A Fan Girl's Mom Says Thanks

Dorie and Clayton Collins of Late Nite Reading.
Dorie and Clayton Collins of Late Nite Reading.

We are in the last months of my son’s first deployment. It is an emotional roller coaster for all of us, but especially our daughter who is 14.

Chelle and her oldest brother have always been close. I didn’t realize how his pending deployment was affecting her until one day she sang a song she composed. For our daughter, like scores of other young people, music has a way to sooth over the roughest times in their young lives. For our daughter a band out of Indiana, Late Nite Reading (LNR), has been particularly helpful during this deployment.

Chelle first learned of the LNR through an online chat for Harry Potter fans. She began listening to their music, watching their YouTube videos and watching one of the band members YouTube channel, My Life In Color (MILC).

Chelle and the members of Late Nite Reading before their concert in November. photo by Stanley Leary
Chelle and the members of Late Nite Reading before their concert in November.
photo by Stanley Leary

I try to learn about my children’s interests. My two sons like MMA,  and UFC fights. We’ve watched some of these together, quite a stretch for me. When my oldest son decided he wanted a career in the military, I began to study up on how to support him in his dream. My second son loves to cook and has a gift for working with customers. I’ve talked with scores of restaurant owners and bar tenders to learn about that industry. Now my youngest is a “Fan Girl.”

I’ve always loved music and sang in both church and school choirs growing up but I’ve never been a band groupie, until this past year. Last summer Chelle learned that Late Nite Reading would be in Atlanta on a Friday night for a “Meet and greet” at Lenox Square Mall. We were told to meet outside of the Vans store inside the mall. The group was late, but thanks to constant Twitter updates we knew they were on their way. Eventually two young men came to the store and asked the assembled group of about 40 people (mainly young girls and their parents) to follow them out to the parking lot. It seemed pretty strange that we would just follow these two people out to a parking lot where there was a white unmarked van filled with young musicians. What happened next was so much fun. The band spent the next few hours getting photos taken with their fans, playing an acoustic set then autographs and more photos. I don’t think I have ever seen my daughter so excited and happy.

Chelle gave Bryan Stars some Skittles
Chelle gave Bryan Stars some Skittles

Since that Friday night last July I’ve taken her to see them in concert four more times. Most recently this past weekend. They are on tour with Bryan Stars, a young man from the mid-west who has an online presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and his own website. Bryan interviews bands by asking them silly questions, but he also gives the fans an insight into who the band members are.

Late Nite Reading L-R Drew Cottrell, Clayton Collins, Brady Szuhaj, Dalton Wixom
Late Nite Reading
L-R Drew Cottrell, Clayton Collins, Brady Szuhaj, Dalton Wixom
photo by Stanley Leary


The concerts are in small venues. They sell VIP tickets so you can get in early to spend some time with the band members and buy their merchandise, called “merch” for seasoned concert goers.   Since my daughter was 13 when her obsession with all things Late Nite Reading I made it a point to know about the band and it’s members. I follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Since the past few concerts I also keep up with a second band they have traveled with called Farewell My Love.

The bands are terrific with their fans, most of whom are in high school or early college years. I’ve gotten to know them a bit as individuals too. What I have learned is this group of young men are incredibly caring and sensitive to their fans. Their tweets and posts can be a bit off-color and not what I’d want my young daughter to read. A few bands look a bit scary with their dramatic make up, but they also post incredibly caring pieces. Brady Szuhaj of Late Nite Reading posted a very encouraging video to his MILC site about not giving up called For Those Struggling. When they meet their fans each member takes time to talk to them, give them a hug and sign what ever they’ve been asked to sign.

On the surface this all looks like fluff. Dig a little deeper and you learn that these young musicians also save lives.

I don’t know why, but there is a sharp increase in the number of young people who feel so isolated and depressed that they are cutting themselves and in some cases go further and attempt suicide.

Chelle and Brady. It was his birthday so Chelle gave him a T-Rex
Chelle and Brady. It was his birthday so Chelle gave him a T-Rex

Band members in Late Nite Reading and Farewell My Love are credited by their young listeners and their parents for saving lives. Just this past weekend I heard a story from a parent of how band members helped save her young daughter by listening to her concerns and encouraging her to stop hurting herself.

These young men are not trained counselors, but some have gone through their own tough times. They encourage their fans to keep going in life. Let them know they care, and after meeting them, I believe they truly do care. I do know how caring they are toward our daughter who worries constantly about her deployed brother.

The band members told me stories of girls sending in their razor blades and vowing not to cut again. That is pretty heavy stuff given that most of the band members haven’t reached their 21st birthday. I admire these young men. The band members care for their fans in ways many of the parents of these fans do not understand.

