Please Don’t Say This to Your MilSpouse Friends.

“Well you knew what you were getting yourself into when you married him.”

Do you know how much I hate it when people say that to me?

I HATE IT A LOT!!!

I’ll set the scene for you. Ahem.

I’m having a bad day. Maybe the submarine has interfered with my plans one too many times. Maybe I’m tired of not having any parental support from my husband because he is unable to come home. Maybe I’m just not my rosy patriotic best, OK? I am an adult and I know that in the grand scheme of things, my bad mood will go away soon and I’ll start afresh tomorrow. But for now, maybe I just go to one of my friends to vent and complain, and believe it or not, I try not to sound whiney. This friend, usually a person from my non-military life, says to me, “Well you knew what you were getting yourself into when you married him.”

Yes. Many of us knew what sort of journey this life would bring us. But knowing that we’re signing up for difficulties and living through them on the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, deployment-to-PCS-to-another-deployment is on a whole different level. Most of the spouses I’ve met are very VERY proud and patriotic people. But we all have bad days and weeks. Maybe my non-military friends just don’t know HOW difficult we have it.

I was a military kid and I knew the lyrics to the Marine Corps Hymn when I was eight years old. I grew up around all the pomp and ceremony that comes with parades and command events, and I attended elementary schools in five states I think. I was so used to telling my friends that I had to move before the next school year, that once we stayed in the Northern VA area for so long, my friends stopped believing me when I told them I was moving. (My dad’s orders kept getting changed. Imagine!) Then I decided I wanted to marry my beloved sweetheart, a submariner in the Navy and my dad wanted to have a chat with me. He didn’t care that I went from being a Marine Corps kid to a Navy wife, but he did want to make sure that I understood that this life would be unlike anything I had every experienced before. He specifically wanted me to know and understand that there would be secret things that my Sir could never share with me. And that SubSpouse life means a lot of loneliness.

And I love the life I live. But it is not easy. To illustrate, my Sir has hardly seen our daughter in weeks. And I’m not the only spouse who has to repair the car problems and fix the clogged sink disposer and handle all of the chores and errands and soothe the nightmares and wonder if the runny nose is just a runny nose (or is it the FLU!?!?!?!?! NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!) all by myself. So yes, sometimes, we have days that overwhelm us and fatigue that sinks into our bones.

Because I’m an adult, I know that this friend probably doesn’t know how hurtful their words were to me. They weren’t trying to be unkind, but they probably measured my problems by their own and compared them and thought that I should “stop whining” and handle it. And for the record, I know how truly blessed I am. Let’s go back to that.

I married my best friend. He is the most brilliant man I know and I am still baffled, years into our marriage, that he picked me. And I’m typing this while my daughter sits on my lap and she’s so beautiful it hurts. And the job my husband carries out allows me to stay home to raise her.

However fortunate I am though, I also have my down times.

For instance, last week, my husband only came home twice. Why? Because he was working so late that the thirty minute drive home was too much to consider when he can sleep in his rack on board instead and get a tiny bit more sleep. He hasn’t really seen his daughter in ages, because she goes to sleep so early. We’ve tried to keep her awake later in the evening, but she just sort of passes out. Did I think that having a baby with my husband would mean being a single parent for me for the most part? No.

So while I understand that people are starving in the world, or suffering from terrible racial injustice, or declaring bankruptcy and living on the street, am I still not allowed to have a bad day where I can just vent to a friend for a little? Because it’s a bad day, not a bad life. I’m just struggling with emotions and need a friend. So if your MilSpouse friend comes to you and just needs to vent some feelings so that the negative emotions can feel less overwhelming, please don’t remind them that they signed up for this. Listen to them. Offer them your support. Because they will support you in your turn. Because our troubles are less troubling when we have a friend with whom to share them. Because the MilSpouse, and especially in my experience, the SubSpouse, is a fearless wonder woman (or man!) and can achieve ALL the things, but even we need friends to help us through this journey. This journey that we chose, but we did NOT choose to embark alone!

To Prepare

Adventure

My husband’s boat is in preparation for deployment. A long one. For a submarine, that will mean several long months. I know many families of other branches may think sub deployments are short, but keep in mind that most of that time, our sailors are in a steel tube with no windows and no access to the “outside world.” I emphasize outside world that way because I’ve heard tell of sailors on big ships getting Facebook and Skype access or even *gasp* being able to see where they are in the ocean.

