The Babymooners

I was flipping through the new issue of Parents magazine last night and this question from a reader caught my eye:

“My husband wants to take me to a spa for our babymoon. What treatments are safe for me to have during pregnancy?”

(I’m going to ask that all the military moms reading this pause for about 10 seconds to stop laughing.)

Ok. Did you catch your breath?

A babymoon, for all of you who haven’t given birth or paid attention to those living the luxe life for the last few years, is one of the latest ways for people to pamper themselves. It’s right up there with “push presents” on my list of trends I hear about but don’t believe anyone is actually doing. (That list, FYI, also includes things like wigs for dogs, spray tans for toddlers, expensive-cakes-that-don’t-look-like-cakes, vaginoplasty and anal bleaching.)  A babymoon is a trip that an expecting couple takes just before the baby is born to relax and enjoy the last full nights of sleep that they’re likely to get for the next 20 years or so. It is, for the record, a fantastic idea and I am 100 percent pro-babymoon. I just don’t know anyone who has ever had one. Or, at least, I don’t think I know anyone. If you’ve taken a babymoon, please feel free to tell us all about it.

(By the way, a push present is a gift that a new father gives to the new mother to thank her for the pregnancy and the childbirth. I am also 100 percent pro-push present.)

What took me most by surprise in the Parents magazine question was the phrasing. The question reads like a babymoon is the most common thing in the world. While I have no idea how common babymoons are in the non-military community, I feel certain they are all but non-existent for those of us who shop in commissaries. At my OB appointment the other day (I’m about 6 months pregnant with my third child, btw.) a sign at the check in desk asked soon-to-be moms to tell their providers if their husbands would be deployed on their due date, deploying soon after or just returned from a deployment.

Our world really is very different, isn’t it? Instead of planning a babymoon to Sedona together, many of us are planning for half of the new parent couple to be on a trip to that other, not-so-pleasant, desert. Choosing between the mud wrap and the seaweed facial isn’t exactly on our agendas.

My husband and I never even had a honeymoon because he deployed two weeks after our wedding. We were okay with that, though, because up until a few days before the wedding we weren’t even sure he’d still be in the country long enough to get married. The fact that he made it to the wedding seemed like a blessing. Many of my military friends have two anniversaries for exactly this reason: They celebrate the day they were legally married at the courthouse and the day they had the actual wedding. If they got in a trip to Hawaii after the big day, it was probably because they were on PCS orders to Schofield Barracks.

The weeks before our first child was born were also a flurry of pre-deployment activity. Though we were very lucky that my husband was able to be present at our son’s birth, he left for Afghanistan about two weeks later. I can’t imagine trying to squeeze in a spa visit (even if we’d had the money for it) during all that chaos. He missed our daughter’s birth entirely, so a babymoon wasn’t an option that time, either. And now, with a third baby on the way I’m just excited that he’ll finally get to experience the “joys” of a having a newborn with me.

So I suppose our “babymoon” will come after the baby is born, just like how the honeymoon comes after the wedding. Our babymoon this time will include spending long nights together not sleeping (because of night feedings and changings) and going on meandering, scenic drives around town (to try and get the baby to fall asleep). But someday in the not-so-distant-future (cue soaring instrumental) we’ll have an Army retirementmoon and — provided we can find someone to keep the kids and the dogs — then we’ll go to Hawaii, or Sedona or maybe just to the Motel 6, so that we can take long, uninterrupted, naps.

A Christmas Chronology

I wrote this on Christmas Day 2008. My husband was deployed then and my daughter was a newborn. Things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, but it all turned out well in the end. I’m posting it again this year because, with my husband home to help and me pregnant and, thus, not likely to dip into the Schnapps, this Christmas will (fingers crossed!) probably be easier to handle.

Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!


A Christmas Chronology – Posted December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve

8 p.m. – Bathe the kids and start getting them ready for bed. Tell my son that he needs to hurry because he has to be in bed before Santa gets to our house, otherwise Santa won’t leave him any presents. My son asks where Santa is now so we pull up the NORAD Santa tracker online. I gasp and tell him that Santa is already in South America and we’ve got to move quickly because North America is next. He runs upstairs to his room and jumps into bed. I follow him and ask what book he’d like to read. (Normally he wants to read five or six each night.) “No books, Mommy. Santa will be here soon.” Okay, I say, then let’s just say prayers. “We gotta pray fast, Mommy.” We race through “Now I lay me down to sleep” and it’s lights out. I don’t hear a peep from him for the rest of the night.

