Lost on Memory Lane

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Believe it or not, hoarding comes in pretty handy around high school graduation time.

Over the years, my family has been concerned about my propensity to save everything from hospital bracelets to matchbooks.  But I’ve always felt compelled to squirrel things away, like my old Holly Hobby sewing machine, our daughters’ confirmation dresses, my son’s sock puppet, and the collar from our long dead cat Zuzu.

When my son Hayden graduated two years ago, I sent 36 t-shirts I’d been saving since he was a baby — from Montessori preschool to tae kwan do to boy scouts to football to band — to a quilter to make him a one-of-a-kind bedspread for his dorm room that would memorialize his particular childhood experiences. The quilt was such a meaningful graduation gift, I’ve been vindicated.

Turns out, my hoarding actually had a purpose after all.

With our second child, Anna, about to graduate, I recently went down to our basement to find the t-shirts I’d saved for her quilt. However, what should’ve taken ten minutes, took an entire afternoon and a half box of tissues.

The first tub I opened was full of baby items that I hadn’t seen in years. There, in the musty fluorescent corner of our basement, I got lost in memories. I caressed the soft flannel receiving blankets, remembering that she was born while we were stationed in England, in a village hospital by an Irish midwife. Pastel afghans, a tiny gingham dress and Anna’s baptismal cloth took me further away.

The layers were like the rings of a tree. In between were lumps – a special rattle, a tattered pink doll, and a string of wooden beads. My eyes lost focus as I recalled Anna as a sleepy toddler, stroking the beads, over and over.

The next box was full of old toys. I saw the plastic yellow baton, gripped by Anna’s perpetually sticky fingers, relentlessly beating the chubby Fisher Price xylophone. The pink and purple play purse put me in our old house in Virginia, where Anna would strut around with the purse over one arm, stopping to apply the fake lipstick and pose precociously before a mirror.

Pink and yellow plates, cups and pots looked exactly like they did when Anna served up smorgasbords of plastic toy pizza slices, hamburgers, peas, bananas, cupcakes and cheese wedges. “Mmmmm,” I would say, smacking my lips loudly and pretending to chew in hopes of eliciting her brightly dimpled smile.

The doll at the bottom, still stained with an ink scribble in the middle of her forehead, looked serenely relieved to have retired to a cardboard box. Her life with Anna had not been easy. With the doll slumped in an umbrella stroller, Anna would push her around our cul-de-sac, sometimes hitting a crack that would catapult the poor doll head-first into the pavement. A quick kiss on the scuffed head, and Anna was off again.

A file box contained artwork, crafts, and primitive pottery – ancient relics with cracking macaroni and yellowing glue. The items, ironically, gave no indication that Anna would eventually develop a talent for art and design. Small spiral notebooks were scribbled with Anna’s endless ideas, garment sketches, and redecorating plans. “How to make money this summer: 1. Sell my old Barbies; 2. Make lemonade; 3. …” one page read. “Rules for Secret Club House,” another read.

It’s an incredible privilege to watch a human being grow, I thought. Cradling a helpless budding newborn in my arms, I could never predict the distinctive person that would take 18 years to bloom before my very own eyes.

Through the dusty basement air, I finally found the box of t-shirts, and the wonder of our exceptional daughter came into focus. Bossy, stubborn, controlling and pensive. Intelligent, driven, hilarious and creative. With big brown eyes, a sparkling smile, and an uncommon dimpled chin. Determined to become a successful fashion designer.

As I trudged sniffling up our basement stairs, I realized that I didn’t keep all those boxed basement relics for my kids, I kept them so I wouldn’t forget. Regardless, High School Graduation, the monumental milestone that heralds adulthood and independent life, has a way of making the last 18 years unforgettable.

Even if we don’t create quilts or shadow boxes or scrapbooks memorializing our child’s life, graduation has a way of melding past and present together into one great epiphanic flash, imprinting the incredible image of our children’s evolution in our minds … forever.

Housewife Burnout

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It took four punches of the snooze button to get me out of bed this morning.

I wasn’t tired. Or sick, for that matter.

But I was sick and tired. Sick and tired of the same old routine, minute after minute, day after day, year after year, since 1995, when I made the decision to stay at home to manage our family.

Now don’t get me wrong — I truly love my life and wouldn’t have it any other way. I am proud that I gave up my own professional ambitions for the humble satisfaction of providing home cooked meals, a warm and loving environment, and a constant and dependable presence to my family.

