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I do not, much to my husband’s recent chagrin, feel the need for large-screen plasma televisions. I don’t have diamond earrings in both princess- and round-cut. I don’t dress my children in designer clothing, or buy it for myself. My purse does not have a “C” or an “LV” or a little upside-down question mark on it. My favorite jeans are plain-old Levi’s. We lead a fairly simple life. We don’t indulge in much.


I’ve recently realized, however, that one of the things that is crucial and beyond valuable to me is life experience. I don’t want my children to learn just math and reading. I want them to know about different cultures and different religions. I want them to be comfortable talking with and hanging out with people who are much different than they are. I want to encourage them to explore the world, and the people in it. I want my children to live.


I know people who think it’s cruel that I take my kids to museums and try to teach them about the displays there. I know of others who think that I was crazy for taking my kids, when they were younger, to a nice restaurant for dinner. Why should they have to sit still like that? I paid good money to take my six-year-old to the theatre? Preposterous!! They used to express that to take my young children shopping all day with my sisters and mom and nieces was forcing them to endure something they shouldn’t have to endure.


And yet, my children learned so much from those experiences. They learned to be patient and how to be respectful and how to be polite. They learned to search out the things that they find interesting and to ask good questions about them. They order their own meals in restaurants, using please and thank you. They know that sometimes, life is not entirely about them, and that they should be kind when there’s something that I think is interesting, even if they don’t.


I am currently on an airplane after a week-long trip to Disney World in Orlando. My kids experienced airports and airplanes and shuttles from the airport to the hotel. We went to a luau and ate at an outrageously expensive dinosaur-themed restaurant. We went to a Japanese restaurant where the chefs cooked our food on a large grill at our table. They didn’t eat a whole lot, but they learned a little about Japanese culture, how to say a few words in Japanese, and they conversed with someone unlike any of the people we know at home. We rode on boats and monorails and buses and trams. We heard people speaking French and Mandarin and Spanish and German. We tried crepes and crème brulee and egg rolls and Japanese candy. They said “Merci” to the French guy at the Patisserie. They said “Hola” to the woman at the Mexican store. We talked about the shrine to Buddha that they saw and guessed at how many types of palm trees there are. Don’t get me wrong…we saw Mickey, too, and rode a bunch of rides and saw some cool shows, but more than anything, I treasure the life experience that my kids gained on this trip. They experienced life.


I’m not concerned with the brand of clothing my kids are wearing. I’m not going to spend my money on a purse with an “LV” on it. However, if I have the chance to take my children to Europe or the Caribbean or the Greek Isles, I will. If we can go see a volcano in Hawaii or a market in the Bahamas, I’m all over it. If we can see a castle in Germany or swim at the beach in the south of France, count me in. I’ll eat beans and rice for a few weeks if that’s what we need to do to afford it. My children, and I, will be so much richer for it.


On Being Girls

My ten-year old daughter, Blondie, is a people-pleaser.  She comes by it naturally…I have only recently learned to do what will make me happy instead of doing whatever everyone else wants me to do.  So I can’t exactly blame her.  And I love that she has such a sweet heart.  She doesn’t want to hurt others’ feelings.  She doesn’t want to offend.  She wants to make everyone happy, often at her own expense. 

I see this especially with her best friend.  The little 9-year-old girl who lives across the street from us is, well, a brat.  She’s used to getting her own way constantly, even with her parents.  It is common to hear her yelling at her mom or dad, talking back, and throwing fits when the world at large doesn’t give in to her every whim and desire.  She sets her own bedtimes, watches rated R movies regularly, and manipulates her way into situations that no little girl should be in.

Last week, I sat in my room with the window open and listened to the way she talked to my Blondie.  Every time Blondie made a suggestion, it was shot down, and Blondie backed off.  Every time Blondie did something her friend didn’t like, she got yelled at.  And Blondie took it.  And it bothered me.  It bothered me a lot.

Later, I talked to my sweet girl about it.  I explained to her that while I was proud of her for putting others before herself, I also didn’t like to see her being yelled at and always giving up her own ideas to someone else’s.  I told her that she can be sweet and strong all at the same time, and that she needs to stand up for herself sometimes.  I explained that while it’s good to be giving and loving and unselfish, she also can’t let people walk all over her and push her aside to get their own way.

But she’s ten.  The most important thing to her right now is that her friends want to play with her.  She wants everyone to like her.  She wants her friends to be her friends and her fear is that someone will be mad at her.  And I, unfortunately, understand. 

