Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Six ways Navy boot camp is like mothering small children

Navy Boot Camp, 2003

Michael and I as brand new exhausted parents, 2009

It was a sunny, warm day at the DFW airport in Dallas when I left for the Navy.  Arriving at Great Lakes, Illinois that night and seeing ice on the ground was a bit of a shock. I still remember how nervous I was, but strangely excited at the same time to be joining the military.  It was something so much bigger than me and I knew even at the young age of 19 I was where I was supposed to be at the time. It felt scary, but right.
Little did I know at the time how much that eight weeks of boot camp would prepare me for a journey I’d begin six years later…motherhood.  Oh yes.  Navy boot camp can actually be compared to parenting babies and toddlers.  Surprised?  I can explain.  This is a list of six of the ways Navy boot camp is like mothering small children.
1.        You have to eat really, really fast.
In boot camp you have little time to eat and you also aren’t allowed to speak during meal time. I learned that if I wanted to finish my food, I’d have to basically put my head down and shovel the food in quickly. Oh yes, I still do this now.  I can eat so quickly I’m sure I could be a contender for a food eating competition.  My husband asks me frequently “do you even taste your food?” Well, sometimes I guess I don’t.  And I do realize that it appears I am inhaling my food. But I need nourishment too! Sometimes the only way is to shovel it down to avoid starvation! Survival mode eating for moms.  I learned it first in the Navy.  Eat fast, or don’t eat at all. 
2.        You also have to shower really, really quickly.
When I was in boot camp, we were given 10 minutes total to shower. Let me explain what this 10 minutes had to include. It meant you had to literally run to the shower area from your rack holding your hygiene bag, get undressed, make your way to one of the eight showerheads in the midst of 40 other female sailors, wash yourself, brush your teeth, use the restroom, get re-dressed and be back in front of your rack. In TEN MINUTES.  Yep.  This was a great lesson for me!  Now, I sometimes have less than 10 minutes to shower, which is no problem!  I’m not even kidding, my 10 month old had a blow out earlier and of course poop ended up on me. Not unusual, but I felt gross and wanted to clean myself up.  It was 12:45 when I discovered it. I had to leave at 1:00 to head to church to pick up two of my daughters from pre-school.  Easy peasy! Plenty of time to shower, dress, and load up a 10 month old and 2 year old and be at the school on time for pickup.  Thanks, Navy boot camp! One of the best lessons ever: how to take a Navy shower. 
3.        You care a lot less about your appearance.
This is closely related to #2 in that the less time you have to focus on showering, the less time you have to care about your appearance.  In boot camp, your appearance is nowhere near your list of priorities. You only have time to care about your smell.  Look, this is not always easy to accept, but it is a lot less stressful if you can settle for looking clean and forget about looking made up.  It is what it is. The kids will grow and eventually actually avoid your bathroom when you’re in there naked.  At that time, you can spend more time primping.  But in the meantime, while the toddler is watching your every move and the baby is crying, you do what you have to do. Get in, get clean, put your hair back, brush your teeth and get out.  Bonus points if you can floss.  Hygiene is important!
4.        You learn to take a lot less offense when being screamed at.
In Navy boot camp its common knowledge that part of the job of the recruit division commander (RDC) is to yell at you, a lot. It doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, where you’ve come from…its boot camp.  You get yelled at.  Sometimes you’ll have an RDC in your face yelling at you, and if you take it personally, your life is a lot harder. You have to let it slide off your back.  You have to learn that they aren’t yelling at you really…they’re yelling at the idea of you.  You’re a recruit.  I’ve learned this attitude of not taking yelling personally has helped me through toddler tantrums.  It isn’t me, it isn’t what I’ve done, but sometimes a small child is tired, or sick, or both.  And tantrums happen.  It helps to know the screaming isn’t directed anywhere toward me, it’s just occurring.  And I can ignore it.  Oh, this lesson is pure bliss when you master it.  Ignore the tantrum, walk away, don’t feed it any attention…and it stops.  True story.  I’m so appreciative now of the times my RDC’s screamed irrationally in my face.  Thanks, Navy boot camp for helping me handle my children’s irrational screaming!
5.        You learn to function well on less sleep.
Before joining the Navy, I would sleep in…a LOT.  And sometimes I would sleep 12 hours a night.  12 hours! I loved my sleep.  I was LAZY.  Boot camp turned that around for me.  No more comfortable sleeping in with my feather pillow and warm comforter.  Nope, night time was turned in to trying to get rest on an old metal rack with a small, misshaped, scratchy wool blanket.  It wasn’t the greatest for snoozing.  Waking up was no joke in boot camp.  Reveille was early, and bright, and loud.  There was no way of getting the good night’s rest you so desperately wanted, and there was nothing you could do about it. You had to suck it up!  You had to function anyway, and function well.  Having small children is quite similar.  Having kids? Say goodbye now to comfortable, adequate sleep. And to luxuriously lingering around in bed right after waking.  Good sleep is gone, so is waking up comfortably.  You have to get up quickly. Hungry babies are usually crying babies!  There is no time to relax, you have to get moving even though you might be completely exhausted.   Thanks, Navy RDC’s for teaching me how to hop right out of bed despite my fatigue! (There is a difference now however in that I am allowed coffee, whereas in boot camp you are not. Thank. You. Jesus. For. COFFEE.)
6.        You learn that the proudest you’ll ever feel is usually after something that was really hard.
I remember the first time I cried tears of just pure pride in boot camp.  Other Sailors will know what I’m talking about here: the day after battle-stations, after the RDC’s remove your ‘RECRUIT’ hats, and give you your ‘NAVY’ hats. It’s near the end of boot camp, when you realize you’ve done it, you’ve transitioned from civilian to sailor.  Being a part of the World’s Greatest Navy was something I’m so blessed to have done.  I’m so grateful for my time in, the memories are all so good and serving was just so very fulfilling.  And it hit me then, just how valuable a little hard work could be and how rewarding it could feel.  Oh yes, it was hard.  But worth it? 100%.  Parenting is a lot like that.  NOTHING is harder, but nothing has that great of a reward, either.  The pride I’ve felt each time I’ve held one of my babies for the first time…nothing compares.  The pride I’ve felt when first steps have been taken, first words have been spoken…nothing compares.  I’ve been brought to tears watching my six year old read.  Seriously.  My heart fills up with such pride, such pure admiration for this child that is mine and it overwhelms me.  Yep.  It’s hard, doing this parenting thing, day and night, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Man, it’s so hard sometimes. I’ve had many a break down over the sleep deprivation and the hard.  But. It’s so worth it.  100% worth it, all of it. 
I’ve said it before that raising children with my husband has been my greatest adventure yet, and it’s the honest truth.  My time in the Navy follows shortly behind.  I would’ve never ever guessed, in those first 8 weeks of my Navy life, just how much I’d be getting prepped for parenthood…what a wild ride, right?
Until next time…