But frankly, after two decades, I’d rather chew my own arm off than empty the dishwasher again. I’d take a frying pan to the head to put me out of the misery of defrosting another pound of ground beef. If given the choice, I’d rather swallow a fistful of wriggling grubs than dust the ceiling fan blades one more time.

I often fear that I’m on the brink of some sort of total housewife breakdown. Emptying the lint trap gives me the shakes. Putting the steak knives away makes my left eye twitch. I can’t sponge another sticky spot off the countertop without feeling palpitations, and I have completely lost the ability to par-boil anything.

Over the last year, my poor family has been witness to the steady decline of my cooking, cleaning and parenting skills. It has come as somewhat of a shock to them, because for almost two decades, I was Supermom.

A licensed and gainfully employed litigation attorney, I made the decision to put my lucrative career aside two years into marriage, to raise the kids and support my husband Francis’ active duty military career no matter where it would take us. I’ll admit that my initial high standards and work ethic were based primarily on one thing: guilt. Since I wasn’t bringing in any income, I felt that I had to knock it out of the park as a homemaker.

But as the years passed, I saw the value of my choice. Not just during the obvious times when being at home was crucial, such as deployments, but also during the subtle everyday moments when my family was better off for having a dependable presence in their lives.

My kids knew that, no matter where we were stationed, I would always be there to walk them to school, pack their lunches, keep them home when sick, bring cupcakes to soccer games, and chaperone field trips. The subtle sense of security they felt was crucial in turning our typical military kids into the independent, accomplished, confident individuals they are today.

I was fortunate too, because I’ve had a front-row seat to our children’s lives. While Francis worked long hours to support our family, I got to see each kid get Citizen of the Month. I cheered at every raucous flag football game. I secretly cringed at every pitchy middle school band concert. I toasted every waffle, mashed every potato, posted every chore chart, and kissed every boo-boo.

Now, with only two more years left before our youngest goes off to college, I’ve lost sight of how lucky I’ve been. After fourth alarm went off this morning, it dawned on me. “Anna’s graduating in a month,” I scolded myself, “now, get up and fry her a lousy egg!”

“No thanks, Mom, we’re leaving early to have breakfast with our friends,” Anna told me, her hand held out in hopes that cash would land in it. With the melody of “Cat’s In the Cradle” playing in my head, I gave her my last $20, and watched out the kitchen window as they drove away.

That was all the motivation I needed.

I may not skip around the house in search of dust bunnies today. I won’t do any cartwheels over the latest Crock Pot recipe. I’ll probably avoid cleaning the rust stains off toilet bowl. But I won’t let myself get so bogged down in the mundane tasks of every day life, that I forget the subtle yet countless blessings of making a loving home for my family.

The Elephant in the Bedroom

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We’ve all seen those awkward commercials. Unrealistically tall, thin, good-looking actors holding hands in outdoor bathtubs and canoodling in public. The woman has silky long hair and flowing garments that might fall off at the slightest tug, and the man has a rugged jawline, piercing blue eyes and impossibly white teeth. They exchange “come hither” stares and knowing smiles, as one leads the other by the hand toward the bedroom…

But, for most couples who’ve been married a long time, igniting passion is not a matter of popping a little blue pill. There’s plenty of lead in the pencil — it’s the numerous other realities of everyday married life that get in the way of romance.

My husband, Francis, and I start yawning — not a particularly attractive human reflex I might add — about an hour after dinner, the sure sign that we only have one crime show in us before our eyelids drop. My yawns begin discretely, but as I reach maximum inhale, my face contorts, my nostrils flare and my double chin triples. Francis, on the other hand, makes a dramatic scene of every yawn, with a gasping deep inhale, followed by a hacking exhale that makes everyone around him duck for cover, and ending with a bizarre jaw-chattering finish that sounds something like, “Gi-gi-gi-gi-gi-gahhh!”

When we finally trudge upstairs to our bedroom, we don’t just hop in the sack. As a middle-aged couple with the typical achy joints, breathing issues and quirky habits, there is a whole rigmarole we have to go through before we can actually attempt sleep.

Unfortunately, this routine is not conducive to romance.

After the dog dutifully flops into his crate in our bedroom, Francis heads to the bathroom in his boxer shorts. With the door wide open, he makes all necessary deposits before flushing, and leaving the seat up. Then, he stands at the mirror, trying to decide whether it is worth brushing his teeth or not. Groggy eyed, we pass in the hallway just as Francis finishes up an especially noisy yawn. “Ah, ah (inhaling) … achhhhhh (the hacking exhale) … Gi, gi, gi, gi, gahhh (the dramatic finish)!”

