The Usual Effect

As I sit at my neighborhood Starbucks, reluctantly finishing up teacher prep for the following week, I can’t help but eavesdrop on the patrons.

As a mother and teacher, I am highly skilled in keeping a straight face.

Conversations at 8 in the morning don’t make any sense, especially if you’re a silent, uninvited guest. A group of women in their thirties talking about their husbands’ and children’s behavior, which is one in the same according to one fair-haired woman. A couple of college guys after a run discussing on how difficult it is to write without lines.

A older woman who just came up to me, I kid you not, to wish me a happy Easter and a reminder that Jesus loves me.

To which I replied, “Thank you… And He loves you too!”

She beamed and yelled, “Amen!” and left without another word.

If my friends were sitting next to me, they would have politely waited until the woman exited the establishment before losing it. Not because they are disrespectful and hate Christians or old people.

I have a very dry sense of humor and sometimes my delivery is unintentionally suspect.

It’s a gift, really.

The lady caught me off guard and I don’t like being rude, especially since I know that there is a tendency for many to be uncomfortable and even downright ornery when it comes to matters of religion, Christian or otherwise.

We get the usual religious prowlers [strong word but I’m going to keep it; it was a spelling word for my students this week] all the time. The Mormons on their bikes with their awesome suspenders. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and their pamphlets. My aunts who are some sort of Christian that always leave me with more questions than I have time to ask.

But I don’t mind. It does not take anything away from me to listen to them, to smile, and to accept whatever they would like to share even if it means we recycle it after they leave. Usually that’s all they would like to do.

Usually.

Now if people started to overstep a boundary and wanted to teach our children what we don’t believe in, we’ll politely decline and thank them for their time. There is no need, no obligation, no desire for me to argue. That is just what we believe.

About thirty minutes ago, a dad walked in with his two little boys. They were obviously running late but for some reason dad still needed to come in for a cup of joe.

He handed a drink to the older boy of about five.

Boom. No problem.

He then handed a drink to the younger boy who was probably about four. The boy’s face crumpled up.

Now I’m a sucker for the little ones so I felt bad for him. For a millisecond because I, for one, do love coming to Starbucks a couple of times a month. I will bring my children here even less frequently because come on, four dollars for a drink? Times three kids times me? Um, no thanks.

The dad said, “What’s wrong?”

The kid said, I KID YOU NOT, “DAD! I DON’T WANT THIS! I WANT MY USUAL!”

Yeah, pretty sure I could not keep a straight face.

The Marine Mammal Conservation

Happy Mother’s Day!

The kids and I spent the day in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco. We woke up early, left early, so we could get home early.

Our first stop was Baker Beach for Mommy’s pit stop for having too much coffee. I had hoped to take pictures of Golden Gate Bridge but the fog has a mind of its own.

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On our way we saw this lovely view.

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The Marine Mammal Center is a hospital for sick or injured marine mammals up and down the California coast. I don’t recommend it for really little kids as obviously it isn’t a zoo; they do not keep the animals. We arrived over an hour early but a kind docent allowed us to walk around and even talked to us about the pinnipeds.

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This seagull is Gertrude. Apparently she keeps all of the other birds away and “cleans up” any fish she finds.

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We met one of the artists of this magnificent sculpture. A sperm whale died on one of the beaches in northern California. Doctors found hundreds of pounds of fish nets in the whale’s stomach. The whale starved to death.

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She asked us to write our wishes on a piece of paper, to be added to her and her husband’s next sculpture that will be displayed in the center next month. This is what A wrote:

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We attended a docent-led tour which I highly recommend on your first tour. A was excited to answer questions whenever our docent posed them to our group. Both A and L were chosen to participate during the presentation. Our docent was kind and made sure every child had a turn to participate. I wish I could remember her name but I’m sure all of their volunteers are just as awesome.

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They have a special presentation every second Sunday of the month. Today was about the Hawaiian Monk Seals. We showed up so early (um, an hour) that the lead educator offered to save our seats for us. Each of the kids eventually fell asleep during the presentation. I was mildly embarassed but I didn’t care. It was a long drive (almost two hours) and we hadn’t had lunch yet. Two of the three founders of the Marine Mammal Center spoke after the presentation about the history of the hospital and their new published book about their journey that started over fifty years ago. I wanted to grab a copy of the book (and have them sign it!) but the kids were so exhausted they did not even want to go to the bookstore. My wallet did not complain.

