Thursday, July 23, 2015

Baking with twin 4-year olds

For our boys' birthdays, I love baking them a cake... or ordering a cake from Coldstone. Our 4-year olds lucked out and each got a Coldstone cake this year. Our baby lucked out since we were living in the Navy Lodge during a military move (a friend actually baked him a cake though, which was super sweet). Our oldest on the other hand managed to have his birthday fall right in that rush of "so glad we are FINALLY in our OWN house with our OWN things" and there was no way in Hades I wasn't going to bake his cake.

On top of that, our other 3 wanted to help (the baby did not actually say he wanted to help, but he is a new walker and in that "requires constant supervision" phase).

Since our 4-year olds wanted to actually make the cake, I measured out all the ingredients beforehand. This made it much easier when actually mixing because their attention spans fall in the category of, "Oh! Look! Shiny!" We also had a lot of discussion over taking turns... they both seemed to feel that it was always their turn and never their brother's turn, "You let me put that in. Not that guy. That guy can't help anymore." "That guy" being the twin brother.

Once everything was measured and hands were washed, it was time to bite the bullet and make the cake.

I decided it would be easiest to go back and forth between pouring in ingredients. One of our 4-year olds started by pouring in the flour...

...and then the other poured in the rest of the dry ingredients. Do you see how the other supervises his brother so closely? In the pictures it looks like he is just interested in the cake making, but they were actually making sure the other only did one thing because it my turn now.

I let them both crack one egg each (a total of 4 went in the cake). I had them crack their eggs into a large measuring bowl so I could either discard the egg if it was completely destroyed or pick out any stray egg shells. Much to my surprise, neither preschooler exploded an egg on the counter and there were no egg shells in either bowl! They were so proud of themselves. To show them how to crack an egg, I cracked one egg into a measuring bowl myself. The tutorial was useful because when I initially handed them an egg, one of our 4-year olds asked me if you just squeeze the egg really hard to crack it.

Luckily only one of our 4-year olds wanted to turn on the mixer. The other thought it was a scary robot and did not want to start it up each time after adding the eggs.

I was going to let each of the preschoolers smooth out the cakes that I poured into the pans. However, one of them was only interested in the beater, so that left the job to this guy who took the duty quite seriously.

He took the job quite seriously until he realized there was cake batter on that spatula. Then he decided the cake was smooth enough.

I intended on having them help make the frosting for the cake, but by the time the cake cooled so had their interest in baking. I actually forgot to take a picture of the cake once it was finished (I was making dinner, finishing the cake, and dealing with a 1-year old who had been woken up from nap far too early by 4-year olds fighting over costumes). I did snap a picture on my Galaxy S5:

He was very pleased with his Batman birthday cake and our 4-year olds were so proud that they had made the whole cake "by themselves." In fact, they were so pleased with themselves that they asked where my cake was. They actually got mad at me and said that I promised to make a cake today and they wanted to eat my cake... I pointed out we did make a cake, to which they said, "No, we made that cake. We want your cake too." I'm not sure if they actually thought they were making a cake + I was making a cake = giving them 2 cakes to eat today for their brother's birthday, or if they were just testing to see if they could get two cakes out of the day's celebrations.

Baking with children is not always easy. I love having our boys help me in the kitchen though. I find that prepping the ingredients when cooking with our 4-year olds really helps, cutting down on the time that they have to wait in between "helping." I also like having ingredients separated in case of contamination (such as, not sticking their hands in my Tupperware container of sugar). Cooking with our (now) 7-year old is different; he enjoys prepping a lot of the ingredients himself, such as cutting vegetables, measuring ingredients, and operating small kitchen appliances. The biggest key to successfully cooking with children is wine a good attitude. Spills happen. Eggs explode when being cracked. Flour gets dumped on the floor. Little fingers find their way to the sugar bowl. Having a safe workspace is also key. This doesn't have to be a big kitchen counter, but does need to be a sturdy stool they can firmly stand on or a bar stool they can safely sit on. This helps make the whole process just slightly smoother.

What are your tips for baking with little ones?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Duty stations: Charleston, South Carolina

I haven't ever done a blog post on the places we've lived, but I have been wanting to write one about Charleston, South Carolina. I've felt that most of the places we've lived were pretty straight forward. Charleston is a very unique city and it was an experience to get the opportunity to live there.

From the get-go, we heard how lucky we were to get stationed in Charleston. Everyone told us how beautiful the city was, how much the loved it, how it is their favorite place. We were excited to move there. As people who try to make the most of wherever the Navy brings us, we felt we had a leg up moving somewhere everyone loves. And then we got there and it was nothing like I expected.

I've done a lot of thinking about Charleston. I've even written a blog post about it is not my favorite duty station. I struggled for awhile when we lived there. I didn't have that "I belong here" feeling. Eventually I was able to buck up and make the most of it-- I mean, we only lived there for 1.5 years. However, part of what helped me was to let go of my expectations. Here is what we heard about Charleston and our experience with living in Charleston as a young family of 6.

1. "The city is beautiful."

Yes, Charleston is absolutely beautiful. But when we first moved to Charleston, my grandmother broke her hip and recovered at our house for months. Then I got pregnant with baby #4 and it was impossible to get around downtown with our brood. Our twins were 2-years old at the time-- too young to be running out of the stroller and me chasing them (while pregnant)-- and the cobblestone sidewalks were too narrow for even my fabulous double stroller. This left me with the option to either walk in the road downtown with 3 children (a 5-year old and 2-year old twins? No, thank you) or somehow manage wandering downtown with no stroller and 3 children (a 5-year old and 2-year old twins while pregnant? No, thank you). My husband doesn't enjoy meandering like I do-- especially in a crowd with young children-- and so it wasn't something I liked pushing on him, though I did insist on a few meandering Charleston walks. As someone who loves getting out with the kids and exploring, I found this to be a difficult city to navigate by myself with young children. Even if we could go back now, with a 6-year old, 4-year old twins, and a baby, I feel like I could navigate the city a bit better than I could when our twins were 2-years old.

2. "There is so much history and the plantations are a must-see."

Again, the city is absolutely beautiful and there is so much history there. It was also so expensive. It cost our family over $100 to do a carriage tour downtown. Admission to the plantations ran me about $35 at least (and often not including parking) just to get in the door-- and that was by myself with the children, as the only adult. Some of them ran even more than that. When I started adding up the prices for all the different plantations, it was staggering. Then there are the annual passes that you can buy to tour the plantations, which all add up because there isn't one pass that will get you in all the plantations. On top of this, we had a membership to the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry and the Charleston County Gold Pass Membership. I considered getting us an aquarium membership, which I thought we would use more than a plantation pass, but it was all starting to be a bit much since I really couldn't picture myself hitting those places up that often. When the summer came, I was excited to start going to the Charleston County Parks Whirlin' Waters Waterpark because we had bought the Gold Pass and-- guess what!-- you need a separate membership to get into that! Hitting up these places as a family of 6 without memberships starts getting really expensive and into the territory of we spend nearly as much on admission for one day as we would for an annual pass. In the end, I went on zero plantation tours (though we did do Thanksgiving at Middleton Place with all the kids and it was fabulous) and I just made the most out of the memberships that we had (highly recommend the Charleston County Gold Pass Membership!!!).

3. "The food is amazing!"

No denying it, Charleston has some amazing restaurants. We had so many restaurants that we wanted to eat at or that were recommended to us. Tell people you are moving to Charleston and you will immediately start hearing, "Oh! You have to go eat at..." or "I saw this place on Food Network..." or "Omigosh, my favorite restaurant is there! You must go..." Every alley you turn down in Charleston has yet another amazing restaurant tucked in it. But we had a 5-year old and 2-year old twins when we moved there; a 6-year old, 3-year old twins, and an infant when we moved away. There is no way we were going to Halls Chophouse and asking for 2 highchairs or waiting on the street for a table for 6 with 4 children at Hymans. A lot of the restaurants there do not take reservations and are only open during mealtimes (opens at lunch, closes between lunch and dinner, then opens for dinner), making it very hard to hit those places at off-peak times. We loved Monza Pizza downtown, but the only table that could seat us was the community table that had barstools. Yes, we sat at barstools with 2-year old twins... that was an adventure.

