Life and Legacy:

A letter to my 40 year old self from my 40 year old self

Sometime within the past decade, I started to believe that there was more to life than a 9-5, being married, raising kids, and getting old. About the time I turned 30, the panic really set in. I had been married for 7 years, had 2 kids, a 9-5, and was definitely getting older. Was this ‘it’? Is this how you arrive? I had done all of the things you’re ‘supposed’ to do to be happy and I wasn’t (happy). Looking back I realize how little I actually knew at that point in my life; how little life I had experienced and how incredibly blessed I was for who I had married, how healthy our children were, and how much that 9-5 provided.

Still, there was a part of me that wanted to see more of myself in my life. Sometimes I felt like I was failing at my marriage and drowning in motherhood. I wanted to see myself as more than ‘just’ anything that was obvious. If you asked me who I was I would say ‘Mom’ first, then ‘military spouse,’ and then I would draw a blank. At some point in those early 30’s years, I started to hate to introduce myself because it felt awkward and shallow. I wanted to be more than a collection of labels and roles, but I didn’t know how to keep them and this other version of myself I wanted to be.  The more labels I attached to myself the more lost I felt. Even as I write this, I can hear the old whispers of restless insignificance creeping in, reminding me that I’m still the same as I was: a collection of roles that come with rules and responsibilities.

At some point, all of those feelings brought on an onslaught of guilt and shame. By thirty I was married with two beautiful children. I had friends who were in long-term relationships with people who wouldn’t take the next step and still other friends who struggled with infertility. By my mid-thirties, a lot of my friends were getting divorced while still others struggled to find direction and success in their career fields. And there I was with all my ducks in a row, living the dream. Who was I to complain? Who was I to want more?

[Me to me:  Why do you feel guilty about seeing potential in yourself?]

I thought about the ones I loved most in my life; did I expect them to stay the same? Who was the steady, reliable, steadfast support behind my husband’s progression in his career? Who always said, “Hell yes, let’s do it” when we talked about moving to pursue an avenue in his career that would provide stability, a greater financial gain, and the challenge he wanted? Who looked at their children and spoke life, encouragement, and belief to their achievements and abilities? Who demanded their best and allowed them to fail so they could learn to grow?

[Also Me to me: “That who is you.” That ‘who’ is someone who loves big enough to believe in them until they believed in themselves.]

It took me another decade to realize that my husband had the same eyes for me as I did for him: he saw my potential and proved time and again that he was willing to do whatever it took to provide opportunities for me to walk in my own potential and fill the spaces I saved for ‘our’ success with a little of my own personal glory. What would my marriage gain from a second partner with a relentless spirit of dreams and ambition?

In that same decade I watched my children grow to excruciating lengths and depths, leaving childhood behind for the wrenching years of teenage angst, confusion, beauty, and independence. What was I showing them? To settle in and stay on the sidelines? To let the world tell them when they had checked enough boxes, accomplished enough, given enough to ‘look’ successful? To compare their lives to those of their peers, neighbors, and friends and say “OK, good enough?”  If I took my potential and ambition in stride, what could they learn from a mother who continued to evolve, dream, work, and become?

Maybe the point of this rambling collection of reminiscent thoughts is that we all spend way too much time in and of the world. Looking outside of ourselves, living in a belief system that tells us that life is a formula; a list of boxes to check all while looking to the crowd for nods of approval. Living this way is exactly how you lose yourself in the crowd. It’s how we look back and see an endless trail of identity crises, guilt, and shame. It’s being completely unaware of potential that is a gift, not a tool of comparison. No one was created to live in a box of easily defined parameters. There is simply too much diversity in the world that proves we were all uniquely, beautifully, and wonderfully made to grow from the time we’re born until the day we die – to leave no potential on the table at the end of any day.

The trick is that you’ll never see that kind of potential when you look for yourself in the world. You’ll see plenty of spaces you can fit in and tables that you can pull up a chair to, but those spaces and tables won’t last long. You’ll go looking for another… and another. Until you’re lost in a thousand versions of yourself written by someone else.  

To create your own space, build your own table, and write your own story… the answer is you. Simple, complicated, and completely against the grain. You are your own answer. Those pulls and dreams come from a place of the greatest knowing and the deepest doubt. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else does. You have to look in the mirror and allow yourself to see more. You have to give yourself permission every day to be different. You have to challenge yourself to outgrow the spaces and the tables. You have to see your failures along the way as part of the plan. You don’t have to know what comes next to know that you have to take a new step.

If you have people in your life that love you – a spouse, children – that you live for – they are waiting. Don’t give them permission with your words. Do it with your actions. Be brave with those deep secret longings and live them out loud.

My husband didn’t marry a “we.” He married me. I want him to see the same limitless potential and ambition he saw the first time he looked at me. I don’t ever want to outgrow that fearless, clueless 10th grader who really did believe she would do it all. I want him to look over at an 80 year old badass who never outgrew her capacity for believing in herself, who failed often enough to figure it out, who loved deeply enough to keep working towards her greatest potential.

I don’t want my children to look back at their mother and see a long road of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. I want them to see that I made space for who I was and who I was becoming. I want them to do the same and know they’re not selfish and ungrateful… they’re just chasing the potential they were born with and meant to grow in… for all of their lives, not just a season, or a decade, or any other space of time. Just like their Mama.

This isn’t “how to live your life well.”

This is how you build legacy.

Castle on the Hill

To Samuel. Name the band and the place, I’m there.

Samuel. First big arena concert: Ed Sheeran
October 2017, Age 11

Five years ago I did something that I very rarely do – I planned ahead. In July, I bought my son’s birthday present. His birthday is the day before mine in September. I have been known to be a “week of” birthday present purchaser who relies heavily on Amazon Prime and pure luck to get things on time. I can’t really explain it; I know that these holidays fall on the same day every year, but somehow I always feel like I’m living in the last-minute lane.

This year in particular, I read somewhere that we should give our children experiences and not ‘things.’
This year in particular, I knew I was staring down the beginnings of adolescence and was afraid that our days of simple connection were numbered.
This year in particular, Ed Sheeran was coming to town.

That summer ate me alive. I had already spent most of that year in single-parent mode as my husband was constantly away for work. Finding camps or babysitters for the kids while I was working was a nightmare. They spent a lot of time in front of a screen for entertainment. I hated it, so when we were in the car, there were no devices allowed, and so began their music education. As a lover of (most) all music, we listened to everything from oldies to 80s to R&B to classic rock. Eventually, they developed some favorites and Samuel started venturing out on his own, finding songs he liked, and playing them for us in the car. I know it sounds silly, but this little move of independence made me so happy. He played a song for Izzy and me one day called “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran. He said it reminded him of driving fast in the car, watching the world fly past you, and going home. It wasn’t my favorite. I don’t remember why, but the first time I heard it I kind of hoped he’d move on to something else. He didn’t. We listened to “Castle on the Hill” until we all knew all the words, whether we wanted to or not. It was one of his first “favorite songs” that I remember.

Short story, long, we devoured Ed Sheeran’s Divide album that summer and in July, I bought concert tickets for October. In September, on his 11th birthday, he was a little confused (and probably disappointed) that his ‘big present’ was a piece of paper. When I explained it was tickets to a big-arena concert in Nashville – that he was going to get to hear Ed Sheeran live – he thanked us and said he was excited. As the date drew closer and we continued to listen to Ed on repeat, I began to worry that the concert experience wouldn’t be for him what it was for me. He borrowed my phone and looked up parking and a place to eat dinner. The day of the show, we got dressed up and drove down to Nashville, parked in the deck of the Music City Center, and ate burgers at a spot down the street from Bridgestone Arena.

