Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oh, What a Difference a Year Makes!

As we prepare to begin 2011, I am thinking about all the amazing changes that have happened this year. God is, indeed, very, very good!

Last year, we rang in the New Year with our family all in different locations: daughter and I in Kansas, sons in Texas, and my husabnd in Iraq. We still made the best of it. And although my husband and I were apart, we made sure to have our New Year’s kiss, via Skype. In fact we had two--one for each time zone.

This year, we are all together, and will ring in the New Year as a family, as it should be. And I'm definitely looking forward to an in-person kiss at midnight!

Last year, the snow outside our home in the Midwest was knee deep, with temperatures below zero.

This year, we’re enjoying a mild 55 degrees with plenty of sun at our new home.

Last year, I was working way too many hours and always took work home, both literally and emotionally. I loved my career and the wonderful people I worked with, but I really needed a break.

This year, our recent PCS has left me in career limbo. And although I'm nervous about this transition, I’ve enjoyed being able to be home this Christmas to focus on my family. Plus, the prospect of a career change in 2011 is very exciting!

Last year, our babies were in pre-school, first grade, and fifth grade.

This year, they’re in kindergarten, second grade, and . . . middle school! Oh my!

Last year, and for the past five years since my husband and I met, at least part of the year has been spent in a deployment or a school somewhere far away (training in 2006, Iraq in 2007-08, Iraq again in 2009-10).

We are hopeful that 2011 will be the first full calendar year that we finally spend together!

Last year, I had a laundry list of resolutions--everything from daily gym visits to contacting long lost friends. Many of them, I actually accomplished. Others, not so much.

This year, my only goal is to be a better person--spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Most of all, I just want to cherish every crazy, hectic, ever-changing moment.

How did your life change in 2010? And what are you looking forward to in the new year?

Here's looking forward to a wonderful 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas

In the corner of our living room sits a Christmas tree. It is decorated with garland, handmade ornaments, and rainbow candy canes, which the kids are already planning to devour. Around the tree are colorfully wrapped gifts, each with a label indicating to whom it belongs. We try to keep Christmas simple for our children, avoiding all of the excess that can easily take over the holiday. But, even with gifts given in moderation, our family has much more than many could ever dream of. Many families will have no tree to decorate, no gifts to wrap, no holiday meals to gather around. And because of this, and because of the blessings we have been given, our children will learn that Christmas is about much, much more than receiving gifts.

Although we will be celebrating many of the typical Christmas traditions—sending kids to bed early so that Santa can come, waking up at the break of dawn to excited squeals, and filling our tummies with holiday sweets—our most important tradition is happening today, three days before Christmas. Today, we are taking our children to the store to buy toys--toys that they love, toys that they will not get to keep. And then we will take those toys to our local domestic violence shelter, where mothers have fled with their children in an attempt to keep them safe, often only with the clothes they were wearing.

Our children may not yet completely understand the sacrifices that these families have made, but my hope is that some day they will. And for now, we are determined to make sure that they at least understand the importance of giving. On Christmas morning, after they have opened their gifts, we will thank God for all of our blessings. I will especially thank God for sending us His son, so that our children could live in peace and grace. I will thank Him for safety and health. And I will thank Him for the ability to give. Because that, to me, is the true meaning of Christmas.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?" And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25:35-40)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bridging the Divide

Some of you who are reading this are military spouses, others are not. Sometimes it can be hard to relate to, or know the right things to say to, someone whose experience seems so very different from your own. But, the truth is that all of us--all wives, mothers, women--are living this experience together. We all have similar struggles. And, if we try, we truly can help one another through this journey. So, to that end, here are a few ideas.

For my civilian readers, here are the best things you can do to support your military friends:

1. Just be there to listen. Especially if your friend's spouse is deployed, listening is more important than ever. Saying how quickly the time will go by or that everything will be fine if she just stays strong and/or busy is not helpful. Let her vent, scream, cry, or whatever else she needs. And, if you're lucky, she'll do the same for you when you need it.

2. Offer to help. Last Christmas, while my husband was in Iraq, our home in Kansas was being pummeled with snow. It seemed as if I spent every free moment outside shoveling ... and shoveling ... and shoveling. Christmas morning, I peered out the window, dreading the white mess that surely had accumulated while we slept. But, I was thrilled to see that the driveway was completely cleared. Two of our neighbors had gotten up early and come over to shovel the driveway. When I tried to thank them, they said it was the least they could do for our (yes, our) sacrifice. It was truly one of the nicest things anyone could have done. And I was, and still am, incredibly grateful. It's not really the amount of work that matters, either; what matters is that you actually want to help.

