• October 25, 2014

Married To It

Gail Dillon
  • Gail Dillon
  • Gail Dillon, an Army spouse, writes about life at Fort Hood from a spouse's perspective. She has been married to her soldier for 14 years and lives on Fort Hood with him, their two zany sons and a Goldendoodle named Murphy.
Monday 10/06/2014
Expired license extra hardship for military spouses

My drivers license expired —again.

Unfortunately, I realized this while attempting to rent a car last week after flying into Portland for my sister’s wedding. I’m sure my facial expression was priceless when the guy behind the desk stared at my license and then asked me if I had another one somewhere. I did not.

As it turned out, my license had expired back in July, while we were gallivanting in Montana. I had no idea and had not received any notification from the DMV in Carlisle, PA, where I had obtained my last license back in 2010. The one I had when we arrived there for the Army War College had also expired but this was because we were living in Germany at the time. When we returned to the states, we took several weeks of leave in my husband’s home state of Virginia and tried valiantly to get me a license there, to no avail. Because it is not my “home of record” and I had nothing tangible to prove I was a resident of VA (other than a really handsome husband with Virginia blood flowing in his veins), we were told “no dice.”

Rob got a little peeved at this answer and even went so far as to contact a local congresswoman for some assistance. I appreciated this but the process would have required many more weeks — if not months — of effort and we had to get to Carlisle. Once we arrived there, I thought perhaps the DMV folks would take pity on the fact that I was a military spouse and could not renew my license while in Germany (at the time, I had a Missouri license).

I was rather curtly told I needed to take both the written and the driving tests all over again. Which I did, and which I passed with flying colors after studying for a week or so. I was proud to say that my parallel parking abilities have greatly improved since I was last tested circa 1982. Still I was a nervous wreck and all of this took a lot of time and effort.

Here I am again in the same situation. I can’t help but think it can’t just be me. This has got to be a challenge for many military spouses, right? Oh I get it — it was my responsibility to track when my license was due to expire and apply for Texas one before July.

However, I received no reminder paperwork from the PA folks and quite frankly, this past summer was a hectic one between our vacation, Rob’s change of command, family visiting and finally, his deployment. But all these are excuses and ultimately, I am to blame. Then again, do military folks and their dependents ever get a break?

So I am making phone calls and figuring out my next move. Being a single mom this year, I can’t afford NOT to drive. I’ve learned that if my license had not expired, I could just waltz into the DMV here on post and switch it out for a replacement from the Lone Star State.

One guy said there is a possibility the Carlisle DMV folks might consider giving me an extension on my expired license so I can still do this, but I’m not holding my breath. They weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy the first time around. (Not to mention, I can’t get through to an actual live person there). The point is, I have a squeaky-clean driving record, I have proven I know the rules of the road and can execute a three-point turn. Why on God’s green earth must I go through this all over again?

This is the perfect storm of bureaucracy and the peripatetic life of a military spouse. I have no “home of record” so am constantly at the whim of the state wherever we happen to be living.

In a perfect world (or if I were king), I’d ensure military spouses got extra time to renew their drivers licenses. If they have a set of orders showing that the U.S. Army sent them to their current locale and an expired license (with no black marks), this should suffice for up to six months.

This would be Gail’s solution to this pesky and recurring problem. In the meantime, I am fully expecting to soon be driving under the scrutiny of another humorless DMV tester. If this keeps up, I’ll be the best driver ever — either that or me and my kids will be hitchhiking all over post. Please give us a ride!

Posted in Married to it on Monday, October 6, 2014 5:54 pm. | Tags: Department Of Motor Vehicles , Virginia , Dmv , Germany , Texas , Montana , Drivers License , Expired , Military Spouse , Fort Hood , Driving Test Comments (3)

Sunday 09/21/2014
Sister of the Bride

My sister is getting married in just a few days.  This is my older sister, by all of 13 months.  Completing the Schwartz sister “triangle” is our much-adored little sister Sally, who was born when we were teenagers.  Julie and I were raised kind of like twins, which probably did her more of a disservice than me.  We were often clumped together as if we were the same age.  To be honest, I don’t think I made it easy on my folks to separate us much.  Where she was, I wanted to go and what she did, I tended to follow suit.  She did ballet, I did ballet (horribly, by the way).  She turned out for gymnastics, I did gymnastics (also rather awfully).  She ran track and field, and thus, I did too (I had more success with this one) and so on.  Julie had all the qualities I longed for—wit, grace, blonde hair—just to name a few.  I, on the other hand, was clumsy, ordinary looking and oh-so uncomfortable being me.  We shared an interest in drawing and a serious obsession with fashion magazines, poring over them and then trying to replicate the clothing and even the ads.  We played “restaurant,” creating elaborate menus and serving each other bizarre but creative treats made with whatever we could find in the pantry or fridge.  Of course it wasn’t all sweetness and light between us.  We had wicked fights over clothes…and let’s not forget the time our parents took us jogging at a campus running track and left me there.  When it was time to leave, Julie innocently told mom and dad that I was hiding under a blanket in the back of our station wagon and off they went…only to realize their mistake once they pulled into the driveway.  Good one, Julie!  But these times were fairly rare.  We played “Princess and Prince” (my shorter hair usually relegated me to being the Prince), and Barbies.  We named the two that most resembled us “Carol” and “Cathy” and had them act out the young adult single life we hoped to one day assume.  They lived in a fabulous condo, had cushy jobs that they barely showed up for (I vaguely recall that one of us was a flight attendant) and occasionally had a brief date with Ken, though not surprisingly, our Ken doll was not all that manly.  In my girlish naiveté, I honestly thought that one day, she and I might really live like this.  But alas—reality always has the last say.  Julie ended up spending the majority of her 20s and 30s in Missoula, MT. where she actually did build a “fabulous” career for herself, working various positions before getting into alumni relations for the University of Montana.  I visited there from time to time—once for several months after a particularly traumatic break-up.  Since then, Julie has been promoted several times and now does alumni relations for Oregon State University in Corvallis.  She is by all accounts, a success. 

We never did live in the same city again after high school though we kept in touch and tried to get together as much as possible.  Eventually, our friends began to get married but wedded bliss remained elusive for both of us, until Rob and I tied the knot in 1999.   

Julie met Michael at a bicycle race about seven years ago.  He is an avid cyclist and one of those guys who looks 15 years younger than his age.  Not to mention, he has practically no body fat.  What he DOES have is kindness, a genuine curiosity about others and a laid-back aura that meshes well with Julie’s more intense vibe.  They share a love of travel, hiking and biking, and the outdoors in general.  I couldn’t ask for a better brother-in-law.  They are making it official on Sept 27th on the Oregon Coast.  It’s going to be a beautiful wedding because Julie has planned it down to the last detail, and simply because they are two people in love.  Sally and I are her giddy bridesmaids and are wearing similar cranberry-colored Ann Taylor dresses.  Relatives from Cincinnati, San Francisco, Boston and other locales are flying into Portland to celebrate with Julie and Michael.  It’s going to be a “why did I even bother wearing mascara” wedding and I know I won’t be the only one fairly bursting with happiness for this couple.  My childhood sister-worship has never completely disappeared but has mellowed into admiration and a deep friendship.  Thank you for being my “battle buddy” while we were growing up—I wish you much joy in your marriage, sister.        

Posted in Married to it on Sunday, September 21, 2014 10:24 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 09/10/2014
Holding down the Fort, sort of

So we’re a little over a month into this deployment and I figured it’s time for an update. 

1) Rob is doing well and seems to have established a routine.  He managed to talk his way into a single room with a private bath, which is a big deal, and we have been able to FaceTime on our iPads nearly every day.  Hearing his voice is always comforting but getting to see his smile is even better.

2) Perhaps this is TMI, but I’ve noticed my daily shower is being pushed back later and later each day.  What this has to do with Rob being gone, I’m not quite sure. I honestly don’t think he’s the only reason I bathe.  Because mornings tend to be busy, I often just throw on workout clothes in the hopes that I’ll be inspired to exercise before too long.  Why shower if you’re only going to sweat soon, right? 

3) I have recently discovered the show “The Middle” and what a little gem it is.  I’ll watch an episode or two before bed, laugh out loud and feel just a bit better about everything.  Whoever writes for that program clearly knows kids and has experienced the life of a frazzled mom. For pure escape into 1700’s Scotland, I’m also loving the Starz series “Outlander” on Saturday nights.   

4) I am clearly not keeping up with my reading.  Thick Sunday editions of the New York Times are stacking up unread and slowly overtaking my dining room table, making me worry that I’m becoming one of those extreme hoarders.  I subscribe to this newspaper because the writing is excellent, plus reading about beautiful celebrities and socialites in New York City (that would be the “Style” section) is such a guilty pleasure and a nice departure from my oh-so-unglamorous life.  Anyway, I need to either cancel the subscription or get a parakeet.  At least the bird would be well-read!

5) Then there’s the dog.  I’ve always walked him in the mornings, but have gotten into the habit of taking him out the evenings too.  Now it seems I’ve created a squirrel-obsessed monster who MUST take a second stroll.  Without his daddy here to roughhouse and play with him, “man-style,” he has trouble settling down at night.  The obvious solution is to get big boy Ryan in on the action.  He is certainly old enough to walk a dog, even one as large and unwieldy as Murphy.

6) Our family dinners, surprisingly, have not fallen by the wayside as much as I thought they might.  Of course, it’s early yet.  There have been a few cereal nights and a pizza  or two, but overall, I’m continuing to make vaguely nutritious meals with at least one form of protein and even a veggie.  Take that, Rachel Ray!

7) Finally, there is bedtime.  I still sleep on my side of our old but comfy queen-sized mattress.  That is, unless Andrew joins me in the wee hours and lies horizontally, as he so charmingly does, with feet digging into my side or sometimes my face.  Then the dog  jumps up and by morning, I am clinging like a barnacle to the mattress.       

What else can I tell you?  Days seem paradoxically longer and yet shorter.  All the small tasks that you get used to your mate taking care of -- at least when they’re not working late into the night or are TDY -- suddenly seem like endless time-sucks. 

To name just a few, these include taking out the recycling and the garbage, blowing the leaves off the back porch, helping the boys with breakfast in the mornings, feeding the dog, checking the air pressure in the car tires. I could go on but just listing these tasks is making me sleepy.  Our “new normal” is dishes in the sink, unfolded laundry in the dryer, and an unswept driveway covered in a slew of weird green pods that continue to fall from a nearby tree.  

If there is a life lesson here, I think it must be the universe telling me to stop trying to control everything.  On that note, I will leave you with the classic line from the '80s movie "Karate Kid" -- "wax on, wax off."   

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 10:48 am. Comments (0)

Wednesday 08/27/2014
A soccer mom at last

Some kids begin playing soccer…or football…or basketball…around the age of three or four.  By the time they are young elementary school students, they are used to eating dinner in the car while being shuttled to practices, and well-versed in waking early on Saturday mornings for games.  Then there is us.  As I stood on the side of the Harker Heights soccer field this week watching my 8-year-old attempt to maneuver the ball around a series of orange cones, it hit me just how “on the late show” we really are.  Most of the other kids had clearly been playing for a few years and it showed in their coordination, agility, and overall confidence out there.  (One boy in particular—a strapping and very handsome Aryan-looking kid—had all the grace and poise of a young Pele.  And his parents—with their foldable chairs and cooler full of Gatorade—looked like they’d been on a soccer field or two in their time.) 

Then there was us.  We arrived slightly late, of course, having no idea where to go on the huge soccer field complex.  Walking past clumps of colorfully-dressed kids and their coaches, I peered at everyone, trying to determine a familiar face or hear a name I recognized.  Passing one group of kids, the coach barked at us, asking Andrew’s name, then turning away abruptly when he realized we weren’t part of his team. Ouch.

We finally located “our people at the very opposite end of the field where I had parked.  Andrew was wearing borrowed soccer shorts and his brother’s hand-me-down cleats.  We did not bother with shin guards at this point but I quickly saw that all the other players wore them. 

A little sports history on Rob and me might be in order here:  From what I can gather from family lore, Rob was not your typical sports-obsessed boy.  Or at least, he wasn’t crazy about organized sports.  His mother tells a funny story about him turning out for Little League baseball and his stepfather volunteering to coach because of it.  However, when Rob started playing, he realized he didn’t like it and quit.  And yet, poor Al (stepfather) had to continue to coach everyone else’s kid!  Rob later found his niche on  the high school drill team and in ROTC where running became his go-to sport. 

As for me, I shied away from team sports—especially those that involved balls.  I didn’t want the pressure of dropping said ball, not catching it, or otherwise screwing up a play and thus, letting down my teammates.  Instead I gravitated toward the “loner” sports, such as tennis, the cross country team and track and field.  I liked knowing no one was “counting’ on me and that I was solely responsible for the outcome of a race or a tennis match.  (Sounds selfish in retrospect and I suppose a trained counselor could draw some unflattering conclusions here.)

