God knows I can not help it.
PCS'ing for a person like me... sucks so bad. PCS is a Permanent Change of Station in Army lingo, but I just call it: schlepping all of your stuff from one part of the world to another whenever the Army tells you to and as many times as the Army tells you to. And I feel like I can confidently say "sucks" after three schleps, one of which was international.
The Army might try to argue that an ambulance ride and a hospital stay is not part of the PCS process they plan for families, but I would tell them that they don't know me and to stop trying to live my life for me.
It all started in Fort Lee, Virginia, and that god forsaken house.
The house that we lived in had problems from the start; some big, some small, but every day that we lived there we were dealing with some sort of issue that affected the way we lived. I could roll my eyes and brush most things off knowing that we were only going to be in that stupid house for a short time, but never once did I feel at home in it. I was never settled, and never comfortable. For me, it's crucial that I have a space to go to where I can recharge my batteries - unwind, de-stress, tune out the world, let my gut hang out where there isn't a soul who will judge me for it - and that was really hard to do in a house that was falling apart and smelled funny.
But the house didn't ruin everything about Fort Lee for us. Leaving Fort Lee was a lot harder than I thought it would be when we first arrived 6 months before. Life there was good to us, but even so, we were beyond ready to start the next chapter of our lives, and desperate to feel settled after years of an impending PCS hanging over our heads. So that meant loading up our car with three humans, three animals, and a ridiculous amount of luggage less than an hour after Eric graduated the Combined Logistics Captain's Career Course.
Which gave me no time to breathe and process the moment.
Eric and I picked Isabelle up from school on our way out of town and stood back while we watched her heart break into a million irreparable pieces as she said goodbye to some of the best kids we have ever met. Eric and I would have gladly "adopted" Isabelle's very best friend and brought her with us to Texas, we loved her that much. Both Eric and I cried watching our daughter go through something so difficult. I quietly prayed over all of those kids as we hugged goodbye.
Our first day on the road was spent making our way through the Blue Ridge Mountains in a bad, windy, blinding storm. We had decided to wait until we got to Eric's dad's house in Nebraska to replace our badly worn tires, so if you're wondering how beautiful the Blue Ridge Mountains are, all I can tell you is that I think they were pretty...? But it was tough to enjoy the view when your daughter's heart is hurting her in the backseat and everyone you love more than life itself is in a car skidding down a mountain in split second free-falls, so I can't be sure.
But, we made it safely to Kentucky, where we spent the night in a smoke-filled pet friendly hotel along the interstate. I'm assuming that the hotel's pet friendly policy was to put anyone with pets in a smoking room, because why the hell else would a hotel knowingly put us in what we felt like was the equivalent of hell?! Our room wasn't just a "smoking room," it was a room where people had been smoking for decades upon decades - we literally walked into a thick cloud of white stuff that smelled awful and made breathing painful. Every inch of that room, and the entire hallway outside, was filled with thick cigarette smoke; the kind that seeps into every part of your body.
No one slept that night.
It had been a whirlwind of a day. Eric graduated, and within minutes of that we literally ran out the door, then bawled our eyes out in the middle of a Junior High School, white-knuckled our way through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and spent 10 hours in a hotel breathing as shallow as we could while not sleeping.
I was exhausted.
But no time to dwell on it because we were off! The first half of our trip was from Virginia to South Dakota & Nebraska where we would spend a week with family and friends, and then make our way to Texas for the second half of our trip. Which meant a lot of driving, a lot of early starts, and a lot of cramming all that I love into one mid-size SUV.
The next day was our second to longest for driving. We had nothing else to do but drive. We knew instantly when we were back in the Midwest - the scenery all of a sudden became flat and looked the same no matter how far we drove, it was a sight for sore eyes. Our drive was broken up by stops about every 3 hours to let the dogs out. One of our dogs loves ridding in a car, the other dog (cough... Journey... cough) is a complete jerk about riding and can't get his life together long enough to sit still - for the love of God that dog can not sit still. Our cat though, once she finds a hiding spot we don't see her, which is good when Eric is skidding down mountains in a blinding storm and I'm dealing with the big furry jerk who doesn't understand what the hell sort of contraption we put him in that we keep calling "the car."
We decided to stop in Indiana because we had never been there before, and that's where we met a really nice man who was also in the military, had just left Fort Lee and was on his way to Nebraska too! I mean, what are the chances?! Meeting another person going along the same sort of path you are?! I love how the world works sometimes!
