In this issue we begin a new bi-weekly feature column, APO Brooklyn, a series of essays on military life written from the perspective of a military spouse. It is meant to entertain, but, more importantly, educate people about the life, the joys and challenges, of being a military family member. The stories represent, solely, the point of view of the author based on her experiences over the last 23 years.
OK, so I’m not the first parent to bring a child to college. I am, however, an Army parent who was bringing their oldest child to college. I knew, going in, it was going to be both emotional and challenging. What really got me thinking was, that if my son spends the next four years at the university he has chosen, he will have lived there longer than anywhere he has lived in his life. That was an eye opener.
As Army children, our “brats” are exposed to a lot; constant moves, deployments of a parent, general uncertainty in their lives. I choose to do the “silver lining” approach to this situation and tell myself, and my children-ad nausea-, that this is a more realistic representation of life, and, will ultimately serve them well. Eye roll number one.
I realized I was in trouble when I was making my travel plans to bring my son to college. He is attending LSU in Baton Rouge, LA. We had been stationed in Louisiana for two years and moved to Brooklyn this summer. My son, Sam, moved with us and spent six weeks helping us move in and enjoying all that Brooklyn and NYC had to offer. (I might add, the latter much more than the former!). As I was planning for the flight to New Orleans, the obligatory rental car, the hotel room, I found myself teary. Oh no, an attack of hormones? Maybe not. After all, this was my first born, my “baby”, my parenting “test run” child. OK, I steeled myself, typed in my overused credit card number and was set to go to New Orleans.
Sam and I left NY on a beautiful sunny morning in mid-August. My husband was staying behind with our other three children. This was to be “our” adventure and I wasn’t ready to put the “mis” in front of it just yet.
The flight went well, the rental car even better. Moving into the dorm was a wild flashback to my experiences of 27 years ago. I was not an Army brat, had lived in only one home for most of my life. I was much more serious about the process. For Sam, it was just another move. Sam has lived in nine states and a foreign country and has attended ten different schools in his eighteen years. Clearly, I was the one with the issues, however, I was undeterred. The eye rolling started.
As we moved him into his dorm, I was full of (what I thought were) helpful suggestions. Eye rolls number two, three, and four. Apparently, things now, or maybe it’s just boys, are different. Our obligatory trip to Target was more of the same. It seems I am either a) totally lame; b) grossly out of date; c) an emotional basket case; d) all of the above. Sam voted for D, I was in no position to argue. All the time I was in Target, I was fighting the overwhelming sense of just being overwhelmed. While my son was busy searching for the “perfect” lamp, I was just looking for the “perfect” expanse of blank wall to bang my head on. When, oh when, did my son start to care about color coordination?
After putting my credit card through some more exercise, we finally completed his dorm room. I was thrilled to note that Sam actually seemed to care about where his stuff went, how it looked, and (the real shocker), whether it was clean or not. Where is my child, the one who thinks dirty socks make a decorating statement, and what have you done with him?
Then it came time for me to leave. Of course, I never miss an opportunity to complicate my life. So I offered, “Why don’t you stay at my hotel tonight? There’s a great restaurant, I guarantee you won’t be eating a meal like that for the next few months. You can swim in the pool - and, oh yeah, I can tuck you in one last time”. (See, I am lame) He threw me a bone, and eye rolls six and seven, and came back with me. “This will be fun, we’ll have a great dinner and can talk before I leave in the morning”. I might have heard an “oh goody” under his breath.
Dinner was great. Well, the food was great. However, I realized, as we were eating chips and salsa, and I was enjoying my “I just moved my son into his dorm so I deserve it”, margarita, I had to impart eighteen years worth of life lessons on him. I only had the chips and salsa course and then the main course. Time to get moving. How could I compress all those missed parenting opportunities into one meal? I started in on my “life is complicated” speech which earned another eye roll. I’ve lost count here. “You know that your actions now can have repercussions that will last - did you just roll your eyes at me Sam?” “No Mom, I’m listening,” Sam replied. I shot back, “No, I know you rolled your eyes at me, you might not have actually done it, but you mentally rolled your eyes, didn’t you?” “Well come on Mom, really, I got it, I’m good.” He was right, he is good, I have to have faith in that and him. I decided to enjoy the meal, enjoy talking to Sam and finish my well earned margarita. All I had to do was spend one last night with my son.
Of course, I will spend other nights with him, when he visits, or maybe, returns home again. That is not the point, this was a watershed. From this point on, he is his own person. He, in so many ways, always has been, I was just reluctant to see that.
This is a new era in our relationship and family dynamic. He is and adult now, by most standards. He is old enough to vote, hold a job, make his own mistakes and have his own successes -all of these will be his. It was the most bittersweet moment I have had as a parent.
He is ready for me to leave, yet, he still hugs me and calls me “mommy,” which he has dusted off for me on this day after years of calling me “mom”. No matter what happens, I will always be that for him, the difference is that he may not need me the way he has in the previous eighteen years. Can I get a margarita to go?
Angela Owens is an Army spouse of over 20 years and also a former Army officer. She and her husband, their four children and three pets moved to Brooklyn this past summer from Ft. Polk, Louisiana. The Owens have been assigned all over the country, to include Hawaii, and also in Europe. Angela was born in the Bronx, and raised on Long Island.
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