Sending a Child to War

Does a mother ever get to the point where she can look at the amazing man her son has become and still not see her little boy?
I choke up whenever I see this picture. My little boy in full body armor is not a comforting image a mother likes to see. I look at this image and I am reminded of the first BB gun Will got...his only request for his 9th birthday. (I, of course, thought he'd shoot his eye out.) I'd like to have that little boy back again, to sing Happy Birthday to, make him his favorite cake and hold in my arms again.

Before he left for his first deployment, I lectured him hard.  I said, “Do NOT be a hero. I want you home in one piece.  Do your job, keep your head down and don’t take any chances.”  He looked at me with his crystal clear, baby blue eyes, broke into a big cheesy smile and with more than a note of sarcasm said, “Yeah mom, cause that’s the way you raised me, right???” (Seriously this kid has a smile that can melt ice and his baby blues actually twinkle!)

I hate it when he’s right. But to my defense, I’m pretty sure it’s what all of us red blooded, wonderful, wacky, moms do. We teach our children to be fiercely loyal to God, family and country. We drag our kids to every 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day parade and teach them to stand with their hands on their heart as the vets walk …or in wheelchairs, roll, by. We teach them about the sacrifices that were made by so many, that we might all enjoy the freedom we have today.

So, when my son, like his sister before him, choose to join the USAF I was very proud. In the back of my head I knew he’d eventually have to be deployed but I tried to not think about it. But then it happened. It was his turn to go. I cried for two days and it was something like four months away! Once he was gone, I’d catch myself almost hyperventilating at the thought of him being there. When he sent home this picture, with the same big, charismatic smile he’d given me before he left, I sobbed uncontrollably. Do NOT let my smile in this photo fool you. I was inconsolable.

My son is home now. He is now a Major in the JAG (that’s fancy, military talk for being a lawyer) and he is based at the Pentagon. I will never pretend to be happy that my son had to go to war. However, I am so proud of him I could burst. I am grateful for all the young men and women like him choose to serve our country and stand ready to defend our freedom... but I'm still not happy about it.

Mothers should not have to bear sending their children to war. Somehow, I think things might be different if wars were decided by mothers whose children would be the ones fighting. War would simply be a concept and not a reality. No mother would ever tolerate it… from any country.

A side note about my son’s wife: It’s tough on my son, having to leave his family, but it's even tougher on his wife and their kids. Today, in hindsight, as I think about her, his wife, JoAnn, is the real hero of this story. She selflessly held down the home front with a houseful of little kids with the youngest only being 4 weeks old at the time he left. (Tell me that isn't the tougher job!) She is amazing-- strong and tough as nails. She never complained and she is still today giving my grandchildren a rock-solid foundation at home. My son chose well. I love you JoAnn.

I Could Have Been Born a Conch.

I could have been born a conch.

For anyone born north of Miami, "a Conch" does not refer to slow moving, “slug in a shell” creature that lives on the ocean floor. The term lovingly applies to the indigenous people of Key West -- a magical little island at the tip of the Florida Keys.   Key West claims to have seceded from the Union during the Civil War.  Thus, locals still refer to Key West as an independent nation -- "The Conch Republic."

As a child growing up in Hawaii, our family took our vacations back to the mainland every other year courtesy of my dad’s job. Back then, when living “overseas,” the government paid for the entire family to go “home” every other year, back to the continental United States. Even though we were living Hawaii, we were required to pick one of the 48 states as a home base. Without missing a beat, my parents chose Key West, Florida. Even though Hawai'i is my heart, my soul and my culture, it was obvious to everyone on my home island that this little blonde haired, blue eyed girl was not from the South Pacific. I was often asked where I was from, and in a search for an answer, it was only logical for me to claim Key West... the only place I knew of on the mainland.

So, every other year of my childhood, during summer vacation, our family headed directly to the Florida Keys. We'd spend a month traveling up and down the bridges that connected the little islands between Key Largo and Key West. We’d buy smoked fish from the back of a beat up, old, pick-up truck along the side of the road and then stop and at a market to grab a couple of bags Fritos and six pack of Coca-cola. That combination, one of my Dad’s favorites, still bring me such fond memories that I can almost taste it as I write. We’d spend lazy days by the ocean, far from the stresses of my dad’s work and have quality family time as we all mastered the art of doing absolutely nothing.

