Aug 4, 2016

Strange and Breathless Days

{photos by kdarling photography}
 "The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days." 

Every summer, I wait. Impatiently and with expectation, I live through the heat and sweat until that first crisp, cool day, when the air smells faintly of cinnamon and apples and the leaves begin to turn. Fall has always been my most favorite season, and I revel in pulling out plaid shirts and cozy scarves. This year, I think I'll feel the cold even more without the warmth of his hand in mine.

The night he told me, he was states away for drill with his new unit. He told me over the phone, and I kept it together until we hung up. Then, in the dark, I felt my way through the hall and into the living room. I switched the light on and held up our tiny globe, tracing a line from Illinois across the blue ocean, all the way to the other side of the world, letting my fingers land in that country as I took a breath. It's too far. He'll be too far.

I didn't go to bed until four the next morning. All night, my mind raced with what this would mean for us. A few days later, I had to take his will to the safe deposit box. I followed the cheerful bank clerk down the stairs as he made small talk, folding the will in half so he wouldn't see what I held, and it was about that moment when it began to sink in that my husband really is leaving.

There are days that this swallows me whole. I am so terrified, so heartbroken thinking about the dark cloud looming over the next year, that I sometimes cannot breathe. And instead of being able to calm my racing heart, it's reminding me that this panic won't be for the future what ifs, but for the reality of day in and day out until he is home. It often feels grueling to live for the moment when I see a wild tornado spinning on the horizon.

So this is what it's like. I have been an emotional wreck in between the normal. I can usually hold it together for about an hour before reality insists on being felt, and I have to run to my room to wipe the tears away. I want to cling to Sky every second, and at the same time, put up walls in the hope that I won't miss him as much that way. I rehearse where and when and how we'll tell Millie and Walter that they won't see their dad until next year. I stop thumbing through a rack of clothes because there's a sad country song playing, and what's the point in buying something he's not even going to see me wear anyway? I've stopped picking him up much from the store, because what would he be able to use in 130 degree heat and sand? I want to talk about the deployment every five minutes (hence this blog post) because it is all I can think about, and because the planner in me wants to micromanage every second of his absence. I ask him to make me promise after promise. And despite all of this, a very tiny part of me still has a hope that this is all a giant misunderstanding, that they won't need him after all, that this isn't happening


Soon, he'll be gone for training, and then home for a just a little while before he's officially in deployment mode. The time feels so short. We're trying to plan a trip away, a last hurrah, because the military didn't give enough notice to be able to send us to their weekend of information and bonding. I've felt so utterly alone when it comes to getting support from the Army, which is made more frustrating by the fact that we are a Reserve family, living no where near a base or anyone who could help. It's so strange that my husband is being sent to the other half of the earth and no one will breathe a word to me, and barely to him. We are having to plan and decide and gather completely on our own, and going from our normal life to a temporary active duty family is the biggest adjustment and challenge.

I am hoping, maybe after a month or two into deployment, that I'll find my strength, leave some of the sadness behind, and feel confident and calm about being here while he's there. For now, this is what I'm capable of, and I can't apologize for it. I've tried to come up with metaphors to describe it in non-military ways, but they all sound overly dramatic and probably silly. So I will just say this- it hurts, and it's confusing, and I am trying to cherish our remaining days.

When Millie's tooth came out the night before her birthday, I sat in the other room and looked up, whispering a prayer of thanks that he was home. It is one less thing he'll miss in an ocean of those moments. He was here for their birthdays this year, even if he may miss the next ones. And though it is part of what makes the timing of this especially crushing, I am so glad that we are happy. So many years of struggle went before, but we have spent these last months in true happiness. It devastates me to finally reach this place only to have it taken from us, but it also makes me so grateful that our parting will be one of love and hope. Our next anniversary won't be spent together, but it will be one of the hardest, sweetest, and most meaningful.

So this year, autumn will be chilly long before I sip a hot cider. I'll have to learn how to love it in different ways, and learn how to love it despite what it will be taking away from me. I will have to feel the snap of confetti-colored leaves beneath my feet, lift my face to the harvest moon, and know that, by next autumn, I'll feel his warmth beside me again.

Until then, I'll carry these last searing days we have together like hot coals, watching them glow, feeling every last ember in my hands until the leaves turn yet again.

Jul 11, 2016

The Blue

"Joy has been a habit.
Now
Suddenly
This rain."

The four of us were stretched out on plastic lawn chairs at the swimming pool. The sun was warming our bodies and drying our swimsuits. Sky had one hand resting on my arm. The rest of them were facing the opposite direction, while I stared into the baby pool, sobbing silently behind my oversized sunglasses. And when my aunt texted me later in the evening and told me I'm strong, it felt difficult to believe it. Honestly, who cries at the pool?

