Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Grief: Oh Hello, It's Me Again

Hey, its me.

It's been awhile since I've been on here.

I was putting Ava to bed tonight, just a few minutes ago, actually. We were laying there in the dark, and she asked to play with my hair. And by "play with my hair", I mean she uses my hair as a slide and all of her stuffed animals take turns going down the slide. It felt nice to have some quiet moments at the end of a busy day; I always love to hear Ava's quiet chatter as she plays with her animal friends. Her speech is emerging more and more every day and I love hearing what is on her mind. We have made a routine of talking about our day and what we are looking forward to tomorrow.

I was looking up at the hair bows hanging on Ava's wall when a giant wave of grief washed over me.

just out of nowhere.

The wave hit me and I almost literally felt like I had been slammed to the ocean floor.

I felt the wave first, and then the thought came to my head second:

my mom is not here to see any of this life that I have now.

When she left us, I was newly engaged and still living at home. I wasn't all wrapped up in this crazy military life yet. No kids. I was still just a kid myself. I mean I was 22, but that is still a very young adult with much life ahead to experience and feel. I was such a different person back then.

My mom faded during her 2 year battle with cancer. It was gradual. There were high highs and low lows, and toward the end, the fading came faster. We were holding on with all our strength. Every once in awhile my mind makes me walk through her final days on earth. I'm typing this with my eyes shut, tears pouring down my face; I can't put the memories into words but i feel them. Oh, how i feel them.

A lot of her final days are still a blur. Not many things stick out in my mind. I do remember a nurse gently telling us that the last thing to go would be her hearing, so even though her eyes are closed and she's not responding, that she can still hear us.

I think that was when it all really sank in for me. Like, oh...she means she's not going to come out of this. Like, this is the end.

And we just sat. And waited. Prayed for a miracle but we knew it was up to God.

The final days are torturous. And sometimes you don't know they are the final days. You don't know when the final hour will be.

I wish my mom was there for my wedding.

I never dreamed I wouldn't get to place her grand babies in her arms.

That I wouldn't get to call her for mothering advice.

Or talk about what I was like as a small child.

I often sit and wonder what my mom would have to say about this life I'm living now. If she'd want to help me decorate all of these houses we live in or tell me how to plant a garden.

In some ways I feel proud of how I've been able to thrive without her by my side, and in other ways, I wonder how much more fulfilled I'd feel if she were here.

I always wonder: what would we talk about??

The mind of a 22 year old is very different from a 32 year old.

It's hard for me to imagine.

I don't get these waves of grief very often. But this time, I thought I would race to the laptop and write them down while I was still feeling them. It's like therapy, I guess.

And I'm sharing because sadly I know more and more people who have lost a parent in the young adult stage of life. And I know that sharing stories and feelings brings a sort of comfort and strength to those who have been there too.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Song That Was Written For Me

