Thank You For Your Service

Enjoying breakfast on the Riverwalk

That Sunday after his graduation ceremony was the last we saw Martin while down in Texas.

He earned a town pass for the day in two ways. First, he won it by maxing out on the physical fitness standards, earning himself a “warhawk” status for extraordinary fitness. Because of that, he got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a town pass.

This incentive is something new to BMT (or at least, new to me), and when Martin told me about it over the phone, his German accent threw me off, and I misunderstood that he was a warthog.

It was a few days later until I realized my mistake. I just assumed he was referencing something from BEAST week, and didn’t bother to get clarification.

It’s Warhawk: the Air Force God of Fitness.

(I made up that last part.)

The second way Martin earned the Sunday town pass was through his flight, and their designation as the honor flight. All the others in his flight also got to spend one extra day with their families as a reward for earning the most points through their exams, inspections, and fitness tests.

So, Miss C and I picked up Martin early Sunday morning and immediately drove down to the city, where we enjoyed breakfast on the Riverwalk.

Halfway through our meal, an older gentleman approached us, and introduced himself as a former B-52 pilot. He had been eating at the table behind us with his family, and when he saw Martin in his uniform and overheard our conversation, he realized Martin was a recent BMT graduate, and he wanted to treat us.

So he bought our entire breakfast, thanking Martin for his service.

The gentleman wasn’t the first to thank Martin that weekend. In fact, just about everywhere we went, people approached Martin to shake his hand, thank him for his service, and welcome him to the Air Force.

Martin said this made him feel really awkward because not only is he naturally a pretty humble dude, but for so long, it was people coming up to me and thanking me for serving, and occasionally treating me (or us) with some random act of kindness.

But most of all, Martin said he felt weird about it because in his mind, graduating from BMT didn’t really count as a significant contribution of service.

But he is wrong.

Every time someone approached Martin, I wanted to speak up about my husband, to bring them up to speed about how he’s already served and sacrificed. And it’s not even that he gave up his own Bundeswehr career, or offered such unconditional support to my own Air Force career.

It’s just that, in addition to all things that motivates one to join the military, Martin really and truly knows how hard it is, and how much is given and lost when one puts on the uniform … and how mundane and ordinary working for the Air Force can be … and how exciting … and how draining human politics and office politics and DC politics can be in the military, and how much it can change you, and not always for good … and all the other things that make life in the military one of the hardest and most stressful career choices out there.

Most new Airmen do not have that perspective.

But despite having witnessed all of that through my career and those of our good friends, and despite having a comfortable life as a stay-at-home dad with us at home, my warthog STILL decided to serve.

Yes, Martin.

Thank you for your service.

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

The three of us. That’s Miss C sporting the panda mask she got at the San Antonio zoo.

The rest of that Sunday was definitely more low-key. After breakfast, we let Miss C decide our plans. This led us over to the IMAX theater near the Alamo, where we saw a documentary about monarch butterflies.

Afterwards, we drove back to our hotel, where the three of us ordered room service and watched animal reality television shows featuring adorable puppies and psychotic cats while all piled up on the huge bed. The only thing missing were our two babies, Lola and Jaz.

At least, though, we knew that the hardest part — BMT — was over, and we were that much closer to being all together again.

Our goodbye to Martin that day was relatively quick and painless. I pulled into the parking lot next to his dorm, helped him unload his new luggage set, and gave him a quick hug and kiss goodbye. He had an early morning flight out of Texas — the airport bus picked him up at 2 am — and then he would be off to technical school to learn how to become an air transportation specialist.

This meant he was now a lot closer to home, too.

Literally.

For the longest time, I thought his tech school was there at Lackland Air Force Base. But as it turned out … of all the places he could have gone for his training, his school is at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Just two hours south of where we live.

***********

Can you believe that Martin already wrote something for the Air Force’s official blog?

It’s true.

That Sunday, while we were hanging out in the hotel room, Martin typed up some thoughts about his BMT experience.

