Pass the Duct Tape, Please

You know how when you were in college, you slept on a mattress on the floor and most of your furniture came from IKEA and had to be assembled with those crazy hex wrenches? Well, we haven’t moved on from that phase yet. A lot of my furniture is from IKEA. I actually really like the whole Swedish minimalist aesthetic, but in reality, the stuff looks pretty good and is cheap enough that you don’t get too upset when the moving guys (who visit us military spouse types every 2-3 years) bang it up, sweat all over it, break the legs off, etc. Or at least you’re supposed to not get too upset. But, dammit, I’m upset.

If you’ve ever put together IKEA furniture, you know that it revolves around “locking cams” and bolts, right? And if you decide to, say, take this furniture apart because you are a government-hired moving person getting minimum wage to manhandle the beloved goods and household belongings of a family that includes at least one person who puts his or her ass on the line to protect your freedom, you might want to make careful note of where those all-important locking cams and bolts end up! Like, you might want to, say, put them all in a baggy and make sure that they get attached to the actual piece of furniture that they belong to. Maybe. Just a thought.

But not everyone can come up with ideas as brillant and original as that one that I just shared with you.

It seems that OUR particular government moving people have not ever experienced the frustration of having all the pieces of their furniture laid out in front of them, with NO WAY to put them together to form a useable object. Like, say, a CRIB. Or my damned BED. Or the GUEST BED on which I have actual guests planning to sleep this weekend!! Currently, the guest bed is fully assembled, reliant totally on the small wooden dowels that go between the parts to hold them in place politely while those big bolts and cams do all the dirty work of making sure things actually STAY put together securely. I even put the boxframe and mattress on the bed, and dressed it up in all it’s pretty sheets and pillows. The Major came in surprised, “oh! you found the hardware!” When I told him no, he looked at me quite skeptically. I explained that I thought that if our friends laid in the bed carefully, the distribution of their weight over the surface area of the mattress would prevent any one tenuous joint from having to bear too much of a load, thereby ensuring that they did not actually find the bed collapsing on top of them. Or under them, to be specific. Do you think it is rude to ask your houseguests to please refrain from performing any variety of the horizontal limbo in your guestbed to ensure their own safety?

Don’t worry. I’m going to come up with a solution before they arrive.

The solution for the lack of hardware for the crib was to buy a whole new friggin crib at Walmart. I was the most angry crib-buying mommy they’ve probably ever had in that Walmart baby department. “Give me the cheapest crib you’ve got!” When the pimply adolescent Walmart employee pulled the giant box out of the shelf for me, looking somewhat frightened, I eyed it skeptically and then proceeded to pick it up and drag it BY MYSELF up to the register, abandoning my shopping cart and ordering my 4 year old to WALK. NOW. I can’t believe I had to buy a whole new crib. But Lunchbox doesn’t deserve to sleep in a pack and play for the rest of his babyhood when there’s a bunch of perfectly good crib pieces leaning against the wall in his room, right?

The last piece of the no-hardware puzzle that needs solving is my bed. I loved that bed. It had a built in bookshelf in the headboard. Which is totally obsolete now that I read everything on my iPad, but it’s still a nice idea.

And do NOT suggest that I go to the hardware store to pick up replacements. I tried that. These are special secret-squirrel IKEA-specific Swedish metric system parts that are not available in your neighborhood Lowe’s. IKEA is only helpful if the parts weren’t included in your original purchase. I haven’t yet tried duct tape. Maybe that will work.

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It’s a fort! It’s a doghouse! It’s a spaceship! And look, we have four thousand of them!

No, Turbo, it’s a box. And yes, we still have four thousand of them. Only they have been flattened and placed strategically in that pile in front of the front door because Mommy is desperately trying to get them broken down and out of the house so that I can figure out what kind of floor our new rental house actually has. Cuz I haven’t seen it yet.

Turbo and Lunchbox have spent the last week proving the old idiom that the best toy you can give your kid is the box it came in. They spend their evenings smashing and crashing around the living room and play room in their newly received kid-sized boxes, screaming like banshees and giving me a chronic nervous headache. They spend their mornings whining and crying because their spaceships/doghouses/forts have mysteriously vanished overnight, though the back of the truck holds a boatload of cardboard that looks suspiciously familiar to their tiny eyes.

We’re close, though. I think there are four more boxes upstairs and maybe four downstairs. And there’s a crapload of crap in the hall. Both halls. That’s because the Major’s organizational strategy seems to consist largely of taking things that don’t belong in one place and deciding that he isn’t sure where they belong. So they end up in the hall. And I think they’re all slated for the attic. And I’m so tired of looking at it all that I think I might actually haul it up there into the 125 degree sweatbath myself.

