Our Story

Our Story (as I remember it)

Sixteen years ago I was attending community college, living at home with my family, and working 3 jobs to save money and pay for school. I was on track to finish community college, move on to a university and continue my degree in Political Science with hopes of eventually going to Law School and becoming a lobbyist in D.C.

My political science classes were filled with many others who had similar goals, but very different opinions. There was one particular person in my classes who was extremely outspoken in his opinions and unfortunately for me was a teacher’s pet.

So I sat in the back of these classes, dreaming of moving out, going to a big school, and ignoring the long-haired hippie that monopolized the class with his personal political beliefs. I just wanted an A and a diploma so I could move on.

One day in February I walked into class feeling particularly down. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and was having a little pity party for myself. Long-haired hippie asked what was wrong (I think this was the first time we had spoken to each other) so I told him and he replied that he had also just broken up with his girlfriend too. He then jokingly mentioned something about us going out to which I thought, not in a million years buddy, but on the outside smiled politely and busied myself in a book.

February passed and some time in March I missed a class where we had watched a movie. Since we had to write up a commentary about the movie for a grade I needed to find a way to watch the movie on my own. It just so happened that long-haired hippie owned this movie so he offered to let me come over and watch it one day after school.

I arrived at long-haired hippie’s apartment and knocked on the door. I was a bit nervous being a twenty-year old female, alone in an apartment complex, going to someone’s house that I only knew casually in class, and I thought was extremely weird. I waited at the door and knocked again.

The door finally swung open and standing there was a tall thin stranger with dark mangled hair and a crazed stare. I stared at the stranger thinking I was at the wrong apartment and he stared at me, sort of….

Our Story ~ Part Two or Why I Should Have High Tailed it Out of the Apartment Complex

I stood at the door contemplating whether I should start running or start talking. I decided to talk…. before I could say anything a figure appeared down the hall in a green plaid bathrobe and a green facial mask. I was taken aback at long-haired hippie’s new look, but relieved that I had arrived at the correct apartment.

Long-haired hippie invited me in and I sat on the couch nervously as tall, dark and strange continued to stare at me blankly. Finally long-haired hippie was presentable and I was ready to watch the movie and get the heck out of there. As soon as long-haired hippie started the movie and tall dark and strange had disappeared I started talking. “What is up with your roommate?” Long-haired hippie informed that his roommate was legally blind, which explained the strange blank stare. I mentioned something about it would have been nice if I you would have told me that before I showed up at your door… and then started to watch the movie.

The movie was probably the strangest I had ever seen. It had subtitles (which I still dislike) and no plot which I could discern, and was exceptionally boring. I made sure long-haired hippie knew how much I disliked this movie by commenting throughout the movie on how ridiculous I thought it was. After the movie I left, grateful that I would never have to experience that sort of torture again.

Apparently, going to the apartment meant that now long-haired hippie and I were friends. Over the next few weeks there was small talk between the two of us before and after class, but I still couldn’t stand his political treatise with which he continued to monopolize my classes.

Around the beginning of April we were given our final assignment for the class. I can’t really remember what the assignment was, but I remember having no clue what the teacher wanted. I am a “rule” girl. I love rules, facts, deadlines, order, and goals! Since this class was called Post Modern Positions, it had none of those things. I needed an A in this class and I knew long-haired hippie and the teacher were buddies so I begged for his help on this project. He convinced me to create a photo collage and promised me it would secure an A for the class. Over the next few weeks long-haired hippie and I rode around town taking random pictures, I was still unsure how this would get me an A, but I trusted long-haired hippie’s judgment.

The more time I spent with long-haired hippie the less irritating he became to me. Under those crazy and completely misguided political beliefs was a nice guy who was insanely funny. I think I laughed harder during our rides around Orlando than I had in my entire life.

In the beginning of May I asked long-haired hippie to drive me to the airport. I planned on flying to Pennsylvania to visit an old boyfriend who had potential to become a new boyfriend. Both my parents worked and I needed a ride in the middle of the day. He agreed and the week before my trip hung out with me at the mall helping me pick out the perfect outfit to wear on the airplane.

The day of the flight I was nervous (not a big fan of airplanes). Long-haired hippie picked me up and we headed to the airport. During the ride long-haired hippie was talking a lot, and mentioned that he was planning on going back into the Navy. He said he didn’t feel like his life was going in the right direction and thought the Navy life had been good for him before and perhaps it would be good for him again. As he was talking I realized that this person, who I had judged way too quickly, was actually a really great guy that just needed a kick in the pants.

As we sat at the terminal (remember those days) we continued to talk and I told him that I thought it was a great idea to join the Navy, it would provide direction, and money, both of which he needed. This is where the story gets a bit fuzzy…. at some point during the Navy talk, long-haired hippie looked me straight in the eye and said…..

Our Story ~ Part Three Or Why You Should Never Let Boys with Long Hair Take Your Daughters to the Airport

“Will You Marry Me?”

Are you shocked, because I was… after long-haired hippie spoke those words I rambled on and on about why he would not want to marry me. I mean here is the person who I had really only known for about six weeks asking me to marry him. Oh, and did I mention that the whole reason I was at the airport was to fly to see someone else!!! I can’t remember my exact words, but the words “high maintenance” were spoken many times.

I am not sure how much time passed before they started boarding the plane, but it seemed like forever. Time tends to slow down when someone you hardly know asks you to marry them in an airport. When it was time to board I said good-bye hurried to the gate. I then had two hours to contemplate what in the world had just happened. Did long-haired hippie really just ask me to marry him? Was he serious? Why in the world would he want to marry me?

The plane ride is a blur, except that it was the most turbulent flight I have ever been on. People were praying and crying and I think most people thought the plane would crash. I kept thinking that I was going to be the person that should have gotten off the plane, but didn’t. I mean I did have a good excuse to not board… did I miss my chance to escape death in a plane crash because I didn’t say yes to a marriage proposal from a someone I hardly knew?

Obviously the plane did not crash, because I am writing this 16 years later, but the flight did make me start to question the entire situation. When I landed and saw Pennsylvania boy he made the gigantic mistake of not commenting on the outfit I had worked so hard to pick out… I realize this sounds really petty and shallow, but I was 20… forgive me. PA boy then made the second gigantic mistake of telling me he had a great surprise for me… we were going on a camp out with all of his buddies.

I realize I speak highly of camping on this site, but 16 years ago camping was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to do. I didn’t like dirt, bugs, or not being able to take a shower every day, actually I still don’t like those things, but I have gained tolerance since God gave me three boys. The camping was miserable, and I spent the entire time wondering what on earth was I doing there in PA with someone who thought it would be a good idea to take me, camping.

As soon as I had access to a phone (remember life without cellphones) I called long-haired hippie. The conversation went something like this…

“Remember that thing you asked me in the airport?”

“Yes”

“Did you mean it?”

“Yes”

“Okay, well I’m in.”

Then I hung up the phone. Can you believe how incredibly romantic I am? This conversation continued on a daily basis for the rest of the week that I was in Pennsylvania. Although the subsequent conversations went more like…

“Still good to go?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, talk to you tomorrow.”

Finally the day before I was flying home I came to my senses (okay not really, does anyone actually believe I was operating at any level of sanity here?) I called him and said something like…

“When do you want to do this?”

“I don’t know?”

“Okay, well how about you pick me up from the airport and we can do it then?”

I had just agreed to get married… to someone I hardly knew.

Our Story ~ Part Four or How to Have a Frugal Wedding

As I left the plane long-haired hippie was not there to pick me up. Where was he, was this all a joke, did he get cold feet, or was this my golden opportunity to come to my senses, take a bus home and go back to life as I knew it.

Before I had time to come to any conclusions long-haired hippie arrived, breathless and carrying a bouquet of flowers. Apparently he took a wrong turn driving to the airport and was delayed. The rest of the afternoon is a blur although I remember driving to the same place I had recently paid a speeding ticket, signing some papers and then reciting something about all my earthly possessions and till death do us part. Honestly, death didn’t seem too far off because soon after I was married (less than two hours after getting off the plane) I came to the realization that….

MY PARENTS WERE GOING TO KILL ME!

Did I forget to mention that my parents had no idea that their first born was secretly plotting to get married to someone she barely knew and who they didn’t know at all? And did I forget to mention that long-haired hippie was an atheist and my parents were former missionaries?

I had only been married about 3 seconds when all of this became very clear. What was I thinking, did I seriously just marry this guy? Am I going to have to move in with blind crazy guy who never brushed his hair? Is long-haired hippie really going to keep his promise of going back into the Navy? Did I just throw away my college plans?

I realized that I had to tell my parents as soon as possible because every second that passed I felt sicker and sicker about the mess I had just created. We drove to my parents’ house, and to illustrate how this is probably the absolute worst moment in my life, even as I type this 16 years later I still feel sick about it! When we arrived, my parents were not home. My little brother was though, so I decided I could tell him and practice the death march.

When I told my brother (who was 17 at the time) a slow grin came over his face. I am not sure, but he was probably thinking that no matter how much trouble he ever got in for the rest of his life, it would be nothing compared to what his big sis had just done. I had just given him a get out of jail free card for the rest of his life!

Telling my brother really did nothing to calm my completely stressed out self, so we ended up going to dinner with long-haired hippie’s family. I spent the entire meal trying to figure out a way to tell my parents that I had just gotten married in a way that wouldn’t upset them. Yes, I was insane at this point. As the meal ended I knew the time had come to meet my fate and go back home (well, I guess it was my old home) and drop the bomb.

My family greeted me with smiles and hugs. Everyone was anxious to hear how my trip to Pennsylvania had been. We all gathered in the family room and my family listened as I recounted my trip. Long-haired hippie sat next to me in silence on the love seat (ironic isn’t it?). The small talk went on for about 45 minutes, which was probably the longest 45 minutes of my life. I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell my family what I had done.

Finally I said something like, “Well, I got married.” Then I passed out. Okay, kidding, I didn’t pass out, but I wish I would have in order to miss what happened next.

My father, very calmly said, “To someone we know?”

Long haired-hippie raised his hand and said, “Me.”

I think they would have been happier had I married Osama Bin Laden… my sister immediately started crying. My dad settled into his seat in preparation for what was to come and I can’t remember exactly what my mother said, but I am sure it was nice and encouraging… because that is just the kind of person she is.

My brother sat in his seat smiling…..

Honestly the rest of the night is a blur, and for that I am thankful. My dad never raised his voice, although I am sure he wanted to kill one of us… probably long-haired hippie, but who knows. After a few minutes my dad looked long-haired hippie straight in the eye and said,

“Did you know she listens to Rush Limbaugh?”

And of course he didn’t know that I listened to Rush, because, well we didn’t know each other. Long-haired hippie looked at me with surprise. We had been married for about 3 hours and our first argument was going to be over Rush, this was starting so well.

My dad then spent what seemed like an eternity telling us why we couldn’t get married. The sad part was I agreed with 95% of what he was saying, but because I hate to be wrong, I argued against most of his points.

Finally my mom looked at my dad and said something about him needing to stop talking because what was done was done and nothing he said could change anything. Then she got up from her seat, walked towards long-haired hippie and said,

“Welcome to the family!”

And with that she walked over and gave dh (long-haired hippie) a big hug.

It was around this time I realized I wasn’t going to be sleeping at parent’s house that night, even though I really wanted to. I couldn’t imagine going back to the dirty apartment occupied by a crazy blind man with someone I didn’t really know. Why this thought didn’t occur to me 12 hours earlier I am not sure, but nonetheless my dad made it clear that I had created this mess and I was going to live with it. I went to my old room, packed a few things and left the house, wondering if I would ever be welcome there again.

Shock and Awe

My family greeted me with smiles and hugs. Everyone was anxious to hear how my trip to Pennsylvania had been. We all gathered in the family room and my family listened as I recounted my trip. Long-haired hippie sat next to me in silence on the love seat (ironic isn’t it?). The small talk went on for about 45 minutes, which was probably the longest 45 minutes of my life. I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell my family what I had done.

Finally I said something like, “Well, I got married.” Then I passed out. Okay, kidding, I didn’t pass out, but I wish I would have in order to miss what happened next.

My father, very calmly said, “To someone we know?”

Long haired-hippie raised his hand and said, “Me.”

I think they would have been happier had I married Osama Bin Laden… my sister immediately started crying. My dad settled into his seat in preparation for what was to come and I can’t remember exactly what my mother said, but I am sure it was nice and encouraging… because that is just the kind of person she is.

My brother sat in his seat smiling…..

Honestly the rest of the night is a blur, and for that I am thankful. My dad never raised his voice, although I am sure he wanted to kill one of us… probably long-haired hippie, but who knows. After a few minutes my dad looked long-haired hippie straight in the eye and said,

“Did you know she listens to Rush Limbaugh?”

And of course he didn’t know that I listened to Rush, because, well we didn’t know each other. Long-haired hippie looked at me with surprise. We had been married for about 3 hours and our first argument was going to be over Rush, this was starting so well.

My dad then spent what seemed like an eternity telling us why we couldn’t get married. The sad part was I agreed with 95% of what he was saying, but because I hate to be wrong, I argued against most of his points.

Finally my mom looked at my dad and said something about him needing to stop talking because what was done was done and nothing he said could change anything. Then she got up from her seat, walked towards long-haired hippie and said,

“Welcome to the family!”

And with that she walked over and gave dh (long-haired hippie) a big hug.

It was around this time I realized I wasn’t going to be sleeping at parent’s house that night, even though I really wanted to. I couldn’t imagine going back to the dirty apartment occupied by a crazy blind man with someone I didn’t really know. Why this thought didn’t occur to me 12 hours earlier I am not sure, but nonetheless my dad made it clear that I had created this mess and I was going to live with it. I went to my old room, packed a few things and left the house, wondering if I would ever be welcome there again.

Moving Out, Moving In and Moving Out

Over the next several days I stopped by my parents’ house to pick up my things and take them to my new home. I avoided going over when I knew my dad was going to be home because I just couldn’t take how disappointed he was in me. (Although I deserved every bit of it)

There were a few times dh and I went over together and everyone was home. My dad would sit on the couch, watch television and pretend no one else was in the room. It was incredibly uncomfortable.

As for me, I was settling into my role as The unHappy Housewife. I didn’t know how to cook when I got married, and dh was a vegetarian. I quickly learned how to make a two meals, beans and cornbread – can of beans, box of cornbread mix and frozen pizza – unwrap, bake and serve.

Meanwhile, crazy blind guy was driving me crazy. You see, crazy blind guy was legally blind as defined by the social security administration which meant he could actually see up close, but could not see well enough to drive. He also belonged to some weird sect at our college that didn’t believe in using chemicals or wearing shoes. This meant that crazy blind guy always smelled disgusting and the apartment was filthy since he didn’t wear shoes and only rinsed his feet. I refused to clean up after this guy, so the apartment grew dirtier and dirtier.

One week night, my now always smiling brother had a baseball game. I convinced dh to come to the game even though we knew my family would be there. Dh knew nothing about baseball and I grew up in a family that thought nachos were their own food group. We arrived at the game and took a spot on the bleachers close to my family.

As the game went on somehow my dad and dh ended up sitting next to each other. Then something amazing happened, I looked over and my dad was actually speaking to dh! God had softened my dad’s heart towards dh and he was actually laughing and joking as he sat next to him. Now, my dad is a guy who loves a good practical joke, and I think he knew he had some fresh bait, as his own children had stopped falling for his pranks years ago. Realizing very quickly that dh didn’t know the difference between a baseball and a basketball, my dad was feeding dh lines to yell at the ump. Dh, wanting to create peace in my family, shouted out whatever my dad told him to say. Every bad pitch and poor call was addressed in a loud voice by dh from the stands. My dad sat there chuckling as he feed dh line after line. As we said our goodbyes after the game I had a feeling things were starting to change.

My mother-in-law, who loves parties, insisted we have some sort of reception to celebrate our wedding. My parents, who were just starting to warm up to dh offered to host this reception since no one had any money to do anything different. The reception was attended by old friends and family. It wouldn’t have surprised me if there was some betting going around behind our backs regarding how long this so called marriage was going to last.

After the reception, we headed to Tampa for our “honeymoon.” It was wonderful getaway at none other than Busch Gardens and accompanying us was my husband’s best friend from the Navy. He had come down for the reception and dh wanted to spend time with him while he was in town. Can you say romantic? My honeymoon picture was a automated camera shot of the three of us on the first drop of the Kumba roller coaster.

Needless to say I was quickly getting fed up with a filthy apartment,  crazy roommate, a honeymoon for three, plus the fact that dh didn’t have a real job (he was currently employed as a daytime bartender making about $3 a day). I was working at a local restaurant almost full time paying the bills, while dh stayed at home and did…. well I don’t really know what he did, but I wasn’t happy.

Finally after we had been married about 3 weeks I laid down the law. I told him he better get a real job, get a haircut, and oh by the way, I was moving out. I called my parents and either told or asked them, I can’t remember, that I was moving back in. There was only one slight problem, my dad had turned my bedroom into an office. I didn’t really care, I was willing to sleep on the couch to get away from the mess I had created.

The Summer in Which I Became Frugal and Long-Haired Hippie ate Meat

Twenty-four days after I married long-haired hippie and moved out, I moved back in. Since I didn’t have a bedroom anymore I ended up moving into the living room, and dh came along too. This arrangement was less than ideal since the living room was the first room you saw when you entered my parent’s home. My mom hung up a sheet for privacy and we we moved all our earthly possessions into our new “home.”

