Cookies and Appreciation

The girls and I put together a care package of Girl Scout cookies last night.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a bunch of those treats from a coworker’s daughter. As a former Girl Scout myself, I love supporting the cause, and as a family, we purchase a few boxes every year.

But this year, I bought more than a few — a lot more than a few — because not only did I want some for the kids, but also to send to Martin while he’s away at tech school.

But when he learned of my plans, he wasn’t that thrilled by the idea of all those calories heading his way, so I tempered it by saying I would split it up and send some boxes to our military friends who are also away from their families right now for training or deployment.

So, that’s what the girls and I were doing.


The box we packed last night is heading to Afghanistan.

The girls covered each box with stickers offering words of encouragement. They wrote some of their own, too. They asked about Afghanistan, and who we knew there, who would get the cookies, and if it’s the same place I deployed to all those years ago.

I explained that it was the same country I deployed to, but a different area, and that our family friend was going to receive the cookies and pass them along to other men and women serving over there. I also pointed out that some of the men and women are mothers and fathers, too, away from their families.

The girls seem to take this to heart. Instead of begging for the cookies — as they normally do — they were intent on adequately conveying their gratitude and support with just the right amount of sticker flair.

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We also made some more Photo Booth photos for Martin last night.

It started with just Jaz and me, and then the girls wanted in on the fun, so then we played around with some of the effects, and then of course, each girl needed a photo alone with Mom, too.

Of course, I wish Martin was here to be a part of all of this.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love this one-on-one time I’m getting with my kids, both as a group and as individuals when I get a blessed moment.

In the midst of all the upheaval, they are such a joy.

Week Six

I’m the super sexy one in the BCGs. Those would be “birth control glasses” … for obvious reasons.
Downtown San Antonio, February 2000.

This week will be BEAST week for Martin.

That’s the Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training, which replaced the Warrior Week I experienced when I went through Air Force Basic Military Training thirteen years ago.

Martin and his flight will be living out in the field as if in a deployed location: putting up tents, protecting their location from attack, using all the lessons they’ve been learning. He’ll continue to get mail for the most part, but we don’t intend on hearing from him at all this week as he won’t be near a mailbox or given cell phone privileges.

But it’s cool. I’ve been talking with the girls about BEAST week, and showed them photos and video of what Martin will be doing, and they understand. It helps, too, that BEAST week means Martin will be done with BMT in just another two weeks.

As for me, my Week Six was graduation week — the last week of BMT.

My flight earned Honor Flight status, which meant out of all the flights graduating that week, my flight earned the best scores all around in all the areas we were evaluated. It meant my flight carried the state flags during the graduation ceremony. Because I am so short, though, and always walked in the back of the flight, I didn’t have to actually carry a flag in the wind.

Trust me: I wasn’t mad about it. It was pretty great not having to worry about keeping a flag straight and balanced in the wind while also marching in unison with everyone around me. All I had to do was march forward, and that was pretty simple.

Air Force photo of a recent Air Force honor flight by SSgt Parina
 


Nobody in my family flew down to attend my BMT graduation. So, I spent most of my base liberty/town pass time with some of the other Airmen and their families. We went down to the Riverwalk, did some shopping at the base exchange, and prepared to leave for tech school just a few days later.

I also purchased a throw-away camera and took some photos of my BMT dorm.

The six weeks of basic training went by pretty fast for me.  Even though it was a complete change for me and the lifestyle I knew before, I actually enjoyed most of it, and felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be.

And that I was on my way to go where I was meant to go.

Capturing the whole look and my itty-bitty waist in one of the bathroom mirrors.

 

My inspection-ready wall locker.

Look at the shine in that place. Fortunately, bathroom clean-up was NOT my detail.

Being a little more laid back during patio time.

My element leader reviewing my super shine skills.
I was responsible for shining all the metal in our hallway.
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Week Five

My BMT flight portrait. Don’t we look like a fine bunch of warriors?



