Just 32 short years ago, I was finishing up my 6-year enlistment. I couldn’t WAIT to get out! I was ready to break out of my shackles and take on all the vast opportunities that this big world had to offer. I thought I would never set foot on a military base again but it’s funny how life works. As the mom of two young adult daughters, I have long had a dream of taking them back to the place where it all ended for me. I wanted them to see the place ”that will live in infamy”…a place that became grander in my mind with each passing year that I didn’t return. The very gates that I begrudgingly crossed each day for years had become inaccessible to me. Finally, with the help of a friend and no less than a half dozen phone calls to coordinate, I was able to infiltrate the secure fortress where I had once roamed freely. It was both magical and disappointing at the same time. Magical because I got to relive a piece of my youth and disappointing because I had to face the fact that nothing stays the same. Back then, I was a member of a team but now I was an outsider just trying to relive a part of her past. On my stroll down memory lane, below is what I learned and hope to impart to my daughters:
YOU CAN NEVER GO HOME AGAIN
The base, which I once called home, now had an extra layer of security thanks to 9/11. But the real reason I didn’t feel at home is because I have grown up and moved on. I will never again be able to go there and have a sense of belonging like I did back then. Similarly, you can never go home again. Well, at least not in the same capacity. Some parents may agree to their offspring returning to the nest under certain mutually agreeable conditions, but it will never be the same as when they were a dependent and carefree child.
DON’T SQUANDER YOUR ABUNDANT OPPORTUNITIES BY NOT HAVING A PLAN
I am extremely grateful for the life I have, but I did waste a lot of time and missed many opportunities. Lack of goals is the thief that steals opportunity. I almost missed my small window of opportunity to make this trip happen but I’m so happy now that I didn’t. I implore all of you to teach your kids, as I try to teach mine, to have a plan. Letting life simply happen without a goal can cheat us out of an abundant life. Life has flown by quicker than I ever imagined. It has taken me a whole lifetime to find my calling, but with better planning, I could have done more. The lesson here is start from wherever you are. Just START! Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” is a good place to begin. People tend to gloss over the first word of the title, but thinking is a key element of the message.
NOTHING EVER STAYS THE SAME
Even though I lived on the same island for several years, on many occasions during the trip, I was seeing it through new eyes. One of the things that made our trip special is that the girls spanned the same age range as myself when I lived there. One of my best memories is the excitement they expressed when they were awed by the majesty of the steep, lush mountains and the turquoise water. Some places I simply didn’t remember but most of what I did remember had changed. After all, a whole new generation has come and an older one has gone. Why would I even think it would be the same? Since the human body is always generating new cells, it is unlikely that my present iteration has ever stepped onto the base. To make matters more complicated, there have been at least two command changes since I left. The command ball cap that I so much wanted to replace no longer exists! First world problems, I know. I learned that my perception of how things used to be is probably different from how things actually were. Maybe that’s why I feel more nostalgic with each passing year.
WHEN YOU WANT TO MAKE A MEMORY WITH YOUR KIDS, DON’T WASTE A CHANCE
I am so incredibly grateful that all of the stars aligned, and we were able to make this trip happen. As much as I am a proponent of raising financially independent offspring, it was an absolute pleasure to make such treasured and meaningful memories with them. I strongly encourage all of you to share your best memories with your kids. If they are lucky enough to be expecting an inheritance from you some day, consider using some of it in advance so you can take a trip and build memories with them. If money is tight, here a few other ideas:
- Look through and reminisce about old school mementos that you have saved
- Surprise them with a scrapbook with important events and photos to remind them of family stories
- Get together often for one of your flagship family favorite foods
- Host a game night
- Write them a letter detailing all the things that you hope to be remembered for
- Tell them things about yourself that may surprise them
- Record your memories about their childhood for things that they might not remember
Don’t get too comfortable in life. In fact, excellent things happen outside of your comfort zone! Don’t do what you do today just because you did it yesterday. I had no choice but to accept that things had changed on my journey. My role had changed from active duty to civilian. Where I once walked slowly to allow my young daughters to keep pace with me, they were now forced to do the same for me. While I used to be the driver, I became the chauffeured. I had once been a kama’aina and now I was just another tourist. You’d be doing your own teens and young adults a favor if you help shake up their comfort zone when you see them getting too comfortable and complacent.
THANKFUL FOR THEIR SERVICE
“Thank you for your service” is a popular sentiment around Veteran’s Day. Gratitude is due to those past and present who continue to serve on the front lines and allow the rest of us to sleep in peace and I remain grateful to them. I propose to instill in our children a spirit of gratitude to all non-military service providers as well whose jobs require that they walk toward danger while the rest of us get to take cover. To the police officers and the firefighters who perform heroic acts daily but don’t get their own national holiday, thank you for your service!
Today is a day that I’ll attend a moving ceremony. This year I bought a new hat to display my Navy Pride. I had to adapt and get a generic one since my command no longer exists as the same entity. But that’s OK, part of military life is learning to adapt! I’ll listen to a speaker with an inspirational story and enjoy some patriotic music. I’ll stand tall with the other Navy Vets when the band plays “Anchors Aweigh”. At some point, I’ll end up at the American Legion where I’ll be required to drink beer and pepper my sentences liberally with sailor words as I bond with people I haven’t met. But we are all connected, even if our worst shared horror was surviving boot camp! I’ll say a prayer for the ones who actively serve while expressing gratitude for my good fortune and increasingly grand memories. Then I’ll go home to my physical residence, but my real home is not a physical place. I’ve lived in far too many places to feel like “home” is a single place. I would like for my girls to understand that a home is built by a string of happy memories shared with the ones you love. They will always have a key to that home.