Category Archives: Raising Boys

What My Marine in the Making Looks Like

When my son left for boot camp on May 1st, this is what he looked like

Yesterday, a video was posted of my son’s platoon. The video was taken on Thursday (July 26th.) This is what my son looks like today.

When I saw him on the video for the first time

, it was shocking. He’s a changed man. He’s lost 29 pounds, but gained a ton of confidence. He’s strong, he’s fit and he’s only hours away from being a Marine.

Just minutes after I watched the video, downloaded his photo and sent it to everyone I know, my phone rang.


“Hi, Mom!”

It was Andrew.

And he sounded happy, unlike the other few calls he’s made to home while away. (There have only been 4 calls. One to say he arrived, one to tell me he was injured and being dropped into Medical Recovery Platoon, one to tell me he was being placed back into training and one 27 second call to tell me he did not want to stay an extra night in San Diego after graduation.)

“Hello, son!” I said. “Why are you calling? Everything okay?”

“Yes. I’m calling because my platoon won all of the competitions and we’re Honor Platoon. So, I get a 7 minute call.”

It was the best phone call I’ve ever had with anyone in my entire life. My son was happy, he was confident, HE ACTUALLY LAUGHED. He said he’s nervous about The Crucible, but ready for it and that he’s up for the challenged. He also said he got Recruiter’s Assistance and that he’ll have an extra 7 days of leave before leaving for more training. I’ll get an entire seventeen days with my son! I couldn’t be happier than I am right this very minute.

In only eleven days I will get to see my son in person.

Joy. Joy. Joy.

Some Good News and a Thank You

I received a letter from Andrew yesterday (two, actually!) The letter was dated June 11th. He told me that the stitches were removed from his hand and if all went well with his physical test

, he’d be joining a new company on Friday (today) and leaving for Camp Pendleton to began phase two training. “I should be calling soon.” He wrote.

I figured the call would come that day or sometime today, so I made sure to carry my phone wherever I went. I didn’t receive a call yesterday, so last night was another rough one. I tossed and turned. I checked my phone repeatedly to be sure the volume was turned up. I got out of bed, watched t.v. I did NOT eat hot cheetos, in fact? I didn’t put any food into my mouth! I picked up the box containing all of my son’s letters and began to read them over again.

I miss my son, his written words comfort me.

I finally crawled back into bed at 3am. The last time I looked at the clock it was 4:38am. The next thing I knew, the home phone was ringing. I jumped out of bed, looked at the number. It was a San Diego area code.

It was my son.

“Hi mom. I just wanted you to know I’m being placed in the Fox company. I’ll be leaving for phase two training.”

Relief flooded over my mind and body.

We didn’t get to chat, but he did say “I love you.” And that was enough for me.

My son’s hand has healed and he’s back in training. August 10th will be his new graduation date.

Today was a good day.


I just checked the mail, there was a letter from my son. He received the letter that I sent with all of your comments and words of encouragement for him.

“Thanks for the print out, Mom. It was very encouraging.”

Thank you to each one of you who took the time to leave those words for my son. I’m so blessed to have so many wonderful people sharing in this journey with me and my son. We are both grateful.

Letters From Our Recruit

Our son has been gone for two weeks. For two weeks

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, I’ve not heard his voice, or his laughter. There has been no sound of sweet music coming from his bedroom. No hugs, no arguments, no text messages.

The only thing we have are his handwritten letters. They are comforting, they are heartbreaking, they are the greatest joy of my life right now. I’ve only received two so far, but I read them over and over again. Even though he’s going through an intense, difficult experience, he’s managing to keep his sense of humor. I find comfort in that.

He’s not yet received our letters and that hurts my heart a bit. He desperately wants to hear from us. I hope our letters arrive sometime this week.

We’ve written so many letters.

Because that’s all we can do. Write. Wait. Read. Write again.

Hurry up, July 27th.

Operation Letters From Home Has Begun.

