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Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's the precious, little things

Another Christmas day has come and gone. This is the first Christmas without my dad. It was a different one, to be sure, but I think we all did a good, bordering on great, job of focusing on the joy of this Christmas, all while reflecting on Christmases past without sorrow. I don't think my dad wouldn't have wanted us to focus on sorrow. I think he would have wanted us to focus on this Christmas, and the joy of the season. He was never an effusive man, nor was he one who bought many presents. My mom will tell you that he didn't buy her a Christmas present for 14 years. So somehow I think he would agree with my thoughts on this Christmas.

On Christmas morning, as I stood at our Christmas tree and delivered presents to those gathered with us, my heart was full of joy. One of my favorite things about Christmas is knowing which present goes to which recipient and delivering them to those seated around the tree. I love watching the joy on others' faces as they open something I think will put a smile on their face, but this year I was the lucky recipient of two extremely special gifts. 

While I was shopping for Christmas presents, Stan said, "Why don't you upgrade your phone. You've had that one for a while now and it might be time for an upgrade." I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Eh, I don't need a new phone. This one works just fine and besides the case is my all-time favorite." It's a case he had made for me a few years ago when I got my last phone. It's my favorite picture of our three kids when they were three, five and almost eight. I adore the case because it shows a sassy, little Claire standing in between her two smiling, goof-ball brothers, and because Stan had it made knowing how much I love the picture. 

This Christmas, he handed me a package and I opened it to see the same three kiddos smiling back at me from another case. Stan quickly said, "I didn't get you the phone, but the case is ready for whenever you need a new one."  My heart couldn't have been more full with those words and my new case. Stan made sure that a new case stands ready for whenever I might need it. I'm not sure he's ever gotten me a sweeter gift.

But I have to say, my very favorite gift was given to me on December 23rd. It was the simplest of things, but it was the most precious. On Tuesday night Zach and Stan lit a fire in our fire pit and the five of us sat around, talked of Christmases past and made more memories to carry with us through the years. Our conversation turned to the simplicity of a time long ago when the belief in Santa was real and sweet and firmly held. Zach said, "You know, Christmas is so much better when you believe in Santa." And he's right, it is.  For me, though, I still believe in Santa. This year, I had four Santas and they all came through. They gave me exactly what I asked for. It was the simple act of sitting together and talking, no electronics, no TV, nothing but us and a crackling fire and it was the most precious "thing" they all gave me this year.

These two things were just tiny, little things, but in the grand scheme of my life, these two little things added up to the most precious parts of my Christmas. I'm pretty sure my dad was smiling down on me.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Friday, November 14, 2014

Whirl your dervish

We recently had a milestone birthday in our house. Lucas was born November 6, 1998 at 7:04 in the morning. His was my favorite birth story. There was no drama, no rushing, no panic. There was a peace-filled bath, walking the hallways and joking with Stan and my just-as-pregnant friend who came to the hospital for moral support. Lucas' story reflects the baby he was. Calm, sweet and loving. While I can't say he remained calm, I can say, without hesitation in my voice, he has remained sweet and loving. I just can't believe the little baby we brought home from the hospital is now 16. I can't believe the sweet, little blond boy is almost able to be behind the wheel of a car by himself. I will cry on that day. The day he gets to drive away without me will be perhaps a bigger milestone than when Zach got to drive away for the first time. I will explain why in a letter to him...

My sweet, little, blond boy,

You are now 16. It's taking me a while to wrap my head around the fact that you are closer to being an adult than you are to being a boy now, because in my mind you'll always be my sweet, little blond boy. You earned that title. You deserve to have it. I want you to have it. Forever.

You've been sweet and loving since the day you made your entrance into the world. Out of the three of you kiddos, you were the calmest baby. You were easily soothed and rarely made a fuss. You didn't complain or make demands. You enjoyed being loved and snuggled. You were a joy as a baby.

And then you hit two. You turned into the most whirling of all of the dervishes. You were hard to keep in place and even harder to discipline. You had the blondest hair and biggest, brownest eyes, and the light in them sparkled with a mischievous glint. Staying mad at you was next to impossible, even as you slashed and gashed Dad's leather chair and ottoman, escaped from the house and climbed into our neighbors cars. You would look at us with your wide-eyed innocence, without a trace of malice in your soulful stare, and all was forgiven.

For me, all of what I just said is still who you are. I know there is not a malicious bone in your body. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have the kindest heart and the most giving soul. I know you would give your family and friends the shirt off of your back if they asked, or even if they didn't. You still don't complain or make demands. You have a warmth emanating from within that draws people to you. I know your wide-eyed innocence is so deeply ingrained in you, it is simply a part of who you are. All of these things are what I see and what I love most about you.

But what makes me a little sad is that your whirling dervish ways began to fade away, for the greater public, around 7th grade. Your spirit got somewhat broken and battered. A certain set of powers-that-be at a certain location determined you had malice and you intended to cause harm. They, in turn, intended to put a stop to your mischievous ways. And they did. You stopped being that kid who never met a stranger. You stopped being the one to stick out your hand and say, "Hi, my name is Lucas. Wanna be my best friend?" You became careful in who you allowed into your circle. You became cautious in your dealings with people in authoritarian roles. You let the light in your eyes fade a little when you met new people. The dervish you once were doesn't whirl for most to see.

I still see all of this in you, though. I still see who as you were. As you enter your 16th year, I want you to know that it's OK to show the world that sparkle in your eyes. It's OK to be that kid who never met a stranger. It's OK whirl your dervish a little and regain some of the goofy, little, blond boy who is in these pictures ~ for all the world to see.

All of the kid you once were can all be tempered with who you are now. Cautiousness with a hint of mischief is the perfect balance.  A sparkle in your eyes and the ability to stick out your hand to a new face shows the warmth of your spirit. A little whirl mixed with a hint of dervish and an innocent heart is beyond spectacular. But you probably already know all of this. You are wiser than I realize sometimes.

