Sunday, August 17, 2008


It was just about 12 years and 9 months ago that we moved into a new house. It was a three-bedroom home and we only had one son at the time. So, we thought what better use of a third bedroom than a new baby? The best I can say for this thought process was at least it was a planned pregnancy, even if born of odd reasoning.
For the last two weeks of December 1995, I was so sick that I spent most of my days and nights in bed. My health insurance didn't kick in until January 1st. So, on New Year's Eve, a couple of hours before the clock struck 12, I went to the Emergency Room. The doctors decided that I was suffering an enlarged gall bladder and planned on whisking me into surgery to remove it. It was during the pre-op bloodwork that we discovered I was pregnant, and since the gall bladder wasn't "THAT" inflamed, it was more than likely the pregnancy that was making me sick and than the gall bladder.
During the pregnany I craved Ellio's frozen cheese pizza. It reminded me a lot of school pizza. Your baby room was originally called "The Ugly Room." It was a 60's meld of mustard yellow and olive green. We scraped off the ancient wallpaper and painted the walls white and the trim yellow. Then, I sponge painted a stream of pastel-colored stars across the middle of each wall. Your sonograms never revealed whether you were a boy or girl. So, I wanted a baby room that could be for either.
Close to your Due Date, in the early morning hours, the meconium sac broke. I was at the hopsital before heavy contractions started. A student nurse tried to tell me that I wasn't dilated enough to be in labor, but I knew otherwise. The doctors were concerned about you aspirating (choking) because of the ruptured sack. So, I had to push out your head and then wait while they suctioned you. When you finally emerged to the world, the Respiratory Tech team whisked you away to make sure your lungs were clean and healthy.

The next day we discovered you had 3 holes in your heart- septal valve and mitral valve defects. Thankfully, each had closed naturally by the time you were 6 months old. There were some residual effects. You developed slower than the other children in your early years. You have always been one of the smallest in your class. You did not start to walk until you were almost two years old. We were at Mom-Mom's house one afternoon. You were sitting in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn. Someone knocked on the back door and you just got up and walked into the kitchen as if you had been walking all along, when in fact you had never taken a step alone before. The story is pretty much the same when it comes to reading. One day, you just sat down and read a book to me- Dr. Suess, Fox in Socks- when we didn't even know yet that you could read more than a few words.
You are now officially a pre-teen. This will be your first year in Middle School. You have reached the point in life where decisions are being made that will mold your future. Where did time go? I regret not taking more pictures, not recording more memories. Everyone tells you that these years will fly by too fast and then you discover that's not just a cliche. You are my loving child, always available for a hug or kiss. You have understood the supreme art of sarcasm from a very young age. You are my baby. Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Social Life in a Small Town

Tonight the boys and I went to the county fair. It lasts for a week, but at $6 a head for admission fee, I typically pick just one night to attend. As tonight, I most often choose the night of the Queen's pageant. It's not a very big fair. There is prize-winning produce and baby rabbits to examine as well as a scarecrow contest and various other exhibits to peruse. Mostly though, it is one of those occasions that is the pinnacle to defining my life in Southampton County.

It's high school lunch room psychology magnified to an adult scale. I was not dressed for the occasion. One might ask what dress is required for such an occasion- overalls and mud-slinging boots? No, the women of Southampton County are a sophisticated sort. On a typical day, the clothes they wear are quite average: jeans or khakis and a basic-colored plain shirt. It's the whole picture that comes together nicely: the jewelry, the professional pedicure peeking from their cute flops, the perfected make-up, and of course, the hair. The perfect hair. Some combination of gel and mousse and Crazy Glue to make each layer stand on it's own, separated from its companions. It's like a perfect meld of an updated late 80's big-hair-shag without quite hitting Dolly Parton standards.

Overall, they look "pulled together". That very "pulled together" has always been what has eluded me.

Most of these women have grown up in this little county and can sketch out the family tree that connects them all by heart. I, on the other hand, have only lived here 6 years, and spent the first 2 years commuting two hours daily to finish my English degree. Although I think most people "know" me, I don't really feel like I belong, and I don't think I ever will. I never learned the art of making friends. I have gone through most of my life with one good friend. That friend has usually been someone at school or at work (often a fellow outcast), and then I graduated or changed jobs and lost contact. I wish I had a larger social network, but I really don't know how to go about getting it. One of the toughest parts of Jason's deployments have been the solitude. Living over an hour from base has always separated me from getting to know other Navy wives, which has rarely proven to be a bad thing.