But no time to enjoy the serendipity of it all... it was time to get back on the road.
We had every intention of stopping at the St. Louis Arch, but by the time we got there Isabelle decided she had no desire to go up to the top anymore. I had been to the top of the Arch twice, Eric once, so for us two it wasn't a big deal to skip it. The thing with teenagers (or at least my teenager) is that they don't always understand how important an experience is until it's over, sometimes even months or years later. I'm still bummed about the time that I decided not to go up in the little airplane that flew over the mountains in Hawaii when I was 11 years old. As parents, Eric and I feel that it is important to allow Isabelle to make decisions about the experiences that she thinks will help form her spirit. But, we've learned that often she will choose to skip most everything in favor of lounging at home with wifi, or so that she doesn't have to deal with the hassle of waiting in lines or other parts of traveling that can be annoying. I don't know what other parents do in situations like that, but we aren't about to let her miss out on once in a lifetime opportunities, so sometimes Eric and I have to pick and choose when we think it's important to drag her to things, or when to let her make that decision (and then let her figure out how to deal with the disappointment when she realizes that she really would have liked to do that particular thing). The St. Louis Arch was one of those times when we allowed her to make the decision - she chose not to.
So we kept on going to Kansas City.
The hotel in Kansas City was so much nicer! We ordered a pizza, a bottle of wine, and slept! It wasn't like real sleep though, since we were in a hotel and our dogs thought that getting to sleep in the same room with their entire family was the neatest thing ever, and told us so by licking our faces at random times throughout the night, but we slept. The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant where our waiter had a distinct German accent.... it was such a welcomed sound. The nice man probably had no idea that he made our hearts equally happy and achy as we ate an amazing breakfast.
But, no rest for the weary! We were off again!
But this time, for HOME!
What I had started to ignore by the time we rolled into good ol' South Dakota was that my energy was really low. But if there was ever a place that would recharge my batteries, it's home.... or so I thought.
Home isn't always stress free for us. Both Eric and my families are divorced, so we bounce around a lot while we are back. It is stressful, maybe more than it should be or needs to be for me, because I am always aware of the amount of energy I give to the people that I love. Trying to coordinate time enough for four different families and our friends, which is so so important to us, can be difficult.
The week that we were home was a whirlwind. So much so that I did not pick up my camera one. single. solitary. time. Instead, I concentrated on making the most of our time with the people we love. To be honest, not only did I not have the time to even think about my camera, I just didn't care to. That was a warning sign that I ignored... not wanting to take pictures?! That is so not like me!
At my mom's we hung out and drank wine, and I got to meet my new nephew! His squishy, lovey, sweetie, baby, facey made my heart sing. He is just the best little dude on the planet! But put all of my nieces and nephews together, and I was just in Heaven with hugs any time I wanted one (whether they did or not).
I also got to go through a box full of Morphe makeup that Morphe sent to my sister and take home whatever I wanted, which is like, the most amazing thing ever! I snagged 3 eye shadow palettes and more makeup brushes than I could carry. You guys, if you want the best quality makeup and makeup brushes for cheap, go shop Morphe's website! I am OBSESSED!!
But the biggest thing we did at my mom's house was get family pictures taken by Jake Photography! The Universe aligned just right for these pictures since me and my little family were going to be passing through home on our way to Texas, and one of my sister's was going to be home visiting with my nephew.... it was the perfect opportunity, and my mom snagged it!
From oldest to youngest with our mom in the middle.
One of my favorites! ©JakePhotographySF
I LOVE this! Totally candid and totally us. Look at how gorgeous Isabelle is! ©JakePhotographySF
Mom's whole gang! ©JakePhotographySF
Just missing baby Watson. Look at those faces! My heart could explode looking at those faces! ©JakePhotographySF
We spent Memorial Day with Eric's mom and step-dad. It was a great day spent with family, playing board games and drinking wine. We spent a couple days with each one of our families, but while we were in town at Eric's mom's house we had to run a few errands - mainly just get Eric's drivers license renewed, but you know how you never know how long you'll be at the DMV. The rest of our time with my in-laws was spent catching up, and one night we went to a movie at a teeny town theater and got ice cream, it was so great.
At Eric's dad's house the next day is when I started to feel like something was off. Actually, it's when I started to *notice* that I was feeling... off. I have no idea when I actually started to feel that way, my guess was I'd been feeling crummy for a few months and I was just now starting to notice it.
I was exhausted.