This was one of those times that I really noticed a difference between having a smaller number of kids and a larger number of kids. We had a restaurant recommended to us by a family of 3, but when we showed up at this tiny local dive, they had no clue when they could pull together a table for 6, "Maybe 45 minutes? Or an hour? Could you guys wait outside?" (It was not only raining, but also in the middle of winter.) Also, a meal that would have been fairly pricey for just my hubby and I to go to was extremely expensive taking all of our children, not to mention not always enjoyable because they had to get up to go potty, they didn't want to eat that, when are we going home, he took my crayon... on and on.

It took awhile, but we finally found a number of restaurants that worked for us. We like going to places where we don't feel we dominate the entire restaurant (places that are super small tend to be less friendly toward us and tend to rush us along). We also like places to be reasonably priced; we don't mind spending more for good food, but we also have to a balance what price is worth taking our entire family out. While many places in Charleston work on a no-reservations policy, we need places that we can comfortably wait at. Sitting on a narrow sidewalk downtown for 45 minutes is a no go for us. Most of all, we like good food and a good vibe. Here are the places that were our family favorites:
  • Page's Okra Grill
    This is our absolute family favorite; we love eating here. This place is perfect to bring out of town guests to as well because it gives a taste of Charleston while still being exceptionally family friendly.
  • Red's Ice House
    This was a really easy place to go to with our family. It is open all day so we could hit it at off peak times. It is also ideal if you plan on lingering for awhile since you can go to the dock on the back and watch dolphins jump by the paddle boarders in Shem Creek.
  • Charleston CafĂ©
    Delicious brunch spot! This place is in a strip mall, but they do have a comfortable sitting area out front. The line moves along quickly. They were short on high chairs, though they had decent chairs that worked fine for our 2-year olds. The staff was nice and attentive to our family, even though it is a pretty busy place.
  • Liberty Tap Room
    This place we found really late in the game, when we were getting ready to move. I was pretty disappointed we found it so late since my hubby and I love beer and family friendly. Delicious food, great beer, and really fun for all of us.
  • Poe's Tavern
    This is at Sullivan's Island. We sat outside on their big picnic tables and had an absolutely wonderful time. The boys loved people watching. My hubby and I loved hanging out all together. After we had our delicious burgers, we took a walk on the beach where we actually saw a shark in the surf-- no joke. This was quite possibly the most exciting beach trip for our boys.
Of course we ate at more restaurants than just this list. One of the small places downtown that we loved was Queology, a super small BBQ place that was not stroller friendly, though the food was great and the staff was so nice and accommodating. So there were other places we liked than this list, but these were the places we could count on when we wanted to go out to eat as a family-- that would have high chairs, that would have a decent wait, that would have a table that could seat us, that we wouldn't pay a fortune to eat at. My favorite meals were from S.N.O.B. We even took all of our kids there for lunch one day and I can tell you, that place is borderline when it comes to eating out with children. The staff was beyond amazing and friendly and warm, though I could tell that some of the patrons questioned why we were there with all our kids.

4. "There is so much to do there. The beaches are amazing!"

I admit, I pictured us moving somewhere similar to Hawaii where the beaches were almost at our back door. It was a little different than that. It took us about 35-40 minutes to get to the beach. We had a park pass and went to Isle of Palms beach as often as we could. I took us over to do beach walks, let the kids run, and for all day beach trips. I even loved going in the evenings in the summer, since it was usually much cooler and far less crowded. Even though it wasn't as quick of a drive as living in Hawaii, I loved Isle of Palms. This was a great beach for us because the parking lot is right on the beach; you never have to cross a road to get to the beach, perfect for managing a beach day with children. There are bathrooms. During the summer, there is a concession stand and a beach stand selling the basic necessities, like sunscreen and hats and shovels. There are vending machines and drinking fountains. The beach itself is mild enough for children and has a shelf, creating tide pools when the tide changes. We hunted for starfish on this beach. On the way to the beach, I would drive through Raising Cane's off Hwy 17 for sweet tea and chicken fingers. It was all perfect for taking 4 children to the beach (or 3 children while being pregnant). Because of the convenience of Isle of Palms, the only other beach we went to was Sullivan's Island with my hubby that one time. The other beaches were too much of a drive, didn't have bathrooms, had to cross the road... too many challenges for me to want to head over there with all the young children. In my defense, we were at Isle of Palms all the time though. (The one beach thing was also very different than Hawaii-- there are so many to choose from there!)

The Charleston County Park Gold Pass is a must have. It includes free beach parking, free admission to James Island Festival of Lights, and free admission to Wannamaker Park. Living in Goose Creek with young children, Wannamaker Park was our go-to place on any given weekday. During the summer we would time our Wannamaker Park trips so we could hit up Sonic's Happy Hour, which has half priced drinks. I would get all the boys small slushes after playing at the park. Wannamaker is so much fun because it has a great playground for all different aged kids, including woods (a favorite for our boys) and a hill, plus it has a splash pad, a pond, walking/bike trails, and a perfect picnic area. It was big enough to offer different activities each time we went and close enough to go all the time.

But there were a lot of other places that I just didn't get to. I never took the boys antiquing and while we did take them to the fountains downtown, it was stressful with the little boys having them running by the road. So I felt like we really had to seek out what worked best for us there, while I felt like it worked a lot better for some of our friends with less children or no children. We usually got out exploring when my hubby was off work or when family came to town and we had extra hands. Otherwise, it was just too much with the littles and me.

5. "Charleston is my favorite city."

I mentioned in my previous blog post how we made the choice to live close to power school and prototype by living on base instead of out in town. Everyone we spoke to recommended we live in Mt. Pleasant or West Ashley. We even had people say Summerville was nice. We took their input into consideration and decided that because we were living there for such a short time (it ended up being a year and a half) and because we were planning on having another baby there (we had baby #4 in Charleston) that we definitely wanted to live close to base. After living in Goose Creek for a year and a half, here are the two thoughts I have on Goose Creek:
  1. If we get stationed in Charleston again for a "real" tour (instead of going through the officer pipeline as a student), we will live out in town.
  2. I'm glad we lived in Goose Creek while going through the officer pipeline because we were so close to power school and prototype.
I had a hard time adjusting to Goose Creek after living in North Carolina where everything we wanted/needed was within 5 miles of our house. In Goose Creek we had...base. And that was it. It took me 15 minutes just to get off base. Everywhere I went was a 30-40 minute drive. Harris Teeter was a 30 minute drive in one direction and Costco a 30 minute drive in the other direction. I did so much online grocery shopping in North Carolina and it was really frustrating now not only shopping in store with 4 children, but also having an hour round trip for those outings. We did have a commissary close by and I loved that. We went there a lot, but the hours sometimes made it difficult. We also had our children's events on the calendar, like homeschool co-ops and sports classes. It was frustrating driving 30-40 minutes for a 30-40 minute soccer class or piano lesson only to drive the 30-40 minutes back home. It was a big change in our routine and any parent with a 2-year old knows what an hour round trip can do to a nap schedule.

What was great about where we lived was the housing was beautiful. I loved our house and I loved our lay out. The house suited us well and was the nicest place we've lived so far in my hubby's Navy career. I also loved how close we were to his schools. He came home often, especially in power school when he just wanted a break from studying. One day when he was at prototype I came down with a horrible migraine. I called him and told him I really needed him home (he was in studying, not on watch) and he was home 10 minutes after I called, including walking out of the school to the parking lot and riding his bike home. I loved the parks in our neighborhood and there was a great sense of community with our neighbors. In that regard, I do think that at that point in our lives, choosing the housing in Goose Creek was the right choice for us. Overall though, the location did skew my perspective towards Charleston and I do think I would find greater enjoyment living somewhere like Mt Pleasant that was more centrally located to the activities our family enjoys doing.

Since we have moved away from Charleston, I find myself missing a lot of things about the place. I loved the warm, mild weather. I loved our evenings spent on our driveway while the kids played. I loved Isle of Palms and Raising Cane's (the two will always go hand in hand for me! haha!). I loved the pineapple fountain downtown. I loved how often my hubby would take us downtown for ice cream at Kilwin's; it was one of our favorite treats. While Charleston was very different than I expected and had many challenges for our large family, there was a lot of good there too.

So that is my post on Charleston, South Carolina. Have you been stationed in Charleston? Did you enjoy it? Where did you live and what things did you like doing with your family? If you have a large family, what were some of your favorite "big family" hang outs?

