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The Heartache of Moving and the pieces of us we leave behind

The Heartache of Moving and the pieces of us we leave behind

[Note: These thoughts were written prior to COVID-19 which makes the heartbreak of a move even worse. Many of us have been robbed of the chance to say proper goodbyes, to thank our teachers and coaches, to hug our friends and visit our favorite haunts. We are cutting the strings without having the chance to tie them in tidy bows before we depart. Moving without that kind of closure is a psychological and emotional challenge for adults and kids alike. My family is already reeling from the disappointment. Surely it will become part of our story as we reflect on 2020 and the ways COVID-19 disassembled our lives. Godspeed to all of us as we navigate this upcoming PCS season.]

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“I’ve put down a lot of little roots these two years,” Anne told the moon, “and when I’m pulled up they’re going to hurt a great deal.” – Anne of Green Gables/Avonlea

My husband and I have PCS-ed many times with the Navy. That’s military- speak for packing our Earthly belongings and moving to a new base. A Permanent Change of Station contrasts with Temporary Duty- TDY- a shorter separation from where you reside. Yet any military family can see the irony in the names. 🙂 We understand the need to differentiate the two statuses but truthfully we know we will never have a permanent station until we actually end our military service. And therein lies the challenge.

If I have learned anything in these moves, it is that we need to approach each PCS with expectation and not be afraid to pursue a new life. Our QUALITY of life depends on it, even if we know that ultimately our situation is not permanent.

When we drive into a new town, we try to jump into community as quick as possible for the sake of our kids and our family. We survey the ground, find our special spot, dig down deep and plant our roots. Military spouses like to say “Bloom where you are planted!” but the first step is CHOOSING to plant ourselves. Flowers cannot bloom without their roots attached… and people cannot thrive without community. So we take the plunge.

Like a plant finding life-giving minerals in the ground, we wrap ourselves around that which sustains us- people and places and experiences. We spread our thirsty vines across the city and create a new normal, knowing in the back of our minds that it will not last forever. Someday this tour will also end, but we need water immediately and extend our roots just a little further.

We introduce ourselves and meet new friends.

We find a church and community that feeds our soul.

We land jobs that we love.

We bond with our kids’ schools and community and sports teams. (We cheer for joy when we find cool kids with cool parents!)

We watch our children learn to walk in our “new” old house. We nurse them when they are sick and celebrate birthdays within those sturdy walls.

We learn the aisles of the grocery stores and the backroads around our neighborhood.

We spend hours strolling in the woods near our house.

If we are lucky, we have two years, maybe three years of the new normal. If we are unlucky it is less. But just when our lives seem full and settled, the government greets us with news shaped like an hourglass. What?? Already?? It’s time? Another PCS looms ahead, another impermanent change of station has been added to the calendar and in one sentence our world shifts…again.

Immediately half of our thoughts belong to another town. Do I know anyone who has lived there? Are the schools good? What about the rental market? Hand me my phone, I need to look at Zillow.

The sand begins to fall, the countdown begins and we act differently. Don’t fill the freezer with anything else! Don’t buy any candles, alcohol, Costco toilet paper or condiments! (For goodness’ sake, don’t buy any Worcestershire sauce because it takes two years to use that stuff.) We don’t subscribe to any new magazines. We ditch the summer camp flyers and school announcements for next year’s programs; none of that matters anymore. How on Earth do I transfer my kid’s school credits?? Hand me my phone again.

We clear away the superficial but eventually, the shift becomes more personal… and more difficult. We take a deep breath, stare down at the roots we so lovingly planted and nourished, and start to pull them up.

We pull ourselves out of the running for long-term projects. Maybe we could have earned a promotion at work but now we are leaving.

We pull ourselves back from new friends. We don’t have the time or emotional energy to invest in new people. It’s too late.

We pull ourselves back from our homes which we never finished decorating.

We pull ourselves away from the world, sometimes burrowing within our houses to cover our emotions and avoid the onslought of approaching goodbyes. Our hearts begin to ache.

The problem is that our hearts are now entangled in this new life and if you have ever tried to pull a plant out of the ground, you know there’s a certain ripping that occurs. We can handle the roots delicately and sweep away the surrounding, unattached dirt, but the tearing still happens when we aim to fully remove roots from their home.

We watch our kids hug their friends goodbye and shed their own tears and we think Are we ruining their lives??  We start saying goodbye to our own friends and silently think Will we ever see them again??  It hurts.

We sit in our empty house, listening to the echoes of footsteps. Is this really the end?  We close the door, hand the keys over to our landlord and start weeping in the driveway because Will we ever return to this house again??  Oh man, it hurts.

During the long walk to goodbye, we shed tears and feel broken-hearted because WE ARE. We are tearing away parts of our heart and leaving them with that person or place forever. It’s a painful process.

NOW STOP. Before we cry ourselves to sleep or eat a gallon of ice cream at the mere thought of relocating, let me tell you this: I’ve learned to see blessings in it all. Stepping back and seeing the bigger picture gives us a beautiful vantage point.

Even though the uprooting hurts, the pain is a blessing because it tells us that our heart and roots bonded with something or someone. Ripping ourselves away never feels good, but that doesn’t mean it is NOT good. We are meant for connection and the heartache is evidence of our success.

The heartache is also a blessing as it explodes into fragments our simple definition of “home”. If “home is where the heart is” then this nomadic lifestyle (and subsequent heartbreak) allows us to experience this idea in special ways.

The town that sheltered my broken soul as I recovered from a miscarriage and the death of a loved one, warranted giant tears when I departed. In a short time I had planted myself deeply. To this day, glancing over a map, my eyes will rest on that town because part of my heart never left. Although I will shall never reside there again, it will always feel like “home”.

Or the house on another continent that became our safehouse, our place of comfort and the scene of tremendous growth in our children. So much of my heart was left within those walls that I felt physically “homesick” for months after our PCS was complete. (I still do!) It will forever remain special.