This will be my first deployment as a Navy submarine spouse. My dad was deployed with the Marine Corps when I was a teenager, and while I missed him, life at home never changed that much for me. I feel it is a much bigger deal for me to be handling this as an adult and wife and mom. My daughter is 9 months old (ish) right now and will be a year (or more or less-ish) when they depart and it will be my job to hold everything together at home until my Sir returns. The thing is though, I don’t know if I will ever feel ready and confident and capable.

When I married my Sir, I knew deployments were going to happen to us. So I talked to other spouses and soaked in the stories and experiences they related. I felt like if I learned from them, maybe when my time came to handle it, I’d have something in my corner to draw from. And it isn’t like my hubs hasn’t been underway for a time. The most he’s been gone from me though is about 2 months. So. What am I doing to make sure I’m prepared?

I’m in the middle of making “Open When…” cards for him to take with him. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re cards that your Sir can open on certain days. They can be holidays (‘Open on Father’s Day,’ ‘Open on Christmas’)  or other serious or nonsensical days (‘Open when you miss me,’ ‘Open when you are on your way home,’ ‘Open when you’re in the mood for sushi.’) And I’m making plans for what I’ll send in his halfway box. A halfway box is something the sailors get to open on their Halfway Night (a night they celebrate as being roughly the midway point through their deployment.) Because it is a submarine, you can’t just mail things to them. So we make them before they leave, and they store them on board until the time comes to open them.

We are also making plans for what I’ll need to take care of everything while he’s gone. This means Power of Attorney documents (for everything under the sun apparently) and wills. We’ve named a guardian for our daughter just in case something happens to me while he’s gone and made sure my name is on all the big financial things. Every family does things differently but I will be the only one making decisions for every eventuality while he’s gone, so it makes sense for us to have my contact info and name on all the things.

But I’m also trying to make plans to keep busy while the weeks and months go by. I joined a recreation center with a gym and pool and I plan to teach my daughter to swim. I joined a MOMS Club in my area so I can make new friends and stay busy with them. I also joined a direct sales business, Jamberry, so I can stay busy but make a little extra money. My sister-in-law moved off island (and I’m sad!) but my sister will move here soon and is due to have her baby in a few months, so I’ll have family nearby. My daughter is getting old enough that soon we can have playground days and outings to the zoo and aquarium too. I’m determined to make it through.

Sooner or later, most military spouses will be faced with the daunting prospect of their husband deploying. Most of us knew that before we married our partners. And that’s why it is so daunting. These are our partners. For the length of the deployment, we have to go on without their help, guidance, love, and support. For submarine spouses, we have to go without communication for most of that time too. I am intimidated by that. I admit it. I look around and feel like all the other wives I meet are handling things better than I am.

Maybe that’s just it though. We’re all looking around at each other and smiling on the outside but crumbling on the inside. I’m probably not the only one on this boat feeling this way, and we still have some time before they actually leave. When my daughter cries, I have to be strong for her, so I wipe away the tears and go on about my day. Because I’m all she has. Because maybe if I pretend I’m OK, my day will get better. Because she makes me happy when she smiles.

I’ll be honest. I’m counting down the days until this tour is over for us. Maybe I won’t ever feel ready and confident and capable. But I’ll go on just the same.

The Bad Day Conundrum

I have bad days sometimes. Don’t we all? It isn’t that I dislike my life. I am aware of and grateful that I’ve been blessed many times over. I have a wonderful husband who was made for me. My daughter is the most beautiful little girl ever. I have loved ones and good friends. I live in a place most would describe as “paradise” and moreover, I live in a free country and I enjoy a reasonably high level of privilege. Yes, I have a lot to smile at in my life. So because of this, am I not allowed to tell you that I have bad days?

Let me set the scene. I recently met a woman at my church. Like most there, she was quite friendly. At the moment that I met her, I was telling others that I will be looking for a new church to attend, only because I really need a church that has a nursery. My daughter needs to crawl around and explore and play. She is 8 months old. You can’t tell a child that old that she needs to sit still and listen to the songs and lessons and sermons and prayers. I love the church we’ve been attending, but with my beloved Sir being gone so frequently, I really need a nursery for church. I have recently been feeling a sense of exhaustion, just to make it through an hour long service with my adventurous daughter. (“Whew! We made it!”)

So this new acquaintance I made today listened to me nicely and then gave me the phrase I hate most of all.

“Is she your only child?”

“Yes, she’s my only one.”

“Oh. Well talk to me after you have multiple.”

