Category: Military

A Long Way Home

Matt, Nate, and I just returned from another wonderful two-week trip to New York while Keith was in the field. Once again, the boys adjusted beautifully to being away from home, in a completely different environment and in a different time zone. I really love how adaptable they are—a quality that certainly comes with the military lifestyle. It gives me a great deal of hope that our upcoming move to LA will go smoothly and that Matt and Nate will adjust to their new home relatively quickly.

The boys got in lots of fun, quality time with their grandma and grandpa and the rest of the family. I also enjoyed many much-needed nights out without the kiddos. Heading into the city on the subway to hit the town with my friends and family, I felt like my old self again. I ate at great restaurants, hit up fun bars, went to the movies, and even took in a New York Rangers game. It was certainly a much-needed vacation for all of us.

The trip home? Not so wonderful. My Aunt Terry flew back with the boys and me because there is no way in hell I’d be able to handle them on my own. In fact, the two of us could barely handle them. I got to see firsthand how much “behind the scenes” stuff Keith takes care of when we travel to keep things running smoothly.

The fun started when my dad pulled up to the United Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport and none of us could get the car seats out of the car. My dad’s car has the latch system, and Keith had made sure to show me how to remove the seats. And I did know how to remove them. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like the latches were buried so deep in the seat I could barely get my hands on them, let alone unhook them.

After 20 minutes of the boys growing increasingly agitated as my dad and I fiddled with the seats, the curbside check-in guy took pity on us and removed them in three minutes flat.

But then we had another problem. I couldn’t seem to attach the seats tightly enough to our Go-Go Babyz Travelmates, which had been lifesavers for us in the past and are amazing items to have if you’re 99 percent of the population. But if you’re me and you’re a complete idiot when it comes to anything technical—yet you don’t bother to read the instruction manual—suddenly they became way less useful, and you end up dragging the kids through the airport without the wheels even spinning half the time because various straps are getting caught underneath them, and your kids are bouncing around in their car seats like they’re on a wooden roller coaster.

(This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work):

This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work. Oops...

Yet we made it onto our flight to Denver, and the boys were doing great. Then we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half because of some technical difficulty. That’s when the boys’patience wore thin and they began to get whiny and fidgety. They calmed down once we were airborne, but they demanded constant entertainment for the next three hours, and only when we began our descent into Denver did they fall asleep.

We made it to Denver with about 15 minutes to spare before our short connecting flight to Colorado Springs was set to board. Piece of cake, right? Not when you come out of gate B25 and your next flight leaves out of gate B95. That’s SEVENTY GATES! But along we went, each with two carryon bags on our shoulders. Nate was so upset about having been woken up, he refused to sit in his seat. So I had to run through the airport while struggling to carry all 26 pounds of him, and poor Aunt Terry had to drag both of the rickety car seats behind her, one of which contained Matt.

Yet we somehow managed to get to B95, sweating profusely—only to find that our connecting flight was delayed. At this point it was 7 PM Colorado time (which was 9 PM to us since we had come from the east coast) and the boys were starving, so I started shoving whatever I could find in my bag—frosted strawberry Pop Tarts—down their throats. Then we boarded the plane and sat on the tarmac again for an hour—triple the time of the actual flight. Both boys fell asleep once the plane took off, but when we had to wake them 20 minutes later to deplane, all hell broke loose.

Once we got our three huge suitcases and managed to lug them, along with everything else, out of the airport and find the boys’ babysitter (who had driven our own car to come pick us up), we thought we could finally relax. But, oh yeah—now we had to get the car seats back into our car. And Nate was screaming bloody murder at the top of his lungs because all he wanted was to be asleep in his crib. And it was snowing.

We finally got home around 9:30 PM Colorado time—11:30 New York time—and the boys drank their milk and went to sleep fairly easily. Then Aunt Terry and I ate cereal and Nutella with crackers for dinner at midnight before we finally hit the sack.

It was a long way home. But two weeks later, here we are, and the whole crazy debacle is behind us. Now we can rest easy—until our big move in three months. Oh, brother…

 

*DISCLAIMER: I wholeheartedly recommend the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate. Just don’t be like me: Read the instructions!

