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.

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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.

Progress

Me:  (snoring)
Goo:  Mom!  Mom, wake up!
Me:  Hmmmm?
Goo:  Mom, can I have a snack?
Me:  (silence)
Goo:  Wait, don’t answer that.  I know what you’re going to say.  “No, but   you can have breakfast!”  Alright, I’ll have breakfast.  (Walks away.)

Me:  (washing dishes)
Goo:  Mom!  Mom, can I go play with my Army guys?
Me:  (silent, thinking through my answer)
Goo:  Wait, I know what you’re going to say.  “Okay but everything you take out you’re going to have to put away!”  Don’t worry…I will.  (Walks away.)

Me: (on the phone)
Blondie:  Mom!  Mom, can I go outside and play with Molly?
Me:  (holding up my finger for her to wait a moment)
Blondie:  I know, I know.  You’re on the phone and if I can’t stop interrupting I’ll have to go to my room.  (Walks away.)

Me:  (waiting by the side door with my purse so we can go to Spike’s baseball game.)
Spike: (yelling from his room)  Mom!  Mom!  Have you seen my baseball glove?
Me:   (thinking)
Spike:  I know, I know.  My baseball glove is not your responsibility.  I’ll keep looking.

Wow, it’s only taken 4,973, 503, 426 times.  But I think they might be getting it!

Six

Today it has been six months since my big sister Donna lost her long fight with breast cancer.  It has been an emotional day for me, and a day that has been full of many different thoughts.  Thoughts of disbelief, as I still don’t completely “get it” that my sister is gone.  Thoughts of anger, as I just don’t understand why God took her.  And underneath it all, always a deep, deep sadness.

But Donna, while she would understand my questioning and anger and sadness, because she had it all at times, she would also want me to just remember our closeness, and our friendship, and our sisterhood.  So today, I’m just going to remember six of the many, many things that I learned from my big sister.  In no particular order:

1.  Donna taught me how to be generous.  More than anyone I’ve ever known, Donna was always giving of herself.  She was giving her time, her talents, her energy, her advice, her gifts, her smile.  Whatever she had to give, she would give it.  I will always remember her generosity.

2.  Donna taught me how to make some of my favorite foods.  Her cream scones are to die for, and her pecan sticky cake is unbeatable.  The one that sticks out, though, is her chicken chili.  Not only is it easy and really delicious, but I still make it from the printed copy of  the email she sent me when I asked her for the recipe.  This way, whenever I make it, I will be able to read her words at the bottom of the page: “Love You, Donna.”

3.  Donna taught me how to really listen to people.  When you spoke to her, she gave you her full attention.  She made eye contact, and paid attention, and you knew that she was totally invested in you at that moment.  As someone who sometimes tends to talk more than I listen, I hope to get better at this.

4.  She taught me to entertain.  When Donna had people over for a party or a holiday, everything was always beautiful.  Even if it was simple–just some fruit and cookies–it was obvious that she had gone to some effort and that she wanted you to feel welcome and special.  And if you were blessed enough to ever be invited to her home, you did feel welcome and special and comfortable and full of yummy food!  Every time.

5.  Donna taught me to take care of my body.  I’m not there yet.  I still have quite a few pounds to lose and lots of changes to make.  But I’m making the effort.  Donna took such good care of herself and of her family.  They ate organic, they ate balanced meals, they watched the amount of artificial “stuff” that they put into their bodies.  She studied and learned what was best for all of them.  She did what she could to take care of her body.  It still betrayed her.  It still fought her until the bitter end.  But she did her part.  And here I am, blessed with a healthy body, and I haven’t done my best.  I’m trying to change that, slowly but surely.

6.  Perhaps more than anything else, Donna taught me how to keep going.  Through the diagnoses and medications and surgeries and exhaustion, she always kept going.  She was still kind.  She was still generous.  She was still fighting.  She had faith and trust and joy.  Up until the very last day, she was teaching her daughters.  She was teaching me.  She kept going.