I was feeling like all of the running around, and the not really being able to concentrate on any one thing before having to hurry to the next stop, next family member, next conversation, was wearing me down. I was so tired. But there was no time to feel tired. There was never enough time for me to be tired. I had had a giant move across the ocean to worry about, then I had to ensure that my daughter transitioned to her new home and new school smoothly, then one thing after another was falling apart in a smelly house, and then I was anxious about where we would be moving to next, and then it was all about planning for life in Texas because that was where the Army was sending us, then there were contractors in our house the same week that the movers came, and then Eric wanted to leave so soon after his graduation, and we had a long damn road trip ahead of us, and our daughter's heart was hurting and I needed to absorb as much as I could from her so that she didn't hurt so much. But now we were with our family, and later we would be meeting up with our very best friends. There was just no time.
So I did what I do best, I brushed it off. I tucked whatever it was away for me to deal with.... eventually.
Even though it was really hard for me to wake up in the morning (like really hard, weirdly hard for me to wake up), I would just force myself awake, get coffee and go about my day ignoring how tired my body was feeling. While we were out around town I would grab a Coke for a boost in energy, but not ever drinking plain old water, and definitely not paying any mind to how I was feeling or to the fact that the Coke wasn't helping at all.
We spent our time at my father-in-law's the same as we always do, catching up, getting ice cream, and running a few errands, which for us, is the BEST way to spend time at home with him - it's the epitome of home, and we wouldn't want it any other way. For our last night with Eric's dad we went to a new restaurant that is run by some family member's and met up with my dad and his wife. And that's where all of the stress of the last few days, all of the stress from months of living in a terrible house, all of the stress of an international move in the middle of the school year, the worrying about how Isabelle was adjusting, the heartache of a young girl who has no choice in where or when her world is changing, and worrying about all of the things we still had to take care of once we got to Texas all caught up to me.
My daughter and Rita were at my side as I apparently said "I don't feel good," twice, convulsed for a second or two, and slumped down in the chair that I was thankfully sitting in. My dad is trained in first aid and CPR so he was able to take control of the situation, which was a godsend for my husband. Because it took nearly 5 minutes for me to regain consciousness an ambulance was called, but even after I came back around I was very incoherent.
I only remember bits and pieces after I regained consciousness. I barely remember that I was in an ambulance. All I really know is that it felt like I weighed a million pounds and I was so tired. More tired than I'd ever been in my entire life. If I had needed to get up and run from a serial killer, I would have been murdered on the spot.
I just wanted to sleep, for the love of all things holy, I just. wanted. to go. to sleep. But no one would let me, and my feelings were getting hurt that no one would let me fall sleep. I wanted to tell everyone that they were kind of being assholes for not letting me fall asleep - so what that I was slumped over in a chair or that an ambulance was coming - but I couldn't find the energy even to move my lips.
The ER doctor admitted me into the hospital after talking to a Neurologist, and after a really long night and day of testing, it was determined that I had had a definite seizure but with no known cause. The biggest concern being that this was my second seizure, 10 years apart, with identical onsets. While the doctors couldn't find a cause (thankfully), my husband and I are convinced that my seizure was caused by stress, exhaustion, and dehydration. I have a feeling this was the Universe's way of telling me that it was time to relax, and to try to think about myself for at least one second out of the day.
Duly noted, Universe. I promise I will try.
It wasn't the evening we had planned, and one entire day & night in the hospital meant one less day with our families, which was frustrating for both me and Eric. I was devastated that my daughter had to see me go through something so scary, even though she assured me that she was okay and having her family there made it less scary. I was embarrassed too at all the commotion I had caused, but was reminded that these are the sorts of things I need to not stress about.
We spent our last day at home in South Dakota spending it with our friends. Other than still being completely exhausted, and nagging nausea that didn't go away for a few days, I felt okay, so I soaked up all that I could with our very best friends all in one rowdy, amazingly fun, tipsy, 80's music blaring, hotel room.
And then.... just like that, it was time to go.
Isabelle has moved every 2-3 years since she was born. The hardest question in the world for her to answer is: "where are you from?" You might not get a straight answer from her. At best you'll get a blank stare and a few stuttered "ummmm's" before she tells you that half of her family is from South Dakota and the other half is from New Mexico, which isn't really an answer but it's the best she can do.
But South Dakota is where Isabelle has spent the most amount of her life, and that kid has had to look other South Dakotans in the face and tell them that she had never been to Mount Rushmore (gasp!!). There are a few things on this planet that everyone needs to see at least once in their lifetime, and Mount Rushmore is one of them. The entire State is indescribable - everything from the people to the scenery, you won't find better people anywhere in the world than the people in South Dakota, I promise you.
