Sunday, November 1, 2015

Project Parenting

Bear with me...

I love Project Runway. I love watching people pursue their dreams and have an opportunity to let their creativity run wild, to focus solely on their passion. (When, as adults, do we have a chance to be thrown in neck deep to forget about the rest and just do what we love?) As I was watching Project Runway this season, I started thinking about a common theme through all the seasons of Project Runway, creating that moment. Runway fashion is about that moment when the model turns the corner on the runway and the audience gasps at the design and innovation of the created piece. It isn't about practicality or what went in to the outfit or the budget or any of that; it is that elusive moment of excitement and intrigue over what you are witnessing for that brief period of time. The model walks down the runway, pauses, let's you take it in, and then turns-- vanishes-- poof! She has gone back stage and the moment is gone. You are left thinking about what you saw. You only have your impression, what you remember, nothing in your hands, nothing tangible. How did you feel about it?

Recently Project Runway shows when the judges have the models come down to their judging area after the show, while the contestants wait to hear what was decided and who will go home. One by one the models come before the judges to have the pieces they are wearing inspected. Sometimes a piece that was mediocre on the runway suddenly blossoms in front of the judges eyes-- "Can you believe the amount of work and technique that went into this? It looks so simple and, yet, look! The fine detail..." Sometimes wow pieces are exposed for what they are-- prototypes. It walked down the runway amazing and was beautiful, but under their prying eyes they can see the stitches coming unraveled, seams that weren't finished, details glued on haphazardly right before the show. It was never real-- never a finished piece, just an illusion.

I have been mulling this idea over in my mind. Parenting has been a challenge for me lately. I feel stretched and empty. I feel like I simplify and still I have twelve hundred things to do at one time. I try to go back to the basics, the things I must complete each day and allow the space and time to get those things done yet the children, through no fault of their own, keep finding ways to stretch me. And this is where I tie in Project Runway. I have times where I feel like those designers. They are working with this limited budget to create something in a short time, to get it done, to make it work, to put on a show. The workroom is a mess. Everyone is at their table doing the best that they can, cutting, sewing, dreaming, believing, doubting. "Is this good enough? Is this right? This is what I'm trying to showcase." Last week a designer hovered over his material, doubting if he was ready to commit to the cuts he was about to make. Once he cut the fabric, there was no going back, no changing his mind for a different design; he would be committed to that path. Was he ready to make that choice? As a parent, I relate to those feelings of doubt. That desire to do the best that I can, to make it work. While I do not have a panel of judges watching my parenting and critiquing me, but I do have times where I feel judged, whether I actually am or whether I perceive to be. I relate to taking all of these busy aspects of life and tying them together to make a cohesive look, a finished product, a child that has all of these different elements of myself, my husband, and our life together working inside of him.

Parenting has those moments. The moments where you don't see what's going on backstage or the craziness in the audience-- the cameras, the crew, the people, the noise-- and all you see is the model coming down the runway. Yesterday my husband and I felt like having a movie night. We blew up the air mattress in the family room and snuggled on the couch all day watching Tim Burton movies with the children. We made "mummies" out of hot dogs and crescent rolls. We had popcorn and candy. It was great doing nothing. I wasn't thinking about the laundry that had to be finished before the week started or the sink full of dishes that would need to be done before breakfast the next day. I wasn't thinking about the sour sugar all over our floor or the ketchup stains the baby made on the blankets. We had our moment. It was sublime. Of course it didn't last. The baby got bored and dedicated his time to climbing on the table and knocking over our drinks and popcorn. The older boys started wrestling on the air mattress. My husband fell asleep. I was pinned in a corner of the couch with a baby hitting me with a remote control. We finally pried ourselves off the couch to put an end to the wrestling and finish the dishes, start the laundry, get the boys to clean their toys in the loft. We did pajamas, medicine, dinner, and got the house ready for school and work the next day. The boys ended up having an early bedtime due to meltdowns. Our oldest desperately finished up his Boy Scout project. It was chaos. But when we got in bed that night, my husband and I remembered that moment when we were all on the air mattress watching movies, when our four boys were snuggled up under one blanket, eyes glued to the silly songs, and we had this whole lazy afternoon stretched before us, nowhere to be but here, now.

Lately I feel like I've been focusing on the chaos. Not the good chaos of parenting, but the bad chaos. The meltdowns, the repeated battles, the same old story day in and day out. I have been letting little things get to me in a big way and I have forgotten about the beauty and magic of parenting. How children can get so much joy from a rainy day (even if they throw a massive fit when it is time to go inside). How fun an air mattress is (even if it ends with a bloody lip and a crying baby). How long weekends are (even if it flies by in a whirlwind and you never make it to the trains, the pumpkin patch, the movies, wherever you wanted to take them that weekend). How sweet sick days can be (even if you still have three other children to take care of plus all the house responsibilities you always have to accomplish). I've turned away from the moments and been caught up in what's going on backstage. I feel like that lately I've been trying to make this wow piece-- getting our house on schedule, figuring out how to transition activities without meltdowns, organizing our spaces, working on manners-- but that it is all an illusion because upon closer inspection it is all falling apart. I'm stressed doing it. I'm not taking the time to enjoy the finished product. I'm still thinking about what the garment should look like, what I didn't accomplish, what I intended to do. And parenting is much more about the simple look, the one that upon closer inspection you see those fine details. It may not be a wow piece to anyone else, but you see the effort and you know what went into that moment. When I dropped our 4-year olds off at daycare and they didn't throw a fit-- that was huge for them. When my husband went to work and they trusted that he was coming home that night instead of going underway-- they have been so worried about Daddy leaving again. When the children play quietly in their rooms in the morning instead of running wild-- I have been working so hard with them on that and they are finally getting it. When our oldest packs his lunch each morning for school all by himself, without my help. When one of our boys takes it upon himself to clean his space and tidy up their shared bathroom-- on his own-- because he wants to help. When our boys find a game that includes all of them, even the toddler, and play together upstairs. When our oldest picks a book at school specifically to read to his brothers when he gets home that afternoon, "I really thought they would love this one." These are small but beautiful things. These are the moments of parenting to look at and focus on. Not the times where I dragged them out for an entire day at the doctors office and ended with us all crying in the car on the way home because it was so exhausting. Or the times when strangers felt the need to tell me what a bad job I'm doing. The moments I need to focus on are the ones where I see these small and beautiful blessings in our day to day life, when hard moments become slightly easier moments, or when new skills are developed and eventually perfected. When new interests take root and when family moments happen in the middle of normally busy times of day.