This new living arrangement probably encouraged my dh to get moving on the whole get back in the Navy thing. Less than three weeks after moving in with my parents long-haired hippie became a short-haired petty officer. He was temporarily assigned duty in Jacksonville, FL while he awaited permanent orders. He stayed in Jacksonville during the week and drove home to Orlando on the weekends.

I spent the rest of the summer moving around Florida. For a few weeks I lived in dh’s grandparent’s empty condo in Tampa. This was nice except I had nothing to do during the week, no car, and no friends. This was also when I figured out dh wasn’t too good with money.

One thing dh neglected to tell me before we got married, although I don’t fault him for this- there wasn’t time,  is that he had accumulated a large amount of debt during his single years. We decided not to declare bankruptcy and to try and pay it off. This meant that most of his tiny military paycheck went to debt payments. I remember one Sunday night in Tampa, before he was returning to Jacksonville we counted out our money for the week. We had $7.62. Fortunately the car had a full tank of gas, but we didn’t have much food in the condo. I quickly learned about a grocery budget and purchased a few boxes of tuna helper and a few cans of tuna fish to last through the week. I felt bad dh’s first meal as a meat eater was tuna helper, but times were tough.

There was another time when dh took me to his favorite restaurant in Miami. Things were wonderful until it was time to pay the bill. It was only then that dh realized he left every penny we had under a mattress three hours away. I thought I would be washing dishes in Little Havana for the next week, but then remembered I had $30 in an old bank account. I pulled all of it out of the ATM in order to pay the bill and we quickly drove three hours in the other direction to retrieve our life savings.

I was very excited about dh’s rejoining the military (yes, I was naive). He told me about all the great places we could live and all the opportunities available for military spouses. I was shocked when he received orders to Panama, because to me that did not qualify as a great place to live. I was absolutely not prepared to move out of the country. In fact, dh had told me that there was no way we would receive orders to Panama because they were closing the base. He was wrong. I told him I wasn’t going to move to some third world country and he could go without me.  Dh begged me to go and told me there would be many opportunities for me to finish my degree, get a job, and see the rain forest. Finally, I agreed to go.

Dh needed to leave for Panama in a few short weeks and we quickly found out I could not go with him until he was assigned a house, which could be a month or longer. We heard through the grapevine that there were flights from Panama to Key West on a regular basis. Dh had a Navy buddy who lived in Key West so I decided to move in with him and dh could fly to the Keys on the weekend. We loaded up a small moving van and drove all night from Tampa to Key West. At some point during the summer we had also acquired two cats, and at a later point in the summer I discovered I am not a cat person. I remember trying desperately to stay awake during the all night drive. Fortunately I had two screeching cats in the back seat of the car to keep me awake.

We arrived in Key West and I settled in to my 4th home that summer. It didn’t take long for me to realize that dh’s Navy buddy lived like a pig and I didn’t want to live there. I was afraid to leave our stuff and the cats with the guy so I stayed. Meanwhile dh flew off to Panama and found out there were no such flights to Key West. I needed no more incentive to get the heck out of Key West so I called the movers, had our stuff packed, put on a boat to Panama and moved back into my parent’s house.

I spent the rest of the summer waiting for dh to be assigned a house in Panama. Finally in September he was assigned a house and I would be leaving for my tropical paradise in less than a week, or so I thought.

Panama

It took about ten seconds once the plane landed in Panama for me to realize I wanted to take the next plane back to the States. No one spoke English, or at least they pretended not to, and the airport was not very passenger friendly. I wandered around helpless until I saw a long line of people and decided to join them, in hopes that it would lead me out of the terminal. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only 30 minutes, I was through the line and on my way out of the airport. Dh and a friend (the one who was driving us to our house) were waiting for me near the exit.

As soon as I stepped outside I was met with the most intense humidity I had ever felt in my life. Everyone was covered with a sheen of sweat and soon I was too. I got in the car which of course had no air conditioning and prepared for the 2.5 hour drive to the other side of the country. As we drove through Panama City, I talked nonstop about how much I already didn’t like it and made sure to point out every flaw and problem. Then we entered the “country.” My constant complaining was silenced by the extreme poverty that surrounded me. We passed neighborhoods in which every house was made from cardboard boxes. Garbage piled ten feet high lined the streets and the medians. Dogs ran wild and children did too.

My shock turned to terror as we then began passing checkpoints with Panamanian armed guards, and it became obvious there was a good way and a bad way to make it through the roadblocks. The good way involved pretending to speak no Spanish (even though dh is fluent) and the exchange of some money. The bad way… well I did not want to find out.

At some point we reached the Panama Canal. I thought this would be the highlight of the drive until I realized that if you arrived at the canal at the wrong time you could sit in your car for up to two hours while ships passed through the locks. I probably don’t have to tell you that we arrived at the wrong time. By the time we started moving again I was a complete sweaty, scared mess that wanted to close my eyes, tap my heels together 3 times and end up back in Kansas.

Finally we reached the base, I was relieved since now I would be living under the protection of the US Army, but of course I was wrong again. The base was guarded by the Panamanians and was open to everyone. As we entered the gate the driver started telling me stories about all the recent break-ins that had occurred on the base. I decided right then I was never leaving the house without dh. My only hope was that we didn’t own anything worth stealing anyway.

As we drove through the windy roads of the base I started noticing how beautiful and green everything looked. I guess 100% humidity is great for the environment. The flowers were the brightest colors, the trees a deep green, it started to resemble paradise and I forgot for a moment that I was melting in the back seat.  Then out of nowhere I was jolted out of my fleeting fantasy. Large cinder block buildings appeared around the corner. They were old, but more importantly bullet holes marred every building. Apparently this base was occupied by the Panamanians when we invaded a few years earlier. The ransacked barracks still stood vacant along the road. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those who had lived in those barracks, did they live, did they die, did they leave behind a family?

Finally we pulled up to the house. It was a yellowish color stilt house with a tile roof. I remembered thinking it was pretty, sort of… then I noticed that under the house there was a carport that also housed the washer and dryer. As I walked by I remember thinking that since I had already decided I would never leave the house alone, dh better get use to doing the laundry. The washer and dryer were covered with a film of dead bugs and other items I didn’t want to touch. I hurried up the flight of stairs ready to see my new home and lock myself inside it for the next two years.

My First Attempt as The Happy Housewife

Needless to say I did not arrive in Panama with the best attitude. It was not what I expected and I did not handle the disappointment very well. I soon found out that there were no jobs available and that the college was over 2 hours away on the other side of the country. (Remember the days before online classes?) I set out on my first attempt as The Happy Housewife.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to be a housewife. When I first arrived in Panama, our house was furnished with loaner furniture from the Army. Those of you who have lived with loaner furniture know what I am talking about. Our bed consisted of a mattress on the floor, 2 flat sheets and one pillow each. We had a couch, a table, and a few dishes. I tried to make do with the situation knowing our furniture would arrive soon, but it was very lonely all day in a nearly empty house while dh worked crazy shift hours.

I tried ironing his uniforms while he was at work, except I didn’t know how to iron. During one attempt I actually broke the VCR (a loaner) while trying to iron. How can you break a VCR while ironing, I am not sure, but somehow I flipped the iron off the ironing board and it soared through the air landing on the cord to the VCR, burning through the cord as well as pulling the VCR off the television onto the floor. The young broke newlyweds now had to buy someone a new VCR.

I tried cooking, but I didn’t know how to make anything. Our dinners consisted of fettucini alfredo, hot dogs, and frozen pizza. All other meals were cereal. I was too afraid to go to the grocery store by myself (plus I didn’t have a car) so our trips would involve dh and I walking cluelessly through the aisles, with our ration cards (remember those) and always ending up with the exactly same things in our cart. Hot dogs, noodles, Parmesan cheese, and 17 boxes of Lucky Charms. During Thanksgiving I tried to make food for the sailors and soldiers, but ended up spray painting the walls with potatoes and eating raw turkey for dinner. I was such a bad cook I didn’t realize our oven was broken for over 2 months!

When we found out of furniture had arrived I was so excited. I could finally decorate, rearrange and start playing house. Except (and I am not exaggerating ) every piece of furniture we owned had been damaged by the movers. It was terrible. I was in tears as box after box was unloaded and I was pulling out our dented, scratched, and broken possessions. The legs had been broken off our chairs, huge rips covered the back of our couch, and our dining room table had warped so badly you almost couldn’t set anything on top of it without it sliding off.

I tried to bury my frustration on our now house full of broken stuff by painting. I had this brilliant idea to paint our entire downstairs bubble gum pink. I knew that regular painting wouldn’t look right so I decided to sponge paint. After about 3 and a half walls I decided the sponge painting was just too hard so I gave up. The rest of our time there was spent in a house with partially painted pink walls.Dh said he felt like he was living inside a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

As for dh and I, and I am sure this will shock you, we couldn’t spend five minutes together without arguing. I found out quickly that marrying someone you don’t know at all, may not be such a good idea. He worked all the time and I was bored, scared, alone, and resentful of the situation. When he would come home from work I would be dying for someone to talk to and he would be dying to go to sleep. Since he works rotating shifts much of his sleep time was during the day while I was awake. I would usually let him sleep for two or three hours and then wake him up because I was so bored. Needless to say he wasn’t very happy with this habit of mine.

After a few weeks I found out there was a library on base so dh took me and I checked out every book I could. I have always been an avid reader and I was actually excited to have something to do with my time. The only problem was that I started to read Tom Clancy novels. They always seemed to be set in a third world jungle somewhere and I couldn’t help but relate these to my life. I would read all night and then lay in bed petrified that undercover agents or bad guys would come crashing through my door to kidnap me. I stopped sleeping.

One night as I lay in bed alone (dh was at work) I was trying not to think of everything bad that could happen to me. Just as I had calmed myself down I heard the doorknob turn on the front door. I completely panicked. I knew I was going to be kidnapped or killed. I tried to think of a plan, but I couldn’t even move. I laid there paralyzed in fear as I heard men’s voices in my downstairs. Then I heard footsteps coming up the stairs towards my room. I braced myself for what would happen to me… the door swung open, and standing there covered from head to toe in mud, uniform ripped, and looking quite upset was dh. Not nearly as upset as I was since I thought he was there to kill me.

Turns out our car had broken down on the road to his work. This road was notoriously dangerous and dh was not too happy that he was stuck. He decided the best course of action would be to run the rest of the way to work and hope that someone passed him and offered help. Not only was the road dangerous it was in the middle of the jungle so there were all sorts of animals hiding in the dark as well. During his run for help dh fell into a huge pothole and ruined his uniform, became bathed in mud and bloodied his knees. Finally he was picked up by another sailor who drove him back home to get a clean uniform and return to work.

Except there were no clean uniforms. Remember my outside washer and dryer, I wasn’t kidding when I said I wasn’t going to use them. Laundry at our house would pile up until dh ran out of clothes and decided to wash something. So dh and his friend had to wait while he did a load of laundry in order to have a clean uniform to wear to work for the rest of the night.Dh was not happy, and I was not happy that he had scared me to death and ruined a nice uniform.

Unhappiness was a theme over the next few months. I found out that dh and I were complete opposites and not the kind that attract. We fought and bickered over everything from housework to food to music. It was a strange feeling because I was truly growing to dislike dh with all my heart and yet I would wait anxiously for him to return home from work so I could have someone to talk to. Even fighting was better than silence and our fights were anything but silent. I soon found out that dh had a temper like none I had ever seen and I was not one to back down from a fight and certainly not lose one. I remember screaming matches so terrible that dh would actually lose his voice. I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry for hours.

I tried to plot my escape but I didn’t know what to do. No one back in the states seemed to understand how bad it was and I didn’t have any place to go. No friends, no family, I was truly alone. The stress was more than I could take, and one day while taking a shower I started to feel faint and almost passed out. Dh took me the doctor and I that is when we learned I was pregnant….

The Key

A few years earlier in my life I decided rather foolishly to move out. On the way out the door I attempted to remove the house key from my key ring and return it to my father. He handed it back to me and told me no matter what, I could always come home.

So, I was pregnant, unhappy, and scared. For those of you who have lived on small military bases you are probably familiar with a little thing called gossip. This base excelled at gossip and it wasn’t long after I found out I was pregnant that everyone I met told me a horror story about some lady who just had a baby. It went a little something like this;

Person I hardly knew: Hi UnHappy Housewife, I heard you were pregnant.

Me: Um, yes.

Person I hardly knew: Did you hear about Phil’s wife?

Me: Um, no…

Person I hardly knew: Well she was pregnant too, the doctors let her go four weeks overdue, then when she finally went into labor she got stuck in traffic on the two hour drive to the hospital. When she got to the hospital they told her there was no one there to give her an epidural. She was in labor for 56 hours at the hospital and finally had a c-section, the baby weighed 12 pounds.

After hearing story after story I became petrified to have a baby. Between pregnancy fears and fighting with dh, I was overtaken with depression. I would spend hours on the computer (this was before internet) playing solitaire. When dh would return from work the fighting would begin and only end when he left for his next shift. I felt trapped. I had no friends, my family was an ocean away, I had no where to turn.

Because of the stress, I was losing weight, my doctor didn’t seem concerned. He told me it was normal to lose weight at the beginning of a pregnancy.

I remember sitting in the corner calling my parents, crying hysterically. I begged for them to rescue me. I was miserable, they doctor’s didn’t care about me or the baby, and my marriage to dh was a huge mistake. I wanted to go home. But my parents would remind me I was already home. I had made choices and now I needed to live with them. While I sobbed on the phone, they would calmly remind me that I needed to work things out.

Finally in the heat of an argument with dh I locked myself in the spare room and dialed my parents’ number. I was so hysterical my dad couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I was begging and pleading to move back. My dad started to explain to me why I needed to stay. In my complete hysteria I started screaming over and over, “The key! The key! You told me I could always come home! I still have the key!”

I am sure my parents agonized over their decision. I know they were worried about me and the baby, but they also believed that marriage was a commitment for life. They didn’t want me to run away from my problems, but they didn’t want my situation to get any worse. Finally after much debate and with the agreement of dh we decided it would be best for me to return to the states to have the baby.

108 days after I arrived I boarded a plane to Miami. I was going home, with no intention of ever returning.

And Baby Makes Three

As I sat on the airplane a feeling of relief swept over me. There was no sadness, not even regret, just relief to finally be free of my problems (or so I thought). My relief was short lived as shortly after everyone boarded the plane I heard my name being called over the intercom system. It was at this point in my life that I realized why innocent people run from the police. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but I didn’t want to come to the front of the plane. What could possibly be the problem? I was not going to get off that airplane, I was leaving and no one was going to stop me.

After about 30 seconds of contemplating not identifying myself, I realized I did not want to spend the night in jail in a foreign country (not sure why I thought I would end up in jail) and I made my way to the front of the plane. Once I reached the front they told me there was a problem and that I need to go to security. I could not believe this was happening. I was led off the plane and through the airport where eventually I ended up in a room with several security people and all my luggage. My luggage was not the nice black stuff with wheels and zippers either. It was old with clasps that made a clicking sound when they were shut, except the clasps didn’t work so well so we had duct taped my luggage together so it didn’t fall apart.

The duct tape had been cut off and my luggage was open and they were going through all my stuff. I felt like this was all a very, very bad dream, but it wasn’t, it was real and happening to me. Then a female security guard patted me up and down as I watched in horror as they tore apart my luggage. Finally after several minutes they decided I was not a threat I was told I could reboard the plane. My luggage however was in total disarray and I began to accept the fact that my stuff might not make it to Miami.

I arrived in Florida and quickly settled back into my old life, well except for the fact that I was married and pregnant. I spent my days hanging out at my parent’s house (I had no car) and my nights watching basketball on television with my dad and a few friends. Dh and I spoke occasionally on the phone, but I did write him a letter almost every day (remember life before email). I am not sure what those letters said, I think I just felt it was my duty to write them. The more time that passed the more we grew apart.

As time came for the baby to be born we made arrangements for dh to fly to the states. I decided it would be better for him to arrive after my due date just in case the baby decided to come late. Thank goodness I did that because my due date, June 20th, came and went. By June 21st I was miserable. By June 25th, I decided that I wasn’t ever going to have the baby. By July 1st I was desperate. I arrived at my appointment with plans to beg and plead for an induction. It was July in Florida and I was miserable!

Fortunately my doctor decided to check me to see if I was ready to be induced. I was 5cm so he sent me to the hospital to have the baby. When I arrived at the hospital there were no available beds and since I wasn’t in labor they wouldn’t admit me. The nurses encouraged me to go for a walk to help move things along and I would be admitted. I walked for 15 hours! From 9 am to midnight my mom and I walked the mall, the hospital, the parking lot and every place else we could think of. Every few hours we would return to the floor where they would send me away because I wasn’t in “active labor.”  Finally at midnight after walking the entire day plus not eating my mom put her foot down. She told the nurses they either needed to admit me or send me home, but those were the only two options.

They admitted me.

By that time I was completely exhausted, my feet ached, and were covered in blisters from walking all day. They decided to break my water and surprise, surprise we had a baby 45 minutes later.

Our little girl was born 14 months after we got married. We were officially a family.

