Author Archives: Georgeann

About Georgeann

Blogging about my life, thoughts, and adventures.

A Military Wife’s Perspective on the Shutdown

I woke up very early with a massive migraine.  My migraines can be extremely disruptive, and usually they limit my activities drastically for at least a day or two.  But this morning, I jumped out of bed to check the news with all the hopefulness of a kid praying for a snow day.  Is it over?  Did they fix it?  Oh.  They aren’t voting until this afternoon.  And so I waited, hoping for the best.

Once the kids were dropped off at school, I folded a huge ice pack over my forehead and took a much needed nap.  I woke up famished and fixed breakfast from leftovers found in the kitchen.  While nibbling toast, I inventoried the pantry and refrigerator again; both are emptier than they have been since before Thanksgiving.  This is actually not because of the shutdown, but an indicator that since the holidays, I have failed to sufficiently restock our family food supply.  If we have to go without a paycheck, this will very quickly become a serious problem!  While finalizing my grocery list, I considered several thoughts. Do our lawmakers understand what they have demanded of us, have they ever made such sacrifices as we have, have they ever experienced such trepidation while facing a perpetually uncertain future?

My shopping trip was interrupted by a phone call from the school.  My youngest felt ill and wanted to come home.  Once I had her bundled up in bed, I checked my phone’s news feed for progress from the Capital.  Headlines boasted that the shutdown has come to an end, and tomorrow it will be back to business as usual.  I didn’t feel elated or even slightly relieved.  Instead, I felt paranoid.  Social media didn’t offer any consolation, as the shutdown now has many Americans ensnared in heated online arguments over the ethics of withholding military paychecks, and how or even if  there is a correlation to DACA.  Normally a passive bystander during social media melee, today I had difficulty resisting the urge to throw in my two cents, especially when encountering  inflammatory comments directed at the military community.

Soldiers expressing concern about possibly not being paid, while on dangerous deployments no less, were blasted by angry strangers for their failure to demonstrate selfless service (which, by the way, is one of the Army Core Values), military spouses sharing their stories were criticized for not being sensitive enough to include the larger audience (which was apparently everyone in the entire damn world) , and were even accused of presenting their children as tragic victims in an effort to yank the spotlight away from Dreamers.  Ugh.  When did people become so hypocritical and hypercritical, not to mention so completely intolerant of any point of view that deviates even slightly from their own? I threw my fist in a couple of times, landed some solid hits, and made some valid points, but by the time I walked away from the computer, my only thought was it doesn’t matter, and it probably never did.  Everything is out of control for a reason.

As the day winds down, I am avoiding Facebook and instead thinking about what happens next.  I’m tired.  My head is throbbing and I’m not entirely certain that I’m seeing out of both eyes (yay, migraines!).  I spent a lot of time on my damage control strategy over the weekend, and while I woke up confident enough today to handle the shit storm, now I’m disappointed that I had to plan for a shit storm in the first place.  The shit storm is apparently not going to hit, but now I’m paranoid that my future is even more precarious than ever.  Should I feel grateful or angry? If the shutdown is really over, will things go back to the version of “normal” to which my family has become accustomed in our years of service? Maybe our “normal” actually isn’t healthy.  Maybe the promises made to us mean nothing.  Maybe this is a sign that it’s time to break away.

On a personal note, my family doesn’t serve this country because of the great pay and benefits, or for the adoration of peers, or to feel superior and worthy of special treatment.  We do it out of a sense of deep respect and love for this country and for our fellow Americans.  We do it because we believe in the Army Core Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  We do it because we love America.

Sadly over the years, more often than not, we have seen that our leaders, and in some cases our fellow American citizens, view us as nothing more than worker drones and bargaining chips.  Military families are angry, and justifiably so, because at some point America stopped seeing us as valuable citizens, stopped seeing us altogether.   The real issue at the heart of our angst over the government shutdown is trust.  No, we didn’t technically suffer, our leaders pulled through and we weren’t left to our own devices after all.  Everything worked out.  We will continue to remind ourselves that we should be grateful, but we won’t forget that our leaders exploited us and broke our trust.  Twice now in five years.  When trust is gone, gratitude can’t be won.

G

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Shutdown Blues II — The First 48 Hours

In October 2013 I wrote a post about the government shutdown and the negative impact it had on my community.  Although it was frightening and infuriating at the time, my family wasn’t impacted financially, and eventually I came to look back on it as a temporary discomfort, a bee sting.  Our paychecks arrived on time, we didn’t end up going without anything, and we were mildly inconvenienced.  Other people were not so lucky.  Those tagged as “non-essentials” were put on furlough, and those required to work without pay likely experienced long term negative effects that went unacknowledged.

