Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I ♥ My Mama...My Aging, Senile Mama

My mama turned 50 today, which is apparently when the rest of the world decides you are old.  Here’s proof:

This literally came today in the mail.  I'm too lazy to rotate it, but you get the point.

But she is anything but old.  She’s probably the hippest cat I know, way hipper than I could ever pretend to be.  Thinking back over our mother-daughter relationship, I remember all the things that every girl should remember:
    • the time I used her lipstick to cover my entire body in a fuchsia that was not even appropriate in the 80s, 
    • the time I won the socks vs. tights debate on my first day of kindergarten,
    • the time she bought me a training bra after I told her I had breast cancer in first grade,
    • the countless hours she spent making me look like one of those Toddlers and Tiaras girls for dance competitions,
    • the time I shared Tupac’s “Dear Mama” with her; those lines...And even as a crack fiend, mama/ You always was a black queen, mama...really spoke to both of our hearts.
Anyway, enough nostalgia.  I thought since I embarrassed her in 8 Reasons I'm a Better Mom Than My Mom, I should make up for it with a post about why I think she is the most fantastic person I know.  Here are a few reasons I think she is super great:
She's been pretty for a long time.
She went through this to make my life possible.  I don't remember, but I've heard it was hard work getting me here.  I have never appreciated her more than after I spent three hours pushing my first born into the world.
Can't you see how much I loved her already?
She taught me that real ladies appreciate a nice dress AND comfy socks.
She taught me to always look at my children like they are the best thing that ever happened.  Because they are.
This actually brings back bad memories of when I found out she donated this horse to Goodwill.  I never forgave her.  We should move on.
She taught me not to take myself too seriously.
She loves me.

She taught me to sing.  That's kind of a big deal because I know a lot of people who can't sing at all.  And I can.  Because of her.
She helped me start my career as a Coppertone model.

She taught me to never let someone else's fences be barriers to what I want.  I mean, in the case of fences around elephants, I respect their space, but you know, metaphorical fences.

She gives great piggyback rides.  
She taught me how to ride a horse, and better yet, she taught me how to hold on tight when the horse starts bucking.
She taught me to love people even in their blue eyeshadow and Cosby sweater moments.
Still loving her.  A lot.
She taught me to eat healthy food.
She taught me to do my homework before playing video games.  Especially Tetris because you know how addicting it can be.

I don't know what this is, but it's funny.
She taught me to keep my priorities straight.
She taught me that it's funny to take pictures where everyone looks sideways.

We loved each other through bad dresses.  WTH?
We loved each other when we died and turned into ghosts.
She loved me when I came home from Africa 23 pounds heavier and unable to fit in my wedding dress.
And we loved each other when we both lost weight to look as good as it gets for my wedding.
The only thing she's better at than being a mom is being a grandma.  She's a really damn good grandma.
Happy birthday, Mom.  You are the best mom I've ever had.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hello, Goodbye!

For every occasion in life, there is a Beatles song.  This one is one of my favorites.

People who aren’t in the military constantly say, “I don’t know how you do it!” to those of us living through multiple deployments mixed in with training for weeks or months on end.  Even though we are currently halfway through a six-month training during which I will not see my husband and our communication is extremely limited, the daily stresses of my life are relatively minimal--you might even consider my life somewhat charmed.  We have a routine, and having a routine helps create a bearable normal for all of us.  I am also lucky to be surrounded by a great group of women (and one man) who are going through the same thing I am, and their support is pretty phenomenal.  That’s how we do it.  
On a related note, my parents and MIL and SIL have been doing everything in their power to stop me from going insane, scheduling trips to visit to give me a break.  I so appreciate their help because I DEFINITELY need a break from 24/7 single-parenting.  (I didn’t realize how much I needed it until the last year, and the process of learning how to accept help from other people has been one of the most liberating experiences in my life.)  I am beyond blessed to have them in my life.  I needed to say that because the rest of this post is not very positive.