When we walked inside, I watched him like a hawk, looking for any sign of excitement and anticipation, or worse, boredom and disappointment. There were a couple of things I didn’t consider: the opening act and concessions. I should have warned Samuel about the first one and myself about the second. He didn’t know he’d have to sit through a couple hours of an opening act before the main show. The first thing he asked for? Food. We spent as much on concessions that night as we did at dinner. I was torn by desperation that he would have a good time and irritation that all he seemed to care about was popcorn and soda. James Blunt opened for Ed and I was immediately caught up, singing along, and swept up in the concert experience. Samuel was playing Angry Birds on my phone. At this point, I realized maybe 11 was too young to appreciate a big show like this one. I resolved to let him play the bleepity-bleep Angry Birds all night, but that I was going to enjoy the show. I gritted my teeth between sets when he asked for more popcorn. I remember watching the crew set up and noticed the stage was relatively small – not big enough for a full band – and mostly covered in speakers or amps or whatever. I started to think that this might be an acoustic show and looked back at our tickets. My inner monologue went something like: “Who goes to a big arena for an acoustic show? I am not buying anymore snacks. This was a mistake. He’s going to care more about snacks than the show. Oh my gosh, I did not pay this much for one dude and a guitar. I never should have downloaded Angry Birds. He’s going to spill that. Phones are the devil. I’m never going to be able to connect with my kids – they’d rather be on a phone. It’s Ed freaking Sheeran, he’s not going to perform without a band? NO. No more snacks…”

And then, it started to happen. The lights changed, the crowd started to clap and cheer, and for a moment, the air left the room while we waited for Ed to make his appearance. I stood and started scanning the floor area of the arena wondering how he would make his entrance. I forgot about snacks and Angry Birds and slowly let the waves of anticipation and excitement roll over me.

Ed Sheeran just walked out on stage. No fanfare, no dropping out of the ceiling or rising out of the floor. He just walked out with a guitar and started strumming. The whole place went ballistic. More strumming, tapping of pedals on the floor, a few seemingly random vocals and sound effects from his guitar, and I slowly began to realize he was building the song’s melody one piece at a time. My mind was blown – it was the biggest sound I’ve ever heard in concert – don’t sleep on Ed and a loop pedal. He is incredible. In the next moment, a felt a pull on my arm and a shout from beside me, “MOM! It’s Castle on the Hill! It’s Castle on the Hill!!! Oh my gosh, MOOOOOOM! Can you hear it!?!” I looked over just in time for the lights to wash over Samuel’s face to reveal pure, uninhibited joy. The ‘beat dropped’ and it was, indeed, “Castle on the Hill.”

I remember looking over at him again hours later, as he slept in the passenger seat, and thinking, “I will never forget this.” I listened to “Castle on the Hill” on repeat all the way home with new ears. It’s a nostalgic song – about growing up and going back home. It’s about looking back on the hard and seemingly terrible seasons of your childhood and seeing beauty in them; of feeling far from home and returning to the old familiar rhythms, sights, and people. Of belonging. That song and that night completely changed the way I looked at being a parent. Regardless of our own efforts, we can’t really control how our children will experience the world they’re growing up in. We can’t control who they become. Even in the moments that we create for them, their experience is their own. Our job is to create a consistent space where they can just be themselves and be loved. The older they get, the more this matters.

It’s not the “stuff” you buy and even the experiences turn out to be “things” that provide memories for us to cherish. The journey in all of it is building the castle that is your child – the person they are becoming – and the gift of their life in the world. Most of that work is for them to do while you, the parent, facilitate, encourage, (sometimes) force, and ultimately, accept. You may help to build the castle – but you’re not the castle – you are the hill. One day they’re going to go off the script and start listening to Juice WRLD and NF. You’re going to find out they have found their own way and that it’s nothing like you planned or expected. What then? Go back to that place of certainty and connection. Keep buying the concert tickets and learning the songs. Most of all, stop looking for your plan in them. Stop being the castle they live in and start being the hill they can grow on.

This past summer, I took Samuel to see one of his favorite bands, AJR. We were fighting our way through a tough, tumultuous season of life. I let him drive down to Nashville and by the time we parked, I was exhausted, and my nerves were shot. We had to go back to the car twice because the venue didn’t allow bags. The opening act was a dude who literally played a ukulele with a cookie monster-ish mask on. I hated it and went to the concession stand – twice. Samuel loved it. He talked between the opener and the main show – about the songs he hoped they would play and about the videos he had watched of their shows. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about but the best I could do was listen and enjoy his excitement. The AJR concert wasn’t my choice and I only knew a few songs because he played them for me – on repeat – in the car.

And then, it started to happen. The lights changed, the energy moved through the crowd like electricity, and the beat dropped. I looked over to see Samuel’s face lit with that same pure, uninhibited joy and laughed when he said, “MOM!!! Holy shit!” The next 2 hours were full of lights, amazing music, dancing, cheering, and a mid-set pretzel break (for me – ha!). I became a BIG fan of AJR. He still fell asleep in the passenger seat and I still listened to “Castle on the Hill” on repeat all the way home.

Samuel (and Mom). First amphitheater concert: “AJR”
May 2022, Age 15.

He’ll choose his own path in more ways than just music one day soon.

They all will – no matter what we do, parents were always meant to send their children off into the world to be who they were created to be.

If we do it right, it’ll be the greatest show we’ve ever seen.

If we do it right, we’ll always be the hill they build their castle on. The one they look back on and see how the hardest times made them better and the best of times were just that – the best. The hill that gave them space to figure out who they are and what they want to be. The hill they can always come back to, belong to, and be loved on.

Be the hill. The castle will come to you.

“I’m on my way
I still remember these old country lanes
When we did not know the answers
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
We watched the sunset
Over the castle on the hill..”
~Ed Sheeran

Thanks, Ed.

For Everything.

Usually when I sit down to write something, I take time to consider my delivery and my audience. I don’t like confrontation or the harsh words that often come with differing opinions. I can’t stand to see the constant backlash that is exchanged between opposing sides. I try to be careful and thoughtful of the many differing feelings and opinions out there.

Today, I’m not going to do that. All of the consideration in the world won’t hold the tide that is flooding through some of us. We’re meant to be strong, unyielding bastions of bottomless calm, patience, and resilience. We’re meant to wait, to trust, to hold on, hold out, and be quietly, gracefully patriotic about all of it. I’m not about to do any of that.

I don’t have anything to say about Afghanistan – the politics, the finger pointing, the inevitability or the humanity of it all.
It will all get swallowed up in the next big story that comes along.
But not all of us can forget or escape this story. Some of us have been and are still living it.
I’m about to tell a truth to the ones who need to hear it. You’ll know who you are.

I know that you’re pretending it’s OK when it’s not.
I know that you’re shaking inside. Praying – again – that he’ll just come home.
I know that there will be more pieces to pick up, but that you’ll take the pieces and find the right glue.
I know that you turn away from friends who are reaching out because you can’t afford to lose it where your kids can see.
I know that you have tried to turn off the news but can’t.
I know that you are going through the motions without knowing it.
I know that’s the only way you take your next breath, and the next.
I know there’s nothing anyone can say.
I know you’re scared.

