The Need to Escape – Anchored in Possibility

My previous stream of consciousness post was a very cathartic experience and the responses I received left me reassured that my thoughts are not the equivalent of survivors shipwrecked on a remote island. Instead they’re like bubbles – floating through the air until they’re popped by a finger or they naturally cease to exist by their own accord. So why not do it again? I’m not sure where this post will end up so we’re going on this journey together. There will be no beverage service, unless you count the latte I’m currently sipping while typing away in a bustling coffee shop.

This past Saturday afternoon, after a full morning of baseball, I loaded the kids and Lucy into the car and escaped north to the Philly suburbs to spend the night with my sister and her family. Earlier that morning, I just felt the need to escape. Clay was away, we had no obligations after 12pm, and I really wanted a cheesesteak that night for dinner. As I battled traffic on 1-95N and left one major city for another, a low-key sense of calm took over my body – so much so that I didn’t even mind paying $2.00 for a regular-size bag of Peanut M&Ms at the Maryland House travel plaza. I truly felt like I was escaping for the night.

But escaping from what?

By all accounts, my life is good – happy and healthy marriage and kids and we’re stationed at a place we thoroughly enjoy living. I knew I wasn’t escaping from anything tangible but I couldn’t shake the feeling of freedom as I drove along the backroads of Maryland and Pennsylvania farmland toward the city. Was it because these were the roads I learned to drive on? Likely not. While I do feel a sense of homecoming whenever I visit my sister – the only one left of our family in the area, isn’t an overwhelming feeling of comfort – the kind you get when you spend your childhood and adolescence in one area. In some ways, I feel like an imposter when back in the Philly ‘burbs because I’ve been away for so long and my memories there don’t start until I was a teenager. If anything, I’m a fair-weather Philly gal with just as much allegiance to Arizona and Michigan.

Which makes me wonder – maybe I am just bred to want to escape. As a kid, I was always focused on the road ahead. When I was in 4th grade, I couldn’t wait until middle school. When I was in 7th grade, I couldn’t wait until high school. And by the time 10th grade rolled around, I was chomping at the bit to go away to college. Choosing a university near home wasn’t even on my radar – I was determined to go as far away as my parents would let me. And to be honest – there wasn’t really a reason why. High school was fine for me. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. My childhood was safe and happy. But I didn’t want to stay. I needed to escape.

Falling in love so young wasn’t part of my plan. Neither was getting married in my very early 20s. But love has a funny way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. And to be honest, the fact that Clay is the Army has been extremely seredipitous in regards to my apparent desire to escape because we literally pack up our lives and move every 1-3 years. Is it taking the easy way out by choosing a lifestyle that ensures I always have an escape plan? Luckily Clay has the same attitude about moving and settling as I do.

Over the years, I’ve met people who feel stuck for one reason or another – they can’t move because of extended family obligations, they can’t search for a new job because instability is scary, or they resign themselves down a certain path because of societal expectations. I’ll say that it’s incredible not ever feeling stuck because no matter how much we may not like living somewhere, we have reassurance that it is only temporary. We always have an escape plan.

My roots are intertwined with my husband’s and my kids’ but not anchored to anything but possibility. I love that description – anchored only in possibility.

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We’re often asked where we want to settle when Clay retires from the Army and we always respond, “Hell if we know!” Maybe Colorado? Or Maine? Hawaii? Another country? We do love northern Arizona. The California coast is amazing. Montana would be cool too. Or northern Michigan. Perhaps Key West?

Aren’t longterm plans for the birds, anyway?

I’m sure wherever we end up by choice won’t be the last place we live. We will have an escape plan. It’s in our blood.

Okay then – I didn’t envision this post about going to Philly for the night turning into a manifesto about how we have no idea where we want to settle. Or if we want to settle at all. That’s the beauty of these stream of consciousness posts, I suppose.

