A Little Time Away

I’ve been off Facebook for a month …

I noticed towards the end of January that it seemed I was always on my phone.  And most of that time, I was on Facebook.  Scroll, scroll, pull down to refresh…  Sometimes seeing the same posts over and over, without really reading or enjoying much of what I was seeing.  It was a habit, and it was beginning to turn into a giant time suck.

In the end, I decided that, for the month of February (both my favorite and the shortest month), I decided I would take a Facebook break.  I allowed myself to keep Facebook messenger, so if anyone wanted to contact me directly they could and vice versa.  I also allowed glimpses if my husband shared a photo or story off his own screen, and one afternoon I looked up two candidates for local office because their main websites had good information but not the details I was seeking.  I told a few friends (including cousins I only ever see on Facebook) about the project, but otherwise didn’t advertise it.

No, it wasn’t for Lent.  🙂  But it was the longest time I have voluntarily given up something I otherwise enjoy since I was pregnant and gave up chocolate and caffeine (for Sam) or caffeine (for Becky, who got ALL the chocolate).

I enjoy keeping in contact with my friends and family. I enjoy the opportunity to learn, to reach out, and to share – and Facebook is great for that.  I’ve tried Instagram (nice, but it misses the opportunity for depth), Twitter (great for news feeds and the chance to connect with people I otherwise wouldn’t), and a couple of other short-lived excursions (Google + just seemed confusing).  I keep coming back to Facebook because of its immediacy, the chance for longer conversations, and the opportunities it offers to simply say “me too”.

What did I hope to accomplish?  Well, I wanted to figure out exactly what I enjoy about Facebook.  I wanted to tamp down the habit, however, and get back to using Facebook as an occasional “check in” and update, versus the knee-jerk tic it was becoming.  I wanted to clear out people, businesses, blogs, and other things that I no longer followed. Much like the idea of tossing out any clothing not worn in a year, I wanted to see what I missed the most during this month.  Who, and what, did I really want to connect with?

On Facebook, I’d been doing the social media equivalent of sending out Christmas cards to people with whom I had only the most passing acquaintance – and the price of stamps, or my time and mental energy, was going up.

I deleted my Facebook app, logged off the site on my computer so it wouldn’t be so easy to just type it in (I’d have to go look up my password), and otherwise made things more difficult for myself to accidentally or habitually “click”.  The first few days were the easiest, honestly – I read a lot more books, I chatted with friends I’d intentionally reached out to, and otherwise did more in-depth communicating in ways that mattered.

The last few days have actually been the hardest, knowing the month was drawing to a close.  This is when I took the most careful stock of myself.  Which blogs and businesses did I wonder about?  Which friends’ photos did I most want to catch up on?  Who did I miss?

Here it is, March 1, and my month is over.  I logged in this morning, and looked into some of the groups I belong to.  I checked on some friends and learned of a horrible car accident with potentially life-changing results – and I saw some photos of kids who are NOT allowed to look so grown up.  I saw letters of acceptance, joyous news, and dog stories that were incredibly sweet.  I also spent some time and deleted some businesses and groups I wasn’t sure why I’d added in the first place.  I have more adding and deleting to do over the next few days, but that’s ok.

What I’ve learned over this month is that I really do enjoy the positive aspects of social media.  I like the photos, and the exchange of ideas and news and special moments.  I like the conversations.

But what I’ve also learned is that my time is valuable.  I need to fill it with things that add to my life, whether that’s reasonable and intentional use of social media – or coloring for a while, or spending time with my family, or watching my daffodils grow.  I wrote more this month than I have for a while, and I read lots of books, and I even played some games because I enjoy that, too.  I have learned that intentionally spending my time respects its value, and adds value to everything else I do.

So I’ll still see you on Facebook.  Just not all the time.

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Traditions

One of the first things that people note about the military is that there is a rich history, full of ritual and tradition. The uniforms, the medals, the salutes and ceremonies.  Ah, don’t we all just love a man in uniform, after all?

Thanks to my friend R, I have learned even more about Army tradition. There are certain colors that should be worn to balls and other formal events, depending on the type of unit (cavalry, infantry, etc). The colors of the roses that are given to the spouses (formerly always female) also mattered, as well as the numbers of the roses that were presented. R could tell you all about these things, and heaven help the unit that doesn’t keep with tradition if she is a part of it.

I’ll admit that I have enjoyed many aspects of this Army life over the years. The snappy salutes, the traffic-stopping respectful  pause when Retreat is played on post…  I love that the National Anthem is played before every movie on post, I love that there are right and wrong ways to wear uniforms, and I love the spit and polish of “what right looks like”.