Before heading back to Sacramento, I had to go to the beach right next to the center. Rodeo Cove was cold, of course. I was surprised that my son M complained so much when all of them LOVE going to the beach in Monterey and it’s the same weather! I think we have been spoiled by the early Sacramento summer.

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Once again we tried to see the Golden Gate Bridge but the fog persisted. I’m sure the fog eventually burned away but this is all we got!

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I didn’t want drive-thru food, not today on Mother’s Day. We celebrated with a late lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and scotchmellows from See’s Candies.

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Happy Mother’s Day especially to women who treat other children as their own!

The Toilet Paper Connection

Is this a mid-life crisis?

Like many of you I’ve had a million things on my mind, the bulk of which involve my husband R.

While I cannot go into detail about what we face in the next few months, he will undeniably be going through many changes in his career and health. His right thyroid will be removed next month as it is playing piggyback with a benign tumor the size of a tennis ball. His left thyroid has a cyst that doctors will be testing at the same time they take that damn thing out of his throat.

He’ll be home in two weeks on leave. R will be able to see A receive her first holy communion, an important step in our Catholic faith.

I nearly fainted at the prospect of buying her a new gown for the event. While a gorgeous new white gown is certainly not mandatory by any means, tradition and Filipino Catholic mom guilt (by my mom, not me) have prevailed.

Oh man, we had to get a veil too!

I am happy to say that I found a discount store and for the price of a dress at a popular bridal store, I was able to buy a dress, a veil, and four pairs of shoes for the kids!

But money is just one of the things I’ve been stressing over. The dog’s bills went up to four figures but thankfully we have been able to pay for most of it off in full. (Hey, that’s money too!)

I can’t help but feel total anxiety over yet more life changes and granted, these are wonderful changes, but they are stressful nonetheless. I really have a lot of respect and admiration for fellow military spouses and their families who keep it together. I cannot imagine a world where I actually live with my husband, where my kids get to see and hug and kiss their father every single day.

Will we seek therapy? I hope so! It would be unrealistic to expect an easy transition. In some ways I feel like I’m being demoted, from the sole decision maker and primary caretaker to an actual partnership with someone I’ve been married to for almost thirteen years but really have lived under same roof for less than half of that time.

And it is in this partnership that I have anxiety. I suspect I will fail on more than on occasion.

The transition to married-single-motherhood is fast, change quickly or you’ll drown. There is no learning curve, no time to whine, no one to quite confide in anyone as everyone around you is in the same boat.

So you adjust, you adapt, you change, you survive.

Now in the coming months I can do this with my husband but do I want to?

Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I don’t want him around nor am I saying I don’t want to be married anymore. Oh, hell no!

I’m just saying this next transition as he retires, as he moves back home with roommates he’s barely lived with will be stressful, which I’m sorry to say will mostly be on him. I just hope that the kids and I can help make this as easy as possible.

I know the kids are very excited. They love him to pieces and my existence sort of disappears when he is around. I don’t mind. Better that than being angry with him for his frequent absence in their lives.

I worry that they’ll take advantage of Daddy who is torn between wanting to do everything for his children yet not wanting to them to become too dependent on him.

Case in point: the toilet paper incident. L was about four years old when R came home for recovery. I came home from a sub job to hear L in the bathroom while R sat on the couch watching TV.

“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaddy!” she called. “I need tooooooooooooiiiiiiiiiiiilet paper!” R started to get up.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“She needs toilet paper,” he said.

I leaned over on the couch to peek in the bathroom. “She’s got a full roll.”

He said, “Yeah, but she needs me to hand it to her.”

I laughed and laughed to which he replied, “Aw man! I got played!”

And there you have it. My regular-life crisis.

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Saying Goodbye Again

Today marked the end of another fun-filled leave with Daddy. Christmas. New Year’s. Daddy walking the kids to class for the first time in months. Playing video games, doing puzzles, playing board games, baking… you name it, the kids have probably done it with Daddy and relished every moment.

The changes in behavior happened right on schedule. Last week to be exact. No one likes to be reminded of the ticking clock (especially my husband) but I do that so they’re not completely taken aback when he leaves.

“Mommy, can you fire Daddy’s bosses?”