3. Don’t compare a deployment to, well, anything. Once, an acquaintance told me that she understood what I was going through because her husband went away on weekend business trips a lot. I told her I was sorry that she had to go through that. But, I was thinking, “unless he is dodging IEDs in his hotel room, it’s really not the same thing.” Having your spouse thousands of miles, and several time zones away, in a war zone, in danger, is like nothing else. Sometimes people just want to be able to relate. And sometimes people really do understand parts of what we’re experiencing. But, generally, don’t compare deployments to any other experience in the world, because simply, they’re not.

4. Thank her for her service. No, not her spouse (although that is certainly appreciated as well). But, military wives deserve a thank you as well. Yes, soldiers are the ones risking their lives every day. But, spouses are still sacrificing, more than you may ever know.

Now, in case you military readers thought you were off the hook, think again. Here are a few tips for you as well:

1. Go easy on your civilian friends. They don’t understand what you’re going through because they can’t. Just like you can’t understand every aspect of their lives or experiences. But, if they’re truly friends, they love you, and they’re trying. Give them credit for that.

2. Don’t make your spouse the topic of every conversation.This one, I will admit, is hard to do. If your spouse is deployment, he is on your mind all the time. Deployments can turn otherwise independent women into mushy, romantic basket cases. But, it’s important to maintain your own interests, your own hobbies, your own friends, your own life. And your friends need to hear about more than just web cam dates and bomb scares. Your spouse is already away, your friends don’t want to lose you, too.

3. Don't assume that you have it worse than your civilian friends. Yes, the life of a military spouse is rough, very rough. Especially during a deployment, you may lose all sympathy for anything someone else may be experiencing. But, try to remember that there is always someone who is going through a more difficult struggle. Try to remember that, although far away, your husband is safe, your family is safe, your family is (hopefully) healthy, you have income (albeit small) and benefits, and many other blessings that many people go without. So, be grateful. And do your part to help others, as well.

4. Take care of yourself. (Disclaimer: All of my friends who are reading this are laughing right now, because I certainly did not follow this advice). But, I know now how very important it is. You can't truly care for your spouse or your children unless you're caring for yourself. So, let the laundry go for a day (or two), turn off the phones, watch useless TV, or, my personal favorite, have PB&J (or better yet, ice cream) for dinner, at least once. You deserve it.

Finally, everyone, avoid the temptation to judge others' lives, experiences, or behaviors. You never know what the person may be going through. We are all sisters. We all need one another. So, rather than lashing out, reach out. Imagine the strength we, as women, would have if we all supported one another. What a wonderful bridge, a wonderful existence, that would be.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

There's No Place Like Home. Wherever That Is.

Nomad (ˈnəʊmæd) - noun: a person who continually moves from place to place; a wanderer.

Add in something about being extremely patient and the ability to pack and unpack an entire house in 24 hours, and this could be the definition of a military spouse.

Unlike many of you, I can’t really blame my nomadic existence on the military. I actually just experienced my first military move, since my husband was blessed with an extremely long stint at his last post (unfortunately, with two deployments mixed in). The fact is that I was a serial-mover long before I met my husband. I moved out of my grandmother’s house when I was 15 years old, and moved more than ten times over the next ten years. Most of these moves were within the same, or a nearby, city. But, this still did not allow for many roots to be established. Home was just an imaginary place that others spoke of warmly, but that did not exist for me.

When I moved to Kansas eight years ago for law school, I vowed to leave the day after graduation. It looked flat and cold and plain. Shortly after arriving, my car was stolen from the parking lot of my apartment complex. Along with it, the thieves got my daughter’s car seat (who steals a car seat?), and my wallet which was under the seat, complete with a passport, social security card, and money. (Yes, it was very stupid to leave all of this in my wallet, and even dumber to leave it in the car. Lesson learned.) Needless to say, Kansas and I did not hit it off right away.

