To the Me I Used To Be

I sometimes wish I could send a letter back through time, to the me I used to be.  Not to the teenage me, not even to the young Mommy – but 23 years back, just as we were beginning our lives together.

Twenty-three years ago, we had gotten married and he had left just a few days later.  We got married on the University’s “dead day” where students were supposed to be studying for finals.  Instead, I said, “I do,” then we had two full days together before he had to go back to Kansas.  It was two full months before he was done with training and had found a home for us.  Twenty-three years ago was my first sense of “waiting,” and certainly not my last.  On hold for the Army. It wasn’t the first time, even that far back, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Twenty-three years ago, I was learning how to drive. I had never lived away from home, and in fact had never even moved. Until recently, my mom was still at that same house, and my bedroom still looked a lot the same.  I had lived what many thought was a very sheltered life.

But oh, what a gleeful, happy, optimist I was, despite the zillion and one things I did not know, and did not even know to ask.

This is what I’d like to tell myself:

Everyone is telling you that you don’t know what you are getting into, that the Army life is hard.  They tell you that Uncle Sam owns your husband, and that you must be independent.  They warn that you cannot count on him to be able to be there for everything.   Believe them.  But remember that you two are still partners in this, and still each other’s best friend.  That will help get you through, and will help forgive quite a lot.

Do not take peacetime for granted.

There will come a time when the gate guards will no longer intimidate you.  In fact, you will look at their sweet faces and wonder if you were ever that young.  No, you were not.  You never were that young.

One day, you will receive orders that will toss your whole family upside down.  Tears will be shed, shouts will be heard.  And you will be optimistic in the face of it, and you will say, “I will come to you those late nights.  We will get through this.”  And you will be right.  And you both did.

You will lay down roots.  And you will yank them out and find a new soil, a new ray of sunshine.  You will become good at blooming.

So many people want to warn you away from the romance that they think you are imagining about the military.  They wonder if you’ve seen “Officer and a Gentleman” too many times.  You will enjoy the romance and the pride/showmanship of a good Army dog and pony show – but do not lose sight of what the Army is really there to do.  They are there to fight battles.

Remember you married your best friend, who also happens to be a soldier.  The world will see the soldier first; it is your job to see the man.

You are stronger than they think you are.  You are stronger than even you could imagine.

Yes, you get used to the smell of gun oil and diesel.  You still won’t like it, but it won’t make you as violently ill after a while.

You really should have checked out that book on Army etiquette before that Wives’ tea.   At least you dressed ok for it.  Mostly.

Remember that your value has nothing to do with the rank your husband wears, nor the worth someone else credits you with.

Do not worry that he will not kiss you or hold your hand while he is in uniform.  Remember what I said about peacetime?  Eventually, between experience and rank, it will be a moot point and you will tease him about this.

Make lots of plans.  Don’t expect to keep any of them.

You have always been good at being alone.  Someday, you may have to help others with this.  Alone is ok.

Don’t lose yourself.

Sick call is a joke.  Make him go anyway.

Learn how to iron.

Keep your friendship circles fluid, but your innermost circle nice and tight.

One of these days, your soldier husband will tell you that you should really, really meet this wife of a soldier he knows.  You will roll your eyes.  He will insist.  You will grudgingly go along to be polite. She will become your truest battle buddy, and teach you everything you want to leave the Army with.  Thank him.

Above all, know this –

You’ll be ok.  You’ll be ok.  You. Will. Be. Okay.

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(Many thanks to Rebecca, Kelley, Erica, Julie, Lora, Susz, Kat, Kristina, Tiffany, Nadia, and all the others who reminded me of a few important things I wanted to tell myself.  It all matters.)

Riding Out the Storm

It’s a rainy, thundery, split-the-sky-with-lightning kind of day today.  Flash flood, thunderstorm, even tornado warning alerts are blowing up my phone.  It’s a little crazy.  We are hunkered down, ready to go to our safe room just in case.  And staying in close contact with friends.

