Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 237: Nada bada

Today was kind of lazy. We did some running around yesterday to a winery and a specialty coffee shop and ate a late holiday meal of turkey, au gratin potatoes, prosciutto wrapped asparagus and rolls. We did a little Zumba and called it a night. I was so wiped, but with Lil Bit being so excited about all our company, she's been staying awake too long and fights sleep like a tiny terror, so I take the getting down shift and Mil and Dadve take next shift. I am up until midnight or later most nights.

Her schedule has been so wonky. At least she sleeps well once she goes down. She just has been a bear to get to bed. It is going to take me a few weeks to get her back into the regular swing of things after all the excitement of travel and cousins and then home and grandparents, aunt, brothers and uncle dogs. I have had to stand there and pat her, rock her, rub her back until she drifted off the past two nights. I hope this isn't a trend. She's been doing so well at putting herself to sleep and being able to entertain herself when she wakes up.

Today I was up and awake before I heard her cry. I think she is getting much more sleep than I am, but heck, she needs it. She was fussy all day, took what we call crap naps, and basically screamed whenever she didn't get her way. For some babies this is normal behavior, for her to cry even the several times for a few minutes each was a lot. But other than a cranky, teething, growing baby, nothing much really happened today. Don't we all need that sometimes. I think I need more peace and quiet than most people do. I love having my family here and looked forward to it all fall, but I am still a pretty solitary person and it is hard having people and stuff everywhere. Makes me feel like I need to be straightening up, organizing, etc. I've decided it isn't that important so every time I feel the desire to do more picking up and organizing than necessary while I have a houseful, I just have a glass of wine. That seems to do the trick.

Kinda expensive, but much cheaper than therapy or a maid service. I don't mind cleaning, but I would rather spend my scarce time on other things, like you, Reader. A slow, mainly happy, lazy day. Nada was happening, but no new is good news for the next 8 months!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 238: If ever I saw your face

FINALLLLLLLYYYYYYYYYYY. Today we tried to web chat. He couldn't get logged into his Skype for some reason and we decided to try on Yahoo. I rushed around to gather everyone and then . . . clicks, hisses, pops, no picture and crappy sound.

We could barely hear him. What we could hear sounded a bit like Charlie Brown's teachers - wa wah wa wah wah waah. He could see and hear us. I tried to get the boys to look into the camera and talk to him, pretending that he was there, but they really struggled with it. T broke down and started to cry. With his autism and developmental delays, he doesn't always react in a predictable way. Sometimes he is very blank or stiff and sometimes he is overly emotional, getting angry in a flash when his routine or plans are foiled. I lost it when he started to cry because he misses his daddy so much. MiL walked past, eyes brimming with tears. I think she had to walk out of the room for a minute to get herself under control. She brought me a handful of tissues.

N being his father's son ALL the WAY pouted and was just awful the whole time. He was so upset about not being able to see his dad, he couldn't think about how much it had to mean for him to see us. I finally got him to talk a little bit, but also much like daddio, not easy for him to just talk, whereas I can fill space, dead air doesn't last long around me. He talked some about his new video games and various presents. He did get to talking about how sore we all are from the new Kinect.

We had all but given up hope, when the view webcam button finally appeared on my chat box. I clicked it and waited for the image to load. It had already said, "Not Available" about ten times when he initiated the invite to view. Then miracle of miracles, I saw him. I could see him smiling and laughing at Lil Bit's bouncy antics. We could watch his eyes light up when she started talking to him and seemed to be responding to his face on the screen.

Even though we had lost sound at that point, we could see each other and type. It was fantastic, but also bittersweet. It was so hard to say good-bye. I didn't want it to end. I started crying again as he blew me kisses over the internet, a brave move for a guy in a public computer area. I smooched back!

For those of you who've been reading - I mailed him a webcam, headset and mic to use in the public areas because they do not offer webcams on the public computers. For those of you who wonder why we had so many problems, it was because the internet is so awful over there. Even if he paid the exorbitant $120 a month, he wouldn't have connection speeds fast enough for web chat most days. It just makes me sick we can't see each other more and have more chances to web chat.

For most of you, you may never understand what it feels like to go months without seeing each others' faces; count your blessings. It is such a small thing, but being able to see him and watch him smile and laugh was amazing. He was blown away by the baby, she is so active, trying to type and talk to daddy. I hope we get to do it again sometime soon. I know it took a lot for him to do and a lot of his "free" time, also known as sleep time, to get it set up and spend so much time online with us. Wouldn't trade it for a month of Sundays, mmm a month of Sundays . . . that does sound nice. Two months worth would be pretty persuasive, but seeing his face for a few minutes was awesome. I even have kept the webcam box open on my desktop so I can still see that last image before we lost contact. I can never over estimate how precious it is being able to look at him ever again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 239: Rockets

Yesterday, I waxed less than poetic about how much I love my husband and don't know how well I would be able to survive without him. While I do survive without him every other year, it really is a countdown. I let certain things go, like the lawn or the pool or my hair style. I tough it out through day after day because I know it is temporary.

Then I get an email like I did today. I was driving with his boys back from picking up the dog from the kennel. She actually didn't seem too traumatized, which is nice. At a stoplight, I checked to see if I had an email from him. I was so excited, until I read it.

"i have had a rough 24 hours. last night i almost got hit by a rocket so needless to say i had to spend the whole night out investigating the sites they shot from then this afternoon cut my thumb pretty bad."

I could feel my chest get tight. I deliberately didn't say anything to the boys, but it was hard to finish the drive home. I just told them that their dad cut his thumb and was having a rough night.

I almost lost him forever last night, or yesterday our time. I don't even know what to say about that.  He almost was killed . . . so now I sit and just turn that over in my mind like a polished worry stone my dad used to turn in his hands as he thought. I don't know how I got through the rest of the day with that information in my mind except that Dadve's brother and SiL came in for the night and things got pretty crazy between my MiL and Dadve, Al and Pat, my SiL Megan, the boys (12 and 11) and baby with holiday stuff and unpacking happening. I didn't have a lot of time to ponder. We played a lot of Kinect games. 

But now, as I try to fall asleep, I worry. I haven't heard from him again since the email at 11 pm his time which probably means he crashed out after a very long night and had a busy day preparing to go to his other duty station, but I will worry until I hear from him again.

When I think about rockets, I think about that silly song from the seventies, "Sky rockets in flight . . . " and 4th of July and space travel. I don't want to think about losing the most important half of me. I still don't know how to process the fact that he almost died, if I even can. 

Day 240: Only one for me

I woke this morning having an AWFUL dream. Of course it didn't make any sense and combined movie plots and changed scenes every few seconds, but the essence was that my husband and I had a fight. It seemed like something really little that would blow over, but I came home and he had taken all the furniture and moved out. I KNOW - for those of you who know us personally - I know this is ridiculous.

He moved out. I saw his son at school and asked him about his dad. He wasn't allowed to tell me where his dad was living. I found him somehow and we started talking. His sister was there and trying to keep us from reconciling. I was holding the baby, but she was a newborn again.

It was weird and had no timeline that made sense and except for me and the baby, all the dream participants were actors who I just knew were the people in my life.

I was absolutely heartbroken in the dream. I couldn't imagine my life without Chad in it. I can't even describe the sadness, the overwhelming horror of facing a future without him. There was no way I was going to be able to move on. I had the baby so I couldn't or wouldn't do anything drastic because she needs me, but my heart was absolutely breaking.

It seemed like he really wanted to be back together near the end of the dream, yet when I woke up, but the sadness and feelings of loss lingered too long after waking.

I know it was a dream. I know it was partially the drama of last night with my SiL and her crazy Aunt who is being awful. I know it was partially the plot of Sweet Home Alabama. But the emotions I felt, the loss, the tears felt real enough.

I am an emotional person. I have often let my heart rule my mind. But I have always been able to picture moving on eventually after a break up. Not now, I can't imagine any one else for me. I need him. I don't know, Dear Reader, if you are lucky enough to have been loved by someone who accepts you when you're fat, your breath stinks, you have bed head. Someone who looks at you and sees you as same person who was in a ball gown, hair perfect, slinky and sexy as he does the next morning or two years and twenty pounds later. Someone who understands what you meant 90% of the time when you say something vague. Someone who knows what commercials will make you laugh. Someone with whom talking isn't necessary. Half the time we know what the other one is thinking anyway. We don't always get each other and living together is challenging because we have to figure it out over and over again. We never really get past the rough patch of a marriage before he leaves for something again.

I say all the time how he is my best friend, but I don't really know how to communicate to you how loved he is by me and I am by him. Not to say I never get angry with him or vice versa, but I really can just be me, the worst me and he still loves me and does so SO selflessly that I want to be my best me for him. My sun rises and sets for him and my daughter. I think he is the shisnit. I don't know if there is only one person for each person or if we have the ability to find love in many different ways with different people, but I have looked for it in all the wrong places (mm, good title for a song) and I have only finally felt truly loved by Chad. I love him for so many reasons, but it sure helps that he is really awesome at making me feel like I belong, not the odd one out or the weirdo who doesn't quite fit in, but doesn't know why. He is the only one for me, so he better keep his butt safe!!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 241: This stinks!

