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January 29, 2008

Sometimes You're The Windshield...

Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you're gonna lose it all

You gotta know happy - you gotta know glad
Because you're gonna know lonely
And you're gonna know sad
When you're rippin' and you're ridin'
And you're coming on strong
You start slippin' and slidin'
And it all goes wrong because

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're just a fool in love

A while back, SpouseBUZZ hosted a terrific series of discussions about the role of government in mitigating the stress of deployments on military families. In many ways, the discussion typified what I love most about the Internet: its amazing ability to connect like minded people. Over the past four years I've met so many fantastic and energetic people through blogging. They've enriched my life in ways to numerous to list here.

I was reminded of that discussion because this weekend, in many ways, turned out to be a microcosm of the challenges and emotions encountered by military families during a typical deployment. Within the space of a few short days, I found myself experiencing the satisfaction of taking on a challenge and overcoming it, pride, joy in giving back (if only in a small way) to my own community, the fun of meeting other military family members, a touch of sadness, a moment of despair and even self-pity, a stab of panic.

For a moment, I felt like I was completely alone and not even the dog loved me :p

I experienced total exhaustion. I got through the work day, and then I just broke down and cried like a baby. I don't do that very often. My dog woke up and came over to sit in my lap.

I took a bubble bath. Bubble baths and a conversation with a dear friend will fix anything.

It all started on Saturday morning with the blog princess deciding to play Mrs. Fixit:

While Hillary Clinton attempts to storm the Oval Office, some of her less renowned sisters are busy liberating one of the few other remaining male strongholds: the hardware store. Strange as it sounds in a country still steeped in Tim Allen reruns, gals are becoming fix-it guys. And at least in some places tools are replacing brass-studded leather totes as the newest female life-style accessory.

The home-improvement industry has always been a no-woman's land known for its drab aisles lined with nail bins and mysterious steel objects whose purpose was understood only by grunting guys in flannel shirts. Now it is going designer pink. Companies such as Tomboy Tools, Barbara K Enterprises and Girlgear Industries are offering the female do-it-yourselfer fabulous pink hammers and saws in stores and on the Web. These items usually fit snugly inside a smart satchel of the same hue, the tool box as it might be interpreted by Sarah Jessica Parker. Tomboy Trades, a Canadian concern, has also recently introduced adorable pink work boots; they also come in stylish, but less assertively girly, red, blue and green. Pink or blue, these boots are made for workin'.

There has been an explosion of womantargeted self-help books, videos, radio shows (including one called "A Repair to Remember"), TV spots and home-improvement Web sites. Some sites -- including bejane.com and toolgirl.com -- are specifically for women, while others offer female-friendly links and columns. Home Depot has introduced "Do It Herself" clinics for women interested in learning how to use a stud finder; the classes are evidently a success since, as NPR has reported, in some locales the store is becoming known as a hot singles spot. Even schoolgirls are joining the revolution. The Girl Scouts now offer a Ms. Fix-It badge for members eager to learn how to rewire a lamp or fix a leaky toilet, and an outfit called Vermont Work for Women has introduced a summer program called Rosie's (as in Rosie the Riveter) Girls promising "hands on instruction in the skilled trades."

The Princess differs in one important respect from this model: NO PINK TOOLS! She abhors pink. Craftsman tools only, please. But she has been diligently working on our basement all year. This is a task of Herculean proportions; something on the level of cleaning out the Augean stables. Over the years the Spousal Unit and I have somehow accumulated not only the fruits of our joint labors, but the cast offs of two sets of deceased grandparents, both sets of in-laws, and our supposedly grown progeny. Consequently, the floor of our entire unfinished basement, when the Unit left for Baghdad last winter, was completely covered with packed boxes we had no room for in our much-smaller house plus a great deal of furniture there's no room for upstairs. My mission: create some order out of this mess or get rid of it.

