Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 146: Boycotts

I used to teach a Women in History class. I broke my curriculum into two parts. The first nine weeks we studied women of the world. The second nine weeks we studied American women and their roles in the history of our country.

After the colonial period, we studied the Revolutionary period. Most of my students knew the battles and images of the Boston Tea Party, but didn't understand that the real resistance started with the women boycotting British goods. Arguing with the British, declaring independence, and protesting didn't work, but hurting the British government and merchants financially made those first voices of freedom heard. The boycotts primarily fell on the shoulders of the women who had to find alternatives for textiles, utensils, tea. In fact replacing tea, led to the discovery and popularization of a new warm drink, coffee. Say thank you Starbucks! But the boycotts were at least effective enough for England to take notice we were serious.

This week a disturbing advertisement for a new Abercrombie & Fitch Kids swimsuit was released. The Ahley bikini was marketed as a push up triangle top. A&F Kids target consumers are under twelve years old! What do they have to PUSH UP? Apparently, I was not the only parent of a young girl who is already horrified by the sexualization of our society and felt that A&F was irresponsible in its marketing.

According to Laura Heller of Wallet Pop, after several days of outraged consumers, A&F changed the description of the product to a "lightly padded" triangle top and agreed that the top was best marketed to girls twelve and up.

I am still concerned. They did not stop selling the top. They did not change the top. If it is designed to "push-up," it is still going to do that for girls who are too young to worry about sexuality. They are marketing, to twelve year olds, a top to enhance their busts. WHAT?! I don't want my daughter to worry about her chest until at least she is done developing one. Ideally, I wouldn't want her to worry about it at all.

In our media gorged society, a girl who doesn't worry about her physical appearance would be incredibly rare. We are confronted at every turn by glammed up genetic freaks who are then additionally airbrushed into a frightening level of perfection. Not everyone feels the pressure to conform, but most do to some extent. Our society is so appearance conscious that girls feel if they don't measure up, they don't matter. In fact we are more than beauty fiends, we are perfection happy.

I know I have struggled with my flaws my whole life and they only increase exponentially after 30. I have struggled as seeing myself as worthy of a happy, full life because I am not a size zero supermodel.If as an adult, my heart and head are infected by the messages of our media, how much more vulnerable is my Lil Bit?

I think free speech is great, but we have to draw a line somewhere and I personally resent advertisers trying to impose on children generic standards of beauty that have nothing to do with where true beauty lives. But Abercrombie & Fitch aren't truly listening. They made cosmetic changes to their campaign, not to the product. Some even believe that this was all a publicity stunt.

The company made a decision to sexualize little girls. They decided to use manipulative techniques to make children insecure about their bodies in a world that body image is so distorted. I don't plan on shopping there, now or ever. Maybe my one little voice won't ever be heard, but when a company's behavior is so abhorrent, I can't be silent.

If you agree and want to give my voice wings, please share this message or this blog post with your friends online. Click share below and let our disgust give A&F pause. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 147: Phew

Saturday afternoon, I was again the victim of my own poor planning and time management skills. I hate waiting for anything, so I tend to wait to get ready to leave until nearly the last second I can start and be ready to leave on time, which with a child is just flat unrealistic. We had a party to get to and with curlers in my hair, a bottle in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other cutting wrapping paper, the phone rings. I didn't have to look at the caller ID to know.

If my husband didn't have crappy timing, he'd have none at all. He always calls right after I crawl into bed or hop in the shower or walk out the door for a run. I hadn't heard from him since he left, so I didn't want to scoot off the phone too quickly, but I didn't want to be late either.

We talked for a couple of minutes and he told me he had just landed in Kuwait. This was 48 hours after his plane left home. It had been a long, convoluted journey due to a sandstorm in Kuwait and he had three more legs to his journey before he got to his station.

He said he would try to call again on Sunday so we could really talk, but he didn't. Then I didn't hear from him Monday or Tuesday in an email. Tuesday morning, I checked my email immediately and frequently, but nothing. I got home a little late yesterday and by the time I took care of the dog and baby, it was nearly 6. I noticed a new message on the machine. When I hit play, I heard "I am calling for the wife . . . this is Rear D. . . "

I knew they wouldn't call me if he were killed, but they would if he were injured. My heart was racing. The dog was bouncing all over the kitchen; in the living room the baby wass shrieking just to hear herself shriek. I had to play the message three times to hear that it was about our adoption credit paper work.

Phew!! But I still didn't know where Chad was or if he was safe (a relative term in combat, but ya know). Then this morning I was racing to get Lil Bit to daycare early for picture day but got stopped at THE longest light ever. To keep me from getting impatient, I checked email. Scrolling down the list, checking off junk mail to delete, I see the subject line, "hey" and sigh.

He is safe, sick and lonely, but safe back at his post. He is not much safer if any than he was traveling, but just hearing from him, touching base, made me feel immensely better. Many wives get daily phone calls, but I prefer not to. I just need to live my own life and waiting for the phone makes that hard for me. Often soldiers manage daily emails home, but sometimes he can't do that, so I try not to count on them. Yet, when I haven't heard anything for three-four days, a wrinkle starts to tickle my brain. I start trying not to start worrying.

The relief was noticeable. Even my students noticed I was in a good mood. Of course some of that is because I have had unprecedented GOOD behavior for the past two days. He is still in danger and I have no idea what he faced today, but for my peace of mind, I was able to breath a sigh of relief and know for today he was OK. And I can tick off one more day . . . 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 148: Libya

So as we're "finishing" the mission in Iraq, and there is talk of troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, another Middle Eastern conflict rears its ugly head. I didn't catch all of the President's speech, but I am concerned that despite his intentions to keep U.S. ground troops out of Libya, that the conflict is going to become unavoidable.

Just as I started to see the light at the end of the deployment tunnel, some other ugly situation pops up requiring our assistance. I do not begrudge any other nation or people the freedom's we have the luxury of taking for granted. All people deserve the chance to live freely and happily with basic human rights protecting them against tyranny and abuse.

But we can't be the world's police alone. Our soldiers are away from their families every other year or every six months depending on their MOS and deployment cycle. Earlier generations had wars. World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, and I won't pretend to understand what the military and their families experienced. I am not the best war historian, but most soldiers' tours were limited and the number of tours was significantly less than current soldiers are experiencing.

We, soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and families, knew the military life. We all signed up for it in one way or another. That doesn't make the daily details any easier or the countless years apart. I CAN survive deployments, I can, but should I? Younger, weaker, newer, less independent, different couples are struggling HARD with the multiple deployments. My husband and I are struggling with the separation, the damage what he sees does to him, the damage being away over and over does to him. We are making it, we are surviving. But it isn't easy.

The newspapers, evening reports are full of soldiers committing suicide and our military wonders why? They have no hope to come home and stay there. Many soldiers deployed right now are already being told they will be home gearing up for the next trip, they never get to turn off the combat mindset. They feel if this is life, with the violence or maybe the destruction of a marriage or financial ruin or drinking or drugs or just constant war, why keep living.

Spouses go bed shopping, like we did last week, and the salesperson asks, "how does your spouse sleep?" and they don't know. They aren't together enough or haven't slept together in so long that they can't remember. My husband has spent this decade of military service away from his family for about half the time between trainings, schools, etc. 5 years gone.

All the time, people say, "You knew what you were getting into," but that is BS. Never in modern times has there been a military situation like this one, where we are constantly at war for a decade and seemingly adding new fronts. No other group of men or military have been asked to do this. They have fought harder more traumatic or deadly battles; they have been gone for years without a letter much less a visit; they have seen violence and fear like most of us can't imagine, but NONE have been asked to do this. GO and GO and be ON and ON and then come home and leave, asking spouses to step up, step back, be in control but not controlling.

None have been asked to keep marriages alive despite ripping them apart over and over. One source, Belleruth Naparstek from Health Journeys (author and psychotherapist) claims 95% of people in combat, experience some symptoms of PTSD, so soldiers who face repeated conflicts are repeatedly exposed to nearly guaranteed symptoms of PTSD which sometimes resolves itself and sometimes leaves lingering scars. Many soldiers suppress the pain and anguish normal for the experiences they've had because there isn't room for it in their Bradleys or Humvees. By the time they get home and come "down" enough to start to feel again and might have a chance to deal with their emotions, they are already preparing for the next deployment.

We can't invade Libya. We can't send the same guys away over and over and over and over and over and over. We can't ask people to do this unless we expect suicide, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism and rape to increase. People have limits. Some people may be more programmed to do this than others. My husband is one of those people, but he is not a machine. Maybe he isn't even as impervious as he would like me to believe.

