Call in the Professionals

schwansThis week I was blackmailed by one child and the other made a statement so painfully honest that I preferred the extortion. It got me thinking about what’s real and what’s pretend around here, and I didn’t mind thinking about it for a change. I think it’s because we are on Deployment Cycle Phase One Million: What You See Is What You Get.

One thing you get with me: I suck at parenting sometimes.

I want to confess that I’m a real sucker for child-parent bargaining. It shows creativity and ingenuity to find the trigger point. Negotiation is all about finding someone else’s pain and then finding a way to remove it. I learned this from Husband. But extortion and blackmail, that’s different.

Enter, the Schwan’s popsicle.

Now I’ve been told there are some people who don’t know what Schwan’s is, and that my friends is a real tragedy. Because if you’ve never consumed a Golden Nugget Bar, well, you just haven’t lived.

If you must know, Schwan’s is an amazing drive-up purveyor of the world’s finest freezer confections. And when I say drive-up, I mean they come to you. Think traditional ice cream truck but add UPS man charm, COSTCO size quantities, ice cream sandwiches so fresh the cookies are still crunchy, and a space-age truck of deep freeze nirvana which is probably capable of preserving your body for future medical advances should the need arise. It’s not the cheapest food available but I justify the purchase because when Gary (yes, we are on a first name basis) comes to my door I order pork chops and asparagus and things. And then I flip hastily to the back of the catalog like the ice cream addict that I am. “I’m not ordering ice cream today, Gary,” I say helplessly. “Yes ma’am,” he responds, pointing out the specials.

One of my kids’ favorites is the caramel apple pop. It’s a flourescent green tube of tartness wrapped around a frozen ribbon of soft sugary caramel. I offer them as bribes whenever rooms have been cleaned and dirty laundry has been deposited in the right place and bathroom messes have been remedied.

Which means one box lasts a really long time around here.

This particular Saturday rooms were cleaned and caramel apple popsicles were distributed. The sucking and slurping sounds of happiness filled my kitchen and I raised an eyebrow as The Kindergartener salvaged a long stripe of bright green drips from his forearm, rescuing my clean floor from certain sticky doom. He chomped down the last bite and announced, “Mom, I want another one.” He opened his toothless grin and formed his green lips into a big “say yes because you love me” smile. I think his teeth were a little green, too. “And you will have another one.” I teased. “Next Saturday.” And I fake-smiled back.

He was not at all impressed by my response. “That’s sarcasm, Mom.” The smile transformed at lightening speed into a pout, and through the furrowed brow I could see that his neurons were firing overtime. He was scheming.

Meanwhile, I was preparing to go brain-dead, a parenting technique that makes my kids crazy. I would keep repeating the same phrase, regardless of the whine, until he gave up. But then he struck mercilessly at the point of weakness:

“Mom, if you don’t give me another popsicle I’m telling Daddy what a horrible job you did while he was gone.”

I stopped chopping the veggies. I looked down at the cutting board, staring at the knife in my hand and wondered how soon he could be shipped to military boarding school. And I stared. Silently.

When I’m completely taken off guard my recent response is uncharacteristic silence. My father used it as a parenting technique and I always believed it was because he was filled with murderous rage, unable to articulate a response for fear of homicidal mania against me, his precious first-born. I know now that he was just as dumbfounded as I am by the things kids say. Brain dead, indeed.

Taking advantage of the silence, the extortioner threatened, “I’m getting a popsicle.”

But Sweet Pea immediately came to my rescue. Or she really didn’t want him to get a second popsicle, which is very possible. She wielded her nearly stripped popsicle stick at The Kindergartener and righteously declared, “Hey! Don’t say that! Look around. She’s doing the best she can!”

“Yeah, I’m ….Wait. What? Hey!” I said. Brilliant. Articulate.

I looked around. We all looked around.

Something unrecognizable and pink was slimed to the front of the cabinet. End of summer flies seeking indoor refuge were buzzing around in the living room, probably after breeding in my garbage disposal. None of them were sticking to the disgusting fly strips hanging haphazardly around the room. I had no clean dish towels. But that didn’t matter because I had no clean dishes to dry, anyway. Speaking of dry, the geranium pots were crispy and looked only slightly better than the lawn. And best of all, I had this lippy kid who I had to bribe to get him to pick his own dirty underwear up off the floor.