Or the friends that we meet during a tour- the ones who become our confidants and kindred spirits… those goodbyes are painful, but as we share bits of our heart with those people we will be rewarded with great joy when our roads converge again. Even people can feel like “home”.

Whether we desire it or not, this nomadic lifestyle changes and moves us. We experience new things, new friendships and new cultures that cannot be unlearned. Even if we hate where we live, we are still changed! Our hearts are the parts that change the most- growing, expanding and reshaping after we leave bits of them behind. So while the molding and shaping can be painful sometimes, I’ve concluded that it is ultimately VERY GOOD.

At the end of the day I believe the pain is worth it. The friendships and experiences under my belt are priceless to me, even with the accompanying heartache. How lucky am I to feel homesick for so many people and so many places?

If you are moving soon and wondering if you have the energy to create another new normal, I say: don’t wait until you are withered and dry. Dig in and plant those roots as soon as possible, even if you must pull them up later. Give your heart to new friends, even if you know there will be a goodbye in your future. Feel free to spend a little time mourning over your last duty station, but don’t let the tears blind you to the riches of your new town. These miles of new soil will bring different opportunities and different experiences so go ahead and survey the ground until you find your special spot. Then plant yourself.

“[Anne] was leaving the home that was so dear to her, and something told her she was leaving it forever… things would never be the same again. And oh, how dear and beloved everything was… all the thousand and one spots where memories bided. Could she ever really be happy anywhere else?” – Anne of the Island

Yes… she could. And she was. And so will you and I. ❤️

Grace for Everyone in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land

Grace for Everyone in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land

So here we are, three weeks after my last blog post about COVID-19 and most of the country is staying at home and homeschooling in quarantine. Well this isn’t what I thought I would be doing when we rang in the New Year! Damn. Have we ever quarantined? When was the last time our entire country educated at home- when George Washington was President? This is crazy.

I don’t know about you, but in a matter of days I went from a quiet house to my husband working from home indefinitely and all my kids here 24/7. A week later, Virginia closed its schools for the remainder of the school year (hello five months of togetherness) and then the Governor declared stay-at-home measures though June 10th. So like a tornado in Tulsa, this virus just blew the roof off my house.

With all my own commitments blown away, I am now parked at my kitchen table every morning coaxing my children through hours of online school- helping one kid with Virginia Studies and the migration of Scottish-Irish immigrants while another continues acrostic poems and parallel segments (“Is it snack time yet?). I am searching our house for quadrilateral shapes (what’s a quadrilateral?) and listening to my teen talk about acids and bases. Again, not how I predicted 2020!

For my friends and family in the healthcare industry, who figuratively had their entire houses blown away, I know 2020 wasn’t what you predicted either. Please know how much we appreciate you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your work and dedication and sacrifice. ❤

For the emergency responders and essential workers who are bearing the stress of providing our basic needs, I hope you know how much we appreciate you, too. By managing our cities and stocking our groceries you are stemming chaos and providing the heartbeat for our modern lives. My contribution of staying home feels petty in comparison but I will do my best to follow the rules and protect the health of our community.

While history unfolds in our laps we cannot know how this will ultimately affect us all- culturally, financially or psychologically. Unknowns loom before us. But I do know that we can choose our thoughts right now, or at least harness them in a mindful direction. And my own thoughts keep circling back to the concept of grace. How can we offer it to ourselves and others in this dark time?

While the word “grace” can be defined in different ways, I view it today as a temporary exemption, a reprieve, a kind of mercy or pardon. (Thank you Merriam-Webster.)

So to whoever needs to hear this:

You are temporarily exempted from your normal life and your normal self. This never-seen-in-our-lifetime event has crushed our normalcy. It’s okay to be winded. It’s okay to feel like the rug suddenly pulled out from underneath you. It’s okay if you don’t feel like your normal self. We are all struggling because THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

Give yourself an exemption, some grace, when your emotions get the best of you. Every day is a new day and another chance to adjust our attitudes and appropriately manage our stress. I was a manic-depressive monster during our first week of quarantine until my husband finally told me to get myself together. Roger. I knew I could do better than that.

Give yourself grace to process what could have been in 2020. Maybe missing sports seasons, graduation ceremonies, weddings and other life events are first-world problems, but their cancellations still bring real and legitimate feelings of grief. We had anticipated so much joy but instead sit crestfallen and utterly shocked. Or maybe you saw your career shifting into high gear but now find unemployment and mortgage payments looming before you. Even if we are fortunate to have our health, 2020 will be heavy with personal loss. It’s okay to release your waterfall of tears.

Give yourself grace when your quarantined friends on social media start to peck at your core. When everyone starts bragging about their self-improvement plans, their exercise regimens, their sudden interest in learning three languages or another instrument, or their homemade organic spelt tortillas that their four year old loves to make, know that you don’t need to compete. That is their life, not yours. Don’t let them steal your confidence.

Additionally, give yourself grace as you see the Online Joneses homeschooling (oh my, have mercy upon us.) As they infiltrate the internet with their glorious plans to produce Harvard graduates, let me say loud and clear that YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO ALL OF THAT. Your kid doesn’t need to be able to speak Mandarin Chinese when we emerge from our caves. Log out of Facebook and Instagram if you start feeling inadequate. Right now, life is stressful enough without the burden of comparison.

Take a deep breath.

We also need to extend grace to people around us, many of whom might be processing/experiencing this pandemic differently than you or me. Telling the mother of a graduating senior that she shouldn’t be sad because you grew up during a Lebanese civil war is not helpful (thanks but no thanks, Facebook lady.) We don’t need to play the “who has it worse” game. Likewise, telling someone to “praise God in all circumstances” when that person has a loved one in the ICU, minimizes people’s feelings and negates their emotions of the day. Join your friends where they are. (Emotionally, not physically, stay home!)

