Changes

We have recently moved for the 9th time in about 12 years.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks with packing and unpacking, and then for good measure we threw in a dog CCL surgery!

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He leads a rough life. Obviously.

We are loving the new digs and the ocean of cardboard boxes is slowly diminishing.  San Diego doesn’t get winter weather, although you’d not know it based on the winter jackets and Ugg boots in abundance any day that is below 70 degrees. There have been a few overcast and even rainy days that have induced me to make some yummy soups in my fabulous new kitchen. I actually have room for all of my kitchen gadgets and I missed my coffee mug selection more than I had realized!

Internal things have been changing  in addition to our physical location. This post has been sitting in my mind, and the drafts folder, for a couple of months. A few years ago, I  arrogantly posted a meme about exercise being equal to medication for the treatment of mild depression. It was a platitude photo with little concrete research behind it. I regret posting it because I now know better. For years I’ve used exercise as a way to combat depression. And it kind of works – for a while. But it’s not the only way or even the best way to combat depression for many people; myself included. (I’ve also used retail “therapy”, and of course alcohol. What I’ve come to learn is that drinking with depression/anxiety is like pouring kerosene on a fire. It makes everything significantly worse.)

There’s definitely a stigma around the subject of mental health and seeking help – but it shouldn’t be. Knowing this intellectually for other people is one thing. Getting my head around it for myself is another thing all together. My psychiatrist explained a couple of things. “We use what works, until it no longer works.” For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of person. “We can often point to life circumstances as reasons as to why we feel what we feel, which is why the average span from onset of symptoms to getting help is 10 years.” Oddly enough, this blew my mind when really it shouldn’t have because I should’ve sought help years ago. When you see a therapist or psychiatrist, they take in your history – a sort of timeline of your life snapshot. I don’t think most people look at life like that, but it was enlightening because patterns emerged of depression, low moods, unexplained or irrational thoughts and behaviors, etc. Laid out in that way, it was not only surprising I didn’t recognize the pattern before, but confirmed the statistic that people just don’t get help – for many reasons.

Depression is more than just being sad. We all get sad. It’s part of the ebb and flow of feelings. But actual clinical depression is much more and can have different causes. It also presents in more ways than simply low mood. Depression can come out as anger and irritability, irrationality, physical aches and pains, fatigue, and restlessness to name a few.

  • Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or a number of other conditions.
  • Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.

– Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

As part of my treatment, I now take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. It was like seeing in black and white and then after a few weeks, the color came back. Technically speaking, more neurotransmitters are firing and working properly in the brain. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I didn’t know how bad I felt because it was normal. That’s what depression does – it’s a slow creeper that you don’t see coming. I was no longer jumping at every little noise. I didn’t feel panicky at the irrational thought spirals about awful things happening to the kids. I wasn’t having panic attacks in a store and feeling like I couldn’t breathe walking with a group of people picking up our kids from school. I wasn’t irrationally irritated by the sound of my kids saying, “Mom…” Having depression and anxiety is exhausting.

I *may* have told my doctor that he would have to pry my medication out of my cold dead hands – I feel like myself for the first time in a long time. He laughed and shared that I wasn’t the first patient to have that reaction. “Medication helps a person with depression let more of their personality shine through.”

I’ve returned to exercising, although not at my previous “running marathons” pace. I’ve missed the endorphins and the mind-clearing adrenaline of a great workout. I will get there again, but there’s less frenzy and anxiety about it now. I’m doing it because moving feels good. I’m walking the dogs because I love them and spending time with them makes me happy. I’m running on the beach because I can and the sand helps cushion my injured ankle/tendons. I’m riding bikes with the kids up insane hills because we can do hard things, it feels amazing, and as Hannah says, “the steep downhills are FUN!”

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I hesitated in sharing this part of my life because it’s not comfortable to need help. Who doesn’t like to feel like they have all their shit together?  Growth and change are rarely easy and often uncomfortable but to not do so would be worse. My hope is that sharing my experience might encourage someone who needs it to seek help. I’m grateful for a handful of friends that were open and brave enough to share their own struggles, which in turn gave me the courage to get help for myself.

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Wish

I wish you could see…

I wish you could see what he’s like when no one is around, when no one is watching, warily sizing him up.

The funny boy he is when he’s not trying so hard

To impress you

Make you like him

To appear smart

I wish you could see into her heart

That she loves fiercely

Is loyal

That she really just wants what we all want

To be liked for who we are regardless of what we wear, the stuff we have or the place we call home.

I wish you could see that behind his awkwardness, his desire is connection.

I wish you could see that behind her striving and attention seeking, what she wants is to be marveled at and delighted in.

I wish you could see

That it’s hard to move and say goodbye to friends, and difficult to make new ones.

I wish you could see the way he cried when you called him dumb, carelessly throwing words around like it was no big deal.

To him it was a very big deal. Small things are big things.

I wish you could see the hurt in her eyes when you told her she was ugly, green envy soaked words aimed right where you knew it would hurt the most.

I wish you could see.

I wish you could see the progress he’s made, the milestones surpassed.

I wish you could see the way she smiles from her toes when she nails that cartwheel, backbend or some other contortionist feat; her joy when she learns the new song on her keyboard.

Her determination exceeds her age.

I wish you could see that what looks like disrespect often is his literal, robotic, fact-based way of seeing and relating to the world around him.

I wish you could see what I see.

Instead of judging what you don’t understand.

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.

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

Resilience

We always say it’s not going to happen. We’ll be there for each other, even after they move. Or we move. Or we both are flung to opposite sides of the world.

And we swear, “This time. This time will be different. This time we’ll really stay in touch.”

Military friends are a special breed.

Ever so slowly, life happens. New friends slip in to our lives, boots on the ground, in the current duty station, in your every day life friends. While they open our hearts again, it becomes more challenging to keep up with kids and day-to-day stuff and maintain all those long distance friendships. They seem to get lost somewhere in the everydayness of our new home, among new friends. And we get lost in the memories of their new place.

The calls are replaced with texts. Texts start out frequent, but slowly fade to weekly occurrences, check-ins. More and more of the detail of their daily lives are missed and so it goes. Then it’s merely pictures on social media. Those pictures of their new life without you in it, those are so bittersweet.

They sting just a little. And once again you remind yourself that it’s all part of the process. This breaking of hearts. Sometimes it’s a wonder that we do this not only once, but many times over and over, risking, grieving, and being open again.

As we got up this morning from air mattresses on the empty floor, the moving truck having left the day prior, Hannah quietly asked, “Mom, can we do the ‘Why I love moving, by Hannah’ thing?”

We do this ritual in our family where I say, ‘I love Hannah because, by Mommy’ and then list out all the reasons and things I love about her. Eric and I even did this practice before the kids were born. Items on the list include big things, but also very specific things, and current milestones etc. It’s a tangible way to say “I love you. I see you. Just as you are.”

As she asked to do this and apply it to moving, I was struck by how resilient and strong she really is. This has been a tough week for the little emotional heartbeat of our family. She loves fiercely, and her heart breaks with the same passion. She listed her positives of moving – we all did. Hannah reminded us that while the sky may be overcast – the sun still shines, regardless of whether we can see it or not.

Kids are so dang resilient.

Hearts are resilient.

Tender hearts that are open enough to get broken, repeatedly, are among the strongest ones.

Fair winds and following seas, Corpus Christi!

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.

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 ❤️❤️❤️