Ok so let’s break this down. She doesn’t want me to speak of my experience until I can match her own struggles. Why? Because she raised several children by herself at once? Because my words don’t even register to her as a struggle because she had it worse than I do? Because I am merely the mother of one child, so I must not know hardship.

I don’t put down the chaos and struggles other moms have. I know myself and I know I would lose what sanity I have left if I was the mother of multiple kids. I see other moms, some of twins and some of kids of different ages, and I just watch in awe because I just know they have crazier harder days than I do. But why does that mean they should brush aside any struggles I may have?

Why am I so upset? Because I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t venting. I wasn’t whining or crying. I simply said I need some new situation because I know what’s best for my family. So why do so many women feel the need to compete with each other for who is suffering most? If I’m not having as bad a day as you, why are my words so awful to you? Why could she not just listen to me and then tell me how she made it through the rough days?

A woman close to me is this way and it still hurts me so deeply. I had a rough time after my daughter was born. I struggled mentally and emotionally. But this woman told me that she had it so much worse than I did and proceeded to list all the reasons why. I felt like she was essentially competing with me for who had it worse and I felt like she brushed my struggles away because in her eyes, I shouldn’t be struggling. I feel like my experiences were invalidated and that she was trying to “one up” me.

What if we supported each other instead? We all experience life differently. What might be a minor thing one day could be the straw that breaks you on another day. What might be a rain drop for me might be a tsunami wave for another person. In general, I may feel capable of handling the things this Navy life throws at me, but I am allowed to have bad days. And so are you. It’s a bad day, not a bad life.

So if you tell me, in so many words or by gist, that my struggles aren’t worth your notice because you or others have it worse, I will no longer come to you with any conversation deeper than the weather. But oh gosh, it’s raining here, but there’s a hurricane elsewhere so we shouldn’t talk about that either, right?

It’s possible for both to have bad days.

This is Not a Drill

Today was a terrifying day in Hawaii. If you haven’t heard, an alert was issued across the state that a nuclear missile was launched and we were told to take shelter. I will cut to the end of the story and say that it was issued in error and that everyone is fine, if a little emotionally shaken.

Today, by 8 o’clock I had been awake for a couple of hours because my baby wakes up before dawn to start her day. I had just put her down for her first of the day’s naps when I finally saw the emergency alert on my phone. It had been issued several minutes before I read it but I went into fight mode. A million thoughts raced through my head in a few minutes. I had to find the local news on TV, I thought frantically. My husband was at work and I know it would have taken too long to try to reach him. I couldn’t find my local news so I grabbed my emergency crank radio (the only one we have that isn’t in my car) but I couldn’t get it to work because I was in too much of a rush. I went upstairs and grabbed a bag and started shoving diapers and the stupid radio in it as I went to wake up my baby. But where would we go? How does one hide from a nuclear missile when one gets only a few minutes warning? I believe Indiana Jones hid in an old refrigerator but that wouldn’t work. (Pretty sure they tested that on Mythbusters.) So which room in my house would I hide in? The only rooms without windows are a tiny downstairs half bathroom and a walk in closet (which you have to walk through a full bathroom with two windows to get to.) How safe would we be? Not safe at all.

My thoughts turned to my baby and my cat. I vaguely thought we’d drive to the closest base to us, one which technically I wouldn’t be allowed on. Would they let us on in an emergency? Would we have time to drive thither? I had the choice to grab my baby or my cat and my heart broke as I chose my baby. My cat delights in hiding during the day when my baby is a little noisy. And I knew I only had moments to get my baby girl in her car seat, grab the diaper bag and anything else I could grab as I ran out the door and into the car.

Anyways, in the midst of my vague plans and panicked thoughts, it came out that the alert had been falsely issued and I could do nothing else but sink to the floor crying. Before I knew it was erroneous, all of my energy went to trying to do “the right thing,” whatever that could be. But as soon as I knew it was all safe, that energy turned into tears. My Sir even called from work to tell me he loved me and see if I was OK. He saw the information and came out to call.

In the aftermath of the island’s terrified panic, we all seemed to be talking about it on social media. Many are outraged that it took nearly 40 minutes for the state to issue the information to our phones that there was no threat. It was real for us for a few minutes and now we need to come down from our adrenaline and fear. I have no idea if the sirens in my town went off but if they did, I did not hear them. That can’t be a good sign. I wasn’t being loud–I was only singing a lullaby to my baby to get her to sleep, so if they went off there should be no reason why I couldn’t hear them.