I need to focus on the moments of parenting where it all comes together harmoniously, to reflect on them and the feelings I had during them. I need to stop judging myself so harshly on what went into creating those moments and let them stand on their own, because when it all comes together, even briefly, it is beautiful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Counting the miles

I've never considered myself an insecure person. I would say that, in general, I feel confident in who I am and who God made me to be. I believe in the full body of Christ, how each of us have individual and unique gifts that we bring to the table. What I am good at may not be what you are good at and vice versa. I also believe that the root of finding your own confidence and inner strength is identifying what you are good at, what your passion is, what your skill set is. For myself, when I am practicing my skill, I get that sense of purpose. Sure, I occasionally see somebody doing something that I think, "Wow, I wish I could do that!" or something coming naturally to someone, where I have to work very hard at the same thing. Those times it is easy to doubt myself-- should I be doing that the same way? But having my inner compass-- my confidence in my own skills, my own sense of purpose-- I am quickly grounded again in who I am and being the best me.

Lately, I've struggled a lot with that. I've been pulling more things on to my calendar, some of them deliberately to challenge me and others to give back to my community. I've been challenged. I've been shown my limitations. Beyond that, I've felt life is challenging me lately. Our 4-year old twins are at an age and stage that tests me on the regular. Different aspects of their personality challenge me in ways that I do not find enjoyable, but exhausting. My marriage is being challenged by the shipyard schedule and our return to life with my husband on a submarine. It is all life. It is all normal. It is all stretching me.

Because I like re-reading classics and because I have felt searching, I picked up On the Road by Jack Kerouac the other day. It felt like the book my soul needed at the moment.
They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there--and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won't be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them to no end.
Unhappiness. Worrying over our worrying. And it is true-- in the end, we get there anyway. Why am I focusing so much on all these things that get me down?

It brought to mind these verses in Matthew. (Is it possible to jump from Kerouac to the Bible?) Matthew 6:31-34:
So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Lately I feel like my days move from one trouble to the next. My face is pulled into a facial expression to go with it and I spend so much time worrying about my life. I've been consumed. And it has made me insecure. I doubt my abilities. I doubt my decisions. I doubt what I'm capable of.

While getting ready this morning, I was listening to the Rolling Stones, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need."

Mulling this over in my head as I went about our morning, dropping our 1st grader off at school, I seized the moment once we got home and called my best friend back; she called me yesterday. She wants to visit. As if my spirit couldn't get any higher from those words, when I told her what I've been dealing with, she gave me encouragement.

This morning what I needed was the encouraging words of my best friend. What I needed last night was the encouraging text messages from my mom and the understanding ear of my husband. When he got home from work yesterday, he fed the children dinner while I left to go find a quiet corner in a restaurant to write. These people in my life surround me and lift me up. When I feel like I "can't" they show me that I can. (And, as my mom always encourages me, I can and I will.)

Yesterday morning at school drop off, I went home in tears, exasperated by the shenanigans of our 4-year olds, overwhelmed and in my head. I canceled my plans and cleaned the house from top to bottom-- cabinets, baseboards, laundry, and dusting included. I've felt lost staring at the screen to blog. What should I write about that isn't yet another complaint? Sitting down this morning to write, I briefly doubted if I should publish this post.

But here is what I think is important: admitting your shortcomings. If I don't have the strength to admit when I'm struggling, how will my friends find the strength to admit they are struggling to me? Wouldn't I happily bake a meal, baby-sit, or lend an ear to any of my friends when they need to feel the love? I've got that love for them; I know they've got that love for me. It is hard when we feel insecure. It is hard when we feel like the things we are good at fail, when we feel like nothing is succeeding, when we feel it is all for naught and we are running in circles. It is hard when we get in our own heads and feel alone. Yesterday taught me that while a lot of the day to day activities fall on my shoulders, I am not alone. My mommy texted and called me all day. My best friend is going to fly across country just to see me. My husband supports me. When I walked in the door from my solitary dinner last night, the children bustled down the stairs, "Mommy! Mommy! Where did you go? I love you."

Because I checked off my to-do list in a tear soaked binge yesterday, I can focus today on building my inner strength. I carved out that time to pray and listen to God. I am publishing this blog post when internally I wonder if I have anything to say. I am going to do some preschool with our 4-year olds and let them dabble in their passions; I swear one of them is ready to start reading. (How can I decline a desire to read?) The baby has a cold and needs me-- my care, my love, my patience. Today I have a chance to get what I need: the support of those that love me, opportunities to love those around me, and time to practice my skills. I've let myself fall down a rabbit hole of insecurities, second guessing my every move. While I find it scary right now, I know that the only way to get past this is to put one foot in front of the other, to get on the road and stop counting the miles.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Good enough

As a blogger, I tend to try to read blogs posted by sites I follow.

As a mother and Navy wife, ah! This can be exhausting.


It seems a lot of blogs tear people down. One of the ones I just read talked about how life as a military spouse really isn't that difficult. Another talked about moms make their own lives difficult. These two blog posts really struck a nerve with me. I know that lately I've been over sensitive and taking things personally, but, man. Come on now, mommas. Can we build each other up?

What bothers me about these posts?

Immediately after reading them I felt defensive. I wanted to explain so much-- why I agree on some level and why I disagree on another. They felt like attacks on me. Because I've been struggling so much lately with all the different responsibilities in my life and then throwing my husband's return to submarine life-- going underway and now a shipyard schedule. The whirlwind of reasons why it all feels like a lot to me right now left me feeling deflated and lost reading these posts, these posts that are telling me that I am the one failing right now. Me. I already feel like I'm failing and now these posts are basically proof that I'm failing.

When a different thought hit me: I do not think I have it worse than other people. I just think that-- for me-- this has been a lot of changes all at once. I don't think we have a bad life. I think I am struggling right now.

