Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife

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Mother’s Day

Our lives are often parceled into different periods marked by major events, the times before and after something has changed us. There’s before Cameron and after. Before we moved to Hawaii and after we started our lives here. Before my miscarriage and after, when I learned the extent my soul could feel pain. But the greatest fissure in my life will now always be before becoming a mother and after.


Every night I stand watch, perched over Jack, fingertips grazing his pajamas as I wait for the steady rise in his chest to meet my touch then fall away, before rising again. Still breathing. Once confirmed, I’ll return to bed.


This ritual started within days of bringing Jack home from the hospital. Either Cameron or I would sit up and peer into the bassinet at night, letting our eyes adjust to the dim light cast in through a crack in our bathroom door, waiting to see him move.


After five months, Cameron has largely stopped his vigil. He’s confident our baby is fine at night. He doesn’t feel my constant, unabating terror that somehow this miracle we made will cease to be. Or if he does, he’s better at hiding it.


I’ve heard the words before that you never really know fear until you have a child. I understood the meaning of those syllables strung together to form an idea, but I couldn’t comprehend the concept until I held Jack in my arms.


Jack was born a little after midnight on November 19th. I pushed him out in 14 minutes. I didn’t let the nurses take him away to clean him. Instead I had them hand him straight to me, blood and all. Lying on my chest, only a minute old, he did the first of many things I would find remarkable, when he picked up his head and looked at me.


I’m constantly amazed at how much I can love Jack. I’d heard of people bursting with joy, but never truly felt my heart swell till I felt lightheaded until I saw his smile and heard his laugh. He can be frustrating, gross, tiresome and loud, and I love him anyway. Being Jack’s mom is the most difficult and most rewarding experience of my life so far.


Of all the realizations that have come since Jack was born, one of the most mind boggling has been the understanding that this feeling of awe I have for my son is how my mother has felt about me.


Few relationships are as fraught as that between a mother and a daughter. There are novels, movies and memoirs dedicated to the subject. Though my mother and I have a loving relationship and talk often, we’ve had our differences.


I baffle her. In as many ways as we are alike, from our physique to our exacting logic, we are different. She marvels at my gregarious ability to make friends in new places. Throughout high school she was frustrated by how often I neglected homework yet managed good grades by acing the final exam. I don’t know how many times she told me that real life doesn’t work that way; there wasn’t always going to be a big test at the end where I could make up for months of slacking off. As a freelance writer, I tend to disagree.


I needled her, clearly. I tested the perimeter of her boundaries, always searching for a weak spot. Always hoping she’d concede to me doing something outside of her better judgment. I could never understand why she didn’t want me to go to concerts at the old movie theater that had burned twice before because she thought it was a firetrap. It rankled me that she was always so damn protective, wanting to carefully guide my actions to stay safe.


I get it now. Every night as I lightly caress Jack’s ribcage, waiting for the telltale rise and fall in his chest, I finally understand why my mom did everything in her power to keep Sarah and I sound. I know the boundless love of a mother for her child that strangles with its ferocity.


We have a joke in our family. Whenever someone embarks on something new, and potentially dangerous, we tell them, “stay with the group, watch out for sleeper waves.” That was my mother’s mantra during class field trips to the beach at Bodega Bay, where rip tides can sweep you away in an instant. Now it’s a way to say “be careful, I love you.”


Now on my first Mother’s Day as a mother, I’m equally bewildered by my love for Jack as I am at my new appreciation for my own mother. And I want her to know that Jack and I continue to stay with the group and are always on guard for sleeper waves.



Military Spouses: Why we do what we do

Memes are the inside jokes for people who spend too much time on the Internet to actually socialize and generate inside jokes with friends. This notion was recently appropriately commemorated with a meme on the front page of Reddit (AKA the Front Page of the Internet), signaling that indeed, nerds know they are nerds. (As a Redditor with lots of fake Reddit points or “Karma,” and not a single Karma-whoring tit shot to my posting repertoire, I’m well qualified to diagnose my own kind.)

Memes usually consist of a picture that signifies something. There’s the Actual Advice Mallard who gives pieces of legitimate advice. There’s also Confession Bear who states deep dark secrets that range from a love of nose picking to actual murder. Chances are that if there is a very particular story or emotion that you need to evoke, there is a meme to match it.

