Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Yellow Birds

I have read many books that have caused me to stop and really process, books that have changed, or educated me, caused me to look at the world in a broader way.  Few books have made me sit down immediately after turning that last page to try and record thoughts, to make significant meaning stick.  I finished The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers three minutes ago and here I am writing about it.

First, I don't want to say that I recommend this book.  But I do think it’s a necessary read.  For weeks and weeks, I’d see it as I passed the Lucky Day bookshelf at the library.  I’d pick it up, read the inside jacket description, and quickly put the book down.  Some subjects are too difficult to encounter.  For some reason, on the third or fourth time I picked up the book, I flipped to the copyright page and read the quote that begins the narrative, “To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetfull of evils past, is a mercifull provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil dayes, and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions.” Sir Thomas Brown.  Something in that quote hooked me and made me sit down and read this tragic and beautiful and awful story about youth, evil, friendship, ugliness and war.  And I will not look at war through the same narrow eyes of my misunderstandings.  I won’t understand, but hopefully I will be more understanding.

As I write this, my husband is checked in for his flight from Bagram Airfield to Dubai, a flight that will eventually bring him home.  He is currently on the doorstep of war, although he will be the first to tell you that his job is very far removed from actual combat.  And we used to live in the midst of that same war, for which we’ll forever be asked, “Was it scary living in Kabul?”  To this day I have not come up with a satisfactory answer to that question.  I always pause and think long and hard and say, “Not really” and tell a story about the week before we moved home and got caught up in a spontaneous protest while traveling to a base to ship back action packers full of stuff.  It seems like that’s what people want to hear.  That it was daring and risky, but also safe and mundane.  We didn’t see the war; we saw the effects of war in families missing members, bodies missing limbs, displacement, uncertainty, tanks, potholes, and the occasional booms, pops and lockdowns.  Our life consisted of varying levels of red, orange, and yellow, predicting the possibility of danger.  We were there, but we weren’t a part of it.

My closest experience to the war while living in the war wasn’t one of the many times we visited a base to get a Blizzard at DQ (yes, you read that right) or to visit the base bazaar full of prayer rugs with Kalashnikovs and the shape of Afghanistan woven into them.  It wasn’t canceling an appointment to get my eyebrows waxed in Shar-e Nau because there had been a suicide bombing at the UN compound.  It wasn’t the many sad stories that caused (cause) tears to fall and little bits of my heart to break. 

No, my closest experience was a few months after we arrived and a friend’s husband was driving me the less than a mile home from a ladies night at their house to our apartment.  It was barely dusk, when you had to squint to see clearly what was approaching.  Due to a roadblock near the Uzbek embassy, we popped onto the main road for about 50 meters before swinging back into our neighborhood.  And on that road, a large vehicle with extremely bright lights began to flash them rapidly at us.  I wouldn’t say it was the nick of time, but we realized it was a military convoy and quickly pulled off the road.  As the convoy passed and became clearer in the duskiness of coming night, I’ll never forget making eye contact with the young American, clad in desert browns and protective gear, Oakleys setting atop his helmet, pointing a large gun right at me.  His eyes widened as he registered that the passenger in the nondescript Toyota Surf was a very Caucasian woman wearing a chadori.  I felt like in that 10 seconds of eye contact I saw 10,000 emotions flicker in those eyes ranging from fear to surprise to expectation.  I wonder if he saw those same emotions in my eyes because they were all there.  I wonder if he went back to Phoenix or Eggers or whichever base he came from and told people he saw some crazy American lady living outside the wire on Darulaman.  Those 10 seconds with a gun pointed at my face and the brief window into the eyes of the person on the other end of the barrel was my closest experience to war.  When I think of other moments during our time there, explosions in the sky or in our neighborhood, they all pale in comparison to that encounter.

