I Adopted Some Moms

Deployed moms. One in the Army, one in the Air Force. Usually, I take whoever is next, but this time was different. This time I went looking for the moms. I won’t tell them why. I’ll just send letters, care packages and be upbeat. But I figured I could tell you.

Pre-missing my own mom

Last year my mom had a stroke. Turns out she has a chronic brain bleed and a small aneurysm over the area of her brain that controls speech and memory. Apparently there is no treatment, cure, or expected progression. She could be fine or get worse. She could have more strokes. Or not. No one knows.

She’s doing better now but we live in different states and over the phone, I can hear what’s missing. I hear the blank spaces for words she can’t find and events she can’t recall. I feel like I am losing her very very slowly. And joining a club I don’t want to belong to (I have friends with parents who have Alzheimer’s and other challenges).

Sometimes I fear that the space between us will one day be more than miles. It will be a gulf that all the love in the world can’t cross. And she won’t know us. Then some days I just feel incredibly grateful for where she’s at now.

This pain of current and possible separation makes me want to DO something. But what can I control? I can try to lessen the ache of separation for some other mother and child.

Pre-missing my daughter

I get that this will sound silly. But my daughter is going to sleep-away camp for the first time for three weeks this summer and I’m not ready. SHE’S ready. But not me. This will be the first time we’ll be apart this long. I never went to camp as a kid so this is a foreign idea to me.

Also, I’ve been a single mom since she was five. Yes she sees her dad, but she’s with me most of the time. We’re a team. Although one member of the team could clean up more but, she’s my super girl. I dread her empty room. And I can’t imagine not getting the daily details of whatever good, annoying or LOL things happened. She jokes that she’ll have some of her stuffed animals have “sleepovers” in my room while she’s gone to help me. I laugh but part of me is considering it.

So what can I do about this? I can remember to have perspective. Yes it’s okay to miss Sofia. But I need to remember that other moms are separated from their kids for much longer and for much more serious reasons. Maybe a good way to keep that top of mind is to ease their time apart.

Mom on the brain

Strength is a beautiful, wonderful thing. But lately there have been days when I don’t feel so strong. When I wish someone would scoop me up and “mom” me a little. Make me a grilled cheese sandwich, bring me a soft blanket, snuggle on the couch and tell me everything’s going to be okay.

So how can I feel better? I think giving to others makes us more joyful and stronger inside. Taking action—the act of caring—is its own reward. And, since I’ve had “mom” on the brain and in the heart, I figured adopting these troops who are moms would be a good step to take. For them and me.

My daughter's handprints when she was two years old.

My daughter’s handprints when she was two years old.

© Gina left the mall, 2016

I Supper Love You

“I supper love you too,” Sofia whispered and smiled as she ran towards the school doors to start her day. This moment with my daughter made me think of one my soldiers and an amazing letter I received from his family.

Supper and separation

Sofia had meant to write, “super” a few years ago in her note to me, but I’m glad she didn’t. This error has turned into a special saying for us. Of course, in high-profile, high-stake situations like the 500-ft radius around her elementary school, she says it quietly so the other kids won’t hear. This occurs right after she drops my hand a block early so no one sees because she is, “too big to hold hands” and only does so to indulge me.

I-supper-love-you

The note I came home to one day

At this “supper” moment however, my heart ached because I was pre-missing her. My daughter is with me most of the time but she had an upcoming trip with her dad (my Ex). Let me be clear—I am in no way comparing this separation to the separation of deployment. But when I feel the tugs on my heart, I can’t help but think of our military families and all that they sacrifice. My next thought is one of gratitude for all the time I do have with her and safety I enjoy with her.

While I was in this frame of mind, I received a letter from a military family. The dad is a soldier and has been missing home very much. For some reason, it has been even harder this deployment to be away from the children and this has led him to make a big decision. When his current enlistment is up, he’s going to leave the Army so he can spend more time with his kids. His wife shared this news and added something wonderful:

In support of his decision and because of the amazing gift he has given me by allowing me to stay home with our kids all these years, I have started my own home-based business. I am working my butt off so I can take over as the primary income and my husband can enjoy time at home with our crazy kids like I have.

I laughed in happiness for them and also thinking of the occasional transitional challenge of going from warrior-leading-men-in-combat to stay-at-home dad, “ordering” small children around. I know he will do great. But I will be very disappointed if there are not some funny stories along the way.