You can read it here.

Just Add Zing


I think it happens in all marriages or long-term relationships:
at some point, that zing — that mysterious and powerful tension — that cackled and sparked in the early days of the relationship dissolves into something that’s a lot more tepid.

It definitely happened in ours.


And let me be clear: I’m not talking about romance or attraction, or even THAT specifically, either. With a little bit of effort, I think all of those things are sustainable. Martin has always been good about finding little romantic things to do for me, and I like to think I‘ve done the same for him. And I’ve never doubted that he finds me attractive, just as I’ve always found him to be one good-looking dude. No complaints here.


But after awhile — and especially after three kids and more than a decade together — things become … comfortable, right? 

Like, it’s just assumed one will get a kiss from the other before leaving the house, if one’s not in too much a rush. What was once bought at Victoria’s Secret gets picked up from the clearance rack at Target. Putting on anything other than yoga pants is a sign you want to be taken out. Nobody thinks twice before passing gas under the sheets. And there are no surprises, except maybe when helping identify whatever it is that’s growing on the other’s back that he/she can’t see in a mirror.

It’s not that this level of comfort is a bad thing. In fact, being at that comfort level with each other is a comfort all by itself, in a way, because it means we’ve been through it all, we know each other completely, and are free to be ourselves.


Yet, being at that level also means that gone are the days of that zing, that puppy love and anticipation, right?


Wrong. 


It IS possible to put zing back into one’s marriage even after fourteen years together, three kids, stretch marks and hair loss. 

Here’s how you can do it, too.

1) Send your spouse or significant other to basic military training, or some other environment that’s going to completely remove them from your home for months at a time. Deployments are an alternative, but I don’t recommend them. Be sure that all forms of communication are severed, except for traditional letter-writing and maybe one phone call every two weeks. It also helps if wherever you send them uses physical fitness as punishment in the form of push-ups, situps, and flutter-kicks.

2)  While your spouse is away, write a ton of letters and feel free to share things that are much easier to share on paper than they are person-to-person.

3) Lose nearly 20 pounds, but don’t mention it at all to your spouse. On the days you reunite with your loved one, wear clothes that fit you well and show off your assets. (Hey, that’s advice straight from Tim Gunn!) In fact, wear a snazzy dress in his favorite color on you. Bonus points if it’s two sizes smaller than what you were wearing when he left. Get your nails did and your hair done, too.


4) No matter what, do NOT forget the rules. Most importantly, don’t forget that Airmen in uniform are not allowed to participate in any form of PDA (public display of affection.) This means no kissing, no hugging, no snuggling, no hand holding. Even if the closest you’ve been to holding your spouse’s hand in public in about five years were all the times you were handing a diaper bag/stroller/baby bottle/flashing the bird to him, you will suddenly want to hold his hand all the time. Nope. Don’t do it. You get about 20 seconds to do this when you FIRST see your spouse, but anything after that is unacceptable.

5) Don’t gawk too much when you finally see your spouse and you see that all the running, push-ups, sit-ups, and flutter kicks shaved about 10 years off of him, and that he still looks really, really good in uniform. Try not to stare.


6) Be prepared to feel incredibly awkward at all times. Don’t take it personally when, after the official graduation ceremony and after he’s already seen you the day before, your spouse just sort of pats you on the back because he doesn’t want to break any rules … and he doesn’t want others to think he’s breaking the rules, either. Use your kid — who is allowed to hold hands with your spouse — as a barrier. Be prepared for questions and clumsy behavior. Such as when your daughter asks in the car why Dad won’t hold Mom’s hand, and as he’s explaining the reasons, you turn on the car radio only to realize you left the volume turned up and the song that’s playing on the radio just happens to be “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Bonus points if your husband’s wingman from Nigeria is in the back of the car, singing along as you fumble for the volume because he thinks it’s a really good song. Yeah. Awkward.