Now it has happened again, and I am suddenly feeling this unique and devastating variety of angst so easily forgotten after 2013.  I appreciate the outpouring of support from those not directly impacted by the shutdown, who are outraged that the government would once again use its own employees and the military community as pawns in a selfish political game.  However, I’ve also noticed the absence of personal stories on my social media feed about how the shutdown is affecting fellow military families.  Perhaps it’s because we’re experts at staying cool under extreme pressure, or we’re reluctant to share what’s going on in our personal lives to maintain a persona of stoicism in the face of adversity.  So I wanted to show readers what the shutdown is like for a typical American military family.  Here’s my Day in the Life…

Day One     I didn’t know about the shutdown right away.  While my coffee was brewing, I found a Roseanne rerun on TV.  I avoid watching the news in the morning because I prefer to wait until later in the day to lose my faith in humanity.  Rosie was giving her boss a hard time and sassing back when her kids acted snotty.  She’s one of my heroes, a gal who can handle the shit life flings at her.  During the day, I would frequently summon imagery of Roseanne facing up to random bullshit as I muddled through my own interior turmoil.  As soon as I logged into Facebook, an article about the shutdown came across my feed.  That unique combination of panic, dread, embarrassment, and rage overtook me, and suddenly it was 2013 all over again.  How in the entire hell did this sneak up on me ?  I thought, knowing it had been lurking in the shadows all along, a vicious cancer posing as a bee sting.  While I chatted online with friends and family about the situation, I analyzed each emotion individually.  How long had it been since I’d felt so many negative emotions all at once!?

Panic    As a military family, we really depend on the government to pay us for services rendered!  What if they don’t? Will there be enough money for expenses? Will we miss a mortgage payment or a car payment?  If we do, will it hurt our credit scores?  If we end up in financial trouble, how long will it take to recover?!  The cruel truth is that our lifestyle has failed to provide us with a financial safety net in times of major crises, not because we’ve been irresponsible over the years, but because the military life is actually quite expensive.  Many costs aren’t covered.  We go into debt every time we move, we pay out of pocket for things that our insurance should cover, but doesn’t, and we  often don’t actually see substantial savings from military discounts.  There are perks, but we pay a premium just to have perceived benefits and imaginary luxuries.  So when the government doesn’t pull through and support us, we are left with nothing but what-ifs.

Embarrassment      Why in the hell am I embarrassed?!  Maybe because I never imagined that at this point in my life, I would have to bend and flex every which way just to survive the tsunamis created by governmental mismanagement.  I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a clever fall back plan for situations like this, because I certainly should know better by now, shouldn’t I?!  I’m embarrassed for assuming that the government wouldn’t pull this stunt again because it’s so unseemly to do this to any American, not to mention our own military!  Most of all, I’m embarrassed for my fellow Military Spouses, our Families, and our Service Members who have to put up with this, and we deserve better because we’ve earned better.

Dread     I considered upcoming social plans, debated whether or not to cancel, and felt embarrassment all over again.  Can I even afford to go out with friends at this point?  Embarrassment.  Should I cancel my haircut so that the money can be spent on essential items?  Oooh, there’s THAT word — essential.  The government seems to have a handle on who’s essential and who’s not, who goes without and who doesn’t.  Dread.  I should have seen this coming, and the worst part is that I did see it coming, but I didn’t see it coming!  More embarrassment.  I decided to save face by extending my hair appointment another few weeks under the pretense that my hair looks fine (it doesn’t).  My daughter wants her side shave re-done.  It is overgrown by at least an inch, and sticks out in a funny little tuft.  But she hasn’t mentioned it since Thursday, I think she forgot that I promised we’d go to the barber shop.  Maybe she won’t mind waiting as well.

Which brings me to rage.  RAGE.  Why should I feel all these other emotions in the first place?!  Why should my family continue to be jerked around, stretched increasingly thinner while we wait for the government to figure things out?  Why are we dangling like carrots for politicians to either grasp or bat away?  Our leaders haven’t learned anything in five years except how to fine tune strategies for torturing innocent people.  And maybe we citizens haven’t learned much in the last five years either.  There is no question that the rage felt by so many right now is completely justified.

But I wasn’t going to make this about my political opinion.  After my emotions self assessment, I went into damage control mode.  I checked the bank account and jotted down the balance, noted upcoming expenses, changed a few plans (mostly my plans to go thrift shopping for vintage sweaters and get my hair cut) and organized my coupons to maximize savings during my next grocery run.  For at least the next several days, EVERY trip to any store would have to be carefully planned, and EVERY purchase would have to be carefully considered.  I inventoried our toilet paper, cleaning supplies and food.  I made a meal plan to efficiently use food and reduce waste.  I do this every week anyway, but now it’s even more important to conserve as much disposable income as possible in case things get crazy.  We would have to be very well disciplined. I told myself that this is an opportunity to tackle my list of chores.  Chores cost nothing to complete.

