ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the category “Family”

A Legacy of Love

Many years ago, on an evening in Washington, D.C., a young, blonde, Army Captain from Virginia spotted a beautiful, dark haired woman. They were both on their way to a dance — she in the back of a covered Army truck, sitting with her friends, he about to get into an accompanying car when he found himself captivated by this woman. He smiled at her and asked if she would like to ride with him rather in the back of the truck. She, being the slightly stubborn and not easily beguiled woman she was, politely refused, saying she was going to the dance with her friends and so she would be sitting with them on the way there. “Don’t be silly,” one of her friends whispered, “he’s cute!” She looked back at the man, with his crooked grin and twinkling eyes, thought for a moment, sighed, and got up to take his outstretched hand. She gracefully descended from the back of the truck — and landed squarely on his foot. But the smile never left his face because he was holding the hand of the person who would become the love of his life — as was she.

More than seventy years passed, the beautiful woman sat quietly with her hospice nurse, talking about things to come. Her nurse reached for her hand and said “Don’t be scared, when the time comes Bill will be waiting for you.” The woman smiled softly and said “Oh, no. When it’s time, he will come for me.” Because, after a lifetime of love and laughter and devotion, she knew her Southern gentleman would never let her make that final journey alone. He would, once again, be there with his hand outstretched.

The man and woman are my grandparents; Peg and Liam Harper; the first story is how their legacy of love began, the second story explains why it lives on.

Very early this past Sunday my Nana passed away, nearly a year and a half after my Da. They had always been the oak tree in my life — rooted, strong, their branches swaying constantly to protect those they loved. I went home in September to visit her, after she entered hospice, and she told me my Da had been coming to see her. Once she awoke from a nap and he was sitting next to her, smiling that gentle smile of his. Once she saw him as suddenly as she felt him, when he reached out to touch her arm. I guess some people could doubt if he was really there, or if this was just wishful thinking on her part, maybe her body preparing to move on. But anyone who knew them will tell you — if there were ever two souls who were meant to always find each other, theirs were.

Nana and Da gave the world many gifts. As part of the greatest generation, Da served in WWII — not only storming the beaches of Normandy but finding himself trapped behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge — and in Korea. Nana kept their life, one that would eventually include two daughters, thriving while he was gone, she built it to be strong and steadfast. And the gift they gave me was a lifetime of love.

Since Nana’s passing I’ve been wandering in a fog of grief, feeling a little like someone being held together by fraying tape. I know how profoundly lucky I am to have had her with me for so long, how blessed we all are that she lived to be 98. But grief is grief, and 98 doesn’t feel long enough. And I realize that’s selfish but I guess grief is like that.

I’ve also been struggling in my mind how best to write about Nana. I’ve written about Nana and Da before, tried to thank them for the love they’ve always given me. And I have a million memories I could share — annual vacations we took to Mackinac Island, quiet strolls through Woodlake Nature Center, dance recitals and performances they never missed, the gingerbread houses we made every Christmas, the love for animals they instilled in me, how they drove to Montana for my college graduation and again to meet Eric for the first time. How I stood with my Da in Washington D.C., watching my, then, two children go round and round on the carousel when he turned to me and said “I’m worried they won’t remember me” and I said “Da, that’s just not possible.” Because the love and devotion they showed towards their daughters, towards me, towards their other cherished granddaughter, Devon, their son-in law, Les, their grandson-in-law, Eric, only grew with each addition to our family and our children adore their great-grandparents. The memories we have are vast and precious.

But right now I’m thinking about the last time we spoke to Nana, a week before she passed. She saw the faces of her great-grandchildren and made the sign of the cross, I thought she was thanking God, my mom thought she was blessing the children. Either way, we’d never seen her do that before. And she got to see Eric, who she and Da couldn’t have loved more if he’d been their flesh and blood, and who returned that love tenfold. And I got to see her, one last time.

In the summer of 2014 we traveled to France to meet my grandparents and visit the beaches where Da had fought so many years ago.  I wrote about this amazing journey, and what it meant to all of us. Since Nana’s passing, I’ve been thinking about one thing in particular that happened. After arriving in Normandy from Paris, famished, we decided to get lunch so we found a little deli. Eric went over to start ordering food and I began to help Nana and Da out of the car. I first helped Nana, then turned for Da and, before I could catch her, Nana stumbled on the cobblestone, falling onto her side. I began screaming for Eric and, not long after, we found ourselves in the waiting room of a hospital. Poor Da was worried sick about Nana, and exhausted from the trip. The hospital would only let one of us back and, since Eric speaks French, we decided it should be him. Eventually, hours after our arrival, he convinced the doctors to let me bring Da back to see Nana.

I wheeled him down the hospital corridor until we found Nana, resting in a bed, and I parked Da as close to her as I could get him. He lovingly took her hand and softly spoke “hello, dear” and she responded “hello, my darling” as her hand closed around his. And my eyes filled with tears because the looks on their faces may as well have been those of 24-year olds freshly in love. Suddenly, things felt right again, because things never were quite right when they were apart.

And so I find comfort in the knowledge that they are, once again, together. And I can see in my mind that dashing young Captain reach his hand out for that beautiful young woman — only this time both of them have the devotion of a lifetime spent in love in their eyes — when he softly speaks “hello, dear” and she responds “hello, my darling.”

“Do Me a Favor. Tell Other People My Story.”

This morning I learned of the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paula Beck. Paula and I have been friends for 31 years, for most of our lives. I am in shock. I am at a loss as to how to absorb this reality. I thought I’d be better prepared for this, I am woefully unprepared for this.

Paula was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was working on her social work degree, her first day of chemo was the day of her graduation ceremony. I saw her when I went home last summer. By that time she’d had a double mastectomy and many rounds of chemo but she was cancer free. We sat in the backyard and talked with my bonus mom about  what she wanted to do next. She was still tired, and recovering, but she was excited about the possibility of finding a job, doing something she was passionate about, helping people. Then the heartbreaking news came that her cancer had spread. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail because her story is not mine to tell — that story belongs to her beautiful daughters and her partner of many years.

But I do want to pass something on, because Paula felt that her story was bigger than her, that people could learn from her battle with cancer. In January, Paula and I discussed her having a celebration of life. She told me she hated the idea of a traditional funeral — a sad event she would not be there for, to see everyone she loved. Rather, she wanted a happy day that was true to who she was, a joyful event. It turned into even more than that. It was a fundraiser for her family, an awareness raiser about breast cancer, and so many people attended, donated, came from all over to celebrate Paula. The mantra of the day was “Why? Because we love you, Paula!” When Paula got up to speak she was so her — smiling, laughing, showing profound gratitude for the love that surrounded her. But she also took the opportunity to pass on a bigger message and I want to pass her message on now

One more thing that I want to say that’s very important. I was diagnosed with this, and I maybe didn’t do my breast self-test enough. I was in my early forties, I thought I was too young, I thought it wouldn’t happen to me. And it did. And I wasn’t detected on a mammogram. I had a six centimeter tumor in my right breast. And I want you all to know, you’re your own best advocate. There’s no shame in feeling your own body and knowing your body. It could save your life, I could be in a different predicament than I am if I had not thought that it wouldn’t happen to me, I was so young, ya know, if I would have caught it sooner. But I have a very aggressive cancer … and the tumor was very large. And, now, this is where I’m at. But it’s not too late, there’s a whole bunch of people out here, and you have to know your body … Do me a favor. Tell other people my story. And tell them to do their own breast self-awareness checks and know their body. Because I don’t want this to go on and hurt other people the way it has hurt me and my family. So please do me that favor and share it with others and make sure you are all doing this to stop cancer, or at least minimize the impact and effect it has on other people. So, I love you all and thank you. I’m getting off this damn microphone now.

