It’s been one year since my oldest son, Diego, left home for the Marine Corps.
Now my second oldest, Mateo, is entering his senior year in high school and is already thinking about his post-high school plans that include the military as well.
I tell you, being a military parent has been one of the toughest jobs I’ve had to endure, and this is coming from someone who is married to a police officer who also serves in the military.
But we are drawn to our children in a different way. Maybe it’s part of our maternal and paternal instincts that, of course, don’t check out when our children turn 18. While they grow into adults, we parents still want to protect them and make sure they are happy and loved, and we want to fix things that pose any obstacle in their journeys.
Yet life reminds us that there are times when we can’t be all things to them. That they will have to find their ways and make sense of things, at times independent of us.
I’m still trying to work on that.
For now, the transition from high school sports mom to military mom has been quite an adjustment.
I’m beyond proud of Diego’s desire to want to serve in the military before going to college and settling on a career (and yes, college is still another goal for him to reach). But I still painfully miss having him so close. Letting go is hard.
I’m lucky that I have my husband, Julio, to lean on whenever I become sad and nostalgic after hearing a certain song, sitting at a high school football game or remembering other special moments.
And I am reminded of his two close friends, Breaker Brannan and Adam Terrazas, who joined the U.S. Navy around the same time but are assigned to different duty stations in the U.S. I also think about their parents.
I’ve learned that being supportive, accessible and a great listener are the best things we can do as parents when our children make an important commitment to the military.
Since I’ve approached the one-year mark of Diego’s service and my second oldest is enjoying his last year in high school, I have been asking myself more often lately, “Where did the time go?”
It wasn’t too long ago when my husband and I were frantically running to and from practices and games with them, celebrating the wins, consoling them after the loss of a hard-fought game, snapping pictures of them at school events, telling them to clean up their rooms, cracking jokes, teaching them how to drive, giving advice about how to treat others, setting curfews for a night out on a date or friends and staying up until they showed up. The list goes on.
Caught up in those moments, I once told a friend how my time was stretched keeping up with my boys’ busy schedules. She quickly — and wisely — reminded me to enjoy all the noise and live in that moment, for one day, it will be gone. One day, I will miss it.
I now see what she means.
Since he left home a year ago, Diego has lived a short time in San Diego for boot camp, a few months at the USMC Camp Pendleton base near San Clemente for training then a couple of months across the ocean in Hawaii, his assigned duty station. And for over the past few months now, he’s been stationed in Japan. He will return to the states in a few months and we can’t wait to see him again.
During his multiple locations, my husband and I have found ways to stay in touch.
While in California, we spent a lot of weekends on the road to spend time with him. Once he left to Hawaii, we turned to our mobile phones to text, call, FaceTime or connect with him through social media. We began making vacation plans to visit him before he shared news of his deployment overseas.
Now that he’s even farther away, we continue to rely on our mobile devices.
I often give my boys a hard time about using their mobile devices for everything, but in this case, I am grateful it serves as an important link to Diego.
But because of his busy training schedules, there are times, days, sometime weeks, when we don’t get to hear from him.
And so we patiently wait and we stay busy with Mateo’s busy schedule and our youngest sons’ activities and turn to our memories until the next time when we can create new ones.
I can say one of the perks of being a military parent is that Diego has introduced us to his new friends, including one who luckily will be spending Thanksgiving with us.
It will be our first Thanksgiving with Diego not physically here. But we will find a new way to celebrate that day with him.
For no matter the distance, he continues to be close in our hearts.
Email contributing columnist Olivia Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.