Preintegration

reintegration

photo courtesy of annstheclaf at Flikr

Young men came home from World War II in boats. They laid in the belly of a ship and they decompressed over cards and cigarettes for weeks and they talked and they told stories. They heard stories. And they had time to think about their girls back home.

But thanks to modern travel, today’s veterans can be plucked right out of a war environment in the desert and plopped down in the middle of a luxury shopping mall a dizzying twenty-four hours later. Not too great for the romantic homecoming everyone dreams of.

Thank goodness our military is smart enough to realize that our warriors need that decompression chamber. Unfortunately the modern equivalent of the Queen Mary is a combination of red tape, medical exams, and DoD-sanctioned debriefs mixed with mandatory periods of relaxation. However, after seeing what 24 hours of planes trains and automobiles looks like (hint: R&R), I was thankful to have a Husband who was well-rested, clear-eyed, on the right side of the clock, and ready to be here.

I’m told we are now in the phase called Reintegration, but it doesn’t feel like we are integrating anything yet. We’re sort of just standing here looking at each other. When we hold hands, there is still a space between us. It’s really more like Preintegration.

I am quiet mostly because I can’t imagine being inside the mind of a servicemember who first realizes people actually struggle to make decisions like what kind of latte they want to consume that day. It must be unreal to make life and death decisions on a daily basis and then come home to discover you have no control over the mind of your six year-old. If it were me, I would put it all off and just smile and hug my family for a few days, too. So. Preintegration it is.

I’ve been reading all about what is supposed to come next, because the last time I did all this I was a newly married girl with no kids. I mean I don’t even REMEMBER reintegration the last time around. I’m entering unknown territory. Again. Just like everything else in this deployment, I’m totally winging it. At least I get points for consistency.

laughing children

his hands were full

So when Husband came home we basically just hung out for a couple of days. We saw friends. We snuggled. We sat on the couch. We watched football. We tickled. We made and ate some of his favorite foods. We listened to stories. We went on walks. We basically just relaxed.

In all of that, I realized that I didn’t remember how to just “be” with him. When we were alone I sat awkwardly and waited for him to speak. I just stared at him. It wasn’t the “oh I’m so gaga in love with you” kind of staring, either. It was more like the “I wonder what happens if you poke it with a stick and pour salt on it” kind of staring. Not that he’s a slug … gah. I’m so romantic that way.

But when he woke up early one morning and made me a cup of coffee, that’s when I knew my husband was returning. And that meant I could return with him. “Thanks for making me coffee,” I said, smiling and batting my eyes. “It’s my job” he joked.

Oh yeah, it’s his job. Oh yeah! It’s his job!

You see, I pretend that being the honored recipient of this tradition puts me on par with the likes of Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, who I’ve heard routinely have their morning cup of First Lady coffee made lovingly by their presidential husbands. Because yeah. Me and the First Lady. We’re like this.

But the best part of this beautiful ritual is that I have never once asked my husband to make coffee. Not once. One morning I simply woke up tired and late, and he made me a steaming sweet cup of wake up. I must have been in a good mood because I took a sip and said, “Oh. Thank you so much. I love it when you make me coffee. It makes me feel like a princess.”

After that, he started making the coffee. Every single morning, without being asked. And I always said thank you. And I always meant it.

By the way, don’t get any bright ideas and blame me if this method doesn’t work for you. For example I tried it with “I love it when you put the toilet lid down because it makes me feel like such a princess.” But it’s pretty hard to refer to a repository for stinky bodily functions and simultaneously refer to yourself as royalty.

Finding a fresh pot of coffee became such a lovely ritual for me that I remember standing over my kitchen sink crying that first morning after he left, like I didn’t know how to operate a simple piece of machinery. That’s why this morning, here, now, was so beautiful. When I woke up and smelled the steam that was wafting up, I sighed out loud. When I saw the heavy moisture that rises up when hot water pours over beautiful shards of crushed brown beans, I smiled. And then I almost cried again.

I know there will be more days. There will be days where I stare into my reflection in the bottom of the cup and wonder how I’m going to convince my husband that logic is not the only factor in decision-making. There will be days where I do poke him with a stick in an attempt to see if he will actually bleed, or cry, or express an emotion I haven’t seen in a while. And there will be days when I get up and grumble, and forget to say thank you for my cup of coffee.