Because that was Paula. Even exhausted, even in pain, even going through something so difficult, she thought of other people, and how she could help them. Paula gave so many gifts to this world — her two beautiful daughters, her kindness, her empathy, her laughter, her smile, her example of profound courage in the face of something so painful, her reverence for nature, her absolute sincerity in how she interacted with everyone around her. She was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the privilege to know and love.

This was a quote that Paula chose to go on a portrait our incredibly talented friend, Tina, drew of Paula:

Paula's quote

I wish I could credit this artist because it’s a beautiful piece but the artist is listed as “unknown.”

It was just so Paula to choose that quote, to think of the importance of how we treat others first and foremost.

This is a copy of the portrait, the original was sold in the silent auction at Paula’s celebration of life:


A copy of Tina Bevan’s portrait of Paula, the original has the quote written on it.

That’s Paula — always smiling, always beautiful, always lighting up a room and impacting everyone she ever met. I have so many amazing memories of Paula, most of them are just the everyday things that make up a childhood — giggling, passing notes in class, hanging out, doing things we shouldn’t have done, having A LOT of fun together. One summer Paula joined my family, of which she was a cherished member by this time, on an extended trip to Mexico. She’d never been out of the country and she was beyond excited. A lot happened that summer — we spent hours on the beach together, we hung out with friends I’d made the year before who also became her friends, she got stung by bullet ants, she fell in love. While we spent most of that trip just outside the tiny town of Chelem we also went to Chichen Itza. I remember climbing El Castillo with Paula. Going up was fine but she refused to come down because, once you get up there, the height of the great pyramid is overwhelming. She sat on the top and wouldn’t budge, she told me I’d have to bring in a helicopter because that was the only way she’d get back to the ground. The smile that was usually a permanent fixture on her face had transformed into a stubborn scowl. But we coaxed her down, bit by bit, and laughed once we were on terra firma again. So many memories.


I’m in shock, vacillating wildly between being numb and sobbing. When I found out last night that Paula’s cancer had spread to her brain I told Eric that I thought I’d been prepared, as much as humanly possible, to have to say goodbye. But I realized that I wasn’t. And the reality of saying goodbye was very different from the hypothetical of saying goodbye. And when I found out this morning that she had passed I began to shake and cry, completely caught off guard. Woefully unprepared. I am running the gamut of emotions, but I’m only feeling a tiny portion of each, I guess shock is a gift in that way. I’m grateful Paula is no longer in pain. I’m incredibly angry that she had to fight the battle she fought, and that she was taken far too soon. I feel blessed for having had her in my life. My heart hurts for her family. And I know that this is only the beginning, because grief is a process and you never get over it, you just make room for it in your life.

At the beginning of the year Eric and I signed up for a running challenge, to run 2,015 miles in 2015 as a team. After discussing it we decided we wanted to dedicate our miles to Paula. Which might sound trivial to some but, to us, running is sacred. And Paula got that. When I told her what we wanted to do she was so touched, because she knows what running means to us. She knows the strength we garner from it, the dedication we put into it, the love we have for it. Every time we’ve run we have focused on sending Paula strength and endurance. In turn, we’ve been inspired by her great courage, her joy, her love. There have been many runs where thinking of Paula kept me moving forward, and many runs where I felt her with me, cheering me on, because that’s what she did. Always. And I’m having a hard time thinking about transitioning from running for Paula to running in memory of Paula. I’m reminding myself that she’ll still be there, cheering me on, just in a different form. But it’s hard, it’s just really hard.

This is what I’m asking anyone who is reading to do — remember Paula’s message to be your own best advocate, to know your body. She wanted to spare others her experience, help her do that, help her memory live on that way. And be kind to each other. With each act of kindness, both big and small, Paula will be with us. And I’m going to remember this, embrace it, live it. Each time I react with judgement or with disdain I will try to remember Paula’s message to be kind. Live gently. Love with grace. Always.


Tomorrow we bury my Da, who passed away in his sleep last Saturday. When I found out about his death I crumpled into Eric’s arms, sobs sent my kids running towards us to find out what was wrong, their sobs followed. I want to eulogize him in writing but not tonight, tonight I prepare for tomorrow.

After much discussion Eric and I decided our daughter, Aisleen, should come home with me, while we would have loved for everyone to be here logistics and finances made that impossible but this decision, to bring Aisleen, was good. My Da belonged to a family of women–he was raised by a single mother, he married into a family that had four girls, he and my Nana had two daughters, they each had a daughter, our Liam was the first son in our family for generations. Da, along with my Uncle and Eric, have been men amongst strong, independent women and each thrives. I think that shows their profound respect for women, and their devotion to the women they love. So it’s good, I think, for all of us to be surrounding Da tomorrow.

It’s been healing to be home, wrapped in the nurturing love of family, laughing, remembering, knowing we were so blessed to have had Da’s unconditional love. We wanted it longer, and I don’t feel selfish for wanting that. I’d love to be happy with exactly the time I’ve been given but, right now, I’m not, I wanted him to be with us longer, wanted to hear him laugh more, wanted to hug him more, wanted to see the way he looked at my Nana more because it was a thing of beauty.

I have found solace and catharsis in my early evening runs since I’ve been home, running through the rain, the chill, the beauty of the changing leaves. Minnesota in Fall is something I’ve missed very much and I’m clinging to the healing power my solo runs along the trails, lined with trees of orange and red, are bringing to me. I’ve kept it together for the most part during the day, and I’ve cried on the trails because running, for me, is primal and everything comes to the surface so I can run it off, tiny piece by tiny piece. I know it will take a lot of runs before I can go without tears and I’m okay with that.

Tomorrow I will do my best to hold myself together during the reading I’m doing at Da’s funeral, and I will do my best to comfort my Nana. And, when I get home on Sunday, I will crumple back into Eric’s arms and be grateful for his love, as I always am, and know that it’s safe to collapse again.

The Poetic Nomad: a Flash of Light, a Gift from My Daughter

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

Those words are from a poem that our eleven year old daughter wrote last night for her English class. I think I’ve read it fifty times, the first few times my eyes filled with tears. I’ve been worried about her since we moved here, leaving SEAS, our beloved school in San Jose, was painful, is painful. In SEAS, she was on firm ground. There, she knew everyone, was friends with everyone, adored her teachers, and felt safe and loved. Here, everything is new, it doesn’t feel safe yet, and we’ve had more than a few tear filled conversations that consist of her telling me how much she hates it here and how she just wants to go back. “Please, mommy, can’t we just go back?” On the surface I am steadfast, under it my heart aches for her and wishes I could whisk her off to the place she wants to be.

