Monday, August 1, 2011

Military Mom Part Seven: Q & A

Note: This is the sixth in a series of sporadic posts about this military thing happening in our family (one son in the Army; one joining the Marines). How many Military Mom posts will there be? No idea. But more than six.

Once again, the Question Box on my desk is overflowing, this time with questions concerning the military thing going on in our family.  I will attempt to answer some of these questions here.

Q:  How are you adjusting to having only one child at home?
A:  Well, it depends.  While there are some pluses (less laundry and fewer mouths to feed), I don't know how to cook for 5 people (Husband and Youngest each count as two) when I previously cooked for 8-10 people.  Definite learning curve there.  Honestly, I would take the mountains of laundry and the constant grocery shopping in a heartbeat.  Plus, we still have 3 dogs. :-)  Seriously, some days are better than others.  Some days are just downright difficult.

Q.  At least you don't have to go months without communication.  I mean, you get phone calls, right?
A.  Let me be clear: I am VERY thankful for technology.  It's generally about every other day or so that we get to at least touch base with our soldier through a social networking site.  We have been able to use Internet phone calling, but I would hesitate to call it a great way to communicate.  A typical Internet phone session is something like this:
 Connection (after numerous tries)
About 15 seconds or so of being able to see him on live video
No video of him, though most times he can see us
10 or so minutes of us talking and him typing (his situation is such that he can't talk and must communicate through his keyboard)
15 or so minutes of us trying to catch up (again, he is typing--we haven't heard his voice since May)
Several minutes of sadness
Again, I am VERY grateful for the technology we do have.  It's far from glamorous, but we will take what we can get.

Q.  How do you communicate with your Marine?
A.  Well, our FUTURE Marine is still in Boot Camp and has little control over his own life.  We have received letters from him and think we may get another phone call soon.  He seems to be doing well and is certain this is what he is supposed to do.  I know this:  This kid was born to be a Marine.  Watch out, world. 

Q:  What can we do to help?
A:  Pray, pray, pray.  Every single day, every single minute, the brave men and women of our military are placed in harm's way.  They are asked to pay a high price for the freedom and safety of the people of the United States.  Most of them have left families to serve this country.  It is a high price that has been paid in the past and is being paid now.  Please do not take that for granted.  Be thankful there are those willing to serve.

Q.  How are you able to stand it?
 A.  We have our faith.  We have a great support system of family and friends.  We have social networking and Internet phone calls.  :-)

Our family and friends not only pray for and love on our boys, but they pray for and love on us, too.  We have felt the loving support of those who live near us, and of those who live far away.  Even more importantly, however, is that our sons are feeling the prayers and love.  And we know that God loves these boys even more than we do, which seems difficult to fathom, but we know it to be true.

Q.  Are you tired of sending packages?
A.  Absolutely not.  While standing in line at the Post Office, I almost always get into a conversation with someone who sees my military flat rate box and asks if I know someone in the service.  I take that opportunity to tell them about my soldier and my future Marine.  They always, always ask me to thank my boys, and they always thank me for raising them.  I can't take the credit, but it sure makes my mommy heart proud.

Q. What are you going to do when they come home on leave?
A.  Well,  I'm pretty sure I'll cry.  There have been predictions that I will permanently attach myself to them and follow them everywhere they go.  I'll probably cry.  I'm pretty certain I will peek in on them several times a night, just to remind myself they're here, and I'll cry.  I will bake tons of cookies, do lots of laundry, laugh like crazy, and cry as they tell me their stories.  Then, when it comes time to say goodbye again, I will take them to the airport, hug them, cry, and drive back home with an empty feeling again.  I will look around at the remnants of their visit, I will pet their dogs, and along with Husband and Youngest, we will share some difficult days.  Our God, our family, and our friends will once again rally behind us, and we will get through the next phase of one son's training and one son's tour of duty.  We will repeat the process as many times as necessary for our sons to fulfill their obligations.  And we will cry.

Q.  Will you please tell your boys thanks for us?
A.  I will.  And you just did.

Thanks to all of the men and women protecting and defending this great country, and to the families who are supporting them.  God, please bless the United States of America. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Well, You See, There Was This Blizzard ...

