Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Promised Land

I was raised by my grandparents. I grew up calling them Mom and Dad, mostly because that's what everyone else called them, including my mother. And even though my mother and I have a good relationship, we've always been more like sisters, understandably so considering we had the same parents. Dad was 50 when I was born, and Mom was 48. And as I grew up, I realized that my parents were older, not only because I knew they were really my grandparents, but because the age difference between my parents and the parents of the other kids was visible. As a child, it never really occurred to me to mind. So they were older? Who cares? Their age had no real impact on my day to day life. I still did all the things the other kids did. I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. I had cute stylish clothes. I went to slumber parties. It just wasn't something that I ever really thought about.

Fast forward to my teenage years. It was during this time that it suddenly occurred to me how the fact that my parents were 20 some odd years older than everyone else's parents was going to affect me. They started developing the usual minor age related health problems. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, that sort of thing. People like cardiologists came into the picture. And one day it hit me that I was going to lose my Mom and Dad earlier in life than most of my friends. Of course there are the exceptions - friends who have lost parents due to tragic illness or accidents and other similar circumstances. And then on occasion I would hear about someone's grandmother or grandfather passing away, and at that point I became acutely aware of the fact that I would lose my Mom and Dad.

I think subconsciously, this realization impacted me much more than I was aware. I went to college only four hours away and came home frequently. I stayed in Memphis for graduate school. And every time I contemplated or even attempted to leave the Memphis area, I would become overwhelmed by guilt for leaving my parents because I didn't know how much time I had left with them. Of course Mom didn't exactly help matters. She never wanted me to leave. I was her last child...the baby. And Mom lived to be a mom. She was happier doing things for her kids than she was for herself. And without someone to mother, she just seemed so sad. So I called all the time, went to see them every weekend, involved her in all my major decisions, and basically dragged out her chance to be a mom for 35 years.

When I was 35 years old, I got married. Unfortunately not to someone who lived in Memphis. I moved 12 hours away from my parents to Fort Riley, KS. I also found out two weeks after arriving in Kansas that I was pregnant with Mom and Dad's first great-grandchild. And ever since I finally decided to live my life, get married, leave Memphis, have kids...I have been overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that I abandoned my parents. Mom's health has steadily deteriorated in the time since I moved away. And then she found out that she had lung cancer. Her mental status has worsened as well. She's too confused to manage her finances, and I am 12 hours away and useless. I found out two weeks ago that I am pregnant and yesterday Mom called to tell me that the radiation she had for her lung cancer was unsuccessful, that the cancer has spread, that they are starting hospice care next week, and that she has less than six months to live. And when she told me, all I could think of was what a horrible person I was for leaving my parents. How I should have just not gotten married, stayed in Memphis, and waited until she was gone. Thirty-five years I waited, and in the less than three years I've been gone living my new life, she's reached the end of hers.

I laid in bed last night and wept. My greatest fear is, after everything my Mom has seen me through, I won't be there to hold her hand and tell her that it's ok to go. That her children are grown with lives and children of their own. That she was the best mother I could have asked for, despite all the differences of opinion that we had about things that seem so frivolous now. That she doesn't have to worry because we are all ok and we all love her. That I'm sorry she didn't have more time to spend with Jameson, and that she won't be able to meet the new baby, something that is almost inconceivable to me. Because I know my Mom, and I know that it's things like this that she will be thinking about at the end of her life. "Do my kids love me? Did I do enough for them? Are they angry with me about anything? Are they angry with each other about anything? Will they take care of Daddy after I'm gone?" And I don't want Mom to be worried anymore. She's worried every day of her life, and worried enough for everyone in the whole family, and all I want for her in those last moments is to finally be at peace with her life.

Pope Paul VI said "Every mother is like Moses. She does not enter the promised land. She prepares a world she will not see." My Mom taught me what it is to be a parent, but she'll never the see the fruit of her efforts. She won't be here to see Jameson as a man, or the new baby grown, but she will impact their lives more than she knows. Hopefully she knows just how much she has impacted mine.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hit me baby, one more time...

