From the vault: Christmas 2009, Speaking Parts

Originally published December 21, 2009


Three Kings

My son was really excited after church Sunday because he said he had been the loudest one in his Sunday School class’ nativity reenactment. His teacher agreed.

“He was the loudest one we’ve ever had,” she said, smiling.

The teachers had assigned roles for each child to play in their lesson about the birth of Jesus. Bo, apparently, had played his part with great enthusiasm.

“Which part did you play,” I asked him, thinking that if he described his role as “loud” maybe he had been the angel with the famous, “And lo, from the east …” line that is something of a rite of passage for every American child. But who was I kidding? As if any teacher would look at Bo, who is always either tormenting some other child or dreaming up new forms of torment, and think, “Angel…he’s perfect for the Angel part.”

“Guess,” he told me, but I couldn’t think of any other speaking parts.

“Were you Joseph?” I asked, hoping he’d say no because Joseph is the usually the most shafted character in the nativity story. Sometimes he is left out completely. I have several nativity sets that didn’t even come with a Joseph. It’s like it was simply Joseph’s job in the Bible to lead the laboring Mary and her donkey to the stable, rearrange the hay in the manger and then just stand off to the side and let history play out, never to be heard from again. Actually, I guess that was exactly Joseph’s job in the Bible. Anyway, I don’t recall Joseph ever saying anything in any Christmas program I’ve ever seen. If Bo had been a “loud” Joseph then the whole scene had probably been a disaster.

“No. Guess again,” Bo said.

I went through all the characters – wise men, shepherds, Mary, Baby Jesus, but Bo said no to all.

Finally I gave up and said, “Bo just tell me which part you played.”

“I was the cow,” he said, with great pride. I cracked up laughing, picturing my little boy being the loudest, most enthusiastic cow to ever witness to the birth of Jesus.

“MOO!!!!” he screamed, demonstrating. As if I needed an example of a loud holy cow. He moo’d the whole way home, reliving his stage debut, I guess. By the time we got back to the house I was sorry that I hadn’t seen it for myself. But (and here comes the sappy part) such is the parenting experience.

We never get to see every little thing our children do. Even those of us who are lucky enough to spend lots of time with our kids still miss huge chunks of their lives. I learned of Bo’s first steps on a daily progress report from the teachers in his mother’s day out class, which he only attended for three hours on one day each week. He had chosen those three hours as the best time for him to step out into the world. Right beneath the details of his bottles and bowel movements that day one of the teachers had scrawled, “Bo took three steps today.” I pasted that form into his baby book in lieu of a photo of the momentous occasion.

I was very sad to have missed seeing those steps. That’s why the saddest thing for me during deployments is all the stuff that my husband misses seeing. I’m a pretty good story teller and I try to recount in as many details as I can everything that happens so my husband will feel like he was there, too. Sometimes I tell the story so effectively that months or years later he recalls the details and we both forget for a second that he didn’t actually see it happen. But, when something amazing or amusing happens while he is deployed, my first thought is always how sad it is for him that he didn’t get to experience it. My second thought is how sad it is for the kids that he wasn’t there to share the moment with them. And my third thought is how sad it is for me that I don’t have anyone to nudge and laugh with over what just happened. I suppose my fourth thought is how I will describe it when I get a chance to talk to him again.

This Christmas, like many before, lots of families are separated by distance and war. Lots of kids have been performing in Christmas plays that one or both parents have had to miss. Lots of kids will be fighting with their siblings for the attention of the one parent who is home. Lots of moms will be trying to balance a video camera while installing batteries in new electronics or fumbling with the maddening zip ties that keep toys shackled to cardboard boxes.

And “over there”, lots of soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors, civilians and contractors will have one all-too-short phone call during which to hear as many details about their families’ Christmas celebrations as can be recalled. They’ll check their emails several times throughout the day, in hopes of receiving bleary-eyed Christmas morning pictures. They’ll get off the phone and tell their buddies with pride about all that’s going on back home, including as many details as they can, telling the story as if they had been there themselves. Then they’ll go back to work and hope that the day – and the deployment – passes as quickly as possible.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and especially to those of you who are spending Christmas with your loved ones on the phone. Whether it’s your first or your fourth (or more) Christmas apart, may it be as merry as possible. To those at home: Take and send lots of pictures and note and share as many details as possible. And to those away: Please stay safe and healthy, and remember that it won’t be like this forever.

