They Go Together

Snapping a picture before the concert, January 2013

 

Last week, Martin and Miss C drove to New Jersey together to see famed celloist Yo-Yo Ma perform in Newark.

It was her big Christmas gift. Martin and I wrapped the two tickets in a box along with a new purple party dress, a black lace cardigan, rhinestone jewelry and a crown, and a letter explaining that she would be going with her father and that it would be an overnight trip in a fancy hotel, too.

She couldn’t wait. The weeks leading up to the event were filled with such excited anticipation, but not just for Miss C.

For me, too.

Those two really needed that trip together.

Ever since day one, Martin’s been firmly wrapped around Miss C’s pinky. For the first two years of her life, they were together every single day.

The former German tank commander and the dark curly-haired little girl. You never saw one without the other.

Partners in crime. Best friends.

Loyal members of the mutual admiration society.

Totally enamored with each other in 2004

It made my heart soar knowing they were so connected. Their bond made it easier for me to leave the both of them when I deployed in 2007, because I knew that no matter what, they had each other. Neighbors sent messages to me, telling me they saw the two having a picnic on the porch, or going around the neighborhood for a walk.

Even when Martin returned to working full-time, he always made time for his daughter.

Like peanut butter and jelly, those two were meant to be.

But of course, relationships are easy when one person is a smitten new parent and the other is a happy-go-lucky cheese addict with a nap schedule. Relationships get harder as those people grow older, crankier, and sharper with their own opinions.

And let’s not forget the changing family dynamics. No longer the only child, Miss C’s assumed the role of big sister, and with it, the balance of being a kid and being a helper to us. Martin’s time and attention is more divided now, too, and let’s face it, with age comes less energy and patience that seemed to be in abundance just years ago.

Oh, and then there’s “the change” itself. The one that is slowly, but surely creeping into the household with the occasional eye roll, stomped foot, and slammed door.

Add all of this together along with homework demands, a household chores list, great expectations, and a genetically-identical sense of stubbornness, and you can see why there’s been a shift in the relationship between Martin and Miss C in recent times.

Instead of having to sneak into the conversations between the two, I’ve often found myself having to run interference, to be a referee when the two can’t make sense of each other.

The shift in their relationship isn’t worrisome, but just more complicated.

So when the opportunity came for those two to take a break and go off on an adventure together, we jumped at it. On a whim in early December, I checked to see if Yo-Yo Ma was performing anywhere local for the holidays. Miss C is taking cello lessons this year, and adores the famed cellist. As it turned out, Yo-Yo Ma was performing that very weekend at the Kennedy Center here in DC, but the show as completely sold out.

But I did see that the next possible East Coast opportunity to see him was in New Jersey in early January. That’s only a few hours by car, and there were still good seats available for really decent prices. I called up Martin and we added up the numbers — gas, hotel, tickets, a new dress, etc. It all fit nicely in our holiday budget, so we went for it, deciding that Martin would be the one to take her.

On Christmas morning, Miss C was thrilled when she opened up the box to find the tickets. January couldn’t come soon enough!

Finally, though, the big day arrived, and she and Martin buckled up into the car and drove north to New Jersey. Later this week, Miss C herself will share her experience about the concert. So I won’t share all the details here.

But I will say that it brought me so much joy as Martin sent me updates throughout their trip, telling me about the awesome time they had reconnecting away from homework and chores, household responsibilities, and the younger two kids.

He sent me photos and texts of Miss C getting some beauty sleep before the big event, and their view from the hotel.

Shopping for shoes when they realized Miss C’s feet no longer fit her black ones. How he let her pick new ones with just a little bit of heel that “sounded like Mom” when she walked in them.

Taking her out to eat and helping her put on just the right amount of eyeshadow for the special occasion.

How she jumped up and applauded when Yo-Yo Ma walked out on stage, as if he was Justin Bieber.

And how Martin watched Miss C talk so easily with the other music-goers, many who were decades older than she, and who were surprised to see someone her age in attendance.

