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Pilgrims at Thanksgiving did not go home

That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I wrote a response to an article on Military Spouse Magazine in regards to going home for the holidays. The article felt judgy and unnecessary for military spouses who want to go home but for reasons cannot. My response was hasty, brash, and resonated with other military spouses. If you google it you can probably still find the original article at https://www.militaryspouse.com/magazine/. I decided to edit and share with you my thoughts about feeling guilty when you cannot go home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other important times of the year. So enjoy this revamped and retitled article, That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Here is to another guilt-free holiday!

Released from guilt

Two significant times in my life I was released from guilt for living so far away from family. The first was when my mother told me to get out of our small, rural, Indiana town. Then my 93-year-old grandmother told me as we prepared to move to Germany, “If anything should happen to me while you are gone do not haul those babies back here for my funeral.” She released from the guilt I had for not attending her funeral. You see, I am married to a military man but I live with less guilt because of the overwhelming understanding of my family for missing out on holidays back home.

My husband Chris has been in the Air Force for over twenty years. We have spent five years overseas and moved fourteen times in total. Currently, my college kid has never come home for Thanksgiving. I would be a hypocrite to insist he come home for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I have prepared myself for the future. As the mother of boys, I may spend future holidays without them. Our military lifestyle has always been about creating new traditions. Holidays at our house don’t always look traditional and we are okay with that.

Many times it is just not fathomable to return to your parents’ home for the holidays. Air travel, car rental, hotel stays, boarding of pets, food, and the list compiles and before you know it, you are so in debt you cannot travel the rest of the year. There is also the stress factor, the inability to get enough time off, and a plethora of other responsibilities. Let us not forget those that are deployed and cannot be home for the holidays.

Random thoughts about going home for the holidays.

1. If it is so important for your extended family to be together, invite them to your place. Two years in a row, our families traveled to where we live and we rented a house large enough for all of us. It relieved me of doing all the cooking and cleaning.
2. Delay holiday for cheaper times of the year or plan a destination holiday where you all gather in a central location. I dream of having a vacation in a cabin in the mountains one day surrounded by my boys and their families.
3. Talk to your extended family. Let them know how you feel. My hope is that your family is understanding and if not that is on them, not you.
4. Coordinate with local friends to gather for the holiday or serve in the community in some capacity. In years past, my family and I are served dinner to inmates in a halfway program on a farm.
5. Create your own traditions. My husband and I have created our own family holiday traditions. We look forward to carrying these out every year.
6. Above all, do what is right for you and your family. In the meantime, release your family from that same guilt. And do not judge other military families if their choices for the holidays are different than yours.

The 2020 holiday season is different but still guilt-free

The holidays should not be stressful or filled with guilt. My kid is doing what I taught him to do by making a life of his own. If his adventures lead him far away at the holidays I will survive just like my mother has done. She is a great example of how a mother can release her children and adapt through the holidays. Listen, this military life is hard enough on good days so the last thing you need is to feel guilty for not being able or wanting to return home for the holidays. Instead, embrace your new home, make new traditions, and if someone tries to make you feel guilty remind them that the Pilgrims didn’t go home for the holidays either. I release you of that guilt. I’m not saying to never go home for the holidays but when you can’t that’s okay too.

The 2020 year is bizarre, to say the least. We are being told by health professionals that it is best to not gather in large groups or with those people who have compromised immunity. This year we all are relinquished of any guilt about not going home for the holidays. We can claim that we love our families by staying away and thus keeping them healthy.   

Have a happy, guilt-free holiday season!

Cohen standing on barrel

The one time my kid fell out of a window

Facebook is a time capsule that reminds us of life’s biggest moments. It also reminds us of the not so great moments. All of these, both good and bad define us. I had one of those defining moments on May 21st, 2008. I swear death-defining moments should not happen before coffee but that’s what happened. It was a normal weekday morning until it wasn’t. To this day, it makes me cringe to think about. I recently found when I posted about it on Facebook that several of my mom friends are in the club with me. It is a club for those of us that have had a kid fall out of a window.

