Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Moms In Alaska (Babble)

I got to go to Alaska!

My best friend from high school, Gabby, and I started talking years ago about how when we turned forty we should take another trip together.  We had a wonderful time traveling for a month after college, well before husbands and kids and houses and real jobs.  We spent most of that month in national parks, doing our inept version of camping.  We were hungry and filthy but we laughed the whole time and had some great (although admittedly tame) adventures.

Last summer at her house while our kids all played together, I reminded her that we would actually, shockingly, finally be turning forty and needed to pick a place to go and a date to go there.  Open blocks of time along with a stash of disposable income don’t normally fall into the lap of the average parent, so it sounded like an impossible dream but one worth toying with for an afternoon.  We opened an atlas and traced our fingers over places both exotic and mundane, trying to imagine how we’d fare in places like Thailand or New Zealand or Saskatchewan.  And then we hit upon Alaska.

Who doesn’t want to see Alaska at some point in their lives?  It sounded adventurous without actually being so.  Far away, but no passport needed, different but still somehow the same…. One of the things that tends to happen when you’re raising small children is avoidance of major risks.  I have to be around to raise my kids so I won’t be experimenting with skydiving anytime soon.  My mom told me once when she was in the rain forest a couple of years ago with one of my brothers that she was supposed to climb a spindly observation tower with him, and she hesitated before having the revelation that she was no longer raising small children and she was free to risk her life for a change.  (I pointed out that if anything happened to her my dad would be dead in a week, so she’s still pondering that one.)  We decided Alaska, at least in our imaginations, would be the place.

Then we got the news Ian would be going back to Iraq.  Suddenly a trip away with my friend for a week didn’t sound so selfish or impossible.  It sounded like a reward in advance of a long haul raising the kids on my own again which I knew meant putting most of my interests aside for a year while being anxious and tired.  It also meant he’d be earning a steady income while away, and plane tickets to Alaska and a rental car weren’t looking as expensive.  Ian told me we should do it, that he and the kids would miss us for a week, but I should have a great time just being away from our day to day life for awhile.  That there was lots of day to day life in my future so I should do something I wanted just because it was fun.  My only restriction was we had to go before his deployment date in September.  Gabby had to do some fancier planning on her end so that her three kids were cared for while she was away, but we found a week that worked and off we went!

We had a travel agent up in Anchorage arrange some hotels and activities so we wouldn’t waste too much time simply hunting for a place to sleep every night and figuring out what was available to do.  It was such a grown up trip.  A far cry from sleeping in the car in hotel parking lots and munching on cold pop tarts.  That was fun, too, but showering is so nice.  Gabby’s husband was worried about us somehow wandering off into the wilderness and dying so he sent an emergency GPS tracking device along with us.  As we ate at a buffet of salmon and prime rib after a boat tour of the Kenai Fjords we debated if that was an appropriate time to hit the emergency distress beacon.  (What?  They are low on rice pilaf?  Hit 911!)

What an amazing time!  We saw grizzly bears in Denali Park (from a bus, thankfully):

And the dots in this picture are caribou:

We also saw bald eagles and humpback whales and an otter and sea lions and harbor seals and a trumpeter swan and puffins and a fox and a squirrel.  (If my kids had been there they would still be talking about the squirrel.)  In Seward there is a crazy population of puffy slow looking pet rabbits that someone set free years ago and somehow they survive and hop all over town.  We’ve had pet bunnies, and they are funny and fascinating, but they are not the brightest bulbs in the food chain bulb box if you know what I mean, so I’m stunned that any of them have found a way to survive the winters in a place that most of the people don’t even stick around for.

And there was dangerous mud (I had not heard of the dangerous mud in Anchorage but there was a lot of it and people were very very serious about the dangers of the mud):

And there were other hazards that almost caused us to push the emergency beacon but we ended up going to gift shops instead:

Things I didn’t know:  Alaska has an average of 14 earthquakes A DAY.  Bears just eat the brains out of the salmon they catch.  Salmon after they spawn don’t taste good.  Puffins are only colorfully cute when they are living on rocks during mating season–out at sea they are just brown and grey.  If you spot a moose you are supposed to run (away).
We ate Mexican food in Wasilla, we kayaked over salmon, we white-water rafted down eleven miles of the Nenana river, and we got to sit in a boat next to the end of a glacier for about half an hour and listen to it.  Glaciers sound like thunder and gunshots and shivering next to one with one of my oldest friends (she is forty, you know) for part of an afternoon is now one of my favorite memories.  It was a great trip and we even laughed some of the time.  (Okay, most of the time and so hard we almost missed the biggest wave on the rafting trip until the guide pointed it out and told us to hang on.)  It was awesome.

Where is the parenting element of all of this?  I think sometimes it’s healthy to miss your kids for a bit.  I enjoyed buying crackers and cheese from the store that they wouldn’t eat, and finishing not just sentences but whole conversations with an adult, and reading a book out loud about zombies instead of ponies, but by the end of the week I couldn’t wait to get back to my kids.  It was just the break I needed to appreciate how lucky I am to spend time with such sweet interesting people.  They all seemed so much older after a week away, and I felt like I’d missed out on a piece of their lives.  Instead of trepidation about becoming the full-time parent again, I’m actually a little excited.  It feels more like the privilege it should be rather than the chore it sometimes gets reduced to when life becomes an endless treadmill of laundry and dishes and cleaning.  It does help to step back in order to get perspective, and I got to step all the way back to Alaska.  I’ve had my break and I’m ready to hunker down for Ian’s year away.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

No One Ever Expects a Trip to the Hospital (Babble)

After almost a week visiting friends and family in Ohio the kids and I met up with their dad in Michigan at my parents’ house.  The original plan was to enjoy a few days in the Detroit area with my mom and dad before I flew with a friend to Alaska (more on that in the next post).  The plan turned into my dad needing emergency surgery to have most of his large intestine removed and lots of time at the hospital for me, my mom, and one of my brothers.

My kids never even got to see their grandpa, but they did make him some nice ‘get well’ paintings.

My poor dad.  He’s one of those people who would rather not deal with health related issues, so he puts off recommended testing until things sometimes reach crisis proportions.   There are few things worse than watching someone you love in pain.  That helpless feeling can be crazy making after awhile, for both the patient and the family.   Fortunately he was only in the hospital about a week and his prognosis is very good.  He won’t need any kind of follow up treatments like chemo, and he’s already up and around and eating normally again.  We’re all so relieved it’s hard to express.