Give your kids grace, too, as they process all of this, especially teens. Remember, their friends are their tribe, even moreso than their families. Friendships are one of the MOST important aspects of their life so when that slice of the pie is suddenly stolen from them emotional chaos ensues. They need time to adjust and mourn in their own way. (And by the way, screens will happen now, more than ever. It’s just the way of the world in quarantine. Boundaries are still good but this isn’t normal life.)

It goes without saying, but give grace to your littles, too. They didn’t choose to cancel school and uproot our social systems. While we gaze upon our shredded calendar, they are simultaneously trying to make sense of this scary, ever-changing world. We can do our part by being a shield of peace and protection over them. (Meaning, turn off the damn news when they are awake!) With God’s mercy upon us we can get them snack #1,373,938, cuddle on the couch and help them find a new, temporary normal.

As we go about our days, let’s give mercy and grace to our whole society- to our government officials, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, spouses, and everyone else in this shocked world. Change has touched EVERYONE.

As the famous saying goes- “This, too, shall pass”… eventually. 🙂 Our Earth has seen hard times before and has managed to continue spinning. So to all the people in Quarantine Homeschool Stay At Home Land, keep calm and press onward. It’s all we can do. Grace will see us through.

Original photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash

**If life has become difficult to manage, please know that resources are available to help you. There’s no shame in seeking to be your best self.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 24/7, free and confidential

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

MilitaryOneSource Free counseling 1-800-342-9647

The Greatest Opportunity: thinking beyond ourselves and COVID-19

The Greatest Opportunity: thinking beyond ourselves and COVID-19

The world will always remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001. We recall the heartbreak and fear but also the tremendous community spirit that blew across the United States. I’d like to think the true American spirit shined through in those months that followed. We opened our hearts to strangers, stood in line for hours to donate blood, and loved each other through the shock. We selflessly gave ourselves away.

The past few years have been strange for America. We have been divisive and angry and unable to find common ground on much at all. We say “Never Forget” September 11th but sometimes I think our memories have dimmed. Nowadays, it seems like many Americans are out for themselves- claiming “free speech” but using it recklessly and hypocritically, not really caring how their words hurt others. We claim our “rights” to do this or do that, not really caring how our individual decisions affect our neighbors. We have made it all about us. Or all about “ME”.

I’ve often thought of my grandparents’ generation, the Greatest Generation, who sacrificed life and luxury and individual liberty for the sake of our Nation. Are we capable of such a thing now? Are we capable of acting on behalf of the Greater Good, instead of our individual selves? We managed to use our inner-compass after September 11th. Can we find it again??

I believe we still have this human decency in us and COVID-19 might be our shining moment to prove it again. And for the people out there who weren’t yet adults when the World Trade Center fell, this is your chance to join the Nation in a larger quest. It might be our Greatest Opportunity to think beyond ourselves and act according to the Greater Good.

How can we do this? We can put our community above all else and work together to keep America healthy.

We can stop fretting over the television and take action of our own. The facts are clear- the virus is rapidly spreading- and we can take responsibility as mature adults. Is this whole thing over-hyped or under-hyped? Does it matter? Certain segments of our population are in danger and we can put a protective wall around them because it’s the RIGHT THING TO DO. Current evidence suggests that older individuals and those with suppressed immune systems have the highest risk of death. Love your older parents and grandparents. Love those who are suffering from diabetes or undergoing cancer treatments. They are depending on our shields so let’s sacrifice some of our luxuries and put up the armor. Is this too much to ask?

We can temporarily alter our activities, knowing that we could be germ-carriers. Even if the virus doesn’t typically cause harm to our own age groups, we can protect our vulnerable populations by not silently spreading COVID-19 all over town. That means canceling concerts, canceling unnecessary travel, respecting social-distancing and staying home as much as possible. Sure, flights to Mexico are probably cheap, but keep the big picture in mind. Compared to the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, is this really too much to ask?

We can learn to be flexible. We can take orders from our companies and set up shop at home, even if it seems like a paranoid plan that makes our jobs a little more difficult. Even if there is no evidence of the virus in our workplaces or companies. Do it for the Greater Good. Is temporarily working from home in your pajamas really too much to ask?

We can have patience with our schools and find ways to help our kids. Believe me, I’m not interested in home-schooling, but if extracting my kids from the public will slow the spread of this virus through our town, SEND THEM HOME RIGHT NOW. And how can we help the other kids in our schools? If both of their parents are working, can we help with childcare? Are they dependent on school meals to combat their hunger? Can we deliver food? Work as a community? Is this too much to ask?

We can stop hoarding toilet paper and supplies for ourselves. This isn’t Armageddon, nor a call to live off the grid for six months. Why not buy your weekly supply and leave some on the shelf for your neighbors? (Diarrhea is not related to COVID-19 and families still need these items on a continuing basis.) Why not buy a giant pack of disinfectant wipes and distribute them to the other houses on your block, rather than stocking your own basement? Is that too much to ask?

This isn’t going to last forever, the pandemic will eventually end. How wonderful would it be to look back upon 2020 and remember that our inner-compass steered us in the right direction?! That, together, we Americans took care of our neighbors, friends and strangers and kept our local communities healthy and strong! WE CAN DO THIS!! It is the Greatest Opportunity!!

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Quirky Military Homes and the Reasons I Love Them

Quirky Military Homes and the Reasons I Love Them

My family has moved many times in the last twenty years, in the country and out, from base to base to base. There is an unbeatable camaraderie among military families, for a plethora of reasons, but I find the laughter (and frustration) over our homes to be a special connection. Living transitory lives in different places yields a certain attitude about houses and a funny quirkiness in our spaces that entertains me. Our homes tell an eclectic, sometimes humorous story and represent so many aspects of the military life.