A Letter to Barbara Starr

My friend Molly Blake, a fellow military spouse, and I put our brains together to write this piece on The Huffington Post. It’s an open letter to Barbara Starr, but it’s really a letter to Americans,  and especially to those contemplating starting a war with Syria. Please read it and share it with your friends.



Separate but … well, just separate

For weeks now I’ve been mulling over the issues raised by Ashley Broadway, the lesbian Officer’s wife who was denied membership in the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses. I have literally written seven very different versions of this post trying to ferret out my thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, I get why Ashley wants to join the Officers Spouses’ Club, at least I think I do. I suspect she’s trying to knock down some walls, and I support her in that. But, honestly, it’s hard for me to be excited and passionate about anyone being allowed to join a group that won’t let me in — and therein lies the rub.

My husband is Enlisted. I am an Enlisted wife. (And why does that feel like a dirty little secret?) So though I have an ID card (not having one is the reason they gave for excluding Ashley), my ID isn’t good enough to get me into the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses — and that stings. No matter what justification they might give for being exclusive, the very name of the organization smacks of snobbery. And, yes, I know there are some Enlisted Spouses Clubs at other posts, but there isn’t one at Bragg. Even if there was, ‘separate but equal’ is not exactly a respected American value.

In researching what to write on this issue, I found a newsletter for the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses and it made me cry — actual wet, ugly, tears. There were notices of tennis lessons, craft meetings, play groups and other social activities. The club was bursting with community and support. In other words, the exact things I searched for but had a hard time finding during the almost 10 years I spent at Ft. Bragg; the exact things that might have helped me ward off two bouts of clinical depression. All those years I kept thinking these types of activities would happen through my Family Readiness Group (FRG) — the Army’s-sponsored family support groups — and so, with the tireless efforts of others (many of them Officers’ wives) I volunteered countless hours with my FRG, only to see nearly every effort I poured myself into fizzle out for lack of volunteers. The most likely volunteers, I now realize, had their own club; one I and most of the other wives were not allowed to join.

Some background: The Officer/Enlisted divide was the most shocking thing for me to absorb when I married into the military world. I didn’t grow up in a military family and I was raised to believe that all people were worth the same, a value I hold dearly and deeply and one that has often put me at odds with my military world. My civilian friends are usually shocked to learn about some of the O/E separations and often describe it as a caste system. I don’t disagree with that assessment. Honestly, even 10 years after the initial shock, I still find many of the separations to be ridiculous and offensive. During those years, I helped advise the White House on military family policies; shared the stage with the President and several Cabinet members; gave hundreds of hours to military family causes and had my writings on military family issues published by dozens of national and local news outlets, and yet there’s a large segment of my world that still assumes I have nothing to offer them because of the “E” on my military dependent ID.

Is a deployment really that different for a Captain’s wife than it is for a Sergeant’s wife? Do we not all experience the same loneliness? The same frustrations settling into another new community? The same hardships in attaining our own educational and career goals? The same worries for our children’s adjustments and futures? And if our spouses can manage to accept, respect and work together, why in the world can’t we?

As the years passed, I came to understand that the military has rules — necessary rules — regarding fraternization between Officers and enlisted soldiers. And, actually, I agree with many of those rules. A commander can’t hang out with those he commands. I get that. And the commanded don’t really want to hang out with their commanders after hours. Makes sense to me. I have no problem with the Army maintaining separate Officers’ Clubs and Enlisted Clubs for this reason. Problem is, Ft. Bragg did away with those clubs a few years ago. Now there’s just the All Ranks Club — and everyone is welcomed there. Which makes it all the more puzzling that, though there is no longer a Ft. Bragg Officers’ Club, there is still an Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses.

There’s a story every military spouse has heard, a cautionary tale. I don’t think anyone knows who actually said it and when but, like any good fable, it is used to remind us to listen to our better angels. It goes like this: A commander entered a meeting of a spouses’ group and told the ladies to seat themselves according to rank. The wives all shuffled around with the highest ranking soldier’s wife taking the first seat and so forth and so on right down to the private’s wife, who took the last seat. The commander then sternly said to the crowd, “Ladies, you have no rank,” and walked out angrily.