Yesterday was hard, then we got a phone call around 10 a.m. that made the whole day harder.I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s holiday, so I kept my day close to the vest in last night’s blog.  Yesterday morning right after presents and just before a delicious breakfast, my dear husband called.

I was upstairs changing the baby when I heard the house phone ring. I knew it was him and tried to hurry down my sister’s steep stairs with a squirmy baby. I heard my BiL answer the phone and finally say, “Ohhh, Chad, Merry Christmas!” After a few minutes of polite banter, my sister jumped in and suggested he probably wanted to talk to me.

I happily answered with a bright, “Merry Christmas!” His reply was not cheery. He was very down. He said, “They try to make it nice for us, but I would rather not think about it being Christmas.” He is not a big Christmas fan and usually doesn’t care one way or the other, so for him to be so broken up over missing it was devastating.

I struggled with one more, “I love you,” as we said good-bye, trying to keep the tears from becoming sobs. I picked at breakfast and finally couldn’t hold it any longer. I started crying at the table. I saw my mom’s eyes fill with tears watching me start to cry. She kept telling me it is OK, it will be OK.

But it isn’t. It is hard. It is torturous. It is unfair. It is not OK. We are surviving. We keep surviving. But missing four years of your family’s lives is not acceptable. There has to be a better way to solve the current crisis than continuing to send soldiers over and over again.

I haven’t seen his face other than in a one second video or in two pictures since the first week after he left. Why isn’t internet service provided to the soldiers? We can’t afford to pay $120 a month for it when he moves from post to post and is only there half a month. If the government cannot provide free internet for the soldiers, then they should have skype or video chat enabled computers in the public MWR areas.

At some point, it starts to feel as if he has never been home. I start to forget the way he smells, the way he sounds when he mumbles goodnight, the way it feels to lay on his chest. The ache diminishes sometimes, grows sometimes, but most of the time feels like a paper cut, a sharp stinging pain that isn’t enough to cry over, but just painful enough I can’t ever forget it is there and a day doesn’t go by without something making it sting just a little more.

I tried to enjoy the day with my mom, sister and her family. It was a nice day, but I definitely empathize with my husband who is just done with being gone. We have been great. We get better and better at surviving apart, but frankly it takes a toll on our surviving together.

We have 8 more months of this crap. Three more until R&R. Some days, it just stinks! Don’t even get me started on New Years’. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 242: Merry Christmas

Today started nicely late, about 8, with me getting up to peek if any little creature was stirring. My twin mouses were still asleep. When Mouse 2 heard me, she came into see Lil Bit first.  I loved being able to share her first morning giggles and coos. Lil Bit and Mouse 2 had such a fantastic time this week. I really wish we lived closer.

After a few snuggles and going into to wake, we have the mandatory camera set-up and first sips of coffee before children can be permitted to enter the living room overflowing with gifts. It is easy to see how Christmas loses meaning in such an avalanche of gifts. The squeals of joy and excitement were an ebullience overload.

But my sister is doing what she can to make sure the kids understand why we celebrate Christmas. We were melting peppermint hugs into pretzel rounds and my niece piped up, "The red reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and the white is like how we are clean and healthy." I was really taken aback that she came up with that at 4, but apparently she learned it from the story of the candy cane at her church pre-school. Still pretty impressive for her to mention without being asked or prompted.

We went to the neatest church service last night. It was a children's Christmas Eve service. They showed a neat video, sang easy carols, and had a puppet show. It was completely geared toward small children. What a neat idea. They told the Christmas story, had a child friendly message with interactive and candid banter. The pastor held up items that might be necessary for a new baby today. One was what looked like a receiving blanket. He called on a little boy to tell him what the item was. He said, "kind of a bra?" Hilarious.

I just thought it was really wonderful to create a service for young children which allows parents to take their kids to church without feeling guilty if the kids are not perfectly silent. What a great way to share the true meaning of Christmas with the people who most matter, children. They are the ones who need to hear it, feel it, experience God's grace and love so that we make sure they spread His love and gift to the world.

My Lil Bit didn't really understand much of the day, but she did get into tearing paper and eating it. Not sure which was the bigger hit, torn wrapping paper or boxes, but she did enjoy herself. She really enjoyed her new toys. Nana did a great job of picking things that she actually played with after all the craziness died down. Being at my sister's house is the next best thing to being at home for me because my mom and sister follow our family traditions, but it still isn't quite the same as being in my own home. I do tend to be here for Christmas many years. Since the twins were born, I have been here for three of their five Christmases. Chad was here for one when they were 23 months. I was here alone the next year when they were two, and now at four. So I've actually celebrated Christmas here more often than in my own home.

They are fun to watch. They are rambunctious and enthusiastic and very sweet children. My BiL's family treat me like family so it was nice to see them and get to share my new little miracle. She was the hit of the day. Everyone commented about how good she is, although they aren't here to see her so wound up now. It was a nice day despite missing daddy. I don't want to get myself into a bad place right now so I will save that entry for tomorrow. We did get to talk to him briefly today, the best present of all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 243: Christmas Eve-1/3

Today is a hard day to be without him. Tonight as we light the tree, share a holiday meal, he won't be here. In fact, as we head to bed, awaiting Santa Claus for the first time, he will be waking up Christmas morning, cold and alone in the wet, sandy desert. He won't awake to the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls, fresh coffee and bacon, or the sounds of laughter and squeals as stockings' contents are dumped unceremoniously on the floor.

We will miss his warm smile and easy laughter tonight especially on this special holiday. It is one of so many firsts he will miss. And yet, today, Christmas Eve, also marks a milestone to celebrate. Today we are four months into this deployment, one-third of the way finished. Right now, that doesn't feel like very far. Somehow, when people ask me when he will be home and I say, "August", it feels like forever away.

While on a day to day basis I am so busy that the days feel like they're flying by, it also feels like it is dragging. My heart feels heavily hollow with missing him. It has been so long, I struggle to remember the rhythm to our evenings, the casual patterns to our weekends. We've done a really good job of talking on the phone and keep our relationship pretty normal, but I forget what it is like to have him home, sleeping next to me, waking me up with his kitchen clanking at 5 a.m., and laughing together until we can't breathe.

At least it is only almost two months to R&R, when he can come home for two weeks to visit. Those weeks are amazingly precious, but bittersweet. They are a reminder of what we're missing and the upcoming separation taints the whole break with the foreshadowing of good-bye tears. It literally is the best of times and the worst of times. You don't have to read Dickens to understand that sentiment if you're a military spouse.

So today, we celebrate the holiday surrounded by my mother, sister, brother-in-law and children and continue to count down to his return. Every day down is one less he is in danger, one less day to worry. I just wish he could be here now. Lil Bit in her reindeer "My 1st Christmas" pj's waiting for Santa is just too precious. She tried licking a few of my traditional cookies, got hopped up on formula and then didn't want to go to bed. She finally quit fighting it and crashed out. Almost midnight, so Merry Christmas everyone.

Remember if you're lucky enough to be with your loved ones today that not everyone is or can be. When Crazy Uncle Fred asks you to pull his finger, or your mother tells you the turkey is dry, or your sister goes on and on about how amazing her life is compared to yours, that being irritated by family is still a blessing. My best friend is always in my heart and on my mind, but I would rather he were a little closer to my arms! Today as you celebrate, send up a prayer for the safety and protection for all our soldiers stationed away from family or in combat.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 244: Spa day

My sister and BiL surprised me with a spa day for my Christmas gift. They wanted me to have a few hours where I wasn't mom and just got to be Jen. Any mom understands the need to have time to just be yourself, but single moms, even temporarily like myself, don't get to hand the baby off and just take some well deserved "me" time.

Heck, on the weekends when I don't wake before her, I have a hard time getting into the shower. She is a very patient baby and can keep herself occupied often, but instinctively seems to understand when I need to go to the bathroom, shower, eat or sleep and chooses those moments to melt down. Like last night, she fell asleep around 9:30 and woke up at 11 ready to play. My BiL Matt stayed up playing with her and watching for awhile. She was up past one and then smacked me in the face and cried about every hour during the night. I woke very unrested.

The chance to take a few hours and get spoiled, pampered and pedi'd is rare. I also get to share the afternoon with my sister. We got manicures and pedicures together and my sister scheduled a 75 minute relaxing, moisturizing facial for me. She and I shared a bottle of Riesling while we were moisturized and paraffined. Yet, we didn't get as much girl talk time as I would have liked across the manicure tables. With she and my mom living so close to each other and seeing each other nearly every day, they have become very close. I sometimes feel left out, so it is nice to be able to take some time with each of them separately.