I heard this song on the radio for the first time several months ago. I was immediately drawn to it, but I hadn't really taken the time to listen to all of the lyrics.
But when I finally did...I was blown away, and now I love it even more. It's my new obsession! The more I listen to it, the deeper meaning it has for me.
My husband and I met in the summer of 2005. It was a very transitional time for both of us, and this song basically summarizes that summer for us.
We met. We took a chance on each other. We took some risks. It felt a little crazy, a little whirlwind-esque, a little wild. At times I thought, what are we doing?! Is this worth it all? Is this going to last? And you can imagine how those feelings multiplied when he told me shortly after we were together that he wanted to join the Army. What would that mean for us while he was away at Basic Training and AIT? And so soon after we met...the questions were flying.
But we knew. We knew we were each others' forevers. We knew it from 2 weeks in. But just for the sake of being rational, we talked and pushed back the Army idea for another 6 months. We attended different Universities during that waiting period. 
And we still knew.
He joined the Army in the spring of 2006, and that fall he went to Basic and AIT. He came home, and we still knew.
Later that next year, he deployed to Iraq.
He came home in the middle of that deployment and we knew even more; he proposed to me!
When he came home, life was completely different for the both of us. We just knew.
We were married the summer of 2009, and since then we've moved all over and gone through so many things together and added 2 precious miracles to our lives. I never could have imagined that this is where life would have taken us! All because of the "what ifs" of the summer of 2005. This song brings tears to my eyes because it brings back all the intense emotions and fireworks of that summer. I can't even put into words how this song reminds me of how I found my soulmate and the one person who has my back, no matter what. Someone who understands me, who gets my weird and is my "person". He makes me feel safe and protected. No matter where we move, he is home for me. It doesn't matter where we go, how far away from home or how unfamiliar the town, it just doesn't matter. Going through this military life makes me value my marriage so much...its a wild ride and we have to cling to each other all that much more.
You say what if I hurt you, what if I leave you
What if I find somebody else and I don't need you
What if this goes south, what if I mess you up
You say what if I break your heart in two then what
Well I hear you girl, I feel you girl but not so fast
Before you make your mind up I gotta ask
What if I was made for you and you were made for me
What if this is it, what if it's meant to be
What if I ain't one of them fools just playin' some game
What if I just pulled you close, what if I leaned in
And the stars line up and it's our last first kiss
What if one of these days baby I'd go and change your name
What if I loved all these what ifs away
What if the sky falls (sky falls) or the sun stops burnin'
We could worry about them what ifs 'til the world stops turnin'
Or I could kiss you (you should kiss me), what if you liked it (bet I'd like it)
Well we ain't never gonna know unless we try it
What if I was made for you and you were made for me
What if this is it, what if it's meant to be
What if I ain't one of them fools just playin' some game
What if I just pulled you close, what if I leaned in
And the stars line up and it's our last first kiss
What if one of these days baby I'd go and change your name
What if I loved all these what ifs away
Awe yeah
You say what if I hurt you, what if I leave you
What if I find somebody else and I don't need you
What if I was made for you and you were made for me
What if this is it, what if it's meant to be
What if I ain't one of them fools just playin' some game
What if I just pulled you close, what if I leaned in
And the stars line up and it's our last first kiss
What if one of these days baby I'd go and change your name
What if I loved all these what ifs away
Away (away)
What if?
Written by Kane Brown, Matthew John Mcginn, Jordan Mark Schmidt • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Good Race

I've been thinking of this particular post for many months now - dreaming of it, actually - but now that I'm here, I'm not really sure I can articulate my feelings concisely.

It's been a YEAR, y'all!!! 362 days to be exact - three hundred and sixty two days that I have spent without my husband home (by the time he gets home). Ok so there were 3 weeks there in the middle when he came home for my grandmother's funeral - but I can assure you, those 3 weeks had their own struggles!

How can I describe what these 362 days have been like?! I'm not sure if I can! But I'm going to try.

I ran track for 6 years. I considered doing it in college as well, but decided I couldn't commit to being an athlete and a student. Plus I wasn't *quite* good enough to run at KU, which is where I really wanted to go (although I did make it to the 6A State track meet!). My events were the open 100, 200, and 400, as well as the 4x1, 4x2, and the 4x4. My favorite event was probably the 4x4 - the LAST event of each track meet! I was a sprinter. They tried to get me to run distance and they had to sub me into a 4x8 for one meet in was awful. It was embarrassing how much slower I was, actually. And I think I threw up afterwards, too! Distance is NOT MY THANG. I loved sprinting. Launching out of those starting blocks, spiking the track with every stride. Pushing my body as hard as I could in a full-out sprint to the finish - and you still have to kick it up a notch at the final straightaway! It still makes my heart pound to think back to all of those races. Passing off the baton to a teammate just to run all the way back across the infield to cheer them on. Merging into one lane during the 4x4 and elbowing competition to get the best position. Being the first one to cross the finish line as the anchor in a relay. I still get butterflies!!

You get to the point in the race (especially the 400 or 4x4) where you basically can't feel your legs. You're not really sure how to run faster, but you know you have to keep going...keep pushing...focusing on your running form and breathing. And just when you want to quit, that's when you hear your teammates and coaches yelling at you, cheering you on, warning you of how close the competition is. It becomes so routine to hear them race after race, practice after practice, that you internalize it and you can push yourself even when you want to quit or feel like you have nothing left to give. "Dig dig dig!!! Stride out! Stride out! Relax your jaw! Push it! Push it! All the way through!!! GO!!!!" It's kind of awesome to hear everyone cheering you on from the side of the track and up in the stands. It certainly helps!!

I am so grateful for my time spent on the track team! Never once did I think at the time that all that self-coaching I learned to do during tough races would come in handy years down the road.

I have thought of my running days often during this deployment. How in the heck do I push on when all I want to do is crumple to the ground in defeat? Or because it hurts too much?

You don't grow if things don't challenge you. Or push you out of your comfort zone a little. You can't improve if things are always comfortable. Growth is pain, unfortunately.

