P is for Packages and Notes from the Master. 

A week ago I started up the Stiletto Momma Care Package Factory again. It had been shut down for almost a year, but now with the Older One deployed to Germany and desperate pleas of “Send cookies,” collecting in my inbox,  I’m back in business. 

I baked and shopped and assembled and reassembled (USPS really won’t ship it if it doesn’t fit.) and taped and filled out customs forms and finally shipped it off across the ocean. All 12 pounds of it arrived nine days later to hearty applause and gratitude-filled text messages. Not only had I sent cookies, I sent peanut butter, jelly (Every soldier needs a PB&J fix.), tuna, oatmeal, protein bars, fiber bars, Jolly Ranchers, lip balm, ear plugs (He has 40 roomies, and apparently a few of them snore.), and a letter from his little sister. 

I didn’t know she was going to write him a letter. In fact, she didn’t even let me read it. She just handed me a piece of paper that she had rolled up tightly like a scroll and tied with a piece of green ribbon. 

“Will you send this to my brother,” she asked. I said yes, and instructed her to add it to the top of the box. I didn’t think anything else about it, until the Older One texted yesterday to let me know he got the box. 

That was when he thanked me, not for the cookies or the PB&J supplies, but for his sister’s letter. It made him laugh, he said, and he loved it. 

He responsed to my curiosity (in the form of a text that read, “Huh?”) with a picture of the un-scrolled letter…


I burst into laughter right there in the middle of my cube farm. In that moment, I really didn’t care if I disturbed any of the other worker bees around me. Once the laughter died down, I realized my heart was swelling and I was close to tears, not from the laughing, but from the love my daughter has for my son. 

At home, I told her he had gotten the package and that he loved her letter.

“I wanted to write it funny,” she said, “’cause I thought he might want to laugh at something.”

I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she is.

“Plus,” she said when she pulled away, “I do think he’d make a good Jedi.”

H is for Honoring a Hero

HThe definition of a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities, and I have recently learned about a hero who is all those things…except the person part.

Earlier this week, Lucca, a bomb sniffing Marine canine was honored as a war hero when she received the PDSA Dickin Medal, an honor bestowed on animals who exhibit gallantry and bravery. The Dickin Medal is the animal equivalent of the British Victoria Cross, which is on par with the United States’ Medal of Honor.

During her 400 patrols searching for explosives and IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lucca was so successful that not one soldier from the U.S. or the UK was injured, except when Lucca herself lost a leg to an explosive device while on patrol in 2012. Her handlers credit her with saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers over her six years of service.

Heroes don’t have to be human; they just have to be brave.

Lucca is now retired and living happily in California with her first handler and trainer. Watch Lucca’s story here…

#WeekendCoffeeShare – 4/9/16

Coffee ShareIf we were having coffee, I’d tell you how my jaw hit the floor when I looked out the window this morning and saw snow on the ground. Then I’d ask you to check your calendar and verify I was on the correct month.

“Yep,” you’d say, “It’s April.”

“Great,” I’d grumble and walk to the fireplace to flip the switch and take the chill from the room. “I hope all those people who complained about 70 degree temperatures in December are happy.”

I’d head to the Keurig to brew you that strong dark roast stuff you like. I’d make a cup of Butter Toffee with Italian Sweet Cream creamer for me, and listen to you wonder how I can drink my coffee with all that stuff in it. Then I’d remind you that I didn’t realize the new-model Keurigs don’t make the coffee as hot as the older ones until you said something about it on your last trip home. Now I can’t drink a cup of it without nuking it in the microwave for 15 seconds first.

CoffeeIf we were having coffee, I’d tell you that as soon as you left for Germany Tuesday night, I thought of all the things I wish I’d done for you before you left. Everyone I know would have branded me a helicopter mom, but I wish I’d driven through five states to keep your car in my driveway during your deployment. I don’t have enough vacation time built up, and I’m not comfortable driving that far by myself, but I wish I’d done it.

Oh, and I also should have remembered to tell you to get an electrical converter.  You can’t just plug your gadgets in over there. The plug won’t fit. Too late now. Sorry ’bout that.

