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.

15 August 2012

Is Taps on iTunes?

Moving is part of Army life.  It's not something I love, but I don't hate it either.  It has its challenges (there are LOTS of them, in case you were wondering) but it's nothing we can't handle as a family.  Worry is a big part of moving for me.  (So is unwrapping my 18 dish packs at each new house, but we'll save that for another time).   One of my biggest worries each time we move is my kids.  I've said many times before how special I think military kids are.  But that comes with a price.  And moving every two to three years comes with a big price tag for such little kids.  Over the past seven moves or so that I have done with children, I like to think that I have perfected the art of worrying.  I have worried about finding just the right teacher for my supremely mature yet kind-hearted daughter.  I have lost sleep over my son and his numerous quirks (you must remove the ENTIRE yogurt lid before you give it to him or he will be consumed with the tiniest piece of left-behind silver foil until the yogurt is warm and therefore inedible in his eyes) and whether or not kids will make fun of him.  Don't even get me started on doctors, dentists and specialists.  If worrying about transitioning your kids was an Olympic sport, I would put Michael Phelps and his 18 gold medals to shame.  In short, there is not a worry out there that I haven't worried over when it comes to a military move and my kids. 

This summer we moved.  And for the first time in seven years, we are not living on a military installation.  We actually have a real house!  With real wood floors!  And a real electric bill!  It's been an adjustment for me to not have the immediate bond with the neighbors like you do on post.  By the time I had lived at my last house this long, I had a key to two other neighbors' houses and had a few neighborhood dinners under my belt.  Not so here in the civilian world.  But the kids seem fine, we've had a few play dates and I had pretty much decided that off-post living was going to be my adjusment and mine alone.  Wrong.

Last night I laid down with my daughter when I went to kiss her goodnight.  This is a rarity because these days if I lie down with her the next thing I know it is 5am and I have the arm to an American girl jammed in one ear and her snoring in my other ear.  But I did it anyway.  It makes her happy and I know she won't let me do it much longer.  She happily giggled, snuggled in next to me and said, "I'm glad you're here.  I need to tell you something."  Worry alarm!  Alert!  Alert!

"Oh yeah, what's that?" I calmly asked.

"Well, it's just that I can't sleep in my new room."  What is this?  A new worry I had not considered?!

"You see, every night since I can remember I have heard Taps play before I fall asleep.  I know it is supposed to be a signal for soldiers to go to bed, but I always kinda pretended it was for me too.   And now I can't go to sleep without it.  Do you think we can get Taps on iTunes?"

For those of you who don't know, military installations play Taps over the loudspeakers every night at 2100 (9pm).   Twenty-four trumpet notes that are the most peaceful and reassuring way to end the day, in my opinion.  Apparently, I am not the only one.  And guess what?  Taps is on iTunes.  And yes,  it's on my daughter's iPod now too.  Sweet dreams.