The Long-Term Decay

Why do I do this to myself?

I happily am a substitute teacher and relish the fact that I don’t have homework, that I don’t have to work every single day, and that I can avoid certain schools if I wanted.

So why did I accept another long-term sub job?

Sometimes I miss NOT being a substitute teacher. Sometimes I love being a regular teacher with my own classroom.

I’m pretty sure it’s easy to track via social media, this blog, and my personal calendar to tell when I’m in a long-term teaching position. I unintentionally fall off the face of the planet. My face is in a permanent scowl from reading so many misspelled words that I just can’t. I leave early for work because if I left any later, traffic would make my commute three times longer than it normally is.

Last fall I taught fifth grade and I loved it! It was very difficult as I was {bear with me} taking over for a substitute teacher who was taking over a teacher on maternity leave. It was no contest. The kids had bonded with him and I was the wicked lady who took over. But I didn’t mind.

Previous to that, I took a kindergarten class for a week. Even though I have claimed in the past that the little ones were my favorite to teach, this claim was long before I had my own children. Five year olds are babies! Luckily they were babies who responded to my read-alouds in foreign accents and singing along to my ukulele. I still see these kids at this new long-term assignment and awe at how much they have grown and dare I say, even matured.

I’ve been at this assignment for two months, also for another teacher on maternity leave. [Whatever is in the water at the school district, don’t give me any.] Sixth grade has been treating me well.

So well, in fact, that there are talks to hire me part-time for the fall.

Perfect.

I reflected on how this might affect our family and as usual, my husband is very supportive.

The kids? Not so much.

I came home at about 4 pm yesterday because I wanted to correct papers there and prep for the following week before I left for the day. I didn’t want to bring any work home which of course, if you know any teachers, is a lie because there is always work to do.

I asked the youngest who will be turning seven years old in the next couple of months if she missed me. She said, “I like it when you come home.”

“What?” I asked. “I come home everyday!”

The middle one who just turned nine said, “Well, not everyday.” They were referring to a couple of days where I had to stay late for a staff meeting and parent meetings.

“But I still came home!”

They just gave me a look and gave each other a Look.

I suppose here is where one would normally queue the working-mother guilt but hey, I don’t have any. Especially now that we are finally a two-parent family after being a constantly-growing-despite-one-working-parent family for so long.

If there is any guilt here, it is because I have forgotten who I am and what I used to do to just be me.

I used to write all the time. About anything and everything. I started writing this blog because I thought it would help me deal with everything that was going on in life.

And it has.

But I stopped for every reason in the book. Life didn’t stop however. My ability to deal with stress has slowly declined. Perhaps remembering who I am will help.

I used to read all the time. Anything. Everything. But like everything else, I tend to get slightly obsessed. Case in point, I’ll go on a reading binge getting to the point where I can read a novel between 1-3 days. And that’ll go on for a couple of weeks until I can’t find any book that is as awesome as the previous book.

Don’t forget about my stupid TV series obsessions phase. We’ll leave that for later.

But part-time work would be a perfect balance. No, let me rephrase that.

Part-time work will be a perfect balance. There is no reason that I can’t be in charge of my own life. If I feel that something needs to change, I need to be the one that changes it.

Last fall I stopped running regularly but still completed the half-marathon that I was working toward for the past three years.

Last month I completed my second half-marathon. I came in second to last but I don’t care. I wanted the medal and I got it. This week I have even gotten up early to run one or two miles four days this week! I hurt but eh, thank God I can still run.

Thank God I can still feel.

I will know more in the next month about my job assignment.

Let’s hear it for taking charge. 

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.

Dinner at the embassy and glimmers of hope

Second day in Bethesda. Going to see Daddy.

I am my own traveling preschool. I have found that walking around with three kids tends to attract a lot of attention… from other kids. I can’t tell you the number of times random toddlers have been caught up in our family parade, the number of times preschoolers have wandered around with us for a few seconds before we realize that I’m not their mommy, and the number of times parents have been frustrated while trying to persuade their kids NOT to follow us.

It happened when we were in Bethesda last April.

"I wanted to press the button!" Only heard this several DOZEN times a day.

The Warrior Family Coordination Cell was a godsend. They organized events that got families of Wounded Warriors off base that gave them the tiniest break from worrying.

When we received an invitation to go to dinner at the Royal Dutch Embassy, I can honestly say I didn’t want to go. My husband’s parents and brother had already left for home. It had been a couple weeks that I’d been out with all three kids by myself since the accident. While our kids are very well-behaved, they were still kids and I was mortified at all the possible things that could go wrong.

Most importantly, what would I wear?

Welcome to the embassy. We will be running around in circles in the driveway while mummy drinks the free wine.

I was relieved to know that it was not a sit down affair and children were welcome. Phew.

We arrived by bus and marveled at the architecture and landscaping of the embassy. The kids and I took a few pictures. I had a lot a glass of wine.

