Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sleep is Overrated

For as long as I can remember I have been a sleepwalker. I recall unbelievable stories from my childhood that were told to me by my mother. I vaguely remember walking across the hallway from my room to hers, slamming into her bedroom door, and crumpling to the floor in a heap. I barely remember (again) walking from my bedroom to hers, pulling my pants down, and squatting over her trashcan to use it as a toilet, only to have her desperate screams wake me just in time as she guided me towards the bathroom. I must have been 8 years old. I remember seeing my mother blocking the top of the stairs with furniture to prevent me from sleepwalking down them. It didn't work. She found me walking in circles at the bottom of the stairs claiming (when asked) that I was watching TV.

I wasn't always mobile. Once my mother peeked into my bedroom to find me sitting up in bed with my arms stretched out in front of me. She asked what I was doing, and I angrily explained, "I'm going to a wedding!" She inquired whose wedding it was, and I replied, "Santa Clause's!!" Why so angry? I've always wondered why my sleepwalking antics are usually accompanied by desperation and frustration. My tone of voice is apparently always grumpy or panicky, even today.

I read an article that stated that most people outgrow sleepwalking during childhood or adolescence. So why am I an exception? If anything, my sleepwalking has escalated, and the frequency has most definitely increased during my adulthood. Early in my marriage, I would often leap out of bed to turn on the bedroom light (in the middle of the night, of course) because I was certain there was a humongous spider descending upon my face. As soon as the room was illuminated I would wake up to find myself standing by the light switch in fear, and my sleepy husband would be staring back at me from the bed wondering what in the world was happening. This episode happened repeatedly.

One night, about 6 years ago, I  began slapping my husband on the shoulder as he slept, trying desperately to wake him. I was certain there was a helium balloon floating near the ceiling of our bedroom, and it was dangerously close to the ceiling fan. I was desperate, and he could hear the panic in my voice as I interrupted his sleep. I have never seen him move so fast. He jumped to his feet and stood on his pillow and began swatting at the "balloon" near the ceiling. His abrupt movement and throwing back of the sheets woke me from my episode, and I then began to laugh hysterically as I watched him swat at the imaginary balloon that, just moments before, I could see clear as day. He soon realized what had happened and was not amused. He covered himself back up and attempted to resume his REM sleep. Unfortunately, I had a horrible case of the giggles. That was the one and only time that I had pulled him into my sleeping imagination. I still laugh myself to tears just thinking of that night.

When I was 8 months pregnant with our youngest child in 2010, I moved faster than any enormously pregnant woman has ever moved. I jumped out of bed and began crawling in panic-stricken circles on the floor. Once again, my movement woke up my husband. It was the funniest yet confusing thing he had ever seen, he later said. He asked me what I was doing, and I began explaining, "The machine! The machine is gonna get me!" He asked me what machine, and I did not know its name. I described it as a round, robot-vacuum that was relentlessly chasing me. He became amused when he realized I was describing a Rumba. I have been weary of these machines ever since.

Most recently... just last night actually... I awoke at 2am to find myself banging on the closet door, desperately yelling for help. This time my husband was away, so he was unable to witness what must have been quite the scene. Once I snapped out of my episode I realized that I had stripped the bed of all the sheets, and they were all on the floor. I quickly became annoyed because before I could go back to sleep I had to make the bed. Today I am very tired.

I do not know why people sleepwalk. I wish I did because I am certain I would feel much more rested on a daily basis if I could actually sleep the whole night through consistently. I wonder what a video camera would capture during the night. I usually only remember the moment right before I wake up and find myself in a strange place... the floor, in front of the closet, by the light switch, or even in bed watching my husband swatting at imaginary balloons... I wish there was a cure. Although, if there was, there would be significantly less stories to tell later!



