The Price of Freedom

I was at Walter Reed with my son today. We were at the physical therapy clinic for an elbow injury he’d sustained playing baseball. I recall being at a VA hospital years back and there was a sign. It read:

“The price of freedom is visible here.”

Today that message was so evident. While casualty reports have fallen from the headlines, I looked on as four survivors of war worked to survive; period. I was struck that three of the four service members I saw, who were dealing with traumatic injuries, were women.

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One young girl, perhaps in her 20s, had lost a leg, had a brace on her arm and visible scars on her face. Another walked in with a cane, her hat pulled down low and her service dog beside her. The third I saw walked in and someone helped her put her arms on the table where they were carefully (and almost lovingly) wrapped in warm compresses. The man I saw, had on a helmet type device and was using a video game to track and locate visual targets (I suspect as the result of a brain injury).

The young lady with the dog sat for her therapy near where I was sitting with my son.

She didn’t look up.

She went through the therapy with a soft voice, lowered eyes and her attentive companion watching her every step. At one point the therapist left her for a moment and her dog’s leash became tangled. I jumped up and went to her to help get things right.

She looked slightly up and said “Thank You”.

I wanted so much to hug her to me, rock her, take her injuries to my older body so she could experience the fullness of the health I had as a young officer when I was her age. I couldn’t…but I wanted to. All I could do was say with all sincerity

“Please, don’t feel like you have to thank me.”

The meaning was felt…as she looked up into my eyes for the first time.
Dear Congress:

Don’t talk to me about women in combat. Go to Walter Reed and then say you fear we can’t handle it. Go to Walter Reed and see warriors of both sexes. Go to Walter Reed and sit there all day long and see if you can pontificate about who can and who can’t handle this. Go to Walter Reed.

“The price of freedom is visible there”

and the cost is being paid by everyone who chooses to wear the uniform.

But it’s okay if you can’t get their Sir or Ma’am…we got you.

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret)

U.S. Army

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A letter to my oldest son

My oldest left today for college. One of the boys has a raging fever so I stayed home. Pretty tough to do that but I packed him a surprise box. Sharing the letter I put in there.

You know me…blah, blah…but when I write things I feel like I’m getting them out of me. So read if you care to and drive on if you don’t. This pretty much sums up how I see life…

My dear son:
Today you begin to step away from us. As your dad and I fade into the background of your life I want to tell you what a privilege it’s been to have you as our son. You’ve brought such joy to us in so many ways. Your spirit, your dedication, your integrity; all of that adds up to a future of such potential and such promise for you. A few things I want to impart in black and white because I think they are incredibly important for you to remember:
• People are basically good. That doesn’t mean all of them are but most of them are good. A leader’s strength, I think, is being able to find the goodness and bring it out to shine. If you can do that even when it’s hard you will find the best of what people have to offer.
• There is no finish line in life. Have goals but don’t think of them as the “be all” of what you do. Along the way toward succeeding you have to enjoy the experiences you have, as it will become a part of that success. If you are constantly pushing for the next ending, you’ll end up missing some pretty fantastic beginnings and durings.
• You have lived a life of privilege. That doesn’t mean you have been coddled or that you haven’t done your share when it comes to helping. It means you’ve never had to worry about whether you will be fed, cared for and supported. That is an incredible gift. To honor that gift I ask that you remember to be charitable in word and deed. The only time you should look down at someone is when you are extending a hand to help him or her up. You are young, strong and smart. You can change someone’s life with quiet support. Be someone’s hero. The world certainly needs more of those.
• Keep yourself open to new things but don’t be flippant about the fragility of life and limb. Take care of your body and test its limits. Take chances but I don’t ever want you to risk your health for a dare or a fool hearty adventure. People do exciting things all the time. When you want to do something outside of your experience base – go for it. But research it, find someone who KNOWS how to do it and then learn, practice and step forward with confidence. The best way to arm yourself for success is through knowledge.
• Respect women. This is a big one for me and there will be times that you’ll find women who don’t respect themselves. It is rare that you can change someone with love, so choose wisely as to whom you give your heart. If you find that “love” is causing you to compromise your other values; then examine it closely. Love is when your values align and you can see yourself working hard for the rest of your life to stay with that person. Falling in love is easy. You can fall in love with anyone. Find someone worthy of your love and then put in the work that defines a loving relationship. If someone is worth that effort over and over again, then you are on the right track.
• Never forget son, that YOU are loved for who you are right now. With all your goodness and all of your foibles, you are loved. Rest assured that you are not alone in any challenge you undertake. Our family is strong and regardless of the back and forth squabbles we have at times, we are all here for you as you need support. Don’t give up on the big stuff and don’t sweat the small stuff. Nobody’s shooting at you so it’s going to be okay.
You have been ready for this since you were 2 years old son. Even that young you were ready to run out into the rain and do what needed to be done. Of all my sons, you enjoy the exhilaration of life and living. It makes me happy to see that in you. Run in the rain, dance in the rain, look up to the sky in the rain and laugh as the drops splash against your cheeks. You can withstand any storm. Enjoy the sound of the thunder and when the lightning flashes, let the smile on your face reflect in the light. You will do extraordinary things.
Your dad and I will be there at every turn possible to embrace your successes, support your learning when you make mistakes and provide you a soft place to land when you need it. Home is more than a word, a house, a state or an address. It’s a place in your heart that makes you feel safe and secure.
You got this son and if you need us for anything; we got you too.
Mom