After our toes were sparkly and twinkling, I was led to a spa room for my relaxing facial. Quiet wood flutes played softly as moisturizing lotion was applied to my face. Hot stones massaged my arms while lavender and peppermint opened my pores. A deep scalp massage sent me drifting into a much needed nap. I awoke feeling dreamy and relaxed.

It was a delicious day. I just wish I could have rested a bit longer before returning to Lil Bit. I told the receptionist they should have a single mom packaged with a nap built into the facial and massage package. We got home and my mom continued to occupy munchkin while we ate my BiL's tacos and guacamole. She began to meltdown about the time I wanted to get to bed. She screamed so loudly my sister wrapping presents in the basement heard her from the second story. Talk about feeling like a wonderful parent. I tried to keep the calm of the spa with me just a little longer, but was not very successful. Too bad the spa day feeling can't last as long as the pedicure will.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 245: Technology

This week my sister surprised my brother-in-law with a new smart phone, and of course it was buy one, get one so she got one too. They have spent the last few days downloading aps and playing new games. Just now, my BIL downloaded the giant fart button. We woke the napping baby by laughing at the gross sounds emanating from his cell phone. My mom's birthday present from me was a web cam so we can video chat with the baby. Living several states apart, the web cam allows us to share her cuteness live. Personally, I have been using my cell phone almost exclusively rather than drag out the lap top for most things in the past year.

A few years ago, I didn't even think a cell phone was a necessity. I thought if I am not home when someone calls, they can leave a message. I had just gotten one right after meeting my husband. I still have that ancient flip phone in a drawer because I can't bear to lose one of my husband's first text messages. He wrote, "You were my best friend before I ever met you. I just waited this whole time to know your face. You have far exceeded the expectations of my dreams." I still smile thinking of those precious words. Don't tell anyone he is such a softie!

I can't imagine living without the laptop or iPhone or the ability to video chat with grandparents and husband. I think about the military wives during World War II or Vietnam who would go months or longer without hearing from their husbands. Chad and I tend to go about a week between phone calls and a few days between emails, but it took us a few deployments to develop a rhythm and for me to feel more secure between contacts.

Twenty years ago, if you didn't know something off the top of your head, you had to find a book and look it up. If you didn't have a set of encyclopedias, you were stuck. Now, we were watching a movie and couldn't think of what we had seen the primary actor in. I can pull out my iPhone and check my IMDB application in seconds and have his entire bio, filmography, etc. at my fingertips.

While the technology has downsides for education because we've gotten away from memorizing facts and expecting students to carry a certain amount of knowledge in their heads, it is certainly a magical tool for keeping in touch, sharing pictures, keeping up with bills, banking, communicating instantly. Funny how things, we couldn't even conceive a few years ago are the same things we couldn't live without now.

I will admit there are times I play more games than I should, but primarily technology is a fantastic tool for keeping close the people I love.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 246: Mom's Birthday

Today is my mom's 68th birthday. Yes, it falls just a few days before Christmas. I am sure that all throughout her life she has felt like she gets cheated out of a separate or bigger celebration because it is so close to Christmas. In addition, all the years she was married to my father, her anniversary was the 17th, so she really got cheated out of two separate celebrations.

I do make it a point to get her a separate present. I usually even try to wrap it in birthday paper. This year all I had was race cars and I decided that was probably not in her wheelhouse. Plus, I got her a whole bunch of little things and have been wavering back and forth on which to give her for which holiday all week.

The one benefit of having her birthday near Christmas now that we live so far away is that I get to be here to help her celebrate more often. Being married and living so far away, I can't always come "home" all the time. My immediate family has to take precedence some years. The years Chad is home and we have the boys, we usually don't travel for the holidays. But right now, while he is deployed and she is little enough to travel on my lap, we can afford the time and money to travel. So I get to be here about every other year for her special day.

My mom doesn't talk much about her childhood or family, but I know it wasn't always very happy. She had demons that chased her into adulthood, as we all do. As I become more and more the adult, I realize how important it is to be there for her and let her know how special she is. She may not have cured cancer or ever go down in a history book, but her life mattered. The love she showered over us is getting passed down to my niece, nephew, daughter and my sisters' patients and nursing staff, and my students. Her love and kindness and creativity for making learning part of every day is something very special.

I respect her more and more. I teach to and with people daily who didn't have the family my dad and mom gave us. I really respect that my parents didn't come from the good wholesome family they created, so they had to create all new molds to build from. It is hard not to become your parents, and they both did it, and gave us parents we would want to emulate. A very impressive feat as a parent. While we all went through the stage of "I will never say . . . to my children", I don't think that I will do too much very differently. I had a pretty great role model as a mother.

Mom and I did a little shopping today for Christmas. I left the baby with my sister and went out. It was nice getting Mom all to myself for a little while. We didn't really talk about anything deep. My mom isn't always very open emotionally to deep talks and our family is more subtle, but I did get to tell her tonight before she left how special it is to be able to share her birthday with her.

Today was a hard day for the other side of my family. Chad's Aunt Jeana's birthday was also today and a year ago today, we buried his Grandma Nick. Part of my sentimentality is knowing that my mom will someday no longer be here. I don't want to have any regrets. I know that Jeana and Martha were loved and celebrated all the time, and they are missed. Having my mom with me as a new mom is a joy and I know I need to treasure and respect the blessing it is to have her in my life. I hope she gets to be here for another twenty or thirty years.

Happy Birthday Mom, and Jeana if you're watching from heaven.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 247: Travel Tips

Packing lightly for the week is key. I made sure to pack neutral pants to which I could wear several different blouses and neutral dress shoes that would go with all of my dressy outfits. Make things do more than one job. I brought jeans, yoga pants, dress slacks and a variety of tops. If necessary I can do a load of laundry, but, I should be able to make it on what I brought and I only used half the suitcase. My daughter's things took the other half, plus toiletries, etc. Of course it helped that I spent the whole first day here in jammies. Lil Bit didn't sleep well in a new place last night, so we took a nice long nap midday and after that, it kinda wasn't worth it to get dressed.

Travel tips  for those of you flying with infants - I packed two wipes in a sandwich bag and a diaper into a disposable diaper bags. Rather than have to wade through my big carry on backpack, I was able to throw a few of these into my purse. It was easier for me to access on the go and meant that I could stow my backpack in the overhead compartments and have space to put my purse beneath the seat, giving me and Lil Bit more leg room to maneuver. Also bring a few different feeding options as the new TSA guidelines are interpreted differently by different agents. The security personnel wanted to open all of my ready formula to test it which would have soured it all two hours into a very long trip. So have a back up plan in case something like that happens. I am planning on carrying ready made on the way home, plus a bottle with powder in it.

Wear slip on shoes. Pre pack all your purse liquids in a baggie the night before. Keep all your items that you have to remove for security together so you can easily grab them and throw them into the bins. Oh, and if they offer you an upgrade to first class - take it!

I got air sick yesterday. I wasn't feeling great anyways thanks to some perhaps ancient egg nog, and flying only exacerbated it. I spent the whole first leg in a hot cramped seat in the back of the plane next to the bathroom which meant a stinky ride. I kept repeating the mantra, "I will not vomit on the baby." When they offered a first class upgrade for $50, I said, oh yeah!

It was worth it for this one day to sit in the front of the plane, have enough room to hold her comfortably and get a nice cozy blanket to snuggle under. In fact, by take off she was out and slept like a lump the entire plane ride, waking up to be obligatorily cute only upon touchdown. She was really great. And my planning for quick changes was helpful when immediately after being put in a clean diaper, she decided to poop. Lovely - luckily, as is so often with life, experience is the best teacher. Thanksgiving had taught me to keep an eye out for the family restrooms, so we were fine and ready to board when they called for first class.

Other than being exhausted, it was a nice day of travel. Everything went well, they didn't lose my baggage and my Lil Bit was an absolute angel the whole day. Well until bedtime in a weird room that was not her own, but we improvised and snuggled all night. I was willing to make that sacrifice. ; )

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 248: Time Management

For my loyal readers, this was a submission I made to another blog. Alas, it was not chosen to publish, but I thought I would share, just a few ways I have learned to survive after a few months of drowning. I would like to say, I have more tips but this article was limited to 500 words. One is procrastinating leads to panic and exhaustion - one of these days, I will quit doing it. Mmmm, maybe tomorrow?

Feel Like a Sinking Ship?
Some tips to keep your head above water during busy times

            One week I was home all day with my husband and baby, the next, I was back at work full time, the baby was in daycare; the next my husband deployed for a year to Iraq. Thrown into the deep end without floaties, being organized has been a struggle, but ultimately my salvation as I learn how to do it all, all by myself.
            Here are a few of the tricks that I have worked hard to master so that now I am relaxing with my daughter or hopping onto facebook instead of running ragged until I drop.
            Triage – Figure out what the priority is right now and set a mental list of upcoming tasks in order of priority.