Sunday, July 14, 2013

A different day, a different way

The first time my husband deployed, I was 25. I had a new born baby, and I can still remember how I felt as I drove home from dropping him off in the middle of the night with that tiny baby girl in the back seat. When I say tiny, I mean all of 6 lbs 9 oz of tiny. She was a peanut. (It's hard to remember just how tiny that really was until 4 1/2 years later when I had a 8 lb 4 oz baby girl and thought SHE was tiny! But I digress.) I can still see the buses lined up at the drop-off zone. I can still vividly see the hundreds of soldiers with their full A-bags and perfectly packed ruck-sacks standing around, waiting for the word to load the buses. I did not want to see them actually load them. It was a kiss-and-go farewell. I held myself together relatively well - well, as well as a young wife and new mother can when saying goodbye to her husband of 2 years at the brink of a 1 year deployment while living in a foreign country. I refused to look him straight in the eyes. I knew if I did, I would lose all composure. Then I lost it anyway. I watched him open the back door of the car. I watched him lean over the infant car seat and kiss our baby girl goodbye. That was all it took. I was done. We hugged one last time, and he was off. He grabbed his heavy Army bags and slowly wandered off towards the others. I quickly jumped behind the wheel of our VW Passat and fumbled with my keys until I finally found the ignition and drove off to our quiet German home, less than 10 minutes away. I sobbed the entire trip. I'm not strong enough for this, I thought.

Four and a half years later, I strangely found myself in the same boat... except this time I was 30, I was actually in the U.S., and the newborn baby girl was the youngest of 3 kids instead of the one and only. We were a family of 5, and we all loaded in the minivan and drove my husband of now 7 years to his drop-off point for another kiss-and-go farewell. This time it was in broad daylight, and I lost my composure again as I watched him hug and kiss all 3 kids goodbye. I refused to let them see me cry, but I sobbed all the way home. I can do this, I kept telling myself.

Fast forward 2 1/2 years, and I was in a different boat entirely... sort of. There was no newborn baby. The kids were 7, 5, and 2. My heart hurt for them as they said goodbye to their dad for what was the seven-year-old's third time and second time for the other two. It was broad daylight again, and this time it was not kiss-and-go. We stayed. We mingled with other Army families who were dreading the final moment of farewell. Everyone attempted to put on a happy face as they nibbled their cookies and sipped their juice, but the elephant in the room was the fact that all the soldiers were leaving for 9 months, and some of them may not return. Nine months. Piece of cake. The other deployments were a whole year, so 9 months should be nothing, right? Right... I had to get out of there. I gave my husband "the look" and we headed outside. Apparently kiss-and-go is the way to do it. We all gathered around the van, gave our hugs and kisses, and said goodbye. Then he headed back inside, and we drove away. I didn't even cry. I've got this, I said.

For a while I wondered what on earth was wrong with me. How could I possibly say goodbye to my husband of almost 10 years and not even shed a tear? Didn't I love him anymore?! Was I so heartless?! What was wrong with me?? Sure, I got a little choked up the first night when I walked up the stairs alone and stared at the empty bed. I missed him terribly when we hit our 10-year wedding anniversary 2 months later and he was not there. I missed him something fierce when the kids and I embarked on our extended summer vacation, and he was not there to look at the star-filled sky over the ocean, or when he missed my birthday, or when I was feeling completely exhausted by day 5. But I never really cried. Finally, it hit me. I guess there really is nothing wrong with me afterall. I'm just... seasoned.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Strange Story on Range 17

Exactly six years ago today my husband returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq. I remember it like it was yesterday. To celebrate the anniversary of his return, I want to share one of my favorite stories he has ever written from that 2005-2006 deployment. This is a true account of something he experienced as he and the other soldiers waited for the word to enter Iraq...


"A Strange Story on Range 17"
The desert in Kuwait is a barren and desolate place. If you take the time to stand in the middle of it, you could look around in all directions and see nothing surrounding you but sand and sky. The feeling is comparable to being on a deep sea fishing trip; the girth of absolute solitude wears on the mind and the winds shift the sand like waves. It's nearly impossible to track where you are, where you've been, or even where you're going. This foreboding place is where the 2nd Platoon Roughnecks call home. 

