The Nine Lessons I Learned in Basic Training and How They Prepared Me for Parenthood

My wife and I are grateful that we recently became parents to a wonderful little girl. She just turned two months old, which means that I feel like I haven’t slept in that same amount of time. And I feel like it has caught up to me. My friends said not to worry. “You’ll sleep more at some point.”

And that got me thinking. The time in my life when I was most deprived of sleep was in 2004 when I was attending the Air Force’s Basic Officer Training. That summer, I joined hundreds of other cadets from across the country at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota for about five weeks to prove that we were worthy of a commission in the world’s greatest flying force.

When I thought about it further, I started to realize how many similarities there are to being a parent of a newborn and what it is like to go through “Basic,” as I will call it hereafter. I determined that there were nine major lessons:

  1. You don’t sleep anymore. In Basic, we slept for about five, maybe six, hours a night. We would go to sleep at 11 o’clock and be woken up around 4-something. When I finished Basic, I slept for about 18 hours a day for three days. With a newborn, anyone who is a parent or knows a parent knows that you’re lucky to get four-to-five hours of sleep a night. The only issue is, you never really have a chance to catch up.
  2. You have to eat fast. In Basic, we were given seven minutes to eat our entire meal. We could take as much food as we wanted, but we had to eat it all in that time frame. Once your seven minutes was up, you had to run back outside and wait for the next item on the agenda. With a newborn, you have to eat quickly (and in most cases separately from your spouse), before the kiddo needs something. Eating together with a quiet child is a luxury.
  3. You don’t remember the last time you showered. In Basic, we had a finite amount of time after physical training and breakfast to clean our rooms, make our beds, shower, shave, etc. In most cases, you skipped a shower because that was the one thing that wasn’t mandated. After a few days, you had a hard time remembering the last time you cleaned yourself. With a newborn, you get spit on, pooped on, and peed on so much that you just stop caring about your own personal hygiene, in many cases not remembering the last time you showered.
  4. The bathroom is your only solace. In Basic, after we ate, we stood in formation outside the dining hall to wait for everyone in our squadron to finish. As we were waiting, we had an opportunity to use a Porta-Potty. Even if you didn’t have to go number one or number two, you still waited in line and when it was your turn, just sat inside, took your hat off and took a minute to yourself. It was the only time the staff weren’t yelling at you. With a newborn, the only real “alone” time you have is in the bathroom. Speaking of yelling…
  5. You get screamed at for seemingly no reason. In Basic, I remember a time when I had three staff members screaming in my face because the bottles of sunscreen for our team weren’t all the same brand (and no, they didn’t have to be). With a newborn, your kiddo can cry and scream at you for any number of reasons: hungry, soiled diaper, in an uncomfortable position, gassy, tired, scratched herself, startled, just wanting to be held, or…for no reason at all.
  6. Exercise becomes more of a chore than something you enjoy. In Basic, we had physical training at least twice per day, but it wasn’t fun, it was push-ups, and sit-ups, and running, and all of those calisthenic-type exercises. With a newborn, it is still important to exercise, but because your time is limited and you know you need to do it for your health and mental sanity, it becomes more of a chore and check-box rather than something you an relax and enjoy fully.
  7. Your teammates are key. In Basic, it is critical to have the support of your squad members. They can cover for you or throw you under the bus. With a newborn, having your support network of your spouse, family, and friends is necessary to help keep you sane, give you breaks when you need, and support you through tough times.
  8. Nothing can truly prepare you for what is about to happen. In Basic, we were told to memorize a book called the “Field Training Manual” before we got there. The book explained how everything needed to be done, everything from making a bed to how your locker needed to look to how to properly lace your boots. If you read the book, you thought, hey, I’m in a good place to be successful. In reality, it didn’t go so easily, as the “rules” in the book didn’t necessarily translate well to the actual experiences. With a newborn, you can read all the books in the world (I read only two), but once that child arrives, you just try to figure it out as best you can. There’s no answer other than to just keep your kid alive and get her fed so she can grow to the point where she can sleep through the night and maybe you can, too.
  9. It’s the most fun you have you never want to have again. In Basic, during the heart of it, it’s terrible. Some things can be fun, but overall, it’s a pretty miserable experience. That said, by the time it’s over, you think to yourself, that wasn’t so bad, I could probably do it again. With a newborn, when you’re up at 3 a.m. with a child you can’t seem to console, you think to yourself, this is a pretty miserable experience. But by the time the kid grows a few months, starts sleeping through the night, and acting a little more human, you think, that wasn’t so bad, I could probably do it again. And you do, because your wife wants a second kid.

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