Some of the Happiest People I’ve Met Were Dying from Cancer

Before I became a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I worked in healthcare. I have my Master’s in Healthcare Administration, my Bachelor’s in Healthcare Management, and my wheelhouse is patient care in Radiology. I am certified in Radiography, Computed Tomography (CT), and Nuclear Medicine. I am categorized as a Dual Certified Technologist and spent the last 6 years of my pre-kid career working for a research school/hospital in Rochester, NY in the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Center. Seventy to eighty percent of our patient load was Oncology patients. I was the person who injected radioactive sugar (Fluorodeoxyglucose – FDG) into patients and scanned them to see how their cancer was responding to treatments – if there was more/less spread of the disease, or maintenance scans for those in remission. We conducted a few other studies with different radioactive injections, but we mostly saw cancer patients.  Not to toot my own horn (TOOT TOOT), but I was pretty skilled at starting IVs. It’s always a huge compliment when 1) a patient tells you they didn’t even feel the needle go in and 2) when a nurse comes to find YOU, a technologist, to start the IV. Cancer patients are generally very hard sticks because their bodies have been through so much and their veins take a beating. Pediatric patients are even harder. And feet….those are almost always a last resort but actually my favorite because I love a good challenge. 

Stacy K’s is an amazing florist is Rochester, NY and Andre would send or hand deliver the best arrangements to me at work.

I need to back-track a little and give some credit to a few stellar folks who taught me my mad sticking (starting IVs) skills. When I was a nuclear medicine student, I was in clinicals with many technologists but specifically with a husband and wife team, Matt and Nikki. They were both very good at starting IVs, but Matt was THE MAN. If no one could get a stick, Matt could. Those two believed in me. I’ll never forget one time when Nikki needed an IV for a scan that was being performed on her, she asked for ME – not her husband, but ME!! – to start her IV. And this wasn’t your basic 22-gauge IV, it was an 18-gauge needle bore. That’s kind of a HUGE needle. You basically get one shot with those. It’s so easy to blow the vein if you don’t hit it right. Matt and Nikki took me aside and gave me a pep talk. Most importantly, they both told me how much they believed in me and knew I could do it. Well, I did it. At the time, I didn’t realize how much their belief in me would carry on in my career. The major takeaway for me: You never know how much your words can affect someone, so when given the opportunity always be a cheerleader. Never hesitate. 

Matt and Nikki

As for my patients, I could write pages and pages about the things I learned from them. We saw many of them so frequently that they became like extensions of family. The one humbling constant with nearly all of them was how happy they were. They loved life and were filled with optimism. Yes, they grieved, as did we, when their scans came back with not great news, but gosh they were so resilient. It was something I needed to know more about. So, I asked. Because you can do that when you’re about as close to being family as you can be without actually being family. I’ll never forget what one of my patients said. He told me, “Being sad is such a waste of time.” I think being sad is important because feeling all emotions is important but staying stuck in that sad place robs you of the life you have left to live. Other patients would remind me that life, no matter how old you are or what disease you are facing, is very short. You could receive a cancer diagnosis and still outlive a totally healthy person who walks across the street and is struck by a car. My patients found joy in their lives when many people would be crippled. Another patient made me promise her that I would always look for the happy even in the hardest of situations. I hope I am making them all proud. I’ve been away from that job now for almost as long as I was there, and I have no idea who is still fighting the good fight or who is now resting in peace. For the ones who have come to pass, I hope they are looking down on me and smiling, because their words are with me always. Even more so now as we are going through this deployment. Every single day I remind myself and my kids to find the happy.

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Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It is so important to have a community, and I know how hard it can be to start all over again. In my experience, the best place to start is with your neighbors. One of the very first things we do when we move into our new town is count how many neighboring houses there are around our home. Typically, we count the houses on our left and right and the two houses directly across the street from us, and then we head to the wine store. We make sure to grab a couple of extra bottles (because, um, MOVING) and wine gift bags with message tags already on them. We put our names and phone numbers as well as the kids’ names on those tags and set out to make some introductions. Almost always, when we knock on the door and introduce ourselves, the person greeting us says, “We should be the ones bringing the wine to you!” It’s such a great way to show our neighbors that it’s a priority for us to get to know them. Only once has a neighbor beat us to it. Our current neighbor, Emily, showed up with fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies and a note with her family’s names and phone numbers. Those brownies didn’t last long! 