When I read how his wife wanted to give him the same gift he gave her, I wanted to cheer them on and cry at the same time. He’s endured and achieved a great deal in his Army career. I’m proud of him and happy that he’s recognized when he has done enough and that he’s brave enough to take on a completely different kind of platoon. I can’t wait for his days to be filled with “supper” love moments and more.

© Gina left the mall, 2014

Calming Anger With Sugar

I found out that mail is being stolen where one of my soldiers is deployed. Boxes from Amazon are particularly vulnerable. As someone who puts a lot of thought and heart into making sure a servicemember hears his or her name at mail call, this makes me angry. And that makes me want to do something.

My first thought

My first thought wasn’t a very nice one. I thought about getting an Amazon box, putting in nothing but shredded paper and a sign that said what I thought of thieves. This sign would have words that I’ve told my daughter, “we don’t use in this house.” And by “we” I really mean just her.

However, there are a few flaws in my evil plan.1. What if the box gets through and my soldier opens it? 2. Do I really want to be someone who executes an evil plan? No I don’t. Or, to quote Uncle Si of Duck Dynasty, “Nah!”

My second thought

Plan B was: Write a letter to a government official alerting them to this problem so it can be fixed immediately.

There are several flaws in this plan. 1. Who in the wide world of government bureaucracy, civilian or military, would I write to? 2. Of all the things affecting troops that need to be, “fixed immediately” one immoral mail depot probably ranks pretty low. Is it even a depot? Where in the process is it breaking down? I don’t even know who to be upset with! 3. In the era of sequestration, who has the extra manpower to look into this?

What I wound up doing

I sent a postcard because the message can be read by anyone along the way. This is what I wrote:

I heard your mail service was the worst and that I had no chance to get a card or letter through. Hope to prove that ugly rumor false. 

I think, “proving someone wrong” has a certain appeal. Maybe it will appeal to the rogue mail handler(s.) I have no idea because this is hard for me to understand. I mean, if you know the impact mail has on morale, why would you want to deny someone this? For material gain? What they are really stealing is a touch of home, of comfort, and of love.

After I sent the postcard, I still felt bad. So I decided to do something about that as well. Since I was feeling so negative, I would try to do something positive. I was never good at math, but somehow this made sense to me. Now instead of angry boxes, I want to share with you something infinitely sweeter. It made me come up with another idea of how to deal with my shipping challenge.

Meet Wendy

The holidays are coming and homemade cookies are a special kind of love. So to spread that love, I want to tell you about Wendy. I’ve mentioned her once or twice before but never made a formal introduction. Wendy is a mom who loves to bake and sends cookies to her son at college. She called her care packages The Monday Box. Eventually she started a blog of the same name where she shares her recipes and stories about her family. I was thrilled to learn that after reading this blog, Wendy started including recipes that could withstand the rigors of shipping to deployed areas.

If you go on The Monday Box and put the word “desert” in the search box, you’ll get every recipe that she made desert-friendly for our troops. Below are a few samples.

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread Cookies (photo credit, The Monday Box)

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread Cookies (photo credit, The Monday Box)

Orange Creamsicle Bar (photo credit, The Monday Box)

Orange Creamsicle Bar (photo credit, The Monday Box)

Hugs & Kisses Brownies (photo credit, The Monday Box)

Hugs & Kisses Brownies (photo credit, The Monday Box)

As I read through Wendy’s blog for these samples, I felt the warmth she sends with every batch. As I calmed down, I knew…I don’t want to be in some long-distance fight with a mailroom. I’m just going to do the best I can and hope for the best.

Then I thought, maybe if those folks had felt more of the love that Wendy or I try to send, maybe they wouldn’t resort to what they’re doing. If I ever did send a box with a sign, maybe it should be information where they could sign up for support. With cookies, a note could say, “I baked this for my soldier, but if you need it so badly to steal it, then take it. Enjoy it and give it to your friends. But support my soldier because after all that he’s done and all that he’s been through, he deserves nothing less. Send him a dessert yourself to make up for the one you’re enjoying right now. That would be great.”

What if the desert were flooded with sugar? Enough “home-baked love” to have, to share, maybe even enough to warm a heart that needs it. That would be sweet.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Don’t Forget Snowballs For Memorial Day

Burgers, beer, sunscreen…on Memorial Day Weekend there’s shopping to do, beaches to umbrella and pools to cannonball. Even so, I’d like to suggest one more thing to the list: snowballs. Specifically, Snowball Express, a charity that serves the children of men and women who died serving our country. Since Memorial Day is meant to honor these men and women, doing something for their loved ones seems like a fine idea.