I heard a quote once, years ago, on an NPR program, and I don’t think even at the time I caught the name of the writer being interviewed so I can’t even hope to recall it now, but the quote stays with me.  The novelist was asked what he thought the point of human suffering was, and he replied that pain causes us to need one another.  I don’t know if I believe there is a design to suffering, but something about pain bringing us together rings true.

I have two brothers, and one of them I don’t hear from much lately, and that’s fine because that usually means he’s happy.  He does touch base from time to time, but for the most part he only seeks me out for long conversations if something’s wrong.  My other brother had to change his plans for accompanying his wife and daughter to India in order to help my mom with dad at the hospital.  If my dad had not been out of the ICU and looking significantly more like himself by the time I was supposed to leave, I would have cancelled my trip and stayed in Detroit.  We seldom feel compelled to drop everything for the people we love when everything is fine, although maybe occasionally we should.

One of the lovely things about my family is that we appreciate each other’s company to the point where even when we are gathered for unhappy reasons there is still pleasure in just being together.  I hadn’t expected to see my brother, Arno, again until Christmas, so even though most of the time I spent with him in Michigan was at my father’s bedside in the ICU, I loved seeing him.  We read to my dad when he was feeling too tired to converse, but most of the time we tried to make him smile (and in turn made each other laugh).  My dad had a huge inciscion straight up his middle which hurt, and he kept telling us not to make him laugh so much, so we had to make an effort not to have too good a time.  At one point when my dad was sleeping, Arno produced a ridiculous deck of cards for doing magic tricks and his attempts to mystify us had me and my mom in tears we were laughing so hard.  I’d like to think in my dad’s subconscious hearing his family around him being happy was more helpful than to be surrounded by anxious, nervous whispers, but for all I know he wished we would be quiet so he could sleep better.

Thanks to our unexpected visit with my brother I got to hear one of the sweetest conversations with Quinn.  Arno has an interesting way of talking with kids, asking many questions and getting them to reveal not just some of what they think, but how they think.  He sat with Quinn one evening after dinner and asked him many things, but my favorite part was when he wanted to know what Quinn liked to do at home.  “Ring the doorbell,” was the answer Arno got, no matter how many he ways he presented the question to perhaps broaden the answer.  “I like to ring the doorbell at home,” Quinn kept saying, and eventually he even hummed the tones of the Westminster Chime setting of our wireless doorbell for his uncle, who just smiled and agreed it sounded like a fine hobby indeed.

In some ways I also got a little more time alone with my mom, which was nice.  Ian found play dates and activities for the kids and told me to go to the hospital without guilt.  He had the kids and I could concentrate on my dad.  Since I didn’t have small people asking me for water or needing help in the bathroom or climbing in my lap I was able to finish whole sentences with my mom.  I had lunches with her at the hospital and walks with her in the evenings when we came home.  It was a difficult time, to be sure, and hospitals are not easy places, but silver linings were not hard to find.

I need to make a quick mention of how great everyone at Beaumont Hospital was.  There was not one doctor, nurse, receptionist, etc., who was not kind and helpful.  My dad was scared, my mom was exhausted, my brother was respectful but persistent in his questioning, and we were all treated in a way that was friendly and professional.  It’s easy to complain when people fail us, but we aren’t quick enough to compliment others when they rise to an occasion, and our experience at the hospital renewed my faith in people being able to perform well as part of their daily business.  I don’t know how my parents are going to handle the medical bills when they start coming in, but the level of care my dad received was excellent, and for that we are grateful.

Tonight when I talked to my dad on the phone he sounded great.  He listened to Aden play her new violin piece for him, he told me about reorganizing some of the bookcases in the house, and everything felt normal.  That’s important, because I need my dad.  I didn’t need a hospital scare to remind me of that, but I am starting to scout out dates on my calendar when maybe we could drop everything and go visit for no reason other than everything is fine.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Which Family Is Mine? (Babble)

Or more correctly, which family do I belong to?  This was the question I pondered on my long drive home alone.  Let me see if can explain it to you and if it makes any sense I would love some feedback.  I don’t know if this is a question other people ask themselves or not, or if too much time alone in the car warped my brain.

When I got back from my week long trip to Alaska with my friend, she got to go straight back into her life with her children, and I got to go back to my childhood home.  My own husband and children were waiting for me back in Milwaukee, but we’d planned for me to have a few days with my mom and dad before I made the drive to Wisconsin by myself.  I could have nearly a week if I wanted, seeing friends and family in Detroit before I would have to go back to work and my normal routine.

During other periods of my life such an opportunity would have seemed like a godsend, but after a week away from my kids it just left me unsettled.  I stayed about two days and had a very nice time.  I had a fabulous girls’ night out with some of my oldest friends and we laughed ourselves silly and caught up on important information about each other’s lives.  I also had some wonderful walks with my mom and a quiet afternoon with my dad playing Scrabble and talking.  I love being back home, but I’d never been away from my children so long and I needed them.  I realized as much as my son can make me nuts with the way he’s always leaning on me, I deeply missed the feel of his little hand in mine on our evening walks around the block and I longed to have someone to scoop up in my arms and nuzzle.  I also have just a few more weeks with my husband before he leaves for Iraq, and I needed to get back to him.  My mom was sad I couldn’t stay a few more days, but she understood and in the truest form of a good mother she let me go.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt more torn about leaving Detroit, though.  I had a physical pang about it as I got into my car.  My father was only recently out of the hospital after major surgery, and he was doing remarkably well, but he still needed help.  My mom is the strongest person I know, and somehow she can handle taking care of everything at home and at their business and also manage to find time to devote to her artwork, but I could see she was stretched thin.  I told her if she needed me I would stay.  If it meant keeping my store closed an extra week or more I could do that, because my dad’s health and my mom’s sanity were more important.  My kids missed me, but they were with their dad, so it was doable.  My mom thought about it briefly, and then admitted she wanted me to stay, but she didn’t need me to stay.  She thought I needed to go home to my own family.

So which family is mine?  I have created a life with the man I love, and we have three children, and together obviously we are a little family.  My family.  But I grew up as one of three children in a family my parents created together, and when my mom talks about her little family, I am a member of that family.  My old family.  But that’s still my mom’s current family.  I feel like I exist in a family overlap–a Venn diagram of relationships and sometimes I don’t know where my priorities should lie.  Of course I know that it’s all one giant family, but in reality we function on smaller levels, and I experience confusion on occasion by what I mean by ‘home.’  Where I grew up is still home, but where I live now is certainly home, too.

