“You’re really hard on her,” my friend told me. I knew it was true, and I knew it was awful.
This was almost four years ago, and I can recall it as clearly as the block of cheese I ate for lunch. We were stationed in Italy and my dear friends and I had a standing date to meet each Tuesday at one of the village markets. We would have coffee, meander through the narrow winding streets marveling at the gorgeous local produce, have more coffee, and catch up with each other. I treasured these times. I was an irreparably insecure new-ish mom stationed an ocean away from my family (ahem, my mom), and, looking back, I realize I actually needed this time with them. Some of my friends had kids, some did not, but they all seemed to be embracing each and every Under-the-Tuscan-Sun-my-God-Europe-can-be-maddening moment that came their way.
I was, too. As far as everyone knew.
I had an amazing 18-month-old daughter and a kind husband who worked hard, so I had the opportunity to leisurely stroll through ancient towns shopping with friends. I also had a Facebook life which was universally fawned over by friends and family back home.
La dolce vita, right?
But, against the idyllic background, my head spun, and I felt lower than I ever had.
Back to my friend’s comment. At the time, I had just finished singing the praises of a toddler my daughter and I had encountered at a playground months earlier. This child could clearly say “airplane;” she understood the concept of wet; and she had better hair than Kate Middleton. She was the same age as my baby. I neurotically recounted each and every memory of that day. I lamented about why it was my “fault” that my sweet baby wasn’t also living up to some insane caricature I had concocted of this super toddler who had already been accepted to Oxford.
My dear friend, trying to talk me off the ledge, assured me that my daughter was amazing and that I was doing the right thing and that I needed to back off her. My friend probably doesn’t know it but that moment changed my life, and I am so grateful to her for it.
To be honest, this was far from the first time someone had bestowed a sentiment like that onto me. Using diplomatic verbiage, I am “particular.” I have always been this way. Even my mom thinks I’m uptight. Fun, huh?
I was the kid who did the entirety of a school project because I didn’t trust the mouth-breathers in my group to contribute the way I thought they should. No, thank you, Andrew, we don’t need a G.I. Joe dressed as a King Tut in the cardboard and glitter pyramid diorama.
As an adult, I would be at work until 7 p.m. most of the time because, in my mind, if I didn’t control each part of every aspect of my job, the place would burn to the ground.
It stinks. I don’t like being this way, and it is exceptionally difficult for me to suppress this attribute about myself.
My husband, who is a confident and efficient delegator, simply doesn’t get it. Because of this, I am often a self-made martyr. I have unattainably high standards, and I end up doing almost everything myself. Then, I get upset about it. I can see how that would be maddening for him, or anyone really. But, he bought this cow, so if some of the spots aren’t cute, he is still joined to me by law. (I’m a dairy cow in this scenario.)
I never thought I would say this, out loud at least, but becoming a military spouse has been a true blessing for me.
I had an exceptionally challenging time adjusting to this life. I met my husband at 26, and we spent two amazingly fun years dating. Militarily speaking, those years were uneventful. We went to our jobs every day. I had purchased a home a year earlier just five houses down the street from where I had grown up since age eight. I had a job I adored and was surrounded by supportive friends and family. Everything was as it should be.
Like Gollum, I still possessed The Ring, “My Precious,” which to me, equates to control over my own life. That ship has since sailed and subsequently capsized. We had six almost assignments our first PCS as a married couple. After quitting my job and moving to rural Oklahoma, my husband was deployed four months later and I spent my first married Christmas alone. I was pretty insufferable to be around.
I am fortunate to be blessed with two of the most extraordinary babies to ever grace this beautiful planet. My Big Girl, we will call her Kathie Lee, is the best big sister I know. She is consistently brave in situations I am certain most adults would cower into an amorphous puddle. She is creative and funny. She also is independent and determined. And, friends, as you know, that’s a two-sided coin.
My Bitty, we will call her Hoda, is as sweet as tea in Alabama. She is one of the most verbal toddlers I have ever met and loves Queen. She also is, as my recently deceased uncle would say, “one of those ‘woman hear me roars.'”
My girls are my universe, and I am so lucky to be their mom. However, as many of you are aware, being a parent is no Swiss Picnic some days. The ability to control when an almost 2-year-old yells, “Damnit” (oops) is almost nonexistent.
This life pulls each of us from our coveted comfort zones to whichever duty station the military decides will be our life for the next several years. It has been a process, but with every move, every surprise TDY and deployment, my ability to deal with things I cannot control strengthens.
Some days, I am not the person I truly want to be. I still struggle with a lot.
Currently, I am sitting in a half unpacked house. Clutter makes me bonkers, and it is difficult for me to do anything but rage clean. A messy kitchen is my tantrum trigger. Ugh. I can’t even. However, amid the random chopsticks and cups I haven’t seen in six years, I made dinner. We took our girls to the pool. I am working hard to try to be better. I want to be a better wife, a better friend, a better mom, a better human. It’s a process, and it’s not easy or fun sometimes.
For me, it’s about being OK with being OK. Sure, I am still “particular,” but I have evolved to care a lot less about the arrangement of my knicknackery. I’ve embraced the crappy dinner party. Spending more time with friends in our home over some regular food is more important than spending three days on a coq au vin that only I really like. Playing Little Mermaid with my girls is a better use of my time than meticulously weeding my side yard. Having a glass of wine while watching “House of Cards” with my husband ensconced in my dogs is more fun than color coding my closet.
I still do those things, just less frequently.
Very few things in our lives truly matter, and I’m bummed it took me so long to realize it. I am fortunate that the extraordinary people in my life remind me each day.