It’s the Month of the Military Child

wanderlynn:

I’m a little slow on the Month of the Military Child content this year, but it will come. Here’s what I wrote when Walden was hardly older than Bertie is now!

Originally posted on wanderlynn:

Welcome to April!

Suddenly there seem to be a million things I’d like to write about. There’s my husband: Mustache March has ended! He was selected for promotion to major! He had a wonderful time in Belgium with friends (and bought me the hands-down-most-delicious chocolates on the planet)!

There’s life in England: The weather has been AMAZING! I went to London’s Borough Market with friends and saw the biggest English muffins EVER! My creative writing class has ended. (No exclamation point for that one.)

There’s life with my 16-month-old: He discovered how to remove his diaper/how gross poo is during a very messy naptime this week! He knows how to move chairs to climb onto the table! He has his first wagon!

All of these things are part of our settled-for-now life as an overseas military family. The regular stress of his job, the magic of…

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Ramblings from the English Countryside

 

rapeseed field

I guess I’m not technically IN the countryside, despite the fields and farms I see from one of my bedroom windows. The other windows of our house reveal the crush of neighbors, their tiny efficient cars wedged together in front of the squeezed and stacked homes of these suburban English developments. (And that’s “spacious” compared to the residences of the town centre.)

A nearby rooster crows through a cracked window. The bedroom needs a breath of fresh air, since I’ve set up camp here after a nasty fall this weekend. Well, the fall wasn’t so nasty, it was just a few stair steps, but the resulting lumbar contusion that left me unable to walk upright certainly was.

I am now vertical with the help of some pain relievers, most of the time, but find myself much more comfortable in a reclined or side-lying position, with something from Netflix playing on my iPad. I just finished Orange is the New Black. Any other recommendations?

telephone booth book exchange great livermere

Anyhoo. The weekend was fabulous prior to The Incident. We lounged with friends, went to a birthday party, went out for dinner (without the kids!). We went to Bressingham Steam & Gardens as a family and enjoyed a lovely evening in the back yard, then… the fun ended.

My favorite part may have been our spontaneous decision to drive through the countryside to find a rolling rapeseed field to photograph (the kids had fallen asleep!). I’ve snapped the shocking yellow fields on Instagram a time or two, but those shots don’t convey the captivating feeling of the grand swaths of bright yellow on the horizon. I couldn’t help but stop for a shot of this iconic phone booth-turned-book exchange in Great Livermere, too.

Stay tuned for more on Bressingham. You haven’t seen happy until you’ve seen a three-year-old train enthusiast board a working narrow gauge steam train!

 

 

Every Conversation I’ve Ever Had at the Playground

Swing

I thought I could make a flow chart to illustrate every conversation I’ve ever had at the playground here. Then I remembered that my spare time is precious and decided to bag it. Here’s a summary.

There’s a battery of questions regarding the children we’re with, covering age and mobility and preschool enrollment. Once American vs. non-American identity is discerned from the other parent’s accent, the conversation will follow a predictable path.

We’re The Americans to the Brits, and “another one of us” to the other Americans. As such, we’re unmistakably with “the forces” and assumptions are immediately made.

Regardless of the nationality of the other parent (assuming they speak English), which base we’re attached to and where we’re originally from will always come up.

I’m up to date on how long we’ve been here (2 years and 9 months!) and how long until we leave (90 days!). There are some things we like about living in England and some things we really miss. Yes my oldest IS in British preschool and he loves it. And it really is too bad the sun didn’t stay out.

When you reach this point in a conversation with an American, you ask about travel plans. You ask for Important Things to Know about YOUR travel plans. You complain about what a pain in the ass it is to fly out of Heathrow. You agree that it’s so nice to be close to Europe, but there just isn’t time to see everything, and that even though the kids won’t remember any of it, it’s still worth muscling through. You ask if she used the Play Pass.

If you get there with a local, you ask if they’re originally from the area and if they have family nearby. You agree that it’s so nice to have family nearby, and that yes it is hard to be so far from yours.

Then it’s nap/snack/dinner time for one or both of you and you go home.