I've seen the chink in his armor, not a weakness just his humanity, and if he has a chink in his, much of the rest of the army is in deep yogurt as my dad used to say. Our world is in danger, our country is in danger. We need more help than any human force can achieve. We can't fix the things that are broken in this world by stomping on them like a spark from a campfire and sending our people away from home and into combat repeatedly.

I don't know what the answer is. But I damn well know what it isn't. This HAS to stop. I hope NATO steps up. I hope someone finds a way to solve Libya without further military commitment from the U.S., but I ain't holding my breath. I do know that we can talk all day about working for military families and wives and safe guarding the mental health of our soldiers, but it is worthless crap until we do what needs to be done.

Let soldiers seek help without repercussions to their careers. If a career soldier needs help, he shouldn't lose his job, health benefits and retirement by admitting weakness. Which is what happens! The army spouts good messages, but once you admit you need help you are quietly pushed out, marked for less stressful duties, that designation takes you out of any career progression which mean you will be separated from the military before you finish your 20 depending on how many years in grade and in service you have at that time. Even failing to continue to progress takes future food out of the mouths of your family because your retirement is based on your pay and rank at the time of retirement.

We have to realize there is no way to protect people from WAR. It is messy, violent and takes its sacrifice whether we offer it up or not. There will always be an Egypt or Libya or Kuwait or Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or . . . . . .

do we always have to be the ones leading the charge? going at all? sending the same troops over and over?

Every person around the world deserves human rights, but until every country around the world believes that and is willing to fight for that truth, something has got to give and it shouldn't be our military men and women anymore for a long time. We need a little piece of peace, please!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 149: Crazy Lesson

Today I decided that if I needed a Total Money Makeover because our media and culture distort money so wildly that most people are completely clueless about how to use it, maybe my students were confused too. If they were confused about money, they might not understand why I get so frustrated and scared for them when they don't want to work.

I decided to teach a mini-lesson about the importance of an education and budgeting given basic average salaries for a minimum wage income, average salaries for a high school diploma, associates degree and a bachelor's degree. They are going to create what they think a good monthly budget should look like. They are then going to polish that plan in a group, and then I am going to tell them how much they are going to make a year and see how well that works in their budgets. We start with minimum wage and then do bachelor's degree. What they realized is minimum wage means you can't afford anything, but when they see the bachelor's degree salary, they are like, "Yeah, that's more like it." Until they start actually plugging in the numbers, then they realize the original budget we created uses up most of our BA salary, living frugally, not extravagantly.

Well, I did it for 5 classes today. It went fairly well. Not as great as I would have expected, but well. I will say that my goal was to convince one previous unmotivated or undermotivated student to try harder to be a learner. I think I achieved my goal. I have had a few kids tell me already (but the proof will really be in the pudding) that they are now more motivated than ever to succeed. I also can say I saw more kids taking notes than I ever have before. I had students raising hands, asking for clarification, being dumbfounded at the numbers I was throwing up on the board.

Some kids were their usual selves and were disrespectful, rude, loud, but instead of being the center of attention, their audience was gone. I had kids telling other kids to be quiet. I saw kids taking notes diligently for the first time all year. I heard kids making comments in support of what I was saying instead of detracting from my lesson. And I saw my most challenging class, 99% wrote down tonight's assignment and 50% finished it before the bell rang.

What did it have to do with my unit on research? Very little tangentially, except to do research before throwing money away. But if one student comes in more motivated, if one kid stays away from the dreaded credit cards and car payments, one kid changes her ways, then taking a day away from English was worth it.

It is hard to motivate kiddos because they can't see the end game. They can't see how things relate to them, to the real world, but this was a way to show them. It took about an hour of research online to get some generic figures, average rent for our area, average salaries, tax rates, etc. But if it pays out in work turned in on time, it was worth it.

I feel pretty good about it. I wish I had had more time to explain stuff. I think most of these kids have no concept about money, expenses, life. A few got it and brought up health care, medicine, car repairs, etc. But most kids had no idea what life costs and how someone isn't going to magically hire them just because they have a piece of paper. They have to be competitively the best for the job, looking at grades, attendance, tardiness, discipline, skills, personality, etc.

In any case, it felt good to teach instead of wrangle cats. Good Monday. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 150: Allergies

I've been trying really hard not to let my emotions get to me, but I am also struggling with spring pollen counts. The past 24 hours have been awful. My nose isn't runny but I am so sleepy that I can't keep my eyes open, literally. This morning the baby woke up at 7 and it felt like the middle of the night. I could barely stay awake long enough to give her a few sips of her bottle.

She slept again until almost 9, but even then I felt beat up. I could barely stay awake until her nap. In fact, I fell asleep on the couch watching her play on the floor in our baby proofed living room. Then when she was ready for her nap, I went to bed and slept HARD for a few more hours. When I woke up I took a Claritin, on top of the Zyrtec and Singulair I already take, and some Excedrin to help with my headache and give me some much needed caffeine. It helped and I at least felt alive for a few hours.

So, struggling to pull myself out of sleepiness and do something productive, I graded my last stack of projects and input my report card grades while the baby finished her nap. But I still feel so wiped out. I don't know how much of my exhaustion is the busy emotional month just catching up with me, how much is depression over his leaving again, just when having him home started being so good. It is hard to know but chances are all three are culprits.

He called yesterday right when I was walking out the door to take Lil Bit to her first birthday party. I was wrapping a present, doing my hair and trying to give her a bottle. I barely had time to say I love and miss you, but I did find out that it was good he'd had his passport when he had to spend the night in Jordan due to crazy sandstorms in Kuwait. He is safe and traveling. I didn't hear from him again today, so I am guessing he was busy moving from place to place. He had about a three-four stop journey to coordinate in order to get back on duty. I would be happier if he were stuck out of the combat zone for a few more days, but no such luck.

Ugh, finalized a crazy lesson plan for tomorrow. Crazy as in actually trying to motivate my kiddos. We'll see how this works. And here it is 10:30. I have to get to bed. If I feel anything like I did today, I am going to need all the sleep I can get for tomorrow!! 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 151: TMMO

The past few weeks, I've been casually reading Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. At least the first half of the book was pretty much not news for me. But my mom loaned it to me about a year or so ago so I decided to finally make a point to read it.

The first, pre-first really, step is to get current on all payments. We are already current. Luckily we haven't had anything major come up and are able to be current on our debts. Baby Step 1 is to save up a $1000 emergency fund so we never have to borrow money ever again. We already had a $1000 in an emergency fund. The checking account we started when we got married required a minimum balance of $1000 for some promotion they were doing and I just have always pretended it wasn't there.

Baby Step 2 is to payoff all current debts by starting with the smallest debt first and gradually adding the payments you used to make on the smaller debts to the larger debts. We've pretty much been doing that for months and I made the final move and pulled money out of our savings account to finish paying off all of our accounts. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but Ramsey makes a lot of sense when he says that paying interest on a debt costs more than you make on the money in the bank.

So, today I set things into motion. Checks will be cut/sent on Monday. By the end of next week, we should be debt free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No car payments, no credit card and we can start saving up for our Security Emergency Fund. For this Baby Step, you have to save up 3-6 months worth of expenses. Figure out what it costs for your family to live for 3-6 months and save up that amount.

This sounds like magic to most people. Follow his steps and retire as a millionaire or near it. If you start at 25, you could retire a multi-millionaire. I just don't wanna eat cat food. I gave up my guaranteed job for life and my retirement in Illinois to follow a soldier. We will most likely move one or two more times before he retires and I will have a few pesos in teacher's retirements all over the country. I really can't count on his military retirement because if he dies, I get half of his half of his base pay. That might be enough to cover health insurance, MAYBE.

But just being able to talk about finances, decisions together has made our marriage stronger. I don't know that what Ramsey says is earth shattering. My parents were fantastic stewards of their money and taught us all pretty well, but maybe you didn't have that growing up or have made some poor choices or just don't know what to do.

I am really interested in the next section, learning how to invest in our future. We need some sort of financial plan. The sooner we get started the less painful it will be. I do know that it feels good to have a plan and be doing something more specific than just thinking about it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 152: Sad

Yesterday was kind of a saga. I took him to the airport, cried a few tears, choked back a few sobs and raced to take the baby to daycare and get to school close enough to on time to get a parking space in the side lot closest to my classroom. I had been gone all week for R&R, so every greeting was a knowing, "How are you?" or a too cheery, "Welcome Back." Either way, I was fighting tears every time someone said anything. I wanted to just close my classroom door and not talk to anyone until I got my school legs back. Of course, the kids were scrambling to turn in late or missing work from like January so I wasn't lacking for things to keep me busy, but then I got a text message.

