Thursday, April 17, 2014

On your First Birthday

Dear Baby Girl,

Right now you are asleep, in your pale pink little room that we worked so hard to ready for you, and tomorrow is your first birthday. You've been here with us for six months now, but it took less than a millisecond for us to fall in love with you.

Maybe you're wondering why this is here, online, instead of in a scrap book or a journal.

It's because your start in this life hasn't been typical, and the truth is, there's every chance that we might not be able to raise you. Your future is so undecided right now. So if one day, when you are grown, and you stumble upon this, I want you to know for absolute certain that while you were in "foster care," you were not abandoned, ill-treated or alone.  You have never lacked for love a day in your life.

The first moment I saw you, when you were brought to us at hockey practice, my soul seemed to know yours, knew that you belong in my arms, no matter how short of time we might have. That first couple of months, I couldn't put you down. I didn't want to, and you wouldn't let me. I learned quickly how to do everything with you wrapped to my chest, where you seemed most content. You met your daddy (the one who tucks you in at night, at least), over skype, and we laid the computer down on the floor so you could get the closest view while he talked to you.

Don't you see?  You had him from 6,000 miles away.  You owned his heart before he touched your skin, or smelled your hair. That's what an amazing little girl you are.

You are wanted by everyone, and it's important that you know that.  There's not a soul that wouldn't wrap you up and care for you in your life.  If you're no longer with us when you read this, then it's because God decided that your path was with someone else who loves you just as much as we do.

I wish I could make you understand how adored you are, how long we waited for just a chance to love you.  You were chosen for us, even for just this little while, the same as we were chosen for you.  There's not a day that I don't thank God for His plan, His choice. You are a gift I have no words for, but I'm trying.

Six months ago, I was wracked in terror of losing you, already head-over-heels for you. Now it's six months later and nothing has changed in that regard. There are times I burst into tears as I hold you, scared to death there will come a day when you won't be here to hold. Those same tears are shed in gratitude, that even if you aren't meant to be raised here, we have been able to share so much love with you, but it's nothing compared to the love you give in return, the way your giggle makes both daddy and I pause and smile right along. That moment at redeployment, when I was able to lift you into his arms - that's something I will never forget, no matter what happens. You are impressed on all of our hearts - mine, daddy's, your brothers', and your sister's. You are as much a part of us as if you were born here.

But just in case you don't stay here, I hope you'll heed this advice if you ever stumble upon this little blog I keep and realize that once upon a time, you had four older brothers and lived in a circus of a house:

1. Hold your head high with dignity and grace in every situation.  You are loved by all, fought for by all, and whomever won the battle to keep you is the luckiest person on the planet. You are a girl of worth, of intelligence and of fierce determination.  Given that look on your face I get when I tell you "no," you're also stubborn. This will serve you well, so don't lose it.

2. Get to know God. If you don't believe in Him, it's ultimately okay, because He believes in you, and that will never change, no matter which direction your life takes, or how long it may take you to find your path. He will wait.

3. You can never go wrong with a single strand of pearls. It's the most timeless piece of jewelry a girl can own, and will make you shine in any social situation.

4. Be strong.  You're a fighter, I know this from your first month here. You are made of stern stuff, young lady, so don't you dare roll over and let someone walk on you. You are more precious than any stone on Earth.  Never forget that.

5. Read.  There is nothing a dangerous, as coveted, as beautiful as a well-read woman. I'm not saying this because I'm a nerd (which I am), but because if you don't read, you're limited to your life experiences, and the opinions only from it.  But if you read, a world opens to you and you'll find that your opinions aren't just formed from your limited sight of the world, but from the experiences of others as well.

6. Be kind. The world is full of mean, ugly-hearted people.  Don't be one of them. I'm not saying to let yourself get walked on, but when you're able to, turn the other cheek.  No one ever regrets taking the high road. Being up there helps you see the hurt others inflict, but it can also help you see why. So give where you can, and don't confuse the high road with a high horse. You should look down on the situation, not the people.  Pull them up.  Above all else, this is our purpose here on Earth, to pull others up when we can.