Here are TEN REASONS I LOVE MILITARY HOMES:

1) Lifestyle constraints make us low-maintenance. While normal families might spend months finding the perfect house, military families must be quick to find shelter and beggars can’t be choosers. We are moving in six weeks?? Alrighty… A house on base that looks exactly like every other house on the block? Okay. A rental house across the country that we must reserve, site-unseen, because the market moves so quickly? And it has a granny bathtub and a kitchen the size of a dollhouse? That’s fine. Or moving to a small town and finding only ten houses for sale within the school boundaries, none of which were the kind of house we had in mind? Okay, I guess this one will do. And since we might only be there for two years, we focus on the small things, ignore the big things (like the bright yellow hallway tile we want to jackhammer) and accept our imperfect houses until we fly away to our next nest.

2) Military homes keep us humble. In a world of dream homes, HGTV, and the need to keep up with the Jones’, many military families grab a bag of popcorn and watch from the sidelines. Our houses are often not worth bragging about (see above) but exist for practical purposes. They do the job, they give us shelter, they provide a temporary space for our family and we make them work. If your house has a toilet 12” from the front of the washing machine (a scenario which takes multi-tasking to an ENTIRELY new level) you can’t feel too haughty #truestory. If your downstairs doesn’t have any heating vents or your kitchen has only four cabinets or two microwaves installed next to each other, you aren’t calling “House Beautiful” and asking for a magazine spread. You are calling your friends and saying “My new house has lime green walls. It’s fine, my kid will sleep there.”

3) Furniture is often eclectic and tells a story. Those who have been stationed in Europe usually have large antiques, often filled with Polish Pottery. (I miss you, Trocs.) People who have been stationed in Japan often have Tansu Chests against their wall, showcasing their souvenirs from East Asia.

Sadly, many of these pieces have battle scars from the moving process- broken table legs forced back together with superglue or large scratches across the surface from when Joe the Mover decided to place the lawn mower on top. (Way to go, man.) Normal people might replace their flawed furniture but military families think of future moves and future damage, place a tablecloth over the top and tell their friends “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

4) Furniture often doesn’t fit right. While normal families choose the perfect sofa for the perfect living room, we shoot in the dark, hoping that what we buy will be transferrable in two years. It’s all a gamble! When we downsize from a 4,000 sq ft Texas mansion to a 1600 sq ft home in Washington DC, we will curse our large sectionals that now fill every inch of space in our tiny living room. But…we paid MONEY for that big sofa and we aren’t divorcing it quite yet. It will do.

Sometimes our furniture has to go suddenly, like when my friend moved to England and couldn’t get her King size mattress in the front door! Oops. New mattress please!

5) Furniture is often repurposed. When spaces change, so do the lives of our possessions. My friends’ nightstands, which are too wide for her new bedroom, now reside next to her front door as side tables. My other friend’s kitchen buffet table now sits in her living room. The file cabinet that matches the office desk sometimes doubles as a TV stand. The rug I purchased for my front entry now lives in my master bedroom because our new house doesn’t have space by the front door. (Does it match my bedroom linens? Nope. But someday I might have a foyer again so the rug stays.)

6) Home decor often goes through a lengthy consideration process. Normal families see an item they like and buy it. Done. Shopping is not that simple for us. We see something at a store and think Do I have a place for that? Is it likely that I would have a place for it in another house? What are the chances that it will survive our next move? Is it too fragile? How would movers actually load that onto a truck? If I buy a glass coffee table, will it be destroyed within two years? Wood it is. Sometimes we buy things we love (like the couches mentioned above) and deal with the spaces as they come. Sometimes we win and sometimes… well… we live tightly.

7) Sometimes we look like hoarders. That 4,000 sq ft mansion reduced to 1600 sq ft might mean a mountain of possessions inside our walls. When we move to a house that suddenly has zero closets and no garage, the bikes might live in the dining room. Or we may live in the desert but fill our closets with bins of snowgear in case our next duty station has cold winters (because that stuff is an INVESTMENT). We might have one room with three mismatched couches or European antiques shoved in the corner of our children’s bedrooms #truestoryagain. With unclear futures and unknown spaces ahead of us, hoarding can easily happen.

8) Unexpected souvenirs abound everywhere. We hail from all corners of America and have lived in a variety of places so our decorating style can be random but special. My Georgian friend lives in Virginia but has a Washington State highway sign on her wall. My Louisiana-born friend has a collection of Japanese souvenirs on her shelf. Another friend of mine has a couch full of British pillows. My living room displays a random black elephant from Hong Kong sitting next to a photo of the Pacific Northwest. That’s how we roll- converging our home states with our places of residence and our worldly souvenirs.

9) Military houses help design future dreams. Every house teaches us a lesson and adds mental bricks to our “forever homes”, those castles in the sky which military families so often reference. We dream of a future home of our choosing, in which we finally have control over our space and the location. Our forever houses will have this… we always say in conversation. One house taught us that white tile always looks dirty. Other houses have taught us that front porches prevent soggy packages, black countertops show crumbs, fewer bathrooms mean fewer spaces to clean, and again, let’s not put a toilet next to the washing machine. Essentially, military families have the opportunity to test-drive different shapes and sizes of houses and fine-tune our future abodes. It is an unexpected gift of this nomadic life!

And what I love MOST about military homes is…

10) They represent the essence of our military journey. We are a collection of memories and battle scars. We load ourselves into trucks and transport ourselves across the country (or the ocean) to serve where we are needed. We smash ourselves into corners, cover our wounds and look out the window at the new scenery. We reinvent ourselves every time, putting forth new energy into our new purpose. We might not look pretty, we might not fit exactly into our new space but we awkwardly try. With every move we look a little more worn (and maybe a little more quirky) but don’t let the outside fool you. We are STRONG, STURDY and ABLE to get the job done. 🙂

To all the military families who are moving this year: may the force be with you, may the movers be gentle with your furniture and may your new nest have neutral paint colors and normal toilets. Godspeed.

