Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Cheater Post Because It's Not Really Anything New

I just started blogging on August 28th of this year because a) I needed a creative outlet, and b) I am just vain enough to think that other people care about what I have to say.  (I think this is pretty standard motivation for the average SAHM/unemployed/socially awkward bloggers out there).  
I hadn’t blogged before because I didn’t really understand the culture of blogging.  Now that I’ve been in this world for about four months, I’m starting to catch on...I think.  One thing I didn’t expect was this irrational sense of self-worth I have attached to the numbers of blogging.  The first number that seems to mean something is how many followers I have which sits at 32 as I type this.  I have to remind my middle-school girl self that the number of followers I have does not make me more or less cool.  I am cool no matter what.  Right?  I’m cool, right?
For those of you who aren’t bloggers (which is the majority of my readership), the site actually tells me all kinds of crazy statistics about who is reading my blog.  For instance, Facebook is the site that refers most of my readers (because of my incessant posting...sorry for that FB friends).  I also get a lot of hits from people who have googled things.  Some of the googled terms make sense--like several people have googled things like “Princess Leia blog” or “Leia Hollingsworth stars wars blog.”  However, I can not explain why anyone would google “fat sexy boob blog” or “how to tame a princess.”  Someone, however, did and landed on my page.
One of the most interesting statistics is the country of origin breakdown.  Clearly, the United States is the main country, giving me about 85% of my hits.  However, I get a considerable number of hits from other countries that make sense--Canada, UK, Germany, France, etc.  My favorite thing is when I look and see that I have hits from Slovenia or Croatia or Brazil or Isle of Man.  Isle of Man!  There are Manx people reading my blog!  I don’t know people in any of those countries.
My friend, Kate, lives in the Faroe Islands, so I always know when she visits.  Kind of funny, right?
Anyway, here’s the deal.  I have set a personal goal that doesn’t mean anything, and I’d like you to help me reach it.  Right now, I’ve had about 9,900 hits on my blog since August 28th.  I want to make it to 10,000 before the end of the year.  See, completely meaningless, but fun, right?  So, PLEASE share my blog with all your friends and help me reach my purposeless goal.
Here’s a guide for reading in case you want to direct someone somewhere specific:
For the people who don’t actually know me and need a little introduction: WHERE THE NAME OF MY BLOG CAME FROM
For the people looking for a loooooooooooooooooong read (like sit down by the fire with some hot cocoa): NYC IS AWESOME, NYC IS STILL AWESOME, NYC JUST KEEPS GETTING AWESOMER
For the people looking for something funny: I JUDGE PEOPLE WHO USE POOR GRAMMAR, I JUDGE MY MOM
For the people who want to know what it’s like to turn thirty: MY EXPECTATIONS, MY REALITY
For the people who don’t mind a little sadness mixed with (hopefully) inspiration (you might want to sit down with some hot cocoa for these, too): PERSPECTIVE, MORE PERSPECTIVE, A CHRISTMAS STORYUNCHRISTMASY CHRISTMAS
These are just some of my favorites from the last four months, but feel free to browse the other posts as well.  There are plenty of posts about how adorable my children are and how much time I waste watching TV.  Come on, people, if we can band together, we can hit 10,000 by 2011!  Let’s do it for the...children?  The animals?  The self-absorbed blogger?
Thank you all for boosting my self-esteem reading.  I’m looking forward to 2011 and a whole new year of getting stuff off my chest.  XOXOXO

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, Air Force!

I spend a lot of time complaining about the Air Force (because there is certainly a lot to complain about), but something happened yesterday that warmed my Air Force wife heart, and I thought this would be an appropriate way to give props where props are due.
One of the reasons I’ve been angry/bitter/resentful lately is because we are supposed to find out our next base soon (like a couple of months ago), and due to all the standard Air Force reasons, we have no news.  Scott is leaving for six months (starting January 3rd), and we should technically move to our next base (which could be in WA, OK, CA, DE, NJ, AL or HI) in July or August.  Due to the fact that Scott won’t be around, that means I’ll have to sell our house and buy a new one on my own (BOO HISS!!!).  
I don’t so much dread the decision-making portion--I’m actually completely comfortable with making all of our major life decisions because it’s kind of in the job description of a pilot’s wife, but it’s the logistics part that makes me absolutely batty.  What if they don’t tell us where we’re moving until a month before we’re supposed to be there?  What if, despite the fact that we’ve been told there’s no reason we shouldn’t get one of our top choices, something Air Force-y happens and we end up with our fifth choice?  (These are not irrational fears, as both of these things have happened to friends recently.)
I have a FANTASTIC support system in my parents and mother-in-law (not to mention countless civilian and AF friends), so I won’t literally have to do it on my own, but it’s stressful nonetheless.
Anyway, (this post was supposed to be about NOT complaining about the Air Force, right?) our squadron had a change of command last week (civilian translation: Scott got a new boss).  Yesterday, Scott received an email from the squadron commander asking him to come in for a meeting to discuss his next assignment.  In my mind, this is HUGE.
