High Heels and Belly Buttons: Lessons from a Two Year Old

Barely two and a half and already acting like a sixteen year old with infinite knowledge of the world, my doe-eyed round-cheeked niece comes sauntering into the kitchen wearing my sister’s hot pink shoes. She struts like she was born knowing how to balance in 6 inch heels, her feet dragging only because they are 6 sizes too big. 

A few days earlier I had tried to explain to her, as she pushed her “Tinkerbear” around in its stroller, that moms just don’t wear heels when they take their babies for a walk. At least not the moms I know. She scoffed at me and continued pushing her way around the living room, stopping occasionally to adjust her pink rimmed sunglasses or pull up her knee-high black boots.

She demands attention from anyone willing to listen, and will speak loudly even when she has nothing to say but a string of seemingly unconnected words or phrases. Periodically lifting up her shirt (which in a few years will no longer be appropriate), I laugh and tell her I can see her belly button.

Mimicking my laugh she says, “My betty button?”

Correcting her is futile, so I just say, “Yeah! And I have one too!”

She proceeds to lift up my shirt (which, again, will be completely inappropriate in a few years), and in seeing my belly button proclaims, “WOW! WE’RE FRIENDS!”

Since she began attending daycare about a year ago, she’s been working through what friends are – often declaring, when she’s feeling particularly bratty, “We’re NOT friends!” So now, she’s settled on this one small similarity as a clear indication that we are forever connected as bosom buddies. It makes me want to squeeze her face and shower her with kisses.

As she’s grown more into her self, leaving her chunky baby cheeks and soft demeanor behind, I am amazed by her ability to pay attention to the world’s most minute details, always determining how she can fit in and grow to be more like the adults around her. She’ll ask for jewelry to wear and a cell phone to cart around, opening it and saying things she’s heard all of us say – “Ok, I’ve got to go to work. I’ll call you back.” 

But while she would love to mold herself into the world, I want to mold myself into her – bottling her excitement and letting it out when nothing seems worthy of dragging myself out of bed for. To her, getting a pizza pocket for dinner and being allowed to watch the Berenstein Bears is cause for celebration (probably since we periodically tell her she can’t watch because “they’re hibernating”).

In time she’ll fit seamlessly into this existence, abandoning her obsession of Toy Story 3 and spending more time thinking about who likes her and who doesn’t. But for now, I want to keep her this way – putting up with her incessant whining just to be able to witness the times when she’s so clearly amazed by the world she can hardly contain herself. I’ll play her repetitive games because her smile is contagious and her ridiculously adorable giggle is intoxicating.

I see the struggle that is raising her, but can’t think of a gift more amazing than her existence. I can’t wait to see the path that she’ll forge for herself because if who she is now is any indication, she’s on her way to becoming something spectacular. 


Meth Heads, Military Wives, Fist Fights, and Being a Foodie: What Living in 29Palms Has Taught Me

In 7.5 days I’ll be packing up my meager belongings and making the trek back home – a place I never fully appreciated until I spent 5+ months in 29Palms (a town that most Californians don’t even know exists). I can say with 100% certainty that I won’t miss the surroundings (not even a teeny eensy weensy bit), but I will miss the people and certain aspects of a lifestyle I never thought I could become accustomed to. And on that note I thought I would sum up my experience with the 10 things I learned while I was here:

1. If a town is known for it’s meth heads, expect your neighbors to be the same.

Let me just begin by pointing out that a previous blog I wrote clearly stated my desire to not be stuck living among drug dealers and gang bangers (as I have been in the past). The universe must have somehow turned a deaf ear to this request because my neighbors? Yeah, they seem to be feeding the town’s meth habit right from the comfort of their own home. Let’s just say they are an interesting bunch without the street smarts of any successful drug dealer (thus their arrest yesterday). And they take showers with a hose and sponge in their driveway. Enough said.