One meme that usually garners nods of approval is Captain Hindsight, who originated in South Park. This spandex-clad Captain points one finger to the sky and states platitudes of things that really, people should have seen coming.

About a year ago I was browsing the interwebs and came across a Captain Hindsight that I wanted to slap across his smug cartoon face. This was it:


The image had thousands of views and many accolades as to its accuracy. For the first time, I cursed all of those morons out there on the Internet. These were supposed to be my people. How could they be so naïve?

On the one hand, I understand where the Captain’s coming from. People should always go into a marriage with open eyes and clear expectations. But how could they assume that a difficult career trajectory was the only aspect in determining whom you marry?

It made me think about a lot of things, including why I married a military man. I never wanted to marry someone in the Navy. Why would I subject my life to constant interruptions from moving, a poor chance at a steady career, and a spouse who would be intermittently absent? Really, it didn’t sound like a good deal.

But before I met my husband, I didn’t have a good idea of what being married would mean. I didn’t know what to look for. I’d had my heart broken more than once and I couldn’t fathom what it would take to commit to a life with someone.

Now I know. My spouse is someone who I never tire of. I feel more myself when he is next to me than I do sitting alone. He is the one person who can make me angrier than I knew possible, and also the only one I want to comfort me when I am down. He knows all of me and accepts it. And I know and love him back.

When you find someone who does that, how can you not try to form a life together? It is literally the foundation for why people should get married. And with any partnership, there is a give and take.

I gave up my home. I gave up a good job with a free graduate education. I gave up seeing my family as often as I wanted, and I gave up the consistency of living in the same area for an extended period.

In exchange I got the ability to take some time away from an office to explore my true passions. I got a man who enjoys cooking and allows me to eat like an adult instead of foraging like a feral child. I got a dog and started to form a new family. I got to experience living in new places and meeting new people. I will get to live in Hawaii soon.

My husband made concessions as well. He gave up on the hope of retiring to a state without income tax, because he thought it only fair I could decide where we live after the Navy. He gave up playing video games until dawn. He gave up assuming that all free time was “his” time, and now knows it’s “our” time.

For his part, he got someone task-focused in his life that happily took over budgeting until all debt was paid off. He got the ability to never worry if the stockpile of toilet paper is low. He got a new drive and passion in his career, because it’s not just him anymore.

We both got a lot in the end. We got each other. We both get to know we’re married to someone who knows and loves us- flaws and all. We both get to wake up to each other. We both get to look forward to what our future looks like together. We get to know that no matter what, we’re in it together.

In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophones tells a crowd of drunken philosophers that in the beginning, there were circle people. These beings had two heads, four arms, four legs and one body. In that form, the circle people were so powerful they tried to take on Olympus. Zeus decided to chop them in half to reduce their power, creating singular beings. These single people do not feel whole, so they are always questing after their other halves. Once two separated beings find each other, they never want to be apart again. And that is the origin of love.

I found my other half. And no, I honestly do not want to deal with the stresses of being a military spouse. There are many benefits, to be certain, but I hate that I have to be separated by deployments from the person I love, I hate moving frequently, and I hate that I don’t always get to pick where I live. I imagine that most partnerships involve sacrifices and stresses that are balanced against the benefits. So while there are downsides to this lifestyle that I’d prefer not to have, I wouldn’t change it, because the scales are heavily stacked in favor of being whole.


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My First Marathon

When I set out to run my first marathon I had two goals:

  1. Finish.
  2. Do not poop yourself in the process.

I would have been satisfied with only the first goal.  I assumed a slight tinkle midway through was a foregone conclusion.  At least that I could pass off as sweat.

In the end I met both goals, (though at least one fart seemed it might have had questionable intentions) but it was the most grueling event of my life. 

The idea of training for a marathon came on slowly.  I signed up for my first half marathon on a lark a few years back as someone who could barely jog a 5K and walked most of the way.  Doubling that distance seemed a Herculean feat that only super-humans or the clinically insane could perform.

I slowly started running for realsies about 2 years after the first half marathon as a way to facilitate weight loss.  After 6 months of running with a goal and a training plan, I was able to run a half marathon and smash my previous personal record.  I also lost 40 pounds. 