Someone who is such a young lady now …. but never too grown up for time with her Dad.

One of my favorite pics of those two, from 2007.

Meal Plan in Bulk

I am not naturally hyper-organized. 

So I’m pretty darn proud that I’ve completed a detailed meal-plan that is going to last us for several months. It’s hyper-organized. It’s all in a binder, several pages thick, full of weekly plans and recipes.

Every single weekday meal.

Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.

Last year, I assumed the role of “menu manager” for the family and I stuck with it over the past twelve months. But I only planned a few weeks at a time. It also got to the point where I really only needed to plan one meal (dinner) because Martin finally got the hang of things beyond fish sticks and chicken nuggets, and he could handle dishing out breakfast and lunch himself with some variety.

So that was fine. Continue reading

The Post That Finally Gets Written

Usually on Fridays, I share a flashback pulled from my blog archives, reposting an entry from another time, another era from our family history, to reflect and laugh again, maybe cry, or just to point out and ponder the passing of time.But this Friday, I’m just going to stay in this moment, and finally publish something I’ve been trying to write for awhile now, but could never come up with the right words or proper way to organize my thoughts, and if only I could get through Christmas, and maybe then talk about this, or mention that …

So I’m just getting on with it.
Continue reading

A Long And Sad Weekend

It’s been a long and sad weekend.  

It started late Wednesday evening, when Martin rushed me to the emergency room.

Earlier that day, I had blood work done at my doctor’s office. Things that should have been normal for me weren’t normal, and I was feeling so exhausted — much more than usual. I contacted my doctor to get some answers. There were a few possibilities as to what could be happening, so she promptly ordered up a bunch of tests.

It was late at night when I got the results.

It never occurred to me that I might be pregnant.

But as it turned out, I was.

Suddenly the symptoms I was dealing with became a lot more worrisome and a lot more urgent, and after consulting with the on-call nurse, Martin and I rushed to the hospital, the both of us in a state of shock.

I had no idea.

After Jaz was born, Martin and I had to make a decision. After three healthy children, we felt like we were in a great place, and had no desire to add more to our family in the foreseeable future. Yet, I just couldn’t get to a place in my heart where I could accept anything permanent for either of us.

So, after consulting with my doctor about our plans, my health history, and all those other things one considers in these decisions, we decided to use a reversible birth control method that carries a 99% effectiveness rate against pregnancy.

Yet, it still happened.

I got pregnant.

And just as soon as we learned of it, we also learned the pregnancy was probably a loss, and if it survived, it could be life-threatening.

It was a wonder that I wasn’t anemic, or hemorrhaging much worse than what I was.

On Thursday, I was scheduled to speak in front of a large audience in downtown Washington DC about health information and social media.

Instead, I was at my doctor’s office in an ultrasound room, staring up at a photo of a giggling Anne Geddes baby someone taped on the ceiling as my doctor searched for any sign of a survivable pregnancy, and making sure I wasn’t experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, too.

Based on my HCG levels, either I had already miscarried and my body was just taking it’s time getting rid of it, or less likely, the pregnancy was so early, it was too small to see, meaning it was possible it would continue, but as a high-risk pregnancy.

My doctor said this was the first time she’s encountered an IUD pregnancy in all her years of practice. To avoid further risk to my health, the IUD was removed, and I was sent home to rest and wait.

I canceled my weekend plans to fly out to Missouri to attend a friend’s wedding, and hunkered down with my family.

The worst of it happened on Friday, both physically and emotionally.

A part of me was grateful that at least I knew now what was going on. I was already scheduled to work from home that day, so I answered work email and called in for some meetings from the comfort of my couch.

In the midst of dealing with the cramps and mess that comes with these things, there was also a splitting migraine that made me so sensitive to light and noise, a result of changing hormones.

Sleeping helped. But only for a little while.