There are other things I know:

This is a season in my life.

It will get better.

The children are going through a phase.

I need to be present.

The biggest thing for me to remember:

I need to bring this all to God.

Our twins are 4-years old, an age I have come to realize is not my favorite age; I did not enjoy 4-years old with our oldest son either. I feel stressed when dealing with them, when managing the day to day life with two 4-year olds in tow. I understand that they are in a phase and that it will pass-- I loved 5-years old with our oldest-- but, man, right now... Right now I am tired of the arguing, the meltdowns, the drama, the bedwetting, the tantrums, the tears, the whining, the moping, the constant conflict over each and every aspect of our lives. The sass. Even worse, I have a really hard time handling the input from strangers when it comes to our children's behavior. They seem to have completely dropped any semblance of manners and when strangers jump in to inform me they should use manners, I feel instantly judged. I feel 5 inches high. I don't understand why all these things that I have spent the last 4 years teaching them have flown out the window. I am trying my best. I am praying all the time. I am struggling.

And when people pat me on the head and say, "It is just a phase. Enjoy it before they..." or something equally dismissive, I feel alone. Like I am failing as a mother for not loving the small things, the in-between moments. I feel horrible for dreading the day before it even starts. I love them to pieces and I love being their mother. I love staying at home with them and I love being the one to teach them new things. I just need a break.

The mommy martyr blog definitely hit me like a ton of bricks. Is that what people think about me? We just moved to a new area. We have four children. We have two children with breathing issues, one with anxiety issues. Baby-sitters are hard to find and not inexpensive. I know in my bones that so many of the behaviors that we are struggling with right now are due to our recent changes: moving, Daddy going underway, starting at a new school, missing their old friends and their old favorite places to go, Daddy coming home and working long hours. It is all a lot for such little people who don't really understand it all. When you are just meeting people and just making friends, it is hard to find people willing to take on four children who are adjusting to a new place. I don't feel comfortable imposing on new people. I don't feel comfortable leaving children I'm concerned about with people I don't know or who I've barely met just so I can go to coffee and take a break by myself-- in a town I don't know. It feels selfish. And imposing.

What I would love is to be living next door to my best friend again. What I would love is to drag all my kids to her house and let them destroy it while she makes me tea and lets me cry on her shoulder. I would love to give her children some love. I would love to feel at home. Connected. Like I'm not a burden or intruding or annoying or all over the place. That my mess is welcome. That I'm not being judged. That struggling for now is okay.

Of course I call and write to my friends. And of course I reach out to the new and old friends that I have here locally. But everything here is different. As a military spouse-- a submarine spouse-- we move and adapt. I am in that hard phase of adjusting to a new place. The coping mechanisms that I had at our last duty station don't work here. I don't have a long list of easy places to take the kids or know where to grab a quick cheap meal when dinner fails and my husband is working late. My relationship with my husband is also under strain from an entirely new schedule because, as a military spouse, a PCS means a new job.

No, I don't think we are alone in those pressures. No, I don't blame my spouse for these struggles. No, I'm not angry at him for moving us or any of that. But there is so much comfort in finding support within a community that understands what you are going through. Just like the support networks we have made through our entire lives: peer friends as I went through high school and college, making friends with other young married couples after I got married, making friends with babies after we had our first son, making friends with fellow parents of multiples after we had our twins, reaching out to other families that have had miscarriages and loss after our second miscarriage, joining homeschool support groups when homeschooling our oldest in preschool and kindergarten and now our twins in preschool, finding other large family friends after we had our fourth son... It isn't strange to me to desire to find support within the military community when dealing with all these changes.

So, for me, this past underway when our oldest was struggling, I gave his teacher a head's up that his dad was away, not so that he could have a free pass, but so that she knew where he was coming from. When I had a hard time from comments I received while my hubby was gone, I would say prayers and seek a local support network. I do not believe that if my husband had a different job our life would suddenly be worry free. I feel that this is the job he has and this is the community we were given. There are unique challenges with this job-- just like any job has its own unique challenges-- and some of these are easy to identify and some of them are hard to explain to people who don't live it. I may fail as a mother in the eyes of the world everyday. I may be judged by strangers for how my children are behaving and I may struggle to find the enjoyment in certain ages and stages with our children. I may struggle with certain aspects of my husband's career right now. I feel all of this makes me exactly what I am: human. I don't have all of the answers and I don't know what I'm doing. This is exactly why I depend on God, why I pray, and why I spend time in his word. I fail-- constantly. I feel weak and vulnerable lately. I feel judged. I feel burdened. I feel weighed down by the smallest aspects of our day.

But Lord knows I am grateful. I am grateful for this family, for my husband and our four beautiful boys. For the friends that I have-- near and far. I am grateful for my family, that is so supportive. I am grateful for God's mercies and grace. I am grateful for my story and testimony.

I don't know where those two blog posts I read fall in my story (the Military Spouse blog and BluntMoms blog), if they are supposed to be convicting or if I should just move on past them. I won't forget how they made me feel reading them though, that someone out there thinks that people like me aren't good enough. What I think is important to remember is that God says you are good enough. God is enough. I am not called to have my act together. I am called to depend on Christ. 2 Corinthians 12:9:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest in me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I am not at the point of feeling strong yet. I am sure that looking back on this time I will be able to see how strong we were in Christ. Right now I feel like I'm hanging on by a thread. His grace is sufficient.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Why I have 4 children...

I'm super tired and working on my second latte of the day. Fairly certain the plans I had today (i.e. get dressed) are going to go out the window, so why not just throw in the towel now, curl up on the couch, and write a blog post?

I wrote a post awhile ago called, "Why do I feed our toddlers?" Since we recently moved and I'm introducing myself to new people in a desperate attempt to make friends, I have been hearing a lot of comments like, "4 boys! Wow!" and "I don't know how you do it with 4." If you read my last blog post, I don't know how we are doing life right now either, so here's my response:

Why I have 4 children

10. I enjoy mess.

Unless I'm picking Play-Doh, Legos, sand, or small rocks off my feet when I walk on our hard floors, I'm not happy. Thankfully our children provide me with that lovely experience daily.