16 is a big year. You'll get your driver's license and be able to drive away from our nest by yourself for the first time. I won't like it one, little bit. I will cry on that day, because it will be then that I know you are a little more grown up than I want, a little more mature than I care to admit and a little more ready for the world than I'm ready to believe. You have grown up in the blink of an eye. I'm not ready for you to be 16.

I want you to know, Little Blond One, I believe in you with every fiber of my being. I see big things in your future. I see you for who you were as a little boy and who you are today. And I love it. I just want you to whirl your dervish for the entire world to see. The world deserves it and so do you.

I love you.

Monday, November 10, 2014


I think I'm a terrible example for my kids.

I laugh at times when I probably shouldn't. I encourage my kids in areas of humor that are not necessarily mainstream nor politically correct. And not only do I let my kids listen to music with semi-sketchy lyrics, I just sit back and listen to them sing those same lyrics at the top of their lungs.

The other day I posted on Facebook that Lucas and Claire's new favorite song is Florida Georgia Line's new song Sun Daze. Part of the refrain goes something like this..."All I want to do is wear my favorite shades and get stoned." They sing it loudly and with abandon when it comes on, especially Claire. She's old enough to know exactly what that means. I just sit back and listen to them when they sing. I don't correct them or lecture them. I just listen to them. Maybe I don't have to correct or lecture them. All three have heard me say, over and over and over again, that neither Stan nor I have ever done drugs. We've never been stoned. I can probably safely say, I'll never get stoned in this lifetime. So maybe they don't need me to reinforce the inappropriateness of the lyrics. But still...part of me thinks I should say a little something.

My dad had one of the most irreverent senses of humor of anyone I've ever met. He's told inappropriate jokes for as long as I can remember. One of the first times I ever invited Stan over for dinner was a prime example of his extreme inappropriateness. We were sitting in the dining room. The crystal chandelier sparkled overhead. The white table clothe gleamed in soft light. The table was set with my parents' fine china. The crystal glasses were full of water and wine. Stan and his fellow lieutenants sat around the table with me. My dad at one end and my mom at the other. My dad was a full colonel, and perhaps a bit intimidating to a bunch of lowly lieutenants. So perhaps my dad was trying to break the ice and make them feel comfortable. He began by clearing his throat and saying, "OK, so what has two fingers, speaks French and loves blowjobs?" The silence at the table was deafening. No one spoke. No one moved. Everyone was stunned into silence at my dad's question. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, someone piped up. "Loves blowjobs, Sir?" they asked with a hint of fear in their voice. My dad's reply was deep and rich and sure. "Yes. Loves blowjobs." I look from my friends to my new boyfriend to my mom who is just sitting there shaking her head, and then it happens. My dad answers his question with relish. "MOI!" My mom's head shaking got faster, the color rose up in her cheeks, and the table erupted in laughter. So I guess it's safe to say, the apples don't fall far from the tree.

Fast forward to the other day. Claire and I are in the car. Driving. She starts telling me about her day, finishing with, "Oh, Mom. We were telling some of the best jokes today." The conversation went something like this....

Me: "You know I love a good joke. Let's hear them!"

Claire: "OK, but some of them are not very, um, appropriate."


Claire: "What shoes do pedophiles wear?"


Me: "Umm...should I really try to answer this?"

Claire: "White vans!" She says as she laughs along with the punchline.


Claire: "How 'bout this one? Why did the cowboy get a wiener dog?"

Oh NO! I'm thinking Broke Back Mountain now!

Me: "No idea."

Claire: "So he could get a long little doggie! Get it?"

Nervous, relieved laughter bubbled up from within. How dare I go the Broke Back Mountain route in my head? What is wrong with me?

And then she finishes with this little gem which is so not appropriate but it has to be told....

Claire: "Helen Keller walks into a bar." A long pause ensues. "And then a table and then a wall."

Well, alrighty then.  My work here is done. I confess, I'm a terrible role model, and I have passed on a terribly irreverent and completely politically incorrect sense of humor.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Rigmarole of The Asks

Homecoming season is nearly over. Beautiful pictures have been all over Twitterdome, the Wonderful World of Facebook, Instagram and every other popular social media site known to humankind. I've enjoyed perusing the photos of well-dressed, clean-shaven, gorgeous couples as they head off to experience a wonderful night of merriment. What I've been mercifully thankful for is that the Homecoming "Asks" (or "Promposals" as they're also known) have largely been over-looked in the picture realm. The "Asks" are why I'm here today.

If you meld homecoming season with a blog post from Snarky in the Suburbs called The Homecoming "Ask" and a shy group of boys I adore, you have the recipe for what's been cooking in my head lately.

Homecoming for all of it's pomp and circumstance, fun and frivolity also has a layer of unmitigated pressure, and fear, in the form of the Homecoming "Ask," where the boys have to come up with a unique, stellar way to ask a girl of their liking, in a very public way, to go to Homecoming with them. And girls have to respond in a very public can be a recipe for nastiness and humiliation.

I recently talked to Lucas about Homecoming and why he didn't go. The conversation went something like this...

Me: "How do you feel about the rigmarole when it comes to asking a girl to Homecoming? Is that part of why you didn't want to go again this year?" No sense beating around the bush. It's better for me to just come right out and asked the questions.

Lucas: "Yeah, pretty much. It's too much pressure, and I didn't want to have to deal with it and then still maybe not get a date to Homecoming, so I just didn't ask anyone. I would have gone with my friends, but none of them wanted to go." He's succinct and to the point. He just came right out and answered the questions. Gotta love him for that. 

As a mom of two boys and a girl, this whole rigmarole (yep, I used that word again) makes me more than a little sad, worried, and kinda mad. 

I know Zach got through it just fine, but he's a different kid and his class was lucky enough to cultivate friendships between the boys and the girls. Because of his friendships, he got through three homecomings and two proms with nary a problem, or a shoot down. The girls in his class did all of the planning for Zach (except maybe his senior year, but don't quote me on that). Girls know what other girls like. They know what takes to appear romantic. These girls can lead their guy friends down a path to make them look like the star in their own romantic movie...think Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything" where he stands outside Skye's house with his boom box blasting "In Your Eyes." Swoon! Girls live for that. Boys...meh...not so much. They have to be taught, so when you're friends with girls it's fairly easy to be learn because they tell you exactly how to do it.  So, yes, Zach got through it fine, but not without pulling out the big guns in the form of his girls-who-are-friends. 