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Confessions of a {Fake} Blonde

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Why is it that according to pop culture a bad hair day equals a bad day in general? Shania Twain famously sang that anything she does or says better be okay when she has a bad hair day. Is it because so much of our confidence is seemingly associated with the collection of keratin and other proteins scattered on top of our heads? As a population, we spend billions of dollars taming our genetically-determined and environmentally-susceptible hair into something that meets our seal approval. Many argue that not only does hair represent our personalities, it also represents our thoughts and beliefs. I’d like to say that I am so self-assured that my self-esteem is not impacted by my hair in the slightest but that’s not the truth. My hair matters to me.

Earlier this year, I got a bee in my bonnet about dying my hair from the blonde I’d been rocking for quite a few years. I impulsively picked a reddish shade of dark brown from the Target shelf and treated myself to a box dye job later that night. And immediately regretted it. So in the spirit of not-so-great hair colors and styles – let’s talk a walk down memory lane and see some of the colors and hairstyles I’ve endured over the years.

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I spent the majority of my childhood in Phoenix, Arizona. My hair was long and sun-kissed and my bangs were blunt (Why mom, why?). When we moved to Pennsylvania in the middle of my 7th grade year, I became depressed that I chopped off my hair. I also avoided the sun – so much so that my hair turned brown and my already pale skin transformed into a ghostly shade of white. Isn’t middle school fun? By the time I was a junior in high school, my spirit improved and I was back to loving life. After years of rocking shoulder-length hair, I decided to let it grow and my mom let me get six foils – thus starting my (expensive) love affair with highlights.

{As I look at the picture on the right, it is painfully evident that it was a sad attempt at ‘The Rachel‘ too many years too late. Sigh. More evidence that I was and will not ever be hip.}

During my middle school and high school years, I never thought of myself as pretty. At least not in the traditional sense. Hair and make-up didn’t really interest me and I didn’t discover the power of a well-shaped eyebrow until I was in my 20s. I had high enough self-esteem when it came to my intelligence, sense of humor, and athletic ability. But I just didn’t care enough about what I looked like to put forth much effort beyond the bare minimum.

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That attitude pretty much stayed throughout my college years as well. I wore minimal make-up and didn’t put much thought to my hair beyond making sure it was clean and brushed. My college roommate and I dyed my hair dark brown during my freshman year but by that summer, I was back to being blonde. And because I was a poor college student, I used box color until my junior year, when I could afford to buy both beer and get my hair professionally highlighted. That was a good year. As I entered my 20’s, I started to care more about my hair and make-up and realized that I actually find value in looking somewhat presentable.

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Clay and I then got married and moved to Fort Drum, New York. I kept my hair long and blonde until I kissed him goodbye that winter and sent him off on his first deployment.

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Two days after he left, I went to my hair stylist and told her to do something drastic because I was sad, lonely, and cold. She cut off 7 inches and dyed it a reddish brown. I loved it but by the time summer rolled around, I was itching to be blonde again. And by the time he came home 16 months later, I was back to having long blonde hair.

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My hair was long and blonde for quite some time. We moved to North Carolina, our son was born, and before long – I was sending my husband off to war again. I didn’t dye my hair after that goodbye. I actually waited until he came home a year later and informed me that we were moving to Oklahoma.

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I processed the news by dying my hair bright red. I initially had it done professionally but then maintained it myself with the help of Walgreens and L’Oreal. I struggled during our first six months in Oklahoma – I didn’t feel like myself and I wasn’t terribly happy. I thought the red would help. It didn’t. Then I thought cutting bangs myself would help. It didn’t {Karen – let this be a reminder that bangs are never the answer}.

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By that summer, I had seven inches cut off and had my hair highlighted. I sported strawberry blonde hair until I went full-fledged blonde that winter. And I remained blonde as my hair grew.

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We moved to Virginia, our daughter was born, we moved to Kansas, and then we moved to Texas, and then back to Virginia. During these years, my hair was varying shades of blonde (dependent on how often I highlighted my hair) and varying lengths between my shoulders and waist. I also resisted the temptation to cut bangs. I’m very proud of that fact.

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And then earlier this year, as mentioned, I poured a glass of wine, dyed my hair dark, and gave myself bangs (damn you temptation!) on a whim. My hair turned a patchy shade of copper and I hated the way it looked in pictures. So after about a month, I went to the salon with my tail between my legs and requested a full foil with strands of pink. And when she asked me about my bangs, I played dumb. But I know she knew the truth. Hair stylists can always tell. It’s one of their superpowers. My stylist had to cut off quite a few inches to even out the bad haircut I received last year so I’m back to having short(ish) hair for me.

