17 June 2016

I'm Not Getting Any Younger! (But That's OK)

My brain knew it was inevitable.  The in-processing paperwork last summer showed me it was true.  But my mind still hasn't grasped the fact that I am....wait for it...a "senior spouse."

You military spouses know who I'm talking about.  I'm the lady (shudder...I remember when I referred to myself as a "girl"or "chick") that has two flag poles mounted permanently on the rails of her on-post historic home.  I'm the one you see at the commissary only picking up a few items; both of my kids are gone all day, so I don't need to make the once a week humongous cart-toppling trip on Monday morning.  I'm also the one that has not only a hanging jewelry organizer but also one for scarves and unit pins.

I'm old.

I knew it was coming.  I suppose there were times I even wished for it.  I've spent countless hours with other spouses that had gone before me and I was always the one changing a diaper on their floor.   Or excusing myself from a steering committee meeting at the commander's house because my kid stunk up up the guest bathroom and needed help wiping. Yeah, I don't so much miss THOSE times.

I do miss other stuff, though.  I miss play dates in the park with other moms. I miss Friday nights during deployments when $10 would buy 15 tamales from the neighborhood tamale lady and all of us would let our kids run around the backyard until bedtime.  I miss pre-school lunch bunch once a month when we would schedule pedicures and go out for sushi. 

Now my "play dates" consist of shuttling my daughter to swim practice and my son to baseball practice.  My Friday nights are now wine and cheese in the backyard with neighbors while our kids do their own thing in their rooms, down the street at a friend's house or go to a sleepover. My lunch bunch these days is more like a Lara Bar while I volunteer at the Thrift Store or reheated leftovers in a random 3rd grade classroom while I am subbing.

It is true a lot has changed, but even as a "senior spouse" a whole heck of a lot is still the same. My soldier still rises before the sun to do PT.  We still stare down possible deployments and PCS moves with the same "bring-it-on" attitude we always have.  My kids still need me, it's just that now they need me to help with homework and make their lunches. And unfortunately my never-ending mountain of laundry still exists.

So to all of you other ladies and gentlemen out there feeling a bit more "seasoned" and longing for days gone by, remember that these are the good times, too.  Enjoy running out for yet another welcome/farewell/let's talk bottle of wine. Embrace that second formal in a month and the fact that you pay more in babysitting in a month than you spend on your hair. These times will seem like the old days soon enough. And to all of you younger spouses? Your kid is welcome to stink up my bathroom anytime.

30 April 2015

A Letter to My Husband

Dear Hua -

17 years ago this month, we were a newly-married couple, barely 22 years-old (ok, fine...I was 23) and planning a commissioning party.  Back then, I knew nothing about the military, the moves, the deployments, the ups and downs or the constant sense of adventure that awaited us.  As a matter of fact, I'm not sure I even knew what the acronym PX stood for.  (Don't worry, I now know that the PX is where I get cheap Clinque cosmetics for when my mom visits and cheap H20 Plus lotion for when your mom visits).

Today, a lot has changed.  I won't take the time to list all that has changed (I already know how much you love my ever-expanding cache of dish packs), but I do want to take the time to point out one thing that has never changed.  Despite my best efforts (and my nagging, and worrying, and all of my outloud "what-if's") your awe-inspiring devotion to our country has never waivered.  

When you raised your right hand and swore to uphold and defend our Constitution on that stage in Lincoln Hall, I was so proud of you.  Today I'm just as proud, but even moreso.  I've watched you come and go numerous times. I've watched you fight for what you know needs to be done for the better of the Army (those poor contractors never see you coming). You never ask anything of anyone that you wouldn't do yourself, and no matter how many hours or days (or months) it takes, nothing gets less than your 110%.  All the while, you find ways to be present at home for me and the kids.  You've turned a quick trip to check on some guys that are working late on a Saturday night into a REALLY cool date night.  Or, you work a few hours later one night so you can leave early the next to make a Little League game. And let's not forget all the nights you come home late, only to stop and get me a coffee because you know I'm tired, but that I need caffeine to be able to stay awake so we can catch up.  

 It's been a privilege to watch you serve your country these last 17 years.  You deserve every accolade afforded to you today and in all the days to come.  No one works harder than you do, day in and day out.  And I'm thrilled we get many more years on this ride together.  


