Friday, January 20, 2012

Why He's Home

The end of January is coming at us like a brisk winter wind. I’m supposed to be taking my college boy back to the dorm. In fact, all of his besties from his first semester of dorm life have already returned. They text him like crazy, with messages along the lines of ‘we miss you, bro!’ (if that’s even the current lingo).

But my boy is still here, crammed into this tiny condo with us. He’s had a change of plans and suddenly it meant I was blessed with a few extra months in his company.

If you’ve gotten lost in the saga of our life this past year, I don’t blame you. I feel like I need Cliff Notes myself, just to remember the craziness we lived through in 2011. But here’s the nutshell (granted, the biggest nut you can think of).

Michael has always loved planes. His bedroom walls and bookcases were filled with posters and books about planes, from every war and every country. He also loves running, especially in the woods. He endured the two other track seasons, so he could be in shape for the only one that mattered, cross country.

He loves math and science (and hates English, books, reading…all the things his mom enjoys). As a child he was constantly figuring things out, taking things apart, putting them back together. When he was seven or eight, he walked through the kitchen and said, ‘Mom, you’re putting the dishes in wrong.’ At a glance, he could see that the way I loaded the plates in the dishwasher was ‘backwards’ from what the designers intended. I rarely load the dishwasher these days, without thinking about that moment. The moment I knew for sure my boy had an engineer’s brain.

It was logical that he would go to school for something plane related. He also wanted, very badly, to get back to that perfect snow in Utah, the place where he’d learned to ski and fell in love with the powder . Soon he found out that one of the top aviation programs in the country was at Westminster College, in Salt Lake City. He had no ‘second choice’, when he applied to colleges. It was Westminster, and their amazing flight program, or nothing.

He was also sure that he wanted to fly in the military. Eventually he might settle for commercial planes, but all the exciting flying happens in the armed forces. We spent a year doing everything necessary to apply for an ROTC scholarship, with no luck. The program has become extremely desired, as college tuitions rise, and the selection process has become very tight.

When the money didn’t come in for his freshman year, but his desire was stronger than ever, we made a deal with him. We’d help him pay for the first year, with the understanding that he’d do everything he could to get the 3 year ROTC scholarship to cover the rest. That one year would cost us the equivalent of four years at our local state school.

We drove him to Utah in early August, and checked him in. He spent the next four months making lifetime friends, the kind you can only create in a dorm situation. As he settled into college, the rest of his family slowly but surely moved from New York to Colorado. It was nice to have him only a day’s drive away, when the Thanksgiving holiday rolled around.

While we were distracted with a million move related details, Michael was doing research. Not just school research (drat, those stupid English papers!), but life plans research. He was talking to recruiters, professors (many who were pilots), and school guidance counselors. He started to realize he needed a new plan for the next four years.

With the military being in a wave of cut backs, those scholarships are becoming more and more rare, especially if you went to an expensive, private school. Even if he finished his four years of college, with an exclusive aviation degree, there were no guarantees he would be able to get a spot in flight school in the military. Some years there are very few openings and you take what you can get. We heard this from so many sources that we started to believe it.

So, as I spent a harried week in NY, organizing the moving truck logistics, trying to get our old house’s heater to turn on before the pipes froze, and doing house sales negotiations over the phone with an assortment of realtors and attorneys, my boy called me from school.

He had changed his life plan and wanted my advice. Because, you know, I had nothing else going on…

Long story short, here’s his new plan. He’s jumping straight into the military. In May he’ll report to boot camp, then one of the longest training programs they have, in the EOD field (explosives). He’ll give them four years. In those four years he’ll get valuable training (which will use his incredible math and science skills, which pleases his mother), then possibly move to a flight related job when the openings come up.

At that point, four years from now, he can choose to stay in the military, if the EOD training agrees with him as much as I think it will, or he finds a flight path that suits him. Or he can choose to get out, and go back to that flight degree, this time with everything paid for. Either way, if he wants, he can be in his mid 20s, with a pilot’s license, and a wide variety of career options.

It was hard to swallow, at first. Especially as I sat in the middle of the chaos of the family relocation. We worked so long and hard to get him into the program and Westminster, and it’s an amazing school. But once we talked about it more, and I talked to the recruiter more, it all did seem to make a lot more sense.

Yes, I worry about his safety. Not only is he signing up for training that involves explosives (you know, stuff that blows up…) but he could very likely be sent overseas, where the locals might not treasure his life as much as his mama does.

But he’s excited. He is confident in his choices, and pumped about his future. Even as hard as it is to see his friends go back to that party- central dorm room without him, he’s stayed focused. He runs every day and lifts weights, to be ready for his next step.

He can’t wait to see other parts of the world, and be that guy who knows which wire you cut when there’s ten seconds before the bomb goes off (is it the red one or the blue one?...I always forget…)

And now that I’ve had some time to digest the new plan, I see other benefits to this timing. His younger brothers have now gone back to school. During the days it’s just me and him, and his older sister who is hunting for a job. We get to hang out, run errands together, and share life stories. I’m loving it.

And, another bonus. This mountain town we’ve moved to is not my son’s hometown. His high school memories will always reside in New York, and other school memories are scattered through the various states we’ve called home. Evergreen Colorado is only a place he visited with his family, back in April, as we took an early house hunting trip.

But now he’s having time to explore this beautiful town. He’s running her trails and running mom’s errands, learning where to find the nearest Red Box and groceries. Every day that passes, he builds more memories here, and it becomes a bigger part of him. I want him to go out into the world with a sense of ‘home’. If he didn’t have these four months, with nothing but time to explore, it would have taken a lot of school breaks and holidays to finally feel like he belonged here.

So that’s why my son is still in my household. It’s why he still shows up in pictures I post on Facebook, when all of my friend’s college aged kids have disappeared from their shots of daily life.

It’s not a life change I saw coming, just a year ago, but neither is our current family life situation. A lot can change in a year. But there’s nothing that says unexpected change can’t end up being a good thing. A new path. New opportunities. Hey, who knows where life will find us just twelve months from now.

I guess we’ll just have to keep our minds open, and patiently wait and see.



Anonymous said...

What a great mom, letting him make this hard decision by support and love.

theelfqueen said...

Proud of him and of you. My oldest has had his heart set on the military for...ever.