We were planning the night before he told me. Sitting in bed, with my planner opened to August, we were discussing a date for Millie's birthday party, and hoping for a mini vacation to St. Louis before we began the school year. What I thought would be a quiet, perhaps even dull summer has instead been quite busy, and there was still so much we wanted to do.

The next evening, the night before Walter's birthday, he walked in the door with a strange look on his face. "I need to talk to you about something. Don't say no yet." I looked at him. "No," I joked, nervously. He told me there was an opportunity to deploy, and the air immediately left the room. We discussed the few little details he had, and he said they wanted to know the very next day. I cried about four times that night, and we talked for hours, discussing the pros and cons. In the morning, over breakfast, we talked a bit more, and he announced that he would tell the unit no.

But the information began to change hour by hour, as things often do when it comes to the military. The dates that sounded far away began inching closer and closer. What sounded like a possibility quickly became a certainty. What first sounded voluntary was clearly mandatory. And so we sat at the kitchen table, singing happy birthday to our little boy, with a stunned hush afterward because we'll have to tell them soon.

I look at the two of them and instantly feel tears welling up. They don't even know what is being asked of them, and once they do, they won't understand why. How could they when I can't? It will be the longest separation from Sky that they've had in their lives, by far. And when he was gone just for the month of June, it was hard. They missed him, they cried, and there was only so much I can do to soothe it. People always remark how great it is now compared to years ago, when there was no internet or Skype or even phone calls, when letters could take weeks to arrive. But all of those things (if they even are available) are such small comforts, especially to a little girl and little boy who can't hug their daddy for months at a time.

We don't even technically know the day he leaves or where he'll be yet (and I won't be able to discuss it here on the blog even when we do), but we do know that it most likely won't be in a dangerous place, and I can find some peace in that. I still vividly remember the feelings I had when my brother and Sky were deployed. I woke every morning terrified of what I might hear on the news that day, worried sick that someone would call me and give me bad news. That fear, and that crushing worry of missing people who could be hurt or killed by some awful enemy, turned me into someone who was always on the edge of furious. For that year they were gone, I had a much shorter fuse. I would be irritated at anyone who dare breathe a word about the war, or soldiers, or politics at all. When I would go out with friends and a man might approach me, I would seethe that he could think to do so while people's lives were in danger. I learned that when I get that sad- truly, deeply, maddeningly sad- it turns to rage.

This time, without the threat of a war zone, I am still angry at how quickly this all happened, and without any warning. But mostly, I am grieving already. I'm grieving the summer that was stolen from us, grieving the holidays and birthdays and special times that will be missed. I'm grieving the loss of date nights, of inside jokes missed, of holding hands, of parenting talks and decisions, of late trips out for ice cream or slushies, of laughing over something ridiculous before we sigh and kiss goodnight. I'm aching at knowing, quite soon, we will have to curl up with Millie and Walter on the couch, and explain to them that he'll be away for a very long time. (Yes, I'm technically telling you before I've told them, because it's easier to find the words here.) I am finding myself panicked and desperate to do all the fun, quality family time things that we can find to do before he goes, as if giving them a tiny bank of silly memories will help somehow. And maybe it will. But it doesn't feel like anything will help right now. It's just hard knowing that I can't 'protect' them from Sky's absence. I can't shorten the days he'll be gone, not by a single hour.

I planned to type out words about this deployment with facts, with timelines and maps and assurances that the four of us will be fine. And deep down in my heart, I know we will. But I just can't pretend that this is normal. Even though he enlisted all those years ago. Even though we've been apart so many times. Even though it's part of his job as a solider in the Army. Even though many military families have done this half a dozen times over. I know all that. I just can't resign myself to feeling that it's okay my husband won't be here. My mind can search for reasons and almost find them, but my heart cannot.

When Sky and my brother were overseas, I still lived my life. I went to work every day, shopped for groceries, went to garage sales with my dad, and called my mom. I woke up thinking about the boys, though, and went to bed every night the same way. And throughout it all, there was a somber haze over that year. There was plenty of good, plenty of growth, and some distractions, but always, that filmy shade of blue that tinted all I did and everywhere I went. I know that Millie, Walter, and I will be fine. I know we'll have good times, and even great ones. I know I'm capable, and that I have a great family to support me.

But I also know the blue will be there, quiet and insistent, weaving in and out of our days until he's home.

Jun 16, 2016

Yellow Fireflies & Green Corn

"those moments, so
many and so long ago, still come back, but briefly, like fireflies
in the perfumed heat of summer night." 

June is supposed to be a month when time slows. We sit on long front porches with glasses of sweet tea, talking a little more slowly, our posture a little more relaxed, with less to do and less to think. That's how it should be, in my mind. But instead, June has been a series of busy moments, of loud, brief thunderstorms, blinding sunlight, and humid nights beginning to glow with the gentle luminescence of fireflies looking wistfully at the stars.

