Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Yuma Adventures & Celebrating 11 Years of Marriage

Nick and I celebrated our 11 year wedding anniversary on May 31. If you're new this little space of the internet, you can read all about our love story here. Ask anyone who knew either of us 11 years ago if they thought we'd last. People laughed at us and told us we were crazy.
It was hurtful, but I didn't blame them. We barely knew each other when we got married, and statistically speaking, we were doomed. But through each year that passes, I always think to myself, "that's another year down, haters."
If you know us well or have followed this blog for the last decade, you know our struggles well. I've been open and honest about our struggles on here in hopes that others realize that what you see on social media is never the full story. When our marriage was at its' rock bottom, I threatened to leave Nick and move back to Texas with both kids. He was more than willing to buy us a one way plane ticket back to my home state. It was bad. Praise Jesus for my mom who refused to let her 29 year old daughter move back into her house with 2 kids. We were forced to work it out, and neither of us did it quite willingly either. And....

It was a long journey...that included lots of therapy, church counseling, and prayer. I literally had days where I locked myself in my room, fell to my knees, and just sobbed...begging God to just fix my marriage.

But here we are! 11 years later. We still annoy each other some days. There are days that I pick fights just because I'm in a bad mood. We are complete opposites which means it's hard to find things we agree on. But we also have some of the most amazing life adventures together. I thank God every day for the big and little blessings he has given us.

In 11 years, we have:

So much life lived in just 11 years, and I have no doubt the Marine Corps will keep the next chapter of our lives just as full of adventure.

This year, we decided to do a "staycation", and discover some fun things about Yuma together. Yuma is a very small community, and from the outside looking in, there isn't a whole lot to do here. We wanted to stay local and find Yuma's "hidden gems". We got an overnight sitter for our kids (thanks to the Aggie network!), and ventured out to Yuma.

We ended up in downtown Yuma for dinner at a local craft brewery, Prison Hill Brewing Company. They have typical "bar food", which is right up Nick's alley. Give that man a nice burger and sweet potato fries, and you have one happy devildog. It sucks that Nick can't drink beer due to the development of an unfortunate allergy to hops. We still ended up enjoying some really good drinks and food there. The highlight of our meal there was fried avocado. It came with an amazing dipping sauce, and something I'll definitely go back for.
Dowtown Yuma
I had their signature Bloody Mary, and Nick had a jack and coke 
I'm sad I didn't get a photo of the amazing fried avocado, but I did snap a photo of this amazing  Southwest Bandito Salad. What sold me was the roasted poblano pepper (I LOVE Poblano) and the roasted corn it was topped with. It came with a creamy Chipotle dressing that was AMAZING.
Yuma is home to two Indian reservations (the Quechan and the Cocopah reservations), and both reservations have recently opened up a casino and resort. We headed to the Cocopah where Nick booked us a room (the Quechan supposedly is better, but it was completely booked). We figured, since we're in Yuma, we should at least check out a casino and do some legal gambling! Nick and I are NOT gamblers, but we figured it'd be a lot of fun to sit at the penny slots and try our luck. Our room at the casino was really clean, but nothing special. They don't offer room service, or anything you'd expect at a Hilton. It was nice though. The casino is downstairs, and like most casinos, it smelled like cigarettes and booze (gross). We each had $100, and found the penny slots.

The highlight of our night was me winning $400! I NEVER WIN. We cashed out, and decided to call it a night. I don't think hitting up the local casinos here in Yuma will be a regular date night for us, but it was still fun to do together (Yuma bucket list item). I may head back to the Cocopah with my kids one of these days to tour the museum.

The last thing I wanted to do for our anniversary staycation was to hike Telegraph pass together. Telegraph pass is a popular local hiking trail. We've taken our children there plenty of times, but have never made the trek all the way to the top. It's a 5 mile hike, and takes about 3 hours. It's extremely steep, and weren't sure our kids could make it to the top. It was the perfect way to end our staycation in Yuma. We woke up early the next morning, had breakfast at the hotel, and headed to the trail.