I know you’re watching him closely – looking for signs.
I know that you have questions you want to ask but can’t – or won’t.
I know that you’re holding him, without touching him, while he’s processing emotions and exorcising demons.
I know that you’re foolishly hopeful that maybe you’ll never have to send him away again.
I know you’re afraid all the times you did don’t matter anymore.
I know that you’re tired.

We’ll never know what might have been.
We’ll never know if things would have been different.
All we know is that we waited, we picked up the pieces every time, and with cuts and scrapes and deep, deep wounds, we carried them – calmly, patiently, and resiliently.

Whatever your eyes and ears are being filled with, fill your heart and soul with this:

You didn’t come second to a cause, a duty, and a flag.
You didn’t peel your children away from him, lie to them, quell their fear and their rage for years on end.
You didn’t reinvent yourself every few years for decades.
You didn’t leave friends or miss your family.
You didn’t make Christmas magical or birthday parties that were larger than life by yourself.
You didn’t raise kids that have never NOT known war, separation, and the complicated business of reintegration.
You didn’t make the meals, hold the hands, dry the tears, and hide the fear.
You didn’t jump when the doorbell rang or beg for his life at the expense of someone else’s.
You didn’t sew together pieces shattered beyond comprehension and recognition.
You didn’t carry the fears of a country.
You didn’t give your heart away, time and time again.
You didn’t stand by while the country he loves turned on itself and made his service seem cheap.
You didn’t agree when your whole being screamed it was enough.

It wasn’t all for nothing.
This country has known war, fear, and loss for twenty years.
But it has always known freedom.
Your life, his life, and the generations that come from you – are everything.

To those who are watching, commentating, spreading opinions and making bold statements about things that can never (and should never) hope to understand, just remember we can see you, we can hear you, and we don’t need you to tell us with empty words, explanations, declarations, and assumptions what we already know you can’t comprehend.
We’re not all here to have an opinion or a perspective to argue.
We are here calmly, patiently, and resiliently waiting for you to move on and enjoy your freedom in a different conversation.
We’re here to take care of the ones who spent the last twenty years keeping us all free.
Some of us are treading the waters of doubt, worry, and questions that don’t have answers.
And some of us are still waiting.

Teenagers: The Real Teachers.

I had this moment. About 4 years ago.

I was standing among a group of people whose kids were slightly older than mine – their kids were teenagers. These were people I spent a lot of time with, people who I admired, trusted, and looked up to. And I had this moment where I caught sight of my son, just barely out of earshot, but watching me closely. I felt like I was 5 years old, with my hand in the proverbial cookie jar, caught “red handed,” and a wave of shame washed over me so quickly and powerfully, I nearly burst into tears. Just before that moment, I had been actively listening and taking part in the group’s conversation, laughing where it was intended, and giving the appropriate sympathetic nods and hums. The conversation was centered around how gross, smelly, annoying, and clueless teenagers are. The moment before my son caught my eye, someone said, “Oh you’re not even there yet. Enjoy it while you can. Teenagers suck.” Laughter ensued.

This sounds like a really mean, awful conversation among really mean, awful people. But if you’re a mom reading this – and you can be honest with yourself – I bet you’ve been there. Motherhood is a rare, natural kinship that exists between women. Even if you don’t know each other, you get it. There is less and less space out there to be a mother and not be the picture of self-sacrifice, exhaustion, and martyrdom that’s plastered on clever coffee cups and t-shirts that proclaim it’s wine o’clock somewhere. I want to take a minute and clarify something – the people standing in that group aren’t mean or awful. And they don’t speak ill of their teenagers because they’re mean or awful people. I am convinced that these kinds of conversations are born from a place a deep insecurity and fear – BECAUSE! Moms are expected to know, do, be, and have it all! And that’s just bullshit.

I looked at my son that day and made a decision. He was about ten at the time and already showing the beginnings of shifting from being a little boy to being an adolescent. I decided I wasn’t ever going to participate in one of those conversations again. (I haven’t.) I decided that I was going to LIKE having teenagers. (I do!)

My son is now 14 and my daughter will be 12 in a few weeks. One day I will write the book on how my teenagers have taught me more about love, hurt, people, learning, compassion, insecurity, and life than anyone or anything else in my 38 years of living. But for now, I’ll just tell you some very hard but freeing truths that I believe can transform the way we think about ‘raising’ teenagers. 

  1. You’re not supposed to understand them. How old are you? If your age isn’t followed by ‘teen’ then you aren’t meant to think the way they do. Your brain is older, more developed, and more experienced.
  2. They’re right. You “just don’t get it” and you “don’t understand anything.” You’re going to have to get out of your own way here and just believe me when I tell you that the best way to get your kid to open up and talk to you is to tell them they’re right. And then shut up. Let them teach you about how their teenage thoughts and feelings are shaping their words, their actions, and their reality.
  3. Hygiene is a habit that takes time and endless repetition to master. Unless they’ve been wearing deodorant and washing their face twice a day every day since they were 2, they won’t remember to do this and will need daily reminders – for like, years. The next time their smell or their oily pimply face tells you they forgot, pick one of the bad habits you wish you could break, and remind yourself that you keep that bad habit because you’re not disciplined enough to develop a new one.
  4. On the subject of habits – they’re required to develop a lot of new ones through this stage of the game. Be patient. They’re going to be forgetful at the most inopportune times. Patience and some encouragement in those teeth-gritting, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me moments goes a long way to alleviate anxiety and build trust and self-esteem. Grit your teeth. Say the cuss words under your breath. You’re an adult with coping skills and life experience. Act like one and use them.
  5. They don’t listen because you don’t either.

Your teenagers need you more than ever. Just because they look more like an adult, talk more like an adult, and can do more adult-like tasks, doesn’t make them an adult. They know just enough to be dangerous. Fight the urge to let them figure it out when they are seemingly pushing you away at every turn. Fight the urge to give them the ‘adult answer’ and the ‘adult solution.’ Their thoughts and solutions might surprise you.

Ask questions. Tell stories. Listen. Lean in. 

They don’t need you to teach them everything. They need you to learn with them.
They don’t need your answers. They need you to help them find their own.
They don’t need you to let them grow up. They need you to keep growing up with them.

My Greatest Teachers

Lead from the Middle

My friend said something today, in passing, while sharing how her little girls made her smile on a sad, crappy day in our nation’s history. She said, “Lead from the middle.” And BOOM. I am seen. I think more of us are in the middle than we know.

Being in the middle gives you no place to belong- because you’re not on one side or the other- you might be a little bit of both- but you don’t fit the bill to belong exclusively to one group or the other. The middle might be the most confusing, hurtful, scary place to be right now. But I think the middle is the answer.

Have you ever dropped a rock in water and watched its impact? No matter how big or how small that rock is – boulder or pebble – the impact on the water is in the middle and makes its way out, one ripple at a time. The water will eventually return to a calm, still surface, but the structure and environment beneath is forever changed by the rock you dropped.

Change isn’t just inevitable. It’s proven by science and history to be a necessity to survival. It can happen to you or you can choose it. No one is immune.

Make no mistake: YOU. MATTER.
Your words, your choices, your actions. They have impact and ripples that you cannot take back. It is an endlessly fought-for and hard-won freedom in this country to choose our focus, our direction, our words, our next steps.

Those of us in the middle feel silenced by our perceived inability or refusal to choose one side or the other and fit in. Those who do ‘belong’ will tell you what you are & what you’re not, how you should feel. Because if you’re in the middle, you’re not strong enough to choose one or the other.
No ma’am.