The squadron commander oversees around 150 pilots and loadmasters and their families.  He works longer hours than anyone else in the squadron and takes the blame for things that aren’t his fault.  We have been blessed to have incredible commanders the entire time we’ve been at Charleston (and we’re on our fourth).  The fact that this new commander has been in command for less than a week but is already in tune with an individual’s needs (my husband in this instance) is pretty damn spectacular.
When Scott explained to him that we’re in OK for some much-needed leave, his response floored me.  Not only did he tell Scott that he would be working on it and try to have something figured out in the next week, but he also told Scott to stop checking his email and spend time with his family.  Oh, and he added, “And tell your family in OK happy holidays from the Pelicans!”
This.  Makes.  Me.  Smile.
It gets really easy sometimes to feel like cogs in a machine, but this is a perfect example of someone going above and beyond to recognize us as individuals.  His actions were the epitome of the Christmas cheer I desperately needed.  So, even though I can’t say his name because I think the Air Force would get mad, thank you, new commander!
And on a related note, here are some pictures that show another reason it’s sometimes really great to be in the Air Force:
Will and a friend waiting on the flight line for Santa to arrive
Santa's sleigh
Santa's arrival!
Santa hugging one of his reindeer

The boys and Santa in front of the static mini-C-17

I LOVE THESE BOYS. (even the old guy)

Family pic

Family pic with the C-17, which seems like a family member sometimes

The boys playing in the C-17 (Will told us earlier in the day that he wanted to be a jet driver when he gets big.)
So...thank you, Air Force, for the good stuff.  Sorry I've been so ungrateful lately.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Sermon for Those Feeling Un-Christmasy

So, it’s no secret that this year has been uh...long for me.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, start at the beginning of my blog and catch up...or just read THIS.)  One of my main motivations for posting about how rough this year has been is because I’m well-aware that I’m not alone.  
Although Christmas can be the most magical time of year, especially for those of us surrounded by children, it can be difficult when the rest of the year has felt very un-Christmasy.
Last week, Will’s 4K class visited a 92-year-old woman in her home and then went on to  a local nursing home to sing for the residents.  I spent the entire field trip choking back tears (standard operating procedure these days) because a) nothing is cuter than watching four and five-year-olds sing Christmas songs loudly and out of tune, and b) I was so incredibly touched by the sweetness with which the kids treated the elderly people, some of which seemed a little bit scary even to me.
The kids had gathered slipper socks and decorated cards to give small gift bags to the residents.  When they were finished singing, Will’s teacher instructed them to take one bag and make sure they didn’t miss anyone in the room.  Will was one of the last to get a bag.  He scanned the room and found a man, someone all the other kids had missed despite the fact that he was positioned in his wheelchair smack dab in the middle of the room.  
The man, clearly one of the oldest people in the room had a few wisps of white hair on the sides of his head.  He was dressed warmly, his lap covered with a tattered blanket and his feet covered with thick black socks.  He had slept through the entire performance.  Will walked over, while the rest of the kids were getting hugs from and posing for pictures with younger, livelier residents, and set the bag on the foot rest of the wheelchair.  He turned to look at me (as I bit my lip and willed the tears back into my eye sockets), and I nodded yes to let him know it was okay.  He started to walk toward me but turned back and put his hand on the man’s hand.  For a few seconds, he stood there smiling at a man whom he’d never met but clearly needed a little Christmas cheer.  Patting the man’s hand, Will whispered, “Merry Christmas!”  (Holy moly, this kid’s going to do me in.)  
Later that day, we were goofing off around the house, and I was recording the kids playing.  During their performance, the 4K class had yelled recited a portion of the Christmas story.  At the time, I’d been trying to take pictures while holding several of the kids’ coats, and I wasn’t really listening.  I asked Will if he could tell me the scripture that he had said earlier with his class.  This is what I got on camera:
In case you were too busy admiring how adorable my son is, this is what he said: “And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered and she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”
How many times have I heard the Christmas story?  Well, let’s see.  I’m thirty, and I grew up in a “Christian home,” participated in countless Bible studies or home groups, attended a Christian private school for eight years, and attended church regularly my entire life, so let’s just round up and say I’ve heard the story eight million times.  But when I watched this back four or five times after uploading it to my computer that night, I found myself getting emotional again.  What’s that saying?  Out of the mouth of babes?  Will had just preached the perfect Christmas sermon that I needed to hear.
This year alone, some of my friends lost or spent the entire year looking for a job.  I have watched my friends’ marriages crumble, torn apart by infidelity, apathy, sadness and loss, or a combination of those things.  I’ve watched, heartbroken, while other friends struggled to conceive.  I have several friends who lost babies.  Their babies died.  I cry on a regular basis for these friends when I’m praying or just watching my kids sleep.  Two friends lost siblings to suicide.  One friend’s step-mom was brutally murdered.  The wife of one of my husband’s fellow squadron members found out she had cancer shortly after finding out she was pregnant with her second child.  Their family lost the baby and then lost her within a few weeks.  She was 34, and her son was just a few months younger than Will.