I considered the timing of the shutdown.  Every military family knows that PAYDAY is a time of celebration, and for about a week after, we live high on the hog.  Keep in mind that for military families, living high on the hog is not what one might expect.  For my family it means splurging on organic meat and non GMO produce, filling our fuel tanks, and restocking household goods like dryer sheets, Clorox wipes, and maxi pads.  I know, exciting! We also take advantage of not being broke for a few days by paying for kids’ extracurricular programs, out of pocket medical expenses, and all the other miscellaneous expenses that gnaw away at our wallets.   A pretty typical financial strategy for many Americans, if I am not mistaken.

Usually by the following week, we are back to living frugally while waiting for the next payday.  I’m not proud of this cycle, and in thirteen years I haven’t figured out how to break it.  I would LOVE to be financially independent from the military.  Unfortunately, our family has been forced to survive on less income than we actually need in order to be classified as ‘thriving’, and there is absolutely no wiggle room for all the unexpected things in life that cost money.   As humble as our lifestyle is when we HAVE money, our lifestyle when we don’t can be both oppressing as well as depressing.  As payday approaches, my Army spouse friends play a game to compare who ate the saddest dinner; usually something like Saltines with generic peanut butter wins.  Cheetos and wine continues to be my low point as well as my contingency plan.  Even when times are good, we all feel the pinch, from the lowly Private to the high and mighty Colonel.

I spent most of the morning making decisions that aren’t important on normal days, but under the circumstances, they are of utmost importance.  These decisions will set us up for success or failure in the days to come.  Instead of getting a haircut, I can just wear my hair in a pony tail.  I can make simple, inexpensive meals and send leftovers in the kids’ lunches.   I’ll avoid going shopping just to shop, and I’ll get things down around the house.  I felt okay about the plan, still angry, but okay and more confident.  I had Roseanne telling me not to give up, because that’s what the bastards would want.

In the early afternoon, I realized that I’d promised to send a friend German rye bread from a local bakery.  I knew she would understand if I didn’t send the bread, but I had made a promise, and this suddenly because my most important mission, shutdown or no shutdown.  The bread became symbolic of me fighting the system.  I had to succeed, I had to get it.  Roseanne would be proud.  I would be proud.  I needed this victory.  The bakery was already closed, but I could visit a nearby German deli that sold the bread.  If I couldn’t find it there, I would have to try the commissary on Fort Carson.  I did not want to go to the commissary.  The Army wife rumor mill on Facebook was humming with news that the commissary would close by Wednesday.  Another non-essential service, food for military families.  I imagined the hectic scene there and resolved to exhaust all other resources before driving to Fort Carson.

Due to an IT glitch (I was assured that it had nothing to do with the shutdown) my bank account was temporarily also shut down.  I checked my pockets and found $45. That would have to be enough.  I spent $20 on the last two loaves of bread and a jar of rose hip jelly at the German deli, thanked God for sparing me a trip to the commissary, then spent $20 on a box of wine at the neighborhood liquor store.  With $5 left in my pocket, I headed home to check on the beef roast in the Crock Pot.

My husband had been out all day, and I decided to greet him with a positive attitude and creative solutions rather than bitchy complaints about the shutdown.  He has been deployed, risked life and limb, worked long, exhausting hours over many years to provide our family with a good life, and when we hit low points, it’s my job to build him up.  I choose to be with my husband, and he chooses to serve his country.  He’s the best man I’ve ever met, and he does everything, gives everything, to provide for his family.  He has served his country selflessly and inspired countless soldiers along the way.  He is loved and respected, and has earned his reputation as “the guy you always want in your corner”.  So for these reasons, I approached him calmly and offered support, even though my brain was still spinning with countless what-ifs.

Day 2    Still pissed.  The shutdown is a weird type of psychological punishment, a widespread mental abuse, with lingering negative effects that the government will fail to address.  Our leaders want to exploit us and fuck with our lives, then say “Oh we’re going to pay you…eventually…but you’ll do have to work without pay…indefinitely, oh and by the way, thanks for your service.”

The weather here is terrible.  Normally I go to the grocery store for the Sunday papers, but I don’t want to leave the house, so I’m blogging and watching TV, reruns of Monk today.  Monk is my hero too.  He knows what mental abuse feels like, but he refuses to give up.  I can admire that. I’m trying to decide when to put gas in my car.  I still have 110 miles to go before the tank is empty, it snowed last night, and the wind is blowing, so I can procrastinate for another couple of days.  There is almost nothing worse than putting gas in a car when it’s very cold and very windy.

I organized my coupons into a stack for Wal-Mart and a stack for Safeway.  When I tried to print a dozen coupons from the Coupons.com Website, I discovered that our printer was out of black ink.  Apparently black ink is a deal breaker.  It won’t work until I replace the cartridge.  My husband needs to print important documents for the week, so ink is indeed an essential item, and at some point I will brave the traffic, snow, and wind to go to Wal-Mart.  Toilet paper is on the top of the list, but it usually is anyway.  Toilet paper is a constant, shutdown or no shutdown. I have six coupons for toilet paper, so maybe I’ll stock up.  If things get really bad, we can always eat the toilet paper.