·      Sevens and up get immediate attention. What has to be done to get out the door or to bed?
·      Is cooking yourself a fresh hot dinner important? Or are you satisfied with a quickie frozen meal? Organize your life around those things you can’t live without.
·      Learn what things you can safely leave for another day. And let yourself mentally set aside tasks for later too. Feeling relaxed and unhurried can let you live in the moment. Especially as a mother, those moments are too precious to miss in frenzied panic.

            Don’t waste movement or time – If multi-tasking is done properly, it can save time and anxiety later. I live by the motto, “Better to be a bit busy for an hour and lazy for three.” Follow along if you’re with me.

·      Never stand still. While you’re waiting for dinner to heat, can you wash a dish? Make up the baby’s bottles for the next day?
·      Combine tasks. If I’m circling the kitchen to make coffee, I can let the dog in on the way and grab her food on the way back.
·      Never have empty hands. If you’re walking into the kitchen, what near you needs to head in that direction? Getting a head start on another task means less stress later.

            Plan for the worst and plan ahead. We all hope for those dream days where everything falls into place, and then the alarm rings.

·      Have a plan B and C in mind. When everything goes kablooey, what is your go to? Know what to do, and the explosion will wreak less havoc.
·      If you can plan and do for the week, do it. Sunday, while making eggs for the week’s breakfasts, I pack my lunches. While folding my daughter’s laundry, I lay out her outfits for the week.
            Finally, be flexible and logical. I was preparing dinner for my daughter, getting ahead of the curve, while she was still content in her car seat; and decided, what the heck, feed her there rather than move to the high chair. Nobody died, she ate her dinner and we had a great time doing something different.

- I hope you enjoyed the article. Being organized is an all the time thing if it is truly going to save you time, but once you get a system in place, you will find that staying organized only takes a few seconds which can add up to lazy hours later. Especially in these last few days before Christmas, try to do one more thing than you have to each day so that you have one less the next. I waited until the last minute to wrap presents and spent two whole nights swamped. Don't do that. Wrap them as you buy them or do four or five a night until the main event. I am proud of myself, I did already stuff stockings so that I won't have to do that when I am racing home to company on the 26th. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 249: I've learned to ask

Well, I wrapped presents every spare second for two nights until I wanted to cry in exhaustion last night, spent all day trying to get to pack and prepare for a long travel day tomorrow, and failed to finish or even start the two tasks I put on priority for today. It took a little longer than I hoped to get dog to the kennel and I spent an hour on the phone with my dear hubby, but I just haven't learned to really plan around the baby really needing me almost all the time. If I get an hour while she naps or jumps in her jumperoo, I have to use that to shower and eat, so most of my "doing" time is balanced with one hand and eye on the baby.

I asked several people for help this week. I didn't beg, or make a big deal of it because I don't want to pressure people into helping, but I ended up alone all day trying to get things done. One friend was feeling very sick, which she couldn't help, but was disappointing. Two friends didn't even answer my text messages for help. All day, I thought about texting one of them again, but I didn't. I have to be ok without being able to be perfect all the time so things didn't get finished. Leaving things unfinished makes me uncomfortable, but I will learn to deal.

I have at least two day's worth of chores that will have to be done over break. My in-laws will have to understand that my only time off at home to get things done is when they're visiting. I know they will get it, and might even help, which is fantastic.

I am mostly proud of the fact that I kept my cool today. Preparing for a trip, especially as intensive as packing and traveling with a baby is, usually makes me kind of panic. I start to worry about little details getting forgotten. Instead I told myself that things would get done or not and to prioritize what had to be done so I could leave in the morning. I have a few last minute things to pack in the morning, baby's clothes are laid out, she is asleep, my alarm is set, and I am unwinding so I can crawl into bed at get at least a few hours of some sort of sleep. I hope my sister isn't upset if I sleep in the car on the way back to her house.

I needed help, I didn't get it, and I was alright. At least I've learned to ask, and to let go when things can't get completely finished. I will say that the house looks pretty good considering I didn't have time to clean. As long as they don't look too hard, maybe my company won't notice the dust and dirt. Even if they do, I can only do so much. The stockings are stuffed and hung with care, the presents are wrapped and stacked by child, the dishes are done, the guest room is more picked up than it has been since July, and the Christmas decorations look festive. I did pretty good. Just don't open the roll top or peek in the closets ; p.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 250: It's a wrap!

Today is the last day of school before the holidays. The natives were restless. After a couple hours of sucking on candy canes and scarfing down chocolate, they were acting like popcorn kernels in a hot pan. They were so ready to go home, but I was too. Getting ready to travel and having company as soon as I return has kind of kept me too focused on chores to even contemplate the vacation! Today I couldn't help but start to daydream about long lazy days.

Last night I was wrapping gifts like crazy. Every year I tell myself we're not going all out, but then I feel badly for the kids and want them to have a great Christmas at our house. It is hard since we don't get them very often, deciding between wanting to give them a great Christmas full of holiday memories and special treats and being realistic that they just aren't at our house enough to play with an abundance of new toys. There are literally boxes of things that have been taken out once since being a Christmas gift years ago.

They are with us for a week at Christmas, a few weekends in the winter and for a week in the spring. We get them for almost the entire summer, but then it is birthday time for both boys. Making them happy and feel loved is important, but sometimes it feels like throwing away money, but I can't stop myself. I live for the moment they open the gift and grin. I just don't ever want them to feel like we didn't do as much for them because they aren't in our house daily.

So I end up buying too much. I definitely spend too much. This year they have a few small gifts each and one big family gift. In previous years, I have even gone so far as to wrap presents in different paper if they were from "Santa" and use different handwriting for the gift tags. I think one is past believing this year, but is hedging his bets. At 11, I'm sure he no longer really believes in Santa, but understands that his brothers all still do and Lil Bit hasn't even started believing yet. We appreciate him playing along.

Next year I will have to go back to doing it up right with Lil Bit old enough to enjoy more of the traditions of the season, but for now, I just want to be able to get the house ready to have company on the 26th (even though my MIL says not to worry about it) and have all the presents wrapped. Then I need to pack for the week at my sister's house. Until I am on the plane in Atlanta and on the final leg of my trip, I won't really rest easy, but ooohhh when that last bell rang, mmmm a much needed break.

I love my job. Teaching is an amazing blessing. There are days I really wonder that people pay me to do this. However, it is so emotionally and mentally taxing, that a couple weeks of mindless rest will do me so much good. As the 2:05 bell rang, a collective shout rang through the school. Chairs scraped against the tile floors, locker doors clanged shut, and the teachers all sighed with relief. It's a wrap - we're done until 2011. TGIV!! I need it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 251: Someone's MOM

I know I had a blog titled someone's mom earlier, but this is a totally different topic. I have noticed on the roads the past few days/weeks people driving horribly. People serve into my lane with virtually no room to spare or pull out in front of oncoming traffic. I just can't fathom how people can be so careless.

The swerving car narrowly misses my front right fender. I take a sharp breath and hold it without realizing I've done it. Heat rushes up my spine and prickles race up my neck and itch my scalp. After a few seconds of swearing inside my head, I think, Hey! I'm someone's MOM! and I wonder what would happen if I were hurt. Even if I just had to be rushed to the hospital, would anyone know to contact the daycare?

While these thoughts tend to the macabre probably due to a good horror habit courtesy Stephen King and Dean Koontz, people's moms die all the time. Good men with families go to work in the morning and don't come home. Before, I obviously worried about my own safety, but I never really worried about what would happen if I were just gone. My husband would be sad, and I would worry about him moving on, but part of getting married is knowing that someday you will have to go on without your partner, or vice versa. My family and friends would miss me and it would be sad, but after awhile life would continue. My daughter is the first person whose life would be absolutely altered by my loss. And when that car swerved, I didn't think of me.

Of course, to all you veteran parents out there this seems kind of like, duh, Captain Obvious! But it wasn't a conscious process in my mind to being more concerned about her than my own safety. It just struck me as pretty cool that one day without even thinking about it, I put her first in my mind.

It is scary to think that I am her forever mommy. I have to do all I can to be there for her as long as possible, which since I was 39 when we finalized, will be shorter than most parents can expect to be around for their children. If I am very lucky, I will get to be around for her to be my age. While I want a long life for me, I want to make sure I am there for her questions when she has her first date, prom, boyfriend, eventually baby. Being able to share her with my mom is the most precious gift I can imagine.

It is really amazing how such a little thing as Lil Bit can make me love so much, could change my world so profoundly. I am overwhelmed by how all the cliches about parenting are true, how deep the love and protective instinct are, how every day I fall more in love with her. What a privilege it is to be someone's mom.