Yesterday I received the first letter from my son, Recruit Valtierra.

My daughter was thrilled, I was relieved.

Inside the envelope was a two page letter from his Senior Drill Instructor. Although it’s a standard form letter, I found it to be quite comforting. The portion of the letter from my son was addressed to “mother and father” and basically told me his platoon number and his graduation date.

July 27, 2012.

The letter was typed, but he did sign his name. I cried when I saw his handwriting. Tears of joy, tears of Oh My God, I Miss Him So Much.

My cousin is a Marine and he gave me some really good advice on writing letters to my son. He said that when you’re in boot camp, you’re extremely home sick. He said to keep the letters positive and encouraging. As I wrote my first letter back to him, I resisted the urge to be all “I miss you so much that I cry every and life is so sad without you.” Instead, I spoke of how proud I am of him, reminded him how strong he is and told him to always believe in himself and that HE CAN DO THIS. And then I told him how I cleaned under his bed yesterday and found 4,302 empty water bottles and why you gotta be such a slob, boy?

I just feel so much better about everything knowing that I can finally communicate with my son.

Related: How many letters is too many letters? One a day? Every other day? I don’t want to overwhelm him

, but I also want to be sure he knows we’re here thinking of him, supporting him as best we can.

When Big Brothers Leave, Little Sisters Cry.

One of the biggest concerns I had when I found out Andrew would be leaving for boot camp was how it would affect his brother and sister. I talked to both of them before they left. Ethan said he would miss him and that it would feel “weird” not having him around, Gabby said it was going to be sad.

When we said our goodbyes last Tuesday (can’t believe it’s already been a week!) I wasn’t sure how Ethan and Gabby would react. Would they cry? Would they be upset? I was prepared to soothe a couple of broken hearts. However, neither one of them cried. They both hugged their brother tightly, told them they would miss him and then smiled and joked around like they always do.

It will hit them later, I thought to myself.

On Thursday, I traveled to Miami for a work trip. Ethan stayed with a friend and Gabby stayed with my mom. I thought the time away from home would be good for her

, since she’d be having too much fun at Grandma’s house to miss her brother. I was right. She had a blast at Grandma’s house, playing with her cousin, shopping and eating too much of Grandma’s delicious food.

But things changed once we were home and it was time for bed.

“I miss Andrew.” Gabby said as I tucked her into her bed.

“I miss him too.” I responded, while placing her favorite blanket on top of her chest.

We prayed for Andrew, I kissed her goodnight and walked out of her room. A few minutes later, I could hear her crying. I walked into her room. Her face was down, pressed against her pillow. She was trying to mute the sound of her cry. I walked over to her bed and asked her to scoot over so I could lay down next to her. I wrapped my arms tightly around her.

“I miss Andrew, Mommy.”

“I know, sweetie. I miss him too.”

“Mommy, I miss him so much it hurts my heart.”

I told her it was okay to cry, I told her not to hold back, to cry as much and as hard and as loud as she needed to cry. And she did.

I just held her close and cried along with her because what else could I do? From the moment this girl was born, her brother has loved, adored and cared for her. He is patient with her, even when she’s being bratty. He’s never been too busy to spend time with her, whether it be playing games or playing the guitar for her so she can sing her favorite Adele songs. They are as close as a brother and sister with such a huge age gap (11 years) could possibly be. Their relationship has always warmed my heart.

We stayed there in her bed with her until the crying stopped. After she had calmed down a bit, we had a long conversation. I told her that her brother is strong and brave and that he is doing something amazing with his life. I explained that, while it’s okay to be sad and to miss him, she should also be proud and excited for him. Together, we came up with an idea. We’re going to buy a jar and put little strips of paper next to the jar. Anytime we miss him or feel sad, we’ll write a message of love and support for him and put it in the jar. When he returns home, she will present the jar to him so he can read all of our messages. He will know how dearly he is loved and how proud we are of him. I also told her that I would take her to buy paper, envelopes and new pens so that she could write him a notes whenever she wants to. I told her the minute we get that postcard with his address, we’ll start sending the letters. By the time our conversation was over, she was peaceful and excited to start writing messages to her brother.