I ended up falling asleep for my first nap just as the news initially reported that there was a shooting at a school in Connecticut and that perhaps a teacher was shot in the foot.

I later woke up learning the school shooting was a lot more devastating, that 20 innocent children and six adults were killed by such sick and senseless violence.

The hours that followed were very low.

Up to that point, Martin and I were feeling more apathetic and numb to this miscarriage than anything else. It would have been different if this was our first pregnancy, or if we were trying for another child, or if we even had a clue about it in the first place.

At the same time, when things got quiet and our thoughts went there, so many emotions jumbled together. Shock that the pregnancy happened at all. Concern for my health. Fear that if it did survive, would the baby be okay? A lot of confusion and not knowing which outcome to expect or want.

As I watched the news about the tragedy in Connecticut, the images of the screaming children and terrified parents, I felt all those emotions blur and all I could feel was just an intense sadness.

An all-encompassing and unspeakable sadness.

As a woman.

As a mother.

As a human.

There are no words.

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I left the house only once, on Saturday, for more blood work.

I wasn’t supposed to get the results until Monday during regular office hours, but my doctor — bless her — called on Sunday confirming the miscarriage and instructing me to take it easy for the next week while my body recovers. I will be going back in for more blood work and a sonogram later this week to make sure everything returns to normal.

After days of waiting and not knowing things for sure, the news actually came as a relief.

Martin and I are okay. Sad that this happened, but accepting of it.

It is what it is.

Above all, we’re focusing on the things that remind us that life is ultimately good. Because if I’ve learned anything from past heartaches and challenges, it’s that there are reminders all the time that life is good.

Like waking up in my dark bedroom from a nap to find Lola curled up next to me fast asleep.

Or Martin bringing me steak and broccoli he prepared to keep my iron levels up.

Jaz toddling over to sit on my lap, his cheeks stuffed with bananas while humming a little song, or Miss C leaning against me on the couch, holding my hand as we watch cartoons.

My sister who called me the moment she got my message. My parents who offered their support from afar. My doctor who cared enough to call on a Sunday. My coworkers who immediately stepped up to give that presentation on Thursday, and who called or wrote to check on me.

And in the most touching of twists, both Martin and I received a few random messages through Facebook and email from others who had absolutely no idea of what was going on, but they just wanted to let us know they were thinking of us for some reason or another.

These are all things that show us that while life has these peaks and valleys, it is mostly good.

These are the things that help heal the heart as we face another day.

The Working Wife

 

I had to drive into the city this morning.

Normally, I take public transportation to work, but I gave a social media presentation in Maryland in the middle of the day and needed my car. It was an easy morning commute. A lot of people in this area stayed out late celebrating the election results, and I imagine the reason the roads were so clear was that  a lot of them reported into work late, too.

Unfortunately, my drive home in the evening was not as brief, and I spent a lot of time sitting in my car on the highway, waiting to crawl past a [not-too-serious] vehicle accident that took up three of four lanes.

I think a lot when stuck in traffic like that. Sometimes I think about my job, going over details of my day, marveling how lucky I am to have it and that it provides all it does for us.

But I mostly think about the kids. Cute things they said or did recently. Creative activities we could do over the weekend. Trying not to calculate how much time I miss with them when stuck in traffic, or fretting over the idea that I’m not giving them enough attention.

As soon as I got in the door, I threw off my coat, changed into some sweatpants, and it was a full-on energy burst that must have kicked in from my late-afternoon coffee break. After swinging and dancing around with Jaz and putting him to bed, it was then moving books and albums from one room to another onto our new shelves, with the girls helping me carry items back and forth while simultaneously conversing with Miss C about her school day, and promising Lola a ‘girls day out’ — just the two of us — this weekend.

They were like two laughing and lively tornadoes.

By the time they went to bed, I was exhausted. To be more accurate, I was already zonked out, horizontal and drooling on the couch when Martin approached me with a bag of fresh popcorn.