It’s been more than a month since Martin left for Air Force basic military training. His flight begins Week Five, which is much different than what my fifth week of basic training was back in 2000.

Back then, my Week Five was all about the Warrior Week field exercise experience.

During the day, we attended briefings in tents or out in the field, talking about chemical warfare and terrorism. There were references to Osama Bin Laden, and how it was believed he was somehow responsible for the Khobar Tower bombings in 1996 that killed 19 Airmen, as well as other Middle East attacks.

Yet, that was all before the USS Cole attack. Before Sept. 11, 2001. Therefore, a lot of the things I learned and experienced during Warrior Week were tinged with some Cold War/Desert Storm-era type lessons, and the harrowing stories relayed to us were from those who were on scene during the Oklahoma City bombing (which happened not far from Tinker Air Force Base) or who were deployed to Saudia Arabia when Khobar Tower was hit.

The rest of Warrior Week was spent sleeping in a tent city, pulling late night guard duty, fighting off an attack on the last day using defensive/offensive tactics learned earlier that week, and eating MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) for every meal.

Needless to say, it was a bit different when seven years later, I was actually, you know, out in the field over there.

Sleeping out in the wild with my team and members of the 3rd Infantry in Iraq in 2007

But there at Warrior Week during my fifth week, all the lessons learned in the weeks earlier came together and at the end of it, my whole flight was presented with our Airman’s Coin, which was also a new thing at that time. We were lined up at attention along the side of a warehouse while the commander came down and gave it to us one-by-one, calling us “Airman” for the first time, and wishing us luck as we were graduating the next week.

Martin’s Week Five experience, though, is a lot more low-key.

He still has a few more weeks to complete before he graduates and gets his own Airman Coin. This week, his flight will be gearing up for next week’s BEAST (Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training).

So it’s going to be more classes. More warrior skills instruction. More inspections. 

More Air Force awesomeness.

All that “white space” in the center of the drawer KILLED me every time I pulled out my drawer.
My BMT drawer, ready for inspection. February 2000.

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In the online group made up of other family members from Martin’s flight, I shared one of my BMT memories that ended up being posted again on the AF WingMom’s public Facebook page.

Here it is for you to enjoy, too:

The folded bras remind me of a time when I was going through BMT. During our first inspection, our TI — SSgt. Martinez — was going through the drawers one by one. He stopped at one of the beds, looked at the drawer pulled out ready for inspection, and said, “Where are your bras?”

The trainee — a very tall, slim girl — stood at attention and said, “Sir, Trainee J reports, I don’t have any, sir!” Without missing a beat, SSgt. Martinez asked, “Did they get lost in the laundry? Why don’t you have any?”

And the trainee goes, “Sir, I don’t have boobs, sir!”

Let me tell you … it took EVERYTHING for the rest of us not to start laughing. But he just rolled with it, and said something about she needed to get at least one next trip to the BX so she could pass inspection or something. So he moves on to the next few drawers, no problem. THEN, he comes to Trainee K.

Now, Trainee K was a trip. She was so goofy and clumsy, and bless her heart, talked with a lisp. She was standing at attention, ready for inspection. SSgt. Martinez got to her drawer, started looking at everything, and then paused and asked, “What the hell are these spots?”

Trainee K: “Sir, Trainee K reports as ordered, what spots sir?”

SSgt. Martinez: “These yellow spots here on your underwear. What the hell are these?”

Trainee K paused, and then lisped, “Sir, those are glow-in-the-dark spots on my underwear, sir!”

OMG — that sent us over the edge. We LOST it. SSgt Martinez just dropped his clipboard, held his hands up as if saying, “I can’t … I can’t …” and walked into his office and slammed the door. Inspections resumed about 15 minutes later.

Letters from Martin

Photo taken before one of Martin’s Reserve weekends last year.

We’re now receiving letters from Martin on a regular basis, even though it takes about a week for the letter to reach us from the time he sends it, or at least according to the date stamp.