But for now, we have Preintegration. For now, we have the honeymoon. And for now, I will sip and smile and remember that I’m not the one making the coffee.

Mmmmm. That’s nice. Thank you.

Crossing the White Line

This week my memory was jogged, and the 15 years that have passed since I experienced my last homecoming reunion came flooding back. No doubt you’ve shed a tear at some point watching the viral Youtube video featuring surprise reunions by uniformed parents, or the touching story of a soldier’s homecoming during the closing minutes of the Nightly News. Everyone experiences the empathy of these reunions, but those who have been through it seem to feel something infinitely more. There’s a swirl of emotional exhaustion as my heart involuntarily cycles through the departure, the separation, and the reunion all in one crisp moment.

I received a text from a friend who was waiting on pins and needles for her husband to return from six months in Iraq. He was arriving by commercial flight, and the schedule kept changing. As wives of civilian pilots, we are used to this. As wives of military guys, we are not surprised by things in general. But she now had news that he was finally inbound, and she had a problem.

“I’m throwing up. I’ve been throwing up.

“What?! Oh no. What do you need? For us to pick him up?”

“If you could it would help me big time. And boy do I owe you.”

She wouldn’t owe us anything. There are secret codes between military families where you don’t ask for things that you don’t absolutely need. Because everyone is doing this. Everyone is going through it. You don’t ask unless you really really need to ask. You don’t mean for this to happen. People all around you say, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call ….” and you do. But not the military spouses. You call them for emotional support, but you don’t ask them to babysit or run an errand or fix something. And so, if she was asking, it was needed. And it would just be done.

“We’re at karate now, and then we can head to the airport and bring him to you.”

“Love you guys so much.”

I smiled at how sweet that was. And then I felt so sad imagining my poor friend barfing and texting and barfing and cleaning the house and barfing and crying and barfing some more. And then I imagined her husband catching it, and I just had to laugh at my friend’s expense. I thought this kind of thing only happened to me.

On the drive to the airport I listened to the kids chatter in the back seat, and I thought about my own dad.We were lucky folks; unlike the rest of his shipmates, my dad and the other aviators often got to leave the ship several days in advance of the ship’s arrival in port. The rest of the 5,000 sailors and their 15,000 waiting family members would cram onto a single pier trying to differentiate one uniform from the next in a sea of blue against grey. But instead of fighting the masses, our intimate group usually gathered at a little potluck at the squadron offices, passing the time by making “welcome home” banners near the enormous open hangar doors. After a torturous hour and a half of milling and nervous conversation, we were eventually allowed to move outside to stare at the sky, waiting for the barely detectable dots that would be our fathers, our husbands, and our fiances. The long-awaited announcement was finally made that the jets were inbound, and we stood motionless and breathless, scanning the sky, unable to look away despite our burning retinas. We stood. We waited. All of those months we waited, yet these last few minutes seemed like such an eternity.

Military homecoming dates are notoriously unreliable, and the weeks leading up to the fly-in would be full of announcements, cancellations and changes. I remember not allowing myself to really truly believe that my dad was coming home until the moment those dots turned into discernible airplanes. Even then, I held my breath and watched with suspicion until they got close enough to see the tail symbol. And that was when they buzzed us. It must have been the same moment the others believed it too, because cheers and waves would erupt and the members of other squadrons in nearby buildings would filter out as our Dads buzzed us on the flight line, announcing their arrival as only pilots can. We strained as if we could see the lettering stamped under the cockpit canopy, and someone would declare “it’s them!”

Another eternity passed and moms put on their lipstick, smoothed out their dresses, and admonished their children to stay behind the white line. We all knew the white line was advisory only. We had crossed it many times before. But we jumped in place, waiting some more as the jets lolled in slow motion down the taxiway. Our jumping stopped as they came to a stop just far enough away that we had to stand still to squint through the waves of heat rising from the asphalt. I felt my heart beat as I held my runner’s stance, squinting and straining to see the airplane doors pop open, and the little men climb out. Slowly, they walked toward us like an army of unrecognizable clones.