My Safeway list is mostly food items.  I’m agonizing over whether or not to just fill my cart to overflowing and let the chips fall where they may.  Money is just money, and shutdown or no shutdown, we will need food!  Or I could just buy enough for the week, which will cost less but ensure another trip to the store later in the week.  As I go over meal plans and grocery lists, I’m also kicking myself for checks I wrote last week for the girls’ school activities.  I could have floated one until late March, but wanted to pay so that I wouldn’t worry about it later on.  But I’m worrying about it now, kicking myself for not using that money to fill my gas tank or pay a bill.

I’m also kicking myself for using a few gift cards left over from the holidays.  I could have saved them for groceries, or toilet paper, but I didn’t.  Well, it’s all water under the bridge now.  No sense in beating myself up for past decisions.  Instead I’ve started itemizing a bill that I hope to send to the government, for my family’s expenses incurred during the shutdown.

It’s the end of the day.  We survived.  I picked up one daughter from a ski trip, and drove the other daughter to a Girl Scout meeting.  Now my car has 98 miles until E.  My coupons are ready for tomorrow and I have a plan to get through the day.  For now, I plan to pamper myself with cucumber slices under my eyes and a glass of wine.  I think I will add the 68 cent cucumber to my itemized bill for Washington.   I also think that I will add that box of wine from yesterday.  Self medicating may not have been necessary if it wasn’t for the shutdown…

Stay strong, people!

G

 

 

 

One Year Chip

An alternate title: today I called a total stranger a bitch.

For several months now, I have been trying to motivate myself to come back to my blog and write something, anything.  My last post described how alcoholism had torn my family apart after decades of substance abuse, denial and enabling behavior.  When my family disintegrated, it kind of killed me inside.  I lost the desire to write, and instead spent my time seeking security and continuity in my life. My efforts to be a happier, healthier, just plain better person have not always led to success, which brings me to this morning, and this blog post.

This morning.

I managed to stand, not merely step, but stand, totally oblivious, for entire minutes in a puddle of gasoline while fueling my car.  My shoes reeked when I arrived at the veterinary clinic to have my dog checked for a post operative infection.  I was distressed by his frantic attempts to scratch his oozing sutures, and when the veterinary technician reached out his left hand to take the leash, I misunderstood his intent and grasped his left hand with my right in an incredibly awkward handshake, which just set a really weird tone for the rest of the appointment.

After leaving the clinic, I noticed a missed call from an unfamiliar number, and there was a voice message.  Returning the call was certainly not my first mistake today, but it proved to be my worst!  I ended up locking horns with a perverse collections agent who clearly takes pleasure in antagonizing innocent citizens. She wanted me to give her information so she could contact my father. Of course, she refused to divulge any herself, but I had researched the number prior to calling back, and once I had identified that she was from a collections agency, it wasn’t a huge leap to figure out why she was calling.   Her understated Gestapo tactics indicated that she meant to intimidate me, but I have dealt with villainous types before.

We were more or less at a stalemate when she stepped waaaaay over the line by making weirdly menacing comments about other members of my family.  Doesn’t matter the situation, don’t use my family as leverage to intimidate me. I informed her that she was a bitch and hung up, then plotted my revenge while driving home.  I considered calling her back incessantly and hanging up for the rest of the day, or playing the ever lovely skull searing fax tone full volume every time she answered her phone…Not my finest hour.  I’ve never actually called anyone a bitch or plotted revenge.  But she did make vague threats, and she named names…

The upsets of this morning continued to linger after I returned home, removed my reeking shoes, and gave the dog a sedative.  The incidents at the gas station and clinic were just comical, but the phone call in particular shook me more than I had anticipated.  It was just another reminder that things are so not cool with my family.  I am getting into fights with creepy collections agents on behalf of my family, so no…things are not cool.  A flood of embarrassment and humiliation had washed over me during that phone call.  My family drama suddenly brought to the attention of a total stranger, my measly explanations about being more or less estranged from my parents, and the interrogation slicing open a wound that I thought had been adequately soothed with months of affirmations, quiet reflection, and pretending that my life is super awesome.  I vented my outrage into a Word document.  How dare some smug anonymous witch make me scrutinize my feelings when I had better things to do!

After considering whether or not the unfortunate incident was worth pursuing, I decided that although this individual was totally being a bitch, she was just doing her job, and a miserable job at that.  I can’t really hold a grudge. Intimidating people over the phone is, aside from obviously being a source of enjoyment for her, likely a useful tactic when dealing with people who actually have information but are hesitant to be forthcoming. I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting today (after all, there is also a rat caught in my egress window and at some point I will have to fight that battle), then put the document into the trash, walked away from the computer, poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, and threw a load of laundry in the washing machine.  For some reason I thought about the One Year Chip in my antique dish cupboard.  Even though I started this day horribly, thinking about the chip sitting there reminded me that there is time to make the day better.