Dh arrived in the states when she was three days old and for three weeks we “played house.” I think the constant, feeding, pooping, and crying (me not the baby :), distracted us from the myriad of problems I had left down in Panama. For three weeks things seemed alright. Perhaps I had made a mistake in leaving, maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought. We were two adults, surely we could work out of differences.
Now that there was another person involved, things suddenly became a lot more complicated.

I Want a Divorce!

Note: From now on dh will be referred to as Sailor

After our three weeks together Sailor left for Panama. For several weeks we called and wrote letters talking mainly about our newborn daughter. She was an absolutely delightful baby which was good since I had no idea what I was doing. When she was seven weeks old I went back to school full time and she spent three days a week at the babysitter’s house. During evening classes she hung out with my family and never lacked for attention.

As time went on Sailor and I drifted slowly apart. His letters came less and less often until they stopped coming all together. I busied myself with school and friends and adjusted to life as a single mom. I still wrote regularly with baby updates and mailed videos of her swinging in her swing or sitting in her chair, but only because I felt obligated.

Finally Thanksgiving weekend I decided it was time to have a talk with Sailor. I called him and told him I wanted a divorce. We were two different people, with two different lives, and we had nothing in common. Wasn’t it better just to call it all a big mistake and move on? Sailor didn’t see it that way at all. Even though he had stopped writing he still had a daughter whom he cared very much about, he wasn’t about to lose her…

He told me there was no way we were getting a divorce and if I proceeded he would fight me for custody of our daughter. This upset me terribly because she didn’t even know him, he had only seen her for 3 weeks of her life. How dare he try to take away MY daughter. To make matters worse he informed me that he was purchasing a plane ticket and would be arriving the next day so we could work things out.

In my opinion, there was nothing to work out. This had all been one big mistake, it was better to move on with our lives than to continue. Nevertheless he arrived the next day with plans to stay for a month.

Much to my surprise my parents were completely behind Sailor, they did not think we should get a divorce and were determined to help us work it out. They even scheduled several sessions with a counselor they knew from church. This caused me to grow even angrier as I now felt the entire world was against me. I really believed it would be better for my daughter and I to start over, it could not be good for a child to grow up with two parents who didn’t even like each other.

At our first counseling session I steeled myself in the chair with arms crossed determined not to show one ounce of emotion. I answered the questions with one word and listened as Sailor claimed to want to work things out. I thought to myself that he was only doing this to get back at me for wanting to take his daughter, he says one thing to the counselor and then does something else when we are together. With each counseling session my bitterness grew and grew.

Finally at one of our last sessions (before Sailor was to return to Panama) the counselor gave sailor a stack of books to read. He told Sailor that he must read them in order for our marriage to work. I remember thinking that no book in the world was going to make our marriage work, but at least I didn’t have to read anything. School was starting in a few days and I would have plenty of homework to keep my busy. The counselor also told Sailor he would need to write me a letter once a week once he was back in Panama. Sailor assured him that he would, while I knew there was no way he would keep his promise.

Finally Sailor returned to Panama and I was free once again. I knew it was only a matter of time before he went back to his old ways, once he didn’t have my parents and the counselor checking up on him. At the end of the first week I was surprised when I found a letter from Sailor in the mailbox. I was even more surprised when I opened it and found out that he had been reading some of the books the counselor had given him.

As the weeks went on more and more letters arrived in the mailbox. Sailor was eagerly reading every book the counselor had given him. I was hesitant to believe he could change. During this time Sailor received new orders. He We would be moving to a small town in West Virginia.

Was I ready to move away from the safety and security of my family? What about my degree, I only needed 30 more credits to graduate. Would I be moving back in with an angry man or had he really changed? And what about our little girl? Was I ready to be a full time mom without the help of baby sitters, grandparents, and an aunt and uncle?

What change had occurred in Sailor, that made me think I should give this marriage another try?

HIStory

Happy has asked me to write about this part of our story. I’ll try to do my best to explain what happened when she asked me for a divorce and the aftermath of that phone call.

Happy let me know that we’d been living separate lives, more than the miles required. I hadn’t been writing her and although I was able to call pretty regularly we rarely discussed anything important. She lived her life in Florida with our daughter and I lived mine in Panama with work and whatever diversion I could muster. We had no basis to remain married and Happy made it clear that she wanted out.

I didn’t know then why I fought the divorce but there was no way I was going to let this marriage end. I didn’t know Happy or my daughter but I was determined to give the marriage my all and fight for it until I knew I’d spent everything I had to save it. Looking back, it seems so illogical and without any hope. (Aside – Writing this part of our story is even now convicting me that my passion and dedication has waned over the years. What I felt then was extreme sadness and loss but that motivated me to action. I need to regain some of that drive and serve my wife and family with the same zeal I had when I thought all could be lost)

I got leave from my command and flew home the next day. I don’t remember the ride home with Happy but I’m sure it was either frosty or hot but surely not cordial. We continued to fight for the next several days about whether we would divorce, how we would go forward and whether there was a future at all for us.

Happy told you I was an atheist. After the constant fighting and occasional cursing session from me, Happy’s parents suggested we meet with a Christian counselor. I was at my wit’s end and agreed to give it a try. The concepts he suggested to me seemed a little odd but I accepted the books he gave me and read them. Two of the books I remember are: Larry Crabb’s Inside Out and Gary Smalley’s If Only He Knew: What No Woman Can Resist.

Both books had a profound effect on me. Smalley’s book outlines how a Christian is to live for his wife. He covered servant leadership and referred me to scripture to support his claims. I recall reading Ephesians and thinking how backwards the ideas seemed to me. I threw up my hands and decided to try some of the ideas out in our marriage – I mean nothing else seemed to be working.

Later I read Crabb’s book and leaned about the need for internal change rather than external coverings over the same selfish heart. I knew I couldn’t be selfless on my own power so I realized I needed something, someone, greater than me to lead me to serve my nascent family. I discovered that I wasn’t the end all be all of an evolutionary process but a child of God who hadn’t been serving Him and couldn’t serve my wife and daughter without Him. I’d been nearly broken by my failed marriage but He gave me the lifeline I needed to be redeemed from within and then he showed me what I needed to to do to redeem my marriage. I became a Christian because those ideas that seemed so foreign to me worked. I tried to serve my wife in the ways the Bible teaches and began to see a change in my heart and hers. It was counter-intuitive, I worked to deny my selfish desires and to serve her and my daughter as much as I could. Something strange began to happen in me. The more I served them, the more I wanted to serve and the happier I became. I felt the flickerings of true love start in me. I have to be honest, I wanted to love Happy and be loved by her but until I met Jesus I didn’t know how. Don’t get me wrong, God showers His blessings on believers and non-believers as He sees fit. I’m not saying that non-Christians can’t love, I’m just saying that its a lot easier to love when you’ve met the source of all love.

Let me be clear, I’m not perfect and I’m not even close to be best husband and father in the world. I get angry and say stupid things all the time. I fall back into selfishness and don’t do near enough for my wife and kids. What Happy saw in me was and is not from me. It is only God’s work in me that she saw then and that I need to let shine forth for now and forever.

Thanks for letting me share a part of my side of our story.

Take Me Home…. Country Road

In April of 1995 Sailor left Panama and moved to West Virginia. I knew nothing about West Virginia other than it was country… and I wasn’t.

I wanted to give our marriage one last try (I hate failing) so I agreed to move to WV with Sailor.

Once Sailor got to West Virginia he learned that there was no base housing available on the little military base. Not only was there no base housing there were no rentals available within an hour’s drive. The closest town was Harrisonburg, VA, an hour away and over a large and looming mountain.

Sailor had no choice but to find an apartment for our family in Harrisonburg, VA. I was actually quite relieved to NOT live in West Virginia. After Sailor found a two bedroom apartment and my college semester ended my dad loaded up a moving van and drove me and baby girl to the mountains of Virginia.

I remember being in awe of Virginia’s beautiful mountains and cooler weather. We left Florida wearing t-shirts and shorts and I actually had to hunt around in my suitcase for a sweater once we arrived at our new house.

When we pulled up in the moving van a bunny was nibbling on a plant in the front yard, this place was like nothing I’d ever seen. We had views of the sun setting over the mountains in our front yard and I could hear cows mooing in the distance.

I was excited about our fresh start.

My dad stayed for a few days and helped baby proof our apartment and then headed south again.

It was just us. Sailor, baby girl, and myself… could we make this work? Sailor claimed to be a changed man, but I hadn’t actually spent any time with him to know if this was true.

Shortly after settling in we quickly realized Sailor’s paycheck wasn’t going to cover our expenses and debt. Apparently while we were living apart Sailor managed to rack up quite a debt on his Star card. We were already living at the bare minimum with only one car, no cable, and no extras. We were broke and I didn’t know how we were going to make it work.

Sailor found a job at the grocery store down the road and so began our new routine.

He would wake up and leave the house before I was awake and head to work. He would arrive home around 5:45pm, eat a quick dinner and head to the grocery store to work the evening shift in the produce department.

He was tired all the time and I was lonely. I can’t quite remember why he got the second job instead of me… but that’s just how it happened.

I wanted friends, every day I walked our neighborhood pushing the stroller hoping to meet someone. I got smiles and waves… but no friends. Apparently most of the people in our neighborhood were either college students or retirees and none of them pushed a stroller up and down the street every day of the week.

I spent my days walking the neighborhood, entertaining baby girl, killing flies, watching Barney every day at 3pm, waiting for the rabbit to appear, rearranging furniture, clipping coupons, and learning how to sew and cook. Unfortunately cleaning the house was not on my list.

Even with Sailor’s extra job we were barely getting by. Things were so bad that on the way down the mountain he would often shut off the car and coast, to save on gas.

Sailor felt like we needed more help so he decided that we should apply for WIC. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want any help, I wanted to do it all myself. Finally after much persuading I agreed, but only for a few months, until we paid off the debts. Then we would remove ourselves from the program.

While working nights in the produce department one of Sailor’s jobs was to throw away the expired produce. Things were marked for the garbage and it was Sailor’s job to take them out to the dumpster every evening at the end of his shift.

Many times these vegetables were still edible, but because they were expired they had to be thrown out. Sailor would stack the expired produce in boxes outside the dumpster. Instead of throwing them away he would bring them home.

I felt like my life was crumbling… we were receiving free milk and more cheese than anyone could possibly eat through WIC, we were eating food destined for the dumpster, I had no car, no job, no friends, and things with Sailor weren’t getting much better.

The day before Thanksgiving I received a call from my husband’s work. There had been an accident on the mountain. Sailor hit a patch of black ice and wrecked our car, our only car!

At least I had one thing to be thankful for that Thanksgiving. Sailor walked away from the accident without even a scratch. We made pizza for Thanksgiving and received a basket of free food from the Navy base.

I hated being poor.

After Thanksgiving we found out that because we drove a certain type of car repairs and parts would take five weeks! We would be without a car for Christmas! We wouldn’t even be able to get lights for our Christmas tree.

My husband had a friend who graciously offered to take him to work every day. He walked to his second job at the grocery store. The same friend also took us Christmas shopping and did what he could to help us.

Christmas was sparse but it was happy. We spent it with Sailor’s sister and then my family came to visit. I stopped feeling sorry for myself because I was so excited to have people in our little apartment.

Christmas ended and I was prepared for a winter funk when I awoke one morning to a surprise. Snow! And not just any snow, a blizzard. As Sailor and I excitedly shoveled our sidewalk, as only dummies from Florida would do in a blizzard, the snow was pouring down. It took us about three hours to realize that shoveling snow during a blizzard was pointless.

Once it stopped snowing we were left with almost six feet of snow. Our car was buried and our street was not plowed so we were stuck, just the three of us.

We wanted baby girl to experience snow so we wrapped her tennis shoes in Ziploc bags and put on four pairs of pants. We couldn’t afford snow pants or boots so we made do. She wasn’t thrilled with the snow, but I wouldn’t have been either if my feet were wrapped in plastic bags.

After our street was plowed and life got back to normal I resumed my daily walks. I was determined to meet someone! One day I came home from our walk and realized that baby girl had snot frozen to her face! What kind of mother was I?

I gave up on walking until the spring.

Good things happened that year.

I learned to cook. No more hot dogs and fettucini alfredo! We had moved up to sausage (purchased with a double coupon) and yellow rice, quiche (free with all our WIC food), and cream based stews.

I found the green cabinet.

Sailor was certified as an EMT.

Sailor received his AA degree from a community college.

I learned how to make the perfect pie crust.

We had an ice storm and Sailor and I slid down our steep driveway on raincoats.

I threw my first Cinco de’ Mayo party.

Sailor was promoted, got a raise, and was able to quit the grocery store job.

We paid off the last of our debt (except the car).

We got internet.

Unfortunately I was consumed with all the bad things that were happening. We were still fighting, we had problems with our landlord, our storage area flooded, we still didn’t have many friends, Sailor was still tired and I was still lonely.

In May we celebrated our third anniversary and our first anniversary together. The same friend who took Sailor to work every day offered to babysit so we could go out on a date for our anniversary. Even though this guy had never held a baby or changed a diaper in his life we jumped at the chance for our first date night in several months.

Later that month Sailor drove baby girl and I to Dulles to catch a flight to Florida. After a year of living in Virginia I was going back home to see my sister graduate from high school. I was excited to have a break from my life.

Little did I know it would be nine years until I saw Harrisonburg, Virginia again.

Ransacked

I was happier than I had been in a long time while in Florida. My family didn’t have a lot of money either, but money doesn’t matter as much if you aren’t alone. :)

One day my entire family (parents, brother, sister and baby girl) headed about an hour away for my dad’s work party. We were going to be late for the party and my mom was not happy. We rushed out the door and didn’t bother picking up our “getting ready to leave” mess.

We spent the day swimming, eating, and riding SeaDoos on the river. It was awesome.

We didn’t arrive home until almost midnight and when we pulled into the driveway we noticed the front door was partially open.

We debated about what we should do, but finally we agreed that we needed to call the police. Within a few minutes the police arrived and entered my parent’s house. They were in the house for what seemed like an eternity.

They finally came out and told us there was no one inside, but that they believed the house had been broken into. They also said something about it being ransacked, but I kind of forgot that part because I was beginning to remember how we left it early that morning.

I’m sure my mother was mortified as we walked though the house. Clothes were everywhere, drawers were opened, the contents of my purse were dumped out on the coffee table and strewn all over the floor.

The problem… we made the mess. We were in such a hurry to leave we were the ones dumping things out, looking for sunglasses and car keys, changing outfits and not picking anything up.

Everyone thought it was funny…. everyone except mom.

Someone had broken into the house, but they never made it past the foyer. My parent’s little 20 pound blind and crippled dog scared off the intruders before they had a chance to find our treasures strewn all over the house.

I made a mental note to never again be so disorganized that my house looked like it had been ransacked while I was away.

A few days before I was scheduled to return to Virginia, Sailor called.

He had good news. We had been offered a house on base! My prayers had been answered. We would be able to live in the small base community. There was a playground and best of all… lots of families with kids! I could not wait to get back and start packing!

A few hours later Sailor called back. Given the type of things that happened to us in the past I figured we lost the house.

There was more good news. Sailor had been accepted into a commissioning program! He would spend the next three years going to college to become a nurse. We would have to pay for school, but the Navy would pay his salary.

I was stunned. Since the day we got married we had been focused on Sailor getting a commission. In fact in the week between Sailor asking me to marry him and us actually getting married, talks of him rejoining the Navy and getting a commission were frequent.

I mistakenly believed that a commission was the only way to solve our financial problems.

Nonetheless Sailor had been selected for this program and we needed to make a decision.

Do we give up the house on base, the job Sailor loved, and the beautiful mountains of West Virginia for a college degree, promotion, and pay raise?

Headaches and Hospitals

We gave it up.
At the last minute Sailor had applied to the University of Central Florida and was accepted into their nursing program. In a few short weeks we would be moving to Orlando!

Since I was already in Orlando we agreed I wouldn’t go back to Virginia, Sailor could oversee the move and be in Florida in a month.

I spent the next few weeks driving around with my future sister-in-law (although I didn’t know that at the time) looking for apartments.

I decided we needed a three bedroom apartment since baby girl #2 would be arriving at the end of the summer. I didn’t think a baby and a toddler would be able to share a room and I knew Sailor didn’t want to sleep with a baby in our room forever.

I finally found the perfect apartment, it was close to family… but not too close, in a nice part of town, and had tons of family friendly amenities.
It was double the rent from our Virginia apartment, but with the promotion and the raise I knew we could afford it. Sailor arrived in Florida and got a second job at Macaroni Grill waiting tables to help pay for his school.

We settled in to our apartment and quickly realized that a bottom apartment is not always the best choice. The people who lived directly above us were loud. They played basketball… in the kitchen… at two in the morning. If that wasn’t enough they used a rope to climb to their second story balcony. A rope that dangled down right in front of baby girl’s bedroom window.

We complained to the management and they said they would issue a warning. It continued, and got worse. I was starting to panic. We were due to have baby girl #2 in a month and there was no way she would be able to sleep through all this racket!

After being ignored by the management company for several days, we decided to exercise our 30 money back guarantee clause in our lease. We could break our lease without being penalized if we moved out within 30 days. I had 10 days to find a new place and move.

I asked my mother-in-law to help find a new house. And I do mean house. There was no way I was taking another chance on an apartment!

My mother-in-law found a property manager who showed us several possibilites. Each possibility was worse than the last. I remember standing in one house with Sailor talking about getting a guard dog so we would feel safe living there.

