Thursday, May 9, 2019

Timmy's First Communion and Tim Sr.'s visit

Timmy reached a big milestone this past weekend: his first Holy Communion. 
Quick story about that banner: We had been told in advance that while we were at the First Communion retreat a couple weeks ago, we'd be given the materials to take home so we could make the banners at our leisure. What happened instead was we were put in a room for the last hour of the retreat and told to make one NOW. It was like "Go!" and everyone started running around gathering materials. There was no time to plan it out -- just a quick Google image search, Timmy picked one, and then we commenced cutting and gluing at a furious pace. It was like one of those cooking competition shows on TV. Many parent-and-kid teams managed to produce professional looking banners under this pressure, but Timmy's looks like two kids did it. I will say, however, that we had good teamwork, and I enjoyed doing this project with him, especially since we seem to butt heads often these days. He has strong will and big emotions which, once he learns to rein them in, will make him into a great man like his father.
I love the way the light shines through the stained glass windows in the evenings. 
Grandy says it best.

Tim Sr. came down to visit for a few days, and Carolyn would have come with him, but her doctor advised against travel while she recovered from a horrible bout of flu. We missed her. We didn't turn on Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy! for the whole time.๐Ÿ˜ž Not that there was anything stopping us, but if Grandma had been there, she wouldn't have let us forget! The Bruins game can wait.

While he was here, Tim and I got to use their anniversary gift to us -- dinner for just the two of us at Chef and the Farmer an hour away in Kinston, N.C. I had no idea what to expect, but Tim has watched A Chef's Life on PBS many times, and he had planned ahead what to order. I was glad because I really don't like making these decisions. I worried he was ordering too much food for us, but in the end we only took home half a pizza. The food was to-die-for delicious! We shared all the courses except for our entrees. The beef tartare was my absolute favorite, with the berries and bacon pizza a close second. While he had steak for his entree, he ordered me the North Carolina tile fish with miso pesto and red peas. I devoured it all. Apparently I love red peas, which I heretofore did not know existed. On the way home in the car, I told him we need to come back here one more time before we move. He did not agree, since his experience hadn't been quite as good as mine. His steak had fallen short of his expectations. He does that every time, and there is a growing list of restaurants that he or we have been to, that have stellar reputations, but the steak just is not up to par according to Tim. He'll never learn to not order steak until he gets back to that place in NYC that he hasn't stopped talking about, that set an impossibly high bar for steaks everywhere. He kind of smirked at me and acted like it was going to be a looong while before we go out to a pricey restaurant. I took the opportunity to remind him that "I wasn't this fancy when you met me. This is all your doing. I was like let's go out to Ruby Tuesday, and I'll have a Bud Lite, but then I met you and you made me into a foodie and a 'drinkie' ... and you have yourself to blame for that."
Except for the steak.

(Blogger is insisting that these last two paragraphs be centered rather than aligned left, so I guess I'll just go with it and make the whole thing centered.)

Besides a First Communion and a date night, we spent the rest of our time at soccer games and practices, hanging out at home, or doing our favorite New Bern things -- the waterfront, Cow Cafe, and downtown. This is the prettiest little city to live in, and it's the best time of year for walking around.
Joey is crazy about Grandpa.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Big Decisions (a Tim post)


About 18 months ago, Rachael and I committed to retiring from the Marines in 2020. It felt like the right decision for our family for a few reasons. We wanted to live close to extended family in either Ohio or Massachusetts, and after years of going back and forth, we had chosen my hometown, Grafton, MA. A new development is being built across the street from my parents' neighborhood, and it looked perfect for us. I don’t know how many times I uttered the words, “I want to be able to tell a kid to get on a bike and go to their grandparents!”  As our oldest kids approach their teen years, we wondered if it wouldn't be better for them to finally get to settle in one place and go to one elementary school, middle school, and high school. To see mostly the same set of faces from one year to the next. Next summer I’ll reach the 26-year mark of my career. I have achieved so much more than I ever thought possible going into this at age 20. What better way to end on a high note than with a (hopefully!) successful command tour? Every time we talked about the possibility of staying in, what it would entail to try to get promoted to colonel, and the additional sacrifices that would be required of this family, I kept concluding that it was time to call it quits. Rachael agreed, if only because she didn't want me to have to go to the Pentagon, which would be a distinct possibility.