FYI:  This is a blog post I wrote back in February but never actually posted it.  (We were more than just a bit busy back then.)  As I was doing some clean up today, I ran across this and decided to go ahead and throw it on the blog.  Plus, it's just plain fun to look at that much snow right now when it's been so hot here.

Blizzard 2011 is in the books.  Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of snow around.  Parking lots still have huge piles of the white stuff. In fact, there were numerous high school students who didn't have places to park this week because snow piles have taken up about 100 spaces.  There is still snow in our driveway where the snowplows continued to pile it up behind our teenager's truck.  And our house faces North, so ice and snow are still present on our roof.  But the blizzard itself, the Dale's-car-couldn't-make-it-through-the-snow storm, the we-missed-three-days-of-school storm, the businesses-were-closed-and-streets-were-deserted storm, that storm is over.

I took some pictures, and there is certainly a lot of snow in the pictures.  But as I looked at them today, the snow doesn't seem as deep or dangerous as it did last week.  And you certainly can't tell from the pictures how cold it was.  A quick picture, a snapshot of a moment in time, does not give you all the information you need to really know what is going on in that situation.

I think we too often settle for snapshots of people's lives.  We catch up with a friend at the grocery store, we see a friend smiling at church, we read a status update on a social connection website, and we think we're all caught up on what's going on.  What if those snapshots don't tell the whole story?  Is what your friend shared with you at the grocery store really the most significant thing going on in her life right now?  Can a smile be a cover for a hurting heart?  Are your friends really that real in their status updates?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating that we share every intimate detail of our lives with everyone we know.  And the grocery store isn't really the place to purge one's soul.  I'm just saying that we cannot believe we know the depth of the pain, joy, loneliness, anxiety, heartache, exhilaration, etc. that someone is going through when we catch up in snapshots.

I made a commitment to be transparent in meaningful ways, and the blizzard reminded me of that.  I sat and talked with my mom for hours (well, we giggled a bunch, too), I spent time with my soon-to-be-gone soldier, I watched TV with my 2 younger boys, I even had a day with Dale home in the middle of the week.  I was reminded, once again, of what really matters to me:

I just cannot believe that any amount of money I ever make or work I ever do will be as important as the relationships I have in my life.

So there it is.  No great revelation, nothing I haven't said a million times.  Just another tool God used to remind me about what is really important ... and what really isn't.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Help Me, Rhonda

If you've never given your car a name, you may not understand this at all.

She was likely never beautiful.  It's not that outward beauty is the most important thing, because it truly is not.  But by the time she came to live at our house, she wasn't even remotely pretty.  Regardless, two of my sons have loved her with a commitment that bodes well for future marriage prospects.  Rhonda, the 1995 Ford Ranger who came to live with us five years ago, has finally waved the proverbial white flag and said, "I'm done."

She was tough, for sure.  Though not equipped with four-wheel drive (let's face it--she was barely equipped with four wheels), she went mudding with the big trucks. And pulled others out of their stuck spots. And squired around loads of all kinds of crud.  And I have a sneaking suspicion her bed was a makeshift cooler on more than one occasion.

After coming to live with us, she survived all kinds of abuse and neglect.  Her headliner was spray painted black.  She sported no less than 4 different gear shift knobs (the most recent wasn't even a knob--it was a leather glove with duct tape around it).  And she was on her last leg for the last 3 years.

But she hung in there.  She started every morning when I just knew that wouldn't happen.  She kept plowing through the snow even though her tires were bald (there was no way we were going to spend a bunch of money on tires when she was going to die any day).  And then, suddenly, when we were ready to go ahead and buy tires, she died.  Her clutch just plum wore out.  She gasped as if to say, "Hey, enough already."

Hopefully, she will have a new home in a few days.  I hope she brings as much joy to her next owner as she did to 2 Duncan men.  Rhonda, these boys loved you.  Thanks for never flipping over and never hurting my boys.  You were good to us, Rhonda Ranger.  Thanks for everything.

By the way, sorry about the mixed messages on your windows and bumpers.  The Army soldier and the future Marine had a decal war, and you lost.  Then again, maybe that's why you held together so long.