2. Fist fighting doesn’t mean that a friendship is over.

While my boyfriend spent the last 4 years entrenched in the military way of life surrounded by guys, I was at home spending most of my time with my girlfriends. So when a night of drinking turned sour because two of his buddies started fist fighting over an eye gouging game that went a little too far, I thought that a rift would be formed right smack dab in the middle of our “group.” When I asked one of the guys if they would still be friends (with his eye bloodshot and quickly turning a shade of black), he answered, “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be? We’re best friends. It’s just like two boys in a sand box fighting over the same Tonka truck. No big deal.”

I’m still trying to decide if girls could ever adopt this thought process.

3. Living for the weekends is no way to live.

When people have asked me over the past few months how I like living out here, my answer is always the same: the weekends are a blast. But the rest of the week? I’d rather rip out my toenails one by one then spend another hour simply wasting time here. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The point, however, is that we get to leave on the weekends and venture out into civilization – exactly what makes living here bearable. Which also makes me realize that jumping between fleeting moments of bliss is simply no way to exist. Period.

4. Distance is all relative.

Just a quick snapshot: from the spot that I am currently sitting, Starbuck’s is a good 20 miles away, any quality restaurant is 60+ miles away, and a decent movie theater playing recent movies is around 65 miles away. Seriously. So now when I hear people complain about driving I’ll have a hard time resisting the urge to tell them to shove it. Which also brings me to my next point.

5. Heat is also all relative.

Now that the temperature is slowly dropping, I am beginning to realize how drastically our idea of “normal” can shift if need be. And of course, after sweating through 110+ degree temperatures with a swamp cooler that refused to work, 98 degrees seems like heaven. I don’t think I’ll ever say that Colorado summers are too hot again. Ever.

6. Good friends don’t count dollars and cents.

Before living the military lifestyle, I had never encountered a group that was so willing to give without keeping track of what they were owed in return. They care deeply about each other, but they care about each other’s families as well. That is what I’ll miss.

7. When all else fails, food can make any day exciting.

There is something about experiencing never ending boredom that makes meal time really fricken exciting. So those days when slaving away over my computer or watching an embarrassing amount of reality TV simply weren’t cutting it, having a really good meal could fill that void. Yes, I realize that’s what massively obese people say, but I’m being honest here. At least it’s not a drug addiction – although my neighbors could have helped me out with that.

8. Claiming your husbands accomplishments is not cool.

After spending a fair amount of time living in close proximity to a military base and a total of four years immersed in the politics of it all, I have met several types of military spouses. There is one in particular that I can’t stand – the one that will say matter of factly (and of course there are plenty of variations on this), “Yeah, we are supposed to be picking up rank soon,” or “I really can’t stand our chain of command right now.” Strange, but I don’t think that the military remembers employing you.

Yes, it’s a partnership. But I don’t think your marriage vows stated anything about losing your own identity and taking on that of your husband’s. Maybe that’s just me.

9. Not everyone thinks like me.

Perhaps this one sounds like something I should have learned around the age of 8, but let’s be honest- most of us operate on a daily basis spouting off our opinions like everyone feels exactly the same way. After being surrounded by people who grew up far differently than I did, I realize that not everyone agrees (or should agree) with me. And I’m pretty sure I’m ok with that.

10. Money should be spent (yes, I know this one’s a shocker).

From the time my dad walked me down to the bank and helped me open up my first savings account, I’ve been a money hoarder. There was a time when spending as little as $10 would create an ulcer in my stomach the size of Texas. After moving, however, I realized that we would have to spend money if we wanted to go anywhere or see anything worthwhile. So, out of necessity, I agreed.

I know that we wouldn’t have been able to have one tiny fraction of the amazing experiences we did if we didn’t spend some of our hard-earned dough. And that’s big for an anxiety-prone- money-hoarder like me.

Goodbye 29Palms. I’d like to say I’ll miss you, but then I’d be lying. And a quote from a few good guys I know, “It’s been real. It’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun.”

I haven’t disappeared, I’ve just been baking in the heat.

Blogging, like most other areas of my life, used to be something I scheduled. (Because even inspiration can be placed on a timeline for someone as by the book as myself.) Then, when things started to get a little crazy, I stopped cold turkey. But what used to be an issue of priorities has now become another bout of perfectionism gone haywire.