It’s a strange feeling to be so easily pegged. Saying “Hi, how are you?” (at least in the 1-hour radius around the bases) is the same as saying “Hi, I’m a foreigner and my husband is in the military.” It’s such a shift from our time in midtown Omaha, when I was just another Midwestern young professional who was involved in the community and whose husband happened to be in the Air Force. Not that it’s all bad; some people really enjoy talking about the history of the area (i.e. there’s a closed-down WWII bomber airfield across the street from our house) and are eager to share their stories (i.e. the barber who got to hold some of the Mildenhall Treasure) when they discover we’re here with the Air Force.

I suspect our neighborhood in Montgomery will be fairly accustomed to military families coming and going, too. I also suspect that most conversations will be just as superficial, since we all know we’re moving on in a year. I’m curious to see where the conversations end up, though, since it’s probably pretty unlikely that any of us will be planning trips to Paris or Rome or getting ready for Baltic cruises. Or maybe I’ll just go back to work and avoid it altogether.

 

The English Fence

The Fence

Around Christmas a panel of our green 8-foot-tall fence blew over. We’d call it a privacy fence in America. It’s just a garden wall here in England. The apple tree (shrub?) caught it. I called the letting agent to report it, whereupon they scoffed at the idea that someone would be able to do anything about it before the new year.

The panel banged between the shrubby tree and our neighbor’s trampoline through many more nights of ridiculous winds. Just after the new year I heard our neighbor slip a handwritten note through the mail slot in our door. They were contacting someone to repair the fence, the note said. So I told the letting agency, which reported back that the landlord wanted to split the cost of the repair. I gave the details to the neighbor, written, through their mail slot during the day.

Halfway through March I received a typed note through the mail slot. The note requested I reply through another note.

So. There was an enormous gaping hole in our fence for nearly 4 months, and we have yet to see our neighbors. I suspect this is all very English.

Report from the Facebook-Free Frontier

 

I’ve made it three whole days without Facebook.

Well, not entirely without Facebook.

See, here’s what happened.

I started reading very interesting things on the internet instead of vapidly scanning my Facebook feed for interesting things that other people read. No Buzzfeed quizzes. No HuffPo Parents articles. Stuff that I found really important or moving.

Like this. And this. And this. I had to share some of it. I’ve learned that my friends cover a wide range of interests, and I enjoy seeing which ones identify with things that matter to me. In a way it validates our Facebook friendship. I like that. You can share articles on Facebook without actually going to Facebook, except for the quick login to authorize it, so… why not.

And our friends, they were having a baby. How else do people find out about these things?

I looked for advertising/marketing jobs in Alabama to explore my prospects and make a plan for brushing up on relevant skills. Wouldn’t you know, social media management is one of them? And it HAS been three years since I used HootSuite… I needed to set up a centralized resource to manage all of my social media. You know, for professional development.

I don’t consider these little lapses as “fails” in my experiment. A) I’m not a particularly principled person. B) I’ve learned what I needed to learn.

1) I don’t do boredom

The second I felt bored with what I was doing (i.e. watching the kids play, boiling water for dinner, sitting in a parked car with a sleeping baby), I got a twitch. I reached for my phone. Sometimes I would hop over to another social media platform to look for new notifications. I don’t have as many as frequently as on Facebook, so I found myself at the end of the line pretty fast. Then I’d do some dishes instead.

2) I’m addicted to social media

I thought it was just Facebook. Clearly it was not. But no wonder. Talking about ourselves causes our brains to light up in the same region as taking cocaine does (see here for more). Keeping this blog is evidence that I’m addicted to that reward feeling that comes with sharing my thoughts. Facebook was just way easier and more immediately gratifying.

3) Now I feel a bit free

Not having Facebook to tell me what to read or think about gives me a sense of agency. Not having the notifications to derail a train of thought has led me to a more intellectually satisfying Internet experience. I feel more inspired. More creative. Definitely more productive.

4) I miss my friends

I’m glad to have stayed connected to some through other means, but we all know that Facebook is where the action is. I want to know if they had fun weekends, if the new job is going well, if anyone else is feeling as worn by the grind as I am.

5) I’ll go back…in moderation

I never intended to cut out Facebook entirely. It would be like giving up wine or chocolate Just Because. No thanks. This time away has helped me see how inept my use of it was. So I’ll go back with limits. No notifications from my groups. None of this retreating from boredom. If I catch myself trying to stall my kids so I can finish typing a comment, I will force myself to take a longer break. A week, even.