Usually, we get two at a time: one addressed to me, and the other addressed to the girls.

Here are some excerpts from the various correspondence he’s sent us:


The flight embarrassed themselves today when we were marching to the Career Guidance Briefing. Family members were lined up for the graduation and on our last turn, the flight split in two and went in opposite directions. The guidon bearer understood left instead of right, and led the majority of the flight in the wrong direction. Even some little girl asked her parents why we looked like such a mess. It wasn’t pretty at all. Later, the element leaders and guidon got a special drill practice to learn new facing movements.

Now for a more fun story: Trainee G was marching his element on Tuesday to the clothing issue ahead of me. Suddenly, I saw all looking down on the street as we were just crossing a bridge. The wind was going strong, and I thought there was an accident that just happened below. But instead, the Trainee had his hat blown off right onto the middle of the street. I told my element to stop looking and get back to marching. At the end of the bridge, though, I decided to send two trainees of my element on a search-and-rescue mission. It was a successful mission, and we got the hat back. It’s the little things that get us excited here.

My element always passes inspections and evaluations. Today they switched about 10 trainees in the bay. [This means the trainees moved to different beds within the dorm.] I lost my assistant element leader in the switch, Trainee F. He was great. Now I have Trainee M. He volunteers for everything and has five jobs so far. GREAT attitude. It should work well with him. 

We had two TIs in the beginning: SSgt. M and SSt. L. SSgt M has a family, and kids, and a second job. He just learned we will be his last flight as he will be taking charge of the parade organization. SSgt L is gone now. He started with a new zero week flight. Not sure if we get a new one. Our brother flight has two tech sergeants. 

We get 15 minutes to eat, but I’m always last to sit, and finish after 7 minutes.

 

Spring Forward

 

I hate changing to Daylight Saving Time.

While I appreciate the extra sunlight and all, I’m a mom who lives every day trying to find an extra two hours in the 24 we’re given. I fail at this all the time, but the effort is there. That’s why I love it when we all fall back an hour later in the year. It’s like Christmas to me.

But springing forward? Yeah. Not a fan.

Despite the change this weekend, we were all pretty productive.

 

Saturday blessed us with gorgeous weather just days after we got snow. I got the kids out the door to run errands, which included stopping by the book store. The girls got their faces painted, and I picked up two educational activity books for Lola.

After that, we went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch, and the kids played on the playground for a bit before we headed to the car wash, which is always a hit.

Then, while I cleaned the entire first floor of our house, the kids hung out outside cleaning their playhouse: sweeping out the leaves, rearranging their play furniture, and scrubbing away the salt and dirt from the various winter storms and rain.

If only they showed that kind of dedication to their rooms.

 

My most favorite accomplishment from this weekend, though, was teaching Lola how to properly hold a pencil in her fingers, and how to write with it.

Once she mastered that, we completed page after page of tracing activities in her new books.

She loves them.

Unfortunately, Lola has a late birthday, so she won’t be able to attend kindergarten later this year, although she’ll turn five just a few weeks after the cut-off. She wants to go to school so badly, and asks all the time about it.

I hate to admit it, but it was only last week when it dawned on me that I could already get her started on some lessons now. I feel like I should have done this earlier, but at the same time, it seems incredible to me that Lola is even old enough to do any of this.

I still think of her as my baby girl.

Yet, she had filled a page with words and names she sounded out — her letter to Martin — and while her letters were big and shaky since she was gripping the pencil wrong, they were distinguishable.

She taught herself that by watching her sister.

The girl wants to learn.

And she wants to write.

So, the two of us sat at the dining room table and worked all the way up to dinner time. I was so proud of her!

She and Miss Mary set aside time now to complete several pages every day, which I then “grade” as soon as I come home from work.

Lola calls it homework. I call it a success.

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PS – The man credited with Daylight Saving Time looks like Brad Pitt, doesn’t he?