As I waited for my father to get close enough to resemble the man I remembered, fear mounted: “He won’t recognize me. I won’t recognize him. What if I don’t recognize him? Will he think I’ve forgotten? I’m too embarrassed to run, but I don’t feel like I can stand here … is that him? Is that him?! Is that HIM?” Until a sonic boom sounded through my heart, simultaneously releasing a flood of adrenaline and tears. There he was, my dad, sauntering straight toward me, making eye contact with me at the very moment I distinguished him from the crowd. My dad! He really came. He really came!

I was paralyzed for only a moment, because his smirky grin was so unmistakable. As he broke into a jog, he erased in an instant any doubts I had. I was his, and I always would be. I burst involuntarily out of the white lines, being carried by my feet faster and faster, erasing with every step the many days he had been gone, until I crashed into him headlong. I squeezed and squeezed him to make sure he was real, and he was. He drew back to look at his baby girl. He seemed to smile through pained eyes as he searched my face for the changes that had occurred since he laid eyes on me last. Closing his eyes, he drew me in and held the back of my head with one hand, like a tiny baby who can’t hold its own neck up. My relief came in the form of tears, and I buried my head in his uniform, taking in the deep familiar scents of sweat and leather and JP-5. He really came.

We would stay there clenching each other until my mother caught up to us. Many times I saw the smile creases in my father’s face change slightly as they embraced for the first time in so many months. And I just stayed there, happily crushed between my parents, until we all stopped crying long enough to walk back to the hangar where tables full of red and blue jello and burgers and patriotism waited. I couldn’t stop smiling. Dad couldn’t stop smiling. He was home.

These memories flooded my mind as we made our way from karate to the airport to collect our friend fresh off the plane from Iraq. It wasn’t the tarmac on a Navy base, and I wasn’t eight years old, and it wasn’t even my husband. But as we got closer, the excitement mounted. The kids strategized what they were going to do to greet our friend.

“I’m going to run and jump on him!”
 “I’m going to squeeze his neck!”
“I’m going to climb on his back!”
Let’s yell his name! Skippy!”

 
Then I saw him. The sole uniformed man walking down the down the sidewalk at Portland International Airport is not hard to find, not even for a five year-old. “There he is! There he is!” They leapt from the car and ran toward him. Onlookers and airport strangers gave a sentimental nod, believing they were witnessing the reunion of a soldier with his family. The Preschooler hurled himself over the imaginary white line and tackle-hugged our friend’s leg. Sweet Pea stood patiently and bashfully by, waiting the way I did so many times when my little brother reached my Dad first. She would rather give a hug than take one. And finally, she did.

soldier coming home

I watched my kids drenching our newly-mustachiod friend in love, and I too had to stop and stare. It really did appear as if they were welcoming their daddy home. And in many ways, they were. It gave us a chance to borrow him for just a few moments. I admit that I probably hugged our friend just a little too much. But it was just so good to hug a man in uniform, to see him there in one piece, smiling.

We eventually delivered him safe and sound to his very sick and thankful wife, and I hugged her hard (and held my breath and wiped my face down with antibacterial soap and drank some bleach). Our friend filled the role of surrogate dad one more time, letting the kids tackle and wrestle and harass him. We left full-hearted with our dress rehearsal behind us.

We made our way back home with the front passenger seat glaringly empty once again. I barely remember the details of the 45 minute drive, because I did nothing but dream about Husband’s homecoming. I imagined his smile, and what those final moments would be like as he made his way through the airport toward us. I thought about the people on his flight, and how excited we would be for the weeks leading up to the homecoming. And I imagined that familiar look of satisfaction that I knew would wash over him once we all made it into the big bed for a family snuggle. I saw him resting in the moonlight with the windows open, breathing fresh cold air, and holding us all together.

And The Wall was no longer in sight.

I can do this.

Sometimes I’m not sure I can do this Lens of Hope thing.

As some of you know, I’ve been rediscovering my passion for writing ever since my husband left for a one year + deployment with the military. What started as a diary for my children has exploded into a blog that gets visitors in the hundreds each day, even when I don’t write anything new. I am humbled and amazed by that. “Professional” bloggers would scoff at those numbers, but I don’t. Because I don’t have a publicist or a paid google advert or any fancy blog-driving software. I don’t use SEO or newsworthy links or have paid clickable advertisements. I’m just here, writing sometimes. And you come, and you read. In fact, today we passed 14,000 hits to the blog in just four short months. Thank you.