“If you let me sit on that end of the couch, I’ll rub your feet for you and we can watch television,” he said.

It should come as no surprise that I found the strength. And after a few minutes, I was sitting up on the couch, too, leaning up against my husband, [theoretically] sharing my popcorn, and laughing with him as we watched “Saturday Night Live” on the DVR.

I’ve read the marriage books. I’ve talked relationships with my family and friends. I’ve always heard that warning: don’t forget about your spouse. I know it’s important to dedicate time and attention to the other adult in the house, especially during the child-rearing years.

I admit, though, that more often than not, I worry more about being an attentive working mother than an attentive working wife.

It’s hard.

But thank goodness I have Martin, who makes it a lot easier.

*********************

As I wrote this, I decided to Google “working wife” and see what came up, and one of the first links was this Bureau of Labor Statistics report from September 1981, when I was five months old.

It’s called Working Wives and Mothers: What Happens to Family Life.

There were parts that made me snicker, such as the quote, “If  the  survival  of  the family depends on women returning to the home to become full-time housewives and mothers, the institution’s future existence is indeed fragile.”

Most of it was very insightful, though. And still relevant.

I loved the last paragraph: “Public policies can ease the transition, but such policies should consider that there is  no longer one dominant family type.  Despite problems, the family remains a resilient  institution. Most Americans live in families, and will continue to do so.” 

Go check it out.

The Music Man

If you know Martin, you know that he doesn’t sing. 

During our early days of courtship, I thought he was just being coy when he said he was the absolute worst singer in the world. Yet it only took about 10 seconds into a serenading attempt to realize he was being completely honest.

After that attempt, I only heard him sing once more in public. It was at our wedding reception, when European beverages were flowing, people were lighthearted, and it was funny to make Martin get up and sing in public.

And he was game for it. We have photos of our guests playfully plugging their ears.

But after that?

Never again.

Make no mistake: there is music in our house. We play music all the time. The kids and I sing at the top of our lungs. Miss C is learning how to play the cello now, and I still occasionally pull out the guitar and keyboard, and play the songs I remember from my youth.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried to get Martin to sing along with us. I don’t mind his baritone.

But for Martin to open his mouth and contribute to the lyrics being sung in the car? Rarely. Volunteering to go up on karaoke night? Not a chance. When it comes to singing at birthday parties, I think he’s mouthing the words.

Humming a tune? That’s the most of it.

Or so I thought.

The other night, we actually went to bed at the same time and talked to each other as we drifted off to sleep. Usually, in those cases, I’m the one who passes out first, which means Martin stays awake to hear me chatter some random observations as I float between lucidness and dreamland. But on this evening, Martin crashed first.

I could feel him twitch as he drifted off. Soon, his breathing was slow and even.

And then…

He started singing.

A real tune.

Just four plucky little notes, a late-night solfège.

I paused, waiting for him to go on.

“Martin?” I finally asked, touching his shoulder. “Are you singing to me?”

“Huh?”

“Martin. You were singing.”

“I was putting the baby to sleep.”

“The what?”

“The …” he paused.

In the darkness, I could sense he was now fully awake. He rose up from the pillow a little as if to orientate himself. “The baby. I was putting the baby to sleep.”

“Were you dreaming that you were putting the baby to sleep? Because the baby went to bed a few hours ago.”

Martin started to laugh.

“Ha! Not only do I take care of the kids when I’m awake. I guess I really do it in my sleep, too.”

“And you sing to them?” I asked.

“Shut up.”

“You sing to the kids?”

“I’m going back to sleep now.”

“What do you sing to them?”

“Good night!”

He flopped over to his other side as I laughed. And I waited for more music as he drifted back to sleep again.

But alas, no more songs for me.

The next day, Martin swore he couldn’t remember this little exchange, but he admitted that yes, he sings to Jaz when he puts him to bed. He did it with the girls, too.

I know I’ll never get a dreamy serenade by my guy, but the idea of a father who sings to his babies, even if he can’t carry a tune in a bucket?