Let me just begin by saying this- when I was younger and writing in a diary seemed like something every little girl should do, I used to tear out entries if I didn’t like how they sounded. Granted, I had a placed a massive lock on the outside to prevent anyone from reading my innermost thoughts, but the point was that I wasn’t satisfied with anything short of perfection. Thus, it was only a matter of time before I began judging the writing I was putting up for all of the online world to see (or at least the meager audience that I had acquired).

Inspiration, it turns out, is also a problem when leaving my house has ceased to be an everyday occurrence. No, it’s not depression, it’s an absolute hatred of the god awful heat. Heat meaning 100 degrees IN THE SHADE. Seriously. I’ve never before felt as if my skin was cooking two minutes after stepping outside.

I can blame my writing hiatus partly on the fact that I’m in the midst of a series of processes. Learning to live with my honey, for one, is a PROCESS (capitals seemed necessary for that one). How could it not be when I’m used to being comfortable and he’s used to a lifestyle of survival? My challenge this week: getting him to agree to a rendezvous at the farmers market this weekend. For some reason, he’s completely against fresh produce. Go figure.

Another process: accepting and recognizing the perfection in everyday life. After the homecoming was over, and I settled into a “routine,” I began to forget what both of our lives were like when he was away. I’m reminding myself to feel a little gratitude for the shopping trips, the movie dates, and even the arguments that we couldn’t have had if the deployment would have ended differently.

Most of all, I’m learning to redefine the individual me while still staying connected to this relationship I’ve waited so long to fully experience.

I’ve missed you blogger world. Here’s to checking in more regularly.

And Here Comes the Sun…

For the better part of the last three years I have waited for a significant change to happen in my otherwise middle of the road kind of existence. Perhaps the universe was backed up with requests and received all of mine at the SAME TIME. Nonetheless, the past three weeks has left my life looking like Heidi Montag post surgery. In a good way, of course.

After seven months of panic attacks and limited communication, my high school sweetheart came home from war. (Strange how retro that sounds now.) This was precluded by a week of hearing that the homecoming date was being pushed back yet again- another indication that organization is not one of the Marine Corps strong suits. However, every cloud has a silver lining and mine was wine guzzling and antique shopping with the other perturbed Marine wives/girlfriends. Without them I very well could have pulled all my hair out.

Three o’ clock in the morning on April 30th we were all dolled up and ready for those few seconds we had waited too long for. While I will undoubtedly experience other reunions in my life, I don’t know if I will ever again experience the massive amount of love and respect that this one garnered from everyone present. And for that I am truly grateful that I have loved someone who couldn’t be entirely mine for the past 3+ years of my life.

For those who left on October 4 and never came home and for those who sustained injuries that will forever change their way of life, my heart goes out to you. I know that the brotherhood of men that my love left with ensured that I attended his homecoming and not his funeral. I am forever indebted to all of you.

Because pictures (and videos) speak a thousand words, here is the video of the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines homecoming from Afghanistan. For anyone without an immediate connection to the military who doesn’t fully understand the sacrifice involved, this is what it’s all about.

I will now always have this as my reminder that all challenges come to an end and a little bit of faith can move mountains.

Creature Comforts and Cable Negotiations

I think I’ve found the place. Well, maybe not the place as in “this is the place I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life living in.” No, more like this is the place that seems to require fewer hours to clean, and not quite as many bugs to herd out before becoming hospitable. Although the one area of contention that might just be the sole cause of a few breakdowns: no dishwasher. Wait…what century are we living in?

Yes, I know- not a big deal. But I have come to discover that I am one of those people who depends greatly on creature comforts. I gave up on that tiny glimmer of hope that we might actually have a washer and dryer, but a dishwasher just seems like a give in. Like running water. (Maybe I should check on that one too.) And then while I was breaking out in a cold sweat over hand washing dishes, my honey says to me, “We aren’t getting cable, we really won’t need it.”

Umm…hang on. I think that one just gave me a heart attack. Quickly, and a bit too defensively I quipped “you want me to live in the middle of the desert with no freakin’ cable?!” This was about the time when I started to run through the list of things that we might not agree on. Like how many covers to have on the bed or who will scrub the toilet. All of which is a little too much for someone who has pretty much lived sans roommates for the past 2+ years (I figure my parents don’t really count).