On to Lucas, and perhaps the majority of boys ages 14 to 20 and why it makes me sad, worried and a kinda mad. Lucas and his crew don't have friends-who-are-girls. They are a shy-ish group of young men who haven't learned how to cultivate friendships with girls. They probably should and I've told Lucas to give it a whirl, but he hasn't taken me up on my advice yet. So the problem remains, he remains in a realm of boys who have no idea what it takes to look like a romantic fool, and even if they did, would they really want to or would they risk looking "foolish" in front of their friends by finding some goofy and/or contrived way to ask a girl to Homecoming or Prom? I doubt it. This group of boys, as I'm sure countless other groups, have no desire to put themselves in a spot where they could possibly look foolish and get shot down. Now, surely I could step in and start looking on Pinterest for any and all means gathering ideas for securing Lucas a date, but really, is that what a mom is supposed to do? Maybe nowadays they are, but this mama isn't buying in and perhaps Lucas is suffering for my lack of helicoptering. 

I think the one I might be most sad for in all of this is Claire, and not because I don't think she'll be asked to Prom or Homecoming, but because these Homecoming Asks and Promposals set up a lifetime of false expectations. Life isn't all about the big-to-dos and the over-the-top affairs. Life isn't about fairy tales, balloons, banners and false proclamations for all of High Schooldom to see and judge. Life is about the little moments; the preciousness of a shared sweet secret with someone special. And I have to say, these Promposals are just as nerve wracking for the girls as they are for the boys, because what happens when a girl is asked by someone they have zero desire to go with or they're asked in a most embarrassing way in front of the entire school? I've heard the fallout from the girl's side. It's not pretty. It's full of drama and it's not a place I want Claire to go. I don't want her to live for the big, show-stopping fireworks that have to happen every six months. I want her to see reality and love it. I want her to capture the joy in the little things in life. And then when the big, show-stopping fireworks happen for a truly big event, it's something to be cherished even more.

I'll go on to say, the moms who scour Pinterest for hours looking for an over-the-top way that their sons can ask a girl to prom are setting their boys up for failure when it comes to future relationships. When these young men are out on their own and really begin to like a great girl, do you think they're going to run to Pinterest to see what they can do to proclaim their love? (If you do, I'd love to know about the guy who does it. I'll give him the biggest hug and thank him for truly getting the romantic side of the female psyche.) Trust me, there will be girls-a-plenty looking back through pictures and thinking to themselves, "If he thinks I'm that special why doesn't he do these romantic things for me?" The mamas won't be there to direct their sons. The girls will expect that same level of romance from the High School Promposals and it won't be there.  Zach could be in a world of hurt too, if he doesn't keep his girls-who-are-friends close to him, because I'm not about to tear into Pinterest to help win him a girl. 

I'll finish this with...aren't the high school years pressure packed enough, with puberty, grades, pimples, school work, trying to learn to navigate adulthood, peer pressure, work, books and any potential issues where our kiddos have to deal with bullying? How do we help to stop or tame or temper this obsession with the over-the-top "Asks"? I think we should all work toward a simpler and saner way to ask the girl (or guy) of their high school dreams to Prom or Homecoming , but I'm only one voice amongst the throngs of other voices who think it's great. Do you see it another way? Am I seeing it incorrectly? I don't know, but I know what I'd love to see happen for the love of our children...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

I really didn't want to be there but Crap Frank rides again.

On Wednesday we buried my father. He passed away May 11, 2014, Mother's Day, and we buried him September 10, the day before 9-11, in Arlington National Cemetery. I hope I can do justice to describing the day. The pomp, the circumstance, the sorrow and the laughter of the day are burned into my mind. I just hope I do justice to the telling of the story of the day.

Let me start by explaining that I really didn't expect it to hit me so hard. I really didn't expect to be impacted the way I was. I handled my dad's wake and funeral. I was mentally ready for them. I plowed through those days. I made it. Wednesday was something different. It was something I never expected. I didn't expect it to be so hard. I didn't expect to be hit like a Mack truck as soon as we pulled up to the cemetary gates.

You know those strange licking and swallowing sounds dogs make when they get ready to throw up? Those are the noises I was desperately trying to hide from everyone in our car as Arlington came into view. My mouth started watering profusely and I had to swallow down every ounce of whatever was produced. I thought I was going to throw up right then and there. Somehow, though, I held it together and made sure to keep myself composed as I told the security guard we were there for my dad's funeral. No one in our car knew, at that point, I was so close to losing the contents of my stomach at the feet of the security guard.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I felt my composure return and felt I could handle the rest of the day. We unloaded from our car, a sea of black, pearls, suits, ties and uniforms streaming into the administration building. Friends and family had already started to gather and I took comfort in my old friends who came to honor my dad. There was a peacefulness as family members and old family friends surrounded us. I was comfortable in the room. I was fine there. I knew I didn't want to go any farther, or have our little time in the quiet room come to an end. But the end of our time came too fast, we given directions and asked to return to our cars. Still no one knew how much I didn't want to be there. At all. 

We made our way out to our cars and followed the instructions of Arlington's funeral director. He told us we were free to follow the caisson carrying my father's casket on foot as long as we had a driver for every car to follow us to the grave site. We asked a family friend to drive our car so we could all walk together but as I was walking to our car, I saw my college roommate in her car alone. I needed the quiet of her car. I needed to be transported to a different time, a different place and her car was the solace I needed. I made a last second adjustment and jumped in with her.

It was then I spilled it. I told her how much I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to do this day. I wanted it to just be done, to have it over with. I was ready to have this time closed. She understood. She lost her dad and she knew what I was feeling. It was the comfort I needed. 
It was then we rounded the corner and I saw a field full of soldiers in uniforms. 

