Good Boys to Good Men

I find myself in a really fun season of parenting right now. I have a sweet four year old who brings our family more joy than I can express. Over the past four+ years I’ve written many times about his cuteness and antics.

But this blog post is about my bigs, who are now 13, 11 and 10, and we’re quickly approaching birthday season. (The men in my life have birthdays in February, March, March, April, and May.)   I absolutely love some aspects of having tweens/teens including the ability to have real in-depth conversations. Specifically speaking of Hayden, I can see traces of the man he is going to be, and I love it!

And because this territory is challenging in many ways, I have at least four books within my reach at this very moment to help me better understand them so that I can better parent them. Matt is obviously in on this with me, but he has so much reading he has to do for his job that I read the parenting books and then hand him specific chapters to read.

The latest book I devoured was one of the best I’ve ever read. Not only was it extremely helpful and practical, it was easy to read, not clinical or condescending. The author shared personal stories all throughout and her husband piped in for his take on many situations. His insight is incredibly helpful for this mom, a female with no experience at being a guy.   This is a book that I’d recommend any mom of boys to read. It’s geared toward parents who have a boy (or, like me, a bunch of them) ages 8-12. This book is full of encouragement, explanation, and ways to help your boy remain good. Even though Hayden is already past the tween stage, it applied to him, as well.

The title is Six Ways to Keep the “Good” in Your Boy by Dannah Gresh. When she wrote Six Ways to Keep the “Little” in Your Girl, I wished with all my heart that she’d write a complementary book for parents of boys. She did!

If I were to share all the parts I underlined I’d get in BIG TROUBLE for giving away too much of her book! Here are a few of the ways it resonated with me.

Manhood: We celebrate our boys’ entrance into manhood. When Hayden turned 12 we gave him a sword to represent this huge moment. There was symbolism in the fact that the sword was almost as tall as he was. He wasn’t old enough or big enough to easily hold the weapon, but it was time to start practicing. He _JEN8864wasn’t a man yet, but it was time to start thinking like one. He has a few years of practicing before he is sent off on his way into the big wide world. There are lessons to learn and mistakes to make while in the safety and security of our home. By the time he leaves us, he will be more comfortable with that sword in his hands, he will have grown and he will know the strength he has and how to wield it. He will know that his strength can be dangerous if used incorrectly, but that it’s provided to him by God to be a defense for his family and those who are weaker or are being attacked. His strength is something to be thankful for but used wisely. Many men are taught to be ashamed of their strength or they’ve chosen to use it to bully others. It is our job to teach our sons why God designed men with this strength.  And just behind Hayden are two more boys to train with this strength.  A few years behind them, is our Parker.

Screens:  We do not have video games. This book reminded me of the many reasons why. I am not mad at you if you have video games, but I implore you to read this book and see the reasons we have made that decision for our family. My parents made this decision for my brother and me, and I remember really wanting a Nintendo.  When I visited friends, I loved sitting at their TVs playing Mario. My kids enjoy playing video games when they visit with friends who have a system.  I am very specific about what kinds of games they can play (or even watch others play) and we will not own a system. Period. The author and her husband had video games in their home and they share tips for those of you who want to allow them, but with moderation.

More Screens: We are very protective of the boys’ eyes. We do not have cable and do not want it. We have Netflix and Hulu, and even with those we are very particular. Our boys are developing a sense of what is appropriate for our family and are starting to make decisions that impress us. Not long ago, we sat down as a family to watch something that was, in my mind, okay, but not great. I noticed Hayden quietly walking upstairs and when I asked where he was going, he said he was going to go draw. When I asked why his response was that he didn’t think that show was right for him. It didn’t take a full second for Matt and me to deem the show inappropriate for the rest of us, and we opened up one of our Christmas Presents: Duck Dynasty Season 5. Everyone was happy with that! And it’s not just the oldest one who is learning discernment. Just a few days later Bailey deemed another show inappropriate for our family, and it was one I was already starting to question.

The boys’ iPods and iPads don’t have internet access unless we specifically turn it on, and when they’re done with what they need, we turn it off again.  All of our computers are password protected and they can’t use them without asking first. When they do use the internet, the boys sit near one of us. The next few sentence are loose quotes from the book:

Did you know that the porn industry makes more money annually than NASCAR, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, basketball, and baseball combined…. Hollywood brings us about 300 movies a year, while the porn industry releases about 700… per month!

I do not doubt the addictive nature of pornography and many of those addicted to it were first introduced to it in their tween years. Not in my house… not if I can help it!

Dirt: Hamrick boys play outside. They dig in the mud. Literally. As I write this my kids are down the street at the corner of our neighborhood building a bike ramp in the drainage ditch. They have been working for a week or two on this project and they keep taking two of our shovels to the “ramp.” Not surprisingly, they have made some pretty neat ramps and jumps out of the dirt ditch. Hours they’ve spent in the mud, and I love it. (And if I had daughters, I have a feeling they’d be right there with them!)

