Summer and those precious phone calls

We all have summer at the same time, but we experience very different summers.

For those with cadets heading into their second, third, or final year, there’s a lot of excitement. Sure, the rising C3C’s have to struggle through combat survival training (CST), but there’s also a more, um, interesting training block to look forward to (powered flight, drones, etc.), and a much-needed few weeks off. And the rising C3Cs and Firsties are typically enjoying something a bit more exciting like an internship or training more aligned with where they hope they are headed after commissioning. Those three classes are scattered about.

The Basic Cadets may be scattered, but that’s only emotionally. Physically, they are all in the same place enduring the same BCT. They get up at the same time as their squad mates, they eat at the same time, and they do everything at the same time. 

Basic parents may experience a wide range of emotions. Some will be fretting every moment, while others will be calm because they know their son and daughter are exactly where they want to be. Many will be in between, sometimes bouncing between the two extremes. Most all will be investing hours poring over Webguy photos, some easily identifying their Basic while others are downloading pictures, zooming in, and asking others for confirmation – “is that him (or her)?” As I’ve mentioned before, those photos can provide relief or anxiety but remember, they are just a moment in time.

This brings us to the one thing that puts all Basic parents on the same schedule – phone calls. While your son or daughter may have been difficult to get a hold of before getting to the Air Force Academy, they are now next to impossible to get a hold of. You’re not able to text, call, or Facetime at your leisure. You have those three scheduled calls. With that in mind, a few pieces of advice, with a reminder that your mileage may vary.

The time is likely going to fly by, much faster than you anticipate, so do a little preparation. Some might consider me a bit of an over-preparer, but not only would I prepare some boilerplate questions in case the conversation lagged, I also had a pre-call discussion with Basic Mom to make sure we were on the same page. When it came to questions, they were often things that, frankly, I didn’t need or want the answer to, but just keep them talking. “How many pellets do you give the fish? How often?”

For the first call especially, limit the number of people on the call. Friends, neighbors and Aunt Tillie may want to chat with your Basic, but it’s perfectly fine to be selfish on this one because quite frankly, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Keeping the audience small helps. It was just me and Basic Mom with the Basic on speakerphone. Made it rather smooth.

Like most things, let your Basic take the lead. Don’t bombard them with a million questions right off the bat. If they are really quiet, you may need to prod them. But if they want to go on rambling about this, that, and the other thing, let ’em go. 

Conversely, you may get one of “those” calls. Your Basic may be glum, and their voice may be shaky. A few things to remember here. First, again, this is just a moment in time. Maybe they had a rough night or morning, maybe they got chewed out just before they called you. They may hang up and something funny may happen that makes them laugh out loud. You’ll never know. Remember, too, that you may be the only person they can vent to about what they are experiencing. So they may have kept a stiff upper lip since I Day and quite possibly the good (well, tolerable, at least) times may have balanced out the bad, but this is their one chance to unload all of that negative stuff. In other words, this call may be their emotional dumpster and once they unload, they may go off on their merry way.

If you get one of “those” calls, all you can do is be supportive. You can’t fix anything. You can’t tell them what to do (because you don’t really know what they’re going through). All you can really do is listen, tell them you care, and that you have confidence in them. Look, you’re a dumpster, remember? All you can do is allow them to unload their emotional garbage.

One specific piece of advice I got when our son was a Plebe at the Naval Academy back in 2016 was to be sure not to tell them you miss them. That seemed counterintuitive to me, but someone explained to me that saying you miss them will only exacerbate feeling homesick, which made sense. What I did do with my Plebe and with my Basic was tell them how much we were looking forward to seeing them on Parents Weekend. On subsequent calls, we’d talk about what they might want to do, eat, or see while we were together. This reminded them that there was a very specific finish line for this summer madness and helped them look past the immediate stress. Milestones are so important at the academies.

And my Cadet recently reminded me that the majority of my worrying is wasted energy. She had CST right out of the gate and the time at Piñon Canyon was of great concern. She’s slight, about 5-foot-1 with a running start and a shade more than 100 pounds wearing her heaviest shoes, so after hearing tales of people dropping significant weight had me wringing my hands. She made it, of course, and told me she did lose about 6 pounds. During our first video chat upon her return, she ate an entire half-gallon of ice cream and a few days later I got a message: So I gained 8 pounds in one week. I’d like to think it’s muscle, but I’m pretty sure it’s just ice cream and animal crackers.”

It just reminded me that worry is wasted energy and all of these things are just moments in time.

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