Much of my life has been lived trying to make others happy.  I have given up my own desires, my own opinions, and my own strengths so as not to make anyone “mad” at me.  I did what I thought I had to do to make people like me.  And in the process, I lost myself.  It has only been within the last three or four years that I’ve figured out how to be myself regardless of what others might think.  I can have my own opinions and desires and still keep my friends…at least the ones who are really my friends.  I finally…mostly…get it.

So now the next lesson…how to teach this to my daughter.  How do I teach her to be kind and giving and unselfish while also teaching her to be strong and courageous and to stand up for herself?  How do I help her learn to put others first and yet also to do what’s best for her?  Those two concepts seem to be paradoxical, but I know that it’s possible.  I’ve learned that it’s possible. 

It’s really hard being a girl.  I wish daughters came with owners’ manuals.

16 Years

We were only children the day we held hands and promised to love each other forever.

I looked into your eyes and they held hope and promise and joy and, yes, maybe even a little fear.

We didn’t know the things in our future, but we knew we would fight our way through them together.

And we have:  through the babies, through the joy, through the war, through loss and gain and lessons and mistakes.

And now I look into your eyes and I see hope and promise and joy and memories.  

And behind it all, there is your love for who I am.

Thank you for your patience, and your strength, and your listening ears when I talk too much.  Thank you for your honesty and your encouragement and always, always your belief in me.

You are my best friend, and the love of my life.  And I would not want to be me without you.

Happy Anniversary, Babe.

Dear Crazy Brunette Lady in the Beige Honda:

I know that the construction going on in Michigan gets annoying.  I know that being stuck in traffic really sucks, especially if you’re late for something.  Especially if you’re in a hurry.  I get that.  I really do.

I also know how hard it can be sometimes to merge into crazy freeway traffic.  It’s hard to judge sometimes if the big semi is going to change lanes or if the cute guy in the silver pickup truck is going to slow down or speed up so that you can get in.  It’s frustrating sometimes, that’s true.

However.  Today, that was MY cute guy in the silver pickup truck.  And he was simply driving home from an important meeting in our state’s capital.  You saw him.  You saw him in his Army camo with the “Iraq Veteran” license plate.  I know you flipped him off lots and lots of times, to express your discontent at his driving style.  I know it made you really mad when you were continually flipping him off and he smiled and waved as he passed you by. 

But for you to then scribble a note on a piece of paper…for you to speed up to pull alongside him and press that note on your window for him to read…for you to write “You should have died in Iraq”…I wonder what you’ve been through.  I wonder what in life could have made you so angry.  What could have made you so bitter?  How could you have become so unfeeling?

My Sarge has a wife who loves him.  He has three children who adore him.  His parents care for and respect him.  He is a productive member of society who pays his bills and recycles.  He drove the streets of Baghdad every day for a year, trying to avoid the roadside bombs and sniper fire.  He lost a friend over there.  Other friends are dealing even now with PTSD.  He spent a year away from his family, wondering every single moment if he would ever see us again.

But I’m sorry that the traffic was bad.  You’re right.  That sucks. 

I’m going to pray for you tonight, as I lie in bed waiting for sleep to come.  I’m going to pray that you can let go of the anger.  That you can find some peace.  It must be miserable to be so miserable.

And then I’m going to snuggle up to Sarge and say goodnight.  And I plan to thank God that Sarge didn’t die in Iraq, no matter what you say should have happened. 

I hope your drive tomorrow goes better.



A couple of months ago I was hiking beside a waterfall in the upper peninsula of Michigan, slipped on a wet rock, and broke my arm.  I didn’t actually know it was broken, because while it hurt like crazy when I first did it, within a few minutes it just felt sore and a couple of days later was improving.  I thought I just strained my wrist a bit.  I wrapped it and went about my life.  I hiked some more, I lifted heavy things, I picked up my kids and my friends’ kids, I took the wrap off to sleep or when it got annoying.  I went about my business as usual.  It was sore.  No big deal.

When it didn’t improve after a couple of weeks, I went for x-rays just so people would stop telling me I should, and found out that I had cracked both bones in my arm.  Both very minor fractures, but  fractures  just the same.  The doctor gave me a removable cast, saying that I could take it off to shower or do the dishes if necessary, but that I should keep it on at all other times, even when I sleep, to be sure not to injure the arm further.

So suddenly, I was paranoid.  I didn’t lift things with that arm.  I took the cast off to wash dishes and was nervous about picking up a bowl with it.  I found myself basically doing dishes with one hand, all the while telling myself I was being ridiculous, but unconvinced. 