So I drive a tad more defensively, set the cruise control at the speed limit (or close ; 0), and have soup instead of ordering pizza. My perspective of others has also become more tolerant and compassionate as I realize that other people are someone's mothers and fathers and deserve to be home for their families. Again, there is no way to put words to how deep the change in my world this little girl has made.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 252: No sleep for the weary

I know the axiom is no rest for the wicked, but this feels more appropriate today. Lil Bit is going through a growth spurt or has a tape worm and is eating several times a night. Monday, I fed her about 40 ounces of formula over the course of the day and the equivalent of three small jars of baby food for supper alone.  She seems insatiable. But now wants to sit up while drinking her bottle, which is challenging because her sitting is still a little woozy, like a tiny drunk. Cute, but drippy.

She had been up several times from Sunday night to Monday morning, which while it had nothing to do with my absence, made me grateful I had already planned for a substitute. Monday night, she only woke once, but drained an entire bottle. Last night, she was up twice again, at 1 and 5. I can handle one feeding a night, but two takes a toll. Plus, the second feeding was so close to time to get ready for school that it just didn't make sense to go back to sleep. I slunk back into my warm sheets, but just couldn't drift back off for any meaningful sleep.

I am so sick, even having cough drops in my mouth constantly, I am hacking and sniffling over and over. Being tired, certainly doesn't help. This is one of those weeks that not only do I miss my best friend, but really miss having some extra help to take care of the house, pool, dog, baby, ME. I really want to curl up on the couch and drift off to sleep around 7 tonight.

Last night, I was even in my pjs by 9, but didn't make it to bed until 11. I just have too much to do. Lil Bit was even cooperative and bounced joyously in her jumperoo while I balanced the check book, which was a month overdue. Luckily, we still have some money. My district paid us early by two weeks which I suppose is nice for the holidays, but then we go six weeks before being paid again. So I had to do some fancy calculations to figure out our finances as if my check hadn't been deposited early so I didn't over pay on my car and end up going broke on rent.

I have really tried to take the mental position if it doesn't get done, it doesn't get done, but there really are things that can't wait or have to be done eventually. I just don't know how I am supposed to get it all done and not collapse mentally. I am doing a lot of mental aerobics to keep on top of my crazy busy life and all the responsibilities. A friend is supposed to come help me wrap gifts tonight, but she had to postpone, maybe I will be able to tackle some housework tonight. Or just sleep . . . don't twist my arm.

I know he is working much longer days than I am, on usually less sleep and has to work in extremely stressful situations, so he won't feel very sorry for me, but I contend that just because someone else's situation might be harder doesn't mean your feelings are less valid. Being the one over there is hard, no comforts of home (the house or country), no family, no friends, and if you're in his unit no days off and almost no down time. He is so busy.

Being the one left also means that the jobs we used to share are mine alone now. I have the same number of hours in the day and only half the workforce and with the baby, a quarter of the time I used to. Chad and I had a pretty good system that worked for us, but now it is just me with an additional very unreasonable little person who doesn't care if the table gets dusted, she wants a bottle NOW. She also doesn't understand the edge of the couch or bed is dangerous or that those funny holes in the wall are going to be a shocking experience.

Just tired of being tired. I am really looking forward to break, but it may not be much of a vacation. One week is traveling and one is having company. Not sure how much rest I am going to get either way. I may just leave my house and go check into a hotel for a night so I can sleep. I feel like I need to sleep for a month to catch up with how tired I am. Speaking of which . . . the rest of Hawaii 5-0 can wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 253: World Wide Me

No, this blog is not about my weight (I think there is a size limit - for the blog). But it is about how wide my blog following is. While I am writing this blog to vent, to ruminate, to ponder; it is rewarding to look at the stats page and see that people are reading my work. Seeing the statistics from all around the world is so motivating. While I'm not sure my writing is going to win any awards any time soon, the fact that people continue to read, respond, email, lets me know my words are reaching someone.

I am not sure how well the ideas or concepts in my blog translate in Croatia, Slovenia, or Denmark, but how fun to imagine who might be reading. As humans, it is normal for us to want to have an impact on the world, while I have had conservatively 2000 students so far in the course of my educational career, more if you include study halls, extra curricular activities, contact in the halls. Realistically, I might truly reach a few a year, motivate a few more and hopefully at least be someone who cared for the rest. But those effects are most of the time never seen.

Being able to see people logging in to read from Canada, South Korea, the Ukraine has a tangible feel. While I don't know if people wandered onto my page accidentally due to search words or even read my page, I can hope that many people found something inspiring in my words, or feel like a friend understands them.

I don't have all the answers. I am really not even sure I know most of the questions, but I have made a lot of mistakes and recovered from most of them. I had wise parents who taught me well, and forgave me for most of the times I chose to ignore them. I have wise in-laws and friends who continue to guide and help me. I am lucky enough to have friends share their lives with me.

I may not even be all that wise; I feel like I am faking it some days, too. Maybe you can just commiserate with the specific moment I am wallowing in that day. But maybe reading about it, allows you to give a voice to some emotion, touches your spirit, makes you think. Maybe you like watching me like people enjoy Jerry Springer, everyone stops to watch a train wreck. I will never know, but hopefully, dear reader, something will make you laugh, cry, care, feel and you will face your day knowing you're not alone.

Maybe someday, I will have the time and money to travel to some of the places around the world I see in my stats page. I would love to get 100 posts or emails with the name of your city, state or country so I can make a list of places to visit here in Texas or America and maybe someday, the world! That could be my next blogging adventure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 254: One more straw

I can feel the tidal wave of stuff that needs doing building under my skin. I have been managing to hold it at bay, knowing that I can only do what I can do and right now, that isn't everything. I have had this stupid sinus infection for almost two months. I am run down and exhausted all the time. I just can't do everything.

I spent Saturday baking to make Christmas gifts for my friends. I pushed too hard and ended up sicker. I made four batches of homemade cinnamon rolls, raisin, orange-cranberry, pecan, blueberry almond. They all turned out delicious, but each batch takes about 4 hours to make. It was a long day.

Today, on top of everything else, I had a follow up to my thyroid biopsy. The doctor walked in, carefully reviewing my chart. He didn't look at me. I started to get nervous. Since both Lil Bit and I stayed home sick today, she was happily chewing on a toy in her stroller. I couldn't really hold her hand, but I held her leg as the doctor told me they found some atypical cells in my thyroid. This was not the breezy clean bill of health I was hoping for.

It isn't necessarily cancer, but it could be. The doctor gave me two choices, have an operation to remove half of my thyroid to see if it is cancer or wait three months and do another ultrasound to see if the cyst has grown. If it doesn't grow, we're good. If it does, then he does the operation to remove it then. Seemed like a no brainer. Why take out any parts that I am attached to? However, now I have to wait three months to find out if it is cancer. I don't know how well that is going to go. It is a heavy weight to carry. Good news is that I am too tired to think about much of anything most of the time, so I will probably forget to worry.

Surgery right now isn't an option. I am barely functioning now. My living room is my idea of a disaster, I have packages waiting to be wrapped everywhere. I thought I had everything under control . . . crap, not supermom yet. But at least I am learning to be ok with that. Letting things go is the only way can keep myself sane. Waiting for one more straw on the camel's back, is kinda like inviting it to fall. Tonight, they got my prescription wrong, had to bundle up baby and drive back at 7 p.m. to the pharmacy. Got another collection letter from some identity theft issue my husband and I have been dealing with for years. It is in his name, they won't talk to me without a power of attorney. I mailed it to them, but they say it isn't valid without his address on it. I tried to be polite and reasonable with the man on the phone, but when he just kept offering me polite aphorisms instead of help, I told him he'd get the proper paperwork when I got around to it. They've been trying to collect on this fraudulent charge for years. We've been trying to deal with it for years, but they won't accept any power of attorneys done by the army and my husband keeps serving his country overseas, so I filled the paperwork in a pile of stuff to get to before I die. And that is about all the energy I have for it. TOUGH COOKIES!! Not gonna let that wave of panic take me, not without a fight.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 255: Pillows

Today my Lil Bit and I were both sick. We both just needed a pajama day. I have been run down for about a month and a half now. I start to feel better and get sucked back down into sickness again. Today the headache from H - E - double hockey sticks reigned. I took Aleve, Tylenol, Excedrin - nothing helped.

We both napped and snuggled a lot. I had the love seat filled with pillows and blankets. She sat next to me playing with her binky and grinning. Every so often she would throw herself backwards, landing on the soft bed of cushions and pillows or into my arms.

As I caught her once, gradually lowering her to safety, I thought how much I wish she could be sheltered like this always. Now that she has started to crawl, while her world has opened up exponentially to her exploration, she is also opening herself up to all sorts of hurts, injuries, dangers.

I know I need to allow her to explore and "get hurt" in minor ways so that she learns limits, the word "No", how to do things, but I don't know how I am supposed to sit by watching her investigate and not always jump to stop her before she falls. I see so many sharp spots, hard places that can hurt her. How am I supposed to know how much to let go and how much to hold on?

