On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.


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20 Years of Fireworks

Twenty years ago today I was sitting on uncomfortable bleachers in uncomfortable temperatures watching the evening parade at the Marine Corps Barracks. It was my second date with a young second lieutenant, and we were both out of our element.

He had already finished OCS at Quantico and was ranked high enough at The Basic School that he had been invited to the aforementioned evening parade by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. I was not interested in dating a Marine; however, I was intrigued by the logistics of this particular date.

He picked me up in his dress blues, and I wore a tea length Laura Ashley dress; it was, after all, 1997. On our way to the reception, I was escorted by the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, who confided that he wasn’t a fan of these parties.

 

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Two weeks later I wore the same Laura Ashley dress to a friend’s wedding

Since a girlfriend–the same one who convinced me I needed to go on this date–had loaned me a book on Marine Corps etiquette, we safely made it through the receiving line without any missteps. We met General and Mrs. Krulak as well as the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, and his gorgeous wife. We made small talk with other guests, and I took a quick tour of the residence with Mrs. Krulak and a few others.

The parade ended with fireworks since it was the 4th of July, and we navigated our way through D.C. holiday traffic back to Fredericksburg. It was an amazing, surreal sort of night. He was 26, and I was 23. Neither of us had any experience with the D.C. political scene, and both of us were starving. We ended up at a Waffle House at midnight.

A few days later we visited my grandmother in Alexandria. I decided to introduce my second lieutenant to the lady who had made a career of being an admiral’s wife. She was thrilled by our outing and asked the name of the current Commandant.

“Chuck Krulak? I knew him.” And then she described how she knew his parents. I can’t recall the details, but my guess is that both families were stationed in Hawaii in the 1950s and that they traveled in the same social circles.

My grandmother never failed to amaze me with her wealth of life experiences. Three months later, that same lieutenant found his flight school training on hold and he requested temporary duty somewhere near Fredericksburg. By then he and Grandma were well acquainted. She gave him a bedroom so that he could commute to Andrews Air Force Base during the week and visit me on the weekends; in return, he drank her terrible coffee and joined her for dinner.

Grandma was the daughter of an Army doctor and had married a Navy pilot before she married a submariner. She had a soft spot for Marines though, and I took after her: I married my Marine sweetheart the following September.

 


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In Memory of a Good Neighbor

I opened my email earlier this week and discovered some unexpected news. Our former neighbor, fondly known to my girls as Mr. Ted, passed away last month. No one outside his family knew he was ill, but he was never one to draw attention to himself.

We lived next door to Ted for five years during our Maryland stint. Ted introduced himself to me while the movers were still unloading our boxes and furniture. “If you ever need to borrow a tool, I have a workshop,” were his words of welcome.

He told me that his wife was no longer able to live in their home and that he would be gone from 10 to 12 every morning to visit her. I informed him that our girls were 3, 5, and 7, and that I hoped that our noise wouldn’t bother him too much.

A few months after we had unpacked, I noticed Ted climbing a ladder to clean out his front gutters. Later that day I walked over to his yard to ask him if he wanted some help from Ryan. Instead I found him on his back porch with a welding torch. He seemed puzzled that I thought he needed help. Touché.

Ted was a devoted husband who actively demonstrated his love for his wife Kay by joining her for a meal every day. After her death, he became even more devoted to his Scottish terrier Piper; he and Piper were regular fixtures in our Sycamore Hollow neighborhood.

Over the years we became friends with Ted. We borrowed tools from his impressive workshop, and he joined us for holiday dinners and Hollow gatherings. He told me how much he enjoyed seeing my children run around outside, and I baked him low-sugar treats. We shoveled his driveway when it snowed, and he tried to pay us. We never even considered taking his money because good neighbors are priceless.