The Crime Scene of Teenage Boys

Left-Hand

 

I went around today cleaning fingerprints off the walls:

By the pantry wall – because one cannot just walk in; one must SWING one’s body in with ones hand clasped on the outside of the wall while fussing “I AM STARVING”.

On the refrigerator door (both of them at different times) because when staring into one side you must lovingly caress the other door with your greasy fingers still wet from the LAST time you were in the door.

On the light switches – but only the “on” side because the “off” side is never touched.

On the lower hanging wall between the kitchen and the hallway. It’s the one I need a step stool for but they can FINALLY reach for the first time so they must go through the door each time slapping that particular piece of plaster and wood. They eventually tire of that  ritual but about then another brother is tall enough to reach it.

I’ll leave the ones on the ceiling-would have to get the ladder for those and I kind of like seeing them. Only three fingers, but such a great personal accomplishment for kids who used to have to stand on their tippy toes to reach the sink. Glad the thrill comes so easily in a house full of teenagers.

Oh…and the windows; higher and higher on the windows each year. But it is nice that they still come running to look out when my truck pulls up. I think I’ll leave those too. They make me feel loved. Even if it is for my take out bag full of Chick-fil-a.

Probably should have saved this for my Christmas letter but then this moment would have passed without me capturing it. It’s the most wonderful time don’t you think?

Of brothers and such…

One of my very first memories was being in my backyard with my brother Chuck on the 4th of July. I was probably 3 or 4 at the time. He was setting off fireworks. Chuck was a tall, strong, young man; very handsome and someone I looked up to. He was my hero. We used to laugh a lot – that kind of deep belly laugh that takes your breath away. Chuckie was lighting this small black tab sort of thing that grew into a snake of ash. As I think of it now it reminds me of something the Weasley twins might sell in their magic shop near Hogwart’s Castle. I watched fascinated as the little column of ash formed up on top of itself. When it was done growing Chuckie told me to touch it. When I did, it disintegrated and a breeze came and turned it into a hundred ashes against the concrete. My brother, then about 14 I guess, was already dabbling in drugs and alcohol; an addiction that would consume him. He continued to burn during his own dark journey and when he was in his early 40’s he disintegrated. My sister and mother took his ashes to the mountains and spread them to the wind. Like that little snake that grew and disappeared into ashes, he too is a distant memory.

I often wonder and worry how lives can get so off track. My sisters and I never dabbled in drugs, although we all have our own demons of sorts. I worry that my boys can make one or two wrong decisions and dark paths will open to them that might tempt them to delve into immediate gratification or “feel good” moments. My mom had to watch her son die. It isn’t supposed to happen that way. I suspect that feeling of helplessness is something we as parents have to give ourselves up to when we’ve done all we can do. I’m hopeful that Chuck’s darkness passed with him. It is a part of our family legacy that we simple don’t need to continue forward.

SAHM

Over time I’ve come to realize that some days seem explosively important when you’re in them and turn out to mean nothing. Other days pass unnoticed until you see them in life’s rear view mirror. So after great thought I recognize that the most important day of my life was the day I bought a pair of bright yellow crocs.