I had planned to drop him off, cry on the way to school and hit the ground running, but if you know the military, nothing EVER goes the way it was planned. His unit somehow never finalized his plane ticket, so his flight was not paid for and he couldn't board the plane. This meant hours of frantic phone calls and scrambling to get new tickets arranged and paid for. Apparently some dude in Kuwait hung up on him like six times. We resorted to FaceBook messages with his roommate in Iraq from Chad to me through my iPhone to JC at his JSS.

After he got new tickets, he called me around 11 and told me that his orders now didn't match his itinerary. Landing at the commercial Kuwait airport, he was concerned that without correct orders, he would be detained if he didn't have his passport. He could have taken a cab to the house to get his passport, but it would have been costly and risked his missing the next plane. Instead, I found a friend to supervise my class taking a test. I raced home, grabbed the passport, sped to the airport, gave a few more hurried hugs and kisses and then drove back to school. Did it all in 45 minutes! It was a record of some sort, I believe.

All day, I checked my phone repeatedly for the "last" text message. Usually he sends me one last "I love you!" before he is out of American airspace. I heard from him around 4:30 that his phone was dying and his charger didn't seem to be working so he wanted to call and tell me he loved me before his phone ran out of charge. I still had students in my room scrambling to finish late work before the grading period ends so I couldn't get too emotional, but it was hard. I could only reiterate the same flat things we'd already said several times yesterday. That last good-bye feels like it is supposed to be special and emotional, but it really isn't.

We say good-bye pretty much like we would any other morning before work or any other phone call because there aren't words that really grasp the depth of what we were feeling as we ended our phone call. If he doesn't know how much I love him at that point, how much I need him in my life, how much I respect and just flat out LIKE him, then I won't be able to summon some magic words that can convey it over the phone.

I have been too swamped at work to spend a lot of time being sad yesterday or today, but going home last night was sad. Just heading to the empty house was really almost more than I could bear. I called my mom to distract me two stoplights before being home. Then Lil Bit had a mini meltdown. Dealing with her was about all I had in me.

The hardest part of the evening was the silliest thing. I turned on Lil Bit's favorite show, American Idol. She immediately started dancing, clapping and singing back at the TV. In the middle of giggling with her, I started to cry. Daddy wasn't here to watch her, to share knowing looks over her cuteness, and wouldn't be until she is so different than the baby she barely is now.

The other things that have been hard are his watch left on his side of the headboard shelf, a pair of discarded socks on the living room floor, the food in the fridge I won't eat because he likes things "real way too 'picy" as Trent used to say when he was little, the last beer on top of the fridge, or the Captain Crunch cereal I bought to commemorate the death of the Cap'n. Tonight Lil Bit's bedtime stories were, Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug, Over There, and All the Ways I Love You. All the books were about daddies' nicknames for their babies, daddy being away and hearing daddy's voice. She spent the entire night babbling, "da da da da da" and got so excited when she heard his voice read her a story. I hope these things help keep Daddy present in her mind until he comes home again.

We also made a few videos of him playing with her, reading her a few books, etc. so now she will be able to watch him on the computer or tv

Funny thing is, people say you don't know what you've got until it's gone. For me it is exactly the opposite. While his absence does make me treasure him, I only remember what I've been missing once he comes home. And I know what I've got when we dance in the kitchen and laugh until we're hoarse and sore and talk until the middle of the night. I know what I have and I am tired of being sad. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 153: Already gone and a year ago

This morning, despite my husband's leaving again, was much like any other morning, getting ready for work/school, but today was much harder. My stomach was in knots and my chest felt heavy. We tried to play it off like it was just any other day, but every exchange was just a bit more charged, heavier than usual. But I am not ready to write about it. I am holding it together by a thread. So wait until tomorrow for the good-bye saga.

Tonight I want to write about one of the most special days of my life. A year ago today, was kind of a miracle. I was giving a test, much like today, and my phone rang at the end of first period. I had started keeping it on loud and nearby once we had finished our paperwork and been approved by the agency, but I wasn't really expecting a call. In fact, in the three weeks since we'd been approved, people asked me so much that I had to kind of have a mental pep talk. 

So March 24, 2010 I told myself to stop worrying about the phone ringing, God's hands had been weaving my life, my story, my marriage from the start and when the baby He planned to be mine was ready, the phone would ring. Until that call, I was going to enjoy every minute of my "free" time and focus on being closer with my husband and such. I immediately felt better and ready to be patient. That was around 7:30. 

At 9:30, I answered the phone. It was the agency calling, but it might have been to tell us to send them another check or more paper work or something. "Jennifer, I'm calling to tell you that we have a match for you." 

I don't know that I even processed what she was saying. I couldn't believe it could be true. I tried to stay calm and ask questions about the birth mother as I stepped into the hallway for a bit of privacy. I must have been shaking, despite trying to play it cool. My friend Ally walked up and saw that I was shaken. 

"Are you ok?" I nodded kind of frantically. She stood by with her hand on my shoulder. I don't remember what I said, but she picked up on the topic and her eyes lit up. "B-A-B-Y?" she mouthed. I nodded and it hit me. We were getting a baby. Gosh, I am crying thinking about it now. I finished the details of working out the final agreement with the agency and birthmother and hung up. 

"You're getting a baby?" Ally asked. "We're getting a baby!" I started jumping up and down. A few minutes later, I called Chad. When I told him that we'd been picked by a birth mother, he said, "But we just finished the paperwork?!"

The best reaction I think was my mother-in-law. She had just been at our house for spring break and I had half-kiddingly said how great it would be to get the phone call while she was there that we had a born baby situation (when a mother decides to give up a child at or just after birth so you get to pick the baby up immediately). After I talked with Chad and gave him the information from the agency, I called her.

"Hi, Grandma."
"No - hi, GRANDMA!" 
"No way, you're kidding, are you serious?" and then a scream, shriek, and happy tears.
"Yep, we're getting a baby. It's a girl and she's due in June!"

It was a manic kind of elation with all the paperwork, medical files, etc. we had to review and decide if we wanted to be matched with the birthmother. But I was walking on air the entire day. I don't know that I came down from the high for days. It was a whirlwind of paperwork, shopping, preparing. 

So while today was a sad day this year, I couldn't help but remember the celebration of a year ago. A friend at school shrieked loud enough to rival Grandma. The day I finally really put it in God's hands and let go was the day He started the process to bring my precious Lil Bit home. I may not have been Sarah and in my 90's, but I had pretty much given up hope of ever being a mother and in one phone call, that door opened up again. So I shed a few tears today, despite a rough day and evening, in joy for the wonderful gift my daughter is and the mother I get to be for her everyday. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 154: Our Last Day

OK, so it sounds morbid and maybe you won't understand, but I am sending my husband into a combat zone, whether the news media calls it that or not. Today may be the last day I get with my husband. We have less than 24 hours and at least 7 of those will have to be sleep, hopefully. It will be hard enough to go to work after dropping him at the airport tomorrow morning without having to do it exhausted on top of everything. He certainly isn't perfect. His idea of organized is that we still own whatever he is looking for, probably. I think his blood stream is part tequila, part monster energy drinks, but he is pretty great.

He has been very kind over the last couple of weeks, making sure that I get some rest, too. He takes the baby most mornings and even a few middle of the night feedings/cuddles. When my arms are tired or my back hurts he takes her. He wrestles her into pj's when I get frustrated. He holds her when I need a minute. He laughs with me when she smiles and jumps up and down like a mad woman. Yesterday when we picked her up from daycare, she burst into giggles and began bouncing up and down repeatedly. She had us both laughing. Too sweet!

It is hard that he is leaving because I am still not sure she understands who he is. She still comes to me more often and looks unfamiliar with the word, Daddy. I said it plenty while he was gone, but when I ask her "Where is Daddy?" she looks for a picture or her recorded book. She sometimes looks for him, but I wish we had some more time for her to continue to develop a relationship with her first, best guy. If wishes worked, of course I would just wish him to stay.

It has been pretty special to watch him fall for her, to watch his face light up when she smiles and laugh when she is being cute. Last night, she was in rare form. She was sitting in the grass in the backyard making crazy noises and trying to eat grass before we could get to her. It was one of those moments, I dreamt about what my family might look like someday. I wish I could have bottled that moment to open up on the long lonely nights starting tomorrow.

I don't know how I will be able to let him go, or how I will be able to face coming home after school. It already is so powerfully lonely to consider that my stomach clenches and tears swell. 90% of the time, we just get each other. We are still crazy about each other after nearly 7 years and are hoping for another 50. Sure, we argue and my house and fridge will be much cleaner and more organized in a few days, but I would gladly live slightly disheveled than send him to Iraq tomorrow.