That does not feel like Christmas.
My issues, the daily frustrations and disappointments of Air Force life, marriage, and motherhood, are dwarfed by these monumental tragedies.  Most of my prayers for myself and those around me the last year have been along these lines...it’s not supposed to be this way.  This is not what I expected.  Why is this happening?  What am I supposed to do?
It’s not supposed to be this way.
When Will rehearsed his lines for his Christmas program, saying the words I’ve read or heard eight million times, I realized that this is the Christmas story.  Or at least it’s the beginning.  Any woman who has carried a baby knows that the last month can be miserable.  Considering how bad it is in modern times, I don’t even want to think what it was like for Mary.
It had come time for Mary to deliver--no surprise, but then there was this: there was no room in the inn.  There was no room in the inn.  I have to think that Mary prayed the same kind of prayers I’ve been praying...it’s not supposed to be this way.  This is not what I expected.  Why is this happening?  What am I supposed to do?  It’s not supposed to be this way.
But what does the story tell us?  It says she swaddled him and laid him in a manger.  Because that’s what we do when life shatters our expectations--we do what makes the most sense for those we love and hope for the best.
When Will recited this scripture, I felt comforted by Mary’s predicament for a moment and then thought--then what?  What did she do after things didn’t go as expected?
So, I googled the passage and read through the second chapter of Luke, and this is what I found.  At the same time that Mary was feeling frustrated, exhausted, and confused, there were angels singing.  Angels were singing.  Some versions of the Bible call it a “multitude of heavenly hosts” or a “choir of angels.”  Almost all the versions say that they were “praising God.”  While Mary rested in a barn surrounded by animals, undoubtedly overwhelmed by the whole birth experience, there were angels praising God on her behalf.
When the shepherds ran to Bethlehem to tell Mary and Joseph what they had heard from God--that the prophecies of a Messiah had been fulfilled--they didn’t find Mary cleaned up and in the honeymoon suite at the inn because a vacancy had come open in the days after Jesus’ birth.  No, they found her still in the stable.  With confirmation of what they heard, the shepherds left, telling everyone they met along the way.  When Mary was just trying to get through the first few days with a newborn, someone else was telling her story.  The Message goes so far as to say they were "glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told."
But here’s the part that was most comforting to me.  Verse 19 tells us that she “treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart.”  The Message reads, “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.”  What a strange, tiny detail to include in an otherwise magnificent story.  We have a multitude of heavenly hosts telling the story of a long-awaited Messiah in a tumultuous time in history, and yet, the author of the story thought it prudent to let us know how Mary was processing it all.
I have no doubt that Mary was still processing the meaning behind her personal experience with the Christ child’s birth on the day that she watched her child die.    I wonder how many times Mary said in her lifetime, “This is not what I expected.  It’s not supposed to be this way.”
And yet, two thousand years later choirs continue to sing and people are still running to tell everyone they meet about the birth of her child because even in the moments of our lives that don’t make any sense, the times when all we can do is keep things to ourselves, deep within ourselves, there is something much bigger than ourselves at work.  
Nowhere in the story does it say that Mary suddenly felt better because everything made sense, but her story became the prologue to what has been branded the greatest story ever told.  My prayer this Christmas season is for all the people who find themselves still stuck in the stable with no room in the inn.  I pray that you find comfort in knowing that it’s okay to hold your story dear, deep within yourself with the promise that your story hasn’t yet ended.  
Much, much love to all!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Techno-dependency

As much as I resist it, I’m like most red-blooded Americans in that I rely WAY too heavily on technology.  When I was little, we didn’t even have a TV until I was four, and I swore that when I had children, I would limit the amount of TV my kids watched and video games they played to a bare minimum.  Instead, we would spend our days baking cookies and painting and going for nature walks and doing all the things that “good moms” do with their kids. 
For the most part, I’m proud to say I have stuck to my guns, but regardless of how little exposure my kids have to brain-numbing activities (I’m not completely knocking the brain-numbers--I certainly participate in lots of them), Will and Ben can operate my phone better than I can, play their own movies and video games, and practically set the DVR to record their favorite programs.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is the world my children live in, and I’m beginning to embrace it for what it is.
The thing that I have come to depend on the most is surprisingly (to me) the DVD player in the car.  We spend a lot of time on cross-country road trips (thanks to the AF’s training schedule), and sometimes the only way to get where we’re going without someone falling apart is to watch Toy Story 3 nine times.
Last Christmas, my mom bought a dual screen DVD player for the boys which was great because Ben was starting to be interested in what was happening on the screen.  As someone who has struggled with neck and back pain since childhood, I felt guilty about him having to crane his neck to see, and if I switched it to the other side of the car, I had to listen to Will complain about how he couldn’t see/his neck hurt.  With dual screens, everyone was happy.
Until the day that the second screen stopped working.  Kaput.