The middle child is now seven years old and currently takes it the hardest when Daddy comes and goes. The oldest tends to bottle up his feelings, something that he’s started to do more often as he settles into tweendom. Luckily, he’s active and we have plenty of family and friends around to talk to him when he wants to talk, not to mention Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa are just a phone call away. The youngest understands a little. She talks about Daddy all of the time and asks when he’ll be home but the anguish, the pain, the heartache of missing Daddy isn’t expressed in the manner her siblings do.

“Um, I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t fire Daddy’s bosses.”

“Well, who can?”

“Daddy’s bosses’ bosses?”

For the past three days, she went on and on about how she hated it whenever Daddy left. Why couldn’t he just stay here?

But no matter how hard R and I try to explain, it won’t numb her breaking heart.

I contacted the kids’ school and teachers to let them know the kids would be late today and the possibility that they may not come to school. Who would want to go to school when the most awesome person in the world left you to get on a plane and you didn’t even know when you’d see him again?

I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t even know how to talk to a student who came into the classroom bearing that burden.

So I distracted them with an early visit to IHOP. We spent the rest of the morning quietly reading and practicing our math facts. Lunch was leftovers from yesterday. Daddy made meatballs.

Later the kids watched the third installation fo the Lord of the Rings movie during which I fell asleep. Then the boy and I threw the football around for a bit.

There was no arguing today. No whining. No complaining.

No one wants to put up a fight when there are bigger things looming in your mind.

And life goes on.

The Marching Triangulation

I’ll never forget the first time I saw my husband march in a Veteran’s Day parade. We were stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, TX and oddly enough, the public schools did not have the day off. I did not go to work (was a substitute teacher then too) and my son M did not go to preschool that day. He dressed up in a nice shirt and vest for the day along with a Santa hat, all ready to see Daddy march.

I didn’t take pictures that day, reveling in the excitement of the moment of not only seeing my husband in a parade but also seeing the pride in our son’s face as his father marched by.

This year was a bit different. Two more kids. Three timezones away from Daddy. We still went to the parade in town.

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R faces another surgery today and I know everything is going to be just fine.

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Just like the dog.

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Just like his brave, tough kids.

Leave: Warp Speed

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Two weeks with my husband have come and gone. We managed to pack a lot into fifteen days. Disneyland. California Adventure. A birthday party for A. The new Avengers movie. A wedding.

How did it go so fast?

When we dropped him off at the airport on Saturday morning, there was a brief threat of red, watery eyes but no tears fell. I don’t know why it was easier for the kids, easier for all of us to say good-bye today.

Every day R and I would talk about how it would only be another year before he comes home without a return flight back to Virginia. Every day R and I talked about how much easier EVERYTHING will be once we live in the same house again. Less bills. More time with the kids. More time with each other.

I forget how much it sucks to be a single parent. How much it truly sucks.

I don’t know how single parents do it.

They’re amazing.

I feel very lucky to have a partner who is a partner in every single way. He respects the boundaries and rules I have established all by myself and enforces them without question. He does more than his share of cooking and will do half of the chores when we divy them up together.

Without him here, I do everything. I have a handle on it most of the time, mostly because I have started to delegate jobs to the kids. When I get overwhelmed, I decide to allow myself to feel the stress and binge on a bit of emergency chocolate or treat myself to a mocha. Only then can I suck it up and move on.

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!

The Accident (or THAT Day)

It’s pretty amazing that my husband swam 800 meters today and plans on running a 5K race tomorrow.

Even more amazing that my husband was in a wheelchair this time last year.

My husband was serving his third tour in Iraq when the driver lost control of the vehicle. The humvee rolled over three times into the shoulder. It wasn’t combat related; no IEDs involved. R was in the back seat of the humvee with another soldier. The two in the front had a few scratches while the soldier sitting next to him suffered from a concussion.

R was not wearing his seat belt which was a common occurence out there. During the rollover his car door opened and R  fell out of the car, car door slamming shut into his pelvis, and was thrown out of the vehicle.

R remembers lying down in the middle of the road while a friend lifted the car door off of him. He wondered why he couldn’t get up. People around him rushed to tie turnicates around his hips and his left thigh. When R asked why he needed a turnicate around his leg, one guy said, “Oh, it’s just a scratch.” Fast forward years later and you can still see a chunk of his leg missing. 