This post was supposed to be a summary of the fair... how, although the Queen's pageant seemed to have quite an eclectic bunch of entries this year, but it was obvious who the winner was going to be from the first introductions... given how the stereotype has never failed, nor did so this year. Instead, I guess it stirred some of my recessed feelings of living in a small town, not that it would necessarily be different elsewhere.

Ugh, surprisingly depressing post...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Getting Muddy!

Today was the 8th Annual Healthnet Mud Run. It is a 5 mile obstacle course that is used in the training of Navy Seals. Mostly, it involves running through sand, but there are also hills to climb, water to cross, and mud pits to crawl. Today, Justin competed for the first time.
His Finish Time was 49:31. He came in 14 of his bracket, 19 & under males. He came in 112th overall of 1,737 runners.

I'm really proud of him. My goal for him was simply to cross the finish line still running. He did that and much more. This photo is 100 meters from the finish line. Notice that he is smiling?

There was also a MiniMud Run for children 12 and under. Cameron competed against the 9 - 12 year olds. He came in 17th overall, within the first quarter of runners. It was a one-mile run through sand with a couple of obstacles. He went into it with an awesome attitude. He asked me, "What if I don't know which way to turn?" I replied, "Follow the others". He said, "But, what if I am in first?" and I replied, "Then lead the way."

He started out strong. He was in first place after the first obstacle of crawling under mesh netting. However, running through the sand eventually kicked his butt . I could tell he was disappointed with himself. Near the finish line, as he was passing me, he walked a few steps, and then ran through the finish. He wants to be as awesome as his big brother is at running. He doesn't take into consideration any difference in age, size or experience between the two of them. I wanted to be encouraging to him when he finished, but he had such a negative attitude because he thought he did badly, that I avoided saying all the things that I know I should have. I will have to try to amend that tomorrow as I give him copies of the pics to show his friends at church.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Counting Down Summer

My most dreaded time of the week is Sunday night. On Sunday nights, I lament all the tasks that did not get checked off my "To Do List" for the weekend and I stress about all that the upcoming week beholds. There are less than two weeks left before I return to school. I have a feeling that next week is going to be like one long Sunday night. I feel as if I have had no Summer Vacation at all. The first three weeks post-school year were spent teaching Summer School. Then, there was only a three week window until I had to drive Justin up to the high school every day for Cross Country practice. Midway into the first week, we had the death and I had to go back home for a week. Then, through the next week, Jason was home for the unexpected leave.

I'm not trying to say that it is no vacation with Jason here. It's just that Jason's catch phrase is "What's the plan?" I very well may have that engraved on his tombstone one day. Every day after school, when I call him or he calls me, that's what he asks- a question that's supposed to encompass what's for dinner, what do the boys have to do that night, what do I have to do, what comes on television even. When he asks me said question, even though I have come to perfectly expect it, I rarely have an answer. I cannot even think about the upcoming evening until I am in my car leaving the school grounds. During this past week he was home that was a daily, and more often more than daily question. Again, I rarely had answer. Like a hippie, I just wanted to "be, man, like, chill dude"... ok, a Surfer Hippie. On one of the first days were were back from Maryland, he laid down on the bed with a clipboard and mapped out the week with all that we needed and wanted to do. Ok, ok, twist my arm and I will admit this make perfectly logical sense. However, my insensible erratic mind wanted nothing to do with it. This is vacation. I don't want schedules. I want... whatever. I don't want to plan to do something and then be committed to doing it when I wake up and have changed my mind for the day. Now, Jason is gone and Cross Country practice has started. Practice only lasts about an hour, but it limits what we can do out of town... and, EVERYTHING to do is "out of town".

