Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I imagine today is a busy day, with everyone traveling or bustling at home or working a shift and thinking of all that needs to be done after work - so to everyone who has a few minutes to sit at the computer and take a read: stay safe and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
We truly have so much to be thankful for, and my own cup runneth over with gratitude for my health, my family's health, our happiness, and the abundance of opportunity we have in this country.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
We will be total dorks and plan on eating our H & H bagels in front of Tiffanys. Because we're dorks.
I can't wait - the pee is already starting to dribble down my leg in excitement.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Men get all the credit. It's just wrong. Bob had brought Jack into the office for a meeting, and he was in the bullpen of the finance office when a woman asked him, "Why do you have young Master Jack with you today?"
He explained where I was and she stopped, her jaw practically unhinged and on the floor. By this point, several other women had stopped their work to listen (I should add the vast majority of his employees are women).
"You mean to tell me that you are taking care of the four kids by yourself while your wife is away on vacation alone?"
Bob nodded. His sphincter was already tightening for the verbal ass-kicking he knew was inevitable after relaying this exchange to me.
"You are the most awesome husband ever."
Good times. How may times over the course of the years have I gone it alone with the kids? How many have you? For me, it easily adds up to a year. Seriously. How many times has someone stopped me in the store, all four kids in tow, and complimented my multi-tasking prowess? Um, none. How many times do the women at Bob's office practically hump his leg over what a great daddy he is if he brings one of the kids in? Oh, a million.
You just know one of those Bettys are waiting for me to die in a plane crash on the way home.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Somebody hit me upside the head.
The day before yesterday one of the girls' friends came over to play. I had thought the days of my girls playing Spy Club were long behind us, but every now and again, I am reminded that they are both still pretty young. I happen to know they still occasionally play with the dollhouse upstairs, so they're not completely grown yet. Anyway, this friend knocks at the door.
She's wearing large black headphones and carrying a gun-like device. On the end of this device is a plate-sized dish that looks like a satellite dish, it even had a little rod with a ball in the middle.
"Hi, Mrs. M. This is my spy equipment I wanted to show the girls. I just listened to your phone conversation with my mom from across the street, and I know that she's taking you to breakfast on Tuesday."
The times, they are a changing.'
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I wish I were here right now with the kids, the
sound of the surf pounding, the smell of the ocean, and the feel of a cold glass full of Kristi's fresh lime margarita in my hand.
After the sun set, the kids and I laid back on a hammock in the sand and watched the stars while listening to the waves recede to low tide. It was so dark, and the sky so clear, that we could see the Milky Way. It was heavenly.
Today, I'll be cleaning house and preparing my family, because although we're not headed back to Mexico anytime soon, I am leaving in the morning for Delaware to visit my best friend. For the next six days, Bob will be the PIC (parent in charge) and I will be back east visiting and abiding by my own schedule.
It's kind of like Mexico in my head.
Stay tuned; I'm bringing the laptop with me.
Monday, November 12, 2007
A few weeks ago, at a point where it was clear that she wasn’t going to live much longer, she had what she considered to be a revelation from God. For those of you who knew her, Melinda was quite skeptical, and was not in the slightest prone to divine revelations. She heard a quiet voice telling her that “Your life is enough.” “Your life is enough.” She took this to be God telling her that her life was complete. That it was ok that she didn’t have the chance to accomplish everything she wanted to accomplish. That the fact that she could not DO all the things she wanted to DO did not make her life inadequate or meaningless. And she took great comfort in this message from God.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
She was a lovely, lovely young woman when I knew her. We were on dance team together, we were both editors on our school paper so many years ago. She went on to become an oncologist and was killed by the disease she sought to treat in others.
She was 35.
She was my friend a long time ago.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
When I was a new officer's wife, I floundered for a long time. I was pulled out of the relative comfort and routine of my civilian life as wife and young mother. Before the Air Force I lived near college friends, family, and a large city that I had chosen to be my home for the rest of my life. I had carefully chosen where we would live for the neighborhood, the house that filled me with such pride, and the schools. As a young woman in my twenties, I had it all figured out.
We moved away twelve years ago and will likely never be back.
After four years of learning, growing, failing and enduring in Idaho, we learned that we could no longer prolong the inevitable. We would have to PCS (remember, this means "to move") to another base. Bob was in a unique position in that he had already been a Captain for some time. Due to that, and his being in the medical field, he was required to take a higher position with a large military hospital.
