Milestones and Mermaids

Hannah eyeing the pregnant lady in the lounge chair, we made our way over to a shaded table to plunk down our towels and kick off flip flops for an afternoon poolside. The kids love the pool. Without fail they inquire the precise time we will be going to swim each morning. Kids off and splashing I sit down and smile at the lady and preemptively apologize for my daughter’s obsessive staring. She laughed and we chatted for a bit.

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but time has a way of warp-speeding when viewed through a rear view mirror. It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been a decade since I was first pregnant myself. But here I sit with an almost 8 and 10 year old, chatting with a young mom.

There have been some big milestones in our world. These self-proclaimed big kids are riding bikes to the nearby playground, exploring our new place – stepping into their first bits of independence. I remember wondering about my then-infant and toddler when my sister and her daughters came to visit us in Hawaii. It seemed like so long until I would be able to just enjoy our time swimming instead of worrying and being on patrol, ensuring safety. I remember marveling at moms who sat poolside looking at their phones while their kids played and swam, part of me loving playing in the water, part of me longing for the day when they would find friends and play on their own.

That’s motherhood in a nutshell, I suppose – being divided. Not only daily working ourselves out of a job to grow independent and hopefully productive adult humans, but also wondering what the next step will look like, while simultaneously reminiscing about previous phases.

Flash forward to our time in Texas where they both had swim lessons and became comfortable in the water. Playing in the waves on South Padre Island still made me nervous, yet they had no fear, jumping and giggling as waves crashed and tried to knock them over.

Here I sit today, book in hand, sipping on an iced coffee (because I have waded through cardboard seas to rescue my coffeemaker from an ocean of chaos) .

Yet another little step, them in the pool making friends, practicing tricks and flips and jumps. My mermaid and merman happy to swim and soak in all of summer in our new home.

“Mom?” Hannah asks, as we gather up our stuff to leave when the need for food overpowers the need to be submerged.

“Yeah, baby?”

“Will you swim with us tomorrow? I love swimming and meeting friends, but tomorrow I’d like to swim with you, like we did in Texas.”

“Sure thing Hannah,” I say smiling.

I think we’re going to like it here.

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365

Air filters changed: 4

School days: 170

Snow days: 1

Hurricanes: 1

Road trips: 2

Field trips: 10

Lawn mowed: 35 times

Weed eater cord changes: every dang time!

Vacuums broke and replaced: 1

Vehicle Oil changed: 3 times

Houses sold: 1

Plumbing repair: 1

Roof repair: 1

Alternators changed: 1

Vehicles sold: 1

Vomit clean up: 5

Cups of coffee consumed: 87,931

Lunches with friends (aka adult conversation lifelines): 2,376

Grocery trips: 9,897,654

Meals prepared: billions

Holidays apart: 12

Dogs kept alive: 3

Minions kept alive: 2

Emotional homecomings: 1

States traveled: 4

PCS transfers: 1

Sobriety days: 365!

Being done with deployment AND one year sober: PRICELESS

April Fools’ Day

“Hey Hannah,” I said, motioning her over to her Easter basket loot. “Do you remember eating these?” I asked, pointing to the Cadbury mini eggs.

“No….well, kind of…” she replied.

“These are your dad’s FAVORITE Easter candies. I thought you’d really like them, too,” I explained. Ever trying to include a deployed parent into daily life is a hallmark of military life.

“Wait. So …YOU –  bought – these? At a store?” Hannah asked slowly.

CRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAP

The jig is up. She knows. And I let it slip!

“I KNEW IT!” she exclaimed, eyes wide. “It makes no sense how a bunny can get all over the world and hide eggs. It just doesn’t make sense.”

I took a deep breath and sighed. Their days had been numbered. The past few years, my very curious and inquisitive (read: suspicious) children have been tiptoeing around the subjects of various holidays….and holiday characters. I had wondered how many holidays we had left where they still believed whole heartedly.  I knew it was coming. It was part of the reason I knew doing the elf this past year was a necessity, as they would soon cross the threshold of childhood and a layer of magic would disappear. When they asked questions, I would respond with the classic, “What do you think?” and they would hem and haw, just like I did when I was a kid, and I would fool myself into thinking I had bought them just a little more time on the innocence clock.

