[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]M[/dropcap]artin’s father Klaus died from cancer in 1985 at the exact age of 36 years, 13 days. I discovered that last week during one of my family research frenzies. I am most certain that in the 15 years I’ve known Martin, I’ve done the math before: probably whenever I filled out my childrens’ baby books, writing in their grandparents’ names and dates on the family tree pages.
For whatever reason, though, my father-in-law’s age — those numbers — never stuck with me, so there I was, sitting on my bed last week, my laptop balanced on my knees, my face aglow with the blue light of my screen, plugging away those dates, and learning that Martin’s late father passed away nearly two weeks after his 36th birthday.
I did a double-take when I read that. And then I looked over at my sleeping husband, and mentally calculated that he, too, just celebrated his 36th birthday. In fact, I determined that Martin himself would be 36 years, 13 days just a few days later, on Halloween.
That certainly gave me pause.
One of the biggest reasons I began to research our family history is to learn more about Martin’s father. Martin was exactly 6 years, 8 months, 18 days old when his father passed away, so he doesn’t remember much of the man. In stereotypical German fashion, Martin’s older relatives tend to be very private and quiet about family history, even amongst themselves, so he knew very, very little. All he had were photos, some of his father’s items, and his own hazy memories.
It wasn’t until Martin fell under the influence of a certain American busybody (**ahem**) that he started to ask questions. Those conversations with his family were so interesting and helpful in our quest to learn more about Klaus, yet we were approaching those discussions as young adult 20-somethings. We were new to adulthood, new to marriage, and certainly not yet parents ourselves. At the time, in our minds, Klaus was still an older man, a father figure. There was a distance of age and eras, from where he was in life when he died, and where we were then learning about him.
And that distance remained until last week, when I was shocked to learn Martin was the exact age of his father. Despite it’s morbidness, it was the first thing I told Martin the next morning. He listened to me as I relayed the numbers, explaining that after Halloween, he would forever be older. Wasn’t that strange? And fascinating? I couldn’t get over the fact that of all the weeks for me to feel a push to do this research … to add those numbers up … it was just days before that milestone passed.
I don’t think these things happen randomly.
We spent Halloween with family: my mother, my sisters, our children in costumes and hyped up on candy. The next day was a lot more low key. We visited some sites in Cincinnati, a conservatory and art museum with my sister Jinger and the girls. As we drove around, we talked briefly about Klaus, about those numbers, and Martin’s age. Of course, Klaus will never age, will never change, but, God willing, we will, and while yes, it’s always been that way, it’s so obvious now. It all adds such a bittersweet perspective, especially now that we’re in a position to learn more about Klaus and how he lived those years.
As older adults, as a married couple, as parents now, we can appreciate the fact that yes, he really was young when he passed away. And there is a muted sense of grief for all the things he missed now that we really understand them.
So as I watched Martin assist our daughters on their scavenger hunt in the art museum, I felt such gratefulness for the fact he’s here, he’s healthy, and that our children have him in their lives.
May there be many more years, months, weeks, and days ahead for all of us.
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]M[/dropcap]artin never doubted. When I announced last year that I wanted to get back to Germany, he instantly and easily agreed as if I had merely suggested we make spaghetti for dinner. And then, as I twisted and turned and agonized over everything, he kept cool as a cucumber.
At times, I actually got really frustrated with him for not sharing in my stress. Normally, I am the one who remains unfazed about most things. He’s the one who normally gets anxious when plans unexpectedly change, things go awry, when things don’t happen as intended. You know, that perfectionist German guy who likes things orderly and logical. And applying for jobs overseas is a process so far from orderly and logical that surely, as my spouse, it would drive him batty, too.
But it didn’t.
“Julie, it’s just a matter of time,” he always replied when I complained of his inability to be frazzled along with me. “Why are you so worried? I know it will happen.”
To him, it was a mix of logic and confidence. He didn’t dwell on it like I did, because, in his mind, of course it was going to happen.
Now that it’s happening (as announced HERE and HERE, in case you missed ’em) and we’re taking steps to prepare the house, the kids, and our affairs here in DC for this major move?
He’s getting a little anxious, too, but in a completely positive and endearing way. It’s beginning to sink in that his children are actually going to spend a good chunk of their childhood in his home country. This is stirring a lot of emotions and memories for him, and we’re already creating a list of things we want to introduce to them: places where he lived, where we met, where we married, things he ate, television shows he watched, festivals he attended.
Also, Martin got a letter last Christmas from his father’s side of the family that included a family tree of relatives who want to reconnect with him and his brother. Martin and his brother were so young when their father died, they lost touch with that side of the family. Back in 2001 and 2002, when we were planning our wedding, we tried to locate these people to invite them to the ceremony, but back then, technology and family records just weren’t as accessible as they are now, especially in Germany which tends to buckle down on private information even now.
