Friday, September 30, 2011

The End. Probably.

Wow. So this blog did not go the way I thought it was going to go.

Scratch that. The way I hoped it was going to go. I pretty much thought it would turn out exactly like this.

We're winding down on this deployment. As we speak, bags are being assembled for single soldiers, banners are being hung in the appropriate places and 500 housewives are wondering if a weed-whacker wouldn't be more appropriate than a razor.

What have I learned? Well, I've RE-learned that I have no discipline. I've learned that for all my good intentions, people still basically get on my nerves. I've learned that a two-week window of sex out of an entire year IS NOT ENOUGH. I've learned that stress is an even bigger bitch than I am.

Mostly, I've learned a new kind of respect for the spouses that have done this more than once over the last 10 years. That even though people do mostly get on my nerves, I still want to help them. I know what this burden is now - first hand - and I want to support efforts to ease it. I'll have to see where that desire takes me.

I've also re-learned that my husband is my friend, and one of a very small group of people with whom I reciprocate unconditional love. I've found proof of depths in him that I maybe only suspected before.

I've learned where the strengths are in our family dynamic. And the weak spots. That my kid is rapidly leaving childhood. Maybe a little too rapidly for my brain to comprehend. But I've learned that my heart knows it, anyway.

Every deployment is different every time, for every person. This idea was repeated to us ad nauseum before his battalion left last October and I heard it but I didn't really understand it. I think I do, now. Certainly I've seen a number of spouses handle it differently. Hopefully, this will be the last time R goes into a combat zone on the orders of his Commander in Chief. But if it's not, I know next time will be different. We'll be older, more experienced, more weary. Lots of things will be different, even though the stress will be mostly the same.

I've learned - again  - that the best you can do is take each day as it comes. Funny how the most trite lessons are the ones that have to be relearned over and over.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


One of the things about R's job this deployment for which I am grateful is that he doesn't move around a lot. As an engineer, he gets to basically stay in one spot until the project is finished, and because he's not currently attached to a combat engineer unit, those spots are relatively safe and secure.

Not that he hasn't had the other experience, too. He was in Iraq in 2003, and those conditions - no matter what the soldier's job - were.... hmm, well, enough has been said on that subject elsewhere. My point being that when it comes to the logistics of this deployment, I am well aware of how lucky I am.

Spoiled, some might say. I do so little worrying, that when a seemingly innocuous change occurs in R's position, I am alarmingly freaked out by my own anxiety.

Recently, he had to travel some 1300 miles from one relatively safe location to another relatively safe location. It wasn't the locations (both familiar) which bothered me - it was that 1300 miles in between.

How would he be traveling? It's never a non-stop trip, where would he be stopping? Would those stops even be voluntary? Was the mode of transport safe? What if his transport was shot at? What if it broke down? What if 101 other possible scenarios happened during travel time?

Seriously? It's not even the first time this deployment he's covered those same 1300 miles! Get. A. Grip.

I'm not a worrier - much too lazy, basically. I have a firm belief in controlling what you can control and letting the rest sort itself out. (This belief was a hard won result of unlearning control-freak tendencies. Oh yes, I've seen the other side, AND IT AIN'T PRETTY.) This allows me to acknowledge the basic bitchiness of fate without taking it personally.

But worrying about R over those 1300 miles made me feel very vulnerable. Like maybe Fate was the popular kid in middle school and she was alternately laughing at me or threatening me. (I survived that, too, so I'm not sure why that makes a good analogy, except that it's a craptacular feeling.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let's take a walk.

Yesterday I dropped Ro off at a friend's house in a little village about 10 minutes from our house. I brought the dog and drove still further out, in search of a novel setting for the dog to sniff. I didn't have to go far (about 3km outside the village) to find a shady spot to park and an inviting path. Thought you might like to come along...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wee bit o' rant

This deployment has been an adjustment for Ro, no doubt about it. But aside from one marked crying jag and a few reminders that letters are just as important as email, she's done remarkably well. She does remarkably well with most life changes, from stuff she can't affect (like puberty) to stuff she would be well within her rights to blame her parents for (like moving her around a lot).

She recently had her last day as a middle-schooler which was also sadly her last day with her best friend (whose own parents move around a lot - it's kind of a recurring theme in the Army), and the whole day saw her gently philosophical - a little bittersweet nostalgia that she acknowledged as it passed through her but equally optimistic about moving on.

Someone said I was lucky that my kid had that kind of attitude.

The fact that they thought it was luck silenced any further comment I could have made on the subject.

"Luck" is giving birth to healthy baby with no debilitating genetic disorders. "Luck" is watching her progress from toddlerhood to childhood without being subsumed by autism. "Luck" is taking her to a school that doesn't blow up from a gas leak. These things are lucky. The rest is work.