It is trying to move to a new country, to settle into a new school, to make friends, get to know your teachers, get a new routine down. And she has started middle school, which is a substantial transition in and of itself. She’s straddling two worlds right now–one where she is still a kid and one where she is becoming a young adult, she would prefer to have her feet firmly planted in the place where she is still a kid. She was telling me that part of the difficulty she is having is because “all the girls in my grade act like they’re so grown up! But they’re really just kids! I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in fifth grade, I just want to be a kid!” Yes, be a kid, kid. Please, stay a kid for as long as you can, don’t be in a rush to grow up, this is best for you. But I gently remind her that everyone is different and that those girls are just trying to figure out who they are, we do that by exploring, putting on different masks, trying on different personas. It’s a normal part of growing up, and it exasperates her. She knows who she is, she knows what she likes, she just wants to be Aisleen.

And Aisleen is disorganized, which she comes by honestly–ahem. We’ve been working on different ways to help both of us be more organized, some things are working and that is a relief. But the lack of organization has meant some assignments were not being done or, if done, not being turned in. Which compounded her frustrations and grief, it’s hard enough to do everything she is doing but when you feel like you’re moving backwards frustrations loom larger.

Up until last night Aisleen had yet to truly be sparked by anything at school, but, last night, she sat at the computer and wrote enthusiastically, thinking out loud about words she could use, asking us for meanings and context, and I was thrilled! She loves to learn, she loves the challenge of school, she loves to delve into projects that engage her and help her grow. She had two assignments to finish, one was a poem imagining herself as a willow tree, and one was to write a diary entry from the perspective of a character in a book the class had just read.

When she finished the poem she first showed it to Eric, I could tell from his reaction that it was a special piece of writing. She handed it to me and I read, curled up on our sofa, the incense I had lit drifting past my nose, my glass of wine untouched as I sat completely entranced by her poem. My eyes filled with tears, I read it a second time, then a third. Then I placed the paper in my lap, looked up at my magnificent daughter, and said “wow.” She smiled and replied “did you like it?” I looked at her with complete astonishment and told her it was an incredible piece. Just, wow. Her smile grew larger before she went back to writing her diary entry. Eric and I looked at each other with disbelief on our faces. We have always known she is creatively gifted, she’s been weaving stories since we was old enough to talk, and then to write. She has notebooks full of characters that live in lands she has invented, their lives are rich and adventurous. This poem, and the diary entry that followed, showed us that she is coming into her own.

I Am, by Aisleen

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I wonder if I will be able to graze with the buffalo that live on the plains

I hear the morning birds sing their sweet, calming song

I see the butterflies fluttering around the field of grass that surrounds me

I want to be free like the animals that sleep at my roots during the cold, harsh winter nights

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I pretend to be free with the deer, the grass tickling my feet every step

I feel as if I will leave one day, never to return to the soil that keeps me from my dreams

I touch the wind that hits my face as a gust of wind floods over the farm

I worry that my beliefs of being free with the world will never come true

I cry when I think about being cut down, the advantage of leaving, never coming to be

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

I try to make the dream come true, walking, flying, adventuring with the animals

I hope that I can explore the world, see the countries many miles from where I stand

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

Every parent has doubts; we doubt the disciplines we use, we worry if we shower them with too much praise or too little, we have those nagging thoughts tinkering in the back of our minds–are we doing right by our kids? What if we aren’t? What path are we setting them on? When you are the parent of nomads there is an additional layer of doubt–am I asking too much of them? Should we call an end to this and settle down? Which way is right for them? And then there are those flashes that tell you, yes, they are okay, more than okay, they are thriving, and those flashes are gifts. For me, this poem is one of those flashes. In it I see a girl who is wise beyond her years, a girl with roots who recognizes that there is much more to this world than what is outside her bedroom window, so much beauty to soak in, and she recognizes that the journey she is on is full of endless possibilities. I feel abundantly blessed that I will witness her walk her path and whether she becomes a writer, a teacher, a veterinarian, or a stay at home mom she is bound for greatness and her spirit, full of grace and recognizing no boundaries, will not settle for less.

Gramps: By Aisleen

I miss my Gooseberry. I miss the smell of her every night in bed, and how her sweet voice whispered in my ear telling me how much she loved me. She had the most angelic voice. Her words on our marriage day, “I do” echo around my head. Her pale, wrinkled skin, how my fingers felt when I touched it, I felt like if you offered me to stand there and touch her arm forever, I would accept it in a heartbeat. Her grey hair, oh how it shined all day, it would reflect of the sunlight, and would glisten in the brightness of the moon. Her smell was indescribable, how it would dance through my nostrils. I can still smell it in our marriage bed, in the pillow, in her suitcase. I could smell it whenever I went to her grave. Her eyes, oh how I miss them. Her beautiful eyes would sparkle whenever she looked at me, I could see my reflection, as if they were a stream in an evergreen forest. When we kissed, I could taste her cherry lip-gloss, I would hate to admit, but I put it on at night to make me feel like she is there with me, in bed, her arms wrapped around me. Oh, how I want to have her back with me, enjoying the pleasant breeze on the farm, the sun shining down on us.

I have a new dog named Huzza-Huzza. I named his after Gooseberry. Huzza-Huzza and I sit in the back of the car while my Chickabiddy drives around the fields. Driving over bumps, grass, and dirt. As I sit in the back I pet Huzza-Huzza, his short, silky fur under my fingers as I smoke my pipe. It reminds me of the trip Gooseberry , Chickabiddy, and I took, around the United States when we went to visit Chickabiddy’s mom. Sadly, I could not see her grave, since I had to stay back with Gooseberry.

Chickabiddy’s friends are coming over to stay with us for a little while. I have heard so much about them. They sound like magnificent friends to Salamanca. I have been staying up at night because of the delight. Ben sounds like a wonderful, smart boy, and how I am so happy that he and Salamanca are together, and Phoebe sounds like a blast, her life sounds like a roller coaster, excitement, hilarity, sadness, thoughtfulness, uncertainty, anger, but I shall stop with that for if I kept going it would be as long as a ray of sunshine coming from the rising sun reflecting on a beach. Apparently, her English teacher might also be coming. It warms my heart to see my Chickabiddy ricocheting off the walls of the house. Oh how I wish my Gooseberry could be here for such an exhilarating time.

When the Mighty Fall: Our Family’s Conversation about Ray Rice

We are a Ravens family, my husband is from Baltimore and has always been a Ravens guy, our older two caught football fever and love the Ravens (younger one, not so much, he’s a soccer kid, “American football” doesn’t hold much interest for him). While I’ll sit down and watch a game now and again I fell in love with them because of their Softies, my personal favorite is Torrey Smith who is not only active with the Show Your Soft Side campaign (tough guys speaking out against animal cruelty) but also with BARCS, Baltimore Animal Rescue Care and Shelter; not only have he and his wife adopted a pitbull from them but when they married they asked people to donate to BARCS in lieu of giving them wedding gifts. Good people.

