Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gold Star Mother’s Day


Today is Gold Star Mother’s Day- you probably didn’t know that. It’s not on your little Hallmark Calendar- or probably any other calendar you have lying around the house or office.  The last Sunday of September has been Gold Star Mother’s Day since June 23rd 1936. This year- and almost every year as long as I have been reading newspapers, there is little or no coverage. There was no big write up in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Huntington Post, the Boston Globe or any other major news group in America.

The White House posted a proclamation by President Obama.

The first Gold Star Mother I met was in 2004. Diane, the Mother of Travis Layfield. Travis was from the city I lived in and Nick knew him, though not well. Nick was still a boot at SOI in Camp Pendleton and I felt it was my duty as a Marine Mom to represent Nick and I at the candlelight memorial being held for Travis at his high school.

LCpl. Travis Layfield
I stood there, inconsolable, sobbing hysterically. A Marine standing next to me asked me if I was family. “No. I’m a Marine Mom.” He nodded his head, maybe hoping his mom was stronger than this woman standing next to him was.  Later I hugged Diane. I told her how sorry I was. I had no words of wisdom for her. I just knew I never wanted to be in her shoes.

That was the last Marine’s memorial I attended, but sadly, not the last Gold Star Mother I met. Later at Marine Parents’ conferences, I met many others - too many. I marveled at their grace. Though I could tell some were angry, some were broken; some were motivated to carry on.  All of them had broken hearts.

Sometimes I found it hard to look them in the eye. Hard- but I still did it. What I have realized over the last 9 years, is that people don’t really want to be reminded of the lives lost at war. Not even the mothers of active duty Marine’s, soldiers, sailors and airmen. The combination of survivor’s guilt and fear that you will one day be in their shoes is too much for most of us. We avoid it like a horrible plague.  

Sometimes I think Americans are an ungrateful lot. It seems like we should be doing more for our Gold Star Families. (And our active duty and veteran members of the service for that matter.)  And I admit, I could have done more, but fear kept me from getting too close to that group. I did not want to become a member of that club.

I googled Gold Star Mother’s Day, last night and found out there were no articles in any major news group. I did it again today- still no articles. Next year there will be articles- I’m going to start sending them in now. I’m a little late in my gratitude, but I’ll do what I can to make up for it.

Meanwhile, if you happen to run across a Gold Star Family- look them in the eye. Say thank you for your sacrifice. Take a minute from your busy day to let them tell you about their son or daughter who gave their all, for the United States of America. 

I found this prayer on one of Travis' many tribute walls. I think it is fitting for today. 

Anywhere is the Center of the World

Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy...
But anywhere is the center of the world.

Black Elk (Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crazy Days- Parental Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

My phone went off at 11:12 last night- just as I was drifting into REM sleep. I looked at the screen and Nick’s name and number staring back at me. In the one-second that it took me to pick up the phone and hit the answer button, my heart raced and every terrible thought that could squeeze into that time frame, did so.

I hit answer, heard a strange echo noise, and instantly I was thrown back in time to satellite phone calls and sometimes mortars in the background, a 2-5 second delay. Nick? Nick? Nick? No answer…fear racing though my veins like ice water. Time stopping.

Wait. He’s not in Iraq anymore. He’s been home for 5 years.

This is my self-diagnosed Secondary or “Parental” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Five years later, I still have heart palpitations when I get a late night call. Anxiety attacks when I haven’t heard from him for more that a week. Even though I know he was getting off work around 11PM and even though I know, he is not in Iraq... I sort of live with this constant underlying fear.

I stayed on the phone repeating his name longer than I should have. Listening, making sure he wasn’t being mugged. It was a butt dial. He didn’t mean to call me. I text’d him just to make sure. “I think you butt dialed me.”  “I did, sorry.” “No prob. xox nite.”
“Goodnight mom, Xo”.

It took me 2 hours to go back to sleep.

I know all parents have this to some extent. We all fear that middle of the night call. It can never be good news. An accident, jail, sick… it’s never a call at 3 AM to just say I love you. 

If I were the only Marine parent that had this disorder, I would probably keep it to myself. The truth is though-- I started seeing this pattern amongst us during their deployments five years ago. Our inability to turn the car that last corner to our block, for fear the US Marines were parked out in front, delivering the news. Bad news.  Months of sleeplessness, night after night lying awake, waiting for a call, an email or instant message. Killing ourselves with good karma, buying brownie points with God, bartering our souls. I swear to you God, I will never ask another thing of you. Never.