I saw a hearse with the door opened and a flag draped casket. My eyes went back to field of soldiers. They were standing at attention. They were ready. There were so many. I think I asked, "Is this for my dad?" I don't remember. But I do I think I said, "I guess this is where I get out."

Stan came to get me, from my friend's car. He took my hand, and it was then I told him. I told him I didn't think I was going to make it. I told him I thought I was going to throw up. I told him I didn't want to be there. I told him I couldn't do it. The words came tumbling out in a rush. I needed to get them out before I couldn't get them out anymore. Stan held tight to my hand and told me everythign was going to be ok. I started to pull back. He kept me moving forward. He became my courage. 

Stan and I stood hand-in-hand as I took in the military might before me. They were all there for my dad, and for us. The black, gleaming horse drawn caisson stood quiet and ready to accept my dad's casket. Two horses stood silently with their soldiers mounted on their backs. Their boots and saddles shone brightly in the sunlight as they remained patient and ready at the side of the caisson. The pallbearers stood tall and proud in between the caisson and the hearse. The color guard was flanked by two infantry platoons. The Army band, with their gleaming, perfectly polished intruments stood to the side and began their drum beat as the color guard was called to post their flags and the platoons were called to attention. My dad's casket was slowly and reverently transferred from the back of the hearse to the back of the horse drawn caisson as the soldiers remained at attention. My focus was on the hearse and the casket until the riderless horse on my left began to whiny and paw at the ground. He threw his head back and stomped his hoof over and over. I saw the gleaming boots turned backward in his stirrups. My attention was locked on him and every detail of him, and then something caught my eye a little farther to my left, and I saw Zach. There he was, standing tall and proud saluting the flag his grandfather served for thirty years. My grip on Stan's hand tightened as I leaned into his arm for support. It was almost too much to bear. It was a sight like none I've ever seen before.  

And then my dad showed up. The grandfather whose grandson stood at attention saluting the flag showed up. The father who demanded perfection and respect from my brother and me showed up. The father who could crack jokes and make bad puns decided his presence was required at the ceremony. The grandfather who loved to tell and create stories came to put his mark on the solemnity of the day. The husband who drove his wife so crazy sometimes she called her husband, "CRAP FRANK" out of pure exasperation showed up. And he showed up big time.

The riderless horse who caught my attention minutes before by whineying and pawing the ground walked just in front of us as we followed the procession of the caisson, casket, soldiers and band. Five of us led the way behind the riderless horse with boots and sword turned backwards. The symbolism couldn't have been more apparent. The boots turned backwards are there to symbolize the fallen soldier looking back on his troops one last time. In this case we were his troops and then the "CRAP FRANK" moment happened as the riderless horse lightened his load on the road directly in front of us. He took his crap as I could hear my dad say, "Lighten up. I'm at peace. I'm 'Crap Frank.' Hear me roar."

I can't say that the rest of the ceremony was much easier. The prayers and kind words spoken about my dad caused my muscles to tense and strain as I struggled to keep my composure in tact. The band playing taps was nearly my undoing, and the firing of the 21 gun salute shook me to my core. The laying of roses on my dad's casket was the final piece of the tremendously beautiful, yet extraordinarily difficult ceremony but there was a levity and a lightening of my spirit about the day after the horse graced us with his load on the middle of the road, because Crap Frank rides again.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Friday, September 12, 2014


Last night, Lucas, Claire and I were sitting in the kitchen talking about spirituality and the absolute need in our lives to believe in a higher being. As we talked, I told the kids how my beliefs have let me shift away from the "all about me" prayers and the "Please God grant me this" prayers, to the "Thank you, God" prayers. It doesn't have to be a big thankful thing. It can be the littlest, tiniest, most inane thing that makes me thankful and make me send my small prayer up. It can be anything really. It's just a way for me to stay connected, grounded and focused on the good in my life and to keep the negativity from coming into focus.

Last night I likenend my prayer process to first world problems. When we focus on our first world problems we can get caught up in "woe is me mentality." But I told the kids, if you shift it and turn it and shape it, any little problem can be a thankful thing. So last night, the kids tried my prayer process and it came out kind of like the gratitude challenge I've been nominated for (twice) so it gave me an idea for today's blog. I'm going to turn the first world problems we came up with last night into day one of my gratitude challenge.

Last night Lucas, Claire and I came up with these thankful things...

I'm thankful for the paper stickers on the toilet bowl brushes I bought the other day. (You know the ones I'm talking about. Those stickers that don't come off in one fell swoop when you try to peel them off. The ones you have to sit and pick at for a while to get the small bits that stay behind. Those pain in the butt stickers. The ones that drove me batty for a half an hour as I picked and picked and picked at them.) It means we have indoor toilets, and they need to be cleaned.

I'm thankful for iPhones that sometimes turn off when I'm in the middle of doing something. It means I have an iPhone.

I'm thankful that I have to clean my messy bedroom. It means I have a room of my own.

I'm thankful Netflix won't load when I want to watch my favorite show. It means I get to spend time with my family instead of watching TV.

I'm thankful for homework. It means I get to go to school and learn.

Last night, as we were talking, I wanted the kids to understand my different way of praying. I wanted them to understand why it's more important to thank our higher being, our God, for any little thankful thing rather than wasting time being annoyed with minor inconveniences. We have so much to be thankful for. And I think Lucas and Claire got it last night. They know first world problems are just minor annoyances. They know how fortunate we are, even when #FirstWorldProblems sometimes get in the way.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Am I crazy?

One week ago today we sent Zach off on his new voyage into the world of VMI. One week ago today, he gave me a wink and a smile as he marched off to begin Hell Week as a RAT. What the hell kind of mom wants her kid to be a rat? I must be crazy! As his crazy mom, my heart swelled with pride, at the same exact time it sank, when his wink and smile hit me. I knew exactly what he was headed into. I knew, without a doubt, it was going to be a week from Hell, with Zach being pushed beyond his limits physically, mentally and emotionally. And I willingly let him go. I willingly let him march into a barren set of barracks, which Lucas likened to a prison, knowing those big iron gates were going to be locked shut with my son inside waiting to be screamed at with 500 of his closest friends. Was I crazy?