I set off for Costco and the hardware store in my trusty Mazda CX7, first scoring a sexy rolling tool chest for my husband on legs that I'd been eyeing for some time. Took some doing to wrestle it into the car. Nearly broke my back, but eventually I got that done. Off to Target to buy these Rubbermaid shelf/drawer/cabinet units I'd seen the last week, plus a golf bag rack and a laundry separator and some other Necessary Items. As the Princess left Target with boxes neatly stacked (she kids you not) nearly 9 feet high on top of her one cart, people turned to stare at her in the parking lot. But the boxes are heavy and what's more important, they're scientifically stacked. Also they are the same size so she's confident (!) they won't fall on her curly little head and squish her like a bug.

I get to my car without dying. This elderly black gentleman eyes me quizzically and offers to help me load my car, after watching me ungracefully wrestle the boxes off the cart. Reluctantly, after realizing I don't have the upper body strength to lever the heaviest box into the front seat diagonally by myself, I gratefully thank him.

It won't fit...by 1/2 inch. I realize I have to completely unpack the back and start over, so I grovel profusely, send him on his way with my thanks, and start over. 5 minutes later I'm on my way home. There is no oxygen in the car as every spare inch is taken up by boxes.

I get home, somehow manage to get everything but the tool cart into the house, and collapse. Put a movie in. Four hours and two movies later, my living room is a disaster but everything is assembled. I check my email and there's a message from my husband. I spend an hour on the phone with him and go to bed at about 1:30.

Sunday morning: I wake up feeling like someone has beaten me to death with a baseball bat. I have a few hours to make finger foods for the Marine Moms Bethesda luncheon at Bethesda Naval Hospital. I slam down a pile of pills and several cups of coffee and get to work, then run out the door and begin my usual driving-like-a-bat-out-of-Hell-down-270 routine.

The luncheon is wonderful. The Marine moms are like a well oiled machine - poetry in motion. The theme is football, and these ladies have every detail nailed down. They are making fruit smoothies for the vets and people are popping in (both the vets and the hospital staff) asking about them. Obviously the word has gotten out that the smoothies are the shnizzle.

mmb.jpgThe families are visibly touched that anyone cares enough to do this for them. I am humbled by the amount of love and care these ladies put into these luncheons. I don't have the pictures from this month's luncheon, but this will give you an idea of how professional they look. Every vet and family got a personalized gift bag and T-shirt. There were even some cosmetic goodies for the wives. One very young wife, whose husband couldn't walk down to get a plate, just kept saying "I can't believe you all are doing this - thanks".

I would have driven twice the distance, just for that. These ladies are absolutely awesome - definitely the high point of my weekend.

Got home. Worked some more on the basement. More assembling of things I bought on the way home.

Wrestled the cabinets, etc into the basement. Started loading things into them. 10 pm, walked into the far corner of the basement to get a screwdriver. There is an inch and a half of water on the floor back there. And in all three toolboxes I was planning on loading into the brand new toolcart I just assembled. The water has been there a while, I think. I never go back there because that entire part of the basement is filled with heavy, stacked boxes and furniture.


I get a plastic bin and put it under the pipe, then grab hold of the pipe directly above the stacked boxes to try and figure out where the leak is coming from and turn off the water. As soon as I try to turn the handle, water starts spraying out onto my face and clothes at about 3 times the rate it was before.

Wunderbar. This is the fear and loathing part of the weekend :p We'll just skip this part, and the toxic mold cleanup part.

The thing is, reading the conversation over at SpouseBUZZ, I do get aggravated. The water got turned off, the mess got cleaned up. Eventually I got into bed. I had a good cry the next night after the crisis was all over, and a bubble bath. Emailed my husband the next morning after I'd gotten ahold of a plumber and I had something good to tell him and we had a good laugh about it.

And to tell you the truth, there was a moment, about 2 am that morning when I had been hauling moldy wet boxes around a dark cold basement for several hours, when I felt a bit sorry for myself. But if you really want to put all of this into its proper context, I could have had a weekend like MaryAnn's. The thing is though, I didn't:

The Fisher House is dark and silent except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. She sits at the table with her coat on, and stares into nothingness.