So much has happened since I last wrote- none of it very important but to our little family. Still, there are milestones, memories, birthdays, and long stretches of time apart that compel me to stretch out on my bed and type for a while.

First, we recently wrapped up our beginning year of homeschooling, and more importantly, Millie's kindergarten year. It's strange to think that she was a newborn in my arms nearly six years ago, that those years have gone by like days, and that she will begin first grade in the fall. We spent a lot of time on reading, of course, and there is nothing that compares to witnessing that process. I watched her bloom into reading sentences after sounding out three letter words over and over again. Perhaps most amazing was seeing her handwriting that I've helped form, leaning with her over the lines and the curves until she's confident enough, after a few misspellings, to write "I love you Mommy" on a construction paper card, with magazine scraps cut out and glued to it. She also attended a homeschooling co-op, and it was wonderful to make friends who are learning the same way.

Walter, who still feels like my baby, will be three this month. The last two days, I've sold a dresser and rocking chair to make space in his room for a twin bed. They were both pieces- probably the only ones left- that we used when each baby came home from the hospital. I had a little cry after they were gone. Sky and I haven't completely shut the door to the notion of having one more child, but it's slowly creaking to a close and days like today remind me of that. I was never one to imagine my children, or to dream about how many I would have someday. But when I quickly learned just how fast they grow, my heart doesn't want to forget what it's like with a newborn on my chest, soft and warm and impossibly perfect. Thank goodness Walter still loves to snuggle with me.

{photos by Kristin of k darling photography}
Sky has been away all month, completing more training for his Army career. It's always interesting to see how the time apart will be, because every time he leaves means leaving kids of different ages than what they were the time before. I never exactly know what to expect, and this time was no exception. Millie, Walter, and I were really down when he first left. It's kind of a helpless, lost feeling. Thankfully, we planned swim lessons for Millie during two of the weeks he'd be gone, and that has helped us stay busy and entertained. She finished them up today, triumphant and elated that she can swim underwater now. Walter and I splashed in the baby pool, I got a slight tan and then a less-than-slight sunburn, and we were happy and thankful for the fresh air, albeit in 90 degrees.

The biggest differences with this time away are the quiet nights and subdued moments of the day, when I pause for a breath and remember my husband isn't here. So many times, earlier in our marriage, I would wonder if the only thing keeping us together was the forced time away from each other. But in the early morning hours after he drove to the airport, the tears rolled down my cheeks, and all I could do was whisper, "Thank you, God." I know that my heart needs his, and that is a gift and a miracle. The three of us here are so proud of him, and we're ready for him to come home.

The photos here were shot by someone who has not only been taking pictures for our family since Walter was in my belly, but by someone who has become a friend, too. She's been on much of the journey with us, and though we have had lots of beautiful pictures of the kids as they've grown, I couldn't help but stare at the one of our whole family that she took a couple days before Sky had to go. I love where we are now, and the hope of where we'll be. How blessed we are to be together.

So perhaps June hasn't been lazy and calm the way it is in stories. For us, it's been a time of growth, of beating sun and the smell of chlorine, of long distance phone calls and 'goodnight's from far away, and a time with two little people who seem to be a bit bigger and older every second. It's bittersweet, and it is filled with the broken and beautiful moments that string one day onto the next. The cornfields are so green and climbing high, and if the corn is good, it must be a good summer in Illinois.

Apr 1, 2016

Dull Roots and Spring Rain

"April [...], breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain." 
— T.S. Eliot 

I didn't write in March. It's not my fault, of course- March is generally the most uninspiring month, full of unsteady, confused weather, too much to do, and not enough will to do it. It's the longest month when winter never ends, just like August draws summer out to an unbearable length. These two months probably shouldn't exist.

But April is a month of unrestrained hope. The wind smells like new flowers, and we gasp for it after so many days of seeing our breath in the air. There is so much possibility, even if we aren't quite sure what it's for. I can ignore the days of sunburns ahead and be present for today, the way the Millie and Walter run like foals daring to stand for the first time. Springtime, floating its blooms over my head and growing everything green under my feet, makes me want to celebrate for celebration's sake. It makes me want to play the piano, write poetry, blow soapy bubbles with the kids, eat al fresco on a date night with Sky, and have another baby to cuddle.

Now that this perfumed oxygen is filling my lungs, it feels better to write. It feels better to do just about everything. This Midwest life means I can't quite pack up my sweaters just yet, but it also means I can pull out a pair of sandals just in case. So I wear a cardigan over a t-shirt, and let the brand new wash over my heart while remembering the last ten or twenty Aprils I've had, savoring the good like wine and dropping the bad from my hands to flutter away.