I don't think I am. Ok, so maybe I'm a little crazy. But on this one thing, for my oldest child, I don't think I am. It never bothered me, really, to think about him being yelled at for his clothes being wrinkled, or standing the wrong way, or not having shiny enough shoes. It never really bothered me to know that he's going to be road marching, carrying a rifle, learning to shoot and rappelling down cliff sides. What did bother me, was saying, "Good-bye, see you soon, I love you, I'm proud of you," and watching him go. But I knew he was going to be more than OK. 

Zach is the fourth one back.
In the days after he left, I've had the opportunity to find pictures of Zach online. Parents of older kids post them. Photographers post them. VMI has webcams and videos for all of us to watch. Not to get involved, just to watch from the sidelines. I couldn't be more grateful to all of them for letting me have a little glimpse of life for Zach. The first ones I found were of him on Sunday morning. He doesn't look sad or scared or mad. He looks determined. Those pictures tell his story.
Zach is on the far right in the front.

Zach called on Wednesday. And it was the sweetest five minutes I've had in a long time. I got to listen to him to talk. Just listen. He wanted to tell me everything. He told me he's surviving. He told me it's the hardest thing he's ever done. He told me he's "strangely happy." On Wednesday I figured I must be crazy because all of those sentences were music to my ears. 

As Zach wound down it what he wanted to tell me, I got a chance to tell him a couple of things. Of course, I told him I was proud of him. But I also told him this is what he's always searched for ~ someone who pushed him and pushed him and pushed him. He looked for challenge in all of his coaches. He looked for the challenge from all of his teachers. He looked for the challenge in us. I told him that now he has the challenge in every single facet of his life. I also told him about the pictures I've found. The determination in his face is evident in every picture I see. I told him I see it. It's there. He knows it's there. He put it there. It's there because he is determined to not fail, to not give up, to live up to the challenges he's facing. 

So am I crazy for sending my oldest off into this crazy world of mind games and pushing the physical limits of  not only him, but every kid who walks through those gates? I don't think so. I think Zach is right where he belongs. I couldn't be more relieved, for him, for me and for his 500 Brother Rats, who will become his closest friends, and who chose to walk this same path.

Oh, for the love of the Rats... 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What I Gained

It seems this year has been a year of losses for me. It seems I've been writing about heart wrenching/heart breaking bits and pieces of my life since the beginning of the year. From my dad's heart attacks, to his strokes and his death, to watching Zach graduate from high school and get ready to leave our nest, this year had proven to be a year of losses and "losses," but today I want to tell you about what I gained.

Today, we dropped Zach off at Virginia Military Institute. Last night was a night of revelry and tears. We spent the night with one of Zach's best friends and his parents at their house in Lexington, Virginia, who graciously invited us to stay so we could all have a relaxed morning getting our incoming cadets matriculated. As we reveled and shed our tears, Zach asked me to promise not to cry in front of him today. I told him I'd try my hardest.

Today, I kept my word. I didn't shed one tear he could see. And today I was rewarded for my strength. I got to see Zach do exactly what he wanted to do with smile on his face (albeit with nerves jangling and a pit in the bottom of his stomach). He joined the corps of cadets at VMI as a rat.

Today, I was rewarded with a big hug and a photo op as Zach prepared to sign the matriculation book.

I was rewarded with his smiles, hugs and sweetness. And I was rewarded well for keeping my emotions in check. But today wasn't really about being rewarded. Today was more about what I gained.

Today, I gained a son who is turning into a man. My man-child faded from view a little, which made  me a little sad, but the man I know he will become came bursting forth and made me smile with unbridled pride. 

Today I gained a little insight into what life is going to be like for Zach in the future. As we sat and listened to the speakers before all of the Rats were called to their companies, one of the colonels said something to this effect, "You are now entering the toughest university in the nation." (Zach shuddered and leaned over to me saying, "I really have to pee now."God love him for his sense of humor.) The colonel went on to say, "You all will rise to the challenges ahead of you and you will succeed. You are a reflection of your parents and they have set you on a good path. When they see you next they will see changes in you. You will not have changed as a person. The person you were will still be there but your sterling qualities will become more apparent." I took those words to heart. I know Zach took them to heart too. Today I gained the knowledge that Zach will rise to the challenge and he will succeed. Today I also gained the insight that I'll rise to this challenge of letting our kids go and I will succeed.

I've been rewarded a lot and gained even more, but there is one thing I gained today which is beyond priceless to me. As Zach marched off with his Brother Rats in Company H we stood on the sidelines and watched. He made sure to catch my eye and give me a wink and a smile. 

Today, I gained a son who understands what it means to not only be taken care of by your parents, but to take care of them as well. 

Oh, for the love of my children...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sometimes I wish you were a jerk

My dear Sweet Man-Child,

The time is almost here. The time I've been dreading but knew was coming is almost here. Tomorrow we pack up the car and head the next chapter in your life. I can't believe how quickly time has passed bringing us to this day. I think I blinked one too many times. The experienced moms who approached me when you were a newborn, telling me not to blink and that time would fly by, were right. They knew what I know now. Time passes too quickly when raising your kiddos.

As we all prepare to spend our last night together at home I want to share some things with you.

The first one is ~ sometimes I wish you were a first class jerk. No I don't really. I don't wish that at all. Well, maybe I wished it for a minute, because sometimes I wonder if it would make it easier to take you to school and drop you off. Would I be relieved to see you somewhere other than our house if you were a jerk? Would I be happy to see you and your belongings packed up in the back of the car if I didn't like you so much? I'm happy I won't ever know the answers to those questions.

Next, I want you to know how extremely proud I am of you. You are you. And you are one stellar young man. Not every kid could take on the challenge you asked for and accepted by applying to VMI. It's no ordinary college. You will thrive in that environment. Accepting the challenges they throw at you will not be easy. You know it won't but you will rise to the challenge and you will go far. I believe that with all of my heart.