I think I do this emotionally, too.  I often have a mild feeling of discomfort, wondering if maybe people think my hair looks funny or my nose is too big or I talk too much or I’m selfish and needy.  I’ve never been told these things are true, but I worry about them somewhere in the back of my brain, waiting for some sort of confirmation.  And then one day I pass an acquaintance  in the hall and they ignore me, or a friend tells me that I’m acting weird, or someone jokes about my wind-blown hair, and suddenly I’m paranoid. 

Suddenly I’m waking up earlier to spend more time on my hair, or I’m overanalyzing everything I say or do around my friends, or I’m being extra friendly to the acquaintance who ignored me (or avoiding them altogether).  I know it’s ridiculous.  I’m 35 years old, have some really great friends, and I know, in my head, that there’s really nothing wrong with me.  And yet.

One day a couple of weeks before my “follow-up” doctor’s appointment, I took my cast off and moved my arm around a bit.  I flexed it slowly.  I moved it gently in a circle.  I bent my wrist from side to side.  It felt strong.  It felt able to handle more than I was giving it.  I left the cast off for the day to see how it felt.  (And plus I was going to be out in the sun all day and didn’t want funky tan lines!)  I was careful with it…I didn’t lift heavy things or move it too much.  But I “practiced”.

The next day it was a little sore.  I put the cast back on and took it easy for the day.  But it was just a few days before I stopped wearing the cast altogether, unless I knew for sure that there was a chance I could strain it.  And a couple of weeks ago the doctor proclaimed me “healed”.  My arm  feels strong, and it’s no longer sore at all.  The muscles are still a little weak sometimes, so I know that it’s time for me to start exercising it and building it back up again.

I’ve also been exercising my confidence.  I am practicing being more sure of myself.  I’m stepping out and stating my opinions, and I’m being me.  I’m still unsure sometimes.  It’s a weak area, and there are times when I’ve lost sleep over what “she” thinks or what “he” said.  But I can only get stronger.  And just as someday I will do a cartwheel with my daughter without worrying about that arm, there will also come a time when it’s not an effort to be myself with confidence.  The day will come when I don’t have to practice anymore.  It won’t be long.

Circus Freak

I got my first tattoo when I was about 27.  It was a small little Kanji, or Japanese character, on my left shoulder that says “Faith”.  To me, that tattoo represented a lot of things.  It was for my daughter, whose middle name is Faith and whose pregnancy took a lot of faith and prayers for me to get through.  It was for my faith in God and how it can sustain me through anything.  It was about growing up and allowing myself to be myself and about taking a first tentative step away from doing only what I thought was expected of me by others. 

A year or two later I got a colorful pair of comedy/tragedy masks on my left ankle, representing my love of literature and theatre, and also reminding me that life can be a comedy or a tragedy, depending on what I make of it.  That’s my favorite, because it was drawn specifically for me and is absolutely one-of-a-kind.  Nowhere else is that exact picture duplicated.

In 2005, my husband Sarge was deployed to Iraq and I got a small yellow ribbon tattooed on my right collarbone.  That tattoo represents my strength, my loyalty, and my patriotism.  It reminds me that if I can make it through a deployment, I can make it through anything. It has, honestly, given me comfort many times when I felt like I was on the edge of losing it.

And then, a week ago, I was looking for a way to get through the day of my big sister’s birthday, the first since she died a few months ago.  I had known that I wanted to get a tattoo for her, and decided it would be a good day to go.  So I got a new kanji, one that says “older sister” on the inside of my right wrist. 

Many people I know don’t “get” the tattoo thing.  Some people in the church actually think it’s a sin, though I can argue against that one all day.  Some people have gotten tattoos and regret them.  Some people just don’t see the point.  And there have been times, in the last years, that I have been a little embarrassed of my tattoos in certain circles because I know that those people don’t understand.  To them, it suggests a lack of class or a rebellion against things they hold dear. 

But to me, these tattoos are just fancy scars. Don’t know what I mean?  Have you ever sat around with friends and compared scars?  You sit around and say, “See this scar on my ankle?  I fell off a skateboard when I was twelve” or “I got this scar on my elbow when I fell out of my grandpa’s  tree and a branch got stuck in my arm” or “This is from a surgery I had after I injured my knee playing soccer.”  Whatever the scar is, there is a story to go with it.  Those scars remind us of childhood or being an athlete in school or the friend who ran home to tell our mother we were hurt.  They remind us of the BFF who sat with us in the hospital as we recovered from surgery or the relief we felt when our child was okay after an emergency c-section.  Those scars are the story of our lives. 

