruit Valtierra.
My daughter was thrilled, I was relieved.
Inside the envelope was a two page letter from his Senior Drill Instructor. Although it’s a standard form letter, I found it to be quite comforting. The portion of the letter from my son was addressed to “mother and father” and basically told me his platoon number and his graduation date.
July 27, 2012.
The letter was typed, but he did sign his name. I cried when I saw his handwriting. Tears of joy, tears of Oh My God, I Miss Him So Much.
My cousin is a Marine and he gave me some really good advice on writing letters to my son. He said that when you’re in boot camp, you’re extremely home sick. He said to keep the letters positive and encouraging. As I wrote my first letter back to him, I resisted the urge to be all “I miss you so much that I cry every and life is so sad without you.” Instead, I spoke of how proud I am of him, reminded him how strong he is and told him to always believe in himself and that HE CAN DO THIS. And then I told him how I cleaned under his bed yesterday and found 4,302 empty water bottles and why you gotta be such a slob, boy?
I just feel so much better about everything knowing that I can finally communicate with my son.
Related: How many letters is too many letters? One a day? Every other day? I don’t want to overwhelm him, but I also want to be sure he knows we’re here thinking of him, supporting him as best we can.
I was sitting at my desk, working. My son walked into my room, laid on my bed and began playing the guitar.
“Have you heard this song, mom?” He asks.
I feel the ache in my chest as tears start to form in my eyes. I answer his question, fighting back the tears.
“No, I’ve never heard it. Play it for me.”
He does. I close my eyes and listen. He sings, he plays. I think back to when he first started playing guitar. He was just a little guy, with a little guitar that his Grandpa had bought for him as a Christmas gift. I remember the day of his very first lesson. He packed his guitar carefully into the case and carried it outside with such care and much pride. Playing the guitar became a passion of his. He plays with his brother in the garage, he plays with his church worship band. He learns his little sister’s favorite songs and plays for her while she sings along.
There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t play his guitar. There have been times where I’ve asked him to go play in the garage or to close his door because mama needs silence to watch Real Housewives of Orange County. But the truth is that the music he makes with his guitar is a source of great happiness.
In just thirteen days, the sound of my son strumming on the guitar will cease. I don’t know if my heart will be able to stand the silence.
When your kids are little, one thing you can’t help but wonder is what are they going to be when they grow up?
A teacher? A fireman? A veterinarian?
When my first born was little, I would ask him what he wanted to be when he would grow up and he always had a different answer. He never had a passion for a specific career. “He’s little. He’ll figure it out as he lives his life.” I’d tell myself.
When he was a junior in high school, he had to make up credits for failing a class. He enrolled in a criminal justice course. After week two of the class, he decided he wanted to be a police officer. Of course, that made me both proud and also kind of sick to my stomach. Such a courageous choice– to protect and serve– but one that comes with great risks. But, I was happy that my son finally had decided on a path for life after high school.
He had a plan.
And then, one day after graduation he went with a friend to the Marine Corp’s recruiting office.
The next day, he informed me that his plans had changed.
“I want to join the Marines.”
My heart sank. I tried not to panic. I told myself once he researched and talked to people who had been through boot camp, he’d change his mind!
He started going to physical training at the recruiting office every day with his friend.
One thing I’ve learned is that when you tell people that your kid wants to join the military, they tell you that you should be proud! How brave! SUPPORT THAT BRAVE SON OF YOURS! The truth is that was not my first reaction. My first reaction was “No. Not my son. Never my son.”
Over time, it became clear to me that my son wasn’t going to change his mind. In fact, he became more sure with each passing day. We had many conversations about why he wanted this for his life. He articulated “why” in a thoughtful, intelligent manner. After one particularly intense conversation, I decided that I would stop saying “not my son!” and support the hell out of him.
Earlier this month, he went to LA for two days to go to MEPS. He passed his test and the physical. He was sworn in as a Marine Reserves recruit. He’s just waiting for an official ship out date for boot camp. Yesterday, he was told it’s very likely that date will be March 19th. (But possibly as late as August.)
So, how am I feeling about his decision at this very moment?
