Make sure you add summer to the list of things your friends at “normal” college will not understand, most notably the silence.
Being male and female is only one of the myriad of differences between my kids. He’s an omnivore who will clean his plate even if it’s something he doesn’t particularly like. She will politely decline. She will read a book just for fun while he would rather watch his favorite YouTuber. When it comes to birthday gifts, she will take the lead and drag him along to the finish line. Communicating with him is always an adventure because you never know when it will happen or on what platform (the only reason I have Snapchat on my phone is that for a 6-month stretch that was the only way I could get a hold of him). With her, I can count on an Instagram video chat on most every Saturday and a snail mail note every month or so.
With summer, though, I will expect her to follow the same pattern as her brother – mostly silence. For the majority of the year – from August through May – the entire Cadet Wing follows a fairly similar schedule. That’s something your friends with kids at civilian college can relate to, without obvious differences.
But summers are a much different story. Your friends’ kids are likely falling into one of three categories this summer – coming home and working, doing an internship, or having their own version of summer vacation. And they will probably be easy to contact.
That’s not the case when your kid is at a military academy. That’s because your cadet is likely to do all three of the aforementioned options in a single summer and the particulars can change in the blink of an eye. During our son’s first summer he spent a month backpacking through the Alaskan backcountry as part of the National Outdoor Leadership School, did his first submarine cruise, and then went back to the Academy to try out for the sprint football team.
Communication during that time was sporadic, to say the least. We talked to him the night before his Alaska excursion (side note here – let me tell you how awesome your military family is. Months before my son got the green light for NOLS, I came across a random post on a USNA parents page on Facebook mentioning something about hosting people in Alaska. Once he got the green light, I dug up the post and reached out to the mom who could not have been more gracious. She picked him up at the Anchorage airport, housed him for a day or two at her beautiful home, feeding him all the Alaskan delicacies you could name, drove him to the NOLS location, then after the adventure, picked him up and put him up for another day or two at a 5-start B&B level before taking him to the airport for the ride home. #YourMidIsMyMid and #YourCadetIsMyCadet). Then we saw the social media posts when he completed the adventure. He transitioned to Kings Bay, Georgia for his submarine cruise. The details were vague as we were introduced to OPSEC. He couldn’t tell us where he was going or when he was going or how long he would be gone. Essentially he said, “Sometime soon, I’m going to be on a watercraft of some sort and you won’t hear from me until I return and I can’t tell you when that will be.” He was true to his word.
Now, the next summer when he did an internship with Microsoft, it was a totally different story. I got regular updates of his work with the Ghostbusters cyber team and managed to visit him for a weekend in Seattle. He even scored us tickets to a Mariners game.
And here we go again with my daughter. We talked during the “dead period” of graduation week and I know she’s doing the survival training thing. I also know that she won’t be Instagram chatting me from the New Mexico desert. Her second session is still up in the air and I probably won’t know what that’s all about until she’s halfway through it. We have made plans for a lot of fun during her “off” weeks but I know that those plans could get turned upside-down in the blink of an eye.
Summer is also a great time to remind yourself of one of my favorite military academy parent mantras – “your experience is the right experience.” Some of your friends are going to flood your Facebook timeline with pictures of their smiling families enjoying a summer full of time together and even some of your Air Force Academy friends will tell you all about how their cadet spent every possible moment with them. That may not be your experience. And that’s OK. For all of those “highlight reels” you see, I can assure you there are many folks on the other end of the spectrum. One USNA (Class of 2020) mom who confided that after I Day, her son hadn’t been home for more than a day or two, spending all of his breaks with friends – December ski trips, warm weather Spring Break trips, Summer Break adventures.
Maybe that’s your Cadet. Maybe your Cadet is going to be in constant communication about their summer adventures. Maybe your Cadet has plans for their time off that don’t include you or maybe they will spend most every possible moment with you. The Cadet Parent experience is not one size fits all.
Whatever your summer holds, remember that your experience is the right experience.