After brushing and flossing, I take my fiber pills and ginkgo biloba, and then insert the bulky, drool producing-mouth guard that keeps me from grinding my teeth.

“I’m EX-THAUTH-TED,” I announce with a night-guard lisp after entering the bedroom. I put on my flannel pjs, while Francis fiddles with the equipment on his nightstand. It takes a few minutes for him to fix the complicated straps of his sleep apnea headgear, and at the same time, I wrestle with the Velcro fasteners of my plantar fasciitis night splint boot.

Francis flips a switch, and I hear the whirr of his C-Pap machine.

I place an extra pillow under my knees to stave off hip pains, and open my book. Francis can’t sleep with the lights on, so I grab the set of reading glasses I recently found a local discount store that have little LED lights built into them. I press the buttons on either side of the lenses, and two piercing rays illuminate the pages of my book.

“Good night Thweetie,” I lisp to my husband of 23 years in the dark.

Francis jerks out of a half slumber, and like something out of “The Alien”, turns his head toward me with four feet of flexible tubing extending from the rubber nose piece strapped to his face. I glance over at him from my contour pillow, looking like some kind of drooling underground miner, and nearly blind him with my laser beams.

He squints in recognition, and mumbles an airy reply through his plastic elephant trunk, “GNooo-Nihhht, Hhhonhhee.”

A few minutes later, in the white noise silence of our marital bedroom, ironically, the dog begins to snore.

Let’s face it, any couple who can get in the mood in the midst of all that middle aged reality has more passion in their marriage than any little blue pill could ever provide.

Mother’s Day: A cautionary tale

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I started dropping non-so-subtle hints last week.

“You DO know that Mother’s Day is coming, don’t you?” I said rather loudly to my husband, Francis.

“Yeah,” he replied defensively, “what about it?”

“Don’t you remember what happened last year?” I could tell from his blank stare that Francis was thinking about peanuts, or Greco-Roman wrestling, or “Deadliest Catch”, because he had no clue what I was talking about.

It was Sunday morning, May 10th, 2015, and I was the first one awake. Surprised that no one in my family had brought me a cup of coffee, I thought, “Surely they’ve got something planned for Mother’s Day.”

When I woke our teens for church, they were particularly grumpy. “Seriously?” Anna sassed, “I never get to sleep in!” In protest, Lilly hopped into the minivan wearing a ratty pair of jeans and flip flops.

Late, as usual, we slipped into a side pew during the first reading. Francis yawned during the gospel, Anna wouldn’t hold my hand during the “Our Father,” and no one but me sang the hymns. I would normally be annoyed, but I figured they were just pretending to be lazy, disrespectful and negligent, because then I’d be really surprised when they revealed their fabulous Mother’s Day plans.

“Go in peace, the mass has ended,” Father Kris said, adding, “And Happy Mother’s Day!”

I was halfway down the isle before I realized that my family was still in the pew, whispering to each other. “Oh, this is going to be fun,” I thought.

Francis drove us to La Forge, a locals’ favorite brunch spot. “Do you have reservations, Sir? We’re all booked up,” the host said politely. After exploring a few more dead ends, we got a mixed dozen in the Dunkin’ Donuts Drive Thru and headed home, Francis promising that something special was in store.

Francis and the kids darted into the house, presumably to get ready for those fabulous Mother’s Day plans, and I sat in our sunny back yard to get out of their way.

Suddenly, Francis, who didn’t see me in the backyard, rushed out to the minivan, the tires squealing as he drove away. Fifteen minutes later he was back, and as he ran past the backyard gate, he saw me sitting there.

In his hands were a 7-11 plastic bag that appeared to be holding a greeting card, and a cellophane cone wrapped around a sad-looking bouquet. From the look in his eyes, I knew the truth.

My family had completely forgotten about Mother’s Day.

If that weren’t bad enough, Francis had bought me something he knows I don’t like: cut flowers. When the kids were young, I loved the sticky bunches of dandelions they’d pick for me out of our backyard. I was so proud of their thoughtfulness, and I’d place the oozing stems in a little jelly jar in the center of our kitchen table. But I have never liked cut flowers bought from the store, and my family has known this for years.

Seeing Francis sneaking in the house, something snapped. Mothers work tirelessly and selflessly to raise kids and create a homes for their families. Many, like me, put their careers aside, giving up all aspirations for professional rewards and respect, to dedicate themselves to their families. This is the one day when mom should expect a pat on the back.