So you can imagine how awesome it was to hear from his kin, and to learn they were interested in reconnecting with him and learn about us, too.
Needless to say, this move means many things for us.
In addition to reconnecting with his roots, Martin will continue to embrace his responsibilities to his adopted homeland. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Martin is in the midst of working with his Air Force Reserve leadership to find a position for him at one of the military installations in Germany. It’s not uncommon for Reservists to live and work overseas, and many are able to fulfill their annual requirements right there in Europe. Others travel back to the United States for chunks of time versus the once-a-month-two-weeks-a-year schedule. We’re open to whatever aligns for him in that regard.
He’ll also be able to continue his college courses with University Maryland University College. Not only are a lot of his courses online, but Stuttgart actually has a UMUC office where he’ll be able to take some classes, his exams, and all that jazz. There will be no disruption to his educational goals.
Above all, his focus will remain on the children, and he’ll continue to be a full-time stay-at-home dad to them over there. More so than ever, they will be very dependent on him as they navigate a new culture and home, new schools, and more exposure to their second language. We’ve always been open with the kids about the possibility of the move, so they’ve had plenty of time to adjust to the idea. But of course, we realize there will be so many changes for them that they can’t possibly foresee and understand.
Yet, in that sense, I don’t really worry about them because he will be there offering all the consistency and comfort he’s always provided them, ensuring they stick to a familiar schedule, maintaining order and discipline, seeing them off to school and being there when they return home, taking them around, introducing them to everything, helping them navigate the world.
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]W[/dropcap]e spent Father’s Day at Mt. Vernon here in Northern Virginia.
A week earlier, I got an email from the Mount Vernon Inn (the restaurant there on the estate), describing the reservations-only barbecue they were hosting for Father’s Day. That’s how I learned that George Washington himself (well, not really himself, of course, but you know what I mean) would be on the grounds to talk with visitors. Recognizing that our family is made up of a bunch of history nerds, I called Miss C (since I was still at work) and suggested it. She whispered her approval (since Martin was standing RIGHT THERE in the kitchen next to her), and I secured a table for us while Miss C helped her brother and sister surreptitiously make cards for their Dad.
Then, on Sunday morning, all three of them bounded into our bedroom and announced to their father they would be spending the day with the Nation’s father, too. Dressed in our Sunday best (and after we called my father to wish him a happy Father’s Day, too), we headed southeast to one of the most gorgeous locations in the DC metropolitan area.
The weather could not have been more perfect. It was warm, but there was practically no humidity. Just clear blue skies and lots of sun. Like a typical DC native, I had planned for traffic, but traffic was lite, and we found parking right next to the restaurant. So we ended up being an hour early for our reservation. But they were able to seat us immediately, and we enjoyed three kinds of barbecue, all kinds of pasta, salad, bread, and two kinds of dessert. Jaz ate two giant pieces of chocolate cake all by himself. We were so stuffed by the time we rolled out of there.
The only logical thing to do next was burn off those calories, so we headed inside the actual estate, breezing past the lines of tourists since our annual passes allows us to go into the house without needing a scheduled ticket. (If you live in this area, I highly suggest getting those. Makes every visit so much nicer!) Though this wasn’t our first visit there, the home is so big and full of antiques and artwork, there’s something new to see and learn every time.
After the tour, we went out onto the front lawn and hung out under the magnolia trees. Actually, Martin and I just sat around while the kids alternated between chasing each other and crashing next to us until George Washington came out to talk to us. Before he spoke to the crowd, he kindly asked the girls to hold onto his hat.
That was all it took to hook them in.
All three kids sat there the whole hour, listening to his storytelling.
How we managed to live here for so long without knowing about that place is beyond any of us, but we loved it and intend on going back a lot this summer. Father’s Day was pretty awesome this year. Great weather. Great location. Great kids who were so joyful and well-behaved. All honoring a great man who is a great father, too.
Yet after creating Lola’s birthday video two years ago, I realized how much better video captured personality because of the action and voices, and decided I was going to do that for the other kids, too, and their birthdays. Not every year, but certainly, a double-digit birthday warranted such a multimedia project.
So, I spent my evenings (and some early mornings) last week diving into my video files.
Last week, I mentioned to Martin that we should schedule a date night and have dinner in downtown DC.
I should have been more specific.
Instead of a romantic evening over candlelight, we spent Friday evening together sitting on a hard, vinyl couch on the top floor of the Children’s National Medical Center downtown, eating Chinese take-out from Styrofoam containers as our son slept in a metal crib nearby.