9:30 p.m. – Feed the baby and try to coax her into sleeping.

10:30 p.m. – She’s finally asleep. I put her to bed and crank up the waterfall sounds really loud so that any noise I make won’t disturb her.

11 p.m.  – Turn my attention to Santa duties. Go to the basement to retrieve presents and congratulate myself on picking out such awesome toys. “I am the coolest mom ever!” I say to myself.

11:15 p.m. – Buy “Fred Claus” to watch from On Demand and set up all the gift wrapping supplies. Decide that gift wrapping will be much more fun with Peppermint Schnapps. Pour myself a shot, thinking, “Schnapps are so festive!”

12:00 a.m. – Gifts are wrapped and under the tree. “Fred Claus” is a funny movie. Schanapps are making me feel great. My husband calls, so I pause the movie to talk to him.

12:30 a.m. – Decide that I might as well make some breakfast casseroles so that I won’t have to cook much in the morning. Assemble the ingredients, mix it all up and put the casseroles in the refrigerator.

1 a.m. – Sit back down to finish watching “Fred Claus”. Decide to have more Schnapps.

2 a.m. – Put the video camera battery on the charger and go to bed. Miraculously, neither child has stirred.

7 a.m. – I am the first one up. I think I’m more excited than my son. I know I’m more excited than the baby. I wake up the baby and feed her.

7:30 a.m. – Make coffee, put the casseroles in the oven and go to wake up my son. I can’t believe he is still sleeping. “He definitely won’t sleep in next year,” I say to myself. I take the video camera and film him as he wakes up, stumbles down the stairs and sees all the presents. His eyes bug out and he is adorable.

7:35 a.m. – The camera stops recording. Apparently I have run out of tape and have no idea if we have any more tapes. I grab my cell phone instead and use it to take pictures. Curse myself for not knowing how to use the video function on the phone.

7:45 a.m. – Gift opening is over. My husband calls and my son tells him all about the toys. Casseroles are cooked and out of the oven. My son won’t eat them. He doesn’t know what a casserole is and pronounces all casseroles “yucky”. Decide to turn on the Yule Log channel for festive holiday background music. For some reason the Yule Log channel isn’t working, so I start trying to assemble the super cool robot Santa brought.

8:30 a.m. – Still trying to assemble the robot that Satan, I mean Santa, brought.

9 a.m. Robot is (finally!) put together. Flip the on switch and realize that it doesn’t have batteries. Have to disassemble it to install the batteries. It requires seven (!) batteries. I don’t have seven new batteries so I take the batteries out of the camera and all the remote controls. Stupid robot still doesn’t work. I am starting to cuss now, quietly.

9:15 a.m. Give up on the robot. Turn my attention to the really cute penguin toy. The penguins are supposed to climb a staircase and then slide down a luge that ends at the bottom of the stairs. The slide is a major pain to put together. Quickly realize that I need a “D” battery. Don’t have a “D” battery. My son is dejected. Kids aren’t supposed to be dejected on Christmas. I remember that the baby swing has “D” batteries. Now where is that stupid tiny screwdriver?

9:30 a.m. I’m in the basement digging through the toolbox. Finally find the screwdriver. Voila! The penguin toy works. It is adorable! But it makes a continuous chirping noise. Think to myself that that noise might get annoying after awhile.

9:45 a.m. Trying to build a really cool marble race with the awesome (and intelligence enhancing) wood block marble race set.

9:55 a.m. Have built an amazing marble race for my son. Can’t wait for him to try it.

9:56 a.m. Marble race blocks are scattered all over the room and marbles are everywhere. My son thought it would be more fun to destroy the structure I’d built than to race marbles down it. Not sure what this says about his intelligence or if the marble race can help him.

9:59 a.m. I hate the robot. I hate the marble race. And I would really like to go back to the basement to get the hammer so I can smash the penguin toy to make it shut up.

10 a.m. The caffeine from the coffee is wearing off and the sugar from the French Toast casserole is wearing off. I am experiencing a caffeine crash and sugar low at the same time. My son goes to the bathroom and comes back without pants or underwear on. Refuses to put on either for the rest of the morning. Says he wants to “Porky Pig it” —  borrowing a phrase his father uses to describe wearing a shirt with no pants. I give up. Who says a kid has to wear bottoms at home, anyway?

10:30 a.m. The house is trashed. There are boxes, zip ties, and torn wrapping paper everywhere. The penguin toy works too well and the robot doesn’t work at all. My son tried to make the robot work and now there are robot pieces everywhere. The baby is (THANK GOD) asleep. Huge casseroles sit mostly untouched in the kitchen. I’m exhausted and really regretting the Schnapps.