“WELL THANKS FOR THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE!” I shouted back at both of them. Sweet Pea’s last popsicle remnant plopped onto the counter. They stared at me open-mouthed wondering what confidence was and how to vote for it. “Mom, that’s sarcasm again,” came the brave voice of the defiant one. I pointed my knife at him across the counter and shouted back “AWAY WITH YOU” and I banished them to the basement and reached for the corked bottle of wine. As I poured I punctuated the conversation by shouting after them down the stairs, still motioning with the knife in the other hand: “Anyway, too many popsicles will give you lumpy breasts and hairy armpits!” I hoped that covered the deep, secret fears of both children enough to pacify their confectionary cravings yet keep them out of therapy. I’m sure I failed.

And then I plopped down. And I left the mess there.

And I really think this is the difference between the last time Husband came home and this time. A part of me really thinks that it would be fabulous for him to see the house this way. He would particularly enjoy the fly strips and the pink cabinet slime. I mean, I don’t think for a moment he believes that we live in the sanitized home he sees when he comes home. But after being away from it for a year he can’t truly appreciate the effort required to get it that way. Or keep it that way. It just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort to create something that isn’t even real. Shouldn’t he see it the way it really is?

So, if it gets cleaned up this time around, well, let’s just say that’s what professionals are for.

casual dayBut what about me? I’ve got some pink smudge and some useless flystrips hanging around, too. And I’m not that motivated to do anything about it. And a part of me really thinks that it would be fabulous for him to see me this way. An unsanitized train wreck. I’d love to show up in my jeans and flip-flops at the airport and stand there, in the middle of the aisle, as the kids run to hug him. And I’d wait. I’d wait for him come to me. Because after being away from me for a year he can’t truly appreciate the effort required to clean up this mess. Or keep me this way. And it just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort to create something that isn’t even real. Shouldn’t he see me the way I really am?

So, if I get cleaned up this time around, well, let’s just say that’s what professionals are for.

Forget this glass of wine. I need another popsicle. I hope I don’t get lumpy breasts and hairy armpits.

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Goodbye Salute

31 of you are gone. What you do for a living means we likely will never hear your names, see your widows cry, or create college funds in your name for your children. Your work will be glamorized by the media, mourned by strangers, discredited by conspiracy theorists. The price of your extraordinary sacrifice will be on the minds of the American public for at least 48 hours.

But to us, the military families, you are more. You are our friends, neighbors, and classmates. You are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles. You are our husbands. Wives. You are our fathers and mothers. We know you.

Molon Labe.”

Operation Order to My Deployed Husband

This week I wrote Husband an effusive email expressing various events, emotions, and challenges. I laid bare my concerns, seeking input and counsel. I reached out into the ethernet for some partnership, some companionship, and possibly some laughter.

Husband’s electronic response announced: “See below.” I scrolled down. At the end of each of my written paragraphs were his contrasting color comments. And by “comments” I actually mean single word phrases. The response to paragraph #1 was “yes,” paragraph #2 was “cool” and paragraph #3 was … wait for it … “Mind over matter.”

I stared. I had PTSD flash-backs of R&R. I flashed forward to homecoming. And I did what any girl would do. I issued an OPORD. I have a feeling this one is going to get me in trouble …

SBU – Sensitive But Unclassified

 
Copy 1 of 1
Issuing HQ: CIVHOMGRU WEST
LAT 45° 31′ 24N, LONG 122° 40′ 34W

 

OPERATION ORDER “PULL CHOCKS”

 I. SITUATION

 Civilian Home Group, West (CIVHOMGRU) has recently identified threat MILBRAIN, a condition which hinders communication and family reintegration, and which requires immediate and ongoing resolution. Current unit is composed of civilian leader MOM, two rogue operatives, and DAD. DAD is oncoming commander at expiration of MOM’s current tour of duty, scheduled for Change of Command in 30 – 90 days.