7. Love.  Find love. Give love. Be love. It is the strongest emotion, and when it's pure, it will not steer you wrong. Don't abuse it, or the one who offers it to you. Love is not something to be taken lightly, and should be held more precious than anything in this world.  That being said, I'll share with you the best advice I've ever received.  It comes from your grandfather: You don't marry the one you can live with; you marry the one you cannot live without.  My baby girl, there are many things you may settle for in life, but love must NEVER be one of them. Please marry your best friend, the one who will support you no matter what storms come your way, because life is long, and you're not just choosing your love, you're choosing your partner for the rest of your life, the person who will bear witness to who you become - oh, and you should definitely find them attractive, because there's something to be said for feeling like a teen when you're thirty, and sex is not overrated in marriage.  (Please be over 18 when you read this).

8. Find peace. Whether it's in a place, a song, a book, a person, find peace.  Be calm in your soul and take the time to really see how beautiful this life is. There can be so much ugliness around us, but there is far more beauty. Sometimes it simply takes an extra moment of effort to find it.  But when your soul is quiet, you will see.

9. Dream. If anyone knows this I do. Don't let go of that far-fetched dream you have.  Strive for it.  Reach.  Get it.  How do I know this?  Because I finally published that book I was dying to.  More than that?  I know dreams come true because you're asleep upstairs. You're here, after years of dreaming of your blue eyes, and the way your smile completes this family, you're here.  No, it might not be forever, but some dreams don't last forever, you simply have to savor every minute you get.  I have counted every precious second with you, don't you ever doubt that. You are my greatest dream - now go find yours.

10. No matter where you are right now, we love you.  It doesn't matter if you're twelve, searching the net upstairs while I'm cooking your dinner, hiding from whatever noise your brothers are stirring up, or whether you're eighteen, having been raised by someone else. There is not a day that I will not love you, or think about you, wonder where you are, or pray for your happiness. If you aren't here, then you have an ally you know nothing about. There is nothing I won't do to help you, and that will never change. Even if you don't know me anymore, my soul will know yours - just like when they brought you to us. I will always be a phone call, plane ride, or yell-down-the-hall away, and that won't change.  I don't care if you're just now realizing you were in foster care, and have zero recollection of who I am.  I will always be here for you if you need it. You are never as alone as you might feel.

That's it for now. Thank you for being ours, even if it's only this little while. Thank you for uniting your brothers, and for filling our hearts with your love.

Sleep tight baby girl - there's cake to be had tomorrow.

And I can't wait to see you make a mess of it.  ;)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Word of the Year.

Ah, it's that time of year again... the birthday.

No, it's not yet, but it's soon.  Soon like this weekend. Did I mention that we have 3 birthdays in 8 days in this house?  3.  But I digress...

  One of my very closest friends told me a few years ago that she tries to pick a word for her birthday, a word that she tries to apply to her life.  I kinda fell in love with that concept.

Last year, with deployment days away, I chose "grace," and there were so many times I fell back on that, trying to be the kind of woman my husband and sons would be proud of.  I like to think it served me well.

This year, however, has been an utter mad house.  Jason took on more responsibility at work, I'm still promoting Full Measures and writing a new book, keeping up with other writing commitments, our boys are still running us ragged with hockey, and everything with our Little Miss is still up in the air.

Honestly, there are moments when I'm pretty sure that drinking from the waterfall is catching up with me. There have been more than a few nights where I've been so dumbstruck by all I have to get done that I end up concentrating on the overwhelming list, instead of just doing it, and it ends up looking like:

Did I mention we know we're PCS'ing?  We just don't know WHEN, and we're only a wee bit certain about WHERE.  And the first thing any military wife thinks about when we're told PCS?  Holy shit, we've gained a ton of weight. And no, I don't mean the people, I mean our house-hold goods.  I look around this house at the furniture we've accumulated, and the random... um... stuff.... and it's like we're:

Right.  We're going to need to purge, because the army limits on what they'll pay to move.

So you add that maybe selling the house, and the stress of not knowing  about... anything, and well....