So the news of Ray Rice hitting his then fiancee, now wife, came as a shock to us, especially since we’ve always seen him as a stand up guy (as you can see in my blog that I linked to up there). I’m not going to blog about what we thought of the initial punishment for his abuse, that’s not the point of this, so let’s fast forward to yesterday when the Ravens announced that they were cutting Rice and the NFL indefinitely suspended him from the league. Again, I’m not going to blog about what I personally think of this punishment, what I want to focus on is the conversation we had with our kids about Rice because, for our family, it was an important one.

Shortly after Eric messaged me that Rice had been cut I came across a screen shot in my facebook newsfeed of Janay Rice face down on the floor of an elevator after Rice had hit her, her shoes were askew and her dress looked to be up around her backside. My reaction, right or wrong, was not “how could he have done that?” because I already knew what he had done, my reaction was “what the hell is wrong with the American media?” Janay Rice had already been victimized once, now she was being victimized again by the media. Folks can sugar coat it all they want, claim that it’s important for people to see the violence, but if that was you would you want it plastered all over the place? The best article I’ve read about this second victimization is a blog in The Nation called “The Revictimizing of Janay Rice,” please read it, it’s short and it has been updated to include Janay Rice’s statement about the video being released and about Ray Rice being cut. 

Eric and I talked about how we were going to address this with our kids, in part because they like Rice and in part because we saw this as an opportunity to talk about some bigger issues–domestic abuse, consequences, and how the media is handling this (because they are going to see those screen shots too). Their initial reaction was “WHAT?” Not because they thought Rice was innocent but because they didn’t understand why the Ravens and the NFL had swung so hard in the opposite direction from where they had started. But we wanted them to understand that, regardless of how the NFL has handled this, Rice being cut was ultimately on him–he punched his now wife, he did something nobody should ever do, there are consequences to that and they are life changing. 

And part of their confusion is because the NFL is rife with abusers. Now, so I don’t get flamed, I am not saying Rice shouldn’t be punished because there are so many other abusers in the league, I’m saying the fact that there are (and our kids know this) and that this one, this particular one, has been cut is confusing to our children. It’s hard to explain to your kids why one of their players was tossed when players like the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, accused of rape and sexual assault more than once, is still playing. Or when Greg Hardy, who plays for the Panthers, was found guilty of domestic assault. So the question of “Why Ray? Why not them?” that our kids asked is a fair one and, in my opinion, points to a league that takes money a lot more seriously than it takes conduct. Duh, we all knew this. But, damn, NFL, you’ve taken this step with one player what about the others? They have changed their policy about how domestic abuse will be dealt with, it now will earn players a six game ban for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second. That’s progress, if it actually happens, but we still have all these men who are abusers who will walk on to football fields this week, and hypocrisy is a tough thing to explain to a kid. Ultimately, we fell back on “he did something awful, he’s paying the price” but that doesn’t wash away the inconsistency. So, there’s that.

There’s also the larger plague of domestic abuse and this was something we really wanted our kids to understand–this one famous couple is in the spotlight but there are so many others, every minute of every damn day. It’s important, we think, to teach kids that things like this don’t happen in a vacuum, they are part of a larger problem. The fact that NFL does not take violence against women seriously is a symptom of the greater disease, the disease being, of course, that the US does not take violence against women seriously. I watched Liam’s eyes grow large when I told him that every day women are beaten by their partners and that, often, those beatings ultimately result in murder. He didn’t know, now he does, and I hope it helps him put this whole event into some context. And I hope it gives him an empathy for Janay Rice, who I think gets lost in all of this.

Eric and I told Liam that we didn’t want him watching the video, out of respect for Janay Rice. When Liam asked why it would be disrespectful of her to watch it my question to him was “would you want strangers watching a video where you were abused and humiliated?” He hadn’t thought of it like that and he responded with a resounding “no.” Good, neither would I, neither does she. And the fact that people still are is voyeurism at its nastiest.

Ultimately, our kids are kids and we can only expect so much of them. I don’t expect them to turn against Rice, or disavow any loyalty towards him, or say that they don’t want to watch him play anymore–it’s not that simple. Liam stood in our doorway and said “I can’t believe I’m never going to see him play football again,” that reaction went hand in hand with our daughter’s “what? why?” when Eric said stores were pulling Rice’s jersey. Black and white this situation ain’t and as bad as what Rice did is he’s still someone who has given our kids joy and reasons to cheer, I don’t think my personally verbally flogging him to our children serves any purpose. They don’t need a diatribe about how horrible what he did was, they know it was horrible, and the one thing Eric and I won’t do is tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel.

One thing I am thankful for is that Eric and I have been very careful about teaching our children that elite athletes (or any famous person), while fun to watch and often admirable human beings, should not be placed on pedestals or viewed as heroes and the kids take this to heart. There are exceptions to this rule, people who broke boundaries and fought for equality, like Jackie Robinson and Kathrine Switzer, but they are rare.  So at least we have no broken hearts in our little family, just disappointed kids trying to wrap their heads around some very big things.


An American Hero and the Journey of a Lifetime

My grandfather is my hero, I straight up, no holds barred, adore him completely. Everyone who knows him knows that he is a hero, not only because he served in WWII and in Korea, but because of the way he served–with valor, determination, and by putting the well being of his fellow soldiers above his own time and again. He’s also my hero because, through all the battles and the horror, he never lost his kindness and compassion, his gentle nature and goodness. These things are incredible, and some of the strongest memories I have from childhood are sitting and listening to his stories about WWII, especially about D Day. From the moment it all began … when he jumped off the boat and was so top heavy with gear that he flipped upside down in the water, unable to right himself and feeling fairly certain he was going to drown, he felt someone cut his heavy baggage off and help right him, that person was his Sergeant, Sergeant John Weaver. To later on the beach, after his Sergeant had been shot. My Da had risked his life to find a medic for the Sergeant but, in the end, he couldn’t be saved, and Da wouldn’t leave his Sergeant, so amongst the gunfire and the blood, Da stayed until his Sergeant passed, and then he fought on. This is my Da, an American hero

I.L.Harper-Holland-1944 Liam-Da-WWII


So much more could be written about everything he experienced during WWII, everything his young wife who waited for him experienced, and I kind of touched on it here, but today, on the 70th anniversary of D Day, I’d like to focus on a trip we all took last May to Normandy, France. My grandfather was granted a wish by a non-profit that gives back to seniors for everything they have given to us called Wish of a Lifetime. His wish was to take his oldest great-grandson, my Liam, to Omaha Beach. Liam is the only child I know who has spent more time than I did listening to Da’s stories about WWII and, not surprisingly, Da is his hero as well. Never in a million years did we think this wish would be granted because it would be such a big undertaking, but the foundation decided it had to be done (you can learn more about the details here) and we decided we had to go as a family. We asked the foundation to please give Liam’s plane ticket to my Nana, we would pay for Liam’s ticket and then all meet in Paris to make our way to Normandy. The foundation was incredible in helping to organize everything, and, eventually, this huge thing happened and we ended up in this minivan–that’s the seven of us with two walkers about to drive from Paris to Normandy, we were a bit scrunched!

