daughters · marriage · military life · mood issues · motherhood · poop · preschoolers

More Depressing than a Sad Santa

From the Momplex archives:

It would be an understatement to say I’ve been a little blue lately. Blue’s such a pretty color anyway. Why don’t we refer to the doldrums with a color like diarrhea brown, as in “I’ve been feeling a little diarrhea-brown lately.” I have.

My daughter, who will be five this week, crapped on her bedroom floor last night. I have never quite understood the root of the expression “do me a solid,” but I can definitely say she didn’t do me one. She did me a liquid, and a lot of it. I am hoping against all hope that it wasn’t some sort of willful act, the giant heap of diarrhea unleashed in the corner by her hamper. It was about an hour after she went to sleep, and I won’t get into all the details, but it appears she was just disoriented. When a little one wakes in the night from a deep slumber with an urgent need to “unleash the hounds,” it seems safe to assume that she might not have the wherewithal to properly navigate herself.

I can’t tell you how disgusting that room smelled. The windows in her room were frozen shut, too. Oh, and we plugged the toilet with all the toilet paper we used cleaning her up. And when I plunged a while later, the splashing poo water went into my face. For those of you who know me well, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t have my mouth shut at the time. (I almost never have my mouth shut.)

Thank God my husband happened to be home for the day/night from his three-week annual training with the National Guard. I am sure he is thrilled that he opted to make the long drive back home for a booty call. (One could certainly argue that cleaning up a diarrhea-butt IS a booty call of sorts, literally speaking.) In that regard, I am secretly thankful my daughter shat on the floor.

“Honey, I just accidentally swallowed some diarrhea” packs a much bigger punch in the frigidity department than “Not now, dear. I have a headache.”

Anyway, I’m feeling diarrhea-brown. I got so desperate today that I even took my daughter to the mall play area just to get out of the house. The mall play area is essentially Hell on Earth: Hyperactive kids with depressed moms spreading germs as holiday Muzak pipes overhead and too-skinny mannequins taunt us from all directions. Also, this time of year there are the Salvation Army bell-ringers dinga-donging ad infinitum next to the acrid-smelling Asian nail salon. As if that’s not diarrhea-brown enough, we took up an invitation to go watch some poor entertainer called the Banana Lady over in the JCPenney children’s section at 11 a.m. She set up shop (which consisted of a karaoke machine) in a four-way intersection of Hannah Montana paraphernalia.

Initially, it was just my daughter and me watching this woman prance around in her banana suit and sing songs about being healthy and doing your own thing. She was horribly, horribly gleeful (seriously, did you click on that link? or how about this one?), and it was horribly, horribly awkward how she was performing to maybe six people total. I felt terrible for her, as people kept walking between us, not realizing she was a show and we were her audience. She’d try to lure them over by trying to ventriloquize the large spidermonkey-puppet that’s sewn to her suit but with her lips totally moving. Few took the bait. When she said, “Come on and dance with me, everyone!” I was the only one who obliged. My daughter and the other sad moms and their kids stared blankly at us.

So, this is my life. Cleaning up diarrhea and dancing with a stranger in a banana suit in JCPenneys in the middle of the Hannah Montana aisle at the mall. Exactly how I hoped things would turn out for me. Exactly.

military life

Soldier (from the Momplex Blog archives)

My husband is a soldier.

It’s odd for me to type that out. Frankly, I think it makes him sound like a scuzzball that drives around in a rusty truck wearing a wifebeater t-shirt, listening to Lee Greenwood and Def Leppard. Why is that? I don’t know. Few of the soldiers I’ve personally known in my life fit that stereotype at all. Quite the contrary.

I met my husband at the wedding of one of his teammates when he was in the Special Forces. He was a bit of a wallflower, but I liked his face. Then I liked his personality. Then, once I broke through the surface, I fell in mad love with him. It amazes me to this day that so few had noticed him, really noticed him in a deep way, before I did. With utter confidence but not bravado, I can say he’s a rare breed. The Army is not the only one who noticed that.