9. I enjoy mess.

Let's not leave off the carpeted upstairs. Who likes walking in the dark unless it is a challenge? When I head to bed at night I prefer to trip over action figures, toy bins, and unexpected booby traps.

8. I enjoy mess.

Guests coming over? I only enjoy company when I have that sinking embarrassed feeling when they sheepishly come back out of our hall bathroom moments after entering to tell me, "Um, I think someone may have had an accident on the floor...?"

7. I enjoy mess.

And let's not forget the diaper blow outs. If our potty training preschoolers aren't having accidents, I can always count on the baby to blow out his diaper during a dinner party with my spouse's co-workers.

6. I enjoy mess.

Detailed vehicles are boring. Who wants to look at beige car carpet? No, life is more adventurous if you are curious if that is barbecue sauce or diaper blow out on the WeatherTech floor mats. When your girlfriend casually says, "How about I ride with you?" I love muttering, "Derp, I promise my Honda Odyssey is usually cleaner than this..." because you know she believes me...

5. I enjoy mess.

Anyone can put an outfit together, but it takes a certain finesse to head out the house wearing a shirt that has a diaper blow out imprint on the hip, oatmeal caked on the front, and someone else's snot dried around the neck.

4. I enjoy mess.

Speaking of heading out of the house, dining out is a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience when at the end of the meal I get to scoop up infinite amounts of mushy food with tiny, thin napkins, flung by children who spent the meal pelting me with silverware while whining that they weren't hungry.

(I also like herding said children out of the restaurant as I apologize to fellow patrons to load them up in the mini van as they whine they are now hungry...)

3. I enjoy mess.

But let's not forget the joys of eating in. Who doesn't like cooking a meal with 4 children underfoot, whining they are hungry, hitting each other over who's turn it is to help, and struggling through putting a meal on the table as you finish cooking with one hand/a baby in the carrier on your back? And then no one eats because they don't like whatever it is you cooked... despite the fact that they devoured that exact meal at your friend's house the other day.

2. I enjoy mess.

Which brings me to friends... those people that you try to have conversations with as your children pull out every toy bin in their playroom, hit each other on their couch, or divulge how you inadvertently ate baby vomit the other day while you were only wearing underwear. Yes, we would love to do this again sometime.

(Please invite us back, please invite us back, please invite us back...)

1. I enjoy mess.

Nothing says joy of parenthood quite like naked children 10 minutes past when you were supposed to leave the house ("But you were all dressed 2 minutes ago!") or a complete lack of privacy ("I'm showering!") or crawling in bed only to find Matchbox cars and plastic spiders (and those same things in your washer and dryer). And the pleasure of these encounters is only multiplied by the uplifting comments you receive when you finally do leave the house for caffeine/adult company ("Back in my day, we disciplined our children/didn't have electronics/respected our elders").

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Motherhood: Nobody said it was easy

You know what's hard? Life. Marriage. Being a parent.

All of that.

I've been feeling like a failure lately in my endeavors. People say things to me like, "I don't know how you do it!" and "You are a supermom" and "4 boys? You are amazing."

Most of it is lip service from strangers, the go-to things that people say to moms (and moms for 4 boys). It goes in one ear and out the other most of the time, but lately those comments have been giving me stress. This was a crazy move for us, a big change returning to boat life and living across country from my family. I feel like I'm barely holding on and that I'm frequently dropping the ball with our kids. We wrestled with our decision to send our oldest to public school instead of continuing homeschooling him. We wrestled with the decision to homeschool our 4-year old twins instead of re-configuring the budget to send them to preschool. We've been wrestling with the decision on whether or not I want to go back to college (and all that entails-- registering, student loans or GI Bill, childcare, time commitment, yadda yadda). Just life decisions. It is all life and it is all normal and it is all good, but it has been a lot all at once.

But through all of this, I have felt like I have been stretched as a mother. One of our 4-years has been struggling with his asthma. Our baby had bronchiolitis and is taking a long time to recover. I am s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d. The other day, our 1st grader wanted me to come see the DinoTrux he built out of Legos and one of our preschoolers was babbling and the baby needed a nebulizer treatment and the dog was barking because the delivery man dropped a package off at the door and who knows where the other preschooler was... and I snapped, "Go to your rooms! Go, go, go!"

I want a break.

When I hear the lip service from strangers, I think, "Is this really as good as it gets?" It makes me feel like they don't really know how it goes at home. They may see a glimpse of our life-- the boys darting around happily at the park-- but all I can think is that the boys will be so tired leaving that 2 of them will be crying, one will be hitting another, and another will be taking off down the path on the way to the car instead of listening to me... and that once we get home I will have to wrestle them all through the bedtime routine. I feel like I'm yelling all the time. I feel like I'm sneaking to my room all the time to let the stress go, to say a prayer, to plead to God for some mommy courage, to vent to new friends who probably think I'm nuts. And so the kind words from strangers, most likely meant to be encouraging, often make me feel like I'm falling short from what they "think" of me, that I'm not portraying our true selves, and that surely motherhood has to be more than where we are right now.

I know motherhood is more than this. We have days and strides where I am overwhelmed with joy from my our children. We have moments where I can't imagine being anywhere else in the world. And then the last couple weeks have left me feeling burnt out. BURNT OUT. Like, flame extinguished, running on fumes, headache, heartache, tears, sleepless nights, BURNT OUT. My face feels like it is in a constant frown and I swear I'm getting wrinkles from worry lines. I'm sure that my far away friends and family think I'm a nut. I'm texting everyone too much and calling too much and writing too much and in general, being a hot mess. I'm venting to new friends about potty training woes, 4-year old woes, back to school woes, moving woes, Navy woes, woe, woe, woe... and I wake up in the morning feeling defeated before my feet hit the ground.

