My sister in law is not a hugger. She isn’t one that wants you to squeezer her warmly during her time of need. If you see her crying, you stand off to the side with your arms dangling loose, feeling awkward because how do you comfort someone that doesn’t want to be hugged?

When she gets upset or something scares her, she laughs. They are nervous laughs, but that’s the only way she knows how to respond. When my brother left for basic training, she was smiling and laughing about it. My parents, on the other hand, were not. The four of us took Ben to his hotel the night before he left for basic training. He said his goodbyes, and as he walked away from us – big, floppy hair that I knew was going to get shaved off, the slow, gentle walk of my brother would soon become urgent and more upright – I cried. I didn’t laugh, I cried. My mom’s sobs shook our car.

About a yearr Ben got back from his training, a hurricane hit Louisiana, I am sure you’ve heard of it. The very next day his national guard unit got shipped down there to help. One day when he was down there, he called Ann and told her where he was (an abandoned factory near the ruined convention center). Google Earth had just become popular, and so we loaded it onto my parents’ old computer and searched and searched together to figure out where he was. We printed out some pages, and she carried those with her every day.

I never saw her cry or frown or seem terribly sad that was he gone. But I knew she was, because those printed out pages were wrinkled, like they had been folded and unfolded a million times.

Less than six months after returning from his stint in New Orleans, he got called up to go to Afghanistan. He spent three months training in Mississippi before he left.

Now – I must add – my sister in law and I had a rocky relationship up until this point. He called one afternoon and told her that he was getting a pass for the weekend, but that he couldn’t leave Hattisburg. Ann immediately said she would make the long drive down to see him, but she didn’t know who would go with her. I didn’t have a job at the moment, so eventually she reluctantly asked me. I reluctantly accepted. But that trip – that’s when we became friends. There is nothing like driving deliriously late at night, holding your pee because the bathroom scares you to bond two people… that, and the deep ache of missing someone you love very much, scared of the unknown, of what they were about to face in a country so far away you couldn’t even comprehend it.

In January, he was scheduled to take his two week trip home from Afghanistan; the military calls it “R&R.” We held off Christmas that year, and so my mom’s red, white, and blue tree stood in our living room, until he came home about a month later. Christmas Day was quiet, and it felt like just another day.

But when he did come home! Oh! It was so loud. And fun, and full of excitement and joy. We threw him a birthday party, and friends from high school came all over to celebrate that he was home safely, for now. We only had two weeks, but we were going to try to make the best of it. Two weeks is very short when you realize you have to send them back. He wasn’t going to be gone for much longer – only a few months – but still. He wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t be easily accessible.

One of the wonderful things an airline will do for you when you’re in the military is allow the family members to go all the way to their gate. We stood in the security line with him, chattering away, trying to laugh. We teased my mom, Ben was loud… a college basketball team was in front of us, and they kept turning around to see what the noise was.

We were trying. We were trying so hard to make Ann laugh. To make her forget what was about to happen.

Of course, we got quieter as we slowly walked to his gate. Mom, Dad, and I hugged him, crying into his military jacket. Besides my grandfather’s death, it was the hardest goodbye I ever had to make. He was home, he was safe, couldn’t he just stay here? But he couldn’t.

Ben and Ann hugged. I wouldn’t even call this a hug, it was as if she was trying to melt into him. It was the longest hug I have ever witnessed in my life. You see sweet photos of family members saying goodbye to their military loved ones, and you think, “Oh, that’s so sweet, how heartbreaking.” But then you see it in person, suddenly it’s YOUR  family member, and wow. I will never be able to adequately describe what it was like to be there in that moment, watching two young people crazy in love have to say goodbye. I get anxious when Mat goes to the store to get milk, I can’t imagine having to say goodbye so that he can fight in a war.

They kept calling the row numbers, reminding people to board the plane, and they still didn’t let go.

They called last call, as the final few people straggled on, and they still didn’t let go.

The airline stewardess at the gate stood there, patiently, waiting for them. He whispered something in her ear, and he finally let go and got on the plane.

Ann stood there, arms empty, sobbing these huge, loud, wet sobs. I wrapped her into my arms and held her to me and let her cry as long as she wanted.

****

When I think of the men and women overseas who are serving our country, I think of Ann. I think of the thousands of wives and husbands, children and parents who stand at that closed gate and weep for the unknown, for their soldier who may or may not return, who may come back but will never be the same.

I wish I could thank every last one of them. For every soldier that is fighting a war, there are families back home who have to leave their tree up way past the holidays in the hope of getting to celebrate with them.

For every soldier going to war, there is a spouse back home to who clings to whatever he or she can of her spouse – even if it is a print out of a Google map.

