The Thanksgiving Malfunction

I am rarely on Filipino time, aka late. I like to go to my destination early, get good parking, and leave early whenever possible. This is particularly important when I have to keep R’s anxiety in mind.

This Thanksgiving we drove to my aunt’s house and arrived an hour before everyone. R was able to stake out a good spot to rest, aka nap. My family and friends know that when we need to go WE NEED TO GO.

This year was no exception. Delicious food, a missing turkey that I was allegedly supposed to bring, and lots of little cousins for the kids to play with.

It was a great day.

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With the exception of my two older cousins, all of the little ones that aren’t my kids are my second cousins. Their grandmother or grandfather was my father’s sibling. Isn’t it amazing how different they look?

When they all get together, it is as if no time has passed. Cousins indeed.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

I love Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and ukeleles so naturally I love this video:

We just got home from my cousin’s house after ringing in the new year with family. This does not include the other party we went to for lunch! Yes, we are pretty full, exhausted, but had a lot of fun being with friends and family.

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I gather that you’ve figured out that I’m Filipino and can barely understand and speak Ilocano, let alone Tagalog, so imagine my family’s surprise when my husband R busted out this karaoke song. (Obviously he’s not Filipino and didn’t understand what he was singing but I think I caught everyone’s reaction to his song!)

Hope you and your loved ones have a safe and prosperous new year!

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The Cramming Curve

The kids are sleeping over at their cousin’s house. Six kids over there total. School is out for all of them. They aren’t watching TV, playing video games, or arguing. They are just hanging out in the backyard, playing modified zombie tag or dodgeball.

The possibilities were endless for me tonight. I could have caught a movie, went out to eat by myself, or even drive a half an hour to the nearest bookstore.

Nope. I drove to a nearby Starbucks to study.

Yes, study.

I planned on waiting until the fall to take the two general science tests so I could put in hundreds of hours studying but I didn’t want to wait anymore.

The most surprising thing about getting older is that I have actually retained what I have learned from high school and college. I do not attribute it to an eidetic memory as I am pretty sure I don’t have one. I give full credit to my teachers who did not rely on bribes or threats to get me to do my work. They simply believed I could do it and pushed me when I needed it.

Despite almost flunking out of college for trying semester after semester to be a struggling biology major, I still knew biology. I still remembered every scientist and scientific law my chemistry teacher mentioned twenty-two years ago.

So as I read through the study guides of other students preparing to take the same test, I am ecstatic that this is not brand new information that my old brain is trying to grasp. Granted I never took physics so physics sometimes baffles me, but I still remember who Boyle is. I know about chemical reactions and the purpose of mitochondria. I know the periodic table better than my kids’ birthdays on a good day.

My third 5K EVER is in a week and this general science test I will happily devote dozens of hours to studying in two weeks after. This newfound energy is good for me, for the kids.

The boy tries to get to as many karate classes as he can and a couple of weeks ago, I finally woke up. Why was I just sitting in the car or running errands while he was working his butt off and the girls were bored out of their minds? I put on sweats and running shoes, check the girls into the gym’s kids section, and take a class or get on the bike. They’re all happy, I’m exhausted, and all of this is fine with me.

The kids like the idea of watching Mommy learn and study. Seeing Mommy buried in a book is nothing new, especially when Mommy’s got a lot of urban fantasy books piled up next to her bed. But I make sure they see me make goals, question the way something has been explained, and search for an answer that I can understand. We’ve already watched two DVDs from the library about earth science. Yep, one of them is from Schoolhouse Rock.

I am excited about this direction that life is taking me. Either that, or this is a pretty strong frappuccino.

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Happy Memorial Day!

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Thank you to our military, past and present. We continue to honor the fallen and we help surviving spouses and children remember their loved ones. THANK YOU! YOU WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN!

This is dedicated in memory of my husband’s friend, Steven P. Daugherty.

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We are spending our Memorial Day at the Sacramento Rivercats game. It is Military Appreciation Day at the park so the kids got free American flags. Just before the game, two dozen young men and women took the Oath of Enlistment.

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A trip to the ballpark is not complete without nachos! Also, we have fourth row seats next to third base and the sun is shining today.

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My shirt says, “U.S. NAVY SAILORS ROCK”!

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No one believes in me

As I tucked my nine year old son M into bed, I noticed he was sobbing.

“There’s no such thing as magic,” he began. “No one believes in me.”

I didn’t know how to respond and when I don’t know, it’s best to just listen.

It turns out that the latest fad at his school is magic. Not the Pixar kind, but actual magic tricks with cards and coins.