But, then I met some of my dearest friends, the most amazing women I’ve ever known. Dallas, Dena, Kathy. These women became my family, my sisters, mothers to my daughter, my foundation, and my roots. The longer we stayed, the more phenomenal women I met. Stef, Anna, Jessica, Debby, Megan, Bekah, Angela, Melissa. Soon I was enveloped by a wonderful web of sisterhood, a web that I couldn’t imagine untangling. Kansas somehow, magically, had become my home. The first home I had ever known.

I couldn’t have fathomed how hard it would be to move away. Mixed with the excitement of moving closer to the ocean, the sense of relief that my husband would (hopefully) no longer be deploying, and the thrill of a new adventure, was an enormous amount of anxiety and sadness. Never had being a nomad been more painful.

I don’t regret the move. Here, my husband can be home with us, safe, and where he belongs. We will have new adventures and will get to experience them together. Still, there’s a hole in my heart, a place that can only be filled by the sisters whom I left behind. But, I'm comforted by the fact that no matter how far away we may be, those women are in my soul and will always be in my life. After all, they’re only a phone call, an email, or if all else fails, an extremely long car ride away. I'll keep my ruby red slippers polished. Because, now I finally understand that there, truly, is no place like home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marital, err, advice-ish

Before I get started, I should tell you up front that I have absolutely no business offering marital advice. I'm not a counselor, I'm not a social worker, and most of all ... I’m divorced.

I was married to my first husband for five years. And, after going through a pretty brutal divorce almost six years ago, I vowed that I would never, ever again enter into the institution of marriage (which, at the time, certainly felt institutional). I was convinced that nothing could make a marriage happy, besides perhaps insanity or very strong medications (or some combination thereof). In that relationship, I had the odd (and backwards) experience of feeling sheer terror (mixed with a bit of nausea) on my wedding day, and complete bliss on the day my divorce was--finally--final. And now, although happily married to the man of my dreams, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.

Oh, you’re still reading? I thought for sure I would have lost you after that introduction.

* By the way, when my current husband and I first got married, I often told friends that being married wasn’t so bad when your husband isn’t a jack*ss. And while I believe that would make an excellent bumper sticker, it probably isn’t the most resounding support for marital bliss. I’d like to think I’ve evolved since then.

So, here goes ... the key to a happy marriage is this: Decide to make it work.

What, you’re not impressed? I realize it sounds simplistic, and of course, marriage is far from simple. But, I truly believe that’s all it really boils down to.

A lot of the hard work should really happen before you ever say “I do.” Finding yourself, knowing who you are and what you do and don't want (dating works wonders for this, by the way) is crucial. And, of course, the work of choosing your life partner wisely is paramount. But, once you’ve found the person whom you trust and respect and actually like being around (very important), then it’s just a matter of believing that this is your one-and-only, the one you will be with forever, and then making it happen.

This means that when s/he does something that drives you crazy, you talk about it rather than storming off or threatening to leave. (Hint: Don’t threaten divorce unless you mean it. You can’t take those words back). If you feel as if you are being taken for granted, talk about it rather than sulking or seeking revenge. In every decision you make, your end goal should be to make your marriage, your friendship, your family, your bond stronger. This means looking past your own insecurities and ego and deciding that, as a team, you can and will make it work.

Of course, I'm not saying that leaving is never the right option. There are certainly marriages that should end (case in point: my first). But, if you are married to someone who respects, loves, and cherishes you, and you feel the same for him/her, then nothing short of the big deal-breakers--infidelity, physical or emotional abuse, addictions, or whatever your personal list includes--should be able to bring down your union.

I should reiterate that I don’t have this all figured out yet. (As if my introduction didn't make that perfectly clear). And I don’t think anyone completely does. But, after making peace with commitment and marriage, and nearly three years after saying “I do” to my partner and best friend, I can truly say that I’m glad that I did. And I know that whatever this day, this week, this year, this life has in store, my husband and I are in it together. And that, my friends, is something worth working for.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Should Clarify . . .

Yesterday, I posted a blog titled, “The Dreaded D-Word.” I realize that many of you reading this are military spouses, so I should probably clarify that I was not referring to the dreaded D-word: deployment. I could have summed that blog up much more succinctly: Deployments suck. A lot.

For any of you who are currently enduring, preparing to endure, or have just recovered from, a deployment—I’m sorry. We finished our most recent deployment 5 months ago. I would tell you the exact number of days, but thankfully, I finally stopped counting. (During the deployment, I could tell you exactly how many months, days, and hours he had been gone, at any time. I could also tell you the exact time in Iraq. But, I digress). This was my husband's fourth, and hopefully his last.

