Birds, Bees and Brats: Exposure to culture breeds curiosity in military kids

Kids in Berlin

April 30th is Military Brat Appreciation Day!

“Time for gelato!” I blurted, pulling our kids away from a statue at the Vatican City Museum during a family trip to Rome. We had stopped on our way to the Sistine Chapel to take a closer look at the strange female sculpture that we initially thought was covered in some kind of fruit…were they mangoes?

The plaque on the adjacent wall explained that she was Artemis, the goddess of fertility, and she was adorned with severed bull testicles.


While stationed in Europe, my husband, Francis, and I tried to expose Hayden, Anna and Lilly to art, history and culture as much as possible. Typical military brats, they had no idea how fortunate they were to live a minivan ride away from Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Florence, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Prague, and other European cultural meccas. Sometimes to their chagrin, we took them to see paintings and sculptures in every city we visited.

And, as it is with art, many of the renderings were explicit, causing our children to giggle, gawk or grimace in embarrassment. We indulged them — they are kids, after all — and hoped that someday, when it mattered, they’d remember standing before the original works of Manet, Michelangelo, Klimt, Matisse, Botticelli, Cezanne, Donatello and other greats.

However, some pieces were so detailed, they caused our children’s mental wheels to spin. “Wait a minute … what is that, and what’s it for anyway?” their disturbed looks seemed to say.

After fielding many awkward questions, Francis and I got good at knowing which masterpieces we should breeze by quickly.

We shuffled the kids past explicit nudes in Paris’ Musee D’Orsay on our way to see classics like Monet’s Blue Water Lilies and Whistler’s Mother. We didn’t let the kids linger too long at the base of Giambologna’s The Rape of Sabines in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, opting to find Michelangelo’s anatomically humongous but relatively benign David instead. And as soon as we found out that the Vatican City Museum’s statue of Artemis was not covered in mangoes after all, we used the oldest bait and switch in the book — ice cream.

However, on our final trip in Europe before moving back to the States, it became clear that I could no longer avoid the curiosity of our youngest child, Lilly.

It was the end of our three-year tour. Francis had already moved to his next duty station at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and I stayed behind so the kids could finish out the school year. Regretting that we’d never had the chance to visit Greece and Croatia, I booked a last-minute cruise with port calls in Venice, Bari, Corfu and Dubrovnik.

“Perfect!” I thought, looking forward to checking the rest of the boxes on my family’s travel wish list.

But of course, things were not perfect.

Lilly, Anna and I got seasick after departing Venice. After a long night of tag-teaming in our state room’s tiny bathroom and rationing the remaining scraps of toilet paper, we wandered around Bari the following morning, dazed and queazy. In my weakened state, I didn’t have the energy to censor what the kids were seeing. All I could do was sip shakily from a cappuccino while they gawked at nude statues and giggled at paintings.

I could tell that Lilly’s head was spinning with questions.

Later, while Anna and Hayden visited the arcade, I took Lilly for a mother-daughter dinner at the ship’s buffet. Even though my parental judgment was still somewhat impaired from lingering seasickness, I decided to seize the opportunity to enlighten my daughter.

Sitting there in a booth on that Italian cruise ship, using breadsticks and rigatoni noodles as my visual aids, I told Lilly all about the birds and the bees.

Too stunned to finish her pasta, Lilly just sat there, her brown eyes wide. It was as if she was trying to process all that she had seen during our three years in Europe. Whether this bombshell made things easier or more difficult for her to comprehend, I couldn’t say.

All I knew was, if Lilly asked me any follow up questions, I was armed with the perfect answer – “Let’s get some ice cream!”

Artemis, fertility, vatican city

Artemis, Goddess of Fertility

Late Blooming


A few days ago, I made my usual school drop off, then took our two-year-old lab Moby on his regular morning walk. While we trudged around the local reservoir, I listened to my latest audio book and focused my eyes on the path, dodging the many goose deposits.

At some point, I managed to lift my head and look out toward the sea. The sight stopped me in my tracks.

While the rest of the hemisphere had been raving for weeks about balmy temps, sprouting buds, and baby animals, here in New England I’ve been straight-jacketed into a ridiculous full-length down coat since last October. The kind I swore I’d never buy because it makes me look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man.

