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

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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

Looking Back

The rain was positively pelting the car’s windshield.  Wipers swished at full blast, but that didn’t make it any easier for the young mom at the driver’s seat to see the road in front of her. Driving across the South into Texas, on the way to their next assignment seemed interminable, especially with her hungry infant tucked in his carseat behind her. Shoulders rounded over the wheel, she leaned forward, tired, worn out, and slightly jealous of her husband, who was an hour behind her with their happy and willing dog.  She was thirty minutes from her destination, catching glimpses of the ranches she sped past, and begging her baby to hang on for just a bit longer.

And then finally, finally, she entered Killeen, home of Fort Hood, and saw the sign for her hotel standing over the buildings ahead.  Taking a deep breath, she slowed the Corolla and stopped at a light, at last able to take in the surroundings.  But her eyebrows furrowed and her stomach dropped when she saw the town that was supposed to be her new home.  Old buildings were crammed along the road, with fast food joints and discount car dealerships standing just about anywhere there was a corner of space.  The street was cracked and potholed.  A few men in ragged clothing huddled under a bus stop.  “What… is… this?” she wondered out loud.

The light changed, and she turned into the hotel parking lot.  People loitered under overhangs, smoking cigarettes and looking around at seemingly nothing.  The pavement was crumbling, and as she drove the car around the back of the hotel, she winced at the peeling paint, dingy railings, and outside-facing room doors. She pulled the car to a stop and thought with a feeling of dread, What have we gotten ourselves into? Continue reading

“The House that Built Me”

“Won’t take nothin’ but a memory from the house that built me.” – Miranda Lambert

After you spend a number of years moving around, the  question “Where are you from?” becomes a bit comical to a military family, and it can be surprisingly difficult to answer.  The answer could be anywhere – the town where you were born, the home your parents moved to after you left, the assignment that you loved the most and that feels like home, the assignment you had before this one…

But recently I heard a song, Miranda Lambert’s “The House that Built Me,” which is about a woman retracing memories through her childhood home, and it got me thinking about where I come from… where I really come from: the place I came home to days after I was born, and the place I came home to every day for the next 21 years.  The place that’s in my mind’s eye when I think of home.

My childhood home was idyllic, a near-century-old home with creaky floors, single-sinked bathrooms, and a sprawling yard shaded by two 100-year-old oaks.  In the back, a long driveway that we called our alley was shared by ten houses.  Young kids trampled across backyards, rode bikes up and down the alley, and paid visits to the two elderly sisters living next door to us, who always had a stash of cookies.  Our mothers watched us through kitchen windows and called us in when it started to get dark.

Summers were dreamlike, with crickets chirping, children squealing, cicadas buzzing, breezes blowing, balls bouncing, bicycles whizzing, jump ropes slapping, chalk scraping, feet hopping, popsicles slurping, and cares… not existing.  The sounds of summer hung in that seemingly perpetual pinkish haze just before sunset, when the pure and blissful hearts of children gave exuberant life to a neighborhood that had existed for over a hundred years… and that would continue to exist for hundreds more.

It’s been fourteen years since my parents moved to a newer, shinier place, but when I sleep and dream of home, I’m back in that old house, walking through my bedroom or waving to my best friend across the yard.  And I wonder…

If I were to return, knock on the door as the woman in the song did, who would open the door?  What would I want to say to them, show them?  Would life exist for them as it did for us in that house?  Do they know, do they fully understand how special, how extraordinary  their  neighborhood is?

Do they know that my neighbors and my family experienced Continue reading

Standing on Her Shoulders

There’s a particular conversation that replays itself frequently between me and my husband.  No, it doesn’t involve taking out the trash, putting the cap back on the toothpaste, or making sure to turn off the light when you leave the room.  It’s actually about something a lot more interesting, something that never fails to leave us both with a sense of awe and appreciation:

The people we meet because of the military life are such a small fraction of society, and yet I feel like Continue reading

Veterans’ Day Tribute

(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)
On a recent visit to the World War II Memorial, my thoughts went quickly to a woman who, though curiously quiet, measured, and reserved, is among the many profoundly brave and courageous WWII veterans: my grandma. As I wandered through the memorial’s great stone structures, emblazoned with thousands of stars and immortalized proclamations, I recalled the day that a tightly knit group of women characterized her as not only an extraordinary veteran, but also as an exemplary military spouse.
  