And many of you also know that I was asked to help out with the formation of Lens of Hope, a nonprofit that provides free photography to cancer patients and their families. So here I am, and I am not a photographer. Niccole is the photographer. Niccole came up with the idea. It’s my job to be the paper-pusher, the talker, the organizer, and the writer. It’s my job to make it real, to bring Pinocchio to life. And I’ve realized something. I really am going to write these stories for these families.

Writing someone else’s story requires you to get inside their head. Being true to someone else’s emotions requires you to spend a moment living it with them. And that scares me a little. So before I started interviewing families that have been photographed for Lens of Hope, I started reading other stories to see how these people were being honored and remembered and celebrated.

Sadly, there is no shortage of cancer on the internet. It can be found in blogs, in books, in magazines, and in newspaper articles. And these stories make me weep. Even the good ones, the ones that end with the word “remission” or, better yet, “cured.”  These stories have me sitting at my screen covering my face with my hands, sobbing.

And I haven’t even met with my first family, yet.

Am I really cut out for this? Will I be able to keep up with the pace? Will I be able to tolerate it, emotionally? I’ve become hardened to lots of things working in the prosecutor’s office – things that horrified me once have become dull, commonplace, or at least an observed reality. Will this happen to me again, now?

But then, I think of them. I think of my own mother and her radiation treatment this summer. I think of the hotel room where we stayed during treatment, where she shuffled from bed to chair to medicine table to bed for weeks and weeks. I think of her scar and her crooked smile where a nerve was nicked.  I think of how she couldn’t eat, not at all. I think of the looks on people’s faces when they greeted her and purposely didn’t ask how she was doing. I think of how she couldn’t stand the sunshine. I think of how, when it was over, she could barely tolerate the drive home. And I think of how many others were there waiting for treatment. In just one hospital, in one city, in one month. And I think of how many others there are. And how many others there have been.

If they can do all of that, and be so brave, surely I can do this much.

As I write this post I am preparing to speak at a weekend retreat for moms of children with cancer. I have no business being there. I am intruding. I don’t understand what they are going through. I feel I can barely empathize. How can I? It seems all I have to offer is someone else’s camera lens.

But I have Hope. Please God, let me be brave enough to share it, and brave enough to tell their stories. And let me keep enough of my heart intact to be able to keep doing it. Over and over.

Alright. I can do this. I want to do this.

All I Want for Christmas

christmas 2010

A short list. Or not.

I really did it this time. I took a beautiful nugget of parental wisdom, applied it to a situation with great thought and care, and ended up regretting every word.

The onslaught of television toy ads this time of year brings me to the brink of insanity. These ads are specifically designed by evil ad executives who do not have children. They thrust my children into a hypnotic trance, repeating their mantra in thirty second intervals, “I want that, I want that, I want that!” This is how The Preschooler ended up with a Topsy Turvey Tomato Planter for his birthday.

I wish I was kidding.

Second, these ads are not only twenty decibels louder than the annoying childrens’ show you are already tolerating at eardrum-piercing levels, they come accompanied with jingles that you absolutely can’t get out of your head for days on end. “It’s a pillow … ”

See what I mean?

This is why I sat both kids down to discuss ads, commercialism, misleading product placement, and value. Their Christmas lists had become ridiculously long, and included laboriously written-out titles like “Zhu Zhu Kung Zhu Fighting Warrior Pets With Blazing Action Arena” or “Blythe Loves Littlest Pet Shop Sitters Hair Studio, Fabulous Plaid Edition.”

I caught myself lecturing, so I switched gears. You know I’m a Love and Logic fan, and they slam this kind of technique. Or, at least, they sympathize with me when I experience it not working. We all know from experience that lecturing sends kids into automatic shut-down mode, and I saw their eyes glaze over. Instead, I asked if they wanted to know some little-known Christmas list tricks. They did. I explained that “if you put too many things on your list, Santa won’t know which ones you REALLY want. You could end up with a bunch of things you don’t really like that much. And worse, you could end up with none of the stuff you really want!”

