How we helped our son survive Plebe Summer

Discussion in 'Naval Academy - USNA' started by coachkarl, Jun 13, 2017.

  1. coachkarl

    coachkarl Member

    Jan 8, 2016
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    Class of 2021 Parents:

    I should have posted this earlier, but better late than never I guess. Here are some suggestions and tips for helping your Plebe get through the grueling six weeks that are Plebe Summer. And this is lengthy, so apologies if I eat up a few minutes of our life that you'll never get back.
    Overarching: Avoid telling your Plebe you miss them. That may seem counterintuitive, but they are going to feel isolated and, likely, a bit homesick. Telling them you miss them will only amplify those feelings.

    You probably know this already, but you’ll get three calls and will get the times and dates for those. My only two pieces of advice– 1) for the first call, keep it just to immediate family. The 30 minutes will FLY by. Let your Plebe take the lead on the conversation. We had our family huddled around the phone and put it on speaker. 2) prep a few questions (what’s the best food there? what would you like us to send to you?) and comments (the dog caught a squirrel the other day) in case the conversation lags, which it may.

    You cannot send enough mail. Let me restate that: There is no such thing as too much mail. Every note we got from our son included this line in all caps, underlined: KEEP WRITING AND KEEP PRAYING.

    Side note on mail FROM your Plebe: There likely won’t be much. They have to write back in the first week or two, but some will send one-liners just so they can tell the detailers they did what they were told. Others will write longer letters, but they will vary in tone. Our son’s letters were lengthy and grim (though not desperate). Here’s a way you can increase mail from your Plebe – send them fill-in-the-blank, Mad Lib-type cards with pre-addressed stamp envelopes. The cards should literally be fill-in-the-blank with just a few blanks. Examples: “Today, we learned about ______; For lunch we had _______; my roommates are from _____; the best thing so far has been _______; please send more _________; please stop sending _________”

    Start writing NOW: Write a few simple notes now so you can drop them in the mail as SOON as you have their address.

    Now, how can you keep the mail flowing?

    Get others involved:
    1. Share your Plebe’s address with everyone (we placed in in our church bulletin). Give them some basic guidelines (don’t tell the Plebe you miss them, be positive, etc.) and encourage them to write often. But don’t be passive – I reached out and directly asked several people, people I knew our Plebe respected – and asked them specifically to write. They did and it was a big morale boost (“I can’t believe so-and-so wrote. That was great.”).

    2. Every chance we could, we placed index cards and pens and asked people to write short notes to our Plebe – his graduation party, at the back of our church, at other kids’ grad parties, really any gathering. In the end, we had about 50 or so notes – most silly, which is great – and they were awesome additions to our letters.
    Everyone should write: My wife, daughter and I all wrote separately. Here’s how we broke it down.

    I went to the dollar store and bought a ton of cards – the packages of 8 blank cards and the regular cards, too.

    My wife wrote in the larger cards about once every three or four days, basically twice a week. She mostly wrote about how proud she was, share stories about music (they are both musicians), Bible verses, day-to-day happenings at home and stories from around town. She would include a few of the aforementioned index cards.

    My daughter used the small, blank cards about once every three or four days, basically twice a week. She’s not much of a writer, but she found a way. She would go to Google and search for jokes. She’d share a joke and sometimes an inspirational quote and, because she likes to draw, a simple picture.

    Since I’m a writer, I carried the heavier half of the load. I wrote a small card every single day, sometimes two a day. I bought a bunch of colored pencils, markers and stickers (again, from the dollar store) for this purpose. These notes were often just a single, colorful message – a Bible verse, an inspirational quote or something as simple as: “Today’s recipe: 1) Kick ***, 2) Take Names, 3) Repeat *Step 2 is optional”. When I was traveling, I would drop postcards, too.

    Every week, I put together a letter that looked like an 8-page magazine – this allowed me to create “mini-posters” that featured photos (he specifically asked for photos from some of the places we’ve hiked – Philmont, Grand Canyon, etc. and pictures of the family), song lyrics, inspirational quotes or jokes. The jokes were helpful, because the Plebes are often asked – well, are told – to share a joke during mealtime. These magainze-style letters were a big, big hit. They were colorful and had a lot of pictures – my son said “pictures of anything that’s not HERE” were cherished. The text for the letters was simple – every day stories from life at home, funny things from the news, musings on whatever crossed my mind, random facts, etc. I've included a screenshot of one of them with this post if you're interested in seeing it.

    Letters are crucial, packages are the real treasure. A few tips.

    Most importantly, make sure you get the address correct. IIRC, like the academic year, packages go to a different address than letters & cards.