I finally opened up a devotional I got from MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) last year and find myself nodding "yes" to every page. Known & Loved by Caryn Rivadeneira has been such a comfort. This morning I made everyone breakfast and eagerly opened up my devotional, ready to dive into the Word and feel like I'm finally getting my feet back on the ground. My parents recently flew out for a visit and it was so good, so good having my mom get us on schedule and making me feel like I wasn't losing my mind. Reading this devotional is a lot like that feeling, the rope guiding me through this dark tunnel where I'm not sure what lays ahead or if other people feel this way. The best part of this devotional, to me, is discovering, yes. Yes... other moms do feel this way. It is a day by day journey. There are hard times. Change is hard. Change is hard on the children. It is hard on the parents. It is hard on me-- I feel like it all is falling on my shoulders to guide each of them individually through this time of transition and that somehow, from somewhere, I need to have all the answers. It feels like our world has been turned upside down and that all these little eyes are looking at me for guidance and I'm just as confused-- yet somehow in charge of the ship. I have to balance their physical needs with the clockwork schedule of our house and now this crazy range of emotional needs as well. How do I get it all done?

I've struggled with this blog post because I haven't known all the words I wanted to put in it, the feelings I've wanted to convey. There are so many moving parts when you PCS, when you check into a new command, when you arrive in a new duty station, when your kids are going to a new school, when your children grow from preschool and kindergarten to 1st grade (so big!). And cold and flu season approaching, managing asthma in a new climate... another one of our children diagnosed with reactive airways, 2 children on Albuterol, doctor's appointments, trips to the hospital, nights up worrying and monitoring breathing... my head spins thinking about all of the things that have gone on during this PCS. What finally motivated me to get this blog post in writing was our son's first day of 1st grade. I was so proud of myself for holding it together that morning, proud of our 4-year olds (who have been struggling with all the changes) for behaving like gentlemen dropping off their big brother, and proud of our 1st grader for being brave when he was so nervous. Most of all, I was proud of all 4 of our boys for having listening ears on as we wandered around the school hallways trying to figure out where to go and what we are doing and how we do school pick up. I left the school feeling like, "It is getting better. We are putting one foot in front of the other and moving in the right direction." We went to a coffee shop to celebrate the occasion; I bought our younger 3 boys each a chocolate milk and myself a pumpkin spice latte. We sat in the sunshine and chatted with other parents doing the same thing. The 4-year olds were right back at their busy behavior-- they have been keeping me busy, like gray hair busy. As I chatted, a lady at the coffee shop felt the need to interrupt my conversation with a fellow momma to let me know how I was parenting wrong. Can I even begin to tell you how defeated, deflated, and embarrassed I was at that moment? This happened in front of a couple that I had met just that day, fellow parents at our brand new school in our brand new duty station. I ended up bustling my boys out of there and walking them to the park so I could get fresh air and not cry at the coffee shop. I was so embarrassed. So embarrassed at how the couple must perceive me and that my children were such a nuisance that someone had to dive into the middle of my conversation to inform me of how she feels their behavior should be corrected. I looked out over the water by the park and wondered if we were making progress or if we were just sitting at square one.

That is when words from the devotional came back to me, Psalm 94:18-19, "When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." I've also had Coldplay's "The Scientist" stuck in my head the past couple weeks (parenting: brought to you by the Bible and Coldplay... don't worry, I know my life is a mess): "Nobody said it was easy/ no one ever said it would be this hard/ Oh, take me back to the start."

It isn't easy. I'm not sure when I will hit my stride and feel like, "I've got this." Perhaps I will always feel like we are a hot mess and maybe the dull headache will come and go over the years as these children try my nerves at every turn. Perhaps God has me where he wants me-- calling out to him hour by hour and day by day. I've said it before that one thing I love about life as a submariner's wife is that I have to opportunity to see my faith come alive in every day life; I am there again right now.

For any strangers or friends who light-heartedly want to say, "You are a supermom." No, not a supermom. I am a mom that has no idea what she's doing. I'm a mom that makes mistakes, big and small, every day. I'm a mom with a heart full of love for friends and family and doing my best, just like every other mom out there. I'm a mom that says sorry and who leaves coffee shops crying after people judge my parenting, perhaps harshly or perhaps for good reason (though that lady's timing could have been better). I'm a mom that has super long evenings and super stressful mornings. I'm a mom that ends honest tries at involving the kids in projects with a headache, wondering if it was worth the effort, but always trying again, hoping that this time will be more fun or a little easier. I'm a mom that always stresses about if a bone is broken or if that is normal breathing or labored breathing or if we should call the doctor (how about we just call to be on the safe side...). I'm a mom that packs lunches that are never eaten or are only picked at, that has a mini van covered in snacks and chicken nuggets. I'm a mom that wears shirts I thought were clean, only to find them caked with oatmeal or whatever else life throws at me. I'm a mom that swears, sometimes intentionally and sometimes on accident. I'm a mom that doesn't read directions and then wonders why I can't get new batteries in a Lightning McQueen flashlight. I'm a mom that calls my mom for every problem and my best friends for all the other problems that arise in between phone calls to my momma. I'm a mom that loves each and every moment with my children and is also surprised and exhausted over how freaking hard each and every moment with my children can be.

I think all parents are super parents. Life is hard and we are all doing what we can. Treat each other with love. Because that mom that you chewed out at the coffee shop is having a super rough couple of weeks. She may look like she was gossiping with friends while her kids ran amok, but I'm telling you, she wasn't. I went back to talk to that lady, but she wasn't there. I tried to picture what that glimpse in my life looked like to her and wanted to give her a bigger picture. In my 7 years of parenting, she is not the first person to offer "insight" as to how I should be parenting. This one just happened to fall at a tender, vulnerable moment in my life. I know that we will have many more comments made to us in this parenthood journey and I hope each time God reminds me of his Word and his promises just as I feel myself falling apart.

"When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy."
Psalm 94:18-19

Friday, August 21, 2015

Navy family: united we stand

One of the things I hear about all the time is the idea of a "Navy family," not as in my blog title, Kimber's Navy Family, which refers to our nuclear family, but a temporary family comprised of military members and their families supporting each other. People post pictures about how they love their Navy family, "Don't know what I would do without these girls! Love my Navy family!" Or make comments about how their Navy family helped get them through certain times in their life. I myself talk often about our Navy family. The past couple weeks, the concept of a Navy family has materialized once again in real and practical ways in my life. While we were away from the Navy community during my husband's years at college, I almost forgot about how present a Navy family is and just how much help our Navy family offers. Our Navy family truly becomes far more than just people we meet, but family, people that step into our lives and lift us up, people that bring light to times where you feel alone and lost. People that years after they entered into your life, you remember and cherish. Who is this Navy family?

