Sunday, December 28, 2008

Word of the Year

For those who may not know, Ali Edwards, scrapbooking goddess extraordinaire, has a blog called {A}. Bracketed typographical cuteness aside, {A} is a great blog with lots of brilliant ideas for exploring one’s creativity. Ali has a son with autism, an amazing artistic eye, and a wonderful take on life.

Last year, her blog inspired me to pick a Word of the Year, one word to be my theme for 2008. Annoyed with my repeated failure in the New Year’s Resolutions department, I found the pick-one-word approach so appealing that I sent an email to selected friends and family inviting them to join in the fun. Eighteen decided to play along and shared their word for the year with me. We planned to touch base via email throughout the year to see how everyone honored their word. Most never responded to my follow-up emails, so I simply assumed they had lost interest and planned to drop it for 2009. I pester people enough as it is.

Besides, my own Word of the Year experiment met with only limited success. My word was Simplify, a good, solid, straightforward verb. I have a teeny, tiny tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be. Simplify seemed like a really good theme for me, and other people chose it also, including scores of the hundreds of people who posted on Ali’s blog.

The popularity of the urge to simplify speaks volumes to our modern lifestyle, don’t you think? I mean, isn’t everyone struggling with organizing all the rechargers for the many little high-tech devices we have to have? What about kids’ paperwork from school? Mail? Bills, some of which are automatic, some paid online, and some mailed via USPS? Clothes for children who grow so fast that the hand-me-downs are in really good shape and have to be stored somewhere? Your make-up drawer? Pantry? Basement? Garage?

Couldn’t all this chaos be, well, simpler?

I don’t think so. I’m rather organized, and while my bill paying and make-up drawer function more simply now than at the beginning of 2008, the only way to truly simplify the rest would require bombing my home and starting over again from scratch, dumping my very visual husband who likes his numerous belongings to be “out” where he can see them, and letting my children run wild with wolves. Wolves don’t have paperwork. Or clothes. Or health insurance.

On the whole, I’d rather keep my husband and children and put up with the chaos.

Life is a just a complicated mess. I gave up on Simplify in July when I started this blog, which complicated my life in a very good way. Then came August, which is insane for us given all of Jack’s doctors’ appointments and therapy re-evaluations, back-to-school shopping, meet-the-teacher nights, a trip to see Grandma in North Carolina, and getting ready for Ironman Wisconsin. Then school started, and George and I went to Ironman Wisconsin, and then came volunteering and running around to PTO meetings and class parties and helping with centers in the kindergarten class and making veggie pizza with preschoolers and working book fairs at two schools and meeting with teachers and counselors and the principal about Nick’s math difficulties and so on and so on and so on.

I was back in the familiar territory of Barely Managing Chaos.


Then one friend confessed that pursuing her word led to a depression of sorts, for which I felt weirdly responsible. When others didn’t reply to my follow-up emails about their own Words of the Year, I just assumed they had given up, too.

Never assume. In the past few weeks, five participants have asked me if we’re going to do it again and expressed disappointment when I said no. My mom wants to keep her same word—Organize—because she feels good about what she has done in 2008 and hopeful about what remains to be done in 2009.

Her enthusiasm got me thinking. Maybe people didn’t answer my emails because they were busy, not because they quit or, like me, failed. Maybe a Word of the Year really is a good idea. Maybe the need to start fresh, to try improving our lives even though sometimes we fail, serves a higher purpose. Maybe, like Ali, I should put it on my blog and invite lots of people to try it out.

Well, “lots” may be an exaggeration of my readership, but you get the idea.

If you want to take a chance with this little experiment, having received full disclosure that it may or may not work, I invite you to join me. Just pick a word as your theme for the year. Any word will do…noun, adjective, adverb, verb, interjection, conjunction. Well, maybe not a conjunction. But a preposition might do. For instance, you could choose In as your word, as in “in time,” “in tune,” “in touch,” “in step,” “in the game,” “in style.” Just find a word that speaks to your heart, your goals, and your spirit.

