Tuesday, December 13, 2011

At first, there were hundreds of days ahead.  Many weeks.  12 months.

All I could do initially was count the weeks we survived.  Celebrate each Sunday that we'd made it through another week.  Then, the weeks got easier.  The months glided by.  Calendars were filled and life was lived.  Easter.  Mother's Day.  R&R.  Road Trips.  A Birth.  We struggled through Crosses and reveled in the joy.  Through it all, one image remained constant in my mind: meeting him on that parade field. 

And now, it's practically here.  I unpacked that footlocker.   I am cleaning the house, buying groceries for everyone, putting together outfits, and waiting for that phone call.

Boots on the Ground.

Before long, I'll be standing on that parade field, throwing my arms around him.  I'll watch him pick up his two girls.  We'll take him home.  And we'll live together again.  As a family.  The constant worry of the doorbell ringing will be over.  The perpetual absence will be filled.  We won't live by the phone and computer anymore.

I've grown.  I'm not that same woman who panicked when we got orders only four months shy of his brigade's departure.  Who wondered if she'd remember to take out the trash every week, how she would take care of a daughter alone, how she would live through each second of a year without her best friend.  But, when I had to stand in a children's cancer unit and demand answers for my daughter's health, it happened.  When I climbed into an empty bed each night, it happened.  When I got up each morning, determined to finish the day with a smile, it happened.  It happened when I celebrated Valentine's day, our Anniversary, our daughter's birthday without him.  When I felt so low halfway through the deployment that it brought me to my knees.  It happened each time I cared for our newborn daughter in the middle of the night alone.

I learned to live without him, by living for him.

But during those moments,  something else happened, too. 

People helped.

Pictures of his departure were met with comments of encouragement and affirmation.  A blog post about my daughter's health caused a firestorm of promises of prayers.  Friends purchased plane tickets.  To come see me.  My mother took my newborn daughter for two nights into the guest room so I could get some sleep before I started flying solo.  My father became Mr. Fix It.  My in-laws drove up on a regular basis to stay.  Wives from Church made us dinner, threw me a baby shower.  Many other acts of kindness occurred. 

And people prayed.

I can stand proudly on that parade field because I survived.  I can stand confidently because I allowed this year to improve me instead of destroy me.  I cared for my child, which became children. I held down the homefront.  Earned my title Military Wife.  Gained that strength only those in this life have.

But, I would be a sham if I took all the credit.

The truth is this.  I couldn't have survived this year without my friends, my family, the strangers.  They helped--cleaned fish tanks, baby sat, fixed panels on my car.  They built bookshelves in my den, reinstalled the disposal in the kitchen.  They sat with me in those oncology appointments.  Bought plane tickets.  They helped clean my house.  Left words of encouragements on post it notes around my house, on my Facebook wall, and on my voicemail.  A precious few answered the phone when I was so tired, so worn down, and listened to me cry and helped me stand back up.  And everyone prayed.

We military wives like to say we are "alone."  And in some sense, we are.  Our Soldiers are gone, which leaves a gaping hole in our lives few can comprehend.  We learn by heartache not to take them for granted.  We sleep alone, we wake alone, we live alone.

But we do not survive alone.

We survive because other military wives band around us, especially in our weakest moments.  We survive because a friend takes a prayer request and makes it go viral on the internet.  We survive because friends--true friends--don't forget about us, don't try to understand.  They just listen.  We survive because family steps in and does what our Soldier would have done.  Fix things, clean things.  We survive because we realize that our Soldier isn't the only one who loves us.  Loves me.

I have learned one thing this year:  I am never alone.  On the contrary: I am very, very loved.

For those of you who helped my family, helped me, this year: THANK YOU.  You know who you are. The acts of kindness, the words of encouragement, the prayers.  I am so moved by the love and support four people were shown this past year.  There is still a "United" in our States, there is still a love in our country--for good.  As I sprint across that parade field, I do not do it alone.  Rather, I will sense the love all of you showed--I will feel you standing behind me, cheering me on. 

Because I did not survive alone.  I did not win alone.  I did it with you--because of you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We all have our individual survival methods.  Techniques we develop and fine-tune to make sure we survive this life.  Because it's hard.  While we military spouses develop them individually, we find that they are similar to many others', which sparks long conversations about why one technique works and another doesn't. 

I can't count months!  Even though it's a smaller number, somehow counting weeks makes it seem shorter. 

Me, too!  Months are too overwhelming.

Each day, I post a positive status on Facebook. My goal is to finish out this deployment having never posted a negative status.  Recently a dear friend of mine commented on this, saying she hoped that they were all true and the life had been going well for us.  I laughed inside.  Most of the time, the statuses are true--I am able to find a joy in the life I have built and live for my girls.  The laughs, the stolen kisses, the games, the snuggles all provide a joy I've never known.  It's a joy that is confident, defiant.  Because I am winning despite the great struggle.

But, sometimes, I post positive statuses in spite of my day.  When tantrums, spills, potty accidents, and fussiness fill my day. When I cannot get ahead with the housework because I am going crazy chasing after a toddler and shushing a newborn.  I step up to my computer, force myself to find something positive about my day, and I post it. And then I feel better.  Because I am winning.  I am still finding the joy, even if it isn't as prevalent.

I am not perfect.

Recently, someone commented on a post of mine, intimating that I was a hypocrite, that I was proud and touted myself as perfect (signed anonymous--isn't that funny?).  Feeling the sting, I removed the post. I have since reposted it.

I never want to portray myself as perfect.  In fact, the point of my blog is to take my imperfection in this life and succeed despite it.  That I am trying my hardest to change my imperfection to some sort of attempt at bettering myself for the sake of my girls and my Soldier. 

I do not have all the answers. 

And so when "bad days" turn to a "bad week" or "bad string of luck," what's a girl to do?  I am at a loss today.  I can't win the potty training battle.  She's still having accidents.  I can't win the "keeping it all in  control" battle.  I am barely keeping it together between a tantrum-prone toddler and a demanding newborn.  The house is barely staying clean and I haven't done anything enjoyable for myself in weeks.  Emotionally and physically, I am exhausted.  This is tough.

A lot has happened during this deployment.  I look back on the past nearly year.  And I have survived some intense moments, prevailed through some heavy times.  So, when I don't have the answer for surviving the right now, I just look backward and realize that through all of the Crosses, the many weeks, the long months, I have remained standing.  The good times. The not so good times.  And the couple of really rough patches, I have stood standing.  Even though my footing has been uneasy and my confidence faltering, I have finished the day, the weeks, the patches, looking heavenward and still standing. 

I will make this.  To the end.  As imperfect as I am, I will survive.  And all the more joyful, all more wonderful will be my victory.  For it is the imperfect who are more likely to fail, more likely to fall.  But, despite it all--in spite of it--my gaze remains heavenward and my feet stand firmly on the ground.  Though it feels like my insignificant Crosses are crashing about me at times, though I feel as though the light at the end of the tunnel is a train, I will prevail.

Hypocrite?  Never.
Proud?  Ha.  Not me. 
Perfect?  Not yet.

But, I will get there eventually.  Until then, I fight the daily fight for my girls, for my Soldier.  And victory will be mine.  Because though I may stand on that parade field with my feet unsteady, I will still be standing there.  And my Soldier will finally be there, too. 

Charlie Mike.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Precious Moments

This has probably been one of the worst weeks since my Soldier left.  Period. Anything that could have gone wrong, did.  With a vengeance.  All week, I've felt like I was running around putting fires out.  Big fires.  Little fires.  And then my fire extinguisher was empty long before the job was done.  That's been my week.

"The very last part of the deployment is the hardest."  My daughter's pediatrician told me.  Good to be in a military community--it's like family.  They always understand.  And they never sugarcoat things.

"Ma'am?  Do you know how fast you were going?"  The speed limit.  "You were going 12 over."  I knew that wasn't true.  I monitor my speed like an old lady.  In fact, as he was tailing behind me, a pick up truck sped past me like I was standing still.  My first speeding ticket ever.  And I didn't even deserve it.  But, he wrote down the wrong make, model, and year of the car, that the roads were dry (funny, because it was pouring rain), and he also penciled in that I was black.  Ha.  Anyone who knows me, knows you can't get any more white than me.  Now, I have to find time to contest it.  With two kids.  Awesome. 

"Yup!  Media otitis.  Ear infection.  I'm going to give you antibiotics, and you should be good to go."  Not.  Three days into the ear infection, and I go to the doctor...and got antibiotics that didn't work.  Back into the doctor two more times this week, and started better antibiotics.  I am only just now feeling better.  I have great respect for those who struggle with ear infections.  They are wicked.

"Why aren't you online?"  Internet was down.  For two days.  You want to make a military wife angry?  Shut down her internet and refuse to fix it.  I had been dealing with them already for three weeks, when the internet was spotty.  Then it crashed altogether this week.  And that just added fuel to those fires.  A lot of fuel.  From numerous four-hour phone conversations with the internet provider trying get it fixed, to a dinner time trip downtown to get a new modem that made it worse, I was infuriated by this afternoon.  And I let them know.  As nicely as I could.

And then I stopped.