But you’ll be happy to know I baked your favorite cookies last night–chocolate peanut butter chip. I’ve also ordered packing material from the postal service and stopped by the grocery store to stock up on care package goodies. I got the PB&J supplies you asked for, plus quite a few things you didn’t ask for. I’m your momma, so I know what you like.

The A to Z Challenge is going good too.  Have you read A through H? My favorite was “E”. The most commented on was “B”, and the most read was “D”. (Probably because D was for “Deployment”, and I shared it with a bunch of Army moms.) “H” was freaking hard though! I wracked my brain for half the day trying to come up with a good “H” post, and then copped out with a video share. It was a heroically happy video, but it was horribly hard to find. (See what I did there?)

“I” is going to be challenging too. Got any good “I” ideas? Oops, I did it again. What can I say, you inspire me.

If we were having coffee, we would be at the end of our cups by now. You’d push your cup to the middle of the kitchen island where I’ll find it a few hours later and smile. I’d walk you to the door and remind you to “let me know if you need anything.”

Keeping with the ritual, you’d answer, “I will.”

Then you’d lean down, so I won’t have to reach so far. I’d wrap my arms around your broad shoulders and give a squeeze and a few pats.

With one last squeeze, I’d whisper, “I love you, my sweet boy. Stay safe, and hurry home.”

**This post is inspired by #WeekendCoffeeShare hosted by Part-Time Monster .

D is for Deployment Diversions and Making a Difference #atozchallenge

DMy first-born heads out for his first deployment today.

*sigh*

When he started his basic training at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the summer of 2011, I answered my friends’ concerned questions with, “Of course I worry about what’s going on in the world, but I’m proud he’s chosen to serve his country during a time of war. Plus, between school and military training, we have at least five years before he could possibly be sent somewhere. Surely we’ll bring our troops home by then.”

Now, that five-year mark has arrived. He’s graduated from West Point and completed his military training schools. He’s now a hard-working second lieutenant in the United States Army, which is still sending men and women to the Middle East on a regular basis. Add Islamic fundamentalists and unpredictable Russians to the mix, and the world could quite possibly be an even scarier place than it was back then.

The Older One tries to assuage my concern by telling me, “It’s just a training deployment, Momma. I’m only going to Germany.”

“Yes, my dear,” I respond patiently, “but the problem is, you say ‘Germany’, and I hear, ‘ISIS’.”

Such is the life of an Army Mom. I knew what I was signing up for when I encouraged him to play with GI Joe and fill out the West Point application. (Note: The first happened many years before the second.) As deployments go, I know six months in Europe is not the worst news an Army Mom (or any Military Mom) can hear.

I will be Army Strong. I will bake cookies and send care packages, and I will carry my phone with me every waking and non-waking moment until he comes home.

Which brings me to how I’m going to make a difference with a deployment diversion.

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Just one of many signs telling me to get a move on.

 

As many long-time readers know, I work for a company that is invested in my wellness. We have treadmill desks on every floor and signs on every wall encouraging us to move. We also have the 100 Day Dash—an annual challenge to walk as much as possible for 100 days straight.

The Dash kicked off yesterday with an added feature for the 2016 edition. The great minds behind the Dash have partnered with Charity Miles, a free iPhone and Android app that enables people to earn corporate sponsorships for charity while walking, running or biking. Just download the app, enable GPS and motion detection on your phone, select one of 30 charities and start moving. The sponsors of the app will donate up to $0.25 for each mile to the chosen charity.

It’s a great addition to an already fun program that lets me get fit, raise money for one of my favorite charities (The Crohn’s & Colits Foundation of America), and gives me a diversion for at least the first half of deployment.

My goal is to average at least 10,000 per day. It’s my goal any other day of the year too, but during the Dash, if I’m successful, I’ll be able to earn cool prizes like a shapeless t-shirt and a cute graphic to add to my email signature. Those are awesome for the moments when I just can’t help but brag about my physical prowess, but this year, meeting my goal also means I will have walked at least 500 miles, which equates to $125 for CCFA. That may not seem like a lot, but I’m optimistic enough to believe my $125 might mean my son’s children could one day have the cure I don’t have today.