Once you have chosen a word, keep it in front of you all year. You can post it on your bathroom mirror or make it the wallpaper on your computer or create a work of art for your wall. One friend’s word for 2008 was Family so she beaded a bracelet with charms to remind her daily of each family member. Shortly after we started in 2008, my friend Betsy sent me a card with the word Simplify on it, credited to Thoreau, which we both thought was really funny for some reason. I tacked it up on my craft room wall.

If you feel so inclined, share your word and why you chose it in the comments below.

My word for 2009 is Fearless. Fear keeps me from trying new things, rising to challenges, and reaching out to others. Fear of failure, of looking like a fool, of embarrassing myself, of wasting my time, of being laughed at. I want to write a book about autism. I want to submit articles for publication. I want to write a card-making blog. Fear keeps me from doing these things.

I want to fear less and write more.

What do you want for 2009?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Best Gift Ever

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David;)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them. Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:1-14

Merry Christmas, one and all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Anatomy of a Hypochondriac

We’ve already questioned my intelligence in terms of the Logical Me versus Hormonal Me in this blog essay, but another binary opposition reared its ugly head recently and provided more fuel for questioning my intelligence: Logical Me versus Hypochondriac Me. Poor Logical Me is beset on two sides.

You see, as a child, I was a bit of a drama queen when it came to pain. Each little bump or bruise felt like I had been beaten with a baseball bat, and I adored the attention my dramatic responses to these bumps and bruises got me. I had a few trips to the ER for stitches which were legitimately traumatic, but the ER staff had to wrap me up in one of those papoose restraints to get the stitches in my head, and I recall nurses pinning me down until the numbing took effect in my leg. It gave Hypochondriac Me a little thrill for years to recall the doctor telling my mother if the glass shard had penetrated my leg just a bit more, I would have bled to death. When you’re four, it’s sort of romantic to almost die. Years later, my firstborn turned out to be Mini Me in the drama department, and I figured it’s just karma biting me in the butt again. I am getting used to karma’s sting.

I didn’t handle pain well then, and little changed in the intervening decades. It’s a cliché for laboring women, but my first experience of childbirth made me fall madly, passionately in love with the anesthesiologist. Had my epidural guy been a gal, I would have switched sides, if you know what I mean. The absence of pain is such a blessing that Logical Me dominated the rest of my birth experience, which really was a good thing because my doctor ordered the epidural turned off when Nicholas’ heart rate didn’t recover quickly enough after each contraction. Hypochondriac Me was thrilled that she would be experiencing “real” childbirth, but her voice was very faint and distant. Logical Me understood all too clearly that pain isn’t good. I don’t know if I had full sensation back when I started pushing, but it hurt so much that no amount of maternal amnesia will rid my logical brain of the trauma of forceps delivery.

It’s a miracle I ever willingly got pregnant again, and during that second go-round, Hypochondriac Me very dramatically presented the obstetrician with a copy of What to Expect, opened to the chapter on the sixth month. I pointed to the list of “What You Might be Feeling” and said, “I have every one of those symptoms!” The doctor said he could do nothing to ease the agony. Nothing. I hated him with every fiber of my being until a few minutes later when he put the heart-rate monitor on my gigantic bump and let me hear Jack’s strong whoosh-whoosh heart beat. You can’t hate someone who is letting you eavesdrop on the sound of your unborn child’s life blood pumping, no matter how much you want to.

Let’s pause a minute to consider the crap that doctors put up with from people like me. Honestly, this man had patients who discovered at their ultrasounds that their children had horrible deformities or, even worse, conditions “not compatible with life.” He faced life-and-death decisions when patients had uterine abruptions or found out they had cancer while pregnant. How did he not dope-slap Hypochondriac Me when she was so very, very whiny? He never even rolled his eyes at me. What sort of inner struggle did he endure to maintain this level of professional control? Is there a special class in medical school that teaches doctors to be nice to freaks?

