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Watching son join Navy is bittersweet experience

We thought we were done having children, with a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. But life has a way of happening, and after getting rid of all the baby stuff, we were pregnant again. My husband thought we were too old, but at 33 and 37, I didn't think so.

The issues surrounding a 7-year-old pale in comparison to the concerns of a 14- or 17-year-old. We found ourselves teaching our oldest child how to drive a car, while we taught our son to ride a bike. We went from varsity soccer games for the teens, to squirt games for him. We had to listen as the older kids helped us parent, reminding us that "you never let us do that."

Somehow, we just knew he wouldn't start school in diapers. We learned which battles were important, and which could wait for another day.

He was an uncle by 10, and this spring became godfather to a new nephew. The kids think of him as one of them, someone to play with. The oldest grandson is expressing worry about his uncle. It's hard to reassure him and be positive, when you have the same concerns.

Patriotism and love of country were things we stressed. Growing up as the son and grandson of Navy veterans, this baby brother -- who is taller than both of the older kids -- always loved the water. He read everything on World War II, tracked ships in the Great Lakes via the Internet and studied Naval history books. He talked about enlisting, but wanted to complete school.

Upon graduation, he decided to work while attending Erie Community College for a career in telecommunications. I asked him last winter if he had any regrets about not going in the Navy. He replied "probably." I never dreamt that he was still thinking of serving his country.

In May, he informed us that he had enlisted under a delayed entry program. He didn't want to wake up 20 years from now and wonder "what if." While the proud American side of me knows that this is a good thing, the mom side of me still longs for the days when we were learning the names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or playing with the Power Rangers.

This summer was spent sorting through years of stuff, putting the items of his youth in plastic bins, giving some things away. He sold his car, and got an I-Pod. His siblings hosted a "Good Luck" party.

People remind me, "it's the Navy," like this is supposed to make me worry less. On the day of his party, terrorists were shooting at our ships in Jordan. Danger is everywhere, and a mom's job is to worry.

We are so blessed. Our other two children married great people and live nearby. We see the grandchildren frequently. But there will be a hole in the family for a while.

On Sept. 19, we delivered him to the recruiter in Hamburg. Basic training is in Chicago, and he will spend the winter in Pensacola for further schooling. His dream of serving on an aircraft carrier will soon become a reality.

For the first time in 29 years, we are returning to a home without a child in it. We'll find things to do; best friends usually do. The bumper sticker that reads "Proud Parent of a Sailor" will go on the car, we'll hang a blue star in the window and we'll start counting the days till he comes home. I will be praying for him, as I pray for all the others serving our country. Be safe, do yourself proud and come home soon. We'll be waiting, Greg.

Barbara Whittemore a registered nurse from Hamburg, is proud of her son but sad to see him go.

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