Monday, May 30, 2016

"Happy" Memorial Day

I have a friend for whom wishes of a "Happy Memorial Day" or a "Happy Veterans' Day" really grate on her nerves.  These are not bubbly greeting card holidays.  They are meant to be secular versions of true "holy days" used to contemplate sacrifices made on our behalf.  For many they are simply a chance to enjoy a little time off, but my son finds it amusing that people could overlook their intended meaning and usually takes a moment to try and suppress laughter while saying, "Hey, Mom!  'Happy' Memorial Day!"

I don't usually write posts on Memorial Day.  I felt obligated to do so when I was a blogger for Babble and their only resident military family voice, and this post on the subject still expresses how I feel most accurately.  But I decided I will take a moment today to acknowledge what things have changed, for better or worse, since I wrote that Memorial Day post back in 2010.

Ian is away on an Army assignment again, but this time only in Poland, and for only a few weeks.  There is always a bit of stress trying to manage everything alone with him away, but the psychological difference between essentially a business trip and deployment cannot be overstated.  Taking on my husband's share of the chores while assuming he will be back soon, as opposed to doing those same tasks while constantly worried he will never come home, feels very different even though the choreography of my day may look the same.  My worry is of that low level variety where I am aware that life is unpredictable and anything can happen at any time, but I will gladly take that over the constant dread that comes with having my husband in a war zone any day.

In 2010 my kids were 3, 6, and 8.  Today they are 9, 12, and 14.  It's sort of shocking to realize that even my youngest now is still older than my oldest was back then.  The difference is enormous, not just in the general responsibilities, but in our relationships.  Until I reread that old post I had forgotten the weight of having to shield my children from so much.  I wouldn't have to do that today.  Their understanding of what a deployment means would be different if it happened now, and we would have to support each other in our fears and our challenges.  Trying to provide as normal a life as possible for my children when they were smaller and couldn't possibly grasp the bigger picture was necessary but hard.  They needed me to make them feel safe, and I couldn't afford to be an emotional wreck around them.  They are more resilient now.  They understand what supporting family in good times and bad means.  It would be a different ordeal with them being aware, but both innocence and knowledge have their price.

The strangest thing on this Memorial Day is probably how much more the political landscape scares me now compared to back then.  How can it be that things feel less stable today than they did during official military action?  Clinton's hawkishness has always concerned me deeply.  Trump's immaturity and unpredictable behavior is terrifying.  I'm not comfortable with either of these people having the power to command my husband where to go and what to fight for.  I understand the fascination people have with Trump, because reasonable politics are boring and he's playing this campaign like a reality show, but this isn't entertainment.  This is literally life or death for my family.  For many families.  I don't find his antics amusing.

So what are we doing on this long weekend?  Simple things.  Cleaning up, being together, settling Catan, and wishing Ian were here and hoping he has interesting stories to tell of his time in Poland when he returns. 

The best thing is a friend asked us to bake her a gender reveal cake for their first baby.  We made a prototype on Saturday to make sure it would be just the way she wants it.  She asked for lemon curd filling which we've never done before, so Mona helped me squeeze lemons and Quinn ran the mixer.  We needed to make sure whatever dye we put in the cake would look right when baked because if we goofed and the inside was all brown (the disaster default of most dye issues) that would make for a confusing event.

I think my friend thinks we're doing her a favor by making this cake.  The truth is, on a holiday weekend that I usually struggle with, I prefer to focus on a joyfully anticipated baby than on loss.  It's a good distraction and a fun project to do with my kids.

I miss my grandpa.  I miss my grandma.  I miss my dad.  I don't need reminders about missing people and mourning the dead and acknowledging sacrifice.  I prefer today to think about how lucky we are to have gotten to this point and appreciate how much has happened in the past six years.  I am so grateful for so much.  I just want to hug my kids and be happy for my friend that she will soon have one of her own to hug as well.  Memorial Day in 2010 was hard.  This one I might actually term "happy."


  1. This makes me feel both guilty and "happy".

    Guilty because, I'm one of those folks that sees the Memorial Day weekend as just another holiday. Somewhere at the back of my mind I do realize what the holiday is about, but it is too much "heavy" stuff... so I default to not thinking about it.

    Happy because we went on an impromptu trip to Houston this weekend. It's only about 2 hours drive from here, and we've been there at least a dozen times during the past few years, but it was always to the airport to pick up or drop someone off, or to the embassy, or to take our house guests on a trip to NASA. For the first time we went there on our own as tourists and enjoyed some of the touristy things the city has to offer (museum of natural history, zoo, aquarium, amusement rides, lounging at the hotel). While it was mundane stuff, it was spent with family at a stress-free, lazy pace and seen through the lens of your article it feels so much more precious.

    What I am trying to say I guess is that, each of us has our own difficult situations and trials, and somehow the way you share yours, makes me acknowledge that life is different for different people, but instead of making me dwell on it, you help me create the filter to view the beauty in life in general and ours in particular, that I am grateful for. Thank you :)

    1. Thank you, Sumitha.

      I think it's fine to simply enjoy a long weekend without feeling guilty about not visiting a graveyard. Unless you have someone to visit there it's only an abstract concept that soldiers are one piece of the puzzle that allow us to enjoy the lives we do. I think people can acknowledge the idea without being forced to wallow in it. If people want to use that extra time to be happy, that's wonderful. It just steps over the line into disrespect when people start saying "Happy Memorial Day!" without any thought as to what they are saying. Maybe if they had to go to the trouble of saying "Happy death of your loved one who sacrificed everything for your rights day!" it might at least make them notice the incongruity.

      Glad you had fun in Houston! I spent a day there with my brother once back when he lived in Austin, and it was interesting. We hung out on the grassy knoll.

  2. I agree, the political landscape is... Terrifying!

    This year Memorial Day fell on Owen's birthday, and it was extra special because Dave had the day off (he hadn't had a day off, weekend or otherwise, in three weeks) so it was some wonderful family time that I deeply treasured even if my reasons weren't much to do with the origin of the holiday. I was aware that we wouldn't have had that day together without others' sacrifices and I tried to recognize that and be thankful as well.

    1. That sounds great! I love a day off, but with my workload an official holiday doesn't always allow for one. I enjoyed having Sunday off to bake and play with the kids, but Memorial Day I actually went to work. (A lot of customers showed up, so I'm glad I did!)

      Happy birthday to Owen! Looking forward to pictures because your pictures are always beautiful.