Dear Soldier

I am not vain enough to believe that I can comprehend what you are going through, to think that I understand what you have faced. But I am grateful. It is not beyond me to know that while I am sitting comfortably in the safety of my living room, you are facing danger. While my children’s sweet voices pour through the house, rising and falling with their game of make believe, you are listening to a very different soundtrack, with much higher stakes.

I cannot imagine all the ways that your life requires you to show discipline. All of the things that you have had to refrain from in order protect our great nation. I cannot fathom how much time and work you have put into disciplining your body, your emotions, and your mind, in order to stay strong enough to complete the tasks you have been assigned, and to go on afterwards. Your dedication humbles me.

I do not know how many friends you have lost, or what all has been taken from you, in your single-minded pursuit to protect our freedom. I don’t know how many tears you have cried, or the ways that you have been hurt, outside and inside. I don’t know the loneliness that comes with being sent to new locations, with new people, and new regulations, at any given moment. I don’t know the feeling of walking on foreign lands in blistering boots, under a too-hot sun, with eyes narrowing at your presence. Nor how it feels to have to distinguish between “civilian” and “combative” at every turn. I can only imagine.

I, who have a hard time letting go of everything, cannot understand how it feels to have the hardest, darkest, days of your life replay over and over in your mind, even once your feet are back on the safety of American soil. It is too small, and too trite, but I just want you to know that I am so sorry for what you have seen. So sorry for what you have had to learn, and for what you can never un-know.

I don’t know why you decided to become a soldier. I don’t know if you have always been brave, or if you acquired that character trait later. I don’t know if you burned with a love for this country from a young age, or if the military was your means of getting an education. I don’t know if you have people who hold signs for you when you come home, or if you press on, alone, through the throngs of people waiting for someone. But I hope you are safe.

I hope you are well. I hope that you are healthy, and safe from harm. I hope that you see yourself as noble, and heroic, and as important as you are. While I cannot imagine having to do the things that you have done, I cannot imagine a world where you don’t exist. Your courage and bravery have forever changed the face of this earth. Whether young or old, struggling or thriving, you matter, to all of us. Maybe more than you know.

Maybe we forgot to tell you. Maybe we looked at you, without really seeing. I’m sorry for that, I really am. Maybe your war was disputed, and you were blamed for following orders. Or maybe your own war is being fought from within. Either way, you are brave, and worth fighting for. And also, worth thanking.

Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for risking your life. Thank you for being willing to give your all. Thank you for not giving up, even when you want to shake with fear. Thank you for doing the hardest things, for protecting my children from unimaginable horrors. Thank you for your trainings, and your sleepless nights, your struggling through the muck of terror, and hunger pangs, and very real threats. Thank you for bringing honor to our country, and making your uniform a noble thing.

Thank you for what you do, and what you have done. For the stories you tell, and for the things you spare us from. I hope that you know, that you aren’t fighting alone. That you have our support, and that there are people who appreciate what you’ve done. That even though we aren’t all able to do what you do, that we are keeping the home-fires burning for you, in our own way, to give you a country worth fighting for. That we are raising our children to be grateful for you, to show kindness, and honor, and to live lives they are proud of. That we are disciplining ourselves with gratitude, being gentler, and more willing to listen, because of you. That we are working hard to give you a place worth coming home to.

And I hope you do, come home, I mean. And I hope that it feels that way for you. That you are buoyed by the support we feel towards you. That you are able to look around, and be proud, and that you know we are so proud of you, too.

To all American soldiers, past, present, and future, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Who I’m Voting For

I am not a political person. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I, who have hard and fast opinions on everything from how to properly raise children to how to arrange the types of sweetener in the little plastic containers on restaurant tables. I consider it one of the greatest pieces of evidence that we in America are blessed beyond measure that we have the time and ability to know exactly how we like things, and how we don’t. On any given day, you can order a steak in a hundred different ways, and get it.

Politics are not like that. People are not like that. I have yet to be served all the options I checked on my ballot/ political menu. And many of the servers, I find, have not earned their abundance of tips. But we go on paying anyway, and often find ourselves eating the dessert that they recommended, even if it gives us a stomach ache.