You know the shoes; crocs? Those much maligned much cajoled, much defiled boat like foot coverings that scream middle age. I know what you’re thinking. In a world filled with Prada, Gucci, and Fendi, why would anyone, especially a woman with some modicum of self-respect, choose to walk around in big pieces of rubber. The answer to that defines the importance of the day.

Yesterday or what seems like yesterday; I graduated college and embarked on my life as a young, professional woman. My mantra at the time was that I could do anything. I rebelled against the traditional roles I had associated with my wonderful stay-at-home mother and vowed I would not have children immediately, would not look to marry quickly, and would certainly never be dependant on anyone for my lifestyle. I’d come to believe that being anything short of an independent, professional, high salaried position was falling short of what I owed women-kind at large. What an ego.

I dressed meticulously to fit the demands of the day. Strings were cut from clothing, shoes were cleaned and shined, buttons and hair always in place. For many years I pushed myself physically, mentally, and emotionally to become a leader and mentor in my field. As time passed I developed a very positive reputation within my profession. And you know what? I loved it.

I loved the work and the people I worked with. I was intellectually and emotionally stimulated, and honestly couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling way to live my life. Then something happened during the last five years of my 20 years at my job. Well, actually four “somethings” happened. My husband and I had a family. In those last five years we were blessed with four little boys. Even with everything we’d done professionally, we recognized our four children would provide a greater impact on the next generation than anything we could accomplish at work. With the birth of our youngest, Danny, and after four years of managing daycares and nannies, laundry, and work, I knew I could no longer serve two masters. My children demanded as much as I had to give; so I left my go-to-work world and became a stay-at-home mom. Of course, I was still very much a working mom but at home my bosses were much more demanding.

To me my choice was best captured by a poster I admired of a world-class athlete. The caption beneath her photo read, “All it takes is everything you’ve got”. THAT, to me, was motherhood. I could see that perfectly toned, tanned and muscled athlete being replaced by a woman in a long baggy t-shirt, stretch pants, shadowed eyes and unmanaged hair. With a bottle in one hand and a diaper in the other, my poster child was readying herself for a sleepless marathon. As my new life unfurled, I could best explain some aspects of my days as drudgery. How many times a day could I mop up a spilled sippy cup? How many loads of laundry did I need to do in order to have a onesie with no stains when I needed it? And how many potties did I need to clean before one of my potty training boys would actually hit the toilet. There were days when I LONGED for my professional freedom. My memories of enjoying a meal sitting down rather than standing at the sink swallowing a child’s leftovers, or dressing in the morning in clean, starched clothes vice throwing something on with baby burp stains and nursing flaps; those memories were like forgotten lovers calling my name to come back. I was so overwhelmed I found myself coveting the lost luxury of being able to use the bathroom without four little heads peeking through the door.

Don’t get me wrong there were tons of sublime moments when my heart filled with joy and pride at the little men I knew I was so positively impacting. I cherished the feeling of having them snuggle beside me to watch their favorite children’s show, even if it meant I had to sing along with a big purple guy for 30 minutes. I daydreamed in the sweet scent of the backs of their little necks and loved the way they smiled involuntarily when the wind blew in their faces. But ashamedly, I was unsettled.

I often wondered why I found it such a challenge to handle the responsibilities and stress of staying at home with my own children. Women like my mom had done this for years. Yet this incredibly wonderful, incredibly frustrating and maddeningly sleepless reality of being a stay at home mom seemed to be kicking my butt. How in the WORLD did my mom do it? In a surprising moment of clarity I asked her. Her answer was simple: she decided to do it and to love it.

My mom decided to love the job of raising her children. Things were just as frustrating for her. She had four children, very little money and never learned to drive due to significant problems with her eyesight. She had a husband who was demanding, a house to keep clean, laundry to stay ahead of and meals to make…but she’d decided to make her life one of joy and fulfillment by accepting her decisions and living them with gusto. I, on the other hand, was so busy trying to be recognized as a working mom who was staying home that I’d lost how important it was to love my new endeavor. During a rare, very, very, rare shopping trip with just my husband, I decided to stop the madness and be a mom who didn’t make excuses for choices I’d made.