    Side note: The post office will push their “flat rate” boxes, which allow you to put in whatever you want for a single rate. Truth be told, you can probably send things cheaper with their other boxes. Don’t sweat it though. Just get it there. Don't overnight anything. Remember that the Detailers have to sort through and deliver mail in addition to the million and one other things they are charged with doing every day. Mail will move slowly during Plebe Summer. So very, very slowly.

    What to send? Doesn’t matter (well it does, kind of)! Just send it. A few suggestions.
    • We sent at least one package every week.
    • Get as much as you can from either the dollar store or a wholesale club. For the latter, you can send a little bit at a time.
    • Do NOT send any kind of medicine – even simple OTC stuff like ibuprofen. It will get confiscated.
    Mail: Duh, save a stamp and include your card and/or letter … and some of those index cards!

    Health: Throat lozenges are good. Your Plebe will get Plebe Hack. It’s gonna happen. When you combine extensive (mostly outdoor) physical training, the mid-Atlantic’s horrific pollen counts and 1,100 people jammed into confined quarters, the Hack spreads. But, again, you cannot send medicine. Lozenges help; we sent Halls Defense, which has a lot of vitamin C. Stuff like Emergen-C helps, too, as do Airborne gummies. We also included a lot of packets of Gatorade powder.

    Hygiene: My son asked for Wisps – which are single-use toothbrushes that do not require water, sold in two-packs in our Dollar Trees; we used them a lot when we were backpacking. Time is so precious during Plebe Summer, so this allowed him to save a few seconds and keep his dental hygiene up. We sent A LOT of them. I literally cleared out the stock of three Dollar Trees.

    Laundry: Shout wipes and Tide pens are crucial. They will obsess about their uniforms being spit-spot and these are important tools.

    Snacks: Yes, you can send snacks. But keep them healthy. We sent a lot of beef jerky (his favorite) and fruit snacks. If your DS or DD love nuts, send ‘em. That being said, my wife sent brownies and cookies – but enough to share. We also sent small bags of his favorite caramel candies

    Clothes – yes, your Plebe will get A TON of clothes - all they need and then some. That being said, our son wanted compression shorts. That’s what we sent. They won’t be able to use anything else (women can use sports bras, too). Speaking of underwear, we sent A LOT of Body Glide to help with chafing.

    Another tip – again go to the dollar store and buy a lot of Tupperware-type containers. This allows you to package your boxes more efficiently, but more importantly, makes it easier for your Plebe to organize their goodies, as well as protect it from, um, uninvited guests that reside within Bancroft. And if they have too many, once they’re done, they can dispose of them without feeling guilty about wasting a ton of money.

    For us, it was all about helping our son through Plebe Summer. Our objective was simple – get to Plebes Parents Weekend. We focused a lot of energy on what he might want or need and, most importantly, keeping his spirits as high as possible to get him toward the first finish line – PPW.

    Like all things USNA, your mileage may vary and your experience will be different. There is no right or wrong way to be a Plebe parent and I don’t mean this post to be prescriptive, just a way to show one family’s experience.

    With that said, good luck. Wishing our plebe and your family calm seas and smooth sailing!

    P.S. If your interested, I did a podcast with my son at the conclusion of Plebe year: Here's a link where you can listen. We talk a lot about Induction Day and Plebe Summer, in addition to the rest of Plebe Year.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 13, 2017
    Navymom2022, mswmommy, Mom529 and 7 others like this.
  2. usna1985

    usna1985 10-Year Member

    Jun 9, 2006
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    For those who aren't into writing, consider sending "clippings" from home. My mother sent envelopes stuffed with short articles, cartoons, etc. from the local paper. Today, you might also print stuff from the Internet. Plebes have to read articles from the front page/sports page of the Washington Post but don't have ready access to what's going on in their home community, with their favorite teams, etc. It's really fun to be able to stay in touch and is an great way for those who aren't into letters to communicate with plebes.
    shamrocksailor and coachkarl like this.
  3. coachkarl

    coachkarl Member

    Jan 8, 2016
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    Good point. That reminds me, in my magazine-style letters, I included a lot of Facebook posts, too, especially when I made one about my son and people responded. The responses were uplifting!
    Mom529 likes this.
  4. PotentialMidMom

    PotentialMidMom New Member

    Aug 18, 2016
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    Thank you so much for this posting! It is a huge help to those of us nervously anticipating the six weeks ahead with minimal contact with our children. I am hoping we will get information about company and platoon before I-Day so my DD can send her address to her friends before she leaves. Thanks for taking the time to provide so much detail about your family's Plebe summer experience (and, might I add, you have set a standard for communication with your DS that I already know I will fail to meet!).
    coachkarl likes this.
  5. rlrmilitarymom

    rlrmilitarymom Member

    Mar 19, 2017
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    thanks so much for putting this together! This is very helpful and with our son being an only child, you have the bases covered and great words of wisdom!
    coachkarl likes this.