Morning silence followed by chaos

I was barely through my first cup of coffee and was reading the newspaper (that’s how long ago this happened). My middle son yelled downstairs, somewhat panicked, but in a casual demeanor. “Mom, Cohen fell out of the window!” I knew my 5-year-old son was playing a computer game in his brother’s room. It didn’t make sense that my youngest (18-months at the time) would fall out the window. Why would he? How would he? Nothing made sense so I didn’t react. A minute or so later, my son walked down the first couple steps so he could see me in the living room. He repeated, “Mom, Cohen fell out the window.” And then he was gone. He might as well have said, “I want pancakes for breakfast.” It was so nonchalant. That’s when I heard the faint cry of someone crying outside the window.

Not winning any Mother-of-the-year awards

Any mother’s reaction in a crisis situation when looked back on could be classified as bizarre. My reactions that followed were not textbook. You learn in First Aid class to not move a victim. So, that’s exactly what I did. Upon opening the door, Cohen sat in a bush that was directly below the bedroom window he had fallen out of minutes before. My motherly instincts picked him up to comfort him. Step two of my not-so-perfect response was to call my husband at work. Not 9-1-1. Magnum had a bad habit of answering his office phone in speaker mode. When he answered he and his office mates received an earful, mainly an expletive-laden barrage of words. I wanted to know who had opened the @#$&?! upstairs window and I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.

A blur of activity, followed by fog

My husband calmly redirected my misguided anger toward calling for help. In my mind, I was saying, “I don’t feel like going to the Emergency Room today.” I did call for help. But I also realized that I nor my kid were in any condition to greet visitors. I could hear the volunteer department fire alarm go off in town so I figured I had only a couple moments to spruce myself up (a.k.a. put on a bra). Still holding my screaming child, I ran upstairs got dressed, and changed his diaper. I know! I told you, I’m not good at this kind of thing. EMT’s and paramedics soon arrived. I ushered them in. And as if out of a movie, they cleared off my dining room table, slapped down a backboard, and began assessing my kid. Like I would many times that day, I explained to them what happened. I desperately wanted to tell them, “I’m not a bad mom!” Unfortunately, this was not my first time in an ambulance with one of my kids. I have a full bag of stories to share eventually.

I need a hero!

EMT’s took us to the closest hospital. Much of that part is foggy. However, there were two things that stand out.  One moment was when our minister, Jim walked in the door. The look on his face told me just how serious this situation was and that he would try to make it okay. The second was when someone announced, “The bird is 20 minutes out.” Bird? My husband is in the Air Force and I have worked in a trauma center, I knew then that they weren’t talking about crows or a pretty red cardinal. The CT had shown narrowing of the spinal cord. Another surreal moment was when they took us to the helipad on the roof. There is a dedicated elevator to the roof. As Cohen was still strapped to the backboard, they wheeled him through the halls. People backed up against the walls as we passed. I could hear their whispers. “Oh, that poor baby!”

I document these times because in them I find heroes. I can’t remember names or faces but I remember how they made me feel. On this particular LifeFlight, there was a pilot, a flight nurse, and a tech. I was buckled into the front seat of the helicopter while Cohen was loaded underneath and behind me. The pilot gave me a headset and some basic passenger instructions. You could tell he knew the gravity of the situation but his voice was soothing. We took off soon after. I could see Pastor Jim standing down below by his car, ready to drive to the trauma center about 45 minutes north. The pilot talked to the air traffic controllers and then we started our journey. My husband was at that time a flight commander of the local Air Force base air traffic controllers. They were the ones that talked to the pilot that day. A friend of mine was actually in the tower when the flight took off. At some point, the flight nurse, called to me to tell me that Cohen had fallen asleep. Heroes were all around us that day.

Lessons I learned that day my kid fell out of the window

To wrap up this story, he ended up being fully evaluated and released after being observed all day. As Pastor Jim likes to say, “A miracle happened on the flight that day”. Certainly seems that way. I know thousands of kids fall out of windows every year and many are not as fortunate as Cohen. My friend Angie wrote an article that included Cohen’s story. Read more: https://www.militaryspouse.com/military-life/are-your-kids-safe-playing-upstairs/.