As we got out of the car last night, the train whipped down the tracks just down the road.  My toddler started jumping up and down, clapping her hands.  "Choo choo, Mommy!"  Even though the internet store was closing imminently, even though it was dinner time and throwing off my schedule, even though it was cold and I was irritated and tired, I stopped.  I knelt down.  And we watched and laughed together.

It made me realize something.  Life gets way out of hand sometimes.  And flying solo without my spouse makes those times harder.  Everyone is depending on you and expecting their chunk of time.  Everything and its consequences are on your shoulders.  You run twice as fast, work twice as hard.  And you come last, if you "come" at all.  But I cannot let those precious moments of innocent joy pass me by, regardless of how "bad" a week it has been.  Because the memories are too valuable to ignore.

Some day, she'll be grown.  She won't remember the year we spent getting each other through, comforting each other.  She'll never remember the precious moments we had together while Daddy was gone--in spite of Daddy being gone.  The late night cuddles as she cried, the hugs she gives me when she can tell I'm struggling, the games and laughs we have shared each day.  She'll never remember them.  But, I will.  When she's grown and doesn't have time for Mommy anymore.  When she's a Mommy.  I'll remember when she was tiny and stood next to me as we laughed over the train speeding by.  As she stood in my arms encircling her and mimicked the sounds.  I'll remember.

In that moment--for a moment, life stood still.  The stress and negativity of the week disappeared.  All that mattered was she and I.  Watching that train.  Speed by.  And in a moment, it was gone.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Everytime we see one, she says it--yells it--without fail.  At the park, in someone's yard, driving down the highway, as we see it waving over a car dealership.

"Daddy's flag!"

I did not teach my daughter to refer our country's flag as Daddy's flag.  I am not sure how she made that association, but it's a beautiful one.  We have a flag hanging on the outside of the home.  It never comes down.  Only once in the last year, have I taken it down.  A horrible storm hit us, and I knew that flag would be destroyed.  I could not allow that, especially in his absence.

It was one of the first aspects I found to be a very attractive and beautiful quality of my husband's.  His love for the Flag.  He knows that it's never supposed to touch the ground, and is not to be displayed in the dark unless a light is shining on it.  He grows indignant when people are flying tattered, worn flags, since they are supposed to be retired once they are in that condition.  What I initially saw as a rare and strong respect for our Flag in my husband, I realized much later that it only represents the stronger love he has for our country. 

And my daughter sees that. 

Only someone who loves their country so much could leave his pregnant wife and daughter behind, could leave again when their second child was less than a week old.  Only a man of that caliber could step into his boots, don his uniform, and walk through airport security smiling and head held high, as his wife stands behind him sobbing.  As his daughter screams for Daddy.

Bravery.  Love.  Patriotism.

He stares at his family through a horribly pixelated screen.  He talks to his newborn daughter as she stares at the computer.  He plays peekaboo with his toddler, and she giggles and "hugs" Daddy wrapping her arms around the computer.  Only he could keep smiling as she yells, "Night night, Daddy!  Love you!  See you soon!"  Only a man like this could look daily into the face of his wife left at home and tell her everything is going to be okay, that she's doing a great job. 

I could never do a Soldier's job. 

Leaving behind everything they know, everything they love, everything familiar.  Entering a war zone, living daily with the possibility of this being a one-way trip.  That they might not make it home.  To their families, their homes, their lives.  They live in tents, sleep in dirt, eat out of bags.  They watch friends suffer atrocious injuries.  They lose limbs.

Or their life. 

The ball caps give the older ones away. Only a few of us can pick out that familiar haircut on the young ones.  They don't wear the ball caps.  They don't want to stand out.  I know--I'm married to one.  Instead, they blend into the crowds when they are off-duty, wearing street clothes.  But that high and tight haircut is their ball cap. 

As Veteran's Day approaches, I find myself without words to express my gratitude to all those who serve.  Because I have seen the cost, I've lived life next to a Soldier.  I've seen him off to war, waited for his phone calls, prayed for his safe return.  Every night, my daughters and I pray, "Dear Lord, we just ask that you bring Daddy home safe, sound, alive, and in once piece.

Safe. Sound. Alive. One Piece. 

Some, many, are not so lucky.  They find themselves in danger, explosions, attacks.  Some come home in many pieces.  Some come home missing pieces. 

As you sit next to your spouses, remember those who are living without theirs and those who will never see their spouse again.  As you lie in bed next to your best friend, remember the Soldiers who are lying in dirt and tents praying to come home alive and their spouses at home sleeping alone.  As you sit down at your table with warm food and your entire family, remember our service men and women who are ducking into foxholes and leaning over MRE's and cafeteria food.  When you pick up your cell phone to call your spouse at work or see their name pop up on your phone, remember those Soldiers who go weeks and months without being able to call home, or watch their children grow up before them through a computer screen.  During the Holidays, remember the families who are separated and are struggling with loneliness. 

Daddy's flag.  Our Flag.  The American Flag. The United States of America.

It's what our Soldiers stand for, what they daily risk their lives for.  They button their uniforms, they tie their boots, they enter war zones for our country.  For us.  And all give some, but some give all.  Some never make it home to their families.  Some never see their children's faces, hold their spouses, again.  They are sent home in a box and laid in the ground under a white stone.  For you.  For our country.  Because they love this ground that much. 

As you celebrate Veteran's Day this week, remember those who have given some, and especially remember those who have given all.  God bless them.  And God bless America. 

(Thank you to my own Soldier, still away from his family defending this country he loves so much.  I am so proud of you, so inspired by you, and so in love with you.  Thank you.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I am selfish. 

I have been given so many graces and blessings lately--God has been far too good to me.  Despite several threats, Mary stayed put till her due date.  Richard was sent home at the last minute for the birth.  And, my little girl's arrival was healthy and quick, despite some potentially very serious complications.  Mommy, Daddy, and our girls were able to get some serious quality time in before and after the birth.  And my Soldier was there, holding my hand, as we brought forth another blessed life into this world. 

What more could I ask for?  Ask God. 

Yesterday afternoon, as I hit Crazy Time (late afternoon/early evening), Richard called from Iraq.  He had made it back safely, and had some news for me.  It wasn't the news I wanted to hear.  I had prayed for better news.  I was upset and angry.  Once I got off with him, I finally cried.  It's been a really long time since I have cried.  And I couldn't stop till I ran out of tears.  Which took awhile.  I had a long one-sided conversation with Him. 

Then, I called my family.

"Adrienne.  This is quite an honor for Richard.  You have to be strong for him.  It's not easy for either of you--but think how hard this is on him.  He needs your strength and support right now, especially." 

My dad was right.  I was so selfish!  The news Richard had was much better than anything I could have imagined 12 months ago, as I was preparing to ship him off.  It was better what I knew a month ago.  We were being given a huge blessing...and it wasn't good enough. 

Poor God.  I don't know why He keeps letting me come back.  I am trying to be okay with the news.  I am selfish, and that's something I've realized won't change over night.  I will work on coming to peace with what I was told, while being here with two young children.  But, rather than focus on the negative, I've got to focus on the positive.  What God has blessed me with--two beautiful children, an amazing spouse, a chance to see him again.  I have to focus on the blessing in the news, not the negative I added to it. 

I will be strong.  For him.
I will be supportive.  For him.

Because I wouldn't do this for anyone else.  My Soldier is the only one who makes living this worth it.  Who makes surviving and thriving possible.  And God?  He's the one who gives me the strength and grace to fulfill the mission.  And lets me keep coming back. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Build a routine.  Stick to it." 

"Especially the children need structure.  But, you'll find yourself needing it, too." 

He left in February, taking any and all structure to our days, weeks, and months with him.  I had to rebuild our lives from scratch.  Figure out ways to break up the day, split the week and weekend.  Fill the months so that time moved.  And we did.

Each day have our routine, the two of us.  Wake up, open the windows, make coffee, eat breakfast together.  Get ready for the day, play in the yard or run errands, naptime, dinnnertime, etc.  Though the months have brought small adaptations to our days and weeks, largely our structure has remained the same.  And it's comforting and safe.  For her and for me. 

I would never go back and repeat the time he's been gone.  I choose to move forward, towards the day he gets home.  But, I've learned so much, grown so much.  Through struggles and challenges, scares and Crosses, through joy and victories, I have found myself stretched, put through fire.  I've become more flexible, more willing to bend.  Before, naptime would never have been missed.  Now, every once in awhile is okay; sometimes, it's fun.  I'm not in control.  I just maintain a normalcy. Those little moments of wisdom have taught me much.

But, it's all been a preparation for a greater test.  And it's here. 

After I had my daughter, everything changed.  Everything.  I had thrived on normalcy, on being in control.  Structure that I dictated.  Routine that I managed.  Motherhood taught me how little control I actually had.  And it was a huge adjustment for me. 

I feel like that woman who struggled to understand the massive change in her life is vastly different from the woman who sits here now.  Life has been anything but normal in months, and yet I've striven to inject something of it into our daily lives.  The husband and father is gone.  I do everything myself.  I am raising a daughter, managing a household, surviving a deployment.  That woman I was nearly two years ago would have broken under this pressure.  I am surviving--even thriving. 