It’s been several hours since we’ve met. Hours of small talk, of calls to home, and of sitting with her son. Hours of waiting, knowing each moment with him could be her last.

The papers have been signed, the registry’s been notified, the allocation process has begun.

It’s only a matter of time.

“He looks just like he’s sleeping”, she says. “Like he could open up his eyes any minute and say ‘Hey, Mom’”.

Elsewhere, surgeons are making evaluations, patients are being notified, families are making their way to other hospitals.

One family’s tragedy is the hope of others.

The first surgical team arrives.

It’s time.

As time for this family runs out, other families are being given more of it, this most precious gift.

She’s told she can send something into the OR with him. A personal item perhaps?

She looks at the rings on her hands and seems uncertain....

While I was feeling sorry for myself, a woman I've never met had the incredible grace to pause in the midst of numbing grief to give the most priceless gift of all.

The gift of life. And half a world away, in another time zone, I was given the priceless gift of perspective. So that unknown woman was doubly generous.

Somehow, I still don't think the answer is to have government get involved in our problems. I think the answer is not to let the everyday problems overwhelm us. Because the down moments of deployment: the occasional loneliness, the ache of separation, the fear of losing a loved one to death, or injury, or disfigurement, are all reminders of just how much we have to lose.

But viewed another way, we can't lose what we never had, can we? These feelings we bemoan are poignant reminders of how very much we have been given; of how very lucky we have been in life. Because it could have so easily been otherwise.

If only we could keep hold of that thought.

Posted by Cassandra at January 29, 2008 07:51 AM

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If I know one thing in this world, it is that the dog will ALWAYS love you. Bless their fuzzy little hearts.

Posted by: MikeD at January 29, 2008 10:45 AM

My experience is that government is virtually never the source of perspective. Occasionally, government employees, your husband and the rest of them in harm's way, do provide an unique opportunity to acquire perspective.

I can say without reservation that I have made more personal progress toward this perspective (enlightenment?) because of my interactions with Marines, paratroopers, and so forth over the past few years.....usually through email and snail mail. To be sure, the daily aggravations of life remain. How one chooses to deal with them is what rubbing shoulders (at least electronically) with the aforementioned government employees affects. Email from a 20-year old LCpl who is thrilled with the contents of a package from a stranger does more for perspective than all the speeches, 'ideas,' photo-ops, etc. involving members of the legislative branch.

As sorry as I am about your plumbing disaster, it is nice to know others have had a similar epiphany of sorts.....all, it seems, involving camo.

Posted by: Robert A. Connolly at January 29, 2008 11:02 AM

Well, the other thing I kept thinking was that this would have been just as aggravating (if not more so) with my husband at home. Except then, he would have had to deal with it, too, and both of us would have been miserable and cranky :p

Except for one or two moments, there really was not that much difference between having it happen with him home, or him gone. Either way, it kind of sucks :p In the end I was kind of glad that he did not have to deal with it and then get up at 4 am and go to work, especially since I was up until 3 moving wet boxes!

Also I am thinking the guilt sex will be memorable when he gets back.

Posted by: I *so* did not say that... at January 29, 2008 11:16 AM

And Mike, you're right on the dog thing.

He has amazed me. I don't cry very often, but no matter where he is in the house he will even wake up out of a dead sleep if I start sniffling and come in to see what is the matter with me. And he won't leave me alone - he insists on getting into my lap.

He is a very gentle dog, when he is not out terrorizing bugs and squirrels and earthworms.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2008 11:19 AM

Rare are the times I disagree with your choice of lyrics, my friend, but something tells me that the Unit is thinking more along these lines than those associated with "...the guilt sex ...". And one of the main reasons why is because, you know what it takes sometimes to simply Stand.

Posted by: Sly2017 at January 29, 2008 02:52 PM

So sorry you had such a challenging weekend (I Knew you needed that hug!).

