Why Is This So Hard? {That’s What She Said}

Can you tell that I’ve binge-watched The Office for the 34th time this week? It’s Friday evening and I don’t know about you but this week kicked my ass. And to have such a heavy day fall at the end of a long week made the last few steps feel as if I were wading through concrete toward the finish line. There is so much turmoil everywhere that remembering 9/11 seemed almost too much. Almost.

In the WTC Cortlandt Street subway station is a giant marble mosaic designed by Ann Hamilton. Of all the post-9/11 memorials and tributes, I think it is my favorite. I snapped this picture on our last trip to New York City (also known as The Huffman’s Get Norovirus in NYC, Part 2). The station, destroyed in the attack, reopened in 2018 and features the installation titled Chorus and has the text from both the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Never forget.

I am sipping a martini as I write this post in celebration of the weekend – not that it was a bad week. It actually started off great – we woke up on Sunday morning to a thunderstorm and an ever-changing forecast that required us to adjust our plans for the day. So instead of being outdoors hiking, biking, and on the water, we decreed our Sunday to be a cozy stay-at-home day. Clay and I both suffer from we must do all the things syndrome so it is very rare that we have a day that doesn’t involve leaving the house. And it was glorious.

We then spent Monday exploring downtown Chicago and took full advantage of the near-empty streets while wearing masks and continuously rubbing our hands with hand sanitizer. We went on the water, we saw Cloud Gate, we popped into Eataly for coffee and chocolate, and we ate a delicious late lunch/early dinner at Doc B’s Restaurant + Bar (I totally didn’t realize it was a chain until I linked it – oh well). Is anyone else a fan of eating a meal around 3pm? It’s actually our favorite way to eat when exploring new cities because we avoid peak hours and it leaves the evenings free to wander around and snack on a variety of foods.

We were brought back to reality on Tuesday morning with school, work, and the discovery of no hot water, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a big deal at all but I am a wimp when it comes to cold water. Medicine-free birth? Sure! Cold shower? Hell no. Housing maintenance actually resolved that issue rather quickly but it did seem to set the tone for the week. I tried my best to balance my work responsibilities and support the kids with their school assignments, Zoom meetings, and all the other tasks that involve being the parent who is home during the day but it seemed like the week was a lesson titled Why Karen Is Unable to Do It All. And I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like to fail.

Okay. So fail is too strong of a word but man, this past week was a humbling experience as we learned to navigate our new normal. I am not one to engage in the pain Olympics – I know I have it pretty good. And I wonder if that is why it bothers me so much when I don’t live up to my own expectations. I have a graduate degree in e-learning, I only work part-time, I have a supportive husband who does what he can with his limited schedule, and my kids are in a hybrid program at school. So why is it so hard?

I remember feeling absolutely helpless as I watched the awful events unfolded 19 years ago today from my dorm room. And to be honest, I can’t help but feel a little helpless as I digest the news with each passing day. Is it going to get better? The days following 9/11 were filled with grit, love, and determination – those unified moments seem so far away as we as a nation navigate our way through 2020. So tonight I am raising a glass. Here’s to those who perished that awful day 19 years ago today. And here’s to us. We the people. We can get through this. We will get through this.

Currently: The September Edition

I read something the other day that referred to September as the month to refocus our energies. Now that we’re stationed in a place where September really does bring cooler weather and longer sleeves, the changing of the calendar felt more significant this year and not just because we survived another month of social isoloation and confining ourselves to a 50-mile radius. I’ve been giving some thought as to how I can refocus my anxieties surrounding outcomes I can’t control into positive and productive energy so when I read Missy’s post about her contribution for a monthly feature, I thought it’d be a good exercise for me and the chance for my reflections to exist outside of my paper journal. So without further ado, here’s what I’m currently appreciating, anticipating, collecting, starting, and finishing.

biking on Lake Michigan

Appreciating. Living in a walkable community on Lake Michigan has done wonders for our mental health this summer. While we were lucky to have many trails accessible from our house in Northern Virginia, we were limited to tributaries of the Potomac when we wanted to hike to a water source. The ability to bike and walk to restaurants, stores, and parks has been a dream for our active family and has made the travel ban a little bit easier to digest.

Anticipating. We’re anxious while waiting for the opportunity to travel again! We budget a fair amount for travel each year and with the exception of our trip to Walt Disney World in January, our travel plans for 2020 were sidelined. In cruel irony, we have hundreds of thousands of points to redeem on our travel credit cards and the inability to travel internationally.  We’re more than happy to do our part to support the travel industry when the time comes and have been daydreaming about Italy, Croatia, Indonesia, Australia, and remote Canada as potential first post-pandemic trips.

Lake Michigan beach glass

Collecting. Our sea beach glass collection grows with each walk to the water. About 30 seconds ago, I learned that technically, our collection consists of beach glass, not sea glass, because it comes from a freshwater source and not the ocean. So there you go – you can’t say you didn’t learn something from reading this post unless you already knew about the distinction, in which case – congratulations (said like Renée Elise Goldsberry in the cut Hamilton track Congratulations).

first day of school in a pandemic

Starting. The kids started hybrid-school yesterday. They’re in the classroom every morning with a handful of other {masked} students and then participate in virtual learning activities in the afternoon, in addition to asynchronous work throughout the week. They’re happy to be back in school and have done a great job rolling with the punches – no complaints about wearing a mask or adhering to other CDC guidelines.