While the idea of hanging up the uniform and putting down roots was exciting to think about, at the end of the day I never felt I was ready to stop being a Marine (and yes, I know, I know, I know, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!”). As I kept telling Rachael, there is something about being an active duty Marine.

From the moment I took command of Second Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (2d LAAD) last summer, I knew I would probably never experience the job satisfaction I get each and every day coming to work here. I tell the Marines all the time, as corny as it sounds, I want them to wake up and be happy to come to work at this battalion. I set the same goal for myself, and there honestly has not been a day in which I did not look forward to coming to work. God willing, the next 13 months go the same way.

I want to tell you a quick story. When I first got to LAAD, there was a lance corporal who made a good impression on me. I thought, this is a guy who's locked on, fit, smart, and I instantly knew he was going to be one of my best Marines. Then I came to find out he'd recently been demoted, or "busted down" from corporal to lance corporal because of some mistakes he'd made in the wake of a messy divorce -- for instance being drunk on duty (BIG no-no). But for the next eight months I saw this Marine prove that my first impression of him had been the right one. He worked tirelessly -- first in, last out of the building every day. Besides excelling in his MOS as intelligence analyst, he volunteered his time to battalion activities, the Single Marine Program and other organizations. In November he was promoted (again) to corporal. In January he organized a contingent of 2d LAAD Marines to assist NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) agents in the search for a little boy lost in the woods. After observing how this young man had completely turned his life around, we submitted him for meritorious promotion to sergeant, and about a week ago found out he was approved. The sergeant-select's father was a Marine himself, and someone we'd gotten to know in the past few months. When I got the news of his promotion, I said to my sergeant major, "You've got to call his dad up. Let him be the one to tell him." As I was later relating this story to Rachael, her eyes got misty. Here was a man who had watched his son screw up and take a big step backward in his career in the Marines. Now he was going to be the first to congratulate his son on his meritorious promotion. I said to her, "It's pretty hard to imagine I could have a day like this anywhere else besides in the Marine Corps." Not to say all my days are like this – not everyone’s story has a happy ending -- but this is what it's about. To be in a position to mentor men and women who want more out of life than just to get a paycheck and get by; to reward them for their hard work, to have a front-row seat to their successes ... it doesn’t get any better than that. My Marines motivate and inspire me.

Just recently I had to give Delaney a lesson about selfishness and selflessness. I think she understands the difference, but afterward, it got me thinking. I have not always been the best at being selfless. Prior to being married, I only had myself to worry about. Sure, I would put my Marines and the Corps first, but outside of that it was only me. Enter Rachael and then these four crazy kids, and my priorities have definitely changed. There isn’t a single thing I would do, or stop doing, for them. So I thought retiring from the Marines was the most selfless thing I could do. Or was it?

Our family LOVES being in the Marines. We have enjoyed every duty station together (yes, even Okinawa for a whopping seven months), and we always look forward to the next adventure. Even Delaney, when asked the other day, said she liked me being in the Marines, even though we know what it has cost her and the other kids over the years. All the goodbyes and transitions, and the withdrawal we all go through when time spent with our faraway loved ones is over. It can be nerve-racking for Rachael and me, as we keep finding ourselves on pins and needles waiting for the Marine Corps to tell us where we are going. (Nothing like late-night Zillow searches in zip codes we may or may not end up in!) The news hasn’t always been what we were wanting to hear, and the changes can be chaotic and stressful. But through it all we have one another, and we consider "home" to be wherever the six of us are together. Our kids know they always have that, and by all accounts are extremely resilient toward whatever this life throws at us.

So the other day, after spending many moments in self-reflection, and after being asked for the hundredth time, “What are you going to do when you get out?” I asked myself this question: “What is my ideal job?”

That was easy: I am already doing it.

We talk often about the transformation we go through in boot camp or Officer Candidates School to become a Marine. For the most part, it becomes our identity. Sure, it may sound like I’ve been brainwashed, but this truly is the best job I could possibly have. Not just being a commanding officer, but first and foremost, being a Marine. And I believe I only become better at being a Marine because of Rachael and the kids.