Jack was breech, so we scheduled a C-section for my mother’s birthday. But of course I went into labor days before and had the joy of contractions and being cut in half. Hypochondriac Me deserted Logical Me entirely. What a coward. She wanted no part of major surgery while it was happening though she thoroughly enjoyed the aftermath.

Two children are quite enough, don’t you think?

Then came 2005: The Year of Medical Testing Hell. This was Hypochondriac Me’s finest year—vague symptoms, pain (but not too much), and lots of attention. I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), with hiatal hernia thrown in just for fun. Further testing by more knowledgeable doctors ruled out every one of these, and Logical Me was relieved, especially about the rheumatoid arthritis. Even Hypochondriac Me didn’t want that particular disease. I also had a full cardiac work-up, including nuclear stress test, with the happy conclusion that my heart is amazingly healthy. I had that going for me. Of course, Hypochondriac Me knows I will eventually die of some horrible cancer contracted because of all the radiation they gave me for these tests to prove how healthy I am.

Despite the medical establishment’s best efforts to validate Hypochondriac Me, they found only two things truly wrong, neither of which was terribly alarming, much to Logical Me’s satisfaction and Hypochondriac Me's disappointment. First, I had superficial gastric ulcers from taking prescription Motrin for six months for joint pain in my wrists—a pain which, it turns out, had no medical explanation. The ulcers made me mad because I had asked the doctor three months earlier if we needed to be worried about all the Motrin I was taking. She said, “Oh, no. No worries!” She just wrote another script. Stupid doctor. Fortunately, six months of acid-pump inhibitors fixed that problem.

Second, my gall bladder didn’t work. That test forced me to carry around a card indicating the dose of radiation I received so security forces at the base wouldn’t suspect me of making dirty bombs when I set off the Geiger counter. You have no idea the delight that Hypochondriac Me felt over this dramatic development.

If you’re one of the four Americans over 35 who have not yet had their gall bladder removed, you don’t realize how easy this laparoscopic surgery is…unless, of course, you don’t handle anesthesia well and spend hours throwing up afterwards like me. Hypochondriac Me was convinced she would die from vomiting. The unfeeling and irresponsible hospital staff sent me home with blue barf bags shaped like giant troll condoms. Ewwww. Two weeks later, however, I felt great, and a year later, those little laparoscopic holes were nearly invisible. If you haven’t had your gall bladder out, I highly recommend it. Just don’t puke afterward. And don’t eat fried foods ever again.

After my surgery in early 2006, Logical Me, traumatized by a year’s dominance of Hypochondriac Me, studiously avoided the hospital for all but my regular physical and routine mammogram. Logical Me isn’t stupid and knows routine care is necessary, but she censored Hypochondriac Me in front of the doctors, no matter what little aches and pains I felt. If you keep your mouth shut, doctors don’t test you for anything. What a relief!

Until this year.

I had a weird spot in my left breast. Not a lump, exactly, more like a ridge of dense tissue that hurt. At my gynecological appointment, the PA agreed that it warranted a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. Even Logical Me was a bit freaked out by that but quickly discovered via Google search that this is a routine response to any and all unusual physical breast exams. During the day, I was fine, not worried at all.

At night, Logical Me went to sleep, and only the scary whisperings of Hypochondriac Me kept me company in the dark. All the vague symptoms I’d read about online for breast cancer started to happen to me. Not for real, mind you, since I only experienced them after reading about them. The power of suggestion works great on Hypochondriac Me. And the specific symptoms, like the scary ones for inflammatory breast cancer, never showed up at all. Thank God above.

Having your girls smashed is never pleasant. After three films of the left girl and two of the right, the technician called me back in for two more shots of the left. For about 30 minutes, I was convinced that the radiologist saw something. Why else would he ask for different views? Was Hypochondriac Me right after all? I wanted my husband by my side. I needed a hug.