So long, old girl.  Thanks for the memories.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Military Mom, Part Six: Up, Up and Away

Note: This is the sixh in a series of sporadic posts about this military thing happening in our family (one son in the Army; one joining the Marines). How many Military Mom posts will there be? No idea. But more than six.

I've been trying for several days to put into words our experience of watching our soldier leave.  I can't.  I decided to show pictures instead.

The day before he left.  This soldier was exhausted emotionally and physically.  He had to be exhausted to take a nap.  He never napped as a child. Never.  When I took this picture, I stood there for a few moments and just looked at this boy who is a man on the outside but will always be a little boy in my heart.

This was just a few moments before they lined up in formation.  It was a sea of camo and civilian clothes, plus lots of Kleenex and American flags.  If you get discouraged about your life, stand around a group of soldiers for awhile.  They are people, just like you, with families and problems and dreams.  And they are willing to defend not only their rights, but yours as well.

For some reason, I get to be the mom of three amazing young men.  I have no idea why I am so blessed, but I am incredibly thankful. 

There are two boys who are missing their big brother right now.  And a big brother who is missing them.

You know that saying about good friends are always there for you, and REALLY good friends are the ones who help you hide the body?   These two are REALLY good friends.  Though there haven't been any bodies to hide, other than their own when one or the other set of parents was looking for them, these two are as close as can be.  They have made me laugh so hard my sides hurt.  They've made me cry a little, too.

This is the bird that took my boy away.

Before they circled around for one last flyby.

If you look closely, you can see a soldier standing on the ramp at the back.  Wonder whose daredevil that one is?

The three specks in the sky are the first wave of soldiers taking off on their big adventure.  The pics are a lot clearer than I remember.  Maybe it was the tears.

This precious little girl carried a flag and followed her dad around.  It seems to sum up how I felt:

So proud to be an American.  So sad to see my soldier go.  

Please pray for our troops, all of our troops, and for the families they leave behind.  No matter what you believe about why we are where we are, or why we aren't where we should be, at least be thankful there have been and continue to be those who answer the call to protect and defend the United States of America. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Military Mom, Part Five

Note: This is the fifth in a series of sporadic posts about this military thing happening in our family (one son in the Army; one joining the Marines). How many Military Mom posts will there be? No idea. But more than five.

Dear Spencer,

So this is what two o'clock in the morning feels like on the day you leave for a year.  In four hours, I'll be waking you up.  In 6 hours, we will be headed for your send off ceremony.  In 8 hours, you will be gone.  Far away.  For a year.  A YEAR.

So much can happen in a year, as you well know.  Just a couple of days ago you listed off the important dates you'll miss in that year: family birthdays, a high school graduation, friends' birthdays, your birthday, etc.  And those are the things you know will happen.  What else will happen, unplanned, while you are away?  Will Duke still be around when you return?  Will friends fall in love?  Will OU's football season turn out as great as we think it will?

I'm afraid I haven't done enough to teach you what you need to know.  Dear friends and your dad have talked me down from that ledge, for the most part.  I mean, really, I've noticed from the laundry I've been doing that you remember to put on clean underwear on a daily basis.  My most recent get-you-ready-to-leave trip to Target revealed that you go through deodorant, razor blades, and toothpaste at a pretty good clip.  You haven't been kicked out of the Army nor did you get a ticket tonight when you were stopped by the police--both evidence that you speak respectfully to authority figures (alas, I haven't been able to impart wisdom about not speeding).

But what about God?  Do you know that you know that you know that He is who He says that He is, He will do what He says He will do, and that you are who He says you are?  Oh, son, please tell me you know these things.  Please take His hand on this journey and let Him lead you, sustain you, comfort you.  Let Him work all things in your life.  Trust that He loves you.

Your family loves you, too.  No matter what.  We always have.  We always will.

I have no doubt that we made some great memories in the last few weeks.  Having relatives here, specifically to see you off, proved to be just the thing, didn't it?  We had a great time laughing, talking, singing.  I watched as you talked Chinook physics, as you played the guitar, as you held adult conversations.  You are an amazing person, Spencer, and I'm awfully glad I've been allowed to be in your life.  I cherish our conversations, from the moment you started asking "why" (and you questioned way past the limits of my intelligence by the time you were two) to this evening when you were packing and we talked about the goodbyes you said today.  I will miss your sense of humor, your interaction with your brothers, your constant need for a new phone, your smile. 