Some facts about Telegraph Pass

Because no adventure is complete without an Aggie ring picture
Story about this photo. A random hiker saw us taking this photo on the trail. He ended up following us down the trail. Later that evening, Nick got a random Facebook friend request and a message from the stranger. He had seen Nick's name tape on his camelback, and looked Nick up. He is an Aggie grade stationed here in Yuma, and has kids the same age as ours. Such a small world we live in!

We had so much fun on our little local staycation. The best part was just having that time together to reconnect as a couple without the distractions of our kids.

When people ask us, "What's your secret?", I never have a great answer.

But I will say, the ONLY constant and consistent thing our marriage has always been God. I think there's something to that...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Mom'ing" in the Summer

You know it's summer, because this blog has been neglected. With both kids home all day long, my days seem to leave little to no free time for myself. Even with my days a little busier, I still feel like my kids are having a little too much screen time for my liking. But things like laundry (oh, the never ending laundry) have to get done whether my kids are home all day or not. So some days, I spend 3 hours folding and putting away laundry (I'm not even kidding y'all...3 HOURS), and my kids get a free for all when it comes to screen time. It's called balance, right?

Summer is always an interesting time for a stay at home mom. I feel like it's a true test of our abilities as a mother. Are we truly capable of caring for our school aged children all day long without completely losing our minds? I can answer that for myself. No. I'm not capable.

 I lose my cool with my kids more times in one day than I am willing to admit out loud. I oftentimes find myself at the end of a very long day wishing I would have been a little more "fun", a little more "grace-filled", and wishing I wouldn't have been so hard on my kids. Let's face it though, in the heat of the moment when my kids are fighting with each other, tattling on each other, and whining to me about being hungry or bored or whatever they are, it's really tough for me to not be completely overwhelmed. That's usually when I lose it, and I'm not always proud of it. Praise the Lord for grace and mercy, amiright?

The other day, I did manage to stop myself before saying something unkind to my children. I got in my bathing suit, and just lounged in our pool for 20 minutes while I gathered my thoughts. Once I was calmed down, I felt more in control of my erratic "mom emotions", and in turn was more more pleasant for my kids.
Sometimes, you just need some water, a floppy hat, and some quiet time to gather your thoughts.

Oh yeah, our pool is finally finished! Hallelujah! It literally feels like it took forever, but the pool company finished it just in time for summer. The temperatures are averaging in the 100s these days, so it's a nice reprieve from the heat. It also gets my kids out of the house and off their screens, so that is also a nice added bonus. My backyard is also slowly coming together as a nice place for me to hang out. Shout out to Nick for tirelessly working and building things for me.
I don't want to ever hear from Nick that I don't help maintain the pool...
Not sure if this little boomerang video will even load, but if it does...
I got a TON of compliments on this striped one piece bathing suit. I got it several years ago, and thought I lost it. But through moving and unpacking, it mysteriously appeared out of thin air! These days, I am enjoying rocking a cute one piece more often than a two piece. I'm trying to teach my daughter about modesty, and it's hard to be doing that when mama's hanging out of her bathing suit all the time. 

A few months ago, we got 6 baby chicks that are now hens. We named them Opha Mae, Dixie, Lydi, Kimchi, Presley, and Aggie. One of them (we think its Lydi) laid her first egg this week! We're excited for all of our hens to start laying. We are going to be using the opportunity to teach our kids about entrepreneurship and giving!

This is me and Lydi (the suspected egg layer)

I started a new devotional this week called "Children--A Gift and a Responsibility". It's a free devotional I found on YouVersion, and so far, I am really enjoying it. It literally takes me 5 minutes a day, and let's face it, during these summer months, even just 5 minutes with Jesus can restore your sanity.

There's a lot I need to blog about and catch up on. Nick and I recently celebrated our 11 year anniversary, and got to do some really fun things here in Yuma. I think that's what I'll post about next! Other than that, I hope summer is going well for everyone. I thought I'd end this blog with a quote that I found this week on Facebook that lade me chuckle...

