Leaving the Race

I’ve come to realize our little family is guilty of being trapped in the rat race of life. There are really two choices when you come to this realization: accept it and continue on running, or leave the race.

We work to make money to buy things we want, but it seems there is a never-ending list of things to want after that and the older I am getting the more I am starting to think “what is the point of all this?”

Here’s where shit gets relevant: Andy hates his job. He’s hated his past couple of jobs. But he sticks with them, mostly because he has this weird compulsion to be a good employee even when he loathes his employers or the work itself. It is a learned behavior from his father. And he obviously sticks with them because of the pay.

He had this unexpectedly amazing time at home with Jack after I went back to work and he was off from school (not working back then). I think we were both surprised by it. Granted it was also one of the most challenging times of his life because, as some of you may recall, bottles were not Jack’s thing. But they worked it out.

Andy has always struggled to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Besides being a Marine, nothing else seems to make sense for him. There was a year overlap when I was finishing undergrad in San Diego and his enlistment had ended; he took a job as a butcher, but also took some welding classes offered by a ship-fitting company. He loves working with his hands and talks non-stop about business ideas he has.

Then there is the kid’s school. Jack can start pre-K next year. Education is something that we’ve struggled with ever since I found out I was pregnant. Andy and I were both public school kids and with an elementary school right down the street, I figured that was the path we’d take. Then I started hearing stories. First a mother whose son failed kindergarten in our school system……failed kindergarten? WTF? I didn’t even know that was a possibility. But he did. She put him in a charter school not too far from our house and he has done well since.

Then another mother told me about Colorado’s school rating site…needless to say it was a poor choice to look at that. Both the local schools and the charter had horrible reviews. Shit balls.

After more thought I decided we should be one of the families that tries to better the local school system. And I realized I shouldn’t be too worried because I know we will always be the active parents that will help their kids through….but it still never felt like “the best” choice we could make for our kids. And obviously every parent wants “the best”.

So Andy and I started talking about what would be the best. Private school will never be an option. I have enough student loans for our street, let alone the family. Homeschooling to us seemed like the best we could do. Then I stumbled upon “unschooling”. This is a post in itself (and I promise to get to it).

Where I am going, is that all these factors and months of discussions boil down to this:

Andy is quitting his job, raising the boys, giving the homeschool / unschool thing a try, and seeing if he can start a small business on the side to help supplement.

It is going to be a crazy adventure for all of us. It could end in utter and complete failure, OR it could be the absolute best decision we’ve ever made. We shall see!

I hope to document the adventure…..should my work life every slow down enough to write more than once every three months!


Less Money, More Happiness

Call up an image of a grumpy person bashing their head against a tree trunk
in your mind, and that’s about what I would equate my latest thoughts on the current socially acceptable lifestyle, aka “the rat race”.

We are all told some variation of the same thing: get good grades so you can go to college, go to college to get a good job, get a good job to buy what you want, buy what you want to be happy…wash, rinse, repeat…and then you die.

I feel like we were given, and continue to give young people the wrong tools. We were tragically lost somewhere along the way and people no longer know how to find happiness on their own….or did we ever have that skill?

Here’s a challenge for you: can you think of something that will make you a happier person that doesn’t have a financial implication? Whether it be having to purchase it or having to lower your income to do it (changing jobs, or taking more time off, etc.)

Maybe you can name several, maybe no more than one. Maybe you can name something that would make you happy for only an hour. I feel like you are a champion if you can think of something that is absolutely free that would make you a happier person indefinitely… If you can, do share!

My ideas tend to get very complex in order to achieve the “free”. Reading a new book, which I can get from the library for free, but I have to walk there so it wouldn’t take gas, and with snow, that becomes more challenging, etc. It is free, but I’d think of this as a more sporadic happiness and there are no guarantees. Some books are good (anything by Alexandra Fuller if you are in need of a recommendation) and some are crap.

Working less and having more time with my family most likely means less pay or at least less advancement potential.

Obviously changing jobs two years ago to chase my dreams had pretty significant financial costs. Which I still maintain was / is completely worth every penny lost.

But I am challenging myself, is it possible to find happiness over the course of, say, one year without the guarantee of any money to achieve it? And I feel completely ill equipped. It seems this is a skill I should have!

Do the rest of you have it and it is just me missing out? Or am I right in assuming this is an epidemic of humans today? That most people would list off 10 or more things to make them happier that all cost something for every 1 item that might be free? And that we would all view those 10 items as giving us exponentially more happiness than the one free one?

There is a point to this ranting…. next time.

Let’s Not Do This Again Soon

We’d been fantasizing for a couple of weeks about last weekend – our first getaway from the kids and our first actual couples’ get away in….well maybe ever. I honestly don’t remember ever going somewhere for a weekend with just the two of us. We were either with family or visiting someone, etc.