The internet and cell phones are wonderful things in a stormy time.

One of my best friends has often told me that one of my greatest strengths is in knowing that “this too shall pass,” during any difficult or heart-wrenching time.  Nothing lasts forever, and eventually the clouds do clear.  Then we rebuild.  And go on.

That is true, whether it is the storm outside or inside.  External or internal.  Eventually, it must pass.

Having battled depression before, I realize that is a little different.  That is a gray that does not pass, and a storm that rages inside us.  For that, we need more than a temporary umbrella or a few moments to pause and reflect.  I get that.

But mostly, the storms of life come and go.  They should not surprise us in their existence, for we know they will happen.  We can anticipate and plan for them, creating safety nets for ourselves with friends and family and coping mechanisms.

And, blessedly, we can rest in the knowledge that they pass.  Sometimes storms leave permanent reminders of their rage – consequences of bad choices, or a loss that will never be recovered.  But the actual rage and power of the storm?  It passes.

Genesis 9:15-16 tells us of God’s promise, that the storm will pass and the earth shall not be wiped out.  “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

This too shall pass.  Hunker down, ride it out – and then watch for the rainbow.

Keeping Up With the Jones’s (kid)

It’s graduation time, and there are stories everywhere of kids graduating from high school or college, or going on to get their graduate degree.  The air is alive with hope and success and optimism.

And then, across my news feed, comes a status from a young man about our Big G’s age.  He has decided that the school he is in, is not a good fit for him.  He’s been miserable.  He has been confused, and his words bring to mind someone who has just been treading water.  So he is changing schools – and the joy in his words cannot be ignored.

But wait, this means he probably won’t graduate with his class!  When everyone else his age is getting ready to be applying for graduation status, he will still be plugging away.  A change in major, a change in location – he’s not keeping up!

So what?

Raising kids can sometimes feel like a competition. It begins when we are pregnant, and the discussion delves into such topics as “who is sicker” or “who had the cutest bump,” then on to “most hours in labor” or “most natural childbirth”.

Then, it’s on to our babies. When did they roll over/sit up/stand/walk?  How many teeth?  Oh, no teeth (or hair) until they were nearly a year?  (Side eye)

It feels like a race.

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BUT:  I had one who was a late talker, who needed some help to push that “speech” button. I had one who spoke early, and often, and well.  And I learned something really, really important.

Kids all grow at their own stages, and in their own time.

Most people realize that this is not news.  Sure, some kids need a little help to catch up.  And some kids race on ahead.  And some just keep plodding forward.

What this fails to take into account, however, is that the same personality traits that led to our babies being not-quite-willing to walk, or to our older kids’ lack of interest in tying their own shoes, is quite possibly going to be a personality trait that will stay with them.

And the little one who spoke early, and was a go-getter, and has huge plans and big projects – that is likely to last, also.

Or not.  Sometimes our lives are two-steps-forward and an awkward trip-and-fall, until we learn to dance.  Our kids are like that too.

When our kids get into high school and college, the “competition” keeps going. We just stopped discussing it. Our friends may have kids who are the respective king or queen of their class – and if our kids are moving a little more slowly, or doing things a little differently, we may feel like we can’t really talk about it.  It’s one thing to say that Little Johnny is slow to potty train, but quite another to admit they are failing two courses or they really don’t know what they want to do.

This is their FUTURE, and it is fear that keeps us silent.

We need to commit to being real about our children.  Yes, Miss Queen is absolutely stunning – but she can’t seem to shake that boy who follows her.  Or Little Johnny may indeed need some extra academic help, but he can build anything he sets his hands to.  The moment we decide to be real about these children we love, is the moment we can begin to accept who they really are.

My friend’s son will likely be adding a full year or two on to his degree plan.  He’s had to change a lot of his life goals, in the meantime.

Big G won’t be graduating when most of the same-age kids we know are finishing or have already finished their Bachelor’s.  She changed schools and has had to adjust some of her plans.  But, you know what?  She moved slowly and carefully towards other developmental goals when she was little.  Why would this be different?  She is HAPPY.

