Friday, September 12, 2014

It Doesn't Have to Be a Lonely Road...

In July, we passed the two years mark in our Philippines adoption journey, and this month makes eighteen that we have been on the approved families list. If the averages hold, that means we are probably looking at a match in the Spring, but averages are just averages.  I have to remind myself of that a lot. We knew from the beginning that this would be a long journey, but somehow that doesn't stop the impatience eager anticipation for the day we finally get the call.

Lilypie Waiting to Adopt tickers

The thing that is hardest about the adoption journey is that it can feel really isolating. As time passes with no word, you start to fret. You start to wonder if it is ever really going to happen. You start to worry whether you dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. Did I miss something? Could we have done a better job with the documents? Are we doing it wrong?

I'm meticulous. I know I did it all right, and more importantly I believe that this whole process is in God's hands. Yet I still obsess a little a ton about the details, worry about the unknowns.

I think part of the reason for that is that, comparatively speaking, the Philippine international adoption program is really small. There are only about 300 international adoptions each year from the Philippines, usually fewer than a hundred in the U.S. That includes matches, home findings for special needs kids, as well as relative adoptions. It's a small group. And because it's a small group, there just aren't a ton of support resources out there. It's hard to find other people who've been there.

Actually, that's why I started blogging about this in the first place. I wanted to write our story to keep our friends and family informed, but also because I hoped that other people out there, Googling "Philippines Adoption," might find it and not feel quite so alone in the process.

It's starting to work! In recent months, I've had a couple of families reach out to me on the blog and share their stories. One family, the Nissa family, sent me a message a few weeks ago letting me know that they had been matched with a baby boy. They're in the process of finalizing paperwork to bring him home now. You can read all about their story here (it's in French, so you'll need a translator). When Anne Nissa wrote me with her good news, she said "I just want to animate you on this road!" Boy did she! My heart still swells when I think about it.

I recently heard from another woman whose family was just matched with a five-year-old boy and his eighteen-month-old sister. She left her comments anonymously so I don't know who or where she is, but it was definitely encouraging to hear from her.

Reaching out really helps, too. Last year, through someone who reads my blog, I finally found a Philippines Adoption Group. It's a group of twelve people, all at different stages of the waiting game. At times, if feels like we are all taking turns being frustrated with the waiting, but sometimes commiseration is exactly what you need. And when any of us has questions, needs help or just an encouraging word, someone is there. 

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a new story about a couple in Denton, Texas working on a Philippines adoption. We were able to find each other on Facebook, and our virtual conversation about adoption led to our being found by another woman who recently started a Philippines adoption group on Facebook. Through that group, I met Mandy Rose and Jessica Wood, both mommies waiting for Philippines matches, both blogging about it.

We're all still waiting. Finding each other certainly didn't fix that. But what it did was give us someone with whom we can commiserate. Other families working through the same challenges we are, sharing the same hopes we do. Finding community in this journey, it means we'll get a lot more of those joyful heart swells as these families welcome home their children.

It makes waiting for ours just a little bit easier.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Praying Our Way Through Another School Year

It's that time again! Today is the first day of school in Houston, which means excitement and nervousness for kids, parents, teachers and administrators. You could feel the buzz in the air yesterday as we talked to many of our friends sending kids to the classroom, and quite a few headed back to the classroom themselves. 

Last year our church started a new tradition--every kid headed back to school gets adopted by a family committed to praying for that kid to have a great school year. Last year, we chose a little boy named Kevin, and I wrote a prayer for him. This year, we adopted a set of boys--Syd and Scout--but we also decided to keep Kevin too. 




Last year, I issued the following challenge:
So here's a fun exercise. I would like for every one of you who reads this post to find one person (or more, if you're feeling ambitious!) among your FB friends--a child going back to school, or a teacher trying to guide many--and say a prayer specifically for that person. You can borrow the below prayer, or you can say your own. And feel free to share! Let's see what happens when we are intentional about putting this 2013-14 school  year in God's hands!