Remembering a Wonderful Woman

Well, I am finally getting a chance to blog after an incredibly busy holiday season. We had a wonderful trip to New York during which we got to spend a lot of quality time with my family. We also got a chance to take Matt and Nate into Manhattan to do all the great Christmas things the city has to offer. We saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, braved the madness of Toys R Us Times Square, rode the carousel and watched the ice skaters in Bryant Park, and just enjoyed walking around Midtown. We also took the twins to see the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights in Brooklyn. It really meant a lot to me to finally have the boys experience the city, and I look forward to bringing them back often!

Unfortunately, our holiday trip also came with some sadness: My mom’s oldest sister—my Aunt Joanne—passed away December 18 after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. I don’t think it has really hit any of us yet. Aunt Joanne was an incredibly special woman with a gorgeous smile and a wonderful sense of humor. We will all miss her forever.

I’ll never forget when I was 15 years old and my parents went on a weeklong vacation with their friends. I had a new boyfriend and was just starting to partake in some rebellious teenage behavior, so they didn’t want to leave me home alone.

“You’re going to go stay with Aunt Joanne for the week,” my mom informed me.

Now, most 15-year-olds, when told their aunt is going to “babysit” them for a week, would protest and fight and basically make their parents’ lives miserable. But I was actually excited to go stay with Aunt Joanne! I remember having a great time that week, talking and laughing with her. She was just the right mix of motherly and cool: She cooked me delicious meals, set ground rules, and enforced my usual curfew, but she also let my boyfriend pick me up from her house without third-degreeing him, let me go out with friends without asking too many questions, and gave me my privacy during the marathon conversations I’d have on her home telephone.

Aunt Joanne had seven grandchildren (with an eighth on the way) with whom she was equally wonderful. That was just her way: She was everyone’s mom, taking care of and nurturing everyone. I was thrilled to have remained close with her as I got older.

When I met Keith and began this crazy Army life of frequent moves, it became harder to see and call people—including Aunt Joanne—as often as I used to. My career, two babies, and the time difference between here and New York have made it even more difficult. I often find myself feeling really isolated from family and friends. I miss being able to have long phone conversations with people. I miss seeing my family and friends back home on a regular basis. (Our long visits are great, but it sure would be nice to be able to drop in for a quick hello whenever I feel like it.) I absolutely hate missing birthdays and other happy occasions. But the worst part is being so far away during difficult times like this. That, to me, is the hardest thing about military life.

I didn’t get to see Aunt Joanne before she passed. We arrived in New York only two days later—a flight we’d booked three months prior. So, we at least got to be with our family for the services, and the boys got to cheer everyone up a bit. That made me feel better. But I would have given anything to have been able to see Aunt Joanne one last time. I know if I had lived near her, I would have visited her as often as possible. But I know she understands. That’s the thing about family—you can go weeks without talking, and when you do, it’s like no time passed at all.

Aunt Joanne was taken from us way too soon, but she still had a lot of blessings. She spent a lot of time with her sons, her stepchildren, her sons- and daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren. She was happily married to a wonderful man, my Uncle Jerry. They traveled often, to places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Monaco. She was close with her sisters and had lots of friends. She lived a full, happy life, and that is something to celebrate. So here’s to you, Aunt JoJo! I am so glad Matt and Nate got to know you!

58722_159236427426447_228050_n
Me and Aunt Joanne at my 30th birthday party
marino_20110903_6323
Aunt Joanne with a 2-month-old Nate

What Happened on October 8, 2011

A Big Move

Tuesday evening, I went out for a much-needed dinner and margarita with a close girlfriend. When I came home and walked in the front door, the living room was completely empty. My stomach instantly twisted into a knot.

Keith had simply moved all of the furniture while I was out because we were having the carpets professionally cleaned the next day. But walking into that empty living room brought back memories of how my last two homes had looked just before we moved—stark, bare, and void of all the love we had put into them. It was a preview of what the house will look like eight months from now, when we walk out of it for the last time.

