Many of my sleepless nights can be blamed on a child.
I have spent countless pre-dawn hours rocking a hungry baby back to sleep, holding warm, pink hands through fevers and hugging away bad dreams. I have tip-toed noiselessly into darkened bedrooms just to plant one more kiss, straighten rumpled blankets and rescue favorite stuffed toys from the black depths of “under bed”.
I have lain awake at night listening for a breath or a cry or a cough through the sound waves of a baby monitor. I have blinked into the darkness and wondered if he is warm enough…if he is happy enough. I have made wishes on stars to grant dreams of fame and to ease the hardships of growing pains. I have lifted up silent prayers for safety and for acceptance and for guidance when he must follow his path alone.
In the silence of the smallest hours of the night, I think back on the Older One’s 21 years, and I have come to understand that parenting does not get easier. It only gets different.
I have moved from the challenge of deciphering a hold-me cry from a feed-me cry onto the agony of daycare drop-off and the hopeful coaching of friend-making. No sooner did I accept kindergarten independence than I was plunged into middle school anxiety and pre-teen awkwardness. Before I knew it, he became an adult faced with hard decisions, and suddenly, I am forced to step back, offer advice and hope he comes back for more.
I have gone from caregiver to counselor in the blink of an eye.
Tonight, we are on the eve of witnessing the result of one of the biggest decisions of his life. Long before the day he was accepted into the Corps of Cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point, he has been evaluating the branches of the U.S. Army, trying to determine which one of them he would most like to make a part of his future. Infantry? Aviation? Armour?
In September, at the start of his senior year, he submitted a ranking of his preferences to the Army. Tomorrow night, the Army will tell him if it agrees. He’ll join the rest of the USMA Class of 2015 in an auditorium they have sat in countless times since Plebe year, but this event will be different. This is Branch Night, and it marks the beginning of their futures.
The cadets will sit among their friends, each holding the mystery of their fate in their hands–a sealed envelop containing an invitation to their assigned branch. A speaker will tell them how bright their futures are and draw out the anticipation of the evening’s climactic reveal. Finally, they will be given the order, and as a single unit, will break the seals of the envelops, eagerly looking for what they hope to be a ticket to the branch of their choice.
My wish to the stars tonight is that my son finds what he hopes to see inside that envelop. He has done everything possible to ensure a selection near the top of his list. I have listened to his plans and offered my advice. In this new role of parenting an adult, that’s the greatest thing I can offer. All we can do now is wait with equal parts anticipation and apprehension.
I predict that tonight will be another night of interrupted sleep. My child’s future will be determined tomorrow. I won’t sleep well until I know…until I know he’s happy…until I know he is content…until I know he well on his way to living the life he has dreamed.