My mother-in-law put her foot down right then and there. She looked at the property manager and told him we would not be living in any of these homes. Surely he had something more suitable for a family.

The property manager stood there for a minute and then told us he owned a home that was for rent. The tenants had just moved out and it wasn’t clean, but we could see it.

We drove to the rental and when we turned onto the tree lined street I was already sold. We walked into a small but cute house that was just perfect for our family. It had three bedrooms, a bonus room and a huge screened back porch. It was close to everything and right down the street from a park.

We signed the lease on the spot and made plans to move.

We didn’t have much money, since we had a deposit on the apartment (which we wouldn’t get back for a few weeks) and we had a new deposit on the house. We moved things over piece by piece and finally one afternoon we rented an open trailer to move what little furniture we owned.

That afternoon I was waiting at the new house for my dad and Sailor to bring our furniture over from the apartment. Sailor called to let me know they were on their way.

Shortly after he hung up I heard thunder. Within minutes the sky opened up and a tremendous thunder storm hit our area.

I started to panic. All our furniture was on an open trailer… in the storm! I knew from the amount of rain coming down that everything would be ruined. We only had a few pieces of furniture and they were probably all floating down the highway.

I waited for over an hour with no word from Sailor. I knew they had left before the storm, but I didn’t know what happened after that. My head started to hurt thinking about all our ruined furniture.

Finally after about two hours Sailor appeared at the door. My head was pounding as he walked in soaking wet. I asked about our stuff and he told me they had pulled under the overpass right before the rain began. They waited there until the storm passed. Our stuff was damp, but not ruined. It would dry out in a few days.

I was relieved, but my head would not stop pounding. As I watched them unload our furniture my face started to twitch. A few minutes later my arm went numb. I laid down on the couch hoping no one would notice that I was having a problem. There were still many boxes to unpack and beds to put together. I figured if I rested for a minute I would be fine.

But I wasn’t fine, my head stopped hurting but I had lost feeling on one side of my body. I tried to get off the couch but I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. Sailor noticed something was wrong and asked what was going on. I tried to act like it was no big deal, but I couldn’t move one side of my face so it was pretty obvious I was in trouble.

Sailor picked me up (my whole nine months pregnant self) and rushed me to the emergency room.

After several hours at the hospital it was determined that I had a migraine that caused the temporary paralysis. They gave me a sleeping pill and some pain meds and sent me home.

I can’t remember which house I slept at that night, but I remember hoping it would never happen again.

I spent the next two weeks unpacking and getting the house together. Sailor worked at Macaroni Grill while we waited for baby girl #2 and school to begin.

One Saturday night I finished hanging all the pictures and joked that I could now go into labor because the unpacking was finished. I knew it wouldn’t happen any time soon because baby girl #1 was two weeks late, and I still had a week to go before my due date!

The next morning we hung out as a family before Sailor headed to work. After he left for work I started to feel bad. I couldn’t put my finger on it but something wasn’t right. To top it off I had to go to the bathroom about every 5 minutes.

I started to get concerned that I had a bladder infection.

Shortly before noon my mother called to let me know they were headed about an hour away to work on a house. She wanted to check in since Sailor was at work and they would be unavailable for the rest of the day.

I told her that I wasn’t feeling well and that I thought I might have a bladder infection. I asked if she could come over and watch baby girl while I went to the ER. I told her it wouldn’t take long, I probably needed some antibiotics and then would be sent home.

She came over right away and I was headed to the ER when she suggested I call Sailor at work and let him know where I was going. I didn’t think it was necessary to get everyone all worked up over a bladder infection, but I called him anyway.

He said we was leaving work immediately and taking me to the ER. I told him to stay at work and I would call if anything changed. Plus Sunday’s were great tip days and I didn’t want him to miss out on the extra money.

He was home before I could even get out the door and we headed to the ER.

Since the ER doesn’t like people to have babies in the ER they immediately sent me to Labor and Delivery. I told them I didn’t need to go to L&D and that I just needed antibiotics for a bladder infection. The didn’t really care what I thought and sent me upstairs.

When I got to L&D I once again explained that I just needed antibiotics. They wanted to hook me up to the monitor just in case.

I was hooked up to the monitor for almost three hours waiting for my antibiotics. The pain was getting worse and I knew that if they would just give me a prescription I would feel better in a few days.

While on the monitor I had five or six contractions over the course of three hours. Finally the nurse came in and told me that I didn’t have an infection and I wasn’t in labor so I would be discharged.

I was desperate. I begged Sailor to do something! I was in so much pain, something had to be wrong with me!

I’m not sure what happened next, but it was decided that they would check me before sending me home just to see if I was in early labor. A quick exam revealed that I was 8 cm dilated! I wasn’t going anywhere, we were going to meet baby girl #2.

They broke my water in hopes to get some regular contractions going. I begged for an epidural but it was too late. The baby was coming too quickly.
Less than five hours after we arrived at the ER for my bladder infection our baby was born.

I was in shock.
Baby girl…. was a BOY.

The Next Two Years

We had our boy and our girl, life was good. Everyone was thrilled with the ultrasound mistake, except we didn’t have a boy name. We spent the first night in the hospital looking through the hospital’s copy of 10,000 Baby Names for the perfect name for our baby.

I was excited to have a boy, but I was also confused. Several times during my pregnancy I had very vivid dreams about our family. It was always Sailor, myself and three little girls. I was sure God was showing me a glimpse into our future since so often I had no hope of a future with Sailor. I was confused as to how these very real dreams could be totally wrong!

I was thrilled with our little boy though and we soon agreed on a name and brought him home from the hospital.

All was well in the world until our sweet little boy was about three weeks old.

I do not remember much about the next four months. Our little boy was very, very sick. We were at the doctor’s office every few days. He would regularly stop breathing in our arms and he would choke and projectile vomit during almost every feeding. He didn’t smile, roll over, gain weight, or even make eye contact.

We were desperate. Our little girl had never been sick or even cried. She only went to the doctor for well check-ups. Our little boy had his own wing at the pediatrician’s office.

Not only did he suffer from chronic ear infections starting a two months old, thrush, failure to thrive and several other odd medical problems he had colic. He cried every night from 5 pm until 2 am. Not just cried but screamed, screamed until he threw up, choked, or stopped breathing.

No one would babysit him because they were afraid he would choke or stop breathing while we weren’t home, so there was never a break. Sailor didn’t handle the crying very well so I grew resentful that I was stuck with this sick, screaming baby, 24/7.

Finally when he was about four months old the colic stopped. The thrush went away and a few of the other issues were remedied as well. He was still very delayed, but at least he wasn’t turning blue and screaming all day.

After being confined to the house for almost five months, except for doctor’s visits, I decided to enroll in college to finish my last year of school. Sailor and I arranged our schedules so that we didn’t need a babysitter except for a few hours one day a week when our classes overlapped.

This new life worked. We didn’t spend much time time together so it was easier to get along. We made friends and reconnected with a few old friends.

About a year after our little boy was born our friends were babysitting while Sailor was at school and I was gone. Sailor got home before me and called to tell me to come home right away. Something was wrong.

I arrived home to find Sailor holding our son (wearing nothing but a diaper) in front of a portable fan. He didn’t look quite right. Sailor told me he had taken his temperature and it was 107.6. I told Sailor our thermometer must be wrong, but he did seem very, very sick.

He gave him a dose of motrin while I waited on hold for Tricare to give us permission to take him to the ER. (We had taken him to the ER previously without approval and ended up with huge co-pays that we couldn’t afford to pay) We finally got approval for an ER 20 minutes away instead of the one that was 3 minutes away. We put him in his car seat and raced across town to the ER.

I honestly didn’t think he would make it to the ER. During our ride his eyes fluttered and rolled back and he was unresponsive.

When we got to the ER his temperature was 106. I don’t really remember what happened that night in the ER, except that I went out of the room because I couldn’t stand to watch them start an IV on him and learned that Princess Diana had been in a car accident and died.

After several hours and numerous tests the ER doctors and nurses had no real answer for our son’s high fever. They told us they didn’t know if he had any brain damage from the fever and that we probably wouldn’t know for several years. We took our little boy home and watched over him for several days, worried the mysterious fever would return.

It never did and life continued. I graduated from college and settled into my role as a mom and wife. I learned to cook and clean (sort of) and was busy with my two kids. I got a job at our church with the children’s ministry and once again Sailor and I settled into our routine of being gone when the other was home. It worked.

One of our favorite family activities was going to garage sales on Saturday mornings. We would load the kids up in the car and drive around town with a newspaper and a map looking for great deals. During that time I learned about a little website called eBay. I couldn’t believe people were selling junk online and people were buying. I spent my free time researching how eBay worked and quickly realized that selling items I purchase at garage sales on eBay was an easy way to earn money.

My first sale, a pair of ceramic siamese cat salt and pepper shakers. I paid $0.05 for them at a yard sale and sold them for over $50 on eBay. I was hooked.

I quit my job at the church and devoted most of my free time to eBay. It was nice earn extra money, especially with all the co-pays we had for our children with chronic ear infections, asthma, and other illnesses.

My working from home was not the best thing for our marriage. With Sailor going to school full-time he had a lot of free time at home. It was hard to figure out how to get along like normal people. We had many fights that lasted for days. We ended up in counseling, again.

One day in December we got into an exceptionally bad argument. Sailor’s anger seemed worse than usual and he was so spun up during the argument I was concerned he might do something stupid.  Then all of a sudden he collapsed to the floor. I was secretly happy that his yelling made him pass out, but scared at the same time. I yelled at him to get up and he said he would…. in a minute. But he couldn’t get up. He told me he was “taking a break” from arguing. I told him that no one takes a break from arguing and lays flat on the floor.

He finally got up and the argument was forgotten. I told him something must be wrong with him because no one yells loud enough to fall down. He said he would see a doctor soon.

A few nights later we were at a Christmas concert at church. In the middle of the concert Sailor leaned over to me and whispered:

Sailor: After the concert is over I need you to take me to the ER.

Me: What????

Sailor: I think I’m having a heart attack.

Me: What????

Sailor: A heart attack.

Me: If you are having a heart attack we need to go right now!

Sailor: I don’t want to make a scene.

Me: It will be a bigger scene when the paramedics drag your dead body out of this auditorium.

Sailor: Fine, but we’re going to miss the finale and you love the finale.

Me: We are going now!

I then leaned over to my dad and said, “After the concert pick up the kids and meet us at the ER, Sailor is having a heart attack.”

By the time we had walked out of the building half my family was following us. I told them not to worry and we’d see them soon.

We headed to the ER and were admitted immediately, apparently “chest pain” is the keyword for getting to the front of the line at the ER.

They admitted him for a few days and ran every test possible. He was totally fine. They couldn’t explain the chest pain or the earlier collapse but suggested it might be stress.

After Sailor was discharged I was afraid to leave him with the kids. His behavior was erratic and I wasn’t sure if he could handle a two and four year-old alone.

One day, against my better judgment he convinced me to go Christmas shopping while he watched the kids. I had been gone about 45 minutes when I received a phone call to come home immediately. Apparently Sailor had been talking to my aunt on the phone and all of a sudden the phone went dead. No one could reach my house. My mom was headed over there to see what was wrong but I needed to come home too.

I rushed home and opened my front door to find Sailor lying face down on the ground and my two year-old screaming next to him.

The Tumor

I panicked when I walked into the house. I couldn’t tell who was hurt. I checked our toddler first and once I realized he was okay I tried to figure out what was wrong with Sailor.

He kept mumbling something and finally I realized he wanted me to check his blood pressure. I did and thought I made a mistake. It was 220/115. I took it again and it was the same. Sailor said he thought he was having a stroke. First a heart attack now a stroke… I couldn’t believe this was happening.

My mom arrived and I rushed Sailor to the ER. They took us right back (note: crazy high blood pressure will also get you right in to the ER) and Sailor was freaking out. He was sure he was dying. His cries of pain were so loud that the nurse asked him to hold it down because there were children around.

They admitted him to the hospital for tests and once again could not find anything wrong with him.

After he was discharged I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone with the kids. There was something wrong with him, but no one could figure out what it was.

A few weeks later his doctor at the VA Hospital tested him for a rare tumor. The test came back positive.

We were unsure what this diagnosis would mean for our family. What we knew was that Sailor had a rare tumor and that most people die from the tumor before it is found. We were fortunate.

They did an ultrasound to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor. During the ultrasound the tech asked Sailor if he had ever had cancer. He said no, he then asked if he had any previous abdominal surgeries, once again no.

Unbeknownst to Sailor he only had one kidney!

Thankfully this would have no effect on the tumor, but it was definitely unexpected.

The only cure was to remove the tumor, but the surgery was extremely risky. One mistake in the operating room could kill Sailor.

The VA Hospital wouldn’t handle such a complex case and he was assigned a surgeon at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville. He was given medicine to reduce his blood pressure for the surgery. A spike in blood pressure during the surgery could result in a stroke or even death. To complicate things the tumor needed to be separated from his body completely before they could touch the tumor – if not he could die.

The blood pressure medicine had some serious side effects and Sailor had to withdraw from nursing school. He was unable to drive and even walking became difficult.

He had to take the medicine for four weeks before they could operate. During that time Sailor grew very depressed, he thought was going to die during the surgery. The night before the surgery we drove up to Jacksonville and stopped for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Sailor said he wanted Mexican food for his “last meal.”

That evening Sailor ate like I had never seen him eat before. He was so stuffed that he couldn’t even get out of the booth. I anxiously sat in the booth waiting for Sailor to digest his last meal, I’m sure all my fidgeting finally convinced him he could make it to the car. We left and I dropped him off at the hospital and checked into a hotel to spend the night.

The next morning I hurried with Sailor’s parents to the hospital to see him before the surgery. We walked into the hospital room to find a half-dead looking Sailor lying in the bed.

We rushed over to him, thinking they had already given him a sedative before the surgery.

We were wrong.

Apparently the night before Sailor had been given two bottles of the stuff that cleans you out prior to surgery drink. The drink combined with enough Mexican food to feed a Mariachi band meant Sailor had spent the entire night in the bathroom. It got so bad that he finally just slept on the toilet.

He wasn’t drugged, he was exhausted.

I figured I would be sad before saying goodbye to him, but the thought of him sitting on the toilet all night with his IV pole made me giggle so I left feeling more happy than worried.

I don’t remember how long the surgery lasted but I do remember receiving occasional updates from the nurse. Things were going well but they ended up having to do a more invasive procedure than they initially expected. Instead of a few small incisions Sailor would have a fifteen inch incision across his stomach and recovery would be long and painful.

Finally the surgery was over and they allowed me into the recovery room to see him. He didn’t look good, but he was alive. I said a few things and then had to leave and wait for him to be transferred to the ICU.

When we were finally allowed to see Sailor in the ICU I was shocked. He was hooked up to so many tubes and wires you could hardly tell it was him. He wasn’t in a regular bed, he was in a chair that inflated and deflated with his movement.

Sailor hated the chair. Every chance he could he would try to move his body away from the chair, but it would inflate and press against him. He was frustrated and in pain.

It was hard to see Sailor in the ICU but it was better than the alternative.

After a few days Sailor was moved out of the ICU and into a regular room. Sailor was anxious to get home because the hospital was two hours away and visits were difficult. Finally after ten days he was released.

Our daughter ended up needing surgery on the same day Sailor was released from the hospital so his parents brought him home since I was at a different hospital. After I brought our daughter home I set up two hospital stations in the living room. Our daughter got the love seat and Sailor got the couch.

That evening my parents came over to visit. Sailor laid on one couch and we sat around talking. My father, who had major surgery a few years earlier, started cracking hospital jokes.

They were funny, really funny. I was glad to be laughing after so many months of stress. Sailor was laughing too… but he didn’t want to laugh. He asked my dad to stop the jokes, but my dad couldn’t, he was on a roll.

I finally told my dad that if he didn’t stop telling jokes he would be the one taking Sailor to the ER when he busted a stitch, or two.

My parents went home.

An hour later my father was on his way to the ER with Sailor.

Limbo

My father was on his way to the ER with Sailor. Apparently all the laughing and a reaction to the tape used on the incision had caused “stuff” to start seeping out from the bandages.

Since I’m not one to back down from a threat, I made my father take Sailor to the ER while I tended to our daughter and tried to get some sleep.

Sailor was fixed up at the ER and sent home. He spent the next month recuperating from his surgery.

The surgery put Sailor in a strange situation. All his nursing school classmates graduated that May, but because he had to withdraw from the spring semester he didn’t have enough clinical hours to graduate and was missing a few credit hours. The problem was the classes he needed were only available in the Spring and the Navy wasn’t going to pay for Sailor to spend another year in school.

We spent several weeks in limbo trying to work something out where Sailor could still graduate with his nursing degree in a time frame that was acceptable to the Navy. This was extremely stressful because we were now strapped with three years of student loans and looking at the possibility that Sailor might have to return to his old job in the Navy without a degree.

Finally, the University came up with a special program that would allow Sailor to finish his degree in November. It was something that hadn’t been done before but everyone wanted him to graduate rather than drop out.

He began independent study work and also picked up a part time job as a tech in the burn unit at the local hospital. Not only would it give him medical experience it was extra money every month to pay the bills.

While it was great experience working at the burn unit, every day at the hospital made Sailor more and more certain he did not want to be a nurse. He felt like the entire thing was a huge mistake and he wanted to give it all up and go back to his old job.

