I've been a bit defensive about Child II. A lot of my friends both online and off are what I would consider intelligent, educated, broad-minded people whom I both like and respect. If they were jackasses it would all be rather easier (well, okay if they were jackasses they wouldn't be my friends either, but why be logical?) because I wouldn't care what they say or think. And actually, what's making me defensive is not necessarily anything that HAS been said (although there are a few of those), it's what MIGHT be said.
Because, as charming and wonderful as all those people are, a lot of them are also a bit judgmental. It comes from having firmly held opinions and thinking about things a lot usually but, like all judgments, it also comes just a little from making broad assumptions. And I'm tender to those judgments about Child II.
But I've done a lot of thinking about it all over the last few days and I realize that I'm also making assumptions, assumptions about what people I care about will say (and thus about what they think and feel), assumptions that make them out to be simpler, narrower and less thoughtful than I absolutely know they are. So this is about Child II and what she is doing and why I am deeply, profoundly proud and amazed by her. And yes, I did just give Child II a gender which breaks all my rules but this is personal and I think it's important.
Last year as her final few months as a high school student ticked away Child II came to me with a staggering announcement. She was going to take the ASVAB - the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery - because she was thinking about joining the military. It was the first I'd heard of any such idea. She had certainly never talked about such a thing and was, among the three, the only Child to show no interest in anything military at all (quite the contrary). I tried to be as neutrally supportive as possible while sort of reeling a bit inside and, when asked, dropped her off at various offices and things so the test could be taken. She had arranged it all with an army recruiter who was friendly and casual to me right up until the moment when Child II was brought back from the exam and the results were read: she scored a 99, which is 100%. Including the automotive and sort of DIW type sections - this from a Child who does not drive and has not shown the least interest in learning to do so. Immediately the recruiter became terribly keen and helpful and Child II was whisked through the list of jobs available to her (all of them) and shown facts and figures on how much the Army would give her for enlisting (a lot) and just how long she would have to be in (too long... well, that was my opinion and I admit bias). I waited until we were alone in the car and gently suggested it might be worth talking to a few other services as well.
And we talked and talked, about why she was even looking into this, about what she really wanted, about what she should do now. Child II, it turned out, had been quietly thinking things over seriously. She wanted to do something with languages as she has a tremendous aptitude for them. She also knew, as I did, that she was far from ready for university and that going now would probably do more harm than good. She didn't just want to get a retail job somewhere and see how she felt a year or so on - she wanted to learn something, achieve something, and more importantly she wanted to do a meaningful, useful job. It was a little hard to argue with.
Fast forward a bit. I dragged Child II in to talk to the Air Force recruiter as well as all the other services and, after enduring weeks of high-pressure sales from the Army and comparing it with what she saw in the Air Force office she decided that was what she wanted to do. She was whisked off to take another test, the DLAB (Defence Language Aptitude Battery) which is a strange and quite difficult assessment and again she scored extremely high. She took physical exams, passed multiple drug screens and cheerfully and patiently answered the same 20 questions a gagillion times. She was finally given a career assignment (assuming she passed basic) and told when to report to the down-town whatsit place where they administer oaths and ship everyone off to training.
She would leave in July, leaving us a few months to get her graduated (just) and wait. I spent it usefully shoving her out the door to go running and leaping out at her in the hallway to ask if she had done any sit ups or push ups that day. I also spent most days assuring her that while I supported her absolutely in her goals she should also know that at any time, any time at all, if she felt she was uncertain or didn't want to go ahead with this thing she could do so. I watched her avoiding her daily runs (she never did get up to a full mile) and fretted over whether this was the right thing, whether she would regret it, whether she could even do it.
It turned out she reported for basic training the day I left to go on holiday. She had to spend the night at a hotel the night before (I think probably to avoid last-night parties and accompanying stupidity on the part of young recruits) so I dropped her off, gave her a quick hug and said good bye. The next morning we all showed up to see her take her oath - roomful of solemn, terrified infants and their proud/apprehensive/terrified relatives. We had to leave her there but promised to try to meet up again at the airport. We missed her by about 2 minutes.
They don't let recruits have much contact at first. She was allowed one very brief phone call to let us know she was there safely, and one pre-printed post card with the relevant gaps filled in with a scrawled blue ink to tell us what her address was. I began writing a daily letter, sending them off without any idea what was actually happening with her. Then, a couple of weeks in, the first phone call. And she was... different. Confident, happy, sure of herself. Where I expected a few tears and some need of moral support there was calmness and, very evidently, a new maturity.
It's eight and a half weeks in all. Lots of running and a fair amount of shouting, some carrying around of rifles (which have been filled with cement to avoid any creativity on the part of recruits who want to make them functional), a smattering of stuff on sexual harassment, money management and first aid. The Air Force, as any Marine will tell you, is pretty soft - or maybe it's just a different approach to produce a different type of military member for a different kind of job. Still, it's not easy, and Child II, in phone call after phone call, was clearly thriving.
So last Wednesday the car was packed up with an unreasonable amount of baggage and we drove for 12 hours to go and see Child II graduate. We met up with her, recognizable in her dress blues, but slimmer, fitter and, again, more mature. She surprised us all by happily and freely hugging us (apparently bunking with umpteen women does a little to remove any lingering personal space issues) and proudly showed us around 'her' base, talking non-stop from the moment we saw her to the last minute when we dropped her off on Saturday night.
On Monday morning she flew to Monterey, California to start the next adventure at DLI. Her scores were high enough to test her out of most of the languages so, to our surprise, she will be spending the next two years learning Korean.
I know her friends and mine will, some of them, be worried for Child II. I know some of them will be bothered by association with the military. But I hope they also know what an amazing person she is, and how important it is that our military is staffed with people like her, people who care deeply, people who are intelligent and gifted and strongly compassionate: people who want to do something good in the world.
I certainly do.