But even with this oft-repeated and much-beloved tale, why is it that we — especially after more than a decade of war — excuse and ignore the institutionalized rank-wearing that takes place in social clubs? Why do we even tolerate the existence of clubs whose very names are rank-based, and based on a rank that none of us — only our spouses — actually wear? And why would any forward thinking commander encourage his or her spouse to be involved in one of these organizations, particularly considering that the all-inclusive FRGs exist for exactly the same purpose and could really use more volunteers?

I know that these clubs are largely benevolent organizations and that they truly do some good work. They raise money for charities and much of that money goes to help enlisted families. (Which, while needed and certainly well-intentioned, is a bit patronizing…) But if the women involved actually wanted to help the broader military community — if they actually wanted to help enlisted families — they’d pour their efforts into organizations that include all military families and, in that way, would actually come to know the needs of enlisted families firsthand. Because then they’d know that the biggest need of any military spouse — Officer, Enlisted, gay, straight, young, old, regardless of race, regardless of religion — is friendship. And it’s hard to be friends when they won’t let you in the door.

Color me Overly Sensitive…

A few weeks ago a friend posted a funny picture on Facebook that she’d ripped from a page called “Overly Sensitive Military Wives.” Intrigued, I checked out the page and found that a bunch of my friends had “liked” it. So I liked it, too. Every few days I’d drop by to see what was posted on the prolific page — there’s an update nearly every hour, and a lot of the stuff is pretty funny. Then I started reading the comments — and I started getting depressed.

My reaction was similar to the reaction my husband has when we encounter someone particularly loud-mouthed and ignorant. “I can’t believe I volunteered to fight and possibly die for that,” he says, and we shake our heads sadly, roll our eyes and chuckle. I usually counter with, “Yep, their vote counts just as much as ours do.” Many times this is followed by a conversation about all that is wrong with America and how we ought to just defect and start our own country somewhere else. Preferably somewhere warm.

Trolling through the posts and comments on that Facebook page made me feel like all the — seriously — thousands of hours I’ve given to work on military issues have been in vain. “I’ve been busting my ass for these people?” I thought, and got a little sick to my stomach. Family support, children’s resources, childcare initiatives, spouse education and hiring benefits, suicide prevention, you name it and I’ve helped with a fundraiser or an awareness campaign. The women who post comments on the site are mostly military wives from what I can tell, and they seem to draw great pleasure from ridiculing “dependapotamuses” (which, I admit, is a rather clever term), whom they define as being fat military wives. Stereotypes abound and there’s not a shred of kindness or understanding anywhere.

In fact, my husband Facebook stalked me (I gave him permission) and saw that I’d commented on one of the updates. He clicked through, read the comments, and called me to say, “If this is the Army now, I want out. These people suck. Are there really people who think like that?”

The temptation to join in is obvious. It’s human nature. Practically every tween and teen movie includes a plot line about the nice girl (and it’s always a girl) who gets invited to sit at the popular table in the cafeteria and then becomes a bitch who makes fun of her old friends. Those plot lines are there because even children can recognize that it’s wrong to sell out your own people — and we want our kids to absorb that lesson. Some of us just don’t seem to apply it to ourselves.

Children aren’t spared in the comments, either, by the way. They’re always described as shitty brats, and not “brats” in the military sense of the word. There’s no credit given for the fact that those ill-behaved kids are coping with a freakin’ decade of war the best they know how. And, having lived in a military community for nearly a decade, I can say confidently that it’s not like the majority of military wives are size 2 beauty queens. I highly suspect that the harshest commenters would probably be described by others as a “dependapotamus” themselves as they chased their misbehaving kids through the PX. I’m honestly not sure how those bitches managed to climb up on horses high enough to allow them to look down so easily on the rest of us.

The entire point of the OSMW page is to be mean to military wives. That’s it. There is no other reason for it’s existence. Worse, from what I can determine, it was started by an unmarried female service member. Obviously not one with a demanding MOS though, (I hope) or she wouldn’t have time for all those updates.  Now, I get why she and other female service members might derive some joy at poking fun of military wives — there is a long-standing rivalry there — but why in the world would a military wife join in? That’d be like a black person joining the KKK “you know, ’cause sometimes racist jokes are funny.”

It’s mostly cheap humor, not wit. Simply slapping an e-card and a fake quote graphic on a mean statement doesn’t equal comedy. These Rosies aren’t riveting, in any sense of the word.

Ugh. I feel like I need a shower, and maybe a colonic and a juice fast. Or a lobotomy. Something that will clean me inside and out to take the stank of that page away.