There was no more hitting the snooze button. Whether I wanted to or not, it was time for the conversation. I busted out the letter I had written (adapted from one online) and read it to them:

Dear Jacob and Hannah,

I heard you discussing the difference between magic and miracles a while ago and how Santa does what he does. (As well as the easter bunny and the tooth fairy.) You brought up some really good points. Your dad and I know you like to have the facts and answers about things. We have given it careful thought to know just what to say.

The short answer is you are right. There is no such thing as magic in the literal sense. Magic is an illusion. We are the people who fill your stocking and choose and wrap the presents under the tree, hide the easter eggs, and put the money under your pillow when you lose a tooth – just as our parents did for us, their parents did for them, and you might one day do for kids of your own. There is no one single Santa, or E.B. These holiday figures are lots and lots of people who keep the spirit of these holidays alive. It lives in our hearts – not at the North Pole.

Throughout your life you will need the capacity to believe: in yourself, in your family, in your friends, and most importantly, in God. You’ll need to be able to believe in things you cannot measure or touch – just because we cannot see them doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

You are also right in that there are such things as miracles – things that cannot be measured, held, or explained in a concrete way; things like love, gratitude, and hope. The idea of Santa represents the miracle of these unmeasurable things. It teaches children to believe in something they cannot see or touch, much like we cannot see or touch Jesus, or the wind, friendship, or love – we can feel it and know it is there. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas – the miracle that God came to Earth! Santa is a way for little kids to begin to understand such miracles.

We feel you are ready to know the truth. With full hearts, people like Mommy and Daddy take our turns helping complete the jobs that would otherwise be impossible. We celebrate Christmas and Easter using symbols and characters that represent hard-to-explain miracles.

Now that you know, you will get to carry on the spirit of these holidays with us!

Love,
Mom and Dad

Feeling a bit wobbly, I looked up from my screen after reading it aloud. Hannah was grinning, “It’s okay, mom!” she said reassuringly, trying to comfort me! I chuckled.

“I totally knew,” stated Jake. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Do you feel betrayed? Like we lied to you all these years?” I asked, curious to know their perspective.

“NO!” they both emphatically agreed. “It makes sense to explain things like that to little kids. We just aren’t little kids anymore,” shrugged Jake, always Mr. Matter-of-fact about things, while Hannah nodded her agreement. We continued discussing the secrets that Eric and I had kept from them all these years. With each new revelation, they would giggle and laugh at our craftiness.

“So, what about the Santa gifts?” Hannah asked. “The tags?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” I replied, smiling. “Your dad and I would buy one special roll of wrapping paper that you had never seen before. That would be “Santa’s Paper”. Then one package of tags would also be new. I would write Santa’s tags with my left hand so the handwriting would be just a bit different.”

“DUDE!” Jacob yelled, laughing. “That’s SO awesome! I never even noticed that!”

“And the elf?” Hannah asked quietly.

I braced myself. She LOVES the elf. Like really loves it.

“Me,” I quietly replied.

“YOU DID THOSE SNOWFLAKES!? And the little paintings?! Wow….” she marveled.

“Mom,” Jacob said distractedly while he continued playing his computer game, “You are really good. That must have taken a lot of work.”

While trying not to be pile of emotional mom-goo at their appreciation of my expert level of deception, I turned to Hannah and whispered, “Now you can be in on the fun, too! We can take turns with the elf, you and I can hide it for Jake and Daddy one day, then they can do it for us the next….”

“Oh yes!!! Can we plan it out right now?!” she asked, jumping up and down.

I laughed. “No. It’s April. We got time, sister,” I told her. This April fools’ day, the “fooling” may be over, but the magic will never end.

Teachers

Excited for their respective field trips, both kids had no trouble getting out of bed.

“Where’s my class shirt?!” One hollered from the closet.

“Hanging right there,” I hollered back. “Right where you hung it up last night so you wouldn’t forget it….” I continued, mumbling the last part to myself as I grabbed the freshly brewed pot and poured myself the delicious, and necessary, first cup of coffee.

Her trip was to the local art museum to engage in some performance, dance and music fun. With ease, two talented performers from the museum wrangled a play out of three 2nd grade classes! It was a feat of epic proportions!