We went several weeks with one screen because I was too busy (re:wouldn’t think about it until 1:00 in the morning) to call the company to have the broken one fixed.  When I did finally call (because I was having nightmares about our upcoming Christmas trip home), the nice tech guy and I decided it would be best to try replacing the cable that connects to the two screens first to see if that was the problem.
I didn’t have high hopes because it couldn’t possibly be that easy, right?  I sent him a check for $11.90 to cover the cost of the cable plus shipping and handling, and two days later, we had a cable.  When I got in the car, I was prepared for disappointment (it’s been one of those Murphy’s Law months), and when I plugged in the cable...VOILA!  Two working screens!  TWO WORKING SCREENS!
IT WAS A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!!
I joke, but it was literally the only thing that went right that day, and I was so excited, that  I pulled out my cell phone to call my mom to tell her the good news.  Of course, the whole reason we were getting in the car in the first place was to drive to the Sprint store to get a new phone because I’d dropped mine in the toilet the night before.
What are you gonna do?
I, for one, am going to be thankful today that we can watch Imagination Movers eighteen times on the way to OK later this week without anyone getting a pinched nerve.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Talk about Perspective (Part 2)

This is the second installment of a two-part piece that I divided up because this is a freaking blog, and blog posts are supposed to be short.  I can’t help but write long pieces, and I apologize for that, but this blog isn’t really about you, now is it?  So, read part 1 first, and then continue with this. Much love to any of you who actually read all of it.
So, here’s my life:
Loving parents---->Education---->Marriage---->Children---->Friends---->Writing---->
Pretty much a summary of what I view to be a close-to-perfect life in progress.
In May of this year, my husband returned from a deployment and was asked to attend an Air Force program called High Flight.  The purpose of the conference was to educate us about his future in the Air Force, while providing opportunities for us to learn from and socialize with people in much higher positions.  At first, I was just glad he was going to be home, and if it meant I had to travel to St. Louis for us to spend some time with him, so be it.  I’d make a mini-vaca out of it (it’s kind of what I do).
Two days into the conference I got this terrible sinking feeling.  I didn’t sleep for several nights in a row (and for once, it wasn’t because I was up with sick/cranky children).  I started feeling so incredibly overwhelmed by the things I was learning in all of our briefings that I was literally feeling short of breath and nauseous.  Not exactly the effects the planners of the conference were going for, I don’t think.
I met some very dedicated officers and wives who have led impressive and admirable lives.  However, the more I listened the more I realized how I did not want their lives to be my life.  Basically, as each (very enlightening and interesting) moment ticked by, I saw all my hopes and dreams swirling down the Air Force toilet.  I know it’s not like me, but I’m not trying to be funny.
So here’s the deal.  Scott and I got married in 2003 after he graduated from the Air Force Academy and before he went to pilot training.  After pilot training, we moved to Charleston, SC to start his assignment as a C-17 pilot.  I finished my Masters degree the first year we were married while working part-time at a chemical manufacturing plant (this is a typical AF wife job, found through a temp agency and not related to my degrees).
I had Will two months after we arrived in Charleston and began my life as a stay-at-home mom, something I had always planned on doing.  When Will was a baby, I did some freelance editing from home to keep my brain moving but focused most of my energy on hanging out with the cutest/smartest kid to ever walk to the face of Earth.  
Right before Ben was born, I started the ball rolling on something I had been thinking/talking/praying about for a few months.  I knew Ben would be our last child, and I was trying to think about the future.  A very long story short, I decided to start seminary classes because if I wasn’t going to start working at our next base, I knew I wanted to be working TOWARD something.  
We added Ben to the mix three years and three months after Will (who knew two people could create TWO perfect children?), and I was still loving being a stay-at-home mom.  (Obviously, there are days I want to run away, but to get back to the theme of the beginning of this post, my life as a SAHM is pretty awesome.)
Without getting into any gritty details (mainly because I have a tendency to turn bitter and angry when talking about this, and that’s not the road I’m wanting to go down here), it became increasingly clear that beginning my seminary classes was not going to be a possibility.  Simply put, I was disappointed.
As Scott and I discussed the next few years of our life, I started feeling more and more suffocated.  There was nothing I could do to change the fact that Scott was in the Air Force and in turn the fact that all major decisions (where we live, when we’ll move) will be in the hands of someone else (someone who has little regard for my feelings) for a very long time.  Going back to school seemed like a way to take back some control...like even if they sent me somewhere else, if I was working toward another degree, it would be okay.  I would be doing something purposeful and stimulating, something that was just mine.  But that wasn’t going to happen.
I started having daily emotional breakdowns--like crying in the shower because I didn’t want to leave the house kind of breakdowns.  My kids were certainly my saving grace because they gave me a reason to get out of bed.  I mean, they had to have breakfast, and no one else was going to change Ben’s diapers or take Will to school.
So, going back to part 1 of this post, I kept telling myself I needed to get a grip, find some perspective.  This was not as bad as it could be.  Lots of people have it harder than me.  Things could be worse.  I mean, nothing all that tragic had really happened, right?  I talked to my parents.  I talked to my husband.  I talked to God.  I tried to focus on the details of my life (so many great things going on!) instead of being overwhelmed by the big picture.  I did all the things that made sense, trying to get rid of these awful feelings.