Dublin, France, Vista 019

We arrived in Normandy, decided to grab some lunch after we got Nana and Da checked into their hotel, and what should have been an easy breezy bite to eat ended up in a trip to hospital for my Nana. All the travel fatigue, and the cobblestone streets, caused a bad fall but , thankfully, we were very near to a hospital. Ultimately Nana, while very bruised and bloodied, was given a clean bill of health from the doctors but they wanted her to spend the night so they could observe her. Eric, my husband, had been the one who was back with her while we sat in the waiting room because they only allowed one person at a time with the patient and he speaks French. Before we left he talked the staff into letting me bring my Da back to see Nana. The memory of the two of them when they greeted each other is still so strong, Da reached out and took Nana’s hand, his face absolutely lit up with love, they spoke, she patted his hand, he leaned over and kissed her cheek. The love my grandparents have for each other, after decades together, is simply amazing and they are never happier than when they are together.

It was decided that Da would come back to our B & B with us rather than stay in the hotel on his own, and the very nice B & B owner who arranged for him to stay in the one room that was on the ground floor, and the very nice people who had originally been in that room and gladly moved upstairs to accommodate Da, will always have a place in our hearts. Eric and I decided that one of us should stay with Da, especially since the rooms we’d reserved were in a different building of the B & B, and Eric volunteered. So my 6’4 husband, who loves my grandparents as if they were his own, spent the night on the small couch outside Da’s room and, before daybreak, quietly went into Da’s room to check on him and to make sure he was there when Da woke up so he could help him get ready. Have I mentioned how much I love my husband? I stayed with our exhausted children in their room

Dublin, France, Vista 076

The next morning we had breakfast with Da and, by the way, if you ever find yourself in Normandy …

Dublin, France, Vista 078


do stay at La Ferme Du Pressoir B & B, it’s spectacular

And we still talk about how scrumptious the breakfasts were

Dublin, France, Vista 077



Then we started our whirlwind of a day, which included a ceremony in Saint Lo where there is a church that has been turned into a museum dedicated to the American soldiers who helped to liberate France, the mayor of Saint Lo presented my Da with a certificate of thanks and granted him honorary citizenship of Saint Lo.

Dublin, France, Vista 105

We also visited the church where the body of Major Howie, my Da’s Major who was killed, was placed …


and the children got to lay down in hedgerows and learn all about the important part the rows played in the battles.


We stopped for lunch with our wonderful tour guide, Dale Booth

Da talking to my daughter, Aisleen (can you tell by the look on her face that it was a very full day?)

Da talking to my daughter, Aisleen (can you tell by the look on her face that it was a very full day?)


Somewhere in the midst of that Eric was able to go to the hospital and get Nana checked out so she could join us for the rest of the tour, and we continued on to Omaha Beach, which was a pretty incredible experience. To finally be at this place we’d been hearing about for so many years, and to be there with Nana and Da, is something I won’t even try to put into words because words just can’t contain it. We sat there, listening to Dale talk about the battle of D Day, finally seeing where the men had landed, where the Germans had been with their guns, finally seeing the beach that had shaped so many people in so many ways. Our youngest, who was six, had wandered off to play on the beach. I watched him dig his fingers into the sand, jump over puddles of water, search for shells and rocks, and I was thinking of how this beautiful, peaceful beach had seen so much carnage, how so many men had lost their lives here; and there was my baby, playing  in the sunshine on this almost mythical beach. Omaha beach, once a place of horror, was now a place of joy where children were free to run.

Riley on Omaha Beach

Riley on Omaha Beach


Da, Eric, and Liam listening to Dale talk about the battle.

Da, Eric, and Liam listening to Dale talk about the battle.


Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach


Our day drew to a close in a very emotional visit to Normandy’s American Cemetery, where my grandparents took part in the lowering of the flags

Dublin, France, Vista 167


After the ceremony we were chatting about the day, making sure Nana and Da were holding up okay, when an American approached Da and asked if he could shake his hand, Da held out his hand and the man thanked him for his service, Da was visibly touched. One by one, surrounded by the silence of this sacred cemetery, American tourists and French citizens came up to Da to shake his hand and speak quietly to him–“thank you for your sacrifice,” “thank you for helping to liberate my country,” “thank you for being part of the greatest generation.” My children and I had eyes that were filled with tears at this outpouring of love and respect. A reporter came up to us and asked if she could interview Da and Liam, Liam had a hard time keeping it together because he was so emotional but he explained it was because this was such a dream come true for him, to be in Normandy with his great-grandfather, who was his hero.

Dublin, France, Vista 178

Then he took a few minutes on his own to pay his respect to the men who had made the ultimate sacrifice

Dublin, France, Vista 182

For so long, men who served in WWII felt that they couldn’t talk about what they experienced because, they believed, nobody cared, I’d heard this from men that Da had served with. Many years have passed since the time when Da could no longer hold his stories and experiences inside, I was lucky enough to be there when he decided he needed to start talking about it, and Da has always known that his family cares deeply about what happened in WWII and, specifically, on D Day; each stranger who expressed their thanks and respect to Da showed him that we are not alone in caring and in being grateful and we, in turn, were grateful for their kindness and for helping to make this journey of a lifetime complete.


From Da, on the 70th anniversary of D Day: “70 years ago I, with a small detachment of men from the 111th FA BN of the 29th Div. landed on Omaha Beach on the Normandy Coast. We were attached to the 1116th Inf. Bn. of the 29th Division and came in with the 2nd Wave at 7:30 in the morning. We faced German firepower, shrapnel, land mines, barbed wire, Tetrahedrons. I lost my BN commander, Thornton Mullins, my Sgt., John Brown Weaver, among others on that beach that day. To them and my comrades who survived D Day, my heart has been with you since that day. We did the job we had been trained for and did it well. ’29 Let’s GO’.”


SEAS, a Tiny but Mighty School

Every nomadic family knows that one of the hardest things about moving every few years is finding the right school for the kids. So many questions go with this search, so much stress and worry. Will they be academically challenged? Will they fit in? Will the staff nurture them emotionally? Will they be safe? Will they be expected to stuff themselves into a box or will they be allowed to find their own path? It weighs on a momma.

We have three children, each with their own special gifts and qualities, all operate above grade level in many subjects, one operates well above grade level in all subjects, and they have vibrant personalities that need to be allowed to fly free. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not trouble makers, each of them has always been the kids that teachers want in their classroom–they’re leaders, thoughtful and respectful to their peers and their teachers. But they all have large personalities and one of my priorities is to find a school where they will not be expected to minimize themselves in order to fit in.