Finishing. I really feel like I am finishing up a season of my life that was plagued with self-doubt, apprehension, and caring too much about the opinions of others. I suppose the downhill slide to 40 has that effect on women – I am more self-assured, confident, and take me as I am than I’ve ever been in my life. You don’t like me? Not my problem.

So cheers to September and the refocusing of our energies. I’m not sure what that exactly means but it sounds catchy. I’ll take it.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Lake Michigan

We spent the weekend paddling on Lake Michigan. The path from our house to the beach is down a fairly significant hill, which makes it near impossible to put our kayaks in the water within walking distance, which we were able to do on Lake Ontario during our time at Fort Drum – womp womp. However we have two inflatable stand-up paddle boards that have proved to be perfect for our current situation (SereneLife and ROC). We carry them in backpacks up and down the hill and inflate them on the shore. When the water is calm, we use them as stand-up paddle boards and when the water is choppier, we treat them like kayaks. Our long-term goal is to get each kid their own paddle board but for the time being, Clay and I can each comfortably have a kid on the board with us so we’ve been able to cover some ground in the waters along the North Shore of Chicago as a family.

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

The water was incredibly calm yesterday morning. The sparkling turquoise water was the perfect antidote to the uncertainty and anxiety that has been churning inside for quite some time. Despite reciting my mantra of everything will be okay continuously the past few weeks, my mind would find itself being lured into the dark spaces where doubt, apprehension, and hopelessness have been banished. And as much as I don’t want to retreat into my own little world when so many horrible things are happening in our country, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find the bandwidth to take it all on after tending to my own family’s needs during this dumpster fire of a year.

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

Deciding what to do about the kids’ education dominated the majority of my headspace this month. I reconciled the idea that homeschooling may be the best option for our family but we ultimately decided to enroll the kids in the public school system, which has a stellar reputation and the opportunity for students to attend school in-person for a couple of hours each day. Only time will tell if the hybrid-model is sustainable through the fall and winter but we felt it was worth it to give it a chance. And if we find that it isn’t working for our family, we will likely make the switch to homeschooling and persevere with grit and determination. I think once I gave myself grace and the power to change my mind, I became much more at peace with our decision. It’s easy to twist my insides into knots when it comes to our children but time and time again they’ve proved themselves to be resilient – they will be okay. Everything will be okay.

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

2020 has proved to be anything but ordinary, so I think it’s important to fight my initial instinct to make everything feel ‘normal’ for my children. Because that’s not how life works. We adjust. We adapt. And we push forward. We’re thankful that we were able to sign them up for soccer and baseball this fall, even though the season will look very different than what they’ve experienced in the past. And that’s okay. I’ve vowed to stop asking myself, “How can I make this feel more like normal?” and instead I’ve been asking, “How can I make this better than before?

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

Leonardo DiVinci told us that water is the driving force of all nature. Not only can water carve its way through stone, but it makes a new path if it deems necessary. I am so incredibly thankful that this assignment will allow us to spend time on the water and embrace its power. There is a sense of freedom when we’re paddling in the water – we’re focused on the horizon and maintaining balance while appreciating the vast beauty. Every paddle is different than the one before – new water, new movement, and new insight.  Our family is craving the routine that a new school year brings – we look forward to the challenges on the horizon. And we will continue to carve our way through 2020 and should we find that the path we’re one is impassable, we will make a new one.

It’s Quiet Here

We’re settling into our new home on the North Shore of Chicago, where turquoise waters shimmer underneath the seemingly endless midwest sky. Our on-post house is yellow, it boasts the cheapest appliances we’ve encountered in our 15+ years of marriage, and it’s only a two-minute walk down to the rocky shoreline of Lake Michigan. We’re catching our breath and learning our new routine – the pandemic has made this move feel like the hardest one yet. While the house is unpacked and we’re beginning to meet people in the neighborhood, our life doesn’t necessarily feel like ours yet but I have faith it will in due time.

It’s quiet here – at least compared to our last three years in the Washington DC area. In fact, the past couple of months have been the most we’ve ever spent together as a family of four – partly due to pandemic-restrictions and the fact that Clay’s previous assignment was the most intense of his career thus far. Now that we’re on the other side, I suppose we’re realizing just how much of an impact the last three years had on our family – not that they were bad but we definitely learned some things about what we want and what we don’t want out of life. I wrote about how over the years I’ve learned to give when the Army asks for even more of my husband, and how I deal with envy, and the not-so-subtle art of dealing with disappointment. I’m not sure what lessons our two years at Fort Sheridan will teach us but we hope to leave America’s third coast with a clearer picture of what we want our next 10+ years to look like.

Clay and I are both on the increasingly fast downhill slide to 40 – while we have no desire to map out our remaining years in a manner than prevents us from experiencing the beautiful and exciting moments graced upon those who embrace the unpredictable nature of life, we also recognize that the Army isn’t forever and we have some decisions to make when we inevitably come to the fork in the proverbial military road.

I’m looking forward to writing more here at And Then We Laughed and other places. Now that I’ve settled into a routine at work (I am working remotely for our previous school district) and the house is almost done, I find myself wanting to write beyond my professional obligations and doing so without the guilt overwhelming me into paralysis.

So thank you for reading. I hope you continue to follow along with our adventures at our new duty station. The pandemic has halted our travel plans but we’re determined to make the best and most of our two years at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.