This platoon of 33 infantry soldiers fall under the leadership of myself, 1LT Martin, and SFC Rainer, their platoon sergeant. The boys, as I like to call them, all come from vastly different backgrounds, and to the casual observer appear to be the perfect manifestation of the great American melting pot. Upon more thorough inspection, it becomes apparent what all of these young men have in common. Joining the Army was, more often than not, their best and last option. 30%  of this platoon is Hispanic and hails from such infamous locals as Watts, Compton, South Central, and Long Beach. To this 30% or so, life in the Army couldn't possibly be more dangerous than life back home. They have mixed emotions reading emails about their friends back home being locked up, dying in gang violence, or even worse, dying inside as a result of drug addiction. There are others too - a couple from the industrial complexes of New Jersey who joined the Army as jobs were outsourced to India and other places. They joke about the outsourcing potential of Iraq when we're done there. There's one African American soldier, a transplant from the Navy, no doubt a product of the Navy downsizing its enlisted force. Overall, they're just normal people in other than ordinary circumstances. Irregardless of the circumstances surrounding them being here, the "Roughnecks" of 2nd Platoon perform their jobs admirably and excel at whatever task they are given. As a leader of men, I could not as for a better group of guys. 

It is not a surprise given 2nd Platoon's record for mission accomplishment that we were tasked with planning and conducting a battalion-wide M16/M4 marksmanship competition. This is no doubt an odd tasking for an infantry rifle platoon. However, the battalion commander considered this range a high priority, and in my humble opinion, selected the right guys for the job.

SFC Rainer came up with a plan, and once it was approved, we were prepared to execute. We left out of the gate our compound to head to the range and to start setting it up. I was in the lead of a small convoy of 3 vehicles: a HMMWV (HummVee to civlians), which I was in, a bus, and a LMTV, a large ungainly truck, the cab of which is covered in thick steel armor. With my map and radio in hand, the convoy stabbed out into the dry heart of the desert. We moved along seemingly lost trails and deeply rutted improvised roads for about 26 or so miles before finally arriving at our destination. By nightfall the range was set up and ready for business. We all ate our MRE's and went to bed, knowing we would have an early morning ahead of us. The morning came, the sun announcing its arrival through the comfy confines of my black sleeping bag with the visual audacity of a cannon blast. 

As I shed my sleeping bag and asserted myself into the cold desert air, I observed the soldiers preparing themselves for the long day ahead. Four bus loads of soldiers arrived shortly after and after a range orientation and a safety briefing, we were ready to begin. Before shooting it is policy to conduct a "downrange sweep" of the area you plan to be firing in to ensure no animals or people are located in that area. While conducting our sweep. we noticed a large herd of camels. It is an idiosyncrasy of this region that camels roam everywhere. These camels are not wild. They have a shepherd who tends to them similar to how cows were herded in America's wild west. Unfortunately for the shepherds and the camels, the best grazing areas here are locations set aside for US forces to test and train with their various weapons. Hundreds of thousands of bullets and bombs are dropped or fired into this grazing area. Interestingly, none of the herders themselves are Kuwaitis. They are all poor immigrants who herd the camels and/or sheep for wealthy Kuwaiti owners. The herders makes less than 10 US dollars a day. Upon learning this, I immediately formed parallels in my mind to the immigrant experience in the US. I guess every country has its Mexicans, and your success in life is widely determined by where and to whom you are born. I digress.


Camels on our range, regardless of why they were there, was a problem, so we began herding them with the HMMWV. One large camel we pulled up to was sitting on its haunches. SFC Rainer leaned out of the window and yelled to the camel, "Get up, Private!" through his megaphone. We all laughed to each other as SFC Rainer flashed back to his days as a drill sergeant. Our laughter soon ceased as the beast complied and stood up. 