1. The people that never leave.

While we were still newlyweds, I had our first miscarriage. It was a very hard time. I was far away from my friends and family at a duty station where I hardly knew anyone. The few people I knew drifted out of my life when it happened; I don't think they knew what to do or say and so they avoided me. I was alone and heartbroken. And then these two women burst into my life, one of whom I had met a few weeks before and another I had only had polite conversations with in passing-- a JO's wife and our chief's wife. Our chief's wife headed up the Sunshine Committee with our FRG; she coordinated meals for families that needed them and baby gifts for new babies-- things of that nature. When I had my miscarriage, she started bringing us meals, then she started driving me to my doctor's appointments. From there, she became my go-to person for all things Navy related. When our boat changed homeports, she came with me to the housing office and walked me through the check-in process since the boat was gone, I had no clue what I was doing, and I was sitting there with a baby and a power of attorney. Her and her husband have guided me and my husband along in our marriage, to raise a Navy family with emphasis on family. She has listened to me, counseled me, and loved me like a sister. Amazingly, we are now stationed near each other again. All these years later and she is still the person I call when I don't know what to do raising our boys or I need prayer or someone who will listen, cry with me, laugh with me, or just be there for me. I pray constantly to be the type of friend she has been to me and to love as openly and beautifully as she does. She is the person that embraces the good and bad in life and allows God to work through her to turn it into a beautiful masterpiece (while I am in the corner worrying, complaining, or crying). I love her and her family with all my heart. If nothing but this family ever comes of my husband's Navy career, we will have been blessed immeasurably.

The JO's wife has been another one of those friends. Her and I hit it off at a "mandatory fun" event put on by the boat. We are both from California. We both enjoy literature. At the time, our due dates were just days off from each other. When I had my miscarriage, our slow building friendship was thrown into the fire where something pure and beautiful emerged. I didn't expect anything from her-- a person I just met-- but she called me and said, "Listen. I really enjoy this friendship with you. I understand if you need space or time or if my pregnancy is painful for you right now. I want to support you. Please let me know what I can do and I am open to it. If you don't want to discuss my pregnancy, I am happy to do that." Since the other people I knew backed out of my life, her straight forward and honest approach was reassuring. Our friendship has grown like that over the years, strong and firm, honest, true, and loyal. We can talk about anything and everything and love the heart and soul of each other. We haven't lived near each other in awhile, but I think about her and her sweet family every day. We use social media and Skype to keep in touch with each other. When we get on the phone, we pick up right where we left off, laughing and letting our children say hello. I will be honest-- I hope that one of our sons marries her daughter-- but even if we do not become family in the legal sense, they will always be part of my chosen family.

2. The people that do not stay.

A strange phenomenon that happens with your Navy family is people you do not know helping you in deep or personal situations, some of whom you never get to know better past that point, but who you would equally support if the tables were turned. I have had neighbors bring me meals when I had sick children and my husband wasn't home. Neighbors come over and insist on watching my children so I could go to the ER or support a sick relative. I have had people drop off groceries, run errands, give support, offer much needed words of encouragement or an ear at moments where I felt alone, alone, alone. I have had neighbors add me to their family meals, dropping off food for me regularly because they know my husband has strange hours. I have had wine nights that lasted well into the wee hours of the night with women I do not know, but who I sat and talked with for hours because we both needed a friend. I have had people offer to pick up my mail, walk my dog, watch my children, or do any small errand for me because they knew I needed help-- and these weren't just offers, but people truly saying, "Let me help you. What can I do now? Tonight?" These are the people that I forever feel grateful for, these fleeting angels in my life. For one reason or another, a deeper friendship doesn't grow-- our schedules, the distance between each other's houses, or someone PCSing right at the start of a budding friendship-- but they are people who know what you are going through and who know how to help, who want to help, and who roll up their sleeves to lend a hand to a fellow Navy family simply because they are looking after their own.

When I think of this group of people, I get the warm feeling I had sitting on someone's back porch-- I don't even know who-- drinking wine out of a plastic cup and chatting about books. There was a Scentsy lamp on the patio furniture and everyone was talking, laughing, fireflies dancing over the playground. I had gone for an evening walk with our dog and ended up crashing someone's going away get-together. I felt accepted, part of a larger group of people, and content. We all lived vastly different lives yet we were the same-- all married to sailors and all in this together.

3. The people you just met.

Often times, with Navy life, we are forced to ask brand new friends for help. Many of the Navy families I know are fiercely independent (or maybe just stubborn and slightly introverted). We build ourselves a little fortress, barricading ourselves inside with a small support network of carefully chosen friends and family, power of attorneys, and the Internet, hoping we can find our own answers or hunker down until the hardships are over. We can ask in chat rooms or text friends from past duty stations, but when it comes to asking for physical help-- GASP! Our insides turn to mush and our legs become shaky. We thank people excessively for performing the smallest tasks and send over meals and baked goods for weeks afterwards, "Just wanted to say thanks!" I recently had to text a gal I met days before to ask if she would walk over and sit at our house while our 3 older boys slept so I could take the baby to the hospital for his bronchiolitis. The baby was having a hard time breathing and our older 3 were asleep and I felt horrible asking. I was two steps away from loading everyone up into the van when I thought, "I'm just going to do it... I'm just going to text her." I did. I stared at the phone with a knot in my stomach, guilt washing over me, when she texted me back moments later, "Of course! No problem. Be right over." Why is it so hard? I don't know. But frequently moving-- between you moving or your friends moving-- means that no matter how you try to feather your nest, there are those moments that you need to ask for help. People I barely know have asked me for help-- from using my washer and dryer to baby-sitting to rides-- and I'm always happy to give it. The Navy family extends to these brand new friends we make, people who you click with instantly, like the JO's wife when I had my first miscarriage, who you know will become a great friend, but aren't yet. One of the big differences about budding friendships in the Navy is that often these friendships are started during times of great stress and turmoil, periods of your life where you do not feel like yourself, where you are asking for help all the time, where you are emotionally exhausted or spent and do not feel you are presenting your true self. Your Navy family can see past that. They see you. They have walked that road before and know that moving with children is hard. They have had the move where everything is broken and everyone gets sick the week your household goods are delivered. They know what it is like when your vehicle arrives at your new duty station a month later than expected or you are sitting on the housing wait list for months on end. These brand new friends think nothing of having you over for dinner, of moving your laundry to the dryer while you nap on the couch, of baby-sitting in the middle of the night. They are there through the storm and there when the dust settles. I've found often with these friendships that these are the friends who are in it for the long haul, that will be lifelong friends (read, "Saying good-bye").