And I turn around, and see that I haven't posted on my blog in like 8 days, and I'm kind of horrified at myself on one hand, and really confused how it's been 8 days in the other.

But to my complete defense, Jason was on TDY for 10 days, and the entire house came down with the stomach flu.  Ah yes, the joy of caring for a baby while you're puking.  I'd almost forgotten. But she was a champ.  So yeah, it's been 8 days, and all I can say to that is:


Right.  So where were we?  

Ah yes, the birthday.  I was snuggled up next to Jason, all of this madness streaking through my brain, and all that could drown out those thoughts was how grateful I am to have him.  How his simple presence by my side is enough to calm me, to make me feel like I can handle anything.  

From there it spiraled.  

I have so much to be incredibly grateful for, and if I concentrate on that, the rest falls in line.  

So this year, I'm choosing "Gratitude" as my word. I'm going to cling to the thankfulness that comes for the solution to every struggle, and the process thereof.  I'm going to embrace the uncertainties of this year with a full heart and trust that everything is going according to plan.

In my experience, when I take the time to concentrate on the amazing blessings we're heaped with, I'm happier and more productive.  I also think our blessings multiply. Responding to stress with gratitude is basically like giving the universe a giant high 5, and thanking God for all that He's bestowed on us.  (Hey, we're believers, but if you're not, we're cool with that too.)

If I look at my stress?  There's so much to be THANKFUL for in it.

1. Jason's job just got way more time consuming - turns into - wow, he's so good at his job that they wanted him for THAT position.  Go, Babe.

2. We don't know what will happen with our Little Miss - turns into - Thank you, for allowing us to have each and every day with her where every minute is so precious.

3. PCS hell - turns into - a new adventure and the possibility of going HOME.  To my family, my friends, my home town.  Sure, I'll sell a house for that.

4. Writing stress?  Well, HELLO, I was begging for this career a year ago.  Heck, a few months ago, and now Full Measures has been out for 2 months and is STILL rocking it on Amazon. (Which I still check multiple times a day just because I still can't believe people are buying my book.  It's kind of surreal).

5. Kids are driving me nuts?  That's too easy.  They give far more love than they could ever cause insanity.  Most days.  The other days???  I drink wine.

I'm also immeasurably grateful for the wine. 

Gratitude out the wazoo.

So that's it, my 32nd year is coming to a close, and I'm staring down the barrel at year 33, which I have the distinct, heart-soaring feeling, will be the best yet. After all, in this little home dwells everything I've ever prayed for, longed for, dreamed of....

And it doesn't get any better than that. 

So very thankful, blessed, grateful.

Oh, but don't worry... the kids are on Spring Break next week, so you know it's about to get insane around here.  And I'm sure I'll tell you all about it.  ;)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mean people suck.

Okay, peeps, this one took me a while, so forgive what's about to ensue.

Mean people suck.  Honestly, if you ask me my number 1 pet peeve, that's it.  I can't stand people who just can't be nice. It's pretty ironic then, that the biggest challenge this family has come across this year hasn't been that deployment, but of bullying.

I was never the popular kid in school.  My junior high years were spent in tears, hiding from the boys who made my life a living hell.  I can't tell you how many times I curled up in my dad's lap, bawling, begging him to let me transfer schools, or how many times I came up with any excuse not to go to school.  But he'd retired from the military, we weren't going anywhere, and I had to learn how to deal with it.  My idea of dealing with it was really to turn red with mortification, get down the halls as fast as I could, and ignore it when one of those bullies grabbed my yearbook and ruined it by calling me demeaning names all over the "sign-me" pages.  I just choose not to look at that year.

Luckily, I grew up. I went to high school, made the cheerleading squad, grew a thicker skin, and found some of the best people that I am blessed to still call my truest friends today. I survived it just like countless other people do.  It doesn't make me brave, or special, or even a victim.  It's simply what happened. It's something I try really hard not to think about.

I generally hate bullies.  Seriously, there's nothing worse in the world to me than someone who has to rip someone apart just because they can.  There's nothing honorable or humane about it.  It simply makes you a bitter, angry little person if you build yourself up by tearing someone else down.