So a little over a month ago, I asked myself (and whoever else might read it) "how do I stop trying?" And since that time, I went to see my obstetrician who suggested that I not waste any more time trying to conceive on my own, and he referred me to a fertility specialist. I came home, waited long enough for the referral to be processed, and then called to make my appointment on October 10th with the fertility specialist two hours away in Kansas City. I filled out my eleven page new patient health history packet, submitted my medical record release at the hospital so that all of my OB records could be sent to the specialist, and patiently waited while days passed by ever so slowly. In the meantime, I had gone ahead and done my ovulation predictor tests, did the deed with my husband on all the days I was supposed to, and waited for my period to show up, yet again. Only this month, as my monthly visit from Aunt Flo got closer and closer, I noticed something was...different. I wasn't having cramps. I wasn't bloated. I wasn't anything. For months I had been hoping that all my usual PMS symptoms were actually pregnancy symptoms, but that was never the case. And this month, I wasn't even having my usual PMS.

Yesterday morning I woke up and decided that, even though I was about 99% sure I wasn't pregnant, I would go ahead and take a home pregnancy test, which I have a perpetual stock of these days. My period was a no show as of yet, but hey, at my age it's not exactly clockwork anymore. I dipped my stick, counted to twenty, laid it on the windowsill as usual, and went about my morning ritual of brushing teeth and taking my nine million vitamins. After about a minute I glanced over expecting to see the little hourglass still blinking, counting down the three minutes of torture until the words "not pregnant" appeared. But it wasn't blinking. So I bent down and looked closer and stopped cold. There it was. After months of thinking I would never see it again. One...single...word. Pregnant.

I gasped. Then I bounced up and down. Then I texted my mother, who immediately called me and was already crying. I texted the rest of my immediate family, at which point my phone started to blow up. And then I took a picture of my EPT with my phone and posted it on facebook. I'm not one of these superstitious women who thinks you should keep mum about such things until after the first trimester. I'm pretty sure me blabbing to everyone I know that I'm expecting isn't going to affect whether or not this baby decides to stick with me for nine months. What I am sure of is, I'm happy. And this is the kind of happiness that you want to share with all the people you love. So share it I did.

So this morning I went to the hospital to have my blood test drawn, and it's official, I am pregnant. My due date is May 26th, 2012. Ironically, I'm due the same month that my husband is set to deploy to Afghanistan. Luckily he will be able to stay behind until the baby is born, and for ten days after the birth. It may not sound like much, but considering he missed the birth of our son when he was in Iraq, this really is an improvement.

So how do you stop trying? Well, you don't. Not until your dream comes true. And I hope that everyone out there who is reading this never stops believing in their dream, and never stops trying to make it come true.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never forget...

Ten years ago today I was at work. I was in a...transition phase of my life. I had left my job at the University of Memphis Art Department to pursue my big dream of working in New York City, which had spectacularly blown up in my face. When I returned home to Memphis, I was jobless. My old position at UofM had been filled, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. So I had gotten a job shelving books at Barnes and Noble to pay the bills until I got a grip. And that's what I was doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was shelving books. The store hadn't opened yet, so it was only staff in the store when the news first came in. One of the assistant managers of the store came running out of the office to tell everyone that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Then he changed the store's music channel to the news, and we all listened in horror at the news reports of what was going on in the city that I had only just recently departed.

When I think back to that day, it seems life a lifetime ago. And for me I guess it was. Long gone are those days when I didn't know what I was doing with my life. And long gone are the days when I felt a sense of security that I truly believed to be impenetrable. Four months later I started nursing school. Two years later I was a registered nurse, which is a career I proudly did for four years. And then in 2008, I met this nerdy gamer guy who incidentally was a combat medic in the U.S. Army. And since then my life has truly found it's purpose. On December 7, 2009, on the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I gave birth to my son. And as is the case with many a military child's birth since 9/11, his father was in Iraq when he was born.