That just makes my heart sing.

 

Saying Goodbye

One of the photo displays at my Grandpa Charley’s memorial service.
I added the pixelation to one of his World War II photos. Those young men were so silly.

 

We went out to Ohio this past weekend to attend my grandfather’s memorial service. 

Even in death, my grandfather is a giving man, and he made the decision to donate his body to science, for medical research or training, so there was no viewing or burial to attend.

Instead, there was a lovely memorial service at their church. Family and friends gathered just before, and it was so good to see all my uncles, aunts, and cousins, and talk about our favorite Grandpa Charley memories. They had photos on display from throughout Grandpa Charley’s life, as well as Hershey bars for the taking. Continue reading

Grandpa Charley

Our beloved Grandpa Charley passed away yesterday.
It was something we knew was coming.
Last week, my father let us know Grandpa Charley was very sick and the descision was made to move him to hospice care.
Updates trickled in via email and phone calls.
On Tuesday, I was sitting in the press room at the Air Force Association conference, on military orders for my annual Air Force Reserve duty, when I got a message from my father. Things weren’t looking good, and my family in Cincinnati was gathering around to say their goodbyes.
He promised to keep me updated.
In another one of those life twists that proves to me that nothing is mere coincidence, just minutes after receiving that note, I left for my next writing assignment that day: to cover a panel of World War II pilots talking about their experiences.
For the next hour, those pilots – who were the same age as Grandpa Charley, who looked and moved just like my grandfather – spoke of their war experiences while based in England, Italy, and the Pacific. And during the last 20 minutes of their panel discussion, they spoke of their gratefulness for their aircraft maintainers. They mentioned how those were always the last men they saw before a mission, and the first they saw to welcome them back, and how they loved those men as if they were brothers.
I sat in the back of that room as they spoke and quietly wept.
Grandpa Charley worked on the bombers during World War II in England.
He was also the father of my stepmother, Linda, but even though we weren’t his biological grandchildren, he welcomed my sisters and me, and loved us, just the same from the very beginning. And of course, that extended to my family as it grew. When Miss C finally arrived, it was with great love and joy Grandpa Charley and Grandma MJ introduced her as their very first great-grandchild.
Grandpa Charley was a classic man of his generation. He came back from World War II, got his education, ran a successful shipping business, built a comfortable house in the suburbs (which they still live in), raised six children, and took care of those around him. He and Grandma MJ were married for 61 years. His world rotated around his family and faith.
He was always kind, loyal, and humble, and never without a smile.
I last saw Grandpa Charley at my father’s surprise retirement party last July. Martin and the girls got to see him just a few weeks ago, when they went out to Ohio while I was in Germany. After we broke the news of Grandpa Charley’s passing to the girls, we spent some time talking about our favorite memories.
There was talk of the times we celebrated holidays together.
Vacations.
Family get-togethers.
Just hanging out together whenever we were in Ohio.
Miss C mentioned how Grandpa Charley always stood at the window with Grandma MJ to wave goodbye to them after a visit.

My sister Jinger snapped this photo of Charley
waiting in the window to wave us goodbye after a visit.
One of my own special memories with Grandpa Charley was the time I visited him before I left for my deployment in 2007. We went over to the house, and sat around and talked. I think it was my Dad who asked Grandpa Charley what things were like before he left for England, and he told us about a conversation he had with his father.
“He told me that I shouldn’t hate the Germans,” said Grandpa Charley. “He said, never forget your enemies are people, too. And I never forgot that.”
Neither did I.
Later, Dad said that after my news team was attacked in Iraq, he printed out my blog post about it to share with Grandpa Charley and Grandma MJ. He said out of all the people who heard or read about the attack from my father, Grandpa Charley was the most shaken by it, and expressed the most concern about what kind of effect that it was going to have on me when I returned home. For some reason, that really touched me. Out of all my close relatives, Grandpa Charley was the only one who also served in a combat zone. My father was stationed stateside as a Reservist during the Gulf War, and my uncle Ray, who served two tours in Vietnam, died when I was still a toddler. Knowing that Grandpa Charley understood the seriousness of what I was going through was somehow comforting to me.
Maybe that’s why I got teary there on the job as the World War II pilots spoke of the gratitude they had for their fellow Airmen, why it was devastating each time an aircraft didn’t return from a mission, how seriously every person took their job. The dedication. The loyalty. The heart.
As they sat there describing all the things that made those men great, I couldn’t help but think that THAT was Grandpa Charley. They were describing who he was.

