It's so nice to have a Mid around the house

August 07, 2005|By Susan Reimer

THERE IS AN expression that you will hear in and around Annapolis that you might not hear anywhere else in the country.

In my hometown, people often start conversations like this: "My Mid ..."

As in, "I have my Mid this weekend."

"My Mid is having a really rough time over there."

"My Mid is going Marine ground."

"My Mid is getting winged this week."

"My Mid is getting married."

The people who talk like this are sponsor parents, members of the community who volunteer their televisions, refrigerators and couches for Naval Academy midshipmen who need a place to go on weekends to escape the unique pressures of that place.

Midshipmen are assigned to a family during their freshman or "plebe" year, when they need refuge the most. But the relationships often continue through all four years, through deployments, through marriages and on into forever.

When my son entered the Naval Academy, he asked if he could have a sponsor family other than his own. "One with better food and fewer rules," he joked. As it turned out, he decided I offered the best deal after all.

I asked the folks in charge of the sponsor program if they had anybody else who needed a home. I was willing to take hundreds of midshipmen.

"Let your son decide who he wants to bring home," was their wise advice. "After all, it is his home."

Over the last four years, I have opened my house to all the Mids I ever could have wanted. As well as to their appetites, their exhaustion, their uniforms, their books, their laundry, their cars, their military gear, their snowboards, and, in one case, someone's underwater spear gun.

They brag at the Naval Academy that the staff of King Hall can feed 4,000 midshipmen at once, but apparently my Mids were rarely among them. When they arrived at my door, I routinely asked if anyone was hungry and the answer was always the same.

"Well, we could eat."

One of my Mids once said that, now that both my children were in college, my food bill must have diminished considerably. I gave him a "You are kidding me, right?" look, and he said sheepishly, "Oh. Yeah."

My Mids will begin to straggle in from their summer assignments soon. One went to Spain, another to Germany. One spent the summer with the Navy SEALs and another with the Marines. Most of them spent at least three weeks cracking the new batch of plebes into shape.

I can't wait to hear their stories. Unlike your own children, other people's children will often talk openly and freely to you, and that is certainly true of my midshipmen. They sit at my kitchen table while I cook, and they delight me with their humor, their candor, their view of the world and -- this is the best part -- their relationships with each other.

They say that the friendships forged at the Naval Academy last a lifetime. I have seen it happening.

My Mids are all "Firsties" this year, seniors. It is my last year of hamburgers by the dozen and spaghetti by the pound. It is my last year of a house littered with summer whites or dress blues.

It is my last year of all those boys in the basement watching football on weekends. Of rides to airports, of food runs to Bancroft Hall during finals week, of never knowing on a Sunday morning who is asleep in the corners of my house.

I heard once that a sponsor father greeted his new charge with a lecture about financial responsibility. That poor boy, I thought. After the rigors of the boot camp-like plebe summer, I am sure all he wanted in the world was a trip to McDonald's and to fall asleep on a couch watching TV.

That sponsor father might never see that plebe again -- visits to sponsor families are not mandatory and midshipmen often gravitate to a buddy's better arrangement. And it will be his loss.

When my Mids graduate in May and throw their hats in the air, my nest will truly be empty. I can imagine I will sponsor midshipmen again -- I am the kind of woman who wants to rescue all the homeless puppies. But I don't believe any will be as special to me as this group of '06ers, as they are known.

They are more than my Mids. They are my son's friends. He chose them for me, and he could not have chosen better.

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