Today the boys and I went to Water Country. I think I went to my first water park (this one, the only one I have been to) about three years ago. I was scared of water rides. I went on a few with the "fam" that day and realized "fear" wasn't really what I was going to need to be worried about because SIZE was going to be a much bigger issue (no pun intended). It was exhausting to walk up those long flights of stairs to reach the starting point of a water slide. I was winded. My legs and feet hurt, probably back too, but I don't remember. Then there was the fact that I weighed too much to make the tubes float as there were supposed to. I'm pretty sure a low water supply was of equal culprit on the slide that struggled to churn and spit us out. However, after that I was paranoid about how I looked getting into the tubes and if the tubes would go down the chute once I was in them. I haven't been on a water ride since that first day. Thankfully, there are other attractions at the water park that I find entertaining, so it is not a total act of martyrdom to take the boys there.

I wasn't in the mood for those attractions today. I mostly lounged and engaged in other activities. First, there's my favorite water park game- "Is she bigger than me?" Thankfully, a few targets passed the test, not many. That environment makes me simultaneously feel okay and feel mortified by my body in alternating moments. I look at others and ponder if ill-fitting or poorly chosen bathing suits are a sign of a good self-image or a bad one. Such places also make me mourn the loss modesty of teenage girls and question what could some people possibly have been thinking when they got their tattoo. I did try to be semi-productive during my poolside lounging. I took a notebook and pens with me. (What, "normal" people don't carry school supplies to water parks?) I tried to make an overall To-Do List for the next two weeks, but that grew LONG and stressful. So, I decided to minimize the task and concentrate just on what needs to be done to the hall bathroom- from cleaning, to reorganizing, redecorating, and repairs. Five or six crumpled sheets of paper later I finally had an acceptable list. I can be OCD about list-making... just a bit.

To get to Williamsburg, where Busch Gardens and the water park are located, we can go highway or we can go backroads and across the ferry. Usually, we go backroads. The highway route is confusing and easily messed up when backrouting to come home, although I am convinced it still saves time. Tonight we pulled up to the ferry just as they lifted the ramp. I was PEEVED! They surely saw two cars coming down the path! "Dukes of Hazzard" scenes of jumping the ramp flashed through the recesses of my mind. The ferry is on a schedule on weeknights where it waits on each side of the ferry 30 minutes while it waits for passengers. So, we had to wait the full 30 minutes as it parked on the other side of the James River and then we had to wait on the ferry the full 30 minutes while it waited on our side. So, it took a full hour to take a less than 10-minute ferry ride. Between that and the steering-wheel-clenched-lookout for deer on the backroad, I think I am going to start figuring out the highway route, where however long it may be, at least it's a definite (as definite as such things can be, a least).

Sunday, August 3, 2008


On Friday, July 11th, Summer School ended. On Wednesday, July 13th, mid-first-week-of-summer-vacation, I was in the car with the boys. We had just left the post office from mailing the Sailor a care package and were on the way to a friend's house so I could help her with a research paper for the summer college class she was taking. The boys were in their swimming trunks because they were going to play in the pool as I tried to parlay the intricacies of MLA format documentation. My cell rang, and pretty sure it was the friend's house we were heading to, I had the Justin dig it out of my purse. The caller ID said "Maryland," which met that it was my mother. I have a hard time attributing the loving title of "Mother" to her, so defining her by location rather than relation was an easier way to deal with the incoming calls. We played the usual game of making the boys answer the phone and then refusing to take the phone when Justin said she wanted to talk to me... still reluctant to give in when Justin said she was crying and something was wrong.

Richard, the man with whom she had lived for 18 years, died that morning while mowing the lawn. He was in his early 50's and had a slew of medical problems for which he did not have the health insurance to address. So, while it obviously wasn't expected, in retrospect, I can't exactly say it was a surprise. He moved into my mother's house after I moved out, so I had no real relationship with the man. However, my boys loved him and saw him as a grandfather figure, which in our nonexistent extended family structure is a pretty big deal.

We came home and loaded up the car with clothes and the dog and headed to Maryland, about a 3 hour drive. Richard had a living brother and sister, however, my mother was the beneficiary of his barely enough (but thankfully existent) life insurance policies, so the details for handling the funeral and burial were left to her... which is to say they were left to me. My mother is for the most part deaf. Without her hearing aid she can hear nothing, with it she can hear better, but not well, I think. She has a 6th grade education, and I think school was a struggle for her even up to that point. At 56, she has been on disability for almost 20 years for being so overweight that her spine cannot support the mass. For these reasons, many people pity my mother. I, however, know that in addition to these traits and issues and much more prominent, is the fact that she is simply MEAN. Seriously... mean. She thrives on the pain, downfalls, and embarrassment of others. Therefore, from the onset I correctly surmised that a small part of her would revel in the attention she received from Richard's death. For all intents and purposes, she was the mourning widow. I was only wrong in assuming too small of a degree to which she would enjoy the attention.