10:35 a.m. My son gives me a big hug and a kiss and tells me this is the best Christmas ever. He says, “I’m so happy, Mommy.”

10:40 a.m. Lay on the couch, close my eyes, smile and think to myself that Christmas is awesome. What a great day. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Share your deployment/reintegration story-ASAP

So, assuming any of you newly reunited post-Iraq couples have torn yourselves away from each other long enough to read my blog (don’t you have better things to do?), I just heard from a writer for a major national magazine who would like tell your stories.

She’s looking for couples where one or both members are in the military and recently returned from Iraq — ideally, in the last couple of months. She’d also like to find young couples — that means 35 and under — but you don’t have to be married, engaged or dating is fine, too. And, most importantly, you need to be willing to talk about the deployment and the reintegration and to share photos and/or videos — and quickly. She’s on a pretty tight deadline.

But if this is you, then this is a great opportunity to tell the world about our lives as military family members. You can email me at and I’ll put you in touch with her. Thanks!

Merry Christmas from Google

I already use Google for searching, for shopping, for directions and for quickly finding the answers that will end unpleasant debates. Now I am very pleased to say that I’ll be using Google to find resources to help my family and other military families. A group of veterans, military family members and friends of veterans who work for Google created a special site called simply, Google for Veterans and Families.

The site is divided into basically two pages: Google for Veterans and Google for Military Families. From each of those pages you can very easily navigate to a myriad of free services that already exist for veterans and milfamilies.

It’s an absolutely phenomenal first stop for all things veteran and milfam, and a very generous Christmas (or Chanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Solstice, or …) present from the Internet behemoth to all of us.

Here’s what you’ll find:


Watch 3D virtual tours of service and build your own tour soon

The truth about Ilario

I’ve been a fan of Ilario Pantano’s since first hearing about him. The New York native has the sort of American dream back story writers drool over: Born into tough circumstances, he worked hard and found success on Wall Street. Then, when 9/11 happened, patriotism caused him to walk away from fortune and return to the Marine Corps to serve his country. That is — simply put — a fantastic story.

But in those post-Abu Ghraib days in Iraq, when the split second decisions of the troops on the battlefield were scrutinized by people sitting in comfy seats in Congress, people so far removed from the battlefield that they assumed the worst of our service members, Ilario got swept up in an investigation into the supposed murder of civilians in Iraq. He always maintained his innocence and the charges against him were ultimately dropped, but his Marine Corps career was over. I wrote about his struggles back then and expressed my support for him, as well as for the Marines who were accused in the so-called “Haditha Massacre” — another “massacre” that never was. (Those Marines were also cleared.)

Fortunately for those of us in southeastern North Carolina, Ilario decided to stay here. I got to meet him last year when he was campaigning to represent us in the Senate and was very impressed. He is the most sincere politician I’ve ever met. I’d vote for him in a heartbeat. (And, to all my CrossFit buddies — He’s a CrossFitter, too!)  Had he picked any other district, I think he would have won. He ran a very good race. He has also written a book about his ordeal with the investigation.

Today this column about Ilario appeared in the New York Post. It’s a good read and worth your time. But the most important sentences are these:

Five years too late, Ilario Pantano has finally found justice — as have those Marines accused in the Haditha case, who had the charges against them dropped over time, as well.

But two nagging questions remain. When will the media quit treating every war incident involving Americans as if it were My Lai? And when will our military justice system stop second-guessing our troops on the battlefield and let them do their job?


Happy Place Travels…

… and just to round out the journey to my happy place, two of my all-time favorite pictures:



















Santa, unicorns, rainbows, Jesus and raptors … journey complete. 🙂

Santa on a Unicorn

I needed to lighten the mood around here — or at least to lighten my mood — so I Googled “Santa on a Unicorn” (the happiest thought I could think of) and turned up this:












On today

Here’s a link to my opinion piece on today. Check it out.

12:45 Update: So the CNN commentary seems to be turning into something that would make for fascinating fodder for a psychology class. People really do bring their own perceptions to everything they encounter. The vast majority of the comments on the CNN site are from people who were offended by what I wrote because of their own direct connections to the Iraq War. They seemed to take from the commentary that I believe Iraq to be a less noble war than Afghanistan, when not only did I NOT say that in the commentary, I actually said just the OPPOSITE. In fact, in the 3rd paragraph — very near the top of the piece — I say this:

“…my reasoning has nothing to do with the actual fighting that took place there. I am grateful because, to many Americans, Afghanistan is still the “good” war, the one we had to fight. Iraq was the war that many never understood nor supported.”