I've been letting her crawl around on the floor, with as often as I vacuum is hazardous enough, explore a little, which drug out the dreaded no. I can already see that she understands no when she feels like it and just ignores me when she doesn't. Her world got wider and so did her eyes. Lil Bit is into everything she can reach. The cute wicker basket I've been using as a toy basket is now a hazard full of pieces easy to pick off and choke on.

I have this sinking feeling that my living room and all its soon to be removed cords, etc. is only the first of many chances I will get to wonder how much to let her explore without me. Don't we all wish for a world full of pillows for our children? My mother and mother-in-law still look at us wishing they could surround us with giant airbags. They watch us leave home, and I would imagine, spend a lot of time wishing we somehow could avoid the pitfalls and briar patches (bad guys and ieds too).

There are so many amazing aspects of being a mom that I only thought I could understand until she came into my life. This concern and worry was something I didn't anticipate. If love was enough to protect her, she'd have a long, safe, wonderful life. I may need pillows around my heart since apparently it is already moving, moved outside of my body.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 256: Combat related

We received notice late this week that a soldier in 3d ACR had died from combat related injuries. He was in a different Squadron than my husband, but stationed here at Fort Hood and deployed to Iraq. He was a PFC. For those of you unfamiliar with the military acronyms, he was a private first class. Generally, a PFC has been in for about two years or so, which also, in general, means he wasn't very old. Most new enlisted are 18-22 so he would have probably been under 25.

I took a second to look up this particular soldier, he was 24 and married, on his first overseas tour. The last time he talked with his wife, he told her he had a "special" mission the next day. The day after that, soldiers in dress uniforms stood on her porch, ringing the bell with heavy hearts. She said she knew immediately what had happened. Of course, operational security often requires the families have limited information about the exact details of the incidents, but she knew he wasn't coming home. She said, "It is not OK right now, but I know he died fighting for our country. . . He died a hero."

Like so many men, her husband felt called to join the army. He was in college, studying to be a civil engineer and felt he needed to take some time to serve his country. He planned to return to school and finish his degree. I'm sure he planned to raise a family, celebrate many Christmases with his wife and someday children, maybe coach little league, teach his son how to throw a spiral, turn 30. He certainly planned to come home.

I can only imagine the horror she felt opening the door. And honestly, I can't let myself even really imagine it before I start to cry. My husband is gone and we're doing just fine, but the thought of losing him forever is so painful that when it even runs across my mind, my stomach twists and my head aches. I want to scream and throw myself on the ground sobbing. I think I would refuse to open the door, wishing it away.

Last night I talked with an old friend whose husband had just left for Afghanistan after his two week leave.   Her girls cried the whole way home from the airport. "I . . . want . . . my . . . daddy!" I told her I couldn't even imagine how to explain his leaving. I can't imagine how hard that will be to be dealing with a child's innocent, selfless grief while trying to cope with the myriad of emotions I have every time he leaves. While I hope and pray not, the likelihood is that I will someday, most likely sooner rather than later, have to explain to her where her daddy is going. It is hard talking to Chad's sons about his leaving, but they are older and have a step-father who is a loving, male figure in their lives. Even so the deployments have been hard for them, and going through it over and over has to take a toll on children.

Chad on a mission with friend
Right now, my biggest fear is that Lil Bit won't know him when he comes home. We have pictures, the recordable book, but those things don't convey who her dad really is. No words can capture the heart and spirit of my husband. He is all at once the most contradictory of people I have ever known. He is the consummate great white hunter. If you can kill eat and eat it, he does. He is also uber concerned with his appearance and fashion, so metro-sexual. He is a fantastic cook, a selfless husband,  and a one of a kind father who expects respect and discipline, but also will curl up on the bed and spend an afternoon playing video games with his boys or tickling them into hysteria. He is a staunch, serious, dedicated soldier - all business. He can be moved to tears by the sound of my voice or to peals of laughter at the sound of her babbling. He cries when his boys miss him and brags on all of our accomplishments. No one tells stories like he can. He acts them out while he talks and has most everyone rolling with laughter.

I don't know what I would do if I had to tell Lil Bit about her father because he isn't coming home. But women have to do it everyday. Every time I hear of a soldier's death, it breaks my heart. Somehow, in my head, I think we're immune. Chad is invincible. He certainly sometimes has acted like it ; p - but we, military wives, know it is all a farce. The next mortar or IED and the soldiers could be at my door. I just pray everyday that he comes home safe, always home safe.

I want his obituary to be free from those dreaded words, "combat-related" and instead "died peacefully in his sleep at 104". Now, my mother-in-law will read this and laugh, because she knows how crotchety his father and grandmother became as they aged and will tell me, "Jennifer, be careful what you wish for! You may have to put up with him that long." But I would take 104 any day!!! I can always send him hunting or fishing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

257: Santa is real, Virginia

If you've been reading this week, you know I challenged my students to give this year to support some disadvantaged families in our district. We started collecting late and had to turn the money in last night to our "Communities in Schools" personnel.

I was hopeful that we would at least collect $100, but I challenged the kids to try to all bring $2. I have about 125 students; with some of them kind of needing to be on the list themselves, I figure about 100 kids can donate and about 75% of those will give $2 or more. A few will toss in a quarter or handful of change leftover from lunch. Some can't give at all or won't. Most years though I find that most of the kids will give something. However, with only 4 days, I wasn't sure many would remember in time. I just wasn't sure how much we could expect.

I talked with Mr. Isaac, one of the CIS people, and he was so glad to have whatever we could scrape together. I told him I would bring it down after my last class on Thursday. I walked into the office with a big cookie tin. Mr. Isaac, who is always so warm and welcoming, smiled and opened the tin. His eyes grew three sizes. He threw the lid back on and ran into Ms. John's office. "You need to look inside this tin," he said.

She wasn't sure what to expect. I don't think he had told her what my students were doing. I wish I had taken a picture to show my students because her eyes immediately filled with tears. I told her it was $280. She said, "Do you have any idea how much good this money will do?" I told her honestly I just hoped it was enough that no one would go without something to open on Christmas.

Voice husky with unshed tears, she told me that it was enough to make sure all their families were covered and maybe enough to buy turkeys for all their families to have a real holiday dinner. She was crying, I was crying, the hulking man Arnold Isaac is - he was crying. I was so proud of my students. They really stepped up and made a difference.

I was teary eyed all the way to my classroom. I ran into one of my kiddos from last year. I had just asked him if he wanted to help again this year. He had dug through his pockets and pulled out $2. That $2 made the donation a nice even $280. I told him how Ms. John and Mr. Isaac responded to our gift. He was so moved that his eyes filled with tears. "Mrs. D, that makes me feel so good, I wish I had given it all." He had a twenty in his wallet. I told him that they might not have left for the day. He raced downstairs to their offices and gave everything he had on him. That last $20 brought our grand total to just over $300.

This morning he walked by me and told me he had caught them before they left for the day. He felt so good about giving. I know that giving is supposed to be about the giving and not about feeling so good about yourself, but I don't know how you can give and not feel so good that you want to shout from the rooftops! Not for honor or praise just because it feels so darn good to do something kind in this world where kindness is all too rare.

So - as the famous editorial once answered a little girl in 1897, "Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished."

I am not the best teacher who ever lived; no one will ever make a movie about me like "Freedom Writers", but maybe I can be the teacher who sparks a light of hope in their hearts and gives the world a few more Santa Clauses. In twenty years, they may not remember what a gerund is or be able to explain a literary allusion, yet, I can hope they will remember generosity and the true meaning of CHRISTmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 258: Perspective

Last night, Lil Bit and I went to dinner with some friends. We have been to this restaurant many times since she was three months old. Last night, she looked around like it was all brand new. Wide-eyed, she looked at all the lights, signs, pictures, and people as if seeing them for the first time.

This morning, I dropped her off at school. She was looking around this room, in which she spends much of her life, as if she had never seen it before. I just stood there and held her for a minute, watching her. I realized she must be reaching some new physical or developmental stage where she can see farther away, comprehends things beyond her reach. Her world just changed immensely. I can't imagine how surprising her life must have just become. I almost couldn't leave her today. After passing her to Mimi, tears brimmed in my eyes until the first students at my school required my attention. I just wanted to sit and watch her explore her life today.

Last night, I watched the DVRed episode of Glee's Christmas episode. The teacher was talking to the students about how as a child, Christmas and Santa Claus were magical; how as we age, the joy and wonder of the season are lost, and every year, all we really want is to somehow be able to find that amazement again, be able to look at Christmas with a child's eyes again.

I turned and looked at Lil Bit, saying, "I get to do that through your eyes now, not just for Christmas but everything." I got all teary eyed. She just wanted more green beans and macaroni and cheese. But again realized that this parenting gig is so much more than I thought, everyday brings something new, some new reason to marvel, love, and just be overflowing with joy.

I have spent a lot of time worrying about giving her values, lessons, love, what perspective of the world she will see in me. I forgot to consider how much I will be shaped by looking through hers.