Where do we have a lot of big military hospitals? The south. We learned that we would be making a major cultural move to a place we had never even visited, much less lived in. We needed to be prepared. The number one thing I did to prepare for this PCS was to change my outlook on military life and turn it on its head. Before, I had done everything I could to pretend I wasn't married to the military. It was Bob's thing, not mine.
But there I was, four years later, a newborn boy and two young girls and we were in this. Good or bad, that was our life at the time. Was I going to waste any more time hating it? Or was I going to throw myself in it and see what would happen? So I struck a deal with Bob: I would be the best damn officer's wife he had never seen. I would do everything the exact opposite way I had done things in Idaho. I would throw myself in heart body and soul into the way of life he had chosen for us. If it worked out, great. If it didn't, we were done. This was no easy bargain for Bob. He had found that he loved the life. He excelled at his job, and won national awards all the time for his work in military hospitals. His former boss became the Deputy Surgeon General for the Air Force. He would go places if he stayed in.
When we arrived in Georgia with tiny baby Jacob, Chloe about to enter kindergarten, and Maddie second grade, I knew I had my work cut out for me. We were in the land of beauty pageants, The Junior League, Garden Club, and the nicest Officer's Clubs I had evah laid eyes on. The south has a large military presence, and it wasn't as bizarre a thing compared to out West, where our friends had been baffled at Bob's career choice. They all thought he was throwing away his education and socio-economic status to become Gomer Pyle.
The base we lived on was incredible. It was a city. It employed nearly 30,000 people and is the second largest employer in the entire state of Georgia. There was more than one Officer's neighborhood, in fact there were several and they were all large. As a brief aside, the military segregates the living quarters between officers and enlisted. From a battle perspective, I understood this. But I never could get my mind around the fact that my girlfriend, whose husband was a Chief Master Seargent, couldn't live on the same street as me.
We were given a house on a cul-de-sac in a lovely neighborhood that was thick with trees, gardens, a lake, and the whirring of June bugs cutting through the thick humid air. The first weekend we were there we had invitations to several barbecues and even a renewal of wedding vows. We met people fast. The old me would have been off base, looking for a job. The new, Improved, Best Officer's Wife Ever went to everything. I made friends with literally dozens of women. I joined the OSC. I manically began volunteering.
And when I say manically, I'm not exaggerating. Volunteerism is instilled as a responsibility in active duty personnel. It's basically required to get a promotion (along with a lot of other factors, obviously), and even better? The military keeps track of all volunteering you do. The school where my girls went had a log for volunteers that was carefully monitored. If I baked cookies with my spouses group and brought them to the flight line, it was noted. The time I spent as an event coordinator for the OSC was recorded, as was my service as a Key Spouse, hospital volunteer, and Department of Defense school board member. My outside interests such as the Junior League and the hours I spent off base volunteering in the community also registered. My husband's commander, the chief of medical staff, knew what I was doing. Of course, this time, I was doing it "right." People couldn't say enough to Bob about how I was such a great military wife. His boss took him aside and counseled him to keep doing whatever he was doing, because "women like me" are "force multipliers" in the Air Force. He would go far with his talents, and with someone like me by his side, he would go even further.
Let's just pause for a moment. Does this strike you as weird? Even in the thick of things, and I should point out that although I loved my time in the south, I was constantly amazed that I should have any impact, good or bad, on Bob's career. It was HIS career, not mine. I spent a lot of time alone with Bob laughing and crying over this. If I got a speeding ticket on base? Bob was pulled into his commander's office and counseled. It was that pervasive. You were not a separate entity from your husband. You were a unit, and you were both in the Air Force. that is a lot to swallow for someone like me. I love Bob. I bore the man four children. But I am not so wrapped up in him that I derive my identity as a woman from his job. Just like my fledgling career as a writer does not and never will define Bob, I don't want the same for me.
So. I kept on logging hours, baking cookies, attending meetings, counseling women who had husband's deployed, watching children for people who needed help, and flitting about the base in a constant stream of energy. Bob left for six weeks to attend a training out of state and in his absence I checked in regularly with his "First Shirt" to make sure there weren't things I couldn't be doing. How were deployed families doing? Was there another Key Spouse meeting?
It fast became my career, too.
My inlaws came out for a visit and were stunned at how our life was. At one point, Bob's dad gently told me, "It isn't a competition, Jenny. You need to slow down." A friend of mine, when told this, laughed so hard and so long that she eventually called my father in law back in Oregon and left a message on his machine. Yes it is a competition, she said. You have no idea how fierce it is between some of these wives.