I’m a mixed bag of emotions. I feel proud– My son is courageous and brave. I feel nervous– My son will be away for 13 weeks at boot camp where he will be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally in ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend. I know he is strong and that he is smart, but I can’t help but worry about what he will go through during those 13 week. I feel sad, I feel excited, I feel unsure, I feel SO MANY THINGS.
The other night I was sitting on the couch with my husband watching TV. During a commercial, my husband turned to me and said “can you believe our son is going to be a Marine?” I could see that he had tears in his eyes. “STOP IT.” I said. “JUST STOP IT.” We both just sort of lost it. We started to cry and talk about how quickly our first little baby grew up and remember how we used to just hold him and look at him and be in awe of him and kiss his fat little cheeks and sing to him and rock him and just LOVE OUR SWEET LITTLE BABY?
That baby is all grown up now and in a few weeks, he will be a changed man. I am looking forward to the day I can say that I am The Proud Mom of a Marine.
Last night was an amazing experience.
I expected to cry a lot. I expected to be an emotional wreck. And sure enough, as soon as we pulled into the stadium parking lot, I began to cry. “I can’t believe this is happening.” I said. “Are you crying already, Mom?” My Ethan asked, in a Very Annoyed Tone.
We got out of the car and grabbed our things while Andrew adjusted his tie and put on his cap and gown. I watched him as he made sure everything looked just right. I hugged him before we left to get in line. “Enjoy yourself, Son. Cherish this moment.”
When we entered the stadium, I grabbed a bunch of tissue and stuffed it in my purse. I wanted to be properly prepared for The Ugly Cry.
The proud parents, patiently waiting for the ceremony to start.
The ceremony started. I waited to see my son walking to his seat. “There he is!” I shouted. We all started screaming his name. “Andrew! ANDREW!” We waved and waited for him to look our way. (He never looked our way.)
I didn’t cry.
I asked my mother in law if I could borrow her binoculars so I could watch him as we waited for everyone to be seated. I wanted to see his face. I found him in the crowd. He had the biggest smile on his face which was exactly what I was hoping to see. I felt overwhelmed with pride.
I didn’t cry.
The ceremony started. The principal spoke. The kids cheered. One of the students gave her speech. The kids cheered. Then, they said they were going to begin announcing the names of the graduates. Everyone cheered.
I didn’t cry.
I waited patiently while they called names. When it was time for my son’s row to stand up, I ran downstairs to get a better view for a photo. I saw him in line. I screamed his name, jumped up and down and waved. He saw me, smiled as big as he ever has and waved back.
I didn’t cry.
The women with the microphone in her hand announced his name. I zoomed in and took a shot of his sweet face. I screamed his name. “Andrew! ANDREW! ANNNNDREW!” I wanted him to look my way, I wanted him to wave so I could get a shot of how proud he was. I screamed some more. He never did look my way.
I didn’t cry.
The kids turned their tassels, threw their hats in the air while we clapped and cheered wildly for our boy. I watched and laughed as the graduates went crazy on the field. I thought back to the day I graduated– it was the most thrilling moment in my life. I felt so blessed to be there watching my son experiencing that milestone in his life.
I didn’t cry.
Today, as I reflect on last night, I feel incredibly proud of my son. He had some struggles during his high school journey and there were times I didn’t think he was going to make it. But he pulled through in a big way and HE DID IT.
This morning, I asked him how he felt the day after graduation.
“I feel good.”
“Are you proud of yourself?”
“Yeah, I am, Mom.” He smiled.
“You should be, son. You worked hard and I’m proud of you.” I replied.
I walked out of his room. Closed the door, went into the bathroom, took a deep breath.
And then, I cried.
That’s what I looked like after 24 hours of labor. And that’s pretty much how I feel at the moment.
However, I’m so completely in love with my daughter. I don’t mind the lack of sleep and discomfort. Not at all.
I want to tell my “baby story” but there’s no time between feedings, diaper changes, kisses and taking care of my boys. I just wanted to thank everyone for the comments and emails. We are overwhelmed by your love and support.
I’ll leave you with a couple pictures of the most beautiful girl in the world.