I saw a couple of babies at the dinner, both securely fastened by Baby Bjorns to their parental units. This wasn’t children, I thought. Babies weren’t children! Children run, pull table cloths, and say inappropriate things at the wrong times. My three were getting antsy inside and I could tell they needed to run so we went outside and found a table for us.

I let them chase each other in the large front lot of the embassy because why not? Better out there than inside with glass bottles and people to knock over, right? They were soon joined by a boy about M’s age. And the chasing continued.

I later caught up with the boy’s mother. She said that her son saw my kids from upstairs and wanted to come out to play “with all the kids”. They’d moved to DC area about a year ago from the midwest. His father lost both legs when his vehicle ran over an IED in Iraq. She had to pull her son out of school mid-year and start over in DC so they could be together while her husband continued his rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

I had to swallow because the lump in my throat was hard to ignore. I asked her, “How is your son coping?” I apologized immpediately after I asked. I felt stupid for wondering, for prying, and for thinking that I had any right to any information not offered.

If she was offended, she didn’t show it. In fact, she said it was okay and went on, “My son does remember a time when Daddy had legs and I’m thankful for that. He [her son] is going to a new school and he’s doing well there.” I admired their courage, openness, and honesty. I felt a glimmer of hope when I talked to her and when I watched all four kids run in circles.

VIPS in the pic above. I'm sure the people behind them were pretty important too.

Later that night after the girls fell asleep, I asked my son M what he thought of the embassy. He talked about his new friend and how his dad got hurt in Iraq too. He talked about how his new friend’s dad’s legs had to be cut off. Then we sat in silence. He was able to fall asleep quickly that night.

The week before he cried himself to sleep every night. He wanted to go home and to go back to school. He hated sharing a room, let alone a bed, with anyone. He tried to make deals with me like promising he’d clean his room for a month if we went home.

I didn’t blame him. I wanted to go back to normal too. If I recall correctly, I was making trying to make deals too. Just let my husband live and I’ll stop being a Christmas Catholic. Just let my husband’s pelvis heal and I’ll read the Bible more and to the kids, even the boring parts. Just let my husband keep his left leg and I will do whatever you want.

I didn’t exchange phone numbers or email addresses with that family. My husband’s accident had happened only a couple of weeks before so I was still numb. Looking back I realize now that so many reached out to me and while I heard it, I didn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. It was hard to hear anything over the echoing, neverending worry in my head.

All I remember is being thankful that the kids and I met another family who, while their circumstances were far different from ours, faced an extremely difficult situation and who were now trying to move forward in their lives. I had hope that no matter what was happening, recovery for my husband was not only a possibility but a real goal. No matter what, we could face this accident and we would move forward like that brave little boy.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.

Would You Go Back and Do It All Over Again?

The first time I tried to Twitter I got followers too fast. Like five in the first minute. It freaked me out. Why would someone want to follow someone they didn’t know? Why would a stranger want to know what I was thinking or doing or saying in 140 characters or less? Why follow me?

I didn’t get a chance to figure any of that out. I didn’t even tweet once. I deleted the account before the vast Twitterverse sucked me in.

And I don’t know why Twitter called out to me a couple of weeks ago. Maybe my favorite gossip columnists were revealing blind items on Twitter. Maybe I was envious my friend was following LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow. I mean, come on. LeVar Burton? How could I resist?

Aside from friends who have Twitter accounts, I’ve found that I can categorize who I follow into two groups. The first fulfills my creative side. I follow authors (yes, Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman tweet!), publishing companies, agents, and everyone I can follow in the writing world.

The second is rather obvious. I follow all things military. I am tempted to follow the Royal Navy because why not? I follow the White House, the USO, and charities and organizations dedicated to military families. Included in this category is military spouses.

From snarky to serious, active to retired, the variety of tweets and blogs is immense. There are blogs that focus on recovery after accidents, Wounded Warriors, PTSD, family life, careers, and the list goes on and on. No matter what the subject matter, there is a huge sense of community on the internet that didn’t exist a decade ago when I first picked up the Navy wife label.

Not that there isn’t this community on military bases. There is. But jumping into a complicated social circle who’s dynamic constantly changes is intimidating. Even more difficult if everything that was familiar to you, your family and friends, your education, and/or your career, is no longer within arm’s distance. Sometimes the social circle is impenetrable.

But with the wonderful world of the blogging, tweeting, Facebook, and all things internet, you can find support in any way and at any time.

A woman on Twitter posed the following question this afternoon: “To all you military wives and girlfriends, bearing in mind the heartwrenching months your husband or boyfriend is away, would you still fall in love with him and live your life with him?”

She got a few responses, all saying they would do it again.

Then she got mine: “To quote Sex & the City, ABSOF*CKINGLUTELY. Pardon my Bradshawism.”

She tweeted back: “How do you cope with not seeing him for months?”

I said I didn’t know. It’s different every deployment especially now that we have three kids. I am so busy raising our kids, making sure they’re busy, making sure they’re fed and clean and well-rounded, making sure I listen to every time they talk about Daddy. It really has become about them, not me.