I swore up and down when I became a parent, that the same would never happen to my kids. But that's the thing about parenting, you can't control the actions of other kids, and sometimes, other little kids suck.

This fall, our second son, The Hulk, came home from school with a bully problem.  This one kid wouldn't leave him alone.  He called him fat, stupid, lame, idiot... you name it.  Of course, our little man is none of these things, but it's hard to tell that to a kid enough to have them believe it. Parents can build a kid up so high, but it takes only a few cruel words to knock them down. The bully tripped him, pushed him, kicked him, and ridiculed him. I have never felt so powerless as a parent, and my biggest concern?  Don't let it turn violent. The Hulk is known for his temper, and when I called the principal for not the third, but the FOURTH time, I finally told him, "one day he will snap, and you will wish you would have done something."  
Agree with it, or don't - my boys are taught not to start a fight, but they're sure-as-hell allowed to finish one.

Nothing I did as a parent work.  Not calls or notes to his teacher, not calls to the principal.  Even when I asked to meet with the bully's parents face-to-face, I was given the run around.  They were "working on it."  They were "changing seats at lunch."  They told me they'd move The Hulk to another class, which I vehemently opposed, because when you're the victim of bullying, you shouldn't be the one forced to leave your favorite teacher ever.  

I pull the "be the bigger person," speech.  You know, where you look for the excuse on the other kid, like bad parenting, a wretched home life, but what it came down to was me turning all Mama-Bear.

Because then the kid does the stupidest thing ever.  When he can't provoke The Hulk, this massive third-grader turns on Thor (our first grader), and bullies HIM, knowing it would get The Hulk's attention. Well... it did.

One thing about our boys?  They may drive each other mad at home, but you mess with one outside of this house, you'd better bet the other three are coming for you. So the bully goes after Thor, and the next thing you know, it's The Hulk in the Principal's office for retaliating violence.  Now, I have to say, at this point, the other kid swung first, so I'm kinda like:

Because... well...  I've called, multiple times, begging you to do something.  Anything, and you haven't.  The kid got violent, my kid ended it.  If you have a problem with that, you should have paid attention for the last few MONTHS that I've called you.  Yup.

Then the crazy thing?  They still don't do anything, and this kid just keeps coming back for more.

Right.  But The Hulk is holding his own, he's putting up with it and not retaliating when part of me is begging him to just knock the crap out of the other kid ONCE.  Does this make me a bad mom?  Maybe. But man, am I just sick and tired of the school doing nothing to protect my kid, and then punishing him when he protects himself.  Luckily, but the time Christmas comes around, they move the bully out of his classroom, and I'm able to breathe during the school day.

Then, when Captain America faces some hazing'ish activity in the boys locker room for hockey?  The Hulk leaves the cool-kids table and throws himself down as the sacrificial lamb, taking on whatever is getting dished at his brother, too. Because they are a team, no matter what the scenario. Amazing.

Now let's move on to Captain America, our super-moral oldest.  This kid, man, he's got a heart the size of well... the universe.  If there's a kid who doesn't have a friend, Captain America befriends him.  When he turned nine, he invited this little girl to his birthday party, and I didn't think anything of it - until her mother pulled me aside with a huge amount of thanks, saying her daughter had never been invited to a birthday party, and generally had no friends.  It's moments like that which make me take a second look at my children and see them for the extraordinary human beings they are.  When I asked him about it, he just said, "Yeah, well, she's cool, we can be friends."  Then he ran off to play like he hadn't made a monumental difference.  But he did.

So two years later, it's now January, just shy of Jason making it home from this last deployment.  Captain America bursts through the kitchen door, just off the school bus, and says, "Are you okay?" And I'm pretty stunned while he hugs me, shaking.  I ask him what's wrong, and he tells me that the same little girl was getting picked on by an 8th grader on the bus. *Let's just take a moment to say that I think putting 5th graders in middle school, so they ride home with 8th graders on the bus is just FFFFF'ing ludicrous, but since I don't control the school district, I'll suck that one up.*

This bully is pulling the "You're so fat your picture is an aerial photograph," kind of crap on this not-so-tiny little girl, and I swear, I can feel her self-esteem crushing under the weight of his assholery as Captain America tells the story.  So what does our Captain America do?  He stands up on the bus, and takes the seat next to the girl, looks at the bully and says, "Leave her alone.  She didn't do anything to you."