People have asked me if I feel weird giving strangers my phone number. I really don’t. But I’ll tell you what does bother me – telemarketer robots that I never gave my phone number to having mine and calling it regularly. (Always block those numbers!) What I can tell you is that this gesture has opened the door much faster to developing friendships and a community. Neighbors are amazing. They can provide you with great insights about the neighborhood and their recommendations on restaurants, schools, childcare/babysitters, events, etc. Many neighborhoods have some sort of private social media group where you can connect with neighbors and get up-to-date intel about the on-goings in and around the neighborhood, but that simply can’t replace the face-to-face connection of knowing your neighbors.    

Now that we have established this ritual, I’d like to think we won’t ever lose it. One day we will make our way to civilian (nonmilitary) life that won’t involve so much moving. And I’m pretty sure we will do our best to deliver our gift bag of wine with our numbers on it (and possibly warm brownies, because that was such a treat) immediately after the new neighbors move in. Until then, all I ask is, for the who-knows-how-many-more-moves we have ahead, “Won’t you be, please won’t you be my neighbor?” – in a sing-song voice, of course. 

Base, Push and All-Out

In my early adult years, I was not much into fitness. Shortly after moving to New York, a friend of mine introduced me to Martial Arts. It took a few invites for me to actually go and try a free class. About 10 minutes into the class I fell in love with it. I was hooked! It will always be my first adult fitness love, and there is a deeper tie to it as that is where I met Andre. In fact, I took a punch to the face because I was ogling over him when he walked in the door while I was on the mat sparring – but that’s a story for another time. That same friend also introduced me to CrossFit and for a while I was doing both CrossFit and Martial Arts. Then, I got my black belt, married Andre, moved to a suburb in Indianapolis and decided to hang up my Martial Arts hat for a while (when the kids are older I plan for all of us to participate together), and I strictly practiced CrossFit. I excelled to somewhere between the “Ok” and “Decent” categories of CrossFit. I did CrossFit through both of my pregnancies, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had morning sickness for 32 of the 40 weeks I was pregnant with Raina, and going to CrossFit for that hour every day saved me. If you’re pregnant or planning to start a family anytime soon, stay active during pregnancy. I promise your body will thank you! I’m pretty competitive with myself, and I really struggled coming back to CrossFit especially after having Joel. I tried and tried and, to be honest, I just fell out of love with it. Andre was so great though. He reminded me how important it is to enjoy working out. You get more from it when you like what you’re doing. So I set out to find something that would meet my fitness needs and spark joy all at the same time…

A few CrossFit coaches were also coaching for this place called OrangeTheory Fitness (OTF) and it was definitely piquing my interest. I love running. (Let me add some important disclaimers here: 1. I am not a natural born runner at all. I have to work really hard at it. 2. I didn’t always love running. In Martial Arts we were required to run two miles in under sixteen minutes and we did a TON of running in the last six months leading up to black belt testing. I hated it. 3. There are days that my love for running is more of a love-hate relationship.) I also love rowing. So, I took an OTF class and it was another scenario where 10 minutes into it I knew I had found my new fitness love. It takes several weeks to figure out what is what when it comes to the terminology, but when you’re on the treadmills (and it’s also part of rowing but more focused on the treadmill work) you have three paces you’re trying to achieve: Base, Push and All-out. Another important disclaimer: You DO NOT have to be a runner to do OTF. I know so many people who power walk and my hat goes off to them. Holy crow, power walking destroys me! The workouts are never the same except that you’re pretty much guaranteed to see treadmill, rower and floor work every day. OTF has been so great for me especially leading into this deployment season of life. Every few months part of the workout is a benchmark challenge – we recently time trialed our All-out 1 mile – and they even challenge you every few months to increase your Base pace by .1 to .3 miles per hour. Nothing changes when your body gets into too much of a routine, it just settles in. These last few months I have really been seeing life itself as these three paces.  Interestingly enough, the week before Andre deployed we were challenged to increase our Base pace.  When Coach Molly announced it before class started, I couldn’t help but chuckle because the Base pace of my life was about to increase….why shouldn’t my Base pace at the gym increase, too?!?!