She was right. There is an annual competition in the Air Force for Spouse of the Year. When I learned of this, I knew I had something tangible to pin my sights on. This would be my goal. This would be how I could prove to Bob I was giving life as an Air Force Wife the good old college try.
To be continued....
Friday, November 09, 2007
Of course, I can't do this without giving her a hard time. Annika is one of those women who, were she not so genuine and understated, would incite jealousy and competition. I feel like I am close enough with Annika that I can openly tell her that I'm way jealous of her (in a good way, people). But competitive? Nah.
That is, until the star cookie incident.
Every year, the kindergartners at the kids' school plan a magical lantern walk around a local lake. There are lanterns set around the entire lake, the children spend weeks learning songs, and they all carry lanterns they made themselves. It reminds us how special a Waldorf education can be. A few weeks ago, there was a sign-up for parents who wanted to help with the lantern walk.
I wrote my name on the one of two slots for star cookies and walked away. Then I stopped and walked back and looked at the list again: Annika had taken the other slot.
For those of you who won't click on the Annika link, or just want a little background, Annika is perfect. Well, okay she has one flaw: she doesn't like Hillary Clinton. Other than that, perfect, I tell you! The woman has poreless skin, looks about ten years younger than me (we are the same age), has no extra weight on her frame, and has two beautiful children who would slay you with their charm if you ever met them. She's educated, with a master's in biology, and is currently working on her PhD in her spare time, defined as in between bouts of homemade cider production, constructing something necessary for her home, or helping her kids decipher which species of snake shed its skin in their yard. Worst of all? She's really, really nice. She's understated in a way that kills me. If I had half her talent, I imagine I would be an obnoxious woman, bossing people around and showing off my knowledge left and right. Annika is the type of person who can basically do anything, but would never mention it. And what I love about her the most, is I can tell her she's my Newman (Seinfeld?) and she laughs. It doesn't phase her.
So. The cookies.
I gave the star cookies not another thought until about a week ago. Life is crazy this month, and I am barely keeping all the balls in the air I have going. So when I was grocery shopping, I looked at the box of gingerbread cookie mix and thought, What the hell? and threw it in the cart. It wouldn't kill the kids to have star cookies from a mix.
Then I heard from one woman at the school how she couldn't wait for the lantern walk because Annika's famous star cookies were going to be there. Then another woman, and another. Annika!
Yesterday morning, the day of the lantern walk, Annika called me to see if she could take Jacob for a playdate after school.
"Yes! Thank you! But wait, don't you have to make star cookies?"
"No, they're already made."
"What kind did you make?"
"It's a recipe I have for gingerbread."
Newman! "Thanks, Annika. Now you are forcing my hand. Now I am going to have to use actual ingredients from my cupboards and make something that isn't from a box. You're damn straight you're watching Jacob." (remember, Annika has a great sense of humor. Thank God).
So, I made the most simple but delicious cookie I could think of: Scottish shortbread. I drizzled them with chocolate and set them in a basket. It took me all day. I wasn't going to go the extra mile with the chocolate, but then I pictured Annika grinding her cloves and nutmeg with a mortar and pestle in her sun drenched kitchen. I melted the chocolate.
I am even more behind on the writing, and will have to post the promised pictures later in the day today. You could say I was sidelined.
Last night, at the lantern walk, Annika sidled up to me. "So, where are these cookies?" she said in her German accent, which was perfect for the occasion.
"Over here, Annika, over here. Give them a try. Oh, I'll have one of your famous cookies, too."
I did. Hers were divine.
But so were mine. We both had a good giggle and went on our way around the lake.
Here is the recipe (also in comments)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups flour
cream butter and sugar. Add 2.5 cups of flour slowly. Use remaining flour to roll dough out on. You will have to pat and smooth the dough as it is a "short" dough and will flake and crumble. Get it to about 1/4" thick and cut out.Bake at 275 (really!) for 40-45 minutes until almost golden brown. But still mostly cream-colored.I melted a dark chocolate bar and poured it in a bag, snipped a tiny tip of the bag and drizzled over the cookies.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I was going to write today about politics and getting involved locally no matter your affiliation, but, I'm. Just. Out. Of. Thoughts. If you have any, any at all, please give me some of yours today. I beg of you.
Later today, I will post some pictures after I get them developed from the instant camera we used on Sunday. The entire family came out to our town's mock Democratic Convention and supported our candidate and learned a little something about the process of nominating a Presidential candidate. A lot of people in this small town assume that Bob is a staunch conservative, probably because he wears a suit? I don't know. People assume we both are, actually, and I suppose it's the large family thing...I have to think about that one when I have more than one functioning dendrite.