They literally ran from me to find and edit their lists. I was thinkin’ I was pretty brilliant.

Sweet Pea’s list was spread across five different pieces of paper, front and back. She looked over the items pensively, and quickly remedied the problem by placing numbers on the list. She had effectively prioritized the items without removing a single one. She pointed out that she could renumber them if she found more stuff to add to the list. Darn.

silver ball toy

Amaze your friends. Or not.

But the Preschooler was much more astute and methodical. First, he conducted his research. He watched TV more skeptically than before. One commercial advertised some weird floating silver ball that I can’t pronounce and which doesn’t really float, not even on the commercial. Afterwards he remarked, “that’s just dumb.” I’m guessing “gravity-defying mystery ball for only $19.99” is not making the cut. Second, he studied the Christmas Toy Trifecta: The Toys R Us catalog, the Target ad from last Sunday, and the Fred Meyer weekly ad. I’ve never seen my five year-old study, but I can tell you as wild as he is, we’ve finally found his focus. The Preschooler needs to be a toy-book-studier when he grows up.

Finally, he made his choices. He can’t spell yet, so it was a mental list which he didn’t share with me. I forgot to mention anything about sharing these lists with your parents. I was going to have to arrange a tricky maneuver to extract that list from him without raising suspicion.

Lucky for me, we were scheduled to attend a Military Family Event, and while the adults were in various workshops and lectures about TriCare and the G.I. Bill (I actually listened this year), the kids got to see Santa. After it was over, I couldn’t wait to talk to The Preschooler.

“What did you tell Santa?”
“That I wanted an Ipod.”
“What!? Yeah, right. Like Santa’s going to bring you an Ipod.”
“Yeah. He said HO HO HO!”
“Hmm. Well, did you ask for anything else?”
“Uh-huh. A gummy hand with fake blood.”
“W-what? With what?”
“Fake blood. And candy bones.”
“Anything else?”
“Nope. That’s it.”

 

Honestly, this ended the conversation. I felt the weight of Pillow Pets and Legos and Harry Potter paraphernalia coming down on me. I longed for a request for the obnoxiously priced piece of plastic known as the “Star Wars the Clone Wars Battle-Ready Helmet with Internet-Downloadable Mission Adventures.” I couldn’t believe I had actually succeeded in talking my kid into whittling his list down to his most treasured desires and he picked an electronic parental torture device worth more than the sum of all his belongings since birth, and a gruesome limb that doubled as a tasty snack.

After about a week, I finally got up the nerve to ask again. With Christmas fast approaching, I needed to come up with a good third alternative. The Chinese factories that sold gummy hands made my stomach turn as I contemplated what kind of red dye they surely used for fake gummy-appendage blood. I knew there had to be a tertiary backup gift wish, so I finally just brought it up at the dinner table. And I was right, there was a third wish:

A drumset.

I’m reminded of the story where the kid calls his family from the emergency room, telling of how he barely escaped with his life from some harrowing automobile experience, then eventually confesses it was a complete lie designed to soften the blow when he informs his father that he merely scraped the bumper of the family car coming up the driveway. Because in the shadow of Ipod and Hand from Hell, drums don’t look all that bad.

drumset

Peace on Earth. Or not.

But maybe I’ve lost it. Maybe I’ve failed to see the big picture. Maybe I’ve reached the edge of sanity and taken a nose dive straight into advertising absurdity.  But it’s too late to turn back, now. I’ve pulled the trigger. I clicked “buy” and that bad boy is on its way to my home via super-saver shipping.

So after all that lecturing, you notice who actually succumbed to the need to buy a big shiny toy at Christmas rather than focus on the important family events, the religious meaning, or the peace on Earth, goodwill to men?

Me, that’s who.

Especially the peace part.

The Underornament

snowflake imageChristmas is just plain crazy, sometimes. You can preach all you want about finding peace during the holidays and valuing time spent with your family in favor of making things perfect. But pshh. When it comes right down to it I can fill my time with leisurely enjoyable activities and still reach the end of my day completely exhausted. Our Sunday was like that this weekend, Sunday-up to Sunday-down.

We started the day with a sleepover wakeup at 4:31 am.