SSG Tucker was first to speak about what we all saw. "He's taking a dump!" he said. I was second to speak as I reached across the cab and touched his arm. "She's having a baby!" I said. We all fell silent, our jubilation replaced by the shame that comes with blatant insensitivity. I immediately went to get the herder and inform him of the good news. Once we told him, I told SSG Tucker to slowly take us near the female camel who by then had resettled herself. We slowly crept up and found her lying on her side. We all exited the truck and waited for her caretaker to arrive. When the shepherd arrived, he misunderstood our intent and began to strike the soon-to-be mother with his staff. She reluctantly stood with her little one's legs and head sticking out. We shouted and waved for him to stop, and soon the camel was lying down again. All 5 of us who were present had kids, and I can't speak for the others, but the torment of that poor camel while she was giving birth made me feel a deep sense of sympathy for her pain, and it took me back in my mind's eye to the birth of my daughter. 

The herder removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He grasped the calf by his legs and neck, and with a tug and a push from mama, the baby was out. He was small, skinny, and helpless. While the mother looked on trepidly, the shepherd rubbed the calf down with sand to help dry off his fur. We offered the shepherd a bottle of water to wash his hands, and he thankfully obliged. He then took the empty water bottle and filled it with fresh milk from the mother camel. The herder then fed the milk to the young calf. We all stood there in silence for a moment, five warriors lost in the universal power of birth and life. It had been there all along as we trained others how to kill and how to use instruments of death. Life found a way and continued on as it has done forever. We named the little guy Jared Brown after a soldier in our platoon, snapped some photos, waved at the herder, and then, as quickly as we had come, we were gone, off to continue our mission.

Training went well that say and that night. With soldiers firing around me and tracer rounds streaking across the sky from a distant range, I found myself looking upward. A huge full moon burned brightly in the otherwise black sky. The moon had rings of color around it - blue, yellow, orange, and red. It was covered with a delicate lace of thin, patchy clouds. SSG Tucker joined me, smoking, as we stared at the same glowing orb, and he remarked, "It would be perfect if I was looking at it with my wife." Lost in thought, all I could say was, "Yeah." In my head I tucked my daughter in and gave her a kiss goodnight. Then I turned and yelled for the next firing order.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nine Years In

In two weeks my husband and I will reach our 9 year wedding anniversary. It's ironic that our anniversary falls on Flag Day, the Army's birthday. Our 9 years of marriage have been completely entwined with everything the Army life contains ... worrisome deployments, long separations, too much time apart even when he's home, Army first, family second, moving every few years, etc. And if I could pat myself on the back for a second, I think I have handled it well.  I have learned how to be the primary parent in his absence. Like I heard in a movie recently, he's the back-up parent. We have made it through, and although it hasn't been easy, we're still looking forward. It will get better. As a mother of 3 kids, ages 6 and under, my whole life revolves around them. They are what have gotten me through the deployments. Without them, I would be lost and alone when he's gone all the time. When I learn of yet another upcoming separation, I immediately think of the kids and how it will affect them, not me. I think of all the birthdays he's missed, the ballet recitals, the T-ball practices and games, the kindergarten graduations, the first day of school, the first time our child rides the school bus, the holidays, and not to mention everything Maddy went through as an infant. He's missed a lot in our life together, and he will miss a whole lot more. Although it makes me sad (for the kids, not me), it has undeniably made me stronger. I am strong for my kids, and I am strong for myself because if I wasn't, I could very easily be miserable. It has been 10 months since he returned from Afghanistan. We are less than a year away from the next deployment. He will spend quite a bit of time between now and then preparing and training for that deployment, and he will be gone on multiple occasions for weeks at a time. Meanwhile, our family keeps moving right along, footloose and fancy free. We'll continue with the ballet and T-ball, and eventually school will start back again. We will celebrate what events he is present for and overlook the ones he's not. I am teaching myself to delete the rolladex of events he's missed because that can only create bitterness. It's our life. It's the way of the beast. And as we celebrate yet another anniversary apart in two weeks (and Father's Day and my birthday and a ballet recital), I will not complain because at least he is here today.  And tonight I can stare at him as he sleeps in my bed and soak up his presence to make up for the days he will miss. And we will be ok.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beaming