I have, that I can recall, never posted anything political on Facebook. At least, nothing leaning to the left or to the right, and certainly nothing that I think of as tearing down this beautiful country that we live in. I love America, selfishly, like a spoiled teenager who has been given much, but has finally started to settle into the appreciation that comes with maturity. I am not blind to its failings, and while injustice breaks my heart, I find that there is so much hope here that the cracks are able to heal themselves, or at least form scars. There are bad people, evil people, but you guys, there are so many good people, so many good things.

America is full of beauty and diversity, courage, strength, and heroism. We are a nation of immigrants, a tapestry woven together with glimmering threads of hope from far away lands. We are a colorful people, a rainbow of hope filled faces. We are dreamers and doers, we are laborers and artists. We are a people of hope. A country whose courage has not been extinguished. We, individually, go about things in very different ways, but we are all hoping to leave this place better than we found it. All striving to make it a place of Yes for our children, a land fertile with promise for our children’s children.

It’s not that I don’t have strong feelings. It’s not that I don’t want to influence the world in one way or another. It’s that every time I get tempted to post something that puts down one candidate, or exposes their awfulness, I remember that they are just one person. Just one, and I know hundreds of people who believe in them. Or who are hanging their hat on that persons ability to change the country just a little bit more in a way that makes them feel safe. Or that makes room for their family.

I voted. I did. And I didn’t write in Pat Benatar, either. Even though, love really is a battlefield. Sometimes.

I colored that little oval in like it was the first day of kindergarten and I was trying to impress my new teacher, so carefully. It felt dangerous. It felt momentous. It felt like writing a check to 100 years of women suffragists, from my own bank account. But it didn’t feel like enough. Because it isn’t.

Tonight they will announce who our next President will be, and it won’t be someone that I absolutely believe in. It won’t be someone who shares my vision for America, not really. But, I won’t lose hope. I won’t give up. I won’t quit believing in my country. I am not looking at our next leader to fix what is broken in our great nation, because they can’t. Only we can.

We can. I know it. We can be kind. We can ask first, and lead with questions that enable discussion, instead of judgements. We can define men and women by “the content of their character, instead of the color of their skin.” We can be nice to each other. We can disagree, and still listen. We can hold up the hurting, and help the poor. We can mother the motherless, and father the fatherless. We can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. We can build up the broken, and we can walk with the lost. We can do it, you guys, because it matters.

Tonight someone will give a victory speech, and someone will concede. But we can all overcome. We can all be better. We can all try harder.

Tomorrow will feel different, for all of us. January will see moving trucks at the White House, again. But we can still come together. We can still hug tighter and hold longer. We can sing sweeter, and soften the sharp edges of our tones when we speak to each other. And we can look up, past the political signs, and see into the eyes of the people holding them.

People, all people, matter. Regardless of who wins tonight, I hope we don’t lose sight of that.

Stumble

The truth is

that I am not

a sage

I am a common traveler

looking

to find my way

 

I did not mean

to have

good intentions

to live a life

of a million

decisions

 

the truth

is that I

did not navigate

that I stumbled

upon the promised land

accidentally

 

I am just as lost

as you

I am the changing seasons

a sky once filled

with clouds

now blue

 

I am the leaves

vibrant, red and gold

one minute

then brown, and withered

falling, crepe-like hands

of the old

 

I too have one foot

in the grave

It’s just that I

am not complaining

I am trying my best

to be brave.

 

But, Even More…

My Dear Children,

Just in case you ever find yourself wondering how deeply, how truly, you really are loved, let me be the first to tell you. I love you with every fiber of my being. And yes, that is a lot of material. I love you with all of the breath that has ever been and ever will be in my lungs. I love you with every ba-bump-ba-bump beating of my hope-filled heart. I love you taller than all of the world’s mountains stacked on top of each other from end to end. I love you as long as every piece of spaghetti could stretch from here to the moon, tie themselves around it in a bow, and come back again.

I love your hearts. I love your minds. I love the questions that you use to fill up every bit of silence. I love your tight hugs, and your slobbery kisses on my possibly Aleut cheek. I love your hair in the mornings, and how you love to hear me sing in the evenings. How singing to you feels a lot like all of motherhood summed up together; starting something that I don’t know if I’ll be good at, trying to seem calm as I desperately try to do my best, the going on when my voice cracks, honoring your jukeboxes of requests, falling in love even more with your sweet little faces, and watching over you for as long as it takes for you to feel safe, and finally let yourself relax.