I know. It’s idiotic to say I really wasn’t trying to cram too much in when I start a story containing the word “sleepover.” But we really only inherited one child for the night, and typically that decreases the number of children I have to entertain by one. At worst, it’s a zero sum game. But I’m not used to the 4:30 wake-up. That was a new one.

I got the brood out the door, and we made it on time to church. Mostly, this involved sitting. Then we did some much-needed grocery shopping, grabbed lunch and visited with Nana, which also involved significant sitting. Next we did a little Christmas shopping, which was only exhausting because of the number of times I had to remind the Preschooler that we were NOT shopping for a video game for him, and even if we were, we would never be purchasing anything containing the words “bloody” or “zombie” in the title. After that we stopped by a birthday party that wasn’t at the time or location we anticipated. Again, given the car ride, this involved additional time on the fanny. Next, we went to a Christmas dinner party, which involved sitting and eating, a new and improved variation on the previous lethargy of the day. Finally, after another thirty minutes of sitting for the ride home, we pulled into the driveway – a mere twelve hours later.

The car was stuffed to overflowing  with church clothes and wet shoes in bags and white elephant gifts. There was a stack of ten identical teacher gifts that slid around with every turn threatening the eggs in the grocery sacks. There were coats and mail and newspapers and stuffed animals and sandwich wrappers. There was a stack of books for the library and three umbrellas in various stages of dryness. There was one stack of important paperwork. Somewhere.

The poor car resembled a bloated pig on its way to the summer fair begging to be let out of its misery.  Point of fact, I felt much the same way. Shame on you holiday artichoke dip, temptress that you are.

One kid spoke nonsense and sleepwalked to their room, and the other had a complete break-down concerning their inability to eat chocolate from the countdown calendar. But I finally got both kids to bed. I could have just crawled into my bed. But instead I slumped down the stairs and reluctantly made my way to the garage, where I popped open the hatch and peered into the chasm of my burgeoning SUV through burning eyes.

What a load of crap.

I momentarily contemplated a Monday morning car-unpacking frenzy, complete with screaming and yelling involving the words “sick and tired” when I remembered there were groceries in there. Dairy products. Eggs. And I heard Husband-Wan-Kenobi’s voice saying, “We can do this. Ten minutes. We’ll blast it out and be in bed in ten minutes.”

So, like a whirling dervish I emptied crushed eggs from their cartons, wrapped teacher presents, doled out stacks of clothes to be put away, hung coats to dry, packed Monday morning school bags, fed the varmints, distributed the white elephant treasures to their rightful owners (including the hand-croched pink piggie which met an untimely trash-can death), printed the hot lunch menu and reviewed the overburdened calendar. Whew. I did it! In my mind, this was a feat of mammoth proportions …

Right until the moment when I reached the top step. This is the step closest to my laundry room, where I realized that there was still (again) no laundry for the upcoming week. At this hour and state of mind, an inventory and assessment of actual bodily need was in order. Sweet Pea had one outfit option and several pair of underwear. Check. The Preschooler was going to be wearing sweat pants and some layered shirts, none of which matched, but I was content to premeditate an excuse, perhaps a passing comment like “I love it when they pick their own outfits.” This would absolve me of bad mother guilt and misdirect The Preschooler’s teacher who already assumes the worst about me. But technically, it was true. He would be chosing it because it was the only clothing in his drawers. Check.

Check. Check. Check. Laundry situation assessed. Check. Operation “Laundry Mayhem Monday” being formulated. Check. Guilt absolved. Check.

And that’s when I saw it. I saw it, and I realized that the layers of chaos had reached such mammoth proportions that I had begun to look beyond the clutter and straight into the black hole of household oblivion.

handmade snowflakes

First of all, I already have Christmas ornament guilt. We have a ton of those tiny hand-made Christmas ornaments that I never put on my tree.

Because, you see, I have a glittery brilliant shimmering crystal snowflake tree. I labor over individually designed dainty paper snowflakes and hang them delicately between golden twinkly lights and sparkling garland. Individually they garner the occasional admiration of onlookers, but en masse they take on what must be the antithesis of the homemade ornament tree. They are truly beautiful mini masterpieces. I enjoy giving many of them away to friends and family as the season progresses, and this tradition has left little room on the family tree for hand-made yarn ornaments and popsicle stick creations.