I won the cable battle after a very compelling argument and probably more whining then my honey really wanted to listen to. However, all of this has made me a little too aware of how much readjusting this move is going to require. Last time I trucked out to that corner of California I think I was a bit more moldable and pleasantly unaware of what I was in for. Luckily the gamble paid off and I loved it. Really loved it.

Once the dust settles (actually I don’t think it every settles there…) I know I will be able to find my niche again. Even if it is with basic cable and no dishwasher.

Murderers, Gang Bangers, Drug Dealers…and Foot Fungus

Tying up loose ends in Denver and opening up shop in California has turned into a daunting task. A few days ago I had somewhat officially picked THE place for me and my honey only to start back at square one yesterday. My choice, of course, had been based off of three craigslist pictures that showed that the kitchen had REAL TILE and the appliances actually looked sleek and CLEAN. Yup, I thought- that’s the place. Low standards? Well, last time I lived in good ol’ 29 Palms we lacked a dishwasher, a fully functioning stove, and had a crack under our door large enough to fit several different species of desert bug.

So after recruiting a friend to go look at the place (because yes, I’m still that rational let’s make REALLY sure kind of person), I was told it was small. Really small. Like you need a blow up mattress in the bedroom small. At that point I was willing to maybe forgo a few furniture items and get cozy with the idea of REALLY getting cozy with my honey- until I heard the last little bits of information. The owner lives on the property in her trailer. Ummm…ok. Oh and one of the neighbors had a sister living with him that ended up MURDERING HER BOYFRIEND- on the property. Joy. Even my low standards can’t jive with that drama.

Back to the drawing board. I’m not entirely sure where to go from here considering how slim the pickin’s are in that neck of the woods. I’ve convinced myself that we can make any shit hole feel like home considering this time we will be providing our own furniture and personality (note to self: never rent a furnished place in 29 Palms again. EVER. ). But I’d still like to be able to take off my shoes in my own home and not be afraid of getting some unrecognizable foot fungus. And of course I would love to not have to share a wall with anyone. Ever again actually.

My past experience with wall sharing actually ended when 5-10 members of the SWAT team arrested my next door neighbor in a massive city-wide gang bust. Did I mention he was a drug dealer? After nearly 6 months of living in an apartment in which the walls lacked ANY sort of insulation, 6 calls to the police, and 1 call to child protective services (I was determined damn it), I was ready to kick some ass myself. When I saw the scuffle unfold with my morning coffee, I laughed just a little. Yup, I thought, my intuition was spot on.

Well, unfortunately for me, the landlord wasn’t really convinced that gang banging and coke dealing was such a bad thing after all, so the rest of the obnoxiously LOUD clan was permitted to move back in. In one last-ditch attempt to get some measure of silence back I got ahold of the police report to hand in to the home owner’s association. There in writing was documentation of every call I had made- and next to it? A warning note in capital letters: PROCEED WITH CAUTION. RESIDENTS ARE CONSIDERED TO BE ARMED AND DANGEROUS. Holy shit. And these neighbors knew all along that it was little ole‘ me calling the cops on them. My rational mind told me it was time to cut my losses and get the hell out of there.

So as I keep on truckin‘ with this home search I’m trying to keep the faith. And of course steer clear of murderers, gang members, drug dealers, and of course foot fungus. Maybe I should speak to a realtor to see if they have any places that fit this very strict criteria.

One More Plea:

If you haven’t yet…PLEASE vote for my trip on http://www.trazzler.com  It’s getting down to the last week and I have PROMISED my honey that I would take him on this San Francisco trip when he gets back from Afghanistan next month.  I am VERY close to winning in the LGBT category.  All you have to do is go to the website, sign up (VERY IMPORTANT), find the San Francisco Writing Contest icon on the right hand side of the page, and click on the LGBT category.  Look for my entry: “Dining With Drag Queens in Denver, Colorado,” open it and click the “save” button underneath the picture.  That’s it!  If you have already voted- THANK YOU!