I'm not in a place anymore where I feel like I have to defend my work as a parent. Ro does that easily for me with her intelligence, honesty and humor. For a while there, I did kind of run around going "You see how well-adjusted my kid is? WELL THAT'S REALLY HARD WORK, SUCKERS! THEY DON'T HAND OUT YOU'LL-BE-FINE-PILLS TO PUT IN THE FORMULA, YOU KNOW!" Fortunately, I'm mostly over my astonishment that something as stable as my kid could come from a stunned 21 year old single mom who made $8 an hour and nursed a serious chip on her shoulder.

Mostly. *ahem*

But I am still, consistently, and even regularly bowled-over flabbergasted that the parents of Ro's peers haven't yet figured out the difference between luck and IT'S-CALLED-PARENTING-YOU-YAHOOS.

My kid ain't perfect, y'all. She's not great at finishing a job that she's lost enthusiasm for (or never had in the first place). She can turn a mole-hill into Mount-fucking-Everest in 2.6 seconds flat (a trait most adolescent girls share and which she may or may not grow out of). There are a couple of other things that make her human that may stick with her into adulthood, none of which concern me overly much and certainly none of which surprise me.

They don't surprise me because I pay attention. Not just to her, but to myself. I rarely do all the dishes in one go - I hate that chore and procrastinate as much as possible. Ditto brushing the dog or washing the car. So I can see how she wouldn't have picked up stick-to-it-iveness from me. I almost never employ tact at home (it's so exhausting!) and while she'll compulsively (and annoyingly) play devil's advocate with me, her friends and teachers tell me she's quite the straight-talker at school.

She rolls with the punches because I taught her - through instruction and example - how. She doesn't base her self-worth on what other people think of her because we don't shiv-a-git what other people think about us at home. She likes bad puns and slapstick because her dad makes her laugh with that stuff all the time. (They are huge fans of that Wipeout show - it's more fun for me to watch them watching the t.v.)

Ro isn't the way she is out of luck. Partly it was circumstances (based largely on my choices - which, hello! weren't always good ones) and mostly it was a determined effort to treat her like a person capable of rational thought. Listening to other parents of my acquaintance talk about their kids like glitchy robots incapable of self-determination makes me want to HOLD A MIRROR UP TO THEIR SOUR, PINCHED FACES.

Look, Aristotle said that the unexamined life wasn't worth living. I say it sure as hell isn't worth passing onto your kids.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Beat generation to Bleat generation

I watched "Howl" a few days ago. The 2010 Rob Epstein mish-mash of surrealist animation, docu-drama and James Franco as Allan Ginsburg (Franco was hovering around brilliant, btw). Anyway, it's an okay movie, but parts about the obscenity trial got me to thinking.

The so-called "Beat Generation" was a sort of reactionary art form against the tide of conservatism and enforced normal of American culture after WWII. My perception of it (removed, as I am, by a couple of generations) is that while the mainstream of society was running around sort of manically going, "Everything's fine! We're all great! See how normal we are with our little Johnny and Suzie and Fido and our spiffy new Chrysler," there was this seething mass "This ain't right" grumbling under the surface. And yeah, every generation has that element, but put in the context of post war years, with parents who had grown up hungry and come back from Europe or the Pacific dead... you can see how an entire generation of young people would go - "Um, no." How they would fidget and whine and sulk in the childhood of the counter-culture, until they busted out in the full on rebellion of the 1960's.

The reason this got me to thinking is because Ro's generation is to the Iraq & Afghanistan wars what the beat generation was to WWII. I hold out a ridiculously optimistic hope that those wars will be over (that's a subjective goal and one better defined in another post, but for now insert your own definition) as she and her peers come into their own after high school and I can't help but wonder - what kind of counter culture will they embrace?

I suppose that all depends on what we insist on teaching them is "normal" now, doesn't it? And I'm not just talking about aquamarine hair-dos courtesy of Lady Gaga, or the inherent selfishness of politicians and pro-sports figures. Yes, media is more prevalent in our lives than ever before, but I still believe that kids take their cues from their parents. It's not Congressman Weiner's uh... weiner that will make an impression on kids, it's how their parents react to it. It's not the repeal of the gay ban in the military that will shape young minds, it's what they hear at home about it.

This isn't to say that kids automatically perpetuate their parent's attitudes into adulthood. Of course not. But whether or not their own life experience diverges from the values they were taught will determine how pissed off they get as they try to find their own way.