“I showed my tricks to the kids on the block and they said they didn’t believe in me. They didn’t even say I did a good job. They just thought I was lame.”

I thought about it. He didn’t want his tricks to be cool or WOW his friends; he just wanted them to appreciate him and to be proud of him. He wanted their approval.

He went on, “My friend P and X in my class would never have said that. They would have said they thought it was cool.”

“In life,” I said. “We have lots of friends. We have best friends that we tell our secrets and know they’ll always have good things to say. And we also have friends you know aren’t always going to tell you ‘Good job’. I’m NOT saying ONLY keep your best friends but save the really important things for your best friends.”

He seemed to understand the message though in that moment I felt like I failed him. Shouldn’t my own son feel so empowered that he can conquer the world?

Then he mumbled something. By this time he’s crying and I grab some tissues to wipe his tears. Like when Harry Potter falls into Dumbledore’s memory puddle, I get sent back into time when my husband just left that morning for his first deployment to Iraq. M was four years old. The tears flowed that night too.

“What did you say, M?” I asked gently.

“Daddy didn’t believe me,” he said. “He knew it was a trick.”

Ah. I finally understood. Father’s Day was three days away. He was holding back. It was about Daddy and all of these mixed up, intense feelings were coming up as something else. Anything else. But I wasn’t going to prod him. He’ll tell me when he wants to tell me. If he wants to tell me.

Somehow I got M to trust that maybe Daddy only knew that trick and to try more next time he saw him. Surely he couldn’t know ALL of them, right?

M finally calmed himself down. As I tucked him in, I repeated “I BELIEVE IN YOU” several times until his face relaxed. I started to name all of the people in his life who believe in him.

Luckily, he fell asleep before I could finish. I’ll be sure to tell him that he didn’t hear everyone’s names at breakfast tomorrow. With Father’s Day weekend just ahead, I know I’ll be wiping even more tears until the chatter about the weekend dies down at school. I only hope that M can find the strength to seek out his best friends when he really needs them.

I believe he will.

Sacrifices and homecoming

Dinner with Daddy before he left, February 2010

When my husband’s unit returned to the states in October 2010, his work wanted him there for the homecoming. Though several charities and organizations offered to foot the bill, he still had reservations about going.

He was still in a lot of pain and you could see it in his face and by the way he walked. He tried to hide his limp and he was embarassed he was still using a cane. The nerves in his left leg weren’t firing, causing his foot to involuntary drop as if he pointed his toes. It hurt for him to sit, stand, or walk for long periods of time. Like clockwork, he would get fatigued by early afternoon and was done for the rest of the day. He couldn’t walk or stand after he reached that point. The only thing that helped was lying down, a big problem if he’s on a long flight. His urethra tore in the accident so he had a superpubic catheter (connected to a hole cut through his skin and bladder and just under his belly button) and a urine bag, or “pee bag” as we affectionately called it.

Despite his medical conditions, I knew in my heart I needed to gently encourage him to go.

He had to go for his team. They bravely continued their deployments knowing that someone on their team almost died. They needed to see him, to talk to him, to breathe a sigh of relief that he was still alive and kicking.

Most importantly, he had to go for himself. I know he needed to see his friends again. To be with the men and women who had his back, who screamed when they saw the car roll over, who helped lift a car door off his broken bleeding body, who tied the turnicate around his shattered pelvis that ultimately saved his life, and who called me every hour to tell me where my husband was until he was back on American soil and holding my hand.

My husband was thrilled when I suggested he bring our son and even more thrilled when they said they had funds to cover M’s flight.

I pulled up to the airport feeling like I had never felt before. I was dropping off my husband but knew this wasn’t like other drop offs. He was coming back in five days.

Five days. I felt like I won the lottery.

I forgot about the lottery when it dawned on me that he was taking our baby. Our boy. Our first born. This would be the second time in my life that I wasn’t sleeping under the same roof as M. The first time was when my husband took him for a week-long visit to his parents’ house in Idaho. I didn’t have time to miss them as I was very pregnant with the second and slept most of the time.

The thought of not being with my son made me breathe a little faster but this was nothing compared to what my husband lives with every single day.

To be the one left behind feels like you’re being deserted. You have this household to run, kids to keep clean and well-fed, a house to maintain, bills to pay, and sanity to manage. Sort of like he’s jumping ship, every pun intended.

Sometimes I take it personally, as in why would he want to go? Why can’t he just retire early and I’ll go back to work full-time? If he wanted to stay, wouldn’t he find a way? Surely there must be some loophole that we and every other military family haven’t explored.