My best friend, Raina (my daughters namesake), and I met up in Rochester, New York and finally got to take a class together.

I haven’t seen much of a change on the scale, but that’s because I haven’t locked in on my nutrition. My body has a weight that it’s very comfortable being, and I have to focus really really hard on my macros (fat, protein, carbs – I have worked with a macros coach to figure out the numbers that work best for me) and hit my numbers every day, especially protein, in order to see significant changes.  But I have gotten significantly faster and stronger and I attribute that to OTF. So while I would like to shave away a few pounds, I can’t even begin to be upset with myself because of what the scale says. Also, we are not defined by what the scale says!

In addition to strength and speed, OTF has given me another amazing community full of all walks of life. There is a couple that works out with me, Scott and Candy, and they are just the best. I call Scott my Workout Dad, which kind of isn’t fair because he’s not even old enough to be my Dad.  But he coaches me like he’s my Dad, and he has really helped me hit some goals I’ve been setting for myself. Candy had a back injury earlier in the year, and when she came back from it I really admired how she listened to her body and pushed herself only when she could. Grace is a Rockstar and I have been having so much fun cheering her on and watching her come into her own. She started as a power walker and then crossed over to running. One of my favorite things is to watch people do something they never thought was possible. We were made to do hard things! I’ve become buddies with Stacey who almost always smokes me on the rower and then there’s Karen who I absolutely love socializing with before class. I could go on and on and on with names and how much I love these folks who OTF with me. They are my people. They let me be silly, but they also root for me and have shown me so much love since Andre left. They let me sing and dance in the middle of a workout. Some would say that if you have enough in you to sing and dance in the middle of a workout then you aren’t working out hard enough. You know what I say to that? If you don’t sing and dance when you feel moved to, you aren’t living hard enough. It’s always a good time to sing and dance. Always! 

On Memorial Day I dedicated my miles ran at OTF to two soldiers who had recently fallen.

This deployment is going to change me. OTF is going to change me. I don’t want to wish away time, but I am really looking forward to seeing the person I’ve become by the end of this deployment. I have a few lofty fitness goals and I know OTF and my people will keep me on track. And I’m going to keep plugging away at the Base, Push and All-outs this crazy military life throws at me. 

“Come home safe. I love you.”

Those were the last words I said to Andre before we left him. He said he will, and I’m holding him to it! 

Our goodbye started last Sunday with a Farewell Ceremony held in the gymnasium of my old high school. Now, I’m going to age myself really quickly when I tell you that I haven’t stepped foot in that school in 19 years! There was a heaviness in the air walking up those stairs and into the building. No one said much. There wasn’t much to say. The ceremony was beautiful. The speeches made me feel so proud to be married to this man, this soldier who I love and adore. I’m so thankful for the one percent who swear the oath to protect this country. There with me were Joel and Raina, my parents, and a few other family members. And there were hundreds of other family members and friends supporting their soldiers, too. While I was listening to the speeches, I was also doing the “mom thing” where you pay attention but you’re also playing “mom buffet” with snacks and drinks while shushing the kids. One General started to speak and emotions were getting really high when Raina tapped me on the shoulder and requested a tissue. I turned to look at her and there was blood pouring out of her nose and all over her hand. I quietly whisked her away to the nearest restroom and we got it taken care of. Girlfriend didn’t even get a drop of blood on her white shirt – so amazing! I found myself chuckling in the middle of this super intense and emotional moment because no matter what is going on, no matter how much you are hurting or dealing with hardship, life just keeps on happening. When the ceremony finished, we took a really nice family photo and spent the afternoon just being together.

