Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Edge of the water

The other day I walked in to the kids playplace with our toddler and baby. This was the last place I wanted to be. Our morning was mayhem. I fought with our older 3 before sending them to school and was feeling like a jerk about that. I was running late to this playdate and so I didn't drive through and get a latte on my way. I was starting to feel the caffeine headache setting in. Not for my first cup of the day, but for the next couple cups. Coffee. Need coffee.

I wrangled the toddler through the parking lot and into the front door of the playplace. He wanted to hold the door for me, for which I thanked him. However, I couldn't push the stroller through the doorway with him blocking the path and barely holding the door open. I grabbed the top of the door, opened it wide enough to get the stroller through, and instructed him to keep walking. Of course he refused. We had a strange and awkward argument in the middle of the doorway. Me, holding the door and the stroller and trying to urge him to move. Him, leaning against the semi-open door while flailing and stomping his feet. I could feel the eyes of the playplace owner from behind the welcome desk on us. I wondered if she thought, "Oh, great. One of THOSE toddlers."

By the time I had us checked in, the toddler's shoes off, and a seat on a bench, I was spent. I scanned the room for familiar faces and couldn't find any. I checked my phone. No messages. I was late arriving and took even longer to get from the car into the play area; I really thought people would get in touch with me by now. I stood up and checked the coffee options. Blah. Nothing sounded appealing. I checked my phone again. Then I sat on the bench and scanned the room for my toddler. I spotted him happily climbing up the tower of the playplace. I checked on my daughter in the stroller and then scanned the room again. Still no one familiar.

That's when my stomach dropped and I felt the dread creeping in. Was I the only one here? I saw group after group of moms who had met up there. There was a solo mom at a table with a book. I hadn't brought a book. I thought I was meeting friends. I felt the tears prick the back of my eyes. Nope. Not crying here. I opened my phone again. I scrolled Instagram, then Facebook, then my messages. No new messages or notifications. Nothing. No word as to why I was here alone. I checked the time. 45 minutes past the meet up time. I buried my face in my phone again and scrolled through my feeds. I wasn't going to worry about why no one came.

Why did no one come? Why didn't anyone text and say why they couldn't? Did I have the day wrong? I checked my email. I had the right day. Why did I think people were coming? I checked the messages I had about the playdate. Where was everyone? The tears welled up. I leaned my head back against the wall and let them roll back in to my eyes. Not crying here.

That's when I spotted someone I knew from around here. I went over and said hi. We chatted a bit. She invited me to sit with her and her friends and I saw the table covered in all of their stuff and I almost started crying there. I parted ways and went back to my bench and my stroller and the tears came pouring out. Why didn't I even hear from people that they weren't coming? I drove all the way over here and now I bump into someone I recognize and feel like an even bigger loser. I felt like someone was there to witness me being stood up and my embarrassment.

That's when the playplace owner walked over. "Ma'am? Is your son the boy in suspenders? I'm getting a lot of complaints that he's pinching everyone." Oh gosh. I don't even see him in the tower. I wipe the tears away and apologize roughly 50 times. The owner is now looking at me like I'm a lunatic. My toddler comes zipping around the corner at that moment with his hands up in the air like crab pinchers. I call him over and have a chat. He says he won't pinch anyone else. I ask if he's hungry and if we should go, but then I decide we should at least finish up the hour since I had to pay for the visit. He eats his lunch up and then promises to be good. As soon as he thinks he's out of sight, he throws his hands back in the air like crab claws. I see the other moms turn and look at me. I could probably guess which ones complained about him by their faces.

I bide my time and wrangle the baby while making sure the toddler is following the rules. When the hour is up, I wave good-bye to the gal I know and get the toddler's shoes on. He apologizes to the owner at the desk before we leave. She assures me she knows how it goes, though I still feel horrible for our son acting so poorly. I get the kids to the van and load them up. He takes his "nola bar" and the baby finishes her bottle as I load up our bags and stroller. Once the door is closed and the Moana soundtrack starts up, I drop my shades over my eyes and lean on the steering wheel. Should I cry about this again?

My eyes say yes. My mind races. Did they all decide as a group not to come? I don't think so. Maybe their days were rough too and maybe it just didn't work out. I don't know. How is it no one could come? Or even tell me they weren't coming? But everywhere we move and everytime we have more kids, I am always reminded about how hard it is to make mommy friends. How hard it is to feel like I "fit in." This playdate was a flop. I don't know why. Maybe-- maybe-- it is me and they didn't want to hang out with me. Maybe it has nothing to do with me. I will probably never find out why the playdate flopped, but the struggle to make friends and be strong and power through as an adult doesn't define me. I know who I am.

I wipe the tears out of my eyes. I put the van in drive. "Where we going?" the toddler asks from the backseat. "Home," I reply. Meanwhile, Moana sings about the edge of the water and I think all of this-- making friends, moving, having kids, growing up, following my dreams, all of this-- is just part of my journey.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Surviving the difficult duty station

A friend of mine was recently featured on a military spouse blog (check it our here: "Salute to Mom: Lindsay Castiglione"). I loved the interview and her honest answers. Military life is hard and we depend so much on strangers at often challenging points in our lives. She was asked what she found surprising about military life and she mentioned the support of the military community. Amen, sister! The military community has carried us through some of the hardest times in our lives. I will never forget the loneliness surrounding our first miscarriage and the light that was brought into our lives by the Sunshine committee from our FRG. The intervention of the Sunshine committee at that point in time changed the course of my life forever and gave me a passion to write to and inspire military spouses. Since arriving at our new duty station, we have had hardships and challenges and have been tremendously underwhelmed and disappointed at the lack of support from our military community. So much so that I have pulled back from all military social clubs-- including our FRG-- until I find my solid footing and am able to handle future disappointment, if it were to come again. While we have overcome our hardships and I have addressed my resulting depression, I still feel I am not emotionally ready to handle more disappointment if I were to turn to the military community for support and be let down again. As a military spouse for over 10 years, this disappointment has been hard to process. It feels like a rejection-- even to me personally. I have spent a lot of time wondering what I did wrong and beating myself up for the subsequent anger and bitterness when time after time I struggled through things that at past duty stations I took for granted. I've struggled with how to write about it too, mostly because over the past year and a half my words were clouded with anger or my mind couldn't see a positive spin on the situation. Now that I have broken through the depression and am getting back into the swing of life, I was inspired by Lindsay's interview. Because it is true-- the military community is amazing. I have viewed my blog as an honest and personal glimpse into life as a military spouse from the mouth (or fingers, as I type) of a seasoned military spouse. Lindsay said, "I love how other spouses are willing to drop whatever they are doing and help another however they can!" So, here you go, friends. It is dinnertime in my house. I just read Lindsay's interview and now I have barricaded myself in my bedroom with my laptop to talk to you all about how to survive a duty station when you do not have support.

1. What do you have to accomplish each day?

As parents and military spouses, we have this pressing need to connect, connect, connect. We Google every soccer league and Scout meeting and story time in a 50 mile radius of each of our next possible duty stations. And then we think amazingly thick headed things like, "Okay, when the kids get out of school at 4 pm we can make the 40 minute drive to dance class and get there by 4:45 pm when it starts and be back in time for 6 pm karate..." So then we are anxiously waiting for our children to get out of school as quickly as possible ("DID YOU HEAR ME? WE HAVE NO TIME TO PLAY ON THE PLAYGROUND. WE HAVE DANCE TONIGHT. IT IS A DANCE NIGHT.") where we then throw sandwiches or fast food at them and order them to wolf it down in the car as we frantically change in the parking lot before careening into dance class 2 minutes late. Why do we do this? So our kids can connect.