Turbo is turning four this weekend. And we’re having houseguests. If that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is! I know this blog has been less than scintillating lately… and I would like to tell you that I’ve got all kinds of gems saved up for you. But I’d be lying. For now I’m just trying to maintain my sanity and sobriety — turns out unpacking is easier if you’re just a teensy bit tipsy because you no longer care where things go. Makes it tougher the next day though:

“Major, why did I think it would be a good idea to put my curlers in the pantry?”

“I dunno. You said something about the stairs being tall and not wanting a workout, and then something else about curlers and coffee and killing two birds with one stone in the morning. I’m not sure. I don’t really listen when you talk.”

“Oh, ok. Thanks.”

My time as a human luggage rack…

Traveling with kids…ah, the curiousity, the excitement, the four million questions every thirty seconds of a five hour plane ride — what memorable and wonderful family building moments we have shared in the past two months. I sit in a Starbucks writing to you today because I do not actually have a desk and chair in my home… though we hope that our stuff will be showing up at the end of this week. Then there’s just the little issue of unpacking thirty thousand boxes and putting everything where it will go… but that’s another drama.

We spent almost a month driving around the great state of California, just me, Turbo, Lunchbox and absolutely anything that we could stuff into a small four door car. This included two carseats, a stroller with a stand-on attachment, many stuffed animals, Legos and random assorted hotwheels, a sleeping bag, two pillows, diapers, wipes, overnight diapers, etcetera, etcetera. It was a bit of a mess trying to unpack and repack the car at every destination — plus, California is kind of big and we actually went through several climate changes while there, so I had the trunk working like a huge suitcase, shufflling jeans to the bottom, shorts to the top; stashing sweaters over here and tank tops down there. When it came time to reduce this all down to the gear that we’d fly east with, well… that was hard. My mother in law shipped a large box of our stuff out to us, and I left a good amount of stuff in the car when it shipped (shhhh!) In the end, I was dropped off at the airport with three large pieces of luggage, a stroller with a stand-on platform attached, three carryons, and a carseat for Lunchbox. Oh, and two small kids. In otherwords, I was basically immobile once delivered to the curb of the United terminal at LAX.

I’m typically airport girl. I love traveling, and have done so enough for work and pleasure to have my airport approach down to a system. A finely tuned machine. It works best when I’m on my own, and I’ve streamlined the process so as to move very quickly, carry very little and do the absolute minimum of waiting. I can’t control security, but I can certainly have my laptop out, baggie ready and shoes off before I even get to the conveyor belt. I can choose the shortest line, dart into it quickly and plop my carryon luggage up on the belt before the long line has even crawled a step. I can have my boarding pass and ID all ready to go and slip them effortlessly back into the right pocket of my pants before stepping through the beepy thing that hates metal. And I can sit at the gate, quietly sipping my coffee and eating my breakfast, glowing with the confidence that my luggage will absolutely fit in the overhead bin and that I will waste no time waiting for checked bags. Bag checking is for suckers.

This system broke down the second I found myself on the curb at LAX surrounded by my luggage and children, being eyed warily by those speedy carryon only business travelers who moved like I once could. I might have broken down crying right there if I hadn’t happened to glance over and see another woman standing on the curb looking less than confident. She had at least five big bags at her feet, three kids running around her, and three carseats to contend with. She also had a seabag at her feet, and I knew she was a fellow military spouse. When I finally got moving with all my crap, kids safely installed on the stroller contraption, I paused next to her — maybe to offer her some empathy, but mostly to get some for myself.

“Military?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Me too,” I told her.
“We’re moving,” she said, indicating all of her belongings.
“So are we!” I laughed, nodding at the bags hanging off every appendage. “Where are you headed?” I asked her.
“Hawaii!” she said, and looked really excited. Then her husband returned and picked up half the bags she had at her feet. I was glad to see that she had help. And sort of sad that I didn’t…but the Major was helping… he had found us a house, we just had to get there!
“Good luck!” I told her, as I shuffled on towards the curbside check in like a desperate Madison Avenue exec approaching the only bar for miles around. (I may have  watched too many episodes of Mad Men last night.)

I hope she’s gotten where she was headed and that her family is more settled than mine at this point. I’m just glad I bumped into her — even that casual exchange of words helped me remember that I’m not the only one struggling with all the difficulties that military life (hell, any life, really!) can present! There are lots of us out there, moms who make things happen for our families because we have no choice in the matter and because we can’t imagine NOT doing it. The airport experience wasn’t my favorite part of the journey, but it is one that I’ll remember because you know what? I did it!