 A. Enemy Forces. Known and suspected causes of condition MILBRAIN include severe indoctrination of DAD into military life at round-the-clock intervals, complicated by heightened need for compartmentalization and deadening of emotional receptors. The indoctrination includes extreme armored, mechanized, and motorized emotional-blocking responses which appear to be temporarily incapable of destruction. Intel on effective methods for piercing the indoctrination barrier is weak, at best. Strength of the enemy’s fortification is at highest levels known throughout MOB 2010-11, and morale at CIVHOMGRU is consequently low. However, resiliency and capability of both the operatives and Commander MOM are high.

 B. Friendly Forces. Prime objective is to ensure DAD can identify CIVHOMGRU as a friendly force, not an enemy force, by engaging them both physically and emotionally.  However, if treated as an enemy force, CIVHOMGRU can become unstable, and is likely to fire upon, maim, kill, and take prisoners in its defense.

II. MISSION

PREPARE FOR REINTEGRATION OF DAD INTO CIVHOMGRU BY (1) DISINTEGRATION OF MILBRAIN; (2) INTRODUCTION OF COUNTER-COMPONENTS DADBRAIN AND HUSBANDBRAIN; (3) REINTRODUCTION OF CONCEPT “FEEL”; AND (4) SUPPRESSION OF DICTATORIAL HIERARCHY, OLIGARCHY, AND MISOGYNY. ACCOMPLISH NLT HOMECOMING 2011, WITH GOAL OF FOSTERING MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH OF THE FAMILY UNIT AND AVOIDING ANY FURTHER LOSS OF SPOUSAL CONSORTIUM.

III. EXECUTION

A. Concept of the Operation.  Faced with challenges to familial and spousal security interests after a long mobilization and separation, there are certain effects-based actions and responses which members of the team can employ to connect their differing strategic and operational objectives. Through the integrated application of select instruments of power, DAD will become capable of identifying desired and undesired outcomes in the CIVHOMGRU operational environment (OE). It is the intent of OPERATION PULL CHOCKS to separately prepare all members of the team for the next operational phase, tentatively identified as OPERATION REINTEGRATION.

1. Maneuver: Prepare to Interact

MOM, Operative-1st Born and Operative-2nd Born will each practice elimination of all expectations related to basic everyday interactions. This will be accomplished by standing in front of a brick wall and attempting to engage it in conversation, elicit sympathy and/or compassion, and attempting to get it to respond to external stimuli, touch, and/or tears.

DAD will increase situational awareness of social and nonverbal communications of others. This will be accomplished by standing in front of a mirror, making eye contact, and replacing common MOB phrases with HOME phrases:

MOB PHRASE HOME PHRASE
“IT IS WHAT IT IS” and/or“LIFE’S A BITCH” I’m sorry. There’s not much I can say about that. Is there anything I can do to help you?
“MINDOVERMATTER” I’m right there with you. Let’s get through this together.
“WILCO/LIMACHARLIE” I understand what you’re saying. Do you want my input?

2. Maneuver: Prepare to Respond

MOM, Operative-1st Born and Operative-2nd Born will each take turns yelling barking orders at each other. The non-barking members will practice a response that does not include crying. Upon successful containment of tears, team members will also attempt to respond by not feeling insecure, not becoming scared, not becoming angry, and finally by responding with a sarcastic, “YESSIR!” followed by an immediate hug for the barker, who may respond with an awkward back or head pat.

DAD will relearn proper human responses that engender connection and genuine relationship. This will be accomplished by standing in front of a mirror, making eye contact, and performing the following facial-neutral or facial-friendly maneuvers in 15 second intervals:

Smile

Raise eyebrows

Open mouth and tip head to one side

Blink

Upon completion of these basic maneuvers, DAD should progress to more advanced maneuvers such as SMIRK and WINK, the “HUBBA-HUBBA” (two successive eyebrow raises), and NODDING.