Military spouses: hear me loud and clear. Take a deep breath. And figure out what you HAVE to accomplish each day. Do you work? Do you have responsibilities at home or with your kids or with your career or your goals that you cannot put off? Find the space for those things. Then figure out what your kids HAVE to accomplish each day. Like... not what you want them to accomplish or what they think they want to accomplish... but what you actually have to accomplish. Homework. Naptime. Dinner. These are all real things to work in the calendar. Find time for the extracurriculars in a manner that actually works for you-- time and money wise. Have you looked into a Y membership? They have great classes and are a great value, especially for large families. Have you checked out your MWR classes? Your local park and rec classes? Consolidate. Pick classes and activities that don't have you driving every which way every night of the week. It's good for your children too. They may have interests and passions, just like you, but, just like you, they need to pick and choose which ones they are going to focus on at the present.

When you FIRST make time for the must-dos and THEN find time for the "like-to-dos," you will be a much happier parent. And when you are happy and your responsibilities and goals are being met, you will be less stressed dealing with the "crazy" nights that the sports fall on. Because you will be present, not stressing over the fact that you still have to go home and finish whatever project after wrangling the kids to bed. It is really easy to get burnt out on a too-full schedule, especially when you live far away from family support and lack local support.

2. Put things on your calendar.

It seems counter intuitive to follow up on the previous point with the recommendation to put things on your calendar, but there ya go. Military life doesn't always make sense anyways. Moving to a new duty station where you know no one is hard. You feel like you are the new kid in 5th grade all over again. Even as an adult, I feel like running out of the building when I walk into a social club meeting without recognizing a single face. Where should I sit? Will the person I sit next to talk to me or tell me she's saving that seat for someone? That alone can be enough to keep me from going to a new meeting. But it is also hard even in smaller venues. It can be hard to go to story time at the library each week, juggling toddlers and preschoolers and babies and feeling like everyone is glaring at you. Week after week showing up to wrangle misbehaving children and still haven't made a friend. It can be even harder going to these sort of functions when you feel like you have made a few connections and when you turned to them for support, they let you down. It makes you want to bury your head in the sand, make a paper chain counting down how many months until you move, and never leave your house again.

Don't. Who are you as a person? What do you like doing? Do you like taking your kids to story time? Do you like the social club? Are you a social person? Are you a quiet person? Find the things you like doing and go do them. Sure, you may "only have 19 more months left" before you PCS again, but you are really going to check out of your life for OVER a year and a half? There are numerous happenings at every duty station, whether through local resources or military resources or commercial resources. For instance, Barnes and Nobles hosts events and social functions for children and adults. Or the local library. Or art stores. Trivia nights. Or whatever or wherever. Even if you don't know anyone, put things YOU have an interest in ON YOUR CALENDAR and GO. Don't cancel it. Don't bury your head in the sand or talk yourself out of it. Who knows. You may go for the rest of the time you are at your current duty station and never meet anyone. Or you could meet someone there who shares your interests and becomes the friend you've been missing.

3. Make the first move.

Yeah, this is one I struggle with right now. Why? Because I have faced rejection after rejection. I've exchanged numbers with gals who I thought would make great friends. I've looked across story time at the mom who just walked in with the passel of small children writhing around her feet and made my way over to her to introduce myself, "Why, I see you also have innumerous small people." I've hosted playdates, cooked meals, dropped off lattes, on and on... and still have no more playdates to show for it than if I stayed home in sweats watching the Bachelor. You know what. I still hand out my card. I still smile. I still try. Why? Because that's who I am. (For more reading, check out this awesome blog post, "In the absence of a village, build your own.")

4. Remember who you are.

Okay, so I stole this one from Lion King. But remember when Simba was like, "That's not me! I'm not king!" And Mufasa came out of the clouds and told Simba, "You are my son. Remember who you are!" Military life is a lot like that. We move around, place after place, and meet all these new people who DON'T KNOW US. Life constantly throws stones at us and sometimes we handle things well and sometimes we don't. Instead of being surrounded by friends who know our personalities, we are surrounded by people who are just getting to know us and make judgments on our character based on what they see. Totally a normal thing to do, but it sucks when you move to a duty station and get hit with one thing after another and eventually struggle with depression. It's hard trying to tell people, "Normally I am a really upbeat person, but right now I'm struggling." At those times, when you are struggling with challenges and you feel left out, lonely, and unlikeable, remember who you are. You do have friends. You do have people that love and care about you, no matter how far away they are. Remember what it is about you that makes you you and try to let go of the doubt.

5. Be the friend you want to have.

Do you want a running partner? A coffee buddy? An after the kids go to bed wine drinking confidant? A mommy meet-up? What are you looking for? Be that friend. This goes hand in hand with making the first move and remembering who you are. It is easy to get beat down when life is only handing you rejections. Dust it off and try again. Think about what you feel is missing and do that for others. They may feel that's missing for them to. If you feel like you have more on your plate than you can handle, don't you think the other military spouses you know feel the same way? Think about how you could help someone who needs a hand and you may be surprised at friendships that can grow from those dark moments. It always feels good to know someone cares. And if you are showing love in your unique way, it gives people a chance to get to know who you are as a person and to "speak your love language" back. (Don't know what a love language is? I highly recommend this read for couples and individuals: "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman.)

6. Learn to say no.

It often happens that in our loneliest and hardest times we scoop more and more on to our plate until it is overflowing and we are miserable. Sometimes we over extend ourselves to "stay busy" and sometimes we say yes to things to feel included. Whatever the reason, learn to say no. I have been in the position where I was desperate to build a community and so I thought about what I was missing. What did I want from that particular duty station? In an attempt to create that, I hosted event after event, meet up after meet up, I said yes to nearly everything that came my way, and I packed my calendar to stay busy, be involved, and hopefully to bolster friendships. As hardships and challenges came my way and the friendships hadn't bloomed, I felt even more desperate to make those friendships because I needed support. In the end, I baby-sat when I was exhausted. I volunteered when I didn't have the time. And, what was worse, I ran myself to the ground trying to please others so that they would like me, but when I needed their help, I still didn't have it. Trying so hard to force friendships doesn't work. It is important that we as military spouses learn to say no. Helping other people, being the friend you want to have, and volunteering in the community are all great and necessary things. However, you have to be able to physically and emotionally be able to support everything you have signed on to. Those things are great ways to meet people and get connected, but if you are putting too much significance on every favor you say yes to in the hopes that it would be reciprocated or a friendship will happen, it is probably better to say no. It is better to give out of love than with strings attached, emotional or otherwise.

