Sunday, April 29, 2012

Before and After

I used to think that hardships came with a definite before and after.  One minute, you're living your life one way and everything seems normal and routine.  The next, life is altered irretrievably and nothing is the same.

The doctor says the worst.

The car comes out of nowhere.

The storm rages.

We are thanked by a grateful nation.

But I've come to understand that it's not always like that.  There is no dividing line or dramatic chapter close, no small voice saying, "This is the moment everything changed".  No switch gets flipped from before, to after.

In reality, it's more like taking a bath than jumping into a pool.  The water runs, and we step in, little by little, until eventually we are fully submerged.  There are steps, and signs, and small adjustments we make before the end result is there.

The pain lasts for weeks.

The memory is less and less reliable.

The arguments grow in number and intensity.

The Soldier's gear is packed.

I've been thinking about these things lately because we've had some recent moments where I have wondered, "Is this it? Is this when it changes?"   I imagine almost everyone has had times like these.  Whether it's waiting with someone for a bus or an airplane ride, or waiting for the doctor examination to be finished, we hold our breath just a moment.  Is this where we draw that line?

Since I was a child, I've always had the sense that life can change with little notice.  One day, I was pretty oblivious and mostly happy; the next I was told that one of my parents no longer loved the other.  For me, in that moment, there was a definite before and after.  When you're a kid, you don't see all of the smaller things that lead up to the big decision, so it seems like it's just a sudden channel change.  Perhaps because of that, I often find myself holding my breath, just a little, waiting for big changes.

I'm older now, of course, and I know that most change in life is gradual.  Most "big events" have smaller precursors that clue us in that something will change, and soon.  We are, thank God, given the opportunity to prepare and pray and focus.

And still...   I know life changes quickly sometimes.  

What moments have you had, where you wondered "Is this it?"  I know some of my friends have had diagnoses they didn't want to hear, or letters they didn't want to receive, or other huge life-changing moments.  Some of these changes are good ones, and some of them are scary or even the worst news we could imagine.  What are yours?

So tell me-- Does life turn on one of these?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stuff It, Fergie

I woke up this morning with a song stuck in my head.  That is not unusual.  I often wake up with a song that I last heard days or even weeks ago, and I wonder why on earth it's pounding away in my brain.

Often the song is one I enjoy, and it starts the day off pretty nicely.

Sometimes, as in today, it's a song I can't stand.

Today's theme music is brought to me by Fergie.  "Big Girls Don't Cry."

Well, Fergie, stuff it.  Big girls DO cry.

Sometimes we cry because we're sad, or we miss someone.

Sometimes because we are happy, and the emotion wells up until it simply has no other place to go.

Sometimes, tears mist our eyes when we hear a perfect, sweet harmony.

Sometimes we cry at the truth.

Anger, Frustration, Confusion, Disillusionment -- the Four Horseman of the Bitter Cry.

And sometimes we cry with relief.  Relief that the struggle is over, that the hard part is through.  When the baby is born or the graduation arrives or the deployment is over, there are tears of joy, but also relief.  All of these things signal a huge change and adjustments to be made, but they also signify that something difficult and scary and sometimes painful has been borne.

So, this morning?  I think it's time to turn up the music and play something a little bit more truthful.  It's nothing against Fergie, and the beat of that song is actually hopeful and happy somehow-- it's just that she's wrong.  Sometimes crying is a sign that we have grown, and we are strong, and we will overcome.

Really?  I don't think so.

For Shannon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday's Ten: WANT To-Do

I'm a list maker.  That's why the Tuesday blog is fun for me, because I think in bullets and in lists and line-by-line anyway.

Hmm...I hope it's fun for you, too.  Anyway.

I am always making to-do lists.  Errands to run, places to go, things to look up next time the laptop is powered on, items to clean...  Things that, in all reality, MUST get done.  It's part of running a house and having kids and really, just living.

But what about those things I want to do?  Where is the list for that?

Things I WANT to do:

1.  Make some cards.  I got all the paper cut and prepped yesterday for some freehand simple card making.  Now to put them together and actually make (and mail) the cards.

2.  Go for a walk. It is a really nice day out today and I will kick myself later this summer if I have not fully enjoyed the spring.

3.  Have a bowl of peanut M&Ms.  

4.  Write.  I have a story idea that has been kicking in my head for years now, and I have a friend who is helping me stay accountable and get some writing goals set for this next year.  Getting started is the hard part.

5.  Get the photos off the camera and see if Mama bird and her babies look as awesome as I think they do.  I love My G's camera.