Anyway, a woman who works with my husband watched him pull into the hospital parking lot the other day and her mouth literally fell open as he stepped out of his battered Volvo. She said nothing, but pointed at his bumper (which had a sticker affixed) and then looked at him and screeched, "Hillary??"
I have pics of the whole fam decked out in Hillary buttons and t-shirts as we worked to support her last weekend. Come on back if you'd like and see the men in my life supporting Hillary Clinton for President.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Bob somehow manages to keep his dress socks intact and in the armoire upstairs (and this irritates me, his ability to selectively match only his socks) but everyone else is usually stuck wearing mismatched socks. It's just one of our weirdnesses.
My good friend, Just Seeking, has pointed this out to me before. It cracks her up that to a person (again, Bob is exempt) we're the family who looks great from the ankles up, but we're sad sacks if you judge us by our feet.
The only time this has bothered me was when I was watching Jacob play on the playground, and as he crawled along the play equipment, I noticed that he was wearing one white lacy ankle sock of his sister's and one large adult-sized tube sock. I went to Target that day and loaded up on fresh matching socks.
It doesn't last long, no matter how many trips to Target or Old Navy I take. Someone invariably takes a sock off, oh, say in Egypt, and one off in the car. They are never to be matched again.
For years, my oldest daughter, Maddie, has always struggled socially in school. She was the first grader who was in character as a T-Rex all day while her co-horts were playing jump-rope or planning sleepovers. For a long time, she lived in her imagination and could have cared less about the boring ways the popular girls conducted themselves at school.
In the past couple of years, this has all changed. Maddie is a superstar with her junior high peers. Unfortunately, I liken this to the poor trailer trash family who suddenly wins Powerball and can't manage their money, but that's another story.
I was talking with a mom of one of Maddie's classmates the other day and she told me a story. She said recently her daughter, a quiet girl who is well-liked but on the fringes of the class, has been coming to breakfast each day wearing mismatched socks.
"Meagan," she asked. "Go back upstairs and put on matching socks. Why do you keep doing this?"
"Mom! Don't you know anything? Maddie M. wears her socks like this and she's cool. This is how they do it now."
Who knew, my ineptitude as a laundress has been spun into social gold by my offspring.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
In the past week or so I have had several conversations on the phone, in person, and even a couple over the emails with fellow bloggers about skincare. I felt a little like Karnack the Magician with my cousin yesterday. I was going over her current regimen,
"It's obviously your left side," I intoned, adjusting my magic robe and turban. She gasped.
"How did you know that?" I paused, holding back a giggle. Everyone knows that. Everyone with serious issues about skincare and an unhealthy obsession with products. Gheesh. But my cousin, she challenged me further.
"Jen. I don't want to spent a wad of money on this. Christmas is coming. I want advice that isn't going to bankrupt me." Ooh. She had thrown down the gauntlet with her challenge. It's easy to have great skin if you're willing to spend what it takes. But creatively managing your regime while on a budget? That takes thinking, friends.
So hit me up! Challenge me! Today is Ask the Wrinkle-rexic day! I'll be holed up at the computer as much as humanly possible while I get back in black with my word count. Please, this is the only pleasure I'll be partaking of today.
Give me your tired, your baggy, your un-exfoliated woes!
Monday, November 05, 2007
Reporters first learned of the suspicion that Get in the Car! was actually penned by a 46 year old man when anonymous tips rolled into our office. Posts like this made readers suspect that a mother of four would not actually be this gross. Additionally, posts like this confirmed in the minds for many readers that fraud was afoot.
"Sane women don't go around wondering would it would be like to pose for Playboy after having had four kids. It's just, well, weird," said a source close to the blog.
"She uses words like 'vagina' or 'labia' way too much, and she curses like a trucker sometimes. Ladies don't do that. We all know this is the work of a perverted mind. Obviously it's some guy living in his mom's basement," replied another concerned citizen who asked only to be identified as Joan.
This fledgling reporter has stunning news. In a bizarre series of anonymous tips, many of which were telephone messages with the sounds of screaming children in the background, the author of this blog has been found. Unfortunately, due to her participation in NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo for November, she has been rendered mute.
Here is a transcript of our encounter:
Reporter: Is it true that you are not speaking today because you have simply run out of words due to your participation in NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo?
Reporter: Do you think it somewhat presumptuous to think that you can come up with a minimum of 50,000 words by November 30? Are you aware that the average novel is 70,000 words long?