When the radiologist breezed in for the ultrasound, his first words were, “I couldn’t find anything suspicious on the mammogram, so let’s just clear the air of that concern right now.” I instantly loved him. Logical Me conquered Hypochondriac Me and for the next half-hour joked around with three people who were feeling me up through a thick layer of ultrasound gel. It was comforting that they all felt what I felt and not one of them was concerned.

My follow-up conversation with the PA pushed Hypochondriac Me even more deeply into the recesses of my psyche. At least once a week, Major Smith says, a patient turns up with some anomaly that is just a variation on normal, no cause for concern, and leaves all the doctors and nurses and PAs and NPs marveling at the diversity of the human form. This was my week. I do so love feeling special.

One can’t tell when Hypochondriac Me will burst forth again and stress me out with her freakish speculation on my impending doom. I’m so relieved she’s put to rest for now, though, because I have way too much other stuff on my plate to be worrying about my health. For now, I’m grateful to God that I am healthy and able, and like the quotation on the sidebar says, I’m doing my best to live my life with love, grace, and gratitude.

Until the next weird little ache.

Public Service Announcement: If you are a woman over forty, remember to get your annual boob-squishing. I know it’s not fun, but Logical Me says this is important. You should listen to her.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Randomly Firing Synapses

Usually, I try to post a thoughtful, coherent essay. This week, however, my brain synapses fired randomly, mainly because I was hugely stressed out over about ten different things. Much of the stress resolved itself yesterday (Praise the Lord!) but has left me totally limp and more than a bit incoherent. Consequently, this post mentions lots of topics that might one day become full-blown essays but as of now sorely lack anything resembling thoughtful development. My apologies for the mental whiplash you might sustain reading this post’s numerous non sequiturs and dangling questions, but I hope you’ll find a few laughs that make it worth the ride. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to identify with my temporary attention-deficit problem.

I love mail. Not the junk and bills and such, but the Christmas cards and packages, letters from friends and family, and even personal, newsy emails. So does everyone else I know. Why, then, do few people send cards and letters and personal emails? Why do I make hundreds of cards a year and send so few for occasions other than birthdays and Christmas? Why is something so simple so hard? Could I use the word “so” more often in a single paragraph? Probably so.

You cannot ask a group of four kindergartners to guess a number between 1 and 10 to determine who goes first in an activity. Their guesses will include numbers like 42, 100, and 11. I think all those numbers are not between 1 and 10. But I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s the new math.

Random Conversation with Jack
Jack: Mommy, is that the number 6?
Me: Yes, Jack, that is a 6.
Jack: Mommy, are you going to turn into a snake?
Me [puzzled by non sequitur]: No, I will never turn into a snake.
Jack: Are you sure you will never turn into a snake?
Me: Yes, I’m positive.
Jack [relieved]: Thank you, Mommy, for not turning into a snake.
Me: You’re welcome.

Christmas trees decorated by children are prettier than Christmas trees decorated by adults. Sure, if you like that cold, impersonal, designer look, get a grown-up to do it. But I much prefer our tree. In previous years, the kids watched while I decorated the tree, but this year, I think I put about five ornaments on it. Nick, who’s 9, has quite a nice eye for ornament placement and did a particularly good job arranging the glass icicles Liz gave me years ago. Jack asked me to hang his big yellow construction-paper star with silver glitter right under the angel on top of the tree, which I, of course, did. You can’t buy precious ornaments like that at Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, and he is ever so proud of it. Jack then proceeded to hang ten ornaments on one branch. It’s my favorite tree ever.

If you are very nearsighted, as I am, take off your corrective lenses, lie face-up under your Christmas tree, and enjoy the beauty of soft focus. You will see angels and sugarplums and the glow of Christmas magic, all without benefit of mind-altering substances. You can’t see these miracles if you have perfect vision. There need to be some perks to myopia, don’t you think?

Why is the perfect gift idea for your mom always on backorder?