Food: Family dinners are a must. I’m not the greatest cook but we are determined to eat dinner together almost every night.   The only night we don’t is the night Matt and I teach FPU. The boys enjoy that night because they get “junk” food: frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, etc. There are plenty of studies that discuss the importance of eating meals together. I found a neat website with a quick Google search of “family meals together studies.”  It reports:

Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.

Check out The Family Dinner Project.

Examples:  Boys need real men to emulate. We are very cautious about who they spend time with. The men we allow to speak into their lives are chosen carefully. The requirements are: they must love God first, their wives second, and their children third. Easy as that. Men who find their priorities swapped will not be around much. We want our boy to have plenty of good examples to follow and we are thankful that there are people in their lives we hope they emulate.

Talk: Conversations about difficult topics occur on a frequent basis. We believe that if we don’t have these conversations with our boys, someone else will, and we can’t trust that what they say will be true to our value system. I could honestly fill an entire blog post with all the conversations that need to be had, that we are having, but if you are an adult you know exactly which conversations I’m talking about. There are resources listed in “Six Ways” that we plan to utilize in our parenting.

Two more things: Finally we want to instill in our boys a strong work ethic and a desire to NOT be complacent about their work or their spiritual lives. Complacency will ruin lives, and I pray my boys will LOVE life and the Lord.  I do not want to see complacency in their careers and their spiritual lives.

I hope you will take the time to read this book if you are raising a boy or four. Very worthwhile and, as a mom of a few of them, a very much appreciated book!

Dannah Gresh has a full website with a lot of advice and a list of her books.  The link to the page that lists the “Six Ways” books is here.

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My birthday – 2014

This birthday was bittersweet for three reasons.  The first was that friends from past years weren’t here.  That’s no surprise, so I won’t belabor that point.

The second is that two families we’ve enjoyed getting to know here in Texas are moving.  In fact, one of them has already moved… they pulled away two days after my party, and are arriving in their new “home” state as I write this blog post.

The third is that I got virtually no pictures.  I totally forgot to have anyone take pictures so the group shots you will see are the lucky pair that Kari took for me… and I am grateful for them!

So, without any further discussion on why this birthday was bittersweet, I will share the details of my birthday with you now… because I know you’re just DYING to know how I celebrated my 37th, right?!?

I have found it fun to continue the tradition of Frogmore stew as my birthday meal.  I love making it, and so far it’s been a big hit with the friends who have had the opportunity to share it with us.  I have somehow lost my massive stock pot, so I made this year’s batch in 3 pots. In my 12-quart I used the spicy sausage and in the other two smaller pots, I used the mild.  This allowed people to decide for themselves if they wanted a bite to their stew!

For our desserts I had one of the sweet girls from our youth group make pumpkin cream cheese cupcakes and I picked up a medium sized cake from HEB.  (HEB is the local grocery store here, and while it’s huge and sort of overwhelming, their cakes are delicious!  And as a bonus, they sell Duke’s Mayo.  I’m a fan!)  In addition to these sweets I had purchased a package of Pumpkin Spice Oreos.  Yes, I’m a sucker for anything pumpkin and I actually like these!

The families who joined us made me feel special and gave me the opportunity to do one of the things I love most:  open my home and spend time with friends.

The men and children spent some time playing Corn Hole while the ladies oohed and ahhed over the little squishy who came.  We were short one of the the men who deployed last week so we wish him well and are very glad his family was able to come (I haven’t gotten permission to use their names in my blog, so this explains why I’m being a tad vague regarding this.)

At my age (I feel old just saying that) I don’t expect or need gifts to make my day special… truly, just having people over suffices!  But my friends did, indeed bring gifts.  Kari sells Norwex, a product I’m head over heels for, and she used my “wish list” to buy everything I wanted!  I love this stuff, and the color of these clothes makes me happy!  (Orchid, if you’re curious.)_JEN4764Included in the above items are an EnviroCloth, a towel and wash cloth set, SpiriSponge and not shown is a dish cloth.  Loving these!

Heather brought a gift that I didn’t open until after we had eaten dinner and had dessert.  I happened to comment that the kids must have enjoyed the Oreos because I didn’t get any.  Heather’s gift made me very happy:

_JEN4768In addition to the Oreos was a Starbucks card.  Oh, she has won my heart!

The Myers’ gift to me is still gorgeous and keeps getting more beautiful by the day.  I love this fall themed bouquet.

_JEN4794If you look closely you will see Pumpkin Bars in the cake platter behind beside the flowers they brought.  Be. Still. My. Heart.

Matt has an iPad Mini and I started stealing it sometime last month to read some books that we don’t have in our physical library.  He decided that this was a good time for me to receive one of my own.  I think I’ve done well… I’m an Apple fan and I’ve waited all these years to own my own iPad!  I’m really enjoying it and love that if I read a few chapters on my phone, the iPad opens to the right page the next time I open it.  (I thought the phone looked cute next to the iPad.) _JEN4774 And in the mail came a journal and cross that have symbolic references to Wiesbaden, my temporary hometown in Germany.  Aimee knows my heart will always love that place, that time…IMG_0187

As I cleaned the kitchen after the party, Carson and I were chatting about what a fun time we had had.  I mentioned that I was really disappointed that I had forgotten pictures, so he snapped about a dozen or so… of all my gifts, of me washing dishes, etc.  They’re all blurry, but it was absolutely precious!  Here’s a blurry one of me!IMG_0175There were four people who didn’t make it into the pictures, but I’m thankful at the very least for these two pictures.   (Thanks, Kari!)  In the first I’m telling everyone which pot is spicy and reminding them to get two bowls: one for food and one for the shrimp peelings.IMG_0190 IMG_0189The day was very special and I really enjoyed having my friends over to celebrate!  Another year of life.  I am beyond blessed!