 

7) At other times, try sitting or standing far apart from your spouse so that nobody suspects you really just want to jump each other’s bones. Try not to blush when your good friends — ah, those good, ol’ friends — point out that they can tell you just want to jump each other’s bones. Be horrified when they actually capture this in photos.

 


8) When touring your husband’s dorms while wearing that snazzy dress, be sure to remember that there are chrome strips running along the floor and they’ve been polished to shine. And reflect. Since you are a lady, don’t panic: just swiftly step/shuffle over them so that nothing is revealed. But as you are leaving the dorms, lean over and whisper to your husband that a warning for such an issue would have been nice because one can see everything — everything — in those chrome plates. Pretend not to notice his jaw drop.

9) In the most gracious and vague way possible, ask your husband to (gently) ditch his wingman — who has provided excellent wingman support for two whole days — because you and your daughter had your hearts set on going to SeaWorld for some family time on his first day of town pass. Pick him up early the next morning and mention that your daughter went to the early morning Shamu show with a friend, and that you guys will join them there. But the truth is, you’ve actually arranged it so that your daughter gets to spend her day at the zoo with a friend’s family. But he doesn’t have to know that.

10) Don’t be alarmed when in the parking lot of the resort hotel where one has booked one of the finest rooms in the whole place with deluxe room service and lots of food, your husband looks confused, and after a moment of silence, says, “So, we’re NOT going to Sea World?”


Zing.

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


Are you following us yet on Facebook?

Julie’s on Twitter, too. Come follow and say hello!


An Air Force Family, Part Two

After the ceremony and all the picture-taking, we said goodbye to our friends and headed over to the dorms for the open-house visit.

Walking into the area was such a mind trip because not very much has changed since I went through BMT. Though my squadron (the 331st Training Squadron) was located in a building just down the road, all the dorms look the same. The patios. The stairwells. The hallways and open bays.

It was like stepping back in time with my husband and daughter.

Very surreal.

Martin’s bed was the bottom of the first bunk on the left.

Fun fact: his blue shower shoes are the ones the Bundeswehr issued to him.

Martin’s wall locker.

Martin’s secret: he perfectly folded everything once during the first week, passed his inspection, and then never used any of it. He just rotated the clothing items he actually used from his laundry bag, where he had bags for clean and dirty clothing. *gasp*

Martin showing us his personal drawer. He received so many letters, he had to line the bottom of the drawer with all the envelopes and cover it with a towel.

We told Miss C we expect the same hospital corners on her bunk bed.

The day room.

It was also a very sweet experience to meet the other Airmen who went through basic training with Martin.

Not only did Martin write about some of the Airmen in his letters, but I also connected with a lot of their families via the Air Force WingMoms website and forums. During the two months of BMT, we all shared stories, worries, questions, and encouragement as the men of our lives went through that experience.

Every now and then, I shared parts of Martin’s letters, too, since he did such a great job describing the various things they were doing, such as going through the gas chamber or making mistakes during drill practice.

During our time in the dorms, some of those families from the group approached us and introduced themselves. It was so cool to see Martin caught off-guard by the attention. While I did write to him about the Facebook group, he had no idea the reach and impact.

Vicky and her mom Judy were so cute: they told Martin they were so relieved when they learned Vicky’s son was in Martin’s flight. Knowing their son was around “someone like [Martin] really put their minds at ease,” they said.

After touring the dorms, Martin was then free to leave the base and spend the rest of the day with us in San Antonio.

So we headed out with his wingman, Larry, and made our way to the Riverwalk downtown, where they got to see the Alamo and have a quick lunch at Boudro’s Texas Bistro. We were also pulled into a welcome center, where the two men left pins on a huge map, indicating where they come from.

 

Not even out of BMT for an hour, and he was already ready to coupon. “Julie, did you bring the CVS card?”