Submarine Officer's Basic Course (SOBC)

My husband was picked up STA-21. I've written several blog posts about our STA-21 journey and going through the officer pipeline: power school and prototype in South Carolina. It is surreal to me to be writing this post about the last piece of his STA-21 journey, going to SOBC in Connecticut. It doesn't seem that long ago that we received the news that he was picked up STA-21. It was such a whirlwind leaving Hawaii to move to North Carolina for him to get his degree in mechanical engineering; all too soon he graduated college and we were off to South Carolina going through the officer pipeline.It is crazy to me that in a few short weeks we will be back to the fleet. When we left the fleet for the STA-21 program, I felt we had all the time in the world. I tried to remind myself along the way that the time would slip away from us, but it is one thing to know it and another to live it.

But I digress. Right now my hubby is at SOBC (Submarine Officer's Basic Course). This is an unaccompanied school in Connecticut. Unaccompanied means that the Navy does not move the family up while the service member attends this school. The school is about 9 weeks long. It seems the service members can attend SOBC at various points while they are going through the officer pipeline: before power school, in between power school and prototype, or after prototype. It also seemed that the most common time to attend SOBC was in between power school and prototype or after completing prototype. My hubby attended SOBC after graduating prototype. While we were in South Carolina, it seemed most spouses chose out of the following options while their service member was at SOBC:
  • If the service member went to SOBC in between power school and prototype (attending prototype in South Carolina, not moving from South Carolina to upstate New York), they stayed put in South Carolina.
  • If the service member went to SOBC before power school and prototype or after completing power school and prototype, they would pack up their house (or leave their HHG in storage for a bit) and go with their spouse on their own dime to SOBC. As far as I know, this means staying in the Chalet (a Navy hotel on base) for a couple months with their spouse.
  • If the service member went to SOBC after completing power school and prototype, moving to the next duty station on orders.
  • If the service member went to SOBC after completing power school and prototype, packing up their house, putting their HHG in storage, and moving back home with their family while the service member is at SOBC.
I also noticed that it seemed that a lot of the families without children had more flexibility when it came to living arrangements during SOBC. For instance, it is much easier to live in a hotel room with your spouse for 2 months when you do not also have lots of little kids to contend with. They also had a better ability to travel during those times, visiting their spouse for a week or two in SOBC or packing up their house, putting their HHG in storage, and living half of the time with family back home and half of the time with their spouse at SOBC.

As for the day to day life while at SOBC, I recommend reading A (Very) Unofficial Submarine Officer Pipeline Rundown's blog post "Submarine Officer Basic School (SOBC) Rundown." After prototype, we packed out our house and I went to live with my family while he went to SOBC. I have not been to Connecticut and do not know what life is like there or about life in the Chalet. Here are our reasons for moving in with family while he is at SOBC:
  • A lot of the people we knew had already moved/were moving soon from South Carolina. Because we had gone to South Carolina for him to complete power school and prototype, when he finished those schools his classmates also left for SOBC or to go to the boat. That meant that I was saying good-bye to a lot of the friends that I had made.
  • We have 4 children and the idea of living in the Chalet (a hotel room) with a 6-year old, twin 4-year olds, and a baby for 9 weeks just didn't sound very appealing.
  • We have orders to the west coast and our family is on the east coast. We don't know when we will fly back to visit, especially since we also don't know the boat schedule (or how boat life will be). It seemed like a good idea to spend some time with family before moving so far away.
  • A small bonus to this would mean that our HHG will definitely be at our next duty station when we arrive after SOBC.
Those were our reasons for moving in with family while my hubby went to SOBC. However, I have heard from several spouses how they always move together, even with kids, even if it means staying the Chalet for months, even if they have to pay for themselves to be there. I've heard from other spouses that they always stay in their home for as long as possible, even if they are living there alone. As with all things, I think it is important to make the best decision for your family. This was the best decision for us.

The other nice thing, for us, was that my family lives a heck of a lot closer to Connecticut than where we were living in South Carolina. This meant that my hubby was able to make a couple weekend trips to come visit me and the children. Unlike power school and prototype, SOBC is a Monday through Friday affair and the service members have weekends off. This facilitated the weekend visits. We took advantage of that and visited friends stationed nearby.

The bad thing about that was that we were not there to enjoy that schedule with him. He got out early most days while at SOBC and had the weekends off. It has been heartbreaking at times dealing with life with 4 children while Daddy is away. The SOBC schedule has been a breath of fresh air compared to the schedules we've been contending with the past couple years. I wish that we were closer to enjoy it as a family. The weekends have been nice and he went out of his way to drive and see us often. Because we are not together, we did make a conscious effort to enjoy this time as best we could. When he wasn't visiting us, he would go to Boston or New York City with his friends at SOBC. I took advantage of living with family and have been going out in the evenings and to visit friends over the weekends-- often without any kids in tow! (That is huge for a Navy wife accustomed to living far away from family or with a trusted baby-sitter.) Even with all those fun things on our calendar, I sorely wish that we were together and could be using this free time to be together doing nothing since I know that boat life is going to be challenging. I've felt frustrated getting early afternoon phone calls that he's out of school and I just wish, wish, wish that we were doing life together right now, taking advantage of that schedule. A family we went through prototype with is also at SOBC, but they have orders to a boat in Connecticut so they PCS'd to Connecticut after completing prototype. I am envious that they have their house set up there and get to enjoy the SOBC schedule. This time apart has been a little hard on me knowing what we have ahead.

Sometimes I had serious doubts as to whether or not we made the right decision not going with him. With all the changes, this time was pretty hard on our kids-- packing up our things in South Carolina, moving in with family, Daddy being away, and this "move to Washington" hanging over them. I have rolled around our options often in my head. Would it have been better to have stayed in our house in South Carolina? No. We wouldn't have family nearby and Daddy wouldn't be able to come for weekends and our friends were all moving away. Would it have been better to have gone to the Chalet in Connecticut? No. I can't imagine how my sanity would have survived sharing a one room hotel room for 2 months with our 4 boys. We can't move ahead to our next duty station; we are in the process of building a house there. This was our best option, being surrounded by the support of our family and having this time with them. Yes, this has all been hard on the kids, but I think that this was the best option for us, even with the challenges.

There is a graduation at the end of SOBC, but I will not be attending. It is the same time as kindergarten graduation and so we are tied up here.

How was your experience going through SOBC? Did you go the Chalet with your military member or live apart? Did your spouse attend SOBC before prototype or after?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Preparing our cross country drive...

Are we crazy? I don't know. We are in the midst of planning our cross country drive. My hubby is at SOBC in Connecticut right now and I am staying with family. In a few short weeks we will be loading up our vehicles and driving across the United States of America, east coast to west coast.

With four kids, the oldest being six and the youngest being 11 months.

I'm freaking out.

It sounded like an adventure before, but the more I look at all the work we have to do to pack for the drive, plan the drive, and then make the drive (with 4 kids), the more my stomach turns to knots and the more I just want to bury my head in the sand.

Why did I agree to this?

I was going to fly... we were going to ship my van... and now we are driving both our vehicles...

But here we are. My husband appealed to my sense of adventure. I agreed. We have a room full of things to pack at my parents' house. We have two vehicles to drive across country. We have a game plan and it is almost time to execute it.

Since we are taking both of our vehicles, my hubby and I will be caravanning. We plan on splitting up our 4 children, he with 2 and me with 2. We also think that we will be able to move the car seats around on different days if that helps with sibling fighting, though to start we are putting our 4-year old twins in the Jeep with him and our 6-year old and infant in the van with me. I'm hoping our 6-year old helps with the infant, since has done that on past road trips. We are estimating this to take us 5 or 6 days. Before this road trip, our longest road trip with children has been 8 hours on Google Maps, 12 hours actually driving it.

What am I doing to get ready for our drive across the United States to our new duty station?

  1. Packing
    Before my hubby finishes SOBC, I am trying to pack everything that I can. Since we moved to my parents' house around January, we have small winter wardrobes here for myself and our 4 boys. I also have a bin of the next size up summer clothing for baby #4. I spent the other morning rolling these clothes from the 3 bins they previously occupied into one large bin. (Let me tell you... rolling clothes compactly with the assistance of two 4-year olds and an infant takes a long time.) I'm trying to get those kinds of things packed now so that when my hubby gets here, we can focus on packing the clothes we will need for the drive (and the clothes we will need before our HHG are delivered).

