The Cadet went back to West Point this morning, and as with all goodbyes, it is time for reflection.
I had been prepared by my West Point mom friends to expect changes in my son the first time he came home from USMA. The experience, especially for a plebe (a freshman in civilian speak), is intense. Order, structure and rules are hammered and drilled into them every hour of every day. They walk with their hands cupped because they remember the time during basic training when they didn’t, and their lack of focus caused the entire squad to do pushups. They make their beds with square corners because the fear of returning to their room after a long day of training only to find what they thought was a neatly made bed, tossed into a heap on the floor is overwhelming. They learn the hard way that in this new world full of overachievers, they are average.
Upperclassmen moms start preparing the plebe moms early on to expect changes in their beloved children. Small changes like saying “sir” and “ma’am”, expecting everyone to not just be on time, but to be early; and to (gasp) make their beds. The bigger changes were more worrying…depression, sullenness, anger.
As I waited at the airport a few weeks ago, I was more than a little nervous about who would greet me there. We had seen him last in August when he graduated from basic training. As we hugged goodbye at the end of that way too short visit, he was quiet,and I knew he was more than a little worried. His mind was full of unknowns–roommates he barely knew, classes that hadn’t started, and a mark on the football field that he hadn’t quite made yet.
As Winter Break finally arrived, I got a big hug and an even bigger smile at the airport, but I kept waiting to see the changes. He still played hide and seek with his little sister. He still decorated gingerbread men in gory depictions of decapitated mayhem. He watched football with his dad, and to my disappointment (and secret delight), he still left his room a disorganized array of dirty clothes and sweaty socks.
There was no anger, no resentment of the civilian life he left behind. There was no hint of desperation in his conversations about life at West Point. I saw no sadness, when the time to return drew closer. In fact, he slipped a few times, and called it “going home”.
For 16 days I’ve been waiting to see the “change”. I was even planning my post to say that those other moms were wrong, but then, as I watched him go through security, I saw it. There before me, was a young man full of self-confidence…and he had been with me since he walked off that plane more than two weeks ago.
He was there at the theater when he asked a high school acquaintance working the ticket booth if we could have a military discount. He was there at restaurants when he thanked the waitress and servers for doing a good job. He was there at Target when, two days before Christmas, he asked a scattered employee to help us find the one installment of the Harry Potter movies that we hadn’t seen together.
And finally, there he was with a smile and a wave from the other end of the security line. My wonderful, confident son, who turned to head back to the place he calls home. West Point has turned my boy into a man, and I couldn’t be happier.
Keep your children close, and love them long,