Mood swings, depression, anger, confusion, memory loss, are all part of the deal. And when it didn’t go away after one year, or two years, I knew we had ourselves an issue. It’s a bona fide disorder, which almost no one knows about.

Five years later-- the symptoms remain the same. Everything is magnified. I remember that first few weeks when Nick got back from Iraq and I wrote “Please Tie Your Shoes” an essay about how even though he was home I was still going to worry. Little did I know. So little.  

I’m sure I drive my son crazy. I study him as if he’s the statue of David by Michelangelo. Like he is this amazing work of art and I am looking for flaws, the pieces chipped away by time or vandalism. Like a mother gorilla, sometimes, I want to groom him. Make sure he’s clean and presentable. And maybe smack him a little in the process – for good measure.   I always ask “How are you doing?”  He knows what I mean. Sometimes I get a straight answer. Sometimes he just walks away from me. I abhor smother mothers and yet, I have become one.

I took anti anxiety pills for a short time, but I don’t like to take drugs so I toughed it out as much as I could. Still, I have days when my heart races and I feel sick to my stomach. I have to reel myself in and understand what is going on so I can function. Many of my Marine parent friends have these same symptoms.

I remember when Nick was actually in Iraq, I went to the doctor for some stress related thing. She asked me what was going on and I burst into tears and told her. She put down her chart, stood up and gave me a hug. A good hug, the kind a mom gives her kid when they really, really need a hug. Then she wrote a prescription for sleeping pills and Xanax. If only hugs worked.

I wish a hug could fix PTSD and P-PTSD. I wish I could hug my kid every day before he walks out his door- but he’s all grown up- and while he still gets a good hug from me when I see him, an everyday hug from mom is no longer an option. I wonder if he has noticed, when I do get a hug from him, I hang on a second longer than I ever did before.

Intellectually, I know that PTSD is the direct result of a traumatic experience. And we parents, while traumatized by months on end of worry and fear, do not witness our buddies being blown up, or have sniper bullets whizzing past our heads, or mortars going off 30 feet from where we are sleeping. For us it’s a direct result of knowing that your child is in harms way for months on end and you can’t help. You can’t do anything about it.  All the praying in the world barely makes a dent in the fear. Pride is not enough to sustain bravery. We run on fear.

I feel bound to understand this because I want to help bring recognition to it whatever “it” is - and because I would like to help other people who think they have lost their mind-all due to fear.

I need to tell myself the next time the phone rings after 11PM- while I am still in partial slumber, It’s probably a butt dial. Take a deep breath. Because even if it’s bad news, I’ll need to take action. Being paralyzed with fear won’t help a soul.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why I am Voting For Barack Obama

Most of my friends and some of my family are Republicans.  But, I am an Independent voter. I always vote for the person, not the party. And I usually don’t share my politics with the world, because I hate the ensuing arguments. But this time, I think it’s important. I want you to know how I came to this decision. How much homework I really did.  I want you to know I have been fact checking for 4 years and that I have taken nothing anyone said at face value.

Last presidential election I did not vote for Barack Obama. I supported Rudy Guiliani. I voted for John McCain (by default) simply because I thought his experience in war and with foreign policy surpassed Barack Obama’s. The war on terror, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan were my big issues at the time. Bigger than the financial crisis looming on the horizon- bigger than anything.

When I watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in 2008, I cried. I imagined the pride the blacks across the country must have felt. I was proud of America too. For not letting race stand in the way. Well- some didn’t anyway.  

The hate grew. Over the course of the last 4 years, I have heard the vilest things come out of people’s mouths about the President, and those horrible words have actually pushed me into his corner. If you know me then you know having me as an ally is s good thing. I am loyal and true and I will back you up with everything I have. So here I am. Voting for Barack Obama in 2012.  And here is who you can thank for that.

The Birthers, The Tea Party, The Conspiracy Theorists, The Bigots, The Zealots, The Christian Coalition all of whom would turn back the clock and burn free-thinking people like me at the stake if they could. Some people are so ignorant (like Birther’s) they would believe lie after lie, even though the truth is right in front of them.

The issues are important to me. Chances are, at 60 years old, I will not be getting pregnant any time in the future. But if I did, I would want to be able to decide if I could terminate the pregnancy or not. My body- my decision. I have never wanted and certainly don’t want now- anyone telling me what I can do with my body or turning back the clock on civil rights, civil liberties, and basic compassion for people of all ethnic origins and sexual orientation.