I love all of our jokes, and the ways that we double over with laughter. I love how you not only make me better, but you make me braver. I love watching your personality emerge as you are introduced to new situations. I love that I get to know you, and for that alone I am deeply grateful.

I love your late night giggles, when you are supposed to be sleeping. I love catching you being sweet to each other, when you don’t know I’m looking. I love watching you hold hands with each other in public, how you embrace life together. I love that having a big family makes life a kind of constant playdate, but a good one, not the ones I hate. I love how it feels to walk into every situation un-alone, with the strength of our numbers, keeping us afloat. How I am myself, but also your mother, how we are I’s but also a We, something bigger and better than just ourselves.

I love having so many things to live for, am deeply grateful for so many reasons to get out of bed each morning. I know that you are worth it, all of it, and so does your father. Even as we sometimes fumble in our learning to love each other, I hope you know that you are so much of why we keep trying to go on. And also, that we do truly love each other.

I love watching you use your strengths. I love that you are adventurers, bursting with excitement to explore new things. I love that you are nurturing, and how you try to teach each other the things that you are learning. I love the ways that you make this world better, how each lap around the sun, feels kinder.

I love that you challenge me, that you raise the bar on who I can be. I love your ideas and your insights. I love that you see things with an aerial view, from somewhere above what we all thought was truth. I love the way you smile when you are proud of something you have done. Love watching you push your physical boundaries to do things you didn’t know could be done.

I love how you rub your eyes when you are sleepy. How you look huddled in pools of blankets. How you ask for a drink of my coffee each day, and how you pretend to like it, even though I see you grimace at its taste. I love how you MomMomMomMomMomMom me, because it means that you still need me. I love that you are learning that you can do the hard things, that you have the ethics and morals to do the right things.

I love how you assume the best about people. That your innocence is a reminder of things I had long ago forgotten, but needed desperately to remember. I love how it feels to have your little arms around me. How you curl up in my lap, once again near my heartbeat.

I love your loud laughter, and how every night our upstairs sounds like a slumber party. How your giggles ricochet around our house like a thunderstorm of pink bubbles, amazingly loud, and bursting against silent, white walls.

I love that you are, as yet, unencumbered by the opinions and doctrines of others. I love that you are honest, and have a deep sense of what is true. I love that you look for the good in others. That you weigh your actions with their immediate consequences, especially on the hearts that love you.

I love watching you make things right with each other; getting to guide you through hurts and back to healthy interactions. I love watching the hard shells that try to wrap around your hearts when you are offended, be tapped by tiny hammers, until they crack, and you are ready to forgive and be yourself again. I love watching you hug, and set broken things right, then go play together, bonded more strongly for having gone through whatever happened, together . It humbles me, and helps me know that you will be okay, long after my wrinkled body has left this earth.

I love you. The real you. The ins and outs, and ups and downs, you. The you you’re proud of, and the you that you hide. The parts that ring with courage, and the parts that run scared. I love you when you are wrong, and I love you when you’re right. I love you in sunshine, and through the darkness of night. I have loved you young, I will love you old. Whether you are disobedient, or do what you’re told. I will love you high, I will love you low. Through winter’s grey, and past summer’s glow. I love you. I will love you. More than you know.

Bad Mom…

The truth is, I am not the mother that I hoped to be. I am not even the mother that I determine each day to be.

Every morning, my darkened house is broken into by the light of the sun, shining, even through the distance between us. Its golden fingers sneak through the gaps in curtains, its glowing feet, move impatiently, just outside of each creaking doorframe. Closer and closer it comes, illuminating everything in its path, a lamp being shone across a model train village, until finally, it crescendos. Like silent cymbals, the dawn finishes its breaking, the most polite of burglars, stealing only the shadows that remained.

It is then, sitting in the audience of that silent symphony, that I dare to dream. In the quiet presence of fleeting darkness and all-encompassing light, I plan my day.