After years of addiction, I gave up Coca-Cola in August. Other than losing a lot of weight, I haven’t noticed any miraculous effects from eliminating gallons of high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring from my daily diet. Unfortunately, my boobs have been swelling up for three weeks out of four ever since. Is this causal or coincidental? Should I start drinking coke again for my breast health? I’m really liking the weight loss, so probably not. But dang, I could use a cold one!

Bad guys in movies can be very poor shots. I noticed this while watching Short Circuit, which I recently bought at Target for $5.50. The movie is cute, despite Ally Sheedy’s humble acting skills, but the army dudes waste a huge pile of ammo trying to destroy Number 5. This made me think of Star Wars, in which the Storm Troopers can’t hit the side of a Bantha. Do the Storm Troopers ever hit anything important? Well, I suppose they do kill Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, but dozens of them are aiming at Han Solo in a hallway on the Death Star and not one blast hits him. And why don’t those robot fighters kill Jar-Jar Binks? He should die but doesn’t. Why, George Lucas? Why? And why did you change the rules at the end of Episode Three and make all the Jedis suddenly transform into pansies who just stand there and let Palpatine and the Clone Warriors kill them? It doesn’t make sense.

Why do dogs always throw up on carpet rather than hardwood, vinyl, or tile?

Safety Tip #657: Never, ever smoosh your middle finger in a door latch. If you do, then definitely don’t yank it out of the closed latch. There will be lots of blood in addition to excruciating pain and you will find yourself trying to decide whether you should throw up or just escape into blessed unconsciousness. Plus, you will look like you’re flipping people the bird as you favor your heavily bandaged, very tender finger for the next few weeks, and you will worry not only about flesh-eating bacteria getting into your violated nail bed but also about unintentionally offending someone armed and dangerous. Ask me how I know this….

I am currently re-reading L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books. Other than the fact that as soon as Anne has children she becomes the least interesting female character in the history of the novel, these books are delightful. The unfortunately bland mommy portrayal is inevitable, however, because at this time in history, James Joyce’s hardcore psychological realism was getting banned everywhere, while Lucy Maud was selling thousands of books that refer to pregnancy as “a soft glow of hope for the spring.” Honestly, you can’t make motherhood interesting without lots of references to bodily function and secretions (titty fairy and post-partum incontinence, anyone?), which at the time were considered vulgar for some strange reason. My, my, how times have changed. Anyway, I’m enjoying my nostalgic visit to the era of repressed Victorian womanhood. I dearly love Anne with an “e” and her children and all the race that knows Joseph.

Speaking of bodily functions and secretions, why do we have ads for erectile dysfunction in primetime television? The ads say, “If you experience an erection lasting more than four hours, seek medical attention.” What, pray tell, are the doctors and nurses going to do? Never mind. I really don’t want to know. But if you haven’t seen Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story, see it soon. It’s a bad movie, really, but completely funny in all the ways that make you say, “This is so WRONG!” while laughing so hard you feel like you’re going to throw up. In it, a character says, “If you experience an erection lasting more than four hours, call in more ladies!” Perhaps this is why such ads exist…to give movies a chance at funny punch lines. That’s a thought.

Speaking of ads, if you get a chance, listen to the non-branded version of the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” If you don’t already know the words, learn them and sing along. Now, don’t you find it hard not to sing, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company,” which was the line in the original version of the jingle-turned-pop-hit? Fortunately, the pop song is a great little flower-child anthem full of love and hope and honey bees and apple trees without a mention of Coke anywhere to remind me I can’t have an icy cold Coke while standing on the side of a mountain with lots of other happily caffeinated people. The pop version makes me feel all warm inside, even though I can’t sing a note on key and if I taught the world to sing, the cacophony would be dreadful and wars would break out everywhere. There would be no peace throughout the land. Even in Switzerland.