When the Major picked us up on the other end and all our bags came off the baggage claim, he picked up a couple and struggled with how to hold half of it and manage the kids. “Wait a minute,” he said. “How did you carry all of this and the two kids by yourself on the other end?”

I told him the truth. I honestly don’t know! But somehow I managed it. Things work out when they have to.

Mid-PCS — the first thing to go is the mind…

I’m about halfway through my month-long PCS journey. (We’re moving across the country again, this time with our two little boys, and the process of selling the house, finding a new house to live in, and getting everyone there has become kind of a drawn out process.) To fill the time between leaving one place (a small desert town recently named “Satan’s Den” by a friend — not so much for any insidious activities occurring there as for the horrible weather and generally ridiculous heat) and arriving in the other, I’ve scheduled a tour of relative’s homes in the state we are leaving, since it’ll be a while before we get to see them all again. And, if I don’t spend too long with any one set of relatives, there’s a chance we might, someday, be invited back. All this has me basically living out of my trunk, calming confused little boys, and doing my best to keep their behavior at a moderate level of chaos so as not to frighten the relatives or have them too worried about the safety of their delicate possessions, carpets, drywall, etc.

Anyway, today is the first time I’ve found myself in front of a keyboard since departing Satan’s Den, and I have regretted not being able to get here to Call Sign Mommy more often. I haven’t been silent due to a lack of postable events!

My first stop has been with my parents, who stay at a cabin in the beautiful mountains all summer. I grew up in that cabin, really, and I’m so happy to have my little boys up there. But they are missing Daddy and they are confused about why we are here and haven’t gone back home, and it’s been a bit hard for all of us. Thankfully, my parents are patient and helpful — which hasn’t always been the case. Our first long visit, with Turbo almost 2, was not as successful. I suppose, when it’s been 35 years since you last spent significant time with a 2-year-old, you might forget why or how to love a being that is so messy, noisy, dangerous, unpredictable and downright illogical all of the time. But they came around. And Turbo is *mostly* a good little guy these days. There are even moments when he’s helpful. But his questions about our current situation are breaking my heart: “Mommy, is THIS our new house?” “Mommy, when can we go home?” “Mommy, when can I see my friends again?”

I’m actually at my parents “real” house alone now. I’ve come back down the hill to attend my *gasp* 20 year high school reunion. The Major is at the cabin and will come down to attend with me tonight. Since this is the first time in weeks that I’ve had a moment (let alone a whole day) to myself, I’m a little lost. And I initially told him not to hurry down to join me (thinking that I’d be reveling in the peace and quiet). But I find myself hoping he comes sooner. I think that when you spend your life catering to the near constant desires of tiny whiny people, all you really need is five minutes here and there to appreciate the silence. And after that, it starts to feel just wrong. (Although, I could certainly get used to it with some minimal effort!)

Anyway, sorry for the stream of consciousness… I didn’t have much of a plan when I sat down. The reunion should be pretty interesting tonight. Hope to see a keyboard (and you guys) again soon!

Upsides of Life as a Military Mom

When you’re a de facto member of the military (married in, rather than volunteering per se), there are a lot of things that can take some getting used to. And I think I covered that, but please know that I claim whining as my right and there will probably be more of this down the road.

However, while it isn’t all roses and rainbows, there are a lot of benefits to being a military mom, too.

1) Auto-Friends: Okay, no one is ever automatically your friend, but how many times — in the ‘real’ world — do you move to a new home and find yourself invited to two or three social functions in the first week? How many times have you moved to a town you’ve never been to before (in my case, one you’ve never even heard of) and had not one, but two different families show up on your doorstep with baskets of food and tips about everything from where to get your hair done to where to put your kids in daycare? If you’re an extrovert, the military spouse network is heaven. There are spouses from all walks of life (and though I’m trying to be politically correct here by using “spouse,” let’s face it, they’re mostly wives), and from all parts of the globe. I am not exactly an extrovert, and I still found myself with a full social calendar almost immediately — and that meant a full social calendar for Turbo and Lunchbox, too.

I’ll make one more point about the women I have met in the military spouse sphere — they are not to be underestimated! They are tough, tenacious and experienced. Every time I have assumed that I knew something about someone based on the outer shell (how many kids they have, whether they work, how long they’ve been married — all the stuff we women like to judge each other on), I have been proven wrong in spades. The wealth of experience that this crowd brings to the table is overwhelming, and most of these ladies are humble enough to make you have to work a bit to find out what they’ve seen and done. And it’s impressive.

