Of unexpected milestones

When you become a military academy parent, you quickly learn that much of the next four years of your life will be about milestones. From the time your child earns an appointment, you set your calendar by events like I Day, A Day, and Parents Weekend and look cautiously forward to things like job drops and Commissioning Week.

The rhythm of a military academy is ceaseless, unbroken by events that disrupt most people’s lives. It’s all preparation for life as an officer and, of course, life as the parent of a military officer.

So we learned when my kids’ maternal grandfather passed away during my son’s time at the Naval Academy and now with the passing of my cadet’s maternal grandmother this past week.

The bond between grandmother and grandchildren is a mystery I do not understand but thoroughly enjoy. I like to believe I love my kids as much as any parent, but when I would see the vast, unbridled joy in the eyes of their grandparents, I would wonder if I really understood what love is at all.

Me and two grandmothers arriving to bring Catie home.

That bond is pretty much universal and while it’s always special, Catie and her Gram had a near-unique connection. Gram was not only with us through the grueling paperwork part of the adoption process, she and Catie’s other grandmother accompanied me to China to go get Catie while Catie’s Mom stayed home with our then-5-year-old son.

Catie also owes her name to her grandmothers, three of them in fact. There’s Catherine (her maternal grandmother), Anna Mae (who my father married after my mother passed away), and Joan (my mother). That, plus a nod to her Chinese heritage, brought her the name Catherine Joanna Mei.

Catie’s maternal grandmother (and mother, for that matter) was an only child. So she was excited when her grandson arrived but to have a second grandchild, and a matching set – boy and girl – was beyond her dreams. And to be able to travel to China to be a part of it all was something quite special.

As I mentioned in my compilation of notes from that trip to China, the grandmothers were quite popular on the trip. For a number of parents, this would be their first child, so having a grandmother available for sage advice proved a comfort.

It was a whirlwind trip and while I’m obviously thrilled with the end result, it’s not one I’d like to repeat.

As the years progressed, Catie spent a lot of time with Gram and, as is often the case, the bond between grandmother and granddaughter become strong. They were baking cookies together and whenever Catie was performing as a musician or gymnast, Gram was in the seats with a bouquet of flowers at her feet to share after the event.

Like all grandparents, Gram took immense pride in her daughter’s decision to serve her country and would brag to just about anyone who would listen. Since her health declined significantly over the past couple of years, that message sometimes got muddled. I sat with her in the living room while she made phone calls to some friends and over the course of a handful of conversations, she had Catie in the Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force doing everything from flying planes to serving on a destroyer. I just smiled and when we went back to the family room, reminded her that Catie was at the Air Force Academy Prep School. “Ooh, that’s right,” she said.

One of the mysteries of life is the timing of one’s passing and I’ve pondered that with Gram leaving us. Her beloved husband of 60-some years left us in the Fall of 2018 and, frankly, we weren’t sure how long Gram would survive the heartbreak. But here we are nearly four years later. I can overthink these things but I wonder if the combination of her grandson heading out for his first deployment on a submarine made her think she’d better be able to help him as an angel and that her granddaughter having survived Doolie year and well underway on her C3C year would be just fine.

Maybe. Or maybe it was simply just time. Whatever the reason, the rhythm of the Academy demands that we continue moving forward and during the next milestone, Parents Weekend in this case, we’ll take a moment to be thankful and remember.

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