Everything in moderation, right?

Have you had a social media breakdown? I’d love to hear about your break and what you learned!

My Facebook Break

I just logged out of Facebook and deleted the app from my phone.

This morning I posted to my beloved private moms’ group that I needed to step away. Just take a little break. Five hours later I had popped on to read comments to that post and previous conversations no fewer than 6 times.

I have a problem.

I love my mom network. This is an amazing group of intelligent and compassionate new moms and moms-to-be from all across the US. We’ve cried for help and company in the middle of the night. We’ve shared our deepest fears and greatest embarrassments. We’ve created a safe place to vent when one of us is just having the WORST day.

These are my friends. I’ve only met a few of them in real life. They are far away. But they are there. When I want to throw my three-year-old on the next freight train that rolls by or when I want to share with someone that I finally saw the baby stand up on his own! or when I want a high-five for finally getting a hair cut. They’re the cheerleaders and confidantes that I don’t have anywhere else.

I know more about what’s happening in their lives than in my own family. I want to know what that one baby’s strange rash was or how the brand new mom is holding up or who has finally found a sitter for a date night. It’s a village where I feel like I belong.

Facebook makes it so easy. It just takes a click to see that I have 15 new notifications. Just a click to see that there’s a new post in the group, and that more bright women have commented on more interesting topics. Just a click to read…and by the time I’m ready to comment someone in real life needs something from me.

I crave that adult interaction. I want to be a part of a conversation. I want to feel like a part of the sisterhood, particularly on days when it seems no one is listening or cares about my needs. So I find myself sneaking peeks when I get a chance, which is kind of a lot. Until I get the call, “Mom! You want to play with me?”

Sadly I’ve caught myself several times telling him (while typing), “Hold on. Just let me finish this.” Even worse is that I’ve started to feel annoyed when I do. I feel irritated when I don’t get a chance to check in before the kids get up in the morning. That’s where this has all gone wrong.

I don’t want to walk away forever. I just need to find a balance. So I’m forcing myself to go cold turkey through the weekend, just to see if the twitch goes away. Then I’ll come back with limits. The relationships have been built. The conversations go on. I can do this.

That Kerouac Quote

I love reading. I love books and brilliant articles that reveal lives and circumstances I’ve never considered. I love learning and discovering the reaches of the infinite world and other writers’ imaginations.

I had a little (and brief) fling with the beatnik generation in college. Of course I’ve since forgotten everything I read (as I tend to do). Yet the works I read still sit in a dear place in my heart.

So when a friend recently posted an inspiring Jack Kerouac quote, I wanted to seize it and use it as my life motto.

“Be in love with your life. Every detail of it.”

If you’re in love with your life, you don’t care what anyone else thinks. You’re not worried about judgement of your choices. You’re not worried that it’s less than perfect. When you’re in love with it, your life – flaws and all – is the bee’s knees. It’s aces, tops, the apple of your eye. Nothing could be better and nowhere is the grass greener. It’s your one and only life. YES!

I went to Pinterest to hunt down a pretty print to hang on a wall somewhere. My first piece of inspirational art! But… Pinterest showed me a second version of the quote, too:

“Be in love with your life. Every minute of it.”

I mean… I can’t model my life on a phony quote.

A brief search for the quote’s original source was fruitless. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Quite frankly, I prefer the “every detail” version. I can’t love the minute when both of my kids are screaming and the baby has dipped his heel in his poopy diaper while trying to escape the change. I CAN love the retrospective hilarity of that moment, the fact that I get to be home with my kids, that the big one is a obsessed with trains and space and Transformers, that the baby has blue eyes and a sweet smile, that our home is lovely and in England and filled with the life that is ours. The details.

I needed to find the source of that quote.

Well. The closest I found is in Kerouac’s Belief & Technique for Modern Prose:

“4. Be in love with yr life”

That was it.

While I was disappointed the “detail” element isn’t there, I think I prefer this direct simplicity. Discovering this list, though. Wow! There’s so much more to take away to encourage any of us who are blogging (or writing or creating). What a surprise! A few points that resonated:

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

And so I’ll keep at it. (I will also continue to start sentences with conjunctions.)

What do you think? Do you have a motto you live by? I’d love to hear it!