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What these pictures don’t show you is that while the kids are engaged in activity, their teachers are watching, monitoring and helping. For one child, the noise is too overwhelming. Instead of shushing him or telling him to sit down for the 100th time, she creates a space for him to calm himself. For another, the urge to fidget is too great. Not only do I see these educators focus on reading and writing and math everyday, but they are seeing the whole child. They are soothers. They comfort. They wrap their arms around the child that for the first time is requesting to be hugged. It’s a joy and a privilege to witness.

I’d been asked to chaperone his class field trip to the aquarium and happily accepted. This is, after all, why I chose to not work outside the home; so I could do all the mom things and help out when needed. Having field trips on the same day, in the same part of town allowed me to hop from one to the other with out missing much of either. I looked forward to having a bit of one on one time with each of them. After this year of single parenting, there’s been but a time or two that they’ve been apart, much less had me to themselves. I think they look forward to their dad’s return not only because they miss him, but equally because they need some space from each other and some undivided attention.

The day was lovely and perfect for an outing. The aquarium is one of Jake’s favorite destinations, loving all things ocean-related.

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YES! A real live octopus!

The exhibits went smoothly, the aquarium staff delightful and engaging. Sitting in front of the dolphins, questions and answers flew fast and furious.

“What grade are these kids in?” asked a man in a wheelchair behind me, having heard a few of their questions.

“Third,” I whispered quietly, smiling holding up 3 fingers.

“Wow,” he replied. “I taught fifth grade. They are really smart.”

Nodding in agreement, I turned back to the playful dolphins twirling behind the plexiglass. The really are incredibly smart I mused, simply enjoying the moment, and the opportunity to be a part of it.At the last exhibit during a group exercise, Jake was frustrated having not heard the instructions, then realizing he wouldn’t have any input in his group’s presentation as they worked. The tears started. (The other kids were not being overtly mean, but sometimes it’s easier to ignore people than to actively include them.)

It’s these moments that are hard. Autism or not, kids (as well as adults) have to learn how to deal with emotions, deal with disappointment and handle frustration with others and themselves. Group participation isn’t always easy, but it’s part of life. Physically, I was too far away and couldn’t get to him, and it was hard to hear over the chatter of the kids, engaged in their task to create an imaginary creature.

His teacher noticed the situation and swiftly grabbed an additional folder so he would be able to participate. img_5798She got down on the floor and engaged him. She didn’t have to. It would have been easier not to. She helped him help himself. She didn’t scold, embarrass or patronize. He didn’t have to have mom intervene. She was subtle and quiet.

She cared.

I smiled and mouthed a grateful ‘thank you’ as she got up to assist other students. I was humbled and as my eyes started sweating, I sternly told myself to save it. Lord knows my kid didn’t need a blubbery mess of a mom sobbing about gratitude in the middle of a field trip.

But I was, and am, very grateful.

How supremely lucky we are to have teachers that care so much.

 

 

 

 

WordPress Daily Prompt: Story

Internal Thought Vomit

Eric and I have a commonly repeated conversation, usually while driving. It goes something like this:

Me: “What are you thinking about?”

Him: “Nothing.”

Me: “Hmm.”

Him: “What are you thinking about?”

Me:”I’mwonderingwhyyouaresoquietandthisotherthingI’mworriedaboutandblahblahblahblahblahblahmorestuff,” comes tumbling out.

Him: “Oh…I was thinking about how the cotton is only a foot high now.”

Me: **Crickets**

WHAT?! I have brain on rapid fire and he’s just looking out the window and seeing what’s there. I don’t think he gets thought-vomit like I do.

“I really don’t know how you do it,” says any number of people, shaking their heads slowly as they discover we are a military family and my other half is deployed. “I could never do that.”

Yeah, you could. If it was your life and you didn’t have a choice. There are plenty of us doing it.  It sucks. There are good parts, like anything. The highs are high and the lows…well, they suck. My strategy is to tuck my chin, focus on the next right thing and move. Keep moving, keep doing, keep on keeping on. Everything we do gets us that much closer to it being over. Every missed holiday, every missed event, every school function he’ll watch via social media….it all gets us that much closer to homecoming day.