"Don't worry about me. Worry about your eyebrows."

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Growing Up Military & Last Day of 4th Grade Thoughts

Yesterday was Dannika's last day of school...her last day as a 4th grader. Fifth grade feels so much more grown up than 4th grade, and realizing that she'll be 12-13 years old when we PCS from Yuma is so beyond my wildest thoughts. How did my sweet bald baby (that we swore would never grow hair) turn into an almost 10 year old?!

She seriously had NO hair until she was literally 4 years old.
The moment I became a mother, all the "seasoned" parents would cock their head to side, sigh a big sigh, longingly smile, and say, "they grow up so fast, enjoy every moment". It's not that I didn't believe them, but I honestly didn't realize just how fast it would happen. I had Dannika when I was 25 years old. In today's standards, that's actually pretty young. More women are opting to wait to have children to establish careers, buy homes, etc. these days.

Military families tend to be really young. Military life is lonely without a partner to share it with. Because of that, in my experience, I have noticed that marriage and families happen faster than my civilian counterparts (generally speaking).

I thought I was so mature and ahead of my peers at 25 years old, but looking back now, I realize I had no clue what I was doing...or who I was. I was naive (and didn't realize it), and I had a baby to keep alive. Hell...I could barely keep myself alive some days. Praise the Lord for daycare. Ms. Kathi (Dannika's daycare provider) basically made sure Dannika wouldn't end up TOO messed up during that time. I am sure of it. After all, she spent 10-12 hours a day at Ms. Kathi's daycare while I served in the Marines.

I often refer to Dannika as my "Marine life sidekick". She's been through it all with me from the very beginning. When Nick deployed for the first time to Afghanistan, she was only 6 months old. It was just her and me. Nick's first deployment to Afghanistan was rough for me.

He subsequently deployed to Afghanistan one more time when she was 2. Then, when she was 3 years old, Nick got orders to Boston. I was still active duty. and waiting to be discharged. Once again, her and I were solo together without Nick for a year (in Orange County). We've been through a lot together as a mother/daughter duo. I always have a special place in my heart just for Dannika.

I have all sorts of emotions this week. She's starting to enter puberty (insert cry face emoji here), and it scares the ever living hell out of me. I was such an awful preteen, teenager, and adolescent, and I am praying that she is nothing like I was. Someone once told me that motherhood isn't for the faint of heart. I might have laughed to myself when I heard that at first, but as my kids get older and gain more individuality, I am realizing just how true that statement is. I struggle some days with putting ALL my faith in God. I am a control freak by nature, and it's really hard for me to completely surrender to anything, let alone faith. But of course, when motherhood gets really tough, I really have no choice but to surrender. So with we 5th grade...

Dannika started the school year off in College Station, TX. Then we moved here to Yuma, AZ, and enrolled her into the public school that was zoned for our neighborhood. We had come from such an amazing (and high performing) school district that when we came here, she was bored. I'll have to do a blog post in the future about moving around and switching school districts. We looked into other options for her to make sure she would be challenged academically, and found Southwestern Christian School. It has been an amazing fit for her academically, and most importantly, spiritually.

Dream big, sweet girl.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mother's Day Reflections and Postpartum Depression

The response I got from my last post (Peace, Love, & War) was overwhelming. I had so many kind messages from friends, family, and strangers. I had several people message me privately to tell me about their own struggles dealing with a loved one that was struggling with TBI, PTSD, as well as physical ailments. That post did everything I wanted it to and more. I am so proud of Nick for being so brave, and allowing me to share his story with my little corner of the internet.

Mother's day was this past Sunday, and I always do a lot of reflecting on that day. Honestly, I didn't want to be a mother.

