Late yesterday afternoon, we left to pick up our oldest son who'd been away for 5 days at a local college (only 45 mins away). He'd been selected by his high school faculty and the American Legion to represent our local Legion post at Boys State. Boys State is a leadership and government program involving U.S. Veterans (who work year round to organize this), past & present government officials (as speakers) and other important guest speakers (they had the honor & privilege of listening to an actual holocaust survivor), and U.S. Marines. Yes, real, active duty men in uniform.
Now, I'm usually tooting my #2 son's horn because he's my athlete, along with Diva (cuz, well...she's the diva. nuff said). I don't really say too much about #1. And here's why: he's my logical, level headed, by the book, does what he's asked without objection, never complains (ever), all around great guy. He's also my homebody. Sure, he's gone away on school trips for 2-3 days, hangs with his friends til all hours of the night, but he's never been gone 5 days straight and in the presence of Marines, no less.
Boys State is serious stuff. There were 1100 boys from across the state, and they are divided into "pretend" counties and cities, and these are the groups they stay in for the week. They elect officials, (#1 was a Senator) and go through the processes of creating bills. A lot of thought goes into them, and if they are good enough - they are actually brought in front of our official state government. It's just amazing when you hear what's on the minds of these young men, from helping unemployment to aid for farmers crops and even welfare. Amazing.
Everyday they were up at 5:30am for PT (physical training), with a full schedule including assemblies with guest speakers and some recreation time, and ending at 9:30pm with lights out at 10:30. They marched, as a group, wherever they went, led by their Marine leader. What bonds these boys formed.
As some of you may know, it's taken me about 2 yrs to accept the fact that my oldest wants to go into the army. As a mother, I had to work through my fear of the unknown (I don't come from a military family). He and I have had many discussions over the years about college, careers - and the one thing he never wavered on was the military. He's applied to West Point, and wants ROTC to be a part of his college program. He's spent a day with a cadet at West Point, and we've toured several college campuses so far. I'm fine with whatever avenue he chooses, because after last night...I get it.
As we were waiting in the stadium (in the blazing heat) for the parade to begin, hubby and I kept talking about how proud we were of #1 to be doing this and what a great experience it was - even though neither of us really knew what it was all about until last night. As each "city" marched on the field, we looked anxiously for him but in a sea of white t-shirts it was next to impossible. So I sat with my hands folded in my lap, being the worrying mom. Did it go okay? Was it tough on him? How was the dorm room? you know, all the crazy stuff we worry about when we know our kids well enough to already have those answers.
Well, I knew I was in trouble when the Veterans who run the program took to the podium and spoke about the week they'd had. About what a fine group of young men were on the field before us, chosen by their schools not only because of their grades but because of who they are as individuals, and what outstanding citizens they were. My heart swelled with pride over my "quiet skinny kid". Yup, cue the misty eyes. (at least I could semi-hide it because we were facing the sun).
Then it was time for the Boys State "elected" Governor to speak. Elected by his peers down on the field, he spoke about brotherhood, honor, hard work. And he gave us a glimpse of what it was like to drill with a Marine. All I could think of was, this boys mother has to be a blubbering idiot by now because "I" was again misty eyed, in awe of how professional he spoke and carried himself. I'm going to remember his name because it wouldn't surprise me if he was one day the President of the United States (I'm not kidding). I couldn't believe he was only a h.s. junior (as they all are).
Next, each "city" paraded in front of the stands. We were down along the 30 yd line and had a great view. Diva was the first to spot her brother. When he passed by, standing tall and strong with that determined look, I couldn't help but smile as I wiped my eyes. I can't even describe the feeling. Pride - of course. But there was an almost overwhelming feeling of love and respect on a level I'd never felt before.
Gone was my "tall skinny kid". Before me stood a tall, muscular, commanding young man. My Son.
Thank you, Boys State, for helping me to realize he's right where he needs to be. We raise our children to be responsible, respectable citizens, loving and caring individuals. We send them out into the world trusting in who they are as individuals.
And as #1 enters his senior year of high school this fall, I also realize I've shed the first of many tears for all the right reasons. I need to stock up on tissues because it's going to be a long year ahead with more tears to come. I couldn't love him more for the choices he will one day make for his country and for being who he is.
I'm predicting there will eventually be more military heroes in my stories....
Now where's that tissue box!