Six months ago, when we found out that we would be moving, we were all elated. Yes, we were excited to move to a warmer climate and finally throw out our way-too-well-used snow shovel. But, most of all, we were excited because we were moving to a non-deploying unit. Or, at least, so we thought. The prospect of having my husband home with us, where he belongs, possibly forever, was overwhelming, but wonderful.

And then came the scare ... on the first day that he reported to his new unit, someone mentioned that they had a slot open for his MOS (translation: specialty) in (drum roll please) ... South America. *record scratches*

What?! I wasn't sure if I had heard him correctly. "Now, don't panic," he said. {Yeah right}. "It's just a rumor, and probably completely untrue. Besides, I just got back, they can't send me anywhere." Now, I may not be a military expert, but if there's one thing I've learned it's this: There is absolutely nothing that the Army "can't" do. There are things they won't do, things they choose (thankfully) not to do. But, "can't" was a bit of a stretch. So although my dear, optimistic husband was trying to reassure me, my mind was already preparing for the worst.

My thought process went something like this ...

Did we seriously just move halfway across the country so that he could leave? Maybe we could go with him. Wait, why on earth do we have people in South America? I've heard there are beautiful areas. We may like it there. Oh, this would be a deployment, so we wouldn't be allowed to go. So, he'd be gone. Again. For how long? What are we going to do here, by ourselves? Maybe we could move back home. But, we just got here! Is it safe where he'd be going? Of course not, or we wouldn't be there. Ok, he can't go. That's it. No matter what, he can't go. But, when he does, I'll have to say goodbye again, and make sure the kids are ok.

Sounds a little schizophrenic, doesn't it? Well, that's what the other, the horrid, D-word does to you. I know that many of you are experiencing the same terror/panic/chaos right now. And again, I'm sorry. And I understand.

Thankfully, my husband was right, and it was just a rumor. He will be staying here, with us. At least, for now. But, as we all know, nothing is ever permanent in the military. So, there will probably always be that little voice in the back of my head, in the bottom of my heart, saying, "be ready, just in case."

But, for now, I'm going to enjoy the time we have together. Enjoy every hug, every kiss, every laugh. I'm going to try to convince myself that he is home for good, and that we can make plans for the future, like "normal" families. My wish is that someday soon we may all quiet those voices, once and for all, and only hear that dreaded word when recalling the times we have survived, and overcome--together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Dreaded D-Word

Sponsor’s Name. Dependent’s Name.
I stared at the words on the form and wondered what I had gotten myself into. “Dependent” was like a foul curse word to me. My independence was a crucial part of me, a part that had been built by struggle and sacrifice, and good ol’ fashioned wear and tear. I am a feminist, a title I bear proudly. I am a woman who worked my way through college and law school and the bar exam and was proud to have done it all without the help of a man. And now, here I sat, being reduced to a blank on a form next to the dreaded D-word.

My husband interrupted the condescending man with graying hair and suggested that he talk to me about our finances and other household questions, since I handled most of those matters. He also reminded the man that I, in fact, had my own career. But, the man either didn’t hear him, or chose not to. Either way, he continued to refer to my husband by his rank and me as “Mrs”. I wondered what the insignia would look like.

I also wondered if keeping my own name would have changed this conversation. Maybe I could have at least corrected him and said that, actually, my name was not Mrs, but actually Ms. . . . Thank you very much. But, I doubted that my last name would matter. His insistence on calling me “mrs” had less to do with my last name than it did with his belief that I was merely a shadow of my husband. I’m sure that even if my last name was Rosie the Riveter, he would have continued to call me “mrs” or “little lady” or something equally dehumanizing. And, besides, I love my last name. Now.

My husband expected me to keep my last name when we got married. He also offered to take my last name. He knew that I would struggle with changing my name. But, I decided that my independence was not tied to my name. And I wanted his name—our name. And now, almost three years after saying I do, my name has become just as much a part of me as he has—this strong, brave, yet sweet and vulnerable man who I was proud to call my best friend and partner.