But huge change is upon me--upon us. 

I am getting ready to bring another life into the world.  And chaos will reign again.  No more routine, no more structure.  Normal, as I have known and created it, is over in the next couple of days.  No more days of just my battle buddy and me.  No more will I be so comfortable and confident in how I can handle life with my one child.  We will, again, be starting from scratch. 

Will everything I've learned, all the ways I've grown, be enough for handling two children?  Will there be enough of Mom to go around?  Will I be able to give my attention to both of my darling children?  Will I survive? Thrive?


Because if I've learned one thing, it's this.  I do not have the final say, I do not control life, its structure or routine.  I am not in charge.  But, there is one thing I can control.  Me.  My reactions.  My attitude.  On that score, I call the shots.  So, in those moments where life seems harried, out of control, I will stop and breathe.  Just as I do now, in moments when I feel my grip failing.  I will renew my promise to make a joyful home, a happy life for the two, er three, of us.  I will love, smile, laugh.  And occasionally, as I do now, I will cry.

But, we will still win.  We will survive this.  The end is near, and this has not beaten us yet.  Not even close.  So, as my "normal" life with just my battle buddy suddenly vanishes, I welcome and create a new "normal" with my Battle Buddy and my Happy Thought.  Because life never stays the same.  It's always changing.  With the struggles and Crosses, come greater joy and victory. 


Yes, it's coming.  But, before then, I've got to bring my baby home. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

My eyes flitted open, my skin felt excited.  I felt the chilly fall morning, even inside, and looked towards the window where the Fall sun was desperately trying to circumvent the shades.  I smiled.  What a beautiful morning!  Across the house, my daughter was sleeping, and I could hear my in-laws stirring from their room.  There were guests here, which always makes days more exciting. 

I sat up, and opened my computer.  I checked my email, saw some from him.  And I smiled.  I love waking up his emails.  I meandered over to Facebook...

And I saw it.

A letter from the Colonel, posted on the unit page.  "Redeployment Letter."  My heart started racing, and my fingers were shaking.  I clicked...and it didn't work.  The link was defunct.  Nineteen eager spouses posted the same underneath, and I knew I could only wait. 


For the last eight months, I've waited.  Waiting for the phone calls, the video chats, the emails.  Waited for days to pass, for weeks to turn into months.  Waited for Baby.  Waited for R&R, the halfway point, and news about them coming home. 

I could wait some more.  I had to wait some more.

I didn't want to be rude and keep checking my computer during their visit.  I had emailed my Soldier, asking if he knew any information.  His response email came back through:

They posted again.  And I read it, in black and white.  Christmas.  He *could* be home by Christmas.  My heart flew into my throat, tears poured from my eyes, and I couldn't finish reading it out loud. 

I remember last year.  Christmas was a struggle for me.  I did not want the Holidays tainted with the dread my stomach was feeling.  I did not want us looking back on the precious little time we had left at that point, remembering how scared we were, how soon he was leaving.  I made it through Christmas, able to ignore it.  But, I was haunted constantly by reminders that he would not be home the next year. 

And now this.  There's hope.

And so we wait some more. Wait for a final word.  Wait for confirmation. 

And I pray.  That much sooner, he could see us again, be with his little buddy again.  That much sooner, he could meet the darling baby he left with me.  That much sooner...he could be part of our lives again.

And so begins our Advent.  We will see if Christmas brings our Soldier home.  Until then, I pray.  And wait. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Battle Buddy and The Happy Thought

She's been by my side from the very beginning.  We've seen each other through sickness, and trouble.  Through sad days, hard days, through the happy days and holidays.  We've been inseparable and have made the Separation bearable for each other.  Even in my loneliest moments, she was there.

But so were you. 

The day he left, you were there.  We had no idea.  My first night broken and alone, you were there.  And I had no idea.  Then, he called for R&R dates, and I realized.  He didn't just leave two people behind.  He left behind three. 

I lived in fear of losing you.  I was so busy taking care of everything and maintaining some constant sense of normalcy, that I hardly had time to enjoy you.  Running after her all day, trying to clean the house.  Classes.  Doctor's appointments.  Meetings.  Trips.  Life has been full the past eight months.  Mornings full of tidying up after the toddler, afternoons of stolen naps and skyping with Daddy.  Evenings found me making dinner, getting her a bath, putting her to bed. 

But, after that--those were our moments.  I would sit on the couch and wait.  And it would come.  Kick.  Poke.  Squirm.  And I'd smile.  I'd pray I could make it through the remainder of the pregnancy without him, through the delivery.  Scared to death of going it alone, without my best friend.  Saddened that he would miss such a special moment in your life--the beginning of your life.  Terrified of being a mom to two, alone. 

But I forged ahead.  For you. 

And now it's time.  You could come anytime. I can't wait. 

Because while she's been my source of constant strength, constant companionship, you have fulfilled your own special role.  You have been my constant Light.  My Happy Thought.  In the dark moments, on the days when I felt like I couldn't keep up.  Despite feeling like I'm always third place in a constant race.  You were there.  In the evenings, when I was alone, you kept me company with your prenatal dances.  In the middle of the night, when I'd wake up lonely in that big bed, I'd feel your presence.  I could dream about holding you the first time.  Kissing you the first time.  Of him coming home to us and holding you--for the first time.  And it made me happy. 

I hope to be a wonderful mother to you.  I pray to be what you deserve.  I promise to always love you, to always try to be the best mom to you.  As we face this new beginning together, I am excited.  Finally.  I cannot wait to meet you, to hold you for the first time.  To bring you home and love you. 

My tiny tagalong.  My happy thought. 

It's time.  Welcome to our family. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"We're pregnant!"

I never saw his reaction.  I just heard it. 

He'd been gone less than a week, and I had been suspecting for several reasons.  I was waffling between absolute fear and ridiculous excitement.  To say that was an emotional week is an understatement.  So, I kept waiting to take a test.  Until he needed R&R dates. 

"When do you want to do R&R?"

"Well, here's the thing.  I think I might be pregnant."  My voice was shaky over the DSN line.

"What? Have you taken a test?  Well, then take one!"

And we were.  I heard his happiness, I heard his joy, his elation.

But, I was never able to see it.  And that made me sad.

I moved forward.  The pregnancy has helped The Year fly by faster.  And, despite the constant rush, responsibility, and struggle to maintain joy, there's always been my ever-present Happy Thought.  Moving, wiggling, growing.  My middle started slim and trim, and now resembles a small watermelon.  Through worries, scares, and stress, my little trooper has hung on. 

He won't be coming home for the birth.  It wasn't an option.  At first distraught, I remained positive.  The military hospital had just built a new delivery unit, complete with internet access.  All the military wives were talking about it, especially those of us left with an impending arrival.  The rooms were supposed to look like civilian hospitals and Skype was a commodity available in every room.  I was counting the days until I could go for my tour and see it for myself.

The other women all had their husbands there.  I had my little Battle Buddy, who was making an awful lot of noise.  We stood in the new delivery room, more than twice the size of the room I'd delivered my daughter in at the same hospital.  Nice flooring.  Windows.  Room to walk around in.  Wow.

"Any questions?"

"I'm sorry, the new commander nixed the wiresless internet.  We don't know why, but there is no internet up here."

I'm scared.  I can't lie.  I can't pretend.  The thought of giving birth without my husband had me in such fear that for months I couldn't even talk about giving birth.  Not having him next to me.  Holding my hand.  Cheering me on.  But, I consoled myself.  He'll be there on the video chat.  You'll still be able to see his face, hear his voice.  This time, you'll see his reaction.

And then that came crashing down.

Someone will post pictures.  Someone will let the news out as to the sex of the baby.  Before I can get to him, before I can see his reaction. 

He won't see video of his baby until we get home. 

This is one of the hardest moments I've faced.  I feel as though all the previous struggles and Crosses I've overcome during this deployment have been a mere hill as I come increasingly closer to this mountain.  And it keeps getting harder.  Larger. 

But, I do it for you.  Your daddy does this for you.  You, who was microscopic when he left.  We didn't know about you when he left.  You were already hanging on strong.  Quietly.  Consistently.  Against all odds, through immense stress.  You are still here.  I've been so busy, so rushed, that sometimes I forget about my little tagalong.  But, during those rare quiet moments, I lie down and feel you moving.  Feel you living.  And I smile. 

You have hung on for your daddy and me.  Now, I will do this for you.  My darling child.  I will get through this so that I can hold you, love you, bring you home.  Let you meet your father. 

Despite the hardships, through the odds, you and I will get through this.  We will climb the mountain.  We will arrive on the other side.  And you will be surrounded by your sister and me, who love you so much.  And soon, your dad will join us, too.

And then we will all be together again.  A different family than when he left.  But, bigger and stronger.  Happier.  More grateful. 

I'm doing this for you. For your Daddy.  Because you both deserve it.  Because I love you both. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"She'd take Colorado if she'd take her with him, closes the door before the winter lets the cold in...."

I feel like somehow, he's left frozen there in time.  The winter.  The cold.  Snow still barely on the ground from a few days before....

"She wonders if her love is strong enough to make him stay....She's answered by the tail lights shining through the window pane."