IV. SERVICE SUPPORT

A. General. The critical supporting actors and services required to sustain the unit during this operation include:

– Chaplain/Exit Counselor/Successful Mob Retirees

– DAD’s emotive alter-ego which has been suppressed for the last year

– MOM’s non-controlling alter-ego which has been suppressed for the last year

– Operative #1 and Operative #2’s obedient alter-egos which have been suppressed for the last year

B. Material and Services.  Upon reentry to the CIVHOMGRU OE, DAD will find more relevant materials and services available for use than his previous OE. Such services and materials should be considered for future maneuvers DATE and WOO, and include:

1.    Class I (subsistence): Fine Dining establishments, wine bars, candlelight or sunset/view venues.

2.    Class II (individual equipment): razor, aftershave, deodorant, mouthwash, elbow crème, and civilian clothing.

3.    Class VII (major end items): flowers, jewelry, chocolate, hand-written notes or cards, and perfume.

In preparation for such availability of services, DAD may spend time on the internet reviewing what these items look like, how they are utilized, and where they can be obtained upon delivery to the assembly point.

C. Medical Evacuation.  In the event the operation produces wounded personnel, they will be picked up and carried to safety by all remaining non-injured team members. No man, woman, or child shall be left behind.

V. COMMAND AND CONTROL

Because of the continuing mobilization of DAD, there will be two primary locations of command and control prior to OPERATION REINTEGRATION. CCC#1 shall be at home, and CCC#2 shall be at the location of mobilization. The unit commanders are expected to operate in a JOINT ENVIRONMENT for all theater, operational, and tactical maneuvers, and to balance the COG for the split CCC’s.

A. Command. The higher unit commander is GOD. If you suffer from the delusion that you are GOD, then knock it off. You are not. Your spouse and children are not subordinates, they are your support. They will not respond desirably to orders unless delivered in the methods described in this OPORD and the BHICCFG (Basic Human Interaction and Common Courtesy Field Guide).

B. Signals. This operation specifically prohibits use of the following signals: silence, thousand mile stare, dirty looks, shark-eyes, loss of consciousness during conversation, and drama (aka “pyrotechnics”) of any kind. Challenges and corresponding passwords to verify operations behind both friendly and enemy lines include:

 

Challenge Phrase Password Response
Daddy? Yes, what is it?
Good morning Good morning
Good night Good night
How Do I Look? Amazing. Breathtaking. Phenomenal.
Will you take me out? Yes, I’d love to
I missed you I missed you, too
I’m so glad you’re here I’m glad that I’m here, too
I love you I love you, too

* * *

Acknowledge.

/s/

_____________________________________

MOM, COMMANDER, CIVHOMGRU WEST

Now you can get a copy of your free, generic, downloadable, printable, emailable OPORD TO MY DEPLOYED HUSBAND all for yourself. Makes a great addition to your late-deployment care packages or as an ice-breaker at spouse meetings. You must be able to view pdf files. And please, attribute and link back here at Witty Little Secret if you repost it somewhere! Thanks!

* * FREE COPY * *

WWHD?

This past week has been über strange for me as I’ve zombied through the first week alone again after two weeks of R&R. I’m happy to report that I’ve made it through the fog to the other side.

It became painfully obvious to me how valuable it is just having another human body in the room when children are present, when that first morning after Husband left were filled with a unenending stream of questions that demanded immediate answers, coupled with simultaneous actions that had to be accomplished on a deadline. Unanswered questions would be beat into me at least three times before escalating to the inevitable, “Mom! Are you listening!?” Gah. If only I could strike that word from their vocabulary … “Mom.” I mean really, must EVERY sentence start with “Mom?” Husband is so good at deflecting the questions and keeping order. I am not.

Standing at the kitchen island in the morning rush before school and work, I found myself attempting to accomplish all of the following objectives at the same time. WARNING: this is a peek inside my brain. It’s a scary place …

1. Convince Preschooler that I was not mean after saying the words “I’m happy to let you eat your breakfast as soon as you get your clothes on … NOW GET THEM ON! RIGHT NOW!” Convince myself it was not actually mean to withhold breakfast from a skinny six year-old.

1. Make a determination about whether  Zoo Camp allowed peanut products for Sweet Pea’s packed lunch. Make a determination about whether I cared. Make a determination that the legal case I just read concerning the child who died of anaphylactic peanut shock was a true story. Feel guilty for attempting to make such a determination and feeling horrible for the childless mother. Look at my other child, who was picking his nose, and gratefully smile. Make a determination about whether it’s ok to just put a second fruit roll-up in the bag. Feel guilty for not having more lunch options on hand.