A note about the big picture.  (And let me just say that I’m probably going to come across as a selfish bitch because by all appearances, my suburban life is nothing short of enviable--a veritable checklist of what every girl grows up wanting--loving husband, healthy children, fully-stocked house, dog...scratch that, I kind of hate my dog right now.)
A few days before Christmas I posted a nice little note about how something good had happened in our Air Force life.  After being under an immense amount of mental stress for several months, I felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of hearing me rant about this for the last few months, we are supposed to PCS (I think this means permanent change of station?) sometime this summer.  Like summer of 2011.  Like a few months from now.
Back in November, I was only slightly freaking out when we found out that Scott would be attending a six-month training from January through June.  I mean, I could totally put the house on the market by myself with no help from my husband, while raising our children--also by myself.  I could also scout out a new house and get the boys enrolled in school at our next base without any help.  I’m Wonder Woman for God’s sake!  
In case you forgot.
After the initial panic, I gathered my flailing emotions, put on my big girl panties, and started planning.  I’d get a storage unit, pack a few boxes at a time, stage the house, and put the house on the market as soon as we found out where and when we were going to PCS.  You know, sometime in January (because SURELY we would have a place and/or date by then, right?) to give us plenty of time for the house to sell (FYI, the neighborhood’s average time to sell is seven months...ugh, and people are losing an average of $15,000...awesome).
So, as the other post outlined, we heard from the squadron commander that our situation was on his agenda.  That was December 20th.
It is now March 22nd.
We do not know where we are moving.
We do not know when we are moving.
My house is at least on the market.
There is no funny twist to this post.
I am just angry.
Very, very angry.
And bitter.
Very, very bitter.
To be clear, it is not our squadron commander’s fault.  I saw him at a potluck a few weeks ago, and the first thing he said was that he was sorry that something hadn’t happened on our PCS front.  It’s not really in his hands.  It’s in the hands of a different squadron commander--the one in charge of the squadron where my husband is training.  And you see--here’s the really fun part.  He can’t make a decision until congress (yes, like THE congress) approves something about my husband’s career.  And guess what?  Congress is on vacation.
One of my friend’s husbands said that we should never have had the expectation to know where we were PCSing and that this is pretty standard operating procedure these days for the program my husband is in.  Well, 
  1. I really wish the higher-ups wouldn’t have told us in October that we would know pretty soon.
  2. I really wish the friends of ours who have already gone through the program wouldn’t have told us that they found out before they even left for the program.
  3. Standard operating procedure can kiss my ass.
Not knowing where we’re going means I can’t look for houses.  I can’t scope out the school situation.  I can’t plan for going back to school or looking for a job--which is certainly something I would love to see on the horizon at our next base.  I feel, as I often do in this Air Force life, that I am falling through the cracks.  Strike that.  I live in one giant crack.  And there is NOTHING.  I.  Can.  Do.  About.  It.
Except wake up every morning and take care of my children by myself, hoping for a four minute phone call from my husband possibly telling me that this waiting game will end at some point.  And the minute that happens, I will schedule a trip to our next base to find a new house/enroll Will in kindergarten.  Because you know--that’s the life stuff that still has to be done, even if the Air Force lacks the courtesy to throw me an effing bone.
And scene.

So, I just put my mom and the boys on a plane to Oklahoma.  I’m following with the dog and our car tomorrow morning.  Within a week of getting our house on the market, I had Will enrolled in a preschool and Ben enrolled in a Mother’s Day Out (he puts his backpack on every morning and tells me he wants to “go to cool just like Will”).  I am in the process (a very easy one) of getting re-certified as a teacher in OK so I can sub at my mom’s school on the days the boys are in school.
It’s not only enough to make me feel like I’m getting a break from the frustration of my big picture life--it’s enough to get me excited about something for the first time in a long time.  I am going to be there when my friend, Sarah, gives birth to her third child.  I get to go to two different weddings for some of our childhood friends.  I’m going to help my dad organize his non-profit’s 12th anniversary fundraising dinner.  I’m going to get to spend actual face time with Derrick, so we can record some music together.  I’m going to see all my friends who have been nothing more than Facebook figments for the last few years without feeling the pressure of having to squeeze everyone in during a two-week trip.
It’s going to be a new normal, and temporary as it might be, I am really, really looking forward to it.
The last few days have been full of good-byes for us--lots of friends stopping by to give hugs and cry a little.  Even in my excitement about going “home” to OK, I do NOT want to downplay the difficulty of leaving these people I love.  Our Charleston friends have been rocks for us the last six years, and if I don’t stop typing right now, I will lose it, so I am not going to say anything else about this right now.

So, hello, Oklahoma!  And, good-bye, South Carolina!  Things are looking up.  I think.