We spent hours talking and arguing about his situation. While it was a possibility to quit and go back to his old job it would most likely end his career in the Navy and then he’d be without a degree or a job. I told him once he graduated it would get better. Being a nursing student was not the same as being a nurse and I was sure he would find a place in nursing he would enjoy.

We were excited to find out a few months after Sailor’s surgery that we were expecting another baby. Since we had such a terrible time with baby boy Sailor was pretty much convinced he didn’t want any more children. I really wanted three and it took over a year to convince Sailor that not all babies were as sick as our little boy.

A few days after we told everyone we were expecting we lost the baby.

I couldn’t help but think it was because we bombed the house for bugs a few days earlier. I’ll never know for sure, but we’ve never bombed our house for bugs since.

Our cute little house on the tree lined street was wonderful, except it was always crawling with bugs.

First there were the carpenter ants.

During a bad storm a tree fell on our roof. The roof was repaired but not before the wood got wet and made a great home for the carpenter ants. We started seeing them here and there and told our landlord. He said he would send someone out to take care of it.

They didn’t come soon enough. One evening we were eating dinner with friends, spaghetti with clam sauce (I’ll never forget), and a carpenter ant dropped on the table. We all dismissed it as a random bug and then another fell, and then another. They started falling out of the light in our ceiling like raindrops.

We all started screaming and I was frantically trying to protect the clam sauce our friends had prepared. By the time they stopped falling there were several hundred ants on our table and dining area. We did what any other poor college students who had splurged on an expensive meal would do. We spread a sheet down on the living room floor and ate our dinner there.

We also had bees. The giant oak tree in the front yard had a massive nest and on certain days it was like a game to get into the house without letting a bee in with you. Once evening Sailor had gone to get a sub for me. He walked into the house and headed towards the kitchen to get a plate for the sub. After a few seconds I heard a scream and then a crash. I ran into the kitchen to find Sailor standing with his shirt off and my sub all over the floor.

Apparently a bee had flown up Sailor’s shirt and stung him. He threw the sub in the air while frantically trying to get his shirt off. I could not believe he had dropped my sub because of a bee sting! I mean don’t get between me and my Subway! He went back to Subway and explained what happend. They felt so bad for him they gave him a replacement sub for free!

The roaches were the worst. You have’t experienced roaches until you live in Florida. For some reason they liked our fireplace, and a few times a year they would launch an attack. Once the fearless exterminator was at our house when an ash covered roach dashed out from our fireplace. He smashed it with his bare hands. I was grossed out and impressed all at the same time.

We loved our little house but it sure was buggy!

We kept busy that summer throwing birthday parties for our kids and getting them ready for the school year. Our little girl would be starting kindergarten, I couldn’t believe it! She was always a social and outgoing girl so we knew she was just going to love her class.

The first day of school we dropped her off in a room full of kids we didn’t know. It didn’t feel quite right, but I didn’t think there were any other options. Christian school was too expensive and the only homeschoolers I knew were weird.

Just as we started our school year routine we found out we were expecting again. We were excited but didn’t want to tell anyone because of what happened before. We decided we would wait until I was farther along before we spilled the beans.

Sailor finished his classes in November and was commissioned. We had a big ceremony and his parents threw a large party afterwards. It kind of felt like the wedding we never had. Except Sailor was the center of attention, not me. :)

The movers came to pack up our house three days before Christmas that year. I couldn’t believe we would be leaving our little house on the tree lined street. For some reason I thought we would always live there, we had put down roots and it was hard to think about leaving our friends and family.

We wouldn’t be leaving quite yet though, Sailor was going to school in Rhode Island for six weeks and I would stay with my parents while he was gone. Moving back in with my parents felt strange, but I didn’t want to stay by myself for six weeks so it worked.

Sailor and I talked frequently while he was in training, mostly we talked about how cold Rhode Island was in January. It was so cold the door handles of his little red Volkswagon snapped off when his roommate tried to get into the car. I couldn’t imagine such cold weather, but I didn’t have to. In early February I took a trip up to Rhode Island to see Sailor. When I wasn’t freezing to death it was fun.

While the kids were in school I spent my time researching our next duty station, Portsmouth, Virginia. We were only given three choices and Portsmouth seemed the most affordable out of the three.

My number one priority was finding a house near a good school. Before my kids were school-aged I didn’t realize that your entire life revolved around school districts. I grew frustrated as I started to realize that all the houses in the good school districts were out of our price range.

The plan was for Sailor to finish school in Rhode Island and then go to Virginia to find us a place to live. The day he graduated he called to let me know he was on the road. I told him to call me when he arrived in Virginia. He was getting a late start, the weather was bad, and his car was old, plus Sailor had a horrible sense of direction. I was worried he might not make it to Virginia until the middle of the night.

I heard from Sailor several hours later. I was worried because he should have been very close to Portsmouth but he told me he was at a gas station in a city nowhere near his route. We only talked for a few minutes and he said he had to get back on the road. I was sure Sailor was totally lost.

I went to bed very worried.

I woke up the next morning with no word from Sailor. I was sure he would be calling any minute. But he never called. It had been almost sixteen hours since he left Rhode Island and it was only a ten hour drive to Virginia. I told myself that he probably checked into the hotel late into the evening and was still asleep.

The day went on and still no word from Sailor. I was growing more and more concerned. I called the people we knew in Virginia to see if they had heard from him and they hadn’t.

It had been almost twenty-four hours since he left Rhode Island and except for our brief phone call, no one had seen or heard from Sailor. Where was he?

Moving to Virginia

I was really starting to get worried. It wasn’t like Sailor to not call even if things weren’t good. To help pass the time I took the kids outside and started swinging on my parent’s porch swing. We hadn’t been swinging very long when I heard a familiar sound. It was the sound of our old Volkswagon’s brakes squeaking.

I smiled, but then I realized that our Volkswagon was somewhere in Virginia! I guess someone else had squeaky brakes too. The next thing I knew there was Sailor in his white uniform with a bouquet of flowers walking up my parent’s driveway. He had missed us so much he drove straight from Rhode Island to Florida to see us!

I couldn’t believe my eyes and neither could the kids. We all ran and hugged Sailor. I was still a tiny bit mad at him for making me think he was dead or stranded in a snow bank, but mostly I was glad to see him.

Sailor decided that it would be better if we all went to Virginia together. He had vacation time available so we would enjoy one last week in Florida then caravan up to Virginia together.

During the week in Florida I realized I had made a bit of a packing error. Instead of not packing the kids’ winter clothes, I packed them all in our shipment. Our kids had a few pairs of pants, no coats, and we would be moving to Virginia in February.

I didn’t think this would be a problem until I headed to the stores to buy them coats. What I forgot was that in February all the stores are gearing up for Spring Break and the winter clothes selection was severely limited. I finally found a few winter things that could hold us over until we found a house in Virginia.

We arrived in Virginia and checked in to the Navy Lodge. We had ten days of “free” lodging, so that meant we had exactly ten days to find a place to live. We were also in a hurry because we had pulled our daughter out of school and we couldn’t enroll her in a new school until we knew where we would be living.

Sailor also had to check-in to the hospital and start working. I spent my days at the Housing Office getting lists of rentals and driving around town checking out different neighborhoods.

We looked at house after house and just couldn’t seem to find the right house for us. They were either too far away, too small, the school district wasn’t very good, or the neighborhood seemed sketchy. The pressure was on to find a house because we were running out of time.

We fell in love with an area that had great schools and seemed very Navy friendly. Unfortunately the houses were way out of our budget. I kept hoping we could find a “fixer upper” that would be priced a little lower. On the seventh or eighth day I found a house for rent in that neighborhood. We called and made an appointment to look at it.

Since Sailor was working most of our appointments were in the afternoon or early evening. We arrived at this house around sunset.

The first problem with this house was that it was on a busy street, a six lane road that seemed to be buzzing with traffic. We did notice that the house had a nice big backyard so we rationalized that as long as the kids played in the back yard they would be safe.

The second problem with the house was that it didn’t have a garage, carport, or shed. Not that a garage is a necessity, but we wondered where we would put any extra boxes, bikes, toys, and Christmas decorations.

The landlord met us at the house and we headed inside. Problem number three, the house didn’t any electricity. It was wired for electricity, but because there was no one living in the house it wasn’t turned on. We were now inside a fairly dark house so it was hard to see what everything looked like.

I could tell the carpet in the house was older because it was kind of “crunchy.” The kitchen was big, but the appliances were older and dirty. It didn’t seem like anything a good scrubbing couldn’t fix. The linoleum in the kitchen was cracked in several places and very dirty, but I rationalized that  dirty floor would probably have to be cleaned less often.

There was a small half-bath under the stairs. It was one of those bathrooms that was so small that you could sit on the toilet and wash your hands at the same time. In fact you couldn’t really even stand up all the way in the bathroom if you were over six feet tall.

On the way upstairs I noticed a big box on the wall in the stairwell. I asked what it was and the landlord said it was the air conditioning. I had never seen six foot air conditioner unit mounted to a wall, but I figured it probably was similar to a window unit. He said it worked and since it was forty degrees in the unheated house I had to believe him.

Upstairs there were two huge bedrooms and two small bedrooms. The walls were dingy but the landlord said we could paint them. (Selling point number one)

There was one bathroom upstairs. The tub was cracked and peeling but it at least there was a tub to wash the kids.

I asked where the laundry room was and the landlord told us it was in the basement. The fact that the house had a basement solved our storage problems so the house was starting to seem like a possibility.

It was too dark to actually look at the basement so we headed back to the living room to discuss the rent and move in options.

Although the house was definitely a wreck, we were running out of time to find a place and I hoped my dad would be able to come up and help us improve the place a little. As we were talking in the living room a mouse ran across the carpet.

Now, let me interrupt this story to say that if you are ever considering renting a house and a mouse runs across the floor while you are looking at it, DO NOT RENT THE HOUSE.

In my heart I didn’t think we should rent the house, but it felt like our only option so we signed the lease. We could move in the next day.

The next morning I picked up the keys and headed over to see what our new house looked like in the sunshine.

The Mouse House

It was hard to believe that the house was actually worse in the daylight than in the dark. The light revealed how dirty the house really was. I quickly got to work cleaning every square inch of that place before we moved in.

I remember cleaning the windows and going through two rolls of paper towels. Each window was covered with a layer of black dirt (which we later found out was soot). We cleaned the appliances several times over and I even ventured into the basement to sweep it out.

Thankfully I didn’t see any mice in my cleaning. Maybe it was just crazy coincidence that we saw a mouse the day we looked at the house?

The moving truck came, delivered our stuff, and we quickly got to work setting up our new home in Virginia. I think I had the whole house unpacked in less than a week. I wanted to be settled before the baby arrived.

In Florida, Sailor was told by the military not to take his nursing exam in Florida since he would be working in Virginia. This was a mistake (or maybe not). There was a problem getting the paperwork together for him to take the exam in Virginia and since he wasn’t licensed he couldn’t officially work as a nurse at the hospital. He was given a day job until the paperwork mess was sorted out.

The paperwork mess lasted almost six months. While all our nursing friends worked rotating shifts Sailor worked from 7-4 and had most weekends off. It was nice.

A few weeks after we moved in I went into the basement and it was filled with about two feet of water. Sailor tried to figure out the source of the water. The kids splashed and played in our basement swimming pool. I was worried that our washer and dryer would be ruined and called the landlord.

Our landlord sent over a repairman who couldn’t figure out the source of the leak but managed to get the water out of the basement. While cleaning up the mess we found a large piece of plywood under the stairs. Scrawled on the plywood were the words… “the basement floods….”

Of course that would have been nice to know before we put all our extra boxes in the basement, but fortunately only a things were ruined. We bought cinderblocks to put the washer and dryer on in case of future flooding and put anything worth saving on makeshift shelving.

The basement flooded several more times until a plumber finally figured out that tree roots had grown into the underground pipes in the yard. Our basement had been backing up with sewage!

I hated that basement and hated that I had to go down there almost every day to do the laundry.

Spring arrived in Virginia and the kids were enjoying the nice back yard. We met our “back yard neighbors” and we even built steps so they could climb the fence.

One night in the back yard Sailor saw a rat running across the power line. A few weeks later there was a dead rat under our car in the driveway. I still hadn’t seen any in the house but was starting to get worried.

At seven months pregnant I strained my back moving furniture. It was so bad I wasn’t able to walk our daughter to school. I went to the doctor and he gave me muscle relaxers but I refused to take them. It was getting so bad that I was unable to do basic chores around the house.

The doctor kept telling me that I needed to rest for a few days in order to get better. I told him that mom’s don’t have time to rest. He told me if I didn’t he would admit me to the hospital for some forced rest. It got so bad that my daughter came home from school with a picture she had drawn. It was me moving the coffee table and she was standing in the background crying, she had a bubble over her head that said, “No mommy, no!”

I decided I would take the muscle relaxers and rest for a few days. My back finally started to feel better.

One evening the kids woke up in the middle of the night screaming. Even though they had their own rooms they always slept in the same room. They loved being together! We ran in the room and they both told us they saw a mouse run across the room and under the bed.

They knew about the rats in the yard, so we wondered if it was just their imagination. They were sure it wasn’t. Sailor searched the room for a mouse but couldn’t find anything. They wouldn’t go back to sleep so we all ended up sleeping together.

I started to worry about our new baby, I didn’t want mice crawling all over them as he or she slept in the crib. I had never seen a live mouse in the house (except for the day we signed the lease) but I was starting to believe they were everywhere.

May arrived and the temperature started to rise in Virginia. We turned on our odd wall a/c unit and it made some horrible sounds and then died. We called our landlord and he said he didn’t think it could be fixed.

Now, everyone knows you don’t tell a woman who is nine months pregnant that the a/c cannot be fixed. They will hurt you. I didn’t even last 24 hours, I told Sailor he needed to go straight to Home Depot and buy a window unit for our bedroom. We could all sleep in there until the landlord did something about the air.

Since the unit was so old it couldn’t be fixed so the landlord decided to put window units in a few of the rooms. It wasn’t ideal, but at least I wasn’t a big, hot, sweaty mess.

Memorial Day weekend Sailor’s family came to visit. We had a great time and on Memorial Day Sailor had to work. I woke up feeling a little funny and since last time I felt funny I had a baby a few hours later so I decided to head to the hospital.

Sailor was already there working and my doctor was on call. He decided I was in early labor so I was admitted. We were going to have a Memorial Day baby.

We still didn’t have a name picked out so we joked with the doctor and nurses about baby names, played cards, and hung out with our friends (all who worked at the hospital). It was weird knowing most of the doctor’s and nurses, but it was also kind of nice.

Our healthy and happy baby boy was born that evening, just in time for our doctor to make his Memorial Day party. I felt great until I was taken to the post partum floor.

Apparently the people who redesigned the hospital thought it would be a good idea to have people share rooms (and bathrooms) after they have a baby. (These people had obviously never had a baby) So there I was with our baby, and on the other side of the curtain was another lady and her baby. I didn’t sleep a single second that night. If my baby wasn’t crying her baby was. It was horrible. .

When Sailor came to visit the next day I cried and told him he had to get me out of the hospital. I couldn’t stand to be there one more second. Unfortunately our baby needed to circumcised and that wasn’t going to happen until the next day.

Fortunately my roommate was discharged that afternoon and I think Sailor pulled a few strings so I didn’t end up with another roommate that night.

The next day I couldn’t wait to get home see my other kids. They took happy baby off to be circumcised and I started packing up my stuff. They brought him back all bundled up and sound asleep. I waited for my discharge paperwork and Sailor to come take us home.

The paperwork took longer than expected and I ended up waiting for over two hours. Finally happy baby woke up and I went to change his diaper. I unwrapped him from the blanket and saw blood running down his legs.

I took off his diaper and it was filled with blood.

I’m Not Leaving….

I saw the blood in the diaper and having already been through this experience with my older son I knew it was not normal.

I panicked, ran back to my hospital bed, grabbed the phone and called one of my friends who was a nurse. When she answered I told her that something was very wrong and that happy baby’s diaper was full of blood.

She told me to hang up the phone immediately and call the nurse on duty. She couldn’t help me from her living room.

I pushed the nurse’s button and waited forever (at least it seemed like forever) for the nurse to come to the room. When she finally arrived she had my discharge paperwork in hand and told me I could go home as soon as someone came to pick up me.

I told her I was not going anywhere until I knew what was wrong with happy baby. She peaked into his diaper and told me that was normal. I told her it was not normal and I wasn’t going anywhere.

She was obviously very frustrated that I was refusing to sign my discharge paperwork. Finally she told me she would call the intern to come and talk to me. I told her that I would not talk to any intern or resident and that I wasn’t leaving until I saw the staff doctor.

She was getting very irritated with me, but I stood my ground. It was all I could do to not burst into tears. I was exhausted, afraid, and very mad.

Finally the intern showed up. I politely told her that I did not want to talk to her, I wanted to talk to the staff doctor. She tried to explain what happened to happy baby, I told her that I wasn’t going to listen to her and that a staff doctor better get in my room or else.

Now, I’m not really sure what the or else meant, but when you have just had a baby, shared a toilet with another lady who just had a baby, and haven’t slept for three days “or else” means something.

Finally the staff doctor showed up. He explained to me that when they started the circumcision they noticed a possible malformation and the only way to fix the malformation was to use part of the skin normally removed in a circumcision.

They had to stop the procedure in the middle in order to save the skin for a possible future operation because the malformation could not be confirmed until our son was older.