And as I read this book, The Yellow Birds, I was struck by the distance we all put between ourselves and what we don’t understand, or maybe some of you do understand. . . but I sure don’t.  But as I read this book, I was challenged by the many parts of it I could relate to; parts about fear, disappointment, disenchantment, difficulty remembering life before altering moments.  As I grappled with similarities between a sad, sometimes heinous story and my normal, sometimes uneventful life, I realized that the distance to understanding is not that far of a leap.  I realized that the leap often involves reliving the worst moments in an attempt to find commonality.  The main character tells us, “All pain is the same.  Only the details are different.  Although it is impossible to know what someone is truly going through without knowing the details, it is possible to bridge that gap through recognizing that the emotions we feel are often the same.

So, pick up this book.  Read it.  Tell me what you think about it.  Be prepared for some serious sadness.  Be prepared for some serious f-bombs.  Be prepared to want to sit down and ramble away about things that you don’t get but really want to grasp.  Be challenged and changed.

I leave you with one of those challenging and changing parts:

There were no bullets with my name on them, or with Murph’s, for that matter.  There were no bombs made just for us.  Any of them would have killed us just as well as they’d killed the owners of those names.  We didn’t have a time laid our for us, or a place.  I have stopped wondering about those inches to the left and right of my head, the three-miles-an-hour difference that would have put us directly over an IED.  It never happened.  I didn’t die.  Murph did.  And though I wasn’t there when it happened, I believe unswervingly that when Murph was killed, the dirty knives that stabbed him were addressed “To whom it may concern.”  Nothing made us special.  Not living.  Not dying.  Not even being ordinary.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Counting Down

I've been here before, the final days before Joey comes home.  This last week always feels simultaneously busy and boring.  I run around finishing up projects and getting the house extra, extra clean.  But then I also feel like there are moments where I sit and watch the seconds on my countdown app tick by one at a time.

It's no secret that Joey's gone a lot for work.  It ends up being a little more than 6 months of the year.  

I'm going to pause here for a moment.  There are certain topics in life that get a response on repeat.  When you're single, you're asked if you're dating anyone.  When you're dating someone, people asked if you're getting married.  When you're married, people ask when you're going to have kids.  When you have one child, you're asked if you'll have another.  9 month pregnant mommas are told they're about to pop.  Parents of big families are asked, "Are they ALL yours?"  People going through times of grief are told others can't imagine what they are going through (grab a tissue and read this blog by my friend McCayla).  When we first found out about Aurelia I was told  that God wouldn't give me more than I could handle.  I get asked daily if the girls are twins.  Sometimes I wish I had prerecorded answers.  Sometimes it makes me wonder how many times I give people repeat responses.

Concerning Joey's work schedule, people say they don't know how we do it. They say the time that he was gone went by so fast.  They ask if the girls miss him.  And they ask how much longer he's going to do this job.  Addressing these questions in this space won't stop them from being asked.  And I don't mind the questions at all.  This is just part of my effort to share life:

- I don't know how we do it either.  I truly believe it is the grace of God given in the moments we need it most, like when I'm up for hours at a time in the middle of the night, or when Joey is looking through the photos of the girls growing while he's away, or when I'm planning a first birthday party that will be celebrated without Daddy, or when I'm learning how to seal my foundation and fighting the thought that this is something Joey should do, or when I'm rushing my child to ER.  Life doesn't stop when Joey is home or when he is gone.  There are really great days and there are really hard days.

- I don't do it alone.  I have so much help from family and friends.  When we first started doing this, I didn't know how to ask for help or how to accept it.  Now I call in the reserves and ask people to help with meals and childcare.  I have friends that come over when I just need a conversation that doesn't involve Elmo.  I have people I can call anytime day or night when I need listening ear or someone to help care for a sick kiddo.  I have learned the joys of having a community of support.

- Time goes by fast.  That's all there is to it.  Some rotations feel like a year, some feel like he just left.  

- Sometimes I really don't like this job.  It's awful that he's gone so much.  The weeks before and after he leaves are rough on all of us.  There's always a transition period when he first gets home, and sometimes the transition is rocky.  The girls miss him like crazy.  I miss him like crazy.  

