Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I'm Going Vegan

First, let me explain that this is not a judgmental, preachy blog about why everyone should become a vegan, or how I’m somehow stronger or wiser for deciding to do so. How and what you eat is a very personal decision, and one that should never be forced. My husband is not becoming vegan, although he has drastically cut back on his meat and dairy intake (and feels better having done so). I’m only writing this to explain why I have made this decision—for me.

I have been a quasi-vegetarian for years. Growing up, I never liked meat, and always felt a little guilty eating it. But, I was raised by my Polish, meat-loving, grandmother who loved to cook goulash, pierogi, golonka, meat wrapped in bacon (any kind of meat really), and pork chops. (She is now 75 years old and has severe heart disease and corroded arteries). Being a vegetarian in her house was not an option. But, when I could, I would sneak meat to my very appreciative basset hound, or throw it in the trash when my grandmother wasn’t looking. (When I recently told my grandmother that I was a vegetarian, she in her ever-strong Polish accent declared, “Ahh, sh**, I always knew you’d grow up to be a hippie.”)

When I moved out at 15, I ate anything I could afford. And while that diet typically consisted of ramen noodles and tortilla chips (not healthy, but vegetarian), I definitely wouldn’t turn down a free burger if it was offered. And while I was in college, working at a Chinese restaurant to pay the bills, I ate whatever the owners would let us have for free. If I had to buy groceries, a pack of hotdogs for 99 cents would often make its way into my cart. (I don’t even want to think about what’s actually in hot dogs). I knew I wanted to avoid meat, but at that time in my life, it just didn’t seem like an option. (I know now that I could have easily eaten a vegetarian diet on very little money. But, we’ll just add that to the long list of things I wish I had known at 15).

As I got older, I stopped eating red meat (except for the rare burger every five years or so), but would allow myself the occasional chicken or turkey sandwich, justifying that I needed the iron because of my anemia. I didn’t want to eat meat, but I had to. Or, so I thought. The funny thing is that meat really doesn’t contain as much protein or iron as people think. And when you factor in how much fat and cholesterol you’re taking in along with that iron, it’s really not worth it. I am now perfectly capable of getting all the iron and protein I need from beans, vegetables, nuts, and whole wheat. My iron levels are as high as they’ve ever been on a meat diet, and I feel much, much healthier.

I’m not morally opposed to eating meat or dairy, and no, it’s not a religious decision. Well, not really. What I’m opposed to is inflicting senseless torture upon living creatures. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the state of our food supply in America. We no longer live in a society where farmers simply raise and slaughter animals and go out to milk the dairy cows each morning. We live in a society of large scale factory farms where unspeakable horrors happen to animals every day. I’m not going to go into the details of the violence or suffering that happens to animals, because I’m not here to guilt anyone into a meatless, or even reduced meat, lifestyle. But, it doesn’t take much to learn more about what really happens, if you choose to. I will give you something to think about, though. A dairy cow is expected to produce approximately 80 gallons of milk per day. The only way for a cow to produce that much milk is to be continually pregnant. What do you think happens to the babies once they’re born? I find it interesting that people are outraged when they hear of puppies or kittens being slaughtered—and rightfully so. But, every day, people turn a blind eye to the same happening to calves. I’m simply not willing to do so anymore. As a mother, I can’t justify any mother or child suffering—even a four-legged one.

Let me clarify that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat or dairy. I have heard many people say that it’s part of the natural food chain; the way it’s meant to be. And, if we were only eating what we needed to survive, I would agree. But, let’s face it, Americans are eating far more meat than we would ever need. Americans eat one million chickens every hour. Every hour! We kill over 10 billion animals a year. I’m not even going to go into how much land, gas, grain, and other resources are used in this type of production. Most of the world’s grain is going to feed cows in the U.S., so that they can quickly become plump and ready to be slaughtered—rather than going to feed the billions of people who are starving in the world. We’ve just gone way…too…far. We don’t need to eat sausage for breakfast, a big mac for lunch, and steak for dinner, and wash it all down with a milkshake. We don’t need fast food. We have become so used to it that we want it, maybe even become addicted to it. But, we certainly don’t need it.

