In just a few days Kenna will be one month old and, not surprisingly, the last four weeks have absolutely flown by. During that time there’s been a lot of playing, a lot of snuggling, and a lot of thinking about both of my lovely daughters and what’s to come. And thinking, too, about the past.
Things are different now – think Iraq or Afghanistan – but when I first joined the Marine Corps (many moons ago) there was really only one thing on my mind: What would Boot Camp be like?
It was always there; huge, slightly out of focus, and in many ways something I had difficulty even defining what answers I was looking for, let alone the actual questions. But it was also something I’d chew on at some point, every day, for more than a year and a half.
Like most guys who planned to join the Corps directly after HS graduation, I actually got the paperwork rolling my junior year. A combination of the recruiting office working like hell to hit their numbers and an angst-ridden teen looking for any clear path into a new reality; signing up early was a win-win for both. The down-side was it gave me plenty, and I mean p-lenty, of time to think about what was going to happen just days after I threw my cap into the air.
Were the Drill Instructors as vile as they seemed? Would I even make it through? Could my body handle the punishment that would come? Keep in mind, in those years a solid breakfast consisted of a package of Twinkis, a can of Jolt Cola, and Marlboro. Would I make it to the top of the legendary Mount Mother-Fucker? Finally, would I, could I, become a Marine?
I’d lie awake at night, taking bits and pieces of information from things I’d been told or read in the literature, random images from brochures, posters, or propaganda recruiting videos I’d seen, and weave them together in my mind in an attempt to understand what the experience would offer.
The reality of Boot Camp is something I’m happy to write about at a later date if anyone is interested (let me know in the comments), but the important thing is this: it just didn’t matter.
You see, I was focused on the wrong thing entirely. What I (and most other new recruits) couldn’t wrap my mind around was that Boot Camp was only three months long. Just three short months out of a four year commitment, and after those brief moments I’d have miles to go in a land just as unfamiliar and challenging as Boot Camp, with no roadmap or guideposts to help me along.
All that to say, it wasn’t entirely dissimilar from having children.
When Ellie was born Sarah and I (like most expectant parents, I imagine) had a thousand questions about the birth process. We had every kind of book imaginable. We toured the hospital. We had endless Q&As with our OBGYN. Sarah had list after list of things to do and even had all of our bags packed months before Ellie’s due date.
And then, a few days after her birth, we found ourselves at home with a new baby, looking like deer in headlights. Us, not the baby. I can’t speak for Sarah, but I can say with absolute certainty I didn’t give that little aspect of pregnancy due consideration.
Me: Um, babe?
Sarah: (sleepily) Yes?
Me: Is your mom taking her when she leaves?
Sarah: shakes a finger at me and mouths, “go away…”
Like Boot Camp, birth and the hospital are only the beginning. And with this situation it’s quite a bit more than four years – it’s the rest of our lives. Clearly, there’s less freaking out wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do when the baby does this or that. But those situations are far less important than the many quiet moments I look into Kenna’s face as she sleeps in my arms and wonder what she’ll be like in 3 months, or three years, or even 30.
More important still is that both Sarah and I are looking ahead to those moments, smiling, and I can not only see those questions, I’m ready to ask them.