Through my husband I met a number of other SF men. Some of them were brawn; all of them were brains. Save a few exceptions, I found all these men, like my husband, to be Renaissance men: each of them possessing some fascinating combination of musicality, compassion, humility, confidence, prowess, stamina, brilliance, sensitivity, bravery, resilience, wit, humor, and genius, as well as some X Factor I can’t quite explain. When an old family friend of ours, one who served in Vietnam and is quite the man’s man, learned that my husband was a Green Beret, he actually kissed my husband on the lips and told my parents, “She’s got a special one there.” He was right. As if to illustrate, my husband kissed him right back. He’s a goof like that.

After I married my husband, he decided to go back to school and leave active duty. He has remained in the National Guard, some of his service there being in SF units, some not. He didn’t want the SF life, the active-duty life, for his kids or wife. He wanted more stability than those paths have to offer. I have always been grateful that he made that choice, knowing how much he invested in training to become a Green Beret. It was a sacrifice. The result, of course, was that he was deployed to the Middle East when our daughter was not quite two. It was horrible.

Soon after my husband deployed, before he even left stateside, I received a phone call from the wife of another SF Guardsmen we’d known from our old stomping grounds. They’d lived down the street from us, with their loopy dog who always ran to our door and tried to scratch it in the early a.m. when they were jogging down our road. We’d spent many a night playing Scrabble with them, drinking Chilean wine, and discussing everything from literature to fly fishing. She was smart, and he was genius. He was also irrepairably haunted by years spent working to rebuild infrastructure in wartorn Sierra Leone. He carried a backpack everywhere, and we always joked about what we thought might be in it: a gun, some water, a good read, and a rain poncho maybe. One of those guesses was confirmed one day when we were walking with him home from a parade. Noticing a homeless man looking disoriented and sweaty on that hot afternoon, slouched on the stoop of a local business, our friend lagged behind us. We turned around at some point and realized he’d stopped to check on the man, was reaching into his backpack to give him his water canteen for a drink. That was my friend. That was my friend’s husband. He was a complicated, ill-tempered, but ultimately good man.

I have the fondest memory of walking out one late afternoon to see my husband and this guy on our porch, tilted back in Adirondack chairs, feet on the banister, smoking cigars for the first time that I’d ever seen either smoking cigars. They were laughing and looking up some obscure word in my ten-ton American Heritage dictionary, verifying my friend’s husband had used it correctly. Of course he had. He was a walking ten-ton dictionary himself. I’m an editor and writer, but he always had me beat in even my own area of expertise. The guy was something to behold.

“Jenny?” my friend’s voice said over the phone. I was so excited to hear it. Motherhood and relocation had put too much time and space between us for the past two years. Before I could say so, she continued: “Noah was killed.” Words can’t describe what I felt. The absence of my own husband made the news that much harder to bear. He would be away for 15 months; how could we grieve together? I called my dad and cried.

Our friend was gone, my first experience losing a friend to war. He was the victim of a suicide attack in the Middle East, where he’d gone voluntarily — not on deployment but on contract. In the weeks that followed, I arranged for extended childcare for my daughter, bought tickets to fly out for the funeral, and spent some of the strangest, most difficult days of my life with my widowed and grieved friend. They sent her husband home piece-meal, literally, a fact she didn’t want to know. It was as though he died several times over. She grieved with each phone call, with each question, with each formality, with each form. At the funeral, I looked at the drawn faces of all those SF guys, and my legs shook. My imagination ran to bad places. Afterward, when night fell and the formalities were done, I held my friend in the dark like a mother; she held me like a lover. She grieved in strange ways that made perfect and horrible sense to me, that might have offended some, that I know confused others, that were a testament to how catastrophic it all was.

During that grieving time with my friend, I went through a change in my heart that I still hold close to me. It’s hard to write about it, to risk any misunderstanding about the man, his wife, myself, the military, and least important, my place in the matter. So, I don’t know that I’ll ever really write about it in detail. But on days like this, I think of it. I think of him. I think of her. I never imagined that all the training I got through motherhood would lead me where it did in that time: That I’d find myself entwined under covers with a grown woman, holding her sweaty and tear-streaked hair against my heart like a mom would, as I rocked her to the mental rhythm with which I rocked my daughter, loving her unconditionally and yet fearfully, worrying my refuge wouldn’t be enough. Knowing it could not be enough.