Monday was brutal.  We dropped Joel off at my parents’ house so he could have lunch and take a nap (he loves his naps!). Then, Raina and I took Andre to his work where we would say our last predeployment goodbye since they were being bussed from there to the airport.  It was the hardest goodbye yet in our history of saying goodbyes.  I did everything in my power to keep it together during the Andre-less drive back to my parents’ house.  I’ve pretty much mastered the ability to hold back tears.  What works best for me is holding my breath… however, with that technique, if you can’t fight them back with the breath hold, then the first breath you take they just come pouring out.  My sweet Raina was absolutely devastated in the back seat.  She sobbed her little eyes out.  We have been talking about this deployment for quite a while and that Daddy would be gone for a very long time, but the concept of time in her world is a three-day range: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  If something isn’t happening within that window, it doesn’t really make much sense.  As we left Andre’s work, I think length of time started setting in for her… that one year is a lot more than today and tomorrow. 

There’s a saying in the military world that goes, “The days are long, but the weeks are short,” because lets face it once you know how long they are going to be gone you start calculating every single way you can to make the deployment seem shorter. I can tell you how many months, weeks, days, how many times our biweekly recycling will be picked up and how many swimming lessons Raina has before Andre will be home. But the saying is true, tomorrow marks one week since we said goodbye. We are one week closer to this deployment being over! We have jumped right in and started crossing things off of our Deployment Bucket List, and we are going to keep chiseling away at it. Thank goodness for FaceTime as we have been able to visit with Andre almost every single day this week. Thank you to everyone who has reached out this past week and especially the day Andre left. We appreciate your messages, prayers and love so much. It means the world to us. Please keep them coming, because we need all of you to help us through this next year!

Andre gave the kids special “stuffies” before he left.

Hey! I just met you and this is crazy, but… will you be my Emergency Contact?

In the active duty military scene, we relocate often – typically every one to three  years.  That means each time we move we take any routine and comforts we fell into and turn them upside down, and then find new ones.  It wasn’t super tricky until we started a family.  Kids change everything!  Our first experience with this was when we moved from Indiana to Georgia.  Raina was right around 1½ years old and we knew NO ONE!  Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration because the military world is quite small when someone has been in as long as Andre, but Raina and I didn’t know the people that Andre knew. 

Putting Raina to work after all the boxes were unpacked.

My Type A kicks into overdrive when we move, and I need all the boxes unpacked and out of my house immediately which means we were unpacked and settled in two days.  There are a handful of scents that I cannot stand, and cardboard box smell is one of them.  With the help of my mom – who has helped us with every single Permanent Change of Station (PCS) because she is amazing – I was able to make it to my new gym by the third day after we moved into our Georgia house.  I was still doing CrossFit, and it just so happened to be part of the YMCA membership down there.  It took about two days of going there to start meeting people.  I met this woman Katy, another military wife with two kids, who is an amazing athlete and she loves to run!  I instantly wanted to do all of the things with her.  About one week after I met her and knew she was good people I popped THE BIG QUESTION.  “Will you be my Emergency Contact?”  She said, “Yes!”  This is seriously a thing.  It’s so important to have a community, and it’s something you have to learn how to build right away because isolation is a bad place. We all need others AND little did I know that I was pregnant and Katy was going to play a major part in her new Emergency Contact role.

Let me tell you, Katy was amazing when I finally discovered and told her I was pregnant.  She was a wealth of “mom of two” advice, and we would do little outings here and there with the kiddos.  Her kindness was so comforting.  I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with Raina when the time came for Joel to be born.  I had a plan and then I didn’t have a plan and then I did and round and round it went until Katy said, “You’re just bringing Raina to me, and we will figure the rest out after Joel is born.”.  And that was that.  It’s exactly how it happened…

Lunch at Katy’s

At 3 a.m. on February 18, 2017, I called Katy and told her I needed to go to the hospital.  Without hesitation and literally no grogginess in her voice she told me to drop Raina off on our way to the hospital.  Her generosity didn’t stop there.  My mom had just booked a flight the day before to arrive on this very day so she could help with Raina when we told her that I would likely be having the baby within the next 24-48 hours.  That meant we now had no idea how we would pick her up from the airport since Andre and I were heading to the hospital.  Katy told us to send her the flight information so she could pick up my mom that afternoon and take her and Raina back to our house.  Did I mention the airport was about 25 minutes away?  So let’s recap….Katy woke up at 3 a.m., she took care of three kids for the entire day, she drove 25 minutes to the airport to pick up my mom around 3 p.m., and then drove her and Raina back to our house which was about 30-35 minutes from the airport.  She’s a saint.  How do you repay someone for all of that?  After I had Joel, she came to visit and I kept telling her that I owed her so much.  Her response, “When the opportunity comes around, and it will, be the person I was for you for someone else because someone did the same for me, and by helping you I just re-payed them.” 