And I'm doing it again! Find one (or more) kid (or teacher) from among your FB friends, and pray for them to have a great year at school this year. And let them know! Maybe it will make the whole process feel just a little bit less daunting. Below I have written a prayer for our "adopted" boys you are welcome to borrow if you want. And if you want to tell me in the comments of teachers, kids, or maybe even parents who need praying for this school year, I'm happy to add them to my own prayer list as well.

Heavenly Father,

We find ourselves, yet again, at the beginning of a new school year, and I'm coming to you, asking that you will be with Syd, Scout, and Kevin.

Please watch over them, Lord, as they get to know new teachers, new classmates, and perhaps even new schools. This whole process can be very exciting, and very daunting, all at once. Please calm their nerves, Lord, and help them focus. Give these boys peace as they face so many new, unknown things; help them know that You are their navigator, and nothing is unknown to You.

Please encourage Syd, Scout, and Kevin; guide them to good friends and good influences, and give them strength to resist the bad ones. Help them to recognize the difference when that is a hard thing to do.

Please be with the boys' teachers, Lord, theirs and the many others working so hard to reach and teach our children. Please give them encouragement on the rough days, help them feel appreciated, and give them wisdom to know the best way to reach our kids, and teach them to love learning.

Most importantly, Lord, please help Syd, Scout, and Kevin to know that you are there, with them as they face every new challenge, make every new friend, learn every new passion that this year has in store. Watch over them all and keep them safe.

I ask all these things in your sweet Son's name,
Amen





Sunday, July 6, 2014

Family Trip Malfunction

We had one of those 'it could have been a lot worse' moments recently.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a family trip to Arkansas to surprise Jake’s grandmother for her 90th birthday. We took the trip in Jake’s little Grumman Tiger, as we have so many times before, but this was special because it was the first trip that we’d taken together in the plane since Jake got home from Afghanistan. To say Howie was thrilled might be the biggest understatement on the planet. It’s all he talked about for over a week before it was time to go.

Jake flew from Kansas to Houston (or rather Cleveland, Texas) to pick us up, and the three of us flew together to the small airport in Saline County, Arkansas, not far from Little Rock. We usually land at Saline County Airport because it is a small airport (hence, typically no traffic jams), and it is near where Jake’s dad and stepmom live (Papa and KayKay to Howie).

On this particular trip, we were coming in to land just before sunset. It was an absolutely perfect landing, but when we turned left onto the taxi-way, the airplane started veering right for some reason. We didn’t know what was going on at first, so Jake had me hold the brakes while he jumped out to see what was going on. 

Flat tire. That’s what was going on.  In the middle of nowhere, at 8:45pm on a Friday night. Ugh. And we could see Papa parked near the entrance, about 1.5 miles away, but he didn’t have the code to get into the airport after hours.  Double ugh.  We called to let him know what was going on, but he could be of no help to us at the time.

After a few minutes, we saw a red truck driving our direction. It was a local pilot, just finished flying for the evening, coming to check on us. “The same thing happened to me two weeks ago, and someone came to help me” he said. “Lucky for you, I think I have the tools you need, and I’m looking to pay it forward.”

The man (who’s name I never caught, although I’m sure Jake did; I’ll just call him the Good Samaritan) went back to his hangar to get tools and returned a few minutes later to let us know that he needed to run and refill his air tank. He wanted it ready just in case the tire would hold air long enough to make it to the parking area. About that time, Jake suggested that Howie and I start walking to the airport so that we could let Papa into the gate to come help.

We walked along in the now-pitch dark with only my flashlight app to guide us the 1.5 miles down the taxi-way to the airport. I held my baby’s hand as he jumped at every nighttime sound he heard. I reassured him with “It’s just cicadas, sweet boy,” and “It’s only an owl” and “It’s just the frogs,” while praying that he couldn’t hear the coyotes in the distance.

When we got close to the airport I noticed what will likely forever be one of the most annoying sights I ever beheld: Papa, parked inside the security gate. He let himself in when the Good Samaritan left to go get air, but hadn’t driven down the taxi-way to find us. We hopped in the car and drove down to the plane. By that time, the Good Samaritan had returned and they were working on the plane.