There are ways to ethically consume meat and dairy. Find a small farm and buy a half a cow. Yes, even if you live in a large city, there is a farmer within a few hours of you. You’ll save a lot of money, and that one cow will feed your family for months—as opposed to the thousands of cows that are mashed up together in the meat you buy at the store or the drive thru window. I admire people like my friend Mary who get eggs from their own chickens. I’m not really ready to commit to being a chicken momma just yet, but I will buy eggs for my family from a local farm, not the grocery store. And yes, you can find milk from a local dairy farmer, too. Although, I will tell you that soy, rice, and almond milk are much, much better for you. You’ll notice an instant change in your weight, complexion, and energy level if you eliminate dairy from your diet. But, if you have to have it, try to find a local producer. Then, you can check out the operation and make sure you’re comfortable with everything you see. And most of all, we can all just cut back.

You don’t have to have meat in every meal, or even in every dinner. It’s not about depriving yourself. It’s about being honest with ourselves about what we truly need to eat, and being mindful of where that food is coming from. That’s it.

Before anyone says that you can’t afford to be a vegetarian or a vegan, let me assure you that you will actually save money. Vegetables, fruits, whole wheat, beans, and nuts are much less expensive than meat. Since I’ve stopped eating meat and dairy, my husband has drastically cut back, and our daughter has been a strict vegetarian for over two years, our grocery bill is lower than ever. And, if you factor in how much you’ll be saving on health care down the road, cutting back on meat and dairy is a much more affordable way to live.

I’m not asking anyone to stop eating meat or dairy. I’m just urging everyone to be more mindful of what you eat, where it came from, and how much of it you truly need. If we take charge of what we’re eating, we’ll be healthier, weigh less, feel better, reduce suffering, and change the world. I’d say that’s at least worth considering, right?

A few resources to check out:

Kathy Freston, author of The Veganist:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

Suggestions & recipes for one meatless day (Meatout Monday) per week:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Planning to Live Day-by-Day

Hello, my name is Pam, and I am a planner.

"Hi, Pam."

Yes, I love to plan. I start asking the kids about their Christmas wish list in June. I start researching summer camps in February. I make lists of items we’ll need to take on our Christmas vacation in August. (Although I have learned to not actually book the vacation until November). I keep a journal with pictures of places I’d like to visit, books I’d like to read, things I’d like to learn. And yes, I love to plan for our next home. As you might imagine, this habit does not play well with the military lifestyle.

(I could hear those of you who are in the military laughing after you read the first sentence).

I find myself constantly asking my husband about where our next duty station may be, as if he actually knows. I look at house listings, although after dealing with the expense and trouble of selling our previous home, I know that we have no intention of buying, at least until we know we’ll be somewhere for a while--whenever that may be. And although I realize it’s futile, I find myself always wondering what’s next. But, as everyone in the military knows, it’s absolutely impossible to plan. It’s unrealistic to plan--for next year, next month, or even for next week. But yet, I really, really want to!

Have you ever heard motivational speakers or financial planners ask questions such as, “where do you see yourself in five years?” I used to looove those questions. I would gleefully get out a pad of paper and start jotting down all of my plans, sometimes complete with a timeline. But, now, that question causes me to panic. I know where I’d like to see myself in five years, but the truth is that I have very little—if any—control over what actually happens.

Control. Yes, I guess that’s it. For me, planning is a way to maintain some shred of control in this typically uncontrollable life. (Yes, some may call me a control freak rather than a planner. But, I don’t think we need to resort to name calling). Planning puts me back in the driver’s seat, rather than hanging on to the bumper. But, it also makes me panic when I realize that my plans may not come to fruition.

But, as I think about it, if someone would have asked me ten years ago what my ten-year plan would be, it definitely would not have involved being married to a soldier, living on the other side of the country, and having three children. But, I really can’t imagine my life any other way. So, maybe that’s the lesson. Our plans aren’t always what’s meant to be. And sometimes life has surprises in store for us that we may not be prepared for, but that will bring us incredible joy. It turns out that being grateful for what comes is actually more fulfilling--and more realistic--than trying to plan for everything that may come.

So, rather than live in a perpetual state of panic, I think it’s time to shift my focus. I may not have control over what state we will live in, what my career will be, or whether my husband will be home, but I do have control over how I view my life. I can be happy and grateful for all that I have, no matter what our zip code may be. And yes, even if we are--heaven forbid--separated by a deployment again.