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I always knew he was distinguished… (continued)

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Class of 1999 and 2005

The next day was Homecoming at Gardner-Webb. We arrived at the Tucker Center (GORGEOUS NEW BUILDING!!) for a brunch given in honor of the Distinguished Alumni of 2014. The presentation of the award was a very sweet gesture and we enjoyed hearing what contributions other alumni have made to society. A photographer took photos of each of the award recipients and with those pictures the Alumni Association is going to create a plaque per Alum. These will be placed in a gallery located just inside the Tucker Center. The Alum of the Year award was given posthumously to Staff Sgt. Gass, a Green Beret of the US Army who died of a heart attack during a dangerous mission during which he helped to rescue other injured soldiers. His family received the honor in his stead. _JEN4366

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This building was not there when we were in school. It’s gorgeous!

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THIS is the BOOKSTORE!! Oh my GOODness, it’s huge!

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This is the bottom floor of the Tucker Center. I’m seriously impressed by how beautiful this building is.

Matt and I got to enjoy this brunch with our parents and with my brother. One of the other alumni being honored at the brunch was a close friend of ours, Corie. She and her husband, Matt, (also a US Army Chaplain) were there and we enjoyed catching up with them almost as much as we enjoyed seeing the campus again. The four of us loved Gardner-Webb while we attended, but our love of the place has grown and our memories are treasures to us.

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Both of the guys got to go inside their dorm buildings, and Matt, Matt and Corie found a way to get into the classroom of one of their favorite professors to leave a note on the white board. We ate in the Caf for old-time’s sake and walked around the campus and down several memory lanes.

Matt and I always knew our campus was gorgeous but it wasn’t until we left and lived in a place with few trees and little grass that we realized what a special kind of pretty GWU is. I do not like having a front yard of rocks. At GWU there is green, lush grass all over campus. All over NC, for that matter. The trees were just starting to turn colors the weekend we were there. When our plane took off from Charlotte, I was amazed. Trees as far as I could see. I was so stunned I snapped a picture on my phone. When we landed in TX Isnapped  another picture so I could post the two side-by-side. You’ll be able to see the difference!

Anyway, enough NC love for now.

After the brunch, a quick tour of the campus then lunch in the Caf, we headed to the football stadium. The game got off on the right foot and at one point I asked Matt if he had seen the goal. “Goal?” he asked. “Yes. Did you see the goal?” He then proceeded to tell me that in football it’s not called a goal. It’s a touchdown. Hmph. Same-same.

_JEN4422 _JEN4401At halftime, just after the homecoming court was announced, the panel of seven Distinguished Alumni was lead onto the field. Each one was introduced and then the story of the Alum of the Year was read. Gratefully the crowd was listening and before long, both sides, home and away, were standing and clapping in memory and honor of the soldier who gave his life in defense of the United States of America. It was a great moment. I was a part of so many good communities at that moment: the US Army; Gardner-Webb, North Carolina and of course, the United States of America.

_JEN4432 _JEN4458The weather was outstanding. A perfect fall day on all accounts. My husband’s achievements were being recognized by his Alma Mater, our family was in the stands cheering, and we were literally surrounded by thousands of great people.

After the football festivities we headed back to the hotel so Matt could get out of his uniform. We chatted with family for a couple of hours before they headed back home. It was late enough for dinner at this time, so Matt and I enjoyed a quick dinner at a local place in Boiling Springs. We followed this with a leisurely hour-long stroll throughout the campus we will always love.

This place... I relax just looking at pictures of it.  Being there was even more relaxing.

This place… I relax just looking at pictures of it. Being there was even more relaxing.

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This is the building where I had most of my classes.  Craig Hall.

This is the building where I had most of my classes. Craig Hall.

The DCC.  (Dover Campus Center.)  This was the hub of activity when we were there.  It had the mailboxes, the Caf, the walk-up snack bar.  The Tucker Center has replaced some of those functions, but now this building has a Starbucks and a Chick-fil-a.  A CHICK-FIL-A, PEOPLE!

The DCC. (Dover Campus Center.) This was the hub of activity when we were there. It had the mailboxes, the Caf, the walk-up snack bar. The Tucker Center has replaced some of those functions, but now this building has a Starbucks and a Chick-fil-a. A CHICK-FIL-A, PEOPLE!

Inside the bottom level of the DCC.  The wooden wall used to contain our mailboxes.  No longer...

Inside the bottom level of the DCC. The wooden wall used to contain our mailboxes. No longer…

My apartment was middle floor.  Good times.