-Sometimes I really love this job.  The plus side is the almost 6 months Joey doesn't have to work each year.  We get to go on so many adventures.  We get to share in full time parenting.  I usually don't have to cook at all.  Have I mentioned we're going to Peru for our 10 year anniversary?  Have I mentioned we're taking a HUGE family trip in December?  More on those later.  These are things we wouldn't be able to do if Joey didn't work a rotational schedule.  And I get to stay home with the girls.  That's great too.  

- I wish we had an answer for how much longer we are going to do this.  It's been 3 years now.  And I think we've all about reached our limit.  We're hoping for just one or two more rotations (really hoping for just one more).  And then we don't know.  I'm confident it will be something awesome.

And one quick final thought.  Joey and I work really hard on our relationship when he's here and when he's gone.  We're learning how to have a growing relationship which I believe is a life long lesson. And  I live for the moment when he bounds up the stairs at the airport.  It's like falling in love for the first time again.  And watching the girls react to Daddy being home is priceless.

And now I'm going to go stare at my countdown app until the girls wake up from their naps.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Explanation

I would love to begin this post something like this:

Yowza!  Life has been so busy!  I haven't had a second to sit down and write.

I would love to say that the reason there has been nothing written and nothing to read is a result of busy summer schedules.  Or that I've been working out in the yard.  Or that I've been reading hundreds of books.  Or that I've been writing elsewhere.  Or that I've been working on my massive blog revamp.  Or that I've had my hands full with solo parenting while Joey's away.  Or that I've had so many things going on that I just don't have the time.

All of that is true, by the way.  Summer IS busy.  I've decided to be a good neighbor and not have the yard on the street that makes people question if the house attached to it is abandoned.  And I've been devouring books (get to the Library and pick up Honor by Elif Shafak right now!).   I have submitted an article here and there.  The blog revamp has been in the works for the last, oh, two years.  And Joey gets home SO soon which means he has been gone SO long.  Yes, life is busy, this season is busy.

But that's not why I haven't been writing.  You see, I am a firm believer that I choose how to spend my time.  Somedays I work in the yard all naptime.  Somedays I workout (not often enough).  Some nights I curl up with a good book.  Some nights I veg out and watch PramFace.  Some dinners I spend time on a nutritious meal.  Some dinners Curious George babysits so I can quickly throw together Mac N Cheese.  And whether it's conscious or not, those are all choices.  When I say, "Oh, I don't have time to (fill in the blank)," it's because I've chosen to do something else with my time.  I can't say that I don't have time to write.  I have to be honest and say that I have chosen not to write.

And here's where I get authentic and confess a little piece of my heart: I haven't written because I've felt a little bit like a failure.  Yes, I've had a few (like 3) articles published in my lifetime.  But the number I have submitted and had rejected is far greater.  And yes, people have told me they like my writing (if that's you, thank you. . . I needed that).  But that little voice in my head convinces me that saying, "I like you're blog" is just something people say when they know you blog.  I've felt frustrated by my inability to pull the trigger and switch my blog to Wordpress, such a little thing that seems insurmountable to me.  I've felt nervous about the fact that part of writing real stuff is being vulnerable.  I've seen my writing become more and more Momblog and less and less Julie.  Disclaimer: I, Julie, am a mom, and therefore write about motherhood from time to time.  And I know so many creative people who are doing amazing things like writing books and screenplays, making music, living out their dreams, changing the world; do I really have anything to contribute?

