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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ready to Reunite ... Right??

PHOTO: Our 2006 Reunion after a yearlong deployment to Iraq.

Okay, so I’m a few weeks out from my Soldier’s homecoming. It’s supposed to be the best of times, the ‘end of the trail,’ the happily ever after … right? And mostly, it is. The thought of having him home is exhilarating. Our children will be euphoric, our families are already rejoicing, and we’re making fabulous and fun plans for our Block Leave (civilian translation: the time-off a Soldier gets after a deployment). It’s a great place to be!

At the same time, it’s also a bit nerve-wracking. This man that I love, with whom I share all my secrets, that I adore with all my heart … is also the man that I haven’t seen in many months, with whom I’ve shared scratchy 15-minute phone calls ended by “I’m sorry. Your time has expired. Please hang up,” [forget any secret-sharing there!] and who has not lived in our house for over a year. There is such a stark contrast to all these emotions that it’s sometimes hard to sort out.

When deployment-induced insomnia strikes (that’s not just me, right?), I start dreaming up all kinds of things to worry about. Is our home routine what it should be? What mismanaged numbers might lurk in the bank statements of deployment-past? What will the kids have to say about the time Daddy was gone?

In my more negative moments, I see that our routine is clearly erratic at best; the bank statement, ugh, is a jumble of numbers that only he can truly decipher anyway (I know, I know … I should be all Army-Strong about it and take a class or something, but really, I feel more akin to the poor girl in “Confessions of a Shopaholic” than I do a responsible budget-minded mom), and the kids run crying to Daddy, screaming, “We’re so glad you’re home! Mom is crazy!!”

In reality, I think it will be slightly less dramatic than that, but there is some underlying pressure when a second adult re-enters your [err, ‘our’] home. For the past 12+ months, I have made every decision, prepared every meal, fixed every problem, bandaged every hurt, planned every event, organized every trip, fretted over every fever, driven every carpool, cheered every sport, conferenced with every teacher, paid every bill (I think?) and been responsible for every single aspect of our lives at home. Of course I have been able to consult with my husband on the big things, but the daily events were mine.

Again – the mixed emotions. I am thrilled to share some of this again (possibly leaving some extra brain space for quiet, sane thoughts), but am also a little unnerved and intimidated by it all. Where do you start catching up on the past year? How do you make up for the lost time? What changes will he see in me? The house? The kids? How will he have changed? What has he seen over the past year? What can I ask about? What should I ask about? How long before we’re truly ‘us’ again? … You can see how this might be a lot to decode all at once.

This is our third deployment and third welcome home. Ultimately, I am simply thankful that he is coming home … and just like in the past, we will become ‘us’ again very soon. It is just a matter of “time and talk.” Time to readjust to living together again and talking about … well, about everything!

By the way, one of my favorite welcome home memories comes from our first deployment … a group of wives was working on “hurry home” photos and banners to send to our Soldiers near the end of our deployment. One creative mom brought a photo of her two children … one holding a sign that said “Hurry home, Dad!” and the other holding a sign that said, “Mom’s gone crazy!”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Thoughts on Memorial Day

I’d like to think that being an Army spouse has enhanced my views on holidays like Memorial Day. It’s one thing to honor an unknown group of heroes, and quite another to remember someone a little closer to home. Seeing the wife of a fallen Soldier in a local restaurant, watching kids whose Dad will never come home playing at the park, passing a unit headquarters with photos of their fallen comrades … common sights around the community where I live … it definitely brings this holiday home, and makes me more cognizant of those I did know as well as the numbers of unknown heroes that I didn’t.

I remember another patriotic holiday, the first I had ever spent off of United States soil. My husband and I were in South Korea and had travelled to Osan to see an American 4th of July rodeo and fireworks. I had been looking forward to it and hadn’t really thought much about the fact that we were in a foreign country that day; but when our national anthem began to play, all of the sudden, I found myself teary-eyed. I was seeing the wonders of our country in a completely different light. I was happy to be with my Soldier in Korea and proud he was serving there … but suddenly I missed my homeland more than I could have imagined. The celebration of our independence as a nation had taken on a new significance for me.

This weekend, I am glad to honor another holiday with its own historical significance. Paying tribute to those who gave all they had to preserve our rights, freedoms, and way of life is an important thing to do. I hope each of you has found your own way to honor our heroes. I know families who attend and participate in the parades; and others who take their children to place flags by each headstone at the local Veteran’s Cemetery. What else can we do, I wonder, to show our gratitude?