The beginning of this summer.

I hadn’t seen my father in over a year.  My last good memory of him was two years ago, when we spent a whole day in the Black Hills.  It remains one of my favorite memories.  We packed sandwiches and cans of Coke, took the four wheeler out to the mineral claims, and updated boundary signs.  I took a thousand pictures and inhaled as much of the pine scented air as possible before my journey back to Missouri.  If I was forced to forget all memories of my father except one, this memory I would keep.  Everything since has been tinged with grief.  So when I saw him again, a few months ago, I was actually quite numb.  I had put my emotions on ice for so long, and there was a distance. It was nice to see him, and it would have been nice to catch up, but the connection was lost.  It was like trying to continue a phone conversation over heavy static.

We came back to see Dad because it was necessary that we retrieve furniture and personal items from the school where my parents had lived.  Time was of the essence because the building was rapidly falling into disrepair and Dad had been ordered to sell to liquidate assets and pay debts.  There was also some danger of the family heirlooms being damaged or looted. I was extremely anxious about the whole retrieval process, at the same time wanting to save anything with family history attached, but also feeling dread at the prospect.  I hadn’t been in the building in nearly two years, and seeing the decay was shocking.  I wandered around in disbelief, staring at crumbling walls, water stains eating through the wood floors, and garbage rotting in corners.  The building smelled like a dying creature and many of the items we brought back emitted the same fetid odor.  I threw away old papers and fabrics that simply would not air out, unable to hold onto anything that smelled like the school, not after seeing it in such disgrace.

Not everything rescued from the building was damaged, however.  Most of the furniture and family heirlooms were successfully recovered, save for a few things that we could not find; these probably made their way to a pawn shop or some crackhead’s trash can fire.  I felt bitter that some things were missing, grateful that most items were not, and guilty for being so attached to things in the first place.  The heirlooms would never be a replacement for the relationships that I wanted from my parents, but if relationships were impossible, the heirlooms would at least buoy me to my own history and identity.

One particular item was especially important, and I agonized over whether it would still be in the school when we arrived.  It was a very old dish cupboard that had belonged to my great grandmother and then my grandmother.  As a child I included the dish cupboard in many of my daily adventures while visiting my grandparents.  My grandmother kept it in a huge family room built over the garage.  I spent hours in that room, parading my horse figurines and Barbies across the carpet, staging exciting chases across the land forms which I made from old furniture.  Tables made wonderful mesas, and chairs were perfect for hair raising cliff top rescues.  The dish cupboard sometimes became involved, because I could open one of the bottom cabinet doors to let my ponies “hide” in the cave-like interior.  When tired of playing, I simply gazed through the glass of the top doors at the little collections of tea sets and souvenir plates that Grandma brought home from her many road trips and exciting vacations.

When the dish cupboard made its way to my parents’ school, I still enjoyed looking in through the glass at the arrangement of special dishes, though over the years it held fewer items until by the time Mom was ready to leave, the cupboard was nearly bare.  It had been neglected for so long that when we moved it into our home in Colorado, I discovered that the wood had shrunk considerably and pulled away from its once perfect seams, and great cracks had begun to travel along its length.  I saturated it with oil to protect it from the extreme dryness of the Colorado air, one coat, then another, and finally a third for luck.

After the outside was oiled to my satisfaction, I began to clean and oil the interior.  That is when I found the One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous.  It had been my father’s, something he must have earned and carried around at one time.  It must have been dropped into the cupboard, perhaps as an afterthought.  Or maybe it was deliberately placed there.  It’s hard to say.  It had adhered to the back of the cupboard where a sticky stain kept it from shifting during the journey down several flights of stairs, onto a U-Haul truck, across a handful of states, and then into my home.  Holding it in my hand, I read both sides.  The message seemed to be meant just for me, for that moment.  I considered the infinite varieties of circumstances that would have brought this coin into my possession and determined that it should be a reminder to me when life was giving me a rough turn.

“God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Today.

I was mean to a total stranger on the phone.  Granted, she was asking for trouble and pushing my buttons on purpose.  But I don’t like the way the whole situation developed, as though the scene were everything, and I was merely playing a minor part in an undesirable melodrama. I knew when I dialed the number that there was only one way the scene could end, and I played my part, on cue as always, falling into the role of the ever reliable character, buffering my parents from the realities that they had created. The morning’s incident left me feeling disgust at being duped once again into playing a character I no longer want to be.  It’s time to start living by the Serenity Prayer on the One Year Chip.  I must sort out the things which cannot be changed from the things that I can change, and focus my energy on what is actually my responsibility.

At one time my father earned his One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous.  He must have spent an entire year attending meetings, gaining perspective and motivation from peers like himself, and refraining from using a dangerous substance.  Perhaps that year was glorious, or perhaps it was a living nightmare.  I will never know.  What I do know, when I look at the chip, is that for me it represents my goal to learn which battles are mine to fight.  Someday I will look back on this morning as a stronger, healthier person. Perhaps the next year will be glorious for me, or perhaps it will be a living nightmare. But I will never know until I break from the prepossession that I am obligated to live out someone else’s drama.  It is time to be the author of my own story.

