Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

I Did It Again!

Everyone has been guilty of it. At least, I hope I’m not alone in this. But I have this tendency to put important things in a “really safe place” and then when it comes time that I really need them, said “really safe place” has completely left my mind. Last time it was a social security card. Only took 5 days, but I found it. The application for health coverage took a little longer to find. Well, a lot longer. Like…6  months longer. But in my defense, someone rearranged all the paperwork in my stacked filing system. For crying out loud, would you people just STOP touching my desk!? But this one is a doozy.

I placed the tassels for Randa and Ismail’s graduation caps in a drawer so that no one would lose them. And I don’t remember which drawer. I’ve searched them all. And poof. They’re gone. And while I have until Sunday to find them, I really don’t. Because Randa has an awards ceremony for the seniors in the Special Education department and she is supposed to wear her cap and gown tomorrow. *sigh*

One of these days I’m going to find a “very special place” that is just a blatant out in the open place with a lock on it to keep nosy people and meddling hands away. Of course, you know what that means, right? I’ll just lose the damn key.

Welcome to the Club

My sister called me this morning and asked me to lie to her. I don’t like to lie. I’m not very good at it and I honestly find the truth to be much more incredible, hilarious, and easier to keep up with. But she begged. So I did.

I told her that my husband and I were living the dream in our home with five kids (ages 16, 17, 18, 20, and 21) decorated with hearts, butterflies, and rainbows and that all that stuff we’d heard about how difficult these years would be is just a big box of hot air bought and paid for by pharmaceutical companies pushing their Xanax dreams. I told her that her two lovely early teens would be mature, pleasant, helpful, drama-free, productive members of society all throughout their teen years, just like mine have been and continue to be. I offered her my Groupon savings for unicorn rides at the next Mother-of-the-Year Awards Gala event.

And then I told her that they may want to consider upgrading that wine cellar they have and I’d be her designated driver if she needed to restock. Or I could load all the 12-step program meeting locations into her iPhone next time she came by here.

The truth is Dr. David Walsh wasn’t even remotely exaggerating when he wrote about the whole “teenage brain” thing. They are incapable of making rational and mature decisions. They’re just not equipped to make them. And it requires a hella lot of patience to stand by and point out why the choices they’re making are dumb or not well-thought-out or insane or whatever adjective you want to stick in here.

So, when my sister called and asked me to lie to her about this inevitable phase in her childrearing life, I did. I laughed all the way through it. But I did it because she just needed a little 30-second break from reality. Before hanging up, she said for me to tell my husband hi. He didn’t miss a beat when he replied, “Hi back. And welcome to the club.”

 

The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.

 

 

Did I Do Too Much for Them?

As mothers, we second guess ourselves and the choices we make all of the time. Since these children don’t come with owner’s manuals or anything remotely close to that, we sort of “wing it” and combine our gut instincts with the way that we were brought up and what we admired from parental examples we admired from TV and movies, and that long list of stuff we swore we’d “NEVER do when I have kids of my own!” And for the most part, that tends to work really well for most of us. We do the best with what we have and what we know and we try to do what is best for our kids and hope and pray that that is enough.

I used the great ways that my mom had to interact with us when we were little. She was awesome at distraction tactics when we would fight. There were four of us and sometimes it would get pretty loud. I remember many times that she would just come in the room while we were fighting and just sit down on the floor. She’d pull all of our building blocks and Matchbox cars, Fisher-Price people and Weebles out of the box and start making entire towns right there in the middle of the rug. She’d completely ignore us while doing this. Soon we were sort of staring at all the fun she was having and no longer interested in who broke what, or whose turn it was to whatever. We’d watch and eventually sit down and ask if we could play with her. She always said, “Yes.” And we’d join in and start having fun, too. Then she’d slowly work her way out of the game and leave the room and we were none the wiser, yet peaceful.

I also decided that I liked the way that she kept open lines of communication with us. I employed this, too, with my own kids. But I allowed more expression (like limited cussing when they were at that stage where nothing else would seemingly help them “get it out.”) I never lied to them.  (Okay, I did have them convinced for years that I knew the Minister of Birthdays and Aging and that if they did something really horrible that I could call and have that year’s birthday postponed for another. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds when your kids are younger and are certain that they haven’t earned that year older until they’ve actually blown out their candles on their cake. Truth be told, I did NOT tell them the whole candles thing. That was their own understanding. I just didn’t contradict it until the oldest was about 12 and had figured it out on his own. DON’T JUDGE!)

I would watch some of my in-laws and neighbors and friends who would tell their kids things like, “stop crying and I’ll buy you sweets” or “don’t be scared. The needle won’t hurt at all.” To adults, these seem like little lies to assuage fears and calm kids. But for kids, they are actually HUGE lies that, once told and are proven to be untrue, take away from our credibility and teach our kids not to trust us. I never told my kids untruths about our ability or inability to afford something that they wanted. I would tell them, “No. That is something that is not in our budget” if they were asking for their own mobile phone or wanting to go to the amusement park or join a sports club.