My apartment was on the middle floor. Good times.

The Bell tower.  They were building this when we arrived.  It's always been a part of our GWU experience.

The Bell tower. They were building this when we arrived. It’s always been a part of our GWU experience.

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Breathtaking.  Can you see the Football stadium in the break in the trees?

Breathtaking. Can you see the Football stadium in the break in the trees?

The lake-side of the Tucker Center.

The lake-side of the Tucker Center.

We fell in love before we started our time at Gardner-Webb, but our love grew daily while we were there. We had memories in almost every building on that campus, and loved every second of the time we got to relive those as we walked.

While most of the memories we were reliving were from our college days, every now and then a memory from our early parenting days would pop up. We lived about 10 minutes from Gardner-Webb for six years and we had all three of the bigs during those years. We had memories of the very first time we ever put Hayden in a stroller and memories of taking them to the quad to ride their bikes.

March 29, 2004.  Bailey was 11 days old and we went to visit daddy at GWU.

March 29, 2004. Bailey was 11 days old and we went to visit daddy at GWU.

Boiling Springs will forever be a special place to us. We love our story and we enjoy traveling back to soak in the beauty of Gardner-Webb.

I guarantee my campus is prettier than your campus. That is unless you also went to Gardner-Webb, in which case, your campus is equally as pretty as mine.

And as promised, a comparison between NC and TX as seen from an airplane.

Trees in NC.  Dirt in TX.

Trees in NC. Dirt in TX.

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I always knew he was distinguished…

…now the rest of Gardner-Webb does, too.

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Several weeks ago Matt received communication from Gardner-Webb University that he had been nominated as a Distinguished Alum.  It was an honor to be nominated and I was very proud of him.  Accepting this honor allowed us to have a fantastic whirlwind weekend!

IMG_5113Matt and I left early Friday morning and flew (alone!) to Charlotte, NC.  We landed safely and headed toward baggage claim.  As we rode down the escalators to baggage claim we saw Mason, our nephew!  Josh (my brother) Ashley, and their littles surprised us at the airport! How sweet! Especially considering it’s an international airport and parking is a bear.

After we got our luggage we told Josh and Ashley we’d meet them at Gander Mountain for a little shopping. We had some time to kill before our dinner plans. Matt and I rode a bus a short distance to the airport’s Hertz office where I stood in line for an hour and a half waiting to receive our car. This was insane, and I’ve decided that next time I’ll either select a different company or I’ll splurge for the GOLD member status… those people had no wait at all. (NOTE: I was able to rent a car using my debit card, so even though there was a ridiculous wait, I am grateful that Hertz still accepts real money instead of demanding its customers pay with debt.)   We didn’t make it to Gander Mtn. In fact, we drove through 5:00 traffic and pulled into the restaurant at exactly the time I had hoped to: 6:15!

I had told Matt we were meeting his mom, my parents, and my brother and his family for a birthday dinner for my dad. When we entered the room of the Italian place we had selected, 47 of our friends and family were already seated. I had managed to surprise Matt with a promotion party!

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A room full of people celebrating Matt’s promotion, Distinguished Alumni status, Bronze Star award, and his coming home safely from Afghanistan.

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My parents (in the back) along with my precious cousins… they traveled a long distance to attend!

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And Madison says, “CHEEEEEESE!”

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My grandparents. Josh (my brother) and Ashley with Mason between. My Uncle Steve and Aunt Antonia with Brooke in the foreground, hugging Madison.  Brett would have been here but he’s away at Basic Training… HOOAH!

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Matt’s cousins. Some of them, anyway!  The Hovis, Wensil, and Robinson Families…

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Matt’s aunts and uncles, and more of his cousins!

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Small Town Friendly REPRESENTS!

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No, that is not Parker on Matt’s cake! That’s Matt! (Thank you, Sybil, for taking care of the cake!)

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Youth all grown up!

 

We all ordered, ate, and then, while we enjoyed cake, I had a slideshow of images from Matt’s most recent deployment to share. Also included in the slideshow were pictures from Matt’s Bronze Star ceremony, promotion, and change of command ceremony. It was so neat for us to be able to share this part of our lives with our NC friends and family; people with no connection to the military whatsoever. Well, no connection other than Matt.

It took some effort to make this night happen:

Matt’s mom brought a cake; my parents brought a large-screen TV to show the slideshow on; my brother saved the evening by running to Radio Shack to purchase an HDMI cable… (I didn’t realize I’d need one).  Families came from a great distance to show Matt how proud they are of him and I honestly couldn’t have asked for the night to be any sweeter! (Well, except for the fact that some loved ones were unable to come. We definitely missed a few friends and family members who had prior commitments.)

Stay tuned… tomorrow I’ll post the rest of the story.

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Sacrifice of separation, but not the kind you are thinking of…

I recently wrote about our most recent reintegration experiences.  That time of relearning what life is like as a family.