I was a Marine, and I had big aspirations of staying in the Marine Corps, and eventually retiring. I felt like children would get in the way of that. When I met Nick, I distinctly remember telling him, "if you want kids one day, then I'm not your girl!" Because I'm so charming and irresistible (kidding), he was ok with that. Except, after we got married, we weren't exactly trying to prevent pregnancy. I even blurted out (after drinking) that I changed my mind and wanted kids. So we did what people do to get pregnant. Then I got pregnant, and I was devastated. I was on recruiting duty at the time, and that duty had no room for motherhood. I was working insane hours, and under a ton of stress. But, Dannika made her appearance in July of 2009.
photography: Melissa Lyn Photography in Temecula, CA
I'd like to tell you a happy baby story of how overwhelmingly joyous our home was with this new baby, but it wasn't. I put up a facade on social media about how "blessed" we were, and how we were so over the moon with our new bundle of joy. In fact, when I go back and read the earlier blog posts from 2009 from when Dannika was born, I feel like such a fraud.

As a Marine, I got 6 weeks of maternity leave, and Nick got a whopping 10 whole days of paternal leave (leave time for both parents is a lot longer now). That first day Nick went back to work, I had a panic attack. Being responsible for taking care of this baby all by myself with no help terrified me. I felt unqualified to be a mom, and was completely overwhelmed. I would impatiently watch the hours go by until Nick would be home. Around 3 in the afternoon, I was flooding Nick's phone with a barrage of texts asking him what time he was leaving work. I know I stressed him out. We were both stressed out, but for very different reasons.
I wasn't cut out for this, and I wasn't sure how I was going to do it. When my 6 weeks of maternity leave came to an end, I experienced another turmoil of emotions. I was happy to be getting back to work, but I was feeling an immense amount of guilt about dropping my 6 week old infant off at daycare. "I'm a terrible mom. What kind of mom drops an infant off with practically a stranger for 10 hours a day?!" While feeling the guilt of dropping my baby off, I was also feeling guilt from feeling happy to get some reprieve from "mommy duties". I felt guilty about being excited to get back to work. It's a lose/lose situation, ladies.

Nick deployed to Afghanistan when Dannika was just 6 months old, and that was just another disaster of a deployment for me.
Dropping Nick off at 2AM at the armory for deployment. I got no good pics. I was a hot sobbing mess.

I managed to survive the 7 months he was gone, but survive is all I did. I was "the worst deployment wife" ever. On the rare occasions that Nick would get to call me, I would just sit on the phone and cry. I'd cry to him about how awful recruiting duty was. I'd cry to him about mom guilt. I'd cry about Dannika. I'd cry about the sleepless nights...the lonely nights. I'd cry to him about everything. This is not what a deployed husband wants to hear from his wife. My eating disorder got out of hand during that deployment. I felt like my life was falling apart, so I decided to control my eating. I counted everything I ate. I was taking laxatives. I was taking diet pills. My OCD was out of control. In fact, when Nick saw me for the first time at his homecoming, he was shocked (not in the best way) at how thin I was.
I was so thin. My hair was actually falling out.
When I look back at that deployment, I feel a lot of guilt for the way I treated Nick.

As any military wife knows, the reintegration after a long separation is almost harder than the actual deployment/separation itself. Having Nick back home just put a band aid on my own issues. After the "honeymoon phase" was over, life kept moving on. My struggles with being a mom was rearing its' ugly head into our marriage. I was also being sexually harassed at work, and trying to navigate the legal aspects of that. The stress of that exacerbated everything else that seemed to be crumbling in my life. I started going to therapy to deal with my panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.
I wish I would have seen a therapist sooner, because I could have gotten the help I needed with PPD sooner. It would have made coping with Nick's deployment and my job so much more manageable. At the time, I blamed everything on recruiting duty and the stresses that came with it. Looking back, my postpartum depression made the stresses of new motherhood, deployment, and work even worse than they already were.