Not just during the war, but every single day of his life.

We will miss him so much.

She Who Had No Idea

As I sat in a bunker under the threat of incoming in 2007, I was not thinking I’d face another sort of incoming in 2012.

 

She probably didn’t mean to come across as ignorant and ironic. 

There was no question, though, that she had an intent.

The woman was a fellow federal worker, and we were sitting across from each other for a meeting earlier this week. As the small group of us sat around waiting for the others, we made introductions and small talk.

There was talk about how motorized scooters are helpful when an office building is super long with many hallways. I mentioned how Segways would have been helpful in the Pentagon, but joked that the Marines would have nothing to do with it.

Some of the folks laughed, and this led to a few examples of how technology has changed the way the military does business.

That’s when she spoke up. Continue reading

Old Barbie Hair Repair

While I was in Germany, Martin visited my family in Ohio. While he was out there, my father decided to finally empty out his garage and sort through all the buried boxes, many which contained the toys from my childhood.

This included all the Barbie and Ken dolls my two sisters and I collected throughout the ’80s and ’90s. As you can imagine, three girls can accumulate a lot of Barbie stuff. My girls were thrilled to inherit no less than 60 dolls and all the accessories.

But of course, these aren’t new dolls. And for the past 20 years or so, they’ve been hanging out in a dark, sometimes damp, environment underneath the weight of several other boxes. Some of the dolls had mold, some were missing limbs, all had matted and tangled hair, with some of them twisted up in real rubber bands that were crumbling apart.

To put it simply, these dolls were as plastic and nasty as a Hollywood starlet with a personal video camera after midnight.

They needed serious repairs to be ready again for some wholesome childhood fun.

I was mostly concerned about the hair. Cleaning and repairing the bodies would be easy, but how could I get the hair to be soft and manageable again? I was even more concerned with the recommendations I found online, too. Soak the hair in baby oil? Drench it in hair conditioner? In theory, I could understand how these things would work, but doll hair is not human hair. It doesn’t absorb like human hair, so I imagine all that oil and grease would eventually smear off inside the storage boxes, or wherever my kids would be playing with ’em.

Surely, there was a cleaner, simpler way, right?

Right.

After working on these dolls all day today, I’ve learned it’s not hard at all to repair Barbie hair.

First, soak the dolls in hot water that’s soapy with dishwashing liquid. I washed the bodies using a vibrating toothbrush, which was great for gently scrubbing off any mildew or dirt from all the corners and crevices. This includes the feet with that little hole at the bottom and those heads that are fixed on those funky joints in the neck.

Then, I attacked the hair with a brush, going in one downward direction, working out the tangles with force, and making sure not to pull off the head. Really – this is an opportunity to work out some issues. It’s amazing how quickly the hair becomes pliant after a few good yanks, too.

Next, I trimmed the ends.

Then I used a blow-dryer to completely dry the hair. I’m thinking the high heat setting does something to the synthetic material used to create the hair, because it really does soften it and make it shine.

Last, I combed everything in place.

It took less than five minutes. Want proof?

Check out my video.

I actually enjoyed doing this. It was neat to see my old dolls again, and knowing my girls are going to create some pretty fun memories with them, too.

And do we ever really outgrow our love for our toys?

Martin thinks it hilarious I pixelated Barbie.

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