Reporter: Can we assume that you will be ready to speak to the press about your absurd blog entries after the month of November has passed?
This post is a part of Painted Maypole's Monday Mission....to accept, go over and read her rules....
Sunday, November 04, 2007
I was a really bad Officer's wife at first. Like I said, I thought the whole Debra Winger/Richard Gere scenario was overly played out and certainly not my fantasy.
I remember early on at the first Air Base we were ever stationed at. It was a requirement for us to live on base in officer housing as opposed to in a home in the surrounding town. Not that the surrounding town, Mountain Home Idaho, had homes of any merit to offer. It was a one stoplight town. And you couldn't see the mountains. As a hospital administrator, we needed to live within five minutes of the hospital. We had just moved away from our beautiful new home in Vancouver, Washington, with rivers, parks, and forests a stone's throw from my front door. I was so proud of this house, the home that we made to bring our two girls into the world. Now, I was shuttling my babies to a post World War II track home on a dusty air base in the middle of the desert in Idaho. As we drove onto base for the first time I caught sight of a small but lovely colonial home. The shutters had been painted green, the yard was nice, and the surrounding homes looked similar. Whew. "Okay, Bob. Maybe I won't go totally postal here, at least the housing is nice. "
Nice for the colonels and generals. It was their homes I was admiring. As a junior officer we got to live in one half of an attached unit that was like two railroad cars laid end-to end. Each house had tiny windows cut high on the wall in each room, and the entire home was floored in old, yellowing linoleum. There had to be forty years of grime in the corners of each room, and it really was like living in a railroad car. Small kitchen/laundry room at one end, walk through to the living room/dining area, then down a tube-like hall with three bedrooms and an aqua-colored bathroom. It was an impossible design, made worse by aesthetics that suggested a Sergeant had designed it so that its owners could hose it down once a month for a good cleaning. In fact, I remember a relative visiting (many did over the course of our stay there) and she was so shocked at how my home looked that she blamed me. Oh yeah, good times. Because I drew up the plans for the house and then imported scads of desert dust to sweep in each day through the cracks in the windows. I remember being scolded for not cleaning under my refrigerator, or the disapproving hmms over my lack of window treatments. How could I explain that I couldn't bear to cover the tiny windows and impede any more light from coming in? That I was at the end of my emotional rope and that my daily dose of Idaho sunshine was the only thing keeping me from sinking into a deep depression and simply running away from a lifestyle I did not choose?
After a couple of months of feeling vury, vurrrry sorry for myself, I started to dig out. I was confounded by the wives that lived in my neighborhood, however, and I knew that what was working for them would not work for me. To my left was a neophyte bride who was married to a fighter pilot. She spent her days at home, waking at the crack of dawn to drive to the flight line and bring her husband breakfast. Then back at the end of the day when he had finished his sortie (flight) for some more refreshments. She and the other pilots' wives would dress up in their spouses' flight suits and practice silly cheers in the neighborhood park, so that they might perform for the men. They congregated separately, and also at the Officers Wives Club (now the more politically correct OSC for Officer's Spouse Club). I remember telling my neighbor that we were just in the Air Force for a few years so that my husband could get a lot of condensed, intense hospital experience and then take it back to the civilian world. You don't say that to most officer's wives. They are in it for the long haul, the brass ring being a full-bird colonel at minimum, maybe even a one star and the presidency of the Officer's Wives Club. You wore your husband's rank as proudly as he did, and to indicate a separateness from that was akin to high treason.
Then there was the "older" wife a few doors down. She was roughly my age now, somewhere between late thirties to forty, and she had - GASP - four children. I looked upon her as one might a specimen in a petri dish that has grown totally out of control. She was always neat, with a pressed campshirt and capris, and her four kids were mini doppelgangers for her and her husband. Buzz cuts for the boys, sensible bobs for the young girls. She was always busy, coming and going in her mini-van, unloading groceries and sports supplies, cooking or gardening. I could never understand why these women gardened in the homes that were so temporarily theirs. It wouldn't be until much later that I would learn to make the most of my present moment and not dwell on the negative.
The rest of Gunfighter Manor (the name of my new subdivision, as opposed to the old one: Fisher's Landing) was filled with women who, to a person, were members of the OWC and stayed home. Most had children, although there were several who did not. It didn't matter: Officer's Wives did not work. The enlisted side of the house, the vast majority of any branch of the military, had wives that worked. But not the officers.
So I went back to work.