I did not/will not give my kids an allowance. I hated this rule growing up but my dad had it and I’m actually quite grateful for it now. He always said, “I buy you every-damn-thing you need. If there is something you want, come talk to me about it and we’ll decide if it’s something we can do.” So when I wanted a Mickey Mouse watch at 5 years old like my neighbor had, Dad said no. He said it was ridiculous that Michael Murphy had a watch at 5 when the “big dummy can’t tell time.” (I was born in the late 60’s and digital watches were still about 10+ years away.) So, of course, I was heartbroken. But Dad told me that if I learned how to tell time that he would buy me a watch. I accepted his challenge. I learned how to tell time in one week. (And oh, yes, I rubbed that in Michael Murphy’s face big time.) And Dad bought me my first watch at the PX  (Post Exchange for you non-military types.) It was dark blue Timex with silver numbers and hands and had a dark blue band. It was a ladies watch…for grown ups. It was so fancy. He taught me how to wind it and take care not to get it wet. I had that watch for 11 years before it finally broke. I’d earned the right to wear it. And Dad promised it and fulfilled that promise. Trust was built over something little.

When my kids wanted pocket money, I made them work for it. They always had to help around the house and I didn’t pay for that. But if they wanted something extra, I made them work a little extra. My sister-in-law thought I was mean and horrible for making Ismail make all of the beds in the house (a total of 5) after their naps one day and I only paid him 25 piasters. She thought that that was a lot of work for a 6 yr old and that he deserved more than just 5 piasters per bed. I asked what she thought was fair wages. She said 1 pound. I told her she was nuts. I explained that her own sister worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week in a factory making purses and backpacks and she only brought home 250 pounds per month. That averages out to about 1.15 pounds per hour. “He needs to learn that life in Egypt is hard and that people work hard for very little money. Then he will appreciate what he has and will take care of it and learn to work hard himself.” That was ten or twelve years ago. Now she tells me that she wishes that she had done like I did as her kids think that it’s their right to demand large amounts of money to go shopping, buy fast food and go to the movies whenever they like.

I instilled a good work ethic in them. BUT there are other things that I didn’t do right. I still haven’t let them do the other stuff. I handled their confrontations, argued with store owners who wronged them, all the typical advocating for my kids. But they didn’t learn how to do those things on their own. None of them knows how to fill out a job application on their own, their own medical history, how to drive. And I’m not preventing them from doing any of that or still doing it all for them. They’ve sort of just fallen into the habit of asking me to do it and I do it. I fear that I’ve not encouraged them enough to try stuff on their own. I’m afraid to push them out of the nest to test their wings. I know that failure is part of learning and that I have to be a good enough parent to allow them to fail. But it sucks when your job all these years has been to catch them when they fall.

My best friend and I cried together over this earlier this week. She and I have a mess of kids and our oldest are about the same age. She told me that her daughter called from her university on the other side of the state wanting her to put on her “momager” hat and call the school and handle some situation for her. My friend started to do that but then caught herself.

We women are able to have entire lengthy arguments and weigh outcomes of choices all in our minds in split seconds. Men don’t realize this, I think. But we are able to go through every option available, predict results and decide the best course of action to take all within about 3 eye blinks. We’re bionic like that.

So my friend told her daughter, “You know what? This is something you can handle. You need to call and tell them that you don’t want to change dorms again and give your reasons why. I believe in you. You can do this.” Her daughter was pouty but accepted my friend’s advice. Of course, she cried her eyes out after hanging up because she felt she was a “bad mom” for telling her NO. But this is how we have to do it. And it’s hard. And it sucks. But it’s the being there to pick up the pieces if they fall and break during their test flights outside our nests that make us good moms. And while both of us know this intellectually, it doesn’t make it any less heavy on our hearts when our kids want us to do something and we force them to do it themselves.

Have I done too much? Maybe. But we do what we can the best way we know how and trust that we’ve done it right. Excuse me. I’m going to go cry now.

 

 

 

Our Summer Vacation to Athens

So, this week has been a major ass-kicker for me…mostly in a good way. Sunday we took advantage of the fact that my son and daughter both quit their summer jobs and that my husband finally replaced the compressor in the van giving us air-conditioning. YAY. So we finally got on the road about 2 pm and headed off to Athens. (That’s Athens, Texas, y’all.)
Of course, due to the late start and having to deal with a major autistic meltdown with a pit stop at Dairy Queen to calm nerves all around, we managed to get to this po-dunk town after everything that we wanted to see had closed. So we headed back to the main drag and pulled into the East Texas Arboretum and did a little hiking in 104 degree heat. It was an impressive patch of woods with lots of lovely gardens and fountains and a one-room school house and a bat house. We spent a whopping hour there before piling back into the van and driving home. I think the highlights for me were the photos of my kids and husband playing “slow-mo Ninja” in the gazebo and the fact that I didn’t have to cook. (We bought pizza that night.) My husband was excited about the fact that I had enough fuel points to only have to pay 86 cents per gallon when we filled up the van.

