Dear PCS…

(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

Dear PCS,

Yesterday, you showed up on our doorstep. I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and he said, “You say that every time.”  But I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe you’re already here again.

“It’s Moving Day,” you told me. “It’s Moving Day, and I’m going to spend the next eight hours piling your belongings into boxes.  If you hear a crash, a bump, or a dump, just turn away. It’s Moving Day, and this what happens on Moving Day.”

You callously pushed past me, barged into my house like you owned it. You picked up my picture frames, rooted through my closet, emptied my drawers, boxed up my kids’ most precious keepsakes.  You arrived at a home, but left it an unsettled, uncomfortable fortress of cardboard.  What was once our sanctuary has been reduced to a staging area of labeled cargo. I can still sit on my couch, but in a moment you’ll remind me, “I’m going to need to take that. It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

So I’ll sit on a step, lean against a wall, curl up with a book, a magazine, or a newspaper, and I’ll pretend to read, but you and I both know I won’t be reading. I’ll be watching you, instead. I’ll be pretending there are no knots in my stomach when you haul our custom-built Turkish furniture through the narrow doorways. I’ll blink away tears when you clear out my kids’ playroom, and I’ll blame it on the glare from my iPad. I’ll grimace when you drop boxes in my driveway like they have nothing more than blankets inside. You’ll look at me and shrug. “It’s Moving Day,” you’ll say, “and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

But don’t remind me that “this is what I signed up for.”  As if I could ever forget that. And don’t act like you’re assuming control. You’re not. I’ve been preparing for you for months, and I’m onto your wiles.

In fact, I’ve seen you lurking around my home for weeks now, sneaking in and out of rooms, swooping through conversations, steering my car, wrenching muscles in my shoulders and squeezing my head.  You’ve made me say things to my husband that I didn’t mean to say, and you’ve made him do the same to me. You’ve made my kids watch more TV than they probably should, and you’ve made them endure a very tired mother whose back is weary from bending low to pick up, wipe down, scour, and scrub.  You’ve made me tell them, “I’ll play with you in a minute. Just let me finish packing, stacking, organizing, arranging.” Funny thing is, that minute never ends.  You’ve made my husband bear heavy loads at home, even as he comes back from work exhausted from finishing important projects. You’ve made me guilty for asking him to help with things that I couldn’t finish; I wish I didn’t have to burden him.  You’ve made my son look around at the changes and ask, “Mom, if this isn’t our home anymore then where do we really live?”

But here’s what I have to say to you, PCS, you sneaky little beast, who hides behind a vague, euphemistic, and somewhat faulted acronym:

Bring it.

I know who you are, and I know how you roll, and there’s nothing “Permanent” about this “Change of Station.”  This is the time when we add another notch on our bedpost, another picture on our wall, another link in our chain, another thumb tack on our map. “This is from our time in DC,” we’ll tell visitors, and some will say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I’ll throw up a dismissive hand, and say, “It’s nothing.”

Because you are nothing. I know this is a part of the mad game that is military life. And I know that when you load the last box on that massive truck, turn around and smirk at me, arms crossed across your chest, you’ll think you’ve won. You, like some others, will take pity on me, but in a more sinister way, because after all you were the one who emptied my home.

But when you feel my heel connect first to your groin, then to your throat, you’ll realize that the three people standing behind me – my husband, my son, my daughter, and yes, even my loyal dog – they are my home, and you can’t ever, won’t ever, take them with you. You’ve got nothing on them. Stew on that.

I know you’ll visit us again, PCS, I know you will. But next time, please remember how I look standing over you, and remember how you’re too stunned and weak to get up. And remember what I whispered in your ear after I kicked you down:

“It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

Women in Service

Yesterday, I had one of those moments. It was one of those moments that brought into sharp focus a reality that had stood before me everyday. But in this moment, the true significance was revealed.

