Monday, November 14, 2011

Every Day Ayla - Month 10


This little miss has tons of it. Month 10 has seen Ayla's expressions of will develop, which has been mostly fun and a little frustrating. I see so much of her dad in her face, but so much of my stubbornness and goofiness in her personality.

There hasn't been a huge increase in mobility since last month. She has gotten much stronger. She pulls up on everything, can cruise, but prefers to crawl, and has even stood wobbly on her own (but I'm not really counting it since it's been for like a mili-second). She can climb up stairs, but I usually don't let her because she doesn't have the patience to go down backwards yet. I am not in a hurry for her to walk, but I have a feeling I don't get a say in it.

She uses signs for "more" and "finished" like a pro, and we're starting to work on "please" and several animals. She loves to clap and give high-fives and wave.

I introduced her to the fork and bowl for eating purposes, and she seems to be getting the concept of utensils. The biggest thing I'm working on right now is to teach her not to throw food on the floor. It was definitely a test of wills, but now I just take it as a sign she's finished with that part of her meal, so I'm helping her express that correctly. She does love to eat, and especially try whatever I'm eating. 

I was so excited when she finally started saying "Ma," until I realized she uses it for everything; her favorite cow, when she's upset, me, whatever she's reaching for. But, still. She knows I'm Mama, and when she hasn't seen me for a length of time, she gives the best smile, "up" arms and starts bouncing to come to me. 

She owns my heart and knows it!

Here are her last 31 days.

If you look closely, you can see her hair growing!

(I know I teased you about the next blog in the "how we're doing" series, but we're going to have to take a little blog break to spend time with John for the next few weeks (!!!), then I'll pick it back up.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Digital Marriage

It's rather appropriate that my romantic relationship with John started out with flirting over text messages. That led to hours on the phone while we dated long distance from Northern to Southern Virginia, then from Honduras to Virginia. We got a few video chats in back then, but it was 2004 and Skype was nothing like it is now and Steve Jobs and his crew hadn't given us the iPhone or FaceTime yet.

Now we use text messaging, Vonage, Skype, Google Video chat, FaceTime and Tango, besides old-fashioned emails and cell-phones, to keep us in touch.

"In touch." Hmm, that's funny. 

Because "touch" is exactly what we do not have, even with all these digits and wires.

You want to stay in touch with your family and friends, but is that really the term you want to use in a marriage? "How are you and John?" "Oh, we're really in touch."

Anyway, this is what we have and this is how we use it.

We get to talk on the phone every day and do video calls several times a week. For the first few weeks I only put the camera on Ayla while we talked, but then I thought he should probably be able to see his wife, even if my hair is a mess. I mean, we have been married for six years and he watched me have a baby, I think he can handle a little frizz. (Okay, a lot of frizz)

I am SO grateful for this technology. (I literally cannot state that any more emphatically, as I used all the basic editing features blogger gives us.) I know many couples with one spouse away don't have the luxury of reliable/constant communication we have, in years past and even today. However, being separate does present challenges to a marriage that can't be ignored without affecting the long-term health of the relationship, and can't be solved merely by using digital communication.

Here are a few main challenges we've encountered in our years of long-distancing (yep, just made that term up) and the work we try to do to stay in front of them:

1) Challenge: Bringing the other person into your world without overburdening them with too much detail or leaving them with not enough information.

Work: Understanding we are living separate lives for the time being and respecting the other person's immersion in their world. I understand that John is working for most of the day and for the few precious moments we talk, that's not what he wants to talk about. He understands that I want to know how he is beyond "good," or "tired," so he tries to think of elements of his work life that would be interesting to me. He'll tell me about the people he works with, the office dynamics, how he feels about a project he's spearheading, and so on. He understands that most of my day is filled with Ayla, and most of what I have to talk about revolves around her. I try to think of more than just her diapers or naps to tell him about. I work to communicate about her in a way that he can stay connected without adding to the weight he's already bearing by being away. We don't have a formula for this, I'm telling you, it's hard work!

2) Challenge: Making the time on the phone/video-chat count.

Work: Letting each day be what it is. Some days, we just don't have much to say, so we just say Hi, I miss you, I love you, talk to you tomorrow. Some days we have to discuss "business" (house stuff, money stuff, car stuff, etc.), so we put that up front. It's not all romantic and deep thoughts. But we have learned that we need those deep talks, too, so we plan and prepare for them. If we have serious relationship issues to discuss, we have to first see if it's something that would be better in person and if it will wait, we table it. If it can't wait, I try to give him heads up that this is something I'd like to talk about in the next few days and see if he'd like to work it out in email or on the phone. I think the key here is being intentional and flexible, and applying lots of grace and consideration for the other person.

3) Challenge: Staying connected spiritually.