1. Answer the following series of questions from the long-haired child:

“Mom, have you ever made a bad choice?”

“Mom, name one good choice you’ve made in your life and one bad choice.”

“Mom, Name another bad choice. No, I don’t want to hear the good choice any more. Name another bad one.”

1. Contemplate whether it was really a good idea telling my little girl about the time I got caught drinking a single wine cooler behind the abandoned elementary school with a gang of high school ruffians (aka “boys”), resulting in the police arriving on the scene and arresting all of us for being minors in possession of alcohol, resulting in me being fingerprinted and spending several hours in the drunk tank at the Coronado jail, resulting in my mother believing that I needed to be admitted to inpatient alcohol treatment, resulting in my father not speaking to me for two days. Contemplate what ever happened to Lath Glazer. Contemplate whether I had any Mike’s Hard Limeade in the basement refrigerator. Add “Mike’s” to the grocery list.

1. Attempt to find the lid to my coffee “go cup” in a dishwasher full of children’s plastic cups. Attempt to determine whether the dishwasher had been run at all or whether the tomato sauce and/or peanut-butter ring on the one remaining piece of Tupperware in my house was enough reason to throw it away. Attempt to determine whether chlorofluorocarbons really leached out of Tupperware that was heated and cooled or whether it just was another urban legend that would be decried in the next decade as a false story that my children would refer to as a “wives tale.” Attempt to remember the name of the urban legend website. Attempt to mentally determine the dollar value of all the plasticware I had thrown away in the last year.

1. Eat breakfast. Provide cereal refills. Get milk. Make coffee. Put my shoes on. Find The Preschooler’s shoes. Throw The Preschooler’s shoes across the living room in jubilant discovery! Apologize when the shoes accidentally hit The Preschooler. Again attempt to convince The Preschooler I’m not mean.

In all the chaos, I stopped and looked around. I closed my eyes and went to the source of all things discipline. I went to the advice of the one who had the knack for creatively solving virtually all dilemmas: Husband. As I went through the decision tree matrix, I stood at the kitchen island in a glassy-eyed stare. They continued to pepper me with questions and the clock ticked down until they realized I wasn’t responding. And they stopped and stared, too. (For about ten seconds, until someone determined they needed something.) I held my hand up.

I was channeling Husband, now. I stood very straight and tall. And I smiled pleasantly.

“I’m going to the car. If you’d like to be dropped off at Gymnastics or Zoo Camp, meet me there in one minute.”

The Preschooler dropped and ran to recover his shoes. Sweet Pea flew into the bathroom in search of a toothbrush and hairbrush. Oatmeal rotted in its bowl. Shrieks and howls could be heard echoeing as the doppler effect from their progressing speed warped and warbled their cries. And meanwhile I was in my car, sipping coffee and having another series of thoughts, the best of which included “how fun would it be to drive away right now?” I’m sure that’s not mean.

I’m now considering getting one of those rubber-band style bracelets with inspirational sayings engraved on them that says “What Would Husbie Do?” That seems to be the only thing I can think of when my brain becomes a centerfuge of senseless information that must be tamed. I’m thinking I could market and sell about ten million of the things to deployment families, make five million dollars, and hire a nanny to field the unending morning questions.

What does your bracelet say?

[make a comment]

A Swing and a Miss

I caught myself just watching Husband many times over the course of his two weeks of R&R. Just quietly looking at him filled a hole I  didn’t even know was there. That first morning he sat on my couch with a cup of coffee and the paper, scanning the world news.

I knew exactly what he was doing. Where he was. He had his guys on his mind, front and center.

Husband is constantly thinking about them, their mission, his mission. I can’t begin to understand what kind of guilt is associated with guys who come home to relax and enjoy the comforts of home while their buddies are out there, in a war zone, making hard decisions and/or going in harm’s way. One of the things that originally drew me to my man was his keen sense of responsibility. And it was that very quality which was keeping him distant, now.

It’s about priorities, which makes sense. Me, the kids … we are definitely safer here than his guys over there engaging the enemy on a daily basis. I get it that he doesn’t need to be concerned with our well-being as much as theirs. I do.

