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.

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! :)