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

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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 ❤️❤️❤️

I Was Wrong

I remember writing about solo parenting many times throughout the last deployment. Reading many parenting blogs, military support websites and feeling overwhelmed by it all, but still armed with strategies and support to muscle our way through.

As we prepared for this round, I kept thinking how much easier it was going to be. The kids are older now. They can talk and express themselves! They can bathe and dress themselves, even brush their own teeth. They help out with household chores (albeit reluctantly at times). There are no diapers. They are in school, so there will be breaks that we will all get from each other. This will be a piece. of. cake.

Hindsight is not only 20/20, it wears big-ass rose-colored glasses.

Yes, physically, this deployment will likely be easier. Yes, they will have school, that's true. What I wasn't prepared for was the depth of emotions coming from the kids.

Duh.

I know. I know this stuff. Nightly Hannah expresses frustration about missing daddy, sometimes crying, but not all the time. They will ask questions, randomly, catching me off guard. Everyone processes this stuff differently. I was not a military kid, so I don't have that experience. The spouse experience is just different. Both of them go from zero to meltdown far more quickly, which was to be expected. Logically, I get it. I've known the kids would have a hard time, that it would no question be an emotional upheaval. I guess what is surprising is that I wasn't as prepared for it as I thought I was.

I was wrong. Deployments and separations are NEVER easy.

Ever.

They don't get easier, you don't get used to them, and every one of them are different. They are their own unique snapshot of time. They all have their own challenges and victories. And don't get me started on the "Well, you knew what you were getting into when you married a man in the military. What did you expect?"

Bullshit.

For the love of all that is good and holy, stop saying that crap to military spouses! Comprehending it and walking it are VERY different.

The kids will survive, thrive, even though they miss their dad. We'll be fine. We will get through it, like every other time. It may not be perfect harmony, but We can do hard things, like Glennon Doyle Melton says.

We can do hard things.

Day 55

I have not had a drink in nearly 2 months. In 5 days I will have earned my 2 month chip. In that time I have also switched to a plant-based diet.

I would like to say that these 2 decisions are miraculously making me into the fabulous version of myself that I always knew I could be, much like an after picture where life is now wonderful and amazing and the problems of daily life do not exist.

Truth?

What I'm noticing is an awareness of the pervasiveness of drinking culture. Mommy play groups, social media, cute videos depicting funny women discussing parenting over glasses of wine, college life, radio ads, military groups, music, books, etc. It's everywhere. It seems normal. But is it?

I notice personally, that my skin is clear-ish. My clothes are loose. Life is going by, just as it always has. My head is clearer. I feel better. Burying feelings under a heavy blanket of alcohol is no longer an option. I'm reading more and am noticing more, but it's still me. I think that's the thing is that you still have to deal with yourself. I am not reaching and pining for something to drink, as I imagined I would. I don't wake up tired and cranky most of the time. I go to bed without regret, usually just tired and ready for the day to be over.

The 'one day at a time' mantra is ringing true just as much for sobriety as it is for deployment. Play a game with the kids, be present. Prepare a meal. Read. Write. Be with the dogs. Clean the house.

Just do life.

Without the numb.

The Life Raft of Gratitude

Navigating this deployment with kids old enough to comprehend time and distance more than they did the last time around, I’m finding that it’s teaching me how to teach them how to navigate tough emotions. One has to have a good cry, the other wants to not talk about it, for now. “Later, mom. We’ll talk later.”

The urge to fix it is there. It’s like this gene that makes us desire to make everything all better is implanted the minute we hold our children for the first time. I resist this “fix-it gene” because in the long run, masking over feelings is not healthy. I want them to sit in the middle of the mess and know it’s going to be okay. Cry, rage, be mad, exhaust all of it. Feeling all the feelings is healthy and normal. Stuffing, ignoring, masking, and distracting pain will only prolong the inevitable. You cannot go around, over, under pain; at some point you have to go through it. It takes guts. When I don’t know what else to do, I grasp for the things that ease pain. Exercise and physical exertion are often-utilized tools in my belt. I don’t always have that in me, though. That which eases without fail: gratitude. Gratitude is the raft for traveling through the gut-wrenching sludge of pain. It’s a survival vehicle that my kiddos will know well.

For today, I’m focused on the little things; a freshly mowed lawn, dogs that seem to sense a shift and are snuggling in close as if they know we need a little more love today, the dishes that were done last night so I could just sit and be today, teaching my daughter the exquisite release that comes from laughing through tears, the automatic coffee maker for preparing a warm pot before I even slipped a foot out from under the covers, and the quiet calm of knowing that the worst part for me is over, so I can focus on what the kids will need in the coming weeks.

Figuring out one thing – even a tiny thing – that I am grateful for can create a 180-degree shift in my mood and attitude. It creates calm in the midst of chaos, fear, and uncertainty.

I used to love browsing shops and looking for sales before kids. Getting lost in a store or the shelves of a Barnes and Noble was a way to pass deployment time. I still enjoy it a little from time to time when I am afforded the opportunity to escape alone. I really don’t like shopping with other people. While I would gladly stop a bullet and step in front of a train for my kids, I loathe dragging them to the store. LOATHE.

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As a person who gets distracted easily, the concentration of remembering what I need from the list I left in the car (but am too lazy to go back and get), mentally canvassing the cupboards and refrigerator from memory, checking ingredients and prices, all while attempting to keep the kids in line, not grabbing stuff, and preventing bodily injury to themselves and unsuspecting passersby with the cart – I come home exhausted and cranky.

The big thing I’m thankful for this deployment? Amazon Prime and our local HEB Curb-to-You online service.

Seriously. LIFE. CHANGING. I know I’m late to the party, but whoa! School supply shopping? DONE. Birthday shopping for August? DONE. The next upcoming birthday and Christmas will be done and done online. I will never have to leave my house if I don’t want to! No crowds, no hassle, no problem! I got this!

Table for 3 please. We’ll take gratitude for things large and small, with a big ol’ side of humor.