Our eldest son Ryan dabbled in a few classic sports.  He played T-Ball as a four-year-old (and I was the assistant coach—hilarious!)  We tried him in soccer at about age seven but I can honestly say he probably learned more from picking daisies in the grass and staring at the sky than he did from his coach.  His heart was just not in it.  Finally we put him in jiu-jitsu classes and he took to those, showing enthusiasm and eventually, skills.  But then we moved.  He is about to try seventh grade football now—deep cleansing breaths. 

But back to Andrew.   So there he was on the soccer field for the first time.  He has not played any organized sports up to this point because, well, quite honestly, his dad and I have been lazy and we haven’t pushed it.  Not to mention, he hasn’t expressed much interest in a particular sport. Whatever the reason, he’s giving it a shot now and I couldn’t be prouder of him.  I stood there watching and I suddenly got why parents yell things to their kids from the sidelines like “good hustle.”  Andrew performed like a beginning soccer player—no doubt about it—but he was one hundred per cent there.  He sprinted hard when the coach told them to run, and he kicked the ball like he meant it when they practiced making a goal.  No matter that the ball didn’t always go in—or even come close.  It was close to 100 degrees out there and Andrew was sweaty and thirsty and hot but he was smiling and he was playing soccer.  And for the first time, I felt like a soccer mom.       

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 11:23 am. Comments (0)

Friday 08/15/2014
The amazing, invisible woman

My mother once told me many years ago when I was a teenager that there comes a day in a woman’s life when she becomes, well, a little bit “invisible.” 

No, this is not a wonderful new superpower – although it does make one think of the exciting possibilities.  It is an almost-inevitable part of the aging process.  The invisibility process may begin around 40 or later or earlier, depending on the individual woman.  And of course, there are many exceptions to this so-called rule. 

I know plenty of women in their 40s and beyond who are still capable of turning a head or two.  And my two sisters are definitely still in the “babe zone.”  Of course, my younger sister is only 34, though she looks 25. Now I can already hear my feminist friends grumbling about a woman’s worth being far more valuable than her appearance and such, and they would be entirely correct. I’m cringing a little as I write this because it is a touchy subject and very personal.

 Also, this is IN NO WAY a plea for compliments or “there-theres.” But here it is:  Now that I am in the full bloom of middle age, I’ve noticed that I’m becoming somewhat invisible.  And I’m not so sure it’s such a bad thing.  In all honesty, I can’t say I was ever a girl or woman who caused a stir when she walked into the room.  Cute, yes.  Gorgeous and incredibly hot?  No.  And that is perfectly fine. 

We all know girls and women who have that “it” factor and just exude not only beauty but charisma too.  And gals with that combination just can’t help it—people stop and stare.  I’ve often wondered how difficult it must be for a woman like that to age.

Being invisible is not a terrible thing but it is an adjustment.  When you are young and female and a United States resident, how you look is just a wee bit important.  Unless you happen to have been raised in say, a commune with no access to reality TV, women’s magazines or maybe even mirrors.  But speaking for those of us who were brought up in a mainstream, middle-class environment, whose self esteem was a tad shaky and who practically memorized entire issues of “Seventeen” and “Glamour” magazine, looking pretty was crucial.  The new Colbie Caillat song “Try” seems to sum it up perfectly — in a poignant and wistful way, she sings about taking off your makeup and being yourself and ultimately liking yourself.  Which is a powerful message for young women.  Actually, women of all ages.

Being invisible doesn’t mean the game is over or that you’ve suddenly become your grandmother.  It just means that how you look isn’t particularly noticeable anymore.  Maybe that sounds harsh and sexist but in a way, it’s freeing and liberating.  I don’t advocate “letting yourself go” (whatever that means) but no longer obsessing over your outer appearance and putting your time and energy elsewhere would seem to be a positive step, and the mark of true maturity. 

What is most important at this point is not to become invisible in other areas of your life.  I think for many women of my age and beyond, there is a tendency to feel that one’s voice doesn’t count as much as it once did or that what you have to offer isn’t valued.  In other words, to check out.  The trick is to take the energy and effort that once might have gone into creating the right “look,” and channeling that into a meaningful career or volunteer opportunities or writing or teaching or gardening or mentoring or whatever gives you that magical combination of joy and satisfaction. 

I don’t have daughters but if I did, I’d feel a tremendous obligation to help them realize their own power and how critical it is not to succumb to the “I am what I look like” myth that is so pervasive in our puerile society.  One of my challenges now is to teach my two boys that girls are cool and fun and smart and every bit as interesting as their male counterparts, but it’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint.  One day they will fully discover this lovely species of humankind and I can only hope that they will respect and value the girls they romantically and platonically encounter. 

As for me, I would like to age gracefully and stop obsessing about the frown lines that have taken up permanent residence on my brow, or the other signs of a woman who has bid a fond farewell to her ingénue days.  Let’s be honest, would we really want to be 22 again?

I’ll let Caillat finish this entry with her beautiful lyrics to “Try”:

Take your make up off.

Let your hair down.

Take a breath.

Look into the mirror, at yourself.

Don't you like you?

Cause I like you.

     

Posted in Married to it on Friday, August 15, 2014 9:57 am. Comments (0)

Sunday 08/03/2014
Let's start this already

The change of command is over, one set of my in-laws has left after many hugs and more than a few tears, and Rob’s deployment is only a handful of days away.  My mother-in-law kindly stayed on a few extra days so Rob and I could escape to Austin for an overnight.  But I don’t need a calendar to realize he’s leaving soon.  I know it by the permanent lump in my throat, by the way I’m sleeping (not well) and the general uneasiness that lingers.   

A friend of mine aptly said that the only way to get the (bleepin’) deployment over and done with it is to get it started.  Which, is so very true, but so very difficult.  When we say our goodbyes in a few days, I will begin the mind games that I’ve used in the past.  Maybe this is unhealthy and dishonest, but if it helps soften the edges, then so be it. 

The mind games go something like this: first, I tell myself that Rob is just going to work. He is extremely busy, so much so that he’ll have to sleep at the office for a while. When I tire of this fantasy, I switch to, “he’s just TDY for a few weeks — OK, months.”  Again, blatant lies but so much more palatable than, “he’s gone for 365 days.”

We all deceive ourselves in subtle ways, let’s admit it. We tell ourselves that the five pounds we gained is “water weight” or “all muscle.”  We say that taking office supplies home isn’t really stealing or that calories “don’t count” when eating bites of our kids’ dessert. I figure, why not lie about something benign and harmless?

Another strategy I plan to employ is to divide the year out into manageable segments, with something to look forward to it in each one. For example, early August to late September — when we will fly to Oregon for my sister Julie’s wedding — is the first part.  Looking at the year ahead in one unending clump cannot possibly be conducive to good mental health.

One might say it is time to put my “big girl panties” on and get on with it. We are an Army family. Rob is a career soldier. He last returned from a deployment in 2012, so we are probably long overdue. Many, many families are in the same boat and this deployment cycle, though slowing, will continue for a while. Sometimes it helps to look at the facts dispassionately and admit that this is part of the Army experience just as much as the fun stuff is.

Looking on the bright side, long separations make a gal appreciate her family all the more. There is a heightened sense of the preciousness of one another and the realization that what we so cavalierly take for granted on a daily basis — the “ho hum” of domestic life — is what we miss the most once a critical member of our clan is missing. All of this is becoming startlingly clear to me now. Even our routine bickering is taking on a rosy glow. Such as the frequent back and forths we have over the air conditioning in our house.  Rob likes it “meat locker” brisk while I prefer a more reasonable temperature … one that my husband says feels like a sauna.  Or at bedtime, when we disagree over whether to turn out the lights or continue to read. 

Pretty exciting stuff, huh?

Obviously, I realize that these differences of opinion really don’t matter much in the big scheme of things. 

I will worry about my husband during the coming year.  Not only about his physical safety — although that’s certainly a biggie — but his emotional and mental stability as well. I hope his considerable intellect will be challenged and that he finds friends with whom to share a few laughs and vent to when necessary. I pray the “groundhog day” atmosphere of deployments doesn’t drive him crazy. I know he will miss Ryan and Andrew and all the hubbub they generate. I will think of him often, going about his day and wonder how he’s doing. As for me, I am lucky to have good neighbors and friends here at Fort Hood, as well as my kids. I plan to get through some long-overdue projects, like de-cluttering the boys’ rooms, and perhaps work on developing a new skill — gardening, perhaps. Despite the fact that Rob will be in Afghanistan, this is a year of our lives and we should not wish it away entirely.    

So all that being said, I think we are ready to get this deployment started. Well, as ready as we can possibly be. Although I am dreading the morning of his departure, I know that as Tom Petty so eloquently sings, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

To my husband I say, “Be safe, God Speed and I love you.”                 

Posted in Married to it on Sunday, August 3, 2014 7:16 pm. Comments (0)

Friday 07/18/2014
'The Dillon Clan and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Few Days'

Does anyone remember the children’s classic book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day?”  Because that’s been the trend in our household since we returned from our 10-day vacation to Montana. 

It was a wonderful trip, by the way. 

Perhaps too wonderful. 

For those too young to recall, the “Alexander” book is about a boy who is having a really lousy day.  Things like his mom taking him and his two brothers shopping for tennis shoes (and Alexander ending up with a boring white pair), spending his money rashly, soap in his eyes at bath time, and a host of other things that can sure mess up a kid’s day. 

Well, those are the kind of days we’ve been having.  This morning, for example, before my first cup of coffee, I spotted not one but two doggie accidents on our white carpet.  A ton of soapy water and old-fashioned scrubbing later and now there are two more brownish stains to behold, joining the myriad of other strange and mysterious dark spots.  Perfect.  Which begs the question, who ever thought a white wall-to-wall carpet would be a good idea in a government house?

Meanwhile, the kids were grumpy because I banned video games for the day after nagging and policing them the day before until I was sick of my own voice.  Eventually I had to pry the controllers out of their sticky little hands.  I exaggerate, but only slightly.  I am not doing that today, I told them.  Ryan took the news like a man, for the most part, and turned to his latest book.  However, I believe there was actually gnashing of teeth and even some wailing from the younger boy.    

To escape the misery that is my house, I decided to take the dog for a walk.  We were doing our usual route, passing the Bronco Youth Center, when Murphy saw a squirrel and yanked extra-hard on the leash.  I am embarrassed to admit I went down like a chubby kid on a sheet of ice.  And for extra fun, there were two teenagers who were standing outside the center silently watching.  Thanks for asking if I was OK, guys. I got up with as much dignity as I could muster and dragged my 60-pound beast away.

Later, in anticipation of making a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I had taken the butter and eggs out to soften. The butter softened alright.  So much so that it was practically liquefied and therefore, had to be returned to the fridge.  But not before I located the brown sugar and noted that it had formed into a solid brick over the weeks of sitting in the pantry.  Beautiful.  Then Andrew, who wanted “to help," dropped one of the eggs onto the floor.  Murphy was thrilled, mom not so much.  I’ll spare you the details but a spanking ensued.  Lest you think I’m harsh, there were many other behavioral problems leading up to said spanking.

Knowing that there will likely be a slew of these types of days ahead, particularly with Rob’s deployment coming up in less than three weeks, I am trying to arm myself with antidotes to such “Alexander” woes.  Knowing how to comfort and soothe oneself during challenging times is important, not only for adults but for kids as well.  My go-to options include yoga and other types of exercise (Yes, really.  It’s not always easy to start, but once the endorphins kick in, it’s like a happy pill), talking with a close friend or family member, taking a bubble bath, having a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and reading.  Also crossword puzzles seem to help soothe me.  I’m trying to make meditation part of my daily routine, too, as well as more prayer.      

Bad days happen to everyone, of course, and the problems I describe here are not biggies.  I realize many people are struggling with truly serious issues on a regular basis.  Which brings me to the point of all this rambling.  Everyone is going through something, to a greater or lesser degree, and I think it behooves us all to understand that.  When the lady behind you at the grocery store scowls in your general direction, it most likely has nothing to do with the fact that your kid is being obnoxious.  If your neighbor seems distant for a few days, perhaps she and her husband had a doozy of a fight.  People are dealing with serious illness (their own and family members’), divorce, money problems and challenges with their children, just to name a few.  When I was growing up, my mother used to say that most folks are simply “doing the best they can.”  I appreciate when others cut me some slack and am striving to do the same for them.  In the meantime, I’m going to take those chocolate chip cookies (which finally got baked) over to our newest neighbors, introduce myself and, maybe make a new friend.  And hopefully not have another “Alexander” day for a good long while.             