As the gray-haired man continued talking to my husband about our upcoming move, err, PCS, I thought about all the new titles I had taken on in the past three years. Before we got married, I was Pam. I was a woman, an attorney, a friend, and a mother to my beautiful little girl. Now, I am still all of those things, plus some. I am still a mother, but now to two more precious children. I am a wife. A title I never planned to take on again, after the failure of my first marriage years ago. But, a title that I now appreciate and cherish.

And, I am not only a wife, but an Army Wife. Before becoming one of them, I used to think of Army Wives with a mixture of awe and pity. I wondered how they could deal with the multiple deployments and difficulty maintaining their own career because of repeated moves. I wondered why anyone would ever do it . . . until I met him, and he made me understand why. And now, after enduring two tours to Iraq, one that has just ended, my sense of awe for Army Wives has grown, while the sense of pity has been replaced by admiration.

I have struggled with this title from time to time, worrying that it took away from who I was, who I made myself to be, before I was his. Did being an Army Wife make me any less a woman, a mother, a feminist? I worried that it made me less Pam. But, each time I began to worry that my independence was slipping away from me, I thought about the nights I stayed awake waiting for a phone call, and worrying that it may never come, or that it might be replaced by the dreaded knock on the door. I thought about the endless shovels of snow I wrestled last winter while he was away in the dessert. I thought about the nights I cried myself to sleep and then awoke determined to make the day a good one, for me and for our children. And I realized something . . . being an Army wife—or, as this gray-haired man described me, a dependent—didn’t make me weak or any less myself. In fact, it has made me stronger. And loving someone who you risk losing, someone who spends more time on your computer screen than in your arms, is perhaps the bravest and most independent thing I have ever done.

I glanced over at my husband and saw that he was growing increasingly more frustrated with this patriarchal old man. This, made me love him even more. And I decided that being called “Mrs” wasn’t so bad, as long as your Mister was this wonderful.

After all, independence is really about choice. The choice to have a career, the choice to stay home with your children. The choice to stay single, the choice to be married. The choice to be independent, the choice to be a wife, and the ability to do both.

I stroked my husband’s hand, to assure him that it was ok. I was no longer bothered by this man’s insistence or the form’s antiquated language. At least, not enough to protest. I was content to be by here, sitting by my husband, who was home and safe at last. And nothing, not even this conversation, would ruin this moment. Although, I didn’t resist the temptation to respond to our elderly questioner, as he once again referred to me as “Mrs,” this time placing a sickening the in front of the term. “Actually,” I said as I squeezed my best friend’s hand, “my name is Pam.”

So, what to do now?

We PCSed about a month ago. We’ve spent that time getting settled in our new home, unpacking our many boxes, decorating (well, I’ve decorated, my husband just nods in approval), and getting our daughter settled in her new school (which has taken some work). We’ve enjoyed these past weeks, finally getting to spend time together, time that we so sorely missed during his last deployment. But, as they say, all good things must end.

It’s Monday morning. My husband went back to work today. Our daughter is at school. Last night, as they were each filled with anticipation about the beginning of their week—he, because he gets his unit assignment; she, because she has final exams—I was thinking about what I would do to make sure the day was productive. And I was realizing that, for the first time, I wasn’t going anywhere.

I have never been one to take time off. In fact, before this move, I had never taken more than a week off since I started working when I was 15. I’m not exaggerating. When my daughter was born, I was a senior in college. She was born on Saturday, I was back in class on Tuesday morning, and back to work soon after. I guess you could say that I took “off” of work during my first year of law school. But, considering I was attending eight hours of classes, followed by several more hours of studying, combined with the fact we weren’t allowed to work, I didn’t really consider it a break. I’ve always worked hard, and usually in several jobs at a time. So, yes, I’m tired. And in my last position, the hours had gotten long, the work stressful, and the traveling intense. So, I was looking forward to this time off. Or, so I thought.

I’ve enjoyed the past few weeks relaxing and getting settled in with my family. But, what am I supposed to do now? Now that they’re all gone and I’m at home—alone?

It’s not that I need people around me to be happy. In fact, I really enjoy my privacy and solitude. I’m perfectly comfortable being alone and spending time with just me, myself, and I. What’s bothering me isn’t being alone—it’s not working. It’s hard for me to realize that my husband is off getting his assignment, my daughter is off learning and working hard on her classes, and I’m here, with nothing to do.

