While many families are taking trips to Disneyland and Santa Cruz, accompanying their kids on exhilarating roller coaster rides, we took a ride on an emotional rollercoaster yesterday with Haley.
I don’t know when it happened, but one minute she was playing with Barbies with her best friend Nicollett, and the next minute she was cuddling on our couch with her new boyfriend, Jarrett.
I love Jarrett, and from what I can tell, he really loves Haley. I couldn’t be happier, and when Haley told me that Jarrett — who is a year older — had made a commitment to join the Army, I was very impressed. Neither of my sons have ever expressed an interest in joining the military, and I was always relieved about that. Whenever the recruiters would call and ask to speak to one of my sons, I would quickly explain that my son had other plans for his future, thank you very much.
But now, I am emotionally attached to Jarrett. He feels like a son to me already and so, unexpectedly, I am experiencing what many families go through when a loved one joins the military.
As June 18 neared, his date of departure, Jarrett and Haley were inseparable. With each day the reality of the situation began to set in, and you could see the sadness on their faces. We attended a boot camp party for him and met his entire family, all of them beaming with pride, and also concern. His mom is not handling it well. Her only child has made this noble decision on his own, and being a good mother, she is reluctantly supporting her son. I have to say, I don’t know if I could do the same. I think I would spend every minute desperately trying to talk my son out of it. Maybe even use bribery!
The week before Jarrett was to be sworn in, his parents gave him a week he would never forget, and Haley was included. Jet-skiing, an escape room adventure, zip-lining. It was a whirlwind of activity, but eventually the day they both dreaded arrived. The night before was tough. He came over for a final visit. There were many tears and embraces. It was hard to watch. I felt Haley’s pain. They talked on the phone all night, something she would not be able to do once Jarrett got to boot camp in South Carolina. No cell phones are allowed for eight weeks, and only handwritten letters. I told Haley it would be like the movie “The Notebook.” It could be very romantic. I don’t think she was convinced.
Six a.m. came around like a slap in the face. We were headed up to Sacramento for the swearing in ceremony at 9 a.m. The ride up the river road was a quiet one. Haley had her earphones in the whole way. We arrived at 8:45. The building was a large brick structure with a military police officer standing at the entrance. He informed us that the Army ceremony was not until noon. All the other branches — Navy, Marines Corps and the Coast Guard would all be ahead of the Army, which meant we had some time to kill.
We headed to Old Sacramento. It was strange because it felt like we were on vacation. We ate breakfast and bought a few souvenirs. We walked down to the pier and watched the boats lazily cruising up and down the river. Haley seemed distracted for a little while, and even smiled a few times.
It was finally time to head back and line up for the ceremony with Jarrett’s family. It was like going through security at the airport, but once inside, Jarrett appeared and everyone smothered him with hugs. We were asked to sit in a waiting area with other families going through the same thing. One grandmother was so overcome with emotion she nearly fainted! They propped her up in a chair and gave her some water.
Although boot camp is only nine weeks long, after graduation he’ll fly to Virginia for another 21 weeks of training, and after that, who knows? They could be deployed anywhere, even to another country. Everyone in that room understands that this commitment is no small thing, and there could even be danger ahead.
The swearing-in ceremony was brief, but emotional. Watching those kids — and they are still kids — raise their right hands and swear to uphold the Constitution and protect our country made me so proud of them. The officer who conducted the ceremony mentioned that only 0.5% of the people in the United States volunteer for the military, so they should be commended for their decision. It is no small thing.
Then he announced that we had five minutes to take pictures and say goodbye. Hugs were long and tight. I saw Jarrett’s dad wipe away a few tears. Haley held on to Jarrett for as long as she could, but it was time to go.
It was a quiet ride home.
I now have a whole new understanding of what it means to love and support someone who chooses to join the military. Your heart simply breaks, but also bursts with pride. In honor of Jarrett, we are flying a flag at our house every day. And every day we will pray that he comes home soon, and comes home safe.