This is sad on so many levels. Personally, it’s frustrating to be completely misunderstood when I think I stated clearly, early on and repeatedly in the commentary that I don’t see any difference between the fighting that has taken place in the two countries and that I’m grateful my husband served in Afghanistan (and not Iraq) because it means we won’t have to suffer the comments of the fools who want to mouth off on the Iraq war. But the commentary being so misconstrued is sad for me on a larger scale because it means that  there are so many veterans and military family members who expect to see their service disparaged that they instantly jump to that conclusion.

So, if you’ve clicked through from the CNN piece because you’re just mad as hell at me and want to sound off some more, please read the commentary again and consider the actual words it contains before doing so.

10 p.m. Update – At this point I would like to offer my very sincere apologies to those who have served in Iraq or whose loved ones served there — and most especially to the surviving spouses of troops killed there — for any offense this commentary caused. It was never my intent to offend you guys, in fact, my intent was simply to inform people that the “what a waste” type comments are hurtful. To think that I have hurt in you in trying to put out that message is distressing to say the least.

Right now I am attempting to circulate this apology among the Gold Star community and I hope that any of you reading this will cut and paste it and pass it on to friends you may have in that community:
Dear Surviving Spouses & Gold Star Family members – I hope that you will accept this apology and know that I would apologize to each of you individually if I could. I am very sorry if any of you believed that I was implying in the piece I wrote that there was something less noble or honorable about serving in Iraq than serving in Afghanistan. That is not my belief and certainly not the message I had hoped to convey. Rather, the point of that commentary was to say that, because of the media coverage and public opinion surrounding the Iraq War, people sometimes now make ignorant comments about Iraq to military family members. As the wife of an Afghanistan veteran, I am grateful that they don’t say those things to me. Apparently I failed as a writer in conveying this point and I am sincerely sorry for any grief I may have caused any of you.

Very Sincerely,
Rebekah Sanderlin


In addition to the apology, I’d also like to say that this has been such an unexpected experience and I’ve spent most of the day talking with friends about how this commentary has been received. The response from readers, from what I’ve received in emails and comments here and elsewhere on the web, has been about 50-50, with 50 percent being totally offended and 50 percent thanking me for writing the piece. I’ve never written anything that received such a mixed response, and certainly not on such extremes, so I’ve been trying to figure out how it is that so many people can read the same words and yet have such different — but still very intense — reactions.

I have also been amazed at how many readers who say they were offended by it also say that they have never had anyone speak to them negatively about the Iraq War. This blows my mind. I hear those “what a waste” type comments about Iraq almost every week, and that’s why I was motivated to write this piece. I actually moved back to my military town from my hometown during a deployment a few years ago largely because those comments became too much for me to bear. (And, for what it’s worth, my home town is in a “Red State”!)

Readers who are themselves civilians (and by that I mean that they have no direct connection to the military — for these purposes I’m going to group military family members in with troops themselves) have written to say that they appreciate the commentary and do not understand why it has caused such a stir. Likewise, I’ve heard from a number of readers who used to be active duty or married to someone on active duty but now live in civilian areas who have said that they really appreciate the sentiments I expressed in the commentary. Almost without exception the critical responses have come from those who are OIF veterans, married to OIF veterans or who lost a loved one in Iraq. While it absolutely breaks my heart to have so offended the very people I consider to be part of my own military family, it also tells me that a lot of people in military communities do not realize what is said about the war in civilian communities. This is scary. Civilians elect Congress and Congress dictates both the military budget and where and when our troops go to war. I’ve written a lot these past years about the military/civilian divide and I suspect that this is one more example of how our military communities are becoming islands.

Please — and I’m speaking now especially to those of you in the military community — know that if I had only intended with this commentary to speak to other military family members, I would have written the commentary here, on my own blog. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have written it all as there’s no need to tell you all that talking bad about the Iraq war is hurtful to those who’ve sacrificed there. You don’t need to be told that — you already know that. Instead, I wrote that piece for CNN because I wanted to reach a wider audience — I wanted to reach the very  people who make those comments. And they do make them, whether we want to accept it or not.

Finally, and this is a fairly minor, technical, point, but I used quotation marks in the commentary around the word good (in the sentence that describes Afghanistan as a “good” war) because I was quoting those who call it that, not because I think that myself. I do not see either front in the war as being “good” or “bad”.