Our first school here was very mixed for us. Our daughter was badly bullied (which I blogged about here) by a girl in our neighborhood who also went to the same school as our kids. Long story short, months of trying to get the behavior dealt with on the bus and in school was fruitless and we knew our only option was to find a different school. I was having coffee with a friend, talking to her about the bullying, and she suggested that I check out the tiny school her kids went to, so one morning our daughter and I paid SEAS a visit, after five minutes I said to myself “this is it, this is the school for her.” Our daughter, who had been so emotionally bruised and battered, had transformed from an incredibly extroverted, vibrant, joyful child into a shy child, mistrustful of strangers. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she wanted to spend the day at the school, when I picked her up that afternoon she bounded up to me and said “Momma! I made 20 friends today!”  This was the girl who, only the week before, I’d seen wandering the perimeter of the playground of her (now) old school, head down, earphones in–that was a sight that tore at my heart because it just was not who she was. Two days after starting at SEAS, her new school, she was back to hula hooping around the house and chattering non-stop. Academically she’d struggled, for the first time ever, at the first school, her grades were plummeting. She was so lost in the emotional turmoil of the bullying that she couldn’t soar academically. At SEAS she took off like a shot, making such rapid improvement that it was almost shocking to her teachers. We’d gotten our daughter back, SEAS gave us our daughter back. As a mother I have found very few things more painful than watching one of my children suffer, SEAS put an end to that suffering and showed Aisleen that she could trust again, that she was safe again, that she didn’t have to shrink into the background anymore, she could soar and be her colorful, imaginative, dynamic self. I really will never be able to put into words how grateful I am for such an profound gift, the gift of helping to bring our child back to herself.

Our youngest did well academically (though he was operating at a higher level than the other kids in his class and I was frustrated by what I saw as him having to sit in a box that he’d outgrown), fit into his classroom, had lots of friends, but I began to suspect that the kids were allowed to be very rough on the playground when the first words we heard him speak in Spanish were “ayuda me,” help me! And my gentle boy, who at his school in Virginia we’d been told was the most well-mannered and respectful child they’d ever had, became very rough and tumble, beyond what I would consider to just be part of growing up, and kind of rude which, if you’ve ever met Riley, you know is the opposite of who he is. Yep, time to switch him.

Then there was our oldest, who is now 13. When we moved here he was given a series of standardized tests and he scored pretty much off the charts so the school recommended he skip fifth grade and go right into sixth. We thought long and hard, sought advice, weighed pros and cons, and decided to go ahead and do it. He’s always been mature for his age, never has had problems making friends, and school was a breeze for him from day one so, sure, let’s challenge him more. Worst. Mistake. Ever. During our first parent teacher meetings his math teacher told us he was really struggling, which we knew because doing homework with him was a hair-pulling nightmare. We told her that we felt it was probably because he’d missed out on some pretty fundamental stuff since he skipped a grade, her response was “he skipped a grade?” I looked at my husband with my “are you freaking kidding me???” face. The school had never told his teachers that he’d skipped fifth grade, his math teacher had no idea he’d never been taught division. Sixth grade was a struggle but he ended up getting good grades and really rising to the occasion. He’d also made a lot of friends and was enjoying playing oboe in the school band so, cool, we decided he should stay where he was. Second. Worst. Mistake. Ever.

Seventh grade was an absolute bust that ended up in a crisis meeting with his teachers and the director of the middle school, the theme of which is “how can we stop Liam from tanking?” The most frustrating thing to us as parents was that he’d been tanking for a good couple of weeks and until I got a call from his science teacher expressing her concern at his rapid downhill movement I had no idea. His grades were still good but over the course of about three weeks he’d gone into a freefall–utterly overwhelmed academically and clueless how to fix it and, for the first time ever, he didn’t come to one of us about it because, he later told us, he felt like a failure. We decided he needed a smaller school, one that could tailor a learning plan to help him excel in the areas he was strongest in and teach him some of the fundamentals he missed out on when he skipped fifth grade, and one that would help him rediscover his love of learning; he needed SEAS. The school wouldn’t refund his tuition in order to allow us to switch him immediately so we hired a tutor who would work with him on organizational skills and help make sure things were getting done. Luckily, the tutor was his wonderful science teacher who he really liked and who was someone I trusted completely to help him. He ended up pulling his fat out of the fire and, in fact, finishing quite strong in the subjects he’d been struggling with the most. Now, at SEAS, his academic needs are nurtured, and the boy who could barely write a research paper last year is, in social science, history, and English, working at a college level. And far above grade level in math, a subject he came close to failing last year. It’s kind of incredible. And I kind of want to drive over to his old school and shout at the top of my lungs “IN YOUR FACE!”

So, all three kids together in the same tiny school. This school really is more like an extended family, it’s a place where I know my children are safe and loved, challenged and driven, and a place where they are held to the highest of standards academically and behaviorally. No excuses accepted, ever. Consequently, each of our children has learned to take so much responsibility for their own education, I’m kind of blown away. At SEAS our older children have been taught all the fundamentals they need to move on–Aisleen to middle school and Liam to high school. How to research and write a paper, and properly document the research? Not a problem. Math at grade level? Pfffft, too easy, they’re way beyond it. Science? Aisleen was asked by her teacher last year to teach the kids Newton’s laws of physics because, after having been taught the first one, she’d come home and learned and researched them all. Complete with an experiment made up of her little brother and a swinging hammock, luckily nobody was hurt. Also, don’t ask them about chemistry unless you’re prepared to sit for a good, long while. And did you know that Pachelbel’s Canon and Green Day’s song “Basket Case” do this … yea, neither did I until my kids told me (they learned it in Music Appreciation).

Our youngest came back from being kind of angry and rough (like he had to live on the defensive) to his incredibly sweet, loving, thoughtful self in no time once he started at SEAS. This is the child who always greets me with a resounding “Mommy!” and a huge hug, who will always apologize to our dogs if he bumps into them while tearing around the house (complete with that winning hug), who can charm the socks off even the hardest of hearts, and who is just plain old fun to be around. Some of that had been lost at his old school, SEAS let him be himself again, he no longer had to play a child’s version of “survival of the fittest.” Just like the other two, he excels academically, that box he was forced into in his old school fell away immediately. He is in second grade but reads at least at a fourth grade level, can do complicated addition and subtraction in his head (he often comes up to me and says “mommy, write down a hard math problem for me, please!” I haven’t been able to stump him yet), and recently finished a research paper on Leif Erikson. He has also started speaking Spanish at home, this crazy mix of one sentence in English, the next in Spanish, back to English, then Spanish. I love it! His teachers at SEAS recognized immediately what he needed academically, over the past two years I haven’t spent a day worrying about having his needs met. And each one of them, pretty soon after they started teaching him, came up to me with this melty look on their faces saying “oh my gosh, Riley is so sweet …” I know, my face looks like that when I talk about him too. Or when I’m around him. Or when I’m thinking of him. Yes, the child has me tightly wound round his finger.