Posted in Married to it on Friday, July 18, 2014 9:49 am. Comments (0)

Monday 07/07/2014
It's a Boys' World (and I'm just living in it!)

If you are the mother of boys of a certain age, you might be noticing a few things by now.  Mine are 12 and 8 and I am definitely seeing trends that I thought I’d share.  (Just to clarify, I grew up with sisters with nary a brother to introduce me to the strange and odiferous world of the young homo sapien male species).

1)  Boys like video games.  This may seem like an incredibly obvious statement but I had no idea how much they would adore these virtual worlds.  Minecraft is particularly big around our house, to the point where I am starting to see the colorful, weirdly blocky figures in my dreams.  My younger son has become just a wee bit obsessed with this game and I wonder if it’s all about control—building a world and deciding who lives in it and what kind of house you will inhabit, not to mention what kind of terrain you want to live in.  Ryan, the eldest, is starting to play more mature video games with his friends via a headset, which always makes my husband and me nervous.  We have had full conversations with Ryan while he’s wearing this headset, meaning all the kids he was “playing with” were privy to our chats.  Occasionally we let him stay up late playing (which a friend of mine assures me will eventually turn into all-nighters).  I’m not crazy about going to bed before my kid does.  Controlling how often and how long they play these games has become the central parenting challenge for us lately. 

2)  Not to be crude but boys (let’s just say my boys) frequently “check things out,” (if you know what I mean), at various times throughout the day.  I think it’s almost a mindless reflex, but no less disconcerting when you stumble upon it.  Rob assures me this is normal.  Apparently, this is one of the great mysteries of malehood. 

3)  Boys eat a lot of cereal.  Or chips.  Or any other go-to food.  Ryan will eat three, four and sometimes more bowls of cereal throughout the course of the day.  It is breakfast, a snack, sometimes dinner and dessert all rolled into one.   I practically live at the commissary for the sole purpose of replenishing cereal and milk in our house.  Oh, and they never actually finish a box of cereal.  Instead, when they get down to the dregs, they just quite eating it.  Thus, the 15 almost-empty boxes in my pantry.     

4)  You may think your boys aren’t sensitive, but think again.  I was a sensitive kid, to put it mildly.  As my parents used to say, looking at me cross-eyed could inspire a slew of tears.  When it came to inanimate objects (like my toys and dolls), I would worry that it “hurt their feelings” if I played with one thing more than another.  Growing up, I assumed girls were more sensitive than boys.  However, almost 15 years of marriage and now these two guys we call our own has changed my mind.  Case in point:  I was driving somewhere with my eight-year-old just last week and an oldie-but-goodie rock song came on the radio.  I was singing along and car-dancing, thinking Andrew was enjoying it too.  Instead, he flatly told me he “hated” rock music.  Jokingly, I responded, “how can you be my son and not like rock music?”  He got very quiet and I glanced in the rear view mirror, shocked to see him near tears.  “You hurt my feelings, Mommy,” he said quietly.  I told him I didn’t mean it literally and that of course he could be my son and like a different type of music.  All was well again.  But this episode reminded me that boys can appear more thick-skinned than they are and how I say things matters.

5)  When you have boys, you will find a sea of balled-up dirty socks in the laundry.  Yes, it’s a small problem but it’s the little things that tend to drive you the craziest.  My kids take off their socks so that they’re inside-out and always rolled into a clump.  This despite endless lectures from me on the correct way to remove one’s socks.  If you counted up all the hours I spend smoothing out their (nasty) socks, I could likely write a novel or better yet, finally figure out how to contain all their Legos.

6)  Boys don’t make small talk very well.  This may vary depending on your kid’s age and personality.  Andrew is quite chatty, so much so that by the end of the evening, his sweet little voice can sound a lot like nails on a chalkboard.  Ryan, who is rapidly nearing teenage-hood, is the other extreme.  Conversations with our big boy are becoming more and more monosyllabic and heaven forbid you ask about his feelings about something.  Then again, when you least expect it, he’ll suddenly want to engage in a heart-to-heart. (Usually this is late at night when I am incapable of coherent conversation.)  I’m quickly realizing you take the opportunities when and where they come.   

7)  Boys love their Moms.  Thank goodness for this one.  Every time I think I’m “chopped liver” in their eyes and relegated to being the frumpy lady who makes their meals, drives them around and endlessly nags them to do their chores, they hug me or say something that melts my heart.  The other day Andrew said, “Mom, I want to tell you something.”  Fully expecting to hear another vital piece of information about Minecraft strategy, I sighed and waited.  “I really love you, Mom,” he said.                  

Posted in Married to it on Monday, July 7, 2014 10:21 am. | Tags: Fort Hood Comments (0)

Sunday 06/22/2014
The results are in...

Now that I’ve lived at Fort Hood for almost two years, I feel qualified to list the top five best and worst things about this post.  (Note to Reader:  Keep in mind that some of you will disagree, some might be offended by my choices, and others will say I left something crucial off the list. I would love to hear your feedback about this, and what YOU would include in this list.)

With no further ado, here goes, starting with the negatives first:

Worst:

1)  It’s big. Having come from Carlisle Barracks, Penn., Fort Hood was a bit of a shock to my system.  I was used to walking to the PX, the commissary, the gym and just about everywhere else there. That all changed here though, as Fort Hood is definitely a driving post. The other thing about its size is getting things done simply takes longer. There are long lines in many offices, as well as more difficulty getting medical appointments and other routine errands accomplished. This is why I take a book everywhere I go on post. (I highly recommend bringing “War and Peace” when picking up prescriptions at any of the pharmacies).

2) The weather. Extremes are the norm here when it comes to weather. Yes, summers are wicked hot but then, this past winter was surprisingly cold. When it’s windy here, it’s gale-force winds. When it rains, there is often hail or thunder and lightning. Now that it’s already steamy out, I find that if I’m not walking the dog by 8 a.m., it’s too late. (Yes, I see hearty souls out jogging at 2 p.m. but can’t speak for their sanity…)

3) It’s not very pretty. When I first saw this post, I was depressed by the overall scenario. The buildings appeared uniformly beige and utilitarian-looking (with some exceptions,) the grass was dry and burnt and there were very few trees. My eyes yearned for more greenery, which might explain why we chose to live in an older home with lots of towering trees and shade. I have since gotten used to the way Fort Hood looks but still wish it were more attractive.

4) There is too much litter. I realize a post that is home to 50,000 soldiers plus their family members, visitors and retirees is probably not going to be pristine but the amount of trash I find on walks with my dog is shameful. I am constantly picking up Styrofoam coffee cups, plastic water bottles, fast food bags and plenty more. There are garbage cans all over this post--why is it so hard for people to use them?

5) They make you buy cowboy boots. This one is courtesy of my husband. He is a Virginia boy and had never owned a pair of cowboy boots in his life, nor did he intend to. Within a few months of taking command, his command sergeant major cleverly convinced him to invest in a pair of boots (which are worn at numerous “Texas Casual” events here at The Great Place). He was urged to purchase a hat, too, but refused. The funny thing is, he really likes those boots now and looks for reasons to wear them.

Best:

1) It’s big. OK, so big can be a problem but it can also be a good thing.  Fort Hood’s size ensures there is no lack of activities to choose from. The folks at MWR are always offering something fun to do on the weekends and having two commissaries means you don’t have to go off-post to do your grocery shopping. There is an excellent library here, a myriad of gyms offering exercise classes and good equipment, including state-of-the-art climbing walls. The PX has a huge selection of items, and as for gas stations and shoppettes, just throw a rock and you’ll hit one for sure.

2) The people. As the old saying goes, the people truly ARE why this is considered “The Great Place.” At first I didn’t get it but now I see why. I have met a ton of people since arriving two years ago and most are wonderful. Off- post, I can honestly say that this is the most supportive, pro-military community I’ve ever encountered. Killeen, Copperas Cove, Belton, Temple, Lampasas and Waco, (among others) all go out of their way to tell and show us how much they appreciate our service. Not all military communities do this or to nearly this extent.

3) The weather. So I just described why I hate the weather here. Now allow me to explain why I love it. Having spent a good number of years in Germany, (and way before that, Washington State), I know I’m a candidate for “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” That is, when the sun doesn’t make an appearance for a week or two, I start to weep for no apparent reason. That never happens here. Summers are incredibly hot but also incredibly “summery,” and that can be nice. Winters (except for the last one), tend to be mild and still sunny. I like that.

4) The history/tradition. Fort Hood has a proud military tradition and a long one. It is the home of the First Cavalry Division and many other units steeped in rich history. Also, training here is a top priority. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been on a post that trains more seriously or more efficiently.

5) The Texas terrain. Once you leave post and the closer you get to the Hill Country, the more scenic it is. The gently rolling hills, scrub oaks, green and yellow meadows sprinkled with wildflowers, not to mention the creeks and other bodies of water—all make it beautiful in a way that is unique to Texas. We recently spent an evening fishing in Salado Creek in Belton and felt like we had driven hundreds of miles instead of 20 minutes.

  

Posted in Married to it on Sunday, June 22, 2014 11:14 am. | Tags: Fort Hood , Seasonal Affective Disorder , Texas , Pennsylvania , Weather , Litter , Trash , Cowboy Boots Comments (0)

Friday 06/13/2014
Celebrating dads

So I was leafing through "People" magazine (don’t judge!) and saw a long piece on talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon and his adorable baby daughter Winnie. Reading his joyous comments about fatherhood, you would think he invented the role. For example, he says: “I just want to hang out with my daughter. Little girls are the perfect things. You can get the cutest outfits for them. Every single thing she does, I’m like, ‘God, I’m so in love.’”

Those are lovely things to say—clearly, Fallon is a happy, devoted new dad. It’s hard to believe just a generation or two ago, fatherhood was viewed somewhat differently. Fathers were proud of their roles but not considered all that crucial to the development of their progeny once they were produced. Mothers were the focal parent with fathers playing an often elusive role aside from ball-throwing sessions on the weekend and being relegated to disciplinarian (“wait ‘til your father gets home!”)  Obviously I’m painting with a broad brush here—there were no doubt many dads who were more involved than this. But my point is that fatherhood has changed and society is now realizing how critical dads are to the family dynamic.  There are numerous books on this issue, as well as magazine and newspaper articles and a slew of studies. Far too much information to cite here but suffice it to say that fathers’ involvement in their children’s development affects everything from cognitive growth to social skills, self-esteem, and even future success. Dads interact differently with their kids than Moms do—in general, they’re more playful and possibly less verbal (which explains why my boys “hear” their dad a lot better than me.  I suspect I sound a lot like the “Charlie Brown” teacher “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa…”)  .  

It’s fairly common knowledge that boys look to their dads for cues as to how a man behaves, how he treats a woman, how he deals with life’s challenges and the values he holds dear. A father’s relationship to his daughter is equally important. Dads are a girl’s first foray into the world of men, so if you think about it, how he treats her truly lays the groundwork for future interactions. Daughters develop their self-esteem, confidence and sense of feeling “safe” in a world that can be a labyrinth of questionable values and unhealthy behaviors. 

I know a lot of great dads. In fact, I recently wrote a Facebook posting asking all the dads I know what their biggest challenges and greatest rewards of fatherhood have been so far. I would like to say I was inundated with responses but actually only received two. One man said this:  “Toughest thing in the world is juggling a career and a family. Most rewarding is despite the hours sacrificed is at the end of the day your kids letting you know how much they love you and how much you are their hero for doing so. I don't care what anyone else says but your kids can reduce you tears in a matter of seconds with one act or one word. Love being a dad no matter how hard it can be at times.”

The other, which was told via his wife, said: “The most challenging thing is patience – (as I hear him now in the bathroom losing it because the boys got out of the shower without towels)-- I can verify this. The most rewarding is seeing the boys laugh and almost reliving his childhood, as he can see life again through their eyes.” Both of these men served in the Army and have endured long separations from their kids.   

I know my own husband is constantly feeling the pressure of balancing being an involved dad with his work responsibilities. Now that our boys are getting older, I see his relationship with them becoming more interesting.  He and Ryan share an interest in history and are often conversing about a WWII battle or a particular tank. Andrew used to be the proverbial “baby” but at nearly eight years old, is growing and changing by the day. Thus, Rob is starting to interact with him on a different, more nuanced level and that is wonderful to see.

I am so glad fathers are getting the respect and the thanks they deserve.  Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads, step-dads, grandfathers and others who have taken on a fatherly role. You are valued, needed, honored and loved.     

