No Memorial Day For Us

I never know how to act when Memorial Day rolls around. This is not a day that we celebrate nor do I try to talk about it with my husband R.

He’s known too many people who have died, far too many for people in other careers. I know that R misses his friends more than actual places where we have been stationed probably more now than ever. He’s made friends here in California but can sympathize that there’s just something about living near a base. There is a sense of community that binds us together if we fight against it. Unspoken bonds like living without our spouses for months at a time and married-single-parenting. Civilians can try and want to understand but there’s nothing like knowing that every single person around you is going through something similar.

R doesn’t stop watching the news and scanning news websites even after his time in the military. He has been to nearly every corner of the world and truly immersed himself with the people and cultures wherever he’s been. Why wouldn’t he want to know?

I would not. I stopped watching the news the first time R deplolyed. Perhaps in my naivete I believed that if I didn’t see anything bad happen on TV, nothing bad was happening to R. 

When quite the opposite was happening one deployment at a time. 

Whenever he came back, he was a little different like a tiny part of his soul was stolen. I didn’t notice it at the time but after his first deplolyment in many years, R came back in 2006 changed.

I couldn’t ignore his anxiety. He would involuntary shake when he heard a car drive too fast over the speed bump next to our house. I feel very fortunate that his anxiety never manifested itself violently towards me, our children, or himself. But in that moment I knew he was different. So many other new behaviors have manifested, so different from before. 

Different in a way that Memorial Day is to our family. In many ways I find it difficult to acknowledge so I don’t. I don’t complain about how Memorial Day should be about the fallen, not veterans. I don’t complain that we shouldn’t put Memorial Day and “celebration” in the same sentence. I waited for R to talk about whether or not we wanted to make plans.

He didn’t. We didn’t.

It’s probably best that way. 

Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service

After all, I did not make a commitment to our country to fight in the military. I only married someone who did.

Over the years my husband R has been stopped many times by people who wanted to thank him for his service. Like many men and women in the military, R is pretty humble about it and gets embarrassed easily. Don’t get me wrong, he does acknowledge their compliment but in Garth-like fashion, he slowly slinks away.

And on occasion, I get a thank you as well.

Those thank-you’s come from a sincere, kind place but there was no service done on my behalf.

I knew what I was getting myself into when I married into the military. I knew there would be months at a time when I would worry myself sick. I knew there would be a time where I would be by myself for long periods of time and if we started a family, I would be raising our children on my own.

I knew that.

Sure, it got tough when he went on a deployment four months after our first child was born and I was timezones away from either our families. It got tough when he was on a submarine and I didn’t hear from him for months at a time. It was extremely difficult whenever I watched the news about the death toll of American soldiers in the Middle East.

I thought nothing wouldn’t compare to teaching first grade while pregnant and raising a toddler and a preschooler. All the while, R was on a seven month deployment.

But then the phone call came on April 23, 2010 and surely nothing compared to that.

In spite of all that, those events were nothing compared to what
R went through. He doesn’t talk much about it and I don’t blame him. Over the past fourteen years, deployments have taken its toll on him. I didn’t know anything about PTSD until I saw him shaking uncontrollably when a car in our neighborhood drove too fast over a speed bump and made a huge booming sound that echoed through our house. Years later, he can’t go to Giants game with free tickets that were donated by a military charity without panicking. Years later, we plan all of our outings for first thing in the morning to avoid crowds and noise. Years later, our last trip to Disneyland had to be planned down to the minute so he could escape and retreat back to our hotel room whenever he needed to… and without the kids noticing.

Years later, I have found I know more about PTSD and yet I know very little.

I was able to raise our children, work a few years here and there, and enjoy our duty stations; he was doing the exact opposite.

So while I do appreciate the kind words, please don’t thank me for my service; thank my husband instead.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all those who served. May the lines at the VA be in proportionate to the loved ones around you– short lines and lots of love!

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

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Twenty Years

After two decades, his day has come.

My husband R retired from the US Navy… Yesterday!

He began the day just outside of JEB Little Creek and finished it in Kentucky. He will be with family in a few days, spending time with them until the next chapter of our lives begins.

R is quite emotional and rightly so. What a huge transition!

And yet I seem to have forgotten the other person this affects greatly! That’s me!

I won’t have this independence that I once loathed, this independence that basically forced me to suck it up countless times through the past twelve years, this independence that compelled me to work, even while pregnant and raising two preschoolers.