Many American lives changed on September 11, 2001. And on that horrific day in New York City, New Yorkers and Americans everywhere made the promise that they would never forget. And while some people may have slipped back into the comfortable complacency that they are safe in this country, they have only done so thanks to the sacrifices that have been and continue to be made by so many brave patriots of this beautiful country. So on this ten year anniversary of September 11, 2001, hug your babies and your spouses and your family, thank someone who would sacrifice his or her very life for your freedom, and remember what you swore to never forget.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mad Love

Sometimes my husband drives me completely insane. In fact, I could make a list as long as my arm of things that he has done that made me want to peel his face off with laser beams from my eyes. I won't list them though, because I'm sure that everyone has a similar list of things that their spouses do that make them equally crazy. However, and this is a big however, when I start to think about all of the things that he does that make me wonder why on Earth I ever got married, all of the reasons that I did start coming back to me. And they are so much more important than the reasons I sometimes want to run away screaming.

My husband loves me. And I mean he really loves me. He knew I wasn't perfect when we met, and he married me anyway. He not only accepted, but embraced, my flaws. And there are all of these seemingly small things that he does that other people might never notice if they didn't look closely, but to me they are constant reminders of his love. He always rests his hand on my leg when we're in the car. He makes kissy faces at me from the other end of the couch. He spontaneously blurts out that he loves me periodically throughout the day, everyday. When we go to the grocery store, or the mall, or a bookstore, or just walk down the street, he puts his hand on the small of my back. And it seems like such a small insignificant little thing to do, but to me it means so much. It's as if he's saying "This is my wife, the woman I love and I am proud to be with her." But it's also a constant reminder to me that he's there, beside me, and supporting me.

Also, no matter how awful I look, if I'm sick and haven't showered and my hair's a mess and I have on no makeup and haven't tweezed my eyebrows in a few days, he still looks at me and tells me I'm beautiful, and usually also cops a feel in the process. And I look in the mirror and say to myself "how on Earth could you possibly find this attractive?", but then A) he's a man and B) he's looking at me through eyes glazed over with love for his wife and the mother of his child. And somehow, just knowing that no matter how wretched I feel, he still thinks I'm helps me get through the day.

Then there's his endless appreciation of the things I do. He thanks me and tells me how much he loved what I cooked for dinner, whether it's something elaborate and homemade, or frozen fish sticks and mac & cheese. And after I've taken the time to cook for him, he not only compliments the meal and says thank you, but he also cleans the kitchen and the dishes. And on the weekends when he's home all day, he shares the responsibility of the baby and the dog so that I can get a break from my "job" and have some time to myself.

And then there's the fact that he's a hopeless romantic. When he was deployed to Iraq, I got love letters. And I don't just mean emails or letters telling me about what he was doing over there, I mean honest to God romantic love letters written on paper and sent snail mail from Iraq. When he's gone to the field for a couple of weeks I get romantic text messages telling me how much he longs to be home with me. Yeah you read that right, he longs. It never ceases to amaze me how open and honest he is with his feelings. And I don't have to pry this stuff out of him with a crow bar either mind you. It's so nice to have someone tell you how they feel about you without you having to ask.

Marriage is hard work. And sometimes when you combine the differences between two people with all of the stress and strain of daily life like working and paying bills and raising kids, husbands and wives will drive each other nuts. And sometimes the bad really does outweigh the good, and at that point there isn't a whole lot left to do but admit that it simply isn't going to work. As for me, I got lucky. Doesn't mean that I don't want to strangle him sometimes, but I'm also sure that, just like our love for each other, occasionally the homicidal feeling is mutual.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When you become a mother...

So as much as I like to make fun of Army Wives, even though I do admittedly tend to burst into tears at least once during every episode, in one of the episodes, one of the wives said something that really clicked with me. She said "when you become a mother, you stop being the picture and start being the frame." That quote really REALLY stuck with me because it truly sums up a lot of what I have been feeling over the last two years. Not that I was much of a picture before I had Jameson, but I was at least the center of my own life. But things are different now.