The V-Day invasion



It’s Valentine’s Day. Just thought I’d tell you all that in case you missed all the pink and red hearts everywhere. After calling my Valentine a jerk in my last post, I suppose I have some making up to do. But here’s what I will not do:

1. I will not … wait in line for an hour and a half just to get a table in one of Fayetteville’s restaurants for dinner tonight. One Valentine’s Day I planned ahead and got tickets for us to see a musical and planned an early dinner beforehand. I even called around a few days in advance to see about reservations but none of the restaurants I called accepted them. We started trying to get a table at 5:30, which is so ridiculously early it shouldn’t have been a problem, ….but Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th, which practically makes it pay day in a military town. Which, as any of you who live in a military town know, means every restaurant will be slammed, holiday or not. The musical started at 8 and at 7:15, after going to six different restaurants, all of which had a 45 minute or longer wait, we ended up in this charming little Italian bistro called Fazoli’s (that’s sarcasm, folks) … and we weren’t the only overdressed people there.

This year we’re going to take the kids to gymnastics class and then come home to something I’ve thrown together in the crockpot.  I’m not quite sure what that will be yet. This year romance means not having to sit elbow-to-elbow with a packed house full of strangers who are all trying to look romantic.

2. I will not … spend a bunch of money on a present for him. In the decade we’ve been together I have bought him only one present that he actually liked and, to tell the truth, I sort of dumb-lucked into that one.  I’ve actually started a pretty decent side business selling all the other (unused) gifts I’ve given him over the years on eBay and Craigslist. Many of them still have the tags. Likewise, he’s not so great at picking out stuff for me, either. A few years back he was on TDY and called to say he found some lingerie in a store that he thought I’d love and was shipping it to me. This is not something he normally does, so I was shocked — but not as shocked as I was when I opened the box and and discovered that the “lingerie” was made by Patagonia, the sports bra (’cause that’s what it was) was too small and the panties were “anti-microbial.” And we all know nothing says romance like “you can wear these panties for four days in the wilderness without showering and not get a yeast infection,” right girls?

This year we’re not doing gifts, flowers or candy —  though he did pick me a flowering sprig of vinka from the flower bed by the front door on his way to work this morning.

3. I will not … expect grand gestures. This has been my downfall in the past, I admit it. All the evil consumer forces conspire to make us think that everyone does Valentine’s Day in a big way and if our own experience is anything less than grand then we’ve been done wrong by our inconsiderate sweetie. And perhaps this is true for those who are 22 years old and single. But if you’re in that mode of thinking that says “my boyfriend/hubs doesn’t love me because he didn’t send flowers/buy jewelry/rent out a jumbotron, etc., let me just straighten you out: Real love has nothing to do with buying stuff. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day in a big way and if that’s your thing then, by all means, do it up in style. But — just like your momma always told you — it really is the thought that counts.

This year I’m grateful that my husband is home so that we can NOT celebrate together. In the past we’ve been forced by deployments and other separations to opt out of V-Day. This year I’m glad we get to choose to mostly ignore it.

This year I’m grateful that he got mad at me for buying donuts last night to give the kids for a special Valentine’s Day breakfast today because, apparently, he had planned to get up early and go buy donuts  and coffee (the coffee was for me, not the kids) before the rest of us were awake. That’s real love.

And real love is dashing back to the house, even though he was running late for work, just to give me a little sprig of vinka and a kiss.

And … maybe most of all … real love is him being willing to sit through a kids’ gymnastics class even though he says all the little girls in leotards make him feel like a perv for being there, and they play the same song 30 times in an hour and a half, and that one lady on the bleachers talks incessantly about her kids and drives everyone crazy. But real love is being there anyway because nothing makes our daughter happier than seeing her daddy in the front row watching her do her “nastics”.  And that makes for a perfect a Valentine’s Day for me because, as I tell him all the time, a man looks his most handsome when he’s being  good to his children and there is nothing more precious than watching a father dote on his daughter.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you who are celebrating it, and Happy Tuesday to the rest of you!


11 a.m. update: It seems we will NOT be having pot roast in the crock pot tonight. I set a frozen roast on the counter to thaw and the stupid dog (we have two — the smart one and the stupid one) ate it. She actually ate the entire, frozen solid, hunk of meat — styrofoam tray, plastic wrap and all. In fact, we may end up at Fazoli’s again this year, but this time it will be (mostly) by choice. 🙂



Allow me to explain:
There’s this mental checklist I run down every time my husband and I fight. It goes something like this:

Is he being a jerk because:
1. He is a jerk.