  2. Collecting entertainment
    I'm trying to gather things to help keep the children entertained on our drive. With 4 children, I would really like to avoid markers that can stain (or just make a huge mess). I'd also like to avoid things with too many pieces that can fall off their laps or trays easily, such as markers with lids or play sets with lots of pieces. It is very frustrating having 4 children crying for things that have fallen every couple miles. Thanks to my helpful friends on Facebook, I'm feeling much more confident about our entertainment grab bag. Here are the things that we have collected so far for our non-electronic entertainment grab bag:

    -Water Wow by Melissa and Doug: the cool thing about the Water Wow compared to Crayola Color Wonder is that the Water Wow pen is refillable and never dries out. The color sheets can also be reused once they dry! Amazing! I think these will be a step up from the Color Wonder pages that we have used in the past.

    -Melissa and Doug Reusable Sticker Pads: my boys love these pads. I found the scene pads, like My Town and Vehicles, because I think they will be able to play as they do those. We have other Melissa and Doug Reusable Sticker Pads that we love, such as the Make-A-Meal, but I'm hoping these scenes can help ignite a little imaginative play as well. I chose pads that they don't already own to bring in the "new" element on the road trip.

    -Fubbles Bubble Light: I never would have thought of bubbles. A friend suggested bubbles and I'm running with it. I think bubbles will be great at rest stops as well as in the hotel rooms. I also picked up bubble refills so we are never out of bubbles (until one of the children dumps the bubble solution, but, well, you can't win them all, eh?).

    -Melissa and Doug Secret Decoder: I bought some additional Water Wow books for our twin 4-year olds, but I thought they were a little young for our 6-year old. I found these Secret Decoder books and picked him up two. He's recently told me that he is going to be a scientist detective, so I think they will be right up his alley.

    -Usborne Build a Train: I'm obsessed with Usborne. I feel like they just get together and decide on amazing books that children will love and then that is exactly what they make. I'm pretty excited about these build a train books. I found these Build-a-Train books for our 4-year olds and the next level up Build-a-Train book for our 6-year old.

    -Usborne Moving Sticker Book: Even more exciting of a find is this Usborne Moving House Sticker Book. I love it. It talks about packing up the old house, moving to the new house, and putting your things in your new house. It will be a great conversation starter with our boys who are very nervous about this move. I picked up one for each of our 3 older boys. Such a great find for our military family!

    I found these things at a local children's toy store that offers a buy 2 get 1 free on Melissa and Doug pads and On the Go books-- a perfect sale for shopping for my older 3 boys. This store also sold the Usborne books. I'm still gathering things like these magnetic play sets and a few more Usborne drawing books/sticker pads, but I think our non-electronic entertainment bag is set! This should hold us over for our road trip as well as when we arrive in Washington state and are waiting for our HHG to be delivered (and while we unpack! *shudder*)

    For our electronics, we have the usual DVD players, one tablet (for our kindergartner), an iPod (again, for our kindergartner), and books on tape. I love books on tape. I'm borrowing the Harry Potter audiobooks from my parents for our drive. Jim Dale is such a fantastic reader and the boys and I love listening to him. It is enjoyable for me as the driver to listen to audiobooks as well, far better than listening to DVD's loop over and over again. A friend of mine also reminded me of the Disney Song and Story CDs. These were popular with our oldest when he was a toddler and I had completely forgotten about them.
  3. Booking hotels... kind of
    I've booked the hotels for the first half of our trip since we have a couple stops we want to make and not a ridiculous number of miles between those stops. For the second half of the trip, we plan on driving each day as far as we possibly can, so we've made a spreadsheet with possible hotel stops for us; we plan on making reservations as we go, calling from the road.

    The important thing when booking a hotel in advance is to book DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL, not a third-party site. KNOW THE CANCELLATION POLICY. I chose hotels with a 24-hour, no deposit cancellation policy, meaning I can cancel the hotel room UP TO 24-hours before the reservation without consequence. I have a list of the hotel reservations I've made with phone numbers and confirmation numbers so if anything changes, I can call and cancel or adjust our stay.
Have you ever driven across country before with or without children? What did you do to make the drive better/easier? What are your road tripping tips with children? Please share with me! :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy Mother's Day from Kimber's Navy Family

The other day our boys were exhausted from a busy day out. Since they no longer nap, I brought them upstairs to watch a movie and (hopefully) rest for awhile. Sitting in my arm chair with a 10-month old nursing/sleeping in my lap, 2 4-year olds spacing out on my bed to "101 Dalmatians," and a 6-year old flipping through his Highlights magazine on the floor, I did what all moms do when trapped in front of the same movie we have watched 100,000,000 times before: I grabbed my phone and started reading blogs. Well, then I switched to Facebook and started reading comments. One Humans of New York post stuck out in my mind. It showed a woman beautifully dressed for the Met Gala. She mentions how life with a one-month old is different than how she thought it would be and how she didn't let her baby near her dress. Many people commented on it saying, "Oooh! FIRST TIME MOM!" One comment has been rolling around in my mind since I read it: how snarky moms with 3, 4, and 5 kids are, how they think they are better than everyone else just because they have a ridiculous amount of kids, how they dismiss everything moms with 1 and 2 kids are going through because they "only" have 1 or 2 kids, how we are all moms and should be supporting each other instead of bullying each other, and, finally, how we all walk through this motherhood journey differently.

Whew! When I read that comment, I first thought, "Wow, this lady really does not like moms with 3+ children." Then I started thinking about it. Do moms with many really sound so judgy? As a mom of 4, I would like to think not. But then I started thinking back to a lot of comments I heard when I started my motherhood journey, how irritated I would get when people poo-pooed my concerns by patting me on the head and saying, "First time mom, eh?" I also started thinking about how my thinking has changed from my first pregnancy to our last pregnancy and from our firstborn to our last born. There has been a significant shift in my thinking and I do parent differently. I noticed it after we had twins (our second and third children), but I've really noticed it with our fourth baby. Much of what I did differently with our twins I attributed to the fact that we had twins after a singleton. However, with our fourth baby, I've really noticed a difference in my mothering than with our first child and our second and third children.

What differences am I talking about? I've actually written a couple blog posts about this topic before. One of them about "becoming my parents" and how I understand many of their parenting decisions the longer I mother; one of them about how differently I view our children's ages and my expectations of them this time around now that I'm not a "first time mom." In a general sense, the biggest difference, to me, between having my first baby and having my fourth baby is that I know how quickly the infant stage passes. Being a person that thoroughly enjoys the baby stage, I now have first hand experience that the sleepless nights, the colic, the breastfeeding, the pumping, the bottle-feeding, the baby foods, the diapers, the footie-pajamas with 100 snaps that never line up correctly, the spit-up, and the fussy evenings fly by before you even realize it. Our fourth baby (who I swear was just born!) turns one next month-- what?! There are so many amazing "firsts" that first year that are clearly marked: first bath, first time he holds up his head, first smile, first time reaching his arms up to me when I say his name, first time sitting up on his own, first time in a high chair, first foods, first time standing, first steps... I can clearly see these firsts and mark them in his baby book. The firsts after that become much harder to distinguish. One day our 6-year old burst in to the house and wanted me to watch him ride on his skateboard. Apparently he had been practicing this (with the appropriate protective gear and padding). It was my first time seeing him slowly make his way down our driveway on the skateboard, but his dad had seen him do it and he had been practicing this for years (according to him). Suddenly these tiny little babies of mine that I have invested so much of my time in are these little people with their own little lives. I feel our 6-year old and our 4-year olds moving further and further away from me with each year. I don't notice it so much in our day to day life; it is when I stop and reflect on our days that I see how much they are growing. And so, with our fourth baby, when I am elbow deep in sleepless nights and sticky baby hands pulling my hair and his snot covered face buried in my J Crew silk blouse, I know that in a blink of an eye he will be a 2-year old, that before I know it he will be a 4-year old and the next day a 6-year old. I know how fleeting it is that my baby will need me as he does now. With that lesson in mind, I can only assume that when our oldest is 12-years old, I will look back at the time when he was 6-years old and miss this time, when he needed me as a 6-year old boy needs his mother.

How does that lesson affect my day to day parenting? With our fourth baby, it is easy to see how it affects my parenting. The little things really just do not get to me. I can wake up after a rough, sleepless night and say, "Man, he slept horribly!" My day is not derailed and I just brew an extra cup of coffee. I give grace when he screams through dinner. I am able to slow us down and say, "Yeah, probably not going to get those errands done today; let's just take a walk instead." Our fourth baby loves taking walks and so we love walking him. We are able to put on the brakes and enjoy the small moments that happen each day, whereas with our oldest I felt like those fussy colicky days dragged on forever; with our twins, I felt like they flew by in a world of baby spit-up and endless evenings. With our fourth, I feel like the days are full of baby smiles and sweet moments. When I compare him to our other children, they really aren't that different, but my perspective has changed.