We’ve traveled quite a bit all over the US, Europe, Middle East and North Africa. But since moving to the US and making our home in Texas, we’ve decided to spend some time seeing all of the major European cities within Texas state lines. We have now gone to Paris, Dublin, and Athens. Not bad for day trips, huh?

Fam in Athens

Supposed To vs Actually

We’re supposed to go on a road trip today. We’re supposed to be stuffing the entire overbooked with practical shit summer into one day of family fun not too far from home. My kids are supposed to be up and packing picnics, getting softball equipment, and bags of ice ready and into the back of the van (the same van that my husband just had repaired so that we could make this trip WITH air conditioning as opposed to the usual sweat-logged journeys of the past.) I’m supposed to be gassing up said van and using up all my “fuel points” to get the cheapest gas around and jumping up and down like an idiot that’s one a $50 scratch ticket. (Thank you, Kroger Plus card.)

What’s actually happening is my husband is in the backyard painting the cement slab he laid for the kids to play basketball on, I’m checking email (and now blogging quickly as my jeans are still in the dryer,) and all 5 teens are still asleep.

I vote we ditch the kids and show them pictures of all the fun we had while they slept once we get back.

 

Overbooking and Aging

I’m not really old. But I’m no Spring chicken, either. And for those of us who have been in the “over achiever” category all our lives, this whole aging thing is just ass-kicking. No, not a little tiring. I mean, beat-down with a baseball bat, friggin’ leaving you taking 3-hour naps in the middle of the day, exhausting.

When I was 18, I lived in an apartment with my sister. We both worked several jobs in order to pay the rent, utilities, phone bill, gas/maintenance on our cars, and our part time college tuition and books. And by several jobs, I mean that we were like that overworked family from the West Indies whose members all had multiple jobs on “In Living Color.”  I remember at the time working 5 days a week for my office day job from 7:30 am – 4pm and then from 5- 9pm bagging groceries on Ft Meade 3 days a week, answering the switchboard at (the now closed) Laurel Toyota and Jaguar in Laurel, Maryland from 4-9pm twice a week and all day Saturday and loading boxes onto trucks for E.I.Kane Office Movers on Sundays and days off with the other jobs. I sometimes worked overtime at my day job watching over contractors to keep them out of the “off-limits” corridors or working for our own internal office movers.

The older I got, the more part-time jobs I held down after my day job. I worked as a cashier
for Rite Aid, Romano’s Restaurant, (the now closed) Rumblefish Nightclub, Damon’s Ribs (closed down within a year of my leaving allegedly due to the owner embezzling), and various babysitting jobs, tutoring jobs, and once as a free-lance maid.

Once I got married and had kids, part-time jobs were a thing of the past. I couldn’t juggle all the schedules of five children and work plus a second job. So I made up for the “not enough to do” feeling by over-achieving at housework and cooking. I learned to sew. I would scrub down the walls and shutters and windows every month. I would scrub area rugs and wipe down cupboards and appliances. I scrubbed floor tiles and hung my laundry out to dry on the line.

I’m in my 40’s now. Screw all that shit. I keep a tidy house…mostly. I still cook amazing foods…because we can’t afford to feed a family of seven at a restaurant frequently. I now over-achieve by volunteering all the time and this Summer, my kids decided to kill me slowly by signing up for Summer School to take accelerated Physics and Geometry. That would be fine ordinarily….except they signed up for different sessions. The two taking accelerated Physics took it in the first session. The one taking accelerated Geometry signed up for the second session. Ugh. Also, the two that took the first session now both have jobs so I feel like I’m constantly behind the wheel of a car. My rotator cuff is threatening to go on strike…permanently, due to all the gear changing and u-turns required in a car that does not have power steering.

I’m currently attempting to set up 3 different fundraisers for a non-profit organization and I’m running into brick walls while trying to meet the deadlines I set for myself thanks to all the driving. Today was supposed to be a “get the house CLEAN clean” while the kids were at work and school. I ended up losing in a battle of wills with my bed that kept taunting me. I took a 3 hour nap.

I think I’m just going to admit that I’m too old to take on all of the things like I used to do. The sooner that my family can just learn to applaud when I’m able to fold and put away a basket of towels AND get the dinner made, the better. And so what if I’m getting all this accomplished while still wearing pajamas? At least I remembered deodorant and I’m remembering to put actual pants on before going grocery shopping. What more do you people want?!