Before I became a mother, I was an RN. I made decent money and spent it on whatever I felt like. Then I got pregnant, stopped working, had a baby, and now I have to support a family of three on my husband's meager military pay. And that's more of a challenge than you might think. Soldiers aren't well paid. We have a few perks, namely medical care that is 100% paid for. I haven't even seen a doctor/hospital bill since I got married. And considering how many people in our country today either pay an astronomical premium for healthcare insurance, or have none at all, I am very very grateful for that. But because the actual take home pay that I have to pay bills and buy groceries with is so...tight, I typically reserve any extra spending money we might have for buying things for Jameson, and on the rare occasion that I spend money on something frivolous for myself, I tend to suffer from buyer's remorse.

But aside from the "business" part of taking care of a family, I notice how completely non self centric my life is now. And I see those changes in every little detail of my life. Before I was a mother, when I woke up in the morning I ate breakfast. Now when I wake up in the morning (at the beckon call of my son), I make his breakfast, set him up with his oatmeal and milk in his high chair, feed and let out the dog, and then maybe I'll put on a pot of coffee. By the time the coffee is brewing my dog is banging on the door to come inside and my son has inhaled his oatmeal and is ready to get out of his chair and watch his speech therapy video. Once I get the video started, I finally get myself a cup of coffee. And that's about all of the breakfast I get these days. Jameson eats again at 10, then he and the dog eat again at noon, then Jameson goes down for his nap. At this point I MIGHT eat something, or I might do laundry or pay bills or just sit and stare at the wall while I drink my cold cup of coffee and enjoy the peace and quiet for an hour or two. Then he wakes up, and it's rinse and repeat until bedtime.

I used to derive some sense of pride and accomplishment from my job. I felt like I was doing something good and productive with my life. Then I became a mother. Now my sense of pride and accomplishment comes from seeing all of the milestones that my son reaches. When he started babbling, and walking, and now mimicking sign language that he sees on his speech therapy video. When I see him interacting so well with his speech therapist, or using his silverware and feeding himself, or putting on his clothes and his shoes by himself. This is where my sense of pride and accomplishment originates from now.

Before I became a mother, I thought stay at home moms had it easy. I thought "wow, how friggin' easy would that be, to just stay at home and play with your kid all day?" Ha! Boy was I mistaken. I'm 37 years old, and more often than not I feel like I am slowly but surely falling apart. Most of my joints hurt when I wake up in the morning. I look like Quasimodo limping around the house for at least an hour every day. My 20 month old son has exponentially more energy than me. He's like trying to catch a ray of light. And now he's asserting his independence, wanting to do everything himself and push his limits, including not riding in the shopping cart but running around like a loose billy goat in the store, or leaving the back patio to explore the grass before I've had the chance to clean up all the dog poo. He's...exhausting. Adorable, smart, and the light of my life...but exhausting.

But when I heard that quote the other day, it really made me pause. When you become a mother, you stop being the picture, and start being the frame. Maybe I'm not the center of my own universe anymore. Maybe the money all gets spent on Jameson, and maybe my life has become a string of speech therapy appointments and feedings and cleaning food for a three foot radius around the high chair and chasing him around the house while he waves my cell phone in the air and laughs. But I'm proud of the work I'm doing, and I'm certainly where I'm needed most. And one day I will have raised a man that knows beyond a doubt that his mother loves and supports him, and will always be the frame around his picture.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life imitating art...

Ok. So calling it "art" might be a huge stretch, but I recently broke down and starting watching the show Army Wives. In a word, it's ridiculous. But I only know this because I am, in fact, an army wife. Occasionally I subject my poor husband to the show as well, and typically it goes a little like this:

TV: dramatic dialogue...
Shaun: What?
TV: dramatic dialogue...
Shaun: Seriously?
TV: dramatic dialogue...
Shaun: Ok that would never happen!