I wonder what will happen to this independence. R would never hold me back; the Navy did that for him. I wonder if it will be difficult, if I will push myself, if it will even matter how thick skinned I’ve had to become.

It was no easy feat.

His new chapter. My new chapter. What difference does it make really? Come along for the ride.

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One of the few photos I have with him in uniform. Top: Navy Day Ball 2000. Bottom: Family trip to Disneyland, 2012.

At Peace

When my mother asked me where my husband R was going last week, I told her that he went to a clinic in DC to evaluate his TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

My mother said, “He can’t have PTSD.”

What?

“It’s only for women.”

Huh?

“Only after they have a baby.”

After having a good laugh, I gently explained that that was called post-partum depression, something very different than post-traumatic stress disorder although you can probably get PTSD from PPD.

He’s still there now, amazed at the snowfall because he hasn’t lived in snow since he was in high school.

This stay, among the last few years that he has lived apart from us, is doing wonders for him. It is premature for me to share but I think he’s finally at peace with all of his ailments, his complaints, his chronic pain. Doctors are validating his experiences, his anecdotes of daily pain, his anxiety, his everything.

I can hear the sigh of relief from across the country.

I know him. He’s a good man. He has never been one to boast (quite the opposite of his spouse, heh), never been one to complain, and has felt guilty about his injuries because although they cannot be seen, he feels like he has to explain them all the time especially when a new batch of coworkers arrive.

He’s been talking with other soldiers who are going through similar situations.

This is exactly what he needed.

About a year after the accident, R told me he felt like he “owed” another deployment. He needed to go back for himself, for his friends who were injured, for his friends who died. Had he retired early, had he left the Navy early, had he done anything differently, he wouldn’t have arrived at this place right now.

He would have resigned himself to a life of regret.

Later he saw with his own eyes how much his command had changed since he last deployed. It wasn’t the same anymore. Many of his friends moved on or switched to different jobs. Later he realized regarding possibly deploying again, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Although we all hate that he is away, his geobachelor status forced him to find himself by himself without the distraction of a family because even though we may love our partners and families, they aren’t us. We need to know ourselves to be stronger in every element in our lives whether it is in our marriages, our families, or our professions.

How amazing it is for him to have the opportunity to learn more about himself, to know that his chronic pain is not in his head, to have doctors document his ailments both seen and unseen to the naked eye.

This hospital stay gives me hope that when he finally comes home maybe he won’t be as broken as I thought. He won’t ever be the same. None of us will.

But now we’ll at least have a map and a plan.

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The Top 20 Trial

I am not sure why but what my family and I have gone through doesn’t seem like much until I actually tell someone, until I say it out loud. Maybe I have tried not to dwell on it or overthink it. What has happened is already done.

A month ago I got an email from my husband’s command about nominating a millitary child for Operation Homefront’s 2012 Military Child of the Year. Both my husband and I thought our oldest (who at ten years old met the age requirement) would be a great candidate. He wrote his letter of recommendation.

I wrote mine.

Oldest of three children. Has lived in three states. Has lived more months without his father than with. Many military children have similar stories.

This story belongs to my son, M___, my nomination for Military Child of the Year.

We know all about LEADERSHIP, RESILIENCY, and STRENGTH OF CHARACTER in our family and M___ has demonstrated them all. My husband’s vehicle rolled over in Iraq in 2010 and I made the quick decision to temporarily move to Washington D.C. where he would recover for the next several months. When my husband finally came home to continue his rehabilitation, M___ supported him every step of the way by helping him walk, cooking, encouraging his father to keep up the great work, and even accompanying him to doctor’s appointments as far as two hours away by car.

When my husband was called back to work, he made the painful decision to continue living as a geobachelor thousands of miles away to finish his twenty year term with the Navy. Like all of us, M___ was devastated even more so since this was the longest we had ever stayed together under the same roof since his middle sister was born. The time period was only four months and his middle sister five years old at the time of the accident.

Yet despite these challenges, M___ continues to be a straight-A student and is an excellent role model for his peers. He is a wonderful big brother to his younger sisters and often offers to make their breakfasts in the morning. “So you could sleep a little longer before you have to go to work, Mommy,” he says.