You know what snapped me out of my rut?  Yep.  I was chosing to waste some time on the internet instead of writing (or sleeping, cooking, reading, and other useful ventures) and came across this box of pencils:

Contemporary Desk Accessories

What would I attempt if I knew I could not fail?  When I first poised myself that question I thought of running a marathon, and then I thought that maybe a half marathon would be more my style, or maybe a 5k, or how about a mile?  Maybe I'll just run to the end of the street and call it good.  I realized that I undermine my ability to grow by not attempting things I fear I will fail at.  If I knew I couldn't fail, I'd snatch up one of those pencils and scratch out words that have been milling around inside of me waiting to be let out.  I want to to write more, and better, and different.  When I think of writing outside of the lens of success vs. failure, I have a lot I want to say.  Who knows?  Some of it might be worth reading.  And if no one reads it but me?  Well, I'm learning to be ok with that too.

Success is relative.  It is what we make of the mess we have made of things.
T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Recap, Refresh, Redirect

In my middle school days, I had an unhealthy addiction to Tetris.  After (or before) homework was complete and chores were done, I'd plop myself infront of our Mac LCii and watch the blocks fall to the Russian music.  I felt so accomplished when "Red" held the high score over "Pud."  And there was something cathartic about seeing everything aligned with no gaps or spaces.  As I've written this post over and over, I've had Tetris on the brain.  Not because I feel like I'm reworking my words into perfect rows of four, but because every time I get ready to press publish on this update a new piece of information appears that needs to be manipulated and placed into the bigger picture.  The blocks keep coming.  If I don't find a place for them, it all becomes a jumbled mess.  So I'm taking a moment to hit pause even though there are gaps and unknowns.  This post needs to go from edit to publish today.

First, a recap of where we're at right now.  Aurelia had a tough couple of months.  It started with some balance and speech issues, then what we thought were febrile seizures and a long night in the ER, followed by a diagnosis of absence seizures, followed by an extremely high fever, more seizures, trouble breathing, and a four day hospital stay.  Pause, take a deep breath, continue.  These events tabled a few things that were in the works (growth hormone treatment) and accelerated other things (gastric emptying study and an EEG).  The GREAT news is that we found out yesterday her EEG was seizure free and her seizure meds are working!  Now we will reenter the growth hormone conversation and continue to pursue a good way to pack the lbs on that skinny little kiddo.  And while all this was going on Joey came home (yep, he was gone for the seizures and hospital stay), we hosted Easter, visited Eastern Washington, started Aurelia's transition from birth-3 to preschool, and Marguerite was baptized.  See what I mean about lots of blocks?

And as I handle the blocks falling and hope it doesn't look like I'm frantically trying to line everything up, my sweet sister-in-law nominated me to receive a $50 gift card at And Then She Snapped.  I feel very special being nominated, and pleasantly surprised that I don't look like a train wreck all of the time.      Please follow the link and vote for me (#9). If I win, I promise I'll only buy super fun things.

Finally, I want to redirect your attention to Sevenly.  Each week, Sevenly promotes a different cause by designing limited edition apparel and accessories and donating $7 of every purchase to the featured organization.  Get it?  7 days, $7, Sevenly.  This week, the featured organization is Cure Uganda which provides shunt surgeries for Ugandan babies born with hydrocephalus.  Cure International holds a special place in our hearts as I was treated at Cure Afghanistan during my second miscarriage.  Plus, the Sevenly Shirts are super cute.  I'm going to order one tonight, I hope you do too.

Ok, I'm going to un-pause now.  But first I might go play a game a tetris.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Issues with Updates

Real life has really caught up with me recently.  The fragment sentence version is, "Two ER trips, four day hospital stay, heavy eyelids and shoulders."  That sounds like a haiku.  And I've wrestled with how to write about it all.  I've thought about not writing about it at all.  However, I keep coming back to my need to process, which I do best at a keyboard, or with a pen, or on this screen. 