Knowing he was staring down the barrel of hours of work, Jake told Papa to take us home so we could get Howie into bed, and so he could get more tools to help. We unloaded our bags from the plane into the car, and Papa took us to his house, where KayKay had some dinner waiting for Howie before bedtime.

Two hours later, Jake and Papa made it back to the house. They basically had to jack up the plane and then drag it down the runway to the parking area where it would sit for the night. The Good Samaritain told Jake and Papa if they came back to the airport in the morning, they’d find help fixing the plane.

The next morning, we had to divide and conquer. I had an interview with Fox at 7am in Downtown Little Rock, and Jake had to be back at the airport to deal with the plane. So Papa took Jake back to Saline County, while KayKay took me to my interview. She dropped me off and took Howie to the park while I tried to sound less nervous than I was. We all made it back home by lunchtime, and fortunately the rest of the weekend was much smoother sailing.

When Jake and Papa arrived back at the airport, what they found was the local pilots’ weekly breakfast club meeting. The pilots invited them to the table like they were old friends, fed them, and then fixed the tire for them in about twenty minutes flat. One of the pilots even gave Jake the tube to put in the tire free of charge! They saved us hundreds of dollars in repair charges, and hours of wasted time waiting for a mechanic to come from Little Rock and fix it. We really couldn’t be more thankful, or ask for more kind, generous people than the perfect strangers who saved our family weekend from ruin!

So this was quite the ordeal, but it is yet another instance in which, to us, providence in the situation is clear. See, apparently airplane tires are like bike tires—they have tubes. And whoever installed Jake’s tire tube did it incorrectly. The tube had been pinched. A blowout was going to happen, and it was only a matter of time.

In the time since Jake had the last set of tires installed on the plane, he has taken it on more flights than I can remember. Some of those flights were with us, but most of them were across country to see us, and they mostly involved stopping in remote places to refuel and keep flying. Just like with large aircraft, take-offs and landings in small planes happen at high speeds, and malfunctions during take-offs and landings can be extremely serious.

But Jake’s tire didn’t blow on a take-off or a landing; it blew when we were going about ten miles an hour and could easily stop the plane. And it didn’t blow at 9pm when he was refueling in [I can’t remember] Oklahoma, or 7am in [I’m not sure it’s on the map] Texas—it blew at a place with which we were familiar, with family nearby, and with me there to help.  In other words, the inevitable blowout, albeit terribly annoying at the time, could not have happened at a better place, or under better circumstances.

It’s too bad all of life’s little catastrophes can't be minimum-inconvenience ordeals. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Homecoming is...Complicated.

It's been two months to the day since Jake came home from Afghanistan, and I think I'm finally ready to write about our homecoming. Sound odd? Let me explain what I mean by that.

Ever watch those homecoming videos people post? Sometimes the news picks them up, sometimes they're just floating around out in the YouTubesphere. They're always beautiful, tearful, and joyous. I'm pretty sure I've never made it through one dry-eyed. For a split second, anyone watching those videos can catch a glimpse of what it's like to be a military family, welcoming home their loved one, safe and sound. It's really beautiful, and for a nation generally removed from military life, it's also really important.

Here's the problem with those videos, though. Watching them is like getting the Disney princess movie version of military life--a little adversity, a race to the "happily ever after," followed by "The End." But every adult watching the movie knows "The End" is not really where the story stops, and "happily ever after" is not quite what it looks like in the movies. So it goes with reintegration after deployment.

You all read about Howie and my harrowing journey to welcome Jake home. And any of you connected with me on Facebook saw the album of our homecoming, filled with beautiful pictures by fellow military spouse Rachel Spinuzzi. It was amazing, really. And there was laughter and tears of joy, lots of hugs, and all of the things you would expect from the reunion of a family long-separated. And in case you missed it, I included it here:


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Our homecoming happened around midnight on a Wednesday, so in addition to the joy there was also exhaustion, loading and unloading bags and bags of gear in the dark, and a little person so far beyond his bedtime he was going to go nuclear any minute. Still we were so thrilled to see each other we took it in stride.