Posted in Married to it on Friday, June 13, 2014 10:44 am. | Tags: Jimmy Fallon , Father , Father S Day , Charlie Brown , Parenting , Fort Hood Comments (0)

Sunday 06/01/2014
A rainy weekend

If this past very rainy holiday weekend is any indication, we have a long summer ahead of us. I say this because my sons (particularly one of them) didn’t  know what to do with themselves, especially on Monday—Memorial Day—when we told them there would be no video games. (Sadly, we later reneged on this after hours of diabolical, methodical tactics wielded by our younger boy Andrew.) Yes, all the firm, parental declarations in the world are no match for one bored, almost-8-year-old boy. The day started innocently enough. Sure, we said no video games but that didn’t mean TV was off-limits. So Andrew watched cartoons…for a long time. Finally, when Rob and I looked up blearily from our newspaper and iPad and realized that it was lunchtime and our youngest was still in his PJs, staring intently at an infomercial as if the announcer were giving away free trips to Disneyland, we ordered him to turn off the boob tube and do something else.  Something that resembled using his imagination. Next thing we knew, Andrew was bugging his older brother, who (after what seemed to be a long dry spell) was actually reading a book. You know, the kind with pages and words and an actual plot. Not wanting to break that precious spell, we shooed the little guy away from Ryan. Then he switched his attention to the dog…who was desperately trying to take a nap. Getting Murphy riled up takes some doing but Andrew was up to the challenge, even causing him to growl by ruffling his fur the wrong way and otherwise making his life miserable. So we ordered him to leave the dog alone. The little imp then decided to go outside in the rain and promptly got drenched. I am pretty sure he did this merely to make a point:  “If I can’t be entertained, then I will create more laundry!” (Note to reader: You may wonder if a spanking was considered at this point. The answer is a resounding “yes!”)

I think back to what kids used to do when it rained…board games? Books?  Model airplanes? My go-to activity, besides reading, used to be drawing.  Ryan—our 12-year-old—seems the most like me in that respect. He has always drawn and sketched, though his choice of subjects is vastly different than my own. Where my specialty was girls (who all ended up looking strangely alike) in a variety of fashion ensembles or just faces, his is currently tanks. He draws tanks with great accuracy and intricacy and revels in the different models from different wars. Years ago he drew superheroes…and dogs…and trucks. Ryan spent a lot of time entertaining himself once upon a time because he was an only child for almost five years. Andrew doesn’t seem to have this skill, or perhaps it’s still under construction. All I know is that it is not my job, nor Rob’s, nor his brother’s to ensure that he is happy and engaged in some sort of meaningful activity. We tell him this in various ways. We say that cultivating hobbies is important. That his brother doesn’t have to play with him. That every kid has to learn how to amuse themselves at some point. He just stares at me. I picture the upcoming summer and the long days ahead and pray for patience, strength and extra doses of humor. 

Of course there will be activities. We will go to the pool. I plan to enroll Andrew in swimming lessons again, as we did last year. We will take a vacation for a week or 10 days. There will be neighborhood friends to play with and other stuff going on. But there will also be days like last Monday, when no kids are available to play with, or it’s raining or too hot and boredom comes to call. There will be days when I restrict them from the X-Box just to see what they can find to do instead. Then I will draw upon my inner Mean Mommy and respond to the chorus of “I’m bored” with the good old fashioned (and satisfying) response: “If you’re bored, you’re boring.” 

Back to last Monday. By mid-afternoon, we couldn’t take the psychological torture anymore and found ourselves folding like the proverbial pup tent when the video game pressure started up again. I am not proud of that. I only hope I can show more stamina this summer. In the meantime, I’m going to relish these remaining days of school, and start planning where I’m going to hide the controls to their video games. Who said moms can’t be diabolical too?       

Posted in Married to it on Sunday, June 1, 2014 9:35 am. | Tags: Disneyland , Ipad , Video Game , Memorial Day , Children , Parenting , Boredom , Books , Reading , Fort Hood Comments (0)

Thursday 05/22/2014
Is 50 nifty?

I’m not saying that I turn 50 this summer but…I was born the same year the Beatles made their wildly successful U.S. debut.  Also the same year and month that President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. Not a bad time to come into the world.

In 1970, my family moved to Louisville, KY.  I recall bussing being a hot-button issue then. Some kids were going to be bussed across town to the predominantly black elementary school and some parents were outraged…and scared.

When I was about 8 or 9, I remember listening to the Beatles with my neighbor friend and sister and crushing on Paul. (We also idolized Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garret, David Cassidy and Andy Gibb, among others). No, definitely not turning 50.

I’m not admitting to entering my sixth decade (gulp) but…I do have a keen recollection of Holly Hobby dolls, feathered hair, pet rocks, pastel clothing and actual LP records with fabulous covers. I loved bands like the Cars, the Go Go’s and U2. Not to mention Journey, ACDC, Pat Benatar and ZZ Top. I spent too much money on concerts and cassette tapes--remember those? (Today, hearing a favorite ‘80s tune while driving still inspires vigorous head and neck dancing amid embarrassed groans from my kids in the backseat).

Back in the day, I had brown hair and freckles and hopeful eyes and longed to be a sinewy blonde with a big chest. Or any chest.

My sister and I inhaled Seventeen Magazine and Glamour and even way-beyond-our-years issues of Cosmopolitan (carefully hidden from our parents). We wore frosted eye shadow (often blue) and used curling irons to give our bangs and the sides of our hair “weenie rolls.”  Our lips were perennially shiny with Bonne Bell gloss. 

Fifty? Who me?

If, as the old adage says, you get the face you “deserve” at 40, what do we get at 50? Besides a colonoscopy, of course. Perhaps you get the face you really, REALLY deserve. Or maybe at 50, the rewards are deeper and more substantial: Wisdom, kindness, more tolerance and the ability to laugh at oneself more easily. The realization that more than half of life is most likely over and to make the most of what remains.

The truth of the matter is that 50 is NOT the new 30 or the new 40. We tell ourselves these things to soften the blow but doing so erodes the fact that being alive (and hopefully thriving) for five decades is something to celebrate and honor, not cringe over.

On the other hand, there is no denying that mirrors can be traumatic at times. (Who is that lady with the dark circles under her eyes? And let’s not even talk about the lines appearing seemingly overnight, unpleasant bodily changes and all the rest.) But I can still feel like the freckled girl with the hopeful eyes when I laugh hysterically with a good friend or when I’m jogging in the sun and am feeling strong and healthy.

Sometimes I fight the demon that softly whispers, “the best years of your life are behind you.” This—more than anything—is what terrifies me. I would bet my childhood dol, “Deke” that this is what makes women of a certain age do those things to their faces that don’t make them look any younger, just tauter, shinier and considerably weirder.

So, assuming I truly am going to turn 50 in another month or two, I’ve come to the glaringly obvious conclusion that we either get older or we face the unpleasant alternative. The years have passed at warp-speed and it’s a shock to realize that an AARP card will soon appear in my mailbox. I guess my only choice is to go with the flow and embrace the new decade. I plan to take more healthy risks, keep writing and spend more time seeking ways to help others and less time dwelling on moi.  Another goal is to finally learn how to grow a garden. Do a lot of yoga.  Love my husband. And show my boys that having an older mom can be cool.

For all of you coming to terms with your own “big” birthdays, I wish you joy, acceptance and gratitude. Wherever you are on this incredible journey called life, safe travels!  

                

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, May 22, 2014 4:00 pm. | Tags: Shaun Cassidy , Beatles , Andy Gibb , Lyndon Johnson , Leif Garret , David Cassidy , Holly Hobby , The Cars , Acdc , Birthdays , Aging , Fort Hood , Military Spouse Comments (0)

Saturday 05/10/2014
A tale of two mothers

All mother-in-law jokes aside, I am lucky to have two of them.  My husband’s parents divorced when he was very young and both remarried, finding wonderful partners that have long been loving stepparents to Rob since he was a little boy.

Kay O’Beirne and Lucy Dillon are very different people but each is special in her own way.  Kay, Rob’s mother, is the type of woman who can get things done.  She spent 39 years as a civil service employee and can accomplish even the most challenging of errands within a day or two.  Kay remembers names and dates and events like they happened yesterday and makes a mean she-crab soup.  She loves her dogs and cats like children and will never let a stray go hungry.  Lucy, Rob’s stepmother, is the kind of woman who can make a wedding garter belt for a girl when, at the last minute, she can’t find hers and the reception is about to start.  Lucy knows how to simulate the look (for a fraction of the cost) of the expensive “Pottery Barn” type decorating style and how to make an old chest of drawers suddenly look like the coolest sort of “shabby chic” style.  She also makes the best spaghetti and meat sauce ever. 

Since I’ve first become a part of Rob’s family, these two women have made me feel at home and loved, which is more than I could ask for.  As the mother of two boys, I can only imagine how it feels to know that one day, your son will bring home a serious girlfriend or fiancé and you will have to make room for her in your heart, whether you click with her or not.

Now that I have these boys, I realize—every single day—how difficult this mothering business truly is.  The laundry list of mistakes I make is impressive.  I am inconsistent.  I sometimes lose my temper.  I nag.  I criticize.  I am occasionally sarcastic and snide.  There are times I just don’t feel like making dinner or changing sheets or doing laundry or checking homework or…well, you get the point.  But at times like these, I often think about my two mothers-in-law and the fact that they each raised two boys themselves.  Lucy was mostly a stay-at-home mother while Kay worked but both were good moms in their own ways.  I marvel at Kay’s organizational skills as a young mother, and how much she had to prepare and plan for each new day and week. Having predictable meals and clothes laid out the night before may seem rigid, but I can see how sanity-saving such planning is when you’re up at the crack of dawn and out of the house by 7:30 a.m.

By the same token, I am impressed with Lucy’s creativity and ability to make beauty out of the simplest things.  Give this woman some glue, a few leaves and fabric scraps and she can make an elaborate table centerpiece.  Lucy can see possibilities where others might just see ordinary objects.  She is tireless in her efforts to decorate a home and will help out her family members with home-improvement projects at the drop of a hat, even if that means travelling for a day or two to get there.  Which brings me to my next point.  Kay and Lucy put family first and it shows in everything they do.  It’s easy to say family is important, but to actually live it is another story.  Kay cared for her ailing mother after a stroke for years while Lucy played nursemaid to her own elderly in-laws before they died.  Currently, her 90-year-old father lives with her and Rob’s father for part of the year.  Both Kay and Lucy have experienced staggering losses in their lives.  Lucy’s youngest son was killed in Iraq in 2006 and Kay’s husband of more than 30 years died suddenly 10 years ago.

As Mothers Day approaches, I think about my two MILs and the fact that someday, perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to be a role model for the women who fall in love with my sons.  I wonder what they will think of me and whether I will be able to love them unconditionally and whole-heartedly.  You cannot choose your daughter-in-law (well, OK, arranged marriages DO still happen) but it is my fervent hope that I can make my daughters-in-law feel as welcome and accepted as I did when Rob and I got together.  For all you who are mothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers or any other category of “mom-hood,” I wish you a beautiful Mother’s Day!

Posted in Married to it on Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:50 am. | Tags: Mothers Day , Mothers-in-law , Mother , Stepfamily , Family , Daughter-in-law , Fort Hood , Parenting , Parents , Sons Comments (0)

Saturday 04/26/2014
Military kids are cool!

April is the month of the military child, so before the month is through, I figured I’d better address this very important and personal topic. 

There is no doubt that military kids are special. They put with an awful lot, to include long separations from one (or both) parents) due to deployments or Temporary Duty Assignments; as well as frequent moves leading to new schools, friends, houses, and lives every few years or so. Some military children must adjust to a very different mom or dad following a deployment. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects the entire family and a parent may return forever changed. Although much has been publicized about severe cases of PTSD, even in its mildest form, it can render a once outgoing, cheerful parent to one who is subdued, anxious, vaguely depressed or just unable to concentrate on anything for too long.

Thankfully, we have not gone through this in our family, but our boys have had to deal with many separations from their dad. Some just due to long workdays, others because of TDYs and deployments. Other times their dad is just busy and distracted with phone calls and work at home. He is “there but not there.” 

I think military kids endure even more subtle things that fall below many family’s radar screens. In any military family, where the business of war is a constant—and, let’s face it, it always is—there is a low-grade tension that permeates daily life. It may be so slight as to almost be undetectable but it is there nonetheless. 

There is also a sense of uncertainty about moving and whether a kid will get to finish a certain grade or graduate with his or her class. Our older son is 12 and therefore, I suspect the next move we make will affect him more dramatically than previous moves. He will be a rising eighth grader when we next pack up—not sure how that will play out but am guessing it will be tough for him to start over somewhere completely new. Many families have rising high school seniors and an upcoming move. This creates a difficult and often stressful situation for all.    

My family moved often when I was a child but we were not military and I was lucky enough to finish middle school and all four years of high school at the same schools. 

Of course, some kids look forward to changing schools for a variety of reasons. They may be experiencing bullying, or are just not fitting in at their current school. Others may not be challenged academically or, are falling behind, grade-wise.  Sometimes a fresh start is just the ticket for kids struggling with these issues. 