Let me tell you, that first week when Chris was gone, I started out really strong. I was in the starting blocks, awaiting the sound of the starting gun. I was ready and I had braced myself for it. There's some agreement among military spouses that when you are anticipating a deployment, you just want it to hurry up and get here already so you can get on with the struggle so you can get it over with. And that was definitely us - we were ready. The first few days were alright...but by the end of the week, things tanked and both kids had fevers (I think Ava ended up with strep?!) and I found myself already at the hard part of my race. I remember wanting to quit everything and I was mad and stressed and I felt hopeless. So I started mentally coaching myself. "Walk into the living room and start picking up the toys". "Just walk over there". Even when every fiber in my body just wanted to drop to the floor in emotional exhaustion. I already felt overwhelming defeat.

"How in the HELL am I going to do this for a YEAR?!"

It was so extremely hard to NOT sit there, at the beginning of my race, and see just how freaking far away the finish line was.

It took a little time, but I got into a groove with doing everything by myself. After the first month or so, things seemed to get a little easier to handle. But having a 5 month old and a just-turned-2-year-old to deal with all by myself, 7 days a week with no break was super challenging. And I had some really hard days. Winter came along and I didn't realize it until it was almost spring - but winter almost broke me. We didn't have opportunities to play outside due to the cold weather. We all had cabin fever, and I thought that the walls would cave in on me some days. I began to wonder if I needed to talk with my doctor because I was really feeling depressed. I had a hard time peeling myself off the couch to do anything besides feed and change the kids. I took care of the essentials, but I had a hard time finding joy in anything else. It was a horrible feeling. I still feel...ashamed...that I couldn't have done a little better job. I relied on screens to occupy Ava and I didn't sing as many songs and read as many books with baby Liam as I did when Ava was a baby. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I had this time to spend with my babies and they were growing up before my eyes and Chris wasn't even here to enjoy his own kids. I should be grateful for the time with my kids....

...but the reality is, is that you can't pour from an empty cup. You can't run your race if you are dehydrated or starving or haven't slept or didn't stretch or warm up. You also can't run back to back races and expect to do well. I felt like I was losing my race. I was drowning in my own life.

And let me tell you - asking for help is something that is WAY harder than I think a lot of people realize. To ask someone for something small like watching the kids for 2 hours so I can escape those 4 walls felt like admitting I couldn't handle this season of my life. It felt desperate and weak and vulnerable and I didn't like it. I felt like a burden. I kept thinking, no, I can do this, I can push through. I can self-coach myself through this. But the truth of the matter was, was that I had tripped on a hurdle and I didn't think I could get back up to jump over the next one.

Thankfully Spring came and we were able to get back to the playgrounds. Being outside saved us and I felt happier! I did get to escape to Vegas with a friend, and I'm so glad I booked that trip. It was perfect timing and exactly what I needed to get through the rest of the deployment!

I think the biggest challenge of this time of solo parenting has been that the kids always come first. I can't tell you how many times we would FaceTime with Chris and he and I wouldn't even really get to talk because we were focused on the kids or Ava would run off with the phone and refuse to give it back, or hanging up would upset her. We started FaceTiming less and less because it was hard for Ava. She didn't understand why daddy couldn't play with her. She started asking to go bye bye so we could pick up daddy. My heart hurt on the daily for a lot of this year. We communicated primarily though text messages. But there isn't a whole lot to talk about when Chris can't share any details about his work and mine just basically involved wiping butts and talking about how the kids slept and how many bites of dinner they ate and what we got at the grocery store. There wasn't a whole lot of excitement to talk about. Plus, we were both struggling. And it was hard to keep each other positive and on track. So we didn't always talk every day.

It was really hard for me to celebrate the kids' birthdays without Chris. I threw 2 parties and I just wanted to cry that the babies wouldn't have their daddies there. But I tucked my sadness away and did my best to make their birthdays special.

I did get some opportunities to get time out of the house by myself. I went to go see a movie by myself. I sat at the bar and had a drink by myself. I dined in at a restaurant by myself. A lot of firsts for me! And it was kind of liberating. I've never really been "on my own" - I went from having college roommates to living back at home to getting married. I never really explored life as a solo person. It's like I kind of discovered a side of myself that I didn't know existed. I know that I am a stronger person now. I know that I am more self-reliant and I've learned a lot of coping skills. I've learned how to throw on a happy face when inside everything is falling apart. I've learned that sometimes you just have to suck it up and put everyone else's needs before your own. I've learned taking risks is usually super rewarding, in one way or another! I've tried to embrace saying "I'll try it!" instead of "oh no - there's no way I can handle that!". On the flip side, I've also learned how to say no and admit when things are just too much to handle and how to cut negativity out of my life. It's not always been an easy thing to balance, that's for sure.