It felt wrong to leave my parents when they could use my help, but it felt equally wrong to be away from my husband and children.  In an ideal world we would live down the street from my parents and I could do both things, but my world is not ideal.  One of the great gifts of having children is gaining a more profound understanding of your own parents, realizing what kinds of sacrifices were involved in your own upbringing that you couldn’t comprehend until you had to step into the role of parent yourself.  I am forever indebted to my parents.  I love them and I want to give back.  But when resources and time are limited, how much do I dedicate to them before it impacts the new family I’ve created?  My parents would never want me to feel obligated to sacrifice for them, but that’s what love comes down to.  Of course I will find a way to support and help my parents when they need me, but I can’t help but think ahead about what I should do down the road when they may need me more and more.

The point has been particularly driven home to me while watching my grandma’s situation.  The year before it became clear she needed to be moved to a nursing home was incredibly hard on everyone involved.  Grandma dug in her heels and didn’t want to leave her house even though she was not capable of living there safely anymore.  It was painful to see her trying to discuss it with her children–her own little family–when her memory was so bad she didn’t remember starting a kitchen fire or passing out on more than one occasion.  Before she went into the home I worried every night that she might be lying hurt at the bottom of the basement stairs in Ohio because she insisted she could still do laundry.  The stress was worse on my mother, who still drives all the way down to Columbus to visit as often as she can even though her efforts are almost instantly forgotten once she leaves my grandmother’s line of sight.  But that’s one of the things love obligates you to do.  You do what is right for the people you love because it is right.  You do it even though you would never ask it of that person in return.  I’ve watched how hard it is for my mom to care for her mother from out of state.  I’m wondering what kind of long drives from Wisconsin to Michigan are in my future.

These were the thoughts that darted around my mind during the very boring stretches of freeway on the westen side of Michigan, the traffic jams in Indiana, and the confusing route my GPS sent me on in Illinois and Wisconsin.  I can’t remember such a long span of time without distraction in ages.  The radio was stolen out of our car earlier this year, and the one we replaced it with is awful.  Ian and I just assumed that all radios came with preset buttons and channel-seek funcions anymore, but we were wrong.  We have a radio with a strange knob and we can’t find anything.  I made desperate stabs at tuning in interesting music or news with no success and ended up back in my own thoughts about family and what it means.

Finally when I was just sitting on the freeway (few things are as aggravating as being parked on a freeway) I realized I was incredibly homesick and needed to talk to someone.  I called home (the one in Milwaukee) and got Aden.  I love her.  She was excited to hear my voice and gave me the rundown of what everyone was up to, from Mona playing Webkinz on the computer to Quinn sorting checkers, and after a few minutes I decided I should probably let her go.  “No, mama!  Don’t hang up!”  I asked if she was sure she didn’t want to go back to playing.  “No!  I want to talk to you!”  So I told her about all the different animals I saw in Alaska.  After each one I named she’d say “Really!?!?”  When I told her I saw a glacier up close she said, “Really!?!?” and when I asked her if she knew what a glacier even was she said, “No.”  So I told her all about it.  I told her I had a present for her, but wouldn’t tell her what it was no matter how much she begged.  I loved having her sweet voice with me in the car for a few minutes.  It was the highlight of the seven hour drive, but I eventually convinced her it was time to let me go because I expected the traffic to start moving again soon.  She said, “Okay.  Bye mama.”  And I was alone again in my car.

It’s amazing how much of life is just about going through cycles and getting to repeat things from different perspectives.  I remember being the little girl on the phone and talking to my mom.  Now I get to be the mom.  I hope one day, if it’s what Aden wants, she will make her own little family.  I’d like to think by the time I’m old and Aden’s worrying about me maybe one of us will have figured out a way to make some of this easier.  And maybe the construction in Indiana will finally be finished.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy Birthday to a Great-Grandma! (Babble)

On our recent trip to Ohio I got to spend time with my grandma.  My mom’s mom is my last living grandparent.  She turned 91 this summer and I’m glad we were able to be there for her birthday.
Visits with my grandma are complicated anymore.  She moved into a nursing home just over two years ago and she’s not the same woman I’ve known for so long.  Her memory started falling apart a few years back, and now she repeats the same questions many times during a conversation.  I feel fortunate that she recognizes me whenever I call or visit, and that she remembers my husband and my kids when I talk about them, but I miss my grandma.  We never really get past the initial parts of a conversation because she needs to keep resetting it.  We can only safely spend time with her in the mornings before the true depths of her dementia surface.

My grandma has always been important to me.  As a child we went to Columbus for Christmas every year, and to this day it doesn’t feel like the holiday season without her spritz cookies in the shapes of trees and wreathes.  Nowadays I’m the one who makes them, but it remains an unbroken tradition and one I’m pleased to involve my kids in.
Grandma’s home was always welcoming and clean.  Whenever there was a plate of brownies or cookies on the counter and I asked if I could have one she always said, “That’s what they’re there for!”  I don’t remember her ever seeming disappointed in me or mad.  She loved me in a way I look forward to loving my own grandchildren one day.

I got to know her best while I was in college.  I moved from Michigan to Ohio to attend school just a couple of years after my grandfather died.  My grandpa was strong and kind and very funny and I don’t think gram will ever get over losing him.  That pain has always been closer to the surface than I think most people realize.  With grandpa gone there were many things for her to adjust to; she was living alone after a lifetime of sharing a house, and I was just venturing out in the world on my own.  We were able to help each other out and connect in a way that wouldn’t have been the same at any other time in our lives.  I could set digital clocks and change hard to reach light bulbs, she taught me how to do laundry, and nearly every Sunday for more than five years I went to her house for dinner.  She always let me bring a friend along if I thought someone was in need of a home cooked meal.  She was the first person in my family to meet and get to know the man I eventually married.

Grandma did social work in her community and for decades did work in adoption for the Methodist Children’s Home.  Her stories were always interesting about how adoptions and opinions about them had changed so much over the years and I begged her to write a book but was never able to convince her to do it.  I’m sure she was good at her job because she was such an excellent listener.  You could talk to gram without feeling judged or dismissed.

I depended a great deal on her listening abilities during Ian’s first deployment.  She was the only one in the family who truly understood.  My grandfather was in the navy during World War Two, and gram was left in Milwaukee, pregnant with my uncle and caring for my mother.  When I said I was scared for my husband’s safety she knew what that felt like, and when I told her how hard it was to watch my son growing each day in the absence of his dad, she knew what that was like, too.  She even knew what it meant to stare down a grey Milwaukee day in February while folding laundry and wondering if her husband would ever make it home.  My grandma knew, and she loved me, and those two things together helped get me through some very rough days.