I am trying to learn, albeit with some angst, the art of taking life day-by-day. I’m learning to live in the moment and focus on now, rather than worrying about tomorrow. And, above all else, I’m learning to be grateful for this frantic, ever-changing, completely uncontrollable life. Because, even if I can’t plan it or control it, I love it. And if I have to keep hanging on to the bumper, I can at least enjoy the ride.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Four-Legged Angels

Sitting here today, typing away on the computer, I am surrounded by our kitty, who is snoring on the desk, and our pup, who is sitting dutifully by my feet. And I am once again reminded of all the four-legged angels who have been in my life over the years.

The first angel who always comes to mind is Stephanie, my droopy, but adorable basset hound, who my grandmother adopted from a breeder when I was 7 years old. Stephie was only a baby, but had already been beaten and malnourished. She was supposed to be a gift for my Uncle, but she did not trust men at all. She had been abused by the man who ran the kennel, so she would cower away any time a male came near her. So, she became mine--my pet, my friend and my companion during a very difficult childhood. I had to feed her out of my hand because she was afraid to come to the bowl. We did everything together--played, slept, watched TV. Unfortunately, we also shared many not-so-happy childhood events together. She experienced abuse, neglect and even homelessness right by my side. She would try to protect me and suffered many consequences because of it. But, despite all of her pain, she was always by my side.

Stephie passed away when I was 20--after a long 13 years together. I was crushed. Not only had I lost my lifelong friend, I lost the only being who had been there for me.

Shortly after Stephie passed, I found out that I was pregnant. It was my senior year of college and I was far from being ready to be a Mom. But, after much fear, worry and utter panic, I realized how much I already loved the tiny, still unknown, child inside of me. I would have loved for Stephie to be by my side during this miraculous time. And it still makes me sad that she never got to meet my daughter, although I know she looks down on her every day.

My daughter also shares my love for animals. For her fifth birthday, she asked friends to bring donations for a local animal shelter, instead of gifts for her. When we delivered the gifts, I decided to surprise her with a new pet. So, on that day, we adopted a cat.

Yin, our dear rescued kitty, brought so much love and joy to our home. She would snuggle by my daughter when she was sick or sad and keep me company during many late nights studying for law school courses and the dreaded bar exam. And when I met the love of my life (who I later married), Yin would greet him at the door and sniff him thoroughly, like a parent interrogating her child’s suitor. They quickly loved one another. He would play with Yin as soon as he walked in, and she would return the favor by rubbing against his leg and purring. On Mother’s Day and other occasions, my then-beau would always buy me 3 cards—one from him, one from my daughter, and one from Yin. The latter he would simply sign, “Thank you for loving me. Meow.” It was his tenderness and love for Yin that was one of the many things that made me fall in love with him.

When Yin passed away in March of 2008, we were all devastated. My husband (who was then my boyfriend) was in Iraq at the time. The line was silent for a long few moments when I broke the news to him.

A few months after Yin passed, and shortly after welcoming my love home from Iraq, we went to the local animal shelter, thinking that we were going to adopt a puppy. But, as soon as we saw this adorable litter of polydactyl (six-toed) kitties, we fell in love. Well, I should say, my daughter and I fell in like, my husband was smitten. He reached in the cage and pulled out this fuzzy little calico ball and held her to his chest. She started to purr and then decided he was a bit too close and gave him a little swat across his hand. I think it was her combination of independence and affection that got him--kind of like myself. Her six-toed white paws reminded him of a boxer, so we decided to name her Roxy (as in, the female Rocky).

When my husband is home, Roxy follows him everywhere—sleeping by his side if he’s on the couch, snuggling by him at night (yes, we do kick her out sometimes) and even waiting for him outside the bathroom.

And when he was once again deployed, she slept on his pillow every night, as if keeping it warm for him until he returned. Watching her rub against the computer screen while we were skyping, wondering how he got into that screen and plotting how to get him out, was heartwarming. I think we sometimes forget that pets experience sadness and grief, as we do. But, when I saw our kitty roll over and snuggle against my husband's pillow, I knew she missed him, too.