Being in the middle doesn’t make you weak. It makes you the impact that will change everything. Being in the middle means you are changing the environment beneath the surface. You can’t control what happens in the ripples, but you can control your impact.

So, if you’re in the middle – driving your daughters to school filling your heart with their endless chatter, all while praying the country you love (and that has loved you back) doesn’t fail them – sit with me, hold my hand. I’m here with you. The middle is where we meet, heal, learn, and grow – together.

“Lead from the middle, friends.”

Thanks, Mandy.

Three Tiny Trees

I got a tattoo. Yes, me. Finally. When people notice, I get one of two responses:
1. YOU got a tattoo?!?! And 2. Oh that’s cute, what does it mean?
I never do anything permanent without major overthinking and contemplation.
The three tiny trees on my wrist are the story of 2020 – just as 2020 is the story of three tiny trees. Those trees are the symbol of how I got to where I am today. Those trees gave me permission, finally, to become.

2019 was a snow globe year – the year my beautiful little world got turned upside down and shaken violently. I have written and rewritten this part so many times. There is no nice polite way to say that my father was unfaithful to my mother – a lot – for a long, long time. No one knew, until we did. And so the snow globe was shaken, the village set on fire, and then carefully placed right side up so the pieces of ash could settle. I’m not being dramatic. Within a few months, the centerstone that I built my life on was gone… one betrayal, one dismissal at a time. Just like that, I was alone. Brene Brown brought me back to life with her book, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” In it, I found that I wasn’t alone. I was just in the wilderness, among the trees, searching for that place that I belonged, knowing that I couldn’t go back and hoping one day I wouldn’t want to. I inhaled that book like air, taking deep breaths of it over and over.  I read that book again and again – holding on with both hands to this quote that Brene shares from Maya Angelou:

“You can only be free when you realize
you belong no place, you belong every place, no place at all.
The price is high.
The reward is great.”

1.8M Views Face

January. 1.8 Million.
On January 3, 2020, I wrote a blog post. Within 48 hours, nearly two million people all over the world had read it. It blew me away and for about a week made me really believe there was something more to be discovered and unpacked. But life. I went back to work after having the flu and took a full time position with a company I had been with for several years for one reason: money. My boss wanted me to take the job and said “what do you want” and I named what was, to me at the time, an astronomical salary, and she said “done.”

5AM any day in February

February. Right after the epiphany of a 2 million views blogpost that set my soul on fire, I started that full time job that had nothing to do with that fire, and I lost a little piece of myself to the wind. During this time, I was nearing the end of a long training cycle and planning a weekend trip to Columbus, Ohio to compete as an Olympic Weightlifter at The Arnold Fitness Expo – an opportunity I sort of qualified for by accident. No one qualifies for the Arnold and doesn’t go. NO. ONE. And so I trained from October-March in my garage with my husband Rob for hours every day. In February, with my full time job, full time kids, full time life, and this blog post that haunted me with possibilities, I continued to lift 2-3 hours a day, preparing for The Arnold. (Seriously though, it’s a big thing.)

Somewhere. With him.

March. The Arnold was scheduled for March 6-8. We had hotels booked, two other coaches/friends from my local gym were going, my nutrition coach was planning to fly in for it, my best friend was driving up, and, most importantly, Rob was going to be right there when I stepped on and then off of the platform for the ‘good game double tap’ (if you know, you know). Two weeks out, new regulations were released due to the Coronavirus about health checks, limiting contact and space. A week out, Arnold himself (that’s Schwarzenegger) cancelled the Expo “out of an abundance of caution.”  Six days out, we were told we could still lift, there just wouldn’t be a crowd. Four days out, I made weight. 3 days out they said only lifters would be allowed in the expo center which meant Rob couldn’t go. 2 days out I said I didn’t think I wanted to do it anymore. 1 day out, I pulled on my singlet (aka sweet spandex onesie), walked out into MY garage onto MY platform, weighed in at 75.8 kg (just under the 76kg requirement), and went 4/6, nailing my heaviest snatch and clean and jerk with personal bests. With that total, I would have stood on a podium at the Arnold. Instead, I changed my clothes and ran away to the mountains with Rob. It was the best weekend of 2020.

“Essential AF”

April. Home Healthcare worker: Leaving for work before the sun came up and getting home after it went down. Buying toilet paper from gas station bathrooms to distribute to my patients who had no way of getting any if there was any to buy… April took more than it gave to most.. for me it was the final slide down a slippery slope, a final departure into the trees of the wilderness. I sat in my car one day between patients and thought, “How long will this last?” and I didn’t just mean quarantines and COVID. How long was I going to play a role for the sake of making sense to everyone else if I didn’t make sense to myself? I also knew that I couldn’t afford to keep falling apart…

May. “Rob, I think I quit my job today.”

June. Stay at home mom. July. Stay at home mom. August. Stay at home mom.

The summer of 2020 was a slow awakening. Let’s leave it at that.

This is 38.

September. Fitful, anxious, frustrated. My whole life I have been convinced that you have to have a plan and that plan should always be moving you forward to the next thing. ‘Living in the moment’ was a cute fake Instagram filtered concept that looks good, sounds better, but for me was actually a load of shit. There has always been too much to DO to actually enjoy it. Yet there have always been people around me that seem impossibly busy, absorbed by their work, balanced in their families, and blissfully happy. I turned 38 and realized that I wasn’t busy, absorbed by work, or consumed by any specific goal – but I was blissfully happy.

Tree Hugging.

October. Social Media hiatus. This always teaches me how little people are paying attention to you. Insert ironic laughter here. I took inventory once again of the people and places in my life where I was pouring my time and energy and realized that, actually there weren’t very many, and those places and people that used to get my time and energy hadn’t noticed my absence. If ever I was a tree hugger, this moment of realization was it. Having truly embraced the wilderness in my search for true belonging, I finally began to feel an itch at the back of my mind that I was about to walk right off the precipice where I had been camped out for months – years. But the view was still foggy.

Izzy the Boss, #85

November. “Show Yourself.”  
I watched zero coverage of the election. ZERO. And I didn’t go back to social media either. I watched Disney Princess movies. On repeat. My daughter and I sang the songs and revisited the stories. I thought about how much criticism of the Disney Princesses I had heard when she was younger, because we “shouldn’t teach our daughters to aspire to meet a man” and call it complete. Clearly, the people saying those things have never met my Izzy nor have they REALLY watched these movies. Frozen, Mulan, Moana, The Little Mermaid… make all the jokes you want, those chicks are REBELS. They are real deal wilderness girls stepping out of all of life’s “shoulds” and following that still small voice that calls to them.  In November, my daughter showed me that I knew how to be a ‘rebel’ – because I was raising one. Then one day, I watched Frozen 2 and just felt SEEN. Elsa, a girl who spent her life questioning who she was meant to be, always feeling like an outsider, trying to just be a ‘good girl’ – against all expectations and resistance follows a voice that keeps calling to her, a voice she can’t seem to shake – a voice that will show her who she is – a voice that she finally demands: “SHOW YOURSELF!”

“Show yourself / Step into your power.
Grow yourself / Into something new.

December. Release.
I stopped making anyone else responsible for my healing at some point this year. I didn’t realize it until I said it out loud in December, but I did, and something broke free. The veil lifted in that moment and I was able to see so clearly who I really was. Nearly two years of wilderness walking and I was finally free. Everywhere. Nowhere.
It was tattoo time.

Three tiny trees for the three who loved me, needed me, accepted me, and carried my heart with them when I couldn’t bear it alone… three tiny trees for the three that I would always belong to. Rob. Samuel. Izzy. Always.