The bus doors closed, I ran after him that day, a sick and sleeping baby in my arms.  I just made it to the side of the bus and found his seat, as the bus pulled away.  The tail lights still bright in my mind, as the white bus pulled around the block, his head and arm hanging out. Until I couldn't see him anymore.

"He said 'I want to see you again, but I'm stuck in colder weather...'"

The winter.  We lived together.  Shared a life together.  I see the coats in the closet, the scarves hanging inside the door, and shudder.  A long time ago.  A long time to go.

"She said 'you're a rambling man.  You ain't ever gonna to change.  You gotta gyspy soul to blame and you were born for leavin.....'"

This is his vocation.  A Soldier.  To leave.  To defend freedom and the lives of the innocent.  And I was called to be left behind.  To support him.  It hurts so badly to watch him walk away, to leave you.  Alone.  And for a long time.  But, I would do it again, if he asked me.  I will do it again.  I committed to that the day I said , "I do."  I don't regret it.  I'm proud to do it.

"He thinks of Colorado, and the girl he left behind him..."

He misses me.  I know he thinks of me, thinks of his little family.  I know he wants to see us again, but right now, he's stuck in colder weather.  That life we had, that we shared, is stuck in that colder weather many long months ago.  But, we wait in his stead.

And we trudge forward.

"It's a winding road...you're a lover, I'm a runner and we go round and round."

"And I love you but I leave you...you know it's you that call me back here, Babe."

Winter will come again.  And with it, him.  That man we left behind when the weather turned warm right after he left.  Who left us to follow the call of duty.  Even now, the hint of fall in the air in early morning finds me momentarily hopeful.  It's coming.  The cold is coming.  My soldier is coming.

"I want to see you again...but I'm stuck in colder weather..."

It's coming full circle.  We go round and round, until we are together again.  Then the warm can come, the Spring can dawn.  We'll still be together, sharing life again.  Sharing moments again.

"When I close my eyes I see you..."  Yes, in the night, when I'm alone and the house is dark, I see you.  In my dreams every night, I see you.  Always.  Thank, God.

"No matter where I am..." On a trip, far from home.  In our own home.  Having our child.  I see you.  Always.  I do this for you. You are my constant motivation.

"I'm with your ghost again..."  Awaking from a dream again at four a.m., reaching for you.  Smiling painfully.  Again.  He'll be here soon enough.  It's not cold yet.

"It's a shame about the weather, but I know soon we'll be together...

And I can't wait till then.  I can't wait till then..."

Oh, God, I can't wait till then...

Song and lyrics: Zac Brown Band, "Colder Weather" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oouFE51HcqM

Friday, September 09, 2011

It's funny how words take on such a different connotation.

For most of my life, it was that dance.  My mother would talk about it.  Her memories from the night.  The dress, the date, the corsages.  Going out to dinner.  The big football game against their rivarly.  I would dream it in my head--my Homecoming someday.  Then, they came.  I had the dresses, attended the dances, cheered at the football games and stood before our bonfires.  Homecoming Dance.  Homecoming week--full of its Spirit Days, costumes, contests.  I remember feeling so grown up--I had made Homecoming memories that I would share with my daughters someday.

I stood in Target today, trying them on.  Eight months pregnant and nearly tumbling over as I fastened them on my feet, while my daughter looked on from the giant red card.  I pulled at my lengthy maternity skirt, as I paced in front of the mirror.

"What do you think, Elizabeth?"  I asked, agonizing.

She blinked.  "Shoes!" and bumped the sides of her fists together for the sign.

"Do they look good?"  I paced some more.  Excitement in the air.

"Ooh!  What about these earrings, Elizabeth?  And look at this bracelet!"  Into the cart they went, alongside the shoes.

Homecoming.  It's taken on a different meaning.  Still, I will put together a gorgeous outfit, agonize over my hair, meticulously apply my makeup.  But there will be no bonfires, no football games.  We will not dance with flowers on our wrist.

We will count down the days for weeks.  Instead of one outfit, I will painstakingly choose three. I will wash and re-wash the outfits, iron them repeatedly.  We will wake up ridiculously early, arrive long before the event will start.  I will stand on a parade field, instead of a gym.  I will wait for my Soldier to enter, instead of praying for a date.  And I will have two beautiful children--our children--in my arms as we finally meet again.

I am so excited.  I still have months to go.  The last few weeks of a pregnancy.  A birth.  Transition with a newborn and a toddler. Halloween.  Thanksgiving.  Christmas. New Year's.

But, it's coming. 

It's like looking forward to Christmas and to your wedding day.  Combined.

When the lights are out at night, and the house is silent, I play it over and over in my head.  That day.  That moment.  In my outfit.  I envision Homecoming, in its truest sense. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I knew who to call. Right away.  When the day went sour, and I could feel every second of the five months lying before us.  I picked up my phone and dialed.  Within an hour, she called back. 

And we talked.  Again. 

We talk everyday, usually.  For over an hour.  Until bedtime.  Or one of our children starts screaming.  We laugh, we cry, we vent, we advise, we listen.  And it's so comforting. 

I read on a blog once, right after Richard left, that battle buddies cannot live faraway from one another.  In order to properly fill the role, they must live in the same town, thereby being constantly accessible to one another.  I disagree completely. 

She lives four large states away, and it's a 13 hour drive without stopping.  I live in the Lone Star State and she calls the upper midwest home.  But, she's always there.  Always answers my questions, quells my fears, and makes me laugh.  She is my battle buddy.  She has understood every word, every emotion, every mood, and never disagreed or taken offense.  I do the same for her, and it's comforting.

She gets it.  And so few people do.

I can laugh about the latest insensitive statement someone has made, and she laughs, too.  We have talked about kids missing their dads, screaming through the night as they struggle to understand why he left.  We've discussed post-deployment plans, current frustrations and victories, and taken our masks off when we can't take it anymore.  We've promised drop everything and be there for each other should the worst ever happen. 

This life has its beautiful moments.  Victory of making it through another day, of surviving another week, of crossing another month off the calendar.  But, it has its dark moments, too.  Moments when we still feel the pressure to put on a good face and look confident, look joyful.  But, sometimes, we need that person who understands.  Who gets it.  Who can't make this year end, who can't bring our husbands home. But who can give us strength, understanding.

And she does.  She's heard me at my best, and comforted me through my lowest.  I never have to explain, I never have to impress.  My faraway battle buddy lives this life, too.  We are in this together--through thick and thin.  We will cheer each other through our bright days, and encourage each other through the dark days.  We will move forward dutifully through the ensuing days and months.  And we will celebrate together, when the winter brings our Soldiers home. 

I don't think I'll ever feel closer to someone who lives so faraway.  And I don't think I'll ever be able to fully express how grateful I am for her presence in my life during this chapter.  But, I think she gets that, too. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday. And she was being worse than usual. I was wrangling her, wrestling with her, shushing her. And she was talking, yelling, playing. She wanted up and she wanted down. She wanted to sit, stand, lie down. And I felt exhausted. And huge.

I took her out, finally, and found the bridal dressing room open. We went in and I put her on the couch, where she instantly laid her head down. She was tired. I figured. I couldn't hear the Mass, and felt removed from everything. I didn't like it.

Then, she came in. I'd never seen her before.

"Hi. I come down here to visit my son and his wife every few weeks. I just want to say that you are the most beautiful pregnant woman I've seen. That you still come to Church, even when you are juggling a toddler and everything else alone, is so beautiful. And I am constantly praying for you and for the safety of your husband. Can I help hold her?"

I don't know how I didn't cry, but that was the nicest thing I had heard since my husband left. It meant so much.

I never want to look like a victim during this deployment, because I'm not. I chose this. And I am proud of that. I never want to look beaten down, depressed, or weary. I may feel like that some days, but I always try to put on a cheerful face, a joyful countenance. Because my family deserves it, my Soldier deserves it. But, this life is hard, and sometimes it is a juggle--sometimes, being the only parent is a wrestling match.

And the prayers are what get us--get me--through.

I am so touched when people tell me they are praying for us. It means so much. Because, despite having toughed through 204 days, not one of those days has beaten me, has beaten my family. Despite the distance, despite the limited communication, despite not having held his hand in a long time, we are still moving forward. Happily, healthily, faithfully.

Thanks to the prayers.

So, those of you out there praying for my little family: thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Those I know, those I don't. Those who are dear friends, and those who watch from afar. Thank you.

I've said it many times: the prayers are what get us through.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I imagine it'll be pretty weird.

My bed time routine is very strict. Get up off couch (where I've likely fallen asleep after having folded laundry, done sewing, cleaning the kitchen, and doing housework once Elizabeth is in bed), check on my sleeping daughter, make sure doors are locked, porch lights are on, and house alarm set. Grab it--the computer and charger--and head back to the bedroom. I plug it in next to my bed...just in case. And even though it whirs all night long, the price is totally worth the occasional pay off that comes in the form of a rare skype call.

When he gets home, I won't have to do that anymore--take that thing everywhere. On trips, to the living room in the morning and the bedroom at night, keep my cell phone in my pocket when I absolutely must be away from the computer.