I feel guilty sometimes, because I didn't enjoy motherhood to the fullest extent for the first year and a half of my daughter's life (by no fault of her own). When I look at her today, I am so overwhelmed at how amazing she is. I can't help but thank God for not allowing me to "royally screw her up" (lol...sorta). To know her is to love her. As cliché as that sounds, it's the truth.
Reunited with daddy after 7 long months! She was 6 months old when he left, and 13 months when he came home!
Dannika today.
When it came time for my son to be born, I knew the signs of PPD that I needed to watch out for. My doctor actually recommended that I take antidepressants before his birth since I had a history of PPD. I didn't take them, because I was paranoid about taking medications while pregnant. I should have listened to my doctor though, and taken them. I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps, and was dealing with "transition stress". Adding pregnancy hormones and postpartum hormone fluctuations to that was a disaster. Nick and I had some really big struggles during that time in our marriage. It was a combination of a lot of things, but having a history of anxiety, depression, and PPD, I should have been on medication.

It took a lot of therapy and a whole lot of Jesus to get to where I am today in my life as a wife and a mother. Those times were not good times, and I wanted to give up a lot. Nick and I almost separated during that time.
My mom (God bless her) wouldn't let me, and basically forced me to stay and work it out. That experience (as awful as it was) really strengthened my faith. When you hit rock bottom, and have nothing else to cling to, Jesus is always there. I'm a better mom today because of it. I post all the good stuff on my social media of my kids and my family. I like to document the happy times. Someone told me that social media is like scrapbooking. You don't put the ugly photos in a scrapbook. I hope people see through my blog that our happiness has not come without a lot of struggles, a lot of rock bottoms, and a lot of redemption. We have our days still, but they haven't been quite as bad as in the past. I'm sure rough days are ahead, but for now, I choose joy. I choose to live in the moment, and enjoy all that motherhood brings me.

Mother's Day 2019

And just for good measure, here's a newborn photo of my second baby...Mattis Mark Vincent

photography: Rebecca Deaton Photography of Natick, MA

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Peace, Love, & War

In Nick's 18 years of service, his toughest deployment has been the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004. The Battle of Fallujah is an iconic battle in the post 9-11 era, and was considered one of the biggest urban battles since the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam. In 11 years of marriage, Nick has rarely opened up to me about his experiences in Fallujah. I've been careful not to pry, and have just let him share what he wants when he feels comfortable. It doesn't mean I don't have a million burning questions. I've tried to dig through his things to get some sort of inkling of what he saw and experienced. He was awarded a Navy Achievement Medal (NAM) for his actions in Fallujah with a "V" device for Valor. I also have a Navy Achievement Medal, but mine does not have a device for valor because it was not earned in combat. I got mine for being my recruiting station's "Rookie Recruiter of the Year" (just to give y'all some context to the award). I've asked a few times throughout our marriage how he got his "V" on his NAM, but he usually beats around the bush, and doesn't give me a straight answer. I stopped asking, because he clearly is uncomfortable with the question. I used to take that pretty hard.

I held that inside of me while silently having my feelings hurt, because I wanted to respect him.

For the last 11 years of our marriage, I have watched Nick's health deteriorate slowly. First it was a little back pain that turned into a big back pain. Neck pain. Limbs going numb. Migraines. A little sleeplessness turned into full blown insomnia. Hearing loss and severe tinnitus (if y'all didn't know already, he wears hearing aids). With all of these health issues comes irritability, some depression (which he has not been diagnosed with...I am just assuming), and a lot of frustration. Nick hides it very well. No one would know all of these issues that he deals with on a constant basis.

The pills either make him feel worse or don't help him at all. I have changed our family's eating habits and lifestyle to try and alleviate some of his discomfort. It has helped a little, but not a whole lot.

In the last year, Nick has really started to take his health a little more seriously. He is close to retirement. After watching all the hassle I went through to get my benefits through the VA, he knew he needed to really start documenting his health issues. Documentation is EVERYTHING when it comes to the VA and getting benefits. If you just show up at your exit physical complaining of all sorts of medical issues, the first question they ask is, "where is your documentation?". He also began to go see "the wizard" all on his own. The wizard is a term that some Marines use to call a therapist. I have asked him to go see a therapist several times, and I always got the typical answer...