For those of you who don’t yet know, we have some big news—next summer, we’ll be moving to the Los Angeles area for one year while Keith completes a fellowship at the Rand Arroyo Center in Santa Monica. The following summer, we’ll pack up our lives once again and head to our nation’s capital, where Keith will spend the next three years working at the Pentagon.

I know I use the word “bittersweet” quite a bit on this blog, but that’s just what these next two moves will be for us—bittersweet. On the one hand, we are moving to incredibly awesome places that we both love and know well. Keith is from LA and we’ve visited it tons of times, and we also fell in love with DC when he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia for a year. Also, though Colorado Springs is gorgeous and I’ve made some great friends here whom I will miss dearly, it’s no secret that I’ve been hankering to get back to big-city living (and to the beach). And, I am beyond thrilled that we’ll be a relatively short drive from New York once we’re in DC, so we’ll no longer have to miss family functions or go long stretches without seeing family and friends.

Despite all of those wonderful things, this move will be different from the last few. This time, we have our twins, and our house is not just another house. This is where we took the twins home from the hospital for the first time. This is the living room where they took their first tentative steps. There is the spot in front of the fireplace where each morning they find—and gleefully knock down—a new Mega Bloks tower that Keith built for them the night before. Here is the corner Nate likes to sneak off to with his precious board books. And down in the basement is the playroom, which houses the wall on which Matthew decided to create his latest crayon masterpiece.

In other words, this was our twins’ first home, and leaving it will not be easy. But we know they’ll be excited to have new homes to explore and make new memories in.

Matt and Nate’s first home!

Then there are the logistics of the move. Moving is a lot of work under any circumstances, and moving with young children is even harder. Packing, moving, unpacking, packing, and moving again within a year—all with young children—is downright scary. It is definitely just another aspect of Army life, though. Nearly every other Army spouse to whom I’ve complained has just shrugged her shoulders and said something like, “Oh, yeah, one of those yearlong moves,” as if it’s as routine as a trip to the grocery store. And I guess in the Army, it is.

Some of the wives have told me they didn’t bother unpacking most of their stuff during the short moves. Others said they sucked it up and unpacked every single thing and hung every picture. I think we’re going to do something in the middle. We’ll keep some of our things stored in boxes (like most of our winter clothes—yay!) and unpack the things we use often (like all of the boys’ toys). We’ll certainly decorate to make our next place feel like home, despite how short of a time we’ll live there. The stuff that stays packed, as well as some furniture, may have to go to a storage unit, as we’ll likely have to downsize for the year in pricey LA.

The other bittersweet part of it—for Keith, mostly, but also partially for me—is that these next two assignments will take Keith to his 20th year in the Army, when he can retire. That means he currently has what could be his last job in the “real” Army—meaning in an actual combat arms unit and not in a specialized gig like the Pentagon. After spending more than 15 years in the “real” Army, that will surely be difficult for him to stomach. As for me, I’m not going to lie—it will be nice to say goodbye to field time and deployments and potentially long hours. But it is also weird to think I will no longer see him in his ACUs (the traditional camouflage uniform). Because the sense of pride you feel when your husband or wife walks through the door in his or her uniform, and when you see his or her combat boots next to the front door, can only be understood by other military spouses.

In any case, this move is going to be a great adventure for all of us, and I am so proud of Keith for being selected for this competitive fellowship. He will be doing great things for the Army and working on things he is passionate about. And, with three Purple Hearts received during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he has certainly done his part. He can feel proud of everything he has done—and will continue to do—to help make this country a safer place for all of us. I know I do!

Honoring Heroes

October 8 marked the one-year anniversary of that horrible day when Keith got shot in Afghanistan. One year since we lost two great Americans, U.S. Army captains Josh Lawrence and Drew Russell. One year since our lives changed profoundly.