 

~G

A Letter to my Children About Alcoholism

My darlings,

You probably will remember this Christmas as a time of joy over your new kitten as well as confusion over a missing family member.  Someone very special to us was not here this year because of a sickness.  I am sad to say that over the years the sickness had hurt us all, and we were together this Christmas to pick up the pieces as best we could.  Mindless of the adult tension, you played games and built a snowman. Your questions about the circumstances went unanswered, and someday when you are older, we owe you an explanation.  Christmas should be a magical time for children, a celebration of miracles when wonder and joy abound.  Children are too innocent to understand that in the adult world, there is no such guarantee for happiness.  You don’t realize it now, but you were robbed of the Christmas that you deserved, and I will make it up to you.

I know that for you, sleeping camp-out style in a cold, filthy building was an adventure.  I used to think that way too.  The meager Christmas tree that we erected in a dirty corner of a dusty room at the last minute probably looked better to you than it did to me. The broken ornaments found in an old drawer probably glistened a bit more in your eyes, bright with new dreams.  The food probably tasted better and the arguments probably sounded less vicious because you were counting down the minutes until Santa came down the chimney.

You went about life as always, preoccupied with watching all the Christmas cartoons, drawing pictures, and teasing each other.  You fixed a plate for Santa with no help from the adults, who were too busy anyway, shouting over each other and sloshing glasses of wine on the stained floor. I envied your oblivion, and yet I could not help but wonder how much you had already deduced.  After all, you are the smartest children I know.  How could you not notice that many things were strange this Christmas?

While you were gleefully playing with your new kitten, our entire family imploded.  I want you to know that it was a long time in the making, and it had nothing to do with you.  Actually, that is not true.  For me and Daddy, it had everything to do with you.  I don’t imagine that my childhood was like yours.  I grew up very quickly, learned to hide problems and make excuses for my loved ones, and tried to be the glue that held everything together.  The role I played is not the role that I want any of you to play.  Because it’s not how Daddy and I want to treat you, it’s not right, and it’s not good for you.  I want you to have a stable and healthy upbringing, but I have noticed that I am passing on to you some very bad habits that I learned as  a child.  You deserve better than what I had, and only I can make changes in my own life to improve the conditions in yours.

Someday I hope that you understand the decisions that were made, the lines that were drawn, and the boundaries that were established.  I hope that you are not damaged because of what I experienced, and I hope that I have the strength to change myself before it is too late for you to have the family, the memories, and the life that you want and deserve.  Your daddy and I had to make a very important decision this Christmas, and we both pray that our family will be much healthier by next Christmas.  It is January 1st, New Year’s Day.  My heart aches to speak to people whose ears have been closed, but I remain hopeful that it is not too late for us.  It is time for me to break a long and dangerous cycle, and to give you the best gift that I possibly can.

Your life is what you make of it, but without the proper tools, you cannot thrive.  You don’t know it now, but this year for Christmas Daddy and I gave you the gift of a better chance at life because we finally put you first.  We lifted the curse of a million bottles and cans, and we released you from the grips of a family disease.  The road ahead won’t be easy for any of us because we have been affected deeply by a sickness that hurts entire families, but we are working together to make our family better.  Daddy and I owe that to you all.  You will have a better life than your parents, because of the decisions your parents are making for you now.  This is my promise to you, my darlings.  I love you all unconditionally,

~Momma

What I Learned

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’m a little embarrassed, possibly slightly horrified, but mostly I’m unrepentant over neglecting my blog.  This year has been so jam packed full that it is a miracle I have a few minutes today to sit down and type!  And what better topic to reflect upon than things I learned this year, among all the chaos and clamor?

The year is nearly over, and in one week I will be celebrating a wedding anniversary.  This year, more than others in the past, I am especially grateful for my husband.  You see, this year we struggled a bit more than we had before, and there were days when I wasn’t sure we’d make it.  I guess after ten very good years, we were bound to hit a small bump.  We fought a lot, I cried — a lot–  and gave my husband the silent treatment, he hid in the garage to avoid my icy glares.  Had we become terrible at communicating and getting along?  Were we just too lazy to try hard enough?  Were we burned out?  Were we incompatible? I worried about the dreadful possibilities and What Ifs.

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Aren’t we adorable?

Then some things happened.   We started to walk in each other’s shoes, to see the world from each other’s point of view.  Now, with our anniversary just seven short days away, I am feeling as though my worries and doubts have been swept away by a giant cosmic broom.  Okay, that was a bit sappy, but after surviving the year and every obstacle that presented itself, I am looking with joyful anticipation into the future.  Both my husband and I have grown this year, trough trial and error (lots of error), tough decision making, sheer stubbornness, and a refusal to give up on ourselves or each other.  It wasn’t always easy, but we grew together and moved forward as a couple.