It breaks my heart that my children won’t get to know my grandma the way I did.  I think Aden remembers the house that was sold not that long ago, but it probably doesn’t contain much meaning.  To me it was an entire childhood of Christmases and Easter baskets, walnuts in the yard and a hill to roll down next door.  I can still conjure instantly the smell of the basement during a ping pong game, or the way the breeze felt on the screened in porch out back.  It was the house my parents were married in.  I still can’t believe it’s a house I will never visit again.

When grandma first moved into the nursing home it was very difficult.  It’s a very nice facility and the staff is remarkable at what they do.  They are patient and respectful and I’ve never seen anything short of excellent care there, but a nursing home is not where my grandma ever wanted to be.  For a long time she couldn’t remember where she was or why she was there and it was frightening for her, but she needs care beyond what any of us could provide ourselves so even while it was upsetting for everyone I think she was in the best possible place.  This year on her birthday I felt as if she were finally settled.  She still doesn’t understand where she is, but it’s familiar, and that’s enough.  She has a routine that’s comfortable and faces she recognizes every day, and she seemed serene for the first time in a long time.

If we weren’t so far away I would bring my kids to the nursing home regularly.  It wasn’t just good for my grandma, it seemed to brighten the spirits of everyone we passed to see such young bright faces.  Mona in particular made an interesting connection.  My cousin, Tony, lives in town and visits gram often and knows many people at the home by name.  He said the woman who sits on the couch outside of gram’s room was sweet but loopy.  He’d had many conversations with her, none of which made any sense, and he was fascinated watching her talk with Mona.  Mona is direct, and can be blunt in her questions about why someone is in a wheelchair, etc., so I worry about her in situations that require any form of tact, but more often than not it serves her well.  In this case, she was able to carry on the most coherent conversation with this woman that my cousin had ever seen.  Tony said the lady lit up when she saw Mona and asked her her age, Mona responded, asked her own questions, and he said for a little while it was just a nice normal moment between an old woman and a little girl, and he found it very moving.

The party was lovely.  My uncle and aunt were there, and two of my cousins.  We ate lunch outside on a patio by the dining room.  She thought she was in someone’s backyard and the thought made her happy.  Aden played Long Long Ago on the violin, both girls made her cards.  Quinn was his sweet self which is enough to charm anyone for a good hour or two.  We had homemade chicken salad and cake like her mother used to make that my mom had prepared.  It was a nice party and one I’m sure she forgot took place by the time the sun had set.  I feel responsible for remembering the moment since she no longer can.

Happy Birthday, gram.  I love you.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hitting the Road (Babble)

Road trip!

Every summer I make a trip to Michigan and/or Ohio to visit family, usually while Ian is off doing Army Reserve duty.  It’s a journey I’m used to making without him, but with his impending deployment it was hard not to think about how every trip for awhile will be without him.  Seemed like a good time to start learning how to use the GPS.

The first thing I discovered about traveling with the GPS is that my two-year-old son loves to listen to it.  He now wakes up some mornings talking to himself in bed saying, “Turn Left.  Then Take The Third Right.”  He got very excited the first time it said we had reached our destination and then asked what that meant.  I told him it meant “We’re here,” and now when we arrive anyplace he tells me proudly, “You Have Reached Your Destination.  That means we’re here!”  Mona also does a good imitation of the GPS voice, and Aden can’t stand the thing.  She says she doesn’t like how it’s always interrupting (which has a very ‘pot calling the kettle black’ sound to it, but I understand what she means).

The next thing I learned about the GPS is that road construction is not its friend.  Indiana is always under construction (can’t wait to see what it’s like when it’s done) and I’m not clever enough yet to calm down the GPS about my use of detours.  But we got to Ohio eventually despite my hopeless sense of direction, so it’s a start.

We went to Columbus primarily for my grandmother’s birthday.  Usually when I’m in Ohio it’s for a family related function and I don’t get much opportunity to visit with my friends and their kids.  I decided this year I would set aside a few days just for catching up with friends and I regret that I haven’t done this before.  Making time for friends once you start having children is difficult, but I do what I can.  All my friends who still live near Ohio State have interesting lives and children and to watch them play together is fascinating and wonderful.

For the first time in all my years of visiting Ohio I didn’t stay with a relative.  I love spending time with my family there and I’m lucky to have my pick of cousins who volunteer to put us up, but the focus of this trip was intended to be different.  I have a friend with a house not far from where my grandmother lives now, and she invited us to take over the basement.  I think her home has been the most accommodating place I’ve ever stayed overnight with the kids.  The basement has a bedroom, a playroom, a bathroom, and a family room area set up to watch movies.  It’s always less stressful to stay at a house that is already set up for kids, but to have a whole level of the house to ourselves so we didn’t feel like we were intruding was great.  Normally wherever we travel I feel like we’re nothing but a hurricane of stuffed animals and cereal bar wrappers.   Trying to be a good guest anywhere with small children can be draining.  This time was not.

My kids are actually very nice to travel with.  We try to make the drive part of the vacation instead of a necessary evil.  The night before a big trip we go out and get some new something that they can only use in the car–a new drawing pad or special toy.  This time it was a glow-doodle thing that you can write on with your finger and lights up.  We also finally invested in a little DVD player that they can watch in the back seat and that made them very happy.  My girls like to sing, so there was a lot of rewinding their favorite parts of movies with songs they could accompany.  Quinn would prefer I sing to him, but he only knows how to request songs based on the color button he uses to make them play on his toy floor piano at home.  He’ll say brightly, “Mama!  Sing the blue one!” and I’ll try a bar of everything from  ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ to ‘London Bridge’ to ‘Clementine’ before he finally smiles and says, “Yes, THAT’s the blue one!”  I really should write them down before we get in the car for over ten hours again.

The most fascinating part of this trip to me was watching kids interact that my friends and I have only described to each other.  Aden got to play with a younger girl that I figured she would either hate or adore since their personalities sounded so similar.  They were thick as thieves, and even created an ‘orphanarium’ for the smaller kids and fed them cucumbers from the garden as they awaited adoption.  Mona got to drive a new friend around in a pink toy jeep which provided me with a frightening preview of what to expect when she hits driver’s ed.