And there are some wives, who don’t like to be touched, who hate hugs with all of their being, whose heart is so broken they will allow it just that one time, because it’s the only comfort they have.

So, thank you, for everything.

 

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Alright everyone, let’s play the sad trombone.

I don’t even know how it happened. It’s not like I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer or laptop or even my freaking phone for huge chunks of the day. I kept thinking I would have time to do it later, and I didn’t.

Le sigh.

****

Christmas is coming up. I have to fight the urge to spoil the kids, because, well, mama needs to keep gas in the car this year, you know? Actually it’s not as good as it was last year, but it’s not as bad as it could be. We’re off-loading some stuff that we never use anyway to help with the gifts costs. And Mat wants to barely spend anything – he’s such a scrooge! It’s totally different than the mentality he had pre-kids when he wanted to buy everyone everything they could ever want.

I felt the worst for Lucas though. Whenever we think of something he might like, we realize we already have it sitting right there thanks to having an older brother. No matter what we get him, he’ll wind up having to share with Xan. . . such is the life, I guess. I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but I feel horrible that it’s so easy to come up with ideas for Xan, but then I sit there with a big blank look on my face for the baby.

Yesterday at lunch we were discussing what we might get them, and I said a budget amount and Mat about choked on his food. I don’t think $100 a piece is a lot (especially when some people spend that for ONE gift!) and he reminded me that we need to enjoy our “cheap Christmas years” while we can before they get older and demand the newest game consoles, games, bikes, etc etc etc. He’s right, and I know it, but I just want them to wake up Christmas morning and get so excited by all the gifts Santa left.

And then they’ll go open more gifts.

And then they’ll go open some MORE  gifts.

****

In other exciting news – yesterday I had my late class, and I didn’t walk in the door until after 6pm thanks to riding the bus.  As soon as the door swung open, I got my usual cries of “Mommy!!!” and leg hug from Xander. BUT what made it even better was Lucas started clapping widly and ran straight to me with a huge drooly grin on his face.

Maybe he’s starting to like me after all! It only took 45 minutes of bouncing him on my knee like he’s riding a horse for it to happen, but whatever, he actually acknowledged my presence!

I really figured I wouldn’t make it this far, and that’s kind of sad. With only 24 minutes left, I almost missed today.

But today… sigh. Today is one of those days when I thank my lucky stars that I am not a single mama. Mat had an exam this evening, so I was left to my own devices to pick up the boys from their respective daycares. I grabbed Lucas first, who was very upset I wasn’t daddy. He fussed the whole way to Xan’s daycare, where Xan fussed because I didn’t zip his jacket (we were 5 minutes from home!). He sobbed the entire ride home, and then he sobbed as he was getting out of the car. Halfway across our parking lot, he THREW himself onto the ground and pitched a massive fit – all because I wouldn’t zip his jacket.

Sigh.

So then I summoned my inner strong mama, and with Lucas perched on one hip, I squatted down, scooped Xan up in my other arm and marched into our apartment. He dropped to the floor right in front of the door, howling still, so I had to pick him up again, where he dropped to the floor again.

Whatever, I could shut the door.

He screamed for 45 minutes. He screamed AT me. He screamed in my direction. He screamed because he needed to potty RIGHT NOW, he screamed because I wasn’t pulling his pants down fast enough, then he screamed because I *was* pulling his pants down, and didn’t I know it was HIS turn?

Gah.

I didn’t get dinner on the table until well after 7pm. And then I had the genius idea of trying on his suit after his bath, and THAT didn’t go over well. Long pants AND a long shirt? With all those buttons and the shirt is kind of scratchy and I hadn’t cut out the “pages” yet, and there were so many “pages”, on the shirt, on the vest, on the pants, on the tie. . .

When he finally went to bed I collapsed on the floor for two minutes and vowed to build a time machine in the next year that zips Lucas past the terrible threes because just as we’re rolling out of Xan’s phase, we’ll be scooting into Lucas’.

Tell me again why two this close in age was a good idea?

And the life list continues. . .

THINGS THAT WILL MOST LIKELY HAPPEN, PROBABLY, IF GIVEN ENOUGH TIME:

21. Read the 100 books on the 100 Greatest Books list.

There are so many greatest books list out there. Time magazine has one. You could just read the Penguin’s list of 100 greatest books. Your mom probably has a list (well, not my mom, but maybe yours).

I picked Fandomania’s list because it was a nice collection of cheesy fiction (“Twilight” anyone?) plus some classics. AND it is the only list that includes my all time favoritest book EVER – “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. The science fiction/fantasy books should score with my husband (it includes George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” as well as some Stephen King).