The first two weeks that I force Matt to “vacation” at home allow him a chance to unwind.  Deployed soldiers are on guard 24/7.  They live in the battlefield.  It’s not like they retreat from the battle… sure, they’re fairly safe on their FOBs, but the very term, FOB, indicates their location: Forward Operating Base.  “A base at the forward of the fight.”  Right there.  In the middle of it all.  So those two weeks of mental and physical vacation helped Matt settle his mind and spirit; to recognize in the deepest of places that he was home and safe.

I had a conversation last week with some fellow 1-227 wives during which one recalled a documentary she had recently watched.  The documentary stated that one possible reason that PTSD has become so much more prevalent after these wars is that soldiers go from the battlefield to the home in a 48 hour period.  In past wars, soldiers spent 2-3 months with their battle buddies on a ship, debriefing and decompressing; realizing slowly that they were no longer on the battlefield.  I shared this insight with Matt and he said that he had heard a similar insight about soldiers sleeping in the middle of the battle also adding to the increase in PTSD.  Sleeping on a FOB… as our soldiers do in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Matt is so glad to be home.  He loves being home and he is fully engaged here with us.  But he misses the guys he served with.  Some have already moved on to new duty stations; some are still in Afghanistan, wrapping up our unit’s final responsibilities.  Some have changed units already, and Matt will later this month.  Living 24/7 with people in a dangerous situation creates bonds that I will not ever completely understand.  And I recognize that in a 48 hour time period, Matt had to say “see ya” to many of them.  Sure, he sees some of them at work, some around Fort Hood, others via Facebook or text, but that’s totally different from living/sleeping/working/eating together.

Almost all of my non-military friends have wished Matt well, prayed for him, sent him cards or packages, thanking him for his service.  You know well of the separations from family that he has endured.  You know well that he was in a place where bad things happen.  You know well that he was willing to risk his safety “for God and Country.”  I just wanted you to know that the sacrifices didn’t end the moment his boots hit US soil; that there are sacrifices he has made or still makes that he doesn’t share.  Even with me.  Sacrifices that are almost too sensitive to talk about.  If his Army buddies read this, they might fully agree but I doubt they’d too loudly shout AMEN.  They’re tough, battle hardened men who only share their hearts when they really feel safe to.  And speaking of that, I had the incredible honor of being at a small party Friday night during which this happened.  I saw these guys who have served our Army so bravely share from their hearts how they feel about each other.  There was plenty of laughter going around and one ended up in the pool fully clothed (we made sure he didn’t have his phone in his pocket) but what I took away from that night was that this group of soldiers are forever bound together by their experiences.  I simply could not believe I was in their presence as they spoke.  I didn’t want to make too much noise laughing at their stories for fear that they would notice an outsider among them and quiet down.  They were in their own world.  They were back in Afghanistan, but not fully.  They were safe and their guards were down, and they were sharing the funny stories about flying mostly-broken Apaches, how one used a sausage to prop his TV up… the scary stories about firefights that took them by surprise and about landing near IEDs that ended up being nothing more than PVC pipes.  They told about being awake for days on end and having to brief Generals in their exhaustion, and they told about being woken in the middle of the night to fly missions… about how dirty one of the officers kept his room and about how neat-freak another one was (to the point that he ordered a vacuum off Amazon just to keep his office clean).

These guys… they sacrificed time away from their families.  We all know about that sacrifice.  I know about that sacrifice.  And now that they’re home (at least most of 1-227 is home) they are sacrificing in a totally different way, and it’s tough.  They’re glad to be home with their families, definitely, but this is a different sacrifice the US has asked them to make.  And they try to do it with grace and humility, mostly because they are too tough to do it with anything less than grace and humility.

Matt is home, and he is excited about this next amazing step in his career.  But he will forever be a part of 1-227 and 1-227 will forever be a part of Matt.  The bonds he created in Afghanistan mean more to him than he can relate to me, but I feel it.  I’m honored to be married to someone who sacrificed in service to his country by joining the military, and has deployed twice in her defense.  His sacrifice is continual.

Here is an image of Matt and some of his battle buddies during their patch ceremony.  These patches mean a great deal to the soldiers who wear them on their sleeves. Patch ceremony

So there is, of course, the sacrifice of a soldier separated from his or her family, but when that solder returns, he or she faces a new kind of separation, and one that few really ever talk about.  I just thought you should know.

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Reintegration – that’s a big word…

Reintegration:  the period of time after a soldier returns from a deployment during which family members relearn what it’s like to live together.

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We have relished this time.  It’s often referred to as another honeymoon, which is quite accurate.  There is a honeymoon period where everything just works.  And then it’s over and you realize that life has gone back to normal.  Trouble arises when the transition between honeymoon and real life is rocky.

Maybe because Matt’s a counselor; maybe because we’ve seen others do this right/poorly; maybe because we were very very intentional about our reintegration, we’ve had a very smooth transition.  We are technically still within the window of reintegration, so I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think things are going well.