Jake didn't have a place at Ft. Riley yet, so he came home to a hotel; the room was nice, and the hotel had a pool, so that was okay. It just meant that later Jake would have to find a place to truly unpack and settle. Still thrilled to be together--home is where the heart is.

Then one of my partners started calling and emailing incessantly with work that could easily have waited until I got home, but that she insisted had to be done immediately, wherever I was. Of the two days we spent in Manhattan, I spent over half of it working. But Jake hadn't seen Howie in ten months, and, again, there was a pool. So father-son time would be on the menu and that's still okay. We're still thrilled. Even if we're a little annoyed that work is taking mom away again.

On Friday, we drove to Kansas City to spend a fun weekend. It's actually a really great city for families, and we always have a good time. We took Howie to T-Rex Cafe for a late birthday celebration.


Howie was in the worst mood, though, and behaved horribly while we were there. And that's when we started to see the shine fade off of the "just thrilled to be together." Jake hadn’t dealt with a child's willfulness in ten months, and had very little patience for it. 

Lunch set the tone for the rest of the day--as often happens with a cranky little person--and by the time we were headed to dinner at Fritz's Railroad, we've all just about had it.

I mean, we're at a restaurant where you dial your food up on a vintage telephone, and it's delivered via miniature locomotive, and still it's a struggle to have fun. Fortunately, as dinner went on things relaxed. We got ice cream afterward and by that point all was right again. 


Saturday was a new day, and an exciting one for Howie. Kansas City, for him, means one thing—Legoland.  We got there early to participate in Legoland’s Easter egg hunt, and Howie was thrilled.  But it took him about five minutes to completely forget about the egg hunt—too much Lego fun to be had.  He road rides, built race cars, and even bogarted a guy’s attempts to build a Lego Eiffel Tower.  And Daddy let Howie pick out a Lego airplane from the store for his birthday.  

Howie had so much fun that he didn’t want to leave.  Which resulted in more fits and the stress that goes with it. Fortunately, by the time we got to the Crayola CafĂ© for lunch he’d calmed down.  He met the Easter Bunny and got some chocolate, then suddenly all was right with the world.  Because chocolate.

After nap time, we went to Kansas City’s Grand Central Station—a truly beautiful building—to check out the museums it houses.  We visited their miniature train exhibit (FREE to the public), and Howie loved it.  When it closed, we took the bridge over the train depot and found a great German Biergarten where we had a lovely dinner.  Howie and Jake capped the day off by building the Lego airplane.


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Sunday morning, we went back to Grand Central Station to have brunch at a great old restaurant for Easter.  And because we were there, of course we hit the miniature train exhibit again.  I have a feeling that it will be another required stop on Kansas City trips from now on.

Howie took a quick nap, then we went to see Disney’s Bears Movie, which we all really liked. The theater we found was amazing, and every seat was a recliner.  An adjustable recliner.  Which Howie played with throughout the movie.  It drove Jake nuts, and probably would have really annoyed other people too, but fortunately there was no one else in our row.  After the movie we stumbled upon another (FREE) miniature train exhibit, which we checked out before Jake took us to the airport.

So if you’re counting, that means we were together for five days.  After ten months apart.  Yeah.

Parting ways at the airport was downright excruciating.  Howie was sad; I was heartbroken. It was not enough.  Not enough to make up for lost time.  Not enough time to process.  Not enough time to (try and) ease back into a routine, or get used to each other again.  Heck, to get to know each other again. No matter how you slice it, not nearly enough.

Homecoming isn’t “happily ever after.”  I think for most military families, homecoming is catharsis.  It’s finally being able to lay down the burden of constant fear for our soldiers, our families, our households, and our sanity.  It’s like exhaling after holding your breath for a long time. It’s ‘I’m no longer solely responsible for whether my family is okay or not.

But homecoming is catharsis only for a moment, and then it’s the beginning of a long process. “Reintegration” is what we call it. Really it’s rebuilding families, marriages, relationships between parents and children. It’s undoing the months of independence necessary to weather deployment, to put a family unit back together.