Soon after Roxy joined our family, our daughter's requests (campaign) for a dog began. I had recently cared for a friend’s dog for over a year while he was out of the country for work. And dealing with the mess and torn up yard and muddy carpets (yes, I’m a bit of a neat freak) convinced me that I’m much more of a cat person. But, as always, she was persistent. She worked extra hard on her chores and school work to prove that she could handle the responsibility. She researched dogs and the care required and would often present us with her findings. So, of course, we gave in.

Soon we got a call from a local no-kill agency that found a rat terrier mix who needed a new home. We went to meet this little girl, who we had been warned was a bit timid. She had been abused and abandoned; which, of course, made me want to adopt her even more. (Survivors of all kinds need to stick together). She was perfect. My husband was hesitant, but as soon as he met her, he gave in. And now, that once timid and shy pup is a spoiled and happy member of the family. She’s still cautious of some strangers, but with us, she’s playful and loving.

Our pup, Cricket, runs and waits at the door a few minutes before the my daugther's school bus arrives each day. She knows when her best friend is coming. And when it’s time for bed, Cricket runs to my daughter's room and tucks herself under one of her favorite fleece blankies. Her only care in the world right now is that rascally cat, Roxy, who likes to attack her. But, even when Roxy tries to strangle her (one of the disadvantages of a cat with thumbs), Cricket seems to think she’s being hugged, so she just wags her tail. She is truly one of the most lovable creatures I have ever known. I can't imagine anyone ever hurting her, but I am happy that she now has a forever family.

There are also animals whom I have never met, but who I am grateful for. During this last deployment, my husband would tell me about the stray dogs who roamed near their camp in Iraq. These malnourished, homeless pets would wait outside the camp, hoping for some food and love. He would bring them scraps, and soon, they became his faithful admirers. He loved these dogs. And hearing him talk about them, and the companionship they provided when I could not, made me love them, too. We even looked into ways to bring them back to the US, but discovered that it would be nearly impossible. I don't know what happened to them once he left, but I hope that another soldier took over as their guardian, and that they are still caring for our troops today.

Our current pets, Roxy and Cricket, are an adorable and hilarious duo. And, along with my husband and myself, and our three amazing kids, they have made our family complete. And, even though some are no longer with us, I know that all of my four-legged angels are out there somewhere, looking down on my family, happy for us and the love we share. And no matter where life may take us, and what challenges we may encounter, I will forever be grateful for my four-legged angels.

I hope this has encouraged you to remember the pets who have touched your life, and to give some extra love to those who are with you currently. They truly are a blessing.

Because He's Home

My husband came home safely from Iraq—his fourth deployment in this war—eight months ago. And while we don’t know when he may leave again, I am so very grateful that, at least for now, he is home. And because he’s home and he’s safe, there are a few things I must do. Because he’s home . . .

1. I will watch news reports of what’s happening in the war (on the rare occasion that the news still covers the war). I won’t allow myself to forget that other people’s husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers are still fighting.

2. I will not complain about long hours he spends at work. Because work is now only a few minutes away, not halfway across the world. And work now involves papers and computers and orders and whatever else he does, but does not involve IEDs.

3. I won’t complain about him snoring or hogging the covers. I’m just thankful that he’s sleeping in our bed and not on a cot in the middle of the desert.

4. I will help families whose loved ones are still deployed, in any way I can. So many are still kissing their spouses over webcam and rocking their crying babies to sleep, telling them once again that Daddy loves them and will be home soon. I need to be here for them.

5. I will cherish each day and not take anything for granted. I will hold him a little closer at night and kiss him a little longer when he leaves each morning. We never know how many of those moments we will get, so I will appreciate each and every one.

I will do all of these things now, because he’s home. And hopefully, when that dreaded day comes that he has to leave once again, others whose loved ones are home will do the same. If your soldier is home, give him or her a little extra love today. And if s/he’s not, I hope you can feel the love we are all sending to you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Celebrating Us

March 8, 2011 is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. The annual holiday has roots in our Women's Suffrage Movement and is now celebrated worldwide. International Women's Day—which is aptly framed by Women’s History Month—is an opportunity to honor women, celebrate the accomplishments we’ve made, and raise awareness for the obstacles that we still face. This year's theme is "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women."