As far as the post... Bravo, Cassie. Beautiful post, particularly the last few paragraphs.

Posted by: FbL at January 29, 2008 03:52 PM

Hey gal.

I am getting very fond of Rascal Flatts :p And I'm laughing now, Fbl. Life's little hassles have a way of turning into funny stories, viewed through the rear view mirror.

'Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of

...You get mad, you get strong
Wipe your hands, shake it off

Then you stand.

Every time you get up and get back in the race
One more small piece of you starts to fall into place

Truer words...

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2008 04:02 PM

But viewed another way, we can't lose what we never had, can we?

Exactly. It's the same concept Don Brouhaha so eloquently described when writing about Mike Gabel's girlfriend Amy.

And you know what? The visual of you dripping wet from the water spraying out of the broken pipe is also a priceless thing. It's life! Isn't it wonderful?

Posted by: MaryAnn at January 29, 2008 04:37 PM

I am afraid that I said some very bad words...

I told Carrie, it was pretty funny. I ran upstairs to get packing tape to wrap the pipe so it wouldn't spray in my eyes anymore. Worked pretty well. Didn't stop the leak (obviously) but at least I could see what I was doing well enough to get the water turned off finally.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2008 04:46 PM

Potty mouth. Man, I'm glad I don't use *those* words.


Posted by: Sly2017 at January 29, 2008 05:11 PM

Toi, Sly? Impossible!

Posted by: MaryAnn at January 29, 2008 05:51 PM

"The visual of you dripping wet from the water spraying out..."

*Waiting for incoming JHD commentary*


Posted by: Sly2017 at January 29, 2008 06:20 PM

Sly's right about JHD commentary. That was my first thougth, and I am very surprised to not see such a comment as I read to the end so far.

'Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of

Every time you get up and get back in the race
One more small piece of you starts to fall into place

So true. Wish I could do it with as much grace and grit as you. Bravo for everything you do/conquer, girl.

Posted by: FbL at January 29, 2008 07:43 PM

Fbl, I was laughing at myself, too :) You should have seen me the other night. I fell down and almost killed myself just before I found the water leak. It was not one of my more 'graceful' moments. I am such a dork sometimes.

Dave Barry had a great phrase once - something about a man in a relationship being like an ant on a monster truck tire.

That's what people are like when they are in the middle of daily events. Small annoyances like a stupid water pipe bursting, if you're tired, can seem much more serious than they really are... until you stop and consider the bigger picture.

I have a lot to live up to in my friends, that's all.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2008 08:01 PM

"If only we could keep hold of that thought."

If only, yes...but our little lives get in the way, sometimes.

As sorry as I am about your plumbing disaster, it is nice to know others have had a similar epiphany of sorts.....all, it seems, involving camo.
Posted by: Robert A. Connolly at January 29, 2008 11:02 AM

Hey! Not me; I wasn't even there...

Posted by: camojack at January 30, 2008 01:32 AM

Nay Nay Nadine! Not gonna' comment on it. I'm still smarting from the castigating I got from the capri pants and pink socks. I felt so much like a... a.... eunuch! Well, castigating isn't as bad as castrating I guess! ;-)

I must admit though, the thought of Cassie running wild in a wet t-shirt is pleasantly... uh.... hmmmm ....


ruh-roh! :-o

Posted by: JHD at January 30, 2008 09:16 AM

> I felt like I was completely alone and not even the dog loved me

Foo, girl! Do you realize what kind of a complete shit you have to be for a *dog* to not love you?

You have to always have enough evidence that, at all times, and all circumstances, you ain't that much of a shit.



Posted by: obloodyhell at January 30, 2008 05:07 PM

"Home Depot has introduced "Do It Herself" clinics for women interested in learning how to use a stud finder."

Ummm...yes. I can't believe this line wasn't snarked to death.

Dogs are truly a gift from Above.

I am so glad that you were able to attend and that it lifted your spirits.

Thank YOU, Cass.

Posted by: Cricket at January 31, 2008 07:37 PM