I cried for all 3 minutes it took to tattoo it. Grateful, happy, endlessly content tears. Every drop of ink so deeply symbolic I was too wrapped up to think myself ridiculous. I watched him carve those trees into my arm and thought, “There she is.” In those 3 minutes I let go of everything that had ever held me back, all the “shoulds,” and I gave away my pain, my regret, and my past with gratitude for its lessons. It was a period at the end of a very long sentence. And now, I get to write the next one without exception, without judgment, without fear – but with truth and love and peace. I get to come alive. I get to become.

If you find yourself in the wilderness of your soul, remember Maya’s words:

“The price is high. The reward is great.”

And stay in the trees…

Everywhere & Nowhere.

Every Christmas… I’ll wait

It was late. It took hours. There was no way in hell it wasn’t getting done.
For months, weeks, I had anticipated all that would be required to pull it off – all by myself.
But when I sat back and looked at the finished product, it was all wrong. Backwards. BACK. WARDS.

“Babe. I’m sorry, I really have to go. Just… it won’t matter. It’ll be too cold for him to ride tomorrow anyway and he has other toys. Please don’t be upset.”

I took a deep breath and swallowed the hot, angry tears and turned with a smile – to my laptop where my husband’s tired sad eyes looked back at me from a world away.
“You’re right. I’ll get with the neighbors tomorrow to see if they can help. Wow! I didn’t realize it was so late. Sorry to keep you up, get some sleep and we’ll call you to open presents in the morning. I love you. Merry Christmas.”
“I love you too. Merry Christmas baby.”

The minute the Skype screen went blank, I calmly picked up the nearest object and threw it as hard as I could across the room. Then I picked up another. And another. Until I was grasping at the carpet, desperate. Why was there nothing else to throw?!? The tears came hot and fast and I took a deep breath, gulped in the failure, the guilt, and finally laid face down on the carpet and cried because I just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t do it all by myself. I shouldn’t have to. And there was certainly no reason that a Green Machine bike should be so damn hard to assemble. Bitterly, I thought about how quickly my husband would have put it together – and not backwards. Twice.

That was eight years ago. It was not the first time my husband watched Christmas unfold on a tiny screen from overseas. It wasn’t the last either. I look around today, eight years of life experience later, and I’m grateful for growth and maturity. I hope that I’ve shown myself, my fellow military spouses, and my children over the years that happiness and gratitude is a choice – regardless of the circumstances – but that’s not why I’m writing this. This isn’t about that. This isn’t even about the troops overseas this holiday season. This is for the ones left behind. The brave faces, the constipated emotions, the smiles so sharp they could cut glass, and the holes in the wall that have to get patched at 3am on Christmas morning. This is for you.

One of the most ironic things about social media is how easily you can be overlooked when people are talking about you. Here’s what I mean: It’s December 2nd and the “Don’t forget the Troops” posts are already circulating. I’ve seen Christmas card pictures posted that say “We’re so blessed to be together this year!” and others with two photos – one of the family and one of the solider overseas. Even still, there are posts that demand the happiness and gratitude of those whose families are all together this year, because others are not. EVEN STILL, there are posts that suggest military families are scoffing at ‘civilians’ who are separated from their families for the first time due to COVID-related travel restrictions and precautions.

There is so much noise out there, especially this time of year. So much to tell us all how to feel and what to think, but nothing that sees us. Again, this is for you.

I know there are still events to put on, a Christmas tree to get up, and lights to hang. Our most basic instinct is to try, for ourselves and for our children, to keep the traditions alive and make everything ‘feel’ as normal as possible. It’s exhausting. It’s maddening. It’s sad. And I swear they lie when they say assembly is quick and easy. LIES, ya’ll.
Why is there so much pressure to appear normal when we’re not? Why do we feel the need to take care of everything when we can’t? The first Christmas I spent without my husband at home, he had already been gone for eight months when Christmas came around. I was pretty much in survival mode by then. It was the one and only year I didn’t put up our own tree – my kids were very young and we went to my parents’ house – but those weeks leading up to Christmas, my house was not jolly. That year I learned that traditions matter – so I’ve always put up a tree, strung the lights, sent the cards, and made the cookies because I needed to make sure my husband knew we were still living the life he was fighting for. Two years later, I learned that “some assembly required” means that I need to bribe a neighbor with cookies and beer to help assemble. In subsequent years, I’ve learned to look up and be grateful for those lessons. You are learning too – even when you’re hurting and sad and completely fed up.

What I mean to say here is that what you’re doing is beautiful. It matters. And it is so, so brave. The knowledge of what we are living without and the fear of what we might not get back weighs heavier at this time of year as we are bombarded by so much implied happiness and gratitude. While so much emphasis is placed on those who are away and what they’re missing out on, I want to take this space for you to say that however you choose to carry on, you’re doing it right. If you go stay with family or stay home on your own, if you string 4 lights or 40,000, if your tree looks like a Pinterest win or an epic fail, if you put on a brave smile or fall apart, if your egg nog isn’t fit for minor consumption (and you’re not sharing anyway), if you skipped the photos with Santa or the gift wrapping volunteer booth, if you wrap the Green Machine (bike) box with a giant dent in the side (that looks a lot like the boot you threw at it) at 3am and curse the guy who wrote “some assembly required” for all of eternity – you’re doing it right. Your strength and courage, the brave smile and the broken one, your inability to give up, fills my heart with more reassurance and pride than anything I can describe. As much as the soldier sacrifices for all of us, going away to fight battles we’ll never see or understand, you are the glue. You are what holds all of the pieces, however precariously, with total and complete grace, and in various stages of calm and chaos. Perfection isn’t just a myth – it’s overrated. Years from now, you’ll see the humor in the heartbreak and smile at how hard you tried, failed, and persevered. Don’t let the noise of this season drown out how remarkable you are, how beautiful YOUR service to this country is, and that however you’re doing it – you’re doing it right.

If you’re reading this through a tiny screen from overseas, there are no words to adequately express my gratitude. I promise that I am living fully in every moment and that I never forget the freedom that fills my lungs is won every day by your courage and selflessness.
When you talk to your family – especially “the glue” – tell her she’s amazing. Because she is.

Merry Christmas. And God Bless America.

Christmas Mornings with Skype

“Every Christmas.
Counting the days.
Maybe this year will be different
And I won’t be, be alone again.
Under the mistletoe
Let it snow
Come on home.
Every Christmas, I’ll wait.”

~Kelly Clarkson, “Every Christmas”
I don’t know if she wrote this one about us/this, but I like to think so.
I sing it obnoxiously loud every single year in honor of all the “glue” out there
– holding it together and making spirits freaking bright.
Thank you, Kelly, for singing exponentially more beautifully than me,
and expressing exactly what my heart feels with your words and music!