One thing that makes me laugh about this category of friend is that sometimes huge basic gaps are missing in these friendships. These gals are throwing my cloth diapers in the washer for me, I'm scrubbing their kitchen, we're wiping each other's tears, we're at each other's houses past midnight, they're driving my vehicles and picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy for each other's children, but if we mention our husband's names we have to remind each other, "Yeah, that is my husband's name." These gaps definitely fill in later, but it is always funny to discover what basic things we do not yet know about each other when we feel like we've walked through fire together... in our 2 week friendship that already feels like years.

Do you have a Navy family? How have they helped you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Silent Service

Picture taken by Liz Benroth Photography

Back to life with my husband on submarines.

I've been posting about our STA-21 journey for a couple years now, since I started this blog. And now we are here-- our household goods have arrived, we are settled in a new house in a new state, and we are at our new duty station.

It was brought to my attention a little while ago when a civilian friend of mine-- a friend who's husband is not in the military-- that when I say we are "back on submarines," people don't have any idea what that means. (Or for that matter what STA-21 and duty stations and PCS-ing mean.)

So for everyone who is curious, welcome to Kimber's Navy Family.

What does it mean to be married to a submariner?

Submarines are called the silent service. They run secret, classified missions and operate undetected in the waters. As such, they have stringent operations security (OPSEC) measures. The exact dates they leave and come home are classified. Where they go is classified. What they do is classified. Even elements of the submarine itself are classified. As a spouse, there is a limited realm of knowledge I am given regarding my husband's job.

We have clear rules regarding OPSEC:
  • We cannot discuss over social media, text or email, written communication, or over phone calls (video or voice) boat movements. We can only pass information face to face.
  • We cannot give hints or codes over those same forms of communication, such as, "The day I went into labor with our oldest minus one and plus five..." Nope.
  • Some submarines have 24-hour rules, meaning boat movements are no longer classified within the 24-hour window of it coming or going. If a submarine has this rule, we can communicate boat movements once we are notified by the ombudsman that it is no longer classified. This is when I would call my mom and say, "The submarine just left" or "My husband comes home today!" However, if notifying her of the boat leaving, the arrival date is still classified and so, while she now knows that my husband has left, I could not tell her for how long.
  • Some submarines have entirely secret operations and boat movements are not to be discussed over those forms of communication at any point-- coming or going. No calling your mom even within the 24-hour window and saying your husband left. No calling your mom within the 24-hour window and saying you are on your way to pick up your husband. No posting on social media that today is a rough deployment day. No writing your best friend and telling her how hard of a time you've been having while the boat's gone. Boat movement is not to be discussed at all over any forms of communication.
  • Passing boat movement information even face to face is to be done only to a select group of trusted individuals-- not to the grocer or cable guy, but to friends and other people who understand boat security. The individuals informed of boat movements must also respect OPSEC. This means that if you tell your mom face to face that the boat is expected to leave around a certain day that she doesn't go and post on her Facebook page that she is proud of her service member who deploys soon; all persons privy to boat information are bound by OPSEC.
  • The Family Readiness Group (FRG) attached to your submarine is a lifeline in these situations. This is where you receive all communication regarding boat movement. Your spouse cannot email you and tell you when he is coming home. (And, depending on boat activity, your spouse may not even be able to email you at all.) You must attend in person these FRG meetings to get an idea of boat movements or else you have to wait until information is no longer classified to hear what is happening, meaning you get a phone call once the boat is at the pier, "Honey, I'm home! Come pick me up."
OPSEC can be hard to live under with a spouse on the submarine. It is isolating. It is hard when you see other people from other branches of service or with different duty assignments posting on social media about having a hard deployment day. You see their friends comment on their status, "Hang in there! Let me know how I can help." "Can I bring you dinner today?" "Let me pick the kids up for you tomorrow." It is hard when your friends and family are all over the country and you can't talk to them. It is hard when you know your spouse is getting ready to deploy and you can't vent to your best friend about the frustrations leading up to a submarine going underway or about all the small errands you have been running or how many times you've had to pack the seabag. It is hard when you can't proclaim to the world that your spouse is finally coming home next week. It is lonely.

Outside of OPSEC, submarine life is unique in other ways from sailormail to actually getting underway. From a spouse's point of view, the boat actually leaving when "scheduled" is an emotional rollercoaster. Your spouse comes home on Wednesday and says he is leaving on Monday. By the time Sunday comes, he says he is leaving Tuesday but standing duty on Monday. You say your good-byes at 4:00 am Monday morning, only for him to come home on Tuesday morning and say they are leaving on Thursday and he has Wednesday off. Wednesday morning he gets called in and works until Thursday morning; you say rushed good-byes before he leaves. He comes home Thursday afternoon (after staying up all night) and says there is little to no chance of them leaving before the following Tuesday. He sleeps for much of Thursday, waking up around dinner when he gets a call saying they are leaving Friday morning. You say your good-byes Friday morning and carry your phone around with you all day Friday, hoping to hear from him, only to find out that they did indeed go underway late on Friday. Seasoned submarine spouses say, "Welcome to the lifestyle." It is true. This is life being married to a submariner. However, it never gets easier. Every underway is different and some are easier to handle emotionally than others. You may say good-bye on Monday stoically, collapse in a puddle of tears Wednesday, jump for joy Friday, and then sob all day Saturday. You may be frustrated each time that he comes home, only because you had prepared yourself emotionally for, "Okay, today is the day," and now you have to psych yourself up again. You may feel stressed because it is another hello and good-bye that you have to guide your children through or you may feel relieved that it is another day as a family. On top of that, depending on what the hold up is, your spouse may come home happy that he is home, angry they are delayed, or exhausted that he has been awake for a day and a half and still not deployed when they have been working their tails off. Adding to this stress is that you cannot call far away friends and family this whole time for support, "He's left today! He's home today! Now he has actually left today!" You are alone, depending entirely on the local support you either have or do not have.