Week Four

Martin’s flight is now beginning Week Four of Air Force basic military training, and at some point during this week, he’ll pass the halfway mark of his BMT experience.

Probably right around the time he’s hovering over a pool of murky green water while clinging to a rope.

It’s all about the obstacle course [formerly known as the confidence course] this week, which is really a souped-up, super fun day at a military-style playground for grown-ups.

I mean, yeah, there’s a serious team-building, confidence-boosting element to it and lessons to be learned and applied throughout one’s Air Force career, yada, yada, yada.

But seriously.

The obstacle course is a blast.

At least, it was for me.

I didn’t fall in the water. I stayed up to speed with the others. And it was really awesome how the whole flight came together. It finally felt like we were really going to graduate after all.

When I went through, my fourth week meant basic military training was almost over for me, as BMT was only six weeks then. It meant preparing for “Warrior Week” which was — at the time — a relatively new field exercise experience. If I remember correctly, Week Four was also the week we got our first official portraits taken right around the time we got the blue uniforms issued to us.

I remember being thrilled that we (the ladies) could temporarily put on make-up again for that portrait.

My BMT portrait

Speaking of my basic training experience, I went to our basement over the weekend and found the packet containing all the letters I wrote to Martin during basic and tech school. (All the letters I received from him are also saved.)

Before I left for basic, I purchased several aerogrammes at the post office. They were these light-blue stationery papers that folded and sealed as an envelope. The paper itself was already stamped and ready for international delivery, so all I had to do was write on it, fold it, seal it, and drop it in the mailbox.

Martin got his first letter within my first full week at BMT.

These are all the letters I sent to Martin when I was at basic training. Even then, I was a prolific writer.

The girls and I are accumulating our own stacks of mail from Martin now, and I love it. I think it’s the first time in their lives they are experiencing the thrill of waiting for the postwoman to drive by and make a delivery, of getting an envelope and tearing it open and reading words from a piece of paper.

Other than their annual holiday cards — birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s — when else would they ever experience that anticipation?

With four more weeks to go, our stacks will just keep growing.

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We have a Google community now!

I created it now with the hopes of eventually doing some live hang-outs on there, but we’ll see how it grows! If you have a Google Plus account, go check it out!

Meatballs, Meltdowns, and Missing Martin

 

It was just a plate of meatballs.As requested, our nanny Mary prepared Lola’s dinner last week: three meatballs in a warm Kaiser bun, sprinkled with cheese. By the time I walked in the door from work, the children were seated and ready to eat. All I had to do was heat up my own plate of leftovers and slide into a seat at the table to enjoy a quiet Friday night dinner.But it wasn’t quiet.

Far from it.

While Jaz and Miss C devoured their meals, Lola bit from the bun, swirled around her chocolate milk, played with the utensils, and ignored my requests for her to eat.

In an effort to keep the rhythm moving, I talked with Miss C about school, praised Jaz as he drank from a “big boy” cup, and encouraged Lola to keep up with us. Dessert was just a few steps away in the freezer, and she could be feasting on it in a matter of minutes.

But as the minutes ticked by, it became clear that those meatballs were going to grow cold and Lola more defiant.

By the time Jaz and Miss C were done and excused from the table, Lola and I were at a stalemate.

She didn’t want to eat the meatballs.

I wasn’t going to let her leave the table.

Now, in our house, nobody is forced to clean their plate. I’d rather the kids eat until they are full or satisfied, and not feel pressure to eat the whole thing, which can lead to overeating and obesity down the road. Usually, though, this isn’t an issue because I know what they like, their appetites, and we portion the food accordingly.

And usually, I have a good sense if they are refusing to eat because they are not hungry or if they are merely pushing limits and testing boundaries.

This was the latter.

We went back and forth about it. I implemented my “age” rule: depending on your age, you have to take X-amount of bites before getting up. In Lola’s case, she just needed to take four more bites.

You would have thought I said her allowance was being sequestered. (What? Too soon?)