01 November 2014

Grandmas are Universal

Many of you know my grandma died last month.  I'm sad.  Grandpa is sad.  We're all sad.  I miss her terribly but consider myself beyond lucky to have been her granddaughter for 40+ years.  She was one of my favorite people.  Ever.  From her I inherited my gift of gab, my affinity for pretty bracelets and a kick-butt pretzel salad recipe.  But it's what she's given me since her death that is the most surprising.

First, you should know that part of my job entails working one-on-one with students.  One day I may be listening to someone read and the next day I may have to administer a test because someone was absent the day before.  Every day is different and I'm pretty sure that's why I like it so much.  I mean, why else would I willingly set an alarm and get up and leave the house each day in something besides yoga pants and a Disney Cruise Line sweatshirt?

The day before I left for Grandma's funeral I was working with one particular boy who likes to do anything EXCEPT what he is supposed to be doing. If procrastination was an Olympic sport, this kid would be champion of the world.  He frequently asks about my children, has drawn me multiple pictures and has even distracted me by talking about coffee (yes, he's THAT good).  If I can get a solid 15 straight minutes of work out of him, I consider it a success.  The procrastination was cute for a while but then it got downright frustrating.  I had tried everything in my arsenal....and my arsenal wasn't working.  I was getting ready to throw in the towel, resigned to the fact that he and I would never make a connection and the school year would be a wash.  And then this happened:

As we were finishing for the day, I told my student, "Just so know, I won't be here tomorrow.  I will have a sub, but I'll be back on Monday."

"No fair!  Where are you going?!  Take me with you!"

"Well, my Grandma died yesterday.  I'm going to her funeral."


"I am so sorry.  After I finish my work, maybe you could tell me about her."

I don't know what shocked me more...the fact that a 9-year-old boy was selfless enough to try and comfort me or the fact that he said he was going to finish his work!

He did finish his work that day.  And he's finished it (for the most part) every day since then.  And he's also asked me how I am doing every day since then, too.  Some days he pats me on the back when he walks by and some days he'll just come up and give me a hug.  And in the days since I've been back, he's told me bit and pieces about his Grandma.  It turns out his Grandma is one of his favorite people, too.  She likes to wear diamond earrings, she takes him shopping for new shoes, and apparently she makes a mean chicken patty sandwich.

So yes, I miss my Grandma.  I miss not being able to call her and tell her something funny my kids did or said.  I miss hearing her laugh.  And I miss teasing her about being a Cubs fan.  But thanks to her, I have a new reason smile.  Thanks to Grandma, I've inherited a new tool in my arsenal.  And I'm not afraid to use it.

13 September 2013

September 11 and Baseball

At precisely 7:15am every weekday my boy crawls in bed with me to begin our daily ritual:  he reads me the box scores from all of the major league baseball games the night before (to include division standings and any injury reports) while I silently wish I had a barista on speed dial who delivered to my bedside.

Today was no different.  Except that it was.

Boy: "Mom, listen up.  This is important.  The Cubs beat the Reds but the Pirates won.  Mom, did you hear me?"

Me:  "Yes, boy.  I heard you.  Um, who's pitching tonight?"

By asking this, I foolishly think I can buy myself another 30-45 seconds of slumber.  Wrong.

Boy: "Today is September 11th right?  So tonight...."

I didn't hear what he said next.

Today is September 11th.  That date still makes me feel vomitous.  And I felt even more vomitous when I realized that I should probably remind him of the significance of today just in case someone mentions it at school.

Me: "Boy, do you know what today is?"

Boy: "No, why?"

I take a deep breath and tell him in the simplest words possible about today.  I tell him that there are some bad people in the world but that there are hundreds of thousands of good ones, too.  I tell him that his cousins have an uncle they never got to meet.  I tell him that the men and women in the military work hard to make sure that our country is safe.  And I tell him that today is a day to remember.

He suddenly puts down his tablet, looks at me exclaims, "Whoa.  Does dad know about all of this?!"

I can't help but smile and sort of chuckle.

Me: "Yes, dad knows."

Boy: "Ok, good.  Because as long as dad knows, we'll be safe."

If only it were that simple.