It wasn’t romantic, but nothing makes you realize how much you love, adore, and depend on your spouse like watching him step up and care for your sick child.
In this case, our son Jaz was hospitalized for his asthma.
A few days earlier, he started with the sniffles.
It was going around. Both his sisters had the sniffles as well, but with them, all I needed to do was put out an extra box of tissue.
I was hoping whatever caused their congestion would skip over the boy, but it didn’t.
It made me nervous. The last time Jaz got a head cold a few months ago, he also experienced his first asthma attack. And since then, I’ve noted that the slightest congestion required extra puffs of his albuterol, either through the puffer or his nebulizer.
At-home treatment usually did the trick, and things seemed manageable.
But by Thursday night — which was only Martin’s second night home from military training — Jaz developed a slight fever and his wheezing started up again. After giving him his usual nightly treatment, I mentioned to Martin we needed to keep an eye — and ear — out on our boy, and left his bedroom door open.
And then I checked on him every five minutes.
Somewhere close to midnight, I had reached the point where I didn’t leave Jaz’s bedroom at all. He was not improving with the additional albuterol I was giving him, and I didn’t feel confident anything else I could do was going to help.
I had Martin hold onto him while I called our health provider’s 24-hour help line.
The nurse on the other end was cordial as I rattled off Jaz’s information, history, and symptoms. She asked if she could hear him over the line.
Jaz — who was mildly awake at the time — lifted his head from Martin’s chest and leaned into the phone, wheezing with a vague smile on his face as he offered up a greeting.
“Hi,” he said, before rasping heavily into the phone.
The nurse was less than cordial when I put the phone back on my ear.
“I do not like how he sounds at all. You need to hang up with me and call 9-1-1 right now to get him to an emergency room,” she said. “In fact, do you want me to call them for you?”
I looked over at Martin, who heard the nurse, too. For a split second, Martin looked as startled as I felt by that direction, but wordlessly, he started to move toward the hallway just as I told the nurse that we would take Jaz in ourselves.
In less than five minutes, Jaz and Martin were out the door and on their way to the local ER.
I stayed up until about 2 am, texting and exchanging information with Martin. Eventually, I fell asleep. While I was concerned, I wasn’t too worried since I knew Jaz was in good hands.
I figured he would be given some steroids, some more albuterol, and be kept around for observation. I assumed that after a few hours, Martin would sneak back into the house, put Jaz to bed himself, and quietly return to me.
Yet I woke up with a start the next morning, realizing my men weren’t yet home.
That’s when I learned from Martin that Jaz didn’t respond to treatment at the local ER, and the decision was made to transfer him to the children’s hospital in downtown DC.
I don’t know what threw me off the most: the news itself or hearing Martin get choked up as he relayed the information. I immediately felt guilty that I had sent Martin unprepared for what he was experiencing, that I had downplayed things too much while he was away at basic training and tech school.
Martin’s always turned to mush whenever our kids are sick or injured, and here was Jaz, struggling to breathe, getting an IV and hooked up to monitors, and being transported to another hospital because his condition was that serious.
I told Martin that I would meet him downtown just as soon as I got things squared away at home. And that’s just what I did after notifying my work and arranging care for the girls. I packed an overnight bag and drove straight to the medical center.
I found both my men exhausted and drained.
Martin was in a reclining chair. Jaz was fast asleep in an elevated metal crib. He was hooked up to a bunch of monitors that tracked his heart rate and oxygen levels, and his arm was wrapped, covering an IV line in case they needed to administer medication quickly.
Martin explained Jaz was now on a two-hour schedule of nebulizer treatments and observation with the goal of getting him to four hours without needing one.
It took more than 24 hours to do that.
Jaz responded well and sounded better after each nebulizer treatment, but it didn’t take long before he started wheezing and struggling to breathe again. The doctors agreed it was the head cold that was triggering him, but since it was viral, there wasn’t much we could do but let it run its course.
So, we waited.
We became friends with the nurses who came by to check on Jaz. He particularly grew fond of one named Allison. (We did, too, especially when she brought us extra blankets and recommended some take-out places for us.)
The next 24 hours were mostly long and uneventful. For the most part, we entertained the boy and did our best to distract him from all the monitors attached to him, but we also managed to catch a few hours of sleep here and there, too.
On Saturday morning, we were finally able to go more than four hours without needing to give Jaz a nebulizer treatment. His oxygen levels were good, and his lungs no longer sounded like they were lined with fur. The pediatrician gave her blessing to send him home, and then it just became a waiting game for the discharge paperwork.
We spent that time blowing bubbles, setting up a picnic there on the floor when lunch came, and watching the med-evac helicopters come in for landings right outside our window.