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Year Down

My Grandpa Leonard, my mom’s dad, died a year ago today.  After having several minor strokes but being cleared to leave the hospital, he died unexpectedly.  Because of the strokes, many of the family members who lived close had been able to have their last moments with him in the hospital.  With two small children and the thought that everything was okay, I had not made the trek from SC to MO.
Grief is a funny thing, creeping in during both lonely and happy moments.  I cried the night I found out, while I talked to my mom, and again the next day when I talked to my Grandma Pat.  I still tear up occasionally when I see my cousin, who was named after him, posts on my FB wall.  The last time we visited MO, I stifled the tears when we pulled up to his house for the first time since he passed, and instead found comfort in talking to Will about whether he remembered the last time we were there when Grandpa Leonard had taken him on a walk to see the neighbors’ horses.  
I think of him often, especially after spending time with my dad.
Last week, I got a letter in the mail from my Grandma Pat.  Inside, she had tucked these:
The note enclosed told me that she had been going through Grandpa’s clothes, and as she went through his suit pockets before donating it to charity, she found those two napkins folded in his inside pocket--from the last time he wore his suit.  At my wedding.
Napkins are not sad things.  My wedding was not a sad event.  But I started weeping.  Uncontrollably.  In my kitchen.  While I made macaroni and cheese for my kids.  Will asked me what was wrong, and I quickly started to wipe my tears, first with the backs of my hands and then fittingly, with the napkins.

I miss him.
The day after he died, when I called Grandma Pat to let her know we were getting on the road and would be there for the funeral, I did what made sense at the time and asked if I could say something during the service on behalf of his grandchildren.
I found the eulogy today and want to share it as a way to continue to celebrate a life well-lived.  Thanks for letting me share.
After I got the call on Sunday that Grandpa had passed, I found myself late into the night looking at old photos and I noticed two distinct things.  First, I and most of you in this room, had little to no fashion sense in the eighties.  Secondly, as I flipped through pictures of Grandpa Leonard at weddings, on Christmas Eve, holding one of his grandbabies, or sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard, I realized that whether the picture was from 1984 when I was 4 or more recently with my 4-year-old son, Will, Grandpa looked exactly the same.
There he was in flannel or pearl button shirts, usually with a pair of brown pants, his hair combed back and wearing glasses, his expression one of quiet contentment.  One positive thing about looking at things through the lens of grief is that we can focus intensely on those aspects of the ones we love that make them legends in our minds.  And Grandpa Leonard, from my perspective, was nothing short of a legend.
Over the years, I remember sitting at the breakfast table while he drank his first cup of coffee, listening to him recount stories of arriving in Japan days after the bombs were dropped.  When I heard about him chopping enough wood to warm all of southwest Missouri or climbing on his icy roof to make sure it wasn’t going to leak, I never thought it odd even as he increased in age because my healthy-as-a-horse, strong-as-an-ox grandpa shared an invincible quality with the likes of Paul Bunyan.
In the days since he’s passed, though, as I’ve contemplated with shock and awe that this hero of a man was gone, it was not the heroic larger-than-life stories that brought me comfort.  I found myself back at the breakfast table, eating eggs and drinking orange juice while Grandpa spread jam on his toast.  I found myself sitting at the foot of the Christmas tree, waiting for my gift from Grandpa’s hands.  I found myself watching from the living room chair as Grandpa added wood to the stove before sitting down to a game of dominoes or Aggravation.  I found myself cozying up on his lap while we read books or watched Wheel of Fortune, his long legs spread out below mine, his bare feet exposed and warming next to the gas furnace.
It wasn’t the moments of legend that brought me strength and consolation; it was his very human moments, the moments when he was simply my grandpa, a man who snuck me hard candies and peanut butter cups even after my mom had already told me no more, who brought out toys and puzzles for me to play with that had been played with for decades by all the children and grandchildren before me, a man who worked hard, the only way he knew how, every day of his life to provide for his family.
Eleven of us called him dad.  Thirty-five of us called him grandpa.  Fifty-five of us called him great-grandpa, and even three called him great-great-grandpa.  We are bound together by the legends, and responsible for carrying on a legacy that was bigger than a man.  We must move on together, searching for ways to live without him in our daily lives, but more importantly by remembering him through our own actions.  We’ll see him at our picnics, hear him in gospel music and the laughter of our children at Christmastime, taste him in our coffee and butterscotch hard candies, smell him in burning firewood, and feel him forever in our hearts.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's in the Bible (Part 5)