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The only picture I have of Ted–at my 4oth birthday

Ted was more than a good neighbor. He was kind to my children when other neighbors weren’t. He complimented our parenting by remarking how he appreciated the amount of time the girls spent outside, and he asked thoughtful questions about our educational choices. He forgave me when I confessed that I lost Piper for an hour one morning when I was supposed to be watching him. He wasn’t bothered by the girls’ constant activity–even when they ignored property lines. And he never minded their inexplicable love for sidewalk chalk–even when they used his driveway. In return, my girls shared his fondness for squirrels–even when no one else in the neighborhood did.

We left Maryland two years ago for a new adventure in Virginia. Ted moved to Florida earlier this year to live with his son and daughter-in-law. In February he emailed to update his address and let everyone know he had successfully unpacked his computer. He also wrote a lengthy thank-you note to the neighborhood for their many acts of kindness over the years.

That email was the last that we heard from Ted. According to his daughter-in-law Carol, Ted was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just two months after he left Maryland. In her words: “It was his choice not to tell anyone–he never wanted anyone to ‘make a fuss over him.’ And as usual he did it his way. Which is what made him so Dad/Ted.”

Ted’s 88 years encompassed so much more than the time we lived next door; he was an electrical engineer, he served in the U.S. Navy, he helped raise three children, and he ran a successful tutoring center with his wife. My tribute to him is an incomplete and imperfect piece of writing, but it’s the least I can do to honor the memory of my neighbor and friend.

 

 


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School’s Out, but It’s Not a Vacation Yet

We finally finished our school year last Friday. G actually finished on Thursday after a week that included field day, seven exams, an end-of-the-year ceremony, and her first dance. S and H still need to complete standardized testing because their flustered teacher didn’t realize there would be a two-week lag between ordering and administering those tests. Oops.

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Celebrating the final day of school with H

I have been trying to decompress from the end of the school year and all the craziness that accompanies the month of May. So far that involves paying S and H to dust the interior  of our house–a bargain at $1 per room; finishing a sewing project that I started last November; cleaning out my closet; but mostly planting, weeding, pruning, and digging in my gardens.

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My first attempt at embroidery

Unfortunately I’ve been unsuccessful at completely decompressing. G’s principal asked us if we were interested in purchasing tuition insurance for the upcoming school year. G can be a challenging student, but we thought we had hammered out a plan for ninth grade. Needless to say, Ryan and I were slightly unnerved by the inquiry.

In the meantime, we are starting to settle into a summer routine. So far that involves the girls asking if they can use the computer or watch TV and me asking, “Did you brush your teeth and hair? Did you make your bed? Did you pick up the piles of towels/clothing/books/paper on your bedroom floor? Did you clean your bathroom? Have you read for 30 minutes yet?”

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Baby tomatoes and blooms appeared this week

G has a stint as a junior swim coach this summer, and this mom is excited that swim practices switch to mornings next Monday. H is counting down the days until cake camp (3!), and S seems content to visit the creek, re-read the Warrior Cats series, and recover from a sprained wrist and knee. She is heading out to her first overnight summer camp in July, and we don’t want to express too much excitement/interest in case we scare her off.

I am happy to report that I have returned to running after almost a full year’s hiatus. Running a sub-10:00 mile is now thrilling to me in the way that it used to be demoralizing. But it’s the endorphins that I’ve missed the most, and it’s so nice to feel endorphins calming down my over-anxious mind.

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Lavender is known for its calming properties, and mine is in full bloom

Whether we actually take a real vacation remains to be seen. Actually it mostly depends on the whether the scheduling gods at Delta leave us enough wiggle room to get out of town. In the meantime, we’re making a little headway into summer vacation. A friend and I herded 10 children through strawberry fields yesterday, and I paid $52 less than an hour later for 20-some pounds of delicious berries.

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Low-sugar strawberry almond tart with local berries

So we are slowly making headway into summer vacation. We’re just not quite there yet.

 

 


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Today’s Lesson

Today I buried a gerbil.

That definitely wasn’t on my to-do list this morning. Carpool drop off, school work, physical therapy, and a load of laundry were what I had meant to accomplish this morning. After carpool drop off, the schedule derailed.