6.  Go for a drive.  No particular destination, just drive for a while and enjoy the gorgeous day.

7.  Send a random note to someone who could use it.

8.  Learn to bake bread.  I have a good recipe and good instructions...I just haven't tried it.

9.  Go roller-skating.  Even if Little G doesn't go with me this weekend, I may go anyway.  I'm not particularly good but I love to skate.

10. Go see a movie.  I try to go when the theater isn't going to be packed, but I LOVE the whole theater experience.  There's nothing like it at home, even when the couch is comfy and the sound is good.

So what is your list?  What do you WANT to do? And what, really, is stopping you from doing at least one item on your list?   Even if it's something that takes help (like redoing a bathroom), baby steps towards that goal can give you the feeling that you are moving forward and taking care of yourself.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When Murphy Comes to Visit

Some weeks just stink.  Kid's sick, or you're sick...  Something breaks.  Customer service, isn't.  Weeds grow faster than you can chop them down and sometimes the bad mood makes everything even darker than it is.

I don't like Murphy, or as my friend calls this paragon of pisstivity-- Murphina.   Life becomes more difficult, and he shows up when you're least likely to be able to handle things.

Here's a secret.  Murphy, and his counterpart Murphina, are cowards.

Lily-livered, yellow-bellied cowards.

Want to know how I know that?

Because I fight back.

Yard guy quits?  Suddenly, and without notice?   Find a new one.  Quickly.   You'd be surprised what niceness comes out in people when they realize you've been stranded and you nicely ask for help.  Spend the rest of your angry energy pulling up weeds so they don't grow back after the next mow.

An order comes in for someone and it's missing stuff?  And late?   Be as polite as you possibly can, but firm.  Get things straightened out.  Then raise a mental middle finger in Murphy's direction.

Turn signal goes wonky?  It might not be a wiring failure.  It might just need a $6 bulb replacement.  And you will feel TERRIFIC when it works.

For every little irritation, black cloud, big mess and utter failure, we can find the strength within us to fight back.  And every time we do, Murphina loses her power over us.  There will always be bad days.  Sometimes bad weeks.  But humor, friendship, and chocolate go a long way to helping us keep our perspective and the emotional strength we need.

This only looks like chocolate.
In reality, it is a secret weapon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday's 10: Short People

I call my youngest "Little G" because she's the youngest, but she's also the one who is built most like her mother.

We are...petite.

Okay, fine.  I'm short.  Proportionate, not round, just short.

I know there are a lot of people like us out there, so the following "10" is for us.  Tall people just won't get it.  :)

Tuesday's 10: Things That Make a Short Person Happy

1.  When I stand on the new couch to reach something, it doesn't sag under my feet.

2.  A really good stepladder is a cherished belonging.

3.  Tall shelves are for putting things I never intend to use again.

4.  The bottom shelf is for climbing.

5.  I love to watch people have to duck when going past tree branches.

6.  A good stick is a valuable tool.  Creative problem-solving = fetching the yardstick and using it to turn on a high switch.  Or pulling something down.

7.  Taller people coming along at just the perfect time when it's obvious I can't reach that item that is needlessly placed on the top shelf.

8.  Libraries and bookstores with adequate step stools.

9.  Cars with seats that adjust enough.

10.  People who understand that "short" is different from "small" or even "little".  Somehow small and little have always seemed to denote a lack of strength and presence. "Small" could even be used to describe a character flaw, i.e. "small-minded".

This song should bring back some memories.  Or show my age...  Either is okay.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Easter Box

The funniest thing about memories is that sometimes you don't realize how important an event is until you are on the other side of it.

When My G and I first got married, and it was my first Easter away from home, my Mom sent me a care package.  I don't remember a single thing inside that box.  However, I kept the box itself for years.  We used it for Easter gifts that I'd collect for the kids during the year, or for little odds and ends.  I wish I had a photo of it.  Why was it so special?  Mom decorated the outside of this simple white box so that it looked like an Easter basket, complete with handles, Easter grass, and Easter eggs.  It was priceless.

So, this year, on the other side of missing a child (and knowing she's probably a bit homesick herself), I decorated a plain white box.  My basket doesn't look as good, I don't think, and some of the eggs look a little suspect...  But I think she'll get the idea that I'm still giving her an Easter basket for her to have on Easter morning.

I hope my Mom, upon seeing this box, will remember the one she decorated all those years ago.  And I hope she will hear the unvoiced "thank you" in my action.  Even as we are learning to create our own homes, a positive reminder of our first home means all the world.