Moby stood dripping, patiently waiting for me to throw his raggedy tennis ball into the water again, while I paused to take in the scene before me.

It was finally, undoubtedly, splendidly … spring.

Although the grass seemed a little greener that morning, there had been no obvious signs. No happy tulips, no ducklings beating to stay in line with their mothers, no tender chartreuse shoots on the trees. The air was still a chilly 44 degrees, and despite Moby’s willingness to swim in it, the water was frigid. Beyond the path, the tall reeds between the reservoir and the beach appeared pale, brittle and lifeless. And, there was no foliage on the prickly rose hips lining the coastline.

But I saw that just beyond the dunes, the ocean was glimmering. Juxtaposed against the pale morning sky and the seemingly dormant landscape, the sea was a beautiful blanket of flashing silver sequins.

Suddenly, the day seemed fresh and full of promise. Even Moby’s slimy tennis ball appeared a brighter shade of yellow, as I tossed it into the clear, cold water.

I continued down the path with a new spring in my step, as I remembered the long winter our family had endured. It had been particularly challenging, because my husband Francis had just retired from the Navy after 28 years and was transitioning to a civilian career.

Based upon the positive responses Francis received from various hiring managers, we thought he’d get a job before his terminal leave was over on November 1st. But come winter, we realized that the transition would take longer than we had expected.

Not wanting to give up on his dream of working in corporate global security, Francis continued to beat the pavement, networking relentlessly and applying for a wide range of positions in his field. In the meantime, we rearranged our finances to adapt to military retirement pay.

That winter, as I tromped, the icy local dog walking paths each morning with Moby, bundled in my down coat, I pushed away fears of long-term unemployment and prayed for good news. The bright civilian future we had imagined appeared dim and foggy.

“You’re overqualified,” Francis heard from two companies. “We need someone with corporate experience,” others said. All those years of military service, working on missions that made a real difference in the world … was it all coming down to this?

“Every company wants to help the military, until you ask them to help the military” one mentor astutely pointed out.

Finally, after many months of networking, phone calls, meetings and interviews, Francis landed the corporate job he was looking for all along, but it is located out of state and requires us to live apart while our daughter Lilly finishes high school. As a military family accustomed to the “geobachelor” lifestyle, we’ve simply adapted to this new routine.

It hasn’t been easy, but we realize that our transition is not complete — we are still cultivating our future. Just like spring in New England, the transition from military to civilian life cannot be rushed.

Even if we can’t yet see them, the buds of our new life are there, growing invisibly under the surface. Like the persistent little snowdrop that I noticed flowering beside the reservoir path that chilly spring morning, the seeds we are sowing will bloom brightly in due time.

As long as we keep our sights focused on the hopeful, glimmering horizon.

shimmering sea3

The Relevance of Jellybeans


When holidays like Easter and Passover roll around each year, I can’t help but compare my childhood to our fast-paced modern life. My memories pass before me like an 8mm film, with a jumpy picture and the clicking sound of spinning reels.

On Easter morning, 1972, I was peering over the balcony’s banister at the congregation below. I was wearing a white dress and hat that my aunt crocheted for me, with a label inside that read, “Made especially for you by Aunt Char.”

She even made me a matching purse, using the bottom half of a white Ivory dish soap bottle with a crocheted draw-string top. When I pulled the top down over the soap bottle like a skirt, a doll’s torso was revealed, turning the purse into a tiny replica of me.

I sat ever-so-patiently in the church pew, playing with my doll purse and jingling the charms on my mother’s bracelet. After the final hymn, I tried to avoid scuffing my patent leather shoes as my older brother and I weaved our way through the crowds to our station wagon.

The vehicle hadn’t come to a complete stop in our driveway before my brother pushed the enormous, simulated-wood-paneled door open, and leapt out like an escaped inmate. I tried to follow, but the giant door nearly knocked me over on the rebound.

It no longer mattered whether my hat stayed bobby-pinned in place, because the egg hunt was on. I didn’t stop to wonder how the Easter Bunny had broken into our refrigerator to hide the eggs we had dyed with food coloring and vinegar the night before. I just ran like hell.