For remote families like mine, it’s reintegration-interrupted. It’s months of critical family-building work crammed into the days we can snatch here and there to be together, basically starting over again every time we reunite. It's frustrating, sometimes disheartening, and sometimes a little scary. 

And for us, it's a work in progress. Probably, that's why it took so long for me to write about it--we're all still processing. But certainly, that's why any of you who have asked about homecoming, and how thrilled we are to finally be back together, have gotten a mixed reaction from me.

Don't let that stop you from asking. Questions like that may be hard to answer because, well, it's complicated. But it shows you care, and military families really appreciate knowing that people see them, and care, and are thinking about them, and rejoice with them. Honestly, having so many of you rejoicing for us gives us room to sort out the rest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Help #CrushtheStigma and Support Military Mental Health



If you follow me on Facebook, which many of you do, you've seen me talking about the fact that May  is Military Appreciation Month.  Throughout the month there are different days, events, and activities geared toward showing respect and gratitude to our men and women who serve (and have served) and their families, culminating with Memorial Day next Monday.

This week is Military Mental Health Advocacy Week.  The Military Spouses of Strength (MSOS) and Military Mental Health Project (MMHP), in collaboration with some amazing people like my friend, psychologist, and National Guard Spouse of the Year Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee, are working hard this week to spread the message about the mental health issues facing our military and veterans, and to garner support for efforts to address those issues while crushing the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking the help that they need.

The importance of this work cannot be overstated. Every day, 22 veterans in this country take their own lives. The Department of Defense does not currently have statistics on military spouses or children, but research by CNN on the issue is simply staggering. And that is saying nothing of the huge need among our men and women currently serving.

We understand the importance of addressing the wounds of our combat injured--and they are many.  It is easy to forget, though, that sometimes the piece of themselves our service members leave behind is not a limb, but a piece of their psyche, their personhood. Like all other wounds of war, healing can happen, but it takes time and professional help. The kind of help many do not have access to, and more are afraid to use because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

That's where we can help. Crushing the stigma starts with us. We need to educate ourselves on what invisible wounds are, and how they actually affect people. We need to send a clear message that we want to see our war wounded cared for, whether we can see their wounds or not. And we need to say to our warriors with invisible wounds: "these are battle scars, like all other injuries you sustained while protecting me and everything I hold dear. They do not diminish who you are, they merely require treatment." 

All this week the MSOS and MMHP are on the Hill talking to our elected officials about the importance of addressing military mental health issues. You can follow the MSOS and MMHP Facebook pages for updates.

Please join me in supporting them, by:

  • Take the MSOS pledge to urge the Department of Defense to increase its mental health initiatives HERE.
  • Signing MMPH's Change.org petition HERE, by sharing it with your friends, and 

Friday, May 16, 2014

I Hate that Truck

Update (8/26/14): I'm thrilled to report that the cursed truck has now been replaced with a new (hopefully less cursed) truck. The replacement was coupled with the following, very sweet, admission-against-interest for which I love him dearly, by one Jake Hicks:
"You were right, love. That truck was a bad call. I'm sorry you had to deal with my mistake."
I am therefore officially vindicated.




Have you ever hated an inanimate object? I don’t know what it is about my husband’s vehicles, but they seem to war against me in unexpected and ever more maddening ways.

When Jake deployed to Afghanistan, he decided to sell his Jetta rather than let it sit for ten months. Jake’s brother Daniel was moving to Houston and in need of a car, so it actually worked out really well.

I knew that meant one of the first orders of business when Jake got back home was going to be finding a vehicle. He’d been saying for years that he wanted a truck, and now he was going to get one.  I figured that Jake would come home and then we’d go test drive some options in Kansas City, where we typically spend our time together when Jake is stateside.

But Jake had other plans. One morning, I woke up to a text message that Jake had purchased a truck on eBay while I was sleeping.  Oh geez. And I worry about buying clothes online!

Since he was gone, Jake needed me to reach out to the dealer, take a look at the truck, and complete the transaction.  He chose a truck in Houston because he was trying to make things easy on me. Which, as you will see, is incredibly ironic.