Basically our son had half a circumcision and that was the reason for the increased bleeding.

I was aghast. I could not believe the hospital was planning on discharging me and happy baby without even telling me what had happened. When I shared my concern with the doctor he told me there was a note on my paperwork to NOT discharge me until he had come to explain the situation.

The ward was filling up and the nurse was in a hurry to put a new patient in my room so she ignored the instructions and had planned to send me home without any knowledge of the partial procedure.

I was livid. In fact I was so angry that I do not even remember what I said or did after that moment until Sailor arrived at the hospital.

Sailor arrived and I made a mental note to never have a baby in a military hospital again. This was our first military hospital birth and it was going to be my last!

Earlier that morning I called Sailor and asked for some clothes to wear home from the hospital. I requested my sweat pants and also asked if he would buy me some underwear suitable for wearing after you’ve had a baby.

In his hurry to get to the hospital he grabbed a skirt by mistake and bought the biggest, ugliest pair of granny panties you could imagine at Target on the way. I hesitated even putting them on because they went up to my neck (I’m only sort of kidding) but since I didn’t have any other options I wore my skirt and granny panties home from the hospital.

It was time to start our life as a family of five.

Amy

When I look back on my life as a mom there is one person who probably influenced me more than anyone else. Her name is Amy. Shortly after we moved into the Mouse House, Amy and her family moved into the house behind us.

She had four kids, which was a lot in my opinion! Happy Baby was a newborn when I met her and to see someone who was able to get four kids dressed and out the door in the morning gave me hope that I could manage my three.

Our kids played together over the summer and when school began in the fall we started our morning routine of walking to school together. All our kids, strollers, backpacks, toys, snacks, and whatever else our little kids would bring along.

I remember one fall morning her toddler had a cold. He sneezed and had a big booger coming out of his nose. Amy took her hand and wiped the booger off his face, then bent down and cleaned her hand off in the wet grass.

I was shocked! I asked her why she didn’t just use his jacket to wipe his face. She replied that if she used his jacket she would have to wash it when she got home and it was a lot easier to wash her hand than a jacket.

I was sold.

Amy made pizza crust from scratch, decorated her house in Playmobil, and even let her kids cut up Christmas cards and photos they received for crafts. She kept spare clothes for each of her kids in the car in case they stopped at the beach while running errands.

She let her kids get dirty, make mistakes, and solve problems. She was a very involved mom, but never overbearing or controlling.

Amy was the mom I wanted to be.

One day Amy asked if I knew anything about homeschooling. I told her I knew a few people at church who homeschooled but I really didn’t know much about it. She said her son was struggling in school and she wondered if homeschooling might be a better option for him that year.

I told her I could invite my friend over for lunch and she could talk to her about homeschooling. The day my friend showed up I decided to stay at Amy’s house and listen to her “homeschool speech.”

I had no interest in homeschooling, but I didn’t want to leave my  friend alone at Amy’s in case she felt awkward. Our ten kids played while my friend gave Amy all sorts of details about homeschooling.

It was interesting but definitely not something I would ever consider. I liked our little neighborhood school and our daughter had just been accepted into the gifted program. We were excited about her opportunities (as much as you can be for a first grader).

My homeschool friend left and Amy and I discussed the pros and cons about homeschooling. Amy had such an opened mind about it, she wasn’t sure if she was going to homeschool her son but I knew that whatever she chose to do it wouldn’t be without a lot of thought, prayer, and research.

Over the next few months during our school walks we talked off and on about homeschooling. Her son was adjusting well to the new school but my daughter was bored. The gifted program wasn’t really designed for first graders at her school so she spent her gifted time reading to other kids.

Sailor and I didn’t mind her doing all the extra reading, but we thought a first grader reading to another first grader every single day and calling it “gifted class” was a stretch.

That Christmas we excitedly went to the school Christmas performance. I was a bit surprised when the children sangs songs about Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, and Santa. Where was the Jesus song?

I came home and told Sailor I was upset that they kids were taught songs about several holidays, but not a song about the Christian holiday. He agreed. I didn’t expect the school to only sing Jesus songs or even make the kids sing a song, but to leave it out when they sang about other December holidays bothered me.

It bothered me all winter break. We looked into Christian schools but they were too expensive, we even went to a homeschool bookstore but I got overwhelmed and walked out empty handed.

In the back of my mind I knew public school was no longer my first choice, but I felt like I didn’t have any other options.

Two days before school resumed we dis-enrolled our daughter from school and filed homeschool paperwork with the state of Virginia. I had no homeschool experience, curriculum, or even a vague idea of what I was doing.

I just knew it was the right choice for our family.

Our Home Sweet School

Unlike many families who have researched homeschooling for years before they actually started on the journey, I had researched homeschooling for about two weeks.

My friend who earlier in the year had come over to talk to Amy about homeschooling, lent us her first grade Bob Jones curriculum so I only needed to purchase a few workbooks to get started.

Homeschooling our six year-old was a breeze. She loved to do her schoolwork and we were always finished with school before noon. I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to be finished by noon, but even when I gave her extra assignments she flew through the work.

The biggest challenge to homeschooling was getting my four year-old back in forth to preschool every morning. It was only a block from our house, but once I didn’t have to get dressed (and bundle the baby up) to take our six year-old to school it was much harder to get our four year-old to school.

We managed and I thought it was good for our son to spend some time away from me twice a week. His sickly early years had made him extremely clingy and unwilling to go with anyone else other than me (and sometimes Sailor). He cried every single time I dropped him off at preschool.

I talked to his teacher numerous times about it and she said he was a “sad child” in class but otherwise on target for his age. I wondered how I was going to homeschool this child who didn’t seem to care one bit about holding a pencil, cutting paper, coloring, or looking at books.

My second biggest challenge homeschooling was the cold. That year natural gases prices increased drastically. Our old and drafty house would not stay warm. The first month it was cold we kept the heat at 60 degrees and our gas bill alone was over $300 for a month. We couldn’t afford to pay any more for gas.

Sailor would come home from work with stories of co-workers who had $900 gas bills and were in danger of their heat being turned off by the gas company.

I didn’t know how we were going to survive the winter with out going deeper into debt.

We tried using the fireplace, but it was broken and there was no way for the smoke to escape via the chimney. The first time we had a fire the entire house filled with smoke and we ended up having to open every window and door in the house to air it out. This made our house even colder and explained all the black soot on the windows I cleaned off when we first moved in.

After a few weeks of wearing heavy coats, hats and scarves in our living room to stay warm we decided to buy two electric space heaters. We put one in the kids’ room and one in our bedroom. I let happy baby sleep with me since I was worried he would get too cold in the nursery.

When we woke up in the morning we would take the heaters downstairs and use them in the dining room (school room) and living room. While our electric bills went up, it kept our gas bill under $300.

One cold afternoon I headed down to the basement to start some laundry.

Ever since the flood I hated doing laundry ( I mean I never really liked it before, but…). When we lived in Panama our washer and dryer were outside under our stilt house and in Florida our washer and dryer were in an un-airconditioned space that you had to go out of the house and then into a little room to use. In this house the washer and dryer were in the stinky, wet basement. I remember joking with Sailor that I would know I had “arrived” when my washer and dryer were actually IN the house.

Our washer and dry sat on cinder blocks to keep them from rusting during the flooding. That day I noticed a little gray sock peaking out from under the washer. Since missing socks is one of my pet peeves I grabbed the gray sock to throw it in the laundry.

As soon as I touched the sock I realized it wasn’t a sock at all. It was as shriveled up, flattened dead mouse!

I screamed and ran upstairs. I announced to anyone that could hear me that I would not be doing laundry again until we moved out of this house!

Our lease was due to renew in a month but we really couldn’t afford to move. I didn’t want to stay one extra day in the mouse house, but moving seemed impossible.

Then one day Amy stopped by. While her house wasn’t full of mice, it did have its share of old house issues. She told me they had been offered a house on base. I was devastated! Living next to Amy made our mouse house tolerable. If she moved on base I would be all alone.

I was also surprised she was offered a house on base. Base housing was only for 0-5 and above and her husband was an 0-4. I asked her why they were offered a house and she explained that they couldn’t fill the housing with the higher ranking officers so they were offering it to the lower ranks.

I had an idea. What if we could get a house on base? If we were offered a house on base the Navy would pay to move us (since there was no housing available when we relocated to Norfolk) and utilities would be included so we could stop freezing!

I shared my plan with Sailor and while he thought it was a long shot he agreed to go to the housing office and find out what the real story was.

Meanwhile I spent the afternoon driving down the streets of housing and was surprised to see several houses with junior officers living in them. (They posted the name and rank above the garage)

Sailor came home from the housing office with bad news. Because he was so junior they wouldn’t let us have a house, even though there were several available. I was so upset. I really believed that God was giving us a way out of the mouse house so I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t going to work!

A few days later I was taking our son to preschool and I ran into another Navy wife that lived in our neighborhood. She told me they were offered a house on base. Her husband was only one rank above mine so I knew the housing office hadn’t been honest with Sailor.

I raced home and woke Sailor up (from his 3rd shift) and told him he had to go back to the housing office get the truth. I knew my friend from preschool wasn’t going to accept the house, so couldn’t we just have it?

My husband headed back to the housing office to see if there was any chance we could move on base.

 A Big, Big, House…

Sailor came home with sad news, there were no houses available, or least no houses available to us. I decided I needed to start looking for a rental off base.

The dead mouse in the laundry, along with a family of mice living under our oven, and rats running around our backyard was enough for me to spend money we didn’t have to find a better place.

Sailor went to the housing office (again) to get a list of off-base rentals and came home home empty-handed. We didn’t need an off-base rental because they had offered us a house on base!

It was a four bedroom three and a half bath house right across the street from Admiral’s row. We had a playground right behind our house and a sidewalk for the kids to ride their bikes!

Not only would we be moving into a beautiful house on base, the Navy was paying for our move! We would be moving for free!

I couldn’t believe it.

And I didn’t! I was sure the housing office would realize they had made a mistake and take the house away from us. I wouldn’t let myself get excited about moving until we were actually living and sleeping in our new house.

The only problem with the move was that Sailor had a two week course in Texas and then we had a family vacation to Florida immediately following his course. We had about a week to prepare for the move. The movers would be arriving at our house the day after we returned from Florida.

Sailor left for his course and I was able to walk through our new house. It was better than I had expected. There were hardwood floors throughout the house, a large oven, and the washer and dryer were inside! It even had a one car garage (we’d never had a garage). We were beyond blessed!

I spent the time Sailor was in Texas cleaning out the mouse house and preparing for our vacation to Florida. It was a challenging task trying to homeschool, manage a baby and prepare for a move, but I realize now it was just a warm-up in my career as a Navy spouse.

Sailor returned from training and we made the twelve hour drive to Florida. It was our first time back in Florida since we had moved and it was great to see our family again.

On the day we were supposed to drive home I woke up with a scratchy throat. By the time we were out of Florida it was painful to swallow.

I kept drinking water, thinking somehow that would help, but all it did was slow us down getting home. We were stopping every hour so I could use the bathroom because I was drinking so much water.

Sometime after midnight, and on the home stretch of our drive I had to go to the bathroom again. By this time I had chills and a fever and all I could think about was getting home and curling up in bed!

Sailor kept looking for  a place to stop, but we were in rural Virginia and nothing was open. In desperation we finally pulled over and I walked into the woods to go. It was horrible!

Sailor knew I was pretty sick if I was willing to go to the bathroom in the woods so he hurried home and I crawled into bed and didn’t get up for three days.

The movers arrived and I remember laying in bed while they packed up our bedroom. I was so embarrassed to be sick in bed as strangers packed up my house but I had no choice!

Finally on the third day Sailor told me I had to go to the doctor. They didn’t have any appointments so I went to the ER.

The doctor took one look at my throat and then proceded to call the rest of the staff in to “check it out.”  I’ve decided that it is never fun to be the patient that all the doctor’s want to see because your case is either so bad or so strange they all want to have a look!

The determined I had a very bad case of strep throat and a few other things. They didn’t think I could swallow a pill so they asked me to gargle some syrup like substance to numb my throat. I managed to gargle for approximately three seconds before I promptly threw up the syrup and the remainder of my stomach contents all over the floor.

They finally gave me a shot of antibiotics and I went home and went back to bed for two more days.

When I was finally feeling better our old house was empty and our new house was full. Because I was in bed during all the packing, and the moving company wasn’t the best at labeling the boxes, it was almost a week before I found the contents of my kitchen!

Even though it took me over a month to find all our stuff, I loved our new house. We had friendly neighbors and even a teenage girl who babysat right next door! The kids made friends with all the other kids in the neighborhood and I began daily walks through the housing area.

It was a beautiful spring and I was determined to enjoy every single minute we lived in our big house on base.

 Islands, Babies, and Hospitals…

I loved living on base. I felt safe when Sailor was working the night shift and I made friends with many of our neighbors.

Strangely enough several of our neighbors worked in the same field Sailor worked in before he switched to nursing. The more he talked to these guys to more he wanted to go back to his old job.

We didn’t know how that would be possible since he had to serve at least four years in the Nurse Corps before he was eligible for a transfer and even then he didn’t think he would be competitive for the board.

That summer Sailor started to create a plan to build his “resume” so he could apply to transfer back to his old job. One of the major qualifications he was lacking was that he didn’t have a sea tour or an overseas tour. Since it is fairly difficult to get a sea tour as a nurse he started looking at overseas job openings.

For weeks he would check the website daily looking for openings. One day he found an opening in Guam. He asked if I was willing to move to Guam and I said sure not even knowing where it was on a map! He called the guy in charge and in less than 15 minutes we found out we were headed to Guam in about ten months.

It wasn’t long after he was “penciled in” for orders to Guam that I started having second thoughts. The flight from Orlando (where our families lived) to Guam took almost twenty-four hours and tickets were very expensive. I realized if we moved to Guam we wouldn’t see our family for two years!

I asked Sailor to keep checking the website to see if another job opened that was closer to home. The next day a job opened up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The only thing I knew about Guantanamo Bay was that my dad was stationed there in the 60’s, but it was significantly closer to Florida than Guam so Sailor called and had is orders changed.

Right after we received orders to Cuba we found out we were expecting baby number four. I was worried having four kids would cancel our orders, but apparently they don’t care how many kids you have when you move to Cuba.

I spent the next week trying to find out as much as possible about our soon to be new home, GTMO.

One sunny day in September I was starting school with our seven year-old when former co-worker of Sailor called the house.

“Turn on your television”

“Why?”

“Just turn it on…”

I turned on the television and watched in horror as the second plane hit the tower.

The rest of the day was a blur. The base was shut down and we weren’t supposed to leave the house. Sailor called work and volunteered to be deployed to any area necessary.

I knew our lives had changed forever on that day, but I didn’t realize how close it would hit to home until years later.

Life continued and I was getting excited about moving to GTMO. From our research it seemed like a Mayberry in the middle of the nowhere. Everyone was friendly, the schools were good, and you could even walk to the grocery store depending on where you lived. The ocean was crystal clear and you could go swimming 365 days a year.

Life was going to be good. I was looking forward to leaving Norfolk and starting a new chapter in our lives.

During one of my routine doctor appointments my heart rate was a little high. I told the doctor I wasn’t under much stress and I didn’t really know why it was so high. I was occasionally out of breath, but I attributed it to being six months pregnant. To be sure nothing was really wrong he had me wear a halter monitor for twenty-four hours to track my heart rate.

When the doctor read the results he was concerned. My heart was racing every few minutes and it was even happening in my sleep. He prescribed medicine to help keep my heart rate down. The medicine made me feel terrible, but the alternative was feeling like I was running a marathon.

One night while Sailor was at work I could feel my heart racing and I couldn’t catch my breath. I called Sailor and he told me I probably needed to go to the hospital so they could monitor the baby.

Friends came over to watch the kids and I went to the ER. I was shocked when they immediately admitted me. I was sent to the maternal ICU and over the next two days had every single heart test possible. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me or my heart, but they were sure it was related to the pregnancy.

They finally sent me home with more pills and a prescription to take it easy for the rest of my pregnancy.

I’ve noticed that only doctors that don’t have any children tell women who have a couple of kids to “take it easy” during pregnancy.

I took it as easy as I could while homeschooling our two other children and chasing a toddler.

One evening when I was almost seven months pregnant I started down the stairs to say goodbye to Sailor and slipped on the second step. I flew up into the air and landed about six steps down right on my rear end on our wood stairs. It hurt so bad I couldn’t talk or even cry. I couldn’t catch my breath. I crawled back up the stairs and managed to get into my bed.

Sailor heard the noise and came up to find me curled in the bed. I tried to tell him what happened but I was in so much pain I could hardly get any words out. It wasn’t until I caught my breath that I noticed the pain in my leg and rear wasn’t my only problem. I looked up at Sailor and said…

“I think my water broke…”

Sailor drove me to the hospital and stopped by the ER to let them know he was taking me upstairs and wouldn’t be in for his shift until they checked me out.

We got upstairs and I changed into the hospital gown. I was putting it on when I noticed a large purple and blue spot on my rear end and leg. It was about the size of a pineapple! No wonder it hurt when I fell!

The examined me and thankfully my water didn’t break. Apparently falling down a flight of stairs with a baby sitting on your full bladder may or may not cause a little bit of leaking… :) They sent me home and told me to take it easy until my backside healed.