Maybe in this instance I can be both selfish and selfless. I was never ready to give this life up, and if my family wasn’t either, then why do it? If I am still able to pour myself into this calling, and for as long as I can physically keep going, this may not end up being the end of the road after all.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Joey's first field trip, and thoughts on being a SAHM

The weather kept us guessing right up until the last minute, but the rain held off just long enough for Joey to go on his first ever field trip: a bus ride to a farm. Joey would have been thrilled to go on a bus ride anywhere, and in fact when I first signed the permission slip and told him about it two weeks ago, he started looking out the window and asking when the bus was going to come.

So when the big day dawned gray and drizzly, I kept my lips zipped about it even though I couldn't hide my extra air of urgency about not being late.

Knowing that there would be limited space on the bus, I opted to drive separately. His teacher sent me this photo, along with several others. When I put her photos and mine together, I've got the makings for a nice little blog post.
He hasn't stopped talking about the big white bus with two doors.

We got to see ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, goats, sheep, potbelly pigs, peacocks, ostriches, an emu, horses, chickens, llamas and alpacas.
We took a hayride tour around the farm. Joey was fascinated by the tractor's huge wheels.
This is one of Joey's two teachers, Ms. Nikki. She is crazy about the kids, and so sweet to my Joe.
Once the hayride was over, our tour guide showed us the llamas and alpacas, helpfully pointing out which was which. She told us that these ones don't spit, and as if on cue, an alpaca spat on her. Joey laughed and laughed. Farm animals are fine to visit, but I wouldn't want to have one of these ornery things with matted, dirty fur and a penchant for spitting at people, around.
Once the tour was over, the kids played for a little while on the little playground until it was time to leave. Joey wasn't sure what to think about the way the girls fussed over him (look at his fake little smile!). One of their mothers told me that her little girl talks about Joey all the time. I can't blame them; he is kind of irresistible.
I would have just as soon taken Joey home with me after that, but I didn't want to deny him the bus ride back to school.

Looking through the pictures and thinking about what a fun morning we had, has me thinking as I do many times, about how glad I am to be a stay-at-home mom. Tim's career has afforded me the ability to be there for things like this and for a lot of other things, big and small. I can spend a morning seeing a farm through a three-year-old's eyes, or watching my oldest compete in the Battle of the Books. I can be there for the small, ordinary things like books at naptime, yet another game of Uno with a boy who's on an indefinite screen timeout, and running outside to see the baby turtle Joey found out on the driveway. It often feels like drudgery, with the messes, meals, and a never-ending to-do list. But I have all day for the messes, meals and to-do list instead of having to cram it all into a couple hours. To boot, I have a husband who's happy to do errands when he's home, and he'll take a kid or two with him. I can plan my days however I see fit, and in any given one I can allocate time for, in addition to the work, prayer, for rest, for school, for exercise, and for things that recharge my battery like chronicling our life in this little blog. This is a privilege.

I don't know what the future holds. With Tim retiring next summer and everything that comes with it -- getting established in a new place, buying our own house, and getting used to a new way of life (the civilian one๐Ÿ˜ฎ) -- things are going to change. I may need to go back to work sooner than I might have planned. Maybe I'll even be ready to sooner than I thought. Maybe I'll be able to earn a supplemental income through freelance copyediting, or maybe I'll need to look for something else. But to have been home all these years, especially through the little years of my kids' lives, is something I wouldn't trade for the world, even though it's exhausting and frustrating, and I'm positive I'm doing things wrong. Making a home -- turning a space into a haven that reflects our personalities and is cozy and at least somewhat clean -- brings me its own satisfaction. This life is the one I always wanted most, and I am embracing it for the time being.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Scattered thoughts


These cherry blossoms were in full bloom a few weeks ago, but are now almost gone. We'd missed them when we moved here last April.
Well, hello there, blog. What has it been now, two months since I last checked in? I had to start scrolling through my photos to see just what have we been up to around here? It hasn't been much.

