The Talk

So yesterday I ran into one of the parents of girls who attend daycare with my daughters. She told me that her daughter was groped by one of the little boys. Now before you’re thinking I’m over reacting, we’re talking down the front of the pants touching skin, not a harmless game of grab ass.

The kids are 6.

Okay so I don’t think we’re dealing with a budding sex offender, however, I do think its further evidence that today’s kids are exposed to waaay too much sex and violence at way too young of an age. And it really doesn’t matter how he meant it, what matters is that the little girl is now having problems going to the rest room by herself and nightmares.

So after talking with the mom and this not being the first time one of my girls has been around or involved in something I would concider inappropriate, I decided it was time for The Talk.
Honestly, I never really thought about having The Talk until my girls were older. 3rd or 4th grade, maybe even 5th. But given that both girls are exposed to so much at school and at daycare, I decided it was time to arm them with information rather than pretend nothing like that would ever happen to my kid.

But deciding to have The Talk and actually doing it are two ENTIRELY different things. I picked a logical starting point for me: I went to the bookstore and a very helpful clerk pointed me to the section in the kids area called ‘helping stressed out parents talk about uncomfortable stuff’. Needless to say, I bought EVERY book I could find about girls and boys and babies. I honestly figured that since my girls were asking where babies come from, this might be a good place to start.

And so we started. We started with the book called What’s the Big Secret?: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys. We went through the book, learning the proper names for everything (I skipped the page explaining about self touching. really not ready for that convo). Typical of my army training days, I conducted a check on learning. When I asked my 4 year old what a girls privates were called, she says “Gehina.” I fell out laughing.

Therein lay the key to making this a little less awkward and a lot easier to discuss. My girls giggled at the diagram of the boy parts and asked questions about the girl parts. And we talked about how the boys and the girls made babies. I reinforced the part about no babies for at least 20 more years for both girls. And at the end of it all, we talked about what to do if anyone touched them where they were not comfortable.

It wasn’t so bad. It was kind of like childbirth: the lead up and anticipation of the whole thing was waay worse than the actual event. It won’t be the last time we talk about it but hopefully, we started off on the right foot. Because if I don’t talk to my kids about it, someone else will and heaven only knows what they’d be told.

My News: Essays appearing in Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & Modern Motherhood

I was contacted several months ago regarding submissions for a collaborative project about working mothers. Sam Walravens asked if I would be willing to contribute to show one aspect of being a military mother. Below is the video trailer for this phenomenal project featuring mothers writers from all walks of life.

What truly surprised me about watching the trailer was seeing my own children against the backdrop of my words written while I was deployed in 2009. It hit me kind of hard just how tough that year and the following year was.

I hope you’ll like the trailer.

Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & Modern Motherhood is available May 1st .

Mom Saves the Book

I think I get a cool mom prize today. Not for building my kids a swing set or actually making them homemade cookies.

No, today I saved a book.

Today started like any other day. I got the girls up at 5 am. Got them out the door by 540 and off to daycare. As we’re pulling down the road, my oldest says “Mommy, I lost my library book!”

And I’m confused because just yesterday, I took all the library books back, so we wouldn’t be late bringing them back. And therein lies the problem.

Apparently, my oldest was doing what she was supposed to – oddly enough – and she’d kept all of the library books together, unbeknownst to me. So when I gathered all the town library books up, I didn’t think to look and see if one of them belonged to the school.

One did.

And my oldest was highly upset about this. As I dropped her off, i assured her I would find her book or that we would replace the book so she could keep getting books out of her school library (as an aside, I love that my girls favorite places to go are the library and the bookstore).

So I managed to get the book back from the local library (thank you Harker Heights Library for letting me in before you opened) and returned the book just in time for my oldest’s library time.

And when she waved at me through the window and said thanks Mommy, it was all the coolness in the world. I’d managed to save the day – or at least one library book.

Front Leaning Rest Position, Move!

So my kids have listening issues. Kind of like the vikings from How to Train Your Dragon on with less self sufficiency. My own yelling at them in return for this misbehavior has created, yeah, you guessed it, more yelling. And a whole lot less discipline than I’d like.

So the other day, I had kind of an a ha moment. I put my four year old at parade rest. For those of you not familiar with the military, I made her stand still, put her hands in the small of her back and spread her feet should width apart. Then came the hard part: I made her look at me while I gave her instructions.