I recently wrote a blog with suggestions for how to honor and celebrate women. Although it was not written for this holiday, I think it is definitely appropriate. So, in honor of this great day, here are a few ways (big and small) to honor women ...

For the entire day, refrain from lamenting about how fat, skinny, too tall, too short, too old or too whatever you are. Just for this day, let’s try to focus on what really matters—how strong, intelligent, accomplished and compassionate we are. Hey, you never know, it might just stick.

Don’t listen to any music that contains lyrics that degrade women or promote violence against women. And no, it’s not just rap music (although I do suggest burning anything you own by Soldier Boy or Chris Brown). Other genres are just as guilty—“Every Breath You Take” by the Police, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Come Off” by Joe Nichols, and “Never Make a Pretty Woman Your Wife” by Jimmy Soul come to mind. And please, stop giving these morons your money.

Volunteer for an agency that helps women, whether it’s a food bank, low income childcare center or, of course, domestic or sexual violence agency (you knew I’d make a plug). You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a huge impact. Give your time, your talents, and your love. It really will make a difference.

Hug a supportive man in your life. Yes, men who honor our equality deserve some recognition, too. And then, gently suggest that perhaps he should prepare dinner tonight.

If you have a partner, remind yourself that you are with that person because you want to be, not because you need to be. Knowing that you have chosen to spend your life with this person, even though you did not have to, is a much more powerful feeling, in my opinion. And take a moment to thank all the strong women in history who have made it possible for you to have that choice. If you are single, remind yourself that you are of no less value because you do not have a partner. You are a whole person, who is leading an important life, with or without someone there to witness it daily.

For the military folks reading this (and those who are not), learn about female veterans. Get to know them and learn their stories. They have amazing strength and passion to share.

Find out what’s going on in politics—whether it’s local, state, national or worldwide. We won the right to participate in government 91 years ago. Let’s not waste it.

Teach yourself and your child(ren) about strong women in history. Here’s a list to get you started:

Support all of your Sisters, even if you don’t agree with everyone’s lifestyle, choices or ideas. At least for today, let’s try not to say anything negative about another woman. And yes, that includes Kate Gosselin, Nadya Suleman (Octomom), Sarah Palin, and Lindsay Lohan (or whoever happens to be the target this week). Maybe someone will even refrain from saying something negative about you, hmmm?

Women, open your own account. Even if you’re in the most supportive, loving, never-in-a-million-years-would-it-ever-fail’s still a good idea.

Learn the whole story. If you think Charlie Sheen’s antics are cute, do a little more research to discover how he has treated the women in his life. He’s been arrested for domestic battery against his most recent ex-wife, Brooke Mueller, who currently has a restraining order against him. Sheen also physically and emotionally abused Denise Richards, “accidentally” shot Kelly Preston, and was arrested for beating his girlfriend, Brittany Ashland, in 1996. And that’s just a summary of his history of abusing women. There’s more. And there’s nothing funny about it. Stop supporting men who beat women. And yes, I’m also talking about Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin. There are plenty of other actors out there. Let’s stop giving these guys any of our time. Here's another idea: Write a thank you letter to the producers of Two and a Half Men, who finally did the right thing.

Hug your daughters and tell them how strong, beautiful, and amazing they are. Tell them about the struggles you’ve overcome and what your dreams are for their future. Ask about her dreams. Encourage her. Tell her that she deserves to be treated with respect. To honor this year's theme, "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women," remind her of the importance of education. And encourage her to explore math, science, or any subject that may be difficult for her. Perhaps the best thing about getting an education is mastering something that once seemed impossible. And most importantly, lead by example. Be proud of yourself, and she will learn to be proud of herself, too.

Teach your sons about women’s value. Teach them that there’s nothing weak or inferior about women. Teach them that it is not an insult to “throw like a girl” or any other stereotypical statements they may be hearing from peers. (And please, please never say anything sexist like this to your, or anyone else's, child). The more men in this society who value women, the farther we will be able to advance. So, tell them young and tell them often—women really are their equals.