Again, I am sorry for any hurt that I may have caused you, but I do ask again that you read the commentary and the words in it and judge it, and me, based on what I actually said — and not what you perceived that I meant.

Many thanks to all of you who have taken your time to comment here and elsewhere on the web and to email me. Though a lot of what you said has been quite stinging (and not all of it constructive), I do appreciate that you have shared your time and thoughts with me.



Happy Holidays, Military-Style


When I was growing up, my family’s holiday traditions rarely varied.  Sure, every now and then my mom would mix up the Thanksgiving menu by making a seven-layered salad instead of a green bean casserole or my grandparents would visit for Christmas.  But typically our holiday rituals remained unchanged.  It wasn’t Thanksgiving without a turkey.  It wasn’t Christmas Eve without hors d’oeuvres and stocking stuffers.  And it wasn’t Christmas Day without a plate of cookies and wrapping paper that was color coded for each family member, both of which were gone before the sun had a chance to rise.

But holidays are different when you’re married to the military.  As hard as we may try to maintain traditions, the military tends to test our resolve by deploying our husbands and moving us to remote locations.  We celebrate holidays where and when we can, sometimes ignoring the calendar so we can collect the special days and celebrate them all when our family is intact.  Yes, we military families have to make do, convincing our kids that Santa can find us wherever we are and convincing ourselves that one day we’ll look back on this and laugh.

I’ve definitely had some interesting military holidays.  I spent my first military Christmas in a hotel in a strange new city where Christmas dinner consisted of beer and nachos at a local bar.  I spent my third military Christmas repeatedly telling myself that it’s not a big deal that my husband was missing our 9-month-old son’s first Christmas because the baby wouldn’t remember that his daddy was in Iraq.  And I spent my fourth military Christmas in Japan, this time with my husband, but without anything else that felt familiar.

That first Christmas in the hotel made me resent military life.  The third Christmas without my husband made me feel powerless.  But that fourth Christmas overseas introduced me to an aspect of military life I had never experienced before: the military family.  And although the specific members may come and go, that military family has become just as important to me as my real family.

I expected my first holiday in a foreign country to feel, well, foreign.  Most of our Christmas decorations were in storage back in the States, and our family was an ocean away.  It was just me, my husband, our 22-month-old son, and our dog.  Or so I thought.

There were so many holiday events throughout the month of December in that small Japanese town that by the time Christmas came, I was all Christmas-ed out!  We watched Santa drive into our favorite park in a fire truck.  We gazed at Christmas lights downtown and learned how the Japanese celebrate the holidays.  We attended multiple Christmas parties for kids and adults.  We even got our dog involved when the base offered Santa pictures with pets.  It was the most festive holiday season I had ever experienced.  And I had my military family to thank for that.

We were all in the same boat.  We were all missing our families in the States, many of us missing our husbands as well.  We had no other choice but to join together and make the best of it.  And boy did we ever make the best of it!  That Christmas in a foreign country was the farthest thing from foreign.  I felt like I was home.  I felt like I was surrounded by family.

Throughout the three years we lived overseas, I learned to embrace my military family and adopt as many family members as possible, especially during the holidays.  In fact, the last Thanksgiving we spent in Japan was probably my most memorable military holiday.  I bought the biggest turkey the commissary had.  My husband and I invited acquaintances who had nowhere else to go or whose spouses were deployed.  I cooked for four days, preparing a feast for a gathering that included both close friends and people I had never met before.  Some have remained friends, some I’ll never hear from again.  But that day, as two dozen or so people came in and out of our house at varying intervals, we welcomed them as family.  From the geo bachelor missing his wife’s Thanksgiving spread to the Korean wife who had never had a Thanksgiving spread, we welcomed them all.  Our military family.

Since leaving Japan, our holidays have been surprisingly unaffected by military life.  And while I appreciate the luxuries of living stateside, having my husband home, and establishing our own traditions, I sometimes miss those holidays made so memorable by military life.  But I’m sure that one day the military will test our holiday resolve again, and when it does, I’ll be ready.  I just need to remember the recipe for the perfect military holiday: A main course of adventure, served with a side of adaptability, a bottle of vintage flexibility, and a hefty helping of humor for dessert, all prepared with a dash of love.  And a little help from my military family.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

(Be sure to check out the Riding the Roller Coaster blog to read more great posts like this one. And you can find me today over on Witty Little Secret, a hilarious milspouse blog that I’m sure you’ll want to bookmark –  Rebekah)