I never was one for technology. I'm not a "texter' nor do I own a smart phone--a difficult and personal decision I made when my Soldier left. I have standard phone. It makes phone calls. It might have a camera on it, I'm not sure. Our satellite doesn't DVR and we don't own an i-anything.

But my computer and cell phone have stayed next to me the last nearly seven months. And they still have five more months duty.

When he gets home, I will finally be able to shut off the computer. Put my phone away. And that will probably be as weird as it is wonderful. No more whirring all night next to my bed. No more near-panic attacks when I realized I've left my phone in the car, in another room. No. He will be here. And I won't need them anymore.

Until then, I stay leashed to the electronics. Only about five and a half months until I can cut the cord...er, cords.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I thought, at first, I had become a "different person" when that second pink line appeared. I remember, shockingly, when it did (only two weeks after our wedding--honeymoon baby, anyone?) that I looked up into the mirror, my face white and my eyes like giant saucers. I was carrying another life inside of me.

While physically things began to change, I didn't change. Not until that moment. 11:09 pm. They laid her in my arms. And my life was never the same.

She was screaming--who can blame her? I pulled her in to me, and I cried. The entire room, everyone, everything disappeared. All that existed was she and I, together. Scared, in pain, and new people.

"I promise to always be a good mother to you." I spoke aloud. "I promise to try to always be the best to you. I know I'll fail sometimes, but I never want you to go to bed feeling unloved. I promise, Elizabeth, to always love you. I want to be such a good mother to you, okay? And I am going to try so hard. Because you deserve the best. You are beautiful. Never forget that."

I was sobbing.

Because I was a mother to an innocent person. To a person.

That was the most beautiful moment of my life. The most changing.

I hope I have made good on my word in the nearly two years that I have been a mother to her. I hope that she is a better person because of me. That I have improved her, helped her, aided her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Because I live constantly with the fear that I am not.

That fear follows me in every action I do, in every word I speak, in every choice I make regarding her well-being. Regarding her. I hear the voice in my head, sometimes, telling me I'm not good enough, not trying hard enough. But, ultimately I know that, when my actions, words, choices are fueled by that love that was ignited in the delivery room that night, I'm doing alright.

When Richard deployed, that fear became stronger, more defined. I knew my patience was going to be tried to it's breaking point, that I was going to be the only parent she had for a year. I am responsible for providing all aspects of parenthood to her, something normally two parents do. If I run out of patience, there is no back-up, there is no one to tag team it. I do it alone. Constantly.

God, I hope I do it well.

She deserves the best. The best love, the best comfort, the best hugs and kisses. When I watch Richard parent her when he's home, I am left speechless by the caliber of the father he is. So loving, so gentle. It has brought me to tears. He never hesitates to get on the floor and play with her, even when he's getting ready for work and already wearing his uniform. He has no problem climbing on a rocking chair to hold her steady. He is the finest, most humble father.

And, to a certain extent, I have to make sure she gets that while he's gone, too.

I don't know if I am doing a good job. Only time will tell. I pray at the start of each day that I am a good mother, and at the end of some days I am left counting the ways I could have been a better mother.

Elizabeth, I love you more than words could say. I have been completely responsible for providing all comfort, love, joy, strength, and constancy to you for the last several months. Many times, you've melted into tears, crying for Daddy. Many times, you've gotten frustrated after skype calls, because you just don't understand. Many times, you are angry because you miss your Daddy and can't communicate it.

I expected all of this.

I expected the tears, the frustration, the anger. I knew that those times would surface. That I would have to drop everything and just hold you. Provide comfort. Give love. Offer strength. Be a good mother to you.

I never foresaw what I'd get. When I hold you, I feel comforted. When I love you, I feel loved. When I give strength, I get some back. You make me a good mother. I never expected that.

As much as it scares you, Tiny Girl, to be separated from me, it scares me as much to be separated from you. We are, truly, Battle Buddies. We are inseparable. When people joke about taking you away to live with them, my heart stops in fear.

No. I need her.

I still look into your eyes everyday, and get that breathless fear I had the day they laid you in my arms. But I try to prove it wrong. Because you deserve the best; you are beautiful. When I give love to you, when I make you feel whole, you do the same to me. I am creating a beautiful person, still. And you, in the same way, are creating a beautiful mother.

Thank you.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's all about the little things.

I'd been looking forward to this morning for weeks. I am spoiled, though, so I knew what was coming. Especially if I just asked.

The appointment was early-ish. I was up at seven, showered and dressed, with my breakfast eaten by eight. The house was quiet and the early morning sun was streaming through the kitchen windows. I tip-toed back and saw her. Sleeping. So peacefully. So I let her continue. And I cleaned in silence. I read the paper. I just soaked up the sunshine and quiet.

We finally got called back. My doctor is the kindest man--he saw me during my daughter's pregnancy and delivered her the night she was born. He knows us. And he calls Richard "his friend." So, I asked. Mostly I just wanted to know if the baby was head down. But, I also wanted a peek at my baby.

So, he turned on the machine. Baby is head down. And moving. The giant knot I have felt in my right side is Baby's bottom. And the tiny moving swishes I kept running my fingers along last night were the feet. I knew it. Then, I saw my favorite part--the profile. Such a beautiful, cute baby profile. Baby flipped and faced us.

I can't wait.

I soaked that in, too. The baby--our baby, it's movements, that it's head was down. That we are only two months from finally meeting each other. That my daughter saw the picture on the screen and excitedly yelled out, "Baby?!"

I soaked in hanging out with a dear friend, spending time with the wives at the FRG meeting. Laughing. Talking. Relaxing.

I soaked in the skype call--just in time. I had just gotten home. He and I laughed. We talked about Baby. About coming home in several months. Such sweet conversation.

Each day, we have a choice. We can focus on the negative, or choose to soak in the positive. I can dwell on what's going wrong, or I can find the joy and beauty in front of me.

Today, I chose beauty, happiness, joy. Today was a beautiful day! Baby, friends, love. I am so blessed.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

I was sitting there in the breakfast room, feeding my daughter from the continental breakfast. We were feeling good. Six months in to our deployment today. I was feeling content. And then, I heard it. The News.

Thirty-one U.S. Soldiers died in a helicopter crash.

Thirty-one mothers, fathers. Sons, daughters. Wives, husbands. People.

And thirty-one doors were knocked on today. Thirty-one families' worst fears were realized in a single moment. He's not coming home.

Most days, I am confident, determined. I move forward, towards that date. So far away, but still there. I keep a happy face, I push through the difficulty, I operate a househould and raise a family alone. And I feel content. Most days.

But, everyday, I mask that fear. I ignore the torment.

What if???

I am not supposed to think about it, not supposed to dwell on it. We spouses ignore the fear, pretend it's not there. But it is. Deep down, and rooted firmly. That's why we live email to email, skype call to skype call. Because we know. They are still there. And those days that the calls don't come, the inbox is empty--

They scare us. Scare me.

I saw his face today. Laughed with him. Hoped with him. Talked with him. He's okay. For today.

But, each day is a new day. Each day is a new wait, another unit of time to hope through, pray through. Beg God that your Soldier makes it through.

They didn't. And their families were just living another day. Laundry. Nap time. Meals. Play dates. And in the midst of living, hoping, praying, their doorbells rang.

Tonight, as I crawl into bed, knowing that today my husband is okay, I pray for the souls of the fallen Soldiers. I pray for the wives left behind. I pray for the children, who will wonder where Daddy, where Mommy has gone.

I pray. I pray for the safety of all our Soldiers. Of all the families with loved ones deployed. Because all of us lost a members of our large family. All of us were shaken to the core. All of us were reminded of that God-awful fear. That our Soldier might not make it home.

God bless our Soldiers and their families. May the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace.

Friday, August 05, 2011

I saw him, sitting across the restaurant. Alone. He got up, walked to the drink station, and I saw his rank emblazoned on his camouflage--the same as Richard's. My heart hurt for a moment. His walk was wearied, proud, determined.

I finished lunch and, on the way out, I stopped at his table. He looked up.

"Sir, thank you for your service. I really appreciate what you do."

His tired face lit up. "Thank you, ma'am. I just got back from Afghanistan and..." he smiled bigger, "I'm on my way home to see my family."

"My husband is deployed--we're halfway through now."

"Oh--Congratulations! Each day is a challenge, but you'll make it."

There was a sudden ease, a sense of understanding. We talked a few more minutes, and went our separate ways. United in the service, humbled by gratitude.

In this lifestyle, understanding is so important, because so many people cannot completely understand. It's not their fault. Unless you walk this path, there's so much that cannot be explained, cannot be fully comprehended. But, when you see the uniform, sense the family-like tie, there comes with it a sense of acceptance that cannot be put into words.

This tired, wearied soldier was heading home to see his family...and was eating alone. A military wife approached him, and thanked him for his service. And from that moment, both gained a sense of determination to finish, a commitment to see our missions through. His is very nearly done, because he's not fully Home until the Soldier is in his family's arms. Mine is on the second half, and I am finally seeing a very blurry distant light.

We both were wearied. Each day is a challenge. But we will make it. We will prevail. Because in this world of camo and combat boots, in this calendar of counting down and counting up, each Soldier, each military wife and child is a family. And through that sense of understanding, we will make it. We will prevail.

