My Facebook stream often confounds me, but that’s almost a certainty this time of year. As our school district’s year would careen to a close, many parents would make posts bemoaning the fact that the kids soon wouldn’t be at school every day.
As a practical matter, I understand some parents have to make accommodations for their kids’ supervision over the summer. But I knew plenty of parents who didn’t have to do that but still lament their loss of freedom.
Not me. In fact, I was often as excited as the kids for the last day of school. Whether it was the stretch of summers where we spent practically every day at the pool or just having enough time to get ice cream for lunch or being able to stay up late on a weeknight playing rummy, I couldn’t wait for summer. While the school year was jammed – everything from academics to sports to music to other extracurriculars all stuffed into the same nine months – that meant the summer was a 180-degree turn. There were few, if any, real responsibilities and I loved sharing some of that freedom with my kids.
I didn’t pay any extra attention to the summer after my son’s junior year of high school. In fact, I remember talking to him about his next summer, the summer after he would graduate from high school. I shared with him that special feeling, that unique stretch where you are freed from the bonds of high school but have yet to take on the challenges of college. There was something magical about that in-between time.
At the time, I didn’t realize he would never experience that. While the military academies provide their young men and women with a lot, they take a lot, too. And the first thing they take away is that special summer. My son’s graduation party was on Father’s Day and just a few weeks later we went through the nightmare of I Day. Four years later, after a COVID-impaired senior year, my daughter’s special summer would be cut short by her I-Day at the Prep School.
One of the many lessons you learn when your kid attends one of our academies is that summer vacations are no longer a few months of care-free living, but a different type of preparation for life as an officer. Instead of three months, you find out that they have three weeks if you’re lucky.
Friends with kids at civilian colleges will regale you with stories about internships that prepare their kids for life in the workforce or a great summer job or a fun adventure. Academy kids do the same thing except instead of “or” it’s “and” because they do all three pretty much every summer. And while most of my aforementioned friends have their kids home all summer, we academy parents are lucky if we see ours for a few weeks. Plenty of parents have told me about how their Cadets and Midshipmen use their actual summer vacation to take trips with friends or some other adventure.
Like I said before, this is exacerbated by the fact that summer training means radio silence. So it’s not like you can expect weekly updates. My son’s first adventure after his Plebe Year at USNA was a 30-day backpacking trip through the Alaskan backcountry through NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). We heard from him just before he started about a month later when he got off the trail. For his first submarine cruise, he couldn’t tell us if he was going on a boat, let alone which boat, only that we wouldn’t be able to reach him “for a while” and that he reach out when he could. A few weeks later, we finally heard from him.
So part of me wants to just hold my breath and wait for summer training to be over so I can see my daughter, so we can hang out, eat lots of ice cream, watch the new season of Stranger Things (finally), and go on some mini-adventures. But the smarter part of me (which is admittedly the smaller part of me) knows better. Time at the academies is broken into three parts – that first summer, the first academic year, and the final three years. And that last third flies by. So as difficult as it is, I have to let it go at its own pace. Because in the blink of an eye, she will be commissioning and I know I’ll be looking back and thinking those three weeks together in the summer were an eternity that I’ll never see again and would love to have even a fraction back.
So take your time, Summer. Take your time.