His Alarm

When his alarm goes off, I still half expect to hear the jingle of his id chains.

When he walks in the door, I still expect to see a freshly shaved head.

When he gets ready for work, I still expect him to walk out in ACUs and boots.

A part of me still braces for the day he comes home to tell me he’s on the deployment rotation again. I still brace for the avalanche of paperwork, the rush to get everything done, the rush to get packed. A part of me is held in reserve, waiting for the day I have to let him go, and watch him walk away again.

My little girl does the same. Sprout gets anxious when Daddy is not here at night, when he’s working. Night time was always the worst during his last deployment, and she still struggles at night. There have been times I have debated calling him at work, just so she can hear his voice, and let him talk her down from the stratosphere of panic. I always manage to get her settled back down, but there is always that temptation, now that we have the ability, to call Daddy for some reassurance.

We carry battle scars, her and I. Reminders of the hard season known as deployment.

I keep waiting for the tightness, that feeling at the back of my head, to unwind. We survived, all of us. On the far side of that last deployment, we are at peace. We’ve knit ourselves back into a family, we’ve added to that family. And still, that tension lurks in the back of my mind.

I should let go. I should be in the moment.

I try to be in the moment. I wrap a necklace made of prayer beads around my wrist, and they become worry stones, tiny pieces of stone to remind me to get my head out of the past, and in the moment. I meditate on the moment. I stay in the lotus position until my muscles are cramped, trying to find peace. It often eludes me.

I force myself to find the good in this.

The good still finds me. Traveling to new places, going to the beach, to see the twinkling lights of Vegas, staying up late with the girls, and watching them talk Daddy into one more movie, one more bowl of popcorn. One more bite of candy. Daddy can you play this song on your guitar, Daddy can you swing me up one more time, Daddy can you carry me to bed.

So I search for peace, and I search for a way to let go of the white-knuckled grip that I still have on the memories, and the pain. The good moments come. And gradually, I can let go.

 

~Jennifer

 

 

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On Father’s Day

I said I needed a man who was tough enough to take on my problems.

I said I needed a man who would let me hide behind him.

I said I needed a man who knew how to cook, knew how to fix cars, and could iron his own clothes.

I said I needed a man who did not mind that my email address was in latin, that I read medieval history books for fun, and that I know some of the weirdest trivia facts.

I said I needed a man who would be a good father.

I said all that, in a note. I tucked the note into my journal, almost 10 years ago, and forgot about it. I got busy with school and work, and life.

And then -he- wandered into my life.

I had 1,001 reasons why it wouldn’t work. The age gap (I’m older), he was in the Army, I didn’t want to leave Texas, I didn’t like to cook, I had baggage from a string of failed relationships. He was nothing if not persistent.

I found myself, somewhere around 2 years after writing that note, sitting in a bathroom in a rental house in Georgia, south of Savannah, a few minutes from the gates of Fort Stewart. My pants were around my ankles, a Route 44 Strawberry Limeade was on the bathroom counter, half-empty. And 3 pregnancy tests were sitting on the counter.

Every single one was positive.

He became a father while on an airplane coming in from Iraq. He didn’t hold his first born until the next day. He smelled like dirt and sand and airplane, and his ACUs desperately needed to be washed when he dropped into the chair next to my hospital bed, and held his little girl for the first time.

And that was all she wrote.

Family life has heaped a heavy burden on his shoulders. He took it.

He held on as I cried through the loss of a sibling, and then another. I lost an aunt, then grandparents that never really liked me, and still I cried. He has endured countless mood swings; both girls inherited my temperament. He carried first one baby, and then another, on his shoulder, propped in the crook of his elbow, changed diapers, changed their clothes, brushed their hair. He’s learned how to give breathing treatments, allergy medicine, how to put on cortisone on itchy skin, where to put a humidifier to get the maximum effect.

He has gone to work on little sleep, after spending the night up with a sick baby and a wife too stressed out to remember how to measure out baby Tylenol. And slept with a sick baby in a recliner. And slept with a sick wife propped on his shoulder.

That note, with my list of things I wanted in a man is long gone. But I remember the last line, he has to be a good father.

He is the best father.

~Jennifer

What We Learned

 

The first day of school, and the last. Of course I took pictures, it is what I do, I record memories and save them. Print them, frame them, turn them into books to flip through. I compared the pictures, side by side, two little girls, gamely holding up signs and smiling for me. Or really, smiling for the bribe of candy I promised.

We have come so far. Some days I lead, and they follow, like ducklings at my feet. But I realize now that they have led as much, leaving me to follow. If I just shut up, and trust in myself; to teach, in them to learn, in us to come together, I learn just as much.

I’ve learned that I do not have girls who learn through play. Well they do, but I came into homeschooling thinking we would have a play-based, Montessori-style education.

Instead Sprout will watch documentaries on Egypt, come to me with questions, and we will stumble down a rabbit hole, learning obscure facts.