Originally, when I started following the Bible in 90 Days program with my Sunday school class, I promised myself to post every Sunday about the experience.  Then the last few weeks got crazy, and I am FAILING MISERABLY at reading the Bible in 90 Days.  So, I’d like to take this moment to apologize to myself.
Dear Leia,
I am sorry that I broke my promise to blog about reading the Bible.  I know how much you hate when people break promises, especially when the promise breaker is someone you love a lot.  Please forgive me for not living up to your expectations.  I hope we can still be friends.
Okay, now that that is out of the way, let me say this about this whole experience.  What I’ve found in trying to read the entire Bible in such short period of time is that I do NOT need to read the Bible in 90 days if I want to absorb anything.  And isn’t the point of reading spiritual texts to feel invigorated, encouraged, and more connected with a higher power?  I mean, that’s how I’ve always viewed reading the Bible, and this experience has not done that for me.  I’m not saying it isn’t possible to have meaningful dialogue with God and others through this experience--I’m just saying it isn’t working FOR ME.
In fact, it feels completely empty of the essence of God when I’m constantly checking the page number to see if I’ve read enough for the day.  Again, I’m not saying this is everyone’s experience (I want to stress this because as soon as I post this, I know someone from my Sunday school class is going to post something about how enriching an experience this has been).
So, I’m just going to say this for now--I may or may not catch up with the reading between now and the end of March (with the help of the Bible on CD), but either way, I’m going to try my best to continue posting some sort of lesson I’ve learned throughout the week each Sunday--after all, for people like me, life is truly one big illustration looking for a sermon.
So, let’s get to this week’s sermon, shall we?
I was gone for five days last week, and when I returned, I was feeling extra especially fond of my children, and instead of rushing through bedtime, hoping to get them down as soon as possible so I could sit on my ars and do nothing get cracking on my massive post-bedtime to-do list, I actually paid attention to them and enjoyed my time with them in the way I used to do when I was a good mom and not a stressed-about-selling-my-house-and-tired-of-being-an-Air-Force-wife mom.  (BTW, I highly suggest some time away from your children if you find yourself in this place--it does WONDERS.)
As Will and I finished up a chapter of Captain Underpants, he looked at my shirt and asked, “What does your shirt say?”  I was wearing this shirt:
My Daddy, My Hero

which reads, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The fact that the words wrap around my breasts is slightly disturbing and makes for interesting conversations with male strangers who say, “I really like your shirt...I wasn’t looking at your boobs...uh, I was just trying to read...”
Anyway, when I told him what it said, he asked what that meant.  I told him it was from a Bible verse, and it means that we should treat people the way we want to be treated.  (I remember having this EXACT conversation with my mom when I was about Will’s age--and it’s a lesson I think adults somehow forget along the way.)
There are so many moments as a mom when you think you are really connecting with your child, passing on these essential life lessons, sharing everything they really need to know because you are a GREAT mom.  And then they respond to your question of “What do you think about that?” with “Mom, I have a booger.”  It’s a little bit deflating.
After talking about a few other important things--mainly whether Spiderman would beat Spidergirl in a boxing match, why Ramen noodles taste so good, who the boss of our family is, and what lightning is made of--I kissed Will goodnight, content in knowing that we could probably cover the Golden Rule another time, when he was less mucousy.
The next day, I picked up Will from school and went through the usual post-school wrap-up.  Generally, he says something like, “We did the same thing we do every day.”  But for whatever reason, he felt chatty.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: How was school today?
Will: Good.
Me: What did you do?
Will: We did our pledge and then our worksheets and then our snack and then P. E., and I was the door holder all day because Daniel has been gone for ages and it’s his job, so I’m the substitute.
Me: Oh, wow.  That sounds like a fun job.  Do you like being door holder?
Will: I like all jobs but line leader is the best.  And I was not finished telling you.
Me: You weren’t finished telling me what?
Will: What I did today.
Me: Oh.
Will: And we came back and sat on the carpet for our Bible story.
Me: Oh, tell me about that.
Will: I’m going to, but you keep interrupting me.
Me: Sorry.  What was your Bible story?
Will: It was about a hurt man and the people who wouldn’t help him.  And then there was one good man who did help him even though he was from a different place that didn’t like the place where the hurt man lived.
Me: Oh, I think I know that story.  Was it called the Good Samaritan?
Will: Mom!
Me: What?
Will: I am the one telling the story. 
Me: Sorry.
Will: It was called the Good Samaritan.  Jesus was telling this story to some people.  That’s called a parable.  And there was a priest, and he looked at the hurt man and kept walking.  Then there was a man who was called a Levite, and he didn’t stop to help the hurt man.  Then the man from Samaria was riding by on a donkey and picked the man up and put him on his donkey.  He took him to a hotel and paid the hotel man money to take care of the hurt man because he had to go back to keep going on his journey.  And he left enough money to take care of everything the hurt man needed.  And that’s the end of the story.
Me: Wow, that sounds really nice.  So, the Good Samaritan was really nice to someone he didn’t even know?  What do you think Jesus was trying to teach us with that story?
Will (pausing and tapping his cheek with one finger): I think he was saying the same thing as what your red shirt says.
So, he got it.  Even with the booger, he got it.
I wrote this post a couple of days ago, and literally moments before I started to post it, my friend, Carol, posted THIS LINK on Facebook.  I don’t believe in coincidence.  Happy Sunday, y’all!