7. Don't compare.

Isn't social media grand? We have this resource at our finger tips that let's us connect to people at future duty stations, join online groups and clubs, and to "friend" people. And, most of the time, it does a great job at that. Until it doesn't. You go online and see that the girls you've been trying to hang out with all went to the park or the movies without you. You invite people to something meaningful to you, hoping to at least have one friend in attendance, and go online later to find out what all the people who declined actually were doing that day. It is hard. Especially as a military spouse feeling lonely and disconnected. It is hard when you see your friends at different duty stations posting things about their amazing FRG or wardroom or communities that have grown around their neighborhood or churches. When you have desired and tried to build those communities yourself at your current duty station, it is really hard not to feel bitter and resentful towards others who have it. "What am I doing wrong?" you wonder. TimeHop has been an eye opener for me. I see past posts from our previous duty stations and I realized that at one point in time, I was the military spouse with the great boat climate and the great local community and the best friend next door and all that. At every other duty station, we have been able to plug in somewhere. Just because we can't this time, doesn't mean there is something wrong with us. And, maybe, in the past when I was posting about a great girls' night, one of my friends at a different duty station was wondering why she wasn't connecting at her current duty station. If social media becomes too hard for you, get off of it. You don't have to delete it to remove yourself from it and you can always come back to it, but if you need to take a break for a week or a month or a year, DO IT. Don't beat yourself up over social media and don't let it ruin existing friendships.

8. It takes time and effort.

Dang it. As a military spouse, nothing can piss you off quite like hearing, "Friendships will happen. It just takes time." We are always thinking about how long we have at each duty station, "I am here for TWO YEARS. If it takes me a whole year to make a friend, I will have about 6 months before we start going through our house to get ready to PCS." We panic before anything even happens. Or, like me currently, when we have been here for over half of our tour and I have no more friends now than when we first arrived. What. Happened. You know what, these things take time. They just do. For the first year and a half we were here, I had a lot of hardships and depression and maybe that didn't endear friends to me. Maybe now I will connect... maybe I will not. But what will not happen is someone knocking on my front door saying, "Hey, girl! So I want to be best friends and get coffee with you every day. And have playdates all the time and go to the park with you and show up uninvited to dinner and throw up a pack'n'play in your loft for my kids and stay the night in your guest room while we drink Sangria all evening." (So... perhaps my best friend bar is set high...) The point is, no matter how long you have been at a duty station and no matter how disconnected you feel, you have to go out and try. And you have to let those friendships grow. And not every seed you plant will take and maybe none will. But unless you put in the time and the effort, it will never be better than it is now.

9. Your self worth is not contingent on a duty station.

Rejection-- real or perceived-- is hard. I have spent a lot of time doubting myself here. I wonder if I'm coming on too strong or too desperate or if my kids are too loud or I have too many or what?! What? What else can it be? Am I rude? Wrong? Not cool enough? It starts really making you feel like a jerk when people flake on every playdate or don't text you back or never pin down dates and so nothing ever comes of it (the vague, "I'd love to do that sometime" or "Let me get back to you..."). I have sat at coffee shops with my kids for over an hour past the meet up time before I heard, "Sorry! I can't make it today!" and you feel like such a loser for packing up the kids and getting everyone dressed and they are asking, "Why are we leaving? Where is your friend?" and you fight back tears while you tell them, "We are meeting up with them a different day." It hurts when you feel let down when you swallow your pride and ask (beg, plead, text/call everyone in your phone) for help and it doesn't come through. It is embarrassing to plan something, invite everyone you know, and have excuse after excuse come back as to why they can't make it until you eventually come up with a reason to cancel it. The biggest reasons we, as military spouses, put ourselves out there is for the sake of our kids (to get them connected), for ourselves (to feel connected), or because we genuinely need help. And when those needs aren't met, we start wondering what we are doing wrong that makes us unworthy of them. It is hard to think that maybe I won't ever feel connected to this duty station more than I do now, but it helps to think about (and focus on) what it is about myself that I like and what my friends and family like, even far away from here. I may spend every day with my kids, busying myself with the same old things, and constantly trying (and failing) to make a friend, but, at the end of this tour, we are leaving here and the people here aren't coming with us. Maybe we will be stationed near friends or family at our next duty station or maybe I will just connect there. Whatever the case may be, this duty station doesn't define who I am and who I know myself to be. Once I realized that, it was easier to let go of the hurt and the rejection and to slowly start putting myself out there again (in much smaller ways than when I first moved here).


Feelings. Yes, yes. I can process my feelings. But when the toddler has asthma and the baby is sick and I have 3 kids to pick up from school, what do I do? Who do I call that would take my sick baby while I bring the toddler to the hospital? Who would be willing to drop all their plans to pick up my 3 kids and sit at my house until I get back? And when I get home and am exhausted, who will make us dinner? Who will come over the next day to listen to me complain about the sleepless nights and trying to meet the needs of 5 kids when my brain is done and my body is done and my patience is spent and I just want my mom? Who will brave colds and flu and pink eye and tantrums to bring me a latte and a sympathetic ear? Who will watch my kids when I can't do it all? The days are so long and draining when all household operations fall on your one pair of shoulder from the wee hours of the morning to late at night. It is hard to find the energy (and the willpower) to charge on when you don't even have a friend to vent to or someone by your side as you weather the storm. It is isolating and lonely. And as you deal with whatever life throws your way-- big or small-- it is hard when you feel like not only do you not have friends, but that people don't want to be your friend. When your sitter bails at an important time. When your playdate cancels. When your meet-up falls flat. When you go to the social club meeting and leave again without having spoken to anyone. When your children are throwing tantrums and everyone looks the other way. When you have to dig deep and make it work again, all on your own, and you just don't know how many more times you can do that.

That's one of those times where being a military spouse feels like one of the most isolating roles. You aren't like your spouse, the military member, who goes into their job every day with a purpose, and you aren't like the locals who are forever invested in the community. You are there for a short while, trying to make it work, and feeling like you don't belong. That's when my brain starts racing, "When will it be my time to connect? To pursue my career goals without arranging them around my spouse's? When we will stop moving and when will deployments and duty days no longer dominate our calendar?" I think about how long it took me to connect at past duty stations and how I'm not connecting at this duty station and all my energy and willingness for future duty stations is sucked out of me. I feel trapped in the military life.

One day at a time. Everyone has things they struggle with. Our moments are coming. And we, as military spouses, the strength and driving force in our houses, know how to "make it work." We will recognize our moments when they come and we will seize them. At this exact moment we may feel like the world doesn't understand us, that we don't have friends, that we can't manage work and home and kids and the military... Right now, it may all be too much. But, as military spouses, we take a deep breath. We evaluate our immediate present. What has to be done right now? And we do that. And the next moment we do what needs to be done then. All the way through the day, until car pool is ran and our kids are fed and in bed and we finally have 10 minutes to open a bottle of wine and call our moms or best friends. We make paper chains and countdowns and employ tricks to help the time pass as we wait for the end of deployment, the end of a tour, the time until we visit family or family comes to visit us... We survive. We pull through, even if we feel like we aren't thriving and that the wind has been knocked out of our chest and we pray that it will get better, we survive. We take one small step after another until each step is easier and easier to take... until one day we realize we have hit our stride again and can finally stand tall. The best thing about military spouses is that we then continue on. We continue to walk tall until the next round of challenges comes our way and we hope we have learned from the past to get through these hurdles better and stronger than before.

It can be lonely and exhausting. It can feel never ending. Deep down though, we firmly believe that this-- this duty station that has yet to come together for us-- is a moment. A moment in time. A season we never want to be in again. As military spouses, we carry on. For the sake of our children. For the sake of our spouses. For the sake of ourselves, that girl that looked deep into the eyes of a service member all those years ago and said, "Yes."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What it's like having 3 kids in school

We've passed the 100th day of school for our 2nd grader and twin kindergartners. It was a big adjustment for me going from one child in school to three children in school all day. And now, for the first time ever, we have more kids in school than out of school home with me. I thought I would write a little piece about how amazing it is only having 2 home all day and 3 in school.