A third thing I want you to know is how thrilled I am with the example you set for your brother and sister to follow. You took the role of big brother to heart and set the bar high. There is nothing Lucas and Claire can't achieve because of your example. I know that is a tremendous amount of responsiblity and I can't thank you enough for not only shouldering the responsiblity but making sure to set a wonderful example.

I want you to know, too, that I know these days, weeks and months ahead are going to be brutal for you. I know it's going to challenge you to your very core. I can't begin to imagine what must be going through your mind right now. Nor can imagine what you'll be going through during hell week and the rat line. I've told you time and time again that I think you're a stellar young man. That is truer now than ever, in my mind. But I know VMI is going to take you and make you a stellar leader in this life of yours. You will go far in this world with the lessons that will be drummed into you in the next four years. You will survive and you will thrive. I know you will. I believe in you.

One final thing I want you to know, Zach. I know you could never be a jerk, even though I wished it above, for just a minute. You don't have the ability to be a jerk, even though right now, right this minute I wish you were. I truly think it would make it easier to send you on your way. But I'll tell you the God's-honest truth. I'm so glad you're not a jerk. I'm so glad the tears will fall.  It means I'm proud of you. It means we've all done a great job in this family of ours. It means I know you can do whatever you want to do in life. And it means I love you.

So Saturday, when we're moving you into barracks, watching you sign the matriculation book and sending you off on your new adventure, I'll keep repeating to myself, "I'm happier for him than I'm sad for myself." Over and over and over again. I know the tears will fall but my heart will be bursting with pride.

With love ~

Oh, for the love of my children...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

3 Months Ago

Three months ago today we were in the midst of informing everyone about my father's passing. We were knee deep in planning a funeral and a celebration of his life. Three months ago today I was working on his obituary and writing his eulogy. 

Today I opened the most wonderful email from someone I've never met, but who took time out of her life to tell me a story about my dad's history. She touched me deeply with this very thoughtful message.

Hi JD – I write this with some trepidation, as I know it’s a somewhat strange message. I certainly hope you won’t be offended. If you are, my apologies – there’s no need to respond! ... I’m a writer in Webster Groves, Missouri. A few years ago my husband and I moved into a little house here built in 1925 (Tuxedo Blvd.), and since then I’ve been researching its history. I discovered that it belonged to the Combs family (your family, of course) through records, and that your father, Frank, and his siblings grew up here. I discovered yesterday through a Google search that you lost your father this past May – I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope you’ll forgive the intrusion, but I read about his life and his service on – he seemed like a wonderful man. I saw some of the pictures of the house on the site, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to know that a wonderful family lived here, especially as my husband and I prepare to start a family. There’s one photo of your father standing in the front yard with a small, thin, short tree behind him. I couldn’t believe my eyes – that tree is now taller than the house! I have comparison photos, but I thought I’d save them until I knew if you were open to seeing them. Again, I apologize if this message is upsetting to you, or if you feel that I've taken a step too far – I wrote only because I know how much it would mean to me if I was on the other side of it. If you don’t wish to respond, please just know that I’m proud to live in this house, my husband and I are taking good care of it, and my thoughts are with your family.

She and I have been emailing back and forth this morning and she sent two pictures of the little house on Tuxedo Blvd. 

The picture on top is the one of the tree, my dad and how it's grown. The picture on the bottom left is of the living room, complete with my mom and dad, two aunts and uncles and grandmothers. The one on the right is how it looks today.

Three months ago today we were in the throes of planning my dad's funeral. This morning, I opened  a thoughtful email from a stranger showing me that life keeps moving and changing, and history is woven into our lives to enhance the present, but only if we let it. I'm going to take this as a sign from above to remember how important little gestures are in life. I'm very thankful as I read, re-read and share this little note. I'll take the lessons I learned from this and make sure I pass them on to my kiddos so they can focus on the present, but appreciate the past and make sure to remember little gestures can have a big impact. I'm pretty sure my dad would agree.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ready to throw up

In July of 1999 Stan and I left the world of military life behind to embark on a new journey. We came home after living in Germany for three years and began to make Louisville, Kentucky our new  home. Stan went from being a military intelligence officer to being a drug rep with a small pharmaceutical company. His path in the civilian world began with a bang when the company offered us an all expense paid trip to Hawaii for a business meeting.

What a sweet reward for being with the company less than a year, I thought to myself. I was over-joyed, elated and ready for a little fun in the tropical paradise of Maui. And then reality hit. We had two little boys. Zach had turned four a couple of months earlier and Lucas was 18 months old. Taking them with us seemed like a practice in torture with a nine hour plane ride, a big time change, diapers, wipes, bottles and a pack and play all crammed into a hotel stay. But leaving them behind was going to take some major arranging and planning. The wind was knocked out of my sails a little.

My parents weren't equipped to handle two young, energetic boys; they lived in Kansas and my mom was still working so they were out of the equation. Stan's parents owned a grocery store in Maine where they ran every aspect of the operation and were there seven days a week, plus they still had two kids of their own at home so they, too, were out of contention for watching our two.

Luckily for us, one of our army friends stepped in. They were stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, a mere three hour drive from our house. They had one daughter who was three weeks older than Zach and they were easy going and lovey.  It would be a simple drive there with the boys. Then we could get a flight out of Nashville and on to Hawaii.  It seemed like the perfect solution.

My excitement grew.  It was the first time Stan and I would have some time alone together since having the boys.  I packed, repacked, organized and got everyone ready for our trip. Finally the day arrived and we headed to Ft. Campbell.

We unloaded the car, set up the pack and play, gave the the boys' schedules and our cell phone numbers to our friends. We kissed the boys good-bye and went to leave. But I couldn't get myself out the door. Just one more kiss, I thought to myself. One more hug. One more round of baby giggles. Just one more of everything. Stan started pulling me out the door, my friends started pushing me out the door. "The boys will be fine," they all said. But I needed another hit of their baby-sweetness. I didn't want to leave.

They all persisted and I went glumly to the car. I opened the passenger door, saw their sweet faces stained with tears because we were leaving them. I almost went back for another round of kisses and good-byes, but Stan was unrelenting. It was time to head to Nashville. Stan put the car in reverse, backed out of the driveway and headed the car down the road.