To celebrate the end of the school year this past weekend we saw the Bryan Stars Tour in Marietta, GA then again in Jacksonville, Florida. For a few days the fun of following this group of bands from Georgia to Florida kept us from being preoccupied with where our deployed soldier is serving. As an added bonus we even heard from our soldier while on the beach in Jacksonville!

I am grateful to the members of Late Nite Reading, their manager, Bernie Szuhaj, the band Farewell My Love, and to Bryan Stars. You are more than entertainers to so many of your fans. This mom of a deployed soldier and “Fan Girl’s Mom” appreciates you.

Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love. THe band called out, "Mom, Mom, you get in here too!" photo by Stanley Leary
Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love. The band called out, “Mom, Mom, you get in here too!”
photo by Stanley Leary

Deployment: A Wilted Yellow Ribbon and a Determined Flower.

Our ribbon is looking very sad at this point in the deployment cycle.
Our ribbon is looking very sad at this point in the deployment cycle.

I went for a walk in the neighborhood this morning. On the way past the front of our home I noticed the yellow ribbon that we put up when my oldest son deployed was looking a bit sad and wilted. The ribbon mirrors my internal mood.

We are over half way through this deployment. While I keep a cheery exterior and move through the paces of daily life, the invisible undercurrent that pervades my inner thoughts is fairly dark and gloomy.

My walk in the neighborhood was a way to shake myself out of a funk. This morning I posted this update: “Chelle has one more day of middle school, then my baby will be a high school freshman!” A Citadel classmate of my son then replied “Chin in.”

His comment made me smile. It sounded like something my deployed son would say. I haven’t heard from my son in over a week.  Having his classmate respond was like hearing from my son, but not quite. I felt the tears well up so I took a walk.

It is a beautiful day. I felt better just enjoying the sounds of a nice spring day. I passed a determined little flower poking through the asphalt and had to take a photo. It was a good reminder to press on through. I ran into a neighbor and we caught up a bit. My walk around the neighborhood continued and I was feeling much better.

This little flower seemed determined to poke it's way through the asphalt as a testament to will power and determination.
This little flower seemed determined to poke it’s way through the asphalt as a testament to will power and determination.

Then I saw our wilted yellow ribbon and was reminded why I took a walk.

A Note to New Citadel Parents

Knobs pick up their new PT clothes (AKA Knobbie clothes). Note the cadet in the navy blue to the right.
Knobs pick up their new PT clothes (AKA Knobbie clothes). Note the cadet in the navy blue to the right.

It is that time of year again. High school graduations begin and preparation for the next class of cadets at The Citadel are beginning to prepare. Each year at this time I see an increase in the number of visits to my blog, especially the entires that deal with knob year.

There is a Facebook group for the parents of the class of 2017 to help them understand the ins and outs of preparing their student to matriculate in August. The group is made up of new parents and parents of graduates. The questions always revolve around the best computers to buy and where to find items from the Success Packet of required items. Most of the answers to these questions can be found on this blog and also on the school website, but I think parents like to hear directly from other parents who have been there.

If you are a new parent there is one bit of advice I’d like you to hear. The Citadel is a leadership school. Your student will learn to take control of their experience there. It is important for you to learn to let them make their decisions. That begins with preparation for Matriculation Day. Please read the entry The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents.

They need most everything on the required list, but even on that list there is room for personal preference, like whether they want pajamas, desk lamp, etc. Ask your future cadet what they want and what they don’t want to bring. The Citadel Family Association “Nice to Have List” is a suggestion of items to bring. Ask what your cadet wants to bring from that list. If they get to school and decide they do want something it is available on campus or at a nearby store, or you can mail it. You want them to be prepared but it should also be a growing experience for them to begin to make their own decisions.

Even as I write this I know some readers will say, but they HAVE to HAVE so and so with them. I have learned over the years that there is no universal cadet experience. Some cadets like home-baked goods in their care packages, some only want healthy foods. Some want coffee pots some do not. One parents will say you NEED to send a particular item, while another will tell you their cadet never used it.

My advice for new parents? Take this opportunity to begin to let go of your control and allow your student the opportunity to begin to make their own decisions. You’ll be amazed at how much they mature this first year.

Previous entries about knob year:

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

A Letter to the Class of 2015

Matriculation Day: Getting Ready

Matriculation Day: Reporting in that first day

Knob Year Notes for Parents

Deployment Ups and Downs

I used the last of a roll of shipping tape on the last box to be sent during this deployment.
I used the last of a roll of shipping tape on the last box to be sent during this deployment.

We’ve reached a deployment milestone. This week I received the stop mail date. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, the stop mail date means military families have to stop sending mail on that date because the unit is preparing for their redeployment home. Receiving word about this date is confirmation that the light is getting brighter at the end of the deployment tunnel.