But for him, today, it is.  And since he's grown up with a dad that has deployed eight times, a mom that survived those eight times on too much caffeine and probably not enough patience, I'm glad it's that simple for him.  Selfishly, I'm glad he doesn't know too much about what happened 12 years ago today.

For now, he can spend his time memorizing ERA's and stolen base stats.  When he's older I will make certain he remembers.  And not just today, but every day.

Today?  I will remember enough for both of us.

19 February 2013

Goodbye, Sadie Girl

Always where the action was.
I said goodbye to my best friend on Friday....of the four-legged variety, that is. It hurts. And I'm still crying off and on as if I am one week postpartum and my milk hasn't come in. It's ugly, I tell you. Those moments are only balanced by moments where I want to shake myself and say, "Snap out of it, woman! She was just a dog! And you're running out of Kleenex!"

The rational part of my brain knows she was just a dog. But the irrational part knows she was the best dog I'll ever have. Sure, she ate two pairs of Joshua's man sandals (I cant believe I ever let him buy those, btw) when she was a puppy. And yes, until she was five or so she used to jump on people and bark like crazy when they came in the house. And believe me I was not thrilled when she once decided to eat an entire grill pan full of greasy chicken and steak drippings and then proceed to barf up ALL of her stomach contents on our brand new Army-issue beige carpet. She wasn't perfect. But she was perfect for me.

Ever protective.
 For 14 years she was here.  Every day.  All day.  She PCS'd (Army moved) eight times like a champ, and always settled in to her new backyard with ease.  She sat through numerous coffees, FRG meetings and bake sale preps with me without complaint.  She got up with me for middle of the night feedings, cleaned my cheerio-strewn floors on a daily basis and  In essence, she was my "battle buddy."  When the Army sent my husband across the big pond eight different times, I would bury myself in FRG meetings and functions, play groups and volunteering at school.  I did anything I could to keep myself out of the house and to make the time pass faster.  But at the end of each day, I always felt better knowing I would come home to Sadie.  And I could always count on her to lay in front of the couch with me when I fell asleep watching reruns of Matlock or The Dick Van Dyke Show (it's hereditary, I swear) waiting for a phone call.   I specifically remember one instance where the Air Force had cancelled four rotators to Iraq in a row (shocker!) which meant we had to say goodby to my husband four times over the course of about 36 hours.  It was pure torture.  Each time he left I would be a crying mess and Sadie would position herself by my feet and fall asleep.  After the fourth time, she positioned herself in front of the door as if to say, "Don't worry, I'm not letting him back in this time."  I think she knew we couldn't handle another goodbye.

Always a good sport.
On Friday, I left for work knowing I would not see her again in this life (dogs TOTALLY go to heaven, so don't even try to tell me they don't).  I sat down at the top of landing and stuck my face up to hers, nuzzled her snout, and patted the ground next to me to signal for her to sit.  But she didn't.  She looked up at me with her now gray face and cataract-filled eyes and walked away. I heard her nails on the rug under the dining room table and when I looked, she was lying down, her head on her paws facing away from me. This time, I think she knew that neither one of us could handle a goodbye.

19 December 2012

I Get It.

I subbed today.  Sixth grade.  I had been warned by the teacher and just about every other substitute and staff member in the building that this class was, "a really, really tough class."  Last week, another substitute went so far as to say, "Hey, I'll be in the same hallway that day.  I'll keep an ear out and will come running if you need me."  Whoa.  How bad could they actually be?  I'd yet to have a class at this school or in this county that had me punching out at 3:55 and pulling into the Safeway (best wine selection near my house) parking lot at 4:00. But I went in having prepared myself for the the worst.

Thankfully, that was not necessary.  Don't get me wrong...there were a few "gems."  You know, like the boy that thought he would stand on his chair to see if he could touch the ceiling, only to fall and take out another boy who was trying to hide the fact that he had a sleeve of powdered donuts in the front pocket of his sweatshirt.  That didn't end well for the donuts.  After I cleaned up the donut fiasco, there was the other young man who decided he would fashion some sort of flying device out of his recorder, a rubber band and yesterday's math test.  That didn't end well for him OR the recorder.  And then there was Maddie (*name changed for privacy reasons and so I don't get fired).