As she took a bite of the meatball, she started sobbing. Big, fat tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I don’t wanna eat my meatballs!”

“Too bad. You need three more bites.”

“But I don’t like the meatballs!”

“You asked for them!”

“But I hate them!”

“Lola. The sooner you eat them, the sooner you can get up from the table.”

We bantered like this for a few more seconds.

And then she sort of choked back a big sob, and in a voice muffled by her food, “But I miss …. I miss my Daddy.”

Ah, the truth will set you free.

I could feel her defenses melting away, and I lowered mine as well. I pushed my chair back and opened up my arms, and without saying a word, she got up from her seat and came over to my lap where we hugged it out for a bit, with me admitting that I miss Daddy too, that he won’t be gone for long, that he’ll be back before we know it, and that he loves us very much.

I wasn’t surprised by her admission, and in fact, knowing that my kids are missing their father has made it easier to tolerate the fluctuations in their behavior. I actually expected this sort of meltdown from Lola for awhile now, especially since she’s the same age Miss C was when I deployed and because Miss C went through the same thing back then, too. (Martin wrote about one such incident HERE.)

When Lola finally caught her breath, I directed her back over to her seat, where she immediately finished her meatballs and asked for seconds. As she ate, I talked some more about trying to maintain a positive attitude; how doing something nice or fun when we’re feeling sad or upset can help us feel better; how we shouldn’t fight and argue when we need to stick together.

That’s when we decided to goof around with the Photobooth app on my laptop, taking silly photos of ourselves and printing them off to send to Daddy in our next letter. Lola’s attitude stayed upbeat the rest of the night.

 

 

Later that evening, though, just as I was preparing to go to bed myself, Miss C walked into my room and slid underneath my comforter, pulling it up over her head.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Why are you being an ostrich?”

“I miss Dad,” she whispered. I snuggled in next to her.

“Do you want to cry about it?” I asked. I could feel her shake her head. I pulled gently on her hair. “It’s okay to cry about it. You don’t have to be so strong all the time.”

That’s all she needed. For the next 20 minutes, she quietly cried, her sniffles fading as she finally fell asleep.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the only constant in these kids’ lives has been Martin. While I’ve gone off for my own military and work obligations, it was always Martin who stayed behind. And even then, I was always able to connect with the kids over the phone or computer whenever I wanted.

It’s a little different now. Martin’s been gone since Valentine’s Day, and we’re not even at the half-way mark. There are no regular phone calls, and snail-mail is called snail-mail for a reason. Despite my efforts to keep his presence felt here, I can’t make up for him not being here. These emotional growing pains are tough to experience with them, but I feel like there is opportunity here for all of us to learn how to deal with disappointment, frustration, and just plain missing the person we love.

As tough as it is, it’s good to learn how to stay positive.

It got better over the weekend. Fortunately, Martin sent three envelopes that arrived on Saturday: one addressed to Lola, one addressed to Miss C, and one addressed to me. We all gathered around the dining room table and read them.

The girls were in heaven.

And even better, Martin actually called on Sunday evening. Each girl got to speak with him individually, and bring him up to speed about their days. Lola wanted to discuss Disney World, of course, and Miss C shared her concern that she’s coming down with a sore throat.

I got to speak with Martin for a good 10 minutes again. He reported that he’s been kept pretty busy, that he really enjoys the letters he receives, and that he gets sentimental when he sees the families who are there celebrating the graduation of their Airmen, especially the families with little kids.

In fact, he got quiet at that point, and asked for me to pick up the conversation.

Which I did, telling him about the latest with my job, and about our new dryer.

All said with a smile on my face, to keep the conversation upbeat, because I know he misses us, too.

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From earlier today … no matter how stressful/busy my workday was, the view outside my office always reminds me to take a step back and remember how awesome it is to be right where I am.

Flashback Friday: Discovering Chuck E Cheese

 

Last week, I took all three kids to Chuck E Cheese.