Why is speculation over what President-Elect Obama will wear to his inauguration considered news? For that matter, why does CNN care even one tiny little bit that Sarah Palin and Oprah Winfrey are sniping at each other? Is the lack of intelligent news coverage a sign of the coming apocalypse? Take a deep breath, Susan, and sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony, la, la, la, la….”

If God had not wanted us to be happy, why did he put us in a world with mochas, Christmas, red wine, and anti-aging wrinkle cream? I forgot to put on my eye cream this morning and swear I look ten years older. That stuff is a miracle in a tube and makes me very happy.

Another Random Conversation with Jack
Me: Jack! You don’t need to use so much toilet paper!
Jack: But I love you, Mommy!
Me: I love you, too.
Jack: Merry Christmas, Mommy.
Me: Merry Christmas, Jack. [What were we talking about?]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Greatest Dad Ever

My darling husband definitely qualifies for the title Greatest Dad Ever. Some dads never get their priorities straight, but George got it right from the beginning. When I was pregnant with Nick, one of George’s squadron mates asked him what he wanted our baby boy to be when he grew up. George was astounded that anyone would burden an unborn child with such expectations. As George expressed his outrage over this, I smiled that little, complaisant smile only gestating women can produce. I’d chosen the father of my children well.

The baby years were hard for George, as they are for many dads. Women usually spend more time caring for babies and have floods of estrogen making them baby crazy anyway; consequently, they are often more comfortable with the whole baby phase of parenting. George didn’t want me to leave him alone with either boy for very long when they were small for fear of what would happen if the little one developed an obsessive, immediate need for the booby-lady. I suspect his enthusiastic support of breast feeding had less to do with the benefits to baby and more to do with the fact that it got him off the hook for middle-of-the-night feedings.

George was happier spooning pureed carrots into reluctant mouths, making silly faces, throwing babies up in the air (gently, of course), and very occasionally changing a diaper by himself. While I did the majority of baby care, George brought home the bacon as an officer in the United States Air Force. He flew in the B-1 bomber, moved up in the ranks of squadron administration, worked 12-18 hour days, and even went off to war in a sandy, uncomfortable place.

On his first day back from Iraq, we went to Target to get some necessities. Nick was three, and acted every minute of it. By the time we walked into the store, George looked at me with something akin to awe and said, “How did you do this for four months by yourself?” I do so love being acknowledged.

Basically, the early years are the Mommy Years: I was booby-lady, food lady, hugs-and-kisses lady, short, Queen of Baby’s Universe. As soon as our boys were old enough, however, George transformed from That Guy Who Takes Too Much of Mommy’s Attention Away From Me into Super-Duper Extraordinary Playmate, also known as The Monster. Every evening after dinner, George pretends to be a monster, gets on the floor and wrestles with the boys, throws them around, yells, and generally makes them screamingly happy. He lets the boys lay on the hardwood floor with their hands wrapped around his ankles and drags them around (less mopping for me), he picks them up by their ankles and pretends to drop them on their heads, he tosses them over his shoulder and “spanks” them while they laugh hysterically. In fine weather, he plays dodge ball with them in the back yard.

Where am I during all this, you ask? I am usually in my craft room with the door closed and the fan set on high to drown out the noise. Mommy doesn’t “do” this sort of play. I sit in our home library and read to them, play Yahtzee with Nick or Candyland with Jack or indoor bowling with them both, and help them do homework and craft projects. Children need adult males in their lives for the rough and tumble play that they all (even the girls) need. They don’t usually get it from momma.

While the boys will have lasting memories of this playmate daddy, the most meaningful thing George has done for them is something they may never know, much less fully understand.

Two years ago, George had orders to go to his dream job as an instructor at the B-1 Weapons School. For those who don’t know, the Weapons School is sort of like a super-concentrated PhD program in weapons and tactics. It’s the place the Air Force trains its top aviators to “fly, fight, and win,” and graduates, called patch-wearers, are expected to pass on what they learn when they return to their squadrons. Weapons School is intense—six months of ridiculously long days full of study, flying, and brutal briefs and debriefs for each flight. Mistakes are not tolerated. Plenty of students wash out before they can complete the course, and they don’t get a second chance.