1. Mornings can be busy.

Above is an actual picture of me getting the kids ready for school. I think my favorite part of the morning is when sneakers go missing right before we walk out the door, a child is somehow naked when moments before he was fully clothed, or when the toddler raids the already packed lunch pails. Actually, no. I love when I meal prep breakfast for the week and the children refuse to eat it. Wait, it's also fun when there are no jackets in the house... or the children won't wear the jackets... or they try to wear the wrong jackets (you are a boy's size 6... you really thought the hot pink 6 month size jacket was yours?!). But let's not forget about epic sibling fights when I finally sneak into my bedroom to get dressed.

2. Emotions can run high.

Getting out of the house with kids can be challenging at the best of times. Throw in a school uniform, appropriate shoes and appropriate weather gear, lunch pails, homework folders, backpacks, library books... all needing to make their way out the door on time. With a toddler and a baby underfoot. It can be stressful. Yesterday after dropping the kids off at school I came home to clean the blood stains out of the carpet from where one punched the other in the nose (over Magna Tiles!). And you know how when you take kids to the fair and they are going, going, going all day and they come home to have an epic meltdown? Well, school is a lot like that. Their brains get crammed with knowledge, in an environment packed with stimulation, and lunch and recess worked in there, only to come home late in the afternoon to a house full of siblings. Basically, we have a whole lot of "I'm not touching you" "YES YOU ARE" "NO I'M NOT" "LET'S SOLVE THIS WITH OUR FISTS" type arguments.

3. They learn so much.

You have a baby. You read board books. You make cookies in the shape of the alphabet. You ask them the color of everything, what noise everything makes. You make sensory baskets and organize themed playdates. You start a preschool co-op. You enroll them in a preschool (and pay an arm and a leg). You read, read, read and count, count, count. And limit TV time and play educational games and spend, spend, spend on workbooks and flashcards and anything that makes learning fun. Then your kids start school and you wait at school pick up with arms wide open, excited to hear about the new things they learned... only for them to slink over, drop their backpack at your feet, and snarl, "FINE," when you ask how their day was.

4.  I learn a lot about myself as well.

It's amazing to see the world through the eyes of a child. Especially when that child gives you a daily report on the quality of your lunches or what their classmates bring to school. It is a never ending game of "You Can't Win." If you pack a Lunchable everyday because so-and-so gets Lunchables everyday, eventually you will hear from the other parents or teachers or lunch staff that it's good to send in variety or healthy choices. It's also so humbling to forget that you signed up to volunteer or send in a treat or to somehow fail in a way that your child will be reminded of all day, "Today was a free dress day, Mom. All my friends wore Batman shirts and I was in uniform!" It's also nice to know that it's not just your kids who are judging you, but the other parents ("It's just really important to me to volunteer at least once a week. I never see you in there. Do you ever volunteer in the classroom?"), the teachers ("Reading with your kids is so important. I know you have a lot going on, but could you maybe make time to read with him?" Um, never mind the FORTY MINUTES we read together as a family each night), the office staff ("Late again?"). I'm sure even the janitor has an opinion. Having your kids in school is a great way to know what kind of grade you get as a parent.

5. There are a lot of birthday party invites.

With 3 kids in 3 different classes, we get birthday party invites on the daily. Our kids love going to these. "Mom! So-and-so is having a birthday party!" And I open the homework folder and there it is. Another Chuck E Cheese invite or swim party or whatever party held at wherever place. (Full disclosure: as much as my kids love Chuck E Cheese, it's not my favorite restaurant.) No, it's not a drop off party and, no, other siblings can't come. You get the whining from the other siblings, "Why can't I go?" (never mind they went solo to a birthday party last weekend) plus the whining from the invitee ("Mom, I really want to go!"). You feel like a jerk not going; you know how important birthdays are to kids. So you drag your kid to the store to get into yet another argument over the gift budget ("No, we are not dropping $50 on that! I've never even hear you talk about this classmate.") and head to Chuck E Cheese where you can pick up yet another round of rotavirus. (At least you are bringing something home to your other children who didn't get to go.) All to do it again the following weekend with another one of your children.

6. It's good to find outlets for their energy.

I find affordable extracurricular options that work with our schedule. And then 3 of our kids go to school and we get to hear about: basketball leagues. Soccer leagues. Football leagues. Baseball leagues. Tae Kwon Do. Karate. Swimming. Dance. Drama. Art. Gym. Music. N-E-V-E-R E-N-D-I-N-G list of things so-and-so is doing. Never mind that I pick all 3 of them up from school and take them here, there, and everywhere (with a baby and toddler in tow). Never mind that we spend our weekends doing activities. You aren't ever in the right sports, the right leagues, the right gym. Your kids no longer want to do whatever it is you signed them up for ("You are finishing this season. Do you know how much this cost?") and your other kids are bored ("It's not your turn right now. We are watching your brother."). All in all, extracurricular activities are a great way to spend money on things your kids don't want to do, dragging siblings who don't want to go, after they spend all day having to listen and obey and then come home late and off-schedule to a piecemeal dinner no one wants to eat (or, alternatively, fast food).

7. The evening schedule can be a little... off.

When our 3 kids get out of school, they are tired, wired, and hungry. Sometimes we have to rush to this sport or that sport. Sometimes we go home for the children to snack and bicker. But, dang. They fall asleep on the couch. They fall asleep in the car. They devour all their snacks. Then they aren't hungry at dinnertime. I try to make them wait to eat until dinnertime.. but then they are starving and lay down on the sidewalk wailing. It's like, where is the balance? There isn't enough time for them to decompress before an activity. There isn't enough time between after-school snack and dinnertime to work up an appetite. No matter what I choose is the wrong choice. Except early bedtime. Early bedtime is always a good choice.

8. Homework.

Thankfully both of my kindergartners have teachers that do not regularly assign them homework, though I know there are other kindergarten teachers at their school that do. Our oldest had homework in 1st grade and now again in 2nd grade. I really wish these homework assigning teachers could come home with us and see what homework with lower elementary school students looks like. When do you do homework with them? When you get home and they are burnt out from a full day at school and want to go play? Or in the morning when you are trying to keep everyone on track? How do you help them with wailing kids, hungry kids, dinner going, extracurriculars scheduled? Massive eye roll to homework for little kids. Fine, send home a reading log. But forget about worksheets. We have as much playing to pack in as possible in the evenings. Also, can we please talk about how frustrating it is to help your kids in math when you learned those same concepts a different way? Math mountain? You mean equation?

9. Your kids will forget things.

I think every parent knows the feeling of walking in to the kitchen after dropping all the kids off to see their packed lunches sitting on the counter. Or their jackets hanging on the back of their chairs. Or whatever it is. And, yes, I know, I know. You say anything like this to another parent and you immediately get the, "That's called natural consequences at my house." Yeah, I know. There are plenty of times where if they forget something, they forgot it. It is their job to pack their lunches and backpacks and homework folders and all that. But on the days that they forgot something that has to be brought in, that means loading up our other 2 kids, driving to the school, unloading our 2 kids, going to the office, dealing with the office staff (grumble, grumble), and making sure it gets to them. It's so frustrating. And the office staff is always so helpful, "Why didn't they bring this with them?" Well, kids-- much like adults-- occasionally forget things. Especially when they spent all morning pretending they were trapped in a Poke Ball.