Determined that my family would not “get the check in the box,” I calmly walked into the house, called everyone into the kitchen and announced, “Mother’s Day is hereby cancelled.”

Thanks to the year-long guilt trip I put them on, I’m fairly confident that my family will have a fabulous day planned for me this year.

More not-so-subtle hints: Bring me a cup of coffee without spilling it on the staircase. Make your beds without griping. Let’s go to church on time for once, and at least pretend to sing the hymns. Find a sunny spot for a family picnic, without anyone complaining that someone else took the last bag of ranch Doritos. Later, the kids can cook something for dinner that doesn’t have chocolate chips, and clean up without suctioning each other with the Shop Vac. And lastly, a thoughtful homemade card with personal sentiments would be nice, instead of “Have a good Mother’s Day – Hayden Molinari.”

And if you must get flowers, I prefer dandelions.

The deed is done, but not forgotten

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“Ach! I’ve got to get rid of this albatross around my neck!” my husband Francis exclaimed recently, with plenty of overly-dramatic Italian gesturing with hairy arms.

“‘Albatross’? Don’t be so dramatic,” I retorted. “I love that house. Hayden will never forget his little blue room, Anna took her first steps in that cul-de-sac, Lilly was born there … and Zuzu is buried in the back yard for criminy’s sake!”

Last week, we put the house we’ve owned since 1998 on the market, and our emotions have been mixed.

After returning from a military tour of duty in England with a toddler and a newborn, we bought our first home in Virginia Beach, intending to stay a while. Even though “homesteading” was frowned upon, we didn’t care – our son had been diagnosed with developmental delays, and in order for his treatment to be effective, he needed stability. Lucky for us, Francis was offered competitive Navy orders to Second Fleet, Fleet Forces Command, and Joint Forces Command, enabling us to stay put without jeopardizing his career.

During the years we lived on our suburban cul-de-sac, the kids knew the shortcut to the local park. I planned the neighborhood Halloween Parade every year. We got our first puppy “Dinghy” after Zuzu the cat died. We went to the ice cream place down the street after Hayden’s flag football games. Lilly would toddle across the circle in nothing but a diaper to flirt with Jimmy, our 16-year-old neighbor. On Friday nights, we drank cold beer with our neighbors while sitting in lawn chairs on the driveway. And mornings, we could hear the Fairfield Elementary School announcements from our front porch.

In that happy little Dutch Colonial, I dabbled in home improvements, installing a new faucet, ceiling fans, lights, and built-in shelving in the playroom. Every spring, while the daffodils, azaleas, ferns and hostas pushed through the mulch, Francis and I argued about whether the lawn needed aerating. We added a screened porch, which became the site of many birthday dinners, afternoon coffee breaks, and Lilly’s first communion brunch. Anna broke her arm falling from our backyard playset, and the following year, Lilly got stitches in her head for the same reason.

Oblivious to the fact that the military would eventually force us to move from our sweet little family home, we meticulously scratched the height of each member of our growing brood, to include Dinghy the dog, into the pantry door.

Like I said, I loved that house.

When we got orders to Germany in 2008, we told ourselves, “We’ll definitely come back here one day.”

But we never did.

Now, before we have to face tricky capital gains taxes, we have decided to sell. Francis isn’t sad to see her go, because he is tired of the responsibilities and stresses of renting and maintaining a house from a distance. Unscrupulous property managers, surprise repairs, expensive maintenance, negligent renters, and those painful months between rentals when we had to pay our mortgage without receiving any rent checks, put Francis in the mood to sell.

I, on the other hand, feel the bittersweet pangs of melancholy as I prepare myself to sign away the deed to a decade of some of the most important years of our family’s life.

But it is time.

Time for another young family to grace her walls with baby photos. Time for another child to hang a swing from the branches of her big oak tree. Time for another husband to gripe about the leaves in her gutters, and for another wife to plant pansies in her front beds. Time for another pair of siblings to draw on her playroom walls with permanent marker. Time for another dog to sleep soundly in front of her fire-warmed hearth.

                                                           ————-

[According to the 2015 Census, about 64% of Americans own homes, but only 38% of military members buy houses. Some military families find home ownership too risky or simply not affordable. But there are special resources for military buyers and sellers. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development website (hud.gov) explains the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which limits interest on mortgages and provides debt relief for eligible military members. Housing counselors are available at 1-888-995-HOPE. The Military Housing Assistance Fund (usmhaf.org) offers monetary “gifts” to qualified service members who need help paying closing costs. Makinghomeaffordable.gov has information on foreclosure alternatives available to struggling homeowners. And buyers can calculate their VA Loan eligibility at www.veteransunited.com.]