2. He can’t help it. His TBI is the reason he forgot (my birthday, to take out the trash, my sister’s name, to take one extra step so his dirty clothes would actually make it INSIDE the hamper this time, etc.).

3. Maybe it’s late onset PTSD. Didn’t I read that one of the signs is increased irritability and forgetfulness?

4. He’s still not used to life at home after all these years of war. It’s not PTSD or TBI, it’s transitioning. But for the love of God, how long is it going to take the man to transition? Is there a statute of limitations on this crap?

5. Maybe he’s not the jerk, maybe I am. Maybe he’s right and I’m wrong.

6. …And maybe I’ve always been the jerk but he’s been gone too much for either of us to notice it until now…

7. No, that can’t be it. I get along fine with everyone else. Must be that he’s always been a jerk but has been gone too much and for too long for me to notice it until now.

8. Nope. I noticed it yesterday, too. So does that mean that it is PTSD or TBI?

9. And if his jerkiness is medical, is it fair for me to get mad at him for it? I mean, I wouldn’t get mad at him for lying on the couch if he had cancer and I wouldn’t expect him to take out the trash if he were missing his legs. I wouldn’t yell at him for dozing off if he had narcolepsy. Maybe I’m just being insensitive?

10. No, I cry for roadkill. If anything, I’m oversensitive.

11. But if this is a war wound, what am I supposed to do about this? Insist on better? Suck it up and live with it? Seek treatment for him? If I think he’s a jerk now, just wait until I suggest that he has PTSD…

12. Arghh.

So this has been going on for a while now and, no, I haven’t figured out the answer. For what it’s worth, I’m 95% sure it’s not PTSD because our arguments tend to be of the Mars/Venus type and I’m pretty sure that combat has nothing to do with that. (Though in mythology Mars WAS the God of War…hmm…)

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that this checklist has effectively rendered PTSD and TBI the male version of PMS, which almost makes it kind of fun for me.  Almost. Now everytime he screws something up, I can just (breathe deeply, count to 10) then rub his head and say in baby cooing tones, “Awww, it must be your wittle TBI messy-wessying up your thinking again.” Which has about the same effect on him as his “Must be your time of the month.” comments have on me. If only he got chocolate cravings and bloated a couple of days in advance as a warning…

I didn’t say it was a good solution, people. Just an equitable one.


Gabby Giffords, MSOY?

The Fayetteville Observer has a great story in the paper today about me and the two other Bragg wives who’ve been nominated for Military Spouse of the Year. Here’s a link to the story:

You can vote for me here until February 3rd, when voting on this first round (the Branch representative round) ends. AND PLEASE DO VOTE FOR ME! But, if you’ve got a minute, read the profiles of the other spouses (because there’s a husband who has been nominated, too — Love that!). Reading what some of them have accomplished and committed themselves to doing, despite all sorts of obstacles, has literally moved me to tears. I am truly very honored and humbled to be in their ranks. It’s hard to think of this as a competition when I find myself voting for my “competitors”…

It’s no secret that I’m partial to military families. Over and again we do the impossible, and usually with a smile on our face. This was even more apparent yesterday when Gabrielle Giffords, the only military spouse in Congress, announced she was resigning this week. As you no doubt recall, she’s been recovering from a gunshot to the head after an assassin tried to kill her last year. In this video she says that she still has a lot of recovering left to do and that stepping down is the right thing for her constituents.

Maybe we need her as a write-in candidate for Military Spouse of the Year? Seriously… what an amazing woman!



Military Spouse of the Year


So … I have been nominated to be the 2012 Military Spouse of the Year and made it all the way to the finals! Right now I’m up against four other Army wives, all of whom are really impressive. One of us will be chosen and then the overall Military Spouse of the Year will be chosen out of that group. At this point it all comes down to votes — whoever gets the most votes wins. The good news is that anyone can vote — and you can vote EVERY 59 minutes!  So please vote for me and tell your friends to vote for me, too. And if I win I promise to buy each and every one of you a rainbow-striped pony.

Click here to vote:

(And, just in case you’re wondering, I have no idea *what* I will actually win. Probably just some validation and the opportunity to meet with military and political leaders and to inflict my opinions on them. But how often does one of us get to do that?)