Please Get Out of My Room…Thanks.

Cohabitation, in my “this is my space, please kindly remove yourself from it” mindset, has never been an idea that I snuggled up to. Not only does my sanity depend on the fact that I can remove myself from all other living, breathing, and talking beings, but my experience with roommates has been severely limited to family members who (I’m hoping) would never pour bleach on my clothes or steal my pricier belongings (I suppose I’m channeling the Bad Girls Club here…). I’m stubborn, picky, and am prone to noise induced panic attacks. Crazy? Just a bit.

While my post-high school living situation did include a brief stint with my honey in the deserts of California, I feel like in knowing our time together was limited (he was in the midst of shipping off to Iraq), I was able to not let (all) of my anxieties get the best of me. But this time, as I prepare for his homecoming and a 2nd move, cohabitation has taken on a kind of permanence that makes me giddy with excitement and sick to my stomach all at the same time. Our communication over the past 6+ months has been limited to skype chats, 3am text sessions, and facebook messaging…so how on earth can that be translated into bed sharing, chore sharing, and overall life sharing with the simple flip of a switch?

Although I’d like to site his lack of cleanliness and attachment to video games as the main reason for my concern, in truth I am dreading those issues that will point to me being the one that needs to shift, change, and cave just a little bit to let him in. Deep down I know that as long as I stay attached to my way of doing things and closed off to sharing anything in my space, the more I can convince myself that I am right and everyone else is WRONG.

Despite these little butterfly jitters, I have begun thrift and craft store shopping so that we can have a champagne inspired pad on a PBR budget. I’m convinced (since signing on to write for Calfinder) that this is absolutely possible. My first project that I have attempted to tackle: fixing up picture frames and removing the pictures circa 1999. Next up?….Not entirely sure.

Got any suggestions? Wine bottle candle holders, film strip curtains, I’m up for anything. Give me your best tips and I will be sure to post pictures of the finished product.

Sloppy Hugs and Make-Believe

When I was earning a paycheck by watching after other people’s kids, there were plenty of times I loathed going to work. I couldn’t stand the thought of being called to the bathroom to wipe another little behind, to reread Curious George for the 28th time that day, to explain why we couldn’t watch another hour of TV (although if I didn’t fear that I was being nanny cammed I might have given in to that one). There were those times when I seemed to relive the same five minutes 20 times over because entertaining a child miraculously made time slow down to an excruciating speed. I remember hating pool time, dreading bed time, and thinking of ways to get out of make-believe time.

But yesterday, during a spontaneous trip to the Natural History Museum, I found myself stopping to smile at a group of kids holding hands, eyes glued to a replica of Mars. And I suddenly remembered how much I miss these jobs. I miss all the little ones that I watched grow from diapers and trains to big kid beds and homework. I miss the times when I had to sit down and explain multiplication in a way that a 2nd grader could understand. I miss the sloppy hugs and the faces that would light up when I walked through the door. I miss the kids whose lives I had hoped to touch but who really touched mine instead.

I thought, as we often do, that this was a part of my life that was better left in the past. I thought that with a degree and a dream there was no time to slow down for something that wouldn’t put me on the direct route to where I want to go. But with writing jobs banging on my door and a future that is brighter than I could imagine, there are times that playing a game of make-believe with a kid that still talks about Santa Claus sounds absolutely perfect.

To all of the families who brought me into their homes and trusted me with their most precious possession- thank you. Without your kids, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Side Note:

*ATTENTION: to my fantastic blogging friends and fabulous readers*

I entered into a writing contest on Trazzler. Because I would fancy nothing more than the awesome trip to San Francisco that they are offering I need all the votes I can get. Find me here: http://www.trazzler.com/users/kayla33, sign up, and click save under each one of my trips. Thanks in advance for the support and I’ll be sure to mention you all in my acceptance speech (not that I get one, but you catch my drift).

