Right now, son’s future fills a large box

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Thursday, June 3, 2004 9:00pm
  • Local News

It’s a big Eddie Bauer carton left over from Christmas. It’s full to overflowing with college come-ons and military recruitment mailings. I call it the box of choices.

My son’s name is on all that mail, but I’m the one who really looks at it. He’s busy with exams, band practice and his most recent leisure activity, a triple-feature of horror films with five guys stuffed in a Honda at a drive-in.

That last pastime seems to be saying something. Is this kid, at 17, anywhere near ready to make the kinds of choices offered in our box?

I can’t honestly say, because – ready or not – in less than a year he’ll have to choose.

Consider the bravery of Pfc. Cody Calavan, the 19-year-old Marine from Lake Stevens who died Saturday in Iraq. “Despite family tragedies, he chose hazardous duty,” The Herald said Wednesday.

Calavan’s mother died in 1997. His 15-year-old brother was killed by a drunken driver in August. As a sole surviving son, he could have opted out of combat. His father, David Calavan, said his older son’s death was easier to bear “because it was a choice.”

At Lakewood High School, career specialist Julie Simpson said with Navy housing nearby, many students come from military families. “A lot are already pointed in that direction,” she said. Others hope to go to college but can’t afford it. “If they join the military, it’s a key to education,” she said.

Still, of about 150 students graduating at Lakewood this month, “only about four are going into the military,” Simpson said.

Verna Rossevelt, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Seattle, said this year’s goal is 77,000 recruits in the active Army and 21,200 in the reserves. Through May, 49,086 had been recruited for the active Army, exceeding the goal.

My boy’s military mail employs all sorts of enticements. The Army promises “up to $68,000 for college,” a free “Army of One” gym bag for sending back a reply, and a “buddy team enlistment option.” The Marines will send free “official Marine Corps dog tags.”

College brochures use the high-minded slogans “Open minds. Open doors” and “From here you can go anywhere.” A kid could literally toss our box in the air, grab any envelope – college to Coast Guard – and with work and heart build a rewarding life.

Simpson said the military is at her school every week, but recruiters aren’t the only ones sharing options. There are job shadows and a careers class. “We have speakers every week, truck drivers to the orthodontist,” she said.

At Kamiak High School in the Mukilteo School District, counselor Barbara Erickson said teens make “life-altering decisions” before graduating. “How many of us changed our minds four or five years after high school?”

Military recruiters are at Kamiak one week a month. Colleges, too, make regular visits. Fourteen Kamiak graduates will join the military this year, Erickson said. Last year 10 did so.

Are they ready to choose?

“There’s not a test you can take to see you’re going to do OK,” said Dr. Cora Breuner, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle. As with younger teens, “always provide consistent parenting,” she said. “Be happy to say, ‘Let’s check it out together.’ “

It’s a lot to ask, “forcing them to make some choices at this young age,” Erickson said.

And our box? It’s getting mighty heavy.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com.

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