Honestly, it's hilarious. And sometimes I make him watch it with me just so I can snort and snicker at his reaction. But in all seriousness, sometimes I really worry about some of the things that the show deals with, particularly the storylines dealing with what the army husbands do all day. This show is watched by a lot of people who know nothing about military life, and honestly it worries me that they see this stuff and believe that it's true. The show is called Army Wives, and as such really should only concern itself with the lives of the spouses, NOT with storylines relating to the actual military. Especially given today's political climate and the public's wavering support of our servicemen and women who are doing their jobs. But I'll step off of my soap box now and get to the actual reason behind this post.

I frequently find myself crying when I watch this show. I see an episode where someone's husband is deploying, and I think about how that's going to be me, again, in a few months. The last time my husband deployed, he missed the last three months of my pregnancy and the first 6 months of his son's life. I delivered Jameson without my husband or any of my family present. It wasn't the way I had always imagined it. And, given that we're trying to get pregnant again, it may very well happen just like that with the second child. Or someone on the show gets shot, or blown up by an IED, or an RPG, or they flip out from PTSD or a TBI. Notice all the acronyms? Yeah, that's something you quickly realize when you marry the Army...they don't use words, only acronyms. It takes a lot of getting used to, and a lot of googling. When you're married to a soldier, google is your friend. Or, the stress of being separated for a year every 18 months starts to take it's toll on the marriages. You see the resentment start rearing it's ugly head. The husband and wife start withdrawing from each other as soon as deployment orders come down, and shortly after the soldier's departure for the sandbox, the wife starts being wooed by some vulture that knows her husband is gone.

And while I wish I could say that all these scenarios are complete fabrications and not at all realistic, I honestly can't. I'm not going to lie. It's hard. It's real hard. One day you're a nice happy family, and the next day your husband is just...gone. Nothing else in your life changes. You still have to wake up every morning and take care of your kid and your dog and your house. Of course now all of the things that your husband usually does gets added to your own to-do list. You have to take out the trash, clean the kitchen, and scoop poop. You go to bed alone every night. And it's not just that they're gone. They're in a combat zone. So it's not just the separation that you're dealing with. It's the constant anxiety about whether or not they're ok. When Shaun was in Iraq, I never watched the news. Never. I couldn't do it because every time I heard about a soldier getting killed in Iraq, I felt like someone had their fingers wrapped around my throat. And this time he's going to Afghanistan, which is even more volatile. It's an extremely stressful situation. Also, Jameson is old enough now to realize that his Dad is gone. And I worry about how that is going to affect him at this age. He's not old enough to understand that his Dad is leaving, but only for a while. He's just going to know that his Dad isn't around anymore, and then process that information how? Will he feel abandoned? Will he forget his Dad? And how will he respond to Shaun when he gets home? The last time Shaun came home, Jameson was six months old. Their reunion was a little strained at first, but Jameson warmed up to him fairly quickly. But this time we're dealing with a different stage in his development, and it concerns me.

All of these kinds of issues are dealt with on this show, and in that respect, it can be very realistic. Thus the strong bond you find yourself making with the characters and the emotional outbursts when something terrible happens to one of these poor women. So, you may be asking yourself "why is she watching this stupid show if it stirs up all these emotions?" and the answer's like a train wreck. I just can't stop watching. And I guess I just want to know how it ends. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How do you stop trying?

So I find myself in unexplored territory, and to be honest...I'm flailing. But I'm getting ahead of myself already, so let me back up for a moment.

When my husband and I got married on March 30th of 2009, we got married believing that we would never have children. I had had an endometrial ablation about a month and a half before, and was under what was apparently a mistaken impression that I could not have children. So our relationship, and in particular our sex life, was completely and totally stress free. We weren't worried about trying not to get pregnant, and we weren't worried about trying to get pregnant. There was no trying. There was no chance. There was just me and him and zero stress sex. And while I had my moments when that made me a little sad, we had had "the talk" when we got married, he assured me that he was fine with not having children as long as he could be with me, so I just put it out of my mind.