I didn’t hear back from this woman. Perhaps she was inundated with private messages of support. Maybe she was offended by my Bradshawism.

Whatever the case may be, how awesome is it to be instantly connected to people who live a similar lifestyle, to pose a question or two and have it answered immediately, to have dozens or hundreds WANT to support you and give you answers they themselves may not have had a decade ago.

While I have no regrets about the life I’ve lived, I do wonder how different my early experiences as a military spouse would have been if all of this were around back then. Would I have felt less alone? Would I have had more answers?

All I know is that if I lived my life any other way than I already have, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. And right now it’s pretty good.

Bad apples and kindergarten

It was seven years ago when my husband and I were sitting in our new spacious home in central Texas. We didn’t know that less than a year later, his job would no longer exist, forcing us to switch duty stations.

We loved where we were living, loved that our son M was happy at the preschool on base, and happy that I was working again. We put M to bed and stayed up to watch some movies, a weekend ritual. This is the conversation we had about family planning:

Me: “Do you think we should try and have another one?”
Him: “Another movie?” (LOOKS AT ME) “Oh. OH! Yeah, sure. Why not?”

A few weeks later I peed on a stick and the result was very obvious. Any more obvious the plus sign would have been proceeded by an exclamation point or “DUH”.

I sheepishly admit that I questioned the results of the ultrasound test for gender. The words “REALLY?” and “ARE YOU SURE?” may have passed my lips.

I was terrified of the idea of having a daughter. I watched too many episodes of Maury and Dr. Phil. Girls at the age of thirteen not knowing who the father of their babies were, giving an entire town paternity tests, “my daughter dresses too sexy”, and so on.

And then there is the old adage, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

I was petrified of having a daughter just like me.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not a bad apple. Okay, maybe slightly rotten but not bad. There was no rebellion. Even went to a four-year university right after high school and grad school after that. Yes, I went out to the clubs. Yes, I may have had a drink or two. And yes, I may have had some questionable wardrobe choices.

So why was I so scared?

Imagine living with someone who was extremely stubborn, never stopped until she got what she wanted, and was at times so sassy it would make you pull out your hair. Someone who’d stare off into her own world just so she could concentrate. Someone who didn’t care if she was the center of attention or singing to herself and quietly enjoying her own company. Someone you had to literally make eye contact with before you spoke just to make sure she was listening.

Yes. This is who I am. My poor husband. This is who my daughter has become. Again my poor husband.

This personality was apparent at four months when my husband and I noticed that she preferred her older brother over all her own toys. She loved her brother and shows this loyalty to this day, defending him and yelling at those who insult him. She is a force to be reckoned with, runs to her kindergarten class with her arms waving wildly while yelling, “I’m here! I’m here!” as if the day can now begin because she has graced them with her presence. She is a social butterfly but doesn’t mind being by herself.

By herself but never lonely.

She had her first boyfriend at the age of four. F the next door neighbor is in her kindergarten class and she’s has even… get this: given him a smooch already! Cute, right? Cute now but not cute at say, ten. Or twenty.

But along with this strong will and determination is someone who is also passionate about life, optimistic to no end, and fiercely loyal to those around her. Someone who roots for the underdog not because the majority could sometimes be wrong but because it’s the right thing to do. Someone who finds the good in everyone and everything around her.

Our daughter went from a fuzzy ultrasound picture to kindergarten graduate overnight. While I have come to terms with our daughter BEING JUST LIKE ME, I feel like that is nothing compared to the new fear that has overwhelmed me.

She is growing up too fast.

Happy kindergarten graduation! Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you! We love you so much!

It’s the baby’s turn

Happy Father's Day from L

L loves Daddy and monkeys. So explains her choice in Father’s Day card.

We went to a birthday party this afternoon and L fell asleep in the car on the way home. I love it when they fall asleep in the car. It’s the only time they’ll allow me to carry them. There must be something that clicks in their brains at about eleven months that says DO NOT BE CARRIED UNLESS YOU ARE SICK OR ASLEEP.

I put her down quietly on the couch on the living room and covered her with a blanket. For a brief moment I looked at her long black curly eyelashes against her fair skin and remembered when she used to be a drooling baby. She never fussed, never cried. Seeing her brother or sister always soothed her, made her smile, and mimicked everything they did or said. Even now, when her siblings are at school, she looks a bit lost without them. She becomes a bit more reserved if her siblings aren’t there to watch her, support her, and sometimes egg her on in the middle of church service.

L opened her eyes and looked at me. “Mommy?” she said. “Last morning you said Daddy was coming tomorrow.”

She was probably having good dreams about Daddy who promised to make her a Rapunzel or Curious George birthday cake.

“No,” I whispered. “He’s not coming tomorrow.”

She thought about it for a moment then fell back asleep. I hope she dreamt about Daddy spending lots of time with her. When he finally does come for a visit, they’ll have a few dates together, just as the older two will. And when they complain about not being able to join Daddy and L, I’ll say, “Nope, sorry. It’s the baby’s turn.”