Maddie lit up when she saw me at the door that morning.  Sixth grade girls that light up when they see a substitute only means one thing...they like to talk.  Maddie was no exception.  After she put her backpack away she bee-lined for me.  Questions started spilling out of her at an alarmingly high rate of speed:

"What's your name?"
"Do you have kids that go here?"
"How old are they?"
"What class are they in?"
"Do you live around here?"
"Where did you live before?"
"Why did you move?"

Once I answered that last question, she got quiet.  Really quiet.  Once I explained my husband was in the Army and we moved because of his job all she could say was, "That's cool.  I'm gonna do my work now."

It was odd.  The questions stopped way too suddenly.  But because I needed to move on and get the class lined up for music, I made a mental note to talk to Maddie later.  I should have known I wouldn't need that mental note.

Fast forward to right after lunch.  The teacher had mercifully built in 20 minutes of free reading time that day (teachers that do that rock, by the way).   As I was walking around making sure the kids were actually reading and not playing with their Rubiks Cubes, Maddie stopped me.

"So, Mrs. Trimble.  You said your husband is a soldier, right?"

"Yep.  He is."

"That's cool."

"Yep.  It is.  Now please keep reading."

"My dad was a soldier too.  He was killed in Iraq in 2006, though.  I was six."

Oh dear Jesus.

Choking a little on my saliva and fighting with all of my might not to let the tears forming in the corner of my eyes actually spill onto my face, I coughed out, "Oh, he did?  It makes me really sad to hear that.  One of my friend's husband was killed there, too.  What are some things you remember about your dad?"

I honestly can't recall what she said other than that his death anniversary was just last week.  I stared at her with a combination of awe and sadness.  Thirty seconds ago she was a sixth grade girl with a purple sparkly notebook and a mean gift of gab.  Now she was the child of one of the 6,626 men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country.  Now she was a 12-year-old that takes the train into Arlington to lay flowers on her dad's grave every year on his death anniversary.  Now she was part of my military family.

We talked for as long as I could (safely) ignore the rest of the class and then she got back to reading her book.  The rest of the day passed without any major incidents but I could not shake the impact of Maddie and my conversation with her.  I wanted to keep talking to her.  I wanted to tell her how much I admire her for being a military kid.  I wanted to give her a hug.  Once again, I should have known better.  Five minutes before the bell rang Maddie came up to me and said, "Thanks for talking to me about my dad, Mrs. Trimble.  Not many people around here get it.  It seems like you get it."

She's right.  I do get it.  And I always will.

02 September 2012

How a hummingbird made me cry

This move has been hard for me.  There are a lot of reasons why that I could list here...worry about the kids starting yet another school, the expense of living off-post for the first time in a long time (electricity is not free in the civilian world, FYI), the exhaustion of finding a new doctor, dentist, orthodontist, and most importantly a new hair stylist (I'm not kidding...that is a REAL issue for me), etc.  But the main issue is that I wasn't feeling CONNECTED.  When you live on post you have a built-in community.  Neighbors are in close proximity, usually with kids around the same age and with husbands around the same rank and in the same stages of their careers.  You're all stuck in these not-so-great government houses with not-so-great floor plans or storage, but you don't really care.  The schools are usually better (emphasis on usually), the commute for your spouse is usually shorter and the lack of a mortgage is usually less stressful.  United in this kind of "yeah, this sucks but let's make the best out of it" attitude, it becomes a way of life.  And a pretty awesome one, at that.  As an extrovert, it's the reason I have been so happy the past seven years.  (Conversely, as a huge college football fan, it's the reason my husband grumbled under his breath every time the doorbell rang or kids ran through our living room on a Saturday afternoon the past seven years).  I was so happy, in fact, that I didn't even think it possible for this move to be hard for me.   Big mistake.

Along with my love for most things on-post living is my love for wild birds. Is it hereditary?  Probably.  I remember my mom and dad always had an Audubon Society book of birds on the coffee table when I was growing up.  My dad never had a pair of binoculars more than an arms reach, either.  My aunt has always been a bird person too.  (And much to my uncle's chagrin she is also a bunny person).  So I think I come by my wild bird affection honestly.   Really though, I think I love birds and bird watching because it is a guaranteed  in my ever-transient life.  Birds are everywhere and have surrounded every place we have lived.  When Joshua is deployed, they are my alarm clock.  When I am missing my dad, they are my comfort.  And for the past 13 years as an Army wife, they have been my constant.  Constant is good.  Constant makes me feel connected.