Just the same, the tattoos, to me, are a kind of art that tells the story of my life.  I catch a glimpse of my wrist and remember the times I spent with my sister.  Someone asks me about the tattoo on my ankle and I get to tell them about how much I love to read or go to plays.  I look in the mirror to brush my hair and I see the yellow ribbon that reminds me how strong and capable I am.  My tattoos are fancy scars that tell the story of my life. 

I think I’m done getting tattoos.  But then again, I’ve said that before.  I’ve promised my husband and my parents that I definitely won’t get sleeved.  My dad jokes that I’ll be a circus freak, and that fifty years from now the nursing homes will be filled with interesting-looking tatted-up senior citizens.  But that’s okay.  They love and understand me, and maybe after this post they’ll even understand me a little more. 

I’ve decided not to be embarrassed about my tattoos anymore, no matter whose company I’m in.  Just as I once encouraged my sister not to be embarrassed of the scars from her surgeries or her chemo port, I won’t be embarrassed of my fancy scars either.  They are part of who I am, and if you love me I guess the tattoos come with the package.  Circus freak and all.


My favorite sign, seen in a shop on Mackinac Island:

“Children left unattended will be given an espresso and a puppy.”

So clever!  And hilarious!

Home Again

There are many things about being a military wife that are difficult and unique.  My husband is, at times, gone more often than he is here.  He was in Iraq for 15 months a few years ago, and has recently heard that he will be deployed again (we’re not sure where) next summer for a year.  Then there’s the whole risking your life thing.  And the fact that considering what he does, he doesn’t make a whole lot of money.  For many, there’s the constant moving away from friends and family, though because of Sarge’s specific job, that’s not an issue for us.  The list can go on and on.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected challenges, however, has been a battle of dependence vs. independence.  The nature of being a military wife dictates that you need to have a good measure of independence in you.  There are many times when your soldier will be away for weeks (or months) on end, and you need to be able to make it on your own.  While I’m not big on handy-man type stuff around the house, I’m very used to doing the rest all by myself.  A lot.  I taxi the kids from baseball and gymnastics and doctor’s appointments.  I handle the money and try to keep the house clean.  I make decisions on discipline, bedtimes, house rules, and sibling fights.  I do it all.

When we sign the kids up for sports or other activities, I do so based on if I can get everyone where they need to be by myself.  If I make plans for me, I always do so with the thought of needing to have a babysitter in place just in case.  I’ve hosted parties and attended parties all by myself.  I’ve hired house repairs and car repairs, and purchased new appliances on my own.  I’ve redecorated, rearranged, and reconfigured all alone.  I’ve even coached Spike’s baseball team when none of the regular coaches have been able to go.  (It didn’t go so well, in case you’re wondering.)  I am very capable of…and very used to…doing it all on my own, and doing it fairly well.

But then Sarge comes home.  And he tries to find a place to fit in, when we’ve made new rules, or have been fighting the same battle for a week, or have started doing something a bit differently, and he hasn’t been a part of it.  He wants us to need him, as any man does.  And yet….we have to NOT need him so much of the time.  We’ve had to learn to get by without him, as a necessary part of our life.  We have to be able to survive as just the four of us.

So when he comes home we start this battle of trying to figure out how to move forward without the resentment.  And it’s always a battle.  He resents that we saw this movie or went to that restaurant without him.  I resent that he missed Blondie’s recital or wasn’t home to help when Goo was so sick.  He resents that I moved his favorite chair or that the garage became such a mess after he had just cleaned it.  I resent that I haven’t had time out with my friends or that he came in and dropped all his Army stuff in the middle of my clean kitchen.  He resents that I changed the rule about letting the dog outside without his knowledge, and I resent that I suddenly have to make him aware of every plan or all my whereabouts all the time.  There’s just always this resentment.

So we talk about it.  We work past it.  We figure it out.  Sometimes a little of the resentment remains but we try to be patient and eventually even that dwindles away.  And soon, things are comfortable again and we’re back to being one happy family. 

And then he leaves.  Again.

We’ll keep talking.  We’ll keep battling our way past it.  We’ll keep on keeping on, because we love each other and because we want this all to work out.  But there are days…there are times….like today, when I’m just so tired of the cycle.