It took about five times as long as it would have had I just yelled. I had to make her repeat this process about six times before she actually did what she was told. But, and here’s where I think it might be worth while to continue this little experiment. So far, I’ve decided that their corrective training will last 1 minute for each year of age, something similar to time out guidelines. They think its fun til they get to the last minute of Front, Back, Goes where I make them do push ups for fifteen seconds, followed by holding their head arms and legs off the ground followed by running in place.

This might seem a little extreme but honestly, they’re paying attention to me this weekend. They’re not ignoring me and even my little one, who sometimes seems to have static in her head seems to be listening better. She’s able to repeat back to me what I want her to do and she’s doing things a little better on her own.

So maybe this is taking the Army home a little too much but you know what? If it works and they start thinking about consequences for their actions. And you know, if it keeps me from yelling, then it’s a good thing.

I’ll let you know how this works out.

Standing Still…For Once

Those who know me know I have a hard time sitting still. I’ve always got something going on, something that prevents me from sitting down on the couch and veging out. Which is odd because if you knew me as a teenager, you’d have said the exact opposite.

But this last week and a half, I’ve taken time to just stop. I watched my daughter recover from her head injury (she’s still not fully healed but she sure is acting like she is) and the entire time I was in the hospital with her, I just sat. I watched How to Train Your Dragon a dozen times, I worried every time she coughed but the over arching need to be doing something was gone.

It was a strange feeling for me. There was no pressing need to be anywhere or doing anything but sitting with her. She started pulling out of being ill about half way through day two. She started climbing. She started drawing and wanting to get out of bed. And as she started getting back to normal, so did I. I started following work from the crackberry. I chatted on Skype with my husband, keeping him appraised of her situation.

It was odd for me to just sit with her. To not feel the need to distract myself from what I was doing right then. At that moment, the most important thing in the world was for me to be there, focused on her. And I guess I was. I am so incredibly grateful that she’s doing well. If you didn’t know her, you’d never know she had a fractured skull that was still healing. It was so hard for me to keep her in the house this weekend when the weather was beautiful but I did because, even though she might act fine, she still has several weeks left of healing to do.

And my leave, thus far has been anything but not busy. I’ve gone into work every day last week, dragging my kid with me. I never thought I’d be that company commander who traipsed her kids to the office but I am. I’m on leave and I’m still working but it doesn’t matter: my soldiers still see my kids in the office. I’m going to be lucky if I don’t have a daycare started in the back now. But emergencies happen and overall, my company has been really flexible when dealing with family issues. I like to think we give our soldiers the ability to parent and be soldiers.

Around the house, I’ve finally finished painting my kitchen and I painted my hallway, too. I think I’ve found a really nice cream/yellow for the living room. I fear yellow. It’s such a hard color to get right. But this color might do the trick. Hopefully, the husband likes it whenever he gets home from Iraq.

And on the writing front, I’ve dug back into a novel I was working on back in Iraq. I cracked it open and while it needed a ton of work, I thought the guts were basically there. So I plotted that sucker out using Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Writers and set to work. I’m almost a third of the way through the revised first draft and its coming alive. I haven’t bounced it off my agent yet, though, so we’ll update y’all accordingly when the time comes. But he gets to see it first.

As you can see, I’m back to being busy. Life only took a moment to stand still but it was a moment I’ll appreciate for years to come. I was alone and still with my baby girl, something that hasn’t happened in a long, long time. And here’s to committing that it won’t take intensive care for it to happen again, on a more regular basis.

The Adventures of Stunt Baby

The weekend started for me at 0200 Saturday morning as I hopped in a vehicle and headed to the Tuscon Airport for my flight back to Fort Hood. After landing in Dallas, I get a phone call from my mom, who’d been watching the girls for me while I had my TDY trip.

This phone call involved my youngest falling from the top bunk onto the hardwood floor. Then she threw up. So mom, being the awesome Grammy that she is, was taking her to the ER, oldest daughter in tow. I spent the entire flight from Dallas to Killeen researching head injuries and willing the plane to land. As I’m leaving the airport, I get the word that they’re doing a ct scan.

This is not good. An hour after I get to the hospital, they’re call in in the airlift and we’re airborne, being life flitted to Dell Childrens Hospital in Austin. Two days later, we’re still here, my youngest in a neck brace (which my older calls her cat collar) and me in the same clothes I flew out of Tuscon with Friday night.

You want to talk about mommy guilt? How about when I left the girls with my mom in 2007, I nearly canceled out of officer candidate school because Mia had a fever and Mom had to take her to the ER to get it down. While deployed in 2009, my youngest once more sent me into a panic by having to be rushed to the ER for splitting her thumb open. In early 2010, right after we both got home from Iraq, we were back again for a broken arm. And now this: a fractured skull.