Many people believe military children have better social skills and more curiosity about the world in general than the average civilian kid.  This can be debated but assuming it’s true, perhaps these skills are honed  from more exposure to a variety of locations, cultures, and ways of life.  For example, spending three years in Germany followed by several in Alaska and then a stint in northern Virginia is bound to create some character-building and life lessons. Seeing different lifestyles, experiencing vastly different climates and types of terrain, and even learning new languages,  can be an invaluable education for a kid.  Just like adults, some children embrace the experience of living in new or foreign places more enthusiastically than others. We all know the family stationed in Europe who rarely want to travel farther than their local PX. But this tends to be the exception rather than the norm.

Which brings me to my next point. Kids take their cues from their folks and if I am grumbling about an upcoming move, you can bet my boys aren’t going to look forward to it either. Same goes for a deployment.  I need to watch my attitude and choose my words carefully as my husband’s year away approaches. Not to say that I should be a “Pollyanna” about it but the older I get, the more I see the connection between what I tell myself and how I feel. Since I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve, our sons can read my moods well and, as the old adage goes:  “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”

So let’s celebrate the military child! He or she has many challenges but also many advantages...and so many opportunities.  Hug a military kid today and tell him he’s special, because he is.

  

Posted in Married to it on Saturday, April 26, 2014 9:34 am. | Tags: Pollyanna , Posttraumatic Stress Disorder , Family , Alaska , Germany , Military Brat , Ptsd , Fort Hood Comments (0)

Friday 04/25/2014
The Great Escape

Summer vacation season is fast approaching and I am agonizing over where we should go this year.  This one feels more significant because of my husband’s impending deployment.  So instead of planning your basic fun family get-away, I’ve noticed I’m struggling to make this trip so chock-full of special memories and amazing sights that it will magically whisk us all through the coming year of separation a little faster and easier.  Of course I realize my wishful thinking is naive and unrealistic, but hey, a girl can dream!

As I pore over websites that showcase dazzling Alaskan glaciers and waterways, sparkling Cancun beaches and craggy Montana peaks (all of which we’re considering), I can’t help but recall vacations from our past which were also wrapped around deployments. There was the short and somewhat melancholy trip we took to Ireland just prior to the beginning of the Iraq War.  Our older son Ryan was a baby then and in all of the photos, I “wore” him in his carrier on my chest or back.  Everywhere we went, the grass was preternaturally green and our faces—though obligingly smiling in most shots—have a pensive cast to them.  We knew Rob was leaving in a few short weeks and like many families, we were resigned, sad and frightened.  The fact that neither of the two hotels we patronized used central heating only seemed appropriate given our bleak situation. 

The Florence, Italy trip Rob and I took alone after his return a year later had an entirely different vibe. We were living in Hanau, Germany at the time and had left 2-year-old Ryan in the capable hands of Rob’s mother and her cousin for five or six days. When I think about Florence, I remember the gorgeous cathedrals and the Ponte Vecchio, of course.  I vaguely recall the food and the stunning artwork. But what stands out most of all was an overall sensation of relief and gratefulness that Rob had made it safely through this scary deployment. The way we interacted with one another also comes to mind.  As a couple reunited after a long and stressful separation, we were figuring out how to get our groove back and at times, it almost felt like we were on a second honeymoon.

Then there was the “Rest and Relaxation” vacation we met up for in 2010. I flew with the kids from Germany, meeting Rob and his extended family in Wilmington, N.C., and then we all settled into various beach houses on a lovely stretch of sand and water.  He had been craving the ocean badly. Since his Afghanistan deployment was more than half-over, this trip was lighter and had more of a festive flavor. Having most of Rob’s family there made it even more fun. While there, we also celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a beautiful marriage renewal ceremony.

I’m sure all military families have similar bittersweet memories interwoven with deployments, TDYs and other separations. 

I have a tendency to have high expectations and planning our vacation is starting to raise a few red flags that I’m doing this again. There will be laughter and fun and lots of distractions wherever we end up going, but I’m kidding myself if I think that any of us will be able to forget for one minute what’s coming down the pike. I don’t care how many margaritas we drink!

Whether we take an Alaskan cruise, a Yellowstone hiking adventure or just decide to bask in the sun at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, is ultimately not that important. What does matter is being together and making memories, whether they be of the “suffering” sort (literally seeing our breath in those Irish hotels), or the “fabulous” kind (tucking into an obscenely delicious Umbrian dinner during a 2009 pre-deployment trip to Italy). Our vacation will be a success because we are experiencing it as a family.  And if that includes shedding a few tears in the process, so be it.    

Posted in Married to it on Friday, April 25, 2014 10:50 am. | Tags: Florence , Italy , Hanau , The Great Escape , Montana , Germany , Cancun Beaches , Afghanistan , Fort Hood , Family Comments (0)

Sunday 04/06/2014
A very bad night

When the emergency siren went off, I was making spaghetti sauce. I instantly assumed  it was a tornado warning. My boys were outside on their scooters and though I was a little concerned, I periodically glanced outside assessing the sky and the wind, figuring a weather disaster wasn’t too imminent. As the siren continued to blare, Murphy began to bark incessantly. To my relief, Ryan and Andrew returned and after finally really listening to the siren’s robotic voice, I realized this was not about a tornado.

The voice impersonally instructed us to “take shelter” in the house and lock all doors and windows. Just a few minutes earlier, my husband had called.  He told me that he was heading to the Military Police Station to deal with something serious and to please not go anywhere with the kids. Wednesday evenings are when I take them to “Religious Education” classes on-post. We would not be going that night. 

Now I was starting to get edgy. The doorbell rang and it was my friend’s 11-year-old son Aiden, who lives a few streets over. He was upset and his voice shook. He said his mom and sister had gone off-post to run an errand and he heard the siren and got scared. He was having trouble reaching his mother on her cell phone. I directed him and my boys to stay in Ryan’s room with the door closed as we all puzzled over what was happening. Meanwhile, Aiden got a hold of his mom (who could not get back on post now) and I turned on the local news. A somber reporter spoke of an active shooter on Fort Hood who was still at large. There was speculation that there might be two shooters. There was talk of this being an act of terrorism. There was more discussion over whether the victims were targeted or random. My stomach lurched. I checked on the boys and went online, learning where the shooter had allegedly done this heinous deed. The post was on complete lockdown and an eerie silence descended over our neighborhood. Except Murphy wouldn’t stop barking.

My friend’s husband arrived to pick up Aiden. The boys and I hunkered down with shades pulled and watched the news, growing more and more horrified. The boys alternated between outright fear and a nervous giddiness. I turned off the burner where my spaghetti sauce was simmering and forgot about it. No one was hungry anyway.

Soon the phone calls, texts and emails began, ringing and pinging like an old pinball game. I checked my Facebook page and there were numerous messages from friends and relatives expressing their concern for us and asking if we were OK. I got busy answering them, clicking from one phone call to the next and reassuring loved ones that we were fine…we were among the lucky ones. My husband occasionally texted saying terse things like, “it’s gonna be a long night” and “don’t wait up for me.”

Only five years ago, of course, there was another shooting situation that left 13 dead and more than 30 wounded. For many of those affected, the scars (physical and emotional) are still fresh and far from healed.    

My heart was breaking for the victims and their families and even for the shooter’s family. This same heart was also full of gratitude for the caring, loving people who “swooped in” (albeit electronically) to check in with one another and exchange supportive words. The Army family is amazing that way. No matter how many hundreds or thousands of miles separate us, there is the sense that we are in this together. If nothing else positive came of this awful evening, there was that.

As the night wore on and the lockdown continued, I let the boys stay up later than usual to watch something silly on TV in the hopes that it would distract them from the drumbeat of tension. We eventually ate the spaghetti, though it felt like we were just going through the motions. 

After the siren sounded the all-clear, my next-door neighbor and I got our dogs together in my backyard to let them run off some steam. We talked about the shootings and what our husbands were doing and how surreal this all felt. We talked about what everyone else was talking about, stunned and saddened that unpredictable, horrific events like this are becoming the “new normal.” What will my boys remember about this night and how many of these incidents will they experience in their lifetimes? Will they—will we—ever really feel safe again?

Over the coming weeks, months and years, there will be endless discussion about what triggered this soldier to allegedly do what he did. We will debate gun control laws, mental illness, and how to best tighten up security on a military installation. We will argue about whose fault it was and how we could have seen this coming. We will mourn those who lost their lives and pray for those still recovering. We will do our best to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Posted in Married to it on Sunday, April 6, 2014 12:06 pm. | Tags: Fort Hood , Civil Defense Siren , Military Police Station , Army , Family , Fort Hood Shooting , Gun Control Comments (0)

Tuesday 03/25/2014
I heart senior spouses!

It is often with a small jolt of surprise that I remember I am a “senior spouse.” When I was a soldier back in the early 1990s, this term conjured images of a coiffed, middle-aged woman clad in tasteful Sag Harbor separates. She was the epitome of poise, good judgment and wisdom. Not to mention a paragon of correct etiquette and graciousness. In other words, not me. And quite frankly, not anyone I knew.    

Here we are, 20 years later, and thankfully, senior spouses are part of a diverse group that now includes men. The lifestyles of senior spouses in today’s Army are as varied and interesting as snowflakes—you’d be hard-pressed to find any two that are the same.

First of all, what makes someone a senior spouse? Most sources indicate that he or she is loosely defined as the husband or wife of an E-7 (Sergeant First Class) and above, in the non-commissioned officer ranks, and an O-5 (Lt. Col.) and above for officers. 

Despite the ubiquitous title of “ma’am,” senior spouses today can run the age-range gamut. Some are second wives and just beginning to have children while others are empty-nesters or raising teenagers.  They defy the tired stereotypes of yesteryear, (such as the spouses who volunteered purely to advance their husbands’ careers.)

Being a senior spouse in the 2014 Army means volunteering for anything that interests you, or not volunteering at all. It means working a traditional job at an office or working from home or perhaps being a stay-at-home mom. It can involve having children or not. Some senior spouses are caring for elderly parents as well as their own offspring.  Many are pursuing degrees and have creative hobbies on the side.

For a long time, I held fast to an antiquated idea of what a senior spouse “should” be (at least as it pertains to me.) This mythical creature could recite Army regulations verbatim, host effortlessly chic dinner parties and didn’t suffer a moment of insecurity. Her house and children were impeccable. And bad hair days? What were those? Of course I realize how ridiculous this is, especially now that “we have become they,” as my husband and I joke.

I have come to accept that not knowing everything about the Army or its rules of etiquette doesn’t mean that I’m a failure at this senior spouse gig. I can acknowledge that not knowing is OK but being willing to find the answers when necessary is what’s really important. 

I’ve learned that my real purpose in this role is not to set the perfect table or know how to write a proper party invitation but to be a conduit of information and assistance to the other spouses in my husband’s unit should they need it. If I can help another wife locate a good counselor for her son or point someone to appropriate money-management classes when the bills start piling up, then I feel like a tremendous success. Or maybe I will be called upon to make a meal for a family with a deployed soldier. If I’m really lucky, I get the opportunity to simply listen to someone who needs to vent.  For truly, the Army is about people—it’s that simple.

Senior spouses can make waves in ways that younger wives may not have the confidence or know-how to do. Let’s face it—there are myriad small injustices that go on in an organization as large and unwieldy as the U.S. Army. If I am dealing with a problem, I can pretty much guarantee that others are as well. 

The senior spouses I am privileged to know and call friends are a fascinating bunch with a wide range of skills and life experiences. They each give to the Army in their own special ways and never cease to amaze me with their creativity, strength and resilience. Does this mean they never doubt themselves or make mistakes? Of course not, and thank goodness for it. Studies show that while we all crave some version of perfection in ourselves, we are most drawn to people who are flawed and “real.”

I am humbled to be a part of this group of women and men who have so much to offer. When we senior spouses get together, we can accomplish just about anything. Long live the senior spouse!

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 5:45 pm. | Tags: Army , Spouse , Wife , Husband , Officer , Family , Fort Hood , Senior Spouses Comments (0)

Tuesday 03/18/2014
Meet James Alan Schwartz

My dad has the coolest birthday ever—March 17.  This is particularly appropriate because he is a quarter Irish.  As kids, my sisters and I loved celebrating dad’s special day because it always involved the extra zing of St. Patrick’s Day. There would be a chocolate cake piled with green frosting, a few beers for the adults and, often times, at least one or two of my parents’ friends joining in the fun.

Like his birthday, my dad has always had that extra-special something about him. He is a study in contrasts: hilariously funny but deeply serious, sensitive inside but tough-seeming outside, a man who both rebels against the “establishment,” yet usually follows the rules. He can be sociable and the life of the party, and he can be a loner, content to read a novel in the bedroom for hours at a time. 