I was sitting at my aunt’s dining room table with my sister and sister in law, my mom and her four sisters, and my ninety year old grandma and her own sister.  We were gathered for my grandma’s birthday, but my aunts also threw a wedding shower for me; I was going to marry an airman in five weeks and join a life they knew all too well.
~~~

My grandparents met in World War II.  My grandma, Rose, was an Army nurse and my grandpa, Jim, was a bombardier with the Army Air Corps.  They met in 1943 in England, where Grandma was with the 44th Evacuation Unit and Grandpa was with the 9th Air Force.  In his journal, Grandpa wrote extensively about his experiences, his colleagues, and the love of his life, whom he affectionately called “Rusty” after Grandma’s bright red hair.

My grandparents’ units weren’t always near each other, and in fact, sometimes they were in separate countries.  But Grandpa went to great lengths to arrange visits.  When Grandma learned that her unit would go to France after D-Day, she called Grandpa and indicated in vague terms that her unit was leaving.  Understanding what she couldn’t directly tell him, he and a friend took a jeep to where he knew her unit was preparing to leave.

Knowing he had to make it through several checkpoints, Grandpa confidently and urgently threw out official-sounding words and phrases to the MPs: “We’re the Advanced Element of the Forward Operating Group!”  They were speedily allowed through.

My grandma was surprised and happy to see him, and they made plans to meet after the war.

After returning to his own unit, Grandpa wasn’t satisfied.  Days passed, and he didn’t know where Grandma was.  He resolved to make a “wild trip alone” to find her.  As it turns out, Grandma’s unit had been delayed, and he located her in a tent where she and many others were watching a movie.  A loud whisper shot through the crowd: “Jim’s here!”  And this was followed by Grandma: “Oh boy!”

I like to imagine that she stood, walked quickly, bent over in front of the screen, her shadow projected onto Veronica Lake. Outside the tent, they said one last goodbye.  Maybe they shared a romantic embrace and a long conversation where Grandpa made Grandma laugh the way he was known to do. Maybe he bent down to her five-foot-nothing frame from his six-foot-one tower and kissed the top of her fiery hair.  What I know for sure is that Grandpa was determined to see her again as soon as possible, and a month and a half later he got approval to personally inspect rockets and gyro gunsights in France.  He was able to see Grandma, and they discussed getting married.  Within another couple of months, they were engaged and later married in the Chapel of the Seven Sorrows in Notre Dame Cathedral.

Before I got engaged to my husband, I visited Grandma for an afternoon to ask her one important question: “How did you do it?”  After all, she’d experienced twenty years of moves, deployments, anxiety, danger, and uncertainty.

And Grandma being Grandma, an uncomplicated, realistic, calm woman, told me simply, “Well, I was busy with the kids.  And, Grandpa was always just so funny – when he was home, it was such a relief.”

That was it.  I focused on my responsibility and I enjoyed every moment my husband was home. Plain and simple.

Back at my aunt’s house, after I’d finished opening presents, eating cake, and sharing wedding stories, I asked my aunts: “So, as kids growing up in the military, how did you keep it together?”

In an instant, and without a word, all five fingers pointed to their mom.

And, characteristically, Grandma dismissed that she did anything remarkable.  But her daughters insisted, “She was our rock.  She kept it together.”

Reflecting on her life, it’s easy to see how Grandma developed the resilience and fortitude that gave her children necessary strength and security.  Grandma grew up on a farm in central Iowa and was the only one who left.  It was, perhaps, her first uncommon choice, but it was certainly followed by many others along with immense challenges.

In 1934, she moved to Ottowa, IL, to become a nurse, and she trained with a group of friends in Chicago.  When the war broke out, she and a friend bravely decided to join the Army.  She went to war.  She was behind enemy lines in the Battle of the Bulge.  She escaped the Germans in the still of the night, in a truck that went 5 mph to avoid making noise by shifting gears.  The quiet, patience, and focused determination that must have been required that night are overwhelming to imagine. She witnessed gruesome events and the grisly aftermath of concentration camps.  And in the decades that followed, she kept the minds of seven babes at ease, comfortable, safe, trusting, and assured.  She was married happily to my grandpa for 55 years before he died.

Grandma passed away at ninety years old, just ten days before I got married.  She was laid to rest next to Grandpa, who had passed away seven years earlier.  At her burial, my aunts, my mom, my cousins, and my sister and I sang “Dona Nobis Pacem,” Latin for “grant us peace.”  My mom and her sisters sang it frequently growing up, a tradition they imparted to their own daughters.

When I stop and think about it, I conclude that there couldn’t be a better hymn for my own life, and really it’s a hymn for all military spouses.  Live peacefully.  Do not complicate or overanalyze.   We military spouses make uncommon choices and face unique challenges in our unpredictable lives, but like Grandma, we have the capability to weather this life with resolve and steady measure.  When we do, we make a difference to others.  Grandma sure did.  We can, too.

Happy Veterans’ Day to my Grandma, my Grandpa, those who have served and those who continue to serve.  Thank you for being brave enough to do what most are not.

 

 

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

Barefoot Books Launch Event!

Ready… set… LAUNCH!

My Barefoot Books Marketplace is officially open!  From now until September 22, my Launch Event is going on online.  I’m excited to welcome a number of folks on September 20 to get hands-on peeks at numerous quality children’s books, designed to spark their children’s desire to explore, learn, discover, and HAVE FUN WITH BOOKS!

But just because you aren’t in the Northern Virginia area doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the fun.  If you live out of the area and would like to place an order, simply go to my Barefoot Books web site, click “Support This Event” under the Event description on the main page, and shop!  You may also enter Event Code 000-1jyq-10300 at check-out.

While you’re there,  Continue reading

My Hero, My Son

 

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You see that cake?  It’s made with about 10 cups of sugar and triple the amount of guilt.  

That’s what happens after your three-now-four year old spends a whole year without Dad and then sweetly asks for a “dragon cake wiff some sort of wittwe fing on the top of it” for his birthday.  As this was the first time Mike was home on our son’s birthday since his birth, well, we went a little crazy in the cake department.  

And on his fourth birthday, as he gleefully played with his buddies and begged for his cake to come before dinner, I got to thinking about what the last year was like while Mike was deployed, and how very strong our son was.  Man, did he handle that year beautifully.  He’s all but forgotten about that deployment, and here I am feeling like I’m still getting over it, still shuddering at the word and the residual stress that creeps like ivy around my memories.  

It’s amazing how someone so small can teach you something so big.  Of all the “teachable moments” I’ve had with my son, this past year Continue reading