I knew it was getting bad when I saw this sign on the way home one night and cried the rest of the way home.
This is what I learned: anger, bitterness, and resentment are the ugly stepsisters of happiness.  And the ugly stepmother?  Depression.  Until this point in my life, depression was something dramatic people dealt with.  I mean, depression is classified as a mental illness, for God’s sake.  I was obviously not depressed.  That’s something that weak, stupid people fall back on when they can’t handle reality.  Right?  
I’m strong (one of the strongest!), self-confident, and level-headed.  Not to mention the fact that I’m a Christian.  And Christians are just supposed to cast their burdens on Jesus, right?  Simple as that.  In the church I grew up in, I’m pretty sure we would have just prayed for deliverance and healing, and everything would have just been better.  So, why, when I had all the answers, all the coping mechanisms, all the solutions right in front of me did I not feel any better when I woke up each morning?  
I hung this in my bathroom to remind me (in some of the only moments I had by myself) that things would get better.  Things were going to get better, right?
I was watching TV late one night (one of the wonderful effects of depression was the inability to sleep despite the fact that I was constantly tired) and saw a commercial for an anti-depressant.  It was a commercial I’d seen before but never paid attention to.  All of a sudden, something clicked.  I was that person in the commercial.  The person staring out the window at nothing.  That was me.  I was depressed.  I literally started laughing.  Out loud.  Scott was sleeping beside me, and he started to stir, so I cupped my hand over my mouth, stifling the noise until it became painful, and I just cried.  And kept crying.  Long after the commercial was over and the Golden Girls was back on.  I probably cried for a solid twenty minutes, and not a steady flow of tears, but massive heaving bellows from my gut.  At one point, I got up to get some tissues because my face was starting to sting.  Every couple of minutes, I would hold my breath in an effort to stop, but instead, I would start laughing again.  Followed by more blubbering.
Shortly after this episode, the days started getting better.  Not good, but better.  Giving the feelings a name, calling it what it was was liberating.  I was moving toward my thirtieth birthday and had started terming this period of my life as my “1/3 life crisis.”  Before, I had just been talking to people about finding solutions.  What should I do?  How do I fix this?  Help me find perspective!
But now, I started talking about it.  Like really talking about it.  I thought about going to therapy--the Air Force actually offers free counseling on base, but even that seemed like a way to share my feelings without actually sharing my feelings.  Instead of bottling my thoughts inside my head, I would bottle them in an office with a stranger.  
I knew the only way I was going to get where I need to go was to be honest with the people who knew and loved me--and to not worry about what they were going to think.  I started talking openly about how angry I was that so much of my life was controlled by the Air Force.  I talked about how badly I didn’t want to be bitter about how I’d been treated by “the church.”  I wanted to know how to not end up resentful ten, fifteen, twenty years into my marriage when I looked back to see that I had “supported” my husband and “the mission” to the point that I had no identity as an individual.
And the most important part is that I wasn’t sugarcoating it.  I find myself surrounded by people who are afraid to talk about what is really going on.  And I was as guilty as any of them.  I’m not saying you have to share all your business all the time with all people (uh...like by blogging publicly about it or something), but I have got to be real about this.  At the core of who I am is someone who hates being dishonest.  Probably more than any other negative quality I can think of.  I strive to be the same person to all people, and it makes me squirm when someone thinks I’m someone I’m not.  
And my whole life--all of it--I have tried to be me while other people created characterizations of me that I didn’t really like.  When I say I’m a Christian or an Air Force wife or a stay-at-home mom, all of those things are true, but I think I have a different definition of those things than a lot of people--and that’s where the problem lies.  I can’t be someone else’s definition of me.
On some level, this is the same struggle I had in first grade as a pretty little blonde from a working class family entering the world of wealth and prestige at a private school. It’s the same struggle I had in junior high when I was navigating the passage from child to teenager.  It was the same struggle I had in college when I was finding independence.  I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the same struggle I’m going to have until the day I die.  
And that’s okay.
Will gave me this tattoo that he got at a birthday party.  He said it was too girlish for him.  Ironically, I cried a little bit the day the last bits washed off.
Here’s where I am today, though.  In reality, I do, for the most part have it together.  I’m generally balanced, and on some level, I pride myself in being a rock for my family and friends.  I have never (nor will I ever) purport to have to it all figured out, but I think the nature of who I am to others makes people believe I’m a little bit superhuman.  I want to correct that misperception in part to take the pressure off myself, but mainly to help other people take the pressure off themselves.  We are not made to be superhuman.
The last month has been a bit strange for me.  I’ve had really good days and really bad days (which I blame on the fact that my husband got a vasectomy and I went off the pill and am thus a hormonal nightmare), but I know I’m moving in the right direction.  At first I thought I was feeling better because of the days I get up and and say "I choose to be happy."  But I've realized that what is far more important is forgiving myself for the days when I wake up and say "I'm not strong enough to be happy."