Dad is and always has been a writer and is probably the main inspiration for my own literary pursuits. As a young man, he wrote for good-quality newspapers when newspapers were in their heyday—The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Minneapolis Tribune, Louisville Times and, later, the Sunday Louisville Courier- Journal, among others. He loved reporting and was good at it. Eventually he turned his communications skills toward teaching journalism, then directing media relations for Western Washington University and later handling press relations for the Butte-based Montana Power Company. When my parents moved to Wisconsin, he did development and fund-raising work at Northland College in Ashland, WI. As you can see, we moved around a lot.  Restlessness is another key hallmark of my dad.

His last “real” job was director of development for a beautiful and bucolic monastery outside of Eau Claire. Since then he has more or less retired, although he stays active by volunteering as a literacy tutor and continues a regular shift at a local hospital in Eau Claire, where my parents live, as well as other projects.

I have often urged my dad to write a book. The man reads more voraciously than anyone I’ve ever known and retains much of what he reads. This combined with his already-prodigious gift for writing would make him a natural author, or so his family says. Dad will usually joke that he doesn’t have anything new to say but we know better. 

My dad grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio as the youngest son of three children. His father was a WWI veteran who had a serious problem with alcohol. Because of this, I don’t think dad got the fathering he deserved. But in spite of that, he had a happy childhood under his loving mother’s guidance and with his many boyhood friends. I relished listening to dad’s stories of mayhem and mischief when kids ran freer than they do today. He would tell about going out in the woods behind their home with a BB gun and the whole day ahead of him. Inevitably, the story would end with him and his buddies running away from someone or falling off a roof and just barely escaping punishment from some humorless authority figure.

He joined the Army in 1957 and attended the Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey in California.  His Army adventures even took him right here to Fort Hood where he got involved in “special services,” basically playing sports for the Army as a full-time job. He also worked in a message center in Korea as well as a variety of other jobs, including battalion mail clerk (a position I smile at because to this day, he loves receiving mail).

His favorite sports memory was struggling to score against Green Bay Packer Ray Nitzke in a basketball game.

After he and mother got engaged and he had already left the service, he was recalled for the Berlin Crisis in 1961. At that time he was trying to finish his bachelor’s degree at Miami University and the interruption—as well as the unexpected separation from my Mom—devastated him. But luckily, the redeployment was short-lived and my folks were married in 1962.

My father had a unique parenting style. When my sisters and I were young, he was sometimes gruff and impatient with us—he would jokingly call us “men” and use Army terminology and lots of humor to get his points across. I can still recite colorful “limericks” (not printable here) dad would share with us, while my mom would mock-gasp and try to shush him.  Although he was by no means the kind of father who called his girls “princesses,” we never doubted his love for us or his protectiveness. He made us laugh and instilled the importance of reading, critical thinking and problem-solving. I recall being at the dinner table and waiting for him to abruptly ask:  “Learn anything?” to which my sister and I would struggle to come up with some interesting nugget from our school-day.      

Dad has had a long love-affair with standard poodles. Currently he and my mom are on poodle number five, a black, rambunctious and thoroughly loveable 1-year-old named “Pete.” Before that was Dusty, Buff, Mandy and Della—each unique and wonderful in their own ways.  At times, I think my father has related better to his dogs than to humans.  (A phenomenon that I can truly understand, now that we have our dog Murphy).

Trying to pin my dad down in any particular way has always been difficult.  He is a study in contrasts and as mercurial as the weather here in Texas. He is complex and he is simple. He is like nobody else's dad I know and I’m grateful for that...and love him dearly.  Happy (belated) Birthday Dad!      

   

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 2:00 pm. Comments (0)

Wednesday 03/12/2014
My Lenten challenge

So I am giving up alcohol for Lent. This was not a decision I made lightly. I am not a heavy drinker but I suspect I’m a habitual one. Meaning three or four times a week, I like a glass of wine or a beer while making dinner, and sometimes another one with dinner. My husband and I enjoy the winding-down, end-of-the-work-day ritual of a libation together and I tell myself there is nothing wrong with that. However, I’ve noticed that this evening routine has become more important to me than it perhaps should. And I wonder if I might have a problem.

Alcoholism runs in both sides of our families. My dad’s dad was an alcoholic and years ago I recall my father telling me that whenever he felt the need for a drink, that’s when he deliberately chose not to pour one. That stuck with me.

There is no doubt that alcohol plays a huge role in our society. The first thing a waiter or waitress will ask when you are seated in a restaurant is what would you like to drink? And if it’s dinner time, there will usually be a wine or beer menu placed prominently in front of you. Of course, alcohol is the great social lubricant at most events. I love getting together with our neighbors for an impromptu Friday night cocktail or other grownup beverage. And drinking wine with other military wives-- while playing Bunco, at a farewell or welcome party, or simply because you enjoy the company-- is a time-honored tradition. There is nothing wrong with that.  And yet…

Motherhood changes the game a bit. Like all kids, my sons are pretty observant and pick up on things you think they barely notice. They watch us having wine at dinner and have made comments. Our 7-year-old recently asked me why we like wine so much. (Cringe!) While modeling responsible alcohol behavior is a plus (we don’t get “drunk” or belligerent when we drink,) I’m not thrilled with the prospect of the kids seeing Mom and Dad with a glass in their hand on a regular basis.

Though I feel we use moderation when we imbibe, I would say there are still repercussions. Such as, that the relaxation qualities of alcohol sometimes make it more challenging to read my little guy a book before bed. Or that I occasionally fall asleep much earlier than planned. And if I’m truly being honest here, sometimes I get irritable after a glass of something. (Of course, it should be pointed out that I can also get quite irritable without it!)

(Note to Reader:  If I’m starting to sound like a party-pooper or—God forbid—a self-righteous, card-carrying teetotaler, please forgive me.)

Of course I’ve abstained from the sauce before - during both my pregnancies, while on deployments and times when I was “de-toxing” or just not in the mood to drink.   

From a health perspective, as I’ve gotten older, I find I’m getting more frequent headaches after even just one glass of wine. It’s a no-brainer to state that our livers take a beating with frequent drinking, though of course every individual processes alcohol differently. But we women need to be careful—our generally smaller sizes dictate that we can’t keep up with men in the drinking department.

Lent is a time of purification, self-reflection, sacrifice and re-evaluation. It is a time for entering the “wilderness” and finding out what we’re really made of. Maybe giving up alcohol is a small thing, but I think it will test my mettle in ways beyond the obvious. When my husband is pouring himself a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio on a sultry Texas evening, I know I will want one, too. When St. Patrick’s Day arrives and we’re at a lively gathering with all hands clutching cold beers, it’s a safe bet I’ll be feeling sorry for myself as I sip my glass of water. And when the novelty of my Lenten sacrifice wears off and dinner time inevitably rolls around and the kids are bickering and I realize I forgot to defrost the chicken, I know I will probably want something to take the edge off a little bit.

I worry this means I have alcoholic tendencies. Or maybe I’ve simply grown a little too accustomed to what began as a harmless ritual.

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to point out that sometimes a glass of wine can be desirable, merely because of what it represents. Having a cocktail is a nice transition to the evening and a way to connect with one’s Significant Other. It can smooth out the rough edges, fill in the lonely or uncomfortable gaps and bridge that restless time from early evening to night. All in moderation, naturally.

I’m curious to discover how the next six weeks will go and how I’ll cope. I wonder if I’ll be able to stay strong when temptation strikes? And what will taking away this familiar crutch ultimately do for me and my family? Maybe I won’t have any dramatic epiphanies when Easter arrives and Lent is over, but I suspect there will be some quiet lessons.

As Jesus discovered during his 40 days of wandering, he was stronger than the devil and all the temptations he threw at him. I can only hope to be as victorious during my much-humbler Lenten challenge.

I wish you peace, strength and joy during this beautiful season. And just so you know, I’m toasting you with a glass of flavored water!

Posted in Married to it on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 10:59 am. | Tags: Lent , Alcoholic Beverage , Alcohol , Alcoholism , Grownup Beverage , Easter , Fort Hood , Wine , Beer , Parenting , Motherhood Comments (1)

Tuesday 03/04/2014
An Ode to 'Jane'

Friendships between military wives can run the gamut. Some are formed chiefly because the children are the same age and the women live nearby. Others are deeper and less definable. The reasons two military spouses continue to seek each other out can be complex and intense and very personal. My friendship with “Jane” would fall into this category.

Jane passed away back in June 2012 and I just found out about it. You may be wondering how good a friend she really was if I didn’t know of her death. I can tell you she was a “give-the-shirt-off-her-back” kind of friend. She was funny and self-deprecating and often pessimistic, in an endearing “Eyore” sort of way.  She was kind and deeply sensitive and much too hard on herself.  And like “The Catcher In the Rye” narrator, Holden Caufield, she could spot a phony a mile away. 

I met Jane while living in Mannheim, Germany, from 2003 to 2005. We lived in the same neighborhood and hit it off immediately. Jane had two young children, a little girl about my son Ryan’s age and a toddler boy. 

We got together in the usual way of military spouses. We would meet at local parks and playgrounds with snacks in tow. We sometimes went to one of our houses for coffee and distracted conversation while the kids played loudly, (usually someone was crying.) Once in a rare while, we met at a favorite restaurant for lunch. 

Jane was a big lady with an even bigger heart. It seemed to me that her larger size caused her to take on a slightly apologetic stance, especially around other military wives who she perceived to “have it all together.” I often reminded her that appearances can be deceiving and that everyone is dealing with something.

Although Jane was an excellent mother, she often seemed unfulfilled in the role. Prior to marriage, she had held various administrative positions in hospital settings, and I suspected, as smart and organized as she was, that she was good at her work. I recall us talking about our careers prior to starting families and we were both often wistful. Having children was what each of us wanted, make no mistake. But it was still tough some days doing the daily grind, particularly in a foreign country without extended family members to pitch in. Maybe it sounds ungrateful or whiney of us—we had both waited longer than the average bear to have our kids—but it’s the truth.

I say these things because Jane was the kind of friend you didn’t have to pretend around.

When we moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, in summer of 2005, Jane and I had every intention of keeping in touch. We wrote emails back and forth and the occasional snail-mail card or letter. Once she sent me a lovely blue plate from Denmark—the country of her family’s origin and the place she loved to visit most of all.

After having my younger son Andrew in 2006, things understandably got busier. This is not an excuse, merely a fact of my life. I think this is about when Jane and I stopped communicating. I thought of her often but by then both our lives had changed to accommodate our new duty assignments and all the people and activities that entails. 

A few years after that, we became Facebook “friends.” At some point, I recall seeing her postings and realizing she was sick. I didn’t realize how sick, exactly, but knew she had cancer.

I know I wrote a few Facebook messages to her but she was in an epic battle for her life and probably had neither the time nor the energy to catch me up on all that she was dealing with. I only wish I had made a greater effort to talk with her personally. I can’t imagine how scared and overwhelmed she must have been. But I know her loving husband was by her side, as well as her children and other family members and, of course, her friends.

Learning of Jane’s death (which I got wind of only recently) was a shock to me, although I think I must’ve known on some level. I’d assumed she had “un-friended” me on Facebook when her name dropped off. But cowardly me didn’t check. I didn’t call to see how she was doing and feeling. And in the back of my mind, I figured I’d catch up with her eventually. Yes, denial is more than a river in Egypt.

Perhaps my point with this story is that life is short and unpredictable and we never know what the Big Guy has in store for any of us. I knew all this intellectually but think that lesson really kicked me in the gut this past week. The friendship Jane and I  shared—though brief—was the real deal and I will always regret not making more of an effort to maintain it. At the same time, I have learned that military friendships can be brightly burning flames for a while, but after one or both of the friends move, it’s difficult to maintain that intensity despite the best of intentions. I feel privileged to have known Jane during those Mannheim years, no matter the duration.

I hope Jane knows how sorry I am and how much I appreciated her friendship. I bet she’s having a ball “up there” and cracking everyone up with her dry humor. I hope when I get there, we can laugh again together.

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 4:37 pm. | Tags: Mannheim , Facebook , Denmark , Germany , Friendship , Family , Cancer , Military Wife Comments (0)

Tuesday 01/14/2014
Happy birthday Mom!

My mother’s birthday is today ... Jan. 14. In honor of that special day, I thought I’d dedicate a few heartfelt words to her.

Mom grew up in a lively Catholic family of nine children in Cincinnati, Ohio. She fell somewhere in the middle of the pack, and seems to possess many of the qualities of the classic “Middle Child.”  She used to say she didn’t even talk until she was 4 years old—didn’t have to with all the older kids talking for her! I used to love to hear her family stories about her and her sisters and brothers doing ordinary things. It all sounded so foreign to me and terribly fun.