So we’re sitting in Dell Children’s (which is AMAZING) while my back to normal except for the broken bones in her skull four year old argues with nurses, begs for cookies and all the way around continues to scare the daylights out of me.

The decision to stay in the military has never been an easy one but weekends like this, when I’m not home and bad accidents happen, make me consider all things differently. I won’t try to say I stayed all a calm and collected on the flight down. I fell apart. Completely. And then adrenaline kicked in and I had to make decisions. Yes, allow the ct scan. Yes, give her the anti nausea meds. And worst of all, if I couldn’t get on the flight with her, take my four year old to an Austin hospital without me because they might have had to operate. What do i email my husband? Do I say call home asap or do I give him detail so he has information (turns out, he’d rather have the call home asap with no details).

All this happened on two hours of sleep and a whole lot of adrenaline. I’m happy to say that she’s doing fine. She just called room service and asked for more bacon. She’s been hogging the iPad and watching How To Train Your Dragon for the eighteenth time (luckily, I love that movie, so it hasn’t been a sacrifice).

Shes been hospitalized 5 times since she was born and this is her fourth broken bone (a thumb, two bones in her wobbly arm, and now her skull). Hopefully we’ll head home today but you know, I’d rather keep her in the hospital.

Just to keep her getting into anything else before her head is fully healed.

The Swingset from Hell…But Fun

Okay so the next time I raise my hand and say, I think I’ll build my kids a swingset, someone slap me.

Everything hurts. When I say everything, I mean from the top of my head where I hit it multiple times today to the top of my feet where I dropped a power tool on one of them. But in my heart, there’s a deep seated feeling of holy cow, I did that.

Of Course I had help. What do you think I am, Wonder Woman? Last weekend some very kind friends suffered through burned chicken and crappy potato salad for six hours to help me get the frame built. Thank heavens there was someone there who knew how to read directions…Cause you and I both know I skipped a very important step and spent a good hour and a half sorting through to fix it.

Today I started at about 630 in the morning and worked until 7 pm. I would have kept going on that expletive deleted slide but I ran out of daylight. Probably just as well.

But its almost finished. Mom and I even managed to get the roof on without anyone going to the emergency room. Which, if you know me and my mom, you know is pretty freaking amazing. But now I can look out in my backyard and see this massive monstrosity filling the spot where the grass never grew anyway and watch my kids climb all over it.

I still have to finish that expletive deleted slide. And put the actual swingset piece onto it. But its almost done. Its this massive wooden puzzle that comes in about two hundred pieces, not counting screws and bolts. I’ll post pictures when its finished. Right now, I’m too tired to get up and move.

The very best part about this whole thing is that my kid might complain. They might whine. But they’ve told everyone who will listen that Mommy built them a swingset after Daddy left for Iraq.

And that, folks is something they’ll remember. It will be a good memory, despite Daddy being gone. And really, isn’t that all I can do?

Now someone hand me my Vicodin and a heating pad.

The Rituals that Keep Us Sane Pt 1

Deployment Rituals

I’m discovering that I have certain deployment rituals, things that give me a sense of comfort in the world that now has a husband sized hole in it. This is the first deployment that he’s been gone that I haven’t been pregnant or with him, so the possibilities of things I can get into around the house are endless. The third deployment, I was gone with him, so I didn’t need to have stay at home rituals to keep me sane, I needed anti stress rituals. But that’s another story.

It usually doesn’t take but a week, sometimes less before I start spraying the pillow with his cologne. Or wearing his clothing. Or moving to the middle of the bed and get used to cats sleeping all over me.

But its the home improvement projects that baffle me. Each time he’s been gone prior to this one, I’ve regrouted my kitchen. I’ve landscaped. I’ve ‘fixed’ things. First weekend he was gone, I bought several cans of paint and a few more trial colors. Managed to paint the guest bathroom a really great deep blue. The kids had fun painting. Made a horrible mess, but I guess that’s half their fun, right? Then today, I cracked open the box o’ hell that’s been filling up my garage for the last week and some change.

Thank heavens I’ve got friends willing to spend an afternoon in the hot Texas sun, helping me piece together a ginormous puzzle. And we only made it about 1/3 of the way through, but it was a great way to spend the afternoon, at least on my part. My kids had a blast (and the heat took it right out of them, there were no bedtime battles this evening) and it was so relaxing working on a project with friends.