Has your military family lived in a quirky home? I would love to hear your stories! ❤️

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Words from a mom on the other side: your baby will be just fine.

Words from a mom on the other side: your baby will be just fine.

Having a baby is no joke. You can never fully prepare for the experience before it happens and then BAM. Hit by a truck. My military husband once said that having a newborn was akin to Navy Survival School where service members are thrown into the woods and told to survive for a week alone. They return disheveled, exhausted, sometimes a bit traumatized and mostly in need of a good, hot shower. See the similarities there??

I am happy to say I survived the baby stage (more than once) and graduated to the next chapter. Let me tell you- IT FEELS GOOD. Some days I miss those precious times but usually I am relieved to have that stage behind me- diapers, naps, screaming, no sleep, buh bye. And THE PRESSURE to do things “right”. Oh, the pressure.

It’s unfortunate that society lumps parents into sides and groups and then sprinkles judgment upon us all, but it happens: breastfeeding or formula, rocking to sleep or crying-it-out, on-demand feeding or scheduling, napping or no, organic food or no, spanking or time-outs, etc, etc. Looking back, I am content with some of the sides I chose but regret other decisions I made in those busy days. I did the best I could, people, and always hoped that it would be enough for my kids. And I know my friends were doing the same.

From a mother on the other side, with all her kids in school now, let me say this: IT DIDN’T MATTER. Not at all. Those sides did not define the success or health of my kids, moreso than any of my friends’ kids. You will find that once you exit that stage, no one cares anymore and no one asks.

No one asks if my kids were born in a hospital, at home or in a hot tub. No one asks if I had an epidural or used essential oils to hasten the delivery process. Honestly, the biggest question being asked in my circle is- why do kids want Tik Tok?? But I digress…

None of the second grade teachers have asked me how long I nursed my child. None of the middle school teachers have asked me if I let my kid cry-it-out or if we co-slept or if my kid was potty trained by age two. NONE. It seems a big deal at the time and I read the books and stressed over the various physical developments but in the end… my kids are doing just as well as any other kid.

From a mother on the other side, let me tell you that the kid who was breastfed for four years isn’t doing better than the neighbor kid who drank formula. They both do well in school and contract winter colds from time to time.

The kid who was up three times a night at age one is doing just as well as the kid who “slept through the night” at six weeks. (I put that phrase in quotations because I think most parents lie about this anyway. But that probably needs another blog post.)

From a mom on the other side, let me tell you that the kid who didn’t potty train until age four is doing just as well as the kid who rejected diapers at age two. (Neither of them wear diapers in Middle School so YAY.)

So if you are smack dab in the middle of that baby/toddler stage, please do what works for you and ignore the pressure. If scheduling your baby’s naps makes your life more manageable, then do it. If wearing your baby in a wrap all day adds joy to your life, then do it. I’m not saying to ignore science, reject advice or forego any parenting books… just know that many of the details we Baby Moms stress about won’t matter in the long run. My friends and I made different decisions and subscribed to different philosophies but all of our kids are now thriving.

Is there a larger lesson here? In a world filled with so much criticism and critiquing, can we refrain from judging the things that don’t matter? Can we support and encourage our friends who are uniquely navigating this road of parenthood, just like we are?

Looking back, I see the road as an exhaustive race. Some families hopped towards the finish, some ran, some rode their bikes, some were fast while others were slow but they all made it across the finish line. Our children received their hugs and medals, graduated to new stages of independence and together we journeyed to the next leg.

Whether you are sprinting, hopping or limping, YOU ARE DOING A FINE JOB. And an IMPORTANT job. Do your thing and accept the mothers around you who are doing their own thing. We are all in this together and I am cheering for each one of you.

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

It’s here! Do you see the Christmas trees in the stores? Do you smell the cinnamon pinecones at Michaels? THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS ARRIVED. People often think of this season as November-December but most parents know that it actually begins in October and extends into the summer. (Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?) Are you on social media? Do you see how American holidays require our constant attention for months on end? At least, that’s what Pinterest tells me. Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram tell me many things and it’s hard not to bow under the pressure.

In America we often talk about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but instead of walking around the neighborhood and envying people’s houses, we can now feel the pull every time we go online to these social media networks. During this time of year, they display tremendously creative ideas for our holiday celebrations, but they make parents feel woefully inadequate.

According to the Online Joneses…

In October we are supposed to decorate our entire house with spiders and cobwebs, “Boo” our neighbors, then grow and harvest cotton to make our kids’ costumes from scratch. After the Halloween treats are collected, we are supposed to coordinate an Almond Joy drug deal with “The Switch Witch” who will trade the candy for a toy. (Can’t we just tell them to stop eating candy? No, says Pinterest, that’s not the “creative” way to handle it.)

In November we are supposed to make paper maché thankfulness trees that stretch across our entire living room. If we don’t find time to construct these masterpieces then clearly our kids will never learn to be thankful. (Or will they?) After the tree is finished, we can prepare a ten-course Thanksgiving meal for our thirty closest family members. And make it organic, people.

In December the expectations are very clear: I am supposed to introduce Elf on the Shelf to my children and help coordinate twenty-five days of activities and entertainment. It’s endless fun to do in the midst of countdown calendars, Christmas cards, sugar cookies, Jesse trees, gingerbread houses, Operation Christmas Child, random acts of kindness, holiday parties, matching pajamas, homemade gifts and Christmas dinner for twenty. And I can’t forget to roll out the welcome wagon for Santa Claus by blanketing the backyard in fake, glittery snow to rival Arendelle. Zippity-do-da! Not overwhelming at all! 😉

In January, while laying on the couch in our post-Christmas fog, we must leave room for the Tooth Fairy. She comes throughout the year to leave glittery trails of encouragement on our children’s carpets or gifts under the pillow, like tickets to see Yo Yo Ma. (Whatever happened to twenty-five cents? Child of the 80s here.)