First, I started volunteering. I took cases in the local town and cases from the nearest (and only big town in Idaho) city, Boise. I did home visits and case studies for children who were in protective custody so that I could help make a court recommendation for their living placement. To see all these children who had it so much worse than me, who needed a train-wreck like myself to help decide what would be best for them helped kick me out of my fog. I started to smile again. I placed my baby girls in pre-preschool offered by the base, and accepted the help of the base Chaplain's wife for their care when I needed to be gone. I was in no position to be a good mother to them, at home full time. I was saving my life.
Then I took a job in Boise, an hour and a half away, at a local women's shelter. I worked two fifteen hour shifts during the work week (5:00 pm - 8:00 am, so Bob was home with them) and then often all day Saturday or Sunday. I was on the mend. I was finding a purpose, and I was not feeling so out of control. Meanwhile, everyone in Gunfighter Manor had noticed.
Bob was approached at the hospital by the Chaplain. "Is everything okay at home? We hear that Jennifer has been working. Are their financial problems? How can we help?" In other words, what the feck is your wife doing having a life of her own and not supporting your career. This is the Air Force, dammit, and it is all about YOU.
A full-bird colonel's wife gently counseled me. It was my duty, she explained, to help raise Bob up so that he might fully do his job, to honor his rank and his mission to serve God and Country. Years later, after doing that very thing, I would receive an official commendation from the Chief of Medical Staff as being a "force multiplier" in Bob's career. But at that moment, I was finding myself and carving out something that I could say was mine, not something that I was dragged into. It furthered my rebellion, and I never went to any of the wives functions, never socialized with them, didn't attend any official base functions outside of Christmas, and basically solidified my position as pariah.
After a time, I applied for and won a coveted job at the Boise District Attorney's office in adult felony crimes. It was a full-time job, it paid well, and it meant extraordinarily long days with the commute. I enrolled the girls in the best private preschool in Boise I could find, and began my separation from Mountain Home. Soon after accepting the job, Bob and I were at the Officer's Club for a Christmas party and my beeper went off. I would need to leave to accompany a rape victim to the hospital. All the men at the table scrambled for their belts, who's beeper was it? I held up mine and said, "No worries, it's mine. Go back to your party." These men were dumbstruck. What the hell did I have a beeper for? Was my turkey done at home? The women either didn't look at me or looked at me with obvious scorn. Bad wife, their eyes said. I looked back at them, with their embroidered Christmas sweaters and their charm bracelets with charms indicating their husband's squadron (a silver flying eagle, or a plane, or the Air Force insignia) and shot them my own look right back: Spineless Sheep.
My final act as a bad Air Force Wife happened when Bob was TDY in Washington, D.C. I was on a lunch break at work and had decided to take a run through the tree-lined streets of the historic neighborhood close to downtown. I ran by a house that took my breath away. A house I had seen in my mind since I was a little girl. Turn of the century Victorian with relatively clean lines, beautiful yard, picket fence, lush trees, and on a street close to schools, markets, and town. It was for sale.
I bought the house.
After that, Bob was the one with the hellacious commute. I made Bob petition Washington, D.C. to extend his tour in Idaho so that I could continue my work. He was told it was career suicide. He did it anyway (and went on to win hospital administrator of the year some years later, regardless of the omen) and we spent our remaining time in Idaho in a happier state.
All because I was a bad Officer's Wife.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
For seven and a half years of my young adult life, I was an Air Force Officer's Wife. It wasn't by choice. I had no illusions of playing out a Debra Winger/Richard Gere An Officer and a Gentleman fantasy. No, I met my husband in college, and when we married, I was finishing my bachelor's degree, he his master's and we were well on our way to corporate bliss in the city, followed by suburban bliss in a planned neighborhood with a few kids. Maybe even a gated neighborhood if we played our cards right.
I got my gated neighborhood, only there were young men in fatigues with M-16s at the gate. The story of how we ended up as a military family is a long one, and one that will not be told today. That will take some red wine and an evening holed up in my office to relay, but by the end of the month I will. Today I will share with you a story of when we were stationed in the deep south. It was lovely, it was terrible, and it was one of the most memorable places we have ever lived. We sucked the juice out of that experience, and hopefully I have some left to go with the pith....
The south was a captivating place for me. It wasn't just all that catfish, or sultry, lightnin’ bug infused nights. It wasn't the novelty of looking at a place through Yankee-colored glasses and learning that the Civil War is still high on the minds of many Americans. It was many things, heightened by the fact that while in the south we lived in Officer housing on a large Air Force base.
It was also the parties.