My brother didn’t particularly like hard-boiled eggs, but the competitive nature of an egg hunt always sent him on a wild rampage. He whizzed past me in his miniaturized polyester suit, swooping right and left. When all the eggs had been found, my mother lead us to hidden baskets laden with jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. 


My parents allowed us to gobble our spoils, provided we would eat an obligatory slice of ham and plop of scalloped potatoes at supper. However, I always squirreled my treats away, rationing them one by one until some went stale. In retrospect, I wish I had feasted, because a few years later during my chunky phase, the Easter Bunny inexplicably filled my basket with sugarless gum, icky raisins, and sunflower seeds.

At supper, we said a blessing that began, “For food and health and happy days, accept our gratitude and praise.” My brother and I toasted with our milk in fancy pressed glass goblets. After dessert, we gathered in front of the console TV to watch the annual broadcast of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.

There, in our avocado and gold living room, I was truly content.

Nowadays, I wonder, has our hectic 21st Century lifestyle obscured the meaning of holidays?

According to a Pew Research Center 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, fewer Americans today attend religious services regularly. Even though 77% of American adults are still affiliated with some faith tradition, only about half attend religious services.

I’ll admit, sometimes weeks go by without our church-going family seeing a pew. I haven’t bothered with the messy process of dying Easter eggs since the kids were little. Simple jellybeans no longer reign supreme – the kids reject those candy dinosaurs, preferring flashy foil-packaged miniatures in every brand. And frankly, I’m afraid to force “The Ten Commandments” on my family, because the kids will probably balk at the 1950s special effects that allowed Moses to part the Red Sea.

As the 8mm reel of my memories slows to a film-flapping stop, I realize that the meaning of a holiday is not in the traditions, but the principals observed. As long as we honor the tenets of Easter, Passover and other holidays in our own way, it doesn’t really matter whether we dye eggs, wear itchy dresses, or eat jellybeans.

(But just in case, “The Ten Commandments” is airing on April 15th at 7:00 pm on ABC.)


The Outsiders: Can military families ever be ‘locals’?

My home town

On a recent drive to take our two eldest kids back to college after spring break, I didn’t mind when Anna commandeered the minivan’s satellite radio.  But halfway through the Berkshires, my elbow hurt from fist-pumping to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and I was bored with pop lyrics. 

Mercifully, Anna fell asleep, her head cocked back and mouth wide open. So, I tuned in a couple of New York City DJs who were debating what makes someone a “real New Yorker.” After considering qualifications such as being mugged, enjoying the sound of garbage trucks in the morning, and crying on the subway, the DJs asked callers what they thought. One caller with a thick accent opined, “You aint no Noo Yawkuh if yous some military brat dat moved heah in high school.”

I nearly choked on my seltzer. Did I hear him right?

The caller had struck a nerve. I was incensed that military personnel and their families, who volunteer to serve their country no matter where it takes them, might never be accepted as locals in the towns they eventually settle into after their commitment is done.

As former military brat, David Tracy, writes in “What It’s Like Growing Up As A Military Brat” on,

The question that many civilians find so simple, “Where are you from?” isn’t so simple for us Military Brats. And without a true “home,” many Military Brats struggle in the civilian world. They often bounce around between jobs looking to find a place where they feel comfortable. Some are never successful and always feel like outsiders.

In a blog post on titled “The Lost Ones”, former military brat Dawn Risas agrees: “We will always feel like outsiders to civilians … As adults we cannot even answer the simple question at a dinner party, ‘So, where are you from?’”

In her book Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, Mary Edwards Wertsch, an expert on military brat subculture, explains the “rootlessness” of military brats, who as adults don’t know where they belong and seek connectedness to places and people. While Wertsch recognizes that overcoming the “outsider syndrome” is difficult, she says that military life also breeds unique strengths — “resilience, good social skills, a finely honed intuition, the ability to observe, learn, imitate” and “a spirit of open-mindedness, and tolerance as well as a lively sense of curiosity that embraces the world as a marvelously stimulating place.”

“Stable balanced lives can be ours,” Wertsch says. “We can even come to understand alien concepts such as continuity and permanence.” But how is this possible unless the locals are accepting of military families as equal members of their communities?