I made an appointment to meet with the dealer two days later to inspect the truck. I have to admit, it is a nice-looking vehicle.  But when the dealer went to start the truck, he had a little difficulty.  He was surprised and told me that the truck had been fine so far. He agreed to have the local Chevy dealer look into the issue and see what caused the problem.  Three days later, the fuel filter, casing, and sensor had been changed. I went to see the truck again, started it several times, and it seemed to be fine.

So I finalized the paperwork for the truck on a Friday, and then drove it to pick Howie up from school.  When Howie and I got back to the truck, the valet told me that it wouldn’t start.  Seriously.

I eventually got the truck started and drove it to Autozone to have the batteries tested.  The technician said that the batteries were fine, though, so we drove home while I made an appointment with the Chevy dealer near my home for Monday.

I drove the truck to breakfast and to the grocery store on Saturday with no issue, so I decided to drive it to church on Sunday. I usually drive a tiny car, and so I was trying to get used to the giant truck before I had to take it to Jake in Kansas.

The truck started fine Sunday morning for church, but after church it wouldn’t start at all.  Several of the men tried to help me figure out how to get it started, but with no luck.  I wound up having to send Howie home with friends and have the truck towed.  And since the dealer is closed on Sunday, I had to have it towed home, then towed again on Monday morning when it still wouldn’t start.

The Chevy dealer near my home looked at the truck and found several issues. A hose needed replacing, and a valve was leaking. The dealer replaced both, and then I picked it up.  That same evening, I drove it to a Leadership Houston meeting in South Houston. I parked horribly at the meeting—I can’t drive a giant truck—and when I went to start it and repark, it wouldn’t start. You’ve got to be kidding me!!

What I usually drive. "Small Car Only" parking was made for this car.
I went to my meeting and, thank God, three hours later I was able to start it to get home.  And then again the following morning to take it right back to the Chevy dealer.

Meanwhile, I contacted the seller to tell him what’s going on, and how extremely displeased I am with the vehicle. Not surprisingly, he didn’t care. When you buy a vehicle as-is, there’s not a lot you can make a seller do to fix problems you find later. I have sent a strongly worded letter to eBay about the seller, however, and I hope that future buyers are protected from these problems.

Eventually the Chevy dealer got back to me with a further diagnosis: the batteries are no good. WHAT?!? Thanks for nothing Autozone!

Fortunately, because it was an issue that they should have caught in the previous visit, they didn’t charge me for the labor, and gave me a deep discount on the batteries.

The Chevy dealer told me that eventually the fuel injectors and/or fuel pump would need replacing on the truck, but since it wasn’t an immediate issue and we’d already sunk over $3,000 into the thing, I passed for now.  Or rather Jake did. By that point, he started saying things like: 
"I bet it was just the batteries all along, and these guys are jerking you around because you don’t know any better.” 
Nice, hon.




By this point, I’m extremely nervous about the prospect of driving this stinking truck across country.  I tell Jake I think maybe I should fly instead (even bought refundable tickets), but he was adamant that the truck—which he’d never seen but in true guy fashion had decided was only suffering from user error—would get me to Kansas. He said:
“Worst case scenario, if you get stranded, just leave the truck and drive the rest of the way in a rental.” 
You can imagine how well I took that.

But I was not going to argue with my husband in a warzone about this anymore. I loaded up the truck and started driving across country with Howie and all of our stuff.

It’s a long drive from Houston to Kansas. I planned to stop in Dallas for gas in the early afternoon, then continue to Oklahoma City to stay the night and drive the rest of the way the following morning.

Howie, slap-happy at the end of our trip.
We drove to Dallas through pouring rain (how I learned the truck also needed new windshield wipers; sigh), and got to a gas station around 2pm.  We filled up, grabbed some snacks, Howie had a potty break, and we got back in the truck. And it wouldn’t start. I tried half a dozen times with no luck.  I took Howie back inside the gas station, which fortunately had a McDonald’s in it. We had happy meals and watched a movie on the iPad, hoping that cooling off the engine would help.

