Tag Archives: Stress

I can’t wait to move!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

Well, first, there’s the heat. The year-round, thick, hot, humid, gnat-infested, sweat producing, Florida heat. The lousy palm trees certainly don’t do much to shade us from the relentless sun around here – I swear, it shines about 300 days a year! I don’t know how the locals can take it.      

And then there’s the sand. Not just any sand, but that fine, sugary Florida sand that you don’t feel until you’re back from the beach and you find out it’s all over your house. It’s a real hassle, I tell ya.

Of course, we can’t forget the local culture, and all its slow cooked “southern charm.” I swear, if another person opens a door for me or calls me “ma’am,” I’m gonna lose it! I’m sick and tired of sweet tea, cornbread, barbecue, fried chicken, coconut shrimp and tropical drinks!

Thank goodness, we got orders out of this place! Good riddance!

Part and parcel of the military experience is The Military Move. Every few years, we are forced to “pull chocks” – say good-bye to what has become familiar and settle in a new place. It’s tough, and sometimes we develop subconscious strategies to help us cope with the stress.

We settle our families into every duty station – be it Kentucky, California, Alaska, Arizona, Italy, Japan, or Florida. Even if it’s difficult at first, we eventually find our groove. The kids make friends, we get jobs, we find a pizza place and join bunco groups. As time passes, we incorporate local foods into our meals, we adopt local customs, we use local lingo such as “Yes Ma’am,” “You betcha,” “Prego,” and “Aloha.”

And just as we begin to embrace our new lifestyle, we get orders to someplace else. It never fails.

However, military spouses won’t allow themselves to wallow in self pity for long. After shedding a few tears – usually over a little wine and copious amounts of chocolate, or vice versa – we pick ourselves up and simply start seeing things differently. Our new orders may dictate that we must move from Paradise to Poughkeepsi, but somehow, we convince ourselves that we need a fresh start.

As for me, our new orders say that we have to move from the secluded southern beaches of Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and settle in the chilly north, at the Naval War College, Rhode Island. In the coming months before we pull chocks, I’m sure I will shamelessly blubber and hug my Mayport friends at a neighborhood fire pit. I will most likely feel no guilt as I gorge myself one last time on southern fried chicken and biscuits. And I’m pretty sure I will get misty when I take one last shell walk on what has become “my beach.”

However, to ease the pain, my subconscious mind will say, “This duty station is the threshold of hell, and the new one will be WAY better. Seriously.”

So, I can’t wait to move to Newport. The quaint little towns. The ocean-splashed cliffs. The lobster. The quirky New Englanders with their funny accents and old-school mentalities. The Technicolor falls and the frosty white winters.

I’m 100 percent certain. There’s not a doubt in my mind. No question about it: our new duty station will be WAY better than this one . . . [gulp, sniff] . . . Seriously.

Try these tips to ease the pain of constant change

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Longing for Lazy

Will we ever stop and smell the fried chicken again?

Tying the laces of my red Converse, which did not quite match my pink polyester halter top, I could not contain my excitement. It was a hot summer day in 1975, and I was going to the pool.

My Kool-Aid backpack – bought with collected labels and saved allowance – was stuffed with my bathing suit, a Budweiser beach towel, a rainbow headband with a really cool transparent visor, and enough coins to buy a raspberry snow cone at the snack bar.

My mother agreed to drop me off after setting her hair, and I couldn’t wait to get out of our neighborhood. Since school let out a few weeks prior, I’d had enough running through sprinklers and playing with Baby Tender Love to last an eternity. Mom put a scarf over her pink plastic rollers, applied a bit of orange lipstick, and we were off.

Unbelted in the front seat of our station wagon, I craned my neck out the window to escape the smoke of my mother’s Tareyton 100s. It was the 70s after all. Everyone’s mom lit up back then. Even if they didn’t show it on TV, it was assumed that Shirley Partridge and Ann Romano hadn’t kicked the habit, and Caroline Ingalls was probably puffing Charles’ elm pipe while he was off fishing with Half-pint.

Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” crackled on the radio as we pulled up the pool entrance. As I slammed the simulated-wood-paneled door, my mother called, “See you at four-o-clock Dumpling!”

That day, I perfected my underwater hand stand, braved the high dive, made a friend, got whistled at for running, and found a dime. By the time Mom picked me up, my skin was wrinkled and I was seeing rainbows around every light.