I’ve thought about this all day. I was woefully unprepared and I know that I and many of my friends will be making better plans. But what if it had been a real threat? At one point all I could think was that nowhere on this tiny island can truly provide sufficient shelter from an ICBM so I should go in and wake my napping baby and hold her and if we died, at least we’d die together. How’s that for a sobering thought? I called a friend and asked her to come to hang out because I needed someone. It turned out to be the best medicine. We both got to vent and discuss our experiences and frustrations and then we got good distraction for a few hours from thinking about our inevitable doom. My baby provided lots of cuteness and smiles.

But really. What would you do if you got the warning on your phone that a missile was inbound and you knew you had only minutes to “prepare?” I will discuss plans in case this happens again with my Sir. But mostly I will give my family and friends extra hugs.

A Look Back

It’s a brand new year and it’s no surprise that most people seem to be taking a hard look at the past so that changes can be made for the future. Your two mermaids here are no exception. It has been a long 2017 and we looked even farther into the past, to ourselves before we were Navy submarine spouses. We feel like we were totally different people back then, even though it’s been a different length of time for the two of us. We grow as we face different challenges and the Navy has certainly given us things to contend with. So here we have our first co-written post. We thought we’d look back and give our younger, newly married, selves some advice on being involved with this Navy life we chose.

Amy, the older and wiser of the two of us says:

I don’t really know where to start, 2017 has been the HARDEST year so far and I’m hoping things calm down a bit in 2018. I’d like to spend more than a few months a year with my sailor, but so far, its not looking good. As for advice I would give my younger self if I could time travel, I would have A LOT to say.

Recently I’ve had an eye-opening experience and in dealing with this, I’ll share the following with you. But I need to start at the beginning.

One of my cousins has talked about joining the military for quite some time. He worked for a number of years in the Las Vegas Police Department and has since moved on and now lives in Florida. He finally decided to take the leap and join the Navy. He also got married this past summer and I have not met his wife yet, but I’ve spoken to her a few times. Now, I certainly do not know her and I’m sure she is a wonderful woman; I have been told that she’s pretty amazing, and if my cousin chose her to spend the rest of his life with, she must certainly be pretty special. But what I’m getting at here is, maybe its because I’m a “seasoned” spouse and have dealt with the good, bad, and downright ugly, but the past few days have opened my eyes. My cousin’s wife has not been handling his absence very well. He was gone for only a day when she spiraled into a full on anxiety attack because she hadn’t heard from him. (Insert eye roll here) Now, you may be thinking that I’m being rude, or that I’m not sensitive enough to relate to her. But the reality is that I relate so much to her and that I can have no sympathy for the way she’s acting. I have been in her shoes. The first time my husband left for a deployment after we started dating I had a full on meltdown and couldn’t go to work because I couldn’t stop crying. And what would I say to my former self?  “Put your big girl panties on and deal with it!!” I’d slap myself in the face and and scream “PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER”, you know, like they do in the old black and white movies. This was nearly 10 years ago, and since then we’ve been through 4 deployments, 4 moves, 1 amazing baby girl, and the hell that is the USS Columbus. Looking back, after all the crap we’ve been through, I would just look at my younger self and shake my head. My cousin’s wife has already started the “I hate the Navy”, and “I don’t have time for catty women” and “I don’t like military wives” crap. Hey, I get it, I’ve been there. For the first 7 years of my Navy experience I met some horrible people, and because of them, I was never involved in any FRGs (Family Readiness Groups) or command events because I didn’t think I needed any more friends, and Navy Spouses, well, all military spouses, already have the terrible reputation so why would I want to involve myself in that? The truth is, you can avoid all that for as long as you want, its like sitting in a rocking chair, you can do it all day but its never going to get you anywhere. You will meet people that are just downright horrible human beings, but you will also meet the most amazing people and some will become lifelong friends. You cannot simply just push aside everything involving the military, especially if your spouse is deployed. I’ve learned that there is so much support out there. So many resources. SO MUCH HELP. If you sit on the floor and throw a temper tantrum because you haven’t talked to your husband in a day, well then hunny, you’re going to have one hell of a time with this lifestyle.