I did a lot of things wrong. Afterward, it took forgiving myself for not being attentive to my kids. Every time I had to explain to a medical professional what happened, I felt they were judging me. They probably weren’t. Sitting in a medivac flight with your kid is one of the worst experiences for a parent. I had to let go of anger aimed at my husband for leaving the window open. In hindsight, I realized I was suffering from PTSD. Above all, I looked for heroes in our situation and thank God for watching over us and planting that bush underneath the window. We had a lot of prayer warriors that day. It could have ended much worse. I share Cohen’s story because there are other parents out there who have had a kid fall from a window. I’m not alone. I also share so that another mother doesn’t have to go through that experience.

But it wouldn’t be the last time I was in an ambulance with one of my kids. To be continued.

snake, fear and doubt, parenting advice

Parenting advice from a Copperhead encounter

According to Nationalgeographic.com snakes are carnivorous reptiles that have a life span of 18 years, can grow to be 3 feet in length and weigh more than 100 grams. While their scientific name is Agkistrodon Controtix, Copperheads receive their name because of their hour-glass shaped, bronze head. Mostly found in the south and eastern parts of the US, they account for more bites than any other venomous snakes. They feed on rodents and small birds or animals. These snakes are a pit viper according to NatGeo and use heat to sense their prey. A copperhead is resourceful and adaptable. They can live in the woods as well as subdivisions, thus increasing their probability of coming in contact with humans. While not the most venomous snake they are still a hazard.  Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/c/copperhead-snakes/

I hate Copperheads but one gave me great parenting advice for combating fear and doubt.

Advice from an encounter with a Copperhead

It was the summer of 2017 and my son was weeks away from his high school graduation. While his younger brothers were still in school, T was sleeping until late and helping me prepare the house for guests and a graduation party. On this particular day, he and his best friend, Abby were making cookies in our kitchen while I was on the riding lawnmower cutting the grass. I was in my own world with my headphones on. At one pass I see him standing on our neighbors’ porch with what looks like a gun. Horror and curiosity struck me at the same time. We had a wonderful relationship with our neighbors. Early on they made it known that we were welcome in their home even if they weren’t home. We had the code to enter their house via the garage. Also, unknown to me, Mr. Don had shown T where he kept a pellet gun in the front hall closet.

Cooperhead snake alive
The Copperhead in question.
©missykuester.com

So, there he is standing on Don’s front porch in a t-shirt, shorts, no shoes, and a gun. Upon closer inspection and inquiring, he informed me he had shot a Copperhead that was going across the walk just as he was going to the front door to ask Miss Angela for vanilla for his cookies. Discovering they weren’t home, he decided he couldn’t just let the snake hang around. He was worried because he knew Miss Angela hated snakes, they had a cat and the neighbors had a little boy. So, he remembered the pellet gun and shot the snake. To ensure it was dead, he buried it. He still wasn’t satisfied that it was dead so he dug it up, cut it’s head off with a shovel, put it in a bucket. (He wanted to show Mr. Don what he had done and he was proud of his accomplishments.) He then took the snake way out in the woods and buried it 2 feet underground.

How that Copperhead was like fear and doubt

Where is the parenting advice in an encounter with a Copperhead? It’s more than just ‘Do not mess with a snake.’

Years after that encounter, T was living across the country at college. He called during a particularly challenging time. He wanted advice and encouragement. I came back to that Copperhead. He faced that dangerous snake with conviction and without hesitation. I encouraged him to meet this new challenge like he had that snake—head-on. He was brave then and he could be brave now. And I would use that anecdote again and again through his various challenges.

It holds true for many of us. Maybe what we face isn’t necessarily dangerous like that snake but it can be disturbing, uncomfortable, or a nuisance. If T had let that snake slither on, who knows where it could have gone. He would have always wondered and he would have always been paranoid that it was lurking around. Instead, he killed it and buried it. He often needs reminding to chop the head off of whatever he fears or when he begins to doubt himself.