I’ve learned that Pudge will stack blocks, just so, over and over, until they are aligned perfectly. She sits patiently with a box of rainbow counting bears, carefully sorting them and matching them, standing them facing the same way.

Where Sprout is all instinct and rushing into things, Pudge is calculating, technical, taking her time to finish something. She still eats paint though.

I discovered a huge secular homeschooling group, and my sanity when I did so. Through them I found a history curriculum, a science, a math. I am better armed for the formal years of schooling, now that I’ve seen so many of them do it, than I was before. And I am better prepared for how the girls need to learn. They need to be challenged and nudged, led to discoveries and realizations.

Halfway through the year, I realized that many of the questions I was getting, about homeschooling, about what we do, were not questions, but were thinly veiled criticisms. How do you do it, really means can I do it. I don’t see how you can teach that, you didn’t take it in school, really means, are you smart enough to teach it. I’ve learned to see the genuine questions, and the criticisms. Questions I answer, and criticisms I ignore. For the most part.

Along with that, I’ve learned that some people are not going to respect my decision to homeschool. (Our decision really.) I’ve whittled most of those people out of my life. Homeschooling will be a huge part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and I do not have the time and patience to deal with the nay sayers. I do not want to create an echo chamber, but I do not want to waste my time defending my decisions either.

I’ve learned to write lesson plans, to stay organized. A few minutes at the start of the week, and everything goes smoother. It’s easier to fill those little brains and keep them learning.

On the other hand, I’ve learned when to throw those plans out and get creative. The weather will ruin a perfectly planned outdoor experiment. I will run out of supplies the night before a big project. One of us will get sick. Those days, we put our best laid plans to one side, and just relax.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to relax. Although my end goal is to keep the girls on roughly their age level in public school, it is ok that Sprout has atrocious handwriting and doesn’t like to work on it. Or that she is ahead in math and science. I can teach them at their speed, subject by subject, until things even out. But they are learning, soaking in everything I point out, talk about, whatever they read about. More of it is sticking than I ever dreamed would.

We do things differently. We’ve become more classical in style than unschool. We have more of a routine than many homeschoolers do, especially with young kids. But it is working for us. That’s what is important.

For the rest of the summer, I have plans to do summer school. A few projects and things to do every day, nothing like the rest of the year. Maybe some handwriting work, lots of science lessons and math, lots of art and coloring.

And then?? We’ll see how much we all learn this next year.

~Jennifer

 

Here We Are

I wasn’t planning on writing this post anytime soon. I have a couple I’ve been working on, writing and saving as I come up with ideas. But like most of my life, plans changed.

On June 6, 2017, I washed the last load of cloth diapers for my kids. A little over a month before my 37th birthday, and we are done.

Tonight, the 11th, Pudge fell asleep without her milkies. She asked, but this time when I told her that bottles were gone and I would be happy to get her a cup of milk, she whined, and then fell asleep. It probably helps that she was up almost 2 hours past bedtime.

I am sitting here, drowning my sorrows in hummus, tortilla chips and Dr. Pepper.

The long, sleep-deprived trek of my life that has involved babies is over. My youngest is 2. My oldest is 6. And the days of rocking a sweet-smelling infant to sleep have slipped through my fingers.

I am at turns unsettled and comfortable with this.

On one hand, both girls are sleeping better lately.

On the other hand… footed pajamas. Neither girl liked them much past when they started walking. So they have come to symbolize babyhood for me.

The Jennifer of Before Kids is not back. And honestly, she may never back as she was, so much has changed. But the Jennifer as I Am, the who I am beneath Mom, I can see her now. There is still so much I want to do, things I want to accomplish. I finished up my Bucket List, the one I wrote a week before high school graduation, before 30. In between 30 and 37, I have been Mom. And The Mrs. There hasn’t been much time for a new Bucket List, I’ve been too busy washing bottles and diapers, wiping faces and butts, rocking babies, folding clothes, pumping gas, carrying children.

To go back to those times of babies will be to give up what little Me I have rewritten. There is so much story still left to write, so many pictures to take and songs to learn, and tattoos to get. There is so much to do still.

But…

They were my babies. Long before they started claiming their independence, long before they started snipping apron strings, they were babies. They were my fiercely guarded lion cubs. They were mine. And I will have to give them up, to their own lives, far sooner than I realized.

I would stay longer in the Land of Babies, if I could. I would linger here, with tiny clothes, tiny fingers to curl around mine, and a tiny head propped on my shoulder. But the girls will not let me. They didn’t linger here any longer than they needed to, and now they are pulling me through their childhood.

We have tea parties to play, and dolls to dress up, sidewalk chalk to color with, and bubbles to blow. We have toes to paint, and lip gloss to use up. We have childhood to get to.

While I will throw myself into their childhood, just like I did their baby years… I may stop to look back. A few times.

~Jennifer