I had lofty plans: a soak in the hot springs, massages, a romantic dinner out, sleeping….not sleeping, you get the idea. Bow chicka bow-wow

What I didn’t plan for was breaking the 4 wheel drive on the way down the pass or getting mastitis for the second time in three months…yeah. So needless to say we limped around town on sheets of ice in two wheel drive. Spent a couple of hours at urgent care to get antibiotics. Spent a few hours coordinating a tow, a rental car and a repair.

Also because the ski slopes didn’t open until Thanksgiving day my plans for that nice dinner were thwarted because the fancy restaurants weren’t open and getting to town was a mighty dangerous endeavor.

But you know what’s important? That we had true one on one time with each other. Despite all that crap we still got massages. We couldn’t get to the hot springs, but there was a perfectly fine hot tub. We didn’t get that amazing meal, instead we got a meal that…well was kinda school cafeteria in nature. But we decided to dress up anyway and there were cocktails…so that was a win.

It was great getting to reconnect. Time to remember where our current life began – with just the two of us. Two crazy kids who thought they knew everything there was to know…. Turns out we only really knew that we were supposed to be incredibly humbled by life together.


The Lure of Beautiful Things

It’s easy to see how it happens – the accumulation of stuff – it would sneak up on you gradually: a tea cup here, a angel figurine there, then suddenly you are standing in your own house, so overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of what you own that you really can’t even begin to tackle it.

We went up to Casper last weekend to pick up Andy’s inheritance: a 1968 ford mustang. His aunt is in her late 60s and can no longer see well enough to drive. The near perfect piece of classic americana has had an interesting history in his family.

It was his aunt’s first car. Then her dad bought it from her when she first moved to Wyoming. After his death, her mom drove it some, but it soon found itself sitting dormant in the garage.

None of us even realized it still existed until after her death in 2002 (7 months before our wedding), when we started going through her house.

I had only been to Ruth’s a handful of times in the 4 years we dated. The house was clean but you found yourself immediately overwhelmed upon entering the front room. There were 4 couches, arranged into a square, but spaced about 10 inches apart. It felt as if you had to step over their arms to get into the room to sit and this was just the front half of the main living room. There was a second “gathering space” in the back half…then a second living room towards the back….etc.

Every horizontal surface was filled with ceramics, doilies, whatever-the-heck-else people place around on display. We didn’t own a single china cabinet, so I had no concept that there were people who owned several. You didn’t want to breathe in that house let alone move an inch as you tried to look relaxed and engaged.

She was a wonderful woman. The kind of spitfire 80-some-year-old we all hope to be…except for the stuff that is.

Her husband died shortly after Andy turned 1. The stories of him leave a hole in my own life, as he was most certainly someone I was meant to love. I only see shadows of who he was through the kind-hearted and generous nature of my own father-in-law.

He adored his wife and cherished his children, so it is no wonder they found themselves trying to find ways to cope with his absence. I think Ruth couldn’t bear to get rid of anything he ever touched…..the problem was, she then found herself with decades of time on her hands and a penchant and pocketbook poised for accumulation.

“Mom loved beautiful things….” Gayle recalled as she stood next to me and watched me carefully wrap each piece of china.

This is my third trip to Casper in the last 18 months and maybe the 10th time in the last 2 hours that she has spoken of her mom. “I suppose I get that from her”.

The problem was that like her
mother, Gayle couldn’t let go of anything….and I do mean anything. I was living in the dorms when Ruth passed and Gayle asked if I would take a 2 lb bag of sugar, which was hard as a rock and might have been purchased 20 years ago, because she obviously couldn’t cope with the idea of throwing it out.

Andy’s step-mom at the time (long story there), spoke up for me “great idea Gayle, I’ll put it in the car”. She took me back up to school that evening and we stopped at the dumpster behind the mall to toss the sugar. “Believe me, this is the path of least resistance”.

…to be continued

Eff the Dishes

I didn’t actually mean to take a 3 month sabbatical from this place, it just sort of happened. Work got intense, but in a really awesome “living the dream” sort of way. Every week I looked at my workload and thought “this week is insane, but next week it will lighten up”, copy and paste that statement every week and I soon realized, things were not going to lighten up anytime soon.

Work is still crazy, but I am finding a normalcy in it. I am being a productive human being. I am making things, mastering my craft, pushing my life forward, etc. I am not sure how you guys are feeling, but I am feeling like the whole damn world is out of control right now. So I am trying to dial in and focus on what I can control, my own productivity and my own happiness.

A year ago I was stuck in a bit of an eddy, working on projects I cared very little about, trying to figure out how to escape into the realm of awesome work. Now I am finding myself in the opposite predicament. So many amazing projects and I want to work on them all, but I also want to be a present member of my family and you know…not spend my life at the office. The result? I’m accepting the fact that I can’t work on all the projects I want to. Surprisingly, I am sort of pulling off the “being a present member of my family”. However I have had to accept that our house will never ever be clean or organized enough.