I watched my good friend Jill promote to Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves.  Presiding over the ceremony, aptly taking place at the Women in Service Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, were two other good friends: Rose, a Major in the USAF Reserves, and Ann, a retired Colonel also in the USAF Reserves.  Down the hall, in an electronic registry of thousands of women who have served in our nation’s military, was the photograph and biography of my grandmother, a WWII Army nurse.

The people, the place, and the importance of it all were, in a word, moving.  My three friends, smartly attired in their Service Dress, stood on stage and represented the Air Force and their country.  These three women stood in the company – albeit the spiritual company – of thousands of female service members who had gone before them.

As Rose led us through the formal motions of the ceremony and Ann and Jill each took their turns to speak, I watched Continue reading

It’s That Time Again…

A few weeks ago, my friend Cheryl came over for our weekly happy hour. Our kids immediately got to work dismantling the art corner, settling into the chaos that they call fun.  Too tired to bother with organizing their mess, Cheryl flopped down across from where I lay on the playroom floor, head resting on a stuffed animal, equally spent. She filled me in on her day, tossing a miniature basketball from one hand to the other, and I smiled to myself.  I was glad that our regular get-togethers had grown into visits comfortable enough to bypass small talk and social graces and dive right into conversation… and a glass or two of wine.

And that’s the point in an assignment, when you take a deep breath, appreciate good friendships that have developed, and feel at home… and then you get orders to move.

It’s that time again.

Yet again, the length of an assignment has been adjusted.  We’ll be leaving a year sooner than expected, embarking upon our sixth move in ten years this summer.  A 2,000-mile journey stands before us, from the competitive grind of Washington, DC, to the farthest corner of Texas, where they reportedly operate on “mañana time”: El Paso.

It’s time to stop buying items that the movers won’t pack, like jugs of Clorox or family-sized liquid Downy.  It’s time to buy only sparingly other staples, like flour, vinegar, lotion, and shampoo.  It’s time to think about purging items that aren’t worth taking, like over-the-door shower caddies that have lost their luster or toilet brushes that… well, that would just be disgusting to pack.

Inevitably, we’ll have a few boxes filled with spray bottles of 409 and unopened boxes of Swiffer Wet pads,  half-filled Domino sugar bags and a never-enjoyed box of Bisquick.  We’ll pass those items to neighbors, hoping they can use them.  We might unload them with a disgruntled humph, annoyed by the wasted money, or we might hand them off with the immense relief felt by simply getting rid of stuff during a period of high-stress.

But what do we do with the friendships?  Do we put them in a box, give them to a neighbor, and hope they can be useful?  Do we unload them with a humph, a sigh of relief?  Do we put a numbered sticker on their foreheads and load them on the truck?  Gosh, I sure wish we could.

This is one of those parts of military life Continue reading

Dear Mom…

It was gray and cold today, a day that followed yesterday’s 12 straight hours of chill-you-to-the-bone rain.  Stepping out the door to let the dog out earlier this morning, I shivered at the damp cold in the air and rubbed my hands over goosebumps on my way back inside.  Later, as I put my kids in the car, I recoiled at a few chilly gusts of wind, pulling my face into my coat’s collar.

That’s why, as I drove my kids to preschool, my eyebrows furrowed and my lips pursed when I saw a mom in a T-shirt walking down the street with her small son.  No higher than her hips, her son was yanking his long sleeve T-shirt down around his fists, attempting to pull his arms inside the rest of his shirt while shuffling to keep up with his mom.  He was cold.

“Why don’t you have a coat?” I exclaimed to myself aloud.  “It’s thirty-nine degrees outside!”

In the back seat, my two year old daughter questioned, “Ah wong, Mom?” (What’s wrong, Mom?)

I turned onto a side road and explained what I’d seen, ultimately promising, “No matter what, I will always keep you warm.”

After some brief self-reflection, I added with a drip of humor, “And that’s because I have a constant worry that you are cold.”