However. And you probably knew that was coming, huh?

The Army has a way of making it impossible to have firm, or sometimes even repeatable family traditions of any kind. We are really good at keeping dates flexible (Christmas Day in January? Sure, why not?  Valentine’s Day date the day after “Christmas”?  Well, ok to that too.)  But sometimes it is easier or even necessary to let a day slip past and softly mourn a little bit as we just get on with life. Sometimes, the traditions we would like to keep are those that are lost the soonest.

This year, My G was home for the second Valentine’s in a row – which never, never happens. From the time we were married, he has been at Gunnery, STX, NTC in California, deployed, in Korea, on TDY (temporary duty not earlier named), in the field for something other than Gunner or STX, or simply not home because the unit had stuff going on.  We joke that the Army hates our birthdays, our anniversary, and Valentine’s especially. One memorable year on Valentine’s, he received orders to Korea that changed our entire retirement plan – so romantic.

We have had absolutely no romantic tradition, no way to consistently touch base with each other just to remember romance or even friendship. We’ve had date nights (thank God for friends who have loved our kids), we’ve had time that we’ve grabbed together when kids were at school and we had unexpected time off, we’ve had the odd lunch together. We’ve created that time – but really, no tradition at all. Not just for us.

Our Christmas traditions are always ones that can be done without my husband, without the girls’ father.  Viewing the lights, making Christmas mints, hanging stockings.  No matter what house we have or where he is, there are things that “we’ve always done” but that usually have been created by us and that include him when they can.

There’s a certain sadness to that.

This year, the thought occurred to me that we might be able to really create and keep some traditions now. This post-Army life may, depending on our individual career choices, offer more tradition than we’ve ever been able to enjoy before. It’s been a long time coming, and it feels tinged with a little bit of bittersweet.  Some family traditions are meant to be created when the children are young, so they become part of the family foundation when the kids are older or when they bring home their own families. Some family traditions seemingly build upon each other like bricks, forming safe barriers against the world outside.

But here we are, heading into a new life. Kids are older, so are we, and some things have passed their golden time. Our foundations of tradition are, perhaps, not as strong as in other families – but they are there.  And now, perhaps a little hesitantly and unsteadily, we are able to consider what we’d like for this post-Army family of ours. And what traditions we want to create, keep, and cobble together from all that we’ve seen and lived through before.

For us, the first step came this year on Valentine’s Day – or, actually, the day before. Everything is too busy the “big day,” so last year we went out to breakfast together on the 13th.  This year, we did the same. And as we made our plans, as we realized the Army was not going to be able to call him away this time (or ever again), there was a bright flicker of something besides romance in our eyes –

Hope.

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A neat little sign I hung in my work cubicle.

 

 

 

 

A Big Kid Christmas

Christmas with big kids sucks.

At least that’s what I’ve heard, and from more than one source.

Sure, the big kids are focused on their own friends and activities, and they generally don’t come flying in on Christmas morning at the crack of dawn to shout their joy over Santa’s visit.  We don’t get to see their eyes light up when the reindeers’ carrots are “eaten,” and they don’t worry about our ability to talk to Santa and tell him when they’re naughty.

That kind of magic is past for us, at least unless we have other small children in our lives later on.

To be fair, sometimes, with an adult child, we don’t even get to see them on the holiday at all.  This particular year we had a second late Christmas because of work schedules, but last year we sent off a box and received a phone call.  So those holidays are unequivocally a little rough.

I could spend my hours bemoaning the lack of this kind of charm and innocence, but I think I’ll share with you what the joy of Christmas can be like when you have big kids, instead.

Our adult daughter was tickled pink that her hotel room had a small kitchen in it.  (It even had DISHES!!)

Our still-at-home teenage daughter’s face truly lit up because I bought her a personalized notebook in a style she’d been looking for.  It sparkled when she discovered that we had bought her the phone that she had really, really wanted.

We got to see the adult daughter holding hands with her boyfriend and occasionally stealing a kiss.

We got to see the teenage daughter take gifts to her friend’s house, and mints that we had made together because I “needed the help” (I am not above forcing the issue when I want company for a family tradition).

We enjoyed a movie together as a family, because the teenager used her own money to buy her dad a theater gift card that paid for the tickets.

I wrapped some memories for the Big G, in the form of the ornaments we’ve collected just for her over the years.  Yes, I cried as I set them aside instead of putting them on the tree.  And I almost cried again when she opened them and realized I was helping her set up her own tree, in her own place, as a full adult.  But this is a gift that has been many Christmases in the making, and her recognition of that effort and tradition was, in itself, a gift to us.