Like I said before, from 2007 until 2014, I only had a few friends within the navy community. I was never involved in an FRG, I never went to command events, besides Sub Ball, because, well, who doesn’t love to get all glammed up and have a fancy date night?!!! I worked A LOT. I had work friends, I was working overtime, as much as I could, because I wanted to stay busy so the time would pass quicker. It worked for me, until we were moved from Connecticut to California. And then I felt completely alone. Yes, I still had a few friends who were in the same area. The submarine community is pretty small so its likely that you will always know some people at every duty station you’re assigned to. But after we had our first child, I developed a terrible case of postpartum depression and realized that I needed to to reach out to the resources that were available to me. And let me tell you, they helped. A LOT. I am so thankful for all the support that the military has to offer the families of the sailors, soldiers and what have you. There are such WONDERFUL resources out there, probably some i don’t even know about but I wish I had accessed them sooner.

While living in Hawaii I became a board member of our FRG, and boy did I learn a lot. We had a wonderful group of ladies, and of course some not so wonderful ones, but that’s the good part, you don’t HAVE to be friends with everyone, but you can be friendly and get along with them. I have taken the COMPASS class, which I encourage anyone and everyone to take. It’s free and its different in every duty station since you can learn about the local cultures and things to do. It also teaches you nearly everything you need to or want to know about being a military spouse, navy specific.

Let’s also not forget how much I love my husband and I support him 100%. He absolutely LOVES his job and he loves what he’s doing for our country. That makes me so very proud. I cannot say enough how proud of him I am. As hard as it may be to be a spouse to an active duty submariner, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I may get sad and depressed but I will NEVER let that get in the way of my husband’s career. I have seen way too many sailors who have to cut their tours short, or drop out entirely because their wives can’t handle it. I am proud of my sailor and I will stand by him no matter what. After all, that’s what we said in our marriage vows, “In good times, and bad, for richer or poor, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”

So, to summarize, if I was face to face with my ten year younger self, I’d say, GET OUT THERE! Reach out, take advantage of everything the Navy has to offer its spouses and their families. Pull your big girl panties on and HANDLE IT HUNNY. You can do this, you WILL do this. Go out there and KICK ASS!  While you can still have your guard up and be choosy about who you allow into your inner circle, put yourself out there. Trust me, you’ll be much happier when you do.

Lauren, only having been married three years says:

What would I say to myself before I married my submariner? Well, that’s hard to think about. I certainly don’t have any regrets and I don’t think I’d do anything differently. Or rather, I wouldn’t do anything big in a different way. Everyone has tiny regrets that don’t really have a big impact (“I wish I kept that umbrella in my car.” “I should have been better organized about sending those thank you notes.”) but those aren’t interesting things to give myself advice about. Instead, I would give myself the advice that I’ve already told myself a million times in the last three years.

Learn to disregard plans. I know I have to plan most things out but the Navy does things differently and they’ll be the biggest cause of upsets to your best laid plans. OR learn to have backup plans for many things, just in case. Learning to let go a little more of the set plan will be such a big benefit in this life. Try making loose plans that can be changed at the last minute. Try to see lots of possibilities for the event (or whatever it is) and think about how you’ll react if that happens. Just breathe and know that he’s your best friend, he isn’t doing it on purpose, and it’ll all be OK in the end. And maybe grab a glass of wine.

Also, learn to trust yourself. You’ll spend a good amount of time managing things by yourself so it makes sense to learn to confidently handle lots of things independently. Your sailor may be at work for an 18 hour day or he may be underwater for months at a time. Whatever he’s doing for the Navy will mean he can’t always be there to take care of the car or lawn or kids or the taxes. Find the resources you need in your area and get things done because someone’s gotta and it may have to be you. Most of the time. To use the Nike catchphrase, “Just do it.”

And, enjoy your duty station. Make the choice to enjoy it because you’ll likely move away soon enough. It’s OK to not like every single thing about the places you live and it’s OK to have bad days now and again but it doesn’t make sense to let it all make you miserable. Hawaii is not your personal idea of paradise but it doesn’t mean you have to be grumpy and grouchy all the time. Decide to be happy and that’ll help when you’re alone on island when your Sir is underway.

Here’s to a wonderful 2018!

Christmas Crazy.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Or Bah humbug if you prefer. My little family and I have had a wonderful holiday season together. Mostly together. Sort of together. Let me tell you the tale.

