Saturday, May 4, 2013

FINDING DEFINITION


Resiliency. This word bounces off my tongue lately like a beach ball at a rock concert. Hands in the air, we all take a turn shooting it up and out into the crowd to see who might get it next.

In the United States Air Force, presently, this has come to the fore, along with the term “Preservation of the Force and Family” (POTFF), utilized as a noun and pronounced POE-TIFF.

After more than 10 years of constant deployment, nerves are shred; families are torn; and the divorce-rate escalates like the United States deficit.

We are in deficit — collectively and one-by-one. Many of us feel we’ve paid out more than we’ve brought in; spiritually, in our minds, our relationships, and physically in our worn-out and broken bodies.

Command Seargent Major Chris Faris (Senior Enlisted Leader, US Special Operations Command) and his wife Lisa paid us (RAF Mildenhall, 352 Special Operation Group) a visit last week. They, like many, are searching for their own answer to the question, “What is resiliency?”

They share their story in hopes they may make a difference —maybe save other marriages, while they work on their own. Theirs is a heart-wrenching tale; one that reaches most of us on some level or another.

Some whisper, “I am lucky.”

Others fret, “I am fucked.”

Collectively, we share the same outlines, but the lines in between are made of individual words formed into unique sentences. For we all come to the table bringing vocabulary from our personal language.

So we talk about this word, resiliency. We wonder what it means for ourselves, for our family; for the United States Air Force; for the United States.

I asked this through a Facebook post last week. In our present-day version of spouses network, this is where I meet and sometimes help people most; our FB group page. I am learning to adapt.

In my role here now, I feel responsible in part to help the active-duty military spouses in my husband's squadron to find their own definition; to remain strong; steadfast in their choices.

“What does resiliency mean to you?” I posted.

Those who responded, came forward with their own trail of words to define what it means to them.

I worry about that; about finding lasting meaning in this term that gets used more and more. I worry it will get worn out; overlooked; forgotten.

One fire-cracker speaker, a clinical child pshychologist who came last week to help us find the answer, calls it “failing forward.”

I like that term. As a person; a wife; a mother; a United States citizen. I may screw up often and again, but somehow I am rich in my ability to do this — fail, and yet still move forward; hopefully with more patience, if not wisdom.

Is this cultural — an Americanism? Is it our own take on the British bent — “Keep Calm, Carry on?”

As a nation, we were reminded again of our vulnerability, and our will to bounce back, a few weeks ago in Boston. We watched in horror as we bore witness to another act of terrorism.

Some of us missed the explosion by minutes. Some of us didn’t. But we all felt the aftershock. No matter how close or far away we were from Boston’s finish line.

I asked myself as I sat on the counter absolutely fixed on the events as they unfolded, “Where have we gotten in 12 years?” And at what cost? Hurt and anger screamed, “Exactly nowhere.”

But I have to believe the sacrifices we continue to make mean more than the sum of their parts. I thought of those people in Boston as I sat in on a session yesterday focusing on individual resiliency.

“In order to find the answer (to the question of resiliency), you must know how to define yourself. Know who you are, and where you want to go,” suggested the visiting spitfire psychologist.

And then I’m thrown back into a conversation I had nearly 15 years ago. I was a different person then, only the question was roughly the same, “Who do you want to be?” “Where do you want to go?”

I was in the midst of leaving my chosen career field to explore new things; to start a family, and little did I know at that moment, to enter a life of service as a United States Air Force spouse.

I had enjoyed a certain measure of success. I feared leaving, yet felt I had to — to move forward. I couldn’t answer then. And I was around 31 years old. I filled the void with sarcasm. “I don’t know, a rock star?!”

I can answer that question better now, all these years later. I am not a rock star.

I am a runner; a swimmer; a cyclist. I have a passion for words; and movement; and music. I show love through service — to my family; to friends, and to my country.

I am a fiercely devoted mother. Sometimes I try too hard.

I am a proud wife. Sometimes I don’t try hard enough.

I find God easily when I’m in the woods. I find him less so in man-made structures. But I show up anyway.

I am an American. I’ve come to learn that this distinguishes me no matter where I am in the world. I am a United States Air Force spouse. I find this to be more or less of a distinction depending on where on home soil I am standing.

And with all this, I am adept at failing forward.

I am resilient.



(Thank you to Col Chris and Vickie Ireland for bringing forward this focus and conversation to the 352 SOG; Command Sergeant Major Chris and Lisa Faris for sharing their story; and to Doctor Krystal White for sharing her opinions. You can see more about the Faris' here — http://news.wfsu.org/post/faris-family-fights-their-military-marriage; and learn more about and from Doctor White on her weekly AFN radio program here: https://soundcloud.com/afn-kaiserslautern-1.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

DRIVING MISS GABBY


A lot can happen while driving.