The Naked Truth

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What’s the true sign that spring has sprung? No, it’s not the crocuses, the bunnies, or the pussy willows.

You know spring is here, because I shaved my knees this week.

Now, you might be thinking, “Well, that’s an inappropriate way to start a column.” Stick with me – you’ll soon realize that news of my recent knee-shaving is actually the perfect launching point for a deeply philosophical endeavor.

You see, knee-shaving is not exactly a regular occurrence in my life. In fact, from October through March, the prickly hairs on my knees remain completely undisturbed. And as long as we’re being brutally honest, I’ll admit it: During the winter, I really only shave my ankles and armpits.

“Thanks for sharing,” you’re probably saying, “but what’s so philosophical about your personal hygiene habits?”

Listen folks, this is about more than just hairy knees. It’s about bodily exposure, natural inhibitions, the new meaning of modesty, and the pressure to conform to modern trends.

Ever since the founding of this great nation, America has been about one thing: freedom. More than any other country on Earth, we value certain individual liberties that we feel are our inalienable rights as human beings.

But in today’s modern culture, the need to escape from confining norms, no matter how practical or reasonable, has reached new extremes. The most obvious form of this human drive to break free from expectations and conventions, is our clothing.

Or the lack of it, to be more precise.

Ever since the 1920s flappers shocked their Victorian mothers by showing their ankles, exposure has been trendy. As the decades passed, that itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini got smaller and smaller; until today, when a perfectly acceptable bathing suit consists of about six square inches of Spandex and a few strings.

Modesty, which used to be a widely-recognized virtue, is now seen as prudish, frumpy, and frankly, uncool. In fact, it is now so fashionable to expose body parts, even flagrant nudity has become Bohemian.

Pop culture reflects this shift in our culture, with nudity-themed television shows such as “Naked Dating,” “Naked and Afraid,” “Naked Castaways,” “Buying Naked,” and “Skin Wars” popping up in TV broadcast schedules. Furthermore, Nudists are now “Naturalists” who are celebrated and no longer banished to the unaccepted fringe of modern society.

“We’re all born naked,” you might be thinking, “so what’s the big deal?” Certainly, shedding one’s clothing can be liberating and should not be seen as the scourge of humankind. Anyone who has ever seen a toddler rip their own diaper off and run buck naked through the house giggling knows that, on some level, nudity is a natural inclination.

I will never forget the day that my mother and I were painting my daughters’ room. We let my youngest, Lilly, play nearby while we rolled Sherwin Williams “Demur Rose” onto the white walls. While tackling the intricacies of the trim, we failed to notice that Lilly had toddled downstairs and out into the backyard. We panicked for a few moments before we saw her out the bedroom window, completely naked, petting the neighbor’s cat.

After returning from her naked safari, Lilly reported, “Kitty-cat no like my nakee stuff.”

Unlike Lilly, I’ve always been unusually modest, even during my swim team days back in high school and college, when I had to shower with twenty other females on a daily basis. I kept myself covered whenever possible, but my teammates’ attitudes ran the gamut, including Michelle Gordon, who we lovingly nicknamed “Flesh” because she would strip down to her birthday suit as soon as we set foot in the locker room.

So what am I saying?

In all my old-fashioned modesty, I have ironically become the ultimate non-conformist in today’s bare-it-all society. I might shave my knees each spring, but you won’t see me wearing a crop top and Daisy Dukes just because the bees are buzzing. The sun can shine all it wants, but I won’t put on anything with spaghetti straps, a plunging neckline or a mini skirt. And no matter how hot it gets, I won’t squeeze my 49-year-old-mother-of-three frame into a string bikini.

(You’re welcome.)

Hayden, Age 2

Hayden, Age 2

Mind over manners

airsickness bag“Now boarding … Group C … at Gate 19,” the agent announced over the loudspeakers. There were only a handful of poor slobs like me left in the line. The 737 was pretty packed, and since Southwest operates on a first-come-first-served basis, we were in for a real treat.

Only a few of the dreaded middle seats remained. The lucky passengers who snagged the isle and window seats looked up at us clutching our gigantic carry-ons, as if to say, “Don’t even think about squeezing in here between us.”

So I lumbered on, until I got to the back of the plane and had to take the last space left, which was between a heavyset man against the window, and a little old lady on the isle. I gestured with my hand to the middle seat, and their facial expressions replied, “Oh, terrific. Thanks for ruining my trip.”