The next day, we went to Target to get her the things I promised. As soon as we got home, she wrote her first letter.

Amazing, that girl.

We still have not received the postcard containing his mailing address. The first thing that Gabby does every day when she gets home from school is run to the mailbox to check for it.

I hope today is the day she finds his letter there inside that mailbox.


It arrived. She couldn’t be happier.

The Day My Son Left For Boot Camp.

I drove my son out to Los Angeles last night. I waited with him while he checked into his hotel room. After he was all checked in, we went to have dinner.

“Where do you want to eat?” I asked. “Rubios?”

“That sounds really good, actually.”

So we ate fish tacos, while I tried super hard to fight back tears (and Gabby tried super hard to fight with Ethan.)

I could see the nervousness that he felt for what was going to take place in a few short hours, but I could also see the determination and excitement. We ate our fish tacos in silence, while he would occasionally check his cell phone for text messages from friends and comments on his Facebook wall.

After we finished eating, I dropped him off at the hotel and me and The Other Kids headed to our hotel just a few blocks away.

I sent him a text message just before I laid down to go to sleep.

“I am so proud of you. I love you.”

I tried to sleep. I tossed, I turned, I sat up, I got up and turned on the laptop. I finally drifted off to sleep sometime after midnight. I was awoken a few hours later with sharp stomach pains. I got up to go to the bathroom, but the pain was so intense, I had to crawl. I pulled myself up onto the toilet and just sat there, moaning from the pain. Nothing was happening, just pain. I thought I may have to go to the hospital. An hour later, I crawled back into the bed, hoping the pain would go away. It never did.

We woke up at 7am and headed down to the lobby for our free continental breakfast. The skies were gray, covered with thick gray clouds, a light rain fell from the sky. My stomach was still aching, but I tried to eat a little something. I knew it was going to be a long day. I texted Andrew to let him know we’d be heading over to see him at 11:00.

When we arrived at MEPS

, we had to go through security that was very much like that at the airport. Once we entered, I looked for my son. I saw him sitting along with other young men and women who would be shipping out with him. I wanted to run up to him and tell him not to do it. “Come home with us, Andrew! You don’t have to do this!” Instead, I hugged him and asked him how he was feeling. “I’m hungry.” He replied.

We waited while he finished all of the processing details. My parents showed up along with my husband.

While I was sitting and waiting for Andrew to be finished, I saw a mother hugging her son. Her back was to me, so I couldn’t see her face. But I could see her son’s face. He held her tightly while she cried. He rubbed her back and told her not to cry. He said he would be okay. She wouldn’t let go of him. I had done such a good job of fighting back the tears, but when I saw that, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I put my head down and started to cry. After they finished their embrace, the mother headed towards the door. I ran up to her and hugged her. I don’t normally hug strangers, but I couldn’t help it. I told her that my son was shipping out and I knew exactly how she felt. “This is so difficult.” She said, as she cried. “I know. I know.” I responded. I later realized that I had been communicating with this woman on a website for parents of Marines. We promised we’d keep in touch while our boys were away.

When Andrew was finished with all of the interviews and paperwork, I asked him what time the bus was going to be leaving. He said sometime between 4 and 6 pm. I wanted to wait there with him the entire time and watch him get on the bus. I didn’t want to leave him until I absolutely had to leave him. My husband pulled me aside and said staying there to watch the bus leave may not be a good idea. “I think it will be too difficult for you and it may be for him as well.” I had never thought of it that way. I thought he would need me to be there until the very last minute. I asked Andrew how he would feel if I left before he did. “I’m okay with whatever you decide, mom.” I struggled with what to do. I wanted to be there for him, but I didn’t want to do anything that would make things more difficult for him. In the end, I decided to leave him and let him begin his journey without me.