Of course, I should clarify that “nothing” includes doing laundry, vacuuming, the never finished chore of unpacking and organizing, getting everything ready for Christmas, writing and submitting freelance articles online, working on my website for my new business, and applying for jobs (since I must always have a back-up plan). So, it’s not like I’m bored. I just feel, well . . . un-me.

I suppose it’s just time to develop a new me. One who doesn’t need to be exhausted to feel productive, and one who doesn’t need business to feel useful. And I guess it’s time to start working on her now. That should keep me busy for a while.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Strong Women Get Sad, Too.

A random, yet highly important, rant. Written in March 2010, a little over halfway through my husband's last deployment. I share this for all of the strong women, who just want people to understand that they, in fact, get tired, too.

My husband is away. In a war zone. For an entire year. He left on August 18 at 2:30am, which means he’s been gone for 7 months, 16 days, and 15 hours. I know because I count—all the time. And saying goodbye the second time was almost as hard as the first. I used to frequent news sites, but now I avoid them. I don’t need to read about how dangerous the world is, because I see it in my dreams. I miss him when I shovel the snow alone, mow the yard alone, and when I wake up alone. I miss him when our daughter wants him to come to her Veteran’s Day assembly and when our son asks me how long a year is—again. I miss him when I see couples hugging and I’m reminded that I won’t feel my husband’s hug for months. I miss him when I’ve had a rough day at work and when I’ve had a great day at work. I just miss him—all the time. I know that no one can truly understand this unless they’ve lived it. And thankfully, I’ve been blessed enough to know some people who have lived it. And I know that people mean well when they say “hang in there” or “you’ll make it, you’re strong” or “just stay busy and the time will fly by.” Well, I am busy—busier than I’d like to be, and I am strong—stronger than ever. But, what people seem to forget is that even busy and strong women get sad, too.

Staying busy does not make the time go faster, it just makes me more tired. And being strong does not keep me from hurting, it just keeps me from having a breakdown—or at least, having one in public. Well, that’s not exactly true. I am very careful not to show how much I am truly hurting in front of my coworkers or, especially, my children. But, when the sweet woman at the post office (who due to my weekly packages now knows my name) asked me when he was coming home—I lost it. I started crying. In the post office. And something tells me that the sweet woman has been in this position, or something similar, because she didn’t say “it will be ok” or “hang in there.” She just gently touched my hand and said “I’m sorry.” And somehow, those simple words, from a complete stranger, meant so much. She didn’t expect me to be ok or tell me how quickly the time will pass. She just acknowledged my pain.

It’s amazing how much two words can help, can heal, and can push you to make it through another day. Those simple comments from friends like, “that really sucks” or “I hate deployments” have helped so much more than words of encouragement. I’m angry and sad that my husband is gone. And I’m starting to see that other people are angry and sad with me. And sometimes, even strong, busy women need that, too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shutting Off the Phones

When your husband is deployed, your internet and telephone become your life lines. At least, they were for me. Once, during one of my extremely stressed-out, can't-take-anymore moments, my husband asked me to do one small favor for him: turn off the phone, and go to sleep. It seems like a simple request. But, for me, it was terrifying. How could I completely shut off my one and only connection to the man I love, my partner, my best friend? What if he needed me? How would I live with myself if something happened to him and I wasn't able to take his call? But, I did as he asked, and it turns out that it was exactly what I needed. Sometimes, in order to be truly connected, all we have to do is disconnect.

This is the letter I wrote to him that night. . .

My Love,

Thank you. Thank you for hearing me rant and cry—again. I’ve kept my promise—the phone has been off all day. And you’re right, it does feel like a weight off of my shoulders. Or, as you put it, a monkey off of my back. I do keep thinking that I need to check it—just to make sure you’re ok. But, then I remember that it’s the middle of the night there, and hopefully you’re sound asleep.

I promise you that I’m going to work on feeling better. I did relax today, although you were also right about me not napping. I didn’t sleep, but I did lie on the couch for a while. Then I thoroughly vacuumed the carpet and stairs (yes, that’s therapeutic for me) and made some grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner (comfort food). I’ve made myself focus on all of the good things in our lives. And there are so many good things. I’m already feeling a lot better.