When we tied the knot, I was unsure that I could be a good spouse.  The demands, real and perceived, seemed too intimidating, and I spent many years feeling like a perpetual failure.  I am very lucky that my husband never gave up on me, because there were days when I wanted to give up on myself.  Many people use the term “better half” in jest, but in our case, I truly believe that he is mine.  He is the one who completes me, complements me, and tempers me.  And if you ask him, he will tell you that I am his better half for the same reason.  It took a few years to get to this point, but thank God for the situations that brought us here!

So, to tie things up neatly, on to what I have learned.  A marriage, or any long-term romantic relationship for that matter, is not a complete thing upon inception.  It’s more like an empty vessel which must be filled to be of any use.  The couple must contribute constantly to the relationship, creating an abundance of memories, warmth, forgiveness, trust, encouragement, and of course, love.  A full vessel will help the couple remain resilient through the tough times.  A vessel that isn’t constantly being refilled will produce nothing for the relationship.  My biggest mistake over the years has been neglecting to contribute as much to my marriage as my husband deserves.

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My better half at Bear Butte, May 2015

I’m really lucky that he is about the most patient person I know, because despite my flaws, he is still here.  And yes, I give myself some credit for sticking with him despite his flaws.  😉  This year we both learned how valuable our individual contributions are to our marriage.  A good friend of mine who once gave me invaluable marriage advice would call this ‘growing together’.  What better way to grow together than to tell our significant other “I choose you every day” during the difficult times.  So, I am delighted to wrap up my eleventh year of marriage with a new found wisdom and a deeper appreciation of what I have (everything).

 

~G

You Have One Year…

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If you had one year to accomplish your goals, what would you do?

We recently moved to Missouri, and we are only here for about a year (long story).  The plan was that I’d get a part time job, something to help with car payments, or for extra spending money on the weekends.  As soon as the last box of odds and ends was unpacked, I started applying for jobs in the area.  I was feeling motivated and ready to be an employee. Days, then weeks went by with zero responses.  I’d applied for nearly a dozen jobs, and eventually heard back from two, letting me know that “we regret to inform you that at this time we do not have a position available“.  The only people interested in “hiring” me were the scam artists trolling SitterCity, which was incidentally my last resort for respectable work.  It didn’t take long to start feeling demoralized.

I expressed these frustrations to my husband.  It’s not as though I’m uneducated and inexperienced, I lamented.   I have the potential to be good at many different jobs, and doesn’t frickin’ life experience count as something?  I wondered if my husband expected me to “be successful” by earning of money.  Would he suspect that I was just sitting around the house drinking vodka, watching Netflix and writing (which I admittedly do quite religiously) and be disappointed in his unsuccessful wife who couldn’t even land a job as a cashier?

Everything happens for a reason. We are only here for one year.” my husband told me. “Time is already passing.  What do you want to do while we are here?  Decide what you want to do and then do it.  I will support your decision.”

I’d already considered what I really want to accomplish during the next year.  It didn’t really make sense to spend several months searching for a job, only to begin my exit strategy immediately after securing said job.  And, to be honest, I don’t feel as enthusiastic about working part time as I do about writing full time.  I have been looking for the opportunity to focus on my writing.  Funny how life works.  Here we are in a quiet neighborhood.  My kids go to school and give me a long day to write and think.  We have only about nine months left here, and none of my accomplishments have been work-related.  I am happy all the same.

What would you do if given a full year for anything you want?  If you had the time and resources to pursue any interest, goal, relationship, or challenge, would you do it, or would you squander the opportunity?  Take a moment and consider your options.  What about that new hobby you’ve been mulling over; or perhaps you want to revisit a skill from your younger days? Will you find a new friend to accompany you on adventures, or rekindle an old romance?  Will you make time for an exotic trip, or will you turn your home into a lush stay-cation spot?  What about learning a new language or picking up an ethnic cookbook?  Think of all the possibilities. The clock is ticking.

~G

 

P.S. Besides focusing on writing for the next year, I’ve decided to try to learn German and Italian using the free online program known as Duolingo.  This is either a great idea or completely insane (I will be updating you on it, down’t worry).

 

 

Something to Think/Write About

2015-09-10 09.27.32Last night when it was time to read stories before bed, my daughter found a book long hidden in our collection.  I had gone downstairs to tuck her in and when I saw it at the top of her stack, I said “Oh, you found ‘The Librarian of Basra’.  Did you like it?”

She answered, “I loved it!  I am feeling so many emotions from this book right now!”  Wow.  I had never seen her respond to a book like this before. She asked many questions about it, so I promised to find out as much as possible for her about the librarian of Basra.