I am so proud of our servicemen and women and love seeing veterans in our local parades and events. It’s unfortunate that many of them returned from war without the kind of respect they had earned. I hope they feel the honor and respect now that they may have missed when they served.

As we watched our local Memorial Day parade on Saturday morning, it felt good to say, “Thank you for your service!” to those veterans. My oldest son was a part of the parade and was excited about that. My youngest stayed with me, observing the procession. He was a little surprised when he saw the first veteran’s float. “Those guys are Soldiers?” he asked, “Like my daddy?” Knowing that he holds his daddy in “ultimate hero” regard, I was happy to tell him, “Yes, honey, those guys are Soldiers, just like your daddy.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Foray into Social Media

In many ways, I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl. With new technology, I tend to hold out, thinking “I don’t need that” and have nothing to do with it at all … until I try it out … just a little … then I’m hooked. I go all-out, diving in head first without looking back.

Case in point: facebook. I remember thinking what kind of book of faces would be helpful to me in any way? I simply disregarded facebook as something for a younger generation (subconsciously pondering the fact I used a term like ‘younger generation’ – ouch!) and nothing I needed to know. Then I heard it in a conversation, it was referenced in an email, a friend asked if I was “on facebook” … so naturally, I had to check it out to see what it was about. Just a peek. Well, hundreds of posts and dozens of photo albums later … I’m hooked. It's a great way for me to keep in touch with Army friends across the globe ... and nothing beats those "Welcome Home" photo albums!

Same story, second chapter … Twitter. I mean, really … Twitter? Could anything sound more silly? You can ‘tweet’ and ‘retweet’ and those you ‘follow’ and ‘follow you’ are your ‘tweeple’ … oh, and to avoid being a ‘twit’ – someone who doesn’t understand or use Twitter – you should sign up right away. I’m not making this up. Google “twitter vocabulary” online and you’ll see it all there. [On a side note, when did ‘google’ become a verb in the English language?]

Okay, so I was firm in my non-twittering stance … and then our brigade announced it would be using Twitter to keep us updated as our deployment comes to an end! I was shocked. Wasn’t Twitter for tweens? So … you see the punchline coming … I had a look. I signed up for my free account and, of course, I love it. I absolutely LOVE getting instant notifications from our brigade when there is an announcement. How convenient is that?

In case you’re not convinced of my ‘convenience’ argument, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, at an Army post far, far away … there was an FRG (Family Readiness Group) Leader. Her husband’s unit was coming home from a six-month training deployment and she must notify all of her FRG members of their impending return. She is happy to relay this message – they’re coming home! Birds sing. The sun shines. Happiness abounds. Once her phone calls are complete, she gaily dances to prepare herself for the homecoming ceremony. Alas! The phone rings again. The time for the ceremony has changed … no problem, she trills … and joyfully calls each of the members again. Tra-la-la … they’re coming home … oh! What’s this? Another phone call … and another … and another. The birds have flown, the sun has set, and she is frantically sprinting toward post, almost missing the ceremony for having been on the phone so many times.

Not the best fairy tale in the world (except the happy ending where the Soldiers DO come home!!) but you see my point. Now instead of making a dozen phone calls at every change in ceremony time (I don’t know the average number of ceremony time changes for each homecoming, but it must be at least 2 or 3 changes per each), everyone can receive their very own Twitter message! You can choose to have the messages sent to your cell phone (a feature that can be turned ‘on’ or ‘off’ for everyone you ‘follow’) or simply have the messages go to your Twitter page, where they remain, unobtrusive, until you login and check them yourself.

I also see that the Army as a whole is using many of these social networking and information sharing websites. Not only can you become a ‘fan’ of the Army on facebook and ‘follow’ Army updates on Twitter, you can share information from the army.mil webpage with: Digg, Diigo, Facebook, FriendFeed, Google Bookmarks, LinkedIn, Live, Mixx, myAOL, MySpace, Newsvine, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Twitter, and Yahoo Buzz! I can’t pretend to know what some of these are; perhaps additional research is required?

So there are a few of these sites that I understand and use, yet there is a world of others I have yet to conquer. For now, I’m a ‘fan’ of the Army and Army Well-Being; and I ‘follow’ them both on Twitter. Others I simply do not need and I will have nothing to do with them … yet. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait!

Photo: Soldiers waiting to board a bus to begin a 12-month deployment to Iraq.

In the Army world, waiting is a part of the basic way of life, the standard operating procedures (SOP), if you will. Soldiers joke about the “hurry up and wait” aspect of reporting at “O-Dark-Thirty” only to have to wait for hours to accomplish whatever task for which they were sent.