A Snowball’s chance

Snowball Express, “creates hope and new memories” for children of the fallen by organizing special events for them. It’s a chance for these kids to have fun and be with other kids in the same situation. Also, the families get to see that they are not forgotten or alone. Past events include baseball games, magic shows, and concerts.

Now you know

The number of people in active duty is small, about 1% of the population. So not everyone in the other 99% knows someone in the military. Sometimes, the meaning of Memorial Day can feel far away, like a history lesson instead of both our collective past and present. If that’s the case, I’d like you to know someone this day is for, Pfc Jesse Givens. I found his last letter to his family on the Snowball Express site. It inspired them even further in their work. It brought me to tears. (Reader note- if you have a loved one who is deployed right now, I’d skip to the next section.)

22-April-03

My family:

I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if you are reading this….

I am forever in debt to you, Dakota, and the bean. I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. I would like to think that I made a positive difference in your lives. I will never be able to make up for the bad. I am so sorry. The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so serious and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy’s laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. Each and every one of you. You saved me from lonliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never dreamed existed. I am proud of you. Stay on the path you chose. Never lose sight of what is important, you and our babies.

Dakota you are more son then I could ever ask for. I can only hope I was half the dad. I use to be your “danny” but no matter what it makes me proud that you chose me. You taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn’t so serious and sometimes you have to play. You have a big beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it. Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play. I hope someday you will have a son like mine. Make them smile and shine just like you. I love you Toad I hope someday you will understand why I didn’t come home. Please be proud of me. Please don’t stop loving life. Take in every breath like it’s your first. I love you toad I will always be there with you. I’ll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life.

Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you will be strong and big hearted just like your mom and brother. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your moms belly, and the joy I felt when we found out you were on your way. I dream of you every night, I always will. Don’t ever think that since I wasn’t around that I didn’t love you. You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love. I love you as I do your mom and brother with all my heart and soul. Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family. I love you Bean.

I have never been so blessed as the day I met Melissa. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover, and best friend. I am sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime’s worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you. Please keep our babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. Take care of yourself, believe in yourself, you are a strong, big hearted woman. Teach our babies to live life to its fullest tell yourself to do the same. Don’t forget to take Toad to Disney World. I will be there with you. Melissa I will always want you need you and love you in my heart, mind, and soul. Do me a favor, after you tuck Toad and Bean in, give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.

Love Always
Your husband
Jess

A Memorable Weekend

Here’s to making wonderful new memories this weekend and honoring some old ones. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll be having a Snowball with my burger.

Blue Sky

photo courtesy of Tinyspitcracker

© Gina left the mall, 2013

A Few Good Moms

There are more amazing moms out there than you can shake a stick at (but don’t run with that stick or you’ll poke an eye out!) With Mother’s Day coming up, I wanted to introduce just a few of the incredible military moms and spouses that have touched my life. Also, I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted your help surprising my mom.

Surprise

A few weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a project about moms. You had to make a self-recorded video talking about a mom who inspired you and one attribute from a list. I chose my mom and “strength.” She doesn’t know I did this. Or that it was shown at an event. Or that I’m sharing it here. Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t usually focus on me. And that I’m a little camera-shy. So this is sure to be a surprise.

Military Moms

About 1% of the country is active duty and if you add all vets, that number gets up to around 6%. With such a small population, you may not know a military mom or spouse. So allow me to introduce some of the incredible women I’ve met:

Mrs. K– Her first child was born after her husband deployed and she handled that whole first year solo. Now she has two kids and soon must prepare them for his upcoming deployment. When I first met her is when I realized that families serve too. I wrote a post about her.

Dee– Her husband was a Marine that served in Vietnam and 3 of her 3 sons have served in the military: Marines, Navy, Air Force, and one is still serving. She never sleeps soundly when they’re gone. She prays daily for all in harm’s way, not just her own.

Ginger– Both of her daughters wound up marrying soldiers. She didn’t raise her hand to serve but you can bet she’s done her share of worrying and making care packages. Oh, and flying to wherever in the world she had to in order to meet new grandchildren.

Jenn– Her huband has PTSD. He told me that after a rough period, he begged her to leave him, just take the kids and go have a better life without him. She said no. That she loved him and couldn’t imagine being without him. He also said, “no offense to anyone else…lol, but I think I have the most wonderful wife in the world.”

Other Jenn–  I was delayed at the airport for hours along with Jenn and her daughter. We started as strangers and left as friends. Jenn has a lightness about her and an awesome sense of humor. I think her ability to laugh at what is absurd or even herself is helpful in all kinds of stressful situations, such as her husband’s many deployments.