The biggest challenges involved my kids adjusting to our host’s son who as an only child doesn’t have as much practice sharing his toys.  Sharing is always an interesting issue.  I think you either have a natural inclination for it or you don’t.  I’m still not good at sharing so I know how uncomfortable it can make you feel, but it’s a necessary skill whether it comes naturally or not.  My friend’s son is almost exactly the same age as Quinn but with very different life experience.  Quinn arrived in a world dominated by sisters and other people’s things.  He looks out at a world of toys that he has no exclusive claim to.  The few items in his life that he might object to sharing no one else is interested in.  His new friend, however, lives in a space where sharing is not an ever present fact of life.  Their first day together was difficult because everything Quinn touched was quickly reclaimed by its owner to the point where he was even discouraged from poking certain piles of sand on the ground.  Quinn eventually retreated to my side saying sadly that the other boy “was rude to me.”  After nearly a week of having us around, however, you could see the boy’s defenses coming down as he realized it was more interesting to be involved with all these kids who had invaded his home than to alienate them over his toys.

There is so much to learn while parenting, and there is so much variation in children and lifestyles that I find it endlessly interesting.  Getting the chance to see how my old friends operate as parents and to meet their kids was especially so.  There is a trust and a comfort in being with people who know and share your history that I don’t experience much in Milwaukee.  Most of the parents I know I met through my children, so those relationships are as new as they are.  Nearly all the people who knew me prior to having kids are out of state.  I’m grateful to my kids for finding friends with such wonderful parents, but not having to explain every reference from my past during a play date was such a relief and one I didn’t realize I needed.  I loved getting together with the same women I used to hang out with on campus, but this time at the zoo or the park.  It was helpful to get some perspective on what things change and what things don’t.  The demands of parenting can be isolating sometimes, and this trip was a good reminder to me of how much it helps to laugh and to make time for people who can relate.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s visit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Name Is Mom (Babble)

So I’m finally up to introducing myself.  (Typical of a mom to put herself last, isn’t it?  Oh well.)
I was thinking the other night about my identity and the first time I ever gave it any serious consideration.  When I was in Jr high I had an afternoon paper route (which  now sounds as quaint as those hoops kids used to push around with sticks for fun).  I delivered the Detroit News up and down two streets near my house every day after school, which meant most days around 4:00.  If I had to stay late at school for some reason the papers obviously got out a little later, and if school were closed I was able to get the papers out earlier.  There was one customer at the end of my route who was never happy with me.  I think he had a system of complaining to the Detroit News regularly in order to get coupons for free papers.  The man drove me crazy.  In any case, one afternoon he stopped me to complain that the paper had been delivered too early the day before and I needed to deliver it exactly at 4:00–no earlier, no later. I apologized (the whole time wondering why he couldn’t wait to look in his door until 4:00 if he really didn’t want to see it before then) and tried to explain that my schedule wasn’t that predictable.  He rolled his eyes and said, “It’s just one paper, how hard can it be?”

Just one paper?  He really didn’t understand that he was not the only customer on my route?  That I had more things to do in my life than just deliver his paper?  I was dumbfounded, and my whole walk home I thought about how the problem stemmed from the fact that to this man I was simply “the paper girl” and I had no identity beyond that.  Of course if all I was was the paper girl, I should be able to accommodate him however he liked because I did not exist for him beyond that one label.  I started to look at myeslf from every angle and realized how fragmented my identity really was in this world.  Depending on whom you asked my identity was different and tailored to each person’s experience.  I was a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend, student, artist, violinist, girl from math class, the kid my dog barks at every afternoon, the one who can solve your Rubik’s cube….  I had known that before, but it was the first time I realized that for most people I was just the one thing they knew me as, and that was all.  It made me a little dizzy to think about all the different roles I simultaneously filled and the whole time I’d just thought of myself as me.

Today I typically go by “Mom.”

Usually Aden’s Mom, sometimes Mona’s Mom, and when Quinn is old enough to have friends of his own I’ll be able to add Quinn’s Mom to the list.  I really liked being called Mommy, but Aden gave that up at age three for Mom or Mama.  Mona followed her sister’s lead and did the same, and eventually so did Quinn.  It always makes me smile at a crowded gathering of parents and kids when a little voice yells, “Mom!” and all the women respond.

But beyond Mom, the label I hear most often is Violin Lady.  My husband and I opened our own business at the beginning of last year, and if anyone is making a list of recession proof ventures, they should add violin shop to it.  I’m not sure why we’re as busy as we are, but I’m pleased to be doing what I enjoy and actually making a living at it.  I build instruments at home and at the store I do a lot of repair work.  Ian reminds me regularly that the minute it isn’t fun we can shut it all down.  So far I’ve loved every day.  I wanted to create a space that my kids would feel comfortable in too, and they love coming to the violin store.  We have a popcorn machine and a kids’ table with crayons and they find lots of ways to keep themselves entertained when they hang out there with me.  Check out my window washers (and what?  You don’t have a giraffe who does windows where you are?):

In addition to working on instruments I also play viola in a local orchestra and string quartet and I do some teaching.  I like being the Violin Lady in town.  I get more attention than I deserve because my profession is unusual to most people, but I’ve met hundreds of violin makers so I’m always amazed anyone wants to hear much about it.  I love making violins, and I get great pleasure out of the fact that my children all think of tools as Mom Things.  They’ve spent their whole lives watching mom use a bandsaw or a plane regularly, so if anyone ever tries to tell them a drill press isn’t a girl thing they will know better.

Making instruments is much harder to do when Ian’s away because there are many steps where I need large blocks of time to concentrate, and that happens best when the kids are out of the house.  But even though the work lacks a consistent look when I try to carve a violin when I’m home with the kids, I need to keep working.  I plugged away at both a violin and my own viola during Ian’s last deployment and it helped me keep my sanity.  As much as there is no label that pleases me more than Mom, I have trouble being just Mom.  I’m a better parent when I have an identity beyond that.  Stealing time after the kids go to bed to work in my shop makes me feel like my own person again.  I like being able to point to something I’ve made progress on that has nothing to do with laundry or dishes.  I like that I have a distinctive label my kids can use when describing me to others that goes beyond Mom.  My greatest hope for my children is that they create lives for themselves where all the facets of their identities bring them satisfaction and joy.
The one label that currently makes me uneasy is ‘Army Wife.’  It makes me sound as if I’m married to the Army and that would have to be considered an arranged marriage at best.  I’m always taken aback when I discover someone knows me only in that context.  Being described as the wife of my husband’s profession seems so far removed from the person I think of myself to be that I don’t feel remotely connected to it.  We don’t live on a base, my husband keeps his military life far from his home life, and we seldom have the opportunity to interact with other families in our situation.  I suppose all of that makes denial on my part easier, but the truth is we are one of the modern versions of a military family, and the sooner I come to grips with that the better.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Major Stay-At-Home Dad (Babble)

My husband is remarkable and I need to take a few moments to praise him.  (And for the truly observant who notice the captain’s bars on his uniform in this picture, it was taken the day he came home in 2007.  He’s since been promoted to major.)