10. Naptimes can be difficult to schedule.

You want to know when your toddler will fall asleep? 10 minutes before school pick up. And he'll fall into a deep, beautiful sleep after he spent the last 2 hours wailing at you and throwing fruit snacks at the baby.  Sometimes I want to cry as the school alarm goes off on my phone and I have to wake up both my sleeping children. One can hope that the stroller or car seat will keep them asleep, but I know it's futile. They will wake up at some point and only have a 10-20 minute nap under their belt. When their older 3 siblings come home from school and are all wired and bouncing off the walls, I will also have a toddler and a baby clinging and wailing. And dinner to make. That right there is fun stuff.

11. It's nice not dragging 5 kids on errands.

With 3 kids in school, I "only" have the 2 little kids at home-- a toddler and a baby. That means that after getting 3 kids ready for school while managing the 2 little kids and getting myself ready, I have roughly 7 hours in the day to get things done with "only" 2 kids in tow (well, less, because I have to be back in time for school pick up). So roughly 6 hours. Of course in between their nap and feeding schedules (which is about an hour in the morning and at least 2 in the afternoon, but often 3 or more). Okay, so about 4 hours in the morning before we have to come back for afternoon nap; the baby can take the morning nap in her car seat. I can do Costco without 5 kids in that time! So much easier only wrangling one toddler and keeping a baby happy while shopping for our family of 7. So easy. So easy to only have to buckle and unbuckle one toddler and get the baby in and out and lug the diaper bag and push the stroller as we do appointments and errands. I mean, toddlers are such agreeable little creatures and there is just so much time in the day to get things done! Then, after doing Costco with 2 kids, I can come home and put away all the Costco groceries for our family of 7! And feed the 2 little kids. And get them down to nap. Before it is time for school pick up. But I can finish some of the other house chores after I pick up our other 3 kids from school. Though tonight is a sports night... Which means, I have been on my feet from 6:30 am when I woke up with the baby... I'd like to reiterate: So. Easy.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Military Spouse of the Moment

The other day one of my oldest friends messaged me and said, "How are you? Like, how are you actually doing? Not the "I'm good" answer." It made me think about how often we-- as moms, as military spouses, as friends-- give the socially acceptable answer, not the Real Answer.

For the past year and a half, we have struggled through this duty station. I didn't realize what a challenge we were up against as obstacle after obstacle came our way until, finally, one day, I had enough. I was done. I couldn't pretend anymore that I was fine or that I had it together or that I had a plan. I was burnt out from always having to "make it work," from managing our household on my own, from living so far away from family, from not having a support network, and from the overwhelming stress that we had been under. I started giving the Real Answer to people-- strangers, acquaintances, people who really didn't want to know. I cried in public. And I felt like that, out of the few resources I had at this duty station, I burnt every bridge with my depression and general unpleasantness. I was the Debbie Downer.

As a military spouse, there are so many aspects of this lifestyle that we take for granted. We have these challenges that hit us constantly and instead of identifying them as stressors, we take them as "givens" and suppress healthy responses. On top of that, as parents, we often focus much more on our children and guiding their responses over our own emotional health. For instance, we have an allotted amount of time at each duty station. We worry and worry over when a good time would be to detach from our current command... when we should PCS next... if we should leave early? As soon as we get orders? Have our spouse move ahead and us finish out the school year? But when should we sell the house? And these events aren't due to happen until a year and a half from now, a year from now, months from now. Yet we worry about them like they are decisions we need to make now-- today. We also worry about deployment schedules and school schedules and travel schedules and if our kids feel connected. As soon as we bottle the panic and get our minds to stop racing over things we can do nothing about at this moment, our spouses come home from work and start conversations that double the original anxiety, "So I was talking to the detailer..."

Being a military spouse means making 1 to 2 to 3 years of our life work at each of our duty stations. We have the "givens" of being a military spouse threaded in to our day to day lives. Our children wake up every morning and wrestle and argue all through breakfast as we get them ready for school. We have errands, doctor's appointments, and after school activities in our calendars. We find grocery stores and wholesale stores and compare commissary prices. We carry copies of shot records and lists of past doctors to get our kids registered on time and plead with new pediatricians to make an opening for physicals before seasons start. We research potential duty stations and extracurriculars and possible schools after each "I was talking to the detailer" conversation. We know approximately how much our ideal floor plan will cost at any given duty station, even if we've never lived there. And we are all struggling to get those playdates, make friends for our kids, give them solid memories that they can hold on to instead of giving them our worst fears-- those nagging feelings of doubt that hit us at 10 pm when we are scouring forums. Will our kids hate us when they grow up? Will they feel like they never made friends? Will this upcoming PCS be even harder on them than our last PCS? Should we get out of the military? Is it worth it?

The overwhelming loneliness that consumes us is constantly kept at bay as we make the most of each duty station-- bloom where we are planted. Every once in a blue moon, a duty station is effortless. We don't always realize it at the time. We are unpacking our houses and researching soccer leagues, when a fellow military spouse knocks on our door with cookies. Suddenly, you are running errands together, staying up late with champagne after the children go to bed, venting about this and that and how hard it all is. When she moves away. And you move away. And you are left with this black hole inside your chest because you wonder if you will ever have a friend like that again in your same city. Will your best friends perpetually live elsewhere? Will your friendships primarily be online? Through your cell phone? And that punch in that gut happens again-- will my children turn to forums or Facebook instead of face to face, in person friends?

I have been reading a lot of blogs and books lately about making the most of it-- life, the military life, my faith. Making the most of everything. It all sounds so easy in the books. They go over the importance of friendships and opening up to people. As a military spouse, it feels like sometimes we are all alone. Does anyone else actually understand our life? Our struggles? These time windows we are given-- they sometimes close. Eventually, people don't want to make friends with you because you are "on your way out," about to PCS again. Who wants to invest in a friendship with an expiration date? You think, "Me! I would!" But you see the faces of the other military spouses when you say when your spouse detaches and you know they won't be texting you for park playdates or coffee meet ups. Or, for whatever reason, friendships just don't take off. Is it me? Do we have too many kids? Are they too old? Too young? Am I too outspoken? Not outspoken enough? Did I come on too strong? Was I desperate? Suddenly, you are plagued by social anxiety and you aren't sure if you should text or not text or show up with cookies? Or invite them over for a playdate? It all feels wrong. And what the hades-- you were never this nervous about making friends before! Social media makes it even worse because as you wrestle a toddler in to the bathtub and are hollering at your other kids to clean up their toys, you thumb through your feeds to see they all met up without you. Was that intentional? Or did they just not think of me? Which one is worse?

What I have learned from my quasi-emotional breakdown is that it is so easy to get caught up in our own heads. It is so easy to "pile it on." Look for reasons to have your feelings hurt, to feel left out, to have a bad day, to struggle with the kids, for the kids to be going through "hard phases." Sometimes, it isn't that hard. Sometimes it is just perspective. I decided I need a better perspective. Who promised life to be easy? How many blessings am I not counting as I focus on all the hardships? This situation has reminded me of the Bible verses, "In your anger do not sin" (Ephesians 4:6) and "In all things, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). I have struggled with that. Struggled. I'm still torn. Is this the life Christ has for me? How am I to make the most of this duty station? What is my purpose here? Do I have a purpose here or am I biding my time to the next duty station? Why can't I connect when there are actually so many things I love about this duty station?