I tell myself that today, I will be kinder. Today I will be fun and funny, all day, not just in bursts. I won’t get angry over spilled milk and loud objections to chores. I will not feel undone by the constant stream of discarded toys on the staircase, will not grit my teeth at the side-winding parade of possible paralytic danger that they pose. I will Pinterest and play, cook flawlessly, and without silent complaints. I will clean, like I am having an out of body experience. I will clean, and enjoy it. I will be the love child of Monica Gellar and Cinderella, singing and lovely, as I work my mannish hands to the bone.

I tell myself this, or at least picture it, while I sit on the couch, coffee in hand. My family still upstairs, peacefully sleeping.

And then they wake up, and so do I.

Would you like to know a secret? Not every day, but most, I feel as if my best is not good enough. I try, dear goodness, I try. But often, I feel as if I have failed to hit the mark on some unseen Mommy Measuring Cup. I pour my tired body into bed, exhausted, hoping that what I have accomplished will still be Enough.

But will it?

Didn’t my own mother do her best? Didn’t she try to carve out a beautiful life for us, with the only spoon she had been handed? Didn’t she scrape and save, sew and mend? Wasn’t there always more reasons for her to be stressed than I have, always more month left at the end of her money?

Then didn’t I forget her hard work, dismissing it as not good enough, before going off to college, to make my own life? I did, and I know I did.

Sometime between second grade and fourth, a chasm started to crack between us, opening wider and wider each year. Then blowing irrevocably open, a not so grand canyon between us, worsened by the dynamite of my rebellion.

Parts of me that were meant to remain soft, were hardened. My own hurts rang in my self-righteous ears, and what could have been worked out, became impossible. Where my heart had been tender, bitterness and crags of resentment now filled the landscape, making any effort on her part perilous.  I held my nose so high in the air that it is amazing that I never caught any birds with it.

I deserved better, I would do better, I would be better.

Now, I am five kids in. Sure, we have more, seemingly, than I did growing up. But I didn’t just want more, did I? I wanted, well, I guess I wanted perfection.

I look around, (isn’t comparison a killer?) and see so many mothers who seem to just have this. They are the Mommy versions of Usain Bolt, sprinting past me. Their perfectly coifed children quoting Tolstoy in the mall, while my three year old tries to scratch the skin from my face because I wouldn’t buy her a millionth stuffed animal. Women who never eat carbs, and who use all the time that this must save them, to do things that amaze everyone.

I don’t want to be them. Well, not really. I want this life, with this man, with my own children. Face scraping and all, my own free dermabrasion. They are the very best things that have ever happened to me. And even if I feel at times like I am not everything I should be, or could be, I am still so grateful to be their Mommy. I’ll keep trying, and fighting for them, and cleaning the toilets I detest. Someday, when they have children, I hope they will see me with perspective. And I hope that even before then, they’ll know that I did my best.

While I may never be the mother, or person, that I dreamt as a young girl that I would be, I hope to always be the mom that my children really need.