Friday, April 6, 2012


What will you regret the most?

I am blessed with amazing friends, and one of them found that linked article.  When people know their time is short, they don't regret how much money they had or whether they had a great job...

They regret time.

Time they didn't spend with their families, time they didn't spend with their friends.  Time that wasn't spent taking that chance, saying the truth.

They regret not being true to themselves, or not being true to others.   They regret not following a dream, or not even trying.

So what will you do, starting today?

What truth will you tell, even to yourself?   What dream will you try, even if it's researching college, or publishing, or planting something in the yard that's just for you?   What friend will you call, or write, or remember in some small way?

Who will you help, because you can?

Who will you hug, just a little bit tighter?

I love to get comments, and I would love for you to share this blog (or any of my posts) with someone today.  Thank you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday's Ten: Pet Peeves

I've often thought about having an entire blog centered JUST around pet peeves.  People could post pictures, share thoughts, and overall make themselves feel better just by seeing the "omg me too" clicks.

Hmmm...Maybe there is already such a blog.

Just in case there isn't, here we go with this week's Ten.

1.  Lose/loose, allowed/aloud, our/are...  Only one of these is even a homophone, people.

2.  People who come up so close they practically kiss my bumper at a stoplight.  Just your luck my car won't start and you'll be stuck.  Bwahahaha...

3.  Blue headlights.  Really?  You need to blind me to look cooler?

4.  People who say one thing and then do completely the opposite.  "Oh, I'll be so supportive and this is the right thing...let me make this impossible for you to do."

5. My own procrastination.  It's awful.

6.  Babies or toddlers at anything but an animated KIDS' movie.  Double that if they are not quiet or they're allowed out of their seats.  If they aren't old enough to sit still, don't take them.  Let them run around at your house, when it's not affecting others' time/money/enjoyment.

7.  'Who' vs 'That'.   People are always "who".  Saying "People that..." drives me nuts.

8.  Inseams for petite pants are creeping longer and is a 30" inseam "short" or "petite"??   Even in boots my legs aren't going to be that long.

9.  Not knowing what to say when someone is hurting.  This at-a-loss thing makes my heart ache.

10.  After doing some Googling peeve lists.  This stirring bit of negativity made me feel a little bit better, but not a whole lot.  I think I'll go clean something and then have a chocolate bar.  :)

Pet Peeves and Dark Moods
Lurk In the Shadows

Monday, April 2, 2012

Stop Staring

Somewhere in the US, there is a Soldier who has lost both his legs.  He and his wife have been through absolute hell.  He is slowly, painfully, agonizingly learning to walk again, but mostly when you see him he will be in a wheelchair until he's healed enough to use his prosthetics.

Stop staring.  

Yes, he's missing his legs.  Yes, it was a tragedy.  It's probably something you haven't seen before, so it's natural for your eyes to look down and register.  Part of your brain might even be wondering "I wonder if he's a Soldier.  I wonder if it was an IED. I wonder what happened."

That's natural.  That's normal.


Once you look?  Once your brain registers that something has happened?  Look up again.  Make eye contact.  Say hello if it's appropriate, and if not-- just act respectful and let this man and his family go on with their lives.  They are in the grocery store, at the airport, at an amusement park and they are trying to get back to being a family again.  Leave them be.  Don't make them feel any more self-conscious or out of sorts than they already do.

Don't stare.  

Somewhere in the US, a spouse wrote the following--

"I wish people would stop staring at (him). We went to Sea World yesterday and I was walking right beside him and I noticed many many people look at (him) and then immediately stare at his legs. There were quite a few people who were not even trying to hide that they were staring at him, doing the whole head turn and even two people that turned around to stare after we passed them. I wanted to rip their heads off. And I know it really bugged him a lot and another reason why he prefers to not be in big crowds :("

Isn't it enough that he is fighting so hard to heal and they are trying so hard to be a family again?  

So don't stare.  Make eye contact.  Smile, if appropriate.  Open a door if that's needed.  But leave them alone.  And tonight, when you're home again-- say a prayer of healing for him and his family.  And a prayer of thanks for the sacrifice they've made.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It Didn't Go Off As Planned

It's not just Soldiers who deal with flashbacks, fear, and the aftereffects of war.  I asked a fellow Army spouse to let me share her story, and that of her Soldier.  I think it is high time that we share the stories, from both sides of the uniform.