Back in March of this year, I pulled into the gas station, parked, and fell apart.
COVID was upon us. Everything was slowing down, shutting down, and everywhere you looked, there was another voice telling you what you should do, think, and feel. Like most of us, I was skeptical, confused, and scared. I was still working as a home health speech therapist, but truthfully, I spent most of that week buying rolls of toilet paper for $5 from gas station bathrooms for my homebound patients who had run out and had no means of getting more. While I tried to convince myself to keep it together, a car pulled into the spot next to mine with the radio blaring. The driver, who was an African American woman, hopped out without turning the car off and I started to roll my windows up, but then I heard the song she was playing:

“There comes a time,
When we heed certain call.
When the world must come together as one…”

I stopped trying to keep it together and fell apart, good and proper. I must have been crying but I was also singing. When the song abruptly stopped and started over at the beginning again, I looked over to see the driver standing by her door smiling at me. She said, “I see you sister. It’s gonna be OK. Just sing through it.” She turned up the volume until I thought the side panels would rattle right off of that little Hyundai. I got out and we stood in that parking lot, wearing masks and gloves, crying, swaying, laughing, reaching for each other, and singing:

“We are the world.
We are the children.
We are the ones who’ll make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.
There’s a choice we’re making.
We’re saving our own lives.
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me

When the song ended, she said, “Thank you, sister. You’ll never be a stranger to me and I wish I could hug you.” I couldn’t speak, just covered my heart with my hands and nodded. “I know,” she said, “We’re going to make it through. Keep on singing, keep on loving.” Then she got into her car, hit repeat, and drove away. I cued up the song, rolled down my windows, and did the same.

March was a million years ago. Sometimes when I look around, I hardly know where I am anymore. There is so much noise in the world, we’re all scrambling to be heard. Every difference has become a division, every argument an ultimatum, every wound mortal. We’re riding a wave that doesn’t have a shore and are caught in a wind that doesn’t have a direction. The more I talk about it, ask questions, and seek answers, the more fearful I am that we will never get through this whole. For all of the conversations I have had and the soul searching I have done in the past several months, I cannot articulate a single sentence that everyone will agree with. Here’s the good news: words don’t matter. Actions always prove why words mean nothing. There are a lot of people who are remembered for their words, but only when those words stood for something they did with their time here on earth – good or bad- and action is what facilitates change. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Why is that true? Because love is a verb. It is rooted in simple, consistent action and it is catching. If we all agreed to “love through it” like my sister in the parking lot, we might just get somewhere.

“We can’t go on pretending day by day
That someone, somehow can soon make a change.
We are all apart of God’s great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need.”

Just seven months ago, seemingly on the verge of World War III, there was a growing sense of anticipation and fear. We watched our soldiers board a plane under a blue sky, not knowing if they would come home, and all I could be was proud and grateful. I sat down, fell apart, and wrote it down. Those words spread so far and so fast, not because I was right or wrong, but because so many people could feel them. We were all ready to come together again, not because we agreed, but because we were humbled by the willingness of those who chose to go – to serve and defend. Unity is needed most when you stand on the precipice of losing what you hold most dear. I have sat shoulder to shoulder with the bravest women I’ll ever know, holding hands, waiting to hear which one of us is going to lose it all. Let me tell you this truth – in those moments, we breathe as one, we cry as one, our hearts beat in sync, and no one lets go. It never mattered what color the hand I was holding was, because that hand was my hand and my hand was hers. Unity. It is the only way to heal wounds that are un-healable.

Whatever you believe in, the story is the same. We are all here on purpose with a purpose. We are all different – we have gifts that were meant to heal the flawed and broken world we live in. It is through our gifts – our actions – that we bring about change. We have work to do. We can do better. Lucky for us, we live in a country where we are afforded the FREEDOM to love our families, love our neighbors, and work hard for change.

So here’s looking at you, America.
The lens is foggy and distorted, but I know you’re still there.
I can feel your freedom in my bones and your hope in my heart.
I believe in you, America. I believe in us.

WE have the power to make change possible.
WE can take action in our homes and our communities.
WE can speak up and take care of each other.
Those freedoms are the gift.
Be the kindness and acceptance and help and equality and hope that you want to see in the world.
Be the stranger in the parking lot that turns up the volume and sings you through it.


“When you’re down and out, there seems no hope at all.
But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall.
Let us realize
That a change can only come
When we… stand together as one.”

The Mother’s Day Massacre

For “You have got to be ****ing kidding me” Moms everywhere.
On our special day.

I love Mother’s Day. My own mother is one of the most beautiful souls I know. I come from a long line of amazing women who love their families very well. My husband and children always make me feel so special on Mother’s Day. I love seeing my newsfeeds filled with pictures of Mamas being honored by their families with cute hand-written cards, breakfast in bed, flowers, and the smiles of their sweet children filling all of our hearts to bursting.

I can remember one of my earlier Mother’s Days, sitting on my grandmother’s front porch trying desperately to get my kids to take one – just one – decent picture with me where they were looking at the camera and not picking their nose, biting their brother, or eating dirt. I begged and bribed – they ate no less than four packs of fruit snacks each – and it all ended in tears, mostly mine, because I just wanted that ONE picture. C’mon, mamas… you know you’ve been there. For every one perfect moment we have to show the world, there are no less than fifty moments of total chaos. Today, on the day we celebrate Moms everywhere, I give you a story of total chaos, from which there was no coming back, and a Mother’s Day I will never forget.
For the record, on this particular Mother’s Day weekend, my husband was away for work as he often is, so it was just me, the kids and the dogs… and this baby bird.

The Bird

The previous owners of our home planted two trees in the backyard, both as Mother’s Day gifts. One was just outside the kitchen window – a Bradford Pear tree – that the little barn swallow birds loved to nest in. About a week before Mother’s Day, we had a pretty decent thunderstorm that knocked one of the baby birds from the nest. My 10 year old daughter Izzy found the little one and was so worried for it. All I could think was how completely heartbroken she would be when this little bird didn’t make it. She was determined – she googled what you could feed baby birds, woke up early before school to feed and care for it, and after three days, the little bird was still with us. As the weekend neared, I started to feel a trickle of dread. We were leaving town for the weekend to go visit my mom for Mother’s Day and there was no way I was taking that bird with us. Izzy and her older brother Samuel read online that baby birds could eat blueberries, so they cut some into small pieces and put several in the box, along with grass and a flower (why not), and closed the box. The kids put some holes in the top of the box to allow airflow and put the box in the flower bed around the base of the tree.

The Weekend

We headed out on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend with my mom as planned and Izzy didn’t talk much about her bird back home. I had no less than five nightmares about what we might come home to. When I really thought about it (always a mistake) an animal of any decent size that wanted to get into that box probably could. We lived on about two acres and our property backed up to farmland and some woods. We had seen coyote, foxes, skunks, raccoons, not to mention the neighbors’ cats that roamed about. In all honesty, I hoped that if something got into that box, they wouldn’t leave evidence of a blood bath and we could go on believing the bird got out and flew away on its own. When we hit the road on Sunday, the questions began:

“Mom, do you think the bird has had enough to eat?”
“Mom, what if the mama bird came back?”
“Mom, what if the bird couldn’t get to the blueberries?
“Mom, what if it was too cold?”
“Mom, you don’t think other animals would get the bird, do you?”

Eventually, I caved and told her that I hoped the bird would be OK, but that we had to be prepared and accept there was a possibility that it hadn’t made it through the weekend. She was a little quieter after that, but then reassured herself that everything would be fine. I hoped she was right but the closer we got the more I feared the worst.