Putting this all out there is my way of banishing anger, bitterness, and resentment--the three ugly daughters of depression--from my kingdom.  Happiness might be sweeping floors now, but the glass slipper is in sight, and oddly enough, I am my own Prince Charming.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Talk about Perspective (Part 1)

I have been putting off this post for a long time because I just don’t want to write it, but it stays in my head, whispering and sometimes shouting, because I know someone needs to read it.  So, despite the fact that I really don’t want to write it, here goes nothing.
I would describe myself as equal parts realist and idealist.  Depending on my mood or circumstance, one side will win out every now and then, but when it comes down to it, between having good parents and watching a lot of Oprah, I am a person who has always lives with an overarching sense of balance.  Whether it’s in my faith or politics, the way I communicate with my husband, or the way I discipline my children, I am a huge fan of compromise through mutual respect and moderation.
One of the things that keeps me traveling this course is that my parents always instilled a good sense of PERSPECTIVE.  Growing up in a working class family taught me to appreciate what little we had at times, especially in light of the families we met while doing community outreach or world missions work, families who literally had nothing.  
Perhaps what makes my situation slightly unique is that I also had exposure to the other end of the spectrum.  When I entered kindergarten at the lowest-performing elementary school in Oklahoma City (which is saying A LOT), my teacher practically drove my parents to a private school and insisted they send me there.  After the initial consultation with school officials, my parents marched right back to Mrs. Smith saying, “DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THAT SCHOOL COSTS?”  
My dad worked at the produce warehouse for Safeway.  He was paid hourly, making what blue collar people like to call “good money,” and my mom stayed at home with me.  The only reason we weren’t “poor” is because my parents were smart enough to budget and had at the root of their financial planning a belief that being good stewards of their money (re: giving a lot of it away to people who needed it) would always land them on the right side of karma.  (As evangelical Christians, we called this “reaping what you sow,” and to this day, although I can’t explain it, I can say it ALWAYS works.)
The tuition at this private school for 1st grade was about 20% of my dad’s yearly salary.  My kindergarten teacher told my parents to have me tested to see if I would qualify for academic scholarships, which is exactly what they did.  I was accepted into 1st grade on an 80% scholarship, and my parents were convinced by Mrs. Smith that I could benefit from the private school setting enough that they found a way to sacrifice for the rest.  (Consequently, my mom started college during my kindergarten year, so my parents were shelling out cash for education all over the place, teaching me another lesson to add to my cheerful giver lesson--that education is one thing worth sacrificing for.)
So, back to this whole perspective thing.  I had seen what poverty looked like on countless occasions--the church we attended was in a pretty seedy part of town with lots of bars and strip clubs and trailer parks.  We frequently visited the families around the church, first to see if there were any immediate needs to be met--groceries, electricity bills, medical treatment--and secondly to invite them to church.  I remember vividly one family with a gaggle of freckle-faced kids, whose home smelled like urine and trash (looking back with an adult perspective, I have no doubt that all of those children were probably being physically and sexually abused).  
One Sunday morning after we had brought them groceries earlier in the week, the kids showed up for Sunday service.  The older kids had combed the younger kids’ hair and wiped them down.  Even with their best efforts, only the oldest daughter was wearing shoes, and the younger ones were in their underwear or soiled diapers.  One little boy walked straight up to the altar, mouth gaping at the preacher, eating green beans with a fork straight out of the can.  They were a part of our Sunday school class for a few weeks, and then disappeared mysteriously.  (Again, with adult perspective, their dad was probably sick of church people getting in the middle of his business.)  At the time, I was about five years old, but everything about that family has stuck with me to this day.  The little boy, his curly red hair slicked to the side in front and sticking straight up in back, munching on cold green beans continues to inform the decisions I make in my faith and politics and daily living.  It’s also the thing that makes me want to tear my hair out when my own children complain about how I won’t let them buy more toys at Walmart.
I spent eight years at my private school, thanks to my academic scholarship.  Most of my friends fell into two categories: 1) People whose moms and dads were doctors or lawyers or stockbrokers, who lived in giant houses and drove cars that cost more than the house I lived in, and 2) People whose parents were “entrepreneurs” or “venture capitalists” or some other non-descript title because really, they were so damn rich (and their families had been for so long) that they had no idea how rich they were.  These were the people whose houses I got lost in during birthday parties and who had warehouses for their cars.
I write about the spectrum of wealth because what I learned from those experiences is this: no matter how much money someone has or doesn’t have, everyone has the capacity to be happy or sad.  Also, there will always be someone who has it better than me, and there will always be someone who doesn’t have it as good as me.  THAT is perspective.
So, you may be wondering why this post would be so difficult for me to write.  Like...so she learned some things about love, life, and the pursuit of happiness. What is so difficult about that?  I’ll post the rest of the story in part 2 tomorrow.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Uh...Apparently, I Missed My Calling



I had five bridesmaids.  Aside from my SIL (whom I obviously met through my husband),  all of them were childhood friends.  I met April when her family started attending our church while we were in elementary school.  She remains among my closest friends.  Well, April is actually one of my farthest friends geographically since she and her husband moved to New Zealand to get their PhDs, but you know what I mean.