Several events this week put a damper on my enthusiasm.

The first was early this week when our doorbell rang unexpectedly. It was a sales person for a pest control company. I try not to panic when these unexpected knocks happen and my anxiety was relieved when I saw through the window that the person on the other side of the door was wearing a white golf shirt, not a uniform. He was a nice young man. I explained what the Blue Star Flag means that hangs on our front door. I also explained what the yellow ribbon around our front tree means. He apologized for not knowing and said he would remember that in the future. I felt better knowing I had educated one more person about the anxiety families of deployed soldiers can go through when the unexpected knock comes to your door.

The other events of the week include the news stories of soldiers killed in Afghanistan by an IED and a suicide bomber. When an events like these happen there is a communication black out period so the military can notify the next of kin of the soldiers killed in action. It is a period of anxiety, waiting and hoping you won’t get the knock on your door. Then you realize if it isn’t you there is some family about to learn their loved one is gone. As part of a huge extended military family part of you grieves for the loss of someone you don’t know, but with whom you feel an affinity. The reality is these stories aren’t highlighted in the news any more. they are available, but you have to look for updates. That means the general public is blissfully unaware of the continued tragedies of the involvement overseas.

As I wrote earlier this week, my son wrote to me on Mother’s Day. I know I won’t hear from him for a while. I try not to let myself ponder too much on the what ifs of the news from the past few days. Most of the time I am successful.

I have little rituals I do when I am anxious. One of them is to send packages. Since the stop mail date has passed I will have to find another outlet. The welcome home baskets for the single soldiers is one effort I will continue to work on through their homecoming. I had ordered some special pralines from a local restaurant for my son’s platoon. Since I’ve now missed the mailing deadline I will send them to the rear detachment office at Fort Stewart.

Last week the military blog site I contribute to, Off the Base, posted my entry about Mother’s Day. I was also interviewed by Bobbie O’Brien about helpful and not helpful things for military moms. I’d like to add one more item. Comparing your child going off to college with a deployment is not at all helpful for the parents of a deployed soldier. Unless your child is being targeted and shot at while they are at school. The same thing holds for spouses on extended business trips. It is not the same and not helpful to compare a business trip to a deployment to a war zone.

Writing that helps me vent, but I do hope it will help at least one reader refrain from drawing that comparison.

Melancholy on Mother's Day

Chelle and Dorie visit with their soldier in the fall of 2012 during Family Day at Fort Stewart. photo by Stanley Leary
Chelle and Dorie visit with their soldier in the fall of 2012 during Family Day at Fort Stewart.
photo by Stanley Leary

Today is my first Mother’s Day as the mom of a deployed soldier. I have to admit that Mother’s day has never been a favorite holiday of mine. My own mother died when I was pregnant with my first child. When I was struggling one Mother’s Day a friend pointed out, “Mother’s Day is a tough day for mothers who have lost their mothers.”

So this day reminds me of who is not here as much as it reminds me of my own motherhood. I love my children and am grateful for the tokens of their love each year. But as hard as I try to stay with the here and now, I am reminded of who is not here with us. This year it is my first-born child.

I haven’t heard from him in days. On Facebook I see photos of flower arrangements sent to other moms from their deployed children, and read of messages sent and Skype calls made. My expectations of hearing from my son are very low.

This past week I was asked to contribute some tips for Mother’s Day to the military blog, Off the Base, a project of Bobbie O’Brien of WUSF. Bobbie also interviewed me this week for a Mother’s Day piece that aired on WUSF this past Friday. The interview went well until I was asked about what I do for Mother’s Day. For several years now I have not seen my oldest son on Mother’s Day. I do, however, have a few phone messages I have kept from previous Mother’s Day calls from my oldest son. I never do know when I’ll hear from him. I keep the messages just so I can hear his voice once in a while. As I told Bobbie about these messages I choked up a bit.

So today is another day of mixed emotions. My husband and my two children took me to enjoy a nice Mother’s Day brunch at my favorite restaurant in town, Adele’s. This afternoon we will listen to my daughter play with her middle school orchestra at an art festival in town. The evening will be used to prepare for the week ahead.

It’s early afternoon here and night-time in Afghanistan. No word from my deployed son.

My daughter told me I had to wear this cape to her orchestra performance today. It did lighten the mood a bit.
My daughter told me I had to wear this cape to her orchestra performance today. It did lighten the mood a bit.

FOOTNOTE: I wrote this entry before the concert at the arts festival in town. During the concert I was showing my Army ACU purse to two children sitting next to me. I then looked at my phone to check Facebook messages. There was a note from my deployed son! As I was talking about him, he was writing to me. It made my afternoon. He said Happy Mother’s Day then told me I wouldn’t hear from him for a while. The tears flowed once again.

I put on my dark sunglasses and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.