Every minute is heavy today. I had a hard time sleeping last night, between being achey and sore and Lil Bit crying and Daddy's snoring. I was up until almost 3. But five hours later, instead of sleeping in, I am up because I don't want to miss a minute with him I don't have to.

The day went way too fast. We showered and got ready for the day, ran to Toys R Us to shop for Lil Bit's birthday. Chad needed a hair cut after a month of being able to grow it. He is now basic ready and goatee free. Then we went to Chad's favorite sushi restaurant. Afterwards, Chad took me for frozen yogurt. It is waffle cone wednesday. I never get to go because I am just too busy or don't have anyone to go with. I cried when he drove to TCBY so we could finish our date with waffle cones.

Now, we are preparing for bed. Clothes are packed. Lunches made. Back to reality tomorrow. It is too soon. There aren't enough minutes and I can't make more. I am trying so hard not to waste our time crying. I can't follow him through the house while he makes last minute checks and finishes phone calls to his sons and mom. While he updates his computer on the "fast" internet at home, etc.

I just can't wrap my head around the reality yet. I keep telling myself we have so many hours left, procrastinating my breakdown. But I know it is coming. It builds like a tornado behind my smile. The rain is gonna fall, just a matter of when and for how long.

I've tried, but words can't really touch how horrible this feels or frightening or lonely or truly heart breaking. So just imagine, if you were going to put your spouse on a plane first thing in the morning and not see him/her again for five months, maybe longer, maybe never. Imagine no one to talk to at night, no one to take over a dreaded job or finish a tough chore, no one to snuggle with, no kisses or hugs, nothing. Just an empty house. 

Day 155: 48 hours

No, not the news show. The countdown to his leaving. In fact, as I start typing this, we're really at 46 1/2. I have to have him to the airport about 7:30 Thursday morning. Today was supposed to be a day of being lazy in bed, playing video games, talking, going to see a movie, but not sure it will work out that way.

We sprung a leak in one of the pool pump's hoses which is dumping water all over the back yard. He managed to contain it enough to go to bed, but it has to be addressed now. So he is off doing that while I sit and wait. Of course, I could have gone with him, but getting up and getting dressed would have taken longer than letting him go alone, so I am going to get a jump start on tonight's blog and maybe even input some kids' grades.

I am trying my best not to think about the leaving, but instead about the time we have. Yet, when it does cross my mind, I find it hard to catch my breath. My heart literally hurts. Last night, I lay my head on his chest and said, "I'm glad you're home." It took me awhile to feel comfortable and close with him again. I had shut down my heart so hard, I needed time to get the hinges loosened up. Also, as I explained to him, he is messy. Not in an unclean, slobbish way, but in an unpredictable, disorganized, seat of his pants kind of way. Especially this deployment, I had to be so organized and routinized to keep up with life and baby, house and school, so it was harder for me to get adjusted to his looser style of doing things.

Of course, now that we're back into a groove and having a good time together, it is time for him to leave again. We did make the movie, Limitless with Bradley Cooper which turned out to be not quite as good in the beginning (I love the meteoric rise part, the phenomenon genius bit) but better at the end than I could have imagined. Then we shopped for shoes and a new camera. We found a new camera we liked, got the last one and a discount for the floor model. We played with the baby and after putting her to bed, stayed up playing xbox again until we're both sweaty messes. But we're having fun.

The best part of the whole evening was watching a marine corps sniper show and hearing him tell all the stories of army sniper school. We had a nice day. But now we're down to 31 hours. I know it doesn't make sense to many to count every hour, but to an extent, as long as there are hours to count, it isn't over yet. I can't let myself start to cry yet. Although I can feel the tears looming behind my eyes.

Maybe it is just the sweat from too much reflex ridge. I think it is my turn again. Gotta go. Will try to write tomorrow, but no promises. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 156: Good advice

Today we decided to run some errands. We ran to mail some books back to the boys. We ran to Kohl's so I could pick up some spring things. We ran to Wal-mart for pool chemicals and a new Hoover Floormate because I have wanted one to help with the housework. Then we went to lunch which was nice. Since today was a school day, it kind of felt like playing hooky. Heck, it was playing hooky.

We've been talking about getting a new bed for awhile. I bought the one we have with mattress, box spring and dresser for $900 in 2003. It has held up pretty well, but the mattress is starting to sag and was not a high quality mattress in the beginning, so we decided it was time for an upgrade.

We started looking and found a great salesperson that showed us how to find a mattress that wouldn't just feel good in the store, but would be good for our bodies and sleeping styles. The mattress felt great, but we have been thinking that we might want to move up to a king. While we love each other and want to snuggle sometimes, we also want to be able to roll over and move around without irritating each other.

Problem is, we should have started this process weeks ago. Now we've got two days before he leaves and we spent hours looking at furniture, trying to convince ourselves we really like something they have in stock so we can get new furniture in 48 hours.

After two stores and significant shopping, I finally ended our waffling. I don't want to spend any more of our precious few hours looking for ways to scramble and get a new mattress and bed and dresser and I don't want to have to move in new furniture by myself and decide what to do with the old stuff.

Also, the army warns the soldiers not to make any major purchases over R&R because it is very tempting. We both felt free today, playing hooky from real life, beautiful spring day and the promise of summer imminent. But as I am reading Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover I am realizing that many of the principles I have been living under for years are really the best ways to live. Don't buy new because you can, buy because you have to. Don't spend money you don't have - pay in cash. When I thought about paying for our new bedroom set and mattress from our savings instead of starting a new store credit line, I realized this would take almost half our savings to do right now. I can sleep on the old mattress for another five months and we can revisit this issue when he gets back. Maybe we decide to see how life plays out once he gets home and we wait to purchase the furniture once we move to a new duty station. Maybe we wait to see how a lot of financial cards play out before spending so much on a new bed.

My back hurts a lot, my neck hurts, I could use a better night's sleep, especially with a baby and allergies, but it is good advice to use our money and not let our money use us. So we waited, we came home and watched the baby waddle up and down the sidewalk with her new walker. We organized the garage and crashed on the sofa. Sometimes good advice is just good advice and being smart is knowing when to take it, especially when its your own.

Day 157: Sisters in Entry, Heart and Texas

There are some very unique challenges to being a military dependent; some seasons are full of growth, some of pruning. Joys and sorrows often intertwine. I have been married to my soldier for 4 years; in that time we have been together for about 2 of them, thanks to trainings, a tour in Korea, and 9 months in Afghanistan.

We are currently in a season of joyful blessing. We expect Jonathan Joshua to be delivered to us between 3-6 weeks. It may seem like a long variance, but FedEx can’t do any better and they are professionals. At least FedEx guarantees arrival before 10:00 am.

Last night I saw about half of a show called “Coming Home”, where we see reunions between soldiers and family members that have been orchestrated by a team to be unforgettable for the children. The first story I saw was that of a high school senior, a football superstar who was about to sign on for a full ride to the college of his choice. His father, the fan always yelling, “That’s my boy!” has been deployed to Afghanistan for the year. As Jeremiah sat and the end of the long signing table, he proudly signed on with the US Naval Academy. A powerful, “That’s my boy!” rang out, and two men embraced and cried in a way that radiated maturity and honor.

The words that caught my attention before the big reveal were, “JJ has no idea that his father will be returning from Afghanistan for his big signing day.”

My husband has been told he will be sent home for the birth of our son, but it will be at the 39/40 week mark. I have no details or assurance other than that. I have prepared for all scenarios to the best of my ability, but the potential for Josh’s absence has been something I have kept mostly confined to my mind. Last night it hit my heart in full force. This is an event that I can’t bear for my beloved to miss for his sake, as much as for mine. I know I have the strength and fortitude for this task if need be, but it would break my husband’s heart to miss the event he has dreamed of for years. 

For the sake of time and concern over his bringing home onto the battlefield, our conversations about emotions tied to the event have been somewhat rare. I send pictures of my ever-expanding waistline and tell him of what our son did that day or how he is getting ready, but I am not sure what is going on in the head and heart of my soldier. (Every military wife must understands that!) today I have a new rawness of heart. Just as the mission and the events of life must be battled through on the battlefield, it eventually catches up. Last night I began the process of realizing all I have not allowed my heart to prepare for as I have waited for my soldier to be a part, not knowing if it is possible. Hope is a powerful thing.

It is the deep desire of my heart that I see the man I love walk toward me in uniform and embrace my engorged belly. A few days of time just with him before our lives change forever is almost too much to hope for.