In my day to day parenting with our older three boys, it is sometimes harder to see how this lesson affects my parenting. For instance, with our oldest, he is our first 6-year old. I get these glimpses when I see him around other 6-year olds that the behaviors that we find so baffling (repetition, slap-stick comedy, potty humor) are completely normal. Those are the times where I say, "Hey, we need to cut him a break. When our other children are 6-years old, I doubt we will even bat an eye at this behavior yet we are holding our oldest to a very high standard that perhaps should not be this high."

With our twins, it is hard because some of the things that they are going through are exasperated by the fact that we have 2 children the same age. So this morning when one of our 4-year olds was having an absolute come apart because he couldn't find his Olaf piggy bank, our other 4-year old was having an absolute come apart because he wanted to go to My Gym right now (all while I was in the middle of feeding the baby and getting our kindergartner ready for school). I have to take a breath at those moments and think, "Would this be so annoying if one 4-year old was yelling at me right now?" First instinct is always YES!!!!!, but then I am able to step back and dig deep and think, "Maybe not... because I would be able to focus on the one 4-year old in front of me who wants his Olaf piggy bank and talk him through it." If I had one 4-year old, I would be able to approach the situation this way: 
"Yes, I am feeding the baby, but when I am done I can go upstairs and help you find it. Do you know where you saw it last? What do you want to put in it? Do you think we should find somewhere safe to put it so we don't lose it again?"
Instead of this way with 2 4-year olds:
"Yes, I am feeding the baby-- please stop interrupting, I am talking to your brother-- and I will help you find your Olaf piggy bank-- sir, I need one second, we are not going to My Gym right now. I need to talk to your brother and then I will talk to you-- yes, I know you want Olaf, your brother was interrupting, I will help you find it. Sir, do not yell at me. We are not going to My Gym. We will find your piggy bank. I am feeding the baby. I hear you. We cannot go to My Gym; it isn't even open right now. I need a minute and I will go upstairs with you. Okay, both of you-- time out until I finish feeding the baby. Then I will help you both. Time out. Go."
With them, I find that I know what to expect from their ages-- a newborn, a 1-year old, a 2-year old, a 3-year old, a 4-year old, etc-- but that I am often surprised by how it translates having 2 children at that particular age at the same time. I have been most surprised that, while the newborn phase was super busy, the toddler phase was harder. I have also been surprised lately with the challenges we have had with 2 4-year olds. They are about at the age where pushing them in the stroller is impractical (pushing 2 30-pound children in a double stroller while wearing 1 20-pound baby in the Tula? No, thank you), so now we have 3 children out of the stroller and only 1 child in the stroller (2 of them being 4-year olds with 4-year old temperaments). Anyways, so some of my expectations regarding their ages and stages are different when handling twins than a singleton. I know this also makes me approach our fourth child, a singleton, with a softer lens as well. (For instance, before our fourth child, the last time we were doing the newborn stage, we were changing two babies' diapers around the clock, which makes changing one baby's diaper feel like a lot less diapers. The last time I had a 10-month old, I was wrestling 2 10-month olds through diaper changes and into clothes, which makes wrestling one 10-month old feel like a lot less work.)

Beyond the multiples perspective (comparing twins to a singleton), some things simply are a lot less work when I do them with our fourth baby than with all 4 children. I am surprised when I travel or go out with "just the baby" at what doesn't feel like work to me anymore. When I went out with our first baby, getting the infant carrier in and out of the car, pulling the stroller in and out of the car, loading and unloading the diaper bag... it was a lot. Everywhere I went I carried a sea of belongings. If I stood in line and he started fussing, I was exhausted and irritated, "Why are they taking so long to check out at the grocery store? Come on..." I would wrestle him through doctor's appointments, "I'm here with a baby! You would think they could move this along..." Even when we had our twins (our second and third children), I would never choose to make a stop when I was out with the children. I remember taking one of our infant twins with me to the store and he cried the whole time. I thought, "Man, even taking one child to the store is a ton of work." Then we had baby #4. Our twins were 3-years old. Our oldest had just turned 6-years old. I fully expected to have the same feelings lugging around the baby and the infant carrier as I had when our twins were born... but I didn't. I don't know if it is because I'm a baby person, but toting around one baby? I got this. If I leave the 3 older boys home (with their dad or my parents) and I am out with the baby, I'll stop at Starbucks. I'll run in to the grocery for one thing (unless they have to, moms never choose to run in the store for one item). I call home, ask if anyone needs anything else. I take him to the doctor and don't mind waiting-- one baby is a break from 4 children (Don't mind me! I brought a book!). I buckle and unbuckle him from his car seat, unload and reload the stroller, pop in and pop out the infant carrier. NBD (No Big Deal). I did not expect to feel that way and it really is a change from how I felt with our first and our twins. But it is less work going out with one baby than 4 children-- making sure our oldest is buckled in his high-back booster and buckling the other 3 children in their car seats, unloading 4 children from the van, getting the baby in the stroller and making sure the older 3 are holding hands in the parking lot, keeping an eye on 4 children at the park, etc.

For other things, like pediatrician visits and the like, it is definitely different for me the more children we have added. The things I would take our first in for were not things I took our second and third in for and definitely not what I take our fourth in for. It ends up falling in that category of, "Man, do I really want to drag 4 children to the pediatrician?" Because some one always catches something new when we go in for a sick visit. If I have one sick child and 3 well children with me, I don't want to sit in the sick child waiting room with 3 well children, but no one wants me in the well child waiting room with my one snot-nosed, coughing, feverish child. And who wants to deal with all those children in the small pediatrician's office? Children climbing all over the exam table (and falling off of it), children licking the floor and sliding all over the floor, me bouncing the sick child (or children) on my hip, the doctor finally coming in to glare at the misbehaving children who have been waiting for 20 minutes and then telling me, "Yup! He has a cold." No, thank you. If I'm taking children to the pediatrician, I need a reason. Rash? You better have that rash for days, then I'll take you. Fever? Better be high. Injury? I'll call the nurse line first. Any questions or concerns, I call my mother, who has 4 children herself (plus 5 grandchildren now).

The last thing I thought of for how things are different for me now that we've had 4 children compared to when we had one child is that I really have allowed myself more grace. My mom is always instructing me to pick my battles. Some things that were worth fighting over with one child simply are not worth fighting over with 4 children. For instance, I wrote a blog post on "toddler technology." The times that I found it appropriate for our oldest to hang out and watch a lot of movies are different than the times I have found it appropriate for our other 3 to hang out and watch a lot of movies. During this move, our oldest has spent a lot of time on his tablet playing Minecraft and Minion Rush. It simply becomes overwhelming to do it all by myself and I have to give myself grace, allow for different seasons in our life, allow for times when we do things closer to our ideal and times when we take more shortcuts. Life happens. Much like how I need to give our children patience and grace, I also need to extend that to myself.

Which brings me to the final point: patience and grace. I've written many blog posts on motherhood. This whole blog is about being a Navy family: our life, our experiences, my musings. One of my greatest parenting convictions is that we all do things differently. What works for me today, might not work for me tomorrow. What works for one of my children, might not work for another of my children (something I have definitely learned the more children we have had!). How I feel about something is not how another mom feels about it and what is important to me may not be important to you. When I write my blog posts on parenting and managing twins, that is how my husband and I have handled our situation, how we live our life. My favorite parenting advice to give is do what works for you. Treat other moms with patience and grace. It isn't a competition and we don't help our cause as women by putting each other down. Being a military wife and now mother to 4 children including twins, I feel like there is this competition to "have it worse:"
"I had 4 kids in 4 years and none of them are twins; that must have been much easier getting two out of the way at once."  
"That must be so nice having such an age gap between your twins and your baby; my kids are 12 months apart and it is so crazy."  
"I have a 28-month old, a 17-month old, and a 2-month old and my husband will deploy next year."  
"I have 13-month old twins and my husband is deployed."
We don't know anyone else's story. We don't know why someone is getting in our face about how much "worse" they have it. Maybe they are having a bad day? Maybe they aren't trying to be a one-upper and I am taking it the wrong way? Maybe they really are just a one-upper and I need to put it in a bubble and let it go? Patience and grace.