Trevor and Martin were so lost in conversation. It was like an awesome first date. 🙂

Later in the afternoon, we headed west to a local Asian restaurant near Lackland Air Force base, where we were greeted by more Air Force friends who all gathered to celebrate Martin’s graduation.

Annette was there with her boyfriend Mark.

Karen was there, too.

Eric — who helped me plan various Air Force workshops, and who also worked for the same company when we both left active duty — and his wife Peggy were there.

Todd — who was the deputy public affairs officers at Ramstein when I was there — brought his whole family, including his wife Mari, and his three children. I almost had a heart attack when I saw his oldest son: he was just a baby the last time I saw him and now he’s a charming and articulate young man. Almost a teenager! I couldn’t believe it.

Stephan retired after serving as an Air Force photographer, and he’s someone I’d worked with at various public affairs workshops, too, and he was representing his wife Piper, another friend of mine who is serving overseas right now.

And of course, Trevor was there.

It was the first time I finally got to meet Trevor in person after SIX YEARS. Though he was my replacement on the combat correspondent team when I deployed, we missed each other by about 30 minutes in the terminal as I was heading home on a flight, and he was just arriving.

We stayed in touch via email, though, and the occasional phone call, especially since his team experienced a lot of the lunacy my team faced during our months over there. As social media evolved, we connected through there, and when Martin decided to enlist, he was the first person I reached out to for information.

It was so good to finally meet him, and I didn’t even mind giving up my seat next to Martin for him.

Because you know, two foreigners with foreign military experience who were both military training instructors DEFINITELY had a lot to talk about.

I forget what we were talking about, but I was very animated.

Todd presented Martin with an official public affairs coin, and I got a few base newspapers for old times sake!

I think we stayed at the restaurant for three hours.

I didn’t even eat anything, I was so busy talking and catching up with everyone. Even Martin’s wingman, Larry, who didn’t know anyone, seemed to have a great time.

By the time Miss C and I dropped Martin and Larry off at the dorms, we were exhausted. Once we got to the hotel, we changed into our swimsuits and headed out to the hotel’s heated pool, only to realize it wasn’t that warm at all.

So we dipped into the jacuzzi instead, which we had all to ourselves.

And as the two of us floated on the bubbles, swatting away the ginormous Texas flies swooping down over us, I couldn’t help but think that it was a pretty awesome day.

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

 

Getting to Texas

We’re smiling here, but just moments before, we weren’t. Trust me.

 

Miss C and I almost didn’t make it to Texas.

Weeks in advance, I booked us a flight on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to San Antonio to attend Martin’s graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training.

The day of the flight, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to find a good parking spot, get into the airport, check our baggage, make our way through security, and find some seats in the waiting area in front of our gate.

Things were going smoothly.

Until our names were called to the desk.

That’s where we learned that Southwest Airlines overbooks their flights. That means they sell up to 20% more seats than they have available because they expect a percentage of their customers to not show up.

However, when all paying customers show up, some customers are left stranded.

Miss C and I were left stranded. We were kicked off the flight.

It’s a horrible business practice. The airline’s been slapped with fines about it in the past. I had no idea about it, until I was standing at the counter, trying to digest what the agent was telling me.

She couldn’t get us to Texas that day. She could only put us on standby for the next couple flights … all which left the next morning. The earliest she could guarantee us a flight to Texas was Friday morning, putting us in San Antonio hours after Martin’s graduation ceremony.

I was able to hold it together at the counter and try to get something worked out … until I turned around and saw Miss C, who heard and understood everything the agent was telling me.

Big, fat tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I’m not going to see Dad?” she wailed.

Bless the businessman who saw what was happening and stepped forward. He gave up his seat so that Miss C could get a boarding pass.

When I managed to catch my breath and explain why Miss C (and I) were so upset, he then went around the crowded waiting area, and tried to find another volunteer, saying he grew up in San Antonio and saw many military families reunite.

Unfortunately, nobody else volunteered, but at least Miss C was able to get a boarding pass because of that gentleman.