Please remember to thank our Soldiers for their sacrifice...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I remember I felt vulnerable, awkward. Like someone had torn my clothes off and shoved me naked onto a precarious stage where not only was I supposed to stand, but where I was supposed to look good while doing it. Look Happy. Confident. I was supposed to make it look easy.

Richard had just left.

And we were on our second or third Sunday alone at Mass. We'd made it through another week, but we were also starting another. I felt the small victory of a Sunday, of a week, but also sensed the pressure of another looming week. We were surviving. Barely. Adjusting. Still.

"Hey! How are you?" I looked over to where the conversation was unfolding.

"Good--hanging in there."

"How long has he been gone now?"

"About six months."

I was struck for a moment. All I could do was stare at her. I noticed the resiliency mixed with weariness that appeared for a few moments on her face. I remember thinking, "Wow, she's halfway there." I had a long road before I could claim that victory, I thought. But, she had made it. And she was still standing.

And now, I find myself staying the same: "About six months." And the fatigue from the last half appears on my face, mixed with the victory of still standing. And we still have another six months.

Six months ago I saw a hero, an inspiration, though she had no idea. Today, I see myself in her. We are a week shy of Half Way Day, which is scrawled on all of my calendars in huge letters. Six months. I survived six months. And feel a sense of victory...and I feel a little tired. I have walked through fire, as I stood in doctor's offices alone scared that my daughter had cancer. I've spent nights terrified to fall asleep because I haven't heard from my husband and I'm praying those uniformed officers don't show up at my door. I've gotten that dreaded message: "in the hospital, and bleeding... [rest of message cut off]" and waited, sobbing for the rest of that sentence to come through. I've been dragged to my knees in cold sweat and hard tears, simply from loneliness. I've sat up, covered in vomit with a sick toddler. I've nearly made it through a pregnancy alone, despite that dark moment that I thought I was losing another child.

I've stood on that stage naked and, despite the darkness, I made it look good.

I've held it together, put on a joyful face even when that was the last thing I wanted to do. I've made it through winter, sweated through a summer, and am gearing up for Fall. I've survived six months without my best friend, and our relationship has grown. I've been through fire--Hell--and I'm still standing.

Yes, I've got six months under my belt. Yes, I've made it to Half Time and survived. But, I've got another six long months ahead of us. I still have to deliver a child by myself, adjust a household to a new member, survive six weeks of no sleep. And I have to do it alone. I have to juggle that, while lovingly raising a toddler. And there is, I'm sure Crosses facing me that I cannot yet see. We still have time left to get through.

But, despite that I will celebrate. I will dance. I have survived the first half of my First Deployment, and am truly a better person for it. Because, despite the distance, the heartache, the fear, I have grown, my marriage has grown. My daughter smiles, laughs. We have built beautiful memories together that I cherish. We've overcome obstacles, big and small. And we are still standing.

So, next week, I will take a moment to stop. Thank God. We four in this family are still here, thank God. Though separated by half a world, we are still here. Elizabeth still plays and laughs. I still survive and hold down the homefront. Our unborn child still kicks and moves. Richard still stands and fights. Thank God.

We will survive the last part of this deployment. By God. Nothing has beat me now. And, sure as my word, nothing will beat me--beat us-- in the next six months.

Charlie Mike, baby.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

They're just over there to kill people.

Nothing makes my heart hurt more, my blood boil faster, or my family pride ruffle more quickly. My husband. His brothers in arms. Over there to kill people.


I understand people don't agree on the war. People don't agree on politics or presidential administrations. People don't agree on military presence in the middle east. I understand that. People will never agree on these things. And that's what makes America beautiful. We are entitled to our opinions, our beliefs, our arguments.

But have some tact, people.

My mother always said, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." So true. When I discuss the wars, the administration, the politics, typically I am not the one to bring it up. I also do not tend to advertise my husband's profession and my current situation. I just argue my point, when pressed. And then I quietly back out. I've been involved in respectful arguments, where the other person expressed their beliefs without insulting or degrading the military.

Then I've heard, "Well, they're just over there to kill people." And I've heard it a lot. Sometimes, they don't know my story. Other times they do. Either way, I do not understand.

My husband did not sign up for the Army to kill people. He did not pack his bags for a year-long deployment three times now, to kill people. He did not board a bus, he did not leave his young daughter and pregnant wife, he does not serve his country to kill people.

He does it because he loves his country. He does it because he loves his friends, his family, his wife, his daughter. He serves because he has such a profound love and respect for what it means to be American.

I've met many of his Army buddies, with whom he's served--fine, upstanding young men and women who inspire me and for whom I have the utmost respect. The same applies to them: they serve because they love.

Whether or not you agree with the war, with the administration, with the current politics. Whether your arguments lie more conservatively or liberally, tea party or Obama's party, I encourage you to exercise your right to your opinion--that which my husband and his fellow Soldiers fight so hard for. But, I implore you to choose your words carefully, tactfully, respectfully.

These men and women do not choose their vocation lightly. And nor do they do it to "kill people."

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Let me just tell you." I got closer to the camera. "The wife and mother you left at the beginning of this deployment is very different from the wife and mother you will come home to."

I remember vividly, standing at the beginning. Wondering how I would get through all the inevitable challenges and Crosses that would befall us while he was gone. Wondering if I was truly as strong as everyone was saying. Wondering if I would break.

I haven't broken. Not yet.

I've grown. Stretched, which is a painful process, but rewarding afterwards. During the moments, either through chance or choice, that I felt like my entire body and soul were being pulled and stretched in ways unimaginable, I honestly didn't know how I would come out on the other side. Bitter or victorious? Angry or relieved?

This deployment--this war--is filled with smaller battles that Elizabeth and I have endured together. Scary battles, annoying battles, personal battles. But, despite doubting myself at the start of each, I came through each a stronger and more flexible person. I've learned so much about myself. Realized how much truly I can endure. More than I had thought. And we are still here, still fighting.

I am stubborn.

And so, this last week, when we tackled potty training amidst fluctuating pregnancy hormones and a very confused toddler, I didn't know if we were going to pull it off. Tuesday night, I was ready to pack it in. Raise that white flag.

"Give it one more day, Adrienne." My far-off battle buddy encouraged me. She must know what she's doing. She's gotten three children out of diapers.

And we did it. Laugh if you want. But moments like that--hard-fought battles that we win--are the very moments that make me realize I can survive the last six months. That I can endure the remaining battles, whatever they maybe. I will make it through giving birth alone, through the first six weeks with a newborn and toddler. And we will come out the other side stronger, better, victorious.

So, I move forward. Maybe a little tired now, maybe a little weary. But, I move forward. Battles will be won, the war will end. And we will come out of the other side victorious.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sundays are always good days for me. The day that our Soldier left, was a Sunday. If he had to leave (which he did because I tried compromising with Uncle Sam. Don't bother trying to compromise with him--he's very stubborn), I am glad he left on a Sunday. It was the start of a week, and as a church-going person, I am grateful for the graces at Mass every Sunday. It's kind of like a celebration with God--we've made it through another week and are pepping up for another one.

But, Church alone with a toddler can be...well...an adventure. It's much like a precarious game of dominoes: getting up on time so I can get ready on time. Get daughter up so I can get her ready on time. Get out of the house at a certain time so I can arrive on time, get a parking place on time, and get a seat on time. Mess even slightly with one of the dominoes, and the entire set comes crashing down. And that makes me mad.

But, this morning, our adventure took it's own path, much to my chagrin. Everything in my power happened on time--the shower, the breakfast, the waking of daughter, the leaving...only to discover that some moron had siphoned my gas tank in the middle of the night. So, picture seven-months pregnant me, careening down the road on "Ten Miles Till Empty," screaming a tirade of profanity-free comments to the thief. Needless to say, we did not make to Mass on time this morning.

Regardless, Elizabeth was mostly well-behaved. She got fussy a few times, but by the sermon, I was beginning to relax a little. Big Mistake. Never relax with a toddler. Especially at Mass. I let my guard down.

Elizabeth has a growing vocabulary. She is also clearly ready to be potty-trained. She started whispering to me, "Mommy. Stinkies." I winced. Not now. I looked in her diaper. Thank you, Jesus. She was all clear. "You don't have stinkies, Elizabeth." Five minutes later again: "Mommy. Stinkies." "No. You're fine."

Don't ignore a toddler.

After several attempts at whispering to me about her nonexistent dirty pants, she finally lost it. Lifting up her full skirted dress, she pointed to her diaper, and yelled, "Mommy! Stinkies!" Everyone in a five-pew radius around us laughed. And you know what? So did I.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Gr! I hate when they say that, Elizabeth! 'Come home soon!' Like the guys have any control over that! You know what I mean?" Before I could even glance down to my 20 month old, she responded emphatically,


Best. Battle buddy. Ever.

We want it to end. We do our utmost best to make the uncomfortable, the painful, the drudgery end. And it's awful when we realize that we have no control. Instead, we are left with a clear choice: whine and be miserable, or keep walking forward with each painful step. It can only be compared to walking in the desert--we bemoan our fate, or we move closer to that unseen but undeniable end.