Now at this point, as I'm holding my ten year-old in our kitchen, I want to simply soak in the miracle that he is.

 Now while I'm in awe of what he did, I can feel what's coming next.  That 8th grader turned on Captain America. He called him fat, which Captain America laughed at.  Come on, he plays hockey 4-5 times a week.  Have you seen the kid?  Well, he laughs, which pushes the bully harder.  He calls him things like dork, ugly, geek (he pointed out Captain America's saxophone case).  And when that doesn't work, he turns physical and says, "I'm going to kick your ass."  Of course, hearing this, well, I'm just like:

 Right, so when the kid threatens him, Captain America replies, "yeah, well, you don't even know where I live."  Because apparently that diverts an ass-kicking?  Anyway.  The bully looks at him and says, "Oh yeah, well I'm going to get off the bus at your stop, follow you home, kick your ass, and then I'm going to kick your mom's ass."

And now I understand why his first concern when he got home was if I was okay.  And I'm just.... livid.

 So I squeeze him tighter, and tell him that I'm okay, and there's zero chance of an 8th grader hurting me. Even though irrationally, I'd like to hurt the parents of that 8th grader. And then Captain America kills me with, "but dad isn't here, and I wasn't home. I was so scared he'd hurt you."

So I try not to burst into tears at how worried he is, and instead reassure him and feed him, because you know... he's a guy.  I send him on his way and then call the school.

They suspend the other kid from the bus, but not until the head of the bus department says, "tell your son to tell the bus driver next time, he doesn't need to put himself in harms way when someone else is getting bullied."  Wait.  What?

Absolutely not.  There is nothing I'm more proud of than Captain America standing up and stopping it. And at this moment, I realize how screwed up we've gotten as a society when we're basically telling our kids, "hey, don't stop injustice, just find somebody bigger." What about when they ARE the bigger person.  Why aren't we teaching them how to be that bigger person so they're prepared as they grow?

Now, okay, when I wrote THIS blog, it went insanely viral, and not all the reactions were good.  I was told I was endangering my boys, yada yada yada, but I stand by this concept. I am not a perfect mother, not even close, but by GOD, I will teach my boys to stand and stop what they know to be wrong, not just let it slide. I would far rather get a call that one of my boys has a black eye because he stepped in, than try to build back up his soul because he knows he could have stopped something and didn't. No, I don't want them hurt.  I would stand in front of my kids and take anything that could hurt them, but I can't always BE with them.  So I just hope I don't raise the boys who stand by and watch the world burn around them.

 And then it occurs to me, and I'm hanging up the phone, that my boys, these tiny little creatures, have more courage than most adults.

Even more than me.

You see, this deployment, I was brought to my knees by bullying.  I was ripped apart by someone I loved, shredded, spit out, and then I opened myself up to have it happen time and again.

One thing I'll say, is that it's the people you hold the closest that have the potential to hurt you the most.  Am I blameless in what initially happened?  No. There are two sides to every story.  I'll own up: I said something careless about missing someone in my life, not realizing that would hurt someone else. When I did realize it?  I apologized profusely.  But, damage was done, all hell broke loose, and suddenly... well.... It was kind of like this happened:

I got bullied. Really publicly. Like random people messaging me public.

Now, I'm nowhere near perfect. Please don't think that, or even harbor the thought that I think I'm perfect. I'm so flawed that I'm amazed I'm put together some days.

You want my flaws? I'm a nerd. I could solve everything with a Harry Potter spell. I'm a stressed out girl, with the capability of extreme selfishness. I'm a procrastinator, and my house will never be clean enough for my mom to just "drop by." I write better than I speak, because I have a tendency to lose the filter on my mouth, and writing makes me pause before I hit "publish." I also love fiercely, which I hope makes up for everything that can be absurdly wrong with me.  And seriously, I'm well aware of my flaws, and just thankful for the people who love me not just in spite of them, but because of them.