I miss her so much.  I mean, really….I miss her so, so much.  But I will keep going.  Because she did.  And she wants us to.  I can’t wait to see her again.

Growing Up

Yesterday my kids and I were invited to my friend R’s house to swim in his fabulous pool, complete with diving board, slide, and changing rooms.  Seeing as it was in the 90’s and I don’t have air conditioning, we were quick to accept the invitation, and I brought my famous cheesy potatoes and a batch of cookies to contribute to the event.  When we arrived, we were told that R’s 15 year old daughter S was having a birthday sleepover that evening, and many of the girls sleeping over would be swimming with us.  No problem!  The more, the merrier.

So there we were.  Me, my 6 year old son, my 10 year old daughter, and last but not least my 14 year old son Spike.  And about six 15 year old girls.  Did you catch that?  My 14 year old son, and six 15 year old girls.  In their swimsuits.  They swam in the pool and jumped off the diving board.  Then they went over to the volleyball net and played a quick game of volleyball, and then they went swimming again.  Hours of fun in the hot, hot sun.

As everyone was lining up to get our dinner, I was standing next to Spike, and nudged him with my elbow.  He looked at me, and I looked pointedly around me.  “Boy, you sure are lucky.”  I said.  I expected my sweet, innocent son to look at me questioningly, cock his head to the side, and say, “Why?”  I expected him to be clueless about why I, as his mother, would smile teasingly at him and tell him that he’s a lucky boy.  I was preparing to explain myself. 

But Spike didn’t ask why.  He didn’t look confused.  Instead, he just smiled mischievously, and shrugged, and walked off to join the girls at the picnic table.

Ug.

The Big Reveal

I am a Christian.  I go to church every Sunday (actually, I’m on the staff at my church, too!), I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I pray, I read my Bible, I sing praise songs, and I am a Christian. 

I’ve never said this to you, my blog audience, before.  I may have hinted at it.  I may have said things here or there about my church or my faith, or said things that made you wonder where I was coming from. But I don’t write a blog that could be defined as “Christian”.   And that’s not because I’m ashamed of my beliefs.  I’m not.  I’m not ashamed of my God or of my belief in Him.  But I hesitated.  I hesitated because we, as Christians, have a bad reputation.  We are known for being  judgemental and  hypocritical and unfeeling.  We are seen by many as an extreme right-wing group of political moralists who hate anyone who believes differently than we do.  Lots of people think we hate gays, abortionists, and Muslims. 

Jesus would be appalled.

Today, I want to tell you that I am a Christian.  I want to tell you that I believe very strongly that every one of you can be changed in a hugely positive way because of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  But I also want you to know that I do not hate gay people.  I do not hate the people who have an abortion or the people who perform abortions.  I do not despise Muslims or Buddhists or atheists.  I’m friends with many, many people who fit those exact descriptions.  I do not claim to be free from sin, or to be better than you, or to have all the answers.  I just want you to know.  And I want to promise you that despite this single blog post, I don’t plan to change the way I write, or the way or I act, or the kind of friend I’ve always been. 

But I’m writing this because I want you to give us a chance.  I want you to change the way you think about us as a group.  My goal as a Christian is to stand FOR more than I stand AGAINST.  I want to stand for eliminating world hunger and I want to stand for annihilating racism.  I want to make the world safer for our children and more hospitable to future generations.  Iwant to be about love and not hate.  I want to have a diverse circle of friends and an obvious moral compass.  And there are many, many Christians who feel the same.

So I’m asking you this:  when you hear the word “Christian”, don’t immediately think of those hypocritical, judgemental, holier-than-thou types that you may have met.  Don’t judge my faith or my God in the same column with those people.  I hope instead that you can think of someone like me:  a reasonable, down-to-earth girl that is a loyal friend, a good mom, and a decent writer.  I lead with my heart more than my head, I hate politics, and I’m often way too sensitive.  I drive too fast, I like alternative rock, and I’ll travel for an hour to get my favorite Sangria.  I’m just a normal girl, who happens to have a strong belief in God.

I just wanted you to know.