But something has to give. And if it is housework then that’s what it has to be. No one looks back on their life in 50 years and says “I loved everything about that time, but I sure wish I had put forth more effort to wash the dishes”. So fuck the dishes. They will perpetually be dirty. With that in mind, please don’t come over to my house….like ever.

I do want to get back to writing though. Writing makes me happy. So in an effort to do so, but to still keep things in something that slightly resembles balance, I will keep my writing short and sweet. Here goes my stab at making a come back. Hopefully in solidarity you all with say “fuck the dishes” too.

Oh Hey…….now what

Why hello there…..one hundred new people…..gah!

It may be hard to grasp, but I basically wrote that post for my handful of long-time blog friends and the one or two additional people who I’ve met along the way. As you can probably imagine, going from 6 followers to 100 (I choose not to look at the exact number, I am close enough to nervous-pooing all over myself) is a little bit daunting. So bear with me as I work through this first post after being freshly pressed.

First of all, thank you. To all of you who read and commented and offered up the pieces of yourself that can relate to / be compassionate about the things that I wrote, I really appreciate it.

The more I ponder my life and the lives of those around me, I realize we all have something don’t we? Each of us has a chink in our armor, something sensitive…..something difficult to deal with. And as challenging as it can be, it is also fascinating. This is what makes each of us different, yet the same. We are all working to overcome something and having an outlet to share those things and find support is amazing and something I will never take for granted. I am so grateful there are others out there sharing their stories for me to read and be a part of and so, in turn, thank you for reading mine.

I have this cube on my desk. We designed and 3-D printed them for a trades show as a kind of cutesy joke. The thought that you can look at a building and roll a dice to decide on a treatment – this is obviously not what I do. I would never roll a dice, but again, cutesy catchy tradeshow item that starts a conversation with a passerby. But as I looked at it today, I thought this could be a tool for my situation as well. To Demo or to Rehabilitate?photo diceI can honestly tell you that there have been several occasions where the thought of tearing it all down seems like the most attractive choice. And I would be lying if I told you that our marriage didn’t get close to it a time or two….probably more.

I remember someone telling me that when you choose to marry someone, it is a choice you make each and every day. You wake up and decide whether you will continue that relationship and how you will go about it. There are days you wake up and think ‘is it worth the trouble?’ or ‘I just can’t today’. Sometimes the feelings are so strong and dark you could easily hide in bed all day, or in my case, rush off to the office and bury yourself in work to avoid it.

The truth is, he is going / has gone through a similar process, I’m sure. Certainly you can read my side of our story and think ‘wow she’s a saint and going through so much’, but I am not naïve enough to think there aren’t days when he has thought ‘is this worth the effort?’.

I choose to believe we are through the hardest stuff. I choose, each and every morning, to believe that making it through 2004-2011 was the hardest stretch of it and that we are officially on an upswing. Perhaps someday I will get my nerd on and make a real graph.

Basically what I hope everyone gets out of our story is that life is hard, marriage is hard, war is hard….but I don’t feel sorry for myself, or for us. I have to believe there is a way through it all. I choose to believe that a day will come where Andy will find peace. I will keep nudging, then waiting, then nudging, then waiting, to see if there is anyway to push him up through the surface.

But as a mother, I also have two little men to think about. They are so fortunate to have such a wonderful and loving father, but how will they see him when their vision starts to become more clear and their memory sharp? I keep wondering what I will do if he continues on in this way.

The phrase whatever will be will be keeps running through my head. Maybe when I find peace, so will he. So that is what I will work towards. Finding my own peace.



The Lucky One

*Natalie’s notes: It is weird to write about this now. Things are really good, but I also feel like writing about it when things are good is better than waiting until things are bad. My perspective has to be healthier if I do it this way. There are so many happier things to write about, but I also feel like I have to continue with what I started. So bear with me as we explore this..and thanks for all your love and support. Please know we (and I) am fine.

It’s a natural response to say “I’m so lucky” or “we’re so fortunate” when discussing Andy’s past. Maybe it is because that is all people want to hear about the war….or maybe that is just what wives who get their husbands back from war feel obligated to say. But if I’m being honest, there are times that I think ‘not one of us is lucky’. Am I thankful? Yes, obviously. I will take it and be grateful, but life after is sometimes really hard to deal with. And on really dark days I think of the “what ifs”. If we’re talking about this at all it might as well be raw and honest. So to be honest, I sometimes wonder if “the other” would have been easier.

When Tommy was lost, it was traumatic for everyone. We all bombarded Carla with phone calls and e-mails. She had moved back home, thank god! I thought of Laura, just one year old….she’d never really know her father. It should have been me, not Carla. She has a baby, she needs Tommy. It would have been hard, but I would have recovered…would she? Survivor’s guilt.