There's really nothing new to report. Life has been good; I only have blessedly petty gripes like 'the kids are so messy' and the 'dog is driving me crazy.' Speaking of the latter, at the moment she is curled up on her bed sleeping. Not that she needs any special reason to take a nap, but she is recovering from the procedure that ensures there will be no Willow Juniors. She has perked up considerably after a full evening and night of rest, and has been eating and drinking today; but is still not herself yet. I told Delaney this morning, "It's not that I want her to have more surgeries, but 'convalescent Willow' is really easy to have around." She chuckled knowingly. Willow is now eight months old, and a couple weeks ago -- after thinking we were in the clear (again) with housetraining -- we went through another rough patch. She sneaked off several times to pee on the laundry room floor or my bedroom closet, which was infuriating. She was also pushing our buttons in other ways, like getting into things she knows she shouldn't and tormenting Joey. What to blame it all on? Puppy adolescence? French bulldog stubbornness? The full moon? The dog hates me? Who knows. I really started to think that maybe she was not a good fit for our family, but I was outvoted in that regard. We tightened the reins on her and got her back under control (I think? So far she's made a liar of me every time I've said that.); and I've read that once dogs are altered, they are much less inclined to mark. Now if I could ever get her to mind me when I don't have a treat in my hand..
***
I have decided to give up Facebook for Lent. This is my first hiatus since setting up my account almost 10 years ago to the day (just caught myself about to log on so I could verify that!), so I'd say it's about time. It was getting to be a huge time suck; or maybe I was finally starting to acknowledge that it was. I kept going back because of all the funny memes, interesting articles, and pictures of friends and family and their growing kids. Not logging in means missing out on a cute pregnancy announcement or a great sale, both of which cause the pleasure centers of my brain to light up. But I was coming to find that in order to see the funny, heartwarming and useful things, I was scrolling through a whole lot of other stuff that at best was a big fat waste of time or at worst made me feel horrible. And I wasn't just scrolling. I was stopping to look at really stupid things like comments. I don't know what was wrong with me. So, right before going to bed on Tuesday night, I deleted the app from my phone. Having it so handy on my phone was the real problem for me, I think, because I rarely think to open it on the laptop, but I've caught myself a bunch of times looking for it on my phone. Pathetic.
Happiness is freshly-picked daffodils on my kitchen counter.
***
40 is coming at me fast. I was in Walmart a few weeks ago buying beer in the self-checkout because it seemed to be the only line that was moving. I will never do that again. Here's why. As I had anticipated, the checkout person had to come over and approve my purchase. I had my ID at the ready, not because there's any doubt I'm over 21, but because I figured they'd have to punch in my birthdate. But that is not what happened. She scanned her card and waved off my proffered driver's license. Then the screen said, "Is the customer over 40 or under 40?" When she picked "over 40", I was like dang. I know it's funny, and I can laugh. Walmart is not in the business of flattery. The loud buzz alerting me to the fact that my middle-aged features are being recorded as I'm perusing the makeup aisle, as well as the person checking receipts by the door, should have told me that. Furthermore, as Tim pointed out, if she'd selected "under 40", she probably would have then had to enter my birthdate, and what Walmart employee has time for that? Still, no more self-checkout for alcohol at Walmart. No need for me to see what's happening on that screen!

A few days later, after I'd told my mom the story, I said, "It's funny how I thought I was over myself until that moment." I really thought I was OK with being 40-ish, but it turns out I was kind of in denial about it. Well, once again, it's time to get over myself.

***
I've been trying to learn a new skill these past couple months: crochet. I have always wanted to learn, but I am a seriously slow at it. After finding out about the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society's baby blanket workshop in December, I showed up the first three Fridays just to practice stitches again and again. About the fourth or fifth Friday, I decided I was ready to check out a skein of yarn and a needle, and get to work making my first blanket. NMCRS has a class called 'Budget for Baby', and they give all the new parents who attend a handmade blanket. I started it in late January, measured, measured again, and ended up unraveling it back to the beginning no fewer than three times. It needed to be about 36 inches by 36 inches. The rows kept getting longer and longer. It was out of control, and I was so frustrated. The instructor watched me and showed me a technique keep them all more or less the same length. Amazingly, I managed to complete all my rows a couple weeks ago (and yes, I measured just to be sure), and then the instructor showed me how to finish it up with a border. Guess what happened once the border was done? The blanket shrank. I'm telling you, this thing is straight out of Harry Potter. It makes no logical sense. I have to turn it in anyway, if for no other reason than the yarn belongs to NMCRS. I had imagined that I'd hold my finished blanket proudly for a picture, but the edges are still a little wonky and it's embarrassing. Instead I'll share a snap Tim took of me fretting over it once it was all done except for the border.
I've got nothing else for you -- or maybe I'm just losing my focus again and thinking of whatever else I'm hoping to accomplish before whatever version of Joey (clingy? grouchy? cheerful? angry?) wakes up from his afternoon nap. I'll leave you with a 12-second video that might make you swoon; and a random assortment of pictures. 