While in the Keys, from time to time, we’d get asked where we were from. When we’d say, Hawai'i,  no one would even question why we’d leave the glorious, island paradise we were blessed to call home, and spend a month in the Keys. They knew. You see, Key West is not only a place... it's a state of mind. It’s a place where time stands still, where social status is a foreign concept and being fully and wholly present and in-the-moment overrides any deadline or minor crisis.

Today, over four decades later, when I take family and friends to the Keys for the first time, I tell them, "You'll either get it or you won't. There is no in-between," I beg them to drop any preconceived expectation and see the Keys through my eyes. It’s not glamorous. It’s not pristine. And it’s nothing like my beloved Hawai’i. What it does have is a funky, artsy vibe, populated by unique, march-to-their-own-beat kind of people, interspersed with more than a few chickens running wild and a plethora of domestic cats with  6 toes who assume that your purpose for being there is to rub their tummy and give them scraps of fish.

Yes, there is no doubt about it, you either get it or you don’t. But like so many others who have ventured to this obscure little island, like Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Harry Truman and Jimmy Buffet... I "get it." I get that there is something magical that happens as the sun begins to set in Key West. It’s a transformation of more than just the sights and sounds of Mallory Square or the hustle and bustle nightlife on Duval Street. When I’m there and the sun melts into the horizon, I love to close my eyes, feel the balmy Caribbean breeze, and smell the salty sun-drenched fragrance of the tropics.  And it stirs within me memories that will last a lifetime. Memories of peace, tranquility and family time together surrounded by salty, aqua and azure blue water. Such memories will stay with me forever... all from a remarkable little island called Key West!

Oh yeah, this little island girl from the middle of the pacific, could have been born a conch. If you "get it" too, drop me a note in the comment section. I'd love to hear from wonderful, wacky women who also could have been born a conch like me.What do you love most about Key West? What is your favorite memory there?

Should "Plan B" Have Been "Plan A" All Along

I was going to start this blog by telling you about an encounter I had with a young woman who was
desperately trying to avoid accepting an irreversible chain of events that was forcing her to embrace Plan B. She was determined as any woman could possibly be. She was smart, articulate, talented. She knew what she wanted was determined to not let anything stop her despite the irreparable, no win-scenario she was facing.  She was surrounded a by support system who loved her and was limitless in every way, willing to help her shift gears and open her mind to new possibilities.
She’d have none of it. She wanted what she wanted and she refused to be distracted. It was a difficult conversation. Not because she, in many ways was awful lot like me in her determination. And not because her non-acceptance of the situation was obviously causing her tremendous pain and grief, for it was really starting to wear on her emotionally, physically and mentally. And the crazy thing was, as I watched her resolve start to crumble what I saw was not her desire to move on to Plan B, but rather her idea to simply give up all together. But the most difficult thing was that she was my daughter.
Here I have spent my whole adult life raising kids in to strong, self-reliant adults, trying to teach them my philosophy of life. And not only did I impart that wisdom to my own kids but dang, if I didn’t make a career of it. And here I was sitting with my daughter as she struggled to accept the most basic of philosophical ideas; that life is all about how you handle Plan B.
Sure, she knows all my stories by heart. My kids call them lectures and have even jokingly numbered them, to “save time”.  They'd hit me with, “Mom, don’t lecture me. Just tell me which one you wanna tell me and I’ll recite it to you
So, you all know my Plan B lecture too. I wrote it almost 3 decades ago and it’s still true today.
Plan A is always my first choice. You know, the one where everything works out to be “happily ever after.” But more often than not, I find myself dealing with the upside-down, inside-out version where nothing goes as it should. It’s at this point the real test of my character comes in… Do I sink or do I swim? Do I wallow in self-pity and play the victim or simply shift gears and make the best of the situation? The choice is mine. After all… life is all about how you handle Plan B
But sometimes hearing your mom say things is not the same as hearing an aunt or family friend tell you. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have whispered a thought into my friends’ ear and asked them to gently mention it to my kids. It comes across as a brilliant revelation to them and they more readily act on it than if it came from me.
Well my daughter is an adult and so I decided to stop messing around with all the covert conversations. I sat her down and gave her my newest Plan B lecture in an effort to talk some sense into her.  After I was done, she stared blankly at me for a moment and then, through tears said, “That’s good, you need to write that down”
So, Ta-da! I did. And here it is in a nutshell and actually made it into my new 2020 Choose to Be Magnificent Calendar.
                                       Maybe Plan B Was Supposed to Be Plan A All Along
It's human nature… when things are spiraling out of control, we try to quickly manipulate everything back into place. When that doesn't work, quite often our next move is to wash our hands of the whole situation and walk—or run!—away. It's called “fight or flight,” and we are pretty darn good at it.
But wait! Maybe there is another option that doesn’t require the fight of your life or running way in survival mode. Maybe, even when everything is crumbling around you, all your hard work and energy are about to pay off. Maybe the set back you think you are experiencing is really a set up for something bigger and better. Maybe all it's going to take for your dreams to take flight is to open your mind to the possibility of a Plan B, C, or even D…
All you need to do is let go of your expectation that Plan A was the only way forward… and then watch the magic happen. Because maybe, just maybe, Plan B was Plan A all along and it took all these adjustments for it to evolve into the magnificent version it was always meant to be.
The good news is, she has now embraced Plan B and is moving forward. Yay!!!!!