So if you’re looking for a list that is full of classics, this isn’t one of them.

http://fandomania.com/100-greatest-books-100-96/

22. Grow a garden.

I have started gardens. I haven’t GROWN any gardens. But as I am discovering more food that I love to eat and cook, I think it would be awesome to also grow some food too while we’re at it. Thanks to international housing, the university has a very large garden plot near our apartments, and for $10 you get a large space to grow your own produce. Since I will not be pregnant this coming summer, or taking care of a newborn, I am hoping we take advantage of it. Time to start collecting seeds!

23. Throw a grown up dinner party, complete with centerpieces and napkin rings and the whole bit.

My parents threw parties, but they were the frozen corndog, gigantic tub of mustard on the table, volleyball in the backyard kind. I want the nice kind. Centerpieces. Fabulous recipes. Couples sitting around a large table, drinking wine, eating, laughing.

I don’t know where I’ll find these couples, or get a table big enough, but it will happen, oh yes.

24. Actually decorate our bedroom.

I want a fabulous bedroom. I want a bedroom that when you open the door, you sigh contentedly, because you know in that room there will be peace and comfort.

When you walk into my bedroom now, you’ll probably be accosted by the mountain of unfolded laundry in the corner. You’ll be threatened by the tower of toys, unread books, papers to be filed sitting on the bedside table. You’ll have no idea what our comforter looks like because it will be balled up on the floor from where we flung it off in a hurry to get to class.

Not relaxing, calming at all.

25. Surprise Mat with a whirlwind trip somewhere fun.

I don’t know where we’d go, or what we’d do, but I would love for him to come home one Friday with me standing in the living room, bags packed, children dropped off somewhere, and we go somewhere fun… maybe a pro football game? Maybe to a concert in another city to see a band he’s been dying to see?

 

 

Back to the life list!

 

WE’RE COMING TO AMERICA. . .

14. New Year’s Eve in Times Square

I know that it will be chaos. I know that it will be claustrophobic. I know that it will be cold. But it would also be a lot of fun, getting to do something that I have watched on tv since I was a little girl.

15. See the Northern Lights in Alaska

I have been obsessed with the Northern Lights since I was a kid. I almost didn’t have to put this on my life list, as a few weeks ago they could be seen this far south for whatever reason, but it was cloudy. BOO!

16. Live in a state other than Oklahoma

This is probably cheating since Mat wants to go to grad school, and none of the state schools here have the program he wants. But dangit, I WILL live in another state. I WILL.

17. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, or the Golden Gate bridge, whichever one I am closest to at that point.

I almost got to do this three years ago, when we went to NYC on our honeymoon. Mat and Ben were tired, and my feet were massively swollen thanks to pregnancy, and they were worried that they would have to cart me off the Brooklyn Bridge before we got to the end. *angry fist shaking* I really, really want to do this.

18. Take Xan on a for-real train ride.

I need to do this one quick-ish before he decides trains aren’t cool. Last year we took him to “Spend the day with Thomas!” which included a $35 per person train ride, which… yeah. It went through the ghetto. We rode past apartments with burned out windows, cars on blocks, shoes hanging from the wire. Awesome! It’s what every little child dreams of seeing during their first train ride.

So we’re going to call a do-over.

19. Go on a road trip/camping trip.

I wanted to do this last summer, but Mat thought I had lost my mind, camping AND a road trip with a two and a half year old and an infant. But dang it, at some point I want to do it. I don’t care if we just drive in circles going to lakes around here, I want to load up the car, load up the kids, and just drive. Who cares if we eat out of a cast iron pot every night, and we smell like a bonfire for a month? I think it would be totally fun.

20. Take the kids to Disney  World.

I always wanted to go. Mat always wanted to go. I don’t want my kids to be in their 30s, saying, “dang it, I really wanted to go!” I just want to go when they’re old enough to actually remember it. No point in shelling out that money and they wouldn’t remember a single minute of it!

****

6 days in and I haven’t missed yet! I am really proud of myself.

Another day I don’t get to finish my life list. . .

 

So awhile back I was reading a magazine (Whole Living, if you must know) and it talked about eliminating stress, and how to live a happier calm life, among other things. But one of the ideas they suggested was a good one, which was – if you’re on facebook and you see an argument going on, do you need to post about it and get upset? No. Just close the laptop and move on.

It’s advice I have been trying to take lately. I have already mentioned how I am trying to focus on happier things, and I am trying to let the negative stuff not get to me. When I start to get frustrated, I take a deep breath and exhale while repeating, “Peace in, hate out.”

So. It had been working up to a point. My father in law LOOOOOOOOVES to start facebook wars, his favorite topics being welfare, the government, etc (and he’s on the side of welfare, btw). A few of his friends are not. And normally I am not very good at arguing or fighting about these topics, but reading these people comment about how people on welfare are lazy, they don’t deserve the tax payers help, blah blah blah… I couldn’t help myself, I had to say something.