Often when people find out he’s in the Army and has served in Iraq they make a point of telling me to thank him.  Usually it’s people who have never met him, and they use words like hero.  I agree, but not for all the same reasons.

Ian’s is the ultimate stay-at-home-parent struggle in some ways.  In his job as an officer in the U. S. Army Reserves he has earned honors for his contributions and accomplishments, including a bronze star for his last deployment.  He is one of the smartest, kindest men I’ve ever met and exactly the kind of soldier we want representing us in a foreign land.  If anyone can find effective solutions for some of the problems the Army faces, it’s Ian, so he deserves whatever recognition he gets.

But the really hard work he does is staying home with three kids, and there are no medals for that.

No one wants to shake my hand in awe when then they hear he stays on top of the laundry and manages play dates and gets dinner on the table night after night.  My father took me aside during a visit to our home once, and said, “Ian is amazing.”  My dad admitted he wouldn’t have the patience for handling Mona or keeping track of Quinn or negotiating endlessly with Aden.  Ian shouts more than he’d like (we’re constantly explaining to the kids that they are teaching us to shout by not doing what we ask the first 4 or 5 times when we ask nicely) and tells me sometimes he wishes he could do better, but that’s just being human.  He has done the endless driving back and forth to school and has no problem grocery shopping with all the kids in tow.  He takes them to violin lessons and choir and swimming and birthday parties and dentist appointments and the zoo.  He clips nails, gives baths and knows all their friends’ names.  He does all of this knowing at the end of the day when I come home they will run to me and say they like me best.  If the situation were reversed I couldn’t handle it.  I would find a way to withhold ice cream out of spite, I’m sure.  Ian just shrugs and says, “YOU still love me, right?”

And I do.  Ian is my best friend and the person I trust most in this world.  He’s smart and funny and he makes me feel beautiful even when I haven’t bothered to run a brush through my hair.  My day doesn’t feel complete until I’ve had a chance to tell him about it, even if it’s just to describe a funny scene I watched on The Office or to remind him we need eggs.  When he was gone for 15 months during his last deployment I felt ungrounded.  My days floated together in a way that was unsettling.  I felt less real.  Ian enables me to be more myself when we’re together.  He clears obstacles from my path so that I can accomplish more.  He’s told me I create beauty that the world needs and I should be given the freedom to do that.  He made it possible for me to go to violin making school, and our violin store would not exist except for his hard work.  Thanks to him I’ve built instruments, written novels, and performed some wonderful music.  Without him I’ve discovered I turn into a cleaning machine and a nag.

I can’t stand that he’s leaving.  He loves me enough that if I put my foot down and told him to stay I know he would.  The problem is I love him enough not to do that.  He has supported me in everything I’ve ever wanted to do and has dedicated a good portion of his life to making my dreams a reality.  How can I not do the same for him?  I don’t fully understand the part of him that chose to be an Army officer, but I would never forgive myself for denying him something that he found important.  I don’t want him to resent me or regret his decisions.  I want him to look at me and feel I help him be his best possible self.  I want to clear obstacles from his path, too.  I love him and will support him from home as best I can.

It’s going to be a long year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Girl Aden (Babble)

Aden was my first baby.  Unlike my younger two children who want to be acknowledged as big kids, she doesn’t mind at all that she’s my baby.  She still curls herself into the smallest ball she can and tries to tuck herself into my arms as if she were a tiny bundle.  Her lanky seven year old frame doesn’t fit in my lap well anymore, but she still likes to be cuddled and cooed over and adored.  I’m happy to oblige.  I love my Aden.

We picked out her name many years before she was born.  During the first phone conversation I had with my (now) husband in college I tried to stump him by quizzing him about things on the world map by my bed that I was sure nobody could just know.   He knew everything I could throw at him, and my last ditch attempt was to ask him the capital of Yemen.  “North Yemen or South Yemen?” he wanted to know.  I hadn’t even noticed Yemen was divided, but I picked south because it sounded more obscure.  The answer was “Aden.”   At some point ‘Aden’ became the placeholder name for the imaginary child we might someday have, so when she finally came along she couldn’t be anything but ‘Aden.’  Anyone who has been within earshot of any playground in recent years knows, however, that the name Aden/Aiden/Aidan/etc. is about as popular as it gets right now, which seems deeply unfair to us having picked it out at a time when it didn’t crop up anywhere, but our daughter has been the only girl we’ve run into with that name.  In school she is commonly referred to as Girl Aden.

Aden is both serious and silly,  She has an excellent vocabulary and a scientific mind.  She negotiates everything (which is sometimes maddening), constantly looking for loopholes, and it’s easy to imagine her as a lawyer one day.  Although if you ask her she’ll currently tell you she wants to be an astronaut, a scientist, an animal rescuer, and a Pokemon expert.  She’s also very artistic and has recently started the violin which she has lovely instincts for.  I knew if any of my children played the violin people would assume I made them do it, and if I’ve learned anything from all my years of teaching private lessons it’s that it has to be the child’s idea for it to be a positive experience.  I let Aden beg me for a violin for a year before I finally said, “Well, okay, if you MUST play violin….”  I found her a wonderful teacher (I decided not to teach her myself because there is only so much the mother-daughter bond can take) and it’s one of the greatest joys of my life to hear her play the violin.  I promised her when she’s ready for a full size instrument I’d build her something special.  (Being currently obsessed with narwhals, she has visions of something with a narwhal for a scroll.  I’m not sure if that’s something I can sell if she ever tires of it, but it would certainly inspire some interesting coversations at the Violin Society of America conventions.)

