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A reader writes…By Cindy Conant

July 16, 2001

There comes a time in every parent's life when they have to cut the apron strings and let their children go on to begin their own lives. After living with these children for 18 of their years you would think this would be easy. I just found out it is not.

My daughter, Monique, joined the Navy recently. She was sent to Great Lakes, Ill., for her boot camp. I remember that day very well. Watching her plane take off from San Diego was really hard but for some reason the whole idea that my baby was gone out of my life did not quite hit home.

During her time at boot camp there were some problems that she went through with injuries to her knee and there were times when we all did not think she was going to make it through boot camp.

As the weeks went by her knee condition got worse and eventually she was put on light duty. I constantly waited for the phone call from her telling me she was coming home. The kids don't get too much time to call home or to write letters so the two letters and one phone call I received from her left me wondering and worrying about what was going on.

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About two months later, I received information on her graduation from boot camp. They informed me that if there was some reason that my child would not graduate that the kids would call home.

I made all of my reservations to prepare to go to Illinois for her graduation. Plane tickets were bought, hotel and car reservations were made and I arranged for time off from work. Every day I hoped the phone would not ring. I counted down the days until it was time to see my daughter graduate from boot camp. I couldn't wait.

Finally two days before I was to leave, I had a collect call message on my answering machine and was left to wonder if she was calling to tell me whether she was graduating.

I assumed that if there was a problem she would have called back, so off to Illinois I went.

Coming from the Imperial Valley and landing in Chicago I was floored by how big the airport is. It is huge, and I felt so lost. I did find my way, though, and even found my motel.

The following day was graduation. There were so many kids graduating that through the whole ceremony I never did find my daughter and it was still in my mind that she was set back and would be graduating another week.

After the ceremonies, as hundreds of kids were finding their parents, I heard my little baby's voice and saw a hand bouncing up and down in the crowd. It was my Monique. I made my way through the huge crowd to the biggest hug from my daughter that I have ever had and all she could say was, "Mom I did it. I made it. I am a sailor." The tears just poured.

I could not believe what the Navy had done to my daughter. It was like she was a totally different person. She was absolutely beautiful and happy.

Now, if you know Monique like a lot of you do, you wouldn't even think it was her. All I wanted to do was hug her and pinch her cute little cheeks.

We got to spend three days off and on with her. I also got to adopt three other kids there as well. Three of her Navy buddies did not have family there so I took them on as my own. We had such a good time that by the end of the weekend I did not have just one child in the Navy, I had three.

I watched Monique the whole weekend and could not believe the massive change in her. To hear her talk about the Navy, you would almost think she was a Navy recruiter. She loves it and is proud to be part of the U.S. Navy.

As I left her and watched her walk away back to her barracks with my other three new kids, I realized that she was not my little girl anymore.

Monique has her own life now, and although I know she does still need me in some ways, she is now her own person. The Navy made my little Monique into a beautiful and proud woman.

I am a very proud Navy mother and I know she will do well with her career. On the other hand, as proud of I am, I had to say goodbye to my little baby and watch her walk away.

Needless to say, I cried all the way home.

Cindy Conant is an El Centro resident.

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