S: “Mom, I think Latte is dead.”

And he was.

Me: “I’m sorry. Do you want to put him in a box or just straight into the ground?”

S: “A box please. I’ll pick him up if you find a box.”

If you know our family or have read some of my blog posts, you already know that my girls have an affinity for rodents; you also know that we’ve already buried five hamsters. Latte, however, is the first gerbil to expire in our house. Strangely enough, he lasted exactly as long as a typical hamster lives: two years.

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S and Pepper the hamster

So we buried Latte–his full name was actually Chai Latte–under a rose bush this morning. Thanks to our quirky Virginia winter weather, the ground wasn’t frozen, and it didn’t take me long to dig a hole large enough for the Dexcom G4 CGM box that served as his casket.

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Once school was under way, S’s performance was decidedly less than stellar. That’s when I said something stupid: “Well, at least he wasn’t your favorite.” While my words were true, my daughter’s heart was wounded, and I quickly tried to backtrack and apologize.

We eventually finished our school day. H and I played a rousing (?) game of Win the Peloponnesian War, and S dutifully filled out 3×5 cards on the life of Marie Antoinette. But S is quieter than usual, and Mocha–the lone gerbil–has gotten more attention in the last eight hours than he has in many months.

I love that my girls have tender hearts towards their animals, even if I’m not wild about their choice of pets. I think it’s a valuable thing for them to learn to be responsible for the well being of tiny living creatures. But I hate the part when their beloved companions die.

We certainly don’t shield our children from death. All three of the girls know the life stories of their brothers Seth and Owen and sister Lucy, and we certainly don’t equate animal lives with human ones. However, there’s a part of me that mourns when they mourn. It’s not that I don’t want them to experience grief. It’s just that I’m not sure that I’m ready for them to grow up yet.

 


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A Tiny Little Tooth

Sometimes it’s the little things that cause the biggest problems. Take, for example, H’s baby tooth. It’s technically a lateral incisor (see chart below), and it’s been loose for more than two years–no kidding. Unfortunately, H decided she needed to keep it and the permanent version. When our dentist gave her 10 days to wiggle it out or come back for an extraction, H chose to call her bluff.

That was last Wednesday. That was the day that I spent 10 minutes listening to H asking a million questions in an attempt to stall Dr. Todd. “Will it hurt? Are you going to use your fingers? Can I see what you’re going to use? If I let you touch, do you promise not to wiggle it? If I let you wiggle it, do you promise not to pull it?” You get the idea.

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Then I spent 10 more minutes trying to find a comfortable way to lie down next to H. That didn’t work. Both of us are officially too big to fit in one chair together. Finally I sat near her feet and waited for her to exhaust her supply of stalling tactics. I held her hands, and Dr. Todd assured her that the tooth was so dead that it would simply pop out.

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The infamous tiny tooth

Of course that’s not how it actually happened, but eventually her tiny little tooth was dislodged from its too comfortable home.

The whole visit was ridiculous. After H had her extraction, S needed one of her front teeth fixed again. That repair work prompted a stern lecture about gingivitis, flossing, and diabetes. When our well-meaning dentist asked me if I had thought about withholding privileges until the flossing improved, I bluntly stated that I was not interested in withholding any more privileges, Kindles, cell phones, or makeup than I already do.

Only G escaped with a glowing report. Which makes complete sense since she is my child who routinely loses her toothbrush and simply doesn’t brush her teeth, much less floss, until I notice and magically produce a new brush.

Last Wednesday I remembered why I had stopped taking all three girls to the dentist at the same time. And all of this is why Thursday caught me completely off-guard.

“Hey, Mom, want to see the tooth that I just lost?” H asked me as we were reading something for school the next day.

“You have another loose tooth?!” I replied.

“Yeah, I told the hygienist last month, but it just fell out.”

And I just stared stupidly at her. After 14 years of parenting, I still haven’t quite gotten the knack of this job.