Military retirees experience similar “rootlessness” when they separate after a career of service. Some end up staying in the location of their last duty station, others go wherever their civilian jobs take them or look for jobs in their desired final destination. Regardless of where retirees go, they must still deal with being “outsiders.”

In an attempt to find roots, both military brats and military retirees often turn back to the familiarity of the military. Military brats are significantly more likely to join the military than civilians, and military retirees are more likely to settle in or around military bases where they can stay connected to military subculture and routines.

My own newly-retired military family has decided to make Rhode Island our permanent home. We may be outsiders to the locals, because we weren’t born in one of the Irish-Italian working class neighborhoods, we don’t know how to cook Quahogs, and we don’t go to Dunkin’ Donuts twice a day. But our three kids will have all graduated from high school here, we are buying a house within sight of Naval Station Newport, and we are ready to lay down roots after 28 years in the Navy.

Besides, our lab Moby has marked every fire hydrant on Aquidneck Island.

“Locals” should put aside arbitrary measures when military families settle in their communities and remember that, those who bear arms in service of this country deserve to be welcomed home with open arms.

From Rags to Ratchet: Are there no riches in military life?


“What the …?” my 16-year-old daughter, Lilly, stopped herself short in front of our minivan on a blustery, rainy morning before school this week. There, on the driveway, was a pile of shattered black glass. Just above the shards on the passenger’s rear side was a gaping hole where the window used to be.

“Holy … cow!” I adjusted the expletive to accommodate my teenage companion. Two days prior, I had noticed that the rear window had detached from the mechanical arm that opened it, and made a mental note to do something about it, having no idea that it might blow completely off the side of the van.

I peeked inside the hole left by the absent window and saw gum wrappers floating in rainwater collected in the cup holders. “Good Lord,” I muttered helplessly, and told Lilly to get in. Of course, my husband Francis was away with our other car, so I had no choice but to drive the minivan to school, rain and all.

After dropping Lilly off, I headed straight to the auto body shop to plead my case.

“She’s old,” I told Tiego the mechanic. “We really don’t want to plunk too much money into her.”  Our minivan, which we bought used in Virginia Beach eleven years ago, had almost 200,000 miles on her. Even though her headlights were hazy, her body was pitted with chips and dents, there was a crack running across her dashboard, the alloy wheels were corroded, the carpeting was worn bare in spots, and the various school stickers on the rear window were peeling — her engine ran like a top. We were waffling about whether to keep her for a few more years to save money, or trade her in for an upgrade.

I explained to Tiego that I had to take my daughter to Pennsylvania for college visits that weekend, but he wasn’t sure he could get a replacement window in time. I envisioned Lilly and I pulling up to a group of visiting prospective students on an ivy-covered campus, and jumping out of our old minivan with a pizza box duct-taped over the window.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tiego said.

I walked to a nearby coffee shop to wait for the verdict. Tiego called just as I burned my tongue on a cup of green tea. “Well,” he paused, indicating that the news was bad, “I can get the replacement window today, but it will cost $300, $450 with labor.”

“Why am I driving such a hunk of junk, anyway?” I thought. “Francis served in the Navy for 28 years, and all our family has to show for itself is two used cars, credit card debt, a bunch of Polish pottery and a paltry savings? Is this all you get for dedicating your life to military service?”

I wondered whether I should tell Tiego to put our old minivan out for scrap.

But then, I remembered that our minivan was a beauty when we bought her, gleaming white, with only 8,000 miles and lingering new car smell. Through three tours in Virginia, she carted us to soccer games, school pick ups, speech therapy appointments and the commissary. She gave me no mechanical trouble during Francis’ yearlong deployment, and didn’t complain about all the dog hair, up chuck, stray french fries and fruit snacks that we dropped on her carpeting.

In 2008, she moved with us to Germany, where she safely negotiated winding roads in Austria, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Spain, Poland, Belgium and Switzerland. When we moved to Florida, then Rhode Island, she zipped over US highways and byways, taking us to visit friends and family up and down the East Coast.

I realized, regardless of our modest budget, our military life had been quite rich all along, and told Tiego to replace the window after all. “She’s got a few more years in her,” I said, suddenly appreciative of our family’s unique lifestyle.

I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t be able to embarrass Lilly with a duct-taped pizza box, but I was grateful for whatever adventures our military family would encounter on the road ahead.