It took roughly four days to get him out of a sand storm in Iraq, through Germany, and then onto National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland where our children, his parents, his youngest brother, and I finally saw him. 

Thinking about that week, that first time I saw him, still renders me speechless and hurts my chest like breathing in freezing cold air.

R’s injuries baffled doctors. The orthopedic surgeon revealed he rarely saw serious cases like R’s because people didn’t survive these kinds of injuries. R’s pelvis was fractured in seven different places, his urethra was severed, and nerve damage was quite extensive. Surgeons warned that he may never walk again, may never regain nerve sensations in his lower body, and even suggested amputation as a possibility. He had at least three surgeries while in Bethesda to align his hips and repair his right foot.

My husband had external pins in his hips and was bedridden for two months. He was able to sit in a wheelchair for ten minutes at a time before he left Bethesda. R was transferred to the VA in Palo Alto, California via Travis AFB where he increased his time his wheelchair a little every day.

In August 2010, four months after the accident, he stood for the first time since Iraq. He used a walker for two weeks and then moved to using a cane.

My husband was released from VAPA in October and received physical therapy a couple of times a week. He had surgery in November to repair his urethra. 

In March 2011 he got a call to return to work back in Virginia. On June 10, 2011, he will run a 5K for the first time since the accident.

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I read and reread this summary of what has happened to my husband in the last year and know in my heart that it doesn’t do justice to what he has gone through and what our family has gone through. There were hundreds of hours of therapy (individual, couple, and for the kids), long commutes to the Bay Area, and many conferences with the kids’ teachers. Post traumatic stress disorder. Traumatic brain injury. Long talks with the oldest who to this day still asks me, “Why did you say that Daddy had a LITTLE accident?” (I was minimizing the accident and didn’t really know what happened).

But some good came out of THAT day as well. So many charities and organizations supported us at a time we really needed it. So many doctors, nurses, hospital volunteers, patient advocates, patients themselves and their families went out of their way to reach out to us and we are still in touch with many of them today.

One day I will organize my thoughts and blog a bit more about the months proceeding the accident. But today I will leave you with this: I am grateful everyday that my husband is alive, that he will see our children grow, that he has come this far after such a devastating accident, that he continues to fight for his health and keep his body healthy, and that we will grow old together.

Living apart

People wonder how my husband and I can go months at a time without seeing each other. Many couples, military and civilian, choose to live apart for many reasons. Our biggest reasons were our three children, ages 9, 6, and 3. With the older two in school, we wanted them to have stability and not have to move every couple of years. Ninety nine percent of the time, we know in our hearts we made the right choice, even if it meant living a whole country away from each other.

The remaining one percent is comprised of random moments during the day such as this one. I really miss my husband right now.

It’s almost midnight. The children have been sleeping for over three hours. Nothing is on TV. I’ve read two novels this week so I’m taking a day or so before I dive into the next one, albeit a racy vampire porn– my new favorite genre.

I have no desire to turn off all the lights downstairs, climb the sixteen steps to our room, and lay in a cold queen size bed all by myself.

I don’t even have a side anymore. Since we have been dating have been married, I’ve always slept on the right side. I’ve noticed in the past three months since my husband has moved back to Virginia, I’ve scooted to the left a little every night as if my subconscious is still searching for someone to cuddle with. Last night I found myself falling asleep on the left side.

We’ve only got about a month until he comes back for a two week visit. The kids are excited, especially the youngest since she’ll turn four just before he gets home. She just can’t seem to make up her mind over what kind of birthday cake Daddy should make for her: Rapunzel or Curious George?

It’s crummy feeling to realize that I didn’t even get a chance to talk to him all day. I don’t get angry when this happens. Bummed, yes. But not angry. Since he’s been back at work and is not allowed to deploy because of his injuries, he spends his mornings in gruelling physical therapy and the rest of his day at his new desk job. And those of you whose husbands abhor desk jobs, you can imagine how much he hates his newfound responsibilities. I completely understand how physically and emotionally exhausted he is by the end of the day.

I miss his silly jokes about how he broke down and went to Taco Bell for lunch. I miss his updates on how he’s feeling today and how much physical therapy hurt. I even miss his complaints about a former roommate coming over to finish the rest of the huge roast he made over the weekend.

Worst of all, no “I love you” to get you through until tomorrow.

That one percent sucks big time.