I didn’t realize I was relying on the phone so much, mostly as a connection to you. I always try to have it right by me, so I can always answer when you call. But, I think always being tied to the phone made me a little resentful. Not toward you of course, but because all I ever get to hold on to is the phone—and not you. Of course, that’s not your fault, and it’s not mine, it’s just the reality of deployment. I really do think that not being able to touch you is part of what gets me so down. I know you understand, and I know we’re both going through the same thing. I love our webcam dates and phone calls. But, after a while, I start to get upset because all I really want is a hug. (Ok, I want more than that, but a hug would work).

I’m not telling you any of this to make you feel bad. And I really hope that I’m not. Because what I really want to tell you is that you’ve once again made me realize how lucky I am. I have a great life. Most of all, I have a supportive, wonderful husband who always knows how to make me feel better. Thank you for that, baby. Really. I hope you feel like I’ve been here for you, too. I want us to always support one another. Because no matter how crazy life gets, as long as we can be here for each other, and make each other smile, we can get through anything.

And although I really do wish you were here, so I could touch and kiss and hug you again, I will focus more on all of the great things that we are able to share, even from far away. We can still share our thoughts and dreams and fears and days, and we can still make each other smile. That will get us through everything. And one thing I know for sure is that no matter how hard it is to be away from you—you are definitely worth waiting for.

I’m going to get some workout time in to unwind, and then get to bed early. But, before I sleep, I’m going to say a prayer, and thank God for sending me you. And then I’m going to send you a big, warm hug and kiss. I know you’ll be able to feel it…just like I can feel you thinking about me.

I love you. And I’m so grateful for our family, for our love, for our bond…for you. And I always will be.

Loving you more than ever.
Your proud and grateful wife

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Letters To My Love

While my husband was deployed--again--we communicated through all of the typical channels--telephone, instant messenger, email, webchat. But, we also decided to send some messages the old-fashioned way--through written letters. There's really no better way to express how you're truly feeling, without fear of their response. And, best of all, the line won't cut off in the middle of your sentence. It's often hard to put your emotions into words while you're on the phone, in those brief minutes before he has to run, or the line gets blurry. So, for me, writing was easiest when I was settling in for the night--after the kids were in bed, the dishes were done, and the laundry was folded--with just me, my pen, and my thoughts (ok, and usually the cat). I wrote to my sweetheart almost every day for the 11 months and 18 days that he was away. He kept a box of those letters under his cot, as a constant reminder that someone at home was waiting for him, and loving him very much. And I know that we will cherish those letters forever.

Here is one of the many letters that we shared . . .

My Love,

I realize it may not be evening when you read this, but maybe you’ll be able to picture me writing it. It’s 9:33pm. The house is quiet, except for the sound of the ceiling fan humming. I am sitting on our bed, leaned up against the two fluffiest pillows—the two that I don’t let you use because they raise your head up too high, which causes you to snore. Oh how I miss your snoring. I would gladly prop these two fluffy pillows under your head and enjoy the grumbles and sighs—just to have you by my side again.

I’m sitting here in your shorts and t-shirt, hair up in a pony tail, and of course, wearing our locket—the one I kiss several times a day—as I pray for you—for your safety—for us to be strong—for our bond to grow and strengthen. I kiss the beautiful locket and wish that I could be kissing the beautiful man whose picture is inside. Oh, how I love the people whose images are inside this necklace—you—my hero, my companion, my dream come true—and our three, beautiful, amazing children. My family. Our family. I kiss the locket and think about all the wonderful times we’ve had together, and the many, many more to come.

I sit here, leaning against these pillows, holding this journal and pen (a pen that’s about to run out of ink, which makes it the 2nd pen we’ve worn out in 2 weeks), wondering how I can possibly convey to you what I’m feeling…how much I miss you…how much I love you. There are no words. So, all I can do is hope that, somehow, my feelings have made it onto this paper, from my heart to yours.

Our cat sits next to me, snuggling in your spot, as if she’s keeping it warm for you. And the rest of your side is occupied by the laptop—its light illuminating the room—the faces of those 4 people I adore shining in the background. I look at that screen so often—waiting for the window to pop up with a message from you—a “hi” or a kissing face or a simple buzz—anything to let me know that you’re thinking of me—and, most importantly, that you’re safe. My heart skips a beat (or several) every time the phone rings or the computer buzzes—because it means you are safe for another day—and we are another day closer to being together again.

I watch that screen like a mother watches her infant—waiting for any sign that she’s needed, and sighing with relief when she sees that her love is ok. I look at that screen as soon as I awaken now, and when I open my eyes, even if just for a moment, at night—almost instinctively—waiting for another chance to talk to my soul’s partner.