At least there was that.

It was a tense 20 minutes as the attendant tried to find another way to get me on the flight. Meanwhile, I was on my cell phone with my friend Annette, who lives in San Antonio and was going to meet us at the airport. She immediately volunteered to meet and take Miss C if my daughter ended up traveling alone, and I knew my network of friends down there would ensure Miss C got to see her father.

I had no doubt.

The agent did, though. She didn’t think we could get through the unaccompanied minor paperwork fast enough. So she made one more phone call to the crew on the plane, who said they had three empty seats that weren’t showing up on the computer up front.

“You mean you have three empty seats?” the agent asked. When she got confirmation, she pointed at Miss C, me, and the one other lady who was also bumped to follow her.

“You two ladies won’t have boarding passes, but I’m putting you on this flight,” she said.

Once we go on board, we realized how the three seats became an issue.

Three people bought extra seats. Those seats bumped Miss C, me, and the other lady off the flight.

Miss C had the businessman’s boarding pass, but we still needed two seats for me and the other lady. Eventually, two of those passengers gave up their extra seats when the air crew promised vouchers for the money they had spent on them.

Of course, none of these three seats were anywhere close to each other, but Miss C and I didn’t care. After I got her settled in the front of the plane, I made my way toward the back. But when others noticed she and I were being split up, a few agreed to swap seats, even though they knew it was going to be uncomfortable.

Despite my great annoyance at the airline, I was humbled by the generosity of others.

Because of them, Miss C and I were able to fly down to Texas that day sitting next to each other.

So, as previously arranged, Annette greeted us at the San Antonio airport with a huge, colorful sign to welcome us to the great state of Texas after a three-hour flight that stretched to six hours  due to the delayed boarding and massive storms that rolled across the midwest, resulting in a route change.

Needless to say, we were happy to see her.

She immediately took us to a local diner for some food, and it was absolutely wonderful to sit and catch up with her. We hadn’t seen each other in years — Lola was just a baby — but ours is one of those friendships that just roll right into being as if we’d only seen each other days ago.

It was close to midnight by the time Miss C and I got to our hotel room.

In my letters to Martin, I told him we were actually staying at a cheap roadside motel near the base that was way under budget.

But actually, we were staying at a resort hotel that was slightly a splurge.

I booked a king suite, and sure enough, there was a huge, comfortable bed waiting for us, along with slippers and robes and a platter of special cheeses, fruit, and crackers, along with sparkling water.

Miss C and I were very impressed.

But also exhausted and drained, and anxious for the next morning, when we would finally be able to see Martin for the first time in over two months.

We went to bed almost immediately, relieved just to finally be in Texas.

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


From today … I’m probably jinxing myself, but all three children are playing nicely together, building a racetrack in our family room. Yesssss!

 

One Hard Week

Miss C tentatively noshing on some berries and cheese in our San Antonio hotel room after our dramatic flight down there last week. More about that later…

This past week was hard. 

It was hard at work. It was hard at home. It was hard for the country. It came after a joyful and emotional weekend visiting with Martin after his graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training: a weekend that reunited the three of us — Martin, Miss C, and me — with people from our past, from my Air Force career, who have known us for more than a decade. All of us were buzzing off that high on Monday, only to be thrown in a week that’s probably been the most personally trying of all the weeks since Martin’s been gone, all while the country reeled from the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the factory explosion in Texas.

I feel like I’m recovering from some sort of whiplash.

I felt no motivation whatsoever in sharing the photos and moments of our wonderful weekend when the days that followed were so heavy.

It just didn’t seem appropriate.

As I thought about what to post, and when, I kept going back to a moment during our trip in San Antonio when Martin and I were talking about the transformations we’ve both experienced in the nearly 14 years we’ve known each other. We were walking toward the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. Martin’s wingman Larry — his buddy throughout basic training — was walking just ahead of us with Miss C.