Ninety minutes later, the truck finally started and we drove to Oklahoma City.  But we missed our “early afternoon” window and wound up stuck in Metroplex rush hour traffic.  Ugh. Fortunately, Howie was a trooper about it, and we made it to OKC. Eventually.

The next morning, the truck started and we got on the road, but we needed gas. I stopped at a Love’s along the highway for gas, but I parked on the wrong side of the pump (because my gas tank and Jake’s are on opposite sides of the vehicle).  When I got in the truck to move it, it wouldn’t start.

Dozens of attempts, three mechanics, an adjuster, and a well-meaning elderly man later, no one can get the truck started. Howie and I go inside and find a table where we can kill some time, hoping that the truck will work later.  

The only bright spot in an otherwise horrendous ordeal was how awesome the people at Love’s were. They were very kind and helpful, they gave Howie fresh baked cookies to eat while we waited, and regularly checked on us to make sure we had everything we needed.  I could not have been luckier in the place that I was stuck. Or in the fact that my iPad is chock full of Pixar movies.

Three hours, several good Samaritans, and countless attempts later, I gave up and called a tow truck. The adjuster helped me locate the nearest dealer, and a rental car company.

I was working on getting Howie’s carseat installed in the cab of the tow truck when, wonder of wonders, the tow truck driver got Jake’s truck started.  I just threw my hands up in the air.

I knew I lacked the gas to make it to Manhattan, Kansas, so I found myself asking:
“so if I fill up with the truck running, what’s the likelihood it will actually blow up?”
“Ma’am, you’re driving a diesel; it’s not going to blow up,” 
said the tow truck guy, more than a little incredulously.  I confess, in Wichita I tested this advice.  I'm pleased to report we did not explode.

I made it to Manhattan and drove straight to the airport, abandoning the truck for a rental car.  Hours later we were finally united with Jake (more to come on that), and I recounted the whole story to him.  The next morning, he wanted to go to the airport and check out the truck.  When we got there, the truck started for him right away.

And it has started for him every time since. Every. Single. Time.

Of course it has. 

I hate that truck.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Little Trooper


When I look at this picture, my heart warms and breaks all at the same time. It was taken during my Army Spouse of the Year photo shoot several weeks ago. We had just come from a park, where Howie was super happy (see yesterday's photo), to the U.S. Army Reserve Airfield in Conroe, where he certainly was not. 

It really took me off guard. Howie loves helicopters, and always loves visiting Jake at work. I thought for sure that he would be happy to be at an airfield again for the first time in months. I was wrong. 

Airfields mean "Daddy," and Daddy wasn't there. I had prepared Howie for this fact, but when the truth truly set in, I could actually see the heartbreak wash across his face. He didn't want to be there without his Dad. He hugged his Daddy Doll tight, leaned into me, and let the tears roll. Such is the life of my Little Trooper. 

You heard from me yesterday about Howie's resilience (in spite of my own shortcomings). But since April is the Month of the Military Child, let me tell you just how strong this Little Trooper really is.

For all of his four years on this earth, Howie has been a geobach kid: Jake has always been stationed away from us. Howie has never known a time when he could consistently come home from school and find his Dad waiting there. Normal is not having Daddy there to help him get ready for school or church, or to tuck him in at the end of the day. Ordinary is Daddy not being able to make school functions, or take Howie to friends' birthday parties. Typical is telling Daddy after the fact when Howie gets to do something cool.

This year with a deployment has been especially hard. But long before Howie could tell you what "deployment" means--and boy can he! Just ask him!--he understood what sacrifice meant. It meant that Daddy was working to protect everybody, and that means having to be away from us. It meant we can be sad when we have to say good-bye, yet again, or upset about driving for hours just to be together, yet again, but that it would happen. Daddy loves us, but right now he doesn't belong to us. Howie has known this his entire life.