So, is Christmas with big kids different?  Yes.  In just about every way, the holiday has changed from what it was when they believed in Santa and haphazardly helped me hang their ornaments every year.

But our Christmas was still magical, still special, and still filled with love.  Even as I wistfully think back to bright eyes and excited bounces, I can enjoy the fierce hug of a child who misses home.  I can enjoy the burgeoning independence of the child who will soon leave the nest.

I am so very blessed to still be able to enjoy my husband’s arms around me at the end of the day, as we hold tight within the change.

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Each ornament has a story, each ornament marks a year in her life.

The Slings and Arrows of a Teenage Girl

I’ve heard that it can be easier to raise boys during the teenage years, and watching most of my friends with their sons leads me to suspect this might be true. While boys are rowdy and dangerous and slightly smelly during their little-kid years, our daughters took baths and read books and held our hands as we shopped together. Boys – got into the margarine and the baby powder and ran out into traffic. Girls – talked our ears off and dealt with school-yard drama on a daily basis.

Now those same boys play sports or instruments and write sweet notes to their long-suffering mothers, and those of us with daughters have only begun our journey into the true slings and arrows of parenthood. These years, ages 13-18, can be the most harrowing and uniquely painful to mothers of girls.

Why do I say that? I firmly believe that anyone with a teenage daughter has felt the sting, the pang, the outright onslaught of emotion. There is distrust, there is fiery passion, there is insolence and sometimes panicky rage. And all of that just before bedtime! Both our daughters have felt a new breath of energy and emotion just as we are ready to go to sleep.

And then there are days when I find coffee, freshly prepared and ready for me, plus a little note and smiley face. There are days we laugh together at the same show, or we turn up the volume on a song we both love. Raising a teenage daughter is a whiplash ride on a teeter-totter, and neither of us is truly in control.

Offers of help can be met with suspicion, or accepted with great thanks and appreciation. Cat-like, they sweetly gather close to us – then (metaphorically or literally) hiss and dart away. Perhaps because I have been so close to both of our girls, maybe due to the military’s fickle willingness to allow us to all live together, this is especially painful. The ties are closer, the bond is stronger, and this is the time during which she must tear away and find her own identity and separateness from us.

And oh, Lord, sometimes it really hurts. The occasional snide disdain, the glance of “who are you?”, the casual shoulder-shrug that says “don’t touch me” – these are the ‘thousand natural shocks’ that Hamlet described. Like abuse victims, we hang in there during the rough moments because we have such faith that the sweeter days are just around the corner. Sometimes, the sweeter times follow on just moments after the barb is fired!

This is our second time around with the outrageous swing and fall of raising a teenage girl. With Big G, our difficult times began earlier, but also seemed to be less passionately negative. Maybe my memory glosses it over. We loved her through it, and then as she began transforming into her own funny and unique self again, we loved (and liked) her more. This time around is both more difficult and yet somehow easier than before – though the road is rough and the weather unpredictable, we have a feeling for what is on the other side of the journey if we can but hang on long enough to endure the ride.

I think about my mother’s blessing, that is also a curse, wishing my children were just like me.  Some days I think this girl is my reward, and other days my penance.  I am reminded of Hamlet’s frustrations with Ophelia, too: ‘Nymph, in thy orisons. Be all my sins remembered’.  All my sins?  Am I to pay for them this way?

Then the day changes, and a new morning comes.  There is a coffee cup with “Mom” and a smiley.  Or she has rocked an audition and flies through her day.  Or there is some sign of the little girl we loved, the woman she will be, and we remember this is a journey and not a destination.  We don’t get stuck in teenager-ville forever.  This too shall pass.

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Thinking Thursday – What’s Your Good News?

I have some amazing, positive, upbeat, and giving friends. Today they seem to be flooding my Facebook feed with acts of kindness, generosity and strength. I have cried more than once, looking at these clips, and I thought I’d share some of them.

But first, today’s question:

What Is Your Good News Today?

Here are the stories that have had me so emotional today.

The Hug Lady

First, Fort Hood’s “Hug Lady,” Elizabeth Laird, received some happy mail when former President George W. Bush heard she was in poor health. He wrote it to encourage her, and to applaud how she has supported our Soldiers (and families) here.  I have met this lady myself and she has hugged my husband three times. The story about how the community is repaying her vast kindness just keeps getting better. The photo in this post also makes me smile because it reminds me that we once had a President who truly loved his troops (and had to make hard decisions), and that he has not forgotten us.  The video shows her joyful smile. 