“Mrs. Noba”– Like a few people on this list, we’ve never met in person. She’s a fellow blogger that writes about many topics including having a child with autism and, at times, her life as a military spouse. What I love is her fearless spirit, sometimes dark humor and honesty.

Abigail– Combat Medic and mother of 3, she is one of thousands of moms who serve in the military. When I was missing my daughter for a few days, I got a “perspective check” when I received her letter. She would not see her children for a year.

Denise– An Air Force Mom who volunteers at the USO and cares for all troops the way she hopes someone would treat her own son…counting on the sisterhood of motherhood. I wrote a post about her.

Gold Star Moms– I met one at the USO when I was with Denise. The name refers to a mom who has lost a child in service to our country. I’m not sure what the right words are when a mom’s worst fear has come true. I remember one year at a Veterans parade when the Gold Star Moms went by, one of them said back to the crowd, “No, thank YOU for not forgetting.” My way of not forgetting this Mother’s Day was to donate to their organization.

Snowball express– This charity helps “create hope and new memories for children of our fallen military heroes.” They do special things for these kids and their surviving parent. So I sent them something too. Giving to charity is not part of my normal Mother’s Day “shopping,” but maybe it should be.

Sandra Beck and Robin Boyd– two moms and hosts of Military Mom Talk Radio. They devote their time to finding programs and sharing ideas that help military families. I met them when they interviewed me. I love how they support anyone who has a good idea that can help. If you know of something that makes a difference, please reach out to them.

Thanks Moms

To all the women who can make another human being feel loved and give them the certainty that they are worthy of being loved…and all our military moms and spouses who do this during difficult times and long seperations, I give you my heartfelt thanks. On Mother’s Day and every day.

flower's for Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of Tinyspitcracker

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Travel Challenge: 1-year business trip, 2 bags.

Think of your job and what you need to do it. Now imagine going away for a one-year business trip and fitting your essential work items in two bags (similar to the one below.) In this challenge, you may or may not have electricity, running water or a bed at your destination. You could be in one locale or constantly on the move. And people may be shooting at you so, bring body armor. But pack light.

empty travel bag before deployment

Troops have to carry the essentials for their particular mission with them. Then try to squeeze in some personal items. Depending on their job, they have to carry it on their backs. And while the luggage rules may vary, space is severely limited. I looked at this travel challenge and thought, what are my bare essentials? Could I do a business trip this way? Here’s my list:

Laptop

Wi-Fi

Coffee maker

Electricity for laptop and coffee maker, coffee supplies. I can use powdered creamer if I need to “rough it” so no need for a mini-fridge to store milk. However, bringing my own electricity may prove harder to solve than the milk issue. So too the Wi-Fi.

Desk and chair. I wasn’t going to add these two items, but I have carpal tunnel and if have to sit and write in a weird position for a year, I’d come back looking like one of the dancing zombies in the Thriller video. I remember some Marines I wrote to were setting up an outpost in a remote locale and their furniture didn’t arrive. So they broke down the wooden crates that other supplies arrived in and made tables and benches.

Clothes  Our troops don’t have a lot of angst over what to wear each day. “Hmm, camo or…the camo?” This makes things easy but also caused one troop I know to lose all civilian fashion sense. I did my part and saved him from some unfortunate holiday sweaters. But while deployed, most service members don’t bring a large selection beyond a few uniforms (both work and physical training.) So I guess I could live rotating just a few things for a year.

Of course I couldn’t take my most essential, essential, my daughter Sofia. Loved ones are only carried in the heart and mind. But when I try to imagine being separated from her for a year, my heart aches.

Bouncy balls and Tinkerbell

I’ve often sent toys in care packages, just hoping to make someone smile. Rubber bouncy balls have been a hit. Apparently they are fun for games of surprise dodgeball. I found out that Dan* (name changed for privacy) carried the ones I sent him in his combat assault pack “for luck” for his entire deployment. Even after he got home, he never removed them.

Dan also carried something Sofia sent. I was making a care package for him when Sofia ran to her room and came back with a set of Tinkerbell magic markers. She put them in the box. I looked up and she said, “He needs these!” She was very certain about this so, off they went. It seems she was right because Dan replaced the black marker he used for work with the Tinkerbell one. Whenever he would use it, other guys would start to make fun of him and he’d say, “a little girl named Sofia in New York City sent me this marker.” Then everyone thought that marker was pretty cool.

What we carry with us

Both the bouncy balls and the Tinkerbell marker tell me something about what is truly essential in any journey: love and support. Those are the real items we should never leave home without.