We didn’t do anything special on Monday. The twins, who were only 3 ½ months old when it happened and are now rambunctious nearly-16-month-olds, were getting over a stomach bug, which Keith had caught from them. So, we just hung out at home together. We spoke to Josh’s wife and Drew’s parents, who have now become like family to us, on the phone. We talked a lot about Drew and Josh, trying for the millionth time not to ask, “Why?” And we took a moment to thank God for letting us have this otherwise ordinary day together.

On July 4, 2011, Keith held each of our sleeping two-week-old boys for what we thought would be the last time for seven months, when he could get home for R&R. Neither of us voiced our underlying fears. It was such a bittersweet time: the overwhelming love and joy that came with being new parents, coupled with the deep sadness and anxiety about having to be separated. I have no idea how Keith held it together when he got on that plane. I have no idea how any service member holds it together when they leave their families. Their strength astounds me.

4:30 AM on July 4, 2011: Moments before Keith left for Afghanistan

The next three months were a blur for both of us. We were both sleep-deprived; he from the rigors of deployment and me from taking care of two newborns. It sucked, and it was hard, but it seemed to be going by fairly quickly.

And then October 8 happened, and everything changed. On this very day last year, Keith was lying in a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany. I was at my parents’ house in New York with the babies, wanting desperately to see my husband. Then Keith was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

On October 15, the babies and I traveled to Walter Reed and saw Keith for the first time in over three months. The tiny newborns Keith had left were now smiling, bouncing infants with unique personalities. It was an overwhelming moment: We were full of relief and happiness, but also sadness and anger at what had brought us back together so soon.

Our bittersweet reunion—that’s Keith’s sister, Pat!

Keith spent the next three weeks at Walter Reed. It was a humbling experience for both of us. Keith’s injuries were in no way minor: he’d had several surgeries, was in a great deal of pain, and had a long recovery ahead of him. But he was by far one of the healthiest patients in the hospital. His neighbors were double and triple amputees. I’d help Keith slowly hobble down the hallway with his walker, and they’d zoom by us on their prosthetic limbs, strong and smiling and determined. I met some of their wives, whose incredible optimism and sunny dispositions inspired me. I still feel amazed at having been in the presence of such heroes. They are some of America’s greatest.

We headed back home to Colorado on November 9. We spent the next several months bonding as a family; Keith getting to know his boys again. He had endless doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Sometimes he’d talk about what happened, and sometimes he didn’t want to. I’d listen and try to help him work through his feelings. Sometimes he’d do the same for me. When he showed me his blood-spattered wallet, and the sandwich bag containing the babies’ little socks and bib that he was carrying in his left pocket for good luck when the bullet tore through his leg, it really hit me how close we’d come to losing him.

One year later, Keith has come a long way in his healing and acceptance of what happened. Physically, he still does not have all of the nerve function back in his leg, and we don’t yet know if he ever will. It frustrates him that he can’t run as fast as he used to, and that he still can’t do certain exercises. But I think the fact that he holds himself to the same standards of physical fitness as his peers is commendable.

His emotional healing has been a lot harder. He misses Drew and Josh. He still wonders why they were lost and he was not. He still sometimes struggles with survivor’s guilt. But as the saying goes, “Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.” That’s easier said than done.

What Keith doesn’t realize, but I can say for sure, is this:  Every day, Keith honors Drew and Josh’s sacrifice by being the best father, husband, and soldier I know. We’ll never know for sure why he’s been given more time on this Earth, but we sure are not going to waste a single moment of it. We will dedicate ourselves to helping others, and to helping make this world a better place. It is amazing how tragedies like these can give you a much-needed dose of perspective, and a much deeper appreciation for your friends and loved ones.

Help us honor Captain Josh Lawrence and Captain Drew Russell, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect us and our great nation, by being the best person you can be.

A Busy Month!