That day my husband and I went shopping was the day I bought my bright yellow crocs. That day I began to live my decision to stay home with the joy and commitment my mother showed me. I stopped thinking about what people might think of me and what people might think about my choices. I bought the crocs because they felt good on my feet. I bought them because I could run in them to catch one or more children making a break for the candy isle at Wal-Mart or making a dash across a busy street. I bought them because I could stand all day moving from one corner of the house to the next and not go to be with swollen aching feet and legs. My crocs were my statement that I was a stay at home mom filling probably the greatest leadership role I’d ever undertaken.

I’ve found that as the boys have grown I LOVE the freedom that being a stay-at-home mom gives me to support my children’s lives. I love being involved in their schools and in our community. I love taking those skills I’d used in the workplace to help others and make my boys’ entrée into life the best possible experience. When I show up at a school activity with all the boys in tow and people hear me squeaking down the hallway I feel good that they know our family’s team is coming. When someone asks at a PTO event “who’s in charge” and I hear them directed to “that woman over there in the yellow crocs” I am lifted that my description is a lighthearted one. Yes I am crazy with fatigue, frustration and the fabulous joys of motherhood but I routinely relish the fact that I am a leader and mentor to my children and that I am able to support others I might not have known if I hadn’t stepped out of one comfort zone and created a new one. The day I decided to buy those crocs was the day I realized that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and making a great difference in the lives of my family and others. Sometimes I wonder why my revelations took me so long, and how in the world my mom got so smart.

To see what I’m up to now like me at Girl Smarts LLC on Facebook

Why would you?

Christmas in Germany is a magical time. There are Christmas shops called Christkindlmarkts, that set up in the city centers. The markets are filled with ornaments and holiday foods that make them a cherished addition to the season. Steve and I were living in Frankfurt in the 90s and decided to go into a gasthaus in the city center (altstadt) for lunch. The places were packed with holiday shoppers and we were unable to find an open table so the Fraulein motioned us toward a table that each gasthaus reserves for its regulars called the stammtisch. It is improper to take a seat there yourself. You must be invited to it. The table was in the corner, large and soon after we ordered a gluhwein (hot spiced wine) the table began to fill up with the regulars making their way from the market. They were full of good holiday spirit, very inviting and before we knew it food, beer and cognac started coming to the table without any ordering taking place. War stories flowed in both German and English, and of course all of the older men at the table explained that “they fought the Russians” during WWII. We sat there for hours laughing and eating and drinking. Then it dawned on me; we had nowhere NEAR the amount of deutschmarks we would need to pay for our portion of what we’d just enjoyed. We started pulling together what money we had and pondered how we could meet our obligation. When the Frauline brought us our bill it showed only two gluhweins. She nodded toward the man across the table; the owner of the restaurant. He smiled and lifted his glass. Steve and I began to protest that we couldn’t accept such a kind offer. Then the owner asked us something I still think about routinely. He looked at us both and in heavily accented English asked, “Why would you question good fortune?” He was so right. I try now, to accept kindness with grace. I no longer protest when a friend or colleague offers to pick up lunch, or buy me a coffee. I know it makes them feel good to extend the kindness and I, in turn, remember to not question good fortune.

Social Experiment

Day 40 of the social experiment “living with 4 teenage boys”. I find it necessary to share that the situation is dire. Food stores are leaving the house faster than my own ability to replenish them despite having two drivers routinely entering and exiting the resupply cache. I seem to be running through toilet paper much more quickly than usual. I must add to my log, if I don’t make it from this place, that mandatory training on how to change the toilet paper from the rack AND how to fill the toilet paper receptacle will be the saving grace in all future preparations for these type experiments. Too often I have found myself in the perilous position of yelling for immediate assistance when I’ve become trapped in “the room of bodily cleansing” without the proper supplies. I know I’ve put this requirement into the manual but I can only surmise it has been lost with reprints. The constant whine of the men “We’re so bored” met with my queries as to “well do you want to go on a hike?” ONLY to hear their frustrations grow to a high pitched “NO WAY—WE HATE IT OUTSIDE”. I don’t know where I’ve gone wrong but will continue this log in an attempt that no others should have to face the angst I deal with now. My only recourse is to continue to abuse my liver with the substance made by the other mothers before me who willingly poured toxins into their bodies and thus restrain themselves from committing terrible crimes against humanity. I must close this entry now, as they are awakening and beginning their morning rumble down the stairs into the galley. If there is a higher being out there; I pray he or she show pity on those of us caught in this situation. We have done nothing to deserve such torment and yet we realize it is our duty to suffer forward.
Mother’s Log
7.23.14