You know, this may be our first duty station that I don't make a lifelong friend. Perhaps we move away from here, scratching our heads wondering why we felt so let down by the military community. And maybe-- as the military community already has recently for us-- we are surprised by it pulling through at just the right moment. Maybe we move away from here and think, "I hope we never have another duty station like this!" And maybe, at our next duty station, we look back with rose tinted glasses and think of all the things we missed about this duty station-- the ages our kids were, the schools our kids went to, our church... whatever it is. Maybe tomorrow I go to story time and bump into a mom of 5 kids with twin kindergartners, just like me, and we get coffee and exchange stories. Just like I can't change anything by worrying about a PCS happening over a year from now, I can't change anything worrying about whether or not I am living life to the absolute fullest, enjoying each and every moment of this duty station, the age my kids are at, etc. I don't know what the future holds for me at this duty station or if I will ever feel connected here. I don't like that, but it is what it is and maybe that is okay. Maybe I will leave here and reflect on this duty station feeling like I learned a life lesson... and maybe I won't. Who knows if the problem here is me-- the number of kids we have, the problems I've had since moving here, my months of depression. Perhaps those factors contribute to my difficulty making connections here. It could also just be that this is a rough duty station. This is where another aspect of military life comes into play: it's not forever. Eventually we will leave this duty station and we will move to our next one. I can always hope that our next duty station is better.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Surgery + recovery

I've written about this before, but after I had baby #4 2 and a half years ago, I had complications that required surgery. The surgery included a hysterectomy. We weren't sure if we were done having children (correction: I wasn't sure if I was done) and so we talked to my OBGyn about the risks of another pregnancy. He told us that the complications most likely wouldn't get worse during pregnancy, but that, while the pregnancy would be safe, it wouldn't be comfortable and that the complications would be worse post-partum. We had a tough decision to make: one more pregnancy or a hysterectomy? After a lot of late night discussions, we decided to try one more time. We had 4 boys and we were "going for the girl." We started trying for baby #5 when baby #4 was almost 6 months old. I got pregnant with baby #5 almost a year later.

From the beginning, it was a rough pregnancy. My morning sickness (all day sickness) exasperated my complications. We were told the pregnancy wasn't viable and that it was probably another molar pregnancy. It wasn't until 18 weeks that we got the all clear that baby #5 was healthy. And then the next ultrasound immediately showed problems and once again we were wondering about the health of baby #5-- our first girl! I was so excited that we were finally having a girl and terrified we were going to lose her, especially since I knew we would not be trying again if we lost this pregnancy. This was our last pregnancy. We had many appointments with high risk doctors hours away from our house and countless appointments with our OB, often with 4 kids in tow. When the perinatologist finally gave us the all clear and only wanted to see us for monitoring, I started battling pre-term labor from 27 weeks on. At 30 weeks, we were told there was no way I would be pregnant by the end of the week. I was given steroid shots and, after many, many trips to the OB and the maternity ward, against all odds, our baby girl hung on until 39 weeks gestation!

It was such a blessing she had longer to grow and avoided a premature birth, but the extra weeks of contractions tore apart my stomach on top of the post-partum complications we were expecting. Then, a week after delivery, I started feeling horrible. I was spiking fevers and felt disoriented and exhausted. My OB recommended admitting me, which I declined since we do not have help locally (and have 5 children). I instead made a follow up appointment with her for the following week. That night, 2 weeks post-partum, I started hemorrhaging. I was rushed to the ER for an emergency D&C. It took me much longer to recover from this delivery than even with baby #4 when I first started having post-partum complications.

For months after delivery I worked with my OB to set up my surgery. When we finally had a January date, I had weeks of pre-op appointments with my 2 surgeons' offices. I was told what the surgery should fix and what will feel differently afterwards and an idea of what I should expect from recovery. I was very nervous heading in to the surgery. We have 5 children and live across country from my family. However, my parents were flying out for 2 weeks to assist in my recovery and that made me feel confident we would get through. Everything was set for my surgery!

As the day actually approached, I felt sad about the hysterectomy. On one hand, I am so glad that I will no longer have menstrual cycles or have to worry about birth control. On the other hand, I would love to have more children. It is a silly thought though, since my body cannot support future pregnancies. I told my husband that it feels like I'm thinking about my body abstractly, as if in an alternate universe there is a Kimber without these complications that could have more babies. I know that there are too many risks for me to carry another baby, but it feels sad to close that chapter of my life that has dominated the last several years for me.

The surgery went very well. It was a laparoscopic surgery. They told me that I can expect a shorter recovery time with it. At almost 2 weeks post-op, I would agree with that assessment. I have not needed pain killers since the first week post-op. I had 3 procedures done and, for the most part, I've mostly just felt tired and uncomfortable. Any pain has been very well managed. It has helped resting between activities, especially using the heating pad while reclining. I'm so glad I've had family in town because for 2 weeks I cannot lift over 10 lbs. They told me nothing heavier than a gallon of milk, which means no picking up our 7 month old baby. After 2 weeks, I have a 20 lb weight restriction and then no weight restrictions after 4 weeks. My family flew home yesterday and I don't know how I would have gotten through without them. My husband's work set up a meal train for us and they brought us meals for almost 2 weeks! That has been such a help because on top of caring for our 5 children and our house, I have been recovering and been another person for my parents to take care of. I haven't done anything at all around the house with my parents here! After they went home yesterday, I really noticed their absence!

As for my complications, it is amazing what a difference I've noticed even while recovering. I didn't expect to notice things being better immediately, some as early as in the hospital! As the days have gone on, I've noticed more and more things that are better. My doctors had told me the surgery would fix those things, but it is just a whole different experience actually having those things fixed! Some of these problems I've had since after our twins were born over 5 years ago (babies #2 and #3), but most were after baby #4-- 2 and half years ago. It's crazy that after having these problems dominate my consciousness for over 2 years (and some for over 5 years!) that they can suddenly be gone, fixed. It makes me excited for how different things will be when I am fully recovered.

It has been a journey getting here, to this point. I am so thankful that I will never have to go through another pregnancy like our last one. I am also so incredibly thankful for our precious baby girl who came out of that! It was such a challenging time and I just look at her every day and think what a blessing and a miracle she is. She was our missing family member and now we are complete. I still have a couple weeks of recovery ahead of me and I'm sure this week will be tough, with my family back home and my husband back at work. But after getting through this past year, I know we can make it through anything.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Semi-charmed life

Happy New Year!

I got sleep last night! Woo! Babies #4 and #5 have been waking me up all night. I've been staggering downstairs and pouring my bleeding heart out to my espresso maker each morning. Last night, my husband took all the kids and I was in bed before 8 pm, asleep before 8:30. Even better, I SLEPT THROUGH until 6:30 am. (Don't judge-- that's big stuff for mom life.) I came downstairs literally singing. Turned on my favorite 90's hits and have been singing since then.

We are over HALFWAY DONE with our current duty station. I've written some blog posts about what it's been like for us here and it's been nuts. I mean, just about everything possible has come our way since getting here and it left me feeling pretty low at times. I've had a hard time processing all of it. But one thing I have done is to hold on to each challenge. I've carried EACH challenge close to my heart and refused to put it down so one after another they piled up. Whatever happened, I would add it to my list that I had hot and ready.