Finally, the nurse came by with all the paperwork and checked us out of there.
We could finally go home!
The rest of Saturday was pretty low-key. I took a nap and edited photos from Martin’s tech school graduation. The kids ate cereal for dinner, and Martin began cleaning the house again.
Then, after putting Jaz to bed, Martin spent his time playing a card game with the girls while baking me a pan of brownies.
As I watched him patiently explain [again] the rules of the game to his girls, I couldn’t help but reflect on how awesome he was at the hospital with Jaz the night before.
How he was so meticulous with all of Jaz’s paperwork and information, and remembered all the details the doctors relayed to him.
How he paced the room while holding Jaz until our son fell asleep.
How he went ahead and ordered Chinese — and then waited in the hospital lobby for it — because I was too hangry and being very defeatist about it.
How he insisted on sleeping in the plastic recliner chair so I could stretch out on the couch.
How he found a million ways to entertain Jaz when the albuterol made him hyper and stir-crazy.
How he had everything packed up and ready to go within five minutes of the doctor saying, “You guys can go home.”
How just him being there made the situation so much easier.
As I made my final round before going to bed Saturday night, pulling up the blankets and touching the heads of all three children in their beds before snuggling up next to Martin, I finally felt I could breath a sigh of relief.
It’s been a lot easier keeping the kids connected to Martin now that he’s at tech school.
We no longer have to wait for letters, or the ten-minute phone call every two weeks. Now, during the weekends and evenings, all I have to do is flip open the laptop and sign in to talk with Martin.
It’s pretty nice.
Because our laptop is portable, we’ve been able to incorporate Martin in some of our household activities, and vice versa.
One morning, Lola and I lay in my bed, laughing as we watched Martin shave with a traditional razor and shaving cream. He just propped up his cell phone on the sink and talked with us as he did it. When he’s here at home, he normally uses an electric razor, so Lola found it pretty amusing to see him like that.
Watching Martin shave one morning.
Other times, Martin’s watched as Jaz sits through a nebulizer treatment, asking him questions and getting Jaz to hold up his fingers as they played counting games. I’ve sat our laptop on the kitchen counter and prepared dinner while Martin feasted on cereal or sandwiches in his dorm room, and the girls have held dance competitions in the family room with Martin voting from the laptop.
It wasn’t like this back in 2007 when I deployed.
It wasn’t as simple as sitting down and logging on. Of course, the nature of my work over there — traveling from location to location with my three-man news team — meant we weren’t always near computer/Internet access. But even if I did find some free Wi-Fi or a morale tent with some Internet access, not all the computers had web cams. Our home computer at the time certainly did not: Martin had to go out and purchase one and install it. It was hit-and-miss, depending on the connection and network restrictions. (Back then, all social media sites were blocked from most DOD networks.)
But there were a few times we were able to chat over the web cam using AOL chat — Kandahar being one that comes to mind — and we got to see each other in real time.
In the moments when we could communicate, it was so wonderful. I remember seeing Miss C bouncing around behind her Dad, wanting to show me random items from home (“See, Mom? Here’s our lamp! Here’s my teddy bear! Wanna see this plate?”) and just looking adorable. Sometimes, we just sat and stared at each other without saying anything.
Technology is much better and more reliable. I’m home. Martin’s just two hours away and safe, too. And I can expect with reasonable certainty that when the day is winding down, and the kids are ready to say goodnight, I can flip open the laptop and send a note, and Martin’s right there ready to connect.
Martin got to reunite with the whole family this past weekend.
Ever since graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Martin’s been attending technical school at Fort Lee in Virginia. For the longest time, I thought this part of his training was going to continue in Lackland, as mentioned in his orders. While it is true that the training group is based in Texas, Martin’s school is part of a joint training facility located on an Army base, just like my own tech school experience.
You can imagine how thrilled we all were when we realized that Fort Lee is only two hours away from us in Northern Virginia.
Regardless of his location, Martin’s considered a “pipeline Airman” right now. That’s a term given to brand new Airman who make their way through the “pipeline” — BMT and tech school — before joining the real Air Force. Continue reading →
Last week, I went on a trip to New Jersey with my Dad.
We went to see my favorite musician, Yo-Yo Ma, in concert. He plays the cello. Instead of writing all about it, I did a video blog. I hope you enjoy it.
This week’s Guest Blogger Series contributor, Miss C, was very excited to work on this video-blog with her Mom. She started writing in a daily journal when she was eight years old, and already filled up an entire book. While she really enjoys writing, taking photos, shooting video, and learning how to edit them into multimedia pieces, her goal in life is to be a veterinarian and work at a zoo.