**                           **                             **

My tears are for how she struggles alone with the fears of losing her husband plus his missing out on those moments she has dreamt of sharing with the man of her dreams. God bless you, honey. Again - I know!!!!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 158: Empathy

One of the best parts of being an army wife is other army wives who get it. There are those out there who are all about the negativity and the drama, but the great ones hear your hurt and just nod. Sometimes they have never been in your shoes, sometimes they've been there more than you have, but they know that whatever it is, for you right now, it is hard. It doesn't have to be the hardest thing you've ever experienced, sometimes it is just the hardest this week.

Many of my weakest moments come from stupid things. Last night I was putting away baby clothes and a thought crossed my mind that in a few days I will be back to arranging baby outfits for the week ahead just to stay afloat. I will again be all mommy all the time. I started crying when Chad took the boys hunting and I realized how even one evening lost is too many when we only have a few left.

Yesterday I watched Chad giving the baby her evening bottle. She drifted to sleep in his arms. He gently wiped her face and caressed her cheeks not knowing I was watching. It was so gentle and sweet to watch this gruff, rough and tumble guy be so tender with her. As much as he protests he isn't a baby person, I have watched him fall in love with his daughter this last week. It breaks my heart to know that he will miss most of the rest of her infancy. By the next time he sees her, she will be a toddler. He will miss her first steps, her first birthday, but more than those times, he will miss the tiny moments of her silly smiles when she is being flirtatious or the way she claps and dances to music, or the way her eyebrows crinkle when she hears Daddy practice his duck calls.

The moments I think about the moments of his sons' success, Chad missing Trenton's state honor society award and Nathan's first band concert, the moments of missing his Lil Bit, the moments of missing time together as a couple are the moments I find my heart breaking, tears looming. In those moments, sometimes he doesn't even understand how I feel, much like I can't really feel what he does having to leave and say good-bye. But my friends, especially my army wife friends can. Sometimes I don't have to even explain what I feel, they just know.

I have many friends who are so special, some military wives, some not. One of my friends always seems to just get what I am saying without having to one-up with her pain even when she totally could, sometimes without saying anything. She wrote me a reply to one of my blogs from this week that brought me to tears understand what she is experiencing. All I have to say is I know! I don't know what it is like to be pregnant, but I do know what it is like to have a tough army guy missing precious moments and hoping he gets to be here for the biggest ones. Tomorrow, if she doesn't mind, I will share her blog about her fears and hopes for her and her JJellybean.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 159: Last day

Today has been a strange day subconsciously. The boys have been here all week and it has been good. But it is hard for them. They don't live here most of the time and coming to our house after long absences is like visiting a home instead of being home. It takes a few days for them to feel at home.

I wrote yesterday about how hard it is for my husband to process all the complex emotions of coming and going. I can't imagine how stressful it is for the boys. They live in one house most of the year and have to come into a new home with a parent and step-parent they rarely see. It must be hard for them to deal with the emotions of switching houses and families plus dealing with Daddy coming and going from war.

Today I don't think they woke up truly here. Something I've noticed after being a step-parent twice is that the last day of any visit the kids act up, push buttons and get on nerves. Maybe because it is easier to leave that way? Maybe because their emotions are kind of on edge too. They feel it, the looming good-bye, the knowledge that Daddy is gone for months again.

I know for me today was hard. I felt so much pressure to make today fantastic for the guys. We had so much to get done today, but I wanted tonight to be a special family fun time, but life just took over. Chad had chores he was working on and the baby takes so much of my focus. Between laundry and dinner, it was just not the perfect family day I had hoped for. Maybe the pressure of it being the last night the boys will see their father made it seem less than perfect.

We grilled hamburgers. Trenton helped make dinner while Nathan watched the baby and I folded clothes. Then we made sugar cookies and started playing our new Kinect game we bought this afternoon. After playing for awhile, we had pecan caramel brownie sundaes with Oreo cookie ice cream, whipped cream, drizzled in caramel and chocolate.

Now I think the sugar high has kicked in and we're still up at 11:30 playing Kinect sports. Nathan is starting to act a little manic and Trenton vacillates between being an active participant and napping. I know we will have to send them to bed soon, but no one wants to night to end. Tomorrow's good-bye comes too soon for all of us. 

Day 160: Down time

After all the SO busy days. Today was a much needed break from being constantly busy for my dear husband. While he has so many things he wants to do, he needs days to relax too. He is so busy every single day over there that he comes home like he is amped up on adrenaline. It takes him a couple of weeks to be able to sit down, sleep through the night and/or take a nap.

I think about how hard it is for me to change my daily routine or habits. I can't imagine having to drop everything you've become accustomed to and jump into a completely different routine. He finds it very challenging to do so. On our way home for his father's funeral, we had to take a different (longer) route because the traffic on I-35 was too much for him. After being on constant alert for the past 6 months, he couldn't process all the cars on the road, their movements and threat assessment. While his conscious mind knew he didn't have to do all that, his subconscious mind couldn't stop racing. We took the longer route so we'd be on smaller highways and experience less traffic.

By the time he went to get the boys for our week with them, he'd been able to re-acclimate to some extent, but every day is a set of new challenges. He doesn't know how to fall asleep in our time zone for a few days, then it takes him a week or so to be able to sleep for more than four hours at a stretch. And when he gets up, he wants to go, go, go, do, do, do. By the time he is ready to calm down and relax, it is just a few days away from leaving.

Seems so unfair that he only gets two weeks to process so many complicated emotions and deal with intricate relationships. I wish the people in charge were more understanding of the issues in returning from war, being able to be here and connect emotionally with spouses and children. Fifteen days is just enough time to START relaxing and coming down off the adrenaline high of combat. Basically R&R is like a big tease. Here, come home, relax and then as soon as you do, are able to, we're gonna ship you back to war. Chad has even had some extra time due to his emergency leave and it wasn't enough.

I know we should be grateful for all we get. In World War II and Vietnam, they barely got letters and didn't get leave to return home for any time. But having it better than they used to doesn't mean it is good, just not as crappy as before. In World War II and Vietnam, most troops did one tour of duty. They weren't sent over and over and over and over. Believe me, it makes a difference.

We had some downtime today. We played a lot of xbox kinect games and stayed up way too late. The boys had light up wands they battered each other with all over the yard. Then daddy and I took over the xbox and played until we pulled every muscle in our legs, shoulders and backs. Then we stayed up later talking, connecting, making sandwiches.

Every little bit helps, but it would be nice to have more than a little bit. I am so looking forward to a day when I forget what it feels like to always have goodbye hanging over my head. Even when it is months away, it starts a countdown clock that never fades from my mind. I guess Chad isn't the only one in need of some serious down time. Crossing fingers that we get it. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 161: His and hers

Today was our his/hers day. The baby went to daycare. He took the boys and went hunting. I went to the spa. He bought me a gift certificate for Valentine's Day thinking that he would be home so I could feel like I could use it and not have to find someone to watch the baby.

But in the end, taking a day for myself took time away from us and his hunting plans will take at least a day away from us, so we decided to do both things on the same day to decrease the time away from each other. I planned last week for my relaxation day. I had a deep therapeutic massage, facial and much needed hair cut. I got a short "mom" bob not too long after she was born thinking it would be so much easier, but it was actually harder. I had to do my hair everyday instead of being able to pull it back in a clip or up in a ponytail or even just brush it and slide in a headband. So I've let it grow out for almost a year. It was time for a trim and some layering.

Chad got the boys up and ready to leave this morning. He even got Lil Bit dressed and fed, letting me sleep in. We had a rough night last night. She was up at least four or five times. I got up with her three and I think Chad got up with her at least once, but I can't be sure he didn't get up twice. Either way I was really tired and he let me get an extra hour of sleep. I still was tired enough to doze off during my treatments. One of the times I dozed, I was thinking about going to school the day Chad returns to Iraq. I felt myself starting to cry and kind of jolted myself out of sleep.

I thought how awful it is that many of the things we argue about or struggle with are really a part of the things the army brings into our lives. We parcel out our precious days, trying to fit in everyone and everything, trying to get enough of daddy in our lives to sustain us for the next five months. It really made me angry. Last night his youngest son was all over him, he was close enough to be glue. He spent the entire day stuck to his dad. They went grocery shopping together, cooked together, cleaned up together and then we sat down to watch TV. I wanted to hold my husband's hand, snuggle and he was right there, literally smashed into the corner just to be next to his dad. It is so sad to seem him so lonely for his dad. On the other hand, daddy and I need time together too. It just isn't enough time for everyone to get what they need.

The first week of his emergency leave was all travel, hectic, emotional, family, awful and gave us no time to connect. The amount of time it takes for him to wind down enough to talk to me, get close to me is so long that we were in the same house, but might as well have been across the world from each other in many ways. Then we came home and I had to go to work everyday. He took a couple of days to help with his dad's things, but we had a couple of evenings, yet it took us most of the week to get to an emotional place we could even really talk. I had tons of work to do and he had agendas as well. Now the boys are here and they need to spend time with daddy, hugs and tickles and GUY stuff too. But it leaves me left out.