The next day, I was back to sprinklers and Baby Tender Love. Aside from a week at church camp and a visit from my cousins, my summer was a continuously running loop of the same activities – popsicles, sprinklers, bare feet, pools, dolls, fireflies, and many minutes staring out the window, wondering what to do.

While I was bored and barefoot on those summer days, my mother had plenty of time to garden, nap on her chase lounge, paint with watercolors, can vegetables, crochet groovy afghan squares, and smoke Tareyton 100s.

By the time the first day of school rolled around, we were both ready.

Today, by contrast, summer is pretty much the same as the rest of the year, except hotter.

We set the alarm every morning for sports practices. We order books required for school summer reading programs. We register our kids for online classes, and monitor their progress daily. We’re always late for music lessons. We throw dinner together last minute, we forget to put the car windows up before it rains, we never get around to dusting.

There’s no time to be bored because there’s too much going on. Halfway through the summer, we realize that we’ve haven’t been to the pool. We never got around to doing that beading project we saved for summer. There was no opportunity to take a delicious afternoon nap. That tomato plant I intended to pot on the screened porch has dried and shriveled from neglect.

When did the lazy days of summer turn into summer break at breakneck pace?

Why does it go so fast when it used to last forever? Why are family vacations so exhausting these days? Does anyone grow vegetables in gardens anymore, much less can them? Will I ever be able to stare out the window again? Is it too late to take up smoking?

With only a couple precious weeks of summer break left, I’ve realized something. Summer used to be time of relaxation, when the most difficult task was figuring out how to spend the day. Nowadays, a must-do-it-all mentality has crept into our family lives, robbing us of a much-needed break.

Before it’s too late, I will discipline myself to forget to set the alarm. Skip practice. Unplug the computer. Cut up a watermelon. Turn on the sprinkler. Doze off while sitting in a lawn chair. Pitch a tent in the backyard. Grill hot dogs. Play cards. Catch fireflies. Lie in a hammock and look at the Moon.

With lots of hard work, it’s possible to be lazy again.

If you liked this article, click on the pretty pink circle and vote for Meat & Potatoes of Life as Top Military Mom Blog 2012!

One of those days

Ever had one of those days when everything just falls into place?

Yea, me neither.

I always believed that I’d be able to manage our family life without compromising my standards. Apparently, I was wrong.

A decade ago, my husband and I traveled to Boston to visit his old college roommate, who like my husband, was married with kids, a job, and a mortgage. They were a few years ahead of our life schedule, so visiting them was like looking into our future.

Our husbands snuck off to drink beer somewhere, so I hung out with the other wife while she went about her day as a stay-at-home mom to three kids.

Riding in her dingy minivan to school, I felt a subtle twinge of anxiety. My counterpart was somewhat tensely gripping the wheel, wearing her husband’s jacket, workout pants marred with a blob of dried schmutz, slippers and a pair of broken sunglasses that sat crooked on her face. The floor was strewn with debris – discarded kid’s meal toys, juice boxes, crumpled wrappers and tidbits of food

As she chatted about leaving her career as an attorney to raise the kids, my mind wandered. “What is that schmutz on her pants? Can’t she scrape it off with her thumbnail? With those glasses cocked sideways, she looks like she might suddenly run us all off a cliff. At least if we are stranded in a ravine, we could survive a few days on the old French fries and Skittles under the seats,” I thought.

Back at her house, she washed out two dirty cups, served us some coffee and slumped into a scratched kitchen chair with the newspaper. I could tell that skimming the newspaper over coffee each day was her one selfish indulgence, and depriving her of this little break from her chaotic routine might just sever her precarious hold on sanity. I puttered to allow her time to read.

“Hey, listen to this,” she suddenly commanded. “A man filed a missing persons report because his wife and mother of their children disappeared last week. Don’t you know, they found her, happily living in a newly rented apartment. Apparently, she loved them all, but needed a break and just ran away.”

My crazed hostess lifted her head from her paper and stared out the window for a few seconds before mumbling, “she . . . just . . . ran away.”

“I need to go freshen up a bit,” I lied, and hid in the bathroom in hopes that she would find solace and not a loaded weapon.

On the plane ride home, I thought of how the other wife seemed to be hanging on by a thread, and told myself that I would never have such a cluttered, disorganized, chaotic life.