Find out about the powerful women who live in a country other than your own. Women in many developing nations are facing obstacles that we, in the United States, could never imagine. Learn about these struggles and what you can do to help, because no matter how far away these women may live, they are all our Sisters. Here’s a great organization to check out: And, if you’d like to have monthly dinners with a group of like-minded, socially conscious women in your area, while helping women worldwide, visit

Finally, recognize your own accomplishments. We may not have fought for suffrage or have our names in a history book. But, each of us, in our own way, has done incredible things in our lives—whether it’s caring for our child(ren), excelling in education or our career, supporting our soldier, being a great friend, helping a worthy cause, or some combination thereof. Take a moment to appreciate all that you’ve been able to accomplish. You deserve it.

Happy International Women’s Day, Sisters!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Few Thoughts on DADT

I started this blog weeks ago, shortly after President Obama (finally) announced the repeal of the 17-year ban on gay and lesbian service members serving openly in the military. This antiquated Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy basically would “allow” homosexuals to serve in the military, as long as they didn’t disclose their sexuality. It "allowed" someone to defend our country, as long as they hid who they truly were. Thankfully, it has finally been repealed. I know that this is a touchy subject, and one that will likely cause some to disagree with me. But, I’ve never been one to say only popular things. And this simply needs to be said.

It may seem obvious, but think about what would happen if we were to require women to pretend to be men in order to serve (as we have in the past), or African Americans to paint their faces white in order to serve, or people to hide their religious beliefs in order to serve (as some feel they must). People would be outraged. Yes, racism, sexism, and discrimination are still alive and well, and are certainly present in the military. But, for the most part, we respond to it, we hold people accountable for it, and many fight against it. Homophobia, unfortunately, is one remaining form of bigotry that is largely tolerated. And it’s long past time for it to stop.

Regardless of your view on homosexuality (and I can assure you I will address these views in a later blog), there are many important reasons to support the repeal of DADT. Most of all, gay and lesbian soldiers have been serving in our armed forces, and fighting for our country, forever. They train, sacrifice, and deploy for months on end, just as heterosexual soldiers do. They suffer injuries, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and many lose their lives, fighting for each of us. And they leave behind partners who love them as much as I love my husband, as much as many of you reading this love your soldier. So why should they deserve any less respect than any other soldier, any other hero?

For those of you who are military spouses, think about what got your husband or wife through those long months of a deployment. For my husband, he of course looked forward to phone calls home and Skype dates. (And he especially looked forward to receiving boxes of cookies). But, what kept him going day after day were the pictures of me and the kids that he had taped to the wall around his cot. Every morning, he would look at the pictures of our family—happy and together—and remember that he had someone to fight for, someone to come home to. It was important for him to be able to see us any time he wanted, even if the Internet and phone lines were down. The kids loved seeing their pictures in the background when they talked to Daddy on the webcam. And yes, so did I.

Now, imagine being at war and not being able to put up pictures of your partner. Imagine fighting all day, risking your life, seeing friends and comrades injured and killed, and then having to hide who you truly are. Imagine having to sneak phone calls and keep pictures hidden. Imagine knowing that the country you are fighting for doesn't respect who you are. Just imagine.

And think about the partners who are at home—waiting, worried, counting down the days, afraid they may never see their love again, just like the rest of us. Don’t they deserve to send pictures—pictures that will be taped to temporary walls and looked at with love and admiration? Don’t they deserve to see their picture in the background during webcam chats? Don’t they deserve to know that their loved one, too, has pictures of home to keep him or her safe and focused? Don't they deserve to freely run into their love's arms when he or she returns home? Of course they do. We all do.

To anyone who is reading this who is not serving: Well, to be frank, you have no right to judge someone who is. And to anyone who is reading this who is serving, and who thinks you can’t comfortably serve next to a gay or lesbian soldier: As a commander once said to his troop, “Now might be a good time to get over it.”

I’m sorry to be harsh, but the fact is that no form of intolerance or hatred has ever ended comfortably. People were uncomfortable when women received the right to vote. People were outraged when schools integrated. But, they learned to deal. And if they didn’t, we certainly didn’t feel remorse for them. We moved on. And this change, this long overdue liberation, should be no different.

Anyone who is willing to risk their lives for our country deserves to be themselves. They deserve to have comforting pictures from home taped to their wall. They deserve to say “I love you” to the person they long to hold again, without the fear of someone hearing them. They deserve to love openly. And just like any hero, any human being, they deserve our respect.