There are a few specific things we do to help this process.  First, we talk about it.  We say out loud that things have changed.  The boys have aged; we have different rules; things they weren’t allowed to do before the deployment are now allowed; things I used to allow are no longer allowed.  We talk about the fact that we had both gotten used to our independence.  I was used to grading Math in bed; he was used to staying up really late and sleeping in a bit.  (Pilots schedules are wonky, so pilot’s Chaplain’s schedules are wonky.)  I was used to seeing my girlfriends several times a week, if not daily in some form or fashion.  He was used to being with the guys at all times.  Talking about these changes in our lives helped us to understand one another and gave us the freedom to say what was on our minds.

Another process we set in place is that for two weeks after Matt gets back from a deployment he’s on vacation.  He does absolutely no household chores or discipline.  (He was more than happy to let me handle all disciplinary issues or questions that start with, “Dad, can I…?”  He wasn’t sure if I let them walk to the shoppette after they’ve finished school each day or whether or not they were allowed to eat ice cream after lunch.  Those are the details that he was able to learn during the two weeks of his vacation.  It was harder, though, to keep him from jumping into the household chores.  He is a man of action and if he saw a need, he wanted to jump in.  But as I mentioned above, many of the jobs he’s used to doing are now assigned to someone.  I had to stop him several times and call in the appropriate son.  After two months, now he’s better about calling one in to do a job that they “were going to get to” but then got sidetracked.

Finally, we frequently remind ourselves that we are in a reintegration period.  That we are going to get to a normal, though it may not ever look exactly like the normal before the deployment.  We remind ourselves that I hate riding in the car, but would rather drive.  And he lets me!  I’m not a good passenger, and our marriage is strongest if I’m not freaking out in the passenger’s seat.  We do our best to go with the flow and allow each other the growing pains that we feel: anxiety over upcoming job changes; the stories that we thought we had told each other but had somehow gotten lost over the airwaves; the massive changes in the boys’ (they’re now teens and preteens) over the past six months.  (Can anyone say HORMONAL?!?)

Reintegration can be the best of times and the worst of times.  Communicating clearly with each other about the changes each person is experiencing; allowing a vacation period just after a soldier’s return; setting realistic yet positive expectations regarding the changes that have taken place; all of these very intentional actions can help reintegration be the best of times.

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The holidays are coming!

It’s August and I’m seeing Christmas decorations.  And I love it!  Sure, it’s a touch early, but instead of allowing it to annoy me, it’s helping to build the anticipation!

My favorite time of year begins the day I can decorate for fall.  Here in TX I don’t wait for the weather to feel like fall… I decorate 1 September!  I start burning “Farmer’s Market” candles and they will burn until the day after Thanksgiving, at which point they will be replaced by “Mistletoe” candles.  We don’t really “do” Halloween but we REALLY do Thanksgiving.  I am literally giddy that it’s time to get into the spirit of being thankful… for our nation, our families, our lives, and then, literally on the heels of that amazing season, the BEST season of all:  celebrating the reason I have hope that this life isn’t all there is.  Christ came!  (I love Easter, too, don’t get me wrong, and I understand that without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t exist, but I love the colors, sounds, and spirit of Christmas.  It is my favorite time of year.)

I saw about 10 people posting on Facebook that they were surprised at how early stores are putting out Christmas decorations and I made the the comment that many of those who are most annoyed by the early decorations are the same ones annoyed during the season about how rushed and busy they are.  I offered this suggestion:  consider the stores’ displays a suggestion to start planning early.  Planning early will help alleviate the rushed feelings that can accompany the months of Nov-Dec.  Learning to say no to some of the activities will also lessen stress.  We are all invited to dozens of activities and it is not necessary to attend every one.

Rebecca Alwine, a friend of mine, wrote an article for MilitarySpouse.com about this very topic.  I hope you will read it!  Click here.

 

Christmas window

(I have to share this… my kids have no idea about the conversation I’m having on Facebook regarding this topic and yet they’re watching a Christmas show on TV right now!)

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And he’s BACK!

My nesting was not in vain! He returned late on the evening of the 29th!  I will be working on the video and slide show sometime, but for now, here is the story and some pictures!

When we found out that our reunion was to take place two-and-a-half months early, Matt and I discussed the idea of keeping it a secret from the boys.  Last deployment we KNEW the date of his return (at least within a few days) because it was a 15 month-er.  We knew that it was unlikely that the government would extend them.  I was able to give my boys the experience of anticipating his return.  It was great to talk to them and count-down to the approximate date.  We were able to go to the welcome home ceremony and enjoy the festivities.  This time, with the always-changing dates, AND with the possibility that an early return might not happen at all, we felt it best to keep this information to ourselves.

When it was made public that our unit would be returning early, I asked my sweet friends here at home to help me keep it a secret, and I only had three people almost spill the beans.  We’ve done well!

The day of Matt’s return I wrote the blog post called “Nesting of a Different Sort.”  As I detailed in that post, I endured many days of working feverishly on getting everything ready all while telling the boys that we were getting ready for our friends (Jason and Audrey) to come stay with us for a while.  This was not at all weird to the boys as Audrey and the kids have spent the night with us a few times, and we have slept there a few times.  I have since asked them if they had any idea what was going on and they have assured me that they suspected nothing and were just happy to get a couple of days off school.