The Dogs

Lucy and Maggie

We have two dogs, Lucy and Maggie, both rescues and both mutts. Lucy is the oldest and definitely the alpha. We were told she was a German Shepherd mix, but our vet thinks she is more Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as African Lion Dogs, which are hunting dogs. Lucy is the sweetest dog, very protective of her people, extremely smart, and with obvious hunting tendencies. Maggie is a shepherd mix – Blue Heeler, Australian Shepherd, Cattle dog, etc. – and she is definitely the watcher. From a young age we noticed that when we were in the backyard playing, she would always mark the perimeter of our space and sit and watch us. If any of us left that space, she would follow until we came back, then she would sit and watch some more. Maggie is bigger than Lucy, but doesn’t have an ounce of aggressive instinct in her body.
Lucy spent every spring under that Bradford Pear tree, barking and jumping at the birds. Ironically, and this is important, we nicknamed Lucy ‘Bird’ after she proudly dropped a dead bird on the back porch for me when she was a puppy. Lucy had knee surgery in March so she wasn’t chasing anything that spring. We boarded the dogs with our vet while we were gone, as I was still concerned about Lucy having too much excitement and receiving the appropriate care for her still healing knee. We picked them up from the vet on our way home and loaded them into the back of the car, leashed and squished in with the kids and suitcases, and headed home to find out the fate of our baby bird.


The minute we pulled into the driveway, Izzy was out of the car like a shot. I panicked a little, because I wanted to check the box first (just in case), but the dogs were losing it to get out. Samuel got out of the passenger side and opened the back door to grab Lucy’s leash while I grabbed Maggie from the other side. I was just telling him we needed to take the dogs inside and telling Izzy to wait for me when the fastest five seconds of our lives happened.

It’s important to note a few things: Samuel and I each had a dog on a leash on opposite sides of the car. I was closest to the house while he had the car between himself and Lucy, and the house, so I couldn’t get to either of them without rounding the car. Samuel was taking Lucy to the grass, further away from me and the house, to go potty. Lucy weighs about sixty-five pounds and Samuel, at the time, was probably close to ninety pounds. Maggie weighs about eighty-five pounds.

I had my eyes on Izzy, who hadn’t complied with my request to wait for me to check the bird. In two breaths, she shouted, “HE MADE IT!! HE MADE IT!!!” and then let loose a blood curdling scream as she lifted the flap of the box and this -very much alive bird – began flapping and jumping madly. I have seriously never seen a bird create so much movement. Izzy still has a hold of the box – mid scream – and there is grass and feathers flying everywhere. As I am making my mom-hero move to save Izzy from this mad baby bird, Maggie plops all eighty five pounds of herself at my feet, so that I must leap over her ‘assume-the-possum-position’ form, and I see a blur of brown out of the corner of my eye and notice that neither of Samuel’s feet are on the ground. He has lost the battle of holding Lucy’s leash and is breaking his fall into the grass.

Maggie at the Scene of the Massacre, on a less horrific day

The Massacre

Izzy’s next scream is accompanied by her involuntarily shaking the box as I am calling desperately for the dog, whose protective and hunting instincts have been simultaneously and irrevocably activated. In what can only be described as an impressive display of prowess, Lucy leapt from the driveway up the stone ledge to the grass at the exact same time as that damn bird made it’s escape, jumping clear of the box, having been given a boost by Izzy’s shaking it. Dog and bird are both airborne as we all watch in abject horror as the bird is caught mid air, a foot in front of Izzy’s face, by Lucy’s waiting jaws. All movement ceased and for a second it was dead quiet while the dog turned away from Izzy with the bird – who has surely died of a heart attack – in her mouth. The next second Izzy let loose an ear shattering, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!” and I can still see the horror in her eyes when she turned them on me and said what all Moms love to hear in moments of absolute chaos:


Having reached the stone ledge, I put myself between Izzy and Lucy and said, “Drop. It.” Miraculously, she did. That dog has never given up a tennis ball without a fight, but in this moment, she dropped the lifeless body of this bird into the grass and plopped onto her butt next to it… and I swear to God, she smiled. At this point, Samuel had regained his feet and had Maggie’s leash. This, as all you moms know, is the moment when we give orders. (To Samuel) “Get her inside. Izzy, go with Samuel. Now. Lucy stay. Maggie… did she pee???” There were a few protests, demands to know if the bird was alive, to which I just couldn’t respond because the only words in my head were (say it with me mamas), “You have got to be ****ing kidding me!”

The Aftermath

The bird was, in fact, very dead. Oddly enough, it wasn’t bloody and hadn’t been torn to bits, so I’m fairly certain it really did die of a heart attack. Izzy was obviously devastated and demanded a funeral with full honors. The next hour was spent wiping tears and digging a damn hole to bury the damn bird. Izzy was reassured that Lucy only meant to protect her and didn’t mean the bird any harm. Samuel unloaded the car and kept his snickers hidden from his sister. Apparently, from his vantage point, it was all pretty funny to see go down. Lucy proved once and for all that her knee was, in fact, good as new, and that she is, in fact, a skilled and deadly hunter. Maggie has never really recovered. She is still easily spooked. My favorite part of that day was the much-anticipated call from my husband:

“Hey babe. How was the day?”
“You. Are. Not. Going to believe this…”

Lucy aka “Bird”

To all the Moms out there, I hope your day has been extra special and full of perfect moments with your families. If it hasn’t, we’ve all been there. Motherhood is full of all the things: elation, frustration, and (sometimes) horror.
May you always find the humor in the moments of chaos. May you always know that you are enough.
Happy Mother’s Day.

Quiet on the Homefront

THEM: I don’t know how you do it.
US: It’s all we’ve ever known.

This one is for us. ~KP

You know the images all too well. The airport, the hangar, the school, the front porch. Over the past 18 years, videos of military homecomings have been breaking, mending, filling, and healing our hearts. I for one, cannot bring myself to scroll past someone’s sweet moment of reunion without pausing to watch, cry a little, smile, and sigh. They’re everywhere and they are a huge happy piece of the story of our country. If you’ve been on the receiving end of “that first hug,” then you know. There is nothing like it. Standing in a hangar at 3AM with hundreds of other people, all collectively holding their breaths, as they have been for months, all waiting to breathe again. They open the doors, slowly and deliberately, the music plays, and there they are. A formation of warriors, survivors. There are cheers and screams and this ache that makes you feel like your insides are about to explode. You’re searching faces, one by one, looking for yours. The music stops, the formation stands at attention, someone important says something that no one hears, until finally… “fall out.”
Pandemonium ensues. I’m on my tippy toes, looking, rooted to my spot because I know he’ll find me. And there. The face I could never forget. The biggest smile I’ve ever seen. The first touch, first smell, first embrace. It melts you down to your toes. Finally. The wait is over. Everything you have been waiting and hoping and praying for – it’s all over and your life is back in your arms. Chaos is everywhere but its the happiest chaos you’ll ever know. There are bags to be picked up, signs & banners to collect, and homes to get back to. Hand in hand, we walk, we smile, we laugh. Welcome home. We drive away from that moment, from that war – a battle fought and won – towards the next war. The silent war of the homefront.

Floppy Sweaters.