Does pointing out what's wrong with me equal bullying?  No.  But attacking someone just to see how much you can hurt them... well, that is. We're not kids, but the definition doesn't change just because we're adults.  

Why did I let it happen for so long?  Because I loved the person. It took until this moment, watching my little boys both stand up when I couldn't muster the courage, that I realized just how silly I was being. I would tear down the school, an army, a hockey team for my boys, but I couldn't stand up for myself? What was that teaching them?

Why didn't I say something?  Well, if you look back through the blogs, you'll see hints of it here and there, but nothing definitive.  Mostly, because I loved that person, and partly, because I was scared to death of getting bullied here, on the blog, most of all.  And part of me was still this little lost puppy, begging for scraps because I was too afraid to let go of how comfortable my life had been before this happened, instead of embracing what it was becoming.

So I let it happen.  And I cried, and I avoided going out.  My kids lost a good portion of the friends that they'd had for YEARS through our unit, and Jason wasn't home which meant I turned into a veritable hermit.
But standing there, watching my boys stand up to their bullies, and for the people who were getting bullied, I was truly humbled. So often I'm trying to teach them to be good men, when in reality, they're showing me how to be a strong woman. And it strikes me, how much like children we adults are.  How there are so few people who will stand up and say something when someone is being bullied and beat down.  I have two friends, TWO, out of everyone, who stood up and said something, and it cost them their friendships with that person.  As much as I am so immeasurably sorry to have caused a rift like that, to have cost them their seat at the cool-kids table, I am just as humbled.  Thankful. They're heroes to me, just like Captain America when he stood up for that girl on the bus.

And if my kids can stand up, then damn, I'd better.

When everything really hit the fan, when I was getting multiple people calling me telling me what had been said/posted/done, it took everything in my power not to lash out, to tell my side to everyone, but then Running Woman called and sent me this:

And she was right.  So I held myself together, sucked it up, and remembered that what people say about you when they're trying to hurt you says little about you, but a whole heck of a lot about them. And when it came down to it, there was no use fanning the flames.  I just needed it to stop.

So I held my head high as much as possible, leaned on the people Like Mrs. Green Bay and Mrs. Back-bone and got through it.  Because deep inside me was the jr. high school student getting called fat as she walked down the hall.  How quickly those emotions can resurface when you're bullied as an adult.

But as you can see, it's okay now.  Jason's home, and there's not much he'll let touch me, or hurt my feelings.  Come on, you didn't think our little boys got those huge doses of courage from ME, did you?  

The point is here that yes, mean people suck, but my God, the beautiful souls in this world more than make up for it.  I'm blessed to have some of those souls right under my roof.

I hope that I teach them this:

And this:

There's something to be said for kindness, peeps.  For the general decency of not saying something mean, simply walking away.  Sometimes that takes more strength than firing back. Am I proud of my kids for standing up to their bullies, especially when I couldn't?  Yes.  Lord, yes.  But what I'd be even happier with are parents who STOP RAISING BULLIES.

Maybe the key is to love ourselves.  Maybe it's to love our kids, and teach THEM to love THEMSELVES.  I don't know.  Maybe it's a rite of passage, or just the evidence that no matter what, mean people will exist.  I just don't know. I wish I did.


 But it is what it is.

  In all honesty? When I see those bullies from Jr. High pop up as mutual friends on Facebook, I still cringe, and revert back to that thirteen year-old girl crying in the bathroom. I can't help it.  I can't help what happened this year, not to me, Thor, Captain America or The Hulk. But I can say that I'm so proud of how they acted, how they held themselves above and stood up for themselves and each other.

We are a stronger family because of everything that's happened this year.

And as we drove back from hockey this January, once the dust was starting to settle, and Jason's return was imminent?  This song came on my iPod:

Well, Aidan told me, "hey Mom, that's my jam!" And once I looked at what they'd been through this year, I got it.

So I turned it up.

And we sang as loudly as we could.