I was commenting on how Martin seemed to be more himself now in uniform, how it was like walking alongside Martin from a decade ago, when he was in the Bundeswehr, and it’s nice to have “military Martin” back again.

Then I wondered out loud if there was such a difference when I came back to Germany after my basic training and tech school experience.

And Martin immediately said, “No. The greatest difference was when you came back from your deployment. You were not the same for a very long time, and I worried that I wouldn’t ever get you back.”

It wasn’t the first time he said something like that, but for the first time — seriously — I didn’t deny it.

For the rest of our walk, and again at other times that weekend, Martin and I got to talk about that change in me, and how far we’ve come since that terrible year. Not just from the deployment, but from my friend Nancy’s suicide, and all the other devastating and heartbreaking things that have happened in our lives.

We talked about many things, actually. Not just the hard stuff.

But I recalled this particular conversation just days later when the bombings in Boston happened, and the explosion in Texas, and the media was inundated with the photos of all that carnage and destruction, and the personal accounts from runners of what it was like to be surprised by such a massive explosion, to have such pain in one’s ears, to see such things, to be in shock and disbelief, and anger …

It was all something I could relate to very well.

But I can also share with certainty the knowledge that time does heal.

Forgiveness of such evil is possible.

And life can reach a new normal, and while it will never be the same, the new normal can be incredible and great.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those who were affected by the events last week.

Seeing Martin Again

 

Martin is now graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training.
After nearly nine weeks apart, Miss C and I reunited with him down at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. We flew down there together on Wednesday, and the first time we got to see him was on Thursday during the Airman’s Run and Coin Ceremony.
Here’s a montage of video and photos from the events.
I will be sharing more from our weekend all this week.

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

Saying Goodbye and Settling In

Martin with Baby Lola … and the necklace

It was the necklace.

As I was braiding Lola’s hair before bedtime, she noticed I am wearing her father’s necklace; the gold Libra scales of justice pendant he’s worn around his neck since he was a teenager. It was a gift his father bought him when Martin was born, and ever since he was old enough to understand the significance of it, Martin has worn it.

He wore it the night I met him. He wore it as we dated. I knew we were serious — like, for real serious — when he trusted me with it during his Bundeswehr training.

He wore it tucked underneath the collar of his wedding tuxedo.

It dangled like a little gold star as he leaned over our newborn babies, their tiny fists punching into the air, and as those babies grew into toddlers, they pulled at it when he held them up.

My kids have never seen their father without his necklace.

 

With Baby Miss C

With Baby Jaz

 

 

So seeing Martin’s necklace around my neck must have been very shocking for Lola, and she got very indignant.

“Why do you have Dad’s necklace on?” she demanded.

“I’m wearing it because he can’t wear it at basic training,” I explained. “Remember? He’s down in Texas now, just like we talked about. Remember when we said goodbye to him this morning?”

She furrowed her brow even tighter.

“No. You need to give it back to him when he comes home. That is HIS necklace.”

“I will. But he won’t be home for a few months.”

She crossed her arms.

“No. He is coming home. Right. Now.”

I repeated what I told her, and she repeated her demands. I felt a little bud of panic begin to tighten in my stomach.

Miss C, who was sitting next to her sister on the bed, was at first amused by this banter, but then realized her sister wasn’t understanding. Instinctively, she grabbed my hand and held it up in front of her sister.

“Mom’s wearing Dad’s wedding ring, too, see?” she asked. Lola looked down and saw her dad’s gold band on top of my silver one. He didn’t want that lost or damaged, too, during training.

Her expression changed, this time to a look of shock, and then realization.

Then giant tears welled up in her brown eyes.

That’s when I knew she finally understood.

And that’s how the three of us ended up in a pile, hugging it out for a little bit, with Miss C and I reassuring her that Dad will be back before too long, and once he’s home again, we’ll be off to Disney World.

Oh, yes.

Disney World.