Sound asleep on the way to pick up Gammy from the airport with Katy.

Katy and her family PCSed out of Georgia a few months after I had Joel, and we left shortly after that.  We keep in touch and she now has three beautiful children.  Thank you, Katy, for not only taking on the role of Emergency Contact, but for being such a great person!  Thank you for understanding the highs and lows of this crazy military life and for loving on our family.

Our most recent PCS brought us back to my hometown and our Emergency Contacts are my parents, but our next PCS will almost guarantee another special moment of, “Hey!  I just met you and this is crazy, but… will you be my Emergency Contact?”  Mom, Dad – this is your invitation to just move with us!

The Dreaded “Asking for Help”

If only it were as simple as the famous Beatles song:

Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone, help…

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me

Asking for help is a hard thing to do.  I’ll never forget when my friend Megan visited me a couple of weeks after I gave birth to Raina.  She asked me what I needed done.  Being the Type A person that I am, I told her nothing.  She knew very well that there were a million things I needed done, she’s the mom of triplets.  I’m solo parenting a brand-new baby that won’t sleep, cries pretty regularly and is only happy when nursing.  Just then, the dryer buzzed which very obviously meant I had clothes to fold in my near future.  She looked me in the face and said, “Annie, everyone likes to help, but no one likes to ask for help,” and then proceeded to get up and fold all the clean clothes.  I verbally chased her down (because I was stuck under a baby) saying, “You don’t need to do that!” But she wasn’t hearing it.  I have carried her words with me throughout the years.  She gave me a gift that day, the gift of giving myself permission to ask for help.  It’s true, most people want to help. The thing about asking for help is that you won’t always be able to return the “help” to the same person.  And that’s perfectly ok.  That’s why “Thank You” notes exist.   

I will say, the easiest help to ask for is the help already offered – the help that you kind of didn’t even know you needed. The kids and I were in a pretty bad car accident this past February. We walked away from it fairly unscathed, by the grace of God, but my truck was totaled, and I had a few injuries I needed to heal from. On top of this, Andre was on his way home from stateside Temporary Duty (TDY) and would only be home for two weeks before leaving again for three more weeks for overseas TDY, which meant we had an overflowing plate of tasks to accomplish before he left. While he was home, a friend reached out and said she was bringing us a meal. Once again, my Type A surfaced and tried to refuse because Andre was home and I had an extra set of hands. She wasn’t taking “no” for an answer and, Lord have mercy, that meal was soooo appreciated. After Andre left to go overseas, I found out that my arm was a little worse off from the accident than we thought. There was talk of nerve damage and the possibility of needing a cast. I was a hot mess. I had no idea how I was going to solo parent a 2- and 4-year-old with one arm. My neighbor, Emily, who had been checking in on us said, “Let me make some meals for you so you at least don’t have to worry about that part.” She provided a list of 10 choices and told me to pick my top three. Food makes all the difference!!! Those meals fed the kids and me lunch and dinner for a week and a half. I didn’t end up needing a cast (PHEW!), but my arm was pretty worthless for many tasks. I do have some nerve damage in my arm, however it’s not permanent – I’m happy to report – and it should be fully recovered by the end of the year. Nerves are funny little critters. They can heal but VERY slowly.