April has seen me and loved me through some of my darkest hours to include bad haircuts, bad break-ups, and really, really bad hangovers.  She stood by me at my wedding, asked me to do the same for her, and loves my children as much as their grandparents do (almost).  She’s the little sister I never had (which was fine because I really enjoy being an only child) and even though we’re separated by oceans, the moment I found her in baggage claim a few weeks ago for our Houston girls’ weekend, I felt like we had both just gotten ungrounded for sneaking out to see boys, and we were finally getting to hang out again.
Instead of a couple weeks of catching up, we had about a year and a half to catch up on.  April was in country to attend/present at a conference in Houston, and she was going to be there all by her lonesome.  I had thought about flying home to OK to see her but couldn’t find cheap tickets, and when she suggested coming to Houston, I jumped on it.  The tickets were cheaper, and I would be the only one there with her, so no fighting for her attention with all the other people “back home.”
I don’t think civilians understand the effort that goes into taking leave in the Air Force.  I don’t mean to get all military-snob about it, but the Air Force is not a huge fan of flexibility.  I mean, “they” expect Scott to drop his life on a moment’s notice, but getting and keeping leave on the books takes some serious finagling and/or Harry Potteresque magic.  In order to have my girls’ weekend, Scott would have to take leave to stay with the boys, and the Air Force would have to allow him to keep that leave.
Despite my reservations about the possibility that everything would work out, I booked the plane ticket and held my breath.  As the weekend approached, it looked like Scott was actually  going to be able to make it work.  (“They” did ask him to leave on a short trip the day after I was scheduled to return, which a) would have taken away a portion of his leave, and b) made me nervous about making flight connections in time for him to leave six hours after I was scheduled to arrive back in Charleston, but he said no to the trip.)  I’d like to take this moment to pause and say THANK YOU to Scott because he made the right sensible hard choice to make my life easier.  And that doesn’t happen all that often in this AF wife life.


Anyway, I digress.  So, April and I were ready for our girls weekend.  I could write pages about stuff that doesn’t mean anything to anyone but the two of us, but I’ll just summarize.  Our girls weekend was a very typical drinking wine and eating Chinese food, shopping and talking about ex-boyfriends kind of affair.  Oh, and we had pillow fights in our underwear.  (This is what guys think we do, right?)  Whatever.  It was all kinds of girly fun.
What I really want to write about are a few surprising things that happened that are far more interesting that our panty pillow fights.
  1. When coming through security, I got a speech from the TSA agent about how I should really switch from Colgate to Crest because Crest is better.  He then added, “Of course, you’re so pretty, I’d even kiss you with stinky breath.”  Yeah, um...just give me my shoes.  So freaking weird.  (I never get these kinds of comments when I have two small children hanging off my hips.)
  2. I was shopping at the Houston Galleria and noticed a huge crowd of people in front of the Dylan’s Candy Bar.  As I got closer, I realized it was because Dylan Lauren was signing her new book.  I nabbed a book (which reads like a 6th grade girl’s diary but has really fabulous/coffee table worthy pictures), had her sign it to Will and Ben, and chatted for a few seconds.  It’s always so refreshing to meet super HAWT famous people, who are normal/nice.
  3. By far, the most surprising thing that happened while we were in Houston was our cab ride from the hotel to the airport to go home.  Here is the best version I can come up with of our conversation with “Marco” from El Salvador, the world’s best/worst cabbie ever:
April and I slide into the backseat while Marco (fake name because he refused to tell us his real name) loads our bags into the trunk.  I pull out my phone to check the time.  Marco climbs in the front seat, flips on the overhead light, and turns to stare at us.  “Where you going?”
“The airport,” I say, hoping it would be an uneventful ride so that April and I could enjoy our last hour together before heading to opposite ends of the earth.
Marco is quiet for about fifteen seconds before asking, “So, you girls in showbiz?”
April snorts a laugh and says, “I’m in education.”
I add, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
“Education?”  Marco says this as if he’s never heard of it.
“Yes, I’m a PhD student,” April explains.
Marco laughs to himself, “What you mean?”
With a hint of frustration in her voice, April answers again, “I’m studying at a university, and she’s a mom.”
“So, you’re not in showbiz?” Marco asks.  (I start to wonder if we are dealing with a language barrier issue.)
“NO!  What do you mean?” April asks.
“This hotel you stay in.  Is a showbiz hotel.”
Holy shit.  If this is going where I think it’s going, I want to throw up.  April booked our hotel because it was cheap and next door to the hotel in which her conference was being held.  There was nothing particularly memorable about the place.  It was a chain with clean rooms and all the necessary amenities.
Marco continues, “Yes, I always pick up the showbiz honeys at this hotel.  They are my friends.”