As a young woman, my mom was a beautiful sorority girl with creamy skin, short dark hair and a shapely little figure. She was, in short, a “dish.” I recall poring over photos of her with my sister when we were young, wondering if we would ever look like that. (The answer, in case you were wondering, is a resounding “no!”)  And yes, she is still a very pretty lady.

Mom had many suitors and attended a slew of social events (as evidenced by her college diary, which I was allowed to read from time to time.) Her social schedule was a literal whirlwind of parties, dates and, of course, school and a part-time job. I wondered when she ever slept.  My mother eventually fell in love with “the boy next door,” who would often come over to play basketball with her older brothers. They had known each other since grade school. Mom graduated from University of Cincinnati with a degree in fine arts and she and Dad were married in 1962.

Although my mom was not a military wife, in some ways, she lived like one. My father was a journalist and a young, ambitious man. That combination, mixed with his feisty Irish-German temperament and a yearning to travel, made my Dad a pretty restless guy. He was (and still is) a talented writer, reporter and editor and was eager to prove himself in different venues. Because of that, we moved an awful lot. But unlike our Army moves where packers, loaders, movers and trucks are provided, my mom did almost all of that herself. I remember her painstakingly rolling lamps and clocks in paper and carefully placing them in boxes. She would often do the moving, more or less on her own, while my dad house-hunted at the new location and began his new job. I still wince and cringe at how little my sisters and I helped out. 

Whatever Mom’s personal opinions about a move, I don’t remember her ever feeling sorry for herself or complaining. This probably sounds uber- corny, but her love and commitment to my dad simply overrode anything else. She would quickly set about making each new house a home and that was that. (Hmmmm….a good, early lesson for her daughter who is not always so cheerful about her own moves.)

Besides being a gifted artist—she could draw, sketch and paint beautifully—Mom was also an excellent seamstress, like her own mother. She sewed Halloween costumes for us, (I fondly recall being a nurse one year when I was about 4 while my sister was “Little Red Riding Hood.” We also had adorable “Holly Hobby” doll dresses,) regular clothes and prom dresses. There was many a time she would be whirring into the night on her sewing machine, finishing up a “Gunne Sax”-style gown for someone’s dance the next night. And she always finished it.

As for food, Mom makes a lot of tasty things to eat but one of my favorites is her granola. This honey-and-oil drenched delicacy can rival anything in the grocery stores and is so, so satisfying. 

My parents live in Wisconsin now—they’ve been there since 1986 and though the topic of moving comes up from time to time, it remains to be seen whether they will re-locate again. The harsh Midwestern winters they continually endure are worrisome for me and my two sisters and I wish we were closer. I just went home for a few days after Christmas and got to be a kid again, eating my mom’s home-cooked meals and sleeping in a double bed with my sister like we were teenagers. We all shared some laughs, got cabin-fever, and talked about how cold it was.

Mom’s latest “kid” is a frisky, black standard poodle named “Pete” who stares at her with adoring eyes and follows her around. Dogs definitely know a good thing when they see it.

Happy birthday Mom—I love you!        

Posted in Married to it on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 1:34 pm. | Tags: Mother , Father , Cincinnati , Gunne Sax , Holly Hobby , University Of Cincinnati , Ohio , Family , Home , Journalist , Parent , Army , Wisconsin Comments (0)

Thursday 01/09/2014
My last New Year's resolution

The New Year has been officially rung in and resolutions have been made…or not.  Let me tell you a story explaining why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. 

I used to have an eating disorder—bulimia, to be precise.  I make this still-painful confession because for many years, my New Year’s resolution was to stop binging and purging.  As a card-carrying member of the “Late Bloomer’s” club, I didn’t become bulimic until my early 20s.  Why I succumbed to this dangerous and addictive behavior isn’t all that interesting or unusual:  I thought I was fat (I wasn’t), I didn’t feel I had control over many aspects of my life, and of course, like many young women, I had your garden-variety case of low self-esteem.

Initially, I just experimented with bulimia to see if it would help me lose a few pounds.  And like anyone with an addictive personality, I assumed I could stop any time I wanted. Unfortunately for me, this didn’t happen. It sounds bizarre to people with normal eating habits but the excitement of stuffing oneself with “forbidden” foods (donuts, ice-cream and cookies were favorites,) then getting rid of all the evidence - and the potential weight gain - can become too titillating to stop. In a way, it’s much like the high of drugs or alcohol. Thus began my 15-year “experiment” with bulimia.

One of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is secrecy. I told no one—certainly not my parents, nor my sisters and friends, and not even my fiancé-then-husband (until later). I was embarrassed and ashamed, not to mention guilt-ridden. Before long, the secret had a life of its own. With the hindsight of years and perspective, I now see how bulimia took control of my entire life.

I was a young adult just entering the working world but my time and energies were not focused where they should have been. If I wasn’t currently binging, I was often planning my next one. I was frequently exhausted from throwing up, my mood swinging from one extreme to another (thanks to the abrupt changes in bodily chemicals and electrolytes). I frequently worried about what all this vomiting was doing to my heart…and my teeth. Would my dentist notice a change in my tooth enamel? That’s often a glaring sign. It’s no wonder I was often irritable, couldn’t concentrate, focus effectively on my career or maintain a healthy romantic relationship (although that did finally happen, thankfully). 

Ironically, though I became bulimic to keep my weight in check, this backfired after a while because my metabolism no longer knew whether I was eating or not and I actually began to get heavier. Other tell-tale physical signs of my secret behavior included puffy cheeks and red eyes.

As time went on, there would be weeks and even several months when I would eat completely normally and I would tentatively start believing I was “cured.” But inevitably, a bad day, unpleasant emotions or simple stress would trigger a relapse. Afterward, came the waves of guilt and shame which were getting worse the longer this went on. I was a reasonably intelligent, self-sufficient woman, right?  But I couldn’t seem to stop this on my own.

Each New Year’s Eve I would vow that the next year would be different. Finally I’d had enough. It was very early in 2001 and I had just binged and purged for reasons I have forgotten. I was suddenly sick to death of myself and very bored with the whole bulimia thing. Without thinking about it too much, I randomly called a therapist in the San Antonio area where we were living at the time. She turned out to be wonderful and our client-counselor relationship clicked almost immediately. (I was lucky—this isn’t always the case). I learned that “being bulimic” did not have to define me, nor was it even the crux of my problem. It was a symbol of much deeper, underlying “stuff” that I didn’t want to face.

It was not an easy process but just talking about my huge secret to a “safe” person was a tremendous relief. We talked about a lot of things. and though it took time and effort, I gradually lost the desire to binge and purge. I saw the therapist for about six months before we had to move again. I was also pregnant with our first child at this point. My bulimic days were over at last. 

Back to New Year’s resolutions. I don’t really make them anymore. The one I made back in 2001 was the biggest success I’ve ever had, so why would I try to compete with that? 

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, January 9, 2014 3:41 pm. | Tags: Bulimia Nervosa , Binge Eating , Eating Disorder , New Year , Mental Health , Disorders Comments (0)

Monday 01/06/2014
Hello again, deployment

So the mystery has been revealed. We are not moving this summer as I had assumed we would. Instead my husband is deploying to Qatar for a year. This was not a complete surprise. He had mentioned this as a possibility given he needs to be joint-qualified (meaning he has worked with and supervised people in all of the branches of military service.) The other option for us was Washington D.C., which seemed more likely…and more desirable.

Why I had convinced myself we were moving to D.C. is fodder for another column on psychology and wishful thinking. Suffice it to say that we are “due” a deployment. His last—to Afghanistan—ended in 2010.  Some might say we are overdue. We are well-aware and humbled by the families whose soldiers make far more sacrifices and endure many more frequent separations on a regular basis. 

If I were to make a list, the negatives certainly seem to outweigh the positives. To name just a few:  Being a single mother (and the boys—at their current ages—need Dad around more than ever), missing my best friend and worrying about him, and handling all the household chores solo, all fall into that “minus” category. However, just for fun, I thought I’d try to come up with some bright spots. Cereal for dinner? Why not! No arguing over the remote, an entire bed to myself and fewer groceries to buy, all spring to mind. For Rob, the positive aspects may be more numerous. Qatar is a beautiful country with a rich, diverse culture and history. I was actually there on a brief deployment with the Air Force back in 1996 and recall marveling at the opulent buildings and picture-perfect beaches. Also, the job he will do sounds interesting and involves plenty of travel and interactions with a wide variety of people.  Plus, he will likely have the opportunity to return to the states for conferences and meetings during the year he is deployed. There is a chance I could meet up with him somewhere and possibly the boys, too.

Military deployments and long separations are strange birds. The build-up and dread of the soldier’s departure looms heavily over families for months before he or she actually leaves. That creates a palpable tension that can be stressful for both the adults and children. Once he or she finally departs, there is sadness, but also a smidgen of relief that the clock is finally ticking. This cycle is repeated endlessly by families here at Fort Hood. Home of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and many other units, Fort Hood is a virtual revolving door of deployments. 

There’s another reasons I’m dreading my husband’s absence. Every military spouse knows that medical, mechanical and other crises tend to happen during deployments. It never fails—one of the kids breaks a limb, the car goes belly-up, a water pipe in the house bursts or everyone comes down with food poisoning. It is simply “Murphy’s Law” of separation. While Rob was deployed during the Iraq War in 2003, my older (and then only) son Ryan, who was 2 at the time, fell off a high playground platform in Hanau, Germany. Fearful he may have landed on his head, we were urged to spend the night in the local clinic where Ryan was awakened every hour by a not-so-gentle nurse wielding a flashlight that she shined directly into his eyes to ensure he was OK. Thankfully, he was. On the mechanical front, a ferret-like animal called a “martin” chewed through critical wires in our car’s engine. Most devastating of all, however, was the sudden death of Rob’s beloved stepfather. Life—and death—do not wait patiently for loved ones to come home.

I hope that when summer comes and Rob’s departure is nigh, I am able to say goodbye with a sense of optimism as opposed to doom and gloom. For now, six months likely remain until he gets on a plane bound for the Middle East. As we get closer to June, I will call upon my inner “tough broad” who has served me well in the past.  And thinking of all the women (and men) who are also bracing themselves for another year on their own, I know I am in the best of company.           

Posted in Married to it on Monday, January 6, 2014 4:26 pm. | Tags: Fort Hood , Afghanistan , Iraq War , Qatar , 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment , Hanau , Washington D.c. , Deployment , Family , Military Family , Military Spouse Comments (0)

Monday 12/30/2013
Dear Pentagon: Keep commissary open!

The Army Times recently featured a disturbing story about our commissaries. The Pentagon is considering a plan to close all U.S. commissaries in 2015, as a budget-cutting move that many are unhappy about.

I am one of those people. It’s hard to fathom that we could lose our commissaries—an Army tradition for more than 140 years. The Army has approximately 178 commissaries in the U.S. and 70 located overseas.  Here at Fort Hood, we have two large commissaries, a necessity because of the 50,000 soldiers plus their family members, as well as retirees. 

Commissary shopping is often more convenient than going off-post to a local grocery chain and is always tax-free. Despite the 5 percent surcharge we all pay (which goes back into the commissary for repairs, building new stores, replacing equipment and so on), I find I usually spend considerably less money on commissary trips than when I shop at H-E-B or other stores. 

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) claims using the commissary saves about 30 percent of grocery costs for the average family. This can add up to more than $4,000 in savings for a family of four over a year. 

Commissaries have been a vital part of military life since 1825, though originally, they were only for officers to use. It was not until 1867 that enlisted soldiers were allowed the same privilege.

Currently, commissaries sell roughly 11,000 items—a huge contrast to the 82 standard “dry goods” products commonly sold in 1868.

Many people have personal commissary stories that linger in their memories because of the strong or poignant memories they evoke.  One woman told me about living in Wiesbaden, Germany, when her children were small and “bursting into tears” at the sight of boxes of North Carolina corn on the cob in the produce department. Another friend recalled an actual fight that broke out over precious jars of peanut butter in the Camp Casey, Korea, commissary several years ago. 

On a personal “memory lane trip,” while we were on our first Germany tour, living in Hanau in 2002, the commissary was a link to the familiar and the dear.  As much as I loved living in Europe, homesickness would occasionally strike and somehow being in a store with American brands and recognizable packaging just made me feel a little better. 

Commissaries are one of the dwindling perks available to military members and their families. It would be a shame if these stores were closed down. Please let your elected officials know that your commissary is important to you. And feel free to share any personal commissary stories—I’d love to hear them!        

Posted in Married to it on Monday, December 30, 2013 4:14 pm. Comments (1)

Thursday 12/26/2013
A military spouse's best friend

I didn’t know we needed a dog so desperately until we got Murphy. Oh, I knew something was missing—we weren’t quite “complete” and another kid was out of the question. Neither Rob nor I are cat people (we’re both allergic) and other types of animals just didn’t appeal to us. So a dog it was.