Sometimes I reach out to my friends and make plans to catch up. I know when I’m avoiding feeling something, anything, when I take on too much.

Other times I just can’t stand it anymore and cry.

In the end, he ultimately is the one that leaves, clearly the suckier deal. He doesn’t get a daily “Good morning” from three sweet angels. He doesn’t get to snuggle with his wife, a woman commited to him in sickness and in health. He doesn’t get to make pancakes with fresh blackberries picked from the side of the road. He doesn’t get to walk his kids to school every morning, pack their lunches, or help them with their homework. He doesn’t get to sit with them, vegging out to some tween show on Nickelodeon, or go camping in the living room on Friday movie nights.

He doesn’t get a good night kiss from his wife.

I don’t get a good night kiss from my husband.

How does he do it?

By definition of his job, he puts his life on the line every time he goes to a training where any small oversight could result in serious injury or death. Every time he deploys, he places himself in harm’s way.

[DISCLAIMER: This is the part where we’d go into lengthy and volatile discussions about Iraq, patriotism, politics, war, etc. and while I respect your opinion NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, this blog is not about that; IT’S ABOUT ME. Perhaps in time we can entertain these subjects but right now it’s ALL ABOUT ME. Thank you and back to your regular programming.]

But if you asked my husband what the biggest sacrifice he’s making right now, he wouldn’t tell you any of that. He wouldn’t say that it’s facing danger in every facet of his job, pushing his body to the limits to keep himself in shape to the point where he has broken ribs at several trainings, or even the money we’re paying out of pocket to pay for a separate residence [housing will pay for one residence and that is the house in which the kids and I live].

The biggest sacrifice he’s making is time. Or lack of it.

He’ll never get back the months of memories of each child or nights slept in a place that isn’t home. He’ll never get back the weeks we could have spent doing nothing which of course means everything. All of those hours playing with the kids or listening to me drone on and on about celebrity gossip.

All of the moments where he can just hold each child and get lost in their embrace.

Early retirement is off the table for him. With his twenty year mark being two years away, the financially sound decision is to just wait it out and most likely have disability stacked on top of his retirement.

Two years is not very long.

Not very long for a final and well-deserved homecoming. A PERMANENT HOMECOMING.

Heartache comes in all sizes

March 2010

June is an exciting time for kids. It marks the end of the school year, making summer plans, and organized activities like soccer and Girl Scouts slow down. But for many military kids, it’s a painful reminder of what they’re missing.

Or more specifically, WHO they’re missing.

Father’s Day is a bittersweet holiday in our house. After all, every day is Father’s Day. There isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t talk about Daddy, ask about Daddy, and wonder when Daddy’s coming home. Our kids are dedicated artists, making picture after picture “just for Daddy, not you, Mommy”. They remember he loves science fiction and Stephen King, asking if Daddy’s read a recent bestseller whose cover is adorned with dungeons and/or dragons or aliens.

Despite their efforts to look for the silver lining, to look forward to the date Daddy will finally be home, they cannot hide the expressions on their faces when they realize DADDY IS NOT HOME FOR FATHER’S DAY.

Though our oldest son M is nine years old, he’s only spent half of his Father’s Days with his father. He’s a tough cookie, just like his father, but even he cannot hide the sadness that overwhelms his face when he sees other kids with their dads. He probably feels guilty for wanting to trade places with other kids or wishing their dads were away too. He probably can’t explain the envy deep down inside, wanting his father to be there to beam down on him with pride and love that he sees other kids get every day. I see the look on his face when he sees a family and it slowly registers that he sees the dad lovingly engage his kids in conversation. Hugging. Smiling. Asking “What did you do in school today?”, knowing that the answer will always be, “Oh nothing.” That look would crush your heart and make your stomach feel like it’s imploding, all at the same time.

Every year M’s school’s PTA sponsors a Donuts for Dads event held the Friday just before Father’s Day weekend. Every year M’s eyebrows furrow and M complains why can’t his own Daddy be there with the other dads. Every year my husband is not around, it’s the same. He realizes this sad truth and goes into a depression, lasting about a week. Not even I, as crazy and silly as I am, can distract him from thinking about it and after a few thousand tries, I realize there’s nothing I can do but wait it out. Extra hugs. Not extra kisses because he just wipes them away, that stinker. (He does keep one or two now though!)