Still rolling along.

Still rolling along.

Confessions of foolish military spouses


Twenty-four years ago, when I became a military spouse, I was pretty clueless.

“Honey,” my husband Francis delicately explained through clenched teeth two weeks after our wedding, “the reason you should NOT lose your new military ID, is that you will need it for everything!” I thought the silly laminated card was an unnecessary formality. I had no idea that it would actually become more important than my spleen.

I went on to make more stupid mistakes. During our first move, we didn’t inventory or label anything, and had no idea that we needed to keep track of  “hardware” and “high value items.” We were nervous, however, when just before driving off with our belongings, the truck driver told us about the time he drank a fifth of Wild Turkey while hauling a load, and had no recollection of driving through six states.

While stationed in Stuttgart, our daughter needed cookies for school the next day, but the heating element in the oven of our Patch Barracks stairwell apartment wasn’t working. We thought baking the cookies under the broiler was genius, until the smoke alarm went off at 11pm, and the building residents had to stand outside in their pajamas waiting for the German firetrucks to arrive.

With April Fool’s Day upon us, I am reminded of my buffoonery, and wonder, “Am I the only foolish military spouse?” I recently reached out to others, and found out that nobody is perfect.

One Navy wife confessed that after two decades of going to formal military ceremonies, she still forgets to put her hand over her heart during the national anthem, and then spends the rest of the song thinking, “Is it too late? Is anyone watching? Can I do it now?”

An Army spouse once berated a man who rear-ended her car just outside the base gate. When he asked why she had stopped, she shouted, “Because there was someone on a bike in the cross-walk, you @$%&!” Turns out, that man was the General.

A Marine wife was at a formal tea for new pilots’ wives during the first year of her marriage. Someone passed around a bowl of foam earplugs for a tour of the hangar. She thought they were marshmallows and tried to eat them.

A Navy spouse was in a rush to get to the Fort Myer commissary, and impatiently honked and gestured at a car that had stopped in front of her. Little did she know, the driver was allowing a horse-drawn caisson to pass by on its way to Arlington Cemetery. “It’s safe to say that I have NEVER honked my horn on base again,” she said.

Several spouses were not adequately trained in commissary etiquette. They violated the directional arrows on the floors, cut lines and stiffed baggers. One Air Force spouse survived all the dirty looks and made it to the cashier, only to realize that there were no checks in her checkbook. She promptly burst into tears and left, humiliated.

An Air Force spouse was incensed early in her marriage, when a base hospital only required her husband’s social security number for her pre-natal registration. She demanded that they write her name boldly across the top of the form, which they did, in pencil. “They probably erased it right after I left,” she realized.

Many spouses relayed embarrassing moments at military functions. One burst into the ballroom laughing when the MC was solemnly explaining the symbolism of the Fallen Comrade Table. Another was yucking it up with guest speaker Tommy Lasorda at a dining out, when both began giggling uncontrollably during the prayer. And, an Admiral’s wife took me aside at a command holiday party to tell me I had a blob of chocolate fondue on my chin.

Back when she was ignorant of the ranking system, one Navy spouse pinned one of her husband’s oak leaves on upside down during his promotion ceremony, all while smiling obliviously at the crowd. The General took pity on her, and pinned the other oak leaf on upside down to match.

Turns out, we all make mistakes from time to time. The only foolish act would be denying it.

From the archives: “Wanted: Mom Manager”


I was late for the meeting. Again.

With an armful of crumpled papers, I rushed down the hall. Sheepishly, I found a seat at the table, and began with as much authority as I could muster:

“This meeting is called to order at, let’s see, twelve minutes after nine. If you don’t mind, I’d prefer that these weekly sessions start promptly at the top of the hour. Now, without further delay, let’s get down to business.”

“The van still needs new brakes, and if you wait much longer, you’ll be paying for rotors too. Lilly has her driver’s test on Tuesday at 3:15, but you must somehow get her to the dentist at four. The checkbook hasn’t been balanced in three months, which might explain why you bounced a check last week,” I continued.

“Francis is on his last pair of clean underwear, so please put a load of hot whites in at your earliest convenience. Moby is due for his monthly flea and tick medication. You must write two articles this week. The repairman is coming on Thursday between eight and two to fix the fridge. And you need to get serious about that juice cleanse. Now, how do you plan to get all that done?” I finished, and took a slurp of coffee.