And that, to me, is all that really matters.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Single Mommying is Not Military Mommying, and Vice Versa

I recently read a blog by an Army wife who was discussing her life as a “single mom” while her husband was deployed. This is a common comparison, and one that often annoys single mothers. Having been both a single Mom and a military Mom, I can attest to the fact that there are many similarities between the two, but there are also many, many differences.

Single Moms are parenting alone—physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Yes, they often have supportive family and friends. But, ultimately, their world consists only of them and their child(ren). As a military Mom, you may only be able to speak to your partner a few times a week, but you know he is there, and that he has your back, in good times and bad. You can, in small ways, share your feelings and stresses with him, albeit through a letter, email, or brief phone call. You are still parenting as a team.

At home, you can still say, “I’m going to tell your father"--both as encouragement when your child does something worthy of praise, or as a deterrent when your child has, or is about to, do something requiring discipline. I realize that the threat is somewhat diluted when Dad is halfway across the world, but it’s still effective--no child likes to be chastised by Dad, even over Skype. Single Moms have no such incentives or deterrents. They have to be both nurturer and disciplinarian, and I have to say, that the single Moms whom I know are doing so very well. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly difficult.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences is that, even while your husband is deployed, he is still contributing financially to your home. While some single Moms are receiving child support (which is often a laughably small amount), most are supporting themselves and their children completely on their own. Single Moms have to work. And many have to work more than one job. So while many military Mommies (although not all) are able to stay home and focus on their children, the vast majority of single Mommies have to work all day (or all night) and still be able to handle all of the household chores and parenting when they get home. Every bill is their responsibility. Whether their children have dinner that night or their home has electricity is completely up to them. That’s a difference that should never be overlooked.

But, before you think I’m being hard on military Moms, let me point out a couple of key differences to you single Moms out there, as well. Yes, you are handling everything on your own. But, as I mentioned, your world revolves around you and your child(ren), which, at times, is a blessing. As a military Mom, you are dealing with everything at home while also worrying about IEDs, suicide bombers, and communication blackouts (times when your husband can't call because someone has been killed). You have to deal with the ever present terror that a car may pull up to your door and tell you that your husband isn’t coming home. You have to prepare dinner with children pulling on your leg, all while clutching the phone waiting for a staticy phone call, letting you know that, at least for one more day, he is safe. The sheer worry, panic, and insomnia make the day-to-day responsibilities of being a Mom that much more difficult.

Military Moms are also often living very far away from their support systems. Some choose to go “home” when their husbands deploy, but most stay at their duty station. This isolation contributes heavily to the depression and anxiety experienced by military Moms. It is also what makes having connections with other military spouses (and, I believe, other woman in general) so much more important. Single Moms, many of you have the luxury of living close to your family or long-term friends, which can make your daily burden a little more bearable.

To sum it all up: Single Mommying is like lifting a 2,000 pound weight by yourself. Military Mommying is like lifting a slighter lighter, 1,500 pound weight, with a strong wind blowing in your face: your load might be lighter, but other conditions make it just as difficult to carry.

But, imagine how much easier those weights would be to lift if we simply helped one another. I’m not here to tell you that either of these roles is easier than the other. All women carry immense responsibility. Single Mommies and military Mommies carry even more than most, and do so with an incredible amount of grace and strength. Rather, I want to encourage everyone to understand that their struggles are not the only struggles, and that we all need one another. Military Mommies, you can offer single Moms the emotional support that we are all so very good at providing. And single Moms, you can offer the strength that you have so skillfully developed.

Most of all, we have to stop playing the “my life is worse than yours” game. Single Moms, when you hear a military Mom say that her husband is deployed, don’t be so quick to say, “what's the big deal? I do this alone all the time.” Remember that she will be plagued by constant worry and sleepless nights. Be quicker to offer a hug than judgment. And military Moms, don’t be so quick to tell a single Mom that you know what she’s going through, because really, you don’t. But, what you can do is offer your help and your love. We can listen to one another and try to understand what the other is going through.

We need each other. We have loads that are far too heavy for any one woman to carry alone--even amazing, strong women like us. But, with just a bit of understanding and compassion, we can all make each of our loads a little more manageable. And, as a bonus: You might just meet some wonderful friends along the way.