Recently, I have walked through two deserts of my own. Silent but miserable, I trudged forward, doing what I could to ease the suffering but knowing that ultimately I could not avoid it. I had to finish the journey through the wasteland. No one knew the intimate darkness that surrounded me. I realized very quickly that there was no answer to quickly end it. I had to give all to Him and just move forward on faith.

I finally found some semblance of peace and relief to my little Crosses.

But, it made me realize I am powerless. While these little splinters were resulting from the deployment, and fairly short-lived, I could do nothing to make them end. The same goes with this year separated from my Soldier.

I can whine, be miserable, complain. Much like our biblical ancestors, I can question what in the world God was thinking when He gave me this suffering, took my husband from me to a dangerous place. I can complain there is no relief, no water, no end in sight. And, sadly, I have had a few days like this.

Or, I can trudge forward. Through the light days, when joy and peace abound, and through the days when it's tough to get out of bed. I can find grace in the suffering, joy despite the dark, happiness in knowing it's temporary. I may not know exactly when he'll be home, but I move forward all the same. Because he will be home. God will get us through. And we'll be out of the desert and in our little promised land.

So, now I focus on cultivating and maintaining an attitude of fortitude and patience. Maintaining now not only a joyful countenance, but also a joyful heart. After all, a smile means nothing if there is no true happiness behind it. Despite the dark days, there will be happy days. Despite the lengthy time we still have, the days are moving forward towards Homecoming. And even though this life gets weary and hard, I still have this life. With my daughter, my husband, and our unborn child.

Lord, help me to continue building a positive attitude that, ultimately sees You at the end. Because without You, we have nothing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I did it!!!

I used to be Miss Independent. Going places alone, doing things alone didn't phase me. I could drive to the store alone, I slept in my own bed. I spent evenings and nights alone with no problem.

Then I got married.

And I quickly adjusted (and happily so) to driving places with my husband, sharing a bed with him, and spending my nights and evenings with another person. And the more time that went by, the more ingrained that joy became.

You can do this. It's not a big deal. It's only four hours. You're being silly.

Pulling out the suitcases, my pulse started racing. Finishing the laundry, my breath was quick. Gathering things into the den, my mind was racing. And that infuriated me!

You've already committed--and you need this!! And Elizabeth will be fine. Even if she gets upset, it will pass.

I began putting clothes in the suitcases and the suitcases in the car. I wanted to get out of town, I wanted to spend the weekend with my aunt and her family. But, I was terrified of driving there and back. Alone. And that mortified my pride. I was so surprised how intimidated I was, so I forged forward. As I pulled out of town, as I merged onto unfamiliar highways, as Elizabeth began to fuss, part of me wanted to turn back to that which was familiar, that which was comfortable. But, I pushed forward.

And, four hours later, I pulled into her drive. Victorious. Today, three and a half hours later, I pulled into my drive, victorious again. I had done it. I had done a road trip with Elizabeth. Admittedly, this prospect had terrified me since Richard left. He made me promise to go places. And the first chance I had, I did. And I overcame an obstacle. I grew.

It sounds silly. But, for a wife and mother who's best friend is missing, the comfortable and familiar becomes a lifeline. Being away from home, entering unfamiliar territory is terrifying. Elizabeth goes with me everywhere, because she is my battle buddy. She's my family--my 20 month old is my security. I can't imagine having made it this far without her. But even stepping out of our comfort zone together can paralyze me with fear. And it did.

But, I did it. I drove four hours, had a blast of a weekend. All the stress from the past six months that had built up into ten 900 pound gorrillas on my back disappeared as soon as I hit the Tatum city limits. I spent three days in a place so relaxing and removed that I forgot to carry my cell phone with me and missed some text messages from my husband. I got out a few hours for some time with my aunt while Elizabeth played with the horses and my uncle. I slept--well. I ate. I laughed. And then I drove home.

This life is so hard. It's full of overcoming fear and emotion. It's constantly putting others before me for the sake of my husband. It's pretending to be strong when I feel weak, and pretending to be brave when truly I am a coward. But, it's also an opportunity to grow, to overcome. To take chances. To let little things make a big personal impact.

I did it! And I grew. Again.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

I love Independence Day. The barbecues, the swimming, the fireworks. The colors--red, white, and blue. The songs that warble all day long. Driving through neighborhoods and seeing the Star Spangled Banner hung on most homes. The flags lining the sidewalks. The solidarity. The pride.

This year, Independence Day is really hard for me. I see Old Glory, hear the songs, listen to the speeches and sermons, and it all reminds me of the tremendous sacrifice I am making for what all of those symbols represent.

I stood in the back of Mass this morning with a very fussy toddler, not feeling my best because of the baby kicking me from the inside. I was counting down the minutes until Mass was over, could take my screaming daughter home. "Sorry, Jesus." I thought. And then I looked down and saw her hand snake under his arm and enter his. My heart hurt.

I miss that.

"Remember the sacrifices that are being made so we can keep our everyday liberties. The love for this country, and the responsibility that goes with it..." the priest encouraged.

I understand that.

"What's that?" The older lady asked her grown daughter, pointing to it. "Her husband's gone--it's a Daddy Doll." She whispered back.

I love that.

"How are you holding up, sweetheart?" Our parishioner-friend gathered me into her arms. "Fine--hanging in there." I replied, attempting to maintain my image. "Really?" She could see right through me...and held me a long time.

I need that.

It's different this year. It's all a very painful reminder of the man who I've sent off twice now to go defend the flag, the songs, the fireworks, the people. The solidarity and pride. It's an achy reminder of the girls he left behind, missing their lives while we miss his. It's the getting up every morning and fighting my way through another day, it's staying strong as we journey through the doldrums. It's striving to find the joy, the happiness, the peace God places in our daily lives despite what is temporarily absent.

I'm proud to be an American where, if nothing else, at least I know I'm free. I will not forget the men and women who have fought far away, some even dying, who give this right to me. I may wake up in an empty bed, but I have a bed inside a home. I may eat at an empty table, but I have a table in a kitchen. I may sit in a pew with a cranky toddler, I may lie awake at night, I may shed hard tears when no one is looking. But that is my God-given right, those are my God-given blessings. And it is my husband who provides those blessings, first by his job but moreso by fighting for my freedom.

As you sing along to the songs this year, as you bite into your burgers, as you enjoy your day off, remember the men and women who have given so much for your very freedom. Remember the families, spouses, children, babies they leave behind. Remember those who, after having given all, are laid to rest under marble while their families look on.

It is not the fireworks, the anthems, the food we celebrate this year. Instead, we celebrate victory, and the constant battle for it. We honor those who fight for this, and we remember those who have died for it.

God bless America.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"A leper came to [Jesus] and kneeling down begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'"

As I read through Mark's Gospel tonight, I found that passage so touching. Oftentimes I pray, demanding God to help me, or begging his help. Wanting the control back. Wanting to maintain power. This man knelt before Jesus, and left the power where it belongs: Jesus. And he was rewarded...he was cured.

I've struggled since Richard left. After our good-bye, I refused to admit that it hurt as badly as it did; I refused to admit I was vulnerable and alone. So, I pretended...and crashed. This last week has been super tough for me, and I was literally brought to my knees in my sadness over Richard leaving again. I frantically searched for answers as to why I was so sad, in my desperation to maintain control. I begged God to take away my sadness.

And then, I hit bottom. I sat in the corner of my room, sobbing. I looked up and out my bedroom window into the evening sky and finally admitted it. "I miss him, God. Will you please help me?" And He did. He has given me such graces the last few days, and made clear His message. "It's okay to hurt--it's going to hurt," the old Irish priest said. And relief entered me. "It's what you do with that hurt--give it to Jesus." And I have. Repeatedly. It's not gone, but I feel better. Each day, I feel more peace.

No one told me this chapter was going to be easy, no one told me it would be short. No one told me I'd have a beautiful year without my husband. They were honest. It's going to be really hard, they said. It's going to seem like a lifetime. It's going to hurt. And it does. But, it's what I do with that hurt, with the occasional grief, that matters. And I know, now. Humbly present it to Jesus, and He will give me peace.

If you wish, Lord, you can make me clean....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hope isn't just a virtue. For some, it's a way to survive.

I sat for two hours looking at them. Dreaming. Hoping. Envisioning the three, er four, of us living there. Living there together. At the same time. Imagining the feet walking through the rooms, the dinners around the table. Scouring the floor plans, drinking in the photos.

In one, the morning sun streamed through giant windows into the room--across the wooden floors and up the sunshine-colored walls. It took my breath away. In a moment, I could see myself standing there in the morning, holding my coffee and watching my husband finish his breakfast while the children played in the other room.

I felt peace. I felt hope.

And those virtues get me through.

I must have something to cling to--some happy thought or possibility. And there are some right now. Most known to one person, who is a world away wishing for the same dreams, hoping for the same possibilities. Little things. We speak of them often the last few days, and that makes me feel worlds closer to him. Makes me feel more happy and the days more bearable. Especially right now.

And so, as we move forward, I continue to dream those quiet dreams, foster that intimate hope. I imagine our lives. Together. In the same house. Finally living the same life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"I breathe in...