No Boundaries

 

Then there is a story of Haben Girma, a deaf-blind woman who has graduated from Harvard Law School. My sister-in-law is blind, and she has done many activities similar to the ones in this story. She has also received her PhD in archaeology, which may seem like a “sighted” field.

 

As another reminder of kindness, my friend Chuck (himself a kind and giving person), posted this link about Kid Rock surprising “his biggest fan”. The joy in this kid’s face is palpable.

 

Chuck also posted about a high school football team manager who has autism, and his team’s sweet actions. I love how the opposing team celebrates, too.

 

One last one –

 

Be Not Afraid

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, New International Version.

My friend Chris and I have had a long conversation today about the attacks over this weekend in Beirut, Iraq, and especially Paris. The organized attacks in France were especially horrible because of where they occurred. This time, it wasn’t the government that was struck. It wasn’t an airplane, which have felt vulnerable since 9/11 (or for those with longer memories, since the hijackings of the 70s and the multitudes of crashes in the 80s). This wasn’t more violence in a country besieged by violence.

These attacks happened in the safe places.  The strike zones in Paris weren’t symbols of government. They weren’t symbols of the military. These were the kinds of places people go when they feel free and happy. Joy is the enemy of evil.

ISIS is such a faceless, ambiguous threat. And this weekend’s strike in Paris shows that they understand how to fully instill fear – they struck at the heart of a city.  They hit the happy places, where innocents went for dinner, or to see a game, or to catch a few drinks and a concert with friends. They struck families and couples and the lighthearted social centers of the city. By doing so, as Chris wrote today, they struck at “leisure, livelihood, and the freedom of choice.”

We grieve with them. We wonder what is next.

And we fear.

There is so much fear, even as we want to strike back.

We forget what FDR said: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself — nameless unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Some of us have additional concerns that strike a chill in our hearts. I will admit I understand completely where some military spouses are coming from when they hear the cries of “We must fight ISIS!” and immediately shudder. To the world and to our nation, it is the US military that will be asked to do the fighting, often by people who are unwilling or unable to do that fighting themselves. But to us, it is our family who would be asked to fight and sacrifice.

How do we keep fear from winning?

Chris put it beautifully:  “What I know is this. As shocking, horrifying and mind-numbing as the attacks on Paris are, there are points and times when a person must turn it all off and unplug. Leave the doubts and worry to those who are in charge of logistics. Find a way to help those in need, if one feels compelled to do so. Live your daily life. Remember what happened in Paris, in Beirut and in other places but do not let them consume you. For those that are affiliated with the military, yes.. deployments may happen. Yet those deployments probably would’ve happened even if the Paris attacks had not have happened. Thus, the importance of resuming normalcy is more important than ever. Take the time together that you have now and make the most of it. Just do not do it out of fear.”

Fear not. Be prepared and self-aware, but fear not.  When we live, they lose.

Last Active Duty Veteran’s Day

Technically, active duty servicemembers are Veterans. And they are acknowledged as such during the parades and the ‘we thank you’ promotions at various restaurants.

When I think of Veterans, though, I think of people who have quietly gone about their ordinary lives, rightfully proud of their service. I think of my Dad, who is proud of his short time in service. I think of My G’s dad and grandather and uncles and cousins and their long lineage of service. I think of Brother Sam at my church, wearing his Class A’s on Memorial Day and looking just as dapper as he must have looked when he first joined the service 50 years ago. I think of my stepmother and my friends Penny, and Anne, and Maggie – all women who joined and had to prove themselves in what is still today more of a man’s world. I think of my husband’s and my friend, Desiree, who is still active duty in an Army of great change.

When I thank a vet, I do not thank my husband because his service is ongoing. I thank these other people in my life.

I just don’t think of my husband as a Veteran. We’ve been too busy being Active Duty. The uniform isn’t worn for special days – it is an everyday thing. He wears it more often than he wears his blue jeans! He doesn’t go to parades or special events for vets because he is usually finishing up with some field duty or other work that the military is still requiring of him. Or he’s simply tired and wants the quiet of home.

Next year, though, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we will have been a civilian family for a few months. I don’t even know what that will feel like. This is his last Veteran’s Day as an active duty Soldier. Eventually, God willing, he will be one of those older vets with their service pins on their caps, shakily saluting the flag as it goes past. That is my fantasy for the future.

Today, he simply took off his boots and hung his uniform at the end of 24 hour duty. He slid into bed at dawn, until the next time. Next year, I can hug my husband and “thank a vet”.