Before I go to bed tonight, I just want to say thank you to those who serve. I do not know the full extent of your sacrifice, but I know a small piece of it. Thank you.

babies · daughters · manipulation · military life · motherhood · sleep

Not Enough Mom to Go Around (from the Momplex Blog archives)

From the Momplex Archives:

My better half (and I really mean that) has been gone for almost three weeks, working on getting a bunch of soldiers ready for deployment. He’s in the National Guard, and what’s normally a two-week annual training in the summer turned into a three-week annual training in December. I miss all heck out of him, and not just because he makes a mean meatloaf and thinks I’m cute. It’s just been such a juggling act trying to take care of a restless 4-month-old and a 5-year-old who’s still trying to figure out how to share Mom. I was right to have dreaded this training for all the months leading up to it. During his absence, I have had at least one veritable nervous breakdown. Tonight I thought about having another but then decided I could instead just bust out the Redi-Whip and eat all the fruit in the house with whipped cream on it. Ah, self-medication.

The thing that’s eating at me is what I heard my daughter saying over the monitor as she was getting ready for bed in her room. Well, it actually started a bit before that, when she came home from the neighbor’s house to the sound of her baby brother crying (again) at bedtime (again) over his monitor (again). First, she sort of retreated to a corner behind the Christmas gifts. I am sure this is because I get so short with everyone when the baby’s crying. She didn’t want to deal with That Version of Mom. But as all kids her age seem to do, she also just couldn’t seem to resist the temptation to poke the rattlesnake with a stick. “Mom,” she said. “I have to tell you that I’m always hungry right now.” Ye Olde Bedtime Procrastination trick. So original.

“Sorry for you,” I said. “But we don’t eat at bedtime, and it’s time for bed.” I told her to get going upstairs and get ready for bed, and she snapped something snotty back at me. I think it was “FINE” or “WHATEVER” or something equally ‘tweenish. At any rate, it cost her a piece of our usual bedtime routine.

“No book tonight,” I answered. She knows this means she’s crossing the line. She turned on the ball of her foot, nose up in the air, and started stomping theatrically away from me. “No story either,” I then added. “You need to change your attitude before you lose songs.”

Yes, I know: We have an elaborate bedtime routine. It consists of all sorts of rituals that must occur in exactly the same order each night. Potty. Toothbrushing. Flossing. Mouthwashing. Jammies. Book. Prayers. Spoken-word improv performance by Mom or Dad. Songs. It seems like a lot, but it does the trick for us, and I totally enjoy that quality time we get together at the end of the day. Parents out there, I know you’re feeling me on this one, right?

Anyway, as she was upstairs putting on her jammies, I heard her say that she wishes she had a different mom. That she doesn’t get any time with her mom, “not one speck.” She started whimpering, “I love my baby brother! He just gets all of her time. I will go away and never see her again, and she won’t even miss me!” Poke a butter knife in your heart and turn it five times to get the full effect of how this made me feel. Because I totally miss my time alone with my daughter. I miss having quality time with her at all. Particularly with my husband gone, she has gotten the bottom of the barrel in that department. It flat out sucks.

When I went upstairs, I asked her if I’d correctly heard her say she didn’t want me to be her mom anymore. She said, “Yup” and when I nodded, she said, “But I was saying it because I feel like you don’t have time for me anymore. I feel like you’re always taking care of the baby, and I don’t even have a mom anymore.” I pointed out that we always had good time together at bedtime, and she retorted, “Yeah, but that’s the only good time I really get with you.” She’s right. Her eyes were full of held-back tears, which started spilling down her nose as she tried to raise her quivering chin in a show of fortitude. What could I do, but scoop her close in my arms and hold her tightly in the bed.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It must feel terrible to feel like that. You are so important to me, and I’m sorry that this hard time is going on for so long.” Words don’t go very far with a kid her age, though. I know I have to carve out better time for her. I know that my world needs to quit revolving around the baby’s sleeping skills, or lack thereof. Which makes me all that much more obsessed with getting him to sleep better. For the love of all that’s holy, can this baby please learn to nap alone?

It’s amazing, how my daughter asked me today to explain what “below zero” means as well as asked me who made God. These are high-minded questions for a kid her age, and they bend my brain into a pretzel. As complicated and layered as she can be, nothing she says or asks fazes me quite as much as this recurring theme of Not Enough Time with Mom. How the hell did Mrs. Walton do it? Pleeeaaaze, Mr. Walton, come home!