April, the more naive of the two of us, grabs my arm, her eyes wide, and mouths, “What the hell?” 
I interject, “Are you talking about strippers?”
“Yes, yes.  Showgirls!  They come and stay here at this hotel and work in the Houston clubs for big dollars,” Marco explains as if this piece of information was completely normal.  
Catching up, April blurts out, “You thought we were strippers?”
At this point, Marco flips the overhead light back on and looks us up and down.  “Yeah, sure.”
Laughing, April says, “I’m too fat to be a stripper!”
Marco turns the light back on (after which we ask him if we’re on Taxicab Confessions because this is all too weird), takes another look, and says, “No!  You look good to be a stripper.  Very nice looking.”  Nothing like a vote of confidence from a cab driver old enough to be her dad to make a girl feel really special.
Acting appalled, April says, “That’s not very nice!”
Marco quips, “It’s a fucking compliment!”
April, never one to let something go, probes Marco with more questions, while I slyly turn on the notes function on my phone and start typing everything he says.
“So, when you say the showbiz honeys are your friends, what does that mean?”
“We go to lunch.  You know, I help them if they need help.”
“And then you sleep with them, right?”
“Well, I...” Marco pauses.  “What’s your name?”
“What’s your name?”
“No, I asked you first.”
“I’m April, and this is Leia.”
“April?”
“Yes.”
“That’s a stripper name!”  Marco lets out a belly laugh, turns the light back on, looks back at us with a grin, and turns it back off.  “So, you guys have boyfriends?”
“We’re both married!” April says enthusiastically.
“Married?  Where are your husbands?”
I jump in, “Mine is watching my kids, and hers is visiting family in Oklahoma.”
“Oh, so you don’t worry about them while they’re away because they are with your family?”  Marco seems genuinely concerned.
April, puzzled by the question, answers, “I don’t really worry about him.  He can take care of himself just fine.”
“That’s not what I mean, April!” Marco answers, shaking his finger at us.  “You know, you’re not worried he’s with other honeys while you go away.”
Laughing, April says, “NO!  I don’t worry about that at all.”
“Why?  You think it isn’t possible he looks at other women?”
“We’re married.  We’re committed to each other,” April says, completely sincerely.  “And I especially wouldn’t worry about him seeing a stripper.”
“You never know what can happen when the cat is away.”
Dismissing Marco’s comment, April asks, “What about you?  Have you ever been married?  Have you ever known real love?”  Thank you, April, for making an awkward conversation downright stupid.
“Oh, yeah, yeah.  I was married once.  I know love, romantic love, but I don’t need it anymore.”  Marco continues in this vein, explaining that he receives love from his family that means something, but that he’s not interested in romantic love at his age.
“So, you’re telling me that you’re not interested in having a real, meaningful relationship with a woman?”  I’m beginning to think April thinks she’s actually going to convert this 49-year-old cab driver (he had mentioned his age in his long story about how men his age have different needs than men our age) to the School of True Love.  I’m not holding my breath.
“What you mean?” Marco seems offended.  “My friendships are meaningful.  We both give and receive and love each other in our way.  You know, I scratch their backs...”
“I don’t buy it.”  Oh, April.
“You will know when you are older.  You will see.”  Marco pulls out his phone and scrolls through some pictures.  He hands it back to us, and April’s mouth drops open at the sight of a bikini-clad blonde somewhere around our age.  If, in fact, this is one of Marco’s lunch buddies, he has clearly outpunted his coverage.  I wonder how much of our cab fare is going to end up in this girl’s nose.  “This is one of my best customers.”
Without acknowledging the blonde, April hands the phone back and says, “I don’t think it has anything to do with age.  I am a happy person, and I think I always will be happy because I have created a life with people that add to my happiness.  I just think you would be happier if you found a person to share your life with.”
At this, Marco laughs another belly laugh, throwing his head back with a quick flip  of the light on and off, “Oh, April!  What is it you are doing, Leia?  Why are you the quiet one?  I can tell April is the loud one.”
“Actually, I’m just typing your conversation on my phone so I can blog about you later.”  I show him my phone.  “And I’m usually the loud one.”
“Oh, no!  You better not put me on your blog on the internet.  No!”  He lets out a guffaw, which makes me feel better because for a split second I had a flash of a double-murder in the back of our cab.  The headline would read, “Two Possible Strippers Killed by Irate Cabbie After Promising to Broadcast His Love Life On-line.”
As we near the entrance to the airport, Marco turns sentimental.  “Girls, you are so funny.  You know, truly, love is a profound and rare gift that I hope everyone can have.”  This guy is like a walking Dove chocolate wrapper.
We exit the cab and grab our bags.  April pays for the ride, and for a minute I think she might give Marco a hug--and then she stops probably realizing that his hands have been all up in some girl named Cinnamon’s hoochie-koo.
Instead, we both thank him for the ride and head inside.  I call the cab company to give Marco a good review, but they tell me they can only process complaints, which is fine because we probably need to call our husbands and make sure they aren’t hanging out at Night Trips.