As I write this blog today, I am literally beaming with pride. I think back on everything my little Maddy has overcome, and I could not be happier for her. From the moment she was born, and I heard the word clubfoot, I knew we had some challenges coming. My Google searches on that word later proved that I was right. The doctors also confirmed my suspicions by telling me that she would be behind with most developmental milestones.
At 3 weeks of age and casts reaching from the tips of her toes to the tops of her thighs, my heart ached for her legs that she was not allowed to use. How frustrating it must be to not be able to move your legs, I thought. How irritating it must be to not be able to stretch or bend your legs! But she proved to be a fighter, and she was the happiest baby I'd ever seen. It was as if she was telling me to have no pity on her, for how can you pity someone who's smiling? So we carried on, and the casts became just a part of her. They became such a normal part of our lives that her older sister even asked me one day why I had no baby pictures of her with her casts. She assumed that all babies had to wear them.
At 4 months of age, while still wearing casts on both legs, Maddy rolled over from her belly to back right on time just like the average baby. By 7 months of age, with the casts replaced by an uncomfortable brace that held her feet apart at an angle, she was sitting unassisted. By 9 1/2 months, she was crawling with her brace. By 10 months, she only had to wear the brace while sleeping and was in physical therapy. At 11 months, she was pulling up to standing. Soon after, she was cruising around the furniture. In the midst of all her incredible milestones that proved not to be as delayed as predicted, the doctors continued to express concern for her development. I was baffled and annoyed. How could they possibly see red flags when she's doing all these wonderful things?! My pride for her continued to grow despite being surrounded by naysayers, and she continued to be the happiest baby in the world. My first two children were not walking by a year old, so I showed no concern that Maddy was not walking either. She would get it when she's ready. And then one day she did. Four days shy of 14 months old, Maddy was sitting in the middle of the living room. She looked at the floor, she looked at me, and then she put her hands on the floor in front of her. She leaned forward, sticking her little bottom up in the air, and she pushed off. She slowly and carefully came to a standing position, and she stared at me with the biggest brown eyes I've ever seen. Her face showed pure concentration. Her arms balanced her wide stance, and she began to smile. Her left foot moved forward a few inches, and then her right. She plopped down to the floor and gave me a huge grin. I couldn't help but grab her and squeeze her with excitement. A mother is always proud when her baby starts walking, but my pride in that very moment exceeded anything I had ever witnessed. Two steps are hardly called "walking," but for Madison Grey, it's a huge accomplishment. And now it's only a matter of time.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Year in Review