Work: Being connected to the Source. I believe we are covered in so much grace for this, but it's still a work on our parts to be submitted to God, live as a citizen of His Kingdom in our respective days and to listen to His voice. This is the hardest challenge, by far, and the most necessary to work at. We try to share about what we're learning from what we're reading or listening to, burdens for prayer, questions we're asking, or stuff we're struggling with. Of course, we can't do any of that if we're not practicing any type of spiritual discipline, which is challenging for everyone (and why it's called a discipline!). I know that I can't do his spiritual work for him, but if I do mine, it benefits him because I'm a healthier person.

I'm sure you've realized the same thing I have in discussing these challenges, that they're the same in same-place marriages! I believe this work is essential for health in any marriage, and we absolutely have to put these things into practice wherever we are.

For people in our situation, though, the need is amplified because we don't have the benefit of touch, of lounging on the couch after a long day's work, or the time together in the car or during a meal. It's not enough for us to just think how wonderful it is that we have Skype or that we get to talk every day, because those things can actually become burdens if we're not working on the relationship that these technologies help connect.

We haven't perfected this by any means. It's still hard and frustrating. It sucks to have to hit "End," and that really be it until the next conversation. But, I think even just being aware of these challenges keeps us proactive against sliding down the easier road of growing apart.

So, I was trying to think of something funny or light-hearted to close with because I feel I got a bit serious up there. (John, you'll just have to forgive me for this.) I have gotten a big kick out of seeing my incredibly strong, manly husband use text lingo like "omg, lol and !!!" these past few months. It seems, even in digits, marriage can be a delightful surprise!

(Next up: I am what I swore I'd never be)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to tell it- Side Two

(See Side One here)

I am a hoarder.

Of people.

Seriously, I have more people in my life who love me and whom I love than any one person should be allowed to have.

Just for example, my thank-you list for baby gifts is 74 people long. I don’t know the average, (I could make something up) but that seems really high to me!

These are people who when I asked if someone knew a teenager I could hire to weed my yard, snuck over to do it before I even woke up (a colonel's wife, no less!). Who show up at church with a Starbucks frappuccino for me, just because they were thinking I might need one. (I did!) Who hear that my baby is sick and offer to make me some chicken soup. Who beg to watch Ayla for me so I can go run errands or go out with other people.

(sounds like someone's primary love language has become acts of service)

The people who are related to me, either by genetics, marriage or choice (you know, the fremily type, not to be confused with frenemy) are the dream team of a family. They believe in me, encourage me and forgive far more than you can imagine. (well, several of you reading this are in this category, so I guess you actually can imagine)

This people-hoarder phenomenon became apparent to me in John’s absence. When he was here, after we'd spend time with friends, we used to look at each other and say, “We know the best people in the world!” I had no idea how true that was until this year.

I don't think you really know how good your friends are until you need them.

I think his absence also paints a sort-of target on me that makes me more visible to others, more a subject needing friendship and support. I haven't always been super comfortable being on the receiving end of that, but I am learning the joy of being receptive to such things.

Because he’s gone, I’ve been able to travel across town and across country with Ayla to visit lots of these people. I've stayed in your homes, eaten your food, thrown poopy diapers away in your trashcans. I marvel at the friendships that have seemingly bloomed from nowhere (like a Craigslist ad) and others that flourish under newly-available intentionality.

Every night when I put Ayla to bed, I start our prayer by thanking God for the people we've been able to see or talk to that day. And almost every day since John's been gone, one of your names have come across my lips. 

“Wait a minute!” you’re thinking. “Why is she talking about people when she’s supposed to be talking about the other side of the coin today?”

This IS the other side of the coin. On this side there is an image of me (still holding the drooling baby girl) surrounded by this great cloud of iron witnesses/supporters/cheerleaders.

I am not alone.

Oh, and I have an amazing daughter.

This may have been selfish of us, but we prayed for an easy baby. God went over and above that with her. I know He gave us the daughter we needed and threw in a bunch of features to bless others as well. She is healthy, sweet, funny, outgoing and pretty stinking cute.

I write about her more than anything else, so I won’t belabor it here, but my gratitude that I get to spend all day most days with this precious gift pulses through me as steadfastly as my own blood.

(Ok, maybe I will write just a little bit more about her)
I do dread the day in the future when she doesn’t think I’m the greatest thing in the world. When she’s too cool for me, when I embarrass her, when she knows more than I do, when I disappoint or fail her, you know, when she’s a teenager. I don’t think anything I do this year or ever will guarantee we will always have a perfect relationship. What I do know is that this is a special time. These days, even without John, are gifts. I feel like the luckiest person on the planet.