2) Having a baby? Welcome to your catered dinner menu for a month! When anything about the size of a breadbox comes out of your body, you’re bound to be tired and maybe even a bit crabby. Oh, and sore. And even though you’re probably also hungry, cooking ranks at about 997 on the list of things that you’d like to do in the days immediately following the event. And thanks to the network of wonderful women in the military spouse network, cooking was one thing I did NOT have to worry about. For WEEKS. Both times I had babies, those women showed up at my house in a veritable parade of culinary goodness. My family got used to gourmet cooking, and it was so fun to wonder what would arrive for dinner each night!

If you’re ever in a position to cook for someone who needs it (and these ladies arrange meal service for any reason you can imagine to help each other out), here are a couple tips: Should you bring dessert? Oh, yes please. Wine? Absopositively! And if you happen to have made too much, tossing in another freezable portion so that the new mom will have something on hand later is a great idea!

3) The Commissary and Exchange: (that’s the grocery store and general goods store). While the on base grocery offerings are usually more limited than those out in town, it’s worth stocking up there and hitting the local grocery just for the few items you didn’t find at the commissary. Shopping on base saves money. Not just a little bit of money — bunches. And if you’re lucky enough to be at a base that has a good exchange of a decent size, you can find everything from cosmetics to Coach bags to jewelry tax-free and discounted. That, my friends, is a benefit this shopper can appreciate!

4) Healthcare: While visiting the clinic isn’t always a joy, the fact that it is there when we need it speaks volumes. Vaccinations? Walk in. Sick kid? Call that morning, you can often get in within hours. No appointments? They’ll help you arrange to go to the urgent care, ER or to a doctor in town. It might not be as personal as having your own family doctor, but the doctors I’ve seen on base are largely caring and sweet, and are genuinely concerned about my family and my health. And if for some reason I want to go to a specialist? Referrals are pretty easy to get. Oh, and prescriptions? They’re free.

5) Childcare: This is a system that works well in theory. And for many, I think it works well in practice. I’ve been on lots of wait lists for childcare on base — it is very affordable compared to private local options. I’ve never actually been moved off the wait list, but I think that’s because I have not been persistent enough with follow up calls. (When you need childcare NOW, you end up making other arrangements, and I’ve been pretty happy with what we found off base for our guys.)

I could say so much more — other military moms, please feel free to add other thoughts in the comments! I will add one more benefit of being a military spouse/mommy:

6) Pride: I know most wives are proud of their husbands, and most kids adore their daddies. But when your hubby/daddy wears a uniform to work every day (even though I call the Major’s flight suit a “jumpsuit” which he does not appreciate…), I think it feels a little bit different kissing him goodbye and sending him on his way. That uniform is a reminder that he’s going out to work for your family, but also for a much bigger family — and one that doesn’t always appreciate him or remember to say “thank you.” My boys are still very little, but when Turbo tells people what his daddy does for work, his eyes glitter with pride as he describes the plane his daddy flies. And I admit to feeling a little pump of pride when I tell people that my husband is a Marine. That fact makes us all part of something bigger. And though we sacrifice a bit to be part of the military community, we are all part of something that makes this country special. And it is worth it.

But I’ll still be happy when the Major’s twenty years are up and we can settle down. And I don’t think that looking forward to that time takes away even one little bit from how lucky I feel to be married to a Marine right now.

The Life of the Military Mommy Examined…

There are deployments to handle, ridiculous work schedules to contend with when deployment is not on the table, and let’s not forget the ever entertaining moving every coupla years whether you need it or not aspect! I am a very lucky military spouse, in that my hubby hasn’t deployed in a while and we have been in one place for three and a half years (though we’re moving in a month!) But this post is dedicated to all the other MMs out there who don’t have it so easy, and who deal regularly with some of the downfalls of being a military mommy:

1. Doing it all yourself. You came into this marriage happy, bright and maybe the teensiest bit naïve… a crisp military uniform will do that to even the strongest and most practical woman (trust me on that one – I am she.) And you thought to yourself, “we’re in love. We can handle anything.” And then he left. And the crap flew. It is a little known fact that things only go wrong when your husband is deployed or traveling for extended periods. During my hubby’s last extended all-expenses paid trip to the Middle East, every smoke alarm in our house went off at the same time at 2am. That’ll scare the night cream right off yer face, let me assure you!

The military member leaves, and often leaves a family behind. For a long ass mutherfurkin time. And the spouse muddles on, managing a house (and all the glorious chores that go with it – including all the ones HE usually does), kids, a job (sometimes – we’ll get to that one) and more. And that time when you get home from work and the kids are just home from school and everyone needs something and the whole world is melting down but it will be okay soon because your husband will come home to distract the crazy orangutans you call your children? Yeah, he’s not coming. You’re on your own.