 

By myself.

Miss C’s school had a fundraiser there, and she had her heart set on showing some school spirit. So, as soon as I got home from work, the three kids and I headed right back out again to the land of pizza and video arcade games and dancing animatronic mice and friends.

It actually wasn’t too bad. I was nervous about having the girls run off and play by themselves. Usually, Martin is there to go out on the floor with them while I hang back at the table to watch Jaz and our belongings.

Going solo meant having to be a bit more strategic.

I found us a table right in the middle of the action, so I could see everything and keep an eye on the girls while eating pizza with Jaz, who hasn’t yet warmed up to the flashy lights and screaming children there, and prefers just sitting and watching. I also doled out the game coins sparingly, requiring the girls to come back to me every few minutes for more.

As I watched the girls play, I remembered the first time Martin and Miss C experienced Chuck E Cheese. It was while I was deployed, and a neighbor introduced them to the franchise.

For today’s Flashback Friday, I’m sharing the post Martin wrote about that experience. You can read all about it HERE.

Waiting for Word

We haven’t received a letter from Martin yet.

We heard from him last Monday, when he was able to make a 15-minute phone call because there was apparently some sort of scheduling mix-up between the military training instructors, so the trainees were given the time to make family phone calls as they waited for another MTI to arrive.

But that was the last we heard from him. Continue reading

Et tu, Patches?

Patches Der Hund

As expected, there have been some behavioral changes at the house since Martin left for Air Force basic military training. Some restlessness and regression, moodiness and testing of boundaries, as well as some earnest, if not slightly misguided, efforts to exert more leadership and responsibility around the house.

I expected some of these things from the kids.

Not so much from the pets.

But let it be known that Patches Der Hund misses Martin, and she’s revealed her lonliness by peeing all over the family room floor two nights in a row.

I haven’t been lavishing attention on the cats and dog so much lately. That’s not to say they’ve been overlooked. Our nanny Mary’s been excellent about having the kids follow the chore chart I’ve created for them, so the pets are getting all their meals and treats, their water dish is always full, and I know the kids play with them throughout the day.

And I’ve assumed the one chore I absolutely hate: cleaning the litter box for the cats. I clean it on a regular basis, gagging the whole time. But it gets done.

As for Patches, it’s not like she’s a forgotten pup in the corner either. The kids definitely don’t neglect her. Her favorite place to be is underneath where Jaz is eating, and just the other night, I was asking the girls to calm it down a little as they played tag with Patches around the first floor of our house.

She’s healthy. She gets let out for a bathroom break late at night before I go to bed. Yet, she’s now using our family room as her pit stop. So the only reason that makes sense is that she’s missing Martin.

As annoying as it is, I am also a bit amused because I can tell you that Martin isn’t exactly a dog person. At least, that’s what HE claims. He will be the first to tell you that he didn’t want to get a dog, that it took a long time to convince him to get a dog, and that he tends to be hands-off when it comes to caring for the dog.

But in her own way, Patches Der Hund is telling me … or rather, affirming what I already suspected … that she and Martin do have a bond and she’s feeling his absence.

Yeah, he can deny being a dog guy all he wants. Photo from 2010.

She’s missing him yelling at her to get off the couch. 

She’s missing him telling her to stop whining for food.

She’s missing him grumbling about vacuuming all the dog hair.

She’s probably also missing sitting at his feet as he folds socks, or seeing him patiently wait at the back door for her to take care of her business before locking up for the night. And I know she misses going out with him on his runs as he prepared for Air Force basic training.

Plus I haven’t been scratching her belly, rubbing her ears, or letting her snuggle with me on the couch as much as before.

So as Miss C begrudgingly grabbed the paper towels and cleaned up the mess this morning (as part of her efforts to be more responsible — win for me!), I made a note to pay better attention to Patches der Hund from here on out.

Partly because I don’t want her peeing all over the house now.

But mostly because I know how she feels.

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