There are only so many days left before he is gone again and we never know when or even if he might make it home. I can't let him go feeling like we have so many pieces of ourselves to put back together. It was nice to take a day to take care of myself. I am glad he is getting to do something so important to him, but I really wish we didn't have to count the seconds all the time, parceling out moments like jewels. I just wish we could spend enough time together to have the chance to get sick of each other, to feel like we had enough time to love each other.

Most couples will never know what it feels like to live and love with a swinging clock overhead. Unless you're in it, it is hard to understand the little parts of reintegrating into the family and relationship that make it hard to do in two week periods. It feels like cramming a marathon into a 100 yard dash. It can't be done and everyone ends up feeling mildly disappointed.

I knew I was financially "rich" the day I walked into Walmart without carrying my calculator (I have low expectations). I will feel emotionally rich when I don't have to think about how many days he has left, when I don't ask myself every weekend if this is his "last" chance to do . . .x, y, z before leaving AGAIN. I can't wait for the day when my husband and I have so much time together we won't have to balance his/hers days or count the days or cry with lonliness anymore. I am already feeling sick to my stomach about his leaving next week. It is a really hard life. Most people can't do it. Most marriages don't survive it. After so many deployments, trainings, schools, etc. I am starting to understand why.

We suck it up, we carefully wall ourselves off, even from each other in order to survive, but it gets so tiring so always play this his/hers game when we got married so we could be an US.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 162: Pieces

Dear Army, can you please mail me the pieces of my husband that he has left in Iraq. No, all the physical parts have returned, but pieces of his heart and soul seem to be damaged or missing. After four deployments, I think the stress of constant battle, violence and being ripped away from his family repeatedly has finally started taking its toll.

This deployment has been hard on both of us. We have been trying to take some time to have some serious talks, but it is hard to break through the walls we put up around our emotions knowing we have to say good-bye so soon. We both feel a little numb. I know for me it is so hard to be alone over and over again so I have closed off a little bit because it breaks my heart so many times to let him go. For him, he goes through that and the horrors of combat and responsibility for his soldiers. Four years of that stress is a lot to hold onto or hide from.

The other night I finally got him talking. He rarely tells me stories about his deployments. Once he told me it was because he didn't want me to have to live with the horrible images he has had to. I think it is because the moments were so awful that telling me is tantamount to reliving them. I finally just hugged him and let him talk.

For personal and OPSEC reasons, I won't share here what he talked about, but I was shocked about the level of gruesomeness he has been exposed to and he only told me about his first day in country this year. It sounded like a horror movie to me. Unfortunately, my brain immediately pictured the scenes he described. In my arms, I listened to him talk and felt the years of being a guarded man, unwilling to submit to his own emotions, slip away. For a few minutes, I could hear the little boy in his voice and felt devastated that he has had to experience such moments of helplessness, witness such graphic events that we would rate his life NC-17 for fictional violence. What is a person supposed to do when confronted with REAL things no one should see?

He has been so strong so through so much and continues to be strong, but he can only hold onto so much before it changes him. He is afraid to feel anything good for fear of having to feel the bad. He does great with the kids because it is easy to laugh and play, but connecting with me, allowing himself to go into the deep places where our connection is, where our love lives, means opening the floodgates to all of his emotions.

He so meant to be a soldier. He was born to wear a uniform. He is so good at it, but he still has to deal with his emotions from time to time. He is great at bottling them up, but the bottle can only hold so much before it starts to leak. He has to be able to let go of some of these memories and feelings. All I know how to do is listen. For him, for me, for us, for our family I hope listening is enough. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 163: Family date

Friday night was our couple date night, but today was our family date. We took the kids to a family fun park called Austin's Park about an hour south of us. They have video games, air hockey, pool, go karts, bumper boats, a rock wall, laser tag, tea cups, toddler train, batting cages, putt putt golf, swing set, and a pizza buffet.

It is kiddie heaven. The boys love it. We try to take them a few times a year. Today was one of the few days we got a chance to take them. It was a long day. My everything hurts. The baby had some fun too. She swung on the baby swing for the first time. She LOVED it. She went down the slide a few times, with me taking her to the top and daddy holding her the whole way down. Lil Bit even road the Rio Grande Ole Time train twice. I couldn't tell what she thought of it.  She was paying attention to everything and everyone so her senses were overloaded, but she seemed to like it.

The boys ran themselves ragged. They played every game twice at least. They got hot and sweaty playing laser tag. They ate their weight in pizza, pudding and Mug root beer. They shot and killed zombies, aliens and "bad' guys.

It was a little harder with the baby for daddy and I to run and play, so we took turns running around with the boys. She did get to sample pudding and real macaroni and cheese. Since she was the only one who napped and spent most of the day in her stroller, she is the only one still going. She is crawling all over the living room and laughing like crazy. We're all about to drop, but need some time to unwind.

Daddy and I did stop at a gourmet food/wine warehouse on the way home. We are enjoying a few after dinner chocolates with a few well deserved glasses of wine. The boys enjoyed a nice bottle of gourmet root beer and the baby ate an arrowroot cookie, smearing most of it on her head and pants. A great family date, which apparently is dissolving into a tickling fight. Lil Bit thinks watching Nathan get tickled to the point of shrieking is hilarious. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 164: Easy like Sunday morning

Many families woke up this morning to pajama clad children rubbing the sleep from their eyes as mommies and daddies, took turns scooping up babies and starting breakfast. They brewed coffee and passed the syrup, poured orange juice and cajoled oatmeal into tiny people. They refereed bickering over the last chocolate chip pancake and washed dishes.

For most families, this type of Sunday morning is just the usual or a little more hurried if they're heading to church. For our family, it was a rare occasion. We all woke pretty much together and made pancakes and eggs. We drank coffee and sat at the table like a real family.

Later today, we ate dinner at the table too. We talked and laughed. Then daddy gave the baby a bath. We all took turns with hot baths while daddy created his dessert. We had spiced poached pears with cinnamon sugar almond coated ice cream and watched a family movie.

The movie is almost over now and it occurred to me that today was a pretty special day for us. While most people can have this kind of Sunday every week, we probably get one of these a few times a year during deployments, maybe two. During the summers Chad is home, which is the most we ever get the boys, we might have 7 of these kind of Sundays at the most.

It is hard not to take the people we love for granted, but when you can actually count the days, it sometimes makes it easier, easy like Sunday mornings together, to remember how special they really are. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 165: Date Night

So for our date night, we drove to Austin and went to see "The Adjustment Bureau" at an Alamo Drafthouse. If you don't have one of these in your area, it is a movie theater that serves a full pub/restaurant menu with beverages, desserts, etc. It is worth the hour drive to do once in awhile.

It is only the second time I have left the baby with anyone other than family since Chad's deployment started, and I think only the third time ever!! I picked one of my sweetest, most respectful students who lives just a few minutes away as a sitter. It was hard coming home from work and leaving almost instantly after not seeing her all day. But I sucked it up and we left for the movie after giving the babysitter the quick run through of the house, etc.

We went to see the new Matt Damon film, "The Adjustment Bureau". The trailers made it look like an action packed thriller. Based on the trailers, we were a little disappointed with the movie, but we shared a pitcher of our favorite beer, appetizers, and individual pizzas.

The movie story line had so much potential. The idea of a group of people that play with our lives, create our paths and have to play with the ripples changes create. I was hoping for something a little more on the line of "The Butterfly Effect" with more action. What we got was more of a romance based on a thinly veiled religious themed movie. Basically, the "Chairman" had a plan for David Norris' life that involved him becoming President of the U.S. and if he fell in love with Elise, he wouldn't take that path.

I would have preferred if the story had told more about the importance of his becoming president and the doom for our country if he didn't. The story hinted at opposing pathways for Elise as well, but left much of it pretty vague. There is a good vague which leaves things open to the audience's imagination, which is often able to go darker and creepier than when the story is completely revealed. A good vague hint at something scary or eerie is like a good evening gown, it shows enough to capture your interest, but leaves enough to the imagination to allow you to take it as far as your mind can. The best part of the movie was when David Norris decides to run his own life using the Bureau's techniques. But it could have been more detailed, longer and more adrenaline packed. The end of the movie left the entire story open. It didn't even hint at what might happen. I felt a little let down to have invested so much time in this story and walk out not feeling any closure for the characters.

I did like some of the questions the movie posed, is there some bigger plan for our lives? and is there one love that fills the broken places within us so well we are content to just live in their love?