 

 

The night before Martin left, we gave the kids their Valentine’s Day gifts early. We got each of them Disney-themed t-shirts and swimsuits, and the girls each got a travel book about Disney World. Just to be sure the message got across, we wrote a note inside Miss C’s book, explaining that in August, we’ll be traveling down there as a family.
She read the note out-loud and then told Lola.
They absolutely freaked out.
Fortunately, it was all caught on camera, too.

 

 

My friend and Air Force colleague, Daniel, was over at our house for Martin’s last evening home.

Earlier in the day, he posted a question on Facebook, asking if anyone knew a person with an interesting story. As it turns out, Daniel is currently attending a broadcasting course at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade.

And similar to our friend Mikhail — who visited us on Valentine’s Day in 2011 and needed a photography subject for his class — Daniel was tasked to make a short documentary* about an interesting person.

I wrote him a message, letting him know it was Martin’s last night home before basic training and we were ordering pizza.

Daniel was in our living room about an hour later.

He ended up staying for several hours, interviewing Martin and filming us as we went about our usual business.

Which, of course, doesn’t feel very usual when there’s a camera following you.

 

 

But Daniel’s pretty good at what he does.

And dedicated, because he was back at our house the next morning at 6 am, to film Martin saying goodbye to the children.

He also followed us on the subway to the airport to document my goodbye to Martin.

We went to the same airport where Martin and Miss C dropped me off when I deployed, and when I left for annual tour Reserve duty.

It was a little surreal knowing this time, I was the one staying behind while Martin was leaving for his own Air Force duty.

Who would have ever thought it?

 

 

Certainly not Martin and me.

I asked him if he had any final thoughts or parting words for me, and he just smiled and said, “Did I really sign up for this?”

And for some reason, that just made the both of us laugh. I told Daniel — who was following us at a respectful distance — that if he was wanting a really tearful, heartwrenching goodbye, it wasn’t going to happen.

It already happened, actually, when I saw Miss C struggling not to burst into tears in our kitchen as she squeezed her dad. Ugh. That one still hurts.

But there in the airport?

We just couldn’t stop smiling and laughing at how absurd and funny it is that he was leaving for Air Force basic training.

But leave he did.

I had to change my Metro route, but it meant seeing this all the way to my office. A nice way to end this morning's adventure.
I had to change my Metro route, but it meant seeing this all the way to my office. A nice way to end this morning’s adventure.

I spent a lot of the day tracking his flights and eventually his phone texts as he waited to be picked up by the Air Force bus. His communication with me went dark around 8 pm.

Which is about the time I had all his children fed, bathed, and tucked away in their warm beds.

Settling in, and wishing him well.

Martin at the San Antonio airport. Photo taken by our friend Annette.
*************
 
*As soon as Daniel completes his documentary and sends the link my way, I’ll share it here.

Doing Okay

My grandparents’ living room,  filled with flowers.



As I type this, it’s just past midnight in this dark hotel room. I’m listening to my oldest daughter and little cousin McKensie snore it out in the bed across from mine.
They are exhausted. Of course, this week has been especially hard and emotional for them. So, earlier this evening, we took them to see a movie. Then, McKensie’s mom agreed to a sleepover here at the hotel, so they stayed up as late as their little eyes would let them, making a fort out of the room’s table and blankets, coloring, giggling and talking about whatever popped up in their spirited, imaginative minds.



The girls are only a few months apart. She’s my uncle’s daughter and lives down here in Texas. The both of them were so heartbroken by Ninny’s death. But they adore each other, and being able to spend this time together is wonderful; both for them, and for us grown-ups.


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


My grandmother’s memorial service took place yesterday in the same church my mother’s family attended for decades. My mother and father were married there, as were all my aunts. We were greeted by a little, elderly lady at the door; she was the same woman who hosted at my mother’s wedding, and had planned the church baby shower when my mother was pregnant with me all those years ago.


Needless to say, my grandmother had roots running deep in this small town. 