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A fancy green tooth holder for all of H’s old teeth


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Hobbling but Grateful

Let’s say you’re a mom and you’ve just had knee surgery–your second surgery in four months. Let’s also say you have a thoughtful friend who sends you a bouquet from Edible Arrangements. What do you think your children will do?

If you guessed that they will immediately fight over who gets to eat the chocolate-covered fruit and suck the helium out of the balloons, then you must also be a parent.

There are definitely more serious problems to have than my example. And Schuyler, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The chocolate-covered salted caramel slices are definitely aiding my recovery.

Instead I would like to acknowledge that I am forever indebted to three families who graciously made tissue donations in their times of grief. To each of them I would like to offer my profound gratitude.

In July of this year, I received two donor bone grafts to close up significant holes in my right femur and tibia. When I had my ACL repaired at the age of 18, my surgeon used titanium screws that loosened over time and created tunnels that couldn’t hold a new graft.

Yesterday my surgeon used two pieces of my own hamstrings plus an additional piece of donor tissue to construct a new ACL for my right knee. Apparently I have dainty hamstrings that aren’t large enough to create a graft on their own.

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I wasn’t awake to hear the explanation of why there’s purple thread in my knee, but you can see the dissolving screw on the left side of my ACL graft.

As my knee heals and strengthens over the next year, this graft will allow me to return to running, coaching soccer, and being an active participant in my children’s shenanigans. I know this may sound trivial to those of you who think running is bad for one’s knees or who don’t wonder why I just don’t give up running.

If, however, you understand that regular physical exercise is an important component of emotional health, then you probably understand why I’m not ready to retire at the age of 42. If you’ve also ever experienced the frustration and helplessness that comes from anxiety and/or depression, then you know that exercise is a tool to combat these afflictions.

While I wish that I weren’t intimately acquainted with anxiety, I refuse to let it rule my life. Running is just one of the ways that I find calm and balance. Returning to running shape, therefore, is important to me, and I am thankful that there are kind-hearted people who are willing to help me reach my goal.

And for a lack of anything more profound to write, I hope that I am honoring the lives of these three individuals by being a good steward of their gracious gifts to me.


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Distracted

I am a distracted writer. I don’t know how to separate life and its disruptions from my writing–or anything else really.

For example, last week S turned 12. I wrote half of a solid blog piece, and that’s where it ended. It bothers me to have half-finished things, so I deleted the entire post. Here’s the picture that I would have posted if I had finished writing.

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S and her beloved rat Nori. I have no explanation for her love of rodents.

We also had a few rough days of parenting in between the birthday festivities. I was torn between typing up my frustrations and violating the privacy of G, who doesn’t read my blog anyway. In the end, I scrapped that piece, too.

Needless to say, I don’t seem to have the hang of this parenting job just yet. We’re 14ish years into this vocation, and I still manage to be surprised by how ridiculously hard it is. One thing I am learning is not to judge other parents by the behaviors of their children. If Ryan and I are trying this hard, other parents also must be pulling their hair out, crying their eyes out, and wondering what’s gotten into their children’s minds, too. Right?

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Watching and waiting…

For a pleasant bit of distraction, I took H and her friend MC to our local Christmas parade on Sunday. We live in a small town, and anyone was welcome to walk in the parade. (The latter fact helps explain why a propane delivery truck was also one of the entries.) I love our newly adopted home town, and I was loving the fact that we could watch an entire parade in just 20 minutes.

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It’s not a Christmas parade without Santa and his draft horses.

Unfortunately, it takes me longer than 20 minutes to write. I wrote most of this piece yesterday while S and H were taking their weekly classes at our homeschool co-op. I did so in between emailing G’s teachers for make-up work because her body decided to succumb to strep; checking in with Ryan; and finding three co-op parents to keep an eye on H and S next week while I am recuperating from knee surgery.

If everything is for a season, then I suppose this is simply my season to figure out how to stay focused on what’s important, weed out what isn’t, and persevere when something–or someone–needs extended time.