It took death for me to appreciate the man Richard was. That is so cliche, I know, and I hate that I fell into that role. Richard could not hold a job. I cannot begin to estimate the number of jobs that he had in the 18 years I knew him. It is without doubt that I guess the number of jobs he held outnumbered the years I knew him. Every time I talked to him, a new job was the topic. There were actually a couple of companies that would he would quit and get rehired by a few times, which always seemed strange to me. He was always looking for a handout. He owed everyone money- family, friend, neighbor, and more. On more than one occasion I avoided visiting them because it would cost me. The boys liked going there for a week or two in the summer, which was also a good break for me. I would send them with $100 to help pay for food while they were there, and then get a call at the end of the week that it wasn't enough, and he needed $50 more. So, these were the basis of my opinions of Richard over the past 18 years. He was a freeloader that couldn't keep a job and always had his hand out.

At the funeral, thanks to the speeches of the minister and a family friend, I was able to inherit a different legacy by which to remember Richard. For that I am thankful. Some of the things I knew and overlooked, others I learned for the first time. Even in their mid-50's, he an my mother were the "young couple" in the neighborhood that is still inhabited mostly by the first-time home owners. So a lot of old ladies needed a lot of favors. Richard was there to cut their grass or run their errands. Yes, perhaps he did this for a price, perhaps not in some cases, but they still seemed grateful. I also learned that on many occassions, he simply visited them to talk and drink coffee. Eerily, several of them said he talked in the days preceeding his death about knowing that "his time was coming soon" and he was worried about how my mother would fare without him. Also, I have had the freedom during the entire 18 years of my adult life to pick and choose when I dealt with my mother. Richard was there to care for her when she was bedridden following back surgery and, unfortunately take the brunt of her cruelty. She called his jobs to check up on him, yelled at him in private and public, and tried to better herself by embarrassing him before other people. He filled the void of victim left in her life when I moved out. I had not considered these things before. I did not recognize how much his mere presence from afar made my life easier for nearly two decades. He also loved my boys. When Mother cleaned out his wallet, there were several pictures of my boys in there, but not even his own kids (which he didn't have a relationship with). Most people we spoke with and even the speakers at the funeral talked about how important the boys were to him. I am an only child. My mother's neverending tendency to only regard people as a source of favors and pity has led to her family estranging her, and thus, me. So, I have no family outside of my home and weak relationships with in-laws. Richard was a strong member of our family even though I was never willing to acknowledge him in this role. I hope I am being hard on myself. I hope there was at least a token of appreciation for him within me while he still lived that I am finding hard to remember now.

The Navy sent Jason home for two weeks to help with affairs. I am glad he was with me for the week I was in Maryland. He created a buffer between my mother and I that allowed me to act civil towards her, for the most part. He also helped me to think through the financial situation she has put herself in and stopped me from making some guilty open-purse decisions that would have proved disastrous for us in the end. I am glad he was there for the boys, who didn't really get smacked with the reality of the situation until the coffin was before them. I'm glad he was there to help with funeral arrangements so I couldn't later be blamed for making the only decisions possible (such as closed casket) with the amount of life insurance left. I am glad he stepped in to talk to the relatives that wanted to tell me Richard owed them money and make suggestins about my mother's financial situation. And too, I am glad he was there to see my Mother as she "really" is and never believed, by me, to be. In light of the reason he was stateside, we had a good time while more or less "vacationing" in my hometown. We connected in a way that we had not in a long time. The following week, back home and to reality though, things fell into their old routine. I felt robbed. I wanted the spark we had while staying out of town in a hotel for a week. He said it was unfair to compare the two. But, I think there has to be a compromise. I dropped him off at the airport today and he should be in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I type this heading back to his ship for four more months. In that time, I need to figure out some ways to keep that "spark" in our everyday lives.