Most importantly, both of them will have the knowledge of what works for them, and what does not.  They will be farther along life’s true path than many of the kids who have tossed their mortarboard.  And that deserves a ribbon, too.

I am not one who believes that everyone should get a ribbon for participating.  But I do firmly believe that life is a race of individuals, beginning from infancy and continuing on.

When Great Advice Comes Too Late

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I read a lot.  Books, magazines, cereal boxes – if it has words, I’m all over it. So obviously I really love how many great blogs there are out there, and how much terrific information we can grab instantaneously.  It is an exciting time for someone who is a Constant Learner.

There is so much that is funny, and smart, and truth-telling.

I’ve read some terrific stuff lately –

This bit, about finding out what you’re really good at.  I’m in school now, but I’ll be on the job trail again soon.

QBQ is one of my favorite blogs, asking what the “Question Behind the Question” is, and always encouraging personal accountability.  Plus, this one made me smile because I, too, have heard the “wait five minutes and the weather will change” bit of nonsense in EVERY state.

However, sometimes I read information that, well, comes a little too late.  It’s aimed at someone in a stage of life I’ve already passed, or it’s something that would have worked for the girls several years ago and absolutely would not work now.  Yet, if I’d read it when the girls were younger, it could and probably would make things easier NOW.

This article, on 10 Tips for Talking To Your Kids, has a mom who has lots of tips about how to help her kids when awkward conversation topics come up.  It’s easy to tell she’s dealt with some topics that as Moms, we probably wish we could skip sometimes. I liked her advice, and her approach to parenting seemed to be fairly similar to mine in that she appears to deal with things head on and honestly.  She suggested a journal for each girl, that would have the MOST awkward and private topics, and could be shared back and forth between herself and her daughter.

Sigh.

That would have worked brilliantly with Little G. When she was younger, she’d have shared this back and forth with me and I think it would have grown into a habit we could have really enjoyed – and, starting earlier, it would ease some conversations we have now that she’s firmly in high school.  However, because she is now in high school and she is finding her own voice and trying to do what she can to appropriately step away from us – if I suggested this now, I’d either get the wrath of the ages, or she’d laugh herself silly.

The advice is terrific, just a little too late.

So what do you do when the tips are tardy?  Do you shake your fist at the fates?  Do you laugh?  Do you cry a little, bittersweet at missed chances?

Well, sometimes I do a little of all of these.  It can be an emotional time, when a child is getting closer and closer to testing their wings. (I find it particularly ironic and a little nasty that we are dealing with their hormones at the same time that ours begin to go nuts, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I try to keep focused, though, and tuck the advice away for others. I turn the focus back to TODAY, and on to US, and I remind myself all the things that we have done that work for us.  What routines did we use, what lucky little thing did we try that worked like a charm…what things did we try that didn’t work at all, but taught us something important about our girls….

All of that is still relevant, and we are not less-than because of missed opportunities. All we are given is this day, this time, to change things or to do what we can.

Reading great advice that came a little too late isn’t something that should make me sad or angry or (especially not) cause me to think less of my own parenting skills.  It’s still great advice.  And, most importantly, I can still feel confident about the  choices that we did make that worked for us, the ones that maybe some day I can share with someone else.

One thing I have done, some years more faithfully than others, is keep what I call a “planner journal” – I would get those weekly student planners, and when we did something I would write it in that day’s little box.  If the girls said something funny, or if they got in trouble and I wanted to remember (or remind their future selves) that they are still lovable and loved, I’d write it.  Movie theater ticket stubs, school programs, little bits of this and that – they all went into the journals.  I stopped doing one for Big G several years ago, but I’ve tried to keep up with one for Little G until she is on her own.  I don’t know if either of them will ever read these, but they are here.

And they remind me, past, present and future, to keep reading and writing – in case someone out there needs this today.