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Talk about an understatement….geez.

So what am I thankful for this 11th day of the 11th month?  I am thankful for all of those who remember. I am thankful for the veterans of wars long-fought and long ago who are still with us. I am thankful for these men and women and their dedicated service.

Tuesday’s Ten: Interview

A few years ago, I was writing a different blog and I used to do a “Tuesday’s Ten” count each week. I liked the format because it was quick, had bullet points (I love these) and it allowed me to summarize several short thoughts concisely. I tend to be wordy, so the short format was challenging for me.

This week, I’ll begin this series with some GREAT news.

  1. I applied to a job last week that sounded like an amazing fit.
  2. I got a call YESTERDAY for an interview to be held TODAY.  Fast turnaround!
  3. I learned that I must iron clothes the night before I need them.
  4. No one noticed any creases.
  5. The interview went GREAT!!  What a wonderful conversation it turned out to be.
  6. Reading interview tips the night before an interview is actually a really good idea and one I think I’ll continue.
  7. Later, because I. GOT. THE. JOB.
  8. Yes, already!  I hadn’t even sent out the thank you note yet…
  9. I am so excited and happy today I can’t stand myself.
  10. I’ve had some good jobs go south, and some bad jobs get better – but for today I will celebrate.

I think it’s pretty obvious what I am thankful for, on this tenth day of November.  Happy day, indeed.  Also thankful for the note I saw this morning.

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Little G makes me laugh (she’s the “B”).

The Roller Coaster of Retirement

Retiring is a roller coaster, I have come to discover. The years leading up to this last military year have been preparation for the Big Ride. We have been waiting in line, watching the ups/downs/spins/loops from afar, wondering which of those tracks was the one for our actual ride and trying to learn as much as we could.  We could hear the delighted (and terrified) shouts and screams, but it didn’t really affect us because we weren’t on the ride yet. We hadn’t yet committed to the ride, and hadn’t strapped ourselves in.

At the preparation stages, we could watch and learn from those who had ridden the ride before us. Were they reeling from the experience? Where they laughing, crying, looking lost? I don’t know about you, but when I’m waiting for my turn on a ride at an amusement park, I watch all the people around me. I watch the people in line, I watch the ride, and I watch the people who stagger off the ride at the end. Waiting in line gives you a lot of time to prepare and to think about the experience itself, but at a safe remove.

It’s different now. Now, we have official orders in hand. We have started the process and we are getting on the actual ride. Where do we put our stuff? What straps are there?  Where are the safety cushions?  There are safety cushions, right?  No one just lets people get on this ride and allows them to flop all over the place…right?

At the moment, our retirement roller coaster is doing that lovely click click click as the car is getting pulled to one of the ride’s peaks. Just as with most of the best rides, we can’t see over the other side, but we know without a doubt there will be some fast parts and some slow parts and some scary/exciting things we can’t see yet.

Buckle up.

roller coaster

So what am I thankful for this ninth day of November? I’m thankful for the job interview I have tomorrow (more on that to come) and as always, I’m glad for the fact that I get to take this ride with My G.

All the Times of Me

We sang my first favorite hymn today. Most of the songs we sang in church when I was little were pretty quiet and didn’t have much meaning to me. Honestly, as a kid I thought they were all pretty boring. “Down At the Cross” has such an upbeat melody to it and is so easy to learn that I was able to remember the lines and the melody quickly. I sang it loud, and often.  As I sat on the swingset in the yard, as I cleaned my room – my poor mother.  Only today did I realize that the song is categorized under “suffering, loss, blood” in our church hymnbook (but not in the one I have from our old church).

Singing it in the midst of my church family, I could feel all the versions of me singing this same song. The childhood me, swinging in the air. The new-Mom me, singing it to my babies because it was the only song I could think of.  The slightly-crazed me, waiting for the end of another deployment and needing something familiar to hum. And now, the me who stands at the brink of so many changes.

Standing there, the child/the girl/the woman all together and repeating those familiar lines, I felt a sense of peace and even warmth towards the past and present versions of myself. A kindness and even forgiving feeling, letting go of past mistakes and various screw-ups. And I realized anew that this is what the song is about – we are washed in that forgiveness, we are loved despite ourselves, and we are to feel joy in the midst of what might seem categorically to be a tragedy. This is what God offers us.

So what am I thankful for, this eighth day of November?  Today I give thanks for Mrs. Janie Quincey, who chooses our songs for us each week and plays them so well. And I give thanks for the message that I heard, singing between the lines.

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Glory to His name…