There’s a delicate balance we must strike as a military academy parent.
On one hand, our immense pride often makes it difficult to avoid bombarding people – friends and strangers alike – about our amazing kids and their incredible journey. To one degree or another, we want to share our excitement, but let’s face it, not everyone is entirely receptive to us yammering endlessly about the application process, getting a congressional nomination, I Day, etc.
On the other hand, we do have something of an obligation to help educate people about what attending and graduating/commissioning from a military academy involves.
Upfront, let me say that most people will never fully understand. In fact, unless you have a direct connection, I’m not sure you can ever really understand.
For those you know, this usually starts when your child begins the process of applying.
Friend: “So what schools will Catie apply to?”
Me: Well, she really wants to go to one of the academies, so she’s applying to West Point, Annapolis, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
Friend, with eyebrow furrowed and head cocked): “So … she’s joining the military?”
Me: Sort of …
Friend, shrugging his shoulders: “I guess I just assumed she was going to college.”
Me, taking a deep breath before explaining …
Throughout the application process, people would check-in and ask how it was going. About the only part most really came to understand was that we needed a congressional nomination. What they didn’t understand was that nomination was no guarantee.
Don’t get me wrong, our friends and families were extremely supportive through all of it. But at a certain point, I came to accept that most of them would never really understand all of it.
And that turns out to be OK. As our son worked his way through the Naval Academy, it didn’t seem important to explain that he couldn’t really change his major if he wanted to or that he didn’t get to really choose his job after graduation. I’m seeing a lot of similarities with my daughter.
Of course, we had the same questions about the application process. But when she was nominated to attend the Prep School, we had a new layer of confusion added to the mix.
“So she didn’t get into the Air Force Academy?”
Well, sort of. You see …
“Huh. I wouldn’t have thought she’d need some sort of remedial program. Did she have trouble in school?”
Remedial? That’s not …
‘”Well, what’s she going to do now that she won’t be an officer? Will she just enlist? Maybe she could go to community college for a couple of years.”
No, wait. Sigh. Let’s start again.
One of the misconceptions that will inevitably arise is that once you’re at an academy, it’s all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. I don’t know why that happens, but some folks think once you get into an academy, you’re on Easy Street. This one I usually can’t let go. In a nutshell, I tell people you will never work so hard to work so hard.
Now that we’re in the thick of the run-up to Recognition, there are two types of responses to the “how’s Catie doing?” question. For most, it’s a variation on she’s stressed about balancing academics, military obligations, and cheerleading. For those that were along for the USNA ride, I can talk more openly about the stress of getting to Recognition, explaining the similarities between Doolies and Plebes as well as the Herndon Climb and the Run to the Rock.
I want so much to be able to explain to those that ask what being a Doolie means. I want them to understand the importance of Recognition. But the fact is, few will get it. When I try to explain, I usually get a play on “yeah, freshman year can be really difficult.”
It used to frustrate me, but I’ve come to be OK with it. I’m in a special group, the parent of an academy attendee and future military officer.
There will be opportunities to explain some of the details, but not all at once.
That means I can wait until after Recognition before bracing myself for the “what do you mean she’s not coming home for the whole summer?” discussions.