 

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Air Force Mom. Mission Of Love.

When my son went in, it was before 9/11. All this wasn’t going on. Back then it was almost like he had an everyday job. There wasn’t this heightened sense….like I had to do something. That changed.

Denise is an Air Force Mom and USO volunteer at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. With all the love in her heart, she helps troops and families. She helped me too when what I saw at the USO that day drove me to tears.

He grew up right before my eyes

I asked Denise to tell me a little about her son.

We were together on 9/11 in London. He was there on leave. His friends met us and we were deciding where to go next. Maybe Buckingham Palace…they were just kids being tourists. We sat down at a restaurant and when the waiter heard our accents he mentioned a plane hit the tower. We assumed it was an accident. The TV was on. When the second plane hit, we knew. 

I looked at my son and right before my eyes, he changed from my baby to that Airman, that highly trained person. You don’t see your child as that person. Before my eyes, he grew into a man 10 feet tall and strong and very protective. The phones started ringing like crazy and they had to get back to base. The media were waiting when we got off the train near the base. They wanted to talk to Americans. He walked in front of me to protect me, got me to my hotel and said, ‘Mom I’ll see you later.”

"This is what everyone else sees when they look at my son."

“This is what everyone else sees when they look at my son.”

"This is what I see when I look at my son."

“This is what I see when I look at my son.”

Banking love

I look at these troops and think, this is another woman’s child. So I treat them like my own. I say, “you tell your mom there was a mom here who made you fill up your pockets with sandwiches and snacks and took care of you.”

I tell my son I put something in the bank for him to withdraw when he needs it. Because when my son is somewhere in the world, maybe at a USO, I hope that there’ll be a mom there with a smile or sandwich or whatever he needs at that moment. Someone to give him the same kind of love that I give to those that I meet here. 

Three of many

I asked about some of the people she’s met. Here are three of many.

1.The young wife who was travelling overseas with pets. She had all kinds of crates that didn’t meet airline standards and was crying because if she missed the flight, she might not see her husband before he left for training.

What I did was reassure her that she was part of a big family. If she couldn’t get to him in time, someone would be there to meet her…another wife, another soldier …someone would be there for her. You’re part of a big family now. No matter what branch. No matter where.

2. Around the holidays, the USO is very busy. A soldier Denise was talking to was amazed that they all volunteered to be there, at how much they were doing and that they were open 24/7.

Finally I asked him, didn’t you volunteer for the Army? He looked me in my eyes, and said, ‘yes I did.’  I said, me volunteering here is my way of thanking you and those that serve with you. 

3. A family of six came through. The mom was pregnant and had a toddler in a stroller. Just the mom and toddler were headed to Phoenix to visit her sick mother.

We fed them and made them comfortable. Then I said, “let’s get you juice boxes and some snacks for the flight.” The mom started crying. She said she only had $5. That’s all she had in her wallet and there was a layover too. When we heard that, we really packed it in. Gave her all she could take.

The gold star

The were a few other people at the USO the day I spoke with Denise. The women at the table behind me looked exhausted. I assumed they had some terrible travel delays. Nearby was a volunteer named Julie. We started chatting. “I’m a Gold Star Mother, do you know what that means?” My heart dropped. I knew it meant her son or daughter died while serving this country. Julie said she was there to help the family behind me. To help them get through the airport and whatever else they needed as they “brought him home.” My heart dropped even further.

A few minutes later it was time for me to catch my flight. I had made small talk earlier with one of the women behind me. Now that I knew what this family was going through, I didn’t want to just leave. I wanted to tell them how very sorry I was for their loss. I got as far as “I’m so…” before I choked up and started to cry. Trembling, I couldn’t get the words out. Their eyes filled with tears and they nodded. I nodded back and walked away, afraid I was going to just lose it. I felt Denise’s hand on my shoulder. I had to keep walking. When I got home, there was an email from Denise.

Just wanted to check in with you…I know how you feel. My first two shifts at the USO involved families receiving the body of their loved ones KIA. It leaves a mark deep within. As volunteers we fill many roles, by far comforting a family in this situation is the most challenging…I’m here if you need to talk.

One thing

I asked Denise what was the one thing she wished everyone knew.

When they look into the face of our service people, that they would just remember, that’s somebody child or husband or wife. That every day they sacrifice something, a big portion of their lives…time with their family… so you can be free to do the things you want. 

I wish they could remember this about our service people.  And to just give them the respect and support and love that they deserve. 

© Gina left the mall, 2013