In February, we must follow Pinterest’s lead and shower our families in Valentines Day Love. We should decorate our entire house in pink and red and serve every food in heart shapes. Normal-shaped food will not do unless you are a bad parent. (*Sigh*…I’m feeling tired. What if I just want to whisper “I love you and I am glad you are in my world”?)

In March, the magic continues as I am told to dye my pancakes green and build a St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun trap with my child. Linking an oatmeal container to an Amazon box, painted green and sprinkled in gold glitter will prove my motherly devotion and warrant another treasure for my kid. (Whoa, Little Patrick, can we give it a rest? This is four months of gift-giving in a row!)

In April (are we done yet??) it’s time to coordinate pastel-colored clothing and buy Jelly Beans and Peeps to prepare for the Easter Bunny. Candy-filled eggs shall be hidden around the yard, but wait…there is also a basket full of gifts! (For the fifth month in a row!? Isn’t the miracle of Easter a gift in itself??)

By May, all good parents should be 100% focused on summer birthday parties. Turning our backyards into petting zoos with koalas and unicorns is the least we can do for our children. If we transport our guests via hot air balloons then we will be guaranteed some Instagram-worthy photos. (Or maybe we order pizza, buy some plastic cups and play Minute-To-Win-It games?)

W-O-W. Are you exhausted from reading all of this?? I am! This feeling hits me EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Do some of you coordinate all of these activities? Does this bring you joy? If so, I think you have an amazing gift for hospitality and party planning and people like you make the world fun. Being friends with you is exciting and I would love to ride in one of your hot air balloons someday!

For me, on the other hand, this holiday schedule is OVERWHELMING! My family does acknowledge many of these dates but I simply cannot keep up with my Facebook friends and the Instagram photos. I use the holidays to help pass the time and acknowledge the changing of the seasons but our traditions remain more simple; I have yet to find an affordable herd of unicorns and all my searches for homemade snow machines have been fruitless. (BTW, if anyone has actually done this, please send me photos.)

The truth is, I want my kids to have magical memories in their childhood, but engineering wow moments every six weeks is TOO MUCH…and an incredible amount of pressure! So while I occasionally battle “mom guilt,” I am trying to acknowledge my limitations, let go of the outlandish expectations and focus on what the holidays are truly about. These social media networks have benefits, but they don’t need to dictate my family’s celebrations.

Recently, as I was thinking again about my course of action during this holiday season, I happened to hear one of my children complaining that school was dumb “because it isn’t fun.” That night I began to wonder if too much of their lives have been centered around magic and entertainment. Do they realize that school, jobs, paying bills and other monotonous activities aren’t going to be magical? Have our American traditions created high expectations here? Food for thought.

Maybe there isn’t a direct correlation but I am wondering now if bringing down the holidays a notch might benefit both me AND my kids. I might be less exhausted and able to more easily enjoy the holiday season; they might learn that magic and gifts come at very special times, rather than every month.

So as you enter into this long season, let go of the Joneses and your mom guilt and go forth. Know that you have permission to go big, go small or just stay home and hug your kids. (And don’t forget to send me fake snow photos or selfies with your birthday unicorns.)

Happy Holidays!! 🎃 🍁🎄🧚‍♀️💕🍀🐰🎈

The Long Walk to School

The Long Walk to School

For years I have enjoyed the writings, blogs and social media posts of parents who admit they are struggling. Some I read over five years ago but I still remember the words and feel their impact. Their honesty gave me hope and offered relief in my imperfect moments with my imperfect children. I would read them and think “I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE!”

Recently I had a tough week with one of my kids, tougher in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I sat down and wrote about it (because I’ve always been a journaling kind of girl) and then put it aside for a while, trying to get to the root of the mess and make sense of it. Weeks later, when I glanced at my words again I felt they were too personal to share on a public blog. I thought I would keep them private and show them to my kid at a later date.

BUT WHY??? Because I am afraid of being imperfect? Because I am afraid of admitting that my kid isn’t always an angel? Wasn’t I just talking about Living the Messy Life? Am I afraid that I am the only one experiencing these kinds of days and other parents might judge me for it? And if they do, why should I care? I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who needs that same hope and relief that was offered to me in the past. Maybe there is someone who needs to read this and think “I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE.”

• • • • • • • • • • • •

Wow, kid. This morning was TOUGH. Why are these early hours such a struggle for us?? All week I sensed the pressure building so I shouldn’t have been surprised when your volcano exploded at seven am. You woke up angry, you didn’t like breakfast and none of the clothes in your closet were good enough. You lashed out at your sister, screamed at me and cried about going to school. You accused me of not caring and even threatened to call my own mother to complain about me. For such a little person, the flames of your explosion travelled quite far!

Unable to process all that you are feeling, you set your sights upon me, your mother, your safe place. This morning, nothing I did was correct, every action on my account warranted a complaint or criticism. Hurtful words flew out of your mouth with the intent to injure, regardless of all I do for you EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Girl, it’s hard to hear and it’s hard to take sometimes, especially knowing you don’t treat anyone else this way! You would never say these words to your father, grandparents or teachers. Just to me, your mother.

But I know this morning wasn’t really about me. I know it’s your own heart that is hurting. I know that you are very frustrated with school and lonely without your friends from last year. I know that your teacher is different, your routine has changed and life feels out of your control. While part of me wanted to demand your respect and admonish you for your outlandish behavior, I saw what was truly happening and tried my best to love you in that realm. And then it occurred to me…

While it’s regrettable that I am your verbal target, I CAN TAKE IT. You can lash out at me and call me all the names you desire because I AM THE ADULT and I can take it LIKE AN ADULT. My self-esteem doesn’t rest on your juvenile, volatile opinion and I don’t need to get bent out of shape over your misguided anger. (I have made this mistake before and it benefited no one.) This anger is a strange backhanded “gift” of motherhood but I am choosing to accept it wholeheartedly.