A few days ago, I was crying like a baby while careening down the Arlington Expressway in my dirty white minivan. Wearing my standard black Nike work out pants, those ridiculous looking “shape up” shoes, and a fleece jacket adorned with dog hairs, I struggled to see through my tears and the bug guts still enameled on the window from our spring break trip.

It had been one of those days. The kids sat in their seats, unphased. They’d seen this kind of crazed display before and knew I’d soon be back to “normal,” which for me was a mental state that vacillated between Supermom and somewhat unstable.

The tipping point occurred during an after school conference with my teenage son’s English teacher. News of my son’s academic transgressions, coupled with the normal events of every day life – work deadlines, dirty laundry, the price of gas, dust bunnies, hormones — was just enough to bring me to the brink.

But, I did not drive our minivan off a cliff or run away to find a new life for myself. No, much like the old college roommate’s wife up in Boston, I maintained my grip on that invisible thread from which we moms hang and did what I needed to do to survive the chaos.

On that particular afternoon, it only took a good cry, an entire bag of Combos, and two DVRed episodes of Dance Moms for me to make a full recovery. Ironically, I was impressed with myself and mothers everywhere, who, despite it all, continue to muster the strength to face one of those days.

 

Related Articles:  Mom doesn’t want to be a parent anymore (parenting.com)

The Call That Launched a Thousand Tears

So, I called my husband the other day.

“Hi Hon, so what’s up?” I asked.

Now, before I go any further with this story, I need to set the scene:

My husband, bless his heart, has been at Naval Station Mayport on the sunny Atlantic shores of northFlorida, for almost three months. He went ahead of the rest of our family to start his new job there, and to live in the oceanfront base hotel, with daily maid service.

I, on the other hand, stayed in our stairwell apartment on Patch Barracks in chilly Germany with the kids so they could finish school. Our seemingly fool-proof plan included me arranging and managing our household goods move, the shipment of our dog “Dinghy,” meaningful travel with the kids at spring break, inspection and shipment of our minivan, checking out of military quarters, arranging hotel and airport shuttle, and other tasks associated with moving a family across the world.

As a military spouse, I am used to handling things while my husband is away, so I thought this little three-month separation would not be much different from the rest.

I was wrong.

When I made that fateful phone call to my husband, I had endured a grueling week of shocking school progress reports, driving around base for two hours in search of my teenage son who had failed to turn in his final Biology project, a malfunctioning oven and resulting visit from the grumpy German Fire Department, a broken dryer and resulting shameless display of underclothes hanging on radiators and windowsills, and lots and lots of overwhelming move details. I was out of patience, energy and dignity.

“Well, I rented a movie last night,” my husband responded, “it was no good, but I got another great pizza from Sal’s.”

“Oh, that sounds nice,” I offered weakly, wondering if the kids would be OK eating cereal again for dinner.

“Today, Dinghy and I needed a little change of scenery from our daily beach walks,” he continued, “so we hopped in the car and went to the Riverwalk area for a nice long run and lunch at an outdoor café.”

I had fallen silent, but my husband didn’t notice.

“The folks at the café were so nice and gave Dinghy three bowls of water to drink since it has been so hot and sunny here.”

I stared out my window at the dark clouds that hadn’t lifted in days.

“And after that we headed back here to the homestead for a quick swim and to watch some boob tube. . . .So what’s been going on there?”

I began, slowly at first, to relate the details of my agonizingly stressful week. My rant picked up speed, leading to some crucial information about our move I needed to go over with him.

“Ooo, hey Hon, can I call you back in like five minutes?” he said.

“Uh, sure,” I agreed, believing the delay to be due to some minor urgent matter relating to our dog. Our 110 pound labradoodle was prone to gulping water and then spontaneously vomiting it all back up on a whim. I wondered if that was the problem.

Five minutes later, I answered on the first ring.

“Hey, so what happened? Is Dinghy OK?” I asked.

“Oh, heck yea, he’s fine. I just had to run down to the beach real quick. Right before you called I had come up from the beach to grab another beer. I left my beach chair and book down near the water, and wanted to go grab it before the tide started coming in.”

That was all it took. The floodgates opened and a veritable tsunami sprang from my tear ducts. Within 10 seconds, I was a wailing, blubbering, snotty mess.