His dad took him aside and gave him some words of wisdom. We took a few pictures with my camera phone (because I forgot the memory card for my real camera. Ugh!) and then it was time to say our goodbyes. He hugged his grandma and grandpa. He picked up his sister and told him he was going to miss her and that he loved her. He hugged his brother and best friend, he hugged his dad. Then, he walked over to hug me.

“I love you, son. I am so proud of you. In your darkest moments, think of how much I love you. And please, don’t forget to massage your feet.”

He started to laugh.

“I love you too, Mom. I won’t forget to massage my feet.”

I cried while I held him tightly. This was it–the moment I had to let go and let him become a man, let him become a Marine.

I kissed him one last time, told him I loved him a few more times.

And then I walked away and just left my son there.

Walking away from that precious boy was the hardest thing I’ve had to do since becoming a mother. As the door shut behind me, I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. The reality hit me hard– that was the last time I’d see or speak with my son for three months. No phone calls, no text messages, no emails. Nothing. As the cool air hit my face I inhaled as deeply as I could. Then, I fell into the arms of my husband and let it all out. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. He held me as he fought back his own emotions. “He’s going to be okay. It’s time to let him go and live his dream.”

I knew that at some point that night, I’d receive a call from Andrew. He would read from a script and then hang up. I had read about it, Andrew had told me about it. I held my phone in my hand all night long. I wasn’t going to fall asleep until I got that call.

Around 9:30, my phone rang. I took a deep breath and answered.

It was so loud– so much shouting in the background. He couldn’t hear me, so I shouted “Hello!”

My son began shouting into the phone. I could hear anxiety in his voice as he read from the script.

“This is recruit Valtierra. I have arrived safely. I will contact you in 3 to 5 days via postcard with my new mailing address. Please do not send any food or bulky items. Thank you for your support. Goodbye for now. I love you.”

From what I’ve read, the “I love you” is not in the script. But my son said it.

That phone call broke me all over again.

I didn’t sleep all night, his voice played over and over in my head and I was sick with worry for what he’s going through.

Tonight as I was getting ready to walk out the door to go shopping for a trip tomorrow, my phone rang. Same area code as the phone call I got last night from my son. Could it really be him calling again? No way. Wishful thinking. I picked up.

It was my son. This time, there was no yelling in the background. This time, his voice was calm (from exhaustion, I imagine.)

I knew what he was going to say, so as he spoke, I just said “we love you, we’re proud of you.”

He hung up.

I just stood there, in shock. He called a second time. I don’t understand why that happened, but I am grateful it did. I needed to hear his voice today.

From The Archives: What I Wrote When My Son Turned Fifteen

This is what I wrote when my son turned fifteen. I read it again today for the first time since posting it over four years ago. I had no idea when I wrote it my son would make the choice to join the Marines. I’ll be kissing him goodbye in less than forty eight hours. I’m proud, I’m happy he’s doing what he wants to do, but it hurts my heart more than I can express with words.

Originally posted March 3, 2008

First Birthday
That right there is my first born son at his First Birthday Party. I remember I started planning that party when he turned six months old. I couldn’t wait for my boy to turn one. I couldn’t wait to celebrate the first year of his life.

Oh, what an incredible year that it was. I loved every minute of being a new mother. Back then, I don’t think I could have understood the moms who write about how hard it is being a mother. It wasn’t hard for me. Sure, there were moments that were difficult. There were times that the crying became overwhelming. But those times with my first born son were few and far between. (The second child? TOTALLY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.) That boy was the most laid back, mellow, sweet spirited baby a mother could ask for. And I’m not saying that to sugar coat the experience of becoming a mother at the age of 22. I’m not saying it to be all “children are a blessing!” I’m saying it because it’s simply the truth.