Somehow, I wedged into my seat without banging the old lady in the head with my carry-on. I kicked it three times to jam it under the seat in front of me, and tried to settle in for the two-hour flight to Dayton. 

The man beside me was politely trying to be small, with his arms clasped unnaturally on top of his tensed round belly, and his thick knees hitched in tight. However, he was a human radiator, emanating a steady stream of sweltering breath, body heat, and general male exhaust. I reached up to the tiny air valve, otherwise known as the spewer of contagion, but it was already all the way open.

Southwest Airlines’ employees are known for their jokes, and I could hear people in the rows ahead laughing at something the flight attendant said during her “just in case we plummet to our death” spiel.

My stomach took a few nauseating dips during the bumpy take off which is to be expected, but the turbulence continued. The soggy airport tuna wrap I’d gobbled back at the gate inched it’s way back up my esophagus, as the Captain quipped, “Whoever that is shaking the plane … stop it!”

As a child, I was prone to motion sickness. Any drive of more than 20 minutes had to include a stop on the side of the road so Lisa could “toss her cookies.” One time, when I went with my father to Pittsburgh, I did just that. I’d eaten a fistful of Nutter Butter Cookies before getting into my father’s Buick, and somewhere along Route 286, they came back up. Problem was, the Buick door was so huge, my father had to run around to help me open it, and didn’t make it in time. Those old Buicks had a million nooks and crannies in their naugahyde dashboards. After that, we couldn’t use the car’s heat or air conditioning without being blasted with an odoriferous reminder of that day.

The turbulence was so bad, the pilot ordered the flight attendants to stay in their seats, and as a result, there would be no beverage service and no bathroom breaks. An every-man-for-himself mentality set in, and the guy beside me released his tensed muscles, allowing his full girth to invade my already confined space. The little old lady was so still, I worried that she might’ve died. But I realized that she’d been reading the same Spinal Surgery ad in the airline magazine for the last hour, and knew she must’ve fallen asleep.

Jealous, I prayed for sleep to deliver me from this putrid purgatory. Sometime during the second hour, my motion sickness degraded into a fitful, panting fever. As the plane began it’s rocky descent toward Ohio, I used my last ounce of sanity to grope for the airsickness bag.

Despite my delirium, I wondered, am I being rude? Shouldn’t I warn my seat mates that I’m about to become an erupting tuna salad volcano? Would Emily Post tell me to put a napkin on my lap first? Is there any etiquette to upchucking?

Panicked by the impending crisis of protocol and puke, I lowered my mouth to the little white bag and prayed for guidance …

The plane wheels squealed as they bumped the runway. “Welcome to Dayton,” our pilot joked, “home of … stuff.” Everyone laughed, and I managed a weak smile too, relieved that my mind and my manners were finally on solid ground.

Voting is no joke: Let your voice be heard

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This presidential campaign season has been like no other. The battle between the unusual mix of controversial establishment, infamous outsider, and political fringe candidates has been downright epic. Personal attacks are the new norm, launched daily against candidates and even their spouses.

The constant stream of contentious debates, social media brawls, nasty attack ads and shrieking rallies has garnered endless media coverage. Each candidate has staunch supporters who are not only indifferent to their candidate’s obvious faults – outrageous views, potentially criminal acts, and scandalous statements – they spin them as virtues, proclaiming, “At least her crimes have already been made public,” and “His statements disparaging women show that he is honest.”

With all this fodder, it’s no wonder that a mockery has been made of it all. “Seinfeld” creator Larry David has revived his entertainment career doing an uncanny imitation of Socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders. Establishment Republican Ted Cruz can’t seem to shake the his hilarious comparison to Sesame Street’s “The Count.” Rush Limbaugh has dubbed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton “Screech” and quipped she has “the voice that reminds you of your two ex-wives.” And the Republican front-runner supplies the “Trump joke du jour” every day since he entered the race last June.

It would all be a laugh riot, if the situation weren’t so serious.

Our next Commander in Chief will be faced with a multitude of complex domestic and international issues, not the least of which is the continuing threat of terrorism. Everyone knows about the recent attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels; but did you know that hundreds of other innocent victims were killed in lesser-known terrorist attacks in Turkey, Nigeria, Mali, Tunis, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Somalia and the Ivory coast during the same time period?

And in case you hadn’t heard, there is a gaping hole in our US Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. With the Senate refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s replacement nominee, the next President could very well influence the laws of this country for a generation to come.