We made it almost a block before I had Stan pull over. My face was hot. My palms were sweaty. Nausea bubbled up from the pit of my stomach. I was ready to throw up. I was leaving my babies and it made me physically ill to think of their tears and sadness because we were leaving them. I got out of the car, hung on to a street sign and gulped big breaths of air working to quell my roiling stomach. I was trying to pull myself together, but I was failing miserably. I didn't want to leave my boys. I did. But I really didn't want to.

This morning at 3:11 I woke up with that same sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was nauseated. My face was hot and my hair was sticky with sweat. I couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't get comfortable and I couldn't go back to sleep. My thoughts were swirling from the minute I jolted myself awake and my thoughts kept returning to the same thing...we're going to be leaving Zach soon. We're going to pack his clothes, towels, sheets, toiletries and his life in trunks. We're going to load up the car and drive him to college. We're going to leave him there and I'm going to want to go back for one more kiss, one more hug, one more round of anything I can get before I leave him. But this time it will be my tears, not his, that I'll be battling. Unfortunately in life, this is what we have to do. We have to say good-bye sometimes. We have to let our kiddos go sometimes. And we have to let them grow. But that doesn't mean I have to like it and it doesn't mean I still won't make Stan pull over to the side of the road when I'm ready to throw up.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Live Boldly

Today I read this blog post that one of my friends had on his Facebook wall "10 Ways You're Making Your Life Harder Than It Has To Be"

As I read two words jumped off of the page and smacked me in the face. And they smacked hard.

Live Boldly.

They're two fairly simple words when you look at them separately.

I look at the word "Live" and I see life. Everyone has to live, and so we do. We all exist and breathe and share this space called Earth.

When I look at the word boldly I envision bright patterns and colors. I see bold letters.

When I see the two words together I see infinite possibilities. Live Boldly. I see life lived in a large and expansive way. I can envision myself living boldly.

And that's what I really want out of life. I want to live life boldly. I want to make a mark. I want to feel life, see life, touch life, experience life. I want to live boldly.

These past months I've lived life meekly. Maybe I've kind of had to. I've been licking wounds and lying low. I've done everything but live my life boldly.

Seeing those two words together brought to mind my all-time favorite heroine. Scarlett O'Hara. All of my young adult life I wanted to be Scarlett O'Hara (minus the civil war and the slaves). She lived her life boldly. She wasn't meek or mild. She was a fireball. And that's what I need to recapture ~ the essence of Scarlett.

The only aspect of Scarlett I have held on to with all of my might in these past months is to put off thinking about the unpleasantries of life until tomorrow.

And for the most part using this as my mantra has served me well in life. It's always easier to look at unpleasantries tomorrow or the next day or even the next. But this time, well this time, I'm not sure I've let this part of Scarlett serve me well. 

This time, putting off thinking about my father's life and his death in May hasn't served me well.This time, putting off thinking about Zach growing up and leaving our nest is allowing me to bury my head in the sand. This time putting off the realities of life has stunted me a little. 

I haven't wanted to feel the feelings of the sadder side of life so I just let them hang out inside and weigh me down. I was paralyzed to write because I didn't want to stir up the emotions. I just wanted them fade away. What I forgot is that emotions are exactly what it takes for me to be able to write. So I need to let my pot full of emotions bubble and brew and not put a lid on it, otherwise it could blow the lid off of the pot and just be a complete disaster. 

I have to realize that I never saw Scarlett when she actually had to face her emotions. I didn't see her the day she realized Rhett really wasn't coming back. I wasn't there with her as she realized how much she let slip through her fingers. I only saw her when she was strong. Everyone has to deal with their emotions at some point in their lives, whether they know it or not.

Today I realized that living boldly means I need to embrace my pot full of emotions. I can still keep Scarlett's mantra as my own and I'll still think about the unpleasantries of life tomorrow, when I can better handle emotional turmoil, but I'll actually do it. I'll actually embrace the emotions so I can live my life boldly.

For the love of my children...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Damn Tear-Jerking Doll

It seems I can't escape the emotional roller coaster that wants me to ride it over and over and over again.

Yesterday I went to Ft. Lee with my mom. Because my dad was retired Army, she had paperwork she needed to complete after his death and she asked me with her to the casualty assistance office to finalize the everything with my dad's passing. My mom told me she wanted me to come along for moral support, and to help her ask questions if she needed something clarified. The whole process seemed pretty cut and dried ~ at least I thought it was.

We sat in the office with Mrs. Hicks. She was a lovely lady who knew how to go above and beyond in order to help my mom with questions, concerns and the whole process of transitioning from the title of spouse to that of widow. As we finished with all of the paperwork signing and question answering, we got up to head to a different office, to ask different questions. Before we could leave the office, Mrs. Hicks stopped at a giant filing cabinet. She opened the bottom drawer and asked my mom if she had any grandchildren as she pulled this doll from her cabinet.

I thought to myself as I looked at it, Oh, how silly. We don't need dolls. 

I told Mrs. Hicks so as I said, "All of the grandchildren are teenagers. The youngest is 13. I don't think we need any, but thank you." 

And then I looked at the doll. I really looked at the doll. In the space where the face is pictured was a little piece of paper that said, "Please remove and replace with a picture of a soldier you miss." The tears came unbidden as I took in the true meaning of the doll. It's for children whose soldier parents are now gone. I pictured my dad's face in the spot where the paper was. I pictured Zach's face in there as he prepares to head to Virginia Military Institute and will have to decide whether a career in the military is for him. I pictured the thousands of faces of soldier parents who aren't coming home. And the tears fell. Unexpected and unwelcome tears. That damn doll nearly broke my heart. All because of its true meaning.

These past weeks have been harder than I could ever imagine.

And the coming weeks will be harder, but in a different way. I have to say, "Farewell," as I pack Zach's belongings and take him to his university where he will have untold opportunities, both academically and personally. I'm excited for him. I truly am, but I am going to miss his sweet, smiling face and man-child ways.