Y'all know that my little family are never ones to pass up an opportunity, and since we didn't know when we would be in our home State again, we decided to take Isabelle to see South Dakota's claim to fame!
As if having a seizure in the middle of a restaurant wasn't embarrassing enough, I managed to trip going up some stairs on our way out of the parking lot going in to see Mount Rushmore, and banged my knee up pretty bad. It hurt and I got a hole in my jeans (pouty face). I was only a little bit embarrassed though because tripping up some stairs didn't really compare to the whole seizure in the middle of a restaurant thing so I just pretended like no body saw me (but people totally saw me).
But hey, Isabelle got to see Mount Rushmore! She even said it was "really cool," which, if you know teenagers (or at least my teenager) you know that that means it really truly is really cool, and so worth the short stop.
I say short stop because we didn't stay at Mount Rushmore for very long. Even though Isabelle felt that finally seeing the Faces were "really cool," she had major attitude with me that day and I was not in the mood to deal with it. I was working on the less stress thing, and she wasn't making it easy. So while Isabelle sulked in the back seat of our car with our three animals, I took deep breaths in the front seat trying to keep myself calm so that I didn't have another seizure caused by a teenagers attitude, and we pushed on to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
This started the second leg of our big road trip! We were officially on our way to El Paso, Texas! Months of wondering what life was going to be like, or even look like was a two-day drive ahead of us! I was so ready to get there.
We drove through a teeny bit of Wyoming, a lot of Colorado, and then into New Mexico. New Mexico and I have a history together; a difficult history, one that I've never cared to talk about because it was in my past and that's where I wanted it. It's not that I have skeletons in my closet, I am an open book and while I definitely have had my fair share of cringe-worthy moments and regrets, there isn't anything I won't talk about. It's just that my life in New Mexico was a dark, very unhappy, and painful chapter that I closed a long time ago and never looked back.
But that's an entire blog post all its own, someday I promise to tell you all about it.
For the next few hours we drove through an old, dusty, stretch of memories, and then spent the night in Roswell, New Mexico - the site of a 1947 "UFO incident." But all I chose to focus on was that our next stop would be TEXAS!
18 days before we arrived in Texas the movers came to pack up all of our things. For 15 days we bounced around States, hotels, and family members. 1 unfortunate day and 1 night were spent in the hospital. But before all of that, we lived for 6 months in a temporary home with no idea where life was going to take us next. Prior to that even, we were living out our dreams in Europe, knowing that our time there was precious. And before that, we moved to Omaha, NE on a wing and a prayer because the path Eric said God had called him to serve started with a temporary National Guard position and Grad school, but having NO idea where that path was going to lead.
That was 7 years and almost 2 months ago.
Years of living in limbo or with an impending PCS hanging over our heads finally ended with our arrival in Texas! All of the things that we were not able to do until we actually set foot in Texas, like finding a house, enrolling Isabelle into school, looking for a job, etc..., all of the things that would make me feel normal and settled, I could finally start doing! And I came to Texas ready! Ready to get life started, ready to settle, ready to find a home that I could be happy in.
Ready to settle....
I came ready to relax and feel at home. El Paso was going to be my home come hell or high water. I didn't care what El Paso looked like, it was going to be my home whether I loved it or not. I was going to make the most of it!
Because dammit, I was HOME!
Our big road trip from start to finish!
I know that our life here in El Paso is just the next chapter - at some point we will move again, at some point we will schlep all of our things to another part of the world. But not right now. For right now we will get to live life normally, with no schlep on the horizon to worry about, or stress about. I will get to go back to work! I don't know yet if that's what I want to do or not, but now I get to make that decision.
Isabelle will get to start high school without the worry that her world will change again before she graduates; before she becomes an adult and can make the decision if she wants her world to change or not.
For right now, Eric gets to concentrate on the next steps in his career. He'll get to concentrate on forming relationships and friendships with the people he works with, and concentrate on taking command of a company, all without the worry of his wife and daughter living in limbo anymore.
We will get to live in the house that we spent months looking for, and the house that Eric, Isabelle, and I hand picked for ourselves. We all can just concentrate on life right now, not on what is going to happen in a couple of years when the Army tells us it's time to move again.
Even though we know that that day is eventually coming, it's not anywhere in sight right now.