I absolutely love the Christmas season. Actually, I love the time period from Halloween through until New Years. I just feel like, in general, people are cheerier and more often, it brings out the best of humanity. I understand that the holidays bring lots of different emotions for different people, but they tend to make me giddy and bouncy. This Christmas, my baby was six months old and if you thought I was excited about Christmas before I had a child, you better believe there was WAY more excitement with a child! We even decided months ago that we wouldn’t overdo it with gifts for our baby girl because she’s just a baby and she wouldn’t really understand what’s going on and participate. But that went out the window. Do you know how hard it is to stop yourself from buying ALL THE CUTE BABY CHRISTMAS THINGS?!?! Let’s just say we helped her open a million boxes! I had to promise my husband that I wouldn’t wake our girl up before dawn just to open gifts. She now sleeps through the night and it is delightful!

But let’s go back a bit further. The mind losing began slightly before Christmas. Sir works very hard on his submarine, and during the holiday season, they’re in a period of stand down. Half the boat gets leave and then the other half can take theirs. Sometimes this means more work for those who aren’t on leave yet and sometimes it means less work, just depending on the individual needs of the boat and department in question. What it meant this year for this family is that our Sir hardly saw his daughter for weeks really. And we couldn’t say with certainty that he’d be home for Christmas. It is difficult to plan anything at any time around a Navy schedule though, and if you know this ahead of time, it helps to deal with the situation. It also means that I usually have a Plan B in place, just in case it becomes necessary. We are proud of our Navy and the men and women serving (especially the submariners!) but we still tire of their seeming inability to efficiently plan things.

I really wanted to host a few friends over for Christmas dinner this year. We’ve made some wonderful new friends and one of our other good friends has just returned from a difficult deployment and my sister’s boyfriend is also stationed here (another submariner!) so we thought we’d host a small get together. Of course, this means an epic amount of planning for me. There is a meal to plan, groceries to buy, food to prep, table settings to choose, not to mention the house to clean. (We mustn’t let people know we live like slobs the other days of the year!) I love to cook and our usual Thanksgiving and/or Christmas fare includes many of our favorite dishes. We decided on Brie cranberry crescents as an appetizer, then deep-fried turkey laced with jalapenos which is my husband’s favorite plus sage sausage Brie stuffing, dijon-braised brussels sprouts, salad (with bacon and apples and walnuts and cranberries!), cheddar biscuits, and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. And I decided on an eggnog cheesecake for dessert. Sounds delicious, right? For the record, everything was delicious. But getting to deliciousness took some craziness. (Fun fact: Christmas dinner for Plan B, in case Sir was unable to join us at the last minute, was individual Beef Wellingtons with filet mignon! This is to be our New Year’s dinner now instead! Waste not, want not!)

When I host a big dinner party, I usually put my recipes into an extensive spreadsheet. I have trouble sometimes making dishes come out at the same time, so if I put the process in a spreadsheet, it helps. I had everything planned but I was determined to just go with the flow of things too because the big difference this year is that I would be hosting Christmas while caring for a baby. In the past, I was able to focus on the recipes and get it all done. This year, I started the process a few days out so that, I told myself, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed on the day. Whelp. Was I overwhelmed on the day? Oh gosh yes.

We went through two turkeys. Let’s start there. Yes. Two. Turkeys. Why? Well I bought a frozen turkey a couple weeks before Christmas and stored it in our freezer at home. Sir and I planned out when we’d need to thaw the bird so that we could brine it first and then fry it. This is not our first turkey shindig. We are not turkey newbies. However, we still managed to warm the turkey too much for too long. We both know that poultry has to be kept at a certain temperature for food safety. And we thaw our turkey in water with a pump circulating water. (It’s a ridiculous set up but as I say, this was not our first time and it has worked beautifully in the past!) Sir was quite diligent about checking the temperature but this year, somehow it got away from him and so quite luckily for us, our local Safeway sold already-thawed-turkeys on Christmas Eve. Sigh. I also sent him thither for more wine because I made one batch of sangria (taste test!) and it suddenly dawned on me that we did NOT have enough wine for eight adults! (I’ll skip to the end on this part–we had WAY too much wine and I will be drinking sangria for weeks now because that’s all that Moscato is good for!)

THEN. As we were replacing the old turkey with a newer model, the turkey-thawing water leaked all over my kitchen, spilling yucky turkey juice everywhere. I’m not a fan of germs and I was not thrilled to have to disinfect so large a portion of my kitchen on Christmas Eve. Salmonella was suddenly a grimy vision everywhere I looked and it was taking away from my prep work time and one of us had to sit with our daughter. She’s getting to be much more mobile now and while that means she’s fun to play with, we’ve decided that it’ll be simple meals for a while longer yet. That’s what made this so hard. We needed to take care of her in shifts in order to get anything done for our big dinner. Christmas Eve is for the prepping of the food so that cooking isn’t so cumbersome on Christmas Day. So I baked bread and grated cheese and prepared the sprouts and then Sir polished the silver and sharpened my kitchen knives and then I made toffee and cookies and peeled potatoes and hard boiled eggs (because we added deviled eggs at the last minute to our menu).