Freshman Orientation

Yesterday, I wrote three new things on my calendar.  The first was fairly harmless:  “1st day of school!!!”, which by the way, is September 8th, thanks to the newish law in Michigan that says what we mothers have been saying for years and years:  that it’s ridiculous to send our kids to school for three half days of doing absolutely nothing and then have them home for a four day weekend over Labor Day before starting to school “for real”.

But anyway, I digress.  The second, also fairly simple:  “Register Spike 12-2”.  Fine.  Whatever. 

It was the next one–Freshman Orientation 10-2–that finally made it sink in that my son, my baby boy, is starting high school this year.  High school!  When did this happen?  I’m only barely out of high school myself!  Well, okay, technically it’s been almost twenty years    over eighteen years    at least fifteen years    a few years.  But still, I don’t feel old!

I remember the first time that I actually realized that I could no longer be classified as “young”.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I get it that “young is a state of mind” and that, at 35, I’m not exactly “over the hill”.  I’m (hopefully) not even middle-aged yet!  But really, I remember the first time that I stopped and thought, “Oooooh!  Wait!  I think I’m old-ish!”

I was, interestingly enough, in London.   I had just finished a whole week without my children, touring Europe with my big sister G, and was in London all by myself for one glorious day before I hopped on a flight that would take me back home to “reality”… in the form of my three children and a husband that was in Iraq for over a year.

I was wandering through Covent Garden, which, if you’re at all familiar with London you realize is a trendy little area with hip little shops and happening pubs and a very, well, European feel.  I was on my way back to the Tube station to go to the National Gallery when I spotted the Swatch store.  I had recently lost or broken my watch (I can’t remember which) and thought:  Hey!  what a fun little souvenir to take home with me!  I could wear the watch every day and think, “I got this watch in London!”  Plus, I had four or five Swatches back in the 80’s (which I wore all at the same time, of course, as everyone did in the 80’s) and I was way cool then, so how could I lose?

As I headed toward the store, I passed a small group of college-aged girls who were sort of standing around looking cute, as only college-aged girls really can.  They had fashionable little jackets on and the latest bags slung over their shoulders, and they were talking and laughing amongst themselves.  As I walked by, I had to get rather close to them in order to avoid a crowd coming the other way on the path, and a couple of them glanced up at me, and I smiled at them.  To me, I realized afterward, I was smiling as though I was one of them.  I was smiling because we were “all in this together” (and if any of you just started singing the theme song from High School Musical, comment and tell me so I don’t feel ridiculous for singing it myself). 

Now they looked at me as I passed.  They saw me smile.  But they just looked away and continued their conversation.  I wasn’t one of them!  They saw me as…well, they saw me as just some lady walking down the street!  Can you believe that?  They saw me as, like, a MOM!!!

Now, I know, obviously, that I’m a mom.  Trust me, I have three children and a husband who’s out of town a lot.  I know I’m a mom.  But I try hard not to seem quite so mom-ish.  I don’t wear Mom jeans.  I don’t tuck in my sweaters.  Most of my shoes are still stylish and cute at the cost of comfort.  I don’t own even one pair of shoes that say “Hush Puppies” or anything with “Comfort” stamped on the inside.  I have tattoos!  I go out with my friends and dance and stuff.  I try really hard not to have “mom-hair”, though the jury’s still out on whether or not I’m succeeding at that one.  But really….I’m still young!!

And yet.  

My son is going to be in high school.  Is he ready for this?  Am I ready for this?  I mean, I really really remember high school.  I remember the peer pressure and the scariness and the unsure-ness of it all.  Have I prepared him?  Will he figure it all out?  Will he figure out how to be confident and okay with who he is?  Will he realize what kind of friends will help him succeed instead of leading him to failure?  Is he ready?

It blows my mind that I’m at this place in life.  It really does seem like yesterday that I was the captain of the cheerleaders and worrying about my science test or if the captain of the basketball team still liked me.  And I’m excited for Spike to experience all the great parts of high school.  I hope he gets involved and makes lifelong friends and learns how to move in the world.  And I also know that all the hard parts of high school are a part of his learning as well:  the pretty girl that doesn’t know he exists or the team he doesn’t make it onto. 

But being young…I mean high school young, not Me-young…is hard!  Even though Spike thinks he knows everything, he really knows nothing at all about how to make his way through this life.  Ug…he has no idea how hard it is going to be.

I wonder if it’s as hard as being the mom of someone who is about to go through it.  I’m gonna say, no.

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