The rest of the winter passed slowly and I did my best to get the kids out of the house when I could. We would take long walks around the neighborhood to help pass the time. Often my boys would cut through some of the yards much to my dismay. It wasn’t any yard they would cut through, it was the admiral’s yard they would cut through!

It wasn’t too bad, just the corner of the yard, but the yard was so perfect I didn’t want my boys to accidentally trample anything!

When I wasn’t homeschooling the kids or walking them around the base I was busy planning for our next move. The reality of moving overseas with four small children was starting to set in. I was doubting my ability to homeschool two school aged kids, chase after our active toddler, and manage a new baby.

I was so concerned about being able to homeschool that I started doubling up on our lessons so we would be finished with school before the baby arrived in late March. We talked to a few families in Guantanamo Bay and they all raved about the school down there. In fact we had a hard time getting information about homeschooling and it didn’t seem like there were any homeschoolers on the base!

We started thinking about putting the kids in school once we moved to GTMO.

The kids and I became very involved in our church and I ended up on the leadership team for the children’s ministry. It was wonderful to finally be plugged in and feel like we had family away from home. Sailor attended church when he could, but his rotating shifts made it difficult to attend consistently.

One Saturday in March I woke up with a bunch of energy. Sailor had just returned home from a night shift and headed to bed. It was a warm day so I decided to mow the yard and then took the kids on a long walk around the base. After lunch I laid the toddler down for a nap, put a movie on for the big kids, and headed out to a wedding.

I got home just in time for Sailor to head to work for his night shift. I was giving the toddler a bath when I squatted down next to the tub. I was mortified because I thought I had just leaked again. I couldn’t believe that I was going to have “that problem” and hoped it wouldn’t continue after my pregnancy.

I changed my clothes and a while later it happened again. I was dying! I started thinking I was going to need some sort of corrective surgery after the baby was born to keep from peeing my pants every five minutes.

It happened a few more times before I decided it was time to just go to bed. I hoped that if I was laying down the baby wouldn’t be pressing on my bladder and I could at least sleep without any issues.

I laid down to sleep and started to feel funny. I could tell my heart was racing and I was starting to feel sick. I was regretting my day of mowing the yard, long walks and a wedding. I had obviously overdone it!

I called Sailor at work and told him my heart had been racing. He advised me to come in to the hospital just to be safe.

Our good friends came over to watch the kids and I headed to the hospital around 9pm.

I was sent to the L&D ward because I was 38 weeks pregnant and I waited for the doctor. My temperature was elevated and my heart was racing every now and again.

I got up to use the bathroom and when I came back the nurse asked me if I thought my water had broken. I told her no and asked why. She said the bed was a little wet when I got up and she had changed the sheets. I was totally embarrassed to share with her my little leaking issue.

She of course was not embarrassed and told me they were going to run a test to see if perhaps my leaking issue wasn’t really a leaking issue at all.

Sure enough my water had broken. The nurse asked when I thought it happened and I said I thought it was about four hours ago.

Somehow that four hours became four days on my chart and that combined with my fever sent the staff into a hurried rush to get the baby out, asap.

They started pitocin and antibiotics and I became concerned. I told them that I usually deliver babies very quickly and I didn’t think I would be able to get two doses of antibiotics via IV before the baby arrived. They said the antibiotics would be done in a few hours and since I wasn’t having any contractions they thought there would be plenty of time.

Sailor, who was working down in the ER, came up and the nurses told him he wouldn’t be going back to work that evening. We settled in and waiting for labor to begin.

Because Sailor worked in the ER and all his friends were working too I had a visitor about every ten minutes. Almost every nurse on duty that night stopped by to see how we were doing. Some stayed for a few minutes, some stayed the whole night. It was quite a festive atmosphere in my hospital room.

The pitocin was started around 11pm and by 1am they started the second bag of antibiotics. A few minutes later it was time to deliver. The nursed asked for a “test push” and thank goodness the doctor was walking in the door during the test because our little boy was born on the next push.

I was a mom of three boys. 

After our son was born I felt great. Between falling down the stairs and dealing with a rapid heartbeat for three months childbirth seemed like a piece of cake!

We brought him home and settled into our new routine, except we didn’t have a new routine. Because I had doubled up on school my kids had finished all their books. We had nothing to do all day!

I laughed when I did the first load of laundry after I returned home. All my clothes from my water breaking were still in the hamper! I went through four pairs of pants that evening before I finally drove to the hospital!

After a few weeks I started back on my walks, this time with all four kids. The baby and toddler were in the double stroller and the older two kids walked along with me. One day as we were walking I noticed the admiral’s wife and another lady walking behind us. I hurried up, since this was the admiral who’s yard my kids liked to cut through.

It seemed as I walked faster she walked faster. My only goal was to get to the house and get in the front door before she could catch up to me and reprimand my children for walking on her grass.

The only problem was my six and eight year old couldn’t keep up so I had to slow down and finally she caught up to me. I prepared myself to apologize for my kids running on her grass, but before I could get the words out she said,

“I’ve been trying to get a glimpse of your new baby for the past week! Every time I see you walking you are back in your house before I can catch up!”

Boy did I feel like a dummy! I had been running away from this lady for a week and all she wanted to do was ooh and ahh over my newborn! We chatted for several minutes and then finished our walks.

I continued walking by her house until we moved and each time she smiled and waved at my kids, even when they cut through the corner of her yard.

I really enjoyed our life and base and started to wonder if we were making the right decision taking orders overseas.

We Aren’t the Only Ones Moving To GTMO

During the spring of 2002 we found out that we weren’t the only ones headed to GTMO. We would be joined by the detainees.

At first Sailor wasn’t sure if it would still be a safe place to raise a family, but after talking to several people who were already there, we were assured that nothing much had changed on the base and it was still very safe.

On July 4, 2002 we shared tearful goodbyes with our family and headed to Jacksonville where we would fly to GTMO the next morning. On the trip up to Jacksonville my dad realized that the van we had borrowed from my brother didn’t have a current registration in the vehicle. It was registered but the paperwork was back in Orlando.

We tried to get the van on base but were not allowed. We emptied all our luggage, kids, and car seats, out of the van and waited for a cab to pick us up. We waited forever and finally a car showed up, but our family of six didn’t fit into a car. Sailor had called for a van, but apparently there weren’t any available.

We weren’t sure how we were going to get to the Navy Lodge on base in a car, but then we figured out that I could stay back with some of the kids and my dad, and Sailor would take two kids and most of the luggage and get us checked in to the Lodge.

The cab came back to pick me and the kids up and then we spent thirty minutes dragging our luggage upstairs to our hotel room since the elevator wasn’t working. I was nervous about missing our flight the next morning. The report time was 7am, we had no vehicle to get there, and it seemed cabs were hard to come by around the base.

Sailor made a reservation for a 5:30am cab just to be on the safe side. 5:30 am rolled around and no cab, by 5:45 I was getting worried. Finally at 6am Sailor called for another cab. Once again a car showed up and we had to split up to get to the airport.

I hoped there would be a McDonald’s close to the airport, since the kids hadn’t eaten breakfast. (and aren’t McDonald’s on every base???)

Unfortunately we didn’t pass one, and the cab driver didn’t know of any restaurant open on base that early in the morning. We arrived at the terminal a little before 7am and found out that even though the report time was 7am the plane didn’t actually take off until about 11am. I think we spent a small fortune feeding our children from the vending machine that morning, but at least they had something to eat.

I kept thinking that things would get better once we got on the plane, and thankfully they did. It was a commercial aircraft so no one was sitting in jump seats, and they even served food. Little did I know, those two and a half hours would be the easiest moments of my life for the next several days.

When we arrived in GTMO I was shocked at the blast of hot air that greeted me when we walked off the plane. There was no “gateway” at the terminal so Sailor and I had to figure out how to get an infant, toddler, three car seats, two other kids, and all our carry-on’s down the steep flight of stairs off the plane. I was already sweating like a pig by the time we got off the steps.

I couldn’t wait to get into anything that was air conditioned. After we got off the plane we were led to a small fenced-in area and were instructed to place all our belongings in front of us. Dogs began sniffing our carry-on luggage and one by one security checked our paperwork. Since we were one of the last people off the plane, we were also last in line to go through the security process.

The kids were getting hot, the baby was crying, and I was considering getting back on that plane and telling the pilot to fly me back to Florida. Someone took pity on us and let us move to the front of the line so we could then proceed to get our baggage.

We found our luggage and then realized that we would need to carry our eight suitcases, six carry-ons, three car seats, one baby, one toddler, and two kids to a school bus that would drive us to a ferry.

Say what?

The impossibility of this task was overwhelming to me. I decided it was better to laugh than cry and somehow (I’m sure someone once again took pity on us) we managed to load all our stuff onto a school bus and rode to the ferry.

Once we got to the ferry we had to unload our stuff from the bus and then drag it onto the ferry. The ferry was actually a welcome break from the crazy heat on the runway and the bus. The wind over the water was actually quite cool and I then considered just riding the ferry back and forth for the rest of the day.

When we got to the other side of the island we were met by our sponsor who picked us up in his, you guessed it, un-airconditioned minivan.

I decided right then, that I just had to laugh, because if not I would probably be committed into the psych ward. He drove us to our house and as we turned down the road to our new home I was amazed.

Our house was at the end of a strip of land that directly overlooked the ocean. We had an ocean view! Nice!

We walked into our home and memories of Panama came flooding back. Our house was furnished with loaner furniture and I honestly thought some of the pieces of furniture might have been the same stuff we had in our Panama house years ago!

Shortly after we arrived I heard a knock at the door. It was Grace. Grace was Amy’s sister and she had been living there for about nine months. She only had a few months left on the island, but she came determined to make sure we had anything we needed. She brought towels, food, and other necessities. If it wasn’t for her we would have all been sharing one towel until we could get to the store!

It wasn’t long after Grace left that we met one of our neighbors. They seemed very friendly and even offered to let us borrow their jeep if we needed to run to the store to pick up groceries. I told them I would definitely be taking them up on that offer.

They told me I could just take it any time, it would be parked in their driveway and the keys would be in the ignition.

Say what?

The next day I borrowed the jeep and headed to the commissary. Since we had almost no food I knew this was going to be a big trip. I wasn’t even sure what the commissary sold, but I figured I would probably just buy one of everything! I told Sailor that I  wouldn’t be home for a while and left.

I was impressed with the selection at the commissary and everyone seemed to know each other. It felt like I spent the entire afternoon at the store, and I was shocked when I looked at my watch and realized I had only been gone an hour! The commissary was not that big so it didn’t take long to walk down every aisle of the store.

I hopped in the jeep and headed home. The commissary was only a half mile from our house, but our house was uphill and the 95 degree temperature made walking to the store a less than fun idea. Right before our road I was stopped by a military police officer. Having lived on a few military bases I was familiar with the MP’s, but what I wasn’t familiar with were road blocks. I sat and waited worried that my milk was going to turn into cottage cheese sitting in the back of the jeep.

More and more MP’s showed up and they all were heavily armed. I started to get concerned because I was not heavily armed. In fact I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, and I didn’t see myself being able to get away from what ever danger was lurking around the corner very quickly.

Finally after waiting for about 45 minutes a school bus with darkened windows drove by me. It was nearly impossible to see inside the bus, but I realized that it held the detainees being taken to the camp.

Then it started to rain, soaking me and all the groceries in the jeep. I laughed, not knowing that this would be one of the three times I saw rain for the next two years.

Life was going to be different here in GTMO…

Life in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was unlike anything I could have ever imagined. No welcome packet, sponsor letter, or phone call could have really prepared me for life on the island.

I realized about an hour after arriving that the island was all about community. No one had any family there, everyone was a new friend, and communication outside of the island (except email) was pretty limited. Your friends became your family.

There were no cell phones and dial-up internet on a good day took 20 to 30 minutes to connect. We were truly isolated from the world.

And I loved it…. most of the time. 

Life in GTMO

While the kids and I were settling in to our lives in GTMO, Sailor was miserable. Everything the detailer and people at the hospital told him about the job wasn’t true. One day in frustration he asked one of his co-workers, “why didn’t you tell me about this when I called down here last year and talked to you?”

The co-worker responded, “If I had told you the truth, would you have come?”

Sailor was scheduled to work about forty-eight hours a week and then was on call for another forty. He wore a pager so he could be reached at any time. Since the hospital was so small there was only one nurse on duty at a time. If things got busy they called him in, this seemed to happen on a daily basis.

Since the detainees arrived in GTMO the island population had doubled with all the temporary military stationed there. They had their own medical facilities but all emergencies went through the main ER. What had been a slow, see one patient a day job had turned into a nintey hour a week job and Sailor was miserable.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like working ninety hours a week, he just didn’t like working all those hours as a nurse. He began seriously planning his transfer out of the Nurse Corps.

I threw myself into the community because I knew that was the only way to survive our tour. Sailor and I had already decided to send our children to the school on base so I started the process of registering them and meeting other families at the school.

We were known as the big family on base. There was one other family who had more kids than we did, but they kept to themselves and no one really knew them. Since I involved us in every activity the base had to offer we were soon known by almost everyone.

Every Friday night the base offered free movies at the outdoor theatre. This was a big event (since there wasn’t a whole lot to do down there) so we loaded up the kids and headed down to watch the free movie, munch on fifty-cent popcorn and meet some new people.

I was particularly excited about this night because the doctor who delivered our third baby had just moved to Cuba. I had met his wife briefly at a picnic the week before and I was looking forward to getting to know her better.

After the movie ended I found my doctor’s wife and we started talking while my four-month-old baby sat happily in his car seat on the ground. Sailor was in and out of the conversation and after a while we realized I needed to grab a bag of bedding from the doctor’s car that I had let them borrow.

We headed over to the car and continued to talk and talk. In fact we talked so long that I looked up and saw Sailor driving out of the parking lot in our minivan. I waved my arms at him (because I was not in the van and didn’t want to walk home) and he drove off.

I couldn’t believe Sailor left me at the movie theatre! 

The doctor’s wife offered to give me a ride home (it was only a three minute drive) and I got into the car. As we were driving to the house I was getting irritated that Sailor left me at the theatre, what was he thinking? We had only lived there a few weeks and I sure wasn’t comfortable walking home by myself!

We pulled up in the driveway and we chatted a few more minutes. I got out of the car as Sailor was walking out of the house.

“How could you leave me at the theatre???” I asked in my not-so-happy voice.

“I didn’t leave you, I thought you already left.” Sailor responded in his not-so-happy voice.

“How could I have left…we only own one car!!!” I responded.

As I started to walk towards Sailor he looked at me and in a serious tone asked,

“Where’s the baby?”

“With you.” I responded calmly.

“No, he was with you.” Sailor said, his tone growing worried and angry at the same time.

What happened next was a loud exchange between Sailor and I debating the responsibilities of parents to make sure all the children are accounted for before leaving any place. We continued to argue, blaming one another for leaving the baby, until the doctor’s wife calmly interrupted.

“Would you like to go back to the theatre and get him?”

We headed back to the theatre and there was our four-month old sitting happily in his seat exactly where he was when we left. One of Sailor’s coworkers was standing next to the car seat talking to someone, waiting for us to realize we had forgotten the baby.

We had lived in GTMO for less than a month and we already had gained the reputation of the family that is so big they can’t remember to take all their kids with them. 

This was going to be fun.

Iguanas

One little detail our sponsor neglected to mention before we moved to Guantanamo Bay was the iguana population.

Iguanas were everywhere on the island, and they creeped me out. What made it worse was that they were protected, so you couldn’t get rid of them on your own. Any iguana that was a nuisance was trapped then relocated to another part of the island.

This would have been fine had our yard not been infested with iguanas. I use the word infested because we would often have between five and ten in our yard at a time. They loved to rest under the one tree we had in our yard.

Normally iguanas don’t make friends with people so they leave you alone, unless you feed them. Feeding the iguanas was prohibited on the island because iguanas that had been fed by humans became very aggressive and would often run or chase people because they assumed people would feed them.

There were several cases of people being bitten by aggressive iguanas on the base. Because they carried so many diseases, getting bitten required high doses of antibiotics to avoid going into septic shock.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that the people who previously lived in our house FED THE IGUANAS!!!!

When we walked up to our house for the first time there were several iguanas under our tree. The tree was over fifty feet from our house, and since we knew nothing about iguanas we all stared at them with a strange fascination mixed with a little fear.

We told the kids not to play near the iguanas and then quickly went in the house.

A few days later I was walking with our sponsor’s wife to her van so we could go to the store. As we were walking a large (at least four feet) iguana started running towards us.

I immediately felt as though I was living in Jurassic Park. We both started running towards her van and I practically dove through her open window because I thought it would be quicker than opening the door.

We were both screaming our heads off, and I think I broke the world’s record for the fifty yard dash that day.

A few days after that I was talking to Amy’s sister about the iguana incident. She told me she hadn’t had many issues with them and that ours had probably been fed by the previous tenant because they were so aggressive.

As we were talking the biggest iguana I’d ever seen started to run towards us. Without breaking her sentence she bent down, picked up a large shell, and threw it as hard as she could at the iguana.

She hit it on the head and the iguana started making this terrible sound and running in circles for at least thirty seconds. We also began screaming and quickly went into the house and watched from the front window. The iguana finally settled down and went back to the tree.

I spent many hours on the phone with the Environmental department trying to solve our iguana problem. For every one they trapped and relocated we seemed to get two more. The kids were afraid to play outside and I was afraid to let them.