The Greatest Gift My Parents Ever Gave Me

Dad And Me

As Father’s Day approaches, I am reminded of the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

I grew up my “mama’s girl. I look like her, act like her and talk like her. My only sibling, my sister Cathy, was “daddy’s girl.” Of this there was never any doubt. We were both nurtured in a home of faith, love and security. Our parents raised us to believe we could do anything we set our minds to, and that the sky was not the limit… there simply was no limit. While they pushed us both to be and do our best at everything we tackled, whatever we accomplished was always enough for them. I never, ever once felt that I was in any way a disappointment to them.

Because of my Dads job he worked long hours and traveled a lot. When he’d come home, we were always excited to see him and both Cathy and I vied for his attention. But no matter the fuss we made; he’d briefly acknowledge us, but then headed straight to my mom to give her his 100% undivided attention.  Without exception, the first half hour after he got home, Mama would shoo us both away. This time was always reserved for just the two of them. They’d sit out on our back lanai in a big wicker swing with something cool to drink and just talk. We were not allowed to interrupt. Oh, we’d try from time to time but we were always put in our place.  I can remember thinking at the time, when my childish needs would flare up, that it was unfair that we couldn’t join them. Now, in hindsight, I realize this was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

My parents were putting each other first. Their love was built on a solid foundation and they intended to keep it there…for their sake as well as ours. They were deeply devoted to one another and nothing could divide them. That strength and foundation gave my sister and I a security that no attention or physical gifts could ever replace.

After I married my husband, who was widowed with four children, and took on all the responsibilities of what that encompassed, it was easy for me to be so overwhelmed with kids that there was never any time left for myself much less my husband. The kids quickly learned how to manipulate one parent against the other in an attempt to vie for attention. They were good at it and it was working. The monkeys were running the circus!  At one low point, practically in tears, we stepped back and tried to look at the chaos and make sense of it. Both of us decided that it was far more important for our relationship to be nurtured than to fret over all the little things that were slipping through the cracks. We needed to prioritize our lives and put each other first. We hoped that if we did, everything else would fall in to place. At first, it was hard for me to fathom as kids were crying, whining and throwing tantrums. They were young and I felt needed me 100% of the time. Then, as if I was watching a B-  sci fi movie with low budget special effects, I could see my minds eye zooming in on the visions of my own childhood where my parents were sitting on the swing, being fully present, together. United and inseparable. In that moment it all became crystal clear. We decided to mimic their example and devote one on one time to each other each day and vowed to put each other first, no matter what.

The results were amazing. Our wounded, broken little family took on a new attitude. The children saw that once again there was stability and security in their world. Sure, they fussed a bit but we were committed. Slowly, life moved on and the family settled into the new routine. What now seems like a moment in time fast forwarded to the kids all grown up now with children of their own.  As I see them all struggle a bit, as young families always do, I see them trying to mimic that same example my own parents started so very long ago.