The added bonus is that for this grand plan to work, I’ll have to carry my phone with me everywhere I go, which coincidentally, is rule number one in the Army Mom’s guide to surviving deployment. You can’t get a call from your soldier if you leave your phone on the kitchen counter when you go out to get the mail. I can’t log steps or earn donations if I do that either. Win. Win.

When the Dash is over in mid-July, I’ll be on the back side of deployment with only two more care packages to send and a homecoming to plan. Those diversions combined with lots of prayers and support from my Army Mom network will get me through deployment.

Please keep all of our soldiers in your thoughts and prayers. Their mommas will thank you for it.

The Best Thanksgiving Ever

As I am about to set the table for this year’s big feast, I am once again reminded of the one Thanksgiving that sticks out in my memory as significant. The Hubs and I dust off the story every year, and the telling of it is usually preceded by one of us asking the other, “Do you remember our worst Thanksgiving ever?”

I even recounted every detail in a blog post last year entitled…yep, “The Worst Thanksgiving Ever!” After I hit publish, I told him what I’d done, and we relived each minute of that day again. And then, like every year since, we laugh and go back to “the best part”, and laugh again.

So now, as I’m getting ready to re-publish the story, I’m wondering if it was really the worst Thanksgiving ever, why do we revisit it every year? Why do we tell the story over and over again if it was so horrible? Why do we laugh the whole way through the retelling? Why do we clink our glasses together in celebration if it doesn’t rank up there as one of the best memories of our marriage?

I think it’s time for a title change…

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The Worst Best Thanksgiving Ever

Every Thanksgiving as we sit around the table enjoying the turkey and all the trimmings, the Hubs and I reflect on the day. One of us will inevitably say, “Well, at least it wasn’t the worst Thanksgiving ever.” Then we’ll chuckle and smile and share the story all over again.

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This is NOT the perfect turkey I expected to find on my first Thanksgiving without family. (Photo source: Flickr, Sharon Mollerus, cc-by-2.0)

The Hubs was stationed with the Second Armor Division at Fort Hood, TX, that year. We had celebrated our first wedding anniversary in September, and the Older One was just three months old. This was our first Thanksgiving without family…at least without immediate blood relations.  The Army was our family now, so when the Hubs’ captain extended the invitation to join his wife and their two small children for a Thanksgiving lunch, we accepted.

We were just getting ready to leave our little apartment for the meal, when the phone rang.  I listened as the Hubs said a few “Yes, Sirs” into the phone. After hanging up, he told me our plans had changed. We would not be having a Thanksgiving lunch after all.

The captain’s wife had taken the turkey out of the freezer the night before, he said, and was baffled that the bird was still frozen when she got up that morning to start preparing it for our feast. The new plan called for football at the captain’s house while the turkey roasted, and instead of an early lunch, we’d eat mid-afternoon.

Mid-afternoon came and went. By 2:00, the bird was still frosty and hadn’t yet seen the inside of the oven.

The captain and the Hubs’ made a quick trip into post to visit with the enlisted soldiers during their holiday meal while the wife and I made small talk and snacked on half a box of stale crackers and overly sweet wine coolers. My baby napped, and I mentally calculated if I’d brought enough formula and diapers to get us through dinner…that is if we ever had dinner.

Around 4:00, the turkey finally made it into the oven. The Hubs and the captain returned, and we all waited.

Finally, at 7:00, the captain made the first slice into our Thanksgiving turkey only to find that the meat inside was raw. By then, the side dishes were growing cold, and we were all too frustrated to wait on the bird. The captain carved up a few of the cooked pieces and served the cranky kids while his wife finished off the raw pieces in the microwave.

The Hubs and I juggled our sleepy baby between us while we gnawed the rubbery poultry, and as soon as was socially acceptable, we made our escape.

We had survived the worst Thanksgiving ever and lived to tell the tale…over and over and over again for more than 20 years.  And over and over again we laugh at the mistake that set off that worst of the worst—a frozen turkey that someone didn’t know enough to take out of the freezer well in advance of the big day.