But it doesn’t feel good when you’re standing right in front of him, and all he can see is the world news headlines.

But in that moment, on that first day he was home, none of that mattered. From the sink I looked over at him, and he was so consumed with what he was reading that it allowed me to stare for a very long time without being caught. And I smiled. And I imprinted the image on my brain for later.

“I kinda like you sitting there on my couch, reading the paper.”

“I kinda like it, too.”

I came and sat next to him. The kids continued to sleep, worn out from the jittery nights of restless wiggling leading up to the homecoming, and I sat enthralled as he told me so many of the things we haven’t been able to talk about since he’s been gone: his opinions about politics and how they’ve changed or become cemented now that he’s seen the operational side of the military coin; who his friends are and what they are like; what (vague) kinds of things he is doing and what (vague) kinds of people he’s working with. He would periodically get to something he couldn’t discuss. He looked at me and said something like, “well anyway, you get the idea.”

But I didn’t. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

By some miracle the kids slept for nearly two hours that first morning, and the conversation continued the entire time with breaks only for coffee refills. And even though it was completely about him, completely about what he was doing, and completely about his world, it was close to something we had done before. It was sharing. It was almost a connection.

But there was a gap between us I couldn’t quite figure out. There was a determination on his part to help me understand something both of us knew I would never truly grasp; and at the same time, there was desperation on my part to find myself in his eyes, to make up for ten months in one minute, to find what was different about him, and scratch at it until it bled.

Here he was, right in my living room, sharing himself with me. And yet we were miles and miles apart. I knew before he ever got here that R&R would not be about reunification. It couldn’t be. It would be a man “visiting” his home. It would be a family creating a false atmosphere – putting their lives on hold – for their man. It would be a reminder, an idea, a ghostly image of what was, what would be again.

Mostly, it was a swing and a miss. Close, very close, but there was no contact between the bat and the ball. Not enough “smack” to get the momentum moving again. Not enough torque to break through. The gap of understanding, the chasm of unspoken change, it all stood between us. I saw it.

As the days went on, he remembered us more. He looked at us and he touched us and he smiled with us more.

And we kept swinging. We kept trying to hit that ball. Now and again we’d hit a bunt or a fly ball, but it seemed like nobody ever got anywhere. And then, before we knew it, the inning was over. The game was called for rain.

I feel like a horrible person for saying it, but I’m relieved that R&R is over. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t have missed it. And frankly I needed it to look forward to. We all did. But now that it’s over, I’m ready to find my brain again. I’m ready to find myself again. I’m ready to move into the next stage of the Real Deployment Cycle: Batting Practice. Because when he comes back, and comes back for good, I’ll be ready, baby. I’ll be ready to hit a home run.

 

Goodbye Again

The sun went down tonight and I waited to see what would happen. I waited to see if I had willed the sun to move backward, spinning us back two weeks.

On the way to the airport today I was lightly anesthetized, just enough to be barely conscious. My brain wouldn’t let me believe that it was time for you to leave. It was dancing around the daily administrative details, trying to decide what to think of, what to say, what to ask. It felt like you were going on a short one week trip, and you’d be right back in a few days assessing the lawn, the mail, and the finances. It felt nothing like the last time we said goodbye. It was silent. You opened your hand, and I laid mine there, inside of it, as we traveled over the bridge.

But when you kissed me on the airport curb this morning, I was suddenly frantic inside. I wanted time to stop moving. I wanted a do-over. I wanted so badly to feel closer to you, to remember more, to say more, to be more. I wanted you to be more. I wanted us to be more.

People who know that you left today ask how I am, and I don’t know the answer. I am more steeled and more resilient, more determined to get this next few months behind me. Behind us. Yet I’m also less energetic, less tolerant, less naive. And I’m less able to breathe, sometimes. Today I wasn’t able to breathe. I was choking. I was wounded.

But because the sun will keep setting while you’re gone, I will keep rising, and I will keep watching. We will get to try the “together” thing again, but this time without the two-week deadline, the unwritten rules, the necessary pretenses. And we will relax – really relax – and we will keep trying to find each other, no matter what.

feet

Because I miss us more this time.

*

Come home, soon.

Come home and stay.

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