How To Ruin A Family Vacation, Part Two

  • By this point, you should be experiencing some of the rotten fruits of your labor. Your body should be responding in ways that let you know that you are on the wrong track. Tension should be starting to manifest itself in your neck and shoulders, spreading up to the base of your skull, and aching in a way that emphasizes the fact that your twenties are long gone. Your mouth and throat will begin to show their support for this predicament by jumping on the drying up band wagon, detouring almost every last milliliter of saliva to other parts of your exhausted body.
  • Water, that’s what you need. Pass out the last water bottles that you brought with you. Barely contain your excitement that there is enough water bottles for everyone to have their own. Open yours, but take only one drink, you’ll finish it after your shower. Thirsty or not, you have children that need to stop jumping on the beds, and be encouraged to sleep in them.
  • Now, take the most green shower you have ever experienced. Conserve that water flow, baby. No whales are going to miss the amount of water coming through that shower head. Over the next few minutes you will not only receive second degree burns from someone using the sink in the other room, but you will also realize that your hair has congealed into one, hugely unattractive, dread lock. Spend the next several minutes trying to undo whatever mad science project is going on between your hair, hair products, sweat, questionable motel shampoo, and the trickles of scalding/freezing hard water at your disposal.
  • Be thankful that this is not your life. Well, it is, but only for one night. Gratitude will help bolster your spirit, and keep you caring enough to still be disappointed when the next day turns out poorly. You only have to get through this night. And by night, I mean morning, as it is now after midnight. Time to get a drink of water and lay down for a few hours rest. Tomorrow isn’t just going to ruin itself! Hydrate, like an Olympian. You are going for the gold, are you not?
  • Except, you can’t. Realize that your family members are all part camel, and they have filled their humps with every last drop of drinkable water, including yours. That’s okay, you’ll just swallow your pride, that should take a while.
  • Lay down on what can only be described as a rock bed on worn out springs. Pretend that you are at the suite at the hotel that you actually booked. You know, the one that you are still being charged for, because your psychic abilities are as poor as your mechanical skills, and your reservations are non-refundable. Knowing that you are throwing hundreds of dollars away, with nothing to show for it, will go a long way towards the successful ruination of your vacation.
  • As tired as you are, you might be tempted to give in to the lull of your husband’s 10 decibel snoring and enter into deep sleep. Resist. The ability to let your hopes be knocked around like a pinball depends partially on your inability to relax. Make sure to wake up fully at least 9 times over the next six hours. You, my friend, are an over-underachiever.
  • The next morning, put your husband in charge of securing a mechanic. Do not question his ability to do this. Instead, try desperately to entertain five cranky children through their disappointment, in a small motel room. Wait for several hours for your husband to return. Then, do not physically attack him when he shows up, nourished by the restaurant he discovered while out and about, “with an amazing salad bar”. You want to ruin your week, not your life. And if this is how you fare in a small space with people that actually love you, you have little hope of surviving prison. Also, you do not have the coloring or body type to pull off an orange jumpsuit.
  • Instead, be uncharacteristically patient when your husband says that it’s all good. Waste time trying to keep your failing trial run at the tiny house movement as clean as possible. Cleaning will ensure that you do not feel at all like you are on a vacation, and will remind you that you are currently without the actual comforts of home.
  • Agree to hold hands when your husband suggests that you all pray together as a family. Do not be at all suspicious when he begins, even though this is not a normally occurring event. After all, you are doing a pretty fantastic job of messing this up, but maybe some divine intervention could help things along. You’re not sure, but you think your insurance covers An Act of God…. Now, wait for it…. there it is! Hidden in the prayer your husband is saying, are the words. “And thank you God that the mechanic will work on the van tomorrow, and that we will stay here for one more night…” Those words will be quickly followed by the dollar figure that your salad consuming husband has already agreed to. This is where you will lose it. Right here. Right at the corner of this little trip already costing your family four digits financially, and the prospect of staying in a hooker motel, again. Act immediately. Do not allow yourself time to think or calm down. Yank your hand away from your husband and drop an F-bomb, while he is still mid-sentence with your Creator. This will not only shock your husband and children, but will allow you to feel a unique emotional cocktail of shame, embarrassment, and anger. Look at you go! You’re better at failing than you even thought!
  • Now you’ve done it! Your lack of holding it together has opened wide the barn door for your children to fall apart. Your motel room will quickly resemble a casting call for The Real housewives Of Hillyard. Chaos will ensue. Dr. Seuss was right, today is your day! No one can spoil a party quite like you can!
  • Buckle down. You’ve got to keep going, the time is half through. Just keep doing what you’re doing for the next 24 hours. Then, check out of your motel, and try to entertain your children for 5 1/2 hours at a truck stop this close to a bustling freeway. Pay the mechanic, up front, of course. Then get your hopes up right before he informs you that you have cracked your head gasket, and maybe the head.
  • Finally, do what you should have done from the start, and call your best friend to pick you up. When she drives from two states over, with a tow trailer hooked to her 8-passenger Nissan, you will really let go of all the remaining pieces that you were holding onto. You’ll just stand there and cry. Because you feel like you’ve been through so much, even though that seems so shallow, because this Missoula not Syria. But also because you have someone that loves you that much. And because she made you laugh when she said that she only wished you had broken down in Florida, so you could squeeze in a vacation.
  • You’ll head back to the place where you started from. You’ll have lost your minivan, a chunk of money, and most of your self-respect. But at some point during the last leg of the drive, you’ll realize that you are smiling, that you are just as safe now as you were all along, and that still have everything that you cannot live without. Before you can stop it, you will be filled with gratitude. While your weekend earned a gold star in awful, you’ll be thankful for how other things in your life are turning out.