So, I have been at an absolute loss for how to say thank you to SEAS for being exactly what my children need, for reinvigorating in each of them their natural love for learning, for giving me so much peace of mind. The short answer is that I can’t. I can never say thank you enough, I can never properly put into words my deep gratitude, or express how utterly blessed we have been to be part of this amazing, special school for 2 1/2 years. I will never be able to say how much we are going to miss them, or how devoted we are to this tiny school. This was the only way I could think of to come close to expressing my thanks and to putting into words how much SEAS has meant to our family. We love you, SEAS!

ps. If you check out the website for the school, on the homepage, that’s our oldest with the youngest son of the school’s director/owners on his back (one of the things we love about SEAS is the vast age range of the students because it gives the older ones a chance to mentor and the younger ones a chance to connect with older kids), our youngest with his face buried in a book, and our beautiful daughter in the blue shirt, looking at the camera.

pps. If anyone would like to know which school was the one our kids went to initially, please feel free to contact me. I didn’t name them because I didn’t want this to be about them, I wanted it to be about SEAS.

Saying See You Later, this is the part that really sucks

I should be sorting and organizing but I need to write this, my heart is aching for my children and I have to acknowledge that in words.

Last night we were having dinner, eating, chatting, each child trying to get their voices heard. Our daughter, who is ten, had had a very long day, she’d gone straight from school to the vet clinic where she volunteers and she’d assisted in several surgeries, she was tired but also her normal silly and sassy self. About halfway through dinner, seemingly out of the blue, she looked at me and very quietly said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I saw tears in her eyes, she looked down and wiped her eyes with her shirt, kept her head bowed for a moment, took a deep breath and let the pain pass. I told her I understood, I didn’t really want to leave either, that I was sorry. I felt completely helpless when faced with her grief. I knew she was thinking of our vet, who has become a good friend to all of us, I knew she didn’t want to leave Anna and her clinic.

On the way to school this morning our youngest, who is seven, said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I asked him why and he said “because my two best friends are here! I want to stay with them.” Of course he does. The kids and I talked about how it’s so hard to say goodbye. We talked about how, when you live a nomadic life, you learn what is really and truly important to you in a different way than when you don’t move all the time. Bad roads? Too much traffic? Electricity that goes off? Internet that magically disappears? Frustrating laws? Honestly, we learn none of that is truly important. It can all be frustrating in day to day life, and there are days when those problems feel huge, but when we are so close to leaving and saying goodbye to people that we love, we see what is truly important to us–family, friends, love.

So this is the part that sucks. When faced with this pain my children feel I am often clueless how best to comfort them. Hold them. Listen to them. Talk with them. I can do all that, but I can’t make it go away. This is going to be a pretty difficult grieving process and we’re all just going to have to move through it.

I try not to think about my own grief, I try not to think about leaving people that I love. It’s so important to make friends, especially when you’re nomadic and don’t have your family near by, your friends become your family. My friends here have become such an integral part of my life, woven so deeply into my happiness. They’re always there for us in a pinch, always there to listen to me, to laugh with me, to help guide me, and they’re just really, really good people. My closest friend here is someone I see almost every day, I’ve grown to rely on her smile as a way to start my morning, thinking of letting go of such a simple thing is tough. I was at her house the other night, we were chatting with another friend of ours (who is also moving this summer) when she started getting tears in her eyes. It’s inevitable that when she tears up I tear up, and I hate crying in public, so I pointed at her and said “don’t start with me, woman!” and our other friend said “there’s no crying in baseball!” which made us all laugh. Tears were still there though and she said “it’s just that you’re my peeps and I know as long as you’re both here everything is okay.” Two of us are moving this summer, one of us is staying. It pretty much sucks. These women are the mothers of my youngest child’s two best friends, all of our children have a tough road ahead of them.

I am not whining, I’m not complaining, I’m not even having a pity party (yet). But the weeks leading up to each time we move are always some of our toughest and the ones that make me ask questions; are we doing the right things for our kids, would they be happier if we just stayed in one place, are we expecting too much from them emotionally? We’re almost to the tenth anniversary of joining the Foreign Service and I still don’t have the answers to those questions. They’re fantastic kids, they’re healthy, happy, kind, smart, and so much fun to be around. So I guess they’re okay. But how do I best help them say goodbye to people they couldn’t love more if they were blood? I simply do not know.

I’ve spent months trying not to think about saying goodbye but it’s close enough now that it’s not dwelling as much as preparing. I guess what we’ll all have to do is focus on the positive side of all of this, if we hadn’t made such amazing friends we wouldn’t be going through this, the pain is a testament to the power of our friendships. We’re letting ourselves live and love. My closest friend here and I decided this is our theme song, I think it sums this crazy, nomadic life up nicely …

This is Your Brain on Post-Packout Panic …

I woke up at three this morning, suddenly seized by panic at the thought of everything I need to get done in the seven weeks leading up to our move. Where the hell did the time go? How is it this close already? I managed to fall back asleep sometime around 5:30, and then wake back up a bit before seven. The DH, sweet as ever, said “go back to sleep, I’ll get the kids to school.” Sigh … too much to do. I’m not entirely lucid right now and I’m only just starting my first cup of coffee so I can’t guarantee this post will make a whole lot of sense. There are a million things I need to do but if I don’t get some of these thoughts out of my head they’ll still be there at three am tomorrow. Well, they’ll be there anyway but I’m hoping to weaken them.

When my brain made it quite clear, somewhere around four, that it would be damned if it was going to let me sleep I decided to preoccupy it. I eventually stumbled upon a very funny blog post from another FS mom who is also in the middle of pre-packout panic, in my FB feed, and there I lay, in bed at half four in the morning with our youngest next to me snoring away, reading it and giggling. I love our life, I love it as much as I could possibly love a life, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some seriously stress-inducing, hair-pulling, ohmygodI’mgoingtobeatmyheadagainstawall, moments. At this point I just have to keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, because I have this monster looming behind me and his speed is better than mine. I feel like the woman in the original Evil Dead movie who is racing through the woods in her robe and slippers while the evil force tears after her. Just keep going, one foot in front of the other and, for the love of god, don’t look back! When you look back you let your guard down, everyone knows that, and then the evil force will get you! It’s like my favorite line from my favorite running app, Zombies, Run!, “Don’t look back! Just run!” Only the move is a lot less fun than running from imaginary zombies. And I pretty much feel like this is where I’m headed …

Freaky, right? Totally freaky. And nuts. Which is how I increasingly feel as the move comes closer. Eventually, you’ll find me sitting on the floor, huddled tightly in a corner, moving between maniacal laughter and quiet tears, the only sound you’ll hear is the “plip, plop!” of tears hitting merlot.