IMG_5253While I put more effort into my hair and make-up than I did in high school and college, I still really don’t spend that much time getting ready. I use drugstore products and get my hair cut and highlighted only once or twice a year (I’ve even been known to use Sun-In in the summer). My hair dryer, straightener, and curling wand are all inexpensive and I have yet to master how to dry my hair with a round brush. And to be honest, I don’t really want to learn because there are about 485,234 things I’d rather do than blow dry my hair for an hour. Could my hair look better? Probably. Do I want to spend any more time than I already do in order to make it happen? Nope.

So there you have it. Hair confessions of a {fake} blonde. I like my hair just fine. It keeps my head warm and softens my features so I can’t complain. At least it looks better today than it did in 7th grade.

What is Going On Inside My Head?

The past couple of nights, I’ve been able to keep the balcony door open to my room and fall asleep to crashing waves and the sea breeze. It’s a far cry the neighbor’s drum set, squirrels, and ambulance sirens I hear when the windows are open at home. Hanging out with my parents and kids away from our everyday life has provided me ample opportunity to reflect and dream. So much so that I decided to write this post in a stream of consciousness narrative. I can’t promise that it will be well-written but it will be honest.

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When here in Florida – my dad walks along the beach and on trails around the island almost every morning;  I’ve joined him the previous two. It’s been nice to chat with him – growing up the oldest of four kids in close proximity meant that one-on-one time with a parent was a luxury I rarely experienced. But as nice as our conversations have been, I’ve also enjoyed the moments when we’re just walking – being  ‘the quiet one’ of four children, I continue to crave silence to this day. My mind wandered during those lulls in conversation and before long, I started to hear You’re not good enough. What are you doing with yourself? You need to be better. You’re letting everybody down! rattle around up there.

I am not what one would consider an anxious person. I tend not to worry about things that are beyond my control, especially when it comes to anything military-related. Soon after we were married I quickly learned that everything happening ‘over there’ was beyond my control and anxiety on my part would not bring him home any sooner or safer. And in regards to my children, I am not overly cautious. I encourage them to explore and to be brave. I want them to jump off the dock, swing from that tree, and see how fast they can run through freshly cut grass. For myself, I don’t really worry about getting hurt or kicking the bucket, unless I am driving over a suspension bridge in the exterior lane (why anyone would choose anything other than the most interior lane is simply beyond my comprehension). Simply put – I am just not an anxious person.

For the past 18 months, despite the appearance of calm and togetherness, I’ve been feeling like pieces of me are breaking off and floating away into oblivion. I initially blamed my loss in confidence on Texas and my failure to bloom. And then I blamed my lack of direction on the fact that I am in the midst of transitioning from a stay-at-home mom of babies and preschoolers to a mom of grade-school children excited to jump back into the workforce. I struggled to make sense of the little slivers that remain from my pre-kids career. I desperately wanted to find my path but I always seemed to be missing the trail markers. I was lost. In myself. I wasn’t anxious about the outside world. But I was becoming consumed by my own disappointment in myself. And you know what? I just realized that I typed this paragraph in past tense, as if these feelings have dissipated. And you know what? A lot of them haven’t. And I don’t really know why.

That’s not to say that things haven’t improved since our move to Virginia. They have – I am definitely in a much better place. But I’m still struggling. I’ve always been pretty confident in most areas of my life until one day I wasn’t. And on the mornings when the self-doubt grabs on to my leg and caused me to limp throughout my day, my internal voice is the most vicious – chastising me for feeling this way because I have an incredibly supportive husband who encourages me daily to conquer the world, healthy children who adore me, and a quite lovely life in a fantastic part of the country.

I do think it’s natural to have peaks and valleys when it comes to self-esteem and that confidence has a lot to do with faking it until you make it. I know that I offer value to society and that I am capable of making a difference. But then again – you’d think that isn’t the case by the way my inner-voice speaks to me. You’re lazy. No wonder you can’t seem to put one foot in front of another. What is WRONG with you?