Here’s the deal – years ago, my dad was working various jobs, never staying in them for longer than a year. One year when I was in the 6th grade, my dad worked as a truck driver, and he lost his job. My parents were tired of him bouncing from job to job, and because my mom had a good paying job, they decided that he would go back to school. He got his college paid for through a grant and a few other programs, and they took out loans to help replace some of the income he had been receiving.

Not long after he started college, my mom became ill. After tons of tests, doctors’ visits, numerous specialists, they determined that the stress of her demanding job was killing her, and she would have to quit. She held on until she found a new job, but the pay was quite a bit less. They then found themselves faced with a decision – did my dad quit college, halfway through, and take jobs again that were never going to turn into a career, or do they accept the help that the government offers and go on welfare?

They chose welfare, my dad graduated college two years later.

They got off welfare, and never got back on it again.

****

In 2008, Mat and I got married. A week before my scheduled induction, Mat found out that he would lose his job. He would be demoted from general manager to an assistant cook (nothing to do with his job abilities, it had more to do with a shift in ownership). A week before our first child was to be born, we found ourselves faced with a decision – my job paid well enough that I could support us on one salary, so he could start college, or he could take another pizza job, be miserable, and never see his family.

We chose college. To help us out, my parents let us move in with them to save money (since my job didn’t offer paid leave for my (mandatory) maternity leave), and we lived there for a few months until we found a cheaper place to live.

Things were going great. I hated my job, but it was paying the bills, we weren’t needing help from anyone. Mat was doing really well in his classes, and we knew that the next four years would be rough, but we knew we could do it. I got pregnant again, but we knew everything would be fine.

I lost my job.

So here we are, I don’t have a job. Mat doesn’t have a job. We have one kid and another on the way. We applied for welfare and received it until my unemployment kicked in. Thanks to the welfare assistance, we didn’t have to borrow or beg from our families and friends. We survived, but unemployment doesn’t last forever. For us, it lasted 74 weeks, and at the end of July we had no more extra income coming in.

I had applied for jobs for a year and a half. I had two interviews not long after I lost my job, but then after that never heard back from anyone. 74 weeks, I applied for at least two jobs (the minimum requirement to receive unemployment in OK), so that is 148 jobs. And that is the MINIMUM, some weeks I applied for way more.

Mat and I found ourselves with another decision – do I go back to school, or do I continue looking for jobs, when clearly things aren’t going that well? I was at 1.3% for interviews, 0% for getting hired. Regardless, we knew one thing – at this moment in our lives, we were going to need help purchasing food. We were going to need insurance for our children.

We chose college for me. Obviously, I wasn’t getting anywhere with the degree I had, so we decided that we would struggle for three more years so that I could get a BETTER education, one that would provide for my family.

If it wasn’t for welfare, this “horrible” thing that people want to get rid of, my husband would be working in a pizza restaurant, late hours, weekends, never seeing his family. I wouldn’t be furthering my education and hopefully getting us to a place that in three years or so we’ll be so much farther ahead than we were before.

If you get rid of welfare to punish those that are “working the system”, you’ll also punish hard working people that are just trying to get farther in life.

I am barely going to make today’s blog posting, but dagnabbit, I wasn’t going to give up on day 4!

Today was a crazy busy day. I am normally at school until 4:30 anyway thanks to a late afternoon lab, bu I also had a group meeting that went on until after 7pm. I missed the bus and had to walk home in the cold, and when I burst through the door the baby was crying and Xander was yelling just because he felt like it was necessary.

Some days I would feel overwhelmed. I just spent all day cramming knowledge into my brain, and then spent two hours with kids ten years younger than I am, trying to get them to understand how to work a powerpoint presentation, and didn’t get home until long after I normally would. But. I am trying this new thing where I am not going to let things get to me. I had a conversation with my brother last night over who knows what at this point, and I could feel the tightness in my chest, and I suddenly felt like a very angry pitbull tied to a tree – barking with such anger and viciousness, but for no purpose. And so I stopped the conversation and walked away.

I didn’t realize you didn’t have to get in the last word.

It is difficult when you realize that people aren’t going to change their minds. I feel like if I could just keep talking at him and talking at him, he would see my point. But the tightness in my chest… the image of the dog… I had to walk away.

And so I didn’t mull over what was said and what wasn’t said and what I should have said because … well, I made my point, he made his, and I moved on.

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say (poorly) is that not focusing on the negative (obsessing on the negative) sometimes leaves room for positive emotions. And that is good enough for me.

(Whew! Got this in with 33 minutes to spare! Back to my life list tomorrow).