Now our middle child A is finishing kindergarten and loves telling Daddy about what sea animal she’s making in class, how much she enjoys painting, and how she can’t wait to be in first grade. She’s always been a firecracker (I have no idea where she gets it) and has had a boyfriend ever since she laid eyes on our next door neighbor and fellow kindergartener, F, to the dismay of Daddy. She’s always been the most independent. We could always tell when she was feeling sick when she’d come and ask us to hold her; otherwise, she’s always on the go and wanting to do her own thing. Daddy has been deployed or in long out-of-state trainings most of her life so she loved having him around when he came home to continue his recovery.

She did not, however, love that he moved back to Virginia. It didn’t hit her until we dropped him off at the airport and I remember exactly how it happened. We pulled up to the airport duh what else is new we’ve only been doing this all of our marriage and I saw her look out the window. My husband pushed the red button to unbuckle his seat belt and she gasped.

I’m surprised you didn’t hear it from wherever you live.

“NO, DADDY! DON’T GO! DON’T LEAVE ME!” over and over. Which of course made my husband and I look at each other with pink teary eyes. Which of course made our son start bawling. Our youngest L is three and she didn’t understand what was going on at the time.

I overheard my husband tell a nurse when he was at the VA Palo Alto that the best part of his accident was getting to spend so much time with the daughters he’s hardly seen since they were born.

L turns four next month and looks forward to hanging out with Daddy again. She is perhaps the one that has gotten the most baby time with Daddy. While the kids went to school and I got my nails done got a massage went to Starbucks ran errands, he got a few hours alone with her everyday until A came home from school midday. There are no words to describe how much it meant to each of them to have those precious hours. And I knew L missed him with all her heart but didn’t know just how much until yesterday.

The first thing I do on the weekends is call my husband. I was talking to him, still in bed when L wandered in.

“GOOD MORNING MOMMY!” she said with a huge smile on her face, the same smile she has on her face every morning.

“Hey L,” I said. “Wanna talk to Daddy?”

She grabbed my phone like she’s had her own cell phone all her life and asked, “Daddy? Are you on a plane to come home right now?”

Then there was that heart-crushing-stomach-imploding moment that I knew I was sharing with my husband across the country.

All of our children now fully understood our family life, our Navy life, our life shared by thousands of other military families. We aren’t looking for special treatment, free tickets to the now defunct Oprah show, or anything out of the ordinary. Just understanding and a smidge of sensitivity when it comes to all things military. A shoulder to cry on here and there. Recognition and asking us to thank our servicemember is not necessary but always appreciated.

When it comes to discussing war and politics, no matter what your views are, just remember the pair of little ears that might be listening and that his or her loved one is over there RIGHT NOW. Heartache comes in all sizes.

10 things that make me smile

Life lessons learned from my kids, #14-25

Best time to tell Mommy you're thirsty. At Starbucks, of course.

14. Always look for rainbows in the sky.

15. When you find a rainbow, tell someone quick!

16. If you’re supernice to the sibling you were just mean to a minute ago, Mommy forgets how mad she is at the both of you.

17. Dogs make good pillows.

18. You can absolutely have a bowl of cereal and eat it without milk. Use a spoon too. Mommy will give you a look like she’s confused but that’s okay.

19. Mommy sends us to our room so we can calm down but its also a break for her to stop yelling.

20. Roly poly bugs are the most fascinating creatures in the world. Until you see an ant.

21. You can’t jump on the trampoline without screaming at the top of your lungs. It’s just not right.

22. Huggies and kissies are the best when you least expect it.

23. Apparently you can have too many Twinkies if you and your sisters go through two boxes and Mommy didn’t get any.

24. Soda tastes better when you can only have it once a week.

25. Don’t bother telling Mommy you’re thirsty when you’re at a store. She’ll just tell you to wait until we get home because she already pays for tap water. Being at Starbucks is a different story.

Kids made this for a Veteran's Day parade three years ago

It’s time you met some folks I know

So I get a text this morning from my dear hubby:

“Ran 5K in 37 minutes.”

What the…? For those of you new to this site, let me hit the rewind button for you…

Here we are at the happiest place on earth, March 2010

A few weeks later, my husbad deployed to Iraq for a six month tour. Less than a month into his deployment, his car rolled over and crushed his lower body. I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures of him the first few weeks after the accident. I don’t know why. I suspect I was still in denial and having photographic evidence would make it real, that this nightmare was a reality.

After a few weeks at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he was transferred to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California via Travis AFB.

My husband and our son M at Travis AFB. He was heavily medicated and doesn’t remember me taking this picture.

He spent about four months in a wheelchair. He’s with our daughter A in the courtyard outside his room. Both have a new set of wheels.

And look how far he’s come. Great job, babe! So proud of you!