I've also learned not to judge a person too harshly for always being on their phones! You never know who's spouse is deployed! I have taken SO many photos and videos of the kids this year; it's ridiculous!! Texting, waiting for a call, checking emails...that phone is vital for military couples!

This has been a very isolated, lonely, and defeating time in my life. I've felt pretty helpless and overwhelmed. A lot of things have popped up in the first year of homeownership that I've had to figure out or that Chris has had to deal with from a distance. And some things have just been sitting and waiting until he comes home. It's really really really really hard to do things around the house with 2 toddlers. Everything takes about 12 times as long as it normally would.

How do you pick up a dozen bags of sand and rocks by yourself from Home Depot with a baby and a toddler?

I figured it out.

How do you shop for a new washing machine when the old one breaks by yourself with a baby and a toddler?

I figured it out.

How do you take the car in for an oil change with 2 toddlers?

I figured it out.

How do you go to birthday parties and chase 2 toddlers by yourself?

I figured it out.

How do you go swimming with 2 toddlers by yourself (who have zero swimming skills)?

I figured it out. (This one was risky; I don't do it anymore)

How do you use a public bathroom with 2 toddlers running everywhere??

I figured it out.

These are just a few of the logistical things I had to work out. So many times I would just come home and cry because these tasks were just so exhausting and took everything out of me to maintain my composure in public. I'm not sure if this year has been more physically exhausting trying to keep up with my kids or if it's been more emotionally and mentally exhausting trying to keep my emotions in check and stay one step ahead of the kids. I've learned rules and structure and expectations are key in having a smoothly running household. But I've also learned that I've had to lower the bar of expectations, because I can't be great at everything. I let more things slide right now because there's just not enough of me to go around - I'm spread too thin!

I have definitely been humbled by this year. I've tried to keep my head down and just get through and come out alive on the other side of the finish line. I'm feeling very tired of "just getting by" and I can feel that my nerves are fried. Instead of running a 400, I've been running a Steeplechase. Sometimes I've cleared the waist-high barriers, and other times I've fallen into the water, face first. I've crashed and burned many times this year, but I've always managed to get back up and keep going.

I've done my fair share of complaining and venting, and I'm so very grateful for those who have listened to me over these many months. I'm grateful for those who have reached out and helped me with a favor or were simply just a shoulder to lean on.

I'm tired, y'all!!! I'm just a few short strides from crossing that finish line and I'm feeling agony and excitement, as well as relief that this is almost over. I kind of wish I would have kept a journal along the way, but honestly I was just over my head with all the things I had to keep up with. My bills might not have all been paid on time and my house certainly wasn't very clean, and there were almost always heaps of laundry everywhere. I do love all the fun things I got to do with my kids, but I will probably always look back on this time with sadness that Chris wasn't here and that I felt kind of miserable the whole time. Don't get me wrong - I had my happy times, but there was just so much struggle. It was truly difficult for me to stay positive, and I am generally a positive person!

There's so much more I can say about this separation. I even can't tell you how many diapers I have changed or messes I've cleaned up or how many times a night I was up with the baby (thank goodness he sleeps through the night now!). It's hard not to focus on the negatives when it's been such a challenging year. I tried so hard to keep things clean and happy for the kids. I've wanted to take the stress off of them and be a happy mommy for them. I've done many things to try and protect them from feeling anxiety - it's been a hard year for my Ava girl, too. My husband and I have both made many sacrifices this year. It's going to be a great feeling to have the 4 of us together again and the babies can have their daddy back! Crossing this finish line is going to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

To All The Mothers

Every mom experiences motherhood differently. We all have our own traits where we excel, and also things we can improve upon. No mother is perfect! And while we spend our days eyeballs deep in child-rearing (and for a lot of us, career-building too), it certainly is nice to have time away from our kids to do some self-reflection and rediscovering ourselves.

I prayed so hard for my precious babies, and it took years for us to be blessed with them. They are both miracles we started to feel we would never get. Ava nearly died in childbirth. I heard her heart rate fading on the monitor as the umbilical cord had prolapsed. My husband helped push me into the operating room until everyone else ran in for my emergency c-section. When I awoke, my sweet little Ava was placed in my arms, completely unharmed. The doctor was even shocked that there were zero complications. I feel so incredibly grateful to have both of my babies here today.