So when he told me that he had started to go see "the wizard", I was genuinely shocked and so giddy inside. I tried not to be weird about it though (which I probably was), and thanked God for answering my prayers. I know that there is still a lot of healing that needs to happen, and I am grateful that he's taken a proactive step towards that.

I finally felt peace as far as Nick and his experiences in combat. Up until now, I felt so "in the dark" about everything. Because he didn't want to talk to me about it, I didn't know how I could help him. Knowing that he was talking to someone (a professional!) about it put my soul at ease. 

Several months later, Nick and I were getting ready for bed, and he casually mentioned to me, "so, I turned in all my paperwork for a Purple Heart." I stopped what I was doing, and had to ask again, "a what?! You were injured in combat??? When? How?" I had so many questions running through my head. 

He told me how he was injured, and explained why he chose now to finally put the documentation in for his Purple Heart. He posted this on Facebook:

"You can’t prepare yourself for everything. No congratulations needed. 14 years have passed since we were in Fallujah. The scenario was about as kinetic as it could have been. Enemy fighters were trying to push out of the city to escape the tanks, troop carriers and the Marines that were moving in quickly behind them as they cleared house to house just like the did through Hue city in Vietnam. Our job was not as dangerous as that but just as important as we established our blocking positions near the cloverleaf to prevent anyone from leaving the city and to provide safe passage for the Maine effort as they moved into their attack positions. The only protection we had was from the guard rails in front of our vehicles and minimal micro terrain. The enemy attempted to soften our position with rockets, small arms fire, and mortars. While I was moving between vehicles I was caught in it and I don't understand how I came out of it with all of my limbs and only received some secondary shrapnel and a concussion from the incoming mortars and rockets. I have kept this mostly to myself and between me and some very close friends. I didn’t burden my family with any of the details of that night or any other night. Today I received a Purple Heart from that night. The only thing I can say is it is an honor and privilege to wear it for those who no longer have the means and a burden to bare until the next life. I am honored and sad. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how I feel. Maybe at peace. Semper Fi. I wear this for you Vincent Bell, Louie Cardin, Benito Aguilar, Jordan Stanton, Donald Hogan, Andrew Brownfield and the hundreds who made the ultimate sacrifice. Rest easy and we will remember you always. Thanks to Hana and the kids for keeping me grounded and forgiving me for everything and to my close friends who always lifted me back up."

Nick was officially diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI). It was finally an explanation for all his health problems and symptoms he has been experiencing for all these years. He's been given a referral the the TBI clinic at Camp Pendleton, and we are so grateful. They have one of the most state of the art TBI clinics in the nation. It's truly a blessing.

His Purple Heart was approved, and his long overdue Purple Heart ceremony was last Thursday. He didn't want a ceremony. He actually told his XO, that he would be totally ok with him just putting it on his desk when it comes in. I wouldn't stand for that. Not after all that we have been through as a family. I also know his unit would not let him just have it "put on his desk". The Purple Heart is weird in the fact that it's an "award", but not one you can really earn on your own merit. I know several Purple Heart recipients have told me that they feel guilty wearing it, because many of the service members who got the same award didn't make it home alive. I see it as a symbol of sacrifice, and I am really proud of Nick.  

Here are some photos I managed to snap with my iPhone from his ceremony. Someone took some nicer photos, but I don't have those (obviously). Nick felt really weird that people wanted photos with him, but oh well...

This is Nick with two other 2ndLts that he went to TBS with. 

I know this post is long. If you made it down here, have too much time on your hands and need to find a hobby (kidding...maybe). It was actually way longer, but I condensed it and took a lot of details out. I guess if you really want to know more, you can ask me! I really wanted to share a little part of Nick's story, and our family's journey. Like I mentioned before, I asked Nick if he was ok with me sharing this. I know it's very vulnerable for him. I'm a very open person on social media, and on this blog, but when it comes to sensitive or personal matters that involve my family, I always ask before I post. The biggest thing is, we just want other families who are dealing with combat trauma and the wounds of war to know that they're not alone. 

Instagram: @semperagblog