At one moment when the bureau was playing with little details of the characters' lives, I leaned over and whispered to Chad, "someone pushed my mom down the stairs so we would meet." She had planned to visit the weekend I met him, but fell down the stairs and shattered her ankle, keeping her from traveling for six weeks. Obviously, I wish she hadn't hurt herself, but she is fine now, no residual pain or even stiffness, but I am so glad Chad and I met.

The other thing was that idea one person could love another and be the person who fills the empty places in the other's soul. We both felt that idea was very true. We aren't a perfect couple, but the way we love each other is so crazy amazing. He just makes me feel whole, ok, right. Even when he is being a schmuck or I am being cranky, we get each other and care for each other in a way that feels like puzzle pieces coming together. I did like the romance of the movie, the celestial Romeo & Juliet, two people fighting to be together when the universe is invested in keeping them apart.

After the movie, we strolled around the shopping center. We went into the Dollar Tree and bought some silly random stuff. Very first date-ish. Then we went to our favorite restaurant Silver and Stone for dessert and port. We sat and chatted and just took our time talking before heading home. It was a nice evening and much needed. I can tell how much good it did for us by how we've been texting silly things back and forth all day, by how he kissed me good-bye this morning before going to get his boys.

Maybe we need another date before he leaves?? Mmm, at least maybe we will at least take Lil Bit to daycare one day when it is just us the last bit before he leaves. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 166: 200th

Today is the 200th post for this blog. So tomorrow is the 200th day of the deployment. YAY!! While it is stranger to celebrate milestones when he is home, 200 days is a nice round one.

We have our date planned for tonight so this entry will be short and I will write about our date tomorrow. I literally have five minutes to change out of my spirit t-shirt and into something pretty before the sitter gets here.

Have a good Friday night, I plan to! ! ! 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 167: Professionalism

Yesterday, many teachers got emails from our district about attending a meeting. The meeting to which the email referred was about Reduction in Force layoffs. One of my close friends received such an email. As she was preparing to leave to attend the meeting, she was accosted by a furious parent.

This parent was upset that her daughter was failing and would not be eligible for cheerleading tryouts next week. The parent's frustration had become explosive fury. She screamed and berated the teacher in the hallway. I assumed it was a teacher dealing with an inappropriate student and didn't get involved. It wasn't until today I realized what had been happening.

What makes this situation so frustrating is that this furious, out of control, violently abusive parent is a teacher in this building. My friend Sally (*not her name) has been telling Cathy* that her daughter isn't doing her homework with each assignment she failed to complete or turn in. Sally and Cathy meet daily to work on curriculum, and Cathy has been well aware of the situation all year. Her viewpoint has been to teach her daughter a lesson about taking responsibility for her own choices and to let her fail if she is refusing to give any effort. Somehow that all changed yesterday when her daughter would not be allowed to even tryout for the cheerleading squad next year due to the failing grades.

Not only was Cathy upset, but she was cruel and ridiculous. She accused Sally of purposely failing her daughter, of not giving her the opportunity to make-up work, of not doing her job. Sally said that the work the student does is ok, but she literally only does about 50% of the work. Her grade is subsequently around a 50%.

What saddens me to no small measure is that Sally is an amazing teacher, a solid Christian and a wonderful woman/friend, but was told yesterday that her contract would not be renewed for next year due to budget cuts. The vindictive, cruel, unprofessional, small-minded teacher will be back in the fall. What is wrong with this picture?

Education is tough enough when people on the outside criticize something they don't understand. Education is tough enough with the federal, state and local and building mandates teachers try to balance, serving too many masters poorly instead of one well. Education is tough enough with students who have a variety issues outside of the educational environment that impede learning. When people who understand how tough it is, understand how thankless a job it is, understand failing students have often put themselves there - when that person rains down fury (undeservingly) on another teacher, it is unforgivable. But it is also unprofessional and immature.

She should have maintained her composure, kept her voice calm and words civil if not polite. She verbally abused a member of our faculty. If this had been "just" a parent, the administration would have taken significant action against that parent, removing them from the situation and possibly from campus at minimum for the moment, if not for good. Just breaks my heart and infuriates me that "Sally" was so horribly treated by someone who should have been on her side and probably would have been if the student hadn't been her daughter.

What I want to know is what message and lesson her daughter got out of that? I am glad Sally isn't going to acquiesce to Cathy's demands to "give" her daughter a passing grade, but wish that the lesson Cathy had been trying to teach her daughter all year, had finally been the rooster coming home to roost. She is a smart girl choosing not to do her work, being allowed to reap those consequences in high school might teach her the lesson she needs to understand how life really works most of the time.

In any case, no one should be treated that way no matter what the disagreement is. Especially as teachers, we should endeavor to be examples to our students and parents of professionalism even in the face of overwhelming difficulties. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 168: Waiting for Superman

Today my students began watching the propaganda documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'". If you haven't seen it, the primary focus is on the broken public education system in America. When the highest percentage of reading proficiency in the country is 36% of students in ONE state are proficient in reading by the 8th grade, the system IS broken.

The documentarian is coming down hard on it being the fault of poor teachers. It is making me feel very pressured to be a better teacher, make sure I am addressing a minimum of 100% of the recommended curriculum. Apparently, one poor teacher can pull a student down an entire grade level in that subject. A poor elementary school teacher can hold a student back a grade level in every subject, which is a deficit from which few recover. If a child gets unlucky enough to have two poor teachers, his/her future can be permanently affected. We all know that one bad teacher affects an entire year of learning, which then affects the next year and the subsequently the next, but how many of us realize that this is leading 44-88% of high school students to enter 1-3 or more grade levels behind in reading and math.

Even though I understand the situation is much more complex than the film truly depicts, with a plethora of so many variables that even the best intentioned cannot find a workable solution, I have to be honest and admit that when my daughter is school age, I will be considering private school if it is a financial option for us.

In a perfect world, every student would have equal opportunity to learn according to his/her ability, but since teachers are people and people are imperfect, that does not seem to be realistic view. Some teachers work better with the upper echelon of students, some with the lower and some with the middle group. Some teachers are more patient and others more strict. What works in one room with one group of students might not work with a similar group down the hall. The system cannot be perfect with so many people being involved in it from students, parents, teachers, administrators, to local, state and federal politicians. However, I think the system could be better.

Is money the answer? In some ways, yes it is. Give me fewer students and more time to prepare and critique and grade. But giving each teacher fewer students and more time, costs money. Pay teachers what they are really worth. While higher pay will attract more people in general to the profession, more skilled and quality people who would love to teach might be willing to enter the profession if they could feasibly support a family on the income. Give teachers and schools the tools to make learning accessible and fun.

The next issue regarding teachers that the video addresses is TENURE. Tenure keeps many ignorant, lazy and generally ineffective teachers employed as do many teaching contracts in non-union states. However, no protections for teachers would lead to a lot of great teachers being lost to the profession as well. Teachers are in such a difficult position that they need some job security. It should be hard to get fired because parents and students can misinterpret or misrepresent situations. Assessing teacher success is also hard because the measurement of success is not an objective measure. How well students do on a test only would work if we could guarantee each student made an effort on the test and would not purposely fail to place a teacher's job in jeopardy. Passing versus failing percentages of students wouldn't work because everyone could just arbitrarily decide to pass students in order to be seen as more successful. In my school, teachers give students passing grades if they get close. I choose not to do so without extenuating circumstances. A student who earns a 69, just under the 70% passing rate, but did not attend tutoring or do all of his/her assignments, who made little effort to do even the minimum doesn't get a passing grade. At the same time a student with a 67-68 who came in for extra help, did every homework assignment, did extra credit work when offered, behaved and was on task in class daily might earn the passing grade. Grades are so subjective that looking at them from outside isn't really a fair assessment of a teacher's skill or necessarily of a student's learning.

The system is so huge and so convoluted that even brilliant, motivated, wonderful people haven't been able to fix it in its current manifestation. Don't even get me started on NCLB . . . NCLB Flaws is an article I found that addresses some of my concerns over the current educational system. A discussion for another day, perhaps.

We can't fix a broken system without being willing to shake things up, being willing to stop doing things the way they've always been done and start from the bottom correcting and changing things. I have answers, but no power and many better informed, educated and skilled than I have found themselves in the same place. All ideas and answers with no tools or ability or allowances to implement them. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to fixing it, isn't that we are waiting for Superman to come save us, but we should be waiting for the trash man to scrap the whole thing and start over.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 169: Alone again

My husband's time home has been and will be pretty busy. Today he drove down to his dad's house to help his sister with sorting through things, organizing the shed, emptying out the house.

My father-in-law had become a pack rat in recent years, perhaps reverting to his youth of poverty where one did not discard anything that might be of use someday. Megan has made significant inroads into discarding junk and selling items of no use to her, but apparently he has a shed full of stuff that is just too much for her to go through alone.