Somewhere, in the middle of these explosions, lays the naked truth: whether you hug me or hit me, I’m here for the long game and you know that. You know that you can let down your guard, reveal your ugly side and still be immensely loved. AND YOU ARE. And I adore you and would take a bullet in the chest for you…But golly, why you gotta be so fiesty with me all the time?? Sigh…

Here’s the deal: I’m not naïve. I know this erratic behavior might become much worse as the years progress. Your sensitive heart feels all the highs and all the lows and I know I will be caught in some of those webs of darkness as you grow older. Friends will disappoint you, boys will break your heart, school will be tough and life will throw wrenches in your plans. There will be many days when you don’t like me and I predict there will be a number of days when I don’t like you either… but I will always love you (cue Whitney Houston).

In the future, my presence, “the safe place”, will most likely be a proverbial dumping ground. Your words towards me might become more venomous and the stings might become stronger, but I am committed to living in that place with you, not taking your actions personally and helping you grow into the person you were created to be. Your fire and determination will make you a great leader someday and I plan to be sitting in the front row, watching it all happen.

You are too young to see this from my perspective, but someday, if you become a parent yourself, you will understand that we adults have a complicated dance…

We push you forward

We pull you back

We come down hard

We nudge you gently

We yell angry words

We whisper terms of endearment

We cry with frustration

We shed tears of joy.

Sometimes we do all these things in a single hour. Parenting is a complicated job so maybe you could cut me some slack, too?? I’m not a perfect mother and I frustrate you sometimes but I am out there on the dance floor TRYING to parent you well! I feel like I deserve at least one gold star. 😉

⭐️

This morning, after many of the emotions above, we finally managed to get off the floor, wipe both of our tears and fall back into our routine. With sneakers on and your backpack ready we began the long walk to school in complete silence, just you and me, watching the leaves blow and gathering up courage for the day ahead. I think you sensed that you went a little too far with me. I sensed that now wasn’t the time to replay the morning’s events. In that moment, you didn’t need a scolding but a warm hand. So I held tightly to your small grip and progressed through the neighborhood while we each pondered our morning and our world.

You and I have much ahead of us as we walk along this road, continuing to learn about life and our family and where we both fit in. New challenges and new emotions await us around each bend and this morning has allowed me to think it all through. It will be long journey, a long walk to this school of life, but you and I are in this together and I won’t let go.

a.k.a Mom

To all the mothers (and fathers) out there with “spirited” children:

Hold the line, stay strong, find some supportive friends and buy a big box of chocolate. We are raising world changers here and our efforts will be rewarded… someday… hopefully.

A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

Twenty years ago I sat in a stadium watching my future husband receive his commissioning in the US Navy. With a stack of blissful hopes and dreams we jumped into the military life and flew into the unknown. For that hometown 20-something girl, every single thing was an unknown. Dropped into a completely new world, she fumbled through those first few years, trying her best to understand the new military community and her place within it. I wish I could write her a letter to calm her fears and let her know that she was on the precipice of something rich and amazing.

Dear Younger Self,

Congratulations on your beautiful wedding! That epic day filled with sword arches and a Top Gun serenade seemed like the perfect launching pad for your new life.

Now here you are, two weeks later, unpacking boxes in your new apartment and thinking “What on Earth just happened?” All your family and friends now live thousands of miles away and South Texas surrounds you like a foreign country. (And why is this foreign country so freakishly hot????)

I see the way you are looking around now, disoriented, skeptical and lonely…But let me tell you something: you are going to be okay. Actually, you are going to be more than okay. You are going to have the adventure of a lifetime. LISTEN TO ME:

I know you are lonely now, but you are going to have deep and meaningful friendships. You will have friends from all fifty states, some for a period, but some for a lifetime. You will have close neighbors who invest in you and care for your children. You will meet other military spouses who will become your new family, your new world and your new tribe of military code-breakers. They will meet you in the parking lot when your car battery dies. They will laugh and cry with you during seemingly endless deployment cycles. Find these friends.

Finding your tribe takes effort but you will learn to do it well. Don’t wait around, don’t sit inside, leave the house and pursue people. At first it feels uncomfortable to join a new group or be known as “The Mrs” but I promise you the reward is there for the taking. Eventually you will become so efficient and bold in your quest for tribal membership that you will compose emails like “I like you and I think you are fun, wanna meet me for coffee?” And they do. (Actually, you will do this more than once). I guarantee you that every time you relocate to a new city you will find fantastic friends who will warrant tears when you depart. They sit around the world now, just waiting to meet you for coffee.

You will not be in control of your family’s schedule and there is nothing you can do but laugh. I’m serious here. I see you feeling annoyed, angry and beyond frustrated with the Navy but fighting is futile- you will always lose. You can stubbornly plan a vacation ten months away but sometimes your husband won’t know his schedule until a couple months before. Years of your life will be dictated by the schedule of a ship or the affairs of the world, none of which you can control. The sooner you can accept that, the happier you will be. (Don’t choose anger, choose donuts. Just kidding. Maybe not. Apple Fritters are forever.)

Remember- It’s not his fault that the ship is leaving. Don’t blame him for the schedule when it is inconvenient. When he is walking out the door with his pack and you are laying on the floor with the stomach flu, hoping your unsupervised toddler doesn’t grab any kitchen knives, he isn’t trying to purposefully run out on you. He’s trying to stay employed and not go to a sleepover at the base brig. Pull up your big girl pants and stop taking his schedule as a personal affront! If you want your marriage to succeed, you must learn to separate the two.