She’s going into second grade this fall and she’s convinced it’s going to be overwhelmingly hard compared to first grade.  I’m not sure where she gets that impression since she’s in a mixed aged Montessori classroom and can see that the second graders aren’t doing anything impossible, and the teacher who indulged her drawing narwhals on all of her assignments is the same one who I’m sure will let her draw narwhals on everything this year as well.
My oldest child is incredibly sensitive.  I remember reading somewhere when she was about a year old that children don’t develop empathy until age six or seven.  That struck me as ridiculous because Aden showed empathy from very early on.  I once cried while listening to a radio story when she was 4 months old and she touched my face and burst into tears.  (Now, when I had Mona I decided that if she develped empathy by six or seven I would be thrilled, so maybe that concept has applications after all.)   I have to be very careful about displaying my emotions around Aden because I don’t want to upset her unnecessarily. The problem is she doesn’t let me remove myself from the stituation.  She wants to comfort me the way I comfort her, so sometimes I just have to let her.  When I had my first miscarriage and couldn’t stop crying she tried to understand it as best as her four year old self could manage.  After sitting with me and stroking my hand didn’t help she ran off and got one of her baby dolls.  She put it in my lap to hold and said, “Here, Mama.  This baby won’t die.”  Looking at the remarkable child I had instead of focusing on the one I’d lost is what got me through that ordeal.

Aden is the person I am most worried about during the upcoming deployment (husband at war aside, of course).  I know last time she picked up on my own anxiety and frustration and sadness and reflected it back at me.  I am resolved to try harder this time to have a better outlook and thereby take some of the stress off my daughter.  Aden can be incredibly strong but I hope not to lean on her too much.  I’m glad we will have each other as we await her dad’s safe return.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Meet Mona (Babble)

When people ask if we have boys or girls, my husband usually says, “We have one of each:  A boy, a girl, and Mona.”

The most common phrase I hear from people after they’ve spent time with my middle child is, “Mona is interesting.”  They say it in an amused and astonished way that I understand.  I find Mona interesting, too.

Mona is 5. She starts full-day kindergarten in the fall and she’s very excited about it.  In half-day kindergarten her best friends were the bad boys–the ones who were always made to sit out of snack time as punishment.

The first thing that strikes people about her are her sartorial choices.  I’ve had several moms tell me at the half-day pickup at her school that they can’t wait to see what outfit she’ll be wearing when she comes out with the class.  There was a hat phase, and a coat in hot weather phase, the bathing suit in winter phase, and any day is fine for a costume in Mona’s world.  I remember one day in May she went with me to Target in a bathing suit, rain boots, winter coat and a baseball hat.  She was ready for anything.

Here are some photos I grabbed somewhat at random off my computer from over the past couple of years.  Keep in mind not one of them is from Halloween:

When I told people I was expecting a boy when I was pregnant with Quinn, many of them said something along the lines of, “Wow!  You are not going to believe the amount of energy a boy has!”  And all I kept thinking was, “It can’t be more than Mona.”  So far Quinn remains most like his sister, Aden, in energy and mannerisms, and Mona the middle child reigns supreme in feats of crazy physicality in our home.  She’s the climber and the jumper and the one who could spend all afternoon chasing her shadow around the block. She was crawling at 6 months and walking at 8 months, and she practices unusual walks and different facial expressions.

Mona wasn’t interested in talking for a long time.  During her toddler years she communicated mostly through a system that her dad and I referred to as interpretive dance.  When people tell me they aren’t surprised by how articulate Quinn is at such an early age because he has older siblings to model after, all I can think is, “Yes, but how does that explain Mona?”  But there is no explaining Mona.  She adores her older sister who speaks clearly and well, but didn’t emulate any of those traits for a long time.  Mona was always Mona and she does things on her own schedule.

She is the most internally motivated person I have ever known.  Disciplining her was always a challenge because there was nothing to take away; her favorite thing has always been herself.  For a long time rewards didn’t work either because nothing was as interesting as simply jumping around.  Luckily I’ve only had to battle with her on very few issues which I had to win, and for the most part it’s been fine to let her live in her own little world (which seems to operate about ten minutes in the future from our own).  She has managed to reduce me to tears of frustration in public and yet also makes me laugh every day.  She gives amazing hugs.

I don’t think Mona remembers her father’s last deployment.  She was younger than Quinn is now when he left and I think memories between ages 2 and 4 are hazy for most people, even 5 year olds.  I know she remembers certain things that happened, but I don’t think she associates anything from that time with her dad being in Iraq.  They are just memories of familiar things.  This time she will be far more cognizant of what is going on, and I know she will miss her dad.  But Mona adapts quickly.  As long as I’m there and she has her sister to follow, she may come through this experience better than any of us.  Of course, to say the girl is hard to predict is a vast understatement.  She surprises me all the time, so I suppose it’s possible she’ll melt down when her dad leaves in September, but I bet she’ll do okay.

Raising Mona is like living with a circus act.  I feel sometimes as if I’m observing her while peeking from behind my hands–afraid to watch and even more afraid to look away and miss something great.  People often observe Mona for awhile and then shake their heads and say they don’t know how we live with all that wacky energy, but honestly, I’m not sure what people without a Mona do.  Life without Mona would be very dull, and we’d have much less to talk about here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Introductions: Quinn (Babble)

Technically, blogging is new to me, although anyone in the long list of friends and family members who have been receiving my mass emails for years will tell you otherwise.  They already know the cast of characters I write about, but the Babble audience could use some introductions, so I’m going to go in order of age starting with my baby (who is quick to remind me he is NOT a baby).

Quinn is 2 (but I guess in baby speak he is 33 months).  If I know nothing else in this world, I know that the boy loves me.  He would do nothing but lounge in my lap and smile all day if I’d let him.  Not a day goes by that I don’t look at him with wonder and think about how we almost didn’t try for that third child.  I had two miscarriages after I had my girls, and as much as I wanted another baby I didn’t know if I could handle one more failed pregnancy.  I’ve never been more glad that I took a chance on anything in my life.  Quinn is adorable and funny and he rounds us up to the family of 5 I always hoped for, but I never imagined kids or a husband as remarkable as the ones I actually have.  I am a very lucky person and try hard not to take that for granted.

The two words used most often to describe my son are cute and smart.   Indulge me in a proud mom moment as I present evidence of both.

Here is proof of cute (off my husband’s phone):

And here is proof of smart (filmed by my brother at Christmastime):

Quinn was heavily into puzzles from about 18 months old until pretty recently.  I think he specifically liked map puzzles because with their clear shapes they were actually easier, and I know he liked that the individual pieces had names.  He used to be proficient at Asia, Africa, the United States, and most of Europe and Canada, but then his interest waned and now he’s just into things that are purple.  He has passing phases like that, where he dives in wholeheartedly, masters something, then lets it go.  Just after he turned 1 he was obsessed with sign language and could recognize probably over 100 signs at his peak, but now it doesn’t interest him and he seldom does signs for me anymore.  If I could just get him hooked on doing the laundry for awhile….
Of all my children, Quinn is the one who shows the most impact of birth order.  He would not be the same person he is now if he did not have 2 strong older sisters.  At the moment he shares their room, and his life has always been about following them around and keeping up with what they do.  If he’d been born first he would still have been cute and smart, but I honestly can’t imagine him with his sisters out of the equation.  For him the house has always been full of playmates and toys that aren’t his and he’s always had someone to share the tub with.  As long as one of them isn’t climbing into my lap he adores his sisters.