We are in this together. I know that it was hard with my first baby and it is hard with my fourth baby. I know that the challenges I had with my first baby are different than the challenges I have with my fourth baby. It was hard being pregnant with a singleton and hard being pregnant with twins. It is important to extend the same grace that I wanted as a first time mom to other first time moms. More important than that is knowing that not everyone desires or will have 3+ children and that is okay; it also doesn't make the experience of having 3+ children better or greater than having 1 or 2 children.

To whoever wrote that comment on the HONY post, I'm sorry that your experience with moms of 3+ children has been less than positive. I hope that this blog post helps shed some light on the perspective of parents who have 4 children and compare the experience of parenting their first child to their fourth child. I also hope that as parents we can uplift each other instead of bringing each other down. You are absolutely correct that we need to support each other and that everyone's motherhood journey is different.

To the first time mom sitting at the pediatrician's office first thing Monday morning because your 9-month old sneezed over the weekend and has a drippy nose, love to you. To the second time mom wiping a pacifier off on the hem of your dress, love to you. To the third time mom wondering if the baby has been bathed this week at all, love to you. To the fourth time mom popping in 101 Dalmatians for the 100,000,000 time just to have some peace and quiet in the evening, love to you. To the fifth time mom answering for the 100th time "Yes, they are all mine," love to you. To the mom of newborn twins struggling to feed one baby and bounce the other, love to you. To the mom of toddler twins desperately trying to make the house one iota more baby-proof, love to you. To the mom suffering from a recent miscarriage and desperately missing that baby you never held, love to you. To the mom balancing the children and life while your husband is deployed or away, love to you. To the mom pregnant and chasing after one or two or three children and longing for a nap or a break, love to you. To the mom of the toddler screaming through the grocery store while your fellow shoppers glare at you, love to you. To the mom crying in the bathroom while you text your mom and the children tussle and fight in the other room, love to you. To the mom sitting in the van in the driveway while your children nap in the backseat, love to you. To the mom of one child being asked all the time when you are having another, love to you. To the mom feeling you are doing it all wrong, love to you. We support you all.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Back to the "real" military

Giving Daddy good-bye hugs after a weekend visit from SOBC

When I first started this blog, my husband was in college taking mechanical engineering classes. We had newborn twins, a 2-year old, and I needed an outlet. I felt like my life revolved around schedules-- my husband's schedule, our newborn twins' schedule, and our toddler's schedule. (Then we added a puppy to add yet another schedule-- house training a dog. Go figure!) Since I had put my degree on hold when my husband started college (under a rigorous timeframe imposed by the Navy's STA-21 program), this blog was a great way for me to do something I loved. I missed writing. Blogging about our life as a Navy family helped give me structure.

I really enjoy blogging. Over the past couple years I've written about the things that have happened to us along the way: infant twins to toddler twins and now 4-year old twins, homeschooling, moving across town and moving to a new duty station, making new friends and moving away from dearly loved friends. I've written about our second miscarriage and subsequently dealing with a molar pregnancy. I have been moved to tears by the emails I've received regarding that difficult stage in our life; it is amazing to me how many of my friends have had miscarriages that I never knew about. It helped me to put one foot in front of the other when I had friends helping me navigate the months following the molar pregnancy. It was hard for me to write about it; I doubted several times if I should hit publish. It was so personal and close to home, yet the stories that people shared with me made me so proud that I had posted my experience.

As I've blogged about our life, bursting at the seams with these 4 busy boys of ours, I knew that we were living in a little bubble. The military, while always nearby, wasn't involved too much in our life. In North Carolina, my husband mustered with them several times a week for PT and before his classes. We had balls each year and award ceremonies, but those are the fun aspects of military life. His schedule was slammed, which was expected because he had to complete his mechanical engineering degree in 3 years per the STA-21 program. In South Carolina, it felt like we started getting our feet wet with military life again. He went to power school and prototype. The rotating shift work started with prototype and I balked. The rotating shift work in prototype was different than the rotating shift work on a fast attack submarine doing pre-deployment work-ups, but it was still rotating shift work and it reminded me of what we were heading back in to. Now my husband is at SOBC (Submarine Officer's Basic Course). In SOBC, he has a very different schedule than with power school and prototype, but we are states away from each other. While he is up in Connecticut at SOBC, I am staying with my parents and doing life with 4 children.

Our oldest is 6-years old and really missing his daddy. He doesn't know how easy we have it right now with SOBC. My hubby may be stationed in Connecticut for the next couple months, but we are able to video chat with him almost every night. He calls me on his lunch breaks. While it is not the easiest drive to make, he can drive and visit us on weekends (there is a great comfort in having the option to do something, even if it isn't practical to do every weekend). He's already come to see us one weekend since he's been there and we have another visit on the calendar. This SOBC schedule is not a submarine schedule. I know that; my husband knows that. Our children, who miss their daddy right now-- today-- do not know that. They don't know why we have packed up our things from South Carolina and moved states away to my parents' house. They hear us talk how we are moving to Washington state and the concept is foreign to them; they don't know what that means and they long for familiar things. Where are their bikes? Why can't they play outside with their friends from South Carolina? Why isn't Daddy here to take them outside and throw ball with them? Where is their playroom? Why are they sharing a room with me here at Marmie and Papa's house? Our 4-year olds have off days and miss their daddy. Our 6-year old is hit with it like a ton of bricks. The other day he started sobbing that he wanted to go play with his best friends in South Carolina and that he wants Daddy. It breaks my heart.

I know it breaks my husband's heart as well. He isn't here to hold his children and comfort them when they miss him. Even harder is when he video chats with them and they say those sweet, heart breaking things, "Can we move back to South Carolina now?" It is hard to explain the "why's" of our life to the children at these ages, 6-years old and 4-years old. We tell them that we are moving because Daddy's job is in Washington state now. We are staying with my parents' before we move to have some fun at their house for a couple months. Daddy has to go to a school in Connecticut and will be back when he is finished to drive us to our new house. We let them video chat when they want to see his face. We tell them the same things and reaffirm how much we love them and want to listen to them. We tell them we miss their old friends too and pull out paper to draw their old friends pictures. We set up routines here and try to implement familiar routines and schedules. But it still just feels heartbreaking sometimes, navigating them through all these transitions.

Here, now, at my parents' house, I worry so much about what I will do when I am across the United States from my parents. They have helped so much. When I feel overwhelmed by life (for instance, last week when I came down with a really bad cold that is still holding on), they step in and take care of the boys. Every night my dad puts our 4-year olds to bed while my grandmother puts our 6-year old to bed. I'm able to sit with my mom as she helps me get things for the next day together (clothes for the boys, lunch/snack for our kindergartner) and put the baby to bed. When the boys are having a rough day, each of them have someone to hold them and comfort them. If my lap is full, they can sit with my mom, my dad, my sister, or my grandmother. When our 4-year olds are napping, my grandmother can walk to the bus stop and pick up our 6-year old. When the baby is crying, my sister is here to finish up the evening bath with the older 3 so I can tend to the baby. When the boys are bouncing off the walls, my dad can take them to their gym class so I can make dinner in peace.

When I think about Washington state, I think about how life was on a fast attack submarine before we had 4 children; our oldest was just a baby then. I think about how life was with 4 children as my husband went through power school and prototype. I think about how life would be for me right now with him in SOBC if I didn't have the support system from my parents... and I'm nervous. We won't be able to video chat with Daddy while he's gone on a submarine. We won't be living in the same house as my family and able to have someone else manage the school pick ups and drop offs if I'm overwhelmed. We won't have someone there to step in and do bath and bedtime with one set of children while I put the other set to bed. We won't have a multitude of adults to choose from when our oldest is having a hard time and misses his dad; my dad won't be there to step in and say, "Hey, come help me with this," and take him off for some much needed one on one "man time."