Ack! It’s been yet another month (OK, more than a month) since I last posted, and so much has happened! Allow me to fill you in:

  1. We took yet another trip—already the twins’ third round-trip flight—to New York for the boys’ Baptism. It was something we planned pretty last-minute (as is the case with most things we plan) but it turned out to be a wonderful day! The babies looked adorable, they hardly fussed throughout the church ceremony, and we had a really fun celebratory dinner afterward with family and a few close friends. (The plane rides were another story. Let’s just say they’re only getting to be more difficult as the boys get bigger and more mobile!)
Baptism Day!
  1. My parents came to town for a week to celebrate Matt and Nate’s first Easter with us. We did some fun touristy things—visiting Seven Falls, hiking in Red Rocks Open Space—but it was all of the holiday things we did with the boys that were really special. We took them to meet the Easter Bunny at the mall, and not a tear was shed. We dyed Easter eggs. We had a little egg hunt on Easter morning, which was really just a bunch of plastic eggs strewn around the living room. And, we opened baskets from the Easter Bunny himself. A pretty successful first Easter for the boys, if you ask me.
Happy Easter!
  1. Keith was finally cleared from the Warrior Transition Battalion and returned to his brigade. Now that his work hours have increased, it’s been quite an adjustment for me and the babies. It doesn’t help that Nate has developed a severe case of separation anxiety. Every time I leave the room now to go put Matt down for a nap, or to make the boys’ bottles, or—for Christ’s sake—to use the bathroom, he screams bloody murder. Also, there are many things I just can’t do with the boys myself, such as Gymboree classes (each child must be accompanied by an adult) or grocery shopping. And forget about trying to get any work done.

So, we’ve hired a babysitter to help me out a bit during the week. Her name is Tracy, and she’s a Godsend. Right now she only comes two days a week for five hours a day, but we’ll probably increase her hours once the summer comes. Tracy stays with the boys while I go grocery shopping, get my hair cut, and run any other errands the babies can’t accompany me on. She comes with us to Gymboree, and she entertains the boys while I finish work assignments or send emails. They—and I—love her!

  1. The twins sailed through their 9-month birthday and turn 10 months old tomorrow (April 19)! I can’t believe how much they are learning and thriving. Nate finally started crawling, and now he zips around the house and is starting to get into nearly as much trouble as his mischievous brother. Matt climbs everything. He’ll pull himself up onto his alligator clacker toy and push it all around the living room. Both boys are talking up a storm, laughing at everything, and interacting more and more with each other. Matt even learned his first baby sign: He puts his fingertips together when he wants “more.” Matt has four teeth. Nate only has two, but the doctor said he has six more working their way through. And at their last checkup, Nate weighed 19 lbs. 11 oz. and Matt weighed 16 lbs. 11 oz.
Go, Matt, go!
Finally getting around!
  1. We found out Keith would not be returning to Afghanistan with his unit. In a way it’s good, because he gets to stay here with us, and it means his unit will be coming home soon. But at the same time, it was a huge disappointment for Keith. He has worked his butt off for the past six months to return to his guys and come home with the team. His physical recovery has been tough, but his emotional recovery has been even tougher. Keith lost two good friends in the attack: Captain Drew Russell and Captain Joshua Lawrence. They were amazing soldiers, and they are heroes. We have thought and talked about Drew and Josh often, and Keith really felt like he needed to return to Afghanistan to honor their memory and their sacrifice. He also wanted to be with all of the guys he had trained and fought with for so many months. Unfortunately, by the time his doctors deemed him healed enough to return to combat, it was too late.

I think it will take a while for Keith to get over the fact that he wasn’t able to return. He feels, in a way, like he failed Drew and Josh and like he let down his team. But I know that is not the case at all. I’ve seen firsthand how hard he has worked—and how hard he continues to work each day—to get back into “fighting form,” both physically and mentally. The fact that he even got cleared to return to combat only six months after receiving such an extensive injury is so impressive to me. I think Drew and Josh would be proud of him. I know I am—and our sons will be, too.

Keith is now looking forward to his unit returning home. I know it will be so good for him to see all of the guys! And I will be thrilled for all of their families, especially their wives. These women held down the fort and took care of the kids for almost an entire year while their husbands were off fighting. They are some of the strongest women I know, and an inspiration to me.

Baby, We’re Back!

When I was pregnant, many people warned me that I’d have no time to blog once the twins arrived. “Ha!” I’d think to myself. “I’ll show them! I’ll be that multitasking Supermom who will take care of my babies, freelance regularly, make home-cooked meals every night, keep up with the laundry, AND blog four times a week!”