Day 227: Meant to be?

Have you ever seen a movie in which the plot is a character going back to some pivotal decision in his/her past and making a different choice? Usually the character somewhere along the way realizes his life was perfect just the way it was and wishes to go back. The angel/ghost/fairy godmother waves a wand or angel dust and the character wakes at home in his bed, grateful for another chance to be present in his life and for the people he has met along the way.

I was talking about college choices to a student the other day and walking past the guidance center with all its pretty college recruiting posters, when I thought about a place I hadn't thought about in 20 years. After college night my junior year in high school, I came home with a glossy brochure for Green Mountain College in Vermont. With its ski slope and beautiful campus, shot during the radiant fall foliage, my heart was sold. My parents were not. As the oldest of three girls, one of whom was already talking medical school, two of whom were already sold on a small, private, Christian schools, I was going to be the first to take chunks out of my parents' modest college fund. I hung the picture of the red, orange, yellow tree saturated campus and stately brick buildings on my bedroom wall. I think my parents could hear their pocketbooks crying. I looked up the tuition, and it was twice what the most expensive state school would have cost, not to mention the travel expenses for holidays.

The picture stayed on the wall; as did the dream of attending that college. This week walking past the college posters, I was reminded of that tiny school in Vermont I had once wanted to attend. I wondered what college with 800 students would have been like instead of classes with 800 students. I wondered what living in Vermont would have been like; whom might I have met, what career path might I have pursued. I can close my eyes and picture the ivy, the blanket of snow covering campus as we sipped coffee and had intellectual debates.

But alas, I attended a state school thirty miles from home. There I met a man who became one of my closest friends in college. Through him I was re-introduced to my first husband whom I had known in high school. Being married right out of college meant sleeping on the couch back home wasn't an option, so I took the best of the jobs I was offered, even though it was farther away from home, and ended up in a small central Illinois town. The marriage didn't last, but the job did . . . (skip much drama) . . . eventually leading me to meet the man who is now my best friend, my anchor, and the love of my life. Loving him led us to marry, the army led us to Texas, being in Texas helped us be chosen as the adoptive parents for Lil Bit.

Sometimes I wonder how God/fate plays a role in our lives. Were Chad and I destined to be because of the choices we each made or did God make us for each other and would have woven our lives together no matter what we chose. Had I gone to the fancy Vermont college, would he have been stationed somewhere close? Would we have met anyway?

In fact, the weekend we met I was supposed to be having a ladies weekend with my mother. She visited my sister first, fell and shattered her ankle. She couldn't drive, walk, or even stand for 6 weeks. If she had been able to visit, I would not have gone out with my friends to celebrate my birthday. I would not have been at the club where Chad and I met. Seems a little like fate/God had a hand in our meeting to me.

We don't agree on everything, we have different approaches in our day to day activities, but we manage to meet in the middle most of the time and complement each other so well. I don't know if there really is only one true love for each person in the world, but the love I have for him and he shows for me is so far beyond what I have ever known. I think maybe we were meant to be. I definitely know that I wouldn't go back and change anything if I knew I wouldn't be with him.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 259: Sharing sharing

As I said last week, this holiday season is all about giving for me. I honestly LOVE presents, but don't really need or want much. The only two things I really want are a new faster camera (love my MIL's Cyber shot) and a Dyson vacuum cleaner so my daughter can quit building up her immunity to dog hair. These are both around $400-600 range, not reasonable gifts to ask of anyone. And really anything else I want, I buy for myself or do without. I guess a couple of Starbucks gift cards would be nice too. I do like to treat myself to a very expensive cup of joe once in awhile. Itunes or Kohls are also always handy, but when people ask me what I want, I really don't know. If I really need something, I buy it. I am blessed enough to do that. If a millionaire asked me what I want for Christmas, I would say my car paid off, but short of that happening, I don't want anything.

But my dad when he was little had very poor Christmases. He told me a story once, and the details are a bit fuzzy, about an office party for his dad's company. Near the end of the party, Santa came in to distribute presents to all the little children. Name after name was called, finally the bag was empty, but little Bill, Sherrie, and Pam were left empty handed. His parents couldn't afford to bring presents to the party for Santa to give out. My dad thought he had been so bad he wasn't getting any presents from Santa.

Every time I think about this story I want to cry. I want to race back in time and snatch up that little boy into a big hug and give him a bicycle or something. I really wish there was a way I could heal that memory for my dad. I have already mentioned a few times how special my parents made the holidays for me, and it breaks my heart that any child, especially my own father, was disappointed by Santa Claus.

As adults, we know that God's gift to us is the real reason for Christmas and Santa Claus is just a romantic myth, but children believe in the hope and promise and magic of Santa. I can't do as much as I would like to give every kid a Christmas gift, but I can tell my dad's story to my students; I can encourage them to think with their hearts for a few weeks a year. Maybe the message falls on deaf ears, but maybe like the parable of the seeds while some of the seeds never grow, some just take a while to bloom. I can only hope, that the simple message of giving and sharing is something that grows in their hearts. I see them give a few dollars for our school charity which is amazing, but I hope that sharing the importance of sharing is something that becomes part of their future as well. That may be the best gift I can give the future, more people who take a few seconds to give.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 260: The Pledge

Every morning at school, we start third period with the Pledge of Allegiance. Today a kid was goofing around during it. We say the U.S. pledge and then the Texas Pledge and then have a moment of silence.

All year I have instructed my class that the moment of silence is sacred to me. I take those precious minutes to send up a focused prayer for the soldiers in my life, my army friends who are now far away, my daughter, my health, sanity, family, etc. It took a few times of having to rebuke a few children about talking during my prayer time, but for the most part they get it when I explain why it matters to me.

I didn't think in this military town, I would ever have to issue the same explanation for the pledge. It really is just words to a piece of cloth, we all understand that without the meaning we attach to it, it is just a ritual. But we attach meaning to it. I have always been very proud of my country, despite some poor decisions, choices, etc. but that feeling has grown over the years I have known various military personnel. Meeting and loving an active duty soldier has only made the flag, pledge, national anthem mean even more.

To me that flag now represents the blood that soldiers shed daily, the white the purity of most of their intentions to do good for the people here and there, the blue the nobility of the sacrifice they make every day they are away from their family or risking their safety to secure our way of life.

Maybe most of the kids mumble the words, repeating them verbatim from elementary school memorization, barely giving them a thought, but I hope that my reverence for this solemn moment daily teaches them the two things they need, respect for our nation and those who protect us and respect for God and His grace. I may not always be able to teach them English, but I can teach values through example.

So the intercom buzzes on, and I am invariably swarmed with kids, papers, half-finished tasks. I drop everything and say the pledge. It is the least I can do to honor my husband's sacrifice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 261: Facebook

A lot of people, despite having a Facebook account, complain about people who are on it too much. I have a "friend", former student from 1996, who posts like 10 times in a row. Some of her posts are hilarious, some are offensive, some are inane. I have thought about unfriending her or blocking her posts from my news feed. But mostly I ignore it because who knows who she is posting for or to or why.

A few months ago, a friend of mine said I was on Facebook a lot. Somehow the way she said it, felt like judgment and hurt my feelings. I am on it quite a bit, some of it is to see what people are up to, laugh, keep in touch. Some of it, this year, is to be heard.

I have no one. My daughter does something cute, no one is there to watch it with me. I see a hilarious commercial, no one is there to laugh with me. I cry and no one knows I am even sad. As humans we are programmed to belong. Our brains actually release a chemical when we fit in that is comparable to sex, love, chocolate. Our brains love harmonic relationships.

So what about those of us who are used to having someone to witness our life, share our laughs, commiserate our cries and they are gone (deployed, moved, divorced, died, etc.)? When I post on Facebook, I can feel like 100 or so people at least see how I am feeling, realize when I'm struggling, and celebrate the Lil Bit's moments with me.

My computer is perpetually logged into FB, Gmail and my blog. Gmail so like what happened last night can happen. I was getting ready to head to bed, and noticed my husband was online. On a day when I missed him so terribly I cried off and on all day, it was great to get to hear from him in ANY format.
We chatted by IMing. But I can save the conversation and read it again a few times before deleting it.

Facebook is a tool. Like any tool, it is only as good as the person whose hand wields it. Yesterday I posted how sad I was to be alone this year. I had several friends say they would help out, pray for me, etc. If nothing else, for a few minutes, I don't feel quite so alone.