George went through the B-1 Weapons School in 2000 and graduated with the flying trophy. When he sent out feelers for an instructor job in late 2005, the Weapons School’s commander couldn’t wait to get him to Abilene. George’s orders came through, we put our house on the market, and I prepared to move for the tenth time in 18 years to Dyess AFB, in Abilene, Texas.

As George’s dream was coming true, we began to suspect that Jack, who was not quite four, might have a problem. His speech seemed delayed, and he just wasn’t keeping up with his peers in social interactions or fine-motor development. We had him evaluated by a developmental pediatrician, Dr. Zernzach, at Wright Patterson AFB hospital. My mother took Jack to this evaluation because George and I were in British Columbia celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. Dr. Zernzach called us while we were having lunch at a winery on Saturna Island. A bald eagle flew gracefully overhead, and acres of tidy grape vines stretched down to the blue-gray sea sparkling with sunlight as I heard what no parent ever wants to hear: our son had serious developmental delays that required much more testing and might possibly be autism.

George immediately started asking critical questions about the suitability of moving Jack to Abilene. I was totally focused on the move and probably in a bit of denial as well. He had me call the base hospital at Dyess AFB to ask what services Jack could receive there. The answers were not good. The nearest developmental pediatrician was in Ft. Worth (almost three hours from Abilene), and pediatric speech therapy and occupational therapy had huge waiting lists. We already knew the schools in Abilene were not very good. I tried to be positive and optimistic, but George already knew what he had to do.

When George and I met with Dr. Zernzach, the seriousness of Jack’s situation finally hit me. I listened while George and the doctor discussed the Exceptional Family Member Program, which ensures that military families with special needs are assigned only to bases where these needs can be met. George signed the paperwork to enroll Jack in the EFMP. Just hours after Dr. Zernzach submitted the paperwork the following day, George received an email canceling the orders to his dream job.

Let’s pause for a moment to contemplate the character of a man who would, without hesitation, give up his dream job for a son who hadn’t even been formally diagnosed yet. Sorta makes you feel there’s hope for the world after all, doesn’t it?

A year later, it became obvious that George was destined for a year-long deployment to either Baghdad or a garden spot in Afghanistan. Before Nick was born, he would have gone eagerly, but a year’s absence would definitely hurt our two small boys. I wouldn’t have been too happy about it either. George just couldn’t leave his family for so long, especially under the circumstances, so he submitted his retirement paperwork and started looking for a civilian job. He was snapped up by the first company to interview him.

At his retirement ceremony, George said he’d been advised by a friend, “Run out of career before you run out of family.” He didn’t want to retire from the Air Force, from the band of rare Americans who are willing to lay down their lives for something bigger than themselves. He simply realized that two little boys needed his time, his presence, and his love more than America did.

His life is slower now than perhaps he would like. The adrenaline-rush thrill of jet engines and combat and streaking beyond the speed of sound at 400 feet above the ground in a big, sleek B-1 can’t be replaced by work in military consulting. The unique camaraderie that bonds aviators after surviving triple-A and missiles over downtown Baghdad doesn’t develop when you’re sitting in meetings with civilians. And let’s face it, an Air Force flight suit accessorized with a leather flight jacket, flight cap, and sunglasses will always look and feel cooler than a suit and tie.

George did the noblest thing a man can do. He spent the first 20 years of his adult life serving his country in a dangerous job, sacrificing his freedom so others might enjoy theirs. A year ago, he sacrificed a career doing what he loved just to be present and accounted for daily with his children.
You know, I think he actually looks pretty darn cool in that suit and tie.

Nick and Jack don’t ever need to know what George gave up for them, but their lives are immeasurably better because they have a dad who understands that pretending to be a monster every night is the single most important job any real man can have.

Yes, I chose the father of my children well.