The service started with a slideshow of photos featuring Ninny and some of her favorite hymns. As photos of her with the various grandkids projected up above, Miss C started to cry. She was sitting in her Nona’s lap next to me, and at first, Nona rocked her and rubbed her back. But after awhile, the sniffling turned into sobbing and her little body started to shake. Mom and I looked at each other, and I instinctively opened up my arms, scooping up Miss C into a ball on my lap. The intensity of her tears caught me off guard, I debated with myself whether or not to carry her out of there. But as I whispered in her ear and held her tight, she collected her breath and regained her bearing. For the rest of the service, she sat wedged between Nona and me, holding both our hands.


My cousin sang all the songs, many of which she sang to Ninny in the hospital.  The minister read an adorable poem written by McKensie and her brothers, sharing their favorite memories of Ninny.


Then the minister read my recent blog entry about explaining death to Miss C. Even though my mother had told me he was going to do that, it was still a bit surreal to listen to it being shared in that setting. Miss C smiled when she realized what was going on, and tugged on my arm as the minister spoke.


“Mom,” she whispered, “He’s telling a true story!”


“Yes, I know.”


“But Mom, it’s about us!”


“Yes,” I answered, patting her arm. 


It was fitting for me that my writing from this web site was used for my grandmother’s memorial. Back in 2001, when I created the first version of this site, my grandmother Ninny was a major motivating factor. I was in Germany and she was here in Texas. She was disappointed to be missing out on my wedding planning, until I told her I had a solution: my web site. 


Through the site and emails, she got to share her opinions about the music I picked, the location, the centerpieces. She could read about how we got engaged and who was in our wedding party.


And as the site continued, she got to follow along with our moves, my pregnancies, our jobs. When I deployed, it was her godsend, as she called it. “Every time you post, I know you are okay,” she wrote to me in an email.


Though we lived so many miles apart, it was through this blog that she felt connected to our family’s life, and for that, I was grateful. So to have a part of it shared in the service was very moving for me. 


After the service, those who attended came up to us family members  to express their condolences. All of them knew me, or knew of me, and liked to point out that they knew me when I was “this big” or from the time I was an infant. (I was born in the next town over; we moved to Cincinnati just a few months later.) 


Others mistook me for my mother or one of her sisters, as we all do look alike.


Afterward, all the family members gathered at my grandparents’ house, where we unloaded the boxes of food provided for us, as well as the dozens of flowers delivered from around the country. They took up the entire living room. (In fact, I snapped the photo above with my laptop while sitting in my grandmother’s recliner.) 


Even though the house was full of people, food and flowers, and all the noise and chatter of such a gathering, it still felt empty. 


**********

 
During my flight to Texas, I tried to count all the funerals I’ve attended. Yet, I couldn’t really come up with an exact number, because not all of them were funerals. I watched as the coffins of killed servicemembers drove past me while in Afghanistan. I watched as a helicopter carried away the remains of a female Soldier killed not too far from where we were in Iraq. Those weren’t funerals. And of course, there were the deaths of people in my life whose funerals I couldn’t attend. 
 
But they affected me, nevertheless.
 

There’s always this feeling I get in the moments and days immediately following the passing of a loved one; a feeling that I can just reach back and grab onto the hours before to when that person was still alive. Maybe it’s denial, or just a reassuring trick my brain plays on me, but it’s a fleeting feeling that is similar to watching a butterfly flit ahead, just beyond my reach, but there. A casual reassurance that not all is lost, because that person was just here just awhile ago, and that closeness of time is a comfort.


I know there will come a point – maybe when we leave in a few days, maybe a year from now – when that feeling is replaced by a gulf of time that’s brought about all those stages of grief and acceptance. It won’t be the closeness of time that brings comfort, but the memories and love we shared.


But for right now, I still feel that closeness of time to my grandmother and it’s a comfort. And in this tiny Texas town, typing this out next to my mother and snoring girls, I feel okay.


We’re all doing okay.