The new year and the "over halfway through" mark seem like the perfect time to drop my list. I did a little ceremony for myself when the new year came around. I wrote down all of the "hurts" and "disappointments" and "hard times" and "challenges." Every one of them that bothered me-- big or small. Things I felt went unrecognized, unnoticed, or forgotten to others. Things that I've chanted to the world or allowed to turn into a bitter seed inside of myself... and I let them go. I wrote them down, acknowledged them, looked at that list... I thought of each of those hard times, and I allowed myself to move on.

As a mother, it took me awhile to give myself the space to process our past year. We've had many heartbreaks and many hard times. It is hard to grieve or to take a moment as the parent, especially when I was, most of the time, the only parent handling the day to day life of our 4 (and then 5) children. But this fall, I did. I let it all in. It was hard and I had to back out of a lot of my commitments because I needed time to focus on where I was at, instead of letting the bitterness and the anger continue to flourish, which lead to depression and sadness. I realized that is not who I am. Once I had done that, I started forgiving. Forgiving myself, first of all. Forgiving the disappointments that came my way, whether intentional, accidental, personal, or corporate.

But I found, that even though I had forgiven and even though I had let in all the feelings, I was still holding on to the incidents. I didn't know how to let it go. It felt like life wanted to march forward and all of the things I had gone through wouldn't matter anymore. No one acknowledged them at the time and no one would ever acknowledge them once I let them go. I was stuck and it took me a minute to realize how focused on the past I was.

Over the holidays, I spent a lot of time with my kids. The holidays this year were, hands down, horrible. I am not even going to get in to it, but I actually ruined Christmas for my kids this year (not joking or exaggerating-- I did). I tried to make it fun and instead I ended up with 4 crying children on my hands for weeks on end. Ugh. It was exhausting. And I told myself, "It's one Christmas. It's one year." Which of course, made me think of my list. This is ONE duty station. It has been ONE pregnancy. It has been ONE year. How much have I learned from these experiences? How much have I grown? My family grown? I mean, really... we have learned SO MUCH. Even this messed up Christmas taught us valuable lessons. We came through-- as a family.

That thought made me realize that it doesn't matter to me if the world knows everything, in detail, that we went through this past year. Why do I have to set the record straight? Why do I have to carry around this heavy list, this play by play, this weight, with me everywhere? It is over. It is in the past. My family and my best friends know. This is part of my story, part of what makes me me. My husband has walked this road with me and, while our paths have varied, we recognize in each other the journey both of us have had to take. No, we never want another year like the one we just went through. Yes, life sucks sometimes. But look how beautiful it is now. Look at where we are.

And so I wake up singing. I've released the list. I've grieved. I've forgiven. I've let it go. It didn't happen overnight, but I did it and am better for it. My husband keeps teasing me because I've told him 2017 is the year of positivity. I'm not focusing on the hard times this year-- past, present, or future. I'm focusing INTENTIONALLY on the blessings, the good things. In the midst of chaos, in the midst of disaster, in the midst of the moments that feel impossible, there is beauty and goodness and love. There is a purpose to our fight and to our struggles. My purpose lately has been our five children. That wasn't my purpose when we arrived here. Lately, our children have needed support and to figure out the challenges of life and that has been my task-- to offer stability. I find this ironic since, for the last year, I have felt like I'm running on the sand. My footing shifts underneath me with each step and my muscles burn with the task ahead of me. But God has placed me here, in their lives at this moment, to give them stability. Through that, I have found that my footing is more solid than I thought and that, while my muscles burn and ache, the view is gorgeous and that the distance isn't as great as I thought. I've learned: I can do it.

My husband and I were joking about nicknames for me this year, since over the last week I've pointed out all of the positive things happening in our day to day life. We decided on the "The Princess of Positivity." You know how new years resolutions go-- they don't last long. Who knows how long this one will last-- a week longer, months longer, maybe half the year. My hope is to train my mind to focus on the good instead of the bad or the hard to handle. My hope is teach our children through my positive outlook that life can come at us-- wave after wave-- but we can keep running. We can find our footing together. We can do it! And we can do it together. From my new vantage point, I'm able to look back on this past year with a new outlook. It is amazing all we've been through. The curves life took and the way we managed to get through. God has lead us thoughtfully through all the hard times. We have grown so much.

We are over halfway through at this duty station and already I know life isn't done challenging us. We have a lot to get through at the rest of this tour. And that's okay because we are going to approach our semi-charmed life with positivity, even if I have to blare 90's music every single morning.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Life sucks sometimes

It's the time of year for reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the new year. When I reflect on this past year, I have a lot of mixed feelings. There is overwhelming joy when I think of our new daughter. A smile comes to my face when I think of our 4 boys and all they have accomplished-- big and small goals. One of my favorite memories was cheering one of our kindergartners to the top of the rock wall at the YMCA. He was so afraid to climb up there, but one day while we were there he told me, "I'm going to do it." And he did! Our oldest started 2nd grade. Our twins started kindergarten! Their first year in school all day. That was a rough adjustment, but I'm happy to say we are finally falling in to the swing of things (though Christmas holiday was a much welcome break). Our toddler's vocabulary has grown so much and he's finally learning *some* house rules (I say some, because we are certain he's still feral).

I think about all the challenges we have overcome. This time last year our family was in a bit of a tailspin as our beloved Granny, my grandmother, suffered a stroke. It is amazing looking at where she was a year ago and where she is now! Functions that we often take for granted-- walking, talking, writing-- she couldn't do and it is such a miracle that she recovered those skills. That in itself is worth applauding how far we have come in a year. She is close with all of us and we were so worried about her.

Other challenges came big and small. It was a year I never want to repeat. Looking at this past year, I wish I had handled a lot of things differently. For a long time, I didn't realize the challenge that I was up against. I didn't realize the pregnancy would be so rough or that my health would suffer so much. I approached the situation like I would if all the kids got sick-- hunker down at home and ride it out. And when it became apparent that the health issues weren't going away immediately, I became frustrated. I felt frustrated being so useless to my family, frustrated being so far from family, and frustrated being at a duty station with a lack of support. I felt getting through the end of the pregnancy would be the answer. When that wasn't, I became depressed and withdrew. I didn't know how long these health issues would plague me and I felt like I would have the same level of support as I did during the pregnancy-- that is, little to none. I projected a lot outwards. I think I burned every bridge I had here, big or small.

There is now a plan in place to fix my health issues. I've been going to, what feels like, a million doctors appointments and undergone uncomfortable exams and testing. Knowing when it will get better, even though it is happening months later than we had originally hoped, makes me view this past year very differently. Instead of feeling hopeless that I went through all that and still don't have an end in sight, it feels like we have answers and that it was all worth it. It makes me wish I had handled a lot of things better.

I think one of my biggest struggles is wanting to be understood. This past year, I never felt understood. I had so many different things to juggle and so many different stresses and heartaches to process. It felt like one disappointment after another. And when I would try to talk to people, it was like they would only see a tiny window of what I was going through, "Oh, I had a rough pregnancy too," I would hear. And I'm sure they did. But I never felt like anyone understood how rough mine was, how alone I was, all the things I had on my plate, and what it felt like handling all of that on my own. It made me angry and it made me feel more isolated. Instead of listening to other people, I felt like I was comparing our stories. I would hear, "Oh, my preschooler is driving me insane," and I would think, "Mine too. And I have two preschoolers driving me insane, a 1st grader driving me insane, a toddler driving me insane, my husband isn't home, I'm on bedrest, and I still have to do everything at the house by myself." It felt to me that when people were telling me their challenges, that they were disregarding mine. Why would someone complain to me about a rough night with a child, when I have all these challenges to face on my own? I had a particularly hard time when it felt like the people who were venting to me had help-- family in town or relatives living nearby or regular and available childcare. I do not have a network here or close friends here or consistent childcare or support of much kind here and I felt very envious of people who I perceived to have more help than me. I've pined for past duty stations where I was driving distance to family or childcare situations we've had before where our sitters had better availability or when it was less expensive.