Chad decided to take 24-36 hours to go down to south Texas and help. I know he needs to do it, and it really is the least he can do after she worked so hard emotionally and physically to care for Dad the past year or so, but it is still hard to say good-bye even for a night. When our days are so limited and we've had so little time to just BE together, it was emotional to go to work yesterday and even harder to kiss him good-bye this morning. He did get the baby up this morning and got to see how excited and happy she is first thing in the morning. I've been trying to capture it on video for months, but now he got to see it. I could tell how happy it made him that she squealed and giggled when he came in her room to get her. How can sweet baby giggles be anything but awesome!

I am trying to look at the positives. I can watch all my girlie shows while he is gone tonight and eat healthier than we have been. I can hog the bed all night. He will be back tomorrow, hopefully by the time I get home from school. It is just hard to not have the emotions about missing ANY of his precious hours home, especially when we still don't know if they are going to extend his leave and let him take R&R back to back.

It was hard even leaving school tonight, not having him to rush home for. Wow, all it took was a few days of totally getting spoiled having him home. The baby has been asserting her authority by way of temper tantrum. During an extremely frustrating moment of trying to wash dishes and entertain a baby who was completely finished being entertained by either me or her exersaucer, it occurred to me that I am going to have five months alone again after he leaves. While that is less than I have already done, it feels like forever.

This morning, I was running behind so he dressed the baby. Of course, then the sink was full of dirty dishes piled precariously and the garage was cluttered after his thwarted attempt to clean it which impeded my progress out the door, kinda bringing me back to even, but I got to kiss him good-bye. I got to see him laugh at the sweet baby antics. All day I could text him whenever I wanted and talked to him twice.

This night alone hasn't been tragic, but it wasn't easy. I will be glad when he gets home tomorrow and am still crossing my fingers that they will allow him to tie his R&R to his emergency leave because if they don't, he is back on a plane Friday leaving me and the kids to spend Spring Break without him and frankly, I've had enough time without him. A few more weeks before I am alone again are definitely what the doctor ordered.

I can't wait for our date night. Mmm, all the possibilities of what to do and where to go. Now if I can just keep from freaking out about leaving the baby with a sitter. . .  one hurdle a day. I wouldn't want to be too ambitious now. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 170: Connection

Many people will not understand this entry at all or will think I have a terrible marriage, but if you are a military wife, you will get it.

Before Chad left for Iraq, we were just adjusting to being full time parents together for the first time. While we've had the boys for extended periods of 2 months, they are at a totally different stage and can occupy themselves, dress themselves and feed themselves. Parenting them takes time and energy, but still allowed us to watch a grown-up movie from time to time or sit and talk. Parenting an infant is just a totally different level of constant busyness. Because this summer was all about the baby, we really didn't have much time to connect and get really close emotionally before he left like we have taken the time to do before.

Then this deployment for me has been all about survival, taking care of the baby, my job and if there is time, myself. His situation has been pretty difficult too. He can't talk about a lot of what he does day to day and his off time is very limited. What down or off time he has, he works out in the gym, which is not a terribly exciting conversation topic. So when we get a chance to talk or email, our conversations have been very simple, repetitive and filled with the important "I love you's" but not with deep topics that would normally arise during dinner or watching the news.

And when he got home a week ago, we hit the ground running. We took a very small sliver of time for ourselves, but really he was so drained emotionally and physically from his dad's death and all the travel, he didn't know which way was up. He couldn't process what he was feeling and needed me just to be a waiting shoulder, not pushing him to talk or open up.

The problem is after years of being gone several months a year and completely absent every other year, we have both grown and changed. We still love each other, but need some time to just talk and be silly and get a handle on who we are again as a couple. Last night we took some much needed time for us, but stayed up so late that tonight we took turns falling asleep on the couch.

Then the baby, still adjusting to being home and not quite having the lavish attention of Grandma and Grandpa B., threw a hissy fit at bedtime. I have NEVER seen her in such rare form. She literally screamed herself hoarse, was jumping up and down and eventually pulled an exorcist baby move at the end, which led to Chad pulling everything off the bed, bedskirt, sheet, bumper pads, diaper rags, pjs,  and scrubbing the carpet while I changed and consoled her.

Trying to not be heartless but also not completely give into her, I held her until her bed was ready and then put her in it and sat nearby. Who knows what got into her? It was not how I wanted to end my evening and certainly not the romantic evening I was hoping for. I am going to sign off now so I can at least crawl into bed next to my husband before he is gone tomorrow and hope that Lil Bit is asleep enough I can leave her room. Man, I have forgotten how much fun she was after Christmas break and a Monday to boot. Not enough time for US again. I am really crossing my fingers that I have a sitter for Friday night. I need a date with my husband BADLY. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 171: Time for us

Sorry no real post for yesterday. We spent the entire week socializing with family and friends, playing with the baby, seeing the boys and driving. It was very busy and left no time for my husband and I to have any time together. While you do what you have to do, we needed some time together and last night we took it. 

The baby crashed early after a few crap naps during the day. She was so tired she pooped out by 8:30. We poured a glass of wine and spent the next four hours talking, laughing, bickering, kissing, etc. We needed time to just talk and get connected again. 

We will probably have a few more evenings like that if we can squeeze them in. Hard to be around each other and feel like we're just sharing space because life was too hectic to communicate. 

So sorry for the lack of blog, I needed to focus on my husband last night.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 172: Eulogy

Since I am driving home tonight and won't get a chance to write tonight's entry. I thought I would just share my father-in-law's eulogy.

Emmanuel “Mort” DeFrates

Mort was a fighter, not much in his life came easy for him, but he never let things get in his way. From a childhood in difficult times, to surviving a devastating fall and living with kidney failure for the past several years, Mort was the kind of man who overcame obstacles and taught his children and students the same.

Emmanuel was born in Chicago to a father who was a commercial fisherman and hunting guide on September 20, 1946.  His family moved to Dallas City when he was an infant.  That must have been where he developed his love for the environment, hunting and fishing.  His family struggled in difficult economic times with eight children.  His father taught him to hunt and fish and to survive using these skills. He passed this knowledge and love of nature to his children and grandsons.  During childhood, he earned the nickname “Mort” from a puppet on tv, and it stuck. Most people don’t know him by anything else.

Being a star basketball player in high school helped keep him stateside during the Vietnam War. Mort had joined the Marine Corps with his brother, Richard “Dickie”. They went through basic training together. Mort eventually served his country for four years. His patriotism was something he passed down to his son who has served in the military for 13 years and credits his dad with teaching him the honor of military service and a commitment to his country.

Mort was recruited to play basketball on a travelling Marine Corps team, which kept alive his love of the sport. After taking advantage of a military program giving early release for soldiers to attend college, he attended Western Illinois University majoring in education. He had a love for education and especially for sports.  He felt that sports was one way of getting kids to school, keeping them in school and teaching life skills.  He LOVED to coach, feeling his experiences throughout his childhood and Marine Corps gave him a lot to share. He began teaching in Taylorville in 1972 and touched the lives of numerous students.

Trying to provide the best he could for his family, he briefly left education to sell insurance in 1978.  He won an award as the top salesman with over 1 million dollars in sales during a quarter during his four years in insurance. His love for teaching and working with young people led him to return to teaching in l982 until his retirement in 2002. 

Outside of school, Mort never was far from nature. He grew amazing gardens. Some of his children’s fondest memories from childhood were eating fresh tomatoes and corn from their dad’s garden. His love for growing fresh vegetables and fruits led him to another lifelong hobby, cooking. He loved playing around in the kitchen with herbs and spices and recipes, eventually creating and perfecting chili and salsa recipes, winning many cooking competitions over the years.

In 2004, he decided to move closer to his brother Orland and his family. He enjoyed spending more time with Orland, Alma, and their family. A few years ago, his daughter Megan moved in with him and despite the various struggles, It was so important for her to be there for and get to be close to him.

He will be missed by many; his daughter Megan, son Chad, daughter-in-law Jennifer and his grandsons, Trenton and Nathan will miss him the most. He was a great dad and wonderful grandpa. Trenton and Nathan loved going fishing with Papa Mort. They will always remember Papa teaching them to catch and cook their fish, just the way he once taught their father. His granddaughter Allyson will miss getting to know her grandpa, but he will be kept alive in all the stories of the people who loved him.

He is preceded in death by his parents, brother Richard (Dickie) and brother Carl.  His surviving siblings are Orland, Cheri, Chuck, Debbie, and Sandy.  He is further survived by daughter Megan, son Chad and grandchildren, Trenton, Nathan and Allyson.