A random day of mid-deployment thought-vomit looks something like this:

It’s Saturday and we’re at the trampoline park because I feel sad that they are missing their dad. They need activity and busy-ness from time to time. They need to wear themselves out. Looking around, I’m struck by how no one smiles. Looking across the cavernous lobby, I catch sight of a couple walking to the exit with a small child, their jump time now concluded. The sweaty, flushed face looks up as she reaches to grasp the hand of one of the adults.

“They don’t even look happy,” I think to myself as I condescendingly judge them. The adult seems to carry the burdens of life physically on her back, slightly rounding at the base of her neck.

As they walk out, I continue to ponder the inner thoughts of other patrons. Cell phones in every hand, boredom tinged with a traces of anxiety, we are all watching each other, sizing everyone up. “Look at how good I’m doing at this whole parenting thing. I’ve really got my life together, ” we all think as we pray no one sees how we really don’t have it together, and we are all pretending.

Or maybe it’s just me who feels like a pretend adult.

My eyes return to my book, though I can scarcely recall the sentence I’ve read 4 times. Turns out this whole deployment business has well, ups and downs. And some of the downs, I don’t handle very well.

Thanksgiving. The 4th holiday he missed. Fourth out of the 8 or 9 that he wasn’t here to celebrate. Normally the holidays evoke gratitude and reflection. This year I was angry and irritable.

I’m angry at the political climate. I’m angry that my son is blind in his right eye. I’m angry that I can’t be with my person. My best friend. I’m angry at the sexual harassment perpetrators, the hypocrisy of politics. I’m angry at the church and myself for not loving people as well as we should, being chastened by a remarkable conversation with an atheist/agnostic who’s actions are more Christ-like than most of us who claim a relationship with Jesus.

I’m angry that I have to fear when I send my kids to school that they may not come home.

Still sober and clinging to my 9 months. I feel good about that, but life isn’t as it should be. It’s paled, almost black and white. The color has slipped a bit…my anger turning to a melancholy I can’t shake.

I can laugh. I can take my kids camping in the rain. I can joke and be social with friends. I have girl friends that I see regularly for adult interaction and coffee. I’m reading, learning and growing. I’m working at being a better dog parent/trainer. The stuff I’m learning about is awesome and I want to pick up the phone and talk to him about it, and then oh..wait. I can’t. Dang it.

I look over and see a birthday party in progress. The noise makes my skin crawl.

I’m nervous about our move to San Diego and simultaneously can not wait to get there. Once we get the transition over with, it’ll be fine, I remind myself for the 500th time.

I want to wake up and have this year over.

I try, yet again, to read my book. The kids come running up, their faces flushed. “MOM! This is so fun!” they holler over the loud music, then darting back out to play dodgeball, practice their flips and cartwheels and see how high they can jump.

They will be okay, I marvel. Borrowing some of their enthusiasm, we’re getting through it, I think. Maybe not without some bumps and bruises and rough days, but we’re getting through it.

Put most simply, my thought vomit is well, messy.

Perhaps everyone’s thought vomit is messy like that. Or not. Mine’s pretty loud. And she likes to talk and analyze. A lot.

In our pre-marriage counseling some 20 years ago, a reference was made to a marriage book, by Chad Eastham, “Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti.” In short, men compartmentalize areas of their life, like the little squares and of a waffle. Women, on the other hand, are a tangled mess of saucy goodness where everything is tangled and intertwined, like spaghetti.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve got some sauce falling off the plate because the noodles of my mind are being twirled a bit too fast by life.

Hmmm, now I’m hungry.

Messy spaghetti, anyone?

Scary Things and Happy Tears

Do things that scare you.

Such a great idea – in theory. But things that really scare you? Um….but….it’s scary!

A scary thing to me is anything car engine related. Eric has done a TON of work on this beater, whom we lovingly named Bertha. I grew up in the midst of many cars in various states of completion. I remember playing in the body of a Pontiac pretending to drive. The thing had no wheels or engine, but it drove me all over my imagination! Playing in cars and actually trying to get them running, however, are two very different things.

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We’ve been driving a little Honda Civic for a while now, but it’s tiny. My minions have long legs, we have 3 dogs. I eat my knees while I drive. It’s a bit ridiculous.

We limped her down to have a friend take a look and narrow down what may be the issue. When I turned around to see why Hannah was just standing by the open door, I noticed she was crying.