But you just have to hang them somewhere, don’t you?

Our solution was to give each of the kids a mini tree for their rooms, and divvy out the ornaments between them. The result is one hot-pink glowing tree with a Cinderella on top, and a rainbow-light doused tree nearly overcome by a fat wad of jumbled lights with ornaments hanging mostly on the floor.

unique ornament idea

Underornament

In case you can’t fully digest this picture, let me break it down for you. Doggie ornament. Navy airplane ornament. Nerf gun. Guitar. Kinnex – lots of them – which hurt by the way when you step on them in the dark. Tree lights on, around, and trailing away from the tree. A kaleidoscope. Various Transformer parts. Half a candy cane. One of each of three sets of shoes.

And one pair of blue size 4 underwear, hanging from the lowermost bough of the tree.

Though my first instinct was to grab the stinky wad in disgust, I first imagined how it got there. I envisioned the flurry of limbs that must have been flailing when it flew to its perch. I failed to grasp exactly how one could launch a pair of skivvies in such a way as to lodge it in that precise location. It was surely a maneuver that could not be re-created.

So I decided to leave them there. Horrifying as that may sound, they seem to stand for what Christmas at our house is like more than any of the other hand-made ornaments. True, it’s a bit of an experiment. And a risky one at that. I’d like to see just how long we can go through this season before The Preschooler finds his festive blue boxer briefs. I’m curious just how often my little man exercises situational under-awareness and, as time passes, how well his olfactory system works.

But like I said, Christmas is just crazy, sometimes. Around here, we tend to let it all hang out, but at least we do it (mostly) in the comfort of family and friends. So if my version of “Peace on Earth” involves the humor found in a pair of underwear dangling from a poorly lit tree amongst Kinnex-sprinkled garlands at the end of an exhausting day, then so be it. I like it. It works for me.

Anyway, just like the rest of my life, there’s a silver lining to letting go and letting things be just a little. Because the next time The Preschooler complains about not having any underwear, I know RIGHT where to send him.

End, Meet Other End

I’ve been burning and burning that candle. It’s the one I’ve got lit on both ends. I looked over at it today and it was just a charred wick laying there. It’s not even smoldering anymore. I’m not even sure which end I’ve come to, but I’ve come to the end of it nonetheless.

For her birthday this week, Mom and I made our way on down the freeway for several hours to get to the University of Washington Medical Center for some follow-up visits with docs in Seattle concerning her completed radiation treatments. Imagine. She was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer and the world expert is right in our back yard. Let me tell you, it was driving rain, horrible visibility and hideous traffic, but several hours drive is a helluva lot better than it could be. Imagine the luck. Well, you know, imagine the – I suppose “luck” isn’t the right word.

By the way, there were no results of any kind. We are going with “we killed it” because we like the sound of that.

On the way up there was a lot of chatter as we solved the world’s problems. But at the end of the day, when we were tired of being reminded so many times of cancer, there was a lot of silence in the dark car. Between kids and full-time work and volunteering and starting businesses and being both a mom and a dad, and playing (or missing) soccer I don’t get a lot of quiet in my life. If I do, it is usually the sound I hear right before I fall fast asleep.

That silence left me challenged this week, and I’m not ready to share what I found there. I’m not sure I understand it myself just yet.

But here I am at the end of my day trying to close the door on it for the night, and I just can’t. I’m missing a vital piece. I’m missing The Closer: Husband. He’s always a good respite at the end of my day. He can take my idiocy and make sense of it. He can take me by the shoulders and shake my head back into place. He can take me at my word. He can take me away.

Because there’s something about arms wrapped around you that make you smarter and more lovley and stronger and more coherent. There’s something about whispering in the bedroom that makes you able to share a secret because you know that it will be kept there. There’s something about unconditional love that allows you to be fragile and stupid and righteously indignant without risking your reputation.

But it’s not the pain of missing his arms and wisdom and ears that feels lonely tonight. It’s the months and months and months still to go. I’m not afraid to say that today was a hard day to do without him. All day it was hard. And tonight, it was hard again.

Tomorrow is a new day. And it’s one day closer to the end of mobilization.

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