How To Ruin A Family Vacation, Part One

  • There are many steps to properly ruining a family vacation. You’ll need to fully dedicate yourself to the process, but stay focused. Vacation annihilation is possible. And since I have personally accomplished this feat, I will describe the process in several easy steps. Feel free to make different twists and turns, to really ruin your own family’s time of relaxation to suit your specific needs. Own it, that’s the key. After all, the money that you’ll be wasting is your own, your sad and vague Facebook posts should be as well.
  • But for reference, here’s how we managed to really excell at our most recent stressful summer situation:
  • First, and this requires some pre-planning, pay off all non-medical debt. Then, to assure that you never go back into debt, get rid of all credit cards, except for the absolute necessities. (I.E. your Target card and Nordstrom card.) This step may seem unrelated, but trust me, it is imperative to making sure that you cannot charge your way to frivolous things such as safety and bliss.
  • Second, instead of being at home with your family enjoying a long, lazy summer, go back to work. In fact, work more hours in 8 weeks than you have cumulatively throughout the previous year. This step is critical, as it ensures that both your children and husband will be disappointed with you. Their loud vocal hysterics will completely strip you of the feelings of accomplishment that you had after working all those long, emotionally draining, shifts caring for foster children. This disappointment will set your trip off on the wrong foot, helping to make sure things go roughly.
  • Next, plan almost all of your family’s trips for the last 3 weeks of summer vacation. Doing this will heap pressure onto what other people refer to as “dog days”. Well, you’re no mutt, so get out there! Plan for spontaneous fun in carefully detailed increments. Doing this with a fast approaching timeline in mind for the end of summer, is a helpful way to have something hanging over you. It creates a real lose/win situation. Even if you lose at winning, well, you’ll win at losing.
  • Speaking of winning, try your hardest to plan this particular trip to coincide with your body’s monthly reminder of it’s former fertility. This will allow you to get the most bang for your emotional buck. Yes, ma’am. Your three days of hell won’t be glossed over by a sunny disposition. In fact, your entire weekend will feel like an emotional montage with a diverse range of characters. You will feel everything, EVERYTHING, even things that don’t actually happen. And also cramps.
  • Once those things are in place, secure a toddler between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Place the toddler behind the driver and just out of the passenger’s reach. Make sure that the toddler drops their favorite stuffed panda to the left, so that it cannot be picked up by anyone in the vehicle. Do this precisely as the vehicle is careening down a 6% grade for 3,000 feet at 85 miles per hour. It is imperative that the toddler both screams at the top of their lungs steadily, and that they kick the back of the driver’s seat. This should be done in a random, but unrelenting, pattern, with a fierceness that channels Bruce Lee.
  • Do not bring enough tablets for your children. Believe that they will become better people if they learn to share, and hold fast to this belief, even when backseat infighting makes you want to throw your ideals out the window with the dang panda.
  • Once you are 125 miles from your destination, and over 200 miles from home, hear something strange from the front of your car. Pull over into the overwhelming darkness, right next to America’s creepiest farmhouse, and get out of the vehicle. Realize that you have no cell service, and also that no one would hear you screaming. Make sure to pick up each lid and bottle from the water that your husband is furiously dumping into some angry car part, because you care. But, also in case a creeper with a saw is watching, and would decide to spare your family based solely on your stewardship of the planet.
  • Drive to the next town, once it is questionably safe to do so. Realize quickly that every hotel is booked for the night. Receive a warning from a kindly mechanic that your water pump is breaking and that you should drive no farther than a half mile, or risk blowing your van’s head gasket. But, he says, don’t stay in that motel over there with children. It isn’t safe and it’s kind of a Crap Sandwich (and no, he didn’t say crap, he said something else.)
  • Determine in person that every other hotel/motel is still booked solid, and get the last room available at the Crap Sandwich motel. It’s almost midnight, and the only other option is to sleep in the parking lot. Notice while unloading your children that the light in the parking lot is being provided by the adjacent building. You know, the one with the sign on top advertising a liquor store/lounge and exotic dancing.
  • As tired as you are at this point, do not give up. Hold fast. Your vacation will get much, much worse over the next 48 hours…