The story I used to keep them off the trail of the truth:
Jason and Audrey are in NC visiting family and have found a killer deal on plane tickets back to TX, only the flight lands in Killeen instead of San Antonio.  Since they’re getting in so late (8:00 PM) and they live 3 hours away, they’ll just spend the night with us.  (Matt’s original return time was 0310 and I wanted to, in advance, give the boys some reason that I was getting them out of bed.  Otherwise, I was afraid they’d be worried.)

On the actual night, they wondered why I was getting sort of dressed up and I just told them that sometimes a girl likes to get all fru-frued up.  They bought it.

When it was time to go to the “airport” I told them I needed to stop somewhere first.  We headed to Cooper Field where we saw other cars, including the Myers’s car.  They wondered why their friends were there and I told them that I thought this was just a function put on by the USO for families.  That explained the music we were hearing from the field.

When we got there our friends were standing on the CAV patch that is embedded on the parade field.  This picture shows the field from above.

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Looking at the picture above, the boys and I came from the left side in front of the awning and met our friends on the patch.  Michael M. was holding a bunch of Carolina Blue balloons, which were going to be used for Matt to easily spot us as he marched toward us, but Carson accidentally let them fly away.  (Thank goodness for technology… I was able to text him to let him know that they had flown away and to where to look for us.  Imagine how nervous he would have been had he been looking for the balloons and didn’t know they were gone!  He might think that we hadn’t made it!)

While our friends took pictures and videoed, I asked the boys to read the center balloon, which said, “Welcome Home.”  I asked them who they would like to welcome home and they sad, “Dad?”  Yes, with a question in their voices.  It took a lot of explaining but they finally “got it!”

AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_19 AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_22To convince the boys that their daddy was in Killeen, Kari showed them his picture.  A picture that Chaplain W. had taken an hour earlier at the airport when he and Chaplain G. greeted Matt as he deboarded the plane.  There were TV screens in the building at the parade field showing a live-feed of the soldiers deboarding.  As it turned out, our photographer, April Kroenke, had snapped a picture of this event occurring!  So fun!

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After we did “the reveal” we headed over to the bleachers and stood chatting while waiting.  Having so many people there made it a wonderful  experience.  We were blessed to have each family around us on our special night!AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_34 AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_29There was music and much dancing.

AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_42 JUMP ON IT, Kemosabe!!AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_74Before too long the word was given that the buses were arriving.  We moved into place and watched as the police escort led our soldiers to the edge of the field.

AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_68 AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_2Marching toward us!  Matt was in the second row behind the flag bearers.  We couldn’t pick him out. AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_86 AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_89So here’s the thing…  We were going to stay in one place and wait for Matt to come to us.  I wanted to have good pictures and I wanted us all to be together.

And then I saw him.  And I ran.

I’m sure we would have gotten a dozen more shots as amazing as this one had I obeyed myself but I didn’t!  I couldn’t!  Here’s our first moment:AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_4There are other pictures that deserve to be in this blog post and I will share those somewhere, but for now, just know that there were tears from a few of us!  This was a happy moment!AprilKroenke_HamrickHomecoming_7My soldier… our whole family, and the people who joined us on our special night! (Minus  Chaplain H and two of his kids who left before it got too late.  Duty calls!)

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We are blessed.  We are blessed, indeed.

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Nesting of a different sort.

If you’ve ever experienced the latter months of a pregnancy you probably know what I mean by “nesting.”  I define it as an uncontrollable and sometimes illogical drive to accomplish certain tasks before baby arrives, even if said tasks will in no way make a difference to the baby’s life.  Some moms feel the urge to clean everything in sight.  Some feel the need to cook mass quantities of food to stock the freezer.  While these things are helpful and we can all agree that cooking and cleaning are great things to do before baby comes, the urgency a mom can feel to get these done borders psychotic.  I’d love for you to comment and tell me some of the ways you nested.  Especially some of the more unique tasks you felt you HAD to get done and how urgently you felt that need!

I am in a state of nesting at the moment.  I haven’t mentioned here on my blog that Matt was coming home early for security reasons, but my state of mind is most definitely in the “nesting” category.  I have been cleaning and doing odd-jobs around the house for a few weeks.  It’s very much like pregnancy:  “I know this will end (baby will come/hubby will return) but I don’t know the exact date.”  For this reason, sometimes I’d find myself needing to sleep instead of work.  I wanted to work, but the mental exhaustion would take its toll and I’d need a nap.  RIGHT THEN.  A “no functioning without it” kind of thing.  (Not at all unlike pregnancy.)

Today, Tuesday the 29th of June, I can say with some certainty, that I will see Matt tonight.  (Although, it could be after midnight making it, technically, “tomorrow.”)  Two months before his original return date!  In some ways I’m excited.  In other ways, I’m cautious because all it takes is an issue with a plane and it’s delayed a day, or four.  (Not at all unlike pregnancy.)  The only difference is that over the past few weeks, there was always a true possibility of it being delayed for months… that’s the most stressful part.  The date could always be put back to its original date, and for that, I certainly couldn’t complain, but then, it has been known to be pushed even farther to the right by several months.  Allowing myself to get my hopes up has been very difficult.  Add to all of this we’re trying to surprise the boys!  It’s hard enough to endure the roller-coaster by myself.  If the date were to be pushed back to October, I could handle the disappointment, but to see the boys get so excited about his return only to have them change it… I couldn’t handle that.  And so I have done everything in my power to keep this a surprise!  We’re at 5 hours out and so far so good!  I have concocted a fairly sturdy story and I think we’ll make it!