I have a feeling that this blog, originally started to focus on our life as a military family (much emphasis on family), is going to involve a lot more of the military aspects as military life encroaches on the relative calm we have achieved with our boys. (I say relative because life with 4 children, I doubt, is ever calm and then throw in the fact that we have a towering 6-year old and rambunctious 4-year olds and that calm is just gone.) I have a feeling we will be talking about dealing with children's emotions when Daddy is underway and balancing a household with the Navy schedule and how to maintain a sense of normalcy. I've been pouring over one of my favorite Navy wife blogs, "Keep Calm and Have a Cosmo." She is full of tips for managing a family as a military spouse. I've been sensing the shift in our own family from "pseudo-civilian life" to "real military life," as us military families rarely consider shore duties and training commands "real" military life. While we have dealt with many challenges over the past couple years unique to military life as he went through college with the STA-21 program and then the training pipeline, I know we aren't back in "real" military life yet; as the spouse who has lived through life on a fast attack submarine, I know we still have it good. It has been difficult supporting our children through this transition, as we are still in the midst of a PCS to Washington state (house packed out, living with family, hubby at SOBC, cross country drive with 4 children in less than 8 weeks). It has been hard balancing all the moving parts of this PCS myself, even as a military spouse on my 5th PCS.

Reading my old blog posts, it puts in stark contrast the subtle shift that has been taking place in our home. I see clearly where we were then to where we are now. I can picture what it was like as my hubby went through college. I see the small changes in how our household operated as my hubby went through power school and prototype. I see now how different it is here, especially for our children, as their daddy goes through SOBC. I know the next big change for us will be boat life once we reach Washington state. As we navigate this new chapter in our lives, I am very glad to have this blog, not just as the outlet that it has been for me, but also for the support I have received from my fellow bloggers and my readers. I love when a friend emails me or says to me, "Hey, I had the same experience!" I love the links to similar blog posts, "Here is how we got through the same thing.." I love funneling my thoughts into one blog post (then debating whether or not to publish it) and connecting several communities of women. It makes me so happy to hear from working moms, stay-at-home moms, moms of multiples, moms of singletons, civilian moms, military spouse moms, and even military spouses without children, who relate to the challenges of moving and making friends and balancing the military with the rest of your life. Thank you to all my readers and thank you to all who comment, message me, and share my posts.

As we move from this bubble we have been living in back to the "real" military, please hang with me! Keep the messages coming and sharing your stories. I love hearing from you.

How have you transitioned back to boat life from an extended time away from it?

How have you helped your children deal with the transition back to boat life? Or through a difficult PCS?

Our 6-year old and baby video chatting with their daddy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Prototype in South Carolina

I'm starting this blog post off with a disclaimer: this was my experience as a Navy spouse as my husband went through prototype, another school in the nuclear Navy officer pipeline-- not his point of view, but mine. These are my thoughts and words, not his.

My husband is prior enlisted. When he went through prototype this time around, he had already gone through prototype before {as enlisted}; he had already been on a submarine; he had been in the Navy for 10 years. He went through the STA-21 program {more blog posts on that under "Military Resources"} and is going back through the pipeline as an officer. I felt his prior experience would work to his advantage in prototype and at least give him more time with our family than he had while in power school {read the "Power school" blog post}.

Students in prototype are on rotating shift work. The shifts are roughly these times, depending on which boat you get on and various other factors:
  • Days {day shift or first shift}: 7 am to 7 pm
  • Swings {swing shift or second shift}: 12 pm to 12 am
  • Mids {mid shift or third shift}: 8 pm to 8 am
*Note on shift hours: you need to add about an hour before and after these shifts because often they have to go in that much earlier and stay that much later for trainings and turning things over to the next shift.

As of right now, there are two prototypes, prototype in upstate New York and prototype in South Carolina. We went through prototype in South Carolina and I do not know how true all of this rings for upstate New York.

In South Carolina, there are two operational submarines {called boats} used for prototype. After the first 7 weeks of prototype, the classes are divided between the 2 boats. Even though the students are in one class, the submarines operate independently of each other and the training for the students on one submarine does not affect the training for the students on the other submarine. What I mean is, if the submarine you are on assigned to breaks down {as it did for us}, you do not get to go train on the other submarine until yours is operational again. While we were there and our boat was shut down, the students on the other boat kept moving forward and graduated on time while our graduation date was pushed back to graduate with the class behind us.

The first 7 weeks of prototype operate on a Monday through Friday day shift. After the first 7 weeks, rotating shift work starts. The shifts last 7 days and are 12 hour shifts. Here is how the schedule works:
  • 7 days of days
  • 2 days off
  • 4 days of training {"T-week," which has the same hours as day shift}
  • 4 days off
  • 7 days of swings
  • 2 days off
  • 7 days of mids
  • 2 days off
When shift work starts after the first 7 weeks of prototype, each of the students get assigned to a crew. Whatever shift your crew is on is the crew you will start shift work in on week 8. Some students actually started on day shift. We started shift work on swings.

The nice thing about shift work is that once it starts, you can mark your calendar from week 7 of prototype {you find out your crew around week 6 or week 7 and the shifts you are on around then} all the way to the graduation date. Because that's your schedule. And the first 7 weeks of prototype are days, so you can plan on that too. I liked that much better than the uncertainty of the study schedule in power school and felt like I saw my husband far more in prototype than I did in power school.

The first 7 weeks of prototype had to be 12 hour shifts. He spoke to his advisor and, after the first 2 weeks of prototype, he was allowed to come in early so he could leave early. With 4 children, arriving home shortly after 7 pm-- the busy hour of baths, pajamas, and stories before their 8 pm bedtime-- was crazy and chaotic. For the first 2 weeks of prototype, he came home to roughly 45 minutes to an hour of epic meltdowns. Over tired and excited children glad to see Daddy, tired from their day and resisting bedtime, to be bathed and put in bed by a hungry and exhausted Daddy. When he could go in earlier for his 12 hour shift, it was much better; he started going in between 5 am and 6 am. Even getting home at 6 pm gave him time to change and eat before the bedtime hour started. My husband wanted to help with the bedtime hour on those shifts because that was his only interaction with the children during day shift; on days he left before they woke up.

My husband's prior experience did work to our advantage in prototype; he spent most of the shifts on reduced hours. If students are a certain distance ahead of the curve in prototype, they are awarded reduced hours, which, depending on how far ahead of the curve they are, are either 8 or 10 hour shifts. Reduced hours made shift work far more bearable. On day shift, I asked him to be home by 6 pm, for the reasons stated above. On mid shift, he would leave for work after the kids went to bed at 8 pm. Most of the time he would go in at 10 pm, but, if he was really busy at work, he would go in at 9 pm. I loved mid shift. He would sleep in our guest room during the day, which was removed from the rest of the house, and sleep pretty much "work hours," 9 to 5, wake up in time for dinner, play with the children and then put them to bed, and then he and I would have time to curl up on the couch and watch a show together.

Swing shift was my least favorite shift. There was no good time to go in for swing shift. If he did reduced hours and went in at 2 pm, our whole morning routine was thrown off because we were hanging around the house until he woke up around 10 am and then we would hang around with him until he went in to work at 2 pm, which was about the time our toddlers went down to nap, which forced us to linger around the house even longer. It threw off the rhythm to our day. Swing shift kept him away on the busiest part of the day {evening hours} that was only made harder because our whole routine was thrown off by that awkward morning lingering {4 children off schedule = disaster}. He tried doing reduced hours to see us more, but eventually I told him that the reduced hours just made it harder. He used swing shift to work and stay ahead of the curve. The only nice thing about swing shift is that I used swings to schedule all our doctors appointments. I would schedule them around 10 or 11 am, after he woke up, and he would go in on reduced hours. We always tried to be home when he woke up on swing shift so the children could see him.

This is when we were exceptionally glad we homeschooled and had the flexibility to adjust our hours to be home with Daddy. If you look at the schedule, there are off days in there. Many of them aren't actually off days, but days to help transition your sleep schedule. Here is a breakdown of the sleep schedule on shiftwork:

It was hard not to look at days as a day shift, "Oh, yay! He's working regular hours and I will see him regular hours!" No. When he was on days, he had just come off mids so he was tired and grouchy. He went to bed at roughly the same time as the children and sometimes staying awake all the way until 8 pm was a struggle. There were times where he went in the boys' room to read them a story and I found him asleep on a twin bed with the boys climbing all over him.

2 day {The 2 days off in between days and T-week}:
This was our weekend. More often than not in fell on a weekday. Since we homeschooled, I never did school with our kids on these days, weekend or weekday. We usually ended up doing errands or put-off projects on these days, which I think is what most people do on these days, but parents with 4 kids definitely do on these days. These are the days that were either filled with car maintenance, doctors appointments that we worried would be too long to squeeze in before swing shift, and various other house projects. Rarely did we not have something along those lines on a 2 day. I do think that is normal with family life, though.

