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My Son Wants to Join the Marines—That Wasn’t What I Planned

As we enter the year before graduation, it is not lost on me that the dreaded year, the year of high school graduation that felt like light years away when my son was born, has finally arrived.

I’ve had my own vision for my son’s life from the beginning. The moment I sat in my hospital room with hours-old Derek cradled out in front of me, as I gazed at his sweet little face, so alert and already full of wonder as he stared back at me, my vision for his life flashed before me. At the end I saw him standing in front of me in a cap and gown, graduating from college, maybe headed toward law school or business school.

Derek walked at 10-months-old and was speaking full sentences at 17-months-old, befuddling strangers. One night we were all in the car when my husband came to a dead-end road and we marveled as 4-year-old Derek read “Road closed,” in his tiny voice, leaving no doubt our boy was a genius.

Growing up, Derek was talented and relentless about arguing his point of view. Many times my husband and I looked at each other with faces of utter exhaustion.

I would say to him jokingly, “Derek, you’ll make a fine lawyer someday.”

I thought he seemed to be headed in the direction of my vision. My husband served in the Air Force and is now in law enforcement, and both of our boys have always been interested in hearing about his prior and current service. My younger son, Sean, made his intentions to enlist in the Air Force clear early on, but Derek was going to college.  Or so I thought.

Now it’s Derek’s senior year of high school. Neither my husband nor I attended a four-year college, so helping our son prepare for applying for colleges and studying for SATs was uncharted waters for us. He took his SATs last summer and we started researching colleges. He had two state colleges in mind and applied to one in September.

You’re Doing What?

And then my son threw us the curveball of all curveballs: he decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

(Insert record scratch sound here.) My response was, “You’re doing what?”

In retrospect, I can see his choice had been staring me in the face for awhile. The fascination with the military service of his father and other family members. His patriotism. His love of history. His constant talk of the military.

I cried the entire weekend when he told us he’d made the decision to enlist. He didn’t have to do this. He had excellent grades and SAT scores. We could help send him to college. I had spent his childhood ensuring he had the opportunities we never had, and he was choosing to serve anyway.

I cried until I asked myself why I was crying.

I was scared for him, yes, but at the heart of it, I was grieving that my vision for my son’s life was not aligning with his actual plans for his own life.

Reconciling his decision with my grand plan was a tough pill to swallow.

But that’s what kids do, isn’t it? They have minds of their own and plans for their own lives. It isn’t my job to make Derek’s plans. It’s my job to support, encourage, and be his biggest cheerleader, because the end goal of this parenting gig is having raised intelligent and self-sufficient adults.

Removing My Ego From the Situation

Once I removed my ego from the equation, my image of Derek changed. Now my vision is of a strapping young man serving his country in Marine Corps dress blues. My son is joining the marines. He can still go to college if he wants to; he’ll just be taking a different road to get there. The sky is the limit and who knows what my boy will do? Right now, while other kids are getting their college acceptance letters, my son is perfecting his pull-ups in preparation for bootcamp.

It wasn’t my vision, but I can clearly see now that it was his vision all along.

As a parent, I can’t ask for more than for my children to follow their own path and I’m so proud to be the mom of a future Marine.

Kellie Smith lives in Puyallup, Washington, with her husband, two sons, and their American Bulldog, Phoebe. She’s an official court reporter by day, a voracious reader by night, and always a hockey mom. 

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