That someone was a young wife and mother, not much older than I was at the time. I imagine she was excited about the prospect of hosting her first Thanksgiving and about offering her hospitality to a young couple alone for the holiday.

She probably went to the commissary the day before full of anticipation about the recipes she would share with me. She probably spent more time than necessary selecting the perfect produce and agonized over how big that infamous bird should be. I imagine she was horrified the next morning to find it still as solid as it was the night before.

I’m pretty sure the reason we were not notified of the schedule change until it was too late for us to change our plans is because our hostess was busy praying to the culinary gods for some kind of Thanksgiving miracle to save the perfect day she had planned.

In her shoes, I would have been mortified to confess my cooking inadequacies to my guests. I would have repeatedly excused myself from the tense conversation with the lieutenant’s wife to check on the turkey, knowing I really just wanted to hide in the kitchen and cry.

I sincerely hope that captain’s wife looks back on that Thanksgiving and laughs like the Hubs and I do.  We may call it “Our Worst Thanksgiving Ever”, but if the worst thing that happens on Thanksgiving is a frozen turkey, I’d say we had it pretty good.

We had nowhere else to go, and no one to spend the holiday with until virtual strangers opened their home to us. That may actually be the best thing that has ever happened to us on Thanksgiving. We may not have had a perfectly prepared meal all those years ago, but we had a place to go for the holiday, and for that I am thankful.

Hopefully, that Thanksgiving didn’t prevent the captain’s wife from trying again the next year. I hope right now, she is preparing for this year’s feast with her grown children and maybe even some colleagues her husband met at the office.

I also hope she has remembered to take the turkey out of the freezer!

Don’t Let Them Win

I’m sitting here this morning on a sunny Saturday, my coffee steaming beside me, cartoons on the TV in the next room, and I am scared.

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#PrayForParis

I am scared for the people of Paris and for the family and friends of the victims of last night’s attacks.

I am scared for the people of France because this will surely get worse before it gets better.

I am scared for the soldiers who will head into battle and the repercussions that will be felt around the world.

I am scared for the mommas–those who lost children last night, those who will send their sons and daughters to defend their country, and those trying to explain it all to the little ones overwhelmed by the violence reported since they sat down to dinner last night.

I am scared this is just the beginning.

I am scared it will be closer to home next time.

I am scared it will be my son entering the fight.

I am scared my daughter will grow up in a world at war.

I am scared if we let them paralyze us with this fear, they will win.

I can’t let that happen. They are terrorists, and their ultimate goal is to spread fear, make us change our ways and hide lest they strike again.

So, I will say a prayer for Paris, then I will brew more coffee…I will sit in the sun…I will let the cartoons roll.

I will not let them win.

I Give To You, My Son

Today, on Veteran’s Day and at almost the mid-point of National Military Family Month, I am reminded what a honor it is to share my oldest child with the people of the United States of America. The author of the poem below remains anonymous, but I am pretty sure she is a military mom, just like me….

I Give to You, My Son

I held him as an infant; I hugged him as a boy,
and through the years he has become my greatest pride and joy.

BDUsI love him more than I can say, his life more precious than my own,
but gone are the whims and notions of the little boy that I had known.

For the years have passed so quickly since the time it all began,
and now he stands before me with the conviction of a man.

He wants to serve his country, he states aloud with pride,
as I try to sort out the emotions that I’m feeling deep inside…

A union of the uncertain fear, which I cannot control,
and the allegiance which lies deep within my patriotic soul.

I trust that my years of guidance will serve as a strong foundation,
as he performs the duties requested from his beloved nation.

I give to you, my son.

I give to you, my son.

God, please guide him as he travels to the places our soldiers have bled,
and walk with him through pathways where those heroes’ feet have tread.

Oh Sweet Land of Liberty, humbly I give to you, my son,
praying you’ll return him safely home when his work for you is done.