I don’t mean the obvious catastrophic outcomes of poor driving choices made countless times a day by everyone behind the wheel. No. I mean moments of clarity. Captured between the lines of a busy, regular day of to-ing and fro-ing.

Part and parcel of parenting, and all of its phases, I am smack in the middle of that chunk of time between adolescence and adulthood. These are trying times. I take comfort and find some solace in the recognition that I still am needed — if only to give my kids money and a ride.

I try and maximize the opportunity on the road to spend neutral time. Especially after the usual chaos and frequent battles that ensue getting out the door. Sometimes we connect through music; sometimes through silence. And in a rare cosmic treat, when the stars align, and my kids open up to me, I try not to let the resulting eagerness mixed with joy jump off my face like a neon sign blazing; scaring them back into silence.

The other day, my youngest daughter and I, in an unusual moment, were the only two in the car. She was sitting in the front passenger seat; even less seldom. Not only is she third in line to inherit that magical mystery throne, but also when I look at her through the blurred vision of my lastborn, I see only her three-year old self.

We were coming home from piano along the backcountry roads in England, which only the bravest of hearts traverse with any speed. They are bumpy and twisty, and at any moment you might need to pull full-stop to the side (if there is one) to let an on-coming tractor the size of a freighter pass you by. It’s a constant game of chicken.

Besides the cautionary crash speed, it’s just nice to take it slow sometimes. It’s planting season, and the deep chocolate earth is combed into perfect symmetry, opened up like mother Earth herself, lying in wait for the farmer’s seeds. (I just wrote that!)

So we were riding together in shared silence when I broke it. No I CRASHED it.

Gabby — have you ever picked a booger so perfectly formed and GI-normous, you were simply amazed you found it in your nose?”

She looked over side-long, sort of long and slow, and said simply, “Mother.”

I laughed out loud and maybe for the first time that day. Then I decided. My kids are going to be just fine — in spite of me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

IT WAS FEET




Feet. Or fate. I was standing in the shower just now thinking of what to get you for Valentine’s Day, when I looked down at my feet.

You love me in spite of them.

Remember the Eddie Murphy movie with Halle Berry? He had to check her feet before he knew for certain he loved her? I always worried about that — the sight of my feet, and how they might effect your affection. 

So much so, my feet tend to be stuffed into boots (see there is an explanation for my boot fetish!), or running shoes. They are battered and worn. They are not things of beauty. Open toed sling backs have never been my thing.

I only recently succumbed to pedicures — after standing barefoot in yoga for hours, bent in half (like a Japanese ham sandwich!), staring at my toes. I always felt them undeserved of such fine treatment.  But then, I had to look at them all the time. I learned to love pedicures.

Just like I l learned to love my feet. They have gotten me through nearly 45 years of life — 25 of them spent with you. There were times when our feet walked in different directions. But they found their way back.

I know we will be okay if, at the end of the day after all this time, yours still connect with mine under the covers at night.

Your feet, in sharp contrast to mine, are things of beauty. We first met because of your feet. Sitting in a political science seminar, I looked over and saw them. They were stuffed into boat shoes of the kind I knew only people from Lake Erie tended to wear. Then I found them to be quite nice with nothing on them, at all.

Growing up, you could walk a straight line down the lake road from your house to mine — about a million feet. But we didn't know each other then. 

So you see, our feet were fated. And feted, we shall be.

Yours, truly.


Friday, January 18, 2013

ONCE UPON MY DOOR


I used to have a newspaper clipping of Lance Armstrong winning the Tour De France taped on my office door.

At the time, I managed several people on a marketing team and thought it served as an inspirational tale for all. The picture showed him crossing the Tour De France finish line in first place. This was the first win in his comeback tour after his battle with cancer. I don’t remember the headline. The picture was enough for me.

I’ve followed Armstrong, and his story for years. I lived and worked in the professional cycling world for about a minute in life; enough to have known personally many of his past teammates and the culture in which they’ve participated for years.

The issues with the sport of cycling do not come down to one cyclist; no matter what his ill deeds.

But I, among so many of us, held out for a long time, hoping his claims of innocence were true. I hold on to the ideals of achievement, born purely out of raw talent, untellable hours of work and mental discipline most of us will never know. That ideal serves as inspiration to me, in sport as in life.

He put in the hours. He had the talent, and the mental discipline, which convinced many to follow, and, which, by his own confession, is what eventually led him here. I’ve worked in both the professional sports arena, as well as professional performing arts. For a long time, I’ve been struck by the similarities in personality traits between those who succeed in both worlds.