And of course, there’s God. 
(my atheist readers will just have to skip ahead)

At the end of John’s gospel he wrote that if each thing that Jesus had done on the earth were to be written about, the world could not contain all the books. I know he’s using hyperbole to make a point, but I can relate terms of recording what God is doing in me during this separated year. I don’t know how much of it I will be able to or want to write about.

What I can tell you now is that He is here.

He is loving. He is active. He is in control. He is generous and comforting. What I know most of all, though, right now, is that He is here.

So on one side of the coin there is Absence and on the other there is all this


I can’t be thankful for just one side and hate the other. It is all the same thing.

Of course, what I have in Presence with me will remain when John is home. But my sense of these Presences is heightened because of his absence.

Joy and pain, gratitude and sorrow. These are not opposites. They are notes in a chord. Threads of a cord. They are inseparable and necessary for me this year.

This is how I am doing. 

I am okay. I miss John. I am blessed.

(Join me tomorrow for My Digital Marriage.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to tell it- Side One

Their eyes would find me. They’d stop what they were doing to come close.

Voices dropped, nearly whispered,

“How are you do-ing?”

You know the scene.  You were probably in it.

The first few weeks after John left, I started to dread this scene because it happened all the time. Several times a day, sometimes, when I was in a group.

In a group of friends. Who love me. Who were there for me. Who were there for me when I cried.

Which is what I did every time someone asked me that.

(Can I just tell you, I hate crying in front of people!)

It wasn’t that I was doing so horrible at that moment that tears just burst out. It was that talking about it, making the words come out--which made it even more real than just living it--was hard.

Hell, (can I say that here?) living it was hard. Trying to express myself in a soundbite was hard enough to make me cry.

“I’m ok. I miss him,” I’d choke out.

And then quickly laughing to break the sadness of the moment, adding “But we’re good. We’re so blessed.”

I get about here in telling this story and I vacillate. There are two parts of the story to tell. It’s a well-worn coin twisted round and round between my fingers, dropped on the floor, lost in pockets, but always there, each side as real as the other.

On one side is an image of me with empty arms. Well, one arm is actually full of a baby girl who probably has some piece of me or her in her mouth. 

(But, see, even there I am showing you part of the other side already.)

It’s important to tell this, though. I doubt I’ll ever forget it, but this, as hard and not-awesome as it is, is part of the fabric. Like the tearful-but-beautiful years of infertility, this time isn’t something to be rushed through or just “hung in there.”

I do miss my John. Severely. I do feel quite empty without him.

My life is supposed to have him in it, he’s supposed to be here in this house, with me. He’s supposed to come home at the end of the day and kiss me. He’s supposed to help me unload the groceries from the car. He’s supposed to be standing by me at church and slip his arm around me and squeeze my shoulder and in that, tell me everything.

I clench and flex my fists, trying to work the pain of emptiness away. I squeeze my eyes shut tight, because maybe when I open them this will be over. I try to mute that track that plays over and over, screaming in my mind,

“I don’t like this! I want him here! This isn’t right!”

I hold our daughter and ache for him not being able to do the same.  

You can’t look at Ayla for very long without smiling, though, and as my mouth turns up, that coin starts its rotation again.

(Tune in tomorrow for Side Two)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Some blogs about how we're doing

Hi there. I know, I know, it's been a while since you've seen a post up in here.

I stop blogging for a few weeks and my home state has record-breaking earthquakes. Andy Rooney went off the air, then died (uh, maybe I should take that as a lesson...?). Some kouple got married AND divorced. And some other stuff happened too, I think.

I also realized there's a certain topic missing from what I've written about lately. John's been gone almost five months and I haven't really talked about how we're doing.

It's hard for me to articulate. I'm going to write about it, though, because 1) I need to write to get some of this processed, 2) I wouldn't be worth my salt as a writer if I can't communicate the tough stuff like this, and 3) he's coming back for his first three-week break next week and you know I won't be blogging while he's here!

When we were planning for this year apart, I thought one of the things I would do superlatively more of is write. I thought about starting a separate blog just to deal with the topic of long-distance marriage and parenting. I'm sure there are plenty of military spouse and single parenting type of blogs, but I don't read any of them and I thought our experiences this year would make for some pretty interesting reading.

Instead of doing that, I'm just being. I'm being a single-ish mom. I'm being a long-distance wife. I'm being a friend.

I'm taking pictures of and writing a little about my baby, but part of what I haven't really been being is a writer. And I really want to be a writer.

So, I'm turning back to the digitized version of the blank, potential-filled legal notepad and sharpened pencil and turning thoughts into words and phrases. I'm going to share a little bit about what life has been like for us in the past few months over the coming week. I hope you'll join me.

(I'm not going to put all the links to these posts on Facebook and Twitter, so please either follow or subscribe so you don't miss any. Thanks.)
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