What is wrong with me?

Perhaps nothing. I’m sure I’m not the only thirty-something out there with an inner-voice who is determined to undermine goals and tasks at hand. I mean, my outlook on life is overwhelmingly positive – no wonder why I sometimes feel like a fraud for beating myself up for not being the best or feeling like I’m not living up to my potential. It’s the fear of not being enough because I’m not able to do everything. Way to blow that opportunity, Karen. You’re just scared that you won’t be good enough and you know what? You won’t be.

There are two dreams I have every couple of months. One reoccurring dream (nightmare?) is when all of my teeth shatter and fall out my mouth like sand being poured from a bucket. The other involves me unknowingly registering for a class and not discovering so until the end of the semester a few hours before the final. I dream about frantically cramming material on a subject I know little about – most recently it was Hydraulics. I always wake up just as the TA passes out the blue exam books (are those even used in college still?). Do these dreams mean anything? Unsure. But when I have then, I wake up unsettled and my inner-voice seems to be louder that day.

I don’t like those days.

I know that my life isn’t perfect – that doesn’t exist. But it is pretty damn good. I consider myself to be happy. Most days I am able to push the self-doubt down deeper to where I can’t hear her voice. And I’m beginning to think that there lies at least part of my problem – perhaps by pushing her voice deeper inside, I’m giving my self-doubt more power than it deserves. What if I just release the self-doubt into the wild as soon as I recognize her presence or hear her voice? Whenever I encounter a problem, it always seems bigger and unwieldy until I discuss it with someone else – then it becomes manageable and solvable. Maybe my self-doubt and fear of failure should be treated the same way.

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Lucy and I sat on the beach this morning and watched the sunrise. My inner-voice wasn’t too critical this morning but I decided to write this post anyway. I’m getting quite tired of hearing her. And I am really getting tired of her trying to sabotage my goals. After these few days on the ocean, I’m feeling better – I truly feel like over the past six months, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction and I’m gluing pieces of me back together a’la kintsugi. I’m hopeful that my gold shines bright as I’m repaired. I know that I will always experience self-doubt (who doesn’t?) – the struggle will be not giving her so much power. I deserve that power. Not her.

Sometimes You Get What You Want. But Only Sometimes.

Now that I am in my mid-thirties I find myself obsessively checking the Facebook feeds of Jay’s Wintery Mix, Doug Kammerer, and Capital Weather Gang when there is the threat of severe weather. I may not watch The Weather Channel but I’ve become my mother – at least in regards to storm tracking and my preference of drinking wine out of a coffee mug. The models yesterday were tracking for the national capital region to get at least 8 -12 inches of snow. The infamous DC snow-hole made her presence known this winter so despite the record-low temperatures, it’s been a mild winter snow-wise. Therefore, this forecasted early spring snowstorm had snow-lovers like me keeping their fingers-crossed for a boom scenario.

Clay is home in-between trips so his buzzing phones woke us in the early morning hours. As he listened to an automated message about the federal operating status, I bolted out of bed and excitedly peeked out the window. And saw absolutely no accumulation – womp womp. As I dejectedly climbed back into bed, I thought to myself how this year’s winter was an analogy for a lot of military-related experiences.

You see – no matter how much I try and remain nonchalant about the potential for snow, or an early return from a deployment or TDY, or a choice assignment, I inevitably and eagerly get my hopes up. Without fail. I know I shouldn’t. But I do because that is just who I am. And then I more than likely end up disappointed because hardly anything in life goes according to plan, which is why I believe detailed plans are for the birds (boy is that a whole other post). Eventually I come to terms with the letdown and even find little silver threads that ultimately transform themselves into linings. If I’m lucky – I get a lesson or two out of the experience. And the cycle repeats itself.

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Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been telling us for years that we can’t always get what we want. Which is probably why when we do get what we want, it tastes that much sweeter. And wouldn’t you know – soon after my disappointing glance out the window the skies opened and it began to snow. And it snowed all day.

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It was a good day.

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