For about a week, there's been background music in my head.  We've listened to it several times together, and it's been playing as a pretty constant loop, kind of an underscore for conversations we've had, my trips to Target to get you ready, as your dad and I had a conversation tonight about how you were born for this.

It is not possible for a parent to love a child any more than I love you.  Take every chance you dare, Spencer.  I'll still be there when you come back down.  But don't forget to Skype often.

I love you so. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Military Mom, Part Four

Note: This is the fourth is a series of sporadic posts about this military thing happening in our family (one son in the Army; one joining the Marines).  How many Military Mom posts will there be?  No idea.  But more than four.

My soldier has been away doing some training related to his upcoming deployment.  Following is a text conversation we had just a few days before his return.  But first, to fully understand the conversation, you need a bit of inside information:
1.  When Spencer was quite young, I would constantly tell him that "Spencer Duncan is Mommy's little pumpkin."
2.  While away at training, Spencer cut his hand on a knife that he was using to cut off a piece of salami they were eating in the barracks. He received one stitch. Twice. (It broke open while he was playing basketball.)
3.  During training, Spencer did very well in qualifying to use certain weapons.

[This conversation picks up right after he gave me the specifics of his gun quals. Pay attention to the spelling of the word stitch.]

Me: Awesome!  Do you have a new nickname like Deadeye Duncan or Sureshot Spence?
Spencer: My name is actually Spencer Stich Duncan, and that is what is going on my flight bag.
M: Stitch? Oh, son, can't you get them to change it to Pumpkin?
S: Haha. No, Stich may be a better one.
M: Please at least get them to spell it correctly.
S: How do you spell it?
M: Stitch.
S: Well, crud.
M: Is it a done deal already?
S: No, but they made me put it on my camelback.
M: That. Is. Hysterical.
S: Haha. Why?
M: Just job security for me, son.
S: What do you mean?
M: I proofread, Stitch.  Perhaps all future nicknames should be run past me first.
S: Perhaps you are correct.
M: How much does a new camelback cost?
S: I have two.  One isn't marked on yet. We can fix this. [This made me laugh out loud.] Plus, it's only in Sharpie--may be able to fix it anyway.
M: I'm sorry I'm finding this so amusing, but it is funny.
S: I don't see it in the same way, I guess. That or my sense of humor was one of the first things to go in this process.
M: Check. Did they make you turn it in at the gate?  Will they give it back to you when you leave?
S: I don't get it back.  It's considered contraband out here.
M: Well, good thing you have a lifetime of funny to pull out at a moment's notice.  And they don't take away everyone's sense of humor, or else your new nickname wouldn't be Stitch.  By the way, why didn't they name you Salami?
S: Well, we can't even spell Stitch.  How would we manage Salami?

[We then had a conversation about how his dog was doing and something I did that almost made her fall asleep, which is handy information to have with this dog.]
S: Wow.
M: Yes, I am the Dog Whisperer. But I will label my own stuff, thank you. I don't want you to make me the Dog Wiperer or anything like that.
S: Shut it.

I giggled for hours after that conversation, in part because it was just so good to communicate with him, and also because he doesn't like to misspell words or use words incorrectly. 

Now my soldier is home again, for a short time.  He had a big batch of the World's Best Chocolate Chip cookies waiting for him, he's been fed burgers and fries, his dog is thrilled to have him home, and his hand is healing quite nicely.  As I've thought about his new nickname, I've been surprised that he's okay with the name Stitch.  A fan of Top Gun, I expected him to want a really cool nickname, like Rifle or Cowboy.  And maybe he would.  But when it comes right down to it, I'm guessing he's thankful he got named Stitch before anyone in his unit found out about Pumpkin.

Spencer Duncan, you are still my little pumpkin, and I am proud of you.  God bless you, son, as you travel the path before you.  And don't forget to take a dictionary.

Friday, January 14, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I love Christmas: the decorations, the weather, the food, the people, the music. I love it all.  This year, I was very intentional about making memories to hold onto until the next Christmas we are all together (date unknown).  For those who don't know or aren't related to us, these pictures are meaningless.  To me, they are priceless.