M___ volunteers with our church at least ten hours a month, serving as an assistant Sunday school teacher to kids from kindergarten through fourth grade. He also volunteers for monthly PTA school events such as our annual book fair and monthly movie nights.

In addition, he is immensely talented. He is currently an orange belt in karate and has been chosen by his martial arts studio to be a member of the Black Belt Club, an organization that recognizes dedication and excellence. M___ has taught himself how to play the piano and most recently, the ukelele with nothing more than a song book.

It is with great pleasure that I submit M___ as my nomination for Military Child of the Year. Thank you for your consideration.

Over winter break we were notified that M had made it into the Top 20 Finalists for the Navy! I had to secure two letters of recommendation and send in more information.

Last week he made it to the next phase: the interview.

Last night he spoke to a representative from Operation Homefront for about ten minutes. He thinks it went pretty well.

Even if it didn’t, he’s still a wonderfully awesome kid and we are so proud of him! Thanks for your kind words and thoughts over the past few years. Sharing our story is chicken soup for my soul but reading your comments is Christmas candy on clearance!

The Connection Conundrum

My husband has been gone for over a week and the realization is finally hitting us.

We both have gone back to work, he at his command and me back to being a full-time mom, part-time sub, and now part-time direct sales saleswoman. That’s a whole other part of my life but I won’t try to sell anything on here. Navy Wife Chronicles is my therapy, not my sales pitch.

On Tuesday, I felt disconnected, overwhelmed, anxious. I had a lot of nervous energy that I was going to burn off playing Just Dance on the WII.

Then I got a call from R.

He had just hit a car.

He was looking for a parking spot at Naval Portsmouth hospital, circling the huge parking structure for at least twenty minutes. Anxiety. Overwhelmed. Perhaps a bit scared.

Feeling pressure to try to navigate the aisles crowded with monstrous SUVs as quickly as possible, he accidentally sideswiped a car and left a noticeable scratch.

He left a note with his insurance information, worried about being sued, worried about the insurance company raising our rates, worried about missing his important follow up appointment, worried that he was feeling so anxious.

Ah, that’s why I was feeling so anxious.

Do you believe in being so connected to someone that you can feel what they’re feeling, even thousands of miles away?

I didn’t but since being married, I do.

I knew there was something wrong on April 22, 2010 even before someone from his command called me. I woke up in the middle of the night, headed for the bathroom, and said aloud, “Something is very wrong”… even before I realized what I was doing.

Twenty-four hours later he feels better and worse. Better knowing that although the car owner called him and his insurance company, she thanked him wholeheartedly for leaving his information in the first place. Worse because now he has the flu.

Twenty-four hours later I feel better and worse. Better knowing that he’s better. Worse knowing that I can’t give him a hug.

The Surprise Approximation

In an email to the kids’ teachers tonight:

M, A, and L may have mentioned to you that their father is flying in from Virginia on Friday night. R is stationed in Virginia Beach and we have not seen him since May.

What they don’t know is that he is actually flying in at noon. Depending on the arrival time of R’s flight, he may drop by your classroom the last few minutes of class to surprise them. Also, he doesn’t know it yet but he’s going to sign up to volunteer in the kids’ classes at least once a week for the next two weeks while he is home.

He will leave on November 4th so please contact me if you notice any of the kids having difficulty with his departure.

Thank you for your understanding and patience,
A
(XXX) XXX-XXXX

The Failing Worry

It probably goes without saying that there are many things about our military life that I cannot talk about with anyone, let alone on a public blog. Hopefully I’ve made you chuckle once or twice. This blog is just a glimpse of what our life is like. The darker moments are kept hidden on purpose.

I worry about my husband constantly. Yes, he’s an adult. Yes, he can take care of himself.

But can he?

He suffered a traumatic brain injury two years ago and only now am I privvy to the amount of pain and anxiety that he is still going through. I know he’s been in pain but he never told me that it is constant, that some days are better than others.

That some days are far worse than others as well.

I worry that he may not be getting the counseling and therapy he needs right now, whether he admits it or not. Whether he wants it or not.

I don’t think he is.

And it isn’t entirely his fault. Nor is it entirely the military’s fault.

I think there are so many factors that come into play when it comes to these issues. First of all, most of us will not admit when there is a problem, let alone a stubborn male like many husbands we know and love.

Second, even if he was aware of it, would he really seek it on his own? Would he feel like he could handle this? Would he feel that this is just something that is temporary and will pass once he retires?