 

Never-Ending To-Do Lists

We both had To-Do lists with at least 9 tasks so we cut our phone call short (half an hour as opposed to an hour.) My sister suggested I call her in a few hours to see which of us completed more on our lists. Mine was uber-long today since it’s the last day of Ramadan and I usually spend most of today cleaning house and making cookies for tomorrow’s feast. Except, well…I’m OLD now.

Yeah, I’m no Spring chicken anymore and this whole washing down walls and scrubbing area rugs and beating dust out of the furniture and scrubbing the tiles and shutters routine is a thing of the past, Baby. I did this every holiday for YEARS. But this year I’ve discovered a couple of things.

  1. Delegation of Authority/Responsibility (AKA Make Your Kids Do It)
    I assigned the oldest to sweep the house. The younger girl is mopping. The second son I had to take to work, so he dodged a housework bullet. The youngest boy is about to cry because I’m not only going to make him clean the small bathroom, but I’m going to make him pull the trap from under the sink and clean all the effing hair out of the drain. The older girl is going to be doing her laundry plus towels.
  2. I’m Nearly 48 and No Longer Have Any Fucks to Give
    What this means is that I just do not give a rat’s fat, furry ass if someone thinks I’m a lousy housekeeper anymore; including my family. I keep up with the dishes, cooking, tidying, and I’ll wipe the dust off the walls that the ceiling fan tosses up there, but only about once every 6-13 months and only if I feel like it. I’m not saying we live in filth and squalor and I’m proud. I’m saying that I don’t deep clean on a regular basis but I make sure we take the trash out and don’t have vermin of any kind.
  3. People Are My Priority, and by People, I mean My Husband and Kids
    I am classified as a “Soccer Mom” (although none of my kids plays soccer regularly) and I could define my 3-cylinder Metro as my “home away from home.” I shuttle two of my kids to and from their part time jobs, drag my daughter and her friends home from softball practice and to and from home games. I am a board member for a non-profit organization and I run a lot of errands for fundraising events. I do the shopping, doctors appointments, and take kids to and from school and college. I am currently teaching two of my sons how to drive. One must have studied by way of joy-riding in his friends cars, because it’s far too easy. The other one requires Xanax before and after each lesson….for me, I mean. But all this shit eats up most of my day before I have to race home to meet the special needs kid’s school bus at 3 pm and then start cooking some amazing home-cooked gourmet meal that they’ll snarf down in 15 minutes before belching in my face and announcing, “I need to bring cupcakes to a class party for first period tomorrow.”

So, when my sister suggested we compare notes in a few hours, I knew I’d win. Because my kids are older and I’m far bossier. So I took the 17 year old to work, defrosted 2 whole chickens, picked up a few items at the Mexican supermarket near the house, disconnected the Daytime Running Lights on my Metro because they weren’t shutting off AT ALL after shutting off the engine and removing the key, tasked the 21 year old to sweep the entire house, the 16 year old to mop the entire house, pushed the 19 year old into the bathroom to take a shower. The 15 year old thinks he’s avoided it all….He’s so wrong. Hairball, here he comes. Add to this that I’ve just completed pre-enrollment paperwork online for all 4 high school students and two that are participating in athletics this year, contacted the Recreation Softball department and registered my daughter for Fall Ball, and outlined a joint fundraising proposal that I want to sent out to another non-profit, I’m HANDS DOWN the winner.

Today, anyway.

Tomorrow could hold an even bigger list for us both and she has energy, only 2 kids, is 5 years younger than I am, and does yoga. I could spend all day in bed tomorrow recuperating from delegating chores from today’s never-ending to-do list. Whatever.

 

 

 

 

Fifty

He turned 50 yesterday. He was working out of town and didn’t get home until really late. The children were all asleep as they had final exams today and needed the rest. I sat with him for a little while, fighting to keep my eyelids open. Five o’clock in the morning comes so fast. I wished him a happy birthday and went to bed.

And I left to take care of paperwork in the counselor’s office at the school this morning, just after he poured his first cup of coffee. The kids got out early after exams, so the girls and I talked it over and decided that we’d have a surprise party for him tonight when he got home. The boys all agreed it was a good idea. The kids blew up over 60 balloons and hung a banner and we got him a cake. And a card. And a 5 and 0 candles so that we didn’t have to disconnect the smoke alarm before singing “Happy Birthday” to him.

And I looked at the 5 and the 0 candles and thought, “50? That’s half a century! Where did the time go?” And I looked at my “children” ages 15-20 and see exactly where the time went and how much fun it has been along the way. And I asked myself if I’ll ever willingly admit that he’s only two years older than I am and that I will soon be half a century old…..Nah.

And then I smiled. His AARP membership card should arrive any day now and just think of the discounts we’ll be eligible for not that he turned 50 yesterday!

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