One of my favorite traditions is our family ornament.  Every year, we get a new ornament, usually at a craft show.  They are often cheesy, but I love picking out the ornament with five of whatever it is on it--reindeer, stockings, snowmen--and then have our names added to it. (One year, I didn't make it to any craft shows. Thankfully, my dear friend, Cathie, took it upon herself to find our ornament that year.)  I know that one day the boys will have their own families, and I will give them the ornaments they made or that I bought for each of them through the years.  When that time comes, my tree will only have these family ornaments.  I'm pretty certain I will be glad I have them.

Another tradition we have is to buy gifts for the dogs.  Originally meant to occupy them while we opened presents, it's really now just entertainment for us to watch how quickly Liberty eviscerates her "baby" to remove the squeaker.  She will then carry the squeaker around for WEEKS until I get paranoid about her choking on it and throw it away.  For whatever reason, and this is really amazing considering we have Labs, they've always left our Christmas presents alone.  Maybe that's because they know they have their own.  As a bonus, the dogs don't seem to notice they don't get to open as many presents as everyone else does.

My boys get new pajamas every year for Christmas.  They open that one gift on Christmas Eve, and they somehow know it's going to be pajamas.  What started as a way to ensure pretty Christmas morning pictures, it has become something so much more than that.  It's now a part of who we are.  We are new-pajamas-at-Christmas people.  Additionally, it seems as though we are also don't-smile-for-the-pajama-picture people. Oh, well.  At least they each have nice, new pajamas for the don't-smile picture.

New this year to the family Christmas nap tradition is Dixie, Spencer's coon hound/bird dog.  She is absolutely beautiful.  Not brilliant, but beautiful.  And she adores Spencer.  I find myself wondering how she will get along when he leaves.  How long will she sit at the window and watch for his truck to drive up?  Or worse, see his truck in the driveway and continue to look for him in the house.  Come to think of it, how long will I sit at the window and watch for his truck to drive up?  I don't know, but she and I will watch together.  And when he does come back, I will cry tears of joy, and she will lick Spencer's ears.  In this instance, I'm glad I'm not a dog.

My future Marine.  Where will he be next year?  Tanner has quite a few adventures ahead of him, including, but not limited to: surviving the last few months of high school, surviving the last few months of negotiating the high school parking lot, his older brother's deployment, his own high school graduation, leaving for boot camp, and cleaning his room.  Sadly, the two most dangerous things are the high school parking lot and his room.  It will be exciting to watch this kid walk down his own path, and I know he will be a great Marine.  But to me, he will always be the boy in this picture.

Calder battled through some pretty tough stuff last year, and I was sad when he was sick over Christmas break.  However, I was thrilled for the opportunity to hold him for a little while at Dale's folks' house.  (I don't know if it can really be said that I was holding him since his feet were touching the floor, but my heart says I was holding him.)  This year will bring many changes for Calder as well.  Spencer and Tanner are not just brothers who are leaving; they are friends. As we walk through this next year together, I hope he lets me hold him some more.

I love the relation-ships my boys have with their cousins. They have done a lot together through the years: vacations, riding bikes, building tree houses and forts, going to movies, etc.  But my favorite is when they just hang at the grandparents' house.  It was precious to watch four teenagers sit in one room, no TV, no iPods, just drawing and sketching, each of them quite talented, and listen to their banter.  These kids really love each other.  That makes my heart happy.

If you know Dale as a quiet, introspective guy, you only know one side of him.  If you've ever played Rock Band with him, however, you know him as a rock legend.  In fact, for this picture, he wasn't even playing Rock Band.  The boys were playing their real guitars and singing Hotel California when Dale grabbed the Rock Band guitar and entertained us with the dig-me guitar riff. Dale and I have had numerous conversations about how life will change this year, but we pinky swore we would hold onto each other.  I am extremely blessed to know and be loved by someone so solid.  It's just a bonus that he is a rock star.

Not pictured is the Rock Band hilarity we had with our friend, Amy.  Also not pictured: the Jack Stack BBQ New Year's Extravaganza, the Apples to Apples Tournament to the Death, and the Gift Card Redemption Frenzy.  Sorry. A blog can hold only so much fabulosity.

May 2011 be a year of realized dreams, continued hope, and peace on earth.