One of my favorite birds and also one of the easiest to feed and observe is the hummingbird. I have had a hummingbird feeder for years and have spent many a summer morning/afternoon/early evening watching them through my kitchen window. I have spent more money than I care to admit on hummingbird food but I did so happily.  Every early spring I would catch a glimpse of the hummingbirds coming around my window and that would be my signal to put out the feeder.  The kids would help too, always taking turns climbing on the counter to peer out the window and trying not to scare them away before they could get a good look.  Last summer there were so many we started naming them!  And we even got a ruby-throated at the feeder a few times!  Yes, it is super dorky.  But it made me happy.  It made me feel connected.

A week or two before we moved this summer, I started to panic.  I was moving.  Moving meant I had to take all of our stuff.  Even the bird feeder.  There was no way were were going to clear housing with a giant red bird feeder on a shepherd's hook in the front yard. Who was going to feed my hummingbirds?  What was going to happen to them when they came looking for food and all they got was a yard full of neglected weeds?  I felt like I was abandoning Mother Nature and I was sad.  My neighbors (love them, love them, love them) were wonderful but not bird people.  I made a last ditch effort the day the movers showed up and tried to give my feeder to one neighbor but it didn't work.  Apparently she thought two dogs, a cat, two kids and a deployed husband was enough to worry about.  I couldn't blame her.  Totally depressed, I dumped out the food, washed the feeder and let Leroy wrap it up and pack it next to my pink toolbox and my "T" welcome mat.

As I was unpacking at the new house one day I came across the box with my bird feeder and toolbox and welcome mat.  Since the feeder was wedged ever-so-tightly in the bottom of the box (nice work, Leroy) I got careless and yanked.  I yanked hard and in the process the feeder flew out of the paper and crashed to the ground.  It was at that moment when I saw that also wedged in the bottom of the box was the hummingbird bird food. And the cap had fallen off.  Do you know how sticky hummingbird food is?  Think liquid jolly rancher.  Nasty.  And now it was coating everything in the bottom of that box, the box under it and my laundry room floor.  Curse you, Leroy. I threw everything in the sink next to the washer and forgot about it.  On to the next box.

Two weeks later the house is set up and I'm still not feeling connected.  As I put in a load of laundry I see the red, sticky mess in the laundry sink and decide to clean it up. As I am washing out the feeder I notice that I think it has a leak. This stinks. It probably happened when I yanked it out of the box.  I couldn't bear to throw it or the remainder of the liquid food out, so I mixed up a batch, filled the feeder, grabbed the hook and marched out to the front yard.  I got the feeder up and it started leaking. It was a slow leak, but a leak none the less.  Or so I thought.  I went back inside, glancing over my shoulder as I went, hoping to see a hummingbird but knowing I would not.

Weeks go by and I obsessively check the feeder.  As I walk out to my car every day I try to gauge whether the fill line has moved at all.  I think it has, but I am never sure and I convince myself that there IS a leak and that no birds whatsoever live in Northern Virginia.  During those same weeks, I am still struggling to meet my neighbors, explore the area (my GPS is taking a beating) and keep my kids entertained until school starts. My mind started to mess with me.  What if the final six years in the Army are going to be this way?  I have always loved this life and the multitude of opportunities it brings us.  If I can't recover from a 50 mile PCS (permanent change of station) how am I going to handle the inevitable PCS back to North Carolina in a few years or even a PCS overseas?  What if I don't snap out of this?  It was starting to scare me and it was starting to affect my family.

And then a few days ago it all turned around.  I was working out in my driveway and walked around the side of the house to take a breather (Don't judge, I was in the middle of a particular nasty workout comprised of sit ups, burpees and squats).  As I rounded my car I saw it.  A hummingbird at the feeder!  In a split second it was gone but I saw it!   The feelings of relief from the doubt and uncertainty kicked in and I cried.  I kind of cried a lot.  I actually cried so much that I couldn't finish my workout.  Silly?  Yes.  A bit dramatic?  Yes.  But it restored my faith in this life we live.  And it reminded me that things aren't always easy.  Things worth doing usually never are.  And thanks to a hummingbird, it is something I will never forget.