Every parent who headed to Colorado Springs for Parents Weekend spent weeks anticipating the trip and the time with their cadet. I did as well, but likely with some markedly different emotions.
Last year’s Parents Weekend was a difficult one. Incredibly difficult. I won’t bore you with the details except to say it was the culmination of some real challenges and set into motion events that would forever change the path of our family. I’d like to say that getting past that weekend was the only hurdle in the year that followed, but fate had a different plan.
By the time Christmas break came about, our beloved Falcon was clearly in a sharp decline. When my Cadet came back for Spring Break, we were at an impromptu vet visit when we heard the line we had been dreading – “it’s time to make some quality of life decisions.” I waited until she went back to the Academy before doing something I had dreaded almost since the moment we brought the puppy home some 12 years ago. And it was worse than I had even expected.
By mid-summer, I had lost a very dear friend Marta quite unexpectedly. My Cadet and I were sitting at my brother’s lake house when I saw that I had missed a call from Rick, Marta’s husband. I laughed because Marta was going to be out of town but had suggested that Rick, Catie, and I get together for dinner later in the week. “I bet Marta told him to call right now and set it up so he didn’t forget,” I said. Instead, he told me she had passed.
As we careened toward Parents Weekend, her grandmother passed away. This was no surprise as she had been on hospice care for more than a year, but you can imagine the jolt. After all, Gram was there so many years ago in Guangzhou the day I first met my daughter and had been a part of her life on almost a daily basis ever since.
So that Friday night of Parents Weekend, we had a talk, not about academics or cheerleading or anything Academy-related, but really about life. We shared the challenges we were both wrestling with and how our lives had shifted over the past 12 months. We admitted to each other that there was some anxiety about the weekend, which marked the kickoff to the maelstrom that had re-charted our lives in so many unexpected ways. It was the kind of conversation you never want to have but always hope you will be able to have with your adult children.
After that conversation, as weekends go, it was pretty terrific. I got a scorching sunburn during the football game, we spent a lot of time just hanging out at the house I rented (not to mention sleeping in hard two mornings), managed to get in a great hike on a trail we picked out of thin air, did some important shopping, and I even got to cook her and her boyfriend dinner.
When I dropped them off at the Academy before preparing for my red-eye flight back (not to self – you hated them when you were in your 30s; stop booking them), I asked how she felt. She smiled and said, “Great. I had a great time.” I hugged her a little longer than normal and we knew what was unspoken. We had closed a difficult chapter and were moving forward. Everything wouldn’t be perfect from here on out, but it would be better.
As I was driving back to Denver (again, self, no more red eyes), it struck me how clear a reminder this past year has been to be aware that not everyone is having the same experience, especially at the Academy. For all those cadets having the times of their lives, there are cadets struggling or doubting. For all the parents talking about how awesome everything is, there are parents struggling to get through each day. I thought about how easy it is to lose perspective on all of that. This past year has served as a powerful reminder and I hope to keep that lesson close to me.
Here’s to better days ahead for all of us.