I have always been an independent person. My mom used to say I was the first women’s libber she ever met. But, I was never really a women’s libber, I was always more concerned about my personal freedom and not too wrapped up in the needs of all. A Katie’s libber is what I was.

Now, I feel compelled to make a case for voting Democratic. Or voting anti hate.  That’s what I am doing. The hate has worn me down. The people that have taken on the hate rants have turned my stomach. The people that have called the President of the United States a nigger, a monkey, a socialist, a radical, un-American, anti-American, elitist and so on and so forth. They have made my mind up for me. I am now deaf to their hateful noise.

I was worried that Barack Obama didn’t have military or foreign relations experience in 2008. Now I know- he has gained both of those things 10 fold. While he never served in the military, he is willing to listen to those who do- and those who have. When he ramped up the troops in Afghanistan, it surprised me. That fact that he continues to look for better ways to deal with Arab nations and the far-reaching pockets of terrorism around the world can only be viewed as intelligent.

For everyone that calls Obama a socialist- let me ask you this. Do you collect Social Security? Do you collect Permanent Disability?  Have you ever collected Unemployment wages? Are you enrolled in Medicare or any other government based medical care? Then you are a socialist. Did you go to public school? Socialist. Enjoy public parks? Socialist. Socialism refers to State Ownership. A truly socialist state would be one where the government owns and operates the means of production.
Is it a bad thing to want to see old people or sick people taken care of?  It is a bad thing to want to help people help themselves?  The United States has always embraced social welfare. It is not a new concept that came in with Barack Obama.

I watched both conventions, and heard many of the speeches. I heard Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Ann. Romney, Julian Castro, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Barack Obama. I kept an open mind- though admittedly- it’s difficult when I already knew I was at odds with Republicans on some of the issues. Mitt had a small chance with me before he chose Ryan as a running mate- but the minute I learned what Ryan was about, (I had to read up because I didn’t know who he was)  my Katie’s Libber kicked in.

I liked Barack Obama’s speech; I didn’t feel manipulated by his words. It wasn’t over the top. It wasn’t full of pregnant pauses and coy looks. It was in my opinion humble and hopeful. And hope is a good thing. Without hope, we are nothing. Without education we are nothing in this global society, without the ability to stay healthy and productive- there is no hope. 

Also- It would be incredibly simplistic to say that the problems that plague the U.S. at this time could be cured in 4 years.  I have to agree with President Clinton on that one. And the way I see it by voting another new guy (with no experience) in we would face another 4 year learning curve.

Then of course, no one gives a speech like Bill Clinton. I know Republicans that wish he were running again. If I was short on hope before his speech- I was full up afterwards.

I don’t hate Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or any politician really. There are some I dislike, but not enough to spend time writing about them. I actually do believe that most of the people that serve the nation in some capacity love their nation and do what they think is right. I respect that.

In the end - it’s the lack of hate and abundance of hope that has won me over to the Barack Obama camp. I just can’t see anything good coming from so much hate.  

I think it’s important to note that extremism on either side of the political spectrum is distasteful to me. Extremism creates more problems than it solves. It’s almost never based on facts- but instead emotion. Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Moore and their ilk, are conspiracy theory nuts who really don’t like America. They make mainstream democrats look bad. I wish they would go away- They are incredibly angry people- and they are angry about made up stuff, which is scary to me.

I’ve been called a bleeding heart liberal because I believe in things like affordable medical care, equal pay and equal rights for ALL. I never used to be- but maybe with age I have become more compassionate and lean towards liberalism. Maybe with age I have become less about my own interests and more about how to leave this world for future generations. Fairly recently I started really caring about recycling, the air we breathe, the fuel we use and all the things that might not change in my lifetime- but maybe I can help make better for future generations. Just recently, I started believing that there is a better way to solve problems then by going to war and blowing up our own kids and the sons and daughters of other countries, in name of freedom.

 I care about our troops more than I can say and those of you that know me know that is the truth. But I want them to have the very best chance to stay alive and in one piece. I want every effort made to avoid more military casualties. I have seen too many DOD releases in the past 11 years. Too many Gold Star Families and too many men and women have lost limbs, sight, hearing and mental capacities. For every wounded warrior success story, there are 50 more that have not done well, that may never be able to function in this world again. What good is freedom, if no one is left to exercise it?  

Just recently- I feel enlightened. Better late than never they say.  

Maybe your vote will cancel out my vote. (and visa versa) But I am voting for the future, for women and men of all sexual orientation, for all races, creeds and religions.  I am voting for education, I am voting generations to come. I’m voting for a better world. I am voting for hope and humanity.