Furthermore, follow up counseling is mandatory for everyone coming back from deployment but is it enough? Should they constantly have follow up counseling? Who knows if or when a soldier will demonstrate signs of PTSD? What then?

Finally, even if there were regularly scheduled and required counseling sessions, wouldn’t many of them see it as a joke and just not show up?

I worry about R. I worry about our life together when he retires. But I don’t worry for my life. I don’t worry for the safety of our children.

I worry that R is broken. I worry that he won’t ever be fixed no matter how much we will it and want it to happen.

The Entitlement Hypothesis

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I took the kids to a baseball game today and they tried to get autographs from the minor league players but A only got one. M didn’t get any. One of the security guards told everyone to try again after the game.

My kids were bummed but I told them not to worry. We’d try again after the game and if we don’t get any more today, that’s alright. We would be back for at least one or two more games before the end of the season.

Like any teacher or parent, I want my children to be prepared for disappointment because IT WILL HAPPEN. Not only do they need to feel it, they need to know how to cope with it.

Last week I subbed for a first grade class a couple of times. There were a couple of boys in the class who, I will later learn that they’re younger than everyone else in the class, did not know how to cope with any negative feelings. If they didn’t get chosen to be first to say an answer or if they lost a spelling game, they threw temper tantrums. Yes, actual tantrums as in crossing their arms and sitting under their desk or even throwing down their sweater and stomping!

Now one of the few drawbacks in being a sub is that I don’t have the chance to get to really know the children I sub for. I don’t know, for instance, what would have been the best way to handle the situation for each particular kid or if there was even anything I could have done to be proactive. I don’t know.

After the game, the kids and I sprinted to the edge of the seating area. I showed them how to hold out their brand new baseball and new pen in the shape of a bat, waving it around to get their attention but not being obnoxious about it. But we were standing next to a mom that was.

The Sacramento Rivercats lost 10-2 and some of the fans were saying that they don’t give out autographs when they lose. I understand that; who would? For us to even be out there to AT LEAST TRY for autographs was still pretty cool. Autographs aren’t required by management. But that mom didn’t get it.

She was full on yelling at the players when they walked by, “Hey! Come and sign some autographs! These kids come out here to support you! Show them some good sportsmanship!”

I wanted to put my hands up to separate my family from her and shout out, “These views do not reflect all moms out here!” but I didn’t. I didn’t say a word. Time and place, I told myself. Time and place.

When she finally left with her boys, a guy standing next to me said, “Geez, what’s her problem?”

I just shook my head.

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After she left, two players came out of the dugout (I don’t blame them for waiting) and signed EVERYONE’S souvenir. I noticed they did it wordlessly but I told the older two (the little one opted not to do the autograph thing) that they had to ASK for an autograph, say PLEASE, and say THANK YOU afterward.

M asked the first player, Wesley Timmons, “Can I have your autograph?” The baseball player laughed and said, “Do you want my name or yours?” M thought about it and then said, “Yours.” The player smiled and said, “Here you go.” M said, “Thank you!”

A asked the second player, Michael Taylor, “Can I have your autograph?” and the conversation went the same way. Actual conversation with the kids. Connecting through love of the game.

Which brings me to my next concern. Entitlement.

I was taught at a very young age by Filipino immigrant parents that if I wanted something, I had to get out and get it. No one was going to do it for me. No one was going to give me special treatment. Don’t expect that. Ever.

It’s a work ethic I expect my husband R and I to instill in our children. Work hard. Don’t expect anything from anyone except for yourself.

That mom went home thinking that her kids DESERVED to get autographs. What is that teaching her kids? Their kids did nothing to EARN autographs except buy a ticket to a baseball game but even that doesn’t ENTITLE you to an autograph.

My kids went home grateful that two baseball players stopped to sign their balls.

Much in the same way I carry the label “MILITARY SPOUSE”. I own it. It’s mine. But I (and thousands of other military spouses) don’t think that the world should fall at my feet because of it.

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The world should fall at my feet because of ME, regardless of my spouse. Mwahahahahahahaha!

Will I ask for a military discount? Of course! Doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

Do I EXPECT it? Of course not. How much more cordial would we all be if we just deleted entitlement from our egos? How much easier would it be to deal with disappointment if we treated each other with respect and relied on grace to get us through tough times?

At the very least, we’d probably get more autographs.