Loraine M. writes--

It was six years ago this April. I still can't watch a vehicle explosion in movies (like the humvee/ambush scene in Iron Man) without cringing and remembering that morning so incredibly clearly. If anyone ever thinks that the Soldier is the only one to deal with the trauma, they've never lived this life or walked in our shoes. 

April, 2006 - 2:45 am Fort Hood time, 11:45 am Baghdad time. (9 hour time difference)

I woke up because I heard his pillows fall off of the bed. I get up, pick them up and place them back where they would be if he were home. I look at the time, thinking maybe this a little sign that he's online or has sent me an email. I check, nothing. No IM. No email. Nothing. Not a peep. Just an eerie feeling that troubles me when I try to go back to bed. 

I finally fall asleep with my phone on his pillow, only to wake up to the alarm buzzing away on the table beside the bed. I get up, wake the kids and help them get their breakfast. At the time, they were 4 and 9. I remember their sleepy faces. 

I peeked briefly at the computer screen that I left on with the Yahoo Messenger running constantly so I didn't miss him. He was there. I clicked the button to accept the call."I need to talk to you." Something in his voice was off. He was tense and I could hear it. He needed to say it. "I have to take the kids to school; I'll be back in a few minutes." 

I wasn't sure that I wanted to hear what was next with the kids in the next room. I remember the errie feeling clinging to me that morning, though I couldn't explain it. I remember every step while walking them to school. I remember telling myself that morning that one foot after another would get them there and bring me home and then I could figure it out when I talked to him. I walked them to the front door of the school, hugged them and kissed them, told them that "Mommy and Daddy love you very much!" "Have a great day!" I'm sitting here years later and I can hear the echoing words. 

I walked home, stumped. Unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong. Halfway home, my phone rang. Pulling it out of my pocket, I noticed the long awkward phone number that start with 9... Sigh of relief. Confirmation that he was ok. But the truth is, he wasn't. Not completely and he never would be. 

"At 11:45 this morning our time, we hit an IED. It picked up my truck and slammed it down. It didn't go off as planned apparently and I'm ok." 

Didn't go off as  planned, he said. Like it was nothing. The timing was of huge significance. The moment his pillows fell off of our bed in our Fort Hood home, all hell was breaking loose for him in Baghdad. 

They didn't lose a single one that day, minus the vehicle he was driving. What happened immediately afterwards resulted in the General putting them all in for a Bronze Star that those below E6 were denied by a LTC who said those awards aren't for the "lower" enlisted. (That's why that phrase pisses me off, by the way.) 

He finished the deployment with back pain now and then after the IED. We chalked it up as having to wear all that armor on a daily basis. Later we found out that the armor had actually kept it compressed. When he got home and the armor wasn't a daily part of his wardrobe, that's when everything went to hell. He collapsed in PT at Hood. 

A few months later, we PCSed. He went through months of unsuccessful physical therapy, while still trying to do his job. Almost a year after returning from Iraq, I drove him to a hospital, where a last resort surgery removed 20-some% of the 
 vertebrae that had been smashed together as a result of the explosion. 

Up to that point, nothing was working. He was stumbling and falling when he walked. He was slowly losing the use of his left leg. He never received a Purple Heart, though his injuries are documented to be caused by the explosion that happened in Iraq. He doesn't want it. He was just doing his job. Apparently though, there were some who gave him hell because a PH would have proved to them that he was actually "blown up". Whatever. 

I watched him stumble and fall knowing there was nothing I could do to help him, except be there to put him back on his feet. I heard him whimpering in pain in his sleep. I wondered every day if his fight to stay in the Army was worth it. I wanted to throttle other spouses who had the gall to ask about buying their spouses out of their enlistment contracts while we were doing everything possible and he was fighting to stay in the Army he still loves today. 

Six months after surgery, he passed his PT test and worked his way back to pre-IED condition. A year later, the Army picked him for DS duty. I worried the entire 9 weeks of school about him aggravating the injury. I worried through combatives where they threw him on the ground or when they punched him repeatedly in the face. He never stopped. He refused to quit. He finished DS duty in December of 2011 as one of the most respected DS's in the BN. And now here we are back in what we lovingly call "normal Army life" with another deployment looming over our heads for next year. It's his job, he says and yet in my mind I still hear the words...

"It didn't go off as planned." And I'm scared all over again. 

There's a small part of our Army journey. I've been thinking about it off and on since Casey posted "Letter to a FriendWhose Husband is Deployed" and again when he started watching Iron Man a little while ago. I had to walk away from the beginning of the movie. I thought typing it out would help. But at least I can share it with others who understand.

Not everyone who deserves one, gets one.