I loved being a mom. I reveled in it. I felt like it was what I was born to do. And I believe it’s all because of the sweet spirit of my son. He was always happy, but quiet. He never fussed much. He wasn’t demanding or difficult. He always seemed content and laid back, as if he was habitually high on The Pot.

Planning his birthday parties has always been one of the highlights of being his mom. I’ve loved watching him enjoy being showered with attention on his big day. I’ve felt pride and unspeakable love as I’ve watched him blow out the candles on a cake. How lucky, how absolutely lucky I’ve been to have another year with this boy. And there aren’t words that can begin to express how I felt watching him walk around school with an orange crown made of construction paper, glue and glitter.
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As my son approached teenage-hood, my feelings for his birthdays began to change.. A day that once brought me pure joy and happiness now was mixed with tears and sadness. I suppose that’s part of being a mother– learning how to accept that they’re only children for a season and your job is to raise them to be the best people they can possibly be. But, no one really, truly tells you how difficult and painful it is. People say “enjoy them while they’re little! They grow so fast!” And you nod your head and say “I know! They’re growing so fast!” But, until your teenager fills out his highschool “career goals” and checks the “police officer” box or until he starts locking his bedroom door and coming out all sweaty and red in the face (HOLD ME) you can’t understand how meaningful those words are. “Enjoy them while they’re little” is so cliche

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, but, oh parents of little ones, Enjoy them while they’re little.

One day, one day you’re just going to look back at pictures of them and you’re going to sob because your heart aches at the same time as it soars. In the blink of an eye, the little baby that you once held in your arms is  a beautiful, thoughtful, kind, hilarious human being who you’d want to be friends with even if they weren’t your child because they are THAT AWESOME– but my GOD, what you wouldn’t give to go back in time and hold them tightly in your arms while sniffing their sweet baby breath.
The annual "This is what I looked like when my mom woke me up on my birthday" shot.  Happy 15th Birthday, Son.
(I have a tradition of taking their pictures first thing in the morning on their birthday. I want to remember EXACTLY what they looked like the day they turned a year older. This was taken at 6:45 this morning.)
Happy 15th Birthday, Nunu. I love love love you and as sad as I may feel about you being another year closer to adulthood, today, I celebrate you.
I celebrate the day you came into my life.
I celebrate every memory we’ve made together.
I celebrate your love of music.
I celebrate your kind gentle spirit.
I celebrate everything that makes you the beautiful person you are fifteen years after the first time that I laid eyes on you.

So Proud.

Last night I had to rent a car so that Andrew could drive out to Los Angeles early this morning for more testing. (Only ten more days until he ships out.) As we were driving down to the airport to pick up the car

, I asked him a question.

“If someone were to offer you a really good job, would you back out of this whole thing and stay home?”


“What if the job paid $100,000 a year?”

“Still, no.”

“What if someone offered you one million dollars to stay?”

“Mom, I’d rather work hard to earn something than have money handed to me.”

I could not be more proud of my son.

The Chord of Sad

I was sitting at my desk, working. My son walked into my room, laid on my bed and began playing the guitar.

“Have you heard this song, mom?” He asks.

I feel the ache in my chest as tears start to form in my eyes. I answer his question, fighting back the tears.

“No, I’ve never heard it. Play it for me.”

He does. I close my eyes and listen. He sings, he plays. I think back to when he first started playing guitar. He was just a little guy, with a little guitar that his Grandpa had bought for him as a Christmas gift. I remember the day of his very first lesson. He packed his guitar carefully into the case and carried it outside with such care and much pride. Playing the guitar became a passion of his. He plays with his brother in the garage, he plays with his church worship band. He learns his little sister’s favorite songs and plays for her while she sings along.

There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t play his guitar. There have been times where I’ve asked him to go play in the garage or to close his door because mama needs silence to watch Real Housewives of Orange County. But the truth is that the music he makes with his guitar is a source of great happiness.

In just thirteen days

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, the sound of my son strumming on the guitar will cease. I don’t know if my heart will be able to stand the silence.