One day I walked in the living room and saw a small greenish brown head draped over my couch. I took two steps back and yelled for my six year-old son. As he was coming downstairs I asked him if he was playing with his animal toys today. He said he wasn’t, and then I asked him if he was playing a trick on mommy. He promised me he wasn’t.

We had an iguana in the house.

Now I’m usually a calm and sane person, but an iguana on my couch I could not handle. I immediately called a friend and she bravely said she would come over and take care of it for me. I blocked off the stairs and told all the kids to stay upstairs until this matter was resolved.

My friend arrived and grabbed a broom to defeat this iguana. She took one stab at it and it ran. Then she and I ran and jumped on the dining room table, which seemed like the only safe place in the house downstairs. We were both screaming our heads off which of course scared the kids even more.

I called Sailor at work and he said there was no way he could come home and help. He told me to call 911.

So I did.

The MP’s arrived and my friend and I (broom still in hand) were still on the dining room table. The iguana was somewhere in the family room, and I didn’t really care where it was, I just wanted it out.

It was obvious the MP’s thought we were a bunch of sissies, and maybe I was. What I did know was that iguana wasn’t going to sink its teeth into me or any of my children, and if that was best achieved by me standing on the dining room table, so be it.

They walked into the family room and I heard one of them say, “Oh, that’s just a little one.”

A little one? Are you kidding me??? That thing was at least a foot long if not longer and it had taken up residence in my family room!!

What happened next was something that we still laugh about to this day. The MP’s made a move to capture the iguana and it lunged at them. Then they started yelling like a bunch of sissies.

I couldn’t help but feel a little more confident in my tabletop position since the police seemed to be just as afraid of the “little” iguana as I was.

I heard more yelling and lots of other noise, and my curiosity got the best of me. I hopped down from the table and stood (at a great distance) to watch chaos unfold in my living room.

The MP’s had trapped the iguana behind our desk. The desk that held our computer and about twenty cords (you know how guys are with cords). The iguana was trapped in the cords and they were both afraid to grab it. They were wearing rubber gloves, the kind that a nurse would wear, and those weren’t going to do anything to protect them against those nasty iguana teeth.

After much shouting, banging on furniture, and jiggling of wires, one of the MP’s grabbed the iguana with his hat and carried it outside.

We had been saved.

Back to Home(school)

I was excited and nervous about sending the kids off to school. I knew our oldest daughter would be fine, she had attended kindergarten and part of first grade, but I was concerned about sending our son off to school.

Even the small town environment, friendly teachers, and good recommendations couldn’t help me shake the feeling that we were making the wrong decision.

I thought our son was delayed academically, and I wasn’t sure how he would fair socially either. He wasn’t a “normal” kid. I dealt with my fears by throwing myself into projects at the school. I joined the PTO and ended up serving as Vice President. I spent hours at the school talking with teachers and aides about our son and how to best help him learn.

I spent more time at the school than I did at home and it the year hadn’t even begun.

On the first day of school I took their pictures on the front porch and sent them off to school. I had mixed emotions, but they seemed happy so I decided to be happy too.

It was weird not having them home, but I was busy with the toddler and baby so the hours flew by. I spent many hours a week at the school volunteering and working on PTO projects. I kept myself busy so I didn’t miss homeschooling.

While I was having a great time volunteering with the PTO, my kids weren’t having a great time going to school. I had a few “conversations” with our daughter’s teacher about projects, homework, and advanced work.

I also spent a lot of time making sure our son was on track and didn’t need any extra help. His teacher always assured me that he was right on track, but compared to other kids his age he seemed very delayed.

About a month into the school year our daughter was assigned a book report. She chose an American Girl book and went to work creating a beautiful presentation board. She spent every night for weeks working on this board, she was so excited about the project.

Finally the night before it was due I started helping her glue the information she had written up about the book onto her presentation board. Her handwriting was messy and she thought that gluing her handwritten papers on the board would mess it up. She wanted to type up the information cards to put on the board.

Even though it was late I agreed and she went to work typing. After about 45 minutes of watching her hunt and peck on the keyboard I asked her if I could take over and finish typing up the cards from her notes because it was getting late and I wanted to go to bed.

I typed them up quickly and she glued them onto her board.

The next day I drove her to school and I watched as she happily walked from the car with her project. It was the first big project she had ever done and I was so proud of her for working so hard on it.

When our daughter came home I asked how her presentation went and she said the teacher and the class loved it.

A few days later she came home with her grade for the project. She received an A for the book report, A for the presentation, and a C for the project. I was dumbfounded. I had seen the other projects and hers was one of the best. I quickly scanned the grade sheet and was appalled when I saw…

“The board was wonderful, but next time please have your daughter do the work herself.”

I looked up and could tell my daughter was upset about her C. I asked her why her teacher would think that I made the board. She told me that the teacher thought the board was too good for a third grader to do on their own and then she told me the teacher asked her if I made the project board.

She told her teacher that I didn’t make the board and then the teacher asked if I helped make the board. Our daughter told the teacher I did help with the board, because I had typed up her notes the night before the project was due.

I tried to explain to our daughter that I had only typed up her notes, word for word, and that she truly had done all the work.

At this point our daughter was in tears and I was close to tears as well. Our daughter was a bright girl, who rarely missed even one question on a test. She was very capable of making a great project board, but the teacher just assumed I had made it instead.

I called Sailor at work and told him we had to pull the kids out of school. This was just one of many incidents over the past two month where I felt like our daughter was being “punished’ for being smart, and our son was getting left behind.

There was just one problem.

I was the PTO Vice President.

If I stepped down people would talk about us. There were only a few homeschoolers on the island and if I pulled my kids out of school it probably wouldn’t help us make any friends or fit in.

I didn’t want my kids to feel like they were being left out because they were homeschooled in such a tiny community, but at the same time I knew this school wasn’t giving them the best education.

I agonized for a week about how to tell the PTO President I had to step down because I was pulling my kids out of school. I told my husband that people would probably talk about me behind my back and I’d probably lose all my friends, since most of them I had met through the PTO.

He said that people would probably talk about us, but if I lost friends over homeschooling, they weren’t friends to begin with anyway.

I was still afraid to pull them from the school so we finally came up with a plan. We already had a trip back to the states planned so we would withdraw them from school and then immediately leave for Florida. We would be gone for two weeks and by the time we returned, perhaps the whole thing would have blown over and people would have forgotten about the big family who leaves babies at movie theaters and pulls them out of school…..

Our children went to school on Monday and the next morning we were on a plane headed to Florida. I told myself that I would take homeschooling one day at a time, one year at a time, and never let fear of man dictate how my kids were educated.

 Cruising Back to Florida

As we sat at the air terminal waiting to find out if we would catch the MAC flight Sailor seemed very nervous. There wasn’t a guarantee we would get on the flight to Jacksonville, but I figured if we didn’t get on this flight, we could always catch the next flight a few days later.

As time passed and we still didn’t have confirmed seats the tension between Sailor and I grew. I couldn’t figure out why he was so on edge. I finally made a comment about how he needed to calm down and he said he couldn’t calm down, we had to fly out that morning. Almost as soon as the words came out of his mouth we found out we were on the flight.

A look of relief came over Sailor’s face. With a smile he handed me a card.

I opened it and was surprised to see a picture of a cruise ship taped to the inside of the card. We were going on a cruise in three days. The surprise cruise was the reason he was so nervous about not making the flight!

The cruise was a very early (or late) anniversary present.

As soon as I realized we were going on a cruise alone I bombarded Sailer with questions.

  • “Who is watching the kids?”
  • “How are we getting to the dock?”
  • “What if I don’t have everything I need packed?”
  • “How did you pay for this?”

He answered all my questions and we soon were flying back to the States.

We had a great two weeks in Florida. We went on the cruise (so much fun- I think I slept 70% of the time) and I spent the rest of my free time during the two weeks shopping for homeschool curriculum.

When we homeschooled previously I used Bob Jones with both kids. While I felt like they learned using BJU, I wanted to try something different. After researching for hours and hours I finally decided on the Weaver Curriculum.

I didn’t know much about unit studies, but from my small amount of research it looked like a fun and challenging opportunity for our family.

After two weeks in Florida we said our tearful goodbyes to our family and headed back to GTMO. Since the library was so small, I decided to purchase most of the resource books for the curriculum to make my life easier. We arrived in GTMO with two suitcases full of books and curriculum!

By the time we returned from our trip, the shock of the PTO Vice President pulling her  kids out of the school had worn off. We started homeschooling and joined the homeschooling group on base.

It was small, but very active. There were co-ops and tons of extra-curricular activities for the kids.

The Commanding Officer’s wife had a soft spot for homeschoolers and did her best to give the homeschool families on base every opportunity to participate in command activities. We greeted sailors on arriving ships, sang at command functions, and participated in all sorts of fundraisers and projects.

We were almost too busy!

Homeschooling our oldest daughter was a breeze. She devoured every book, memorized every fact, loved every project, and generally excelled in every area of our homeschool. Our son was a different story. Only a few weeks into our homeschool year I was astounded at his lack of progress.

When he was in school, I had several meetings with his teacher to discuss what I thought were learning disabilities. She continually assured me he was right on track for his age and there was nothing to worry about.

He was either fooling me or her because he wasn’t reading even the smallest words, couldn’t write, and had numerous behavior issues.

How could a child who could solve complicated puzzles, build intricate lego structures, and run faster and jump higher than any kid his age not even know how to spell his own name?

Along with his reading and writing difficulties I noticed his behavior was very challenging as well. He wouldn’t make eye contact when he talked to anyone, including me and had several repetitive behaviors that were distracting him and the rest of us from everyday activities.

I knew our daughter was very advanced and I didn’t want to compare the two of them, but even compared to his peers he seemed very behind.

I talked to everyone I could about the issues we were having with him to try and find a solution. One of my friends had taught special needs before moving to GTMO and she agreed that he wasn’t on track, but couldn’t really pinpoint what the real problem was.

We talked to the pediatrician and he thought our son needed to be seen by a developmental team in order to find a solution. The closest developmental team was in Portsmouth, Virginia, so I became a mom on a mission.

I spent the next six months trying to convince the Navy to send our son to Portsmouth, Virginia to see the specialists.

Taken

I was excited. Sailor needed to fly to Puerto Rico to take a test and we were able to travel with him. For some reason the thought of traveling with four small children didn’t phase me, I just needed to get off the island!

Since a rental vehicle and hotel room would be paid for by the Navy, all we needed to pay for were the flights. MAC flights were about $20 a person so we were going on vacation!

I made my gigantic shopping list and couldn’t wait to shop at Walmart and go out to dinner! We flew  to Puerto Rico, checked in to the Navy Lodge and the next morning Sailor left to take his test. We only had a few days on the island so as soon as he returned from his test we headed into San Juan for shopping.

Now, the kids didn’t care much about the shopping trip, but we kept them happy with all the things that typically keep kids happy, junk food, cheap toys, and promises of dessert after dinner.

After dinner we loaded the four very tired children into the minivan and began the long drive back to the hotel. It was way past their bedtime and they all started to doze off on the drive home. I was about to join them in dreamland when, at a stoplight, a figure ran through the intersection. Seconds later police were swarming.

There were squad cars blocking all traffic and police in helmets and vests running around with guns. I tried to remain calm, which lasted about four seconds. Sailor was screaming for me to get the kids on the floor of a van, it looked like we might be in the middle of a shoot out. I screamed that I didn’t want to take them out of their carseats because it could be dangerous. He yelled something about getting head’s shot off and I started waking kids up and trying to get them on the floor.

Almost as quickly as it began, police got in their cars and sped off, sirens blaring and lights flashing. I told Sailor our life was more like a movie than real life and he agreed. “Why do these things always happen to us?” I joked as we continued the drive back to the hotel.

When we pulled into the parking lot at the Navy Lodge all four kids were asleep in the van. It was almost midnight and I was exhausted. I looked back at our van full of kids and shopping bags and was trying to figure out the best way to get it all in the hotel room in the quickest amount of time.

We woke up the older two children and pulled the van right up to the entrance of our room corridor. We handed them the hotel key and all the leftover food from the restaurant and told our oldest to take the food and her six year-old brother to the room and get ready for bed. We would park the car and be there in a minute.

Sailor parked the van and we grabbed the little boys, still sleeping in their car seats, and as many bags as we could manage and headed to the room.

We opened the door to the hotel room and our daughter was getting ready for bed.

“Is T in the bathroom?” I asked when I realized our son wasn’t in the room.

Our daughter responded that she thought he had waited for us and hadn’t come into the room with her.

What? Not with her? He had only been out of our sight for a minute? I watched him turn the corner of the hotel hallway! Where could he have gone? There was only one hallway, and nowhere else to go.

I bolted from the room and looked up and down the hall.

No sign of him.

I ran into the parking lot thinking maybe he got turned around and came back to look for us. Of course he should have passed us on his way out but kids are tricky like that sometimes.

I didn’t see him anywhere.

It had now been at least 4 minutes since I had seen my son. I knew every minute that I didn’t know where he was meant he could be further away from me. He was a shy, quiet kid. He never wandered off, and didn’t talk to people we knew, let alone a stranger. There was no way he wouldn’t have followed his sister to the room.

As I was in the parking lot I saw a car back out of a space and start to leave. Fear and panic took over my entire being. No car was going to leave the hotel until I found my son. I ran in front of the car almost jumping on the hood.

“HAVE YOU SEEN MY SON?”

I screamed to the driver of the car. They opened the door and tried to figure out why a hysterical woman was jumping on cars. I tried to explain what was going on and before I could finish they offered to help look for him.

Sailor had called the police and begun knocking on every door of the hotel room, waking up every single person in the lodge asking if they had seen our son. The hotel backed up to acres and acres of forest. I prayed that he hadn’t wandered off in to the trees because we would never find him in the dark.

The military police had arrived and informed us they had shut down the entire base. No car was allowed off base until it was thoroughly searched. A team of at least ten police started searching the hotel for our son.

Since Sailor had woken everyone in the hotel many other people began to help us search. A family offered to watch our other children so we could continue to look for him. I couldn’t believe I was leaving my three other kids in a hotel room with a family I didn’t know, but I had no choice.

As the seconds turned to minutes and the minutes turned into an hour I grew more desperate. I knew in my heart he hadn’t wandered off, but I didn’t want to think that someone could harm my son.

I called my parents. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth… I was hysterical. My parents finally realized what I was trying to tell them and said they would pray. There was nothing else they could do.

With every minute we couldn’t find him my heart sunk. I’m a realist, I know these types of stories don’t usually have happy endings. I kept thinking, I will not leave Puerto Rico without my son, if I have to live in this hotel for the rest of my life, I’m not leaving without him.

As the night went on the combination of exhaustion and adrenaline was wreaking havoc on me. I would go from calm and strategic to hysterical in seconds.

I began to wonder how families whose children were missing days, months, and years lived. I was fighting to breathe every single second, I couldn’t imagine bearing this pain, this fear, for the rest of my life.

Two hours had passed.

Then, as I was walking down the hotel corridor, I heard a lot of noise in the parking lot. I walked faster, not wanting to miss out on any information that could help find my son.

As I turned the corner I heard three words that brought me to my knees.

“We found him.”

There here was, half asleep in the arms of a police officer.

I ran towards them, completely overtaken by more emotion than I’d ever felt in my life. I sobbed. I grabbed my son and held him. I didn’t want to let him go, ever again.

I tried to pay attention as the police explained that a guest of the hotel and found him, asleep, in the back of his car. At that point I didn’t care what happened, or how he got in the car, or any other details. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions, I couldn’t even process what the police were telling us.

“Poor little guy,” said the police. “He must have been so tired he wandered back into the car, except he got into the wrong car.”

Yes, poor little guy. So tired, wandered off….

We were exhausted so we thanked everyone (over forty people) for helping us and collapsed into bed with our little boy between us.

We had plans to sightsee the next day, but I was so fearful of losing him again we stayed in the hotel room, eating leftovers and playing with cheap toys. Sailor and I discussed the events from the night before, and started to think more clearly about what had happened.

I was in the hotel corridor when they found our son, but Sailor was in the parking lot. The car he was found in was a two door. He was found in the passenger side of the backseat, asleep. The driver’s seat was flipped up, indicating that he would have climbed into the car from the driver’s side.

Both car doors were locked.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew that it just didn’t make sense that a sleepy boy would have climbed in a car (when we owned a van), crawled across the seat, and somehow managed to lock the doors. I started to grow alarmed, that the “hero” who had found our son in the back of his car was the one who had put him there in the first place.

The night before, Sailor and I decided we would tell the kids that their brother had been lost, as to not scare them with a words like kidnapped or abducted. We had also decided to refer to it as “getting lost” to our son.

I couldn’t stand the thought that someone might have tried to take our son. I wanted him to be found and questioned, and locked away for the rest of his life so he couldn’t do this to someone else.

We walked out to the parking lot hoping to find the car from the night before. It was gone. We asked a few people if they had seen the “hero.” No one had.

Later that day in casual conversation we asked our son if he remembered how he got into the car. He said a man in a gray shirt helped him.

Man in a gray shirt?

Writer’s note: This is the story of how I became The Happy Housewife. I am writing as I have time and try to publish a new chapter every few weeks. This page will be updated when I write the next chapter.  If you don’t want to miss the next installment you can subscribe to my blog.

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