This is why I was so shocked to find out that some fellow military voters are considering not voting at all, or casting their vote for another party in protest. “Why would you do that?” I asked one friend with genuine surprise.

“Why not?” he quipped, disgusted with the political campaign circus.

This election cycle is so extreme, Bernie Sanders devotees are vowing to vote for Trump if Hillary is the nominee. Cruz supporters are promising to vote for Hillary if Trump is the nominee. Trump voters will allegedly riot if anyone else wins. And there is talk of last-minute third-party candidates, brokered conventions, and prophesies that we are on the brink of a political revolution.

But despite the mayhem, voting is a serious right that should be especially important to military members who are required to follow the orders of their Commander-in-Chief.  However, military voter participation rates are appallingly low. According to The Council of State Governments Data Center website, there were 221,925,820 eligible stateside voters in the 2012 election, 58.7 percent of whom voted successfully. But of the 4,737,600 eligible registered U.S. military and overseas voters in that election, only 12.7 percent actually returned ballots.

Voting in the military can be more difficult, especially for the roughly two-thirds who must use absentee ballots because they are not stationed in their home of record. But thanks to The MOVE Act of 2009 (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act) and helpful websites such as www.overseasvotefoundation.org, www.usvotefoundation.org, and www.fvap.gov, it is easier to register to vote, request absentee ballots, and return ballots than it used to be.

Active duty military and their spouses can get absentee ballots quickly by going to the Military Voter Protection Project website (www.mvpproject.org) and clicking “Request Your Absentee Ballot.” There, you will complete a Federal Post Card Application that will enable you to register and request a ballot at the same time.

The chaos of this election cycle is not an excuse – it’s exactly why military servicepersons and their spouses should take part in selecting the next Commander-in-Chief. Our military members fight silently for our right to vote, and now it’s time for their voices to be heard.

Coffee Shop Confessions

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“So Lilly, what did you tell Father Kris?” I asked our 15-year-old daughter recently at a local coffee shop. We had just picked her up from a confirmation class retreat, which included confessions with our parish priest. This sacrament is shrouded with an impenetrable veil of secrecy, but we knew Lilly would tell us.

“Well,” she revealed between slurps of hot cocoa, “I told him, ‘Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been eight years since my last confession …’”

“Yes, yes, we know that part … we want to know what you confessed to?”

I felt twinge of fear when I realized that our youngest daughter may shock me with her answer, but Lilly responded, “I told him that I’ve been disrespectful to you guys a lot over the years.”

Relieved, I plopped another puddle of ketchup alongside my fries, and let my mind wander back to Lilly’s first confession to Father Jim when we were stationed in Virginia eight years ago.

Second grade was a dicey year for Lilly. Emerging from the shadow of her dominant older siblings, Lilly was making her mark in Mrs. Ryan’s class at Fairfield Elementary School. However, it still wasn’t clear whether Lilly’s “mark” would be top grades, or graffiti on the girl’s bathroom wall.

My Navy husband, Francis, was deployed for a year, and I was doing my best to hold it all together. Between the exterminator bills, scout meetings, dog walks, soccer games, dryer lint, piano lessons, sinus infections, and football practices, there wasn’t much time left for mother-daughter chats about right and wrong.

As the third child, Lilly often got the short end of the stick, but she never once stopped to ask, “What about me?” With a smile full of awkward teeth, a fistful of her favorite Polly Pockets, and a carefree attitude, Lilly was easy to love. But as a happy-go-lucky kid, Lilly was also easy to overlook.

Until one day when I got a call from the school.

“Mrs. Molinari,” Principal Stubblefield told me one afternoon, “we think Lilly has forged your signature. Can you come in?” Apparently, Lilly had bossed a boy on the playground, and was told to have a parent sign the Incident Report. Rather than draw any unnecessary attention to herself, Lilly decided to sign it for me.

Problem was, she couldn’t write in cursive. So she conned her older brother into showing her “how Mommy signs her name,” then cut out his best attempt (white paper), and taped it onto the Incident Report (green paper).

Not exactly foolproof, but pretty sneaky for a six-year old.

As parents tend to do, I panicked. Thanks to my parental neglect, Lilly was now destined to rotate through dangerous county jails, maximum security facilities, and sketchy halfway houses on her way to a life of hard crime. My dreams for her future were suddenly reduced to hoping she’d get her GED while serving out a sentence for Grand Theft Auto.