Here is the BIG dilemma, the one I face with every move– how do I live three lives at once? I have present day life, which is a wonderful and full life with friends, my running (this is therapy, it cannot be sacrificed), volunteering at my kid’s school, trying to squeeze in a few more weekends at spots we still want to see, keeping in touch with friends and family back home, keeping up with all the day to day responsibilities of life. And then there is packout/moving life where I have to sort through an entire household of stuff to determine what gets tossed and what comes with us. And if it comes with us do I put it in our air freight or do I put it in HHE (House Hold Effects–this arrives much more slowly than the air freight), or do we drive it to Honduras when we (knock on wood) drive our animals there to set them up in the new house before we leave for the US for six weeks? And how do I organize it all so it doesn’t get mixed up? I am not the most organized person in the world, and I have a very tenuous hold on the concept of “attention span.” I’m the person who will sit down, telling myself I will focus and, fifteen minutes later … Oh! Shiny! So I’m thinking what I’m going to need to do is turn off the internet during the day so I can’t get distracted by facebook, email, or quizzes about what kind of seltzer water I am. Because between the house, the stuff that has to happen for our medical clearances, the paperwork, and all the eight billion things my DH has to to on his end well, see the above video.  I swear, I have opened the seven year old’s closet a half dozen times this week, gazed at the vast amounts of crap, sighed, and quietly shut the door. “Closet, you have defeated me, once again. Fuck you, closet, just, fuck you.” Yes, I am firmly in the place where I am actively and frequently muttering swear words at inanimate objects and household space.

The third life I’m living is future life. This is co-coordinating with my DH what we need to do for our new adventure in Honduras–the house, the logistics of moving our animals, going over info for different schools, figuring out what we need for life in Honduras, putting out feelers to see if we can do the activities we love, trying to find activities for the kids– I feel like I have one foot in the present, one foot in the packout, and one foot in the future. Except I only have two feet. This is a problem.

So I make lists, master lists and sub-lists, and I plot and I plan and life gets in the way and the move prep gets put on a hold for a day and I inch ever closer to madness. And have I mentioned we have two foster animals we’ve been trying to find homes for? A one-eyed cat and a four pound dog. Both very sweet and wonderful, and adorable! See for yourself …

Mooshie 008


Aren’t they fantastic? Wouldn’t you like one? No? Okay. Sigh …

So, here’s my final question to anyone reading this, and this is an incredibly important question so please take it seriously. Is it acceptable to have a glass of wine at three in the afternoon in order to help me tackle that evil closet? And every evil thing I need to tackle after it? Because, three kids, three closets. And our daughter has two closets. So I’m thinking two glasses of wine when I do her closets. That’s acceptable, right? Please? And please don’t tell me that they should organize and sort their own closets because then I’d have to smack you, and that would be ugly. I will co-sort with them but, ultimately, as I just reminded them this morning, “this is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship and I AM THE QUEEN!” to which our oldest helpfully responded “that would be a monarchy, Mom.” Somebody pass the wine, please …

Boomerang Lessons, How My Kids Inspire Me

“Boomerang lesson” is the term I’ve decided to start using for things I tell my kids that I need to pay attention to myself; in other words, listen to yourself speak, Heather, you might learn something. This past Sunday we ran a 5k race with our two oldest children, our 13-year old boy and 10-year old girl. It was a charity run for the Children’s Museum here in San Jose, my husband ran with our son and I ran with our daughter. Our kids are athletic and, despite the fact that if we let them they would immerse themselves for hours in electronics, they really enjoy being active. Since the time they were pretty young our kids could hike for miles and miles, the hubby and I are not parents who would push a 5-year old in a stroller–move forward and push on are lessons our kids learned early in life.

Our daughter was a bit anxious, she told me that she was worried she would slow me down, which I found a bit funny because I am not a fast runner, I consider myself to be a speedy turtle. My response to her was that I didn’t care one bit how fast we went, I only cared that we ran together and crossed the finish line together. I reassured her that she would set the pace and tried to drive home the lesson that there is no shame in walking or in running slowly, the only thing that matters is that you’re out there, having fun and challenging yourself and, in this case, being together.

The morning of the race came, she had butterflies (loads of them, she told me later) but was excited. I reminded her of all the things we’d been talking about, reassured her that she could do it, she nodded and smiled and we were off! We ran, we walked, we talked. The boys were far ahead of us (I’ve written before about how my hubby is a much faster runner than I am) but we all expected that. About two thirds of the way through the run her brain started getting the best of her, she began to believe she couldn’t do it, that it was too hard for her. Luckily for both of us two things are true: I believe in her completely and I have a Pinterest board that is brimming with inspirational running quotes! I told her that her brain could either be her best friend or her worst enemy, which side it landed on was entirely up to her. I told her “runners run a race in three parts–the first is with their body, the second is with their brain, the third is with their spirit and your spirit is so strong!”  She nodded, she liked that but she was still doubtful. I reminded her that she’s run 5k before, I reminded her that I believe in her. She still was not convinced. So I used a trick that I use for myself and told her we would just run to the next stoplight, then we could walk to the one after that, then run to the next, then walk. Running is a good metaphor for life in so many ways, in this case, just like in life, if things seems too large it can be overwhelming, but doing a little at a time can get you through to the finish line. We did this until we rounded a corner and she said “This looks familiar!” I told her to look straight, to the end of the street because the museum, and the finish line, were there, about 4 blocks away. She got a huge smile on her face and said “I can do this! I CAN DO THIS!” And she started to run, with me shouting after her “You’ve got this, girl! GO!” She ran and ran, walked for a few seconds, then hit the last 100 meters, a daunting hill–and she started to run, weaving through people, completely pushed forward by that unstoppable spirit of hers, totally focused on the finish line! She reached the top of the hill with me behind her, I caught up to her and we ran the last few meters, crossing the finish line together, just as we had wanted to do, it was a pretty incredible moment for both of us and, as her mother, I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

We stopped running, both winded from the hill and the last sprint to the finish line, and saw my husband and son walk out of the crowd towards us with huge smiles on their faces. Hubby told me he and our son, Liam, stayed together the whole way, then they hit the hill and he told Liam he was going to sprint it and then wait for him at the finish line. About halfway up hubby looked behind him and there was Liam, determined to keep up. They hit the finish line just a few paces apart, Liam felt pretty satisfied, then he moved to the sidelines and promptly booted– thank goodness that didn’t happen at the finish line!

So here’s my boomerang lesson … tomorrow I’m running my first 10k and, honestly, I’m pretty terrified. I can do it, I’ve done the distance, I’ve been training for this specific race for weeks and weeks but I am truly frightened. I’m not sure about what because I know I can finish it and I know even if I finish last, hey, at least I ran it! But I guess I’m intimidated by doing something new, and something that seems pretty daunting to me. So I have to remember all the things I told my baby girl while we ran, and I have to remember her spirit that refused to give up, and the determination our son had to keep running with his dad. So tomorrow my children, all three of them, will be my inspiration. The strength with which they approach life, all the change they go through, all the difficult transitions and goodbyes that go along with the life of a nomadic child, and the grace with which they handle these things, will be my inspiration to run, to keep moving forward, to not give up, and to believe in my own strength and spirit.

There was an amazing runner on Sunday, a man who would run to the front of our pack and then to the back, the whole time pumping his arms and shouting “Si, se puede!” Yes, we can! So, forward, and si, se puede!

Me and my baby running uphill, I reassured her that pretty much everyone had the look on their face that she does here, it was a tough way to end a race.

High five! The hubby crosses the finish line!

Liam crosses the finish line (pre-spew)!

Time to show off the medals!

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