Regarding communication with your spouse while they are underway on the submarine, sailormail (the boat's email system) is sporadic. The email system is one of the lower priority systems ran on the submarine and so if it breaks while underway, especially on a shorter underway, it may not be fixed until after the boat arrives back at the pier or the boat surfaces, meaning you may have no emails from your spouse for weeks and then your inbox is flooded. The emails are also screened before they are sent, generally by the Chief of the Boat (COB) or Executive Officer (XO). This creates a delay in emails, since emails coming and going must be read (and possibly censored) before they reach you or your sailor. Depending on boat activity, there may also be a limit on how many emails your sailor can send or receive at a given time, meaning they may have a 2 email limit during certain operations. Emails received are often missing words or phrases and could be out of order, making conversations or lines of communication difficult. Many couples employ numbering systems to help keep emails straight and to help their spouse know if emails are missing, such as Day 1 Email 1, Day 1 Email 2, Day 2 Email 3, Day 3 Email 4, but the spouse only receives Day 1 Email 2, Day 3 Email 4; now the recipient knows that Email 1 and Email 3 have not come through yet. While he is underway, there is no other form of communication with your spouse outside of sailormail-- no live chat or social media or texting, nothing.

There are also various types and classes of submarines. To put it in the most simple terms, some submarines are homeported where the family members are living. For instance: sailor, family, and submarine are all local and homeported in Hawaii. Some submarines are homeported on one base with two crews (on crew and off crew) and the family on another base. For instance: the submarine is homeported in Italy and the family living in Georgia. When the sailor is on crew, he flies with his crew to the submarine in Italy and the family stays in Georgia; when the sailor is off crew, he is living in Georgia with his family and working on the Naval base in Georgia. The two crews rotate who is on crew and who is off crew. When they are home instead of underway, we have rotating shiftwork to contend with or duty days (spending the night on the boat every certain number of days).

It can be hard dealing with a spouse stuck in Guam or Italy with a submarine, him calling you frustrated, "I can't wait to come home." It can be hard dealing with your hubby coming in and out on the submarine; you don't expect him home for weeks and suddenly he is home for two days when you least expected him and all your plans fly out the window. You never know what to plan, if your spouse will actually be home for a vacation or dinner or weekend or birthday. You never make plans you can't change or refund. You never talk about whether or not your spouse is home or away. You never know if your spouse will actually leave when he says he will. You are always making excuses or changing the subject or explaining OPSEC when family asks if your spouse is home over the phone, "I tried calling him on his birthday. Is he home or underway?" You carry your phone with you everywhere, waiting for the random phone call they make when they happen to go topside (and why does that phone call always come when you are in the shower or at church?). You check your email hourly, daily, waiting for when his first email might come. Despite your vigilance in carrying your phone everywhere and compulsively checking your email, you rarely receive news from the depths. You attend every FRG meeting, hoping to hear any updates on boat movement or a mail drop or a port call. You talk vaguely to your children about what their Daddy is doing, knowing they won't know when to censor themselves on boat movements, but trying to give them enough information that they feel secure. You try to explain that their Daddy is on a submarine, even though he left for his underway in the middle of the night or you dropped him off at an airport or shuttle stop or a friend picked him up. You hold them close as they sob at the front door or run to the window at every sound that might be Daddy's car, reminding them that Daddy is gone on his submarine, "When will he be home, Mom? What day? How many days? Can he please come home tomorrow? Can I call him?" You remind them when they say too much at the ice cream shop that they can't tell people about Daddy's submarine and if they want to tell someone, they need to ask Momma first. You feel heartbroken when an email comes in for the children but not for you but more heartbroken when an email comes in for you and not the children. You wipe their tears when Daddy leaves and comes home again, and again, and again, "Does this mean he is staying home? Why is he leaving tomorrow? Why did he come home today? You said he left? Why does he have to go?" You comfort them and entertain them when Daddy walks in the door exhausted and barely makes it to bed after you filling you in on yet another schedule change, "Why can't Daddy play with us?"

And through all of this, you have a handful of people you know locally that you can talk to. All you want to do is call your best friend, your mom, your sisters and cry or vent or find support. Instead you are alone, alone wondering what to tell the children, alone wondering if you can handle another good-bye, another hello, another uncertain departure. Alone wondering if today you will get a call or if you will miss a call since you accidentally left your phone at home ("Should I turn around and get it? But I will be late! Who cares? I have to go get my phone..."). Alone navigating fellow spouses who got emails when you didn't. Alone navigating fellow spouses who got calls when you didn't. Alone feeling overjoyed when word from your spouse finally comes and you lay awake re-reading every word he wrote. Alone navigating weeks without word from your spouse. Alone navigating your spouse calling you every day from a fabulous port call while you are home with sick children and a van with a flat tire and nothing to make for dinner. Alone hearing news that your orders changed. Alone planning a move or receiving your household goods. Alone taking your baby to the ER. Alone.

And at the same time, surrounded by a military family. It is hard to explain the gratitude and love you feel towards a fellow military spouse who watches your children so you can take the baby to a check up or brings you dinner when you are sick. There is such a feeling of solidarity attending holiday events with the other spouses at home while the boat is gone, each of you relying on each other, alone together, getting through the hard times, the bad news, the long days, the distance, the unexpected-- together as a military family. The spouses who know exactly what you are going through, who feel the same disappointment and frustration, who have the same struggles, the same expectations, who just know. They truly become family. They see you at your worst days and best days. They have all been there and gone through it.

I hope this blog post helps shed a little light on what it is like to be married to a submariner, especially to my readers who are either not military or who are in different branches/lines of duty than the submarine force.

Please feel free to share this post with your friends and family or to share your experiences as a submarine family with me!

For more reading on submarines, check out this link by "Explore the Four Classes of Submarines."
Check out my "Military Resources" tab for past posts on our life as a Navy family.