And then, about a month after we got married, I found out I was pregnant. Now, to say I was shocked is an understatement. But I was, most definitely, very happy, as was Shaun. I had a pretty uneventful pregnancy, a pretty uneventful delivery, and 38 weeks after we were married, I had one perfect baby boy.

Now here's where it gets tricky.

Before I got pregnant with Jameson there was no "trying". There was no paying attention to what day you started doing this and what day the two lines were the same color or you got a little digital smiley face or your temperature went up by a degree. There was no hyper-awareness of every little pelvic twinge or flutter. And there was no timing your sex life to coincide with all of these things. When I was pregnant with Jameson, I was two weeks late before it even crossed my mind to look at a calendar.

But now...the possibility is out there. I can't just say "oh it's not possible so I'm just not going to worry about it." It's possible. I have a 34 inch tall walking babbling reminder of it being possible every minute of every day. And now that we're trying to repeat our little miracle conception, I can not for the life of me stop "trying". You hear and read stories every day..."Oh we tried for one, two, four, 6 years and finally when we just gave up, we got pregnant." But I can't give up. It's apparently not in my nature. I think I can safely say that I obsess now. I'm taking the tests, I'm feeling the twinges, and I'm texting my husband at work telling him he needs to come home NOW because it's TIME! And I'm second guessing everything. Maybe I got pregnant before because of this or because of that. Maybe that perfect constellation of events that resulted in my son isn't possible again. Maybe I'm wasting $40 a month peeing on a stick every morning for two weeks to find the right time, but it's still not going to work.

So please, someone tell me, how do you stop "trying"? If it were the New York Times crossword puzzle, or running a marathon, or reading Moby Dick, I could easily tell you how to stop trying. But I don't know how to stop trying to bring another child into the world when I was so amazingly blessed with the first one. When you wake up every morning and see this adorable fat face smiling at you and your heart just explodes, how do you stop trying to do it again? And even more unimaginable, how do you stop trying when you've yet to experience being a mother at all. I have friends who have been to hell and back, planning and testing and timing and having procedures and taking drugs and scrimping and saving every dime they get their hands on for things that insurance won't pay for, and I hear people say things like "Why don't they just give up?" Clearly, CLEARLY, these people have never had an unfulfilled dream. And good for them. Because if they knew, if they had even a vague idea of what it feels like to want something with every fiber of their being, then they would be just like me and so many others that I know that can't stop trying.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Am I happy? Yes. Do I think he deserved to die? Absolutely. Do I think he’s lucky that a Navy SEAL put a bullet through his head instead of it being left up to me, who would have dragged his ass back to NYC and tied him up where the World Trade Center once stood and let the people of New York choose exactly how long and painful his death would be? Yep. Do I care if he received a proper Muslim burial? Nope. Did he care whether the thousands of men, women and children of many nationalities and religions that he killed received a proper burial according to their religious beliefs? No. What about the thousands in the WTC who were blown to pieces, burnt to ash, or who plummeted to their death on the asphalt below? Did they die in a way befitting their beliefs? I think not. Personally, I would have chopped his head off and put it on a pike to rot. Thousands…THOUSANDS…of INNOCENT people died at his hands. Soldiers and civilians alike have died. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, have been lost due to this man’s madness. Thousands of American soldiers, my husband and many close friends included, have spent YEARS of their lives sweating in 120+ degree heat, carrying around an assault weapon AT ALL TIMES, dodging bullets and mortar fire and IED’s hidden in every pile of trash on the street, separated from their families, wives and children, and they are the LUCKY ones who actually made it home. Many, MANY others came home in a coffin. This country has bled and bled and bled because of Osama Bin Laden’s attack on this country almost ten years ago, and we continue and will continue for some time to bleed even more. I’m not a hatemonger. You will not see me on TV dancing in the street because Bin Laden is dead. But don’t ask me to pity his poor desecrated body buried at sea. He deserved much much worse.