“What’s wrong??” I thought maybe she’d slammed her finger in the door or something.

“They’re h-h-h-a-p-p-y tears,” she said, sobbing. “I’ve missed Big Bertha so much!!” She climbed in and started petting her seat. (Can’t imagine where she might get her flair for the dramatic and emotional.)

After being told it was likely the alternator (draining the battery and giving us issues dying), I looked in and thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if I could do it myself.” It would have been convenient to have a mechanic just do it, pay for labor, the parts etc., but where’s the fun in that? Plus, paying for an alternator is cheaper than buying a new car! I called around and got a remanufactured alternator, got my military discount, and brought it home.

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I mean, really, what could possibly go wrong?

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Cover and air intake manifold off. DUDE. I know what an air intake manifold is. Also, ratchet, sockets, torque, drive belt, tensioning rod are all terms I am now VERY familiar with!

Huge thanks to the FaceTime interview with my dad, emails with Eric, the YouTube how-to video, and for the Facebook conversations narrowing things down and tips given! Helped me keep my sense of humor for sure!

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Who knew this dang connector would give me such fits!? It was a beast to get out, but I finally did it. Fighting with this thing is what took the most time. That and walking back and forth to hubby’s toolbox a bazillion times to get the right sized sockets and wrenches. Side note: all bolts in cars should be a standard size. Seriously. Why must they be 498 different sized items?

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Not ashamed to say it – I totally sang The Lion King “ahhhh savanya!!” when I got that alternator out!

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Hannah came out to “help” but played on my phone while I put the new shiny alternator in and put all the puzzle pieces back together.

Only one misshap: I lost a nut during reassembly. (Hate it when I lose my nuts!) It’s in the depths where I can see, but cannot reach. I even tried a magnet, but it was too far down in there. This is the point at which I thank my dear husband for being a pack rat with tools and parts. I was able to easily locate a replacement nut and get it done.

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The tensioner was the part the freaked me out the most. Turns out, it wasn’t that bad. You just have to pull on it to loosen that belt and voila! Came right off.

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Put back together good as new! (Well still dusty, but back together!)

Finally I grabbed the keys and because I didn’t want to jinx myself, I refrained from putting away all the tools. I would have hated to have had to drag them all back out again should it not start. I called my parents and said, ” Okay, moment of truth,” and turned the key.

It started.

Annnnd, I cried. (Seriously, I have NO idea where my daughter gets it.)

It runs much better than it did. Going to grab some fuel injector cleaner next, (because I now know what that is) and get my core charge back (I know what that is now, too!)

Welcome back to life Bertha! We’ve missed you!

Wonder and Joy

I need to say thank you.

Thank you to the internet for inspiration. Thank you to all the people who do the holiday season up big. Thank you to the Heather Lands of the world who make me belly laugh about our silly traditions. Thank you for the conversations of dear friends as we eat delicious food, do laundry, and find humor in our family and our work. Thank you for far away friends as we compare notes and ideas to make the holidays wonderful, and commiserate with us when they go awry. Thank you, Mom, for the conversation about the wonder of Christmas, and letting kids be kids.

And a special thank you to Hannah’s teacher.

You see, her teacher shared that she had said her home elf was quite boring. Dobby only moved around but never did anything funny or amazing like the elf in the classroom. She wasn’t shaming me or ridiculing me by sharing what Hannah had said, but was simply sharing the magic of the season…she loved how her students’ faces lit up each day as the elf did some new and crazy thing – even simple things – all by themselves.

It woke me up. Big time.

In a season where perfection abounds, it’s hard when things aren’t they way we’d like them. My person is deployed. (No, they don’t get Christmas off. Or New Year’s. Or the kids’ birthdays. Or their birthday. Or any of the other holidays this year.) The kids are missing their dad. It sucks. Yes, it’s part of it, but it still sucks.

And yet….it’s Christmas.

Hannah’s teacher sharing reminded me that even though it’s not an ideal holiday, that while our hearts are hurting, they can also be filled with joy.

And wonder.

And the magic of a silly elf on the shelf.

Not only did he do all these silly antics over the past month…

…he reminded us all that wonder and joy can still be found.

Kind of what Christmas is all about anyway, right?

❤️ Wishing you joy and wonder this Christmas season ❤️❤️❤️