In an attempt to set things right, I asked Principal Stubblefield to rough Lilly up a little bit. Well, not exactly, but we planned that she would call Lilly to the Office (every kid’s worst nightmare), sit her down across from the big desk, and open the gigantic rulebook to the page that says dishonest kids get expelled from school.

In case that didn’t scare her straight, I took Lilly to her first confession. I stood in the back of the church, as she walked down the center isle to sit in a pew with Father Jim. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I saw Lilly’s little head bobbing as she told Father Jim a long story. He listened intently and murmured back to her in solemn tones. Seeing Lilly confess, I bowed my own head and admitted that I should’ve paid more attention to my little girl.

At the coffee shop, Francis finished the last of his tuna melt and asked Lilly what she was given as a penance. Rolling her eyes, Lilly reported, “Between now and Easter, I’m supposed to perform acts of respect toward my parents.”

Despite our own parenting missteps, Lilly has turned out to be a pretty honest kid, and we realize that these moments of contrition have helped all of us to be better people.

As for those “acts of respect”, I confess, we’re still waiting.

Savoring the Sweetness of Military Life

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“Holy cow, we’re old,” I thought, as we found our seats at a recent Joint Service Military Ball in Albany, New York.

The ballroom was filled with over 220 sharp-dressed ROTC cadets and midshipmen from six colleges in the New York Capital Region – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Siena College, Union College, State University of New York at Albany, the College of Saint Rose, and Hudson Valley Community College. By some stroke of good luck or coincidence, my husband, Francis, had been asked to be the guest of honor at the ball, and had enthusiastically accepted.

Back in the 80s when he was fresh out of Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, destined for Intelligence School and his first tour of duty in an EA-6B squadron in Whidby Island, Washington, Francis never envisioned being a guest of honor at anything, much less making a career out of Navy service.

Twenty-eight years later, Francis and I were feeling proud and sentimental.

We’ve attended many military ceremonies over the years – promotions, retirements, commissionings, and balls. There is a particular script that is followed at each event with minimal variation, so it’s easy to overlook the significance of the rituals or let one’s mind wander during the speeches.

I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of taking it all for granted, focusing more on who wore what dress or who won the centerpiece or who botched the Electric Slide (it was usually Francis, by the way). But now, as my husband and I enter the twilight of our family’s time in the military, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. 

“Please rise for the Presentation of the Colors and the singing of the National Anthem,” a Cadet at the podium announced. I’d seen it a million times, but I was worried about tearing up. In recent years, even the crackly recording of the morning National Anthem blaring over the loudspeakers in our base housing neighborhood makes me patriotically pause between sips of coffee to get a little misty, and Colors in the evening instills a certain melancholy pride in our unique lifestyle.

“Deep breaths,” I told myself, knowing that it wouldn’t be good to start the ball off with an ugly cry face.

The diverse Color Guard marched in precise lock step, placing the flags behind the podium. Four uniformed singers kept perfect harmony, as the entire crowd crooned, “For the land of the free! … And the home of the brave!”

We raised glasses high, in a litany of customary toasts to the flag, the President, the Joint Chiefs, the Cadets, and the Midshipmen. The final toast to the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action did me in, and I swept an escaped tear off my cheek as the MC drew our attention to each traditional item – a rose, lemon slice, salt, candle – on the tiny symbolic empty table near the podium.

“Salmon or chicken, ma’am?” the bow-tied waiter asked before plopping a steaming plate on the table in front of me. I ate enough to test the bounds of my Spanx, before settling in with a cup of coffee to watch Francis’ speech.

Adjusting his cumber bun, Francis spoke to the roomful of bright young men and women about viewing themselves as part of a Joint Military profession that is both ethical and competent. However, he explained, as military servicepersons, they do not just hold a job, “we live a lifestyle and carry on military traditions reaching back for centuries.”

Before leaving the podium, Francis looked up and softened his voice. “As I approach the sunset of my military career, at times I wonder if I’ve made the right decisions in life, and have provided for my family as best I could, recognizing the hardships and sacrifices they’ve had to endure from time to time. But … when I remap my career back to May 22, 1988, when I raised my right hand in the recruiter’s office, I realize I wouldn’t change a single day of it. I am truly envious of you all who are just starting your journey …You have so much to look forward to.”

After his first standing ovation, Francis took his seat, stunned, humbled and grateful.

The MC took the podium one last time to announce the final time-honored military traditions: “We ask that you do not take the center pieces. The dance floor is now open.”

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My old husband, Francis, with young Midshipmen Demiery.

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