I breathe out...

Put one foot in front of the other...

Take one day at a time..."

I am a control freak. Having a firm grasp on day to day life and my foreseeable future gives me confidence and, yes, control. So, when I feel as though the rug has been torn out from under me, when I feel like I am having to start again, it's the most frustrating thing.

"Old habits die hard." Not always. I thought that, when Richard left, I'd be okay. Cry a little, go to bed that night, and wake up in the groove which we'd had for four months before he came home. After all, that's a long time--four months. Especially compared to fourteen days. So, I thought we'd enjoy his time home and revert to our previous routine.


I'm not as discouraged and saddened as I was the day he boarded that bus--that was probably the hardest day and week of my life. However, I am surprised just how sad I am. He was only home two weeks. Yet, in a matter of days, that man had ingrained himself back into my life, our daughter's life, our home life. Part of me wanted to fight it, especially knowing he'd be going again. But, I caved. I made myself cave. Even with only fourteen days at home, I wanted as close to normal as we could have.

And we got it.

And now, I am left, once again, readjusting. And I hate readjusting (Yes, that did just come from a former military brat and current military wife). I feel...out of control. The tears, the ache, the loneliness. All of them are signs I am not on top of things. So, I slowly tighten my grip on what I do have in my grasp.

One breath. One Prayer. This moment.

And I move one putting one foot in front of the other, this time having the comfort of knowing that I will again gain a sense of confidence and routine. Knowing that this time, I will see him again, that we will be a family again. That may be a long time off, but I am just working on today. Right now. This moment.

The rest will come. And, before I know it, I will be okay again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It felt like a prolonged sunset--there was a sense of relaxation and letting go after long and arduous work. There was a definitive and nearly tangible sense of evading peace, something that had been missing before. He was home.

I'll never forget seeing his real live self walk into the airport. Seeing our daughter instantly recognize her Daddy and leap into his arms. I'll never forget the feeling of that first hug--a real hug from my husband. Giving him a kiss for the first time in months. The whole way home, I kept wanting to reach out and touch him, to make sure it was real. We were finally whole again, in so many ways.

I prayed time would crawl. And it did. As I look back, R&R seemed to have lasted a month, instead of a mere fourteen days. But, oh, was it sweet. Mornings of sleeping in with my husband, sliding over and cuddling. Waking up our daughter together, having breakfast, lunch, dinner. Together. Everything. Together. Vacations, family visits, Mass. Together.

He felt the baby kick. Elizabeth played with him on the floor. I hugged him. So much. I wanted to take very opportunity to touch him as possible, and I did. Hugs, kisses, holding his hand. We cooked together, talked together, prayed together. We shared laughs over silly things again.

And now he's gone. Again. The house has that pervading emptiness, and my heart aches deeply. The man I love has returned to the mission. And now, I sit by a computer and phone constantly again. I wait and worry. Again.

This lifestyle is so hard, with its ups and downs. Watching my daughter frantically search for Daddy all afternoon and evening, desperately calling his name. Hearing her scream from her crib every few minutes this evening, hoping he'll come in again and snuggle with her in the dark. Feeling as though this pain in my chest will never subside, that seven months is awfully long time to go without seeing one's best friend.

I will never take my husband for granted again. I did before. His presence, his realness. The constant opportunity to tangibly feel his presence. The help, the silent little favors done everyday. Someone to talk to, sit with, live with.

I know that will come. I know we will be family again someday. Until then, I move forward for the same reason I shared with him in the car today: I move forward for him. When the chips are down, when I feel as though I can't go on, I tell myself I must. For my Soldier. And I do.

So, tonight, as the pain and heartache tear into me, I move forward. I take each breath and put one foot forward for him. We will get through this, just as he said. We had to say good-bye so that we can say hello again. And, God willing, next time we say hello, it won't be followed by another good-bye.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's personal this year.

Every other Memorial Day was for me a day of national pride. It meant pulling out the red, white, and blue clothing, and eating Dad's steaks on the back deck. It meant being a little prouder of my dad because he served over 20 years in the Armed Forces, wearing the uniform. It was an exciting day.

Then, I married him. A Soldier. He'd been in for a few years, and was a Soldier of the new generation--the Soldiers who go to war. He'd been deployed multiple times. And I knew when I said yes to his invitation for a relationship, yes to his proposal for marriage, yes to his wedding vows, that he'd go again. It's not a matter of "If." It's a matter of "When." And he's deployed again.

So, this year is different. Exciting? Yes. Patriotic? Yes. Sad? Yes. Because this year, I understand the sacrifice required in living this lifestyle. It's a constancy of doing without, of giving up something or someone dear for the betterment of others. It's comforting my daughter or family when I could use some comforting myself. It's nights alone in bed, dinners at an empty table. It's Sunday Church in a lonely pew. It's treasuring five minute skype calls and cards that come in the mail with familiar handwriting scrawled across the envelope. It's calling a friend when life seems dark, or receiving a similar call from a dear friend who just dropped her husband off. It's constant prayer, hope, fear, and solitude.

For the love of a Soldier.

The last four months have been hard. We've kept a joyful countenance, moved forward and focused on daily blessings. But, there have been dark moments. Scary moments. Afternoons in pediatric cancer offices alone, getting that phone call from the unit that he's very sick. Moments I didn't think I could carry on. But, I did.

For the love of a Soldier.

He motivates me. He drives me. He wordlessly encourages me to move forward. When the nights are scary and the days are lonely, I trudge forward. Proudly. Doggedly. When I get the phone calls from friends, I commiserate. I felt the same way, I tell them. And then I vent myself. Get it off my chest, out of my heart. To keep marching forward.

For the love of a Soldier.

Because, if given the choice right now, would I do this again, I would absolutely say yes. My country is worth it. Our fallen men and women are worth it. My Soldier is worth it. I leave the negativity behind at the end of the day. Each morning is a fresh start. A new chance to make the day a better experience, to leave a stronger impact on the world around me. To hold down the homefront, to continue mission.

For the love of my Soldier.

This year, as I pick him up from the airport for R&R, I will remember all those who never got to come home. As I wrap my arms around his neck for the first time in months, kiss his face, smell him, I will think of the spouses who will never have the chance to do that again. Because they gave all.

For the love of their Soldier.

I will think of the brothers and sisters in arms who died protecting their country. Died protecting each other.

For the love of their soldiers.

I welcome home my hero. My Soldier, with the awareness of how blessed I am, how fragile and transitory this joy is. I will thank God for his safety thus far. This Memorial Day, I will garner strength, take rest, and gear up for the remainder of this deployment. I will stop, and honor those who have died while serving our country.

For the love of our Soldiers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"You know, with everything this family has suffered through, we really are quite blessed. Even with that year in Kansas..."

My mother was dabbing on her make up while my father and I listened.

"Yes, we are." I chimed in. "I think about it daily: Richard's deployed. Even though there are hard moments--excruciating moments--I feel very blessed nearly all the time."

And it's true. I am overcome frequently with how great God has blessed me. When I peer into the face of my daughter--healthy, happy. When I feel the kicks of my unborn child--life actively moving within me. My husband. He is not here. No, I am so blessed there, too. He's off sacrificing so much to defend his country and family. Though he's not here, I have an amazing man as a husband. This man trusted me with his home and family while he is gone. Trusted me to carry on and maintain the home front until he gets home. I am the mother to his children.

Yes, life is full of Crosses and struggles. Some of these last a very long time. But, despite it all, I can still see the blessings amongst the thorns. Thank you, Jesus, for my blessings and also the constant reminders of how good You are to me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Are you hoping it's a boy? So you can be done?"

"No." I laugh. "My husband and I want to fill our house."



Because I only get to live once. Just one time I get to walk through this world, one chance in this journey. You can fill your life with the smart phones and iPads, you may have your fancy four seater cars and yearly resort-island trips. You can choose to have a few years of those pattering feet, desperate calls for Mom-mie or Dad-die, the giggles, the snuggles, the laughs, the cries. You can choose to spend most of your life without children.

But I see it differently. I only get one shot. And I want to live it for all its worth. I don't need the smartphones, fancy computers, Nordstrom clothes. I will forgo the small cars and far flung beach trips. Instead, I want a lifetime of life. Of babies, of children and, yes, even of teens. I want to surround myself with people--my people. I want to give as much love to this world, to my world, as physically possible. My daughter tapped into a mine of love, and there's so much there. I feel compelled to give it.

So, when you are digging your toes into the sand while contemplating if you are ready for children, I'll probably be awake for the fourth night in a row staring into eyes that trust me unconditionally. While you purchase your Prada shoes for your evening at the five-star restaurant, I'll likely be cheering on my child as they go-go on the potty for the first time. As you desperately fight for your one teen's attention, my children will surround me demanding mine.

You see, you think your life is so full, and that mine will be so empty. But, when we both reach the end of this life, you will not be surrounded by the beach, the clothes, the electronics. No. Those will be at home in the photo albums, in the closet, on the shelves. You will be surrounded by what you helped create, which was a lifetime of selfishness. I will be surrounded by people. My people. My precious souls that I committed this one life to. I will not live alone, die alone. I will be surrounded always. By my full house.