Sex and the City watchers, there was a Miranda moment where she was choking on food and realized that she could be dead and no one would notice. Well, this week, it occurred to me that if something traumatic happened to me on a Friday evening, my daughter could be screaming in her crib for days before anyone thought something was fishy.
So I posted the following: "If I quit posting, please call police. I don't talk to anyone often enough to know if something has happened. If I don't post, comment, etc. for two days, I am deceased. Please come save my daughter. Ok, kinda joking, kinda not - scary!! Miranda cats moment. Living alone you realize how vulnerable we are."
My evenings are pretty much me and Lil Bit. I bend the ears of my Moms pretty frequently and sometimes it is just chatter to chatter. I get lonely, feel sad that her dad is missing all these so sweet moments, but don't really have time to call someone or have both hands free. I can pick up my phone and see what everyone is doing, post a cute pics for the Grandmas and Grandpas, share a laugh or cry, or just post something that made me smile. Especially during this holiday season when I am feeling lonely more and really wish I had someone to share these magical evenings with, Facebook allows me to be my busy, reclusive self and still feel connected to people. 
It can become self serving, narcissistic, but before you judge, think about the person on the other end of the post. It might be someone who just needs to hear someone cares. Today I had to get a needle biopsy of my thyroid. I posted on FB right before going in and by the time I was done, I had heard from several people supporting me at an especially emotionally vulnerable moment. I needed it. It was painful, a tad frightening and without Chad to cry to, it was nice to have friends, even if the only place we ever meet is on the computer screen. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 262: Flu

I didn't get a chance to write my blog today. I woke up with a stomach bug. There is absolutely no good way to be a mommy with the stomach flu. I felt a little better for a bit, but am feeling piqued again now.

The baby was teething and crabby all day so she cried every time I put her down or walked out of the room. No matter how sweet, precious or cute, enough whining and screeching can start to grate on anyone's nerves. Then I would pick her up, and she would snuggle into me and after a few minutes, fall asleep. I didn't have much luck putting her down to nap. She literally would wake up almost the second I put her down.

I had so much I needed to do, so much I wanted to do. I needed to pay bills, dig through a stack of receipts, work on pulling videos and photos from my computer, put together some documents for taxes, etc. Very little got done, but I managed to get done the things I had to do for tomorrow for the most part.

I don't know what I am wearing tomorrow, but at least it is clean. Even if it is in the dryer still.

Tomorrow is also my thyroid biopsy. I try to act like it is nothing, but I am starting to get nervous. I have spent a lot of time in hospitals, felt like I lost years of my life to them at one point, a story for another day, so I sometimes get nervous in them. I know it is going to hurt and I am going to have to wait for a week to get the results. I just wish I had a hand to hold.

Too tired to find any deep meaning in today, but I did get a nice long chat with my husband today. We really got to spend some wonderful time just being friends. I needed it so much after yesterday. Hearing his voice gives me such peace. I love the look on Lil Bit's face when I put the phone to her ear and she lights up. She even "talked" back to him today. Awesome.

I wish the stomach flu had a cure instead of having to run its course. This is no fun. Hopefully it is better tomorrow. It is going to be a long enough day without puking at school.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 263: I found it!

It took a little looking, but somewhere between cheesy, heart string tugging Hallmark movies and my daughter's sweet smile, I found my Christmas spirit. I think Lil Bit was hiding it the whole time, just waiting for me to want it. This morning when I peeked into her crib to find her playing and she looked up a me with that big, nose-crinkling grin, I just knew I had to "do" Christmas this year, even with her dad deployed.

I know I talked a big game about skipping it this year, not decorating, refusing to acknowledge the holidays are here without him. I knew I was trying to talk myself out of feeling guilty about being too tired to decorate. This is Lil Bit's first Christmas and she won't remember any of it. Best case scenario, she may vaguely remember her Christmas 2012 when she is 2 1/2. But somehow, I couldn't go even one year without giving her all the joy of sparkling lights and jingling bells.

The tree was too heavy for me to get down the narrow attic stairs and it took five trips up and down to get down a couple of boxes of decorations, just enough to add a few charming touches around the living room. My house does not look like Christmas threw up, maybe just burped a little. Although, HEB and Walmart may help me add a few more touches. The deer skull needs something . . .

I don't know if she has noticed the colorful lights on the mantel or the pretty stockings hung by the chimney with care, but I have these silly, nutcracker bell ringers that turn and ding Christmas carols. I have had them since 1993; they still work. I wish I had been filming when I turned them on the first time. Oooh, her eyes grew three sizes and her smiles was too priceless.

It was completely worth all the hassle to see her so enjoying these toys. We listened to them for an hour and I sang all the lyrics. It was great. I guess I realized today that this isn't about me now, it is about creating a magical childhood full of memories for her like my parents did for me. My sisters and I had a precious moments Nativity sets. Mom would take our baby Jesuses until Christmas Eve. When she would sneak into our rooms to tie our stockings onto our bedposts (kept us busy in our rooms eating chocolate and opening toys until a reasonable parent waking hour), she would put Jesus in the middle of the scene being carefully watched by Mary and Joseph. That is a tradition I would like to continue with her. Also the wrapping of the participants of the Nativity in newsprint. We had a separate Nativity set for the living room and Dad would read the Bible as we would race to figure out who had which figure to place in the scene. We heard the true Christmas story and had family fun together. My parents really got that right. I can't wait to pass those traditions down to her.

Also, Thursday morning, the Austin radio station I listen to was having a power hour raising money for Bikes for Kids. Each donation goes toward the purchase of a brand new Trek bike for a deserving, underprivileged child in Central Texas. The charity is really great. Everything is donated, the bikes, the labor, the venues for fund raising, etc. Every penny you donate goes toward a bike. Every year I want to donate, but end up finding a cause closer to me personally. This year, feeling very grinch-like, I decided just to do it. Nothing warms up a lonely heart like giving. So, this Christmas morning a child will have a brand new bike from "Santa". When we celebrate our late holiday with Chad's boys and mom and Dadve, the first thing I want the boys to open is a picture of the bike "they" gave to someone who had nothing to look forward to this year. Christmas is all about the precious gift our Lord gave to us in the form of His son, our Savior. I want them to know that giving is so much more important. It warmed my heart to think about those awesome bikes and that I was a part of it this year. A bike, lock, helmet costs $150. These are nice Trek bikes that retail for $190-299 without lock or helmet, but are donated by the company at cost, put together by Mellow Johnny's and distributed before Christmas. If you want to be part of this amazing charity, click on the link. JB and Sandy's Bikes for Kids $5 helps. Giving feels good and they've been doing this for 14 years. Pretty awesome.

Once I started thinking about the amazing legacy of holiday memories, emotions, and traditions that my parents gave me, including giving and the truest meaning of CHRISTmas, I realized I couldn't give her or the boys anything less, even if it isn't convenient. Just a minute ago, she was jumping in her jumperoo and noticed the lights and stockings above her. She may never be able to verbally recall this holiday, but maybe her heart will remember the warmth and love that flowed through the house during the Christmas season.

Chad's absence was felt more powerfully today. I have cried more this afternoon than the entire deployment so far. Lil Bit doesn't distinguish between the laughing and crying face yet, so she just giggles at me. She knows his voice thanks to the recordable book, but she won't remember him. I just hope that when he comes home, she likes him as much as her mommy does. Then maybe she'll understand why I miss him so much today.

CD's and maybe the music will seep into her mind and heart like it has mine. Listening to the bell ringing nutcrackers today I realized how many lyrics were rattling around in my brain that I don't know how I know except that Mom played them. As a "single" mom, I am way too busy to mess with decorating and baking, etc. But as a MOM, I need to create holiday magic for her that she will carry on to her children someday. Again as I considered today the massive responsibility of parenthood, I also thought about the joy I get to live through her. Thus, the finding of my holiday spirit. Merry Christmas season. Hope you throw your inner grinch to the curb and find your Christmas cheer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 264: Party time

All week I have been fighting this dreaded sinus infection/cold, I have been exhausted and Lil Bit has been not feeling her best either. And the students have been rotten and the dog is shedding and I have too much to do and not enough time to do it, but I signed up for the staff Christmas party a few weeks ago. Some of my friends are going and I have been rather secluded this year because going out is more complicated with the baby. I feel like I need to make an effort to be more social, maintain friendships, but it is so hard to leave my precious Lil Bit.

She smiles the minute she sees me in the morning and we play all evening. I just don't want to miss my special times with her. I decided to suck it up and go. One night for a couple of hours won't kill me, but it is going to be hard. I have only left her with a sitter twice, my birthday in August and for an hour Monday for a CT scan. She needs the experience as much as I do since she is doing the separation anxiety thing and really needs to be exposed to as many new, great people to love and play with her as possible.

Last night, I wrapped her in a plush polka dot blanket and snuggled her, playing peek-a-boo and covering her plump cheeks with kisses. I didn't want it to end. She is the best part of my every day. When the bell rings to end the school day, I count the seconds until I can leave. Then I feel like I am holding myself back from sprinting to her. I have to set the cruise control or I would have a hundred tickets just getting from my school to hers.

A couple of hours, with adults and adults beverages, may be just what I need before I spend the weekend playing catch up on bills, mail, paperwork, chores, and of course snuggles. I will let you know how the separation goes. . .