—Author unknown—

Picture It: Graduation

I’ve mentioned before that the past few months have been a little crazy. I’ve had a perfect storm of life events, and I feel like I’ve broken some kind of mom code by not blogging about the greatest accomplishments of the Older One’s 22 years. After all, over the span of just three short days in May, he went from being a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point to being a college graduate to becoming an officer in the United States Army.

How does any self-respecting mom, let alone one with a blog, not at least post a picture about all that? Maybe it’s because I can’t find just one picture that sums it all up.

It could be that moment after the graduation parade when all the Firstie families flooded the parade field to congratulate their favorite cadets for coming so far in four short years….

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It could have been later that night when he donned my favorite West Point uniform to escort his favorite people to the graduation gala….

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Then again, it could have been when he finally collected his diploma from the General….

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Or when his father and I clipped his new 2nd Lieutenant bars to his shoulders…

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But maybe it was a few minutes later when he raised his hand to be commissioned into the Army….

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Or a few minutes after that when he received his first salute from the enlisted soldier who also happened to be his mentor…

Graduation

But as I think about it now, I’m pretty sure, the one picture that says it all, is the one that makes my heart swell with pride and a smile break across my face. It’s the one that says he’s brave and strong and selfless. It’s the one that shows me the man of character he has become…an officer in the United States Army.

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On the Eve of Branch Night

Many of my sleepless nights can be blamed on a child.

I have spent countless pre-dawn hours rocking a hungry baby back to sleep, holding warm, pink hands through fevers and hugging away bad dreams. I have tip-toed noiselessly into darkened bedrooms just to plant one more kiss, straighten rumpled blankets and rescue favorite stuffed toys from the black depths of “under bed”.

I have lain awake at night listening for a breath or a cry or a cough through the sound waves of a baby monitor. I have blinked into the darkness and wondered if he is warm enough…if he is happy enough. I have made wishes on stars to grant dreams of fame and to ease the hardships of growing pains. I have lifted up silent prayers for safety and for acceptance and for guidance when he must follow his path alone.

In the silence of the smallest hours of the night, I think back on the Older One’s 21 years, and I have come to understand that parenting does not get easier. It only gets different.

I have moved from the challenge of deciphering a hold-me cry from a feed-me cry onto the agony of daycare drop-off and the hopeful coaching of friend-making. No sooner did I accept kindergarten independence than I was plunged into middle school anxiety and pre-teen awkwardness. Before I knew it, he became an adult faced with hard decisions, and suddenly, I am forced to step back, offer advice and hope he comes back for more.

I have gone from caregiver to counselor in the blink of an eye.

The coin the Older One received when he affirmed his oath to serve in the United States Army.

The coin the Older One received when he affirmed his oath to serve in the United States Army.

Tonight, we are on the eve of witnessing the result of one of the biggest decisions of his life.  Long before the day he was accepted into the Corps of Cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point, he has been evaluating the branches of the U.S. Army, trying to determine which one of them he would most like to make a part of his future. Infantry? Aviation? Armour?

In September, at the start of his senior year, he submitted a ranking of his preferences to the Army. Tomorrow night, the Army will tell him if it agrees. He’ll join the rest of the USMA Class of 2015 in an auditorium they have sat in countless times since Plebe year, but this event will be different. This is Branch Night, and it marks the beginning of their futures.

The cadets will sit among their friends, each holding the mystery of their fate in their hands–a sealed envelop containing an invitation to their assigned branch. A speaker will tell them how bright their futures are and draw out the anticipation of the evening’s climactic reveal. Finally, they will be given the order, and as a single unit, will break the seals of the envelops, eagerly looking for what they hope to be a ticket to the branch of their choice.

My wish to the stars tonight is that my son finds what he hopes to see inside that envelop. He has done everything possible to ensure a selection near the top of his list. I have listened to his plans and offered my advice. In this new role of parenting an adult, that’s the greatest thing I can offer. All we can do now is wait with equal parts anticipation and apprehension.

I predict that tonight will be another night of interrupted sleep. My child’s future will be determined tomorrow. I won’t sleep well until I know…until I know he’s happy…until I know he is content…until I know he well on his way to living the life he has dreamed.