So, how to ask for help?  It can be very overwhelming when you need help, but you don’t know exactly what you need, or you feel like you can’t ask people to do the task you need help with.  My sister gave me a wonderful piece of advice right after Raina was born.  She told me to make a list of things that need to be done and hang it on my fridge.  That way, when people visited and asked, “What do you need help with,” I could simply send them to the list. Then, they could decide if they wanted to do something that was on it.  I don’t know if I could ever ask someone to scrub my toilets, but toilets certainly need to be cleaned.  Having a list gives the helper the gratification of helping while also providing that person the choice of how they can help.  During this deployment, I definitely won’t be stuck under a baby for hours at a time (that ship has sailed!), but I will still be making lists of things I need to do.  These lists will help me decide what I truly need help with.  The help I will likely need will be, “Please take my kid/kids for a playdate so I can do all the things for the next two hours,” or “Come have a glass of wine with me and tell me I can do this.”  There are times when you have to come right out and ask though.  For those times, you just have to put yourself out there.  After the accident in February, while Andre was gone for three weeks overseas, nothing was going right.  We were down to only his vehicle and one thing after the next started going wrong with it.  I broke down and asked him to reach out to a soldier he works with to see if she could help.  She has a mechanic background.  She couldn’t fix it without a proper garage and tools, but she helped me get the vehicle to a trustworthy garage and recommended I rent a car until Andre returned.  Of course, that was the obvious thing to do when I no longer had a vehicle to drive, but sometimes we all need to be reminded that we’re not helpless nor without options. 

 

“How can I help you?”  “Let me know how I can help!”  Those words are greatly appreciated, but they can also be overwhelming because in the moment we don’t always know what we need help with besides EVERYTHING.  I try not to use those lines when I offer help to others, but sometimes I do.  I suppose it’s just how my brain was trained…. because everyone wants to help.  Typically, I try to say things like, “Can I make a meal for you and your family,” or “Could I take the kids for a few hours so you can get your tasks accomplished?”  Those two areas of help seem to be my forte.  Questions like those open the door for a person in need of help to simply accept it – the help you sort of didn’t know you needed.  Specific help already offered. 

My parents live close and I know they will help out as much as they can during this deployment.  We have several friends, too, who I know will reach out and help when my parents aren’t available. It means the world to me and my family.  When you find yourself in need of help, try to remember that you are giving someone a gift by asking.  You have permission (not that you need it) to ask for help because most people want to help.  The worst thing to do is isolate and try to tackle everything alone.  We’re made to do life together.  When it comes down to it, needing help makes us vulnerable and it’s hard to feel exposed. But the beauty of opening up in this way is how humbling it can be especially when we see and feel the outpouring of support.  When times are brighter and we are in the position to be the helper, we never forget the help we have received. In fact, we may even find ourselves grateful for all of those hard moments because those are the moments that shaped who we are now.      

You’re so Strong

The compliment I have the hardest time accepting right before Andre leaves and pretty much the first half of him being away is, “You’re so strong.”  It’s usually followed with “I could never do it.”  What I can tell you is that it has nothing to do with being strong and everything to do with survival.  Before he leaves, I am a mess.  The day he leaves, I put on a really strong game face and then I completely lose it.  Right after he leaves and depending on how hard the “deployment curse” hits (which also happens to be a thing when they are away for temporary duty), I’m probably sobbing in a pillow.  None of those reactions are typical characteristics of being strong, but they are a gateway to the strength that eventually does come.

“I could never do it!”  You actually could.  We are all born with survival skills and, in the moment, you do what you have to do in order to survive.  Do I want to?  Nope, not at all.  What ends up happening along the way though is that you get through things – things you never in your wildest dreams thought you could do.  I never thought in a million years I could give birth to a baby without my husband.  I did it.  And I sort of felt like a superhero.  I also had an amazing team helping me, for sure, but at the end of the day, I did it.  By the time he came home after that year away, I thought for sure I would walk around for at least a month with a superhero cape.  I didn’t.  Probably because I didn’t have one, but I did have superhero long socks with a cape attached and I wore those quite often. Lol…

That brings me to the next line I sometimes get – “You knew what you were getting yourself into.”  That is a tough one.  You don’t really know something until you KNOW.  That’s like seeing a struggling runner at mile 17 of a marathon and telling them, “well, you knew what you were getting yourself into,” or telling an exhausted new mom whose infant won’t sleep, nurse, stop crying…”you knew what you were getting yourself into.”  You only know what you know.

