Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Sound of What? (Or, something my dog taught me.)

For the past three years I have lived on a military base in military housing. I have a great house with a  decent yard, all the strange critters you could want (and not want) and an amazing view. I just have to walk a few feet outside my front door to hit trails for running, hiking and dog walks. At night I hear owls and frogs and, lately, bats.

I also live near what is called an impact area. That means that at any given time the sound of gunfire and bombs will be heard in my house, echoing through the valley that my house backs up to. The military rotates through impact areas so this sound is not constant but when it is near me it can go on for days or weeks. My husband is not typically amongst those out there doing the training because of the nature of his job- so I don't know what it would be like to hear a bomb and think- "That's my hubby out there!" I admit that might change some of my thoughts on this matter.

The noise doesn't bother me personally- sometimes it is so loud that my house shakes a little. The sound and feeling of the blasts do, however, bother my dog Nash. Nash was a happy go lucky dog when we moved here and within the first year of the noise he had lost almost 20lbs, refused to eat, and was scared and shaking constantly. Thanks to medication (lots of dogs here are on Prozac for this problem), training, and the positive presence of our second dog Risa, Nash has really improved. He eats and has gained his weight back, allows himself to be distracted from the sounds of the artillery and overall is much calmer. Sometimes I still find him cowering in the bathtub after a particularly loud, house-shaking blast. At night if we hear even one we know he will be joining us to sleep next to us for comfort, hiding his head under the covers. Our other dog, on the other hand, has almost no reaction to these sounds, much like many other dogs in our area.

When the bombs are going off Nash shakes, scratches at the wall, tries to get my attention, hides his face in my side, tries to hide in closets or under beds and an array of other behaviors that range from sad to adorable. I know why he's doing this- no matter how many times he hears this noise, he cannot reason with himself about the cause. To him, every blast means something bad is coming and that he is danger. I may feel inconvenienced because of the noise but I logically understand that there is a very minuscule likelihood of the artillery causing me harm; Nash cannot do that.

It's not always a surprise when the bombs are going to go off for an extended period of time; often we get noise advisory notices on Facebook or through email which helps us to prepare.

Why am I going on about this? Well, there's two points I want to make:

When people in my neighborhood post reminders about the artillery or want to jokingly complain or comment about how loud it is, the most typical line is something about how the artillery is "the sound of freedom!" We are all supposed to wave our flags and react with joy because bombs are being dropped in our backyards. "Go get'em, boys!" people type, as if the people setting off these bombs are doing some special operation to keep invaders at bay rather than actually training and learning. Curiously, if someone dares on Facebook to complain that the sound is keeping up her child or triggering her migraines, there's this obligatory addition to her post reassuring everyone- "Don't get me wrong, I love this sound!" "Freedom!" (Yelled just like Mel Gibson in Braveheart)

Let me be clear- the sound of bombs and gunfire is NOT THE SOUND OF FREEDOM to me. And frankly if the sound of weapons that kill and maim represent freedom to you, get out of my circle. The sound of bombs and missiles and machine gun fire is the sound of fear, revolution, oppression, death, wounds, war, blood, and more to most people in the world. For example- when military members return from war with PTSD they do not dream happy thoughts of a waving flag and feel like singing the Star Spangled Banner when they flashback to the sounds of bombs going off. We talk about these sounds in our national anthem- a singer hits new heights telling us about "the bombs bursting in air" and how they "gave proof through the night." The flash of the bombs, according to the song, displayed the newly created American flag still standing which was a symbol of victory and hope and freedom to the former British colonists. But I would bet money that during the American Revolution the people cowering in their homes or laying in the battlefield were not filled with immense joy at the sound of canons- maybe at least not until they found out their side was winning and the threat of harm had passed. Maybe it depends on what side you are on- are those the sounds of your weapons, or "theirs?"