No one responded, because I was having my weekly meeting with myself, and as usual, I had no idea how to answer my own demands. I scribbled a “To Do” list, marked a few things on the calendar, and then went about my day, determined to get it all done once and for all.

But deep inside, I knew the inevitable pattern of my life would repeat itself. My week would start out productive. But soon, something would throw me off track – a school project, a sick kid, writer’s block. One item on my To Do list would collide into the next, and the ensuing pile up would become overwhelming.

By Friday, Francis would come home from work to find no dinner, unfolded laundry heaped on the coffee table, and me, dazed and unshowered, draped over my computer chair where I’d been surfing vintage Tupperware on e-Bay for the last three hours.

What fundamental flaw in my character has made it so difficult for me to keep up with my responsibilities as a work-from-home military spouse and mom?

After some thought, and half a box of Cheese Nips, I realized that I have always been a soldier, not a commander. An indian, not a chief. A workerbee, not the queen. I’m not lazy. I’m not incompetent. I’m not disorganized. I just need a supervisor, a boss, a manager to watch over me and keep me on track.

Ahh, how different things would be with someone to offer clear direction and guidance.

“Ms. Molinari,” my boss might say, “while it is clear that you are no stranger to hard work, there is room for improvement in the areas of task prioritization, self-motivation and personal hygiene. It is my recommendation that you avoid distractions from your daily priorities such as TJ Maxx, free samples, and mid-day reruns of ‘Mob Wives.’”

But unless I find someone willing to be compensated in meatloaf, I can’t afford to pay a manager to give me direction. I am the manager, damn it, and I have to take responsibility.

Even if it feels like I’m being dragged through life behind my dirty white minivan, I’ll continue this never-ending game of catch up until the job is done. I’ll try to avoid getting tangled in the minutiae – the e-mails, the dust bunnies, the bills, the burnt dinners, the dark roots – and focus on the big picture: Keeping our family happy and healthy.

Long-term analysis indicates that this family is on an upward trend. Subordinates may complain from time to time, but all in all, they report excellent workplace satisfaction. As manager, I sometimes lack efficiency, but I am dedicated, sincere, and work overtime and on weekends without pay.

Despite its flaws, this family business is thriving, so there is no immediate need for new management.

Meeting adjourned.

For Pity’s Sake

common-coldTrailing tissues behind, I burst through the base clinic doors five minutes past my appointment time. “Sorry, I’m late,” I croaked raspily to the corpsman in blueberries at the family practice desk. He directed me to the waiting area.

Fishing another crumpled tissue from my pocket, I nestled in to read juicy gossip about “The Bachelor” from a dog-eared waiting room copy of US magazine, just as “Lisa Molinari?” bellowed from behind me.


With my legs dangling like a child from the papered examining table, I waited patiently for the doctor’s arrival, mulling over the possible outcomes.

“With this terrible cough, sore throat, and congestion, it must be very serious. One listen to my chest and surely, she will prescribe antibiotics and steroid treatments. Hmm… she might very well diagnose pneumonia and order me to spend a week in the hospital under an oxygen tent, so I’d better think of someone who could stop by to walk the dog,” I thought.

As I envisioned myself securely ensconced in sterile plastic while friends and family visited with chocolate milkshakes, the doctor entered the room in a hurried swish.

“Hello, Mrs. Molinari. What brings you in today?”

I am one of those people who feel that all stories should be told properly. Even the tiniest detail can be essential in painting the right picture, conveying the correct tone, and maintaining complete accuracy.

“Well, Doc, it all started last Monday,” I began. I told her all about how my husband Francis has been gone, how tired I’ve been lately, that I may have picked something up at our daughter’s school which is a veritable petri dish by the way, that my ToDo list is a mile long, etcetera, etcetera.

Much to my surprise, the doctor didn’t seem to be listening. As I was detailing the issues I’d been having with my mini-van’s steering, she asked with her back to me, “What color is your sputum?”