And suddenly, I'm younger, reminiscing about the April I was missing Sky, when he was in a desert and I was praying desperate prayers that he and my brother would come home safely to see the green Illinois cornfields again. Or the Aprils when I watched my stomach get rounder, a kicking baby's foot pressing against my palm, before I knew their every feature but God already did. Maybe April is less hope than it is sheer gratefulness, come to think of it.

After March's dim light, I can put away the moodiness that often comes with a love of writing, and be content. Our family is in a season of being content, I think. We have dreams and plans, of course- we long for our first home, for things to feel more settled and secure- but we have had a long journey already, and we can look back with amazement. Our hearts have been tired and worn, but on April first, we can lift up our faces to the sunshine and leave that deep, swirling blue of stormclouds behind us. We have come so far.

I read a verse in Psalms today that I had forgotten- "[...] in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me" (Psalm 139:16b). And it surprised me, because I somehow seem to forget. Days were formed for me. Every April I'll ever have has been crafted and shaped perfectly, and though the days themselves might not seem perfect, I can rest in knowing the unknown is already written.

So today, in the hours that are left of it, I will drink in the crisp, sunny weather, do my dreaming and planning, and simply be happy for the beauty I've been given. How lovely it is.

Feb 16, 2016

The Sewing Machine

 "I know you're tired but come, this is the way." 
— Rumi

In December, my mama was here for a visit. One night, long after Millie and Walter were tucked into their beds, we brewed some tea and dug out my sewing machine. It was bought years ago and was primarily used for collecting dust. She made adjustments here and there, explained the mechanics, and promised to help me learn. And in my deep desire to make and to do and to be motherly, the idea thrilled me.

I have many memories of lingering near her sewing machine as she measured, cut, and stitched. I can still hear the sound from her room across the hall, even though she's on the other side of the country now. There was a red satin dress with pearl buttons and puffed sleeves that she made me for Christmas, a little doll with a flowered gown and bonnet, the green jumper I wore on St. Patrick's day, the pastel for Easter, and a few dozen more. That machine was always humming away.

The next morning, with the kids crowding around the table to play with scraps and measuring tapes, Mom showed me how to make a quick pillowcase. The technique made an easy idea even easier, and in just a few minutes, Millie was clutching her pink and purple flowered flannel, while Walter made joyful exclamations over his cotton train print. After Mom left, I set the sewing machine on the end of the kitchen table, determined to make a pillowcase on my own. That was nearly two months ago, and I haven't sewn a single stitch.


It used to be the same with reading, especially when I had to juggle schoolwork as well. While I've gotten better at working through books these days, it's still not at the pace I did at 10 or 20 years old. My days are so different now. I don't remember them being anything other than filled to the brim.

I'm tired. Most nights, my eyes are sore from it. I got a small taste of it in pregnancy. I expected the tiredness then, and the sleepless nights that would follow, but imagined life leveling off after the first year or so. During the second pregnancy, it hit even harder. Here I am with two little ones, and despite being able to sleep though the night (baring sickness or storms), the energy I used to have hasn't returned. I find myself daydreaming about a meal train and help with laundry for moms of children under 18- never mind new mothers. I still have to look up the recipe for lasagna, even though it barely needs one and I've made it one hundred times. I'm too tired for much memory.

It begins before I open my eyes and find pieces of light breaking through the blinds. I hear little voices talking, or singing, or calling for mama. I stumble through breakfast with decaf coffee, get them dressed and sometimes dress myself, and the day has started. It's full of school to teach, places to go, appointments and lunches and laundry and nap times that seem to flutter by too quickly.


I'm so sleepy that I can't make a pillowcase. Maybe tomorrow, I tell myself, when I have less to do, less to clean, an easier supper to cook or less errands to run. Their bedtimes stories leave little energy for some of my own. As the night grows dark and the baths are done, my plans change from reading a few chapters from one of the books in my towering stack, to flipping through a mindless magazine instead, to giving up completely and hoping Downton Abbey isn't a rerun. Mostly, I just wonder how my own parents managed, and how they had any energy left to unfold the newspaper after dinnertime.


And yet, there is an irony. People talk a lot about their truth, or a great touchstone in their lives, and this is mine; I find such sweet rest in those two little people who have the loveliest faces I've ever seen. In those hugs, the kind that wrap all the way around my neck as if they're holding on so not to be swept away in a wild current. In the sleepy sweat of their hair in the dark, when I check on them one more time and whisper things for them to hear in their dreams. In holding their small, soft hands as we cross the street on a walk. In watching as they sit side by side on the couch, turning pages in a book and exchanging outlandish thoughts in a way only a five year old and two year old could do.

I give them this part of me, this very strength I have to go through the day, because they somehow give it back tenfold in the smallest moments. We dance through this give and take, through the exhaustion and the exhilaration, because it is all we know and all we could ever hope for in life. And though the sewing machine may have to wait for a few more days, and then a few more after that, I know when the house is still, we have done what we could do that day. The rest that comes in this is more than enough.
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