But Bethany, you may ask, if the lullaby to the NRA is not the sound of freedom to you, what is? Well, it's a lot of things. To me the sound of freedom is nature- birds, leaves rustling, water moving in a stream. It's my nephews' laugh. It's people of different backgrounds having a conversation and trying to understand each others' different points of view. It's the turning of pages of a book that can teach someone something or take them anywhere. The sound of freedom is a lot of things to me, but it will never be the sound of a weapon.

I know I'm lucky, though. When Nash hears these bombs go off, his dog senses tell him that danger is coming for him. For most people in this world, the sound of bombs or artillery means the exact same thing. For the children in Gaza who are huddled in their already destroyed homes who can't sleep for fear. For the Syrian children in a refugee camp in Greece, for whom bombs have been the soundtrack to the beginning of their undervalued lives. For too many of our American children who have heard gunshots in a classroom or school hallway where those noises should have no place. And those examples aren't even scratching the surface of what has happened and continues to happen to human beings by human beings. So my dog shakes and he takes meds and I get to cuddle him until the sound passes- easy fixes considering most people living in these violent times don't get to pop a pill, get a hug and get over it (or escape the danger in the first place). I can tell Nash- who I'm sure understands English- that soon we won't live here and he will never hear these sounds again.

Now, I probably could have figured all of that out myself without my poor dog needing to suffer through this emotional trauma, but I'm appreciative nonetheless.

Note: I anticipate on average two types of negative reactions to this- one, that I must be unAmerican (or too liberal, or anti-guns, or anti-military) for thinking this way, which I can save you the fury and tell you that you are wrong. Or secondly, that I am just a "bleeding heart." I've thought about this term a lot lately and frankly I don't see what's so bad about having a bleeding heart, or too emotional, cares too much for others, feeling immense empathy for others (it's also a flower). I'm pretty confident that Jesus would have been accused of having a bleeding heart too (probably by the very people who persecuted him) if the term was popular a couple thousand years ago- so no, it doesn't bother me at all to be accused of caring. I also anticipate those who tell me this just isn't good enough- that surely I should divorce my military husband, stage a protest, renounce my affiliation with any entity involved with weapons- but life and love and affecting change in this world is way more complicated and deserves more than those small plans.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Zack's Deployment Homecoming

A post that is long overdue- life got in the way!

When Zack deployed, I didn't let myself start planning his homecoming until a couple weeks before he was due to fly home. In case you didn't know from my super bored post a few months ago, Zack deployed in October. This was our first deployment while married and his second deployment overall to a part of the world that is deeply in crisis. The first two months of the deployment were excrutiatingly slow but for me the last few months went by very fast. Zack was working non-stop and was incredibly exhausted. I was busy working, studying, and taking care of the house and dogs.

Zack during deployment- he grew a sweet stache.
Back when Zack deployed in 2008, we were able to Skype a couple times and have a few calls via a satelite phone. I wrote him letters and sent him care packages that took a month to reach him. This time around, we were so lucky to be able to Skype and use WhatsApp to talk every day and my care packages reached him in one to two weeks. Thanks to Pinterest I found some pretty great ideas and with the help of another Marine wife (who became a dear friend and whose husband was deployed with Zack) I was able to organize a fantastic homecoming!

First, there was the issue of Christmas cards. I love sending out Christmas cards and found a great idea to have all of our little family represented. My talented friend Megan took me and my two dogs out on a trail behind my house. After we narrowly missed a rattle snake we were able to take some Christmas pictures. This involved wrangling two dogs who love to frolic and smell everything, keeping an eye out for any (more) critters, wearing winter clothes even though it was about 80 degrees that November day in San Diego County and getting everyone to look at the camera at the same time! On Zack's end, he had to do some work too with the help of a friend and his camera phone. I sent the banner to him in his Thanksgiving carepackage. It took several attempts for him because it was just so bright in Kuwait he could barely see!
(Merry Christmas burlap banner from Ichabodsimagination on Etsy)

Hallowen care package- decorated!
My care package game also stepped way up this time around! I took a ton of ideas of themed care packages from Pinterest and tried to decorate almost every one I sent. Of course some care packages were more practical than others- the first one I sent out in a rush because he forgot his favorite pistol holster, shower shoes and some other random items. He did get Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day themed packages! For the Christmas package I also put together about 20 goodie bags full of candy, gum, hand sanitizer, tooth brushes, tissue packets for Zack to give out to some of the Marines who did not usually receive a lot of mail.