Andy drinks – who wouldn’t? – I remember feeling his shoelaces inside the body bag… Those words are ringing in my ears. I would drink too. It is worrisome. Especially now that we have two boys. When will they notice? How will this affect them?

There are times that I don’t know what to do….is there something to do? I get motivated, I research, I talk to his parents/sister/best friend, we discuss plans, I talk to Andy, he gets defensive, then suddenly the worry stops and we go on with our lives. I don’t know why the cycle goes this way, I can’t explain it. Perhaps we should follow-through, but perhaps no one really could help him. I watch him with our boys and I wonder if that is better medicine than what is available out there for him. Is he right? Is talking to a stranger no better than talking to me or his best friend? Perhaps he’s right….I don’t really know.

What I do know is this:

He didn’t want to name him Tommy and for the longest time I didn’t know why. All I could think of was the gorgeous man who was so full of life. Hilarious as hell and the worst driver on earth! He drove that Miata like a mad man, like he was asking for it. I remember the day I drove Andy on base and Tommy and Andrew were right in front of me heading back out in that damn Miata. I chased them down in our dodge, gas was cheap back then, and he later recounted to Andy “I just saw your truck barreling towards us in the mirror”. Hell, we were all asking for it. Fucking kids!

Naming him after Tommy seemed right….what was the issue?

Then one day he told me. It should have been him…and not just like in a blasé “oh it should have been me” sort of statement. It literally was supposed to be Andy that day.

God how do I adequately write about this?….I am not entirely sure. Forgive my stumbles.

Andy was there, not even three hours earlier. He was sitting on those stairs, he was sleepy, they all were sleepy. He was supposed to be there all day, then he got an unexpected call to go somewhere else, and Tommy came to take over. Tommy sat in his place and then fell asleep and what happened next was gruesome and horrible and I don’t think I should write about that.

The first few times Andy talked about it, he was pissed at Tommy. He fell asleep and got killed. He fell asleep and was supposed to be guarding the stairway up to the others. He fell asleep and the others were hurt. He got himself killed and he got others hurt and Andy was angry – Tommy had let them down.

Then it started to click, it took so many years, but it finally clicked in my head. They were all tired…they all hadn’t slept….Andy was there on those stairs…Andy was trying not to fall asleep as he guarded the access to the others. He is torturing himself thinking if it had been him, would it have turned out differently? Could he have protected them and would Tommy still be here if it had just been him instead?

As the story is retold now, Andy is more compassionate. The anger was a mask for the trauma. He knows it could have been any one of them on those steps. And I am thankful that it wasn’t him, and in turn, I am infinitely guilty for being thankful.

Then again, there are days…there are times and it is shameful to say that it has been more than once, that I want to trade places with Carla. I know it is a case of “grass is always greener” I know it can’t possibly be better to bear her cross than mine. But that doesn’t make me stop wondering….

How can I portray it correctly? Or even semi-correctly? Most days are fine, most days I can focus on the fact that he is smiling and telling jokes and laughing and loving our boys so fiercely. Most days I can say I am so absolutely lucky for each and every moment I have with him. And if I stay on that high, then I don’t notice as much.

I am very adept at gathering the cups around the house, and fooling myself into believing they were just soda. Or opening the cabinet to the side of the fridge on Wednesday night and turning off my thoughts as I gather the empties for recycling day.

I am so lucky after all. I shouldn’t worry after all, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Then one day my eyes will open back up. He will be mid-sentence telling me a positive thought and I will be watching him pour his drink and it will all hit me again like a ton of bricks. He sees my face, he stops mid-story, he asks me “what’s wrong?”, Hide your faces better Natalie! – I think to myself. “oh nothing” – I respond out loud. But I am calculating….how many drinks could that have been? how many today? how many this week? how many this month? how much are other people drinking? shouldn’t I just be grateful he is drinking less than so-and-so? should I just be grateful he is able to go to school and work and be happy and playful and loving to our children? should I just be grateful he is a happy drinker? I am so fortunate he is a happy drinker…..so shouldn’t I just ignore it?

It is exhausting….I get physically exhausted thinking about it…thus the attraction of turning a blind eye. I know I am in denial, I don’t need to be told. It is very comfy to live here in denial.

Sometimes I am shocked out of denial. The sudden and unexpected death of someone because of drinking. Then I snap out of it and try to find gentle ways to tell Andy “I don’t want you to die” because saying it that directly has never been successful. Sometimes he responds to it well. He buys a liver cleanse and talks of reducing, talks of getting a new job that he will enjoy, talks of the future and things he wants. Things will be hopeful, things are going to get better for him and he won’t need it anymore.

The highs can last several weeks, or sometimes just a day. Then slowly I transition back into denial and not looking and not counting. Focus on the good things….

Afterall I’m the lucky one.