Stunned, my husband had nothing much to say, offering only, “Hang in there, Hon, you’re doing a great job.”

My husband and I learned a dual lesson that day. I learned that long-term military separations are so much easier for the spouse to handle when the service person is somewhere icky like on an aircraft carrier floating out in the Pacific, or living in a tent in some God-forsaken dusty hot climate, or at least behind a big metal desk working day and night to support the family.

My husband learned that, next time his wife asks him, “What’s up?” he should definitely respond, “Oh, not much, what’s up with you?”

Confectionary Comforts

Running my fingertip along the wrinkled peak of thin, gold foil, I find an edge. I insert a nail under the delicate lip and lift the sheet, hearing it crinkle as it expands like an accordion. I pause a moment, just long enough to pinch the end of the tiny paper strip, and tug it free from its host.

Satisfied that the sheath has been removed intact, I crumple the shiny square of foil and paper strip into a ball, and discard it. Popping the freed morsel into my mouth, I let it sit on my tongue for a few seconds, and feel my body’s heat react with the sugary drop. As it melts, a fragment of almond is revealed. In a sudden movement of tongue and teeth, I swipe the nut between my molars and feel it crack under pressure.

As I swallow the delicious mixture, my fingers search the bag for my next Hershey Kiss with Almonds. . . .

More than I should, I find myself reaching for chocolate. One might think the rich texture and undeniably delicious flavor of this popular confection tempts me, but I have a different motivation for eating chocolate.

Like a baby, I crave something soothing and repetitive when I’m stressed, tired or bored. Since Gerber doesn’t make pacifiers for 44-year-olds, and my husband isn’t inclined to rock me in a rocking chair, I opt for sweet treats.

I’m not talking about gorging on devil’s food cake, or slurping up Hot Fudge Brownie Delights. While I have been known to indulge in those delicacies from time to time, I find more comfort in chocolate treats that lend themselves to a prolonged ritualistic enjoyment of the process of eating chocolate.

We’re about to uproot our lives here on this US Army base in Stuttgart, Germany, and move back across the Atlantic to Mayport Naval Station in Florida.

Stressing over the logistics of this particularly complicated move has caused a flare up in my need for comfort, and as such, I’ve been hitting the chocolate pretty hard. Hershey Kisses with Almonds have been my recent remedy of choice, mostly because eating each tiny morsel involves several repetitive steps that I find quite soothing.

When I can’t get my hands on those, I turn to other chocolaty treats for my therapy. Most recently, I have eased my stress with Girl Scout’s Thin Mints Cookies. Regardless of the nutrition label, an entire sleeve of these delectable disks is really needed to calm the nerves.

Extracting a cookie from the top of the stack, I place it on my tongue and allow it to steep. The chocolate coating slowly melts, and then my saliva soaks into the crisp center, dissolving it into a mouthful of minty mush. I chew any remaining crunchy bits and swallow, as I lift another disk from the sleeve. 

Usually, one sleeve will do the trick, but on particularly stressful nights, I’ve been tempted to take the second sleeve from the box. I resist this urge, knowing that the guilt of eating so many Girl Scout Cookies will only add to my stress and thereby increase my need for confectionary comforts.

Even as a child, I remember ritualizing my consumption of treats. I never understood a kid who could take a bag of M&Ms, tear open the top, and pour the whole thing into his upturned mouth. What a waste!

I, on the other hand, would maximize my enjoyment, spreading the contents of each bag out, and separating the candies out into their colors (which were, back then, orange, green, yellow, dark brown and light brown.) I would then analyze each pile, eating only the most flawed morsels. Those that were misshapen or had an imperfect “M” were goners. I continued this process until I had whittled the lot down to one of each color. Those five, the Chosen Ones, would be scooped up together and ceremoniously sacrificed in one final chomp.

This may all sound nuts, but in times of stress, everyone turns to something for relief, and I figure that three-quarters of a bag of Hershey Kisses with Almonds is measurably better for one’s mental and physical health than three packs of Camels and a pint of Jose Quervo.

So why not dissect a dozen peanut butter cups, nibble the chocolate off the nougat center of a Three Musketeers Bar, or methodically pick apart a pair of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls? It tastes good, it feels good, and stress melts away as fast as a chocolate Kiss on your tongue.

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