Mostly Zack got a lot of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, trail mix, protein bars, Mio drink flavoring, and lots of candy. The amount of coffee this guy drank during his crazy long days was impressive! I also sent him a flashdrive of music, a picture of us with the dogs to keep on his desk, and different funny cards and notes. My parents and sisters all sent lots of packages as well and as soon as he left I signed him up for a lot of free carepackages from different non-profit organizations. He received books and notes and drawings from kids and candy and more from so many amazing groups- a class in New York all wrote him letters and some people from our church even sent him a great package. I got in touch with my church, North Coast, and they mailed Zack DVDs of their services since his internet wasn't letting him stream or download them.

Start of Zack's Valentine package
Sooner than I could believe it was time to prepare for Zack's homecoming. Zack was so excited to come home but also wanted to be able to relax and lay low right away so we decided to wait to travel to Arizona to see our families until a couple weeks after his arrival. I made a huge checklist of things I wanted to complete before he set foot in the USA- deep clean the house, give the dogs baths, get Risa groomed, make a "Beer cake," bake some brownies, get groceries and meal plan for all of his favorite foods, plan a little birthday adventure, order a homecoming banner and make a homecoming sign, figure out what I was going to wear/hair/makeup etc.! Luckily I was able to get everything finished in time!
Welcome home banner- free, just pay shipping for military families from  BuildASign

The beer cake was not an actual cake at all- it involved going to BevMo and getting three of Zack's favorite types of beers, using some cake bases, wrapping paper and ribbon and stacking it all together! It was a hit!

For brownies, Zack's favorite treat, I tried a new recipe that really paid off. Recipe Here.

I agonized over what to wear- what do you wear to see your husband for the first time in 6 months? I bought a blue lace dress from Zulily. One definite mistake I made was the crazy blonde highlights I had put into my short, short hair- but we all go through bad hair phases I guess!

I saw a few ideas for a welcome sign on Pinterest and came up with my own spin on a Harry Potter themed sign. This went perfectly with my birthday plan- about three weeks after Zack's homecoming I planned for us to go to Universal Studios and see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Zack became a "Potterhead" during his previous deployment to Iraq (as seen below) so it all tied together.
2008- Zack in an MRAP  with Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire

Thanks to my friend Chanelle, her Sillhouette, and a couple late night, wine-powered sign making sessions, we came up with this masterpiece:

Finally, the day came! We waited for a while since the Marines returning from deployment had to stop at the armory first. For his last deployment they all drove up on buses and disembarked to their families right there, but this time they walked up in formation and were released. I felt a little silly because, let's face it- every guy was wearing the same uniform and sunglasses and looked basicaly the from across the parade deck (at least to my poor eyesite!). I stayed toward the back, not really the run and throw myself on a Marine (that could or could not be my husband) type. I guess Zack saw me right away from my sign and did a sneak attack, walking up to my side and tapping me on the shoulder! Even though we were able to talk almost every day of this deployment, it was amazing to be able to hug and kiss him.

After that he had to grab his bags, load up the car and start the drive home- calling his mom and my mom on the way so everyone knew he was finally home safe. As soon as we got home I ran in and got my camera ready to record Nash and Risa's reactions to seeing their dad, which was pretty awesome:

In the weeks that followed we saw a lot of changes- we both turned 29, went back to Arizona and saw both of our families (Zack met our new nephew Beau!), I finished teaching my last semester in CA, Zack checked out of the unit he deployed with, checked back into and then out of again the unit he was originally with and then checked in a final time to his new unit. Whenever either of us go somewhere for awhile we usually give ourselves about 2 weeks of "adjustment" time to get used to sharing our space, time and lives with each other again but it was wonderful.

There are lots of adventures in our future, so stay tuned!

My parents had a welcome home banner for him!