My daughter replied a not very convincing “oh” of understanding, and I quietly laughed to myself, knowing I’d inherited that constant worry from my own mother.

Growing up, there were many mornings that I’d awaken to find Continue reading

All Funked Up

I’ve written a lot about the things I love about the military life.  But you know what?  I can get in a funk about it, too.  Sometimes I feel so over the TDYs, the deployments, the changes, the uncertainties… I’m done! I think to myself.  Just let me plant my roots!  I want roots!

I want the cute little neighborhood with neighbors I’ve known for years, the cracked window panes from rogue baseballs that we never got around to fixing, the dirt under my nails from toiling in my very own garden in my very own yard and the ugly sun hat to go with it (yes, Mike, I hear your objection to the sun hat and the request for a bikini and a killer bod).  I want to decide to put up a porch swing and to be able to just go ahead and do it – no permission from landlords needed, no “nice alternative” considered.  I want to walk into my house that I spent a substantial amount of time searching for and choosing, and I want to walk into it without thinking “it’s only temporary.”  I want to not have to worry so much.

All right, all right… that last line was too much.  Anyone who knows me knows there’s no chance that “worry” would someday not be synonymous with my name.  But anyway…

Sometimes I catch glimpses of all those “wants” in this temporary place we’re calling home, tantalizing suggestions that maybe life isn’t so lacking.  In fact, recently I’ve been catching handfuls of them, and they’ve gotten me thinking about Continue reading

This Is Me: Awakening, Enlivening, and Releasing the Self

“[The world] believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” – Victoria Moran

Her question was so simple, so ordinary, and yet it surprised me.  Why?

After pushing an unwieldy stroller through a muddy playground, I’d settled my kids and myself onto a picnic bench with a friend and a handful of new faces.  My friend introduced me around the table, and as I spooned pureed chili into my daughter’s eager mouth, one new face yanked me from my focus and set the tone for the rest of my day.

“So, Natalie, what are Continue reading

Plan for NOW

Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now.  The conditions are always impossible.  – Doris Lessing

How many times have you felt a kick in your gut to take an opportunity, fulfill a dream, or exercise a passion, but your response to yourself was, “I don’t have time,” or “I’ll do it later,” or even worse, “The chances of success are slim.”?  Explaining my own answers to that question would take entirely too long, so let’s just agree you’ve got company here if your answer was anything greater than zero (and if it WAS zero, will you sprinkle some fairy dust on me, please?  Thanks.).

That quote above came as an inspirational nudge from a blog I recently started following, Studio Mothers, and it got me thinking about planning amidst unpredictability.  I suppose everyone experiences this to a certain extent, but I know for sure that military spouses experience a highly concentrated version of it.  It’s hard to plan even a couple months ahead sometimes, not knowing if you’ll be solo parenting, preparing for some sort of transition, or even if you’ll still be living where you are.  I don’t just mean Continue reading

Carving my niche… with Barefoot Books

This blog came to life as an antidote to a post-PCS (Permanent Change of Station aka “our move”) funk that had left me feeling… well, funky.  After we unpacked, Mike went back to work, and I sat here staring at my young kids, wondering what magic I could perform to make them self-sufficient (just for a day!), and lamenting my sense of imbalance and placelessness.  I needed a niche.  I was feeling not a little bit sorry for myself, and I hate feeling that way.  I had to get rid of that feeling; I had to get up, get moving, step outside The Comfort Zone, and begin making a place for myself here in Virginia.

And – what was that strange bubbling in my blood?  What was that fire in my gut?  Was that….. Continue reading

Building Community

(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

“My life is but a weaving…” – Corrie ten Boom

cheers to mike!

Ah, the end of PCS season, when the exhaustion and stress of packing and moving and unpacking snicker under their breath as we realize the real work is just about to begin. Military spouses definitely have a big challenge upon arrival at a new assignment: start over.  FROM SCRATCH.   Continue reading