Experience makes us strong.  Going into this deployment with some experience makes me feel much more capable.  I’m still in survival mode, and I’ll likely be there for months to come.  I’m guessing once we get past the holidays, I’ll be finding myself more solidly in the “strong” territory.  Until then, I’m just going to carry Kleenex with me because all. of. the. Feelings (and snot).

I’m a survivor.  You’re a survivor.  And we are all capable of so much more than most of us give ourselves credit for.  People want to help and make darn sure you let them – and have the courage to ask for it – because giving and receiving help build strength. And once we’re through whatever we’re surviving, we find out how strong and capable we are.

Predeployment

Predeployment

My name is Annie Thompson, and I have been part of this military wife life for a lot less time than most.  While my husband, Andre, has been serving for 24 years, I have only been on board for about the last 7 years.  I’m pretty unseasoned although we have gone through three permanent change of stations (PCSs), we’ve had two kids (one of which Andre missed the birth and almost the entire first year of her life), one mobilization (thus missing his daughter’s birth and first year) and here we are folks…days away from our first overseas deployment as a family.  Old hat for him, brand new territory for me.  So while I may be “new to the game,” I certainly feel sprinkled with seasoning.  After surviving this deployment, I may even consider myself marinated.    

We have a 4-year-old daughter, Raina, and a 2-year-old son, Joel.  Raina  doesn’t remember her Dad being gone the first year of her life, obviously, so this is all very new to her, and she is just old enough that she will remember it.  Joel, on the other hand, may or may not remember, but he is old enough to miss his Daddy when he is gone.  Andre has been gone for a few months here and there so the kids, more so Raina, mostly understand that he is as important to his job as he is to our family.  This time he’s going to be gone just shy of a year in a country that has a significant time difference.  I can’t reveal much more than that because “loose lips sink ships.”   What does that mean for us?  Almost every single routine we are used to is going to change.  There is an amazing children’s book by Julia Cook about deployment (Deployment: One of Our Pieces is Missing) that we have read countless times, and one of the key messages is, “Different is change and change is good.  Change can help us grow.”  That couldn’t be more accurate.  I will grow so much in this next year.  We all will. 

Being days away – literally – from deployment day has my heart racing, and sometimes I find it really hard to breath.  I have good days and bad days – today I feel pretty good.  In fact, today I feel like I just want him to be gone so we can at least get this countdown started.  Tomorrow, I’ll probably breakdown, cry my eyes out, and wish we had three more months to prepare.  Prepare.  How do you prepare for deployment?  You do all the things.  Then you watch all the things fall apart right before they leave or about 22 ½ hours (sometimes less) after they leave which is commonly known as the “deployment curse.”  We have created for the kids and myself a pretty neat deployment wall that includes:

  • two clocks – one with our time and one with his time
  • a monthly countdown – each month I have a big activity planned for the kids and me
  • a daily calendar so Raina can X off each day before she goes to bed and eventually Joel can help participate in this
  • a mailbox to collect things we want to send Andre in his monthly care package
  • a white board so we can write things down to tell him when we get to talk to him
  • our deployment bucket list which includes: pedicures, theme park, touring an ice cream parlor, fishing, museums and so on.

I will also be making a weekly paper chain to add to the wall, and we have a bunch of pictures we still need to put up. The kids each have a Daddy Doll. These things are brilliant! They are small dolls/pillows that look just like Andre. We recently gifted Andre dolls of us to take on deployment with him. The goal is for him to be able to capture pictures here and there of the kids’ dolls doing different things overseas with him, and, once he’s home, I am going to make each of them picture books – think Flat Stanley.  

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads!  We are showering Andre with tons of love today. This time next year he should be home from this deployment and while that feels like an eternity away, it’s truly amazing how fast a year can go by when you look back on it.    

Some of this blog will be little insights into military life but mostly it will be a lot of stories about life in general.  Life that happens from moving all the time and meeting different people, mom-ing, and trying to raise good little humans.  Thanks for joining the ride!

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