I had been working on Rob for a dog for several years but he stubbornly resisted, claiming we had enough on our plates and, later, asking me to wait until we moved into an actual house with a fenced-in yard. Reluctantly I agreed.

As it turned out, our house and yard here are ideal for a dog and my husband was all out of reasons. So several months after moving in (when the roof-high stack of boxes on our patio had finally dwindled.  Not exaggerating in the slightest,) we started searching. I chose the Golden Doodle breed because when I was a child, my family had a series of standard poodles which are simply wonderful animals. But I wanted to try something a little different.

Through friends, I heard the mixed breed of Poodle and Golden Retriever made for an intelligent and loving animal. After pinpointing a breeder online, we trekked to Georgetown one Sunday to meet our future beloved pet. There were about eight puppies in this litter, each unbearably cute in its own way. Our younger son Andrew—age 6 at the time—immediately bonded with a brownish fluff ball temporarily named “Yellow Boy.”  (The breeder and her family had gotten too attached to previous litters so this time decided to only refer to them by color and gender). However Ryan, the eldest, was drawn to “Purple Girl.” We had a serious dilemma on our hands. Luckily, the puppies weren’t old enough to leave their mother quite yet so we had some time.

When at last it was decision time, I flipped a coin and “Purple Girl” won.  Inexplicably, I yelled “best two out of three” and continued flipping until “Yellow Boy” was the clear victor.  Son #1 huffed and puffed but he soon recovered. 

In retrospect, I believe that happened because “Yellow Boy,” now “Murphy” was “our” dog from the very beginning. He belongs with us like fire ants belong here in Central Texas.

His quirks seem tailor-made for the Dillons. Quite simply, he is as weird as we are and as contradictory. One the one hand, he can lounge like nobody’s business and is the softest, most comfortable nap buddy a gal could ask for. He’s also vaguely neurotic and obsessive-compulsive when it comes to food and his sacred daily walk. Rob calls him “Rain Man” when he starts his restless pacing first thing in the morning, which is thinly-disguised code for “walk me now!” 

We each find ourselves turning to Murphy for stress relief. The boys hug on him or throw his toys for him to fetch. After a long day of soldiering, Rob wrestles with him and then pets his silky fur until Murphy’s eyes are mere slits, while I love to chase him in the yard. All this and the dog can crack us up with his silly antics—a welcome quality when we start stressing about things we can’t control. For example, being half Retriever, he will bring “offerings” to us in the middle of the night. These can range from one of the boys’ dirty socks to my older son’s wristwatch. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that he sleeps on our bed more often than not and has long had dibs on one of the couches in the TV room. (A new couch purchased less than a year ago. Yes, this dog is spoiled.)   

Whatever type of pet one chooses, he or she can ease the uncertainty and anxiety of military life for the entire family. Yes, we will move again but so will Murphy. And he will make our next house or apartment or duplex a home just by being in it. And most likely, he will “own” the couch at the new location, too.     

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, December 26, 2013 4:16 pm. | Tags: Golden Retriever , Human Interest , Goldendoodle , Poodle , Central Texas , Pets Comments (0)

Thursday 12/19/2013
Struggling with the gift-buying dilemma

It is Dec 19 and I am by no means ready for Christmas. The decorating has been attempted, but temporarily abandoned. The baking is nonexistent. The cards have not been mailed and let’s not even talk about the shopping. Or let’s. Though I am female, shopping is not my favorite activity. And especially not at Christmas time. I wish I were the type of organized person who had everyone crossed out on her list by Halloween but sadly, that is not, nor will it ever be me.

But what is behind this strange procrastination? Let me make something perfectly clear before I go any further: I love gift-giving. I just don’t like to feel pressured or obligated to purchase, and as we all know, the holidays have become a retailer’s dream where the message is simple: Show how much you love your family and friends by buying them stuff ... even though this goes against the grain of what we’re celebrating in the first place, even though we know material things don’t equal love or happiness or satisfaction (after the initial “high” wears off. I’ve made enough impulse purchases in my lifetime to finally get that.), even though we’re all tightening our proverbial belts in this uncertain economy. And most importantly, even though “the reason for the season” is Jesus’ birth. So the big question is, why do we fall victim to this gift-giving frenzy that makes many of us feel frazzled, guilt-ridden and, ultimately, just plain bad? 

Lest you call me the ultimate Scrooge, I realize kids need toys and gifts at Christmas time — this is not about them. I’m talking about adults - grown-ups who know what they need and can pretty much get these things on their own. That would include me, by the way. 

What baffles me (and my husband) is why we keep ourselves in this somewhat crazy do-loop of commercial spending when, most likely, the people we are frantically shopping for are probably feeling the same way about shopping for us. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Not everyone is on this bandwagon, however. I spoke with a perfectly sane woman the other day who told me she announced to her extended family members that no longer would she be mailing them gifts during the holidays, but she would be happy to donate money to a worthy charity in his/her name. I thought that was brilliant. Some families throw names in the hat and choose one person to buy for. Also a reasonable and smart idea. Making handmade gifts is another way to give to loved-ones while maintaining the spirit of the season.      

This dilemma reminds me of a quirky film called “The Abilene Paradox” (aka “The Road to Abilene”), which is frequently shown in leadership and communication workshops. It’s dated but the message is timeless.  The video centers on a family of four somewhere in Texas who are laconically going about a hot afternoon, trying to figure out what to do next. Someone suggests taking a road trip to Abilene and somehow the foursome agrees to go, with little enthusiasm. So off they go to have dinner in Abilene. On the way back, each person realizes that no one truly wanted to go but thought the others did and were afraid to offer a differing opinion. It is the classic example of group-think.

For military families like ours, buying gifts is a way to “touch” people when we know we can’t be together. I get that. It’s difficult to be geographically separated from relatives throughout the year but even more so during this poignant holiday season. Gifts are a tangible reminder that we love and miss a person. Gifts are a way to say, “See?  I battled the mall for you!” 

So each year I gnash my teeth, pull tufts out of my hair and join the throngs searching for the “perfect” gift, often barely remembering that person’s clothing sizes or current preferences. It’s a gamble and I know I don’t hit the mark all the time. But I keep doing it all the while wondering if there’s a better way and how do we jump off the merry-go-round together to get to it? If you’ve solved this dilemma in a graceful manner, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re still struggling, please drop me a line and share your struggle. Or perhaps you sincerely enjoy shopping and buying gifts for all your family members and friends? Whatever the case, if we all put our heads together, we can strive to capture more of the true essence of this beautiful season.

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Married to it on Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:00 am. | Tags: Christmas , Shopping , Gift , Christmas And Holiday Season , Holiday Greetings Comments (0)

Monday 12/16/2013
Santa's Workshop: These ladies rock

If it’s true that the Army relies heavily on volunteers, then all is well here at Fort Hood. For the past eight months or so, I have been privileged to volunteer with a group of ladies who amaze me with their energy, enthusiasm, initiative and smarts. The organization we’re all a part of is called “Santa’s Workshop” and though I’d love to expound on how wonderful it is, my blog-space today is dedicated to the volunteers themselves. But to briefly describe it, Santa’s Workshop is a non-profit group devoted to helping financially-qualifying Fort Hood families provide toys and gifts for their children during Christmas. What sets us apart from similar charities is the soldier or his/her spouse comes to the workshop to hand-pick the toys for each child in the family.

And now, a little history:  Wives of soldiers have been volunteering since the Revolutionary War, and most likely since medieval times when feudal “wars” were a constant.  Their role was often a gritty one—nursing grievously wounded men alongside the battlefield, cooking and providing moral support.  They would mend torn uniforms and socks, launder filthy clothing and bandages, and generally keep the “home fires” burning as best as they could. Actually, that doesn’t sound so different from today’s wife, with the exception of the creature comforts we now enjoy.

In today’s Army and military, volunteers perform myriad tasks that mirror “paying” jobs. Just a few examples include running meetings, organizing complex fundraisers and other large events, leading and advising Family Readiness Groups and approaching local businesses for support or donations. It is difficult to quantify, but volunteers Army-wide contribute roughly 500,000 hours each year. Last year, Fort Hood volunteer hours totaled approximately 184,000 hours with a calculated value of service equaling $2.5 million.

The 25 women on Santa’s Workshop Board have many of the skills required of corporate employees or even upper-level managers. For example, two of the volunteers are known as “toy buyers” and they are responsible for ensuring we have the same variety and quantity of desirable toys at the beginning of the shopping season as at the end. This is not as simple as it may seem. Toys are divided into categories based on age and gender and must be monitored and replaced when inventory reaches a certain level. These gals have been shopping since June, often sacrificing their precious family time (and garage space) for toys for needy families. Other board members have been organizing local fundraising events on and off-post since last July when we kicked off our “Christmas in July” shin-dig at Plucker’s Restaurant. There have been countless other fundraisers since then that require hours of planning and coordination. Still more ladies handle complicated accounting and computer issues, provide food for each event, or keep track of the volunteers themselves. (In addition to board members, Santa’s Workshop relies heavily on “Elves” during the shopping season. These men and women generously give up large blocks of their day to assist the families in choosing gifts for their children.)

Much has been written about how volunteering can hone possibly once-dormant skills and prepare a spouse to re-enter the work force when the time is right. If that is the case, these Santa’s Workshop ladies are all destined for success should they choose to work paying, full-time jobs in the future. (And by the way, I should mention that several of these gals have home businesses and other part-time jobs in addition to their children and family responsibilities.)

I am proud to be associated with this group of impressive women and know there are similarly amazing military spouses all over the world.  Thanks for your unselfish contributions, ladies (and gentlemen) and Happy Holidays!

Posted in Married to it on Monday, December 16, 2013 9:31 pm. | Tags: Christmas , Army , Fort Hood , Santa , Volunteering , Santa S Workshop , Salvation Army , Christmas In July Comments (0)

Friday 12/13/2013
Turns out The Great Place is pretty great

 I am excited (and a little nervous) to introduce myself and kick off my very first blog focusing on “life as a military spouse” at Fort Hood. Obviously, I cannot speak for everyone, nor will my experiences necessarily resonate with other women married to soldiers. My hope is that more often than not, I do strike a chord. If nothing else, maybe I can clear up some misconceptions and stereotypes or simply shed light on what being an Army family is about.      

A few things my blog will not be …

It will not be a forum to glorify or glamorize military life, nor will it aim to denigrate it or attempt to inspire pity. There are many positive aspects to signing up for this roller coaster of separations and joyous reunions, constant adjustments to new people and situations, and countless other highs and lows.   

One part of this lifestyle that we all share is the frequent moving. OK, full disclosure:  I did not want to come to Fort Hood. The harsh Texas summers and general lack of defined fall and winter seasons (and spring, to some extent) have never appealed to me. My roots are Midwestern, so in some twisted way, I crave vibrant fall leaves, snow and yes, even miserably cold temperatures at certain times of the year. But my husband—after 23 years of steady progress in his career—was given the well-deserved opportunity to lead a brigade here. So I sucked it up, as they say. And what I’ve discovered is that Killeen (and surrounding Central Texas area) is the most supportive, appreciative and involved military community we have ever lived among. I will also say that we have grown to appreciate the mild climate--coats? What coats?!--and have discovered some beautiful natural areas through hiking and exploring.

We moved into our on-post home in July 2012. This is our eighth move together, my 13th counting my own active duty service moves, and my 20th (roughly) since babyhood.  My dad—a peripatetic journalist—kept the family hopping when I was growing up.  In retrospect, I see this was good training for the future!

 A few facts …

I have been married to Rob since 1999. When we met, we were both captains in our respective services—me in the Air Force, he in the Army. (Prior to my stint in the Air Force, I was enlisted in the Army for several years.) Strangely, being in the military myself did not prepare me for my current role.

Rob and I have two boys, ages 12 and 7. We were considerably older when we started our family compared to many other couples our age. I joke that I’ve always been a “late bloomer” and will be asking my kids to change my diapers in the not-too-distant future.

Please let me hear from you—your input and stories are always welcomed and encouraged. If you’re military, did you want to come to “The Great Place?” Why or why not? If you’re not part of the military, what kinds of interactions do you have with soldiers and their families?  How do you view them?

As we fully enter this holiday season, I plan to focus on all that I’m grateful for. And one of those things is being given the honor of representing my fellow Army spouses through this blog. Whether you are a military wife, a mother, a veteran or all three (or none of the above), I invite you to join the discussion. 

Posted in Married to it on Friday, December 13, 2013 9:57 am. | Tags: Fort Hood , Army , Central Texas , Texas , Family , Peripatetic Journalist , Military Spouse , Army Wife , Killeen , Children , Parenting , Soldiers Comments (1)

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