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A Parent’s Perspective on Plebe Parents Weekend (PPW)

parent's guide plebe summer Jul 27, 2019

Because my Mid was quite clear that he was seriously regretting his choice to attend the Naval Academy with its “freshman orientation program” that included being detached from his family and friends, being yelled at all summer, and having absolutely no freedom, I was feeling especially anxious about how I could make Plebe Parents Weekend the best it could be. Every family and every Mid will have a different answer to the question of what is the best way to spend PPW, but I want to offer you my perspective after experiencing PPW in August of 2013 with your Academy Insider (aka Ensign Grant Vermeer) who was much less pro-Navy than he is today.

We contemplated what to do regarding three main considerations:

  1. Location to stay
  2. Activities with your Mid
  3. Whether or not to bring/share the weekend with your Mid’s girlfriend or boyfriend

1. Location

First, we stayed in Downtown Annapolis (DTA) at the Westin Hotel.

On the positive side, it’s a very nice hotel with easy access to the yard.  This was a pro in our case because he was very concerned or just outright scared about returning late to Bancroft.  The anxiety surrounding that was minimized by him knowing that if push came to shove and all else failed, he could run to gate 1 in just a few minutes. To be far away might have added to the concern of not getting back in time.

However: being in Annapolis, where during PPW there is a sea of white uniforms everywhere you turn, made it a tense environment for him to go out. He knew that even venturing into the hotel hallway might involve an encounter with a detailer or regimental staff member. In this sense, it might have been nicer to be a little farther from the Academy.

2. Activities

We knew lots of Mids and their families who had wonderful times visiting DC, Arlington, and other surrounding areas and spoke of the wonderful experience of their Mid proudly walking around, being approached by strangers, and being thanked for their service. If PPW is just another weekend for your Midshipman and they want to go do fun activities, do it with them and enjoy it. Lucky you!

What we quickly learned was that this weekend was not about us. It was about him.  I desperately wanted to eat in King Hall and have him show me around the campus, regaling me with stories of plebe summer. However, he wanted NO PART OF THAT. He wanted to get to the hotel as quickly as possible and sleep, eat room service, sleep, watch movies, sleep, get a modicum of privacy, sleep, visit with all of us who came to visit him, and then sleep some more.

Eventually we talked him into venturing into the Annapolis mall to see a movie and walk around (because we were going stir crazy). This was a terrible idea. There were lots and lots of plebes but mostly lots of detailers and regimental staff who were particularly scary to him. With all these authority figures milling around him, his head was on a constant swivel, looking out to make sure he wasn’t doing something wrong that he might not even know about. The truth is that these detailers really do not care about your plebe’s shoe shine or gig line…but the plebe doesn’t really know that.

While the mall was not a success, we eventually had a wonderful dinner at the Chart House in Eastport and convinced him to pose in his newly minted summer whites for some pictures with us. Above is a photo of him and his sister Paige on the water outside of the restaurant.

3. Girlfriend/Boyfriend

If your Mid has a romantic interest that is kind enough to put up with them through plebe summer and is willing to come to Annapolis to visit during PPW, I ask you to stay open minded.  Please realize that there is a 98% chance this person will not be their eventual spouse (Grant will be writing an article about the 2% club at a future date). You may want any and all precious time with your Mid and not to have to share it with a girlfriend or boyfriend. I understand.

Grant’s girlfriend at the time just happens to be the cutest, sweetest, smartest, most athletic and musically talented young lady I know and we all (mom, dad, and sister) LOVE her. They broke up early into plebe year but we all continue to be friends to this day. She even graciously was his Ring Dance platonic date because they are still friends and she lived the ugliness of plebedom with him. Her parents graciously flew her out to join us and it was the best decision of PPW. She was really the only one who could brighten his otherwise surly disposition that weekend, and as parents I think we could see that having someone he loved there besides his parents was the best medicine for him at the time. This boyfriend/girlfriend call is a case by case decision, but for us it really was great.

My Reflections

If I was able to do it all over again, I offer the following reflections/advice:

  • This most likely will not be a fun touristy weekend for the family
  • If I could have rented a home in an area less populated with USNA influence to give him some mental down time and to lower his plebe self survival mode, I would have
  • I would avoid having him eat in restaurants with lots of dishes with red sauce to save those pristine summer whites
  • I would again force him to take those photos with us in his uniform
  • I would bring his then girlfriend again in a heartbeat
  • I would realize that even though I traveled across the country to see him, he is going to sleep most of the time we’re together
  • Though it was amazing to see him, I wish I had known that as miserable as he was in that moment, it would all change and he would come to love and appreciate the Naval Academy

I hope this article does not resonate with most of you, and if it doesn’t: congratulations and enjoy the weekend with your plebe! I am sincerely happy for you. If you are reading intently, I want to offer you the encouragement that it does get better. Much, much better.

-Scott Vermeer, proud father of LTJG Grant Vermeer