A military community is an interesting microcosm of American parenting. It seems sort of equally divided into Whatevers and Control Freaks. The children of Whatevers have no experience with self-discipline or the civic benefits of social conformity while the children of Control Freaks don't learn to think for themselves or navigate situations outside their parents' comfort zone. What will they bring to the table, collectively, ten years from now?

I think it's safe to say obscenity trials are a thing of past. At least, in the legal sense. While we no longer take poets to task for using the word "fuck," we still castigate our public figures for having the sexual sensibility of a 13 year old. In an age of portable internet access, digital manipulation and 24 hour news - what will Ro's generation rebel against?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

...wherein I create a vacuum.

I suck.

I know I suck.

Bring the criticisms, bitchez! Bring. It.

It is genetically impossible for me to start a project and bring it to a successful and satisfactory completion. Please see: Dog sleeping in her own bed (nope), Exercise plan (bwahahahahaaaa!), Learning 100 French verbs (le WTF?), Showering every day (ehhh...), etc. So you can see how this blog was doomed from the start.

Also, I have a confession to make. I have been fighting my nature. To be fair, I didn't know I was fighting my nature, I thought I was just undergoing a particularly painful transformation into a positive, well-adjusted, serene earth-mother type who smiled graciously all the time and bestowed benevolent advice like throwing flowers petals around in slow-motion arcs.

Pardon me for a moment (sensitive eyes should avert themselves):

Turns out I was actually having adamantium surgically grafted to my skeleton and I've recently woken up snarling. And with mutton chops. (Mutton chops are those extra pockets of fat that poke out from under the sides of your bra, right?)

R has already been home for his 2 week r&r and left again. And while those 2 weeks were perfectly enjoyable, stress-free and full of family- and couple-quality-time in equal balance, they did make me realize a hard truth.

I have been FAKING IT. The FRG bullshit, the million-and-one projects I outlined for myself, the sympathetic sisterhood with my fellow army wives... Fake, fake, and fake. I realized, as I left him at the train station, that I am absolutely, unequivocally not up to the task of treating the 2nd half of this deployment like I did the first.

Clue number one: "Smiling graciously" on me looks more like "Oops, sorry - I think a fart just came out of my mouth."
Clue number two: Positive can piss off.
Clue number three: Benevolent advice and flower petals are equally useful - which is to say, like tits on bike riding fish.
Clue number four: Suck it.

I quit as FRG co-leader (see aforementioned handicap re: completing things). I trashed my long term to-do list. I bought every season of Smallville on DVD. I'm getting used to doggie morning breath.

The thing is - I do tough. I just don't do it with a smile. I thought I could, and I think I really gave it a good ol' college try, but I have 30+ years of survival tactics that fit me like a pair of old jeans and I can't play dress up anymore. So if you were coming here to see the new and improved A, complete with keep-your-chin-up affirmations and kindness and understanding... Sorry. I kicked that bitch's ass.

I'll post when I feel like it. It may or may not have a picture. Probably I'll rant a lot. Definitely I'll let my freaky, hyperbole-flag fly. And the rest of the world can reference clue number four.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Conversations with the warrior.

The sun is back. Mostly I'm happy about this because it means the return of my motivation in all areas. I throw open the curtains on my huge picture windows and light floods my inner spaces. Like a solar panel, I can feel myself charging up - skin stretching, cells expanding, soul surging. Seratonin practically bursts forth from my head, like a fully-formed warrior.

But then on the exhalation, with all my nerves tingling in newfound awareness, it comes to me that something is missing. After four months, it's not a surprise - there's no jolt back to the state of normal that defines this year - it's just a reminder. A two-fingered jab into the fleshy part on the back of my shoulder that says, "Hey you, remember me?"

Yes, of course. How could I not? You keep turning up like a bad penny. When I'm fixing dinner, you haunt the shadowed doorway. When I'm brushing my teeth, you grin maliciously from a corner of the mirror. When I wrap my arms around his pillow, you're the sound of only one heartbeat pulsing in my ear. You're there with every random thought that I want to share and every funny story that I know would make him laugh.

The reminder is silent.

Of course you don't have anything to say now. There's no need, right? Not when I acknowledge you as the proverbial elephant in the room. Well, I'll do you one better. Not only do I acknowledge you - I accept you, you pale, insubstantial substitute for the real thing. You aren't my enemy. You're my weapon. One of many, together with the smiles of our daughter, the energy of our dog, the sunshine and the activities, the goals and the projects - they're all weapons to fight the real enemy. You've got a double edge, sure, every sword does. It's taken me a while to learn how to use every tool in my arsenal. 

Insidious and ghostlike you may be, but as long as you're hovering around the edges, I know what's important. You remind me of what's worth fighting for and the real enemy - indifference - doesn't stand a chance.