The doll. It brought tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart, but I know it's a good thing. The damn tear-jerking doll. It's a new little treasure in our house and in our hearts.

Oh, for the love of my children....

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Saying Good-bye to Frank the Tank

Today was my dad's funeral and this was my final tribute to him at his mass.

Frank. My dad. He was quite a character, and he was many things to many people. He lived his life for others. He lived his life with honor and integrity. He was a complex man who never shied from a laugh but one who didn't particularly care to share the warm and fuzzy aspects of life with many. Don't get me wrong, I know he felt the warm and fuzzies, he just didn't care to talk about them much. It wasn't always easy to talk with him about the lovier side of life. So I want to share my story of the man I called dad in a way I think I do it best, through a letter I began writing this to him before he passed away, but didn’t finish until after he left us.

Dear Dad,

Through your life you have taken on many names. And you relished each and every one of them. To Chris and me you started as Daddy and then became Dad. To mom, when you crossed the line and she was beyond irritated with you, you became "Well, Crap Frank," but on most other occasions, your name, Frank, rolled off of mom's tongue with loving tenderness. To some of your friends you were called "The Gum Gardner" because of your devotion to your patients, and to your profession. To your brother, sisters you were Frankie or "The Imp." You were the youngest, so you endured what was heaped upon you. Your name with your grandkids was Granddad and Grandpa. I know there are many other names you were blessed to have, but I think my favorite name for you is the one you earned last. "Frank the Tank." That name was bestowed on you in your final days, but it sums up perfectly who you were throughout your life. You embody the name Frank the Tank. You plowed through situations none of us could ever imagine. And you did it with ease, never complaining one iota.

Before I started this letter I said, you worked and lived your whole life for someone else. I don't mean that you were a doormat or a pushover. What I mean is, you lived your life for mom, for us and for your friends. You weren't a big, showy type of a person. So sometimes we overlooked the little things you did to live your life for others. You never bragged about things you did, or any of the things you accomplished in your quest to live your life for someone else. You probably never told anyone many of the things you did for others, but they were there, at the core of your being. And it was at the end of your days where I saw it the most. I know you were never one to complain. I know you always wanted others to be happy, even at your own expense. At the end, when the pain from your hip had to be more than many people could bear, we would all ask, "How are you today?" You would say, with a smile on your face, "I'm fine. I'm just fine." And you meant it. You lived your life for us. You made sure, until the end of your life, that our pain was eased while you endured your own. In all of this, you were the living, breathing entity of living life for others.

You were a man of honor and integrity. You taught Chris and me how to live our own lives with the same honor and integrity. You weren't perfect, so don't think I'm blowing sunshine up your you-know-what. I just want you to know it was the perfection of your imperfections that taught us the most. Your most shining moment, to me anyway, was when (at the age of 75) you realized you had a problem with alcohol and you fixed it. You fixed your imperfection and you showed us it's never too late to make amends, to turn things around and to right things that aren't quite right. In that shining moment of a perfectly imperfect time, you showed us how to live life with integrity and honor. You looked at yourself in the mirror and you saw a man you didn't like so you changed him and you set a wonderful example for all of us to follow. I couldn't be more proud of you for the strength and courage it took for you to admit your faults. It took honor and integrity to admit you had a problem, to admit you had a fault.

So, I want you to know, Dad, that I think you did a good job here on earth. I look around this room and I see how impactful your life was on others. I told you a little of this before you left us, but I never got the chance to tell you exactly why I think you did such a good job. I look at Chris and myself and I see happiness in our lives. Chris and I grew up and we grew up well. We have happy marriages and beautiful kids who are part of your legacy. You and mom set a prime example of how to live, how to love and how to work through good times and bad. You set the example of making marriage work and work well. Stan and I, along with Chris and Tammy, have a beautiful path to follow because of you. I look around this room and I see your six stunning grandchildren. Each and every one of them has a special course in life and a special role in this world because of you. I look at Kristine and Zach, both outstanding students, always striving to do their best. You always demanded excellence, not only of yourself but us as well. Kristine and Zach have taken your example to heart and are running forward with it. I look at Katrina and Lucas, the two who follow your example for being the ones who strive to make other people happy and put someone else's needs above their own. I said above you never complained and you made it look easy to make others happy. Katrina and Lucas are working to follow in your footsteps. I look at Karli and Claire, they are the two lovey ones. They are the ones who freely gave you their love and demanded a little more of you than you were ever used to, but they were the two who sensed your lovey side and captured it. They took your deep, abiding love for your family and they magnified it. You did a good job. The more I look around this room and the more people I know are here, I know what a supremely good job you did. Your friends and your family came to bid you farewell. And they wouldn't do that for just an ordinary man. People only do that for others when they've lived a good life, and you obviously did. People are here for you because of the wonderful job you did living your life. You weren't perfect. No one is. But you were perfectly you and you did a good job. I couldn't be more proud to be your daughter. I couldn't be more proud to have been able to call you daddy and dad. You were a wonderful man whose life here on earth is at an end, but you lived such an honorable, integrity-filled, good life that your legacy will carry on.

One final thing, Dad, I know you never were one for sappiness. But I have to leave you with a quote that you might just believe rank up there in the sappiness quotient. You goal in life was to laugh and make others laugh. So although this is a little sappy, it truly fits you. Perfectly...

On Mother's Day I gave Mom a card from one of my favorite card companies. Just as a little aside, Mother's Day is the day you left us, so I have to believe there is a bigger picture to this story. The logo for this card company is the hummingbird. I think you might know why the hummingbird is important to this story...because it reminds me of you. When we went camping every summer you would always mix up the bright-red. sticky. sweet, syrupy water, fill the hummingbird feeder and put it just outside of the window so we could watch the beautifully, delicate creatures who came to enjoy the meal you carefully prepared for them. So when I read the back of the card I gave to Mom and saw the story of the hummingbird, I knew I had to share it with you, "Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. The hummingbird's delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life's sweetest creation."

Thanks for listening, Dad. Until we meet again.