So now, it’s time for me to sign off on my blog for this week. You see, today, like every day, I have a date with my sweetheart. I need to get home to my “Big Al” who today will be waiting for me to go for a walk on the beach with him. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just that precious one on one time, with no phones, no kids and no stresses, being fully present, and together, united and inseparable… the wonderful daily task of maintaining that strong foundation with the love of my life, we built so very long ago.

Thanks Mom and Dad for this gift.

Always Remember & Never Forget

My oldest son, Major Wm. Toronto USAF

As a child, I was taught the Magic Words “please and thank you.” Whether it was because my mother drove it onto me so much at such a young age, or that it's just a trait I inherited from her, I get a little over-enthusiastic about the whole thing. I can never seem to just say "Thank You." Something inside of me starts to gush and bubble, and I just keep going until I begin to make a spectacle of myself.  And that's just the warm up for every day, run-of-the-mill stuff. You should see the show when it’s a really big over-the-top thing!

As I even start thinking about Memorial Day, I just about burst into tears.  As the mother of two Veterans (one of Desert Storm and the other Iraqi Freedom, both USAF...see photo) and as the daughter of a USAF Korean War Vet, my heart is eternally grateful for the service and sacrifice men and women like them give our country. And I am also grateful for their spouses who so diligently keep the home fires burning in their absence.

But all that is really more about Veteran’s Day.

Memorial Day is the time we memorialize those men and women who are no longer here for us to thank. My heart aches for them.  And even as I am writing this, I get a lump in my throat.  I think of those men and women who laid down their lives to not only protect my freedom and way of life, but also to protect basic human rights in other countries.   It’s humbling beyond words to think about their ultimate sacrifice.

But it gets worse. When I think of the families of those men and women left behind, I am overwhelmed with grief and empathy. When I see Gold Star families on TV being interviewed, I am overcome with emotion. I freeze up. I look at the photos of my children, dressed in their battle fatigues, and I think, “there but for the grace of God go I,” and, I find it hard to even breathe. As difficult as it is, I pray that I will never become callus to such scenes... and that I will always remember and never forget. 

Despite the political antics and the craziness going on between our elected officials, I am so proud to be an American. I am thankful my ancestors immigrated here from Europe under great hardship to create a new life for themselves and their children. They brought all that was good with them and embraced their new country, served in the military and helped preserve our freedom. Today I am blessed beyond measure to live in the greatest country in the world. As Lee Greenwood says in his anthem to freedom "... I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me."  
Even as I write this post and speak of gratitude and thankfulness, my mind wanders and I think of how we might teach this concept to our children and grandchildren. The overused phrase, "Gratitude is an Attitude," comes to my mind, but it really doesn’t light me up. Yes, I get it. I get the cute little play on words and how important it is to always reflect gratitude in our lives. But if we are going to play with words (and y'all know messing with words is just about my very favorite thing to do in the history of forever), I think we need to figure out a better way to mess with the word “gratitude.” I propose we grab hold of this word, slap it on our hearts with some sparkly glitter glue and declare to the world that we are making it a verb -- a word of action -- a physical show of good works.  Because gratitude without action is, well, just words. 
So what does that mean? How do we show gratitude? With everyone having different talents and abilities the options are endless. If you have the means to financially donate, then put your money where your mouth is. Don't just drop spare change tin can to support a local Gold Star family or disabled vets, – dig deep into your pocket pop in a twenty! And if you have more time than money, then get up off the couch and go volunteer. If you are physically and financially not in a position to do either, then get creative. Take a moment of your day to not just verbally say the word "thanks" to someone in uniform, but get a paper and pen out and write a note to one of our soldiers. Thank them, not only for the service provided, but for the meaning they add to your life. With simple actions you can change the energy of the world around you.

Join me!  Vow to not only express gratitude but to actively show it through volunteerism, financial support and political activity.   Make sure those voices which can no longer be heard have the ear of politicians in making policy to support those left behind. And by all means, vote. I don’t care which side of the fence you are one, be informed, learn the issue and vote your conscience.

You will not only make a difference in their lives but in your own as well.