I guess at the heart of it, the home improvement projects are my way of exerting a teeny bit of control over my world. I wish he was here with me building that stupid swingset. We to laugh when we do things together, even though I always manage to start projects off wrong, like in the middle of the instruction book instead of at the front (don’t ask). But at the end of the day, its my way of staying busy so I don’t notice that the TV isn’t on, that he isn’t fighting with the cat, or playing Super Mario Brothers with our oldest.

One week down, 51 to go.

Deployment Sucks

This Week Sucked

It took until Friday for my daughter to break down. I heard a noise from across the house then nothing. Then I heard it again. I padded across the floor and heard her heartbreaking sobs. I walk into her room and she’s sitting up in her bed, staring at a picture of my husband the words “I want my daddy” tearing from her.

If you think I wasn’t crying right along with her, you’re smoking something. This whole week has sucked. As long as I live, I’ll never forget the sight of my husband standing on the front lawn, waving goodbye as I pulled away to take the kids to daycare. We both agreed we simply could not say goodbye to them in the middle of the daycare, so I shuffled them off while he stayed home to shower and put on the uniform that would carry him into the desert for the fourth time.

My husband is not an emotional man but leaving this time has been brutal on him. And me. But as I sit here writing, I reread my journal from my deployment. I was transported back to Kuwait, to the sand and dirt and stress of getting ready to head north. There’s nothing I can do right now but wait for the phone to ring or hope for an email.

I know my daughters are hurting. My oldest is being a real trooper but there’s a sadness about her. I catch her looking into space and I know she’s thinking about her daddy. The guy who always makes her laugh. And my youngest has been hell this week. She’s had her name written on the board at school twice, screamed every single day I’ve dropped her off at daycare (which is hell on the mommy guilt) and overall has been really bossy (which is actually kind of funny).

I’m kind of proud of myself in that I’ve stayed calm and quiet all week. Those of you that know me know this is NOT my normal operating procedure but I’ve been focused on the kids this week. Hell, its not like my writing career is going anywhere fast.

But I’ve got to tell you, sitting there holding my little girl as she sobbed her heart out damn near broke me. Looking back on 2003 when my husband and I first got pregnant, I NEVER thought we would have gone through 7 years of back to back deployments and still been married to each other. It feels like each homecoming has its own challenges and each deployment brings a new stress. It was tough being home with the girls when they were babies but they didn’t KNOW what was missing in their lives.

This time they know. And the both have a daddy sized hole in their lives that I cannot fill no matter what I try. And trust me, I’m trying. We painted the bathroom together tonight. 3 of us cramped into a tiny little space, the two of them standing on a torn up t-shirt splattering paint everywhere (they actually did a pretty good job). But what got my oldest thinking about Daddy? Mommy screwed up. I suggested that she write to him and tell him about us painting the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later, she’s bawling her little heart out and breaking mine. And she knows its only been a week. She’s still got a year to get through.

It was so much easier when it was projectile vomit and diapers at midnight. This? This is so much worse.

The closer it gets

It’s getting closer. The thought of my husband deploying again and knowing I’m stuck back here, waiting for the phone calls and the emails is slowly but surely eating away at me. It keeps me up at night, it affects the entire house. It’s like a giant festering sore in the middle of the house that refuses to be covered by any salve.

The fact that this is potentially the last deployment to Iraq makes it worse, not better. I’m more worried about him this tour than any other one since 04 when the shit really hit the fan. He wasn’t there for most of the surge, for which I’m thankful. But this, as the potential for him to be some of the last forces over there is terrifying.

I worry. Then I turn it off and try to go about business as usual when all I want to do is sit in bed and cry. But I can’t because I’m a commander and I’m a mom with two little girls who are going to need to lean on me more than I’m able to lean on anyone else.

It’s damn hard for me to write about this. It was so much easier in 08 getting ready to deploy myself. I know what he’s going into. I know that he doesn’t want to hear about what the dog chewed up when i forgot to shut him in the kennel or how bad the girls fought yesterday. He wants to hear about the crazy cat and see videos of the cat stealing the dogs food out of her bowl. He wants to laugh and he needs to know that everything is ok at home.

So I’ll do that. I’ll write and tell him how the stupid cat launched himself off th stop of the dresser. About my oldest daughters work in school. I’ll make him laugh and ill lay awake qt night, waiting for the phone call or the email telling me he’s okay. And I’ll get through one day at a time.

Just like the last three deployments.