Christmas morning dawned and after our gifts were opened, the rest of the work began. It involved breaking a wine glass and a mirror, caramel dripping out of the container in my oven and burning (prompting a huge clean up before I could cook anything else in there, which of course put me off schedule and hurt my back) spilling sangria everywhere (again with the spilling!), and catching the skin on my arm in my food processor lid which produced a stunning blister/bruise. I’m not even sure how I did that. An hour after I put my cheesecake in the fridge to cool, I found one of the eggs that should have been in the filling. And I’m not altogether sure I let it bake and then rest and then cool in the proper stages for long enough. Sir overcooked the turkey (again, not our first turkey and he was timing and watching the thermometer carefully so we’re not sure how this happened), my stuffing was too dry and crunchy in the top layer, the sprouts were slightly underseasoned, and I forgot to make the gravy and cheddar biscuits entirely. Everything was still crazy. And we only accomplished that much because my sister and her husband (he proposed two days ago and they got married today! Wheee! So when I started planning Christmas dinner, I was one brother-in-law less than I am now!) graciously said they would entertain our baby while we cooked. Sir of course was chained to his turkey fryer and I had lots going on in the kitchen. But we made time for a champagne toast and some small gifts. You see? Crazy!

Do you know what I have realized about life once you have a baby? You lose the ability to focus on cooking Christmas dinner. I’m so used to multitasking in my mom life that now I seem to default to that setting. But the dreaded “mom brain” is still a thing. Combine that with Christmas dinner! It’s madness! On any given day, I can walk into a room with a purpose but forget that purpose the moment I’m in that room. So I don’t think I cooked anything from start to finish without forgetting what I was doing and what step was next because I was also trying to keep up conversations with people I love and remember what would need to be done next.

Next year. Boy, next year! I will be delegating more tasks to others. I will have my own little army of sous chefs! Instead of thinking, “I got this, I’m in my element, everyone just relax and chit chat,” I will say, “Why yes, in fact, you CAN help me in here!” and “Would you like to bring a brussels sprouts dish?” I honestly thought I would have it all under control if I just thought things through and planned it out. Ha! Oh how funny to think I’ll have anything under control ever again!

What I mean to say by this huge long post is that my Christmas was crazy and wonderful and delicious and filled with a few of my favorite people. And perfect.

Mommyhood, Six Months In

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Last week, my daughter turned six months old. It has been a roller coaster for me. Lots of joys. Lots of low moments. I maintain that I am not actually an expert on my daughter. I feel like every time I think she’s getting into a pattern or routine, she changes it up on me. I spend my time trying to figure out why she’s crying and sometimes I’m successful on my first try and sometimes it’s a longer guessing game.

I want to talk about lessons learned. This half a year has certainly been filled with new experiences, for me and for my girl. I’ve been thinking of all the things I’ve been through and what I got out of those experiences.

1. I feel like I’m a completely different person now, in every way.

I knew before I gave birth that things would never be the same. However, I was unprepared for the sheer scope of the change I was about to go through. Everyone talks about your hormones being out of whack for a while. Everyone talks about the physical recovery needed. What I was stunned by was the fact that I seemed to have changed mentally, on a fundamental level. I’ll give you an example. There’s a road I use often that is underneath a freeway. It has many red lights that used to drive me insane. When you hit every single one of them, it can be super frustrating. However, once I had my child in my backseat, my thoughts were more along the lines of making plans in case the freeway fell on us. I’m speaking completely literally here. Freeways don’t usually fall but I vividly remember wondering what I’d do if such a catastrophe happened and how I’d keep us from harm. (I still don’t have a good plan for this!) I can laugh about this irrational line of thought now, but it was a very real fear I had in the moment. And I’m not just crazy about freeways. I see dangers everywhere I go. It’s more than that though. My body feels foreign to me sometimes and mentally I just feel different. I have a hard time describing this but when I’ve mentioned it to a couple of other moms, they’ve understood immediately. I don’t know if I am explaining it well enough here though. I don’t think all new moms feel this way and maybe this won’t last forever for me. I think my husband has his job cut out for him though, now that he’s married to a different version of me. A me who can’t really describe what’s different or what I need from him because I’m just as new to this as he is. I’m often running the gamut of emotions in a single day. Poor Sir.