My husband and I started dating in 2003. Our courtship started out a little different than most. He was in Afghanistan and I was taking summer classes at the University of Georgia. We met in high school and lost touch for a couple of years before we reconnected as friends who occasionally flirted. On Valentine’s Day of 2003, I called him only to find that his number had been disconnected. For several days, I stewed over why he would change his number instead of just telling me he didn’t want to talk to me anymore, and then I did what any mature and reasonable twenty year-old woman would do: I sent him a snarky, nasty email, detailing with only slightly restrained rage how immature, rude, and typical he was, while I obviously remained capable of mature, clear-headed communication. The next month I was emailing him again, begging his forgiveness and a word that he was OK. He didn’t change his number. He went to war. I have never watched the news as religiously as I did during those months from March-May 2003. I sent so. many. emails. One day in May I got one back. It said, “Hey, I’m OK. Stop watching the news.” Over the next several months, he relocated to Afghanistan and slowing acquired more regular internet access which meant email and AIM (that’s AOL Instant Messenger for anyone born after 1985). We exchanged messages daily and eventually, he had access to a phone so we could talk. I fell in love with him over the phone. We talked about everything – our families, our friends, our heartbreaks, our plans – and eventually we started talking about when we would see each other again. In October he was called home for a family emergency. I’ll never forget my panic at hearing his voice, “I should be in North Carolina by dinnertime tomorrow. I’ll call you.” He did. And so began a wild road trip – before Google Maps, Garmins, and navigation systems – with me navigating him via MapQuest. His phone died as he arrived in Athens. It was 2AM. I jumped in my car and drove in the direction I knew he would be coming from. He passed through an intersection and I flashed my lights at him like a mad woman. His brake lights lit up the dark street and I slammed on my brakes. Time stood still. I got out of the car. I can still feel the cool night air rushing over my skin and through my hair as I raced across the pavement without any idea what to expect from the man standing in the shadows beyond the glow of the street light. I remember that I was wearing a read knit sweater over a tank top. He remembers that it flopped off my shoulders as I ran towards him. He stood, under the traffic light at the intersection of College Station Road and Agriculture Drive, with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and his arms open for me. His lips brushed my cheek and we held each other, saying nothing. Breathless when we realized we were both holding our breaths, he pulled my sweater over my shoulder and smiled. And I think I said, “Welcome home, Pal.” That was nearly 17 years ago. He has been coming home to me ever since.

A Thousand Beautiful Stories.

Later this month, my husband and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage. I like to joke sometimes that married years in the military are more like dog years, so by that math we have been married for 105 years. It seems like that must be true to fit all of the life we’ve lived into our time together – and apart. He has been deployed to combat for a total of 4 and a half years. He has been away from home another 2-3 years for schools, training exercises, and courses – preparing to deploy to combat. For nearly half of our married life, we have been apart. That’s a lot of homecomings.

We have moved 11 times in 15 years. I have bought and sold houses and cars. I have moved across the country. I have attended weddings, funerals, and family vacations by myself more often than with him. I have replaced broken appliances, gotten the water out of the basement, changed jobs, diapers, daycares, and potty trained puppies, on my own. We have 2 children. They have attended 5 schools and just finished the 7th & 5th grades. They have lived in more houses in their short lives than I have for the whole of mine. They have met more people, made and lost more friends. They take life in stride. We all do. We are the lucky ones because we have gotten him back every single time he’s left us. I could tell a thousand beautiful stories of our good and bad times, full of laughter and tears, anger and worry, victory and triumph. But this is the true story that I don’t think many will tell. This is the story of the moments after the homecoming. The surveying of a different battleground. This is the story of the war we fight on the homefront.

k[NO]w Peace.

For 15 years, I have been married to my best friend. We have a beautiful life. Our children are smart, beautiful, incredibly resilient human beings. We have known more than our share of good times and blessings. We have made wonderful memories over the years. We have been through a lot – together and apart – we have run the gamut of every trial, tribulation, and emotion. The one thing we have never truly known is peace. I am part of a generation of spouses who have never not expected to send their husbands away, again and again. There has always been a war to go back to. My children are part of a generation who have never known a world without this war. There is plenty of discourse available on this subject, but I don’t want to speak to that. There isn’t a pretty, witty, or even organized way to write this explanation – or maybe it’s a confession – so stay with me. There is nothing tame about this story.


I am writing this for me, for my children, and for everyone who has ever had to answer the “I don’t know how you do it” question with the stoic and matter-of-fact, “It’s all we’ve ever known.” This is for us. For you. I know that right now, your eyes are full of tears and your insides are shaking. I know, I know. I. Know.

We. Don’t. Talk. About. This. Part.
Just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.
Stay with me. We’re going to be OK. And I am 100% talking about it.

Have you ever thought about the gravity of that statement? “It’s all we’ve ever known.” Have you thought what price is paid for a life that has never known peace? We fight for some semblance of normal. Some life that is worthy of the price he has paid, the horror he has seen, and the countless moments he has missed, and that battle never ends. Have you ever felt that your truths are unwelcome? They see the yellow ribbons and the flying flags, the homecoming videos, the special privileges – the discounts! – the reliable health insurance and retirement plans, the lives “we signed up for,” and the romanticized picture of the long waits and sweet reunions of military life.

Here is what they don’t see. Here is the part we don’t talk about.
They don’t see the face of the father whose child doesn’t recognize him or the fear on the face of that child as you hand them over to a stranger that they are expected to trust and love.
They don’t know what its like to look into the face of your spouse and see your soul, but not recognize them at all.
They don’t know that life doesn’t just go on while they’re away, it moves at warp speed.
They don’t know that he pressed pause when he left and came home to a life that went on without him.
They don’t know what you tell your 4yr old when he asks you if his daddy is a killer.
They don’t know what its like to see the pleading in the eyes of your children when they don’t know their dad and are always afraid of being misunderstood and saying the wrong thing.
They don’t know what’s it like to be the bridge between your children and their father – and to bear the burden of his frustration and theirs. To constantly swear that everything will be OK. To beg time to just keep moving so you can keep surviving. To want so badly to have the answer but never finding the right words.
They don’t know the guilt we feel for putting our children through this life… and for making their resilience a requirement and a point of pride.
They don’t know that you have an identify crisis because all you ever do is reinvent yourself, one duty station after the next.
They don’t know that you have spent as much time planning his funeral as you have his homecoming.
They don’t know how many times you have wanted to give up, leave, and run away, because the process of rebuilding and healing is so impossibly big.
They don’t know that you keep secrets – because how the hell are you supposed to know what to tell him while he’s gone? What if your problems are petty to what he’s facing? What if you worry him and he gets distracted? What if he figures out that you’re completing screwing it up? What if he thinks you’re not raising the kids well? What if you should have told him about the family drama but didn’t? What if he doesn’t like the house you bought? What if he doesn’t like you anymore? What if he isn’t the same?
Secrets. So many secrets. Our secrets are the price we pay when we say, “It’s all we’ve ever known.” The family we carefully piece together time and again will always be pulled apart again. You never find all of the old parts and the puzzle never looks the same. Sometimes I wonder how we can live so loudly and still not be seen or heard. I wonder what my children will say when they look back on their childhood and the life we gave them. I wonder if there is enough therapy in the world to mend my mistakes. I wonder if he’ll always come home… and if we’ll ever be whole. I wonder how long it will go on and how many generations of people will know these secrets.
You just can’t know the weight of “all we’ve ever known” unless you’ve carried it yourself.
I see you. I know you. I’m with you.

Truth and Peace.

I have been writing this story for about a year, in bits and pieces. In truth, I guess I’ve been writing it for 17 years. I’ve only recently come to understand why it is such a hard one to share and talk about openly. It’s not the lovely, heartwarming, uplifting vision born in the arms of a homecoming’s embrace. It’s not the hero who comes home but of the one who protects it while he or she is away. It’s not the story that everyone wants to hear and sometimes those stories are the ones that need to be told the most. And it’s not mine alone. Maybe that’s where we find our truth and peace – in the honest telling of it. In the light.

In my darkest moments, I know where to go to find the light of my heart and soul.
On a dark night, under a sea of stars, the path that my feet somehow knew to take, to my destiny that waited in the shadows of a traffic light. Arms as wide as his smile. Waiting for me, waiting for him.
Where all is quiet on the homefront.