This is training week for the staff so the students had to go find other section's staff for their qualifications. This didn't affect me at all, as the spouse. During T-week, his sleep schedule was almost normal for a "regular" day shift.

4-days were lovely! Mostly because swings come next and so he started really trying to stay up in the evenings. These are the nights of movie watching, no school days {homeschooling, remember?}, and playing outside {South Carolina, remember?}. Again, generally we had something going on {we have 4 kids}, but they were still something to look forward to and very much enjoyed, far more than the 2 day, which always felt like an awkward the middle of the week.

The weird thing about swing shift is that he was almost the most "normal" sleep-wise. He was most alert, most rested on swings, but we saw him the least. He only had to stay at work until midnight and then he came home and went to sleep, at least, the first part of each swing shift. The last part of swing shift is totally awkward. He starts trying to stay up later in preparation for mids, so he his rising time is later: 8 am, 9 am, 10 am... 10:30 am... and that time between the time he rises and the time he leaves for work shrinks... and he gets home after we are all in bed. I will also add, in my Navy wife experience, all bad things happen on swing shift. This is the shift that you will get a migraine; you will forget your ID at home and thus cannot get back on base; your children will all get sick; your best friend will have distant relatives in town and so cannot come over each evening to calm your nerves. This kind of stuff only happens on swing shift.

Swings to mids rotation:
These are the off days in between swings and mids. When I first saw these on the calendar I thought, "Aw, how lovely to have all these off days built in our calendar!" Nope. These are basically sleep days. The crews usually meet up in the middle of the night to help each other stay awake, such as meeting up for pizza or to play basketball. I never went to any of these because 1. I am not a bat, awake all night, and 2. We always have kids sleeping at home. I do know that some significant others did go with their military members to these get-togethers, but as the parent watching the children, I never did. During the day on these rotations, he slept. In the evening on these rotations, he was tired.

Since he put in so much work at the end of swings and the swings to mids rotation, he was fairly prepared for mids each time. My husband has a gift for falling asleep. I am not saying that sarcastically. I do think it is a gift as a submariner. He can sleep just about anytime, anywhere. He had no problems sleeping during the day and no problems sleeping in our guest room with the children home. As the parent awake with the 4 children making noise as he slept, I did worry they were waking him or that he wasn't getting good rest. However, he always assured me they were fine. I started trusting this and letting the kids live their lives as normal. I said it before, but I loved mid shift. I looked forward to putting the kids to bed each evening and our time together to watch a movie and hang out without him being tired. When he left for work at 10 pm, this was the time that I was heading to bed anyways and so I didn't really think of this as time away from him. I didn't like sleeping alone and sleeping alone bothered me far more in the past. Living on base with 4 children, a cat, and a dog in the house, across the street from my best friend and her husband {who was on a different shift than us}, helped me feel far less alone. I did miss falling asleep next to him and one mid shift I made the error of reading a scary book, but, in general, I slept fine. I do know that mid shift wasn't his favorite for his sleep schedule, but he did enjoy our time together and the time with the kids. He came home just as the children were waking up and spent all evening with us.

Mids to days rotation:
These days and the first part of days were enough to make me doubt each time if I really loved mid shift as much as I thought I did. Man, these were tired, grouchy days for him. He would try to stay awake as long as possible, but it was impossible, even with the children distracting him. He was so tired. I tried to leave him alone as much as possible on these days, no planning anything that could wait.

"Thanks," you say, "for the sleep schedule. But what is prototype? How do you pass it?" I'm not even going to pretend that I understand exactly how the system works to get qualified at prototype. Here is a very simplified version of the process:
  • You do computer check outs to see if you are prepared enough to monopolize an instructor's time for an actual check out where you can get signatures for your "qual card" {qualification card, which is actually a ginormous book requiring upwards of 650 signatures}.
  • You must complete all the computer check outs.
  • You must get all the signatures.
  • There are verbal check outs with the instructors and then there are check outs where you have to stand watch.
  • There are smaller watch standing check outs and bigger watch standing check outs. If you are in charge of the watch, you are the Engineering Officer of the Watch {EOOW}. That is a Big Deal and deserves a special dinner the first time you stand it.
  • You have to take a comprehensive exam which takes about 8 hours to complete. This is a Pretty Big Deal and also demands a special dinner after you pass.
  • To graduate prototype, you have to stand a watch board and, the very last thing, the oral board. These are Even Bigger Deals and sometimes people fail them. They get about 2 more tries if they fail them. These deserve Big Celebrations after they are passed.
  • After all that, your crew goes out to a celebratory dinner together in which everyone takes a cab home.
Besides the sleep schedule and the check out process, there is the boat schedule to contend with. When he started prototype, we thought with his prior experience that he would be qualified quickly. I briefly mentioned before that each class gets divided between the 2 boats. Our class had a January graduation date. Our boat broke and our grad date floated around for a long while before finally being pushed back to join the class behind us for the March grad date. The people in our class on the other boat did graduate in January and went to the February SOBC class. Since our grad date was pushed back to March, now he is in the April SOBC class. The boat schedule is frustrating. I especially disliked that when a boat is shut down, you can't get quals on the other operational boat. You are just stuck sitting around doing what you can until your boat gets running again. Prototype is supposed to be 24 weeks long and it took us 32 weeks due to the boat we were on. Not only did he not qualify as quickly as we thought it would take, but he stood rotating shiftwork 8 weeks after his projected grad date.

Around the time you start rotating shiftwork, week 8, you put in your Dream Sheet, which ranks your duty station options and boat types 1 through 10. Around week 20, 4 weeks before graduation if your crew is on schedule, you get orders with your duty assignment {read my blog post, "Submarine officer's JO tour dream sheet" for more information on duty station options, etc.}. Some people have already gone through SOBC and will report to their boats immediately after graduation; some, like us, have SOBC after prototype and report to their boat after SOBC. When our boat shut down and our grad date got pushed back, the orders for our class were taken away and reissued. It was such an uncertain time. We had to cancel a house hunting trip we had planned over one of his 4 days; I ended up flying out to our next duty station to go house hunting without him because he can't take time off in prototype. It was a mess. It was made messier because we didn't know what his grad date was, what SOBC class he would be in, if our orders would stay the same. I got our house ready in January to pack out early February. Then our orders changed and we ended up packing out in March. I am glad that is all over.

Prototype, to me, started out far better than power school. I loved the reduced hours. I loved knowing exactly when he would be home and what his schedule was for the next couple weeks. I loved the 4 day weekends and being able to schedule doctors appointments when he would be home to watch the children. However--big however-- by the time it was over, I was over prototype. I hated the uncertainty at the end. Are we moving now? We had written and cut orders that changed. Are we going to the same boat? Same state? What SOBC class will he be in? When can we go house hunting? How much longer will he have rotating shiftwork? I had anticipated rotating shiftwork until-- at the latest-- his grad date in January, not all the way until March. I didn't ever quite grasp how the system worked to get signatures and what you were supposed to do when your boat was shut down and so, to me, it often felt disjointed or that nagging feeling of, "Surely there is a better way!" {Perhaps that is my mom-of-4 organizational skills kicking in, attempting to find the quickest and easiest system.}

I often had that feeling in prototype that I was being impatient, that boat life is harder than this. That I needed to take a deep breath and enjoy him being home. Our last boat was a fast attack submarine and that life was so up and down, in and out, nothing but uncertainty--never being able to count on him being home, always having my plans cancelled. Needing him, needing a day with a him, a night with him, a moment with him-- preferably when it could be us, not us where he is tired with gray circles under his eyes and I'm frazzled, but us how we are in my mind, how we were. And when I compared prototype to boat life, I felt guilty. Boat life was so so so much harder. I knew I had it better in prototype, yet I struggled so much with the desire for this ever changing grad date, the tedious rotating shiftwork, the endless move preparations {with 4 children underfoot!} to be over... I thought of the loneliness and isolation of boat life, not being able to tell my family boat movements. And, yet, I was impatient. It was one of those times as a Navy wife where the grass is greener and yet you know it is not. You know the next thing isn't better than the current thing, and still you long for a change. I'm terrified to get back on a submarine, now with 4 children instead of 1 like last time. I'm sure when he leaves on that first underway I am going to cry thinking about warm South Carolina afternoons where he was working on a project in our garage and our children were riding bikes around the driveway while I sat and drank sweet tea watching our life march forward...