2. Being considered lazy. We’ve established that the military mommy can be quite busy, particularly if the hubs is away. And yet there are those who call military spouses lazy because many of us do not work your typical 9-to-5 job, and many of us do not work outside the home at all. Hmm… why would that be? Let’s role-play, shall we?

Interviewer: So, you’re new in town? What brings you to (insert name of military town here)?
MM: My husband is stationed here.
Interviewer: Oh. So you’ll be leaving soon then.
MM: We just arrived. We’ll be here at least two years.
Interviewer: Okay. We’ll let you know.

Yeah. So there’s that.

3. Marriage isn’t easy. And when one of you is away, it’s damned near impossible. In some ways it becomes MUCH easier since you get to do whatever you want, make the decisions that you think are right and comfortably settle into YOUR life. But the difficulty comes when big decisions must be made at a distance. Skype doesn’t really replace the face-to-face, side by side conversations that marriage and parenting often demand to succeed. And when my hubs was gone last time I often didn’t hear from him for weeks at a time. So sometimes I just had to do things on my own without his input. And what happens when your beloved spouse comes back home – into YOUR house, where you have been comfortably doing things YOUR way for however many months he’s been gone? Damn tootin. It blows.

Welcome home, dear! Don’t touch a damned thing!

4. Your kids didn’t sign up for this. I don’t know about your kids, but my three year old and one year old don’t understand much about the passing of time. Turbo knows that two episodes of Dragon Tales last about as long as it takes Mommy to make dinner and that he goes to bed somewhere near the time that the sun begins to set. He doesn’t know what it means when I tell him that Daddy will be home in two weeks, much less two months or one year. Can you imagine telling your three year old that Daddy will be back when he’s FOUR? I haven’t had to go through this (yet), but women all around me do it every day. And I have no idea how.

With older kids, managing the constant moving is a struggle. Being a teenager is tough. Being a teenager who is the new kid in school every other year is even tougher. And these moms get to explain to, cajole and console their kids with every new town, every new school. Sure, in the long run they’ve built enviable life experience, but does a twelve year old really need to think about that yet?

5. Being a Nomad sucks. When you move to a new town every few years, you go through many of the same routines – figuring out where to shop, where to eat, how to get from point A to point B. And you meet your new neighbors. And the new teachers. And all the other spouses stationed in this new place. And after you’ve done it a few times, it isn’t too exciting to have everything be new. In fact, you just start to want for everything to be old. What a luxury it must be to live in the same house for ten years, or to get to know your neighbors really well, or to feel like you can make friends with anyone you want because you won’t have to experience the lurking sorrow of leaving them. The Military Mommy sometimes just doesn’t bother anymore. It’s too hard to get yourself ingrained in a community time and again only to leave. You start to tell people when you first meet them that you are a military spouse and therefore temporary. You might as well just wear a sign or scream, “I’m leaving soon. We can’t really be friends. Don’t get attached.”

And having said all that, I should probably say something like, “But I wouldn’t change it for the world.” And that wouldn’t be true. The fact is that I dream about having a “forever home,” and a place where my kids can live without wondering where we’ll live next. There are those who tell me, “You chose this life.” And all I can do is shake my head because they just don’t understand. I chose a man, and this is the life that came along with him. I wouldn’t give up the man. But the title of “military spouse?” Yeah, I’ll be happy to hang that one up someday.

Moving Matters

As you can imagine, The Major and I are discussing many important issues right now, as we prepare for an upcoming move and the potential sale of our house. Military moves are a special breed, and I’ll offer more insight on that at another time (gathering tidbits as we head through this one…) I thought I’d give you a glimpse into one of the critical pre-move email conversations we had this morning:

Me:  Hey:  The moving company is coming tomorrow to do a walk through survey so they’ll know what kind of boxes to bring, how much stuff we have, etc. Can you walk me through tonight to make sure that I will tell them correctly which stuff they are responsible for versus what we’re doing?

The Major:  Yeppers.  We need to identify the pro gear as well (yours and mine) and make sure they are aware of the requirement to ID each of ours respectively.  Plus we will need more cookies to make this happen, so that is your job. FK and stinky giraffes are marinating as we speak. (FK is Turbo’s nasty lovie blanket, and the stinky giraffes are a small gang of animals that live in Lunchbox’s crib. This morning I noticed that they are particularly rancid and requested that the Major quarantine them all in the hot wash after I took the guys to school.)

Me:  Excellent. Cookies will not be forthcoming. That is not on my agenda today, sorry.

The Major:  Fix it.

____________________

As you can see, The Major is singlehandedly trying to ensure that I am unsuccessful in any efforts at not eating crap.