The boys have both gotten 'daddy haircuts.' Finally! No more Dumb & Dumber.
Delaney loves all things Patriots; here she is reading the magazine that Grandma sent her, published by the Boston Globe after their latest Superbowl win.
Pre-haircut Joey

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Joey: 3 Years Old

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: someone needs to figure out a way to stop time, because my baby is growing up way too fast, and he is just the cutest right now. Just last night at bedtime, Joey was trying to put back together one of his little cars, and he was fending off Timmy's and my offers of help. He said to me, "Would you please stop saying that and let me fix it?" I cracked up and said to Timmy, "This is three."
We love reading books together. We read about four to six books a day, at naptime and bedtime, and anytime on request. It's supposed to be two at naptime, two at bedtime, but he can often sucker me into one more. He's gotten a lot of nice new books of late, and his current favorite is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is another one he chooses often, and he has it memorized, so he can "read" it to me. It's the best! I have to find a way to record him without him knowing. He really enjoys his Clifford books too. He asks the same questions on the same pages, and in response to the same answers I give him, he says, "Why?" 

Joey is signed up for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, and he gets a new book free every month. I don't know who's more excited about a surprise book in the mailbox -- him or me. From them we've gotten The Snowy Day and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as well as The Little Engine that Could, and a couple of others so far. 
He and I have this little game we play right before I leave the room after putting him to bed. He opens his arms wide and says, "Come here." I kneel down by the bed and he either wraps his arms around me or holds my face in his hands. Then he says, "That's not my Mama! Her face is too ... " he searches for a description that he thinks will sound funny. "... bumpy!" I laugh and say, "That's not my Joe. His earlobes are too stretchy." Then we go back and forth for a couple minutes until I say "enough" and extract myself. For awhile he was into a series of Usborne touchy-feely books called That's Not My Truck, That's Not My Tractor, and so on. Each page would say something like, "That's not my truck. Its hubcaps are too shiny." I thought it was the silliest thing, but he was mesmerized. Now it's like our little inside joke. He does it with Annie too. Annie is like a little mama to him, when he allows her to be.
For the past couple months, after it was suggested by Timmy's CCD teacher, we've been going around the table at dinnertime and having everyone share their "roses and thorns." It's intended to be a little exercise in examining our consciences -- to think back on situations we wish we could have handled better, or things we said that we wished we hadn't. In theory it's a nice, small way to help prepare Timmy for his first confession, but in practice it's been an occasion to air our petty gripes (as well as the thing that made us happy). At least it ensures about five minutes of conversation. Joey always wants to go first, and he almost always says, "My rose is fire trucks and my thorn is ambulances." 

Just like the other kids did, Joey is going through a "backseat driver" phase. He tells us to watch out for this or that person or car, and lately he's been asking Tim or me if we have both hands on the wheel. I don't even know where he gets that. Just today, while I was waiting at a light, he said, "Mama, could you back up a little? You're gonna hit that car." What?!? He also regularly asks us to turn the music up or down, or the heat. It's funny, as well as a little annoying.
We've had no more lapses in potty training, and he stays dry all day and through his two-hour nap, as long as he's gone to the bathroom beforehand. I finally got rid of the yucky little potty, and he uses the big toilet with a stool. If I'm there when he needs to poop, he says, "Would you go away and shut the door?" He wears a pull-up at night for now, but I'll try to see if I can't get him nighttime trained by the time he's 3.5. I recently read that once a kid reaches 3.5 and is not nighttime trained, it becomes a lot harder from that point on. Their bladder is trained to NOT hold it. I hadn't looked at it that way before -- that their bladders are being trained one way or the other, even if I'm neglecting to try training them at all. When I think back on my experience with the other kids, I believe that's true. We nighttime trained the girls together at the ages of 3 and 5, and Delaney was the longest to need a pull-up at night simply because we thought she'd eventually figure it out. We lucked out with Timmy waking himself up to use the bathroom at night soon after he turned 3. So if Joey hasn't figured it out by himself in the next few months, I'll have to take action. These darn disposable diapers and pull-ups make it too easy to be lazy.

And now we're off to take him to his first day back at preschool after the break. I'm hoping he takes a good nap afterward.