When Ben talked about joining the army, even though I'd always thought the military would be a good fit for him, it was a surprise because he'd not expressed an interest in it before, as far as I could remember. But I thought yes, of course. Military service is well and honorably represented on both sides of our family, with Grandfathers, Great Uncles, Uncles, and a cousin, each having achieved something akin to legendary status. I know my son took many cues from these extraordinary men. That's what the best do ... they take their inspiration from the best and follow the lead.
Ben grappled with the decision to go into the military pretty intensely over many days, and when he made the decision to go Army we couldn't have been more proud. He'd be able to begin his service as a medic and work toward getting his RN while in the military. Of course there's the scary side of military service, but I determined from the start not think about that side of it unless I'm praying. I have yet to meet anyone who went into the service that didn't come out a better person, and I know this will be the case for Ben as well.
Since we'd already booked our February family cruise when he signed up in December, Ben was able to get a deferred enlistment. He worked, saved his money, enjoyed spending time with his friends, time stretched out and it seemed like his ship out day would never come. The family cruise was a sweet time of just being together without the normal at-home distractions. When we came home, we hosted a dinner in Ben's honor with close family and friends, and everyone had an opportunity to speak encouragement and blessing upon him. Most moving to me was what his younger brother had to say, acknowledging Ben's significant personal growth over the past year. Since the kids were toddlers, I've prayed that our family would be a place of personal growth, and that we would recognize and allow it in each other as it happened. What an awesome answer to prayer; to hear it put so succinctly from one sibling to another was the g r e a t e s t pleasure. Then Ben's cousin brought in a little levity by thanking him for taking the pressure off their generation of the family to go into military service. Ha!
The days prior to shipping out shifted into hyper drive and it seemed impossible that the time was upon us. Although I'd had the privilege of accompanying my Dad as a veteran to various military activities, it's a very different experience to see it all from the beginning, when everyone seems so young. We witnessed the swearing in of about twenty people, and that was only one of several groups that day. Then it was time to see our son board the bus and wave goodbye. I'm not going to lie and say there isn't a big hole in my heart. That afternoon I was teary at the slightest kindness, but I'm excited for the beginning of a great life experience opening up for my son, and that's the most important thing.
We watched the bus pull away, and headed home. I did the regular grocery run and bought about $50 of junk food, and it was clear we would comfort ourselves with cookies, at least for one evening. I wanted to tell everyone I saw, "My son just left for Basic Training" but I refrained :o) Day Two was distracted and disjointed and I found everything to do except for what I planned to do. Day Three I leaned into it, treated myself kindly, tossed the to-do list and organized the pantry. My highly sensitive kid-radar is still a little off, missing a blip on the radar. But I'm pretty sure I can trust the US Army to keep tabs on my boy.
I keep thinking back over his childhood and wonder where was the play with the plastic green army men, or the obsession with GI Joe that could've tipped me off that the Army was the way this one was going to go. But it turns out that what I should have been predicting in those early childhood years was that my son would turn out to be high value, strong, steady, compassionate, resilient, deferential, capable, adventurous and personable. On that I would have been 100% correct.