Ahem. Answering that question requires admitting to shamelessly inspecting the unmentionable globs I’d spit into a sink or blown into tissues. Everyone has done it, but can’t the doctor just take my word for it that I am very sick? Assuming she needed another detailed explanation, I went on, “Well, let’s see, I blew my nose in church on Sunday, and wasn’t able to take a look until I got home, and…”

Halfway through explaining a particular shade of olive green, the doctor turned around and came at me with a reflex hammer, repeatedly rapping at my face with the pointed end.  “Does this hurt?” she asked between blows. For a split second, I pondered how one might answer such a stupid question.

“Hell yes!” was just too obvious, and asking “I don’t know, does this hurt?” and kicking her in the shin seemed too hostile, so I went for, “Is the Pope a Catholic?”

By now, I could tell that this doctor operated with the fundamental belief that all patients are hypochondriacs, wimps and liars with nothing better to do than to spend hours in base clinics feigning illnesses just so they can wait again in the pharmacy for antibiotics they don’t need, which will eventually result in the spread of antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs” that will soon infect and destroy all of mankind.

As I began to snort and suck at the back of my throat in an attempt to bring up or down some kind of concrete proof to make my case, the doctor said, “Your chest sounds clear, so I’ll treat you for viral bronchitis. Pump the fluids and Mucinex.”  And she was gone in a swish.

I wondered if she’d question her Hippocratic Oath when she discovered that I had to be airlifted to the ER for intravenous antibiotics later that night.

No such luck. Five days later, the raspiness in my voice, the sore throat, the barking cough and the technicolor phlegm had all but disappeared. I had to admit, the doc was right. Still, base clinic doctors should realize that, sometimes, the proper treatment for military spouses who are alone and sick is simply a little sympathy.

Chocolate milkshakes wouldn’t hurt either.

Necessity reveals strength when parenting alone


Everyone knows Murphy’s Law — “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” — but few know that buried in the fine print of this famous decree, there is a Military Spouse Clause that that reads, “And when it does go wrong, it will happen during deployment.”

Most military spouses have endured car breakdowns, hot water heater leaks and computer “blue screens of death” when our active duty spouses were on travel or deployments. Those home front mishaps are annoying, but what about when our kids are injured or sick? Is the emotional strain of handling a major parenting crisis too much for one military spouse to handle?

About fourteen years ago, my husband Francis was away on temporary military duty. I was at home with our three children in the suburbs of Virginia Beach. Hayden, Anna and Lilly were playing on our backyard play set with two other neighborhood kids. I did yard work nearby, then took Lilly into the kitchen to get something out for dinner.

“Mrs. Molinari!” the bushy-haired neighbor boy and his little sister startled me out of the pantry. “Something’s wrong with Anna’s arm!”

I ran outside expecting to hear some cockamamie story how Anna scraped an elbow going down the slide backwards. But instead, Hayden was crouched beside Anna, who sat on the ground, holding her arm.

“What’s the mat…” I stopped cold.

Anna’s tiny forearm was markedly bent at an unnatural angle. Her big brown eyes were wild, but she whispered to me, eerily calm, through gritted five-year-old jack-o-lantern teeth.

“I fell.” I could see that survival instinct had taken over my fun-loving daredevil daughter.

I scooped Anna up, and as she held her deformed arm tightly to her chest, I put her in our minivan along with the other four children. I called the bushy-haired kids’ parents, and asked if I could drop Hayden and Lilly off with their children while I took Anna to the emergency room.

They hesitated, still bitter about an incident the week prior, when Anna tipped over a bottle of hot pink nail polish on their white carpeting. But I knew they couldn’t say no. They owed me for watching their kids all afternoon, and besides, I had no other options.

At the emergency room, I called Francis, but got his voicemail.

“Honey, Anna broke her forearm, both bones. I’m at the hospital. The doctor says he has to move the bones back into place … They’ll give Anna morphine, but she might be awake. She is … we are … so scared. Call me.”

I made the second call an hour later.

“Francis, are you there? The nurse gave Anna morphine so that she wouldn’t feel the pain, but she just got agitated. They said she is one of a few people who react adversely to morphine. They have to set her arm without it …” I said, my voice cracking with fear.

Another hour later, I called a third time.