If you live on an Air Force base, I don't care if you're stationed in Guam or Minot, North Dakota, you will be invited to a Stampin’ UP!, Pampered Chef, or Creative Memories party within about 4.7 seconds of your arrival. Before we PCS'd (that means "moved" in military-ese) to the south, we had lived at another base in Idaho where I had assiduously avoided all parties. I was above those, you know. And I also failed miserably at assimilating into Air Force culture because of my reticence in becoming a military spouse (yet another story, my failure to be a good Officer's Wife). So, after a few too many episodes of Dr. Phil and his incessant asking, "how's that working for you?" I decided to throw myself full throttle into Air Force life. And that included attending the parties.
It started one hot August morning. We had just arrived at the base, we still had moving boxes lining our halls and we still got lost on the way to the commissary or the BX. Then my pale pink invitation to the “Premiere Designs, Inc” party arrived in the mail. It was to be hosted by a nearby Colonel's wife and the instructions were clear: “Wear solid colors, NO JEWELRY and a smile!”
I gritted my teeth. I was going to be a good officer's wife, dammit, so I RSVP'd yes.
I will wow them all with my fresh, Western approach to life and fashion, I thought. I’ll dress in some cute khaki shorts, a Nike T-shirt and those great Teva sandals I picked up in Seattle. So my toes had three different colors of chipped polish. Big deal. They would instantly see my devotion to my daughters, who clearly have a creative streak (my youngest tried to paint a cat on my big toenail, and so what if it only looks like a bad case of fungus? They’ll only see what an accommodating mom I am). I’ll bring a bottle of champagne and some orange juice and my new friends and I will have mimosas! And we’ll buy jewelry! And they’ll tell me how cute my western accent sounds! And even if they don’t, I’ll be without my children for at least two hours. The sounds of “Born Free” drift through my head, as I imagine using my hostess’ bathroom without a toddler velcro’d to my leg. I can’t wait!
The day of the party, I ring the doorbell to my neighbor’s home, and Laura Bush answers the door. Or her cousin. Her perfectly lacquered hair doesn’t move as she takes me in, her lipsticked-smile wavering only the smallest bit as she eyes the bottle of champagne.
“Hahhh,” she croons, in a soft drawl. “Come on in. Let me just put that in the kitchen for you,” she takes the champagne and holds it close to her sweater-set, that I would soon understand was ubiquitous in the field-grade officer's wives set, regardless of days with more humidity than a Russian steam bath. "Most of the ladies here would only use this for mouthwash,” she whispered as she set it behind a group photo of really well-dressed women under a banner reading “Daughters of the American Revolution Annual Rummage Sale.”
I’m led to a floral upholstered chair with lace doilies on the arms and given a glass of sweet tea as the party begins.
The Jewelry Consultant arrives and stands at the head of the room. She is wearing a simple navy sheath, hose, pumps and matching earrings, necklace, bracelet and brooch. Her hair is perfect. It doesn't move. I am still mesmerized by her hair and the fact that women still cover their legs and wear broaches when she claps her hands. The room is silent, save for the slight chattering of my teeth from the sweetness of my tea.
“Hello Ladies! Let’s get started! Now, we all have jewelry, do we not? (polite tittering and sounds of agreement). But does anyone here know the Cardinal Rule of Jewelry?”
There’s a cardinal rule? I’m sitting there trying to think of something like “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s big-ass diamond ring” when I notice one of the party guests has her arm raised. She’s sitting on the edge of her seat in the “Me! Pick Me!” position, back ram-rod straight as she reaches her arm up even higher.
The Jewelry Consultant gives her a nod and the woman recites, “Always wear earrings.”
With a patient smile, the Jewelry Consultant says encouragingly, “Close! Anyone else? No? It’s “Nevah leave your home without your earrings on.’”
There is a collective “Ohhhh” in the room. Confucius has spoken.
“In fact, Ah have a wonderful story to illustrate the importance of this rule! The other day, Ah was driving my daughter to school, when (let me just interrupt here to tell you that everyone is listening with rapt attention; you could hear a pin drop) Ah. Had. No. Earrings. On!” There is an audible hush. The women look horrified. Had I missed something? She continues, a conspiratorial smile on her face, as if she is about to share the most hilarious, knee-slapping tidbit EVER with us.
“Well, ladies. Ah had NO earrings in mah purse – you can bet Ah do now – so do y’all know what Ah did?” She’s almost squealing at this point. Even I’m on edge, so intense is her build-up.
“What?!” I yell.
“Ah took the earrings off of mah own daughter’s ears and put them on mine!” She finishes by covering her mouth with her hands, as if she had just said something screamingly naughty like, “And then Ah flashed the police officer mah titties, just to get out of the ticket.”