An idea started to germinate.  Maybe I could be one of those criminally insane people and double the distance.  I ran 3 more half marathons and I was sold.  My husband, Cameron, and I were set to embark on our first military move as a couple from Monterey, CA to New England a week after my November running of the Big Sur Half Marathon.  Giddy off of that race, I signed up for a marathon in Rhode Island the following May. 

There is no way to understate what a terrible mistake that was.  I am a Californian, and up until that point, had never run out of state.  Monterey is ideal for runners.  There’s a great path along the ocean and the temperature is a perennial 65 Degrees.  I assumed training for my marathon from December through May would be just as easy as training for any of my other races. 

Then winter laughed in my face.  I recall trying to go out in a long-sleeved technical shirt, my “warm gear,” and nearly freezing to death.  I had to buy all new running clothes to fortify myself against the harshness of bitter, bitter cold.  My water froze once on a long run.  It was miserable.

Between cold weather and actual colds, I missed several training runs.  Cameron and our dog supported me through the longest runs by meeting me with water, energy gels, and face-licks every three miles.  Those support stops kept me motivated, but in the end my longest run pre-race was only 18 miles.  

The day of the race I was nervous.  I had trouble pooping before the start.  I told myself to walk as much as I needed to.  Time didn’t matter.  Poops didn’t matter.  Finishing was everything.  With that in mind, I made my way to the start area. 

My cousin, Jenna, had flown in from CA to run too.  She’s much faster and more experienced, so we didn’t plan to run in tandem.  But we lined up next to each other for the national anthem pre-race with all the other runners before the gun sounded the start.  Cameron was nearby just past the runner/spectator divider.  Jenna and I hugged after the anthem then she moved forward to a faster pace group.  Cameron smiled and gave me thumbs up for encouragement.  I just kept telling myself to walk as much as needed and I’d be ok.

The gun sounded and I was off.  Cameron promised to be there to check on me at miles 7 and 19.  I was glad to know there would be a friendly face in the crowd.

The first 7 miles were fairly easy.  I kept my pace slow and walked the water stops.  When I saw Cameron I gave him a kiss and high five then shuffled on.  I was doing it.  I could do it.

I started breaking down around mile 14.  I had walked a little before 14, but by this point I was walking several minutes at the start of each mile marker, then trudging along to the finish of that mile.  By mile 17 all I could think about was Cameron and the car at mile 19. 

“Just get to 19” I thought.  “Then you can quit.  Maybe fake an asthma attack.  Nobody would blame you then.”  I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore.  I couldn’t think at all really.  All of my energy was focused on getting to Cameron so I could go home.

A little past mile 19 I saw a bright pink “GO JULIE!” sign.  Cameron. Car.  Done.  I got to my husband, wrapped my sweaty arms around him and cried in agony. 

“It hurts!” I cried. 

“What hurts?”  He asked, clearly concerned. 

“Everything!” I responded.  I had hit the wall.  My whole body throbbed.  I thought my options were quitting or death. 

Cam put an arm around me to support a bit of weight and started walking me forward.  I tried to sit a few times in the road and he peeled me off the ground. 

He walked with me for over a mile.  Each step he made me repeat: “I can do it.”  I couldn’t, but I said it over and over.  Around mile 20 a small patch of fence arose to the right with no apparent purpose.  I sat on it and sobbed.  Cameron knelt before me and said the car was farther from me than the finish.  The finish was the only way forward.  It was a lie, but I believed.  I took an energy gel.  Cam helped me to stand.  I needed to run again.  We embraced then I slowly trudged off.

For the next 6.2 miles I jogged 5 minutes then walked 5.  It was slow going, but I hit my groove.  I was one of the last people to cross the line, but I finished, and Cameron was there with tears in his eyes.  Jenna had finished an hour before me.  We all hugged.




“You did it!” Jenna exclaimed.  I didn’t do it.  We did it.  Cameron was as much to blame for my step over the finish line as I was.

I wish I could say the marathon was just a mental barrier I had to scale.  It wasn’t.  It was just as much, if not more physical than it was mental.  It took all of my strength, and some of Cameron’s to get me to the end.  But I crossed that finish and for over a week I kept the finisher medal in my purse as a reminder of just how much my body and mind can do. 

I’m not afraid of many things anymore.  Whenever I question my abilities to face something new I remind myself: “I’m a fucking marathoner!”  If I can do that, as long as Cameron is with me, I can do anything.