I hadn’t looked at this book in a long time.  It was discovered in the most unexpected of places, a scratch and dent store in Independence, Missouri.  I was cruising the book section, not really looking for anything at all, and then I found this book.  I stood in the store and read it, not quite believing the great fortune I’d stumbled upon.  Reading the story made me feel connected once again to people I had known and lost — friends on the other side of the world who I never would have met had it not been for a war.  People who did nothing to deserve the wrath that had been raining down on them.

The story is written and illustrated by American author Jeanette Winter, known for creating vibrant true tales about real life heroes in a way that is palatable for younger audiences. This story is about Alia Muhammad Baqer, the chief librarian in Basra, forced to give up her building and livelihood when the governor decides to use it as his new headquarters. Baqer’s courage and tenacity saves around 30,000 rare and valuable books from destruction when the library burns to the ground during the early days of the Iraq war.  Although she cannot save every book, Baqer’s efforts prevent the entire collection from being lost and she becomes a local hero.  At great risk of her own safety, Baqer chooses to rescue knowledge, because as a librarian, she knows how intrinsic books are to the survival of her culture.

American cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, also depicts Baqer’s story in a graphic black and white comic book format, also child-friendly.  In the Amazon.com reviews section of Stamaty’s book, a reviewer by the name of Judy K Polhemus had this to say:  “As a girl, Alia had read about the Mongol invasion of Iraq and the burning of the Baghdad Library. She equates the burning of a library and its books with the destruction of the culture of her country. Burn a library and you burn a collective recorded memory.  Alia singlehandedly assumes the responsibility… She stuffs her purse and loads her arms under her shawl and walks out, loads her car, returns for another load.  City and military officials who now occupy the library, daring the enemy to bomb their library, pay her no heed.  She fills her car.

Night after night she comes home with a car full of books.  Her husband, bless him, unloads them into a closet, then guest room, then into other rooms.  (I’m a librarian and understand her distress and need to save the books!).  Then neighbors and friends, and those who hear about the effort, and then many other people help rescue the books.  The only books intentionally ignored are those about Saddam Hussein.”

Further research cemented my respect for Baqer, her courage, her passion for books, her legitimate concern that the destruction of the library would mean severe damage to civilization itself.  In Pam McAllister’s blog post Lawbreaking Librarians: A Legacy of Courage, Alia is the featured heroine who rescues a critical piece of her culture in the face of “the war against books”.  Not too difficult to imagine Baqer’s source of courage.  She is a book lover after all, and to her, books are the most important tools for building society.  Knowledge is power.

On women’s history site A Mighty Girl, Winter was asked in an interview how she made her stories, often about heroes in nearly impossible circumstances, accessible to young readers, and whether these stories are even historically valid to these readers.  Winter asserts that her works, especially ‘The Librarian of Basra’ depict stories in an “even-handed” manner, through strong, colorful graphics and easy to understand language, allowing young people to find meaning that they can comprehend.  Winter also states that despite the academic argument that children care little for history, it is possible to cultivate love of learning through “good, accurate story-telling”.

Illustration of Alia Baqer dreaming of peace and a new library, from Jeanette Winter's 'The Librarian of Basra'.

Illustration of Alia Baqer dreaming of peace and a new library, from Jeanette Winter’s ‘The Librarian of Basra’.

This morning I was well equipped with several sources to back up the story of the Librarian of Basra and give my daughter the information she wanted.  I know that she is a book lover like myself, and she also cares deeply for others, so she would find what my discoveries quite valuable.  We had a nice talk before school.  I showed her a photograph I found of Alia Baqer in 2013, on the tenth anniversary of her mission to save the books.  She is now an old woman, sitting at a desk, working with a large hard cover book.  She looks like she is happy and at peace.  This photograph made my daughter very happy.  It made me happy and sad.  It’s difficult to explain how books and stories can create common bonds from across the globe, but I hope that somehow, Alia Baqer can know that her story inspired a little girl in the United States to be a courageous person.

My daughter asked me about my experience in Iraq.  I showed her my collection of photographs — friends and places once visited and long since left behind.  I told her some of the stories of heroes I met there.  I told her why people were scared of Saddam Hussein, and why the bombs were falling on Basra when the librarian was trying to save all the books.  I explained to her why it is important to save knowledge and tell stories.  She gave me a hug and said “I love you Mom” when she left for school.  I looked at all my books and smiled.

~G

 

I wrote this post because I was so touched by my daughter’s interest in the story of Alia Baqer.  I have noticed that, as Ms. Winter asserts, children really are fascinated by history.  Effective tools, such as children’s books like ‘The Librarian of Basra’ and Mr. Stamaty’s true life comics, can help us teach important history lessons to younger generations.  More importantly, we as parents and educators also need to have conversations with children and answer their questions so that our history as people is not swept under the heavy, musty rugs of time.  

 

Links for more information about the librarian of Basra:

Iraqi Librarian Saved 30,000 Books During Invasion

Photo of the Librarian of Basra

Lawbreaking Librarians: A Legacy of Courage

Too Soon or Censorship?

Harcourt Books Interview with Jeanette Winter