Um … yeah. It turns out, all those people were right. Here I am, nearly seven months since my last post, and I have finally found a moment to update Double Duty Twins.

In my defense, it has been a crazy seven months. On July 4—two weeks after Matt and Nate were born—Keith deployed to Afghanistan. I spent the next month and a half in a new-mommy craze, trying to figure out how to care for these two tiny, demanding beings with the help of a steady stream of visiting relatives. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, Aunt Terry, Kim, and Pato!) I finally established a routine … and then I left Colorado.

On August 23, the babies and I boarded a plane to New York with Aunt Terry, a double stroller, two car seats, about 27 diapers, and mounds of luggage in tow. We planned to live with my parents in Brooklyn until Keith returned home about nine months later. I set to work unpacking, getting us settled in, and establishing a new routine for the boys. And things were finally getting easier. Matt and Nate started sleeping through the night shortly after we got to New York. Keith finally got Skype in his room in Afghanistan, so the boys and I began to “see” him regularly. And the babies settled into a pretty decent schedule.

Then, on October 8, my cell phone rang. It was Keith. “Don’t freak out,” he said. (Cue freak-out.) “I got shot.”

Keith got shot in his left calf. The bullet tore up his calf and hamstring and traveled all the way up to his butt, where it remains lodged. (Ouch.) Keith spent a week in the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then nearly a month at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He was sent back home to Colorado on November 9 to rehab. The babies and I returned home to be with him, and here we are still. Keith is continuing to recover, but he still has quite a bit of nerve damage and a lot of pain, and there’s a part of his wound that still hasn’t closed. He will find out soon whether he’ll be cleared to return to Afghanistan with his unit for the remainder of the deployment.

What a scare we had. I am so incredibly thankful  that Keith is still here with us. I know how lucky we are, and I will never, ever take that for granted.

The babies are amazing. At seven months old, they have such unique personalities and make us laugh harder than we ever have. They seem to learn something new each day.

Matthew is our little spitfire. He may be tiny (still wearing 3-6-month clothing), but watch out—he is quite the strong little fella. Matthew will roll over and over and do an Army-style low crawl to get to a toy he wants (which is usually whichever toy Nate is playing with). He likes to bang whatever he is holding on the ground or the table so as to make the loudest noise possible. He loves to explore, touching and grabbing anything in sight. He can already stand while holding something without any assistance. And when he’s angry, he’ll let you know. Trust me, he will.

Nathaniel is our big, lovable baby who will cuddle with you all day if you let him. Already wearing 12-month clothing, he is round and dimply in all the right places. Nate is not as physical as Matt, but he is way more verbal. He loves to
“talk” — “Dadadadadada,” and “Boobooboobooboo,” and “Oooohhhhhhhh!” He laughs and squeals a lot, even at things that are decidedly not funny. He loves to splash Daddy while taking a bath and to stare at ceiling fans.

Some other things about the boys:

  • We take them to Gymboree class once a week, where they love to hear songs, work on movement, and interact with other babies.
  • They love to go on walks, which we try to do almost daily.

  • They are in full-on teething mode, drooling like crazy and chomping on anything they can get their hands on. Matt already has his two bottom center teeth. Nate should cut his first tooth very soon!

  • The boys are great eaters and enjoy all sorts of baby food—chicken, turkey, lots of fruits and vegetables, and oatmeal.

  • They are still great sleepers—10 to 11 hours a night!

And as for me, I am finally starting to get back to all of those things I wrote about in the first paragraph. I’ve started freelancing again, and even had a story based on this blog published in the December/January 2012 issue of Fit Pregnancy. I do cook most nights (although they aren’t usually gourmet meals), and I’d like to think I take pretty good care of my boys (all three of them). I can’t say I’m totally on top of the laundry—but hey, we all wear clean clothes! And, as for this blog—I’m back, baby! I plan to update it at least twice a week from here on out. Please hold me to that!

The four of us on January 12, Keith’s birthday!