I can’t predict how the upcoming deployment will affect him.  He was 9 months old when his dad returned from the last assignment in Iraq and he adjusted quickly, but this time is very different.  Ian has been the stay-at-home parent for the past couple of years, which means dad has been making the bulk of the decisions about what the kids eat and where they go and how they do everything.  Not only will they have to adjust to a parent being gone for a year, they will have to adjust to mom’s way of managing their world.  I suspect at first Quinn will be glad to have dad not around to compete for my attention.  On regular Army reserve weekends he is thrilled to have me by his side all day and doesn’t ask about his dad at all.  I have a feeling he will begin to notice the things Ian contributes after they have been missing for more than a week.  He lets the kids take way more risks on the playground than I’m comfortable with, I don’t do horsey rides, I’m no help with their computer problems, and there will be no more cake batter for lunch (not that that happened often, but the likelihood with me around will drop to zero).

I hate that Ian will miss nearly all of Quinn being 3.  Despite the whining, I have always loved age 3.  That’s always seemed the age to me when kids are the most uninhibited and expressive and you get a real glimpse of who they are.  I will take a lot of photos and video footage and hope that Ian doesn’t feel too left out.

Next post:  Meet Mona  (Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Letter (Babble)

Dear Family and Friends,

This letter is to let all of you know that Ian is being deployed to Iraq for the second time at the end of September.  He is currently a Major in the Army Reserves, and he will be leaving with a Logistics Maintenance Assistance Team (LMAT) based in Madison.  This mission is different from the one he participated in during his last deployment where he remained on an American base.  This time he will be helping to train members of the Iraqi Army.  Frankly, this new assignment has me more concerned than the previous one, but Ian feels prepared and ready to do his job, although he’s wishing he’d had time to learn some Arabic.  Just like I informed everyone back in 2006, please do not approach Ian with the attitude that news of this deployment is like cancer.  He is confident he can make a difference and wants to use his skills to create positive changes in a troubled area of the world.  He will miss his life and his family here, but he promises me he will come back to it.

From my end, I’m anxious because we’ve done this before and I have some idea what sort of challenges lie ahead, but things are already easier than last time.  First of all, I’m not pregnant, and that alone will make this deployment seem like a cakewalk compared to 2006.  The kids are all older (currently 7, 5 and 2) and much more self-sufficient which should help.  The girls will both be in school full time, and we know more families than we did when Aden was just starting half-day kindergarten before.  Having months to prepare (compared to 6 days) has been useful, and Ian has helped me get many things in order, including getting me a GPS so I will still have a voice in the car telling me when to turn even if it can’t be his for awhile.  Ian’s unit is based in Wisconsin this time, not Texas, so I have hopes that there might be a family readiness group to lend a hand for a change.  (The Army was useless to us the last time, so I will admit they are not high hopes.)

We’ve hired a friend to take over Ian’s work at the violin store, but without Ian home to be with the kids I will have to cut back the store hours to overlap with school.  We have a lead on a neighborhood grandma for hire who may be able to watch Quinn some mornings so I can get more work done, and I hope that works out.  (Otherwise barnacle boy will be stuck to my knee for twelve straight months, and it’s very hard to work on violins that way.)  We’ve really enjoyed running our own business, so I hope our customers are understanding enough about our circumstances to put up with my limited availability.  I love my work, but of course my kids come first so I want to be with them as much as I can.  One of the ways I’m planning to stay occupied while being at home is by writing a blog for   I was going to put regular updates about our family on a blog during this deployment anyway, since it seemed like an easier way for people to check in on us, and I’m happy that Babble was interested in sponsoring it.  The wars we are involved in are seldom in the news anymore, the soldiers tend to only be remembered on patriotic occasions, and the families of those soldiers are largely invisible to the public.  I think putting our story out there as a reminder could help.

I am always touched by the fact that people genuinely want to help, but most of them aren’t sure how.  Here are some ideas:  It’s wonderful to have adults to talk to.  Call, write, visit…  Having Ian away is lonely and there are only so many conversations I can have with my kids about Webkinz or opening yogurt containers before I start to feel like a zombie.  Any night I don’t have to cook and then clean the kitchen is good–invite us over and I promise to tell amusing stories about my brothers.  (See guys?  You’re helping already!)  It’s nice once in awhile to get out alone to run errands instead of going as a group, so if you have a little time to hang out with my kids let me know.  I am lousy at asking for help, but if you offer me an hour here or there I will take you up on it and be grateful forever.  I may hire a lawn service in the spring, but anyone who wants to help fight back the grass in the fall after Ian leaves is more than welcome.  I plan to tackle a lot of the shoveling myself this winter, but wouldn’t turn down help with that either.  I could use a list of people willing to be specific kinds of contacts–people good with a computer crisis or plumbing disasters, and especially people who would forgive me if there is an emergency in the middle of the night and I need help at an inconvenient hour.  I’m pretty sure I know whom I can call, but it helps me to have your permission in advance.
This time around I’m more worried about the kids.  I don’t think Mona remembers the last deployment, and Quinn obviously doesn’t, but it was very difficult for Aden to not have her dad here.  They’ve all enjoyed having Ian as the stay-at-home parent for the past couple of years and his absence will be deeply felt by all of them this time.  Distractions would be welcome.  Anyone from out of town who would like to see Milwaukee, this coming year would be a fine time to do it.  Mail addressed directly to the kids would also make them happy.  Play dates at other people’s houses always gets them excited, and we are happy to reciprocate.

Ian will know his mailing address after he arrives in Iraq, and I will share it once I know it myself.  Until that’s available you can always send him a note through his Army email account.

If you want to “Support the Troops” in a more general way, Ian says to donate to the USO.  The care packages they provided were the most useful, and he says any organization willing to send Stephen Colbert to Iraq to entertain soldiers is worth giving money to.

We will be fine.  It will be difficult, and I’m not pretending I will handle everything as well as I’d like, but Aden, Mona and Quinn are creative, sweet and endlessly amusing.  We will have each other, and in Ian’s absence I can’t wish for anything better.

Love to you all,

Kory, Ian, Aden, Mona and Quinn