The problem is that I don't do updates well, especially when they are tough ones.  I have a hard time knowing where to start, how much to share, and when to post when we're still in the thick of it all.  And I'll admit that sometimes I get a little whiny when I update.  Sometimes I feel the urge to complain, or feel sorry for myself, my daughter, my life.  Or I go the opposite direction and paint the rosiest "everything is just fine" picture I can muster.  I hear this little voice of conscience pinging in my head that things could be worse when I start to complain, or that I'm not being entirely honest when I say that life is easy peasy.  I want posts like this to help me move forward, not continue to stew.  I want an update post to help me relax the white knuckle grip I've been using to hold on to dear life.  And my hope is that something in these posts, any post, anything that I write, might touch a nerve of truth in any of you along for the journey.  That's the incredible thing about sharing life with others, isn't it?  We are not living the same scenario, but we can walk this road together if we are willing to let others come alongside us.

This morning I got a very sweet email from a person I don't know who found this blog while she was pregnant.  She thanked me for helping to calm her fears as she awaited the arrival of her daughter last fall.  It's a message that I am familiar with because I sent similar words to Jill, Kristen, and Lisa.  Women who are now dear friends.  But three years ago they were complete strangers, and I was carrying around the heavy burden of a strange word and new world called hydrocephalus.  I have thanked these women many times for sharing their stories with strangers.  They were/are a gift of hope and peace and examples of perseverance and joy.  And I am so thankful to walk this journey with them and the rest of my crew (that's you, readers).  

How's that for verbal processing?  There isn't even room for an update now.  But it's coming.  In fact, I've already written it.  Sometimes we need a good prologue to share the truth of the story to come.    

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Beautiful Stories

Sleepless nights have been a norm around here recently.  Marguerite has had some sleep regression and Aurelia spent a night in the ER.  The long and short of it is that she had a few febrile seizures which are terrifying to watch, but most likely not damaging to her.  But I don't want to talk about seizures or sickness.  It's a beautiful day here.  And while I'm holed up with a sick child and a grumpy baby, I'd rather celebrate some of life's beautiful stories.  

Please read THIS lovely article about our friend and her husband.  Talk about redemption and beauty all rolled into a fantastic love story!  First Baptist Church Liberty City, Bro. Bruce Wells, and this family hold a special place in our hearts.  How fun to read about them all in the NY Times.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Social Media Gratitude

I am a social media grumbler.  Part of it might be that I have trouble overcoming this platform where heavy and trivial go hand in hand.  Where else can you view a post about a friend losing a spouse sandwiched by pictures of paleo pancakes and an update about last night's Downton?  Moments like that make my shoulders hurt.  Part of it might be that despite my recent 31st birthday, I am actually an 80 year old woman who complains about those darn kids and their newfangled ways.  I still don't know the purpose of a "tweet."  I have a pretty tenuous relationship with technology.  I'll always remember googling "facebook" with my friend Dawn back in 2006.  And part of it might be that social media can be this giant vortex that sucks up time and brain space.  There are moments where I want to sign off from all of it, shut down the blog, deactivate Facebook, downgrade my phone, and spend my days writing my first novel and brewing kombucha out of Nourishing Traditions.  However, at this moment I am filled to the brim with gratitude for social media.

On my 31st birthday I received over a hundred posts, texts, emails, likes, comments, etc, from well wishers all over the world.  I received greetings from six continents, from Kazakstan to Kenya, Beaumont to Burma.  I heard from aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, inlaws, mentors, roommates, neighbors, friends that I've known most of my life, friends that I've never met in person, people I haven't seen in years, people I saw just yesterday, people that I love dearly, and people that make me feel dearly loved. Some posts and texts made me laugh, some made me get little tears in my eyes from sweet words and many miles, all are still making me smile.  And I have to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I feel so surrounded by a community that stretches from here to there, and it's a beautiful feeling.

Every inch of my life was present in simple words and comments on Saturday, from every stage, every home, every group.  I realize that this is only made possible by the social media I complain about so often.  And while I haven't come to terms with my grumbles, I do recognize that my birthday was made a very special day because you all took the time to make a quick post, call or comment.  So, I won't sign off, but maybe I will still try my hand at brewing kombucha and writing a novel.  It's good to know that whatever I decide to try out, I have a pretty spectacular crew of support.  Thank you all.