In 9 days we will reach our 1 year mark since my husband left for deployment. You don't realize just how long a year really is until you're smack dab in it, waiting for your companion/partner to return. He has missed A LOT! I have learned A LOT! The number one thing I have learned is that if it came down to it, I know I can survive on my own. Single parenthood is not fun or easy, but I think I have succeeded. All 3 kids are still alive and relatively healthy. That is the goal, isn't it? The dog stays on his bed all day, but he seems to be ok. The yard has about 18 different grasses and weeds growing in it with a bunch of bare spots where the dirt shows through, but the kids still enjoy it. I continue to mow it every 1-2 weeks. The van smells like something died in it, and for the life of me I cannot figure out what it is, where it is, or how to get rid of it, but the oil is changed, the tires are full of air, the tank is full of gas, and from the outside, no one would know any better. The oven sets off the smoke alarm every time I bake something (and I don't burn the food!), but I have the speed of Super Woman when it comes to turning it off before the fire department is alerted. His side of the bed is covered in clean laundry, but I know exactly what articles of clothing are in that pile. Easy retrieval is essential in the morning rush to get dressed. In his absence, he has missed 3 1/2 months of Maddy wearing full casts on her legs, countless trips to Nashville to see her orthopedist, 7 months of her wearing a brace 23 hours a day, 1 1/2 months of her wearing the brace only while sleeping, several physical therapy appointments across town, her first birthday, and every celebratory milestone she has hit along the way. For Hunter he has missed a 4 hour trip to the ER to get 5 stitches in the head, countless ear infections, surgery to have his tonsils removed and tubes put in his ears (with a horribly painful recovery, I might add), numerous nightmares, his 3rd birthday,  impressive temper tantrums, and all of the potty training (which I thought would never be done! Go me!). For Tally he missed all of pre-k, riding the bus to and from school for the first time, learning how to read and write, 2 dance recitals, 3 loose teeth (so far!), her 5th birthday, and it appears that he will miss her very first day of kindergarten. During his absence I endured a painful abdominal hernia repair surgery with a lengthy recovery and was forced to hire a full time nanny for a month just to survive. I backed my van into the neighbor's parked car. A bird flew into our house. Squirrels took over the attic. I handled Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, and the 4th of July without him. I conquered 2 LONG trips to NC to see family (thanks to the help of family who rode with me!). And he missed my [insert # here] birthday and our 8th wedding anniversary. As we enter the last week of our year without him, I cannot help but look back at everything we have accomplished and be proud. I could not have done it without the help of fabulous family, amazing friends, wonderful babysitters, and helpful neighbors. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. I can only hope that he fits back in without a hitch and does not feel like a stranger in his own home. One thing is for sure... we will welcome him back with open arms!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Imagination

When I was a kid, I spent many, many hours lost in my own imagination. I can remember playing house with my little sister for hours on end. My stuffed animals and baby dolls were all real, and just like in "Toy Story," they all talked and moved around when I wasn't there. In 4th grade I often played news reporter with my best friend, Jessica. One of us would look through an empty paper towel roll and pretend it was a video camera while the other one sat at the table and read made-up news stories. I just knew that one day I would be a reporter for real, or at least a journalist of some sort. My dad's house had a huge magnolia tree in the front yard, and I can remember playing under it countless times as a child. The long leafy branches made a fabulous fort. I also remember my older sister climbing it and getting stuck near the top. It was a a very tall tree. My Barbies all had names and varying personalities. My pound puppies were my real dogs, and I pulled them around on a leash. I also slept with the mama pound puppy one night with gum in my mouth, and I woke up the next morning with dried gum strung all over her head. It never came off. I had an amazing imagination as a kid, and it does my heart good to hear my own kids using theirs. I give Tally full credit for teaching Hunter how to pretend. She lives in a world of pixie dust, where arabesques happen spontaneously, and she probably wonders why everyone else doesn't suddenly twirl around unexpectedly like she does. As I sit here in the living room typing this blog, I can hear her playing with Hunter in the other room. The futon is a ship, and there are sharks in the water. I don't usually approve of them playing on my desk chair, but at this moment it serves as a boat that will roll them across the water to the island. Hunter plays along excitedly and is just thrilled to have his sister's attention and to feel needed in her imaginary world. I often find him playing with his cars, giving each of them a voice and playing out different scenarios like Tally does with her Barbies. That is most definitely indicative of her influence. It makes me wonder . . . did I have the same effect on MY younger siblings? Did I unknowingly teach my little sister how to pretend? Or is it something that comes naturally? Regardless, I am waiting for the day that one of my kids has an imaginary friend. Hunter  has an imaginary monster that seems to come and go, but mine was so real I can still see her face. Kristi Ernie was her name. She was Vietnamese and lived in the house down the street. She visited often, and when we moved to a new town, she still visited frequently. She visited, that is, until my mom sent her home one day. Kristi Ernie refused to get out of my older sister's bed, and we were arguing about it. My sister was NOT happy that Kristi Ernie was in her bed to begin with, so she was yelling at me to get her out. Finally, my mom came in the room, and for the first time, she spoke directly to Kristi Ernie herself. She demanded that she get out of my sister's bed, and she told her to go home. That was the last time I saw Kristi Ernie. I can only hope to have to speak to my own children's imaginary friend. That just might do my heart good again.