Waiting is a real part of a spouse’s life, too. One favorite is waiting for your Soldier’s orders. Now, there are orders, requests-for-orders (RFOs … you know the Army abbreviates almost everything), and then there are the waiting-until-I-am-sure-they-have-completely-forgotten-about-us-please-please-PLEASE-give-us-orders orders. Even better, sometimes you have the good ole change of orders! It’s all part of the sometimes-unpredictable way of Army life.

In my time as an Army wife, I feel like I’ve spent countless days/weeks/months waiting … waiting for something from the Army. Every permanent change of station (PCS) move is preceded by weeks of waiting for the assignment. Are we moving to Georgia? Alaska? Washington State? Korea?

At one time, I would spend hours researching every possibility … on-post housing, local real estate and homes, schools, neighborhoods, crime rates, medical facilities, sports programs (the list is never-ending but you get the point) … only to find out that our assignment was not even on the list of possibilities. Arg! Now I try to be a little more relaxed and engage in what my husband calls “tactical patience.” Get the official information first, and then research away.

We’ve waited for information on promotion board results, slates for next job assignments, and most recently, command selection results (um, still waiting on that one!). I’m also still waiting on redeployment information … and that one’s got to be the toughest. It’s such a zany mix of emotions at this point of the deployment – exhaustion and exhilaration, pride and impatience, joy and anxiety … all of these conflicting emotions crazily mixed up in my mind and accompanying me wherever I go.

Lest you think I’m a total nutcase … I think this is pretty normal. We’re on our third deployment -- and it seems consistent at least -- and I have talked to lots of friends and peers (fellow nutcases?) who experience much the same thing. This “deployment brain” is eerily reminiscent of my “pregnancy brain” … those days that I spent searching for my hairbrush (that never was found again – really!) and placing the milk in the cabinet and the cereal box in the refrigerator while putting groceries away; you know, the normal all-my-brain-cells-are-being-sucked-up-by-this-baby-who-surely-will-be-a-genius-one-day syndrome. It’s just like now … only now I can’t ‘blame’ the baby so I ‘blame’ the deployment – and the waiting.

At my best, I understand the Army way of life well enough to know that waiting is a necessary part of it. A “necessary evil” some might say … but I get it. In an organization of half-a-million people (over a million including Guard and Reserve), decisions cannot be instantaneous. I am glad that the Army has defined protocol and procedures for selecting Soldiers for promotions, commands, and the like. I believe in the system and whole-heartedly believe that ours is the most advanced, professional, and effective military on the planet. I got it.

At my less-than-best, though, I just want to know where we’ll be living in 6 months, what schools my kids will attend, and what continent our families should plan to visit … and surely this is not too much to ask?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

TORCH and ADVON

Photo: ADVON returning from a year-long deployment.

Okay, I have to admit that after 15+ years as an Army wife, I don’t know what ‘TORCH’ and ‘ADVON’ stand for. Something about advanced party … but there’s no ‘p’ for ‘party’ … so I just don’t know. I do, however, know what it means. It means your Soldier comes home FIRST!!

We’ve never had the honor of either of those designations. My husband somehow manages to get himself into the ‘stay-behind-and-make-sure-all is-well-out-here’ job and comes home late or last. Not that I’m complaining, though, as I am happy these TORCH and ADVON folks get here and get the place ready for everyone else to come home.

In a way, it’s reassuring to me. The wheels are turning, the process has begun … our unit actually is coming home and coming home soon! Homecoming becomes reality, not just a long-sought-after dream. It’s good to see our unit patch and our unit Soldiers back at home, on U.S. soil and on our Army installation.

It’s heartening to watch husbands reunite with wives; mothers and fathers welcome their son or daughter home; children screaming, “There he is! There he is!” when they catch site of their dad marching toward them.

Plus, I have the extra time I need to get the carpets cleaned, lawn mowed, garage cleaned out (again!), and finish all those little projects that, a year ago, were planned to help pass the time during the deployment (learn a new language, scrapbook the last ten years of our family events, take up running as a life sport, not just a means to catch the dog when she escapes into the neighborhood …).

I also get the practice of seeing the other welcome home ceremonies first. I have now perfected the best route to the welcome home location, picked out a prime parking spot, and checked out all the cute welcome-home outfits as inspiration for finding my own. Not to mention, I was able to hug our heroes as they arrived home.

Welcome home, Soldiers!