Deployments will seem like the end of the world but they are often forgettable. Your first deployment will be nine months long but years later you will barely recall the details. And all those times he deploys when your kids are young and you feel like their hearts will be crushed, the truth is that they won’t remember those separations either. I don’t mean to downplay the effort it will take to persevere through a deployment (because those times will push you beyond your limits), but those separations won’t define you or your kids. Your husband will miss some milestones but he will be there for a million more moments later and those relationships will thrive.

Your kids will have a different childhood than your own, but that is okay. You will wonder if moving them is traumatic, if not living on the same street will damage them. But then you will watch them learn about farming in California, walk the streets of Paris and tour the Capitol Building in DC. You will see their world views broadened through their personal experiences & friendships and you will know that their horizons are wider than you ever dreamed. Contrary to what you worry about, your children will have strong, beautiful roots that grow in many directions.

Your professional career is going to struggle but that’s okay, too. You will love some of your future jobs, but there will come a time when balancing work, family & the military life will be very difficult. “The flexible one” will need to be you and that’s the blunt truth. When your kid has a fever and can’t go to school, your husband won’t be coming home from the ship to handle it. When your kid is crying in the school bathroom after Daddy deploys, you will be the one to show up. And that’s when you will realize your most important job- to show up every time. You will be your family’s grounding force in an ever-shifting world and that stability will be worth more than any paycheck.

The military life will make your world bigger and smaller at the same time. Years from now, you will drive across the United States, from coast to coast, and know someone in almost every place. You will watch the news and think of your foreign friendships and the lessons they taught you about their home countries. Daily, you will pass souvenirs in your home- reminders from squadrons, port visits, tours abroad and all the moments when your world expanded a little further. You will realize one day that you are no longer the same person who was unpacking boxes in that first apartment.

Like every phase of adulthood…

This journey will pass in a blink. When these friends from South Texas begin to retire, your mind will replay all the emotions of the twenty years- the heartache of goodbyes, the stress of moving, the struggle of solo-parenting, the joy of Homecomings, the feelings of patriotism, the love of friends and everything in-between. You will grab your husband’s hand and think of all you have seen and experienced together and realize that the “sacrifice” of this life looks more like a beautiful gift.

SO GO. Don’t be afraid. A wonderful journey stands before you.

With love from your Older and Wiser Self,

p.s. Consider using eye cream a little earlier, then maybe you won’t have big bags under your eyes at age Forty. I’m just sayin.’

p.p.s. Never iron your husband’s white uniform without first confirming that the iron is clean. Especially not the night before a big event. TRUST ME.

Searching for a Nativity

Searching for a Nativity

I’ve spent the last five years searching for a Nativity scene to display at Christmas. I see them in catalogs and stores every December but none of them feel right.

Blond Mary and blue-eyed baby Jesus. Nope.

Joseph and Mary dressed like royalty. Nope.

Blank faces which scare me a little. Nope.

Darth Vader, who wasn’t invited to that party. Nope.

And so I keep searching. While I long to have a visible symbol of Christ in my Christmas decor, ultimately I am desiring a symbol of peace in the middle of this busy season. Tacky chihuahua ornaments glare at me from the tree, neighborhood lights blink on-and-off, music blares all day long and my shopping list never seems to disappear. Sensory overload! But Nativity scenes sit there quietly, oblivious to their surroundings, focused on one solitary thing: Jesus. They symbolize the space in which I desire to live- the space of peace and quiet and stillness, in the middle of chaos. I feel like having a Nativity would remind me to slow down and focus on that one thing, too!

BUT THE SEASON PULLS ME. I resist the Online Joneses as much as I can but my December days still seem overly busy and overly scheduled. School concerts, work parties, white elephant gifts… where can I find my peace??

One night last week my family was tucked in bed (while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads) and I was wandering around our home, turning off lights, locking doors and shutting down the house after a busy day. I felt like I hadn’t sat down since breakfast. 

I came to our living room where our Christmas tree glowed in the darkness and I stood transfixed, staring at it. Then I sat down and stared further, mesmerized at the lights, like flames in a fireplace. “Silent Night” started playing on my phone and I finally found it: the Spirit of Peace. The room felt holy because I was finally quiet and still enough to sense it. I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t running around or making more notes on my to-do list, I was just sitting. The stress of waiting on military orders dimmed, the dining room table covered in unfinished Christmas presents was forgotten and the Nativity was Real. Like Mary, I finally found I could focus on that One True Thing: a God who loves me. 

The obvious answer is that I didn’t need a Nativity Set to find peace; I didn’t need to cut out activities and lighten my holiday load to reach this goal (although that definitely helped). I needed to simply slow down for five minutes and sit in the presence of the REAL Nativity, the One who gives me hope and perspective. It’s here in this meeting place that my life feels peaceful.

Are you looking for peace in your life, too? A place of stillness in the middle of chaos?

Do you feel burdened and overwhelmed?

Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

James said: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Did you notice the verb? When we take action and COME, He responds and gives us REST. Oh how I love that word and long for it in my life! Don’t you??

Is there something unsettled in the depths of your heart?

Is it possible that you have been searching for peace in the wrong place?

Then come closer to the Real Nativity. Take a deep breath, ignore the lights & distractions and approach this place of stillness. Maybe your peaceful meeting place isn’t a Christmas tree, like mine. Maybe yours is behind a closed door or inside of your car for a few extra, quiet minutes each day. Maybe it’s returning to church after a long absence (or visiting for the very first time). Maybe it’s a pause at the top of the stairs, to think about the point of Christmas. Whatever it may be in your life, commit to this habit and make it happen. I pray that you will sense God in your stillness. As the New Year beckons, I hope that all of us will take the time to search for and FIND the Nativity of Peace. There is hope for us yet. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, PRINCE OF PEACE.”  (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Merry Christmas everyone,

p.s. If you don’t know where to start, sit silently in front of your tree and play this song. MAGIC.

We own this ornament. Thank you, children.