Sunday I felt the urge to clean both of our cars, fill them with gas, and clean the garage.  But first, I needed a nap.  It was a productive day, with some soccer practice mixed in there.  Yesterday I cut the boys’ hair, got my hair cut and more that I don’t recall at the moment.   Today I charged the cameras, cleaned more of the house, ran a few errands, had his phone turned back on, emptied out our shredded paper container, vacuumed dust from the corners of each room, vacuumed the doors, (YES, the doors), swept and mopped the entire downstairs, washed any item of clothing I thought might be dirty including a pile that I’m somewhat sure might have been clean… {I don’t do the boys’ laundry so I’m not really sure…}, cleaned our porch furniture, rescued all toys from under the couches… and generally tried to keep the house (and my mental state) from deteriorating.  Nesting is over!

Some of jobs over the past few weeks have been to dust every nook and cranny of this house; clean the fridge; change the light in the garage door opener; wax the floors; clean the baseboards; things that need to happen on an occasional basis anyway, but because of the upcoming reunion, I felt the urge to get them done NOW!

I Googled a few articles on nesting and found some really great stories.  Because of the ads surrounding the articles, I won’t add any links here, as I’ll spare your eyes the stuff I had to see, but some were as interesting as bleaching the garage floor and scrubbing ceilings!  Do you have any stories of nesting?  Either from a pregnancy or the return of your military member?

Parker didn’t nap today but fell asleep watching TV… I’m letting him get some rest.  As I post this (at approximately 5:50 PM) my bigs are at a neighbor’s eating pizza because I didn’t want to dirty a single dish.  Parker’s sleeping, and I’m sitting here updating our blog.  I feel it’s safe to do so since the US Army  has already posted publicly about the return!  You can read that article here!!

No more moths!  Just butterflies!

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Two weddings and a lot of amazing people

At Christmastime two of our beautiful (former) youth announced they were getting married!   A sweet set of sisters got proposed to on the same night, and their weddings were scheduled for two different weekends in May.  Facing a deployment, I decided that May sounded like a great time to trek back home to visit family and friends… and to attend two beautiful weddings!

Here is a fast breakdown of our time in NC… Matt was greatly missed.

Wedding #1:  Evan and Anna

_JEN3056 _JEN3069 IMG_4067iPhone photos and the pics I got with my real camera were not awesome.  Here’s one taken by the professional photographer, Carolina Portrait Designs:

10359508_10101143262325228_2487863007592138079_nWedding #2 was actually at the end of the trip, but since I’m in the wedding mood, I’ll share about it now.  Ned and Patti

IMG_4224 IMG_4231 Sweet sisters!  The one in blue was the bride of the first wedding.  I love Evan’s face… it’s like he’s saying, “One more picture?  REALLY?!?” IMG_4236 _JEN3701 _JEN3766Same professional photographer as before, Carolina Portrait Designs:

10258507_711382335567745_2287016958882897087_oAnd now to the much-less-fancy part of our travels!

We saw friends.  Lots of them.  Most of whom we didn’t get pictures of!

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We saw family, and loved every minute with them:

Grammy with the boys at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, NC.

_JEN3599 Uncle Brad and Hayden examine something odd…_JEN3619

Aunt Erin and Parker check out something swimming…_JEN3625Visiting GreatGrandma  (Matt’s mom’s  mom.)IMG_4195 _JEN3582We rode a lot of four-wheelers._JEN3371We went to the beach and celebrated Mother’s Day~

_JEN3201 _JEN3314 _JEN3275 IMG_4140Matt sent me flowers for Mother’s Day.

IMG_4117I taught the boys to mow!

IMG_4161I watched as one of my children became a TEENAGER!

 

IMG_4078We enjoyed spending time with sweet Madison. IMG_4102

Here you can see Parker and Bailey trying to wake her up after a nap.  It was time to go to Mason’s T-ball game. _JEN3562We spent time at the ball fields!!

_JEN3395And finally, I took the boys’ annual “First Day of School” photos, even though we were not really doing school at the time!  In fact, these were the official “Last Day of School” and “First Day of School” pictures.

We did school until we left for this trip and started right back up again when we got home.  We will take our “summer break” when Daddy gets back from his work-trip.  _JEN3461_JEN3419 _JEN3467 _JEN3484Sweet Spidey…  we spent lots of time in the car.

IMG_4126 We slept in 9 different places and saw many state lines.  It was a trip very much worth taking.  We are so glad we went, but wish Matt could have joined us.  The weddings were precious and the time we spent with loved ones was priceless.  I’m thankful for the friends we have in North Carolina who welcomed us and reminded us of how loved we are.

 

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