Writer and Illustrator Kate Seredy said it best, “Kill the snake of doubt in our soul, crush the worms of fear in your heart, and mountains will move out of your way.” What theoretical snakes are causing you or your kid to fear or doubt? Maybe a snake isn’t the illustration you would use but just recalling something your son or daughter has overcome in the past may help them through what they are going through now. We all have to tailor our advice to the person. In this case, it just so happened that a Copperhead gave me the best parenting advice.

Dead snake
The dead snake, with its head chopped off.
©missykuester.com

 

Keeping with the theme of snakes; listen to one of my boys’ favorite song, Snake Farm. It’s just a fun song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgy7PLAgF-Y

 

USU quad building at sunset

13 truths as you drop your kid off at college

It’s that time of year where kids are graduating from high school. Parents are excited and sentimental. It brings back nostalgic memories of when my oldest son graduated from high school. In the aftermath of graduation, we prepared for him to leave us. He had chosen to attend a college across the country from where we lived.

About that same time, a friend recommended Kami Gilmour’s Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly. https://www.amazon.com/Release-My-Grip-Parent%C2%92s-Heart/dp/1470748479.  It changed the way I looked at this transition. Did I perform it flawlessly? Nope. However, I did learn some truths and I want to pass them onto other parents. Your kid may be transitioning to a job, a trade school, the military, or a traditional 4-year college or even taking a gap year. The letting-go part is the same. Here are some things to keep in mind as you drop your kid off at college as was my case.

13 truths as you drop your kid off at college…

(Why 13? Because a list of 10 seems too predictable.)

  1. Wait until you’re in the car to cry. Crying makes them feel worse and apprehensive. Besides, no kid wants to see his mom cry on the sidewalk.
  2. I text and talk with my son more than when he was under my roof.
  3. They still need you. You’ll find out soon…
  4. You are doing the best thing for them. One day they will return. By giving them the freedom to leave, they will be someone who longs for home instead of someone who longs to run away.
  5. They have the confidence to leave and that means you did such an amazing job of raising them! Applaud yourself!
  6. You are still their mom, that doesn’t change.
  7. One day you will find out that your kid is a pretty cool adult. (My friend Craig kept reminding me of this and it’s true!)
  8. As my son told me, “If you don’t leave, I can’t start my life.” Move out of their way. You’re hindering, not helping.
  9. Kids don’t grow confident by clinging to you, just like a toddler has to let go in order to walk.
  10. What if your parents had never let you go?
  11. As my friend reminded me, I still had people at home counting on me.
  12. Kami Gilmour in her book chides parents for stealing their kids’ joy. This is a joyful time and your resistance to letting them go steals that joy. Stop being selfish!
  13. Lose them now or lose them forever. Some of the best advice came from the ABC show The Goldbergs. (https://abc.com/shows/the-goldbergs). On one episode titled, Graduation Day, the father Murray Goldberg, played by Jeff Garlin is trying to console his wife Beverly played by Wendi McLendon-Covey. The usually cranky Murray has sage advice for his wife when she divulges that she is afraid of losing her daughter when she goes off to college. Murray says to her, “I would rather lose her for four short years than hold her back forever.” I needed to hear that and may you do too.
T waving goodbye
The long wave goodbye
©missykuester.com

There is good news

Do not despair; it’s not all bad news. They eventually come back for visits and all the things that once annoyed you about them are soon forgotten. You start to trust them more. They communicate better, eventually. You might even get a text or phone call full of appreciation. There will be moments of great pride. You never stop worrying but they prove they can be trusted and get themselves out of tough situations. Don’t forget to applaud them and share in their triumphs and joys. One day down the road, you’ll wonder why you worried.

 

This is a song that helped me through the transition of my son leaving home….

This is not Goodbye by Sidewalk Prophets

I can see it in your eyes that you are restless
The time has come for you to leave
It’s so hard to let you go
But in this life, I know you have to be who you were made to be
As you step out on the road I’ll say a prayer
So that in my heart you always will be there
This is not goodbye
I know we’ll meet again
So let your life begin
‘Cause this is not goodbye
It’s just “I love you” to take with you
Until you’re home again

Listen to this song in its entirety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YyIC0RumjQ