I sit here—hoping, praying, wishing—for the day you’ll be back in my arms…and knowing that day will come soon. And that we will, we have to, get through these rough times. Although the house is too quiet, and the bed too big and empty, and my heart is aching from missing you so much, I’m happy and at peace—because I know that as I write this, somewhere, on the other side of the world, in a tent in the middle of the dessert, you are lying down…the sun is just starting to kiss the horizon…and you, too, are glancing at your screen, thinking about me, and wishing you were here. And soon, you will stretch, wipe your eyes, sit up, and call me. And when I answer, I will say…hello, my love…I was just writing to you…

Good night, my love. I will see you soon.
Loving you with all my heart and soul.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Truly a Day of Remembrance

Today is Veterans' Day, a day to honor all of our heroes who have served and sacrificed. While the following blog was actually written on, and about, Memorial Day, I think it is still an important reminder today. May we all remember.

I have always celebrated Memorial Day, although I didn’t always know what we were celebrating, or why. As a child, Veterans and Memorial Day meant loading up the station wagon with plastic flowers and spending the afternoon at the National Cemetery. I would watch my otherwise hard-shelled Polish grandmother gently kneel before the graves of unknown soldiers and place flowers by the headstones. I didn’t understand why, but I knew there must be something important that made this tough woman turn to mush, each and every year. Now, I’m starting to understand.

My great grandfather was taken from his home by Nazis in 1935. My grandmother was 9 years old. She never saw her father again. Years later, after her family had fled to Germany, she met a soldier, fell in love, and later accompanied him to the US. My grandfather was a war vet. He served his country in Vietnam, and was later killed, not in action, but rather by the alcohol which took over his life after he returned. When I was five years old, I watched my grandfather turn yellow and fade away, lying in a dirty, lonely bed in the VA Hospital. I remember thinking that he deserved more. At his funeral, my grandmother told me to open my mouth so that my ears wouldn’t pop from the 21 gun salute. She looked so sad, but proud. And when the other soldiers carefully folded an American flag and presented it to my Mother, my grandmother actually cried. I didn’t know why the flag was such a big deal. Now, I’m starting to understand.

So, each year, I would kneel beside my grandfather’s grave and place the obligatory wreath. I would then follow my grandmother to the countless rows of unknown soldiers. She would tell me that they deserved flowers, too, even if no one knew who they were. She hoped that somewhere, someone was placing flowers on her father’s grave as well. I loved those moments, because they were rare glimpses into my grandmother’s past—a childhood that was too painful for her to share. I watched her storing up plastic flowers throughout the year—from garage sales and clearance racks. I didn’t understand why it was so important to have all of those flowers. Now, I’m starting to understand.

Yes, this year, I am beginning to understand. As my husband sits in his storage container in the middle of the desert, although I miss him terribly, I am so very grateful that he is safe. I am grateful that I get to answer the phone and hear his voice. I am grateful for the butterflies I feel every time we speak. And this Memorial Day, I am reminded of all of the spouses who will never have that feeling again.

All military spouses know the fear of a “commo blackout” (no communication allowed), because it means that someone was killed, and the Army needs to notify the family. We all know the nervous waiting--hoping to get a phone call from our loved ones, not a knock on the door from men in uniform. We know the mix of emotions we feel when we hear that someone was killed--the gratitude that your soldier is safe, and the guilt because someone's is not. Someone’s husband, father, brother, mother, wife, sister, or child is not coming home. So, on this Memorial Day, I am thankful for these soldiers’ courage and sacrifice. And I will remember the families who are left here to grieve, the families who got that horrendous knock on the door. I may not know your pain, but I understand how much you deserve to be honored.
For me, Memorial Day is a day of gratitude. It’s a day that I am thankful for my husband’s safety, for the soldiers who have not returned, and for the families who loved them. I am grateful for people who still watch the news (on the rare occasions that the media still covers the war) and are saddened, for the people who still say “thank you for your service” (which means a lot, by the way), and for those people who, like my grandmother, still place flowers on soldiers’ graves. And I am grateful that, finally, I understand.

For those who have sacrificed, those who have left us, and those they have left behind—thank you.

And to my amazing husband--thank you. And please, hurry home