But, there are days where I think back to the time before my babies. When I could just jump in the car and listen to what I wanted and not have to watch the clock for an approaching nap time or pull over for an urgent diaper change. This time of early motherhood means you are switching to a more selfless version of yourself, and that transition could almost be described as "culture shock". You become someone that puts everyone else in the family before yourself. Willingly! And some days, you may find yourself running on empty. And then the negativity creeps in..."I just wish I could..." or "I remember the days when I used to...".

There are so many women out there who are begging God to bless them into motherhood. And sometimes it feels wrong to complain about how heavy your load feels as a mom, when there are others out there who would give anything to be in your place.

But I promise you, that is still a valid struggle, no matter how long you waited for your baby.

Motherhood is not meant to be easy. God has tasked us the responsibility of shaping a tiny human into a responsible adult who contributes to society. That's a lot of pressure! Some days you'll be on top of your game and feel like you could upload your whole day to Pinterest. Other days, maybe you feel like locking yourself in the bathroom to cry and wonder how your mental state got to where it is today.

Motherhood can break you. Little arms always reaching up for you (love those hugs but sometimes mama just needs 10 minutes to get ready, little one!). Little mouths that always seem to be hungry (but not always for what you serve them!). Little feet that always seem to be running off (but I love that pitter patter of bare toddler feet!). Little voices that are always shrieking or crying or yelling (but they need you to teach them about inside voices!). Some days it just seems like too much.

Motherhood can make you! What an honor to create and raise tiny humans! Our greatest accomplishments in life are often described as "my children", and I'm definitely seeing that now.

It is so wonderful to feel needed by a child, but it can definitely feel overwhelming. 

And it DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD MOM for wishing for a break. Maybe you don't struggle, but the mama next to you does.

For wanting someone to understand how hard you're trying, but also how much you are struggling. Motherhood doesn't come easily or naturally to us all. And we've got to do better at picking each other up when we are having a hard time. NOT tearing down or being judgmental.

Loving your child DOES NOT MEAN that you don't ever get to complain about the hard parts of being a mom. You would have to be a liar to say you love every part of this role!

Motherhood is a job that is 24/7. You never stop thinking about your children. When you are home with them. When they are at school, or daycare, or at the sitter's. There are no sick days, no days off, no holidays. Some may argue that it is not a "job" - I say it is just not a "chore". I love my job! But there are days when I'm ready for a vacation or I'd like to just not be "on call" for once. Just to have a little time to myself here and there. To have a chance to miss my kids! Being a SAHM with a deployed husband means that there are ZERO breaks from my kids right now. 


By the time my husband comes home, it will literally have been 365 days of being with my kids 24/7 (I have gotten a few breaks here and there). I'm starting to feel a little crazy!!

It's been challenging to feel like I don't have any other purpose other than to be a mom lately. I feel like I've lost a little bit of myself (I'm being super vulnerable here!). I love being a SAHM, but this relentless routine is beating me down. I had several hours to myself recently, and I felt myself feeling anxious and sad without my kids. I bawled when I came home. And I felt better being back with my kids. In a way, I feel like I've lost a little bit of who I am, at the core, during these challenging months without my husband. On one hand, I've learned more about my inner strength. But I also don't feel like I know who I am without my kids by my side anymore. I'm still a person in addition to being a mom! My identity isn't entirely wrapped up in motherhood, although it has been very consuming lately.

I'm not made of endless patience to deal with the hitting and screaming. I don't have endless energy to chase kids who now run in opposite directions. I don't know how to fix or help or prevent crazy toddler behavior all the time. I'm just doing the best that I can, one day at a time, and I'll complain if I want to. I love my babies, but I don't always love every moment with them. That doesn't make me a bad mom!

We all have a story. We all have convictions that make us the mothers we are today. And no amount of mom-shaming or judging is going to change us.

We all want to feel understood, like someone else out there has felt the same way or has been in our shoes. 

Don't let anyone make you feel like you are an inadequate mom because you complain. Or talk about how motherhood is a job and you just need a freaking break. Don't let anyone manipulate you and increase self-doubt about yourself as a mom or make you feel ashamed for trying to challenge them. There is no one way to parent. Take some time and chat with fellow mamas. Be a little vulnerable with her. Share your struggles and I'll bet she'll share hers. We are not all that different! We want what is best for our kids. And acting like you have it all together all the time is not fooling anyone! I feel like my personal relationships with my mom friends have grown immensely lately because I've chosen to share my weaknesses and admit my struggles instead of trying to cover them up or sugar-coat them. I'm learning that I'm not alone, at all, and that a smile and a simple "keep your chin up" can really go a long way.