The mental discipline of athletes in endurance sports and professional ballet dancers is amazing, and the innate selfishness it takes to become the best is at once both awe inspiring and off-putting — to me anyway.

In ballet, the acceptable underbelly culture was litheness, to the point of ill-health, brought by ongoing anorexia and boughts of bulimia.

These activities aren’t considered illegal.

They’re just unhealthy — to the point of being lethal.

But it was what people did. They just didn’t speak about it. If others didn’t “know,” then, well, they didn’t have to do anything about it, or pass judgment, or feel one way or the other. It was easier that way.

Armstrong did not do this on his own. But he falls alone, and to me, perhaps that is enough. I search for forgiveness. But maybe it’s easier for me, as I haven’t been personally affected, as have so many for such a long time.

I find it striking, and maybe a little scary, the judgments brought by the general public, with only a peripheral understanding of this world, and what those who’ve succeeded for years have known, and have participated in both willingly and apparently unwittingly.

Are we, the general public court of condemnation, more upset of the actions of one person, the amount of time it’s taken for the story to fully unfold, or the decades-long blind eye that everyone has turned, as long as everyone played along?  

Monday, December 17, 2012

THE UNIMAGINABLE


A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old daughter and I were caught in between the lines.

We were returning to her intermediate school after a doctor’s appointment, and confronted with armed Air Force security guards surrounding her school. One approached the truck and explained in a very calm, friendly fashion, “Ma’am, we’re in lockdown. You may take your child into the building, but once inside you will have to remain in a secured area.”

I was frustrated. I realized the lockdown was a drill, and that I was stuck on a busy day; not to mention the fact that I parked illegally, and I couldn’t afford another driving or parking violation with base security forces. I told myself they were too busy doing other things that day, and went inside.  Gabby was ushered off to her “secured” area. I in mine. That she was in any real danger, was unimaginable to me.

As I sat cloistered in a room, along with other caught parents, I never entertained the obvious — this was a training drill for real-life possibilities. I took it as being one more extraordinary USAF experience. The base drills for all sorts of scenarios. If you are on base, you become part of the drill, like it or not.

I didn’t hear about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, at first. With the time difference, and physical distance, there is a lapse.  So when I heard a report on the BBC later in the evening, it didn’t resonate, at first. It is hard to fathom the unfathomable.

Then, I came home to see the FB posts from friends stateside. The news began to take hold. I wondered whether, or not, I could muster the strength to seek the story on the internet.  Eventually, I did.

My children, have not seen nor heard much of this. For this small favor, I am grateful. I’m not sure whether they wondered why I hugged them more and snuggled longer with them at bedtime. 

Yesterday, I listened to some of the debate and commentary on gun control in the United States. I grew up with a father who hunted. I was taught the ins and outs of how to handle and shoot a rifle at a young age. I had a BB gun when I was 10. Guns were treated with a good dose of respect for their potential to harm. But it was about accidental harm, not intentional. No one in my immediate circle ever discussed or considered guns as weapons for human hurt.  They were tools for food gathering; for sport.

Even so, a dear family friend died from a gunshot wound to the chest. As a very young father of twins, it was a tragedy. He was cleaning a loaded gun inside his house, with is wife nearby. We all wondered how he made that mistake. We were all taught NEVER to have a loaded gun inside the house. Ours were secured and put away when not in use.

I don’t, however, understand why people feel the need to collect semi-automatic weapons. This, to me, is senseless. I cannot conjure any reason why the average person should have access to these. “Just because you can,” isn’t enough to my mind, though I understand the constitutional infringement.

So while we grieve, and we wonder about the second amendment, I turn my thoughts to my children, and then to all of our children. I think about our boys. All of these tragedies were at the hands of boys or very young men, whose parents seem as shocked as the rest of us.

What is happening to our boys?

Are we giving them the outlets they need to sort through their energies and emotions? Are we, alongside they, holed up inside our houses, isolated from the outside world to the extent that we’ve lost the ability to seek help or to see clearly the effects our current social norms are having on us collectively?

Are we structuring our children’s lives to the point of stifling their ability to blow off steam in their own constructive, active way?

Are we raising boys with respect for themselves, for others?

In a population the size of the United States, there are bound to be downfalls. But they are isolated. Or they were. This story is an impossibly grimmer version of one we’ve heard before, and all too recently.

Gun control is an obvious topic. Continuing to secure and to ensure our schools are safe environments for our children is of great concern. But what about the society that raised the person holding the gun? Is that worth our considerations?

"Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, December 7, 2012

IN LIEU OF ...

... a card. We created our greeting by hand this year — one memory at a time.
This is very home-made. from our house to yours — Happy Holidays! 



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