I’m crushed. But the rest of the room almost explodes.
“You did NOT!”
“Your own daughter!”
“Yes! And y’all can bet that will NEVAH happen to me again! Ah now have earrings in mah car, in mah purse…” she continues, but I’ve started to drift.
I’m snapped out of it when I notice the silence in the room and all eyes on me.
I’m then asked to stand in the middle of the living room so that the the Jewelry Consultant can use me to illustrate Cardinal Rule of Jewelry Number Two: Earrings Make Your Face Appear Thinner. I have one earring on, and I’m being strong-armed from side to side as the Jewelry Consultant chimes, “See? Thinner. Bigger. Thinner. Bigger.” I decide I want to go home, when I’m refreshed by the glimpse of coffee cake as I’m swiveled toward the dining room. I’m released to my seat where we have to go around the room, tell our names and what kind of jewelry we like.
“Hah! I’m Angie, and I like to wear white gold and silver!”
“Hey, I’m Tammy Jo and I like yella gold.”
“Hi. I’m Jennifer. I like jewelry my husband can’t afford.” This elicits no comments on my accent or refreshing western honesty. Nothing. I take another sip of sweet tea.
I left with an earring, necklace, and bracelet set for $123.45 and my next invitation to a Home Interiors party.
“’Bye y’all!” I chirped as I left, rummaging through the cobwebs of my brain for an appropriate southern colloquialism.
“It’s all y’all…” I heard as the door shut behind me.
Friday, November 02, 2007
When she was younger, she spent some of her most magical years on a cul-de-sac in Georgia. Enormous pine and magnolia trees lined our street, a forest behind us and a lake full of fish and snapping turtles just beyond the path at the end of the road. I remember her covered in the Georgia clay from an afternoon excavating, and I remember Sunshine, the turtle who became our family member for some years; I'm sure he missed the homey confines of his swamp.
Two doors down from us was the old tractor tire on a rope. Tied to a gnarled tree branch, this was where the neighborhood kids met each day. Games were planned under this tree, strategies made, and the bonds of friendship strengthened to match the weathered trunk of their tree.
Both of my daughters led a posse of young girls called the Spy Club. To the untrained eye it looked like several little girls running through all the neighbors' yards, bright green tree frogs in their fists. But if you looked closer, or found their spy logs in their room as I did, you saw that they were always on a mission.
Excerpt from a "spy log" found in my daughter's room, circa five years ago:
Spy Log, Sunday
Spy Club members need to to these things:
Practice running silently
Practice saying awooh-ha-ha. At the right time.
Spy on Liz.
After lunch: Looked at Liz through her window.
She was writing on some paper.
She put a Lord of the Rings Poster on her wall.
She saw us!
She called us imbisults. [sic]
One afternoon, the day my daughters were grounded for the first day in their lives, I had Jacob in a baby carrier and was enjoying a late afternoon walk on our street. I saw the Spy Club girls digging in the soil near a neighbor's house, and I saw a little boy watching from his window, his face pressed against the screen so hard I thought it might pop out onto the ground.
As I neared the house, it became clear that this boy was watching the Spy Club girls dig, and it was also clear that he was sobbing. I approached the house and called in my best mom voice, "What on earth is going on?"
The girls stopped. My daughters looked up at me with dirty faces and I thought of how they always seemed to resemble a street urchin out of a Dickens novel. They were silent. The boy in the window hiccuped.
"Well?" I pressed.
"They told me I was a stupid boy. They told me I couldn't be in their clu...clu...club," he sniffed. "They said they were going to bury me there and no one would know."
I stood there, stunned. My little girls, with their quick grins, yellow fluffs of hair and sweet dresses skimming skinned knees were digging a shallow grave. It marked the first time I had grounded them.
I sit here and wonder how that day was three blinks of an eye away, and yet also a lifetime. My oldest is now preening in her bathroom, carefully sponging on strawberry lipgloss as she adjusts her beads around her neck. She was up early today; when I came downstairs she had already made her bed and offered to help her little brother with breakfast. She is carefully watching me, waiting to see if I will say yes. Waiting to see if she can go and ice skate tonight with a group of seventh graders, to include her crush. The boy who now likes her, and has asked her to go in this group.
The old magnolia tree that stood sentry to my house in Georgia dropped thick leathery leaves onto my driveway for much of the year, and then one day I would notice that the entire tree had exploded into a crown of white blossoms. Spring was glorious in the south. I need to remember that.