2. Babysitters can be trusted. And it’s OK to trust them slowly.

I’m very lucky to be able to stay home with my daughter. But I also used to be a fully functioning adult with hobbies and interests outside of child rearing. In the weeks that turned into months of being by myself with only an infant and a cat for company, I started to wonder if I had lost something of myself when I gained a daughter. It is part of the hormones doing crazy things to you, but it is easy to get inside your own head and stay there. I needed time away, and I only mean an afternoon here and there. So. One day I asked my sister in law to babysit my baby so I could do an event sponsored by a wives group I’m in. I love my sister in law so much and she is a great mom to a toddler and I trust her more than I trust many others. But I was super nervous as I drove away–I even had butterflies in my stomach! I was leaving my daughter. I wasn’t by her side if she cried. Was that OK? Yes. Was anyone judging me? Nope. Did we both survive the separation? You betcha. Did my girl have fun with her aunt and cousin? Definitely. Was it good for all parties involved? Yes. Win win. Now, I still feel like I know my baby best and no one will make her as happy as I do. But it is important for a baby to learn about the world around them, and that includes other people. And it’s important for mamas to learn to trust. I have used a teenage babysitter with our girl a couple of times now. I’ve even left the house with her in charge. I’m making big steps.

3. Your baby is learning the world. And so are you.

It is fascinating to me to watch my baby girl learn how to interact with the world around her. She can pick up a toy with one hand and then put it in her other hand. That’s easy for an adult to the point that we don’t even think about it, but for a baby, it’s huge. She’s growing everyday but I’m growing too. I’m growing as a mother. It’s an entirely new world to me and contrary to the joke many parents like to tell, there actually isn’t a parenting manual. There are plenty of books on parenting advice but what I mean is that every mom has her own style and will do things her own way. I take my girl to the beach and she’s experiencing sand and surf for the first time but for me, I’m unable to relax because I have to think of sunscreen and shade and keeping too much sand out of her mouth and is the water too cold and should I get her sand toys at this age and what if a shark comes too close and is the water bothering her eyes and did I forget to put sunscreen on myself and if that little kid kicks sand on my baby one more time, and you get the picture. The beach used to be my peaceful relaxing happy place. And I still find joy there, as my daughter turns into a water-loving baby! But I have a feeling that I’ll be unable to just head out to the beach with a towel and book for a lonnnnng time.

4. Sleep and chores? What are those?

They say, especially to moms of newborns, to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and that nothing is more important than taking care of baby. And that’s good advice until you realize how impractical it can be. My experience is that I couldn’t do that because I had to check that she was still breathing. She was in a bassinet right next to my bed and I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it is to sleep with your head propped up on the sides of one of those things. But in those early months, more often than not, that’s how I fell asleep with my hand on my daughter’s chest. And not doing chores in favor of sleeping or doing other things to care for baby sounds like good advice. And then you realize that you have no clean clothes because you haven’t done laundry. Or you haven’t cleaned your bathroom and that’s just no good. Chores need to be done and if you’re not lucky enough to be surrounded by a support system of family and friends to help you, you have to learn to take care of baby and take care of yourself at the same time. You may as well learn it early. My mother came to stay with me after my daughter was born because my Sir departed on his submarine when she was 3 days old. It was nice to have help but I knew she wasn’t staying forever so I used that time to learn to do things with my kid by myself, while I still had her help as a safety net. That way, I was able to function once she left. And now, six months in, I run all sorts of errands and get lots of things done, baby in tow. Of course, my home is a bit of a wreck. I still find it difficult to clean all the things during the day and by nighttime, I’m so exhausted that I’m unwilling to do more than a basic whip around to tidy. Just don’t go upstairs when you visit me. I usually clean the downstairs first. I rarely make it upstairs to vacuum. I know. Get it together mom!

And 5. Perfection is not possible.

I’m not the perfect mom. But my daughter seems happy. Most of the time. I’m not the perfect housekeeper. But my house is clean enough. I’m still striving to learn all I can about what I should do for my daughter. But I’ll be honest. I’m publishing this at almost 3 in the morning because I can’t fall back asleep. My baby girl woke up, I helped her back asleep, but now I’m up. Perfection is impossible to achieve, but striving for it isn’t a terrible thing, as long as you’re not obsessing over it.

I look forward to what the rest of our first year will bring and teach us! Cheers!