It’s my pity party and I’ll cry if I want to…

My rational mind often tells me that loneliness is a choice.  And deep down I know that when I feel as if I am on some secluded island while the rest of the world is partying on the mainland it’s only because I took the boat over myself.  At this point in time, however, when my “plus one” is in a war zone and pretty much unavailable, it’s pretty damn hard to ignore the deafening silence that comes with single-dome. 

The problem is, I’m not single.  I can’t fill the void with some shameful sex-capades or go on a series of horrific blind dates in order to forge some sort of connection with another human being (not that any of that sounds even remotely appealing). Instead I have to be ok with an ample amount of “me” time, or playing voyeur to all those relationships that have sprouted up around me when I do go out with friends.  Both tend to be a little exhausting.  (I suppose this might be how nuns feel- while they are waiting to join forces with the big man upstairs they have to be ok wearing a chastity belt…)

 It’s a strange sort of limbo that I find myself in.  I am comfortable with and completely used to going “stag” to events, and don’t require an escort if I decide to meet some friends at a bar.  I have learned when to say “when” and go home alone when being around crowds is too much to handle.  But then when I get an invitation to a work party and quickly realize that I will have to scrounge for an available and completely platonic “plus one” I remember how much I miss having a significant other that resides in the same area code.  And that just sucks.

 Part of me knows that I will look back years from now when my hair is sufficiently dyed to cover the gray, and be grateful for how strong all of this has made me.  My life experience will tell me that these trials made me independent and allowed me to bring the most complete version of myself into a healthy relationship.  But as I sit here alone on a Saturday night feeling particularly pathetic I’ll forgo all those grown-up insights and throw myself a good ole’ fashioned pity party.  And yes, you all are invited.

A Lesson In Gratitude (courtesy of a Starbuck’s barista)

After I spent a long weekend frantically searching for jobs and making a list of all the reasons why I wouldn’t have the means to do the things I want to do, a Starbuck’s barista comped my $3 drink (I suppose this is a bit extravagant for someone without a steady income, but even I have my vices), and gratitude became my goal of the day.  When I stop my insanely irrational thoughts from shouting obscenities at my usually rational mind I can see how I have been provided for in ways that far surpass another bank deposit or the cash needed to buy a new laptop. 

Over the weekend I was given a FREE photo shoot for my honey abroad through Operation Love Reunited.  This brilliant organization provides free photography sessions for families with a loved one serving overseas, and sends these pictures to them to serve as a reminder of what they have waiting for them back home.   After sobbing through their heart-wrenching online video I sent an email, not really expecting much in return and thinking that my non-married status would probably serve as some sort of red flag.  Instead I was contacted by the founder of the organization (Tonne Lawrence, a brilliant photographer and military wife) who offered to take my pictures the following day in her home.  And as we chatted over everything from which branch had the sexist uniforms (Marines, hands down) to why deployments just suck all around, I was reminded that the universe is filled with people who will go out of their way to make the world a little sweeter for those around them. 

Despite the pitfalls of military life and being attached to someone who must be more committed to the United States government then to your relationship, there is a community upholding these servicemen and women that is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  I have been offered homes to stay in by girls that I have met only once or twice before and lent support by families that are going through the same separation pains as I am.  Last time I trekked out to the desert to say goodbye to my Afghanistan- bound honey, we all (platoon buddies and their wives/girlfriends) spent the last few days preparing together for what we were all about to go through.  We cooked dinners, made margaritas, and attempted to forget why we were together in the first place.  Being a 20 something with little money and friends that are equally as poor, I’m not used to anyone opening their home without requiring that those that enter pitch on a pizza or a keg- this experience was so far removed from what I had become accustomed to it was shocking.  Luckily, living this taxing sort of existence comes with a new family that genuinely cares.

I have always been blessed with friends that keep me stable and help to inspire me in everything that I do.  Most of them have seen me through every life stage since my awkward dark eyeliner and blue mascara phase and will continue to be there despite the physical distance between us.  Today I am deeply grateful for my seasoned make-shift family and for all those I have met through my honey’s service in the military.  And of course to the Starbuck’s barista that sparked my sense of gratitude today- you are pretty awesome too.  I am one lucky girl to have so many fantastically spectacular people in my life.