Until Howie was two, Jake was stationed at Ft. Polk in Louisiana. It's about three hours from Houston, and so every Friday we would make the drive there, or he would make the drive here, so that we could spend the weekend together. If you do the math, that means that in each of those two years Howie spent less than a third of his time--about 120 days--with his Dad. Howie hated Sunday good-byes, but honestly it shocked me just how young he was when he picked up on "Daddy Math"--he learned to count to five so that he could count down the "in between" days. 
"Only four days, Mommy!" 
"Only three days, Mommy!" 
I would smile and count with him, even as my heart ached at the percentage of time that was "only" in the way of being together. He was wishing away his littleness. So was I sometimes, and I hated it. I still hate it.

At the end of 2012, Jake was transferred to Ft. Riley, Kansas. Now, Daddy is a three hour flight, plus a two hour drive away. We changed from an every weekend family, to a twice-a-month family. About five days out of every thirty between Christmas of 2012 and July of 2013 belonged to us. Except in May, when pre-deployment training meant we didn't see each other at all. 

Howie can't count a month's worth of days, and had a very hard time at first. He was frustrated, and didn't understand why Daddy Math was failing him. Why "Friday" no longer meant our family would be together. Howie started asking me which were "Daddy Fridays" and which were "not Daddy Fridays." In a week with a "Daddy Friday," he would do Daddy Math. But he decided that he didn't like "not Daddy Fridays," so he started asking me about Mommy Dates instead. 
"Mommy, is it a Daddy Friday this week? Or a Mommy Date this week?"
A shift in thinking. I could not believe my little boy's wisdom, and willingness to take Monty Python's advice about the bright side. He could be sad Daddy wasn't there, but he'd rather be happy that Mommy is. I never thought I would learn so much about perspective from my little person.

In July 2013, Jake deployed to Afghanistan, and yet again Howie had to adapt. No Daddy Fridays--no Daddy at all. For 260 days, through Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Years, and birthdays, Daddy had to be "far away in Gas Can, helping people." And Daddy "can't come home until he finishes helping people."  So Howie would explain his life to people who asked.

There were times filled with lots of talking through questions, and lots of tearful hugs. It was hard to watch Howie miss his Dad so much, even as I too was missing him. But Howie amazed me again with his ability to adapt. "Daddy is a hero,"  he asserted, "and heroes have to go far away sometimes, even when they don't want to, because it's important to take care of people."  He loves Superheroes, and he decided that Afghanistan must be, like Superman's home planet or Green Lantern's planet, very far away. One time he told me:
"we're okay, Mommy, that's why Daddy can help other people. Because we're okay." 
Floored. Sometimes, the kid has ten times my emotional maturity. Or more likely, he has his Dad's servant heart and desire to help other people.

For months he relished the Skype dates and occasional cards from Jake, and loved making boxes to send Daddy; he would have conversations with his Dad on his play telephone, and occasionally I'd catch him kissing Jake's picture with a quiet "I miss you!"  He told me stories about what Daddy must be doing in 'Gas Can,' and made plans for what they would do together when Daddy came home.

What I never said, and what he never would have understood, is that homecomings, joyous as they are, are fleeting for a geobach family. It's days together after months apart, and then it's right back to being apart.

I haven't even tried explaining that to him. I don't want him thinking about the next good-bye, or the many that will follow after that.

I wish I could make it so that my sweet baby boy never had to say good-bye ever again. I wish I could make that huge empty space that so frequently finds its way into our family go away forever. But I can't. No military family can; "mission first" is the life we live. Military kids are resilient because they have to be; they have no choice.

What's incredible is just how resilient they are. Over 99.5% of American adults choose not to serve and make the sacrifices that these kids are called to make, that Howie makes. Yet they just do it, and often better than the adults do! Awe-inspiring is what that is.

By the time Howie turns five next year, our journey with the military will be over, and we will finally be together. No more Daddy Math, or Daddy Fridays; they'll be replaced with Daddy Everydays, and I can't wait! And Howie is so young that Daddy Everydays will quickly become his new normal--when he's older he may not even remember what it was like to always be apart; how much he had to give up; how often we had to say good-byes or how much his Daddy had to miss.

He'll never know just how tiny he was when he learned to be brave, and put this whole country's needs in front of his own.

But I will remember. My Little Trooper is one of the strongest people I know.