I didn't start with that attitude. It evolved. Being a Navy wife, I'm accustomed to making friends at new duty stations. I have a system and know how and where to seek out "mom friends." Nothing I did here worked. I found people who I felt like would be great friends for me, but when I struck out those friendships, I got lukewarm responses. I felt like I went out of my way, only to not have favors returned or feelings reciprocated. That didn't bother me at first, but after all this time "going out of my way" and still having no more friends to show for it, the bitter seeds to started growing. After I had our 5th baby and my health issues became a standing concern, I withdrew. Why was I putting so much emphasis on finding friends here? Why did I expect people to understand where I was coming from? Why was I so angry about this duty station-- the support, the friendships, the submarine community? I was taking it all so personally and feeling like each interaction was a statement about me-- people meeting up and not inviting me, backing out of my life during the pregnancy, not coming over after the baby was born, etc.

And that's where I feel like I had done things differently. If I could go back and do this year, I would tell past Kimber, "Life sucks sometimes." How can I expect people, even people in the submarine community, to understand what life is like with 5 kids-- when they don't have 5 kids? How can I expect people with little kids to understand what it's like to have bigger kids? (This one makes me laugh because 2nd grade is still little kid, but when your oldest is a toddler or preschooler, damn, 2nd grade looks old.) How can I expect people who don't have kids in school to understand what it's like to have kids in school? How can I expect people to understand what I went through during this pregnancy when I myself am still trying to process everything we went through this pregnancy? And how can I expect people to take my life choices-- the choice to have a big family, the choice to follow my husband's career, the choice to move across country from family-- and make them their problem? Even bigger-- how can I expect people to see the mess I made of my life this past year and take me on as a friend? The hardest question to ask is if I would take myself on as a friend, if I had met me this past year. Would I? I don't know. Was I actually being a good friend to people? Was I approachable, likeable? Could I blame them for not wanting to befriend me? I doubt it.

If I could go back and re-do this past year, I would take a step back. Maybe 12 steps back. 20, if I had to. I would look at the big picture. Looking at it close up, I put my life on hold this year. I withdrew from college because of my health. I didn't accomplish any of the things I set out to do at this duty station. I have no more friends this year than last year. I really haven't done anything of note this year except survive. I am biding my time until my surgery, until recovery, until we move from here. Life sucks sometimes. Duty stations turn out very differently than we hope they will be. Sometimes we get nothing but curveballs.

This is why it is important to take 20 steps back. In the midst of all these curveballs, we have had countless blessings. Every time childcare fell through, we made it through somehow. We may have scrambled for childcare this entire past year, but it worked out. Even when we dragged anywhere from 1 to 5 kids to countless appointments near and far, we got through. We even had unexpected childcare step in at times! We may not have had much support here like we've had at every other duty station, but our marriage is going strong. While we've had challenge after challenge, my husband and I have leaned on each other and grown together. We've seen God love on us through this rough pregnancy and seen his blessings as our hearts healed from past lost pregnancies and lost babies. The ups and downs of this last pregnancy brought a lot of those feelings to the forefront again and it has been amazing healing some of those hurts as we welcomed our last baby into our family.

As for myself, I have found the strength to get through things I never knew I could. I rely heavily on the support of my friends and family, especially my momma. This is the first time that I've truly had to "figure it out" all on my own. Having 5 children, life continues moving no matter how I feel. I've had unlimited long distance support and encouragement from my far away friends and family, but it is another situation all together being the only adult with 5 children-- including a nursing baby-- when the stomach flu is marching through the house and you are out of diapers. I consider it a blessing, though it sounds less so when I say it out loud, that through this duty station I have learned the importance of living near family. I felt living in the Northwest would be a fun adventure, the last corner of the United States our family needed to live in. While there are many aspects to the Northwest that we love, the distance from family is insurmountable with 5 children. Finally, I feel like I've finally found my stride in parenting. Being at a disadvantage with my health issues, the children were wearing me to the ground, physically and mentally. I attempted to maintain a level of parenting that was beyond my abilities. One of the biggest blessings of this year was discovering that my mother's love doesn't come from activities or a standard of parenting that I impose on our family or milestones I feel our children should have or experience at certain times, but finding freedom in letting things go. I gave myself permission to say NO. No to the frenzy of after school activities, no to the rote bedtime routine, no to practically everything that before this year I would have said are my baseline parenting must-dos. I discovered through this that even when I am saying no to the children, that sometimes I have to say yes to myself. Yes to calling in a sitter so I myself can take an early bedtime. Yes to bottle feeding because, you know what, I'm just done breastfeeding. Yes to fun when their are chores to be done.

I have always considered myself to be competent and self-reliant. Being at this duty station without support, doing life on my own, I've realized just how much I rely on my friends and family. When I look back at past times in parenting, I realize that I didn't manage them on my own. This was the first baby that we brought home from the hospital without my mom swooping in for 2 to 4 weeks to get my family in line and on schedule, meaning the first time I was responsible for changing newborn diapers around the clock. This is the first duty station I haven't had a "ride or die" friend where I pop over and fold her laundry while commiserating over toddler tantrums. This will probably be our first duty station where I do not make a forever best friend. We have just under a year and half here and I don't see how that will happen at this point, with my surgery schedule, etc. (Plus, I'm fairly certain I've burned every bridge here! Eeks!) Being alone really taught me how much I depend on those around me.

For this next year, I'm letting it go. I have held on too long to the hurts of this past year-- the hurt feelings, the frustration and anger. I've railed against this duty station for too long. I've let this bitter seed grow and grow in my heart until every conversation I have is turned into a statement against me-- comparisons, jealousy, envy, and hurt. I've longed for aspects from each of our past duty stations-- childcare from there, friends from there, house from here-- and made it so nothing will ever live up to my expectations. I've dragged myself over the coals over all the ways I've failed our children this past year-- missing out on our daughter's first year, things I haven't done for our boys, everything they've had to deal with since moving here. I've broken my heart over longing and wishing and pining for family to be closer. I've wallowed in the disappointment of all the things I had to say no to, foremost my own goals for this duty station. I have spent all my time living in the "if only ifs," the "what ifs," the "I wishes," and the "coulda, shoulda, wouldas." I need to let it go and accept that sometimes life.just.sucks.

To end this on an encouraging note, I truly believe that the times where we run out of our human power is when God comes in with his divine power. The control we can assert over our lives is so small compared to what he can do. I may feel like I've ruined my chances for enjoying this duty station-- ruined any possible friendships I could have built, ruined any enjoyment from my last pregnancy, ruined whatever I feel I've ruined for my kids or my husband (trust me, there is no end to what I attempt to take responsibility for). Those times when I finally let go and hand it over to God are when God comes in and makes something beautiful out of my mess. I have no idea what this next year holds for us-- what new challenges we have in store or if we had enough after this past year. What I do know is that I'm finally done shouldering the weight of all of it. I've laid it down at God's feet and, because of that, something good and true and pure will come from it. Something I would never have had the courage or wherewithal to build. I'm taking 20 steps back as I approach this next year.