“Honey, I don’t know where you are, but the doctor set Anna’s arm. She’s better now, but it was really scary. The asked me to leave the room, but I stayed with Anna. They made me sit in a chair because some parents faint. When they pulled on her broken arm, I held her face in front of mine and she screamed like I’ve never heard before. But it worked, and now she’s in a splint. Please call.”

By the time Francis called the next day, Anna had the first of three casts she would wear during her childhood. This one was purple.

Over the years, our three children wracked up the typical childhood injuries, stitches, colds, and flu. In fact, in the last month, Lilly sprained her knee snowboarding, then sprained her ankle and got a concussion while sledding.

As a military spouse and mom, I learned that, I was much stronger than I ever knew. When forced to manage crises alone, something primal kicked in. A strong, calm, nurturing, unshakable force I didn’t know I had deep within me, waiting to be tapped.

If I could, I’d add an addendum to Murphy’s Military Spouse Clause that says, “Don’t worry, you’ve got this.”

purple cast

Fat Tuesday? Fat Chance!


By now, two months into 2017, most people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. I’ll admit it, I give up every year around this time, and the chronic pattern of lose-gain-guilt-lose-gain-guilt repeats itself in perpetuity.

Every year, I start out raring and ready to drop ten pounds fast.

I pick a simple diet without pesky portion controls, to fit our hectic lifestyle. You know, the kind that allows me to eat pork rinds dipped in mayonnaise, bacon-wrapped prime rib, and blocks of cream cheese to my heart’s content.

A couple of weeks into the diet, I’m five pounds of toxin-flushing water weight down, and other than extreme constipation and debilitating fatigue, I feel fabulous.

However, during week three or four, the needle on my scale wouldn’t budge. I eat more eggs than Cool Hand Luke, but the only thing I lose is motivation. Without the stimulus of weight loss, I just can’t take it anymore.

In a last ditch effort to break through my weight loss plateau, I hit the base gym … hard.

Although I haven’t done more than power walk in years, I find myself in the weight room with dozens of iron-pumping young military men, heaving heavy disks onto the squat machine like a pro. They’re doing it, why can’t I? With the bar across my shoulders, I lower my 50-year-old mom frame into a squat, and am pleasantly surprised to see a little muscle bulging in my thigh. I’m so relieved to know it still exists, I repeat the maneuver over and over, happily watching my little muscle flexing just under the skin.

The next morning, I cannot get out of bed.

My stomach muscles are screaming in pain from the sets of planks I’d done to impress some younger spouses on the mats, and I feel paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to lift my torso from the mattress, I roll sideways to exit the bed. While walking gingerly to the bathroom, I note that my thighs feel a bit tender, but nothing prepares me for the excruciating experience of using the toilet.

Standing in front of the porcelain fixture, I unhinge my knees, expecting my quadriceps to take over where my joints left off. But as my quads contract to support my middle-aged girth, I am seized with dual jolts of agony. Instinctively, my legs go limp, I cry out in pain, and I plop onto the seat, knocking the toilet paper off its roller and the magazines off the sink. After making all necessary deposits, I wonder how I’m supposed to get back up without the use of my thighs. In a clumsy attempt to stand, I somehow pull the towel rail out of the wall.

The rest of the week, I walk around like I just got off a horse, I avoid all physical exercise, and I stop drinking liquids to minimize bathroom visits, which of course, stalls my weight loss. I turn to a can of Pringles for comfort, and the whole cycle starts all over again.

However, this year will be different. Instead of falling back into old routines, I’m trying new metabolism-boosting meals, I ordered a gluten-free cookbook, and I’m finding new walking trails around town. I started eating more fish, loading up on weird veggies I’ve never tried like rainbow chard, and enjoying all the fruits that were forbidden back in my pork rind days.

I still made mistakes, like the night I drank three glasses of red wine, which lowered my inhibitions enough for me to eat an entire package of windmill cookies that had been in the back of the cabinet since Christmas.

But overall, I’ve stayed on track.

Still, I can’t help but worry… Is long-term change really achievable? Do I have the strength to disprove the adage that old habits die hard? Will the syrup smothered smorgasbord of Fat Tuesday tempt me to board the weight loss roller coaster for another ride?

Fat chance. After 35 years of gaining and losing the same ten pounds, I’m ready to break the cycle for good.

Rainbow chard, anyone?

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