Year 10

Year 10

A decade.

WOW.

As I look back on this year and the years before, it seems like we have been together a lifetime. A decade can really feel that way.

This year alone has felt like a lifetime for sure. As with many years, we experienced every part of our wedding vows: for better or worse, in sickness and in health…

George finished kindergarten and started sports, Daphne has really blossomed in gymnastics, and Walter is well figuring out how to be. Our family feels complete with these three, and it has been a joy to watch them together this year. Walter being born is definitely on the highlight reel!

Tom finally found a police department that fits him and his career goals. It was a long road here, and looking back to this time last summer we weren’t sure if he would ever get there. But he is happy to be in a place that is community action based and respects the work that each other do. It doesn’t hurt that he works where we live either!

My job has been a whirlwind of transitions over the last year. The pandemic in higher ed was interesting to say the least. I not only learned how to teach a class remotely, I also found this extra flexibility with working from home while pregnant and then post-partum. I had to navigate managing an office and learning a new team of my peers as there was constant leadership changes around us. Through all of it, I really feel like I am coming into my own as a leader on campus, and I am excited with what my team is doing, but also the college as well.

It still seems like a fresh wound, but losing Grace and Crosby is notably one of the worst experiences we have had as a couple. We both are still trying to muddy through the feelings we have as we settle into a no-dog household. There are so many things that were just natural around our house that now seems odd that they are gone. Walking this together though has made it a little less crippling.

As I reflect though on the last ten years, I would say that this is the most settled we have ever felt. Over our time together, there seemed to be always these things that we were waiting or hoping for. We have always been trying to direct our lives in a certain way, and this is what they call the good ol’ days I would imagine. We have everything that we hoped for, maybe not exactly how we planned out, but we are finally in a rhythm that makes sense and fits us.

So Tom and I thought we would think back on our marriage and share some thoughts on making it to this milestone.

Biggest surprise since we’ve been married:

Hands down, finding out we were pregnant with George was the biggest surprise of our marriage, and our lives honestly. To go from having conversations about infertility and trying for a while to grow our family, to all of a sudden see a baby on ultrasound monitor was wild. If you haven’t heard this story, I promise it is worth the read!

Hardest lesson learned:

There is a lot to unpack here from the last ten years.

The life that we thought were the right things just weren’t, and some were actually pretty devastating for us. Both of us had severe disappointments with our career paths, and at those low moments we thought we would never be happy in a work place setting. We also had talked a long time about only having two kids and that was our vision at the beginning of our marriage, but here we are loving on Walter. God is in control, and we have had to pray on believing this many times over.

We have also had to learn a lot about figuring out what we need to worry about and figuring out what it means to create our own family unit. Combining two different people to create this new thing came with it’s own struggles. We had to learn a lot about when to prioritize our own needs and then our family needs and how that all can be a mess to mix together.

With that, what has been difficult as you become these life partners is not only dealing with your own life grief and disappointment, but then having to manage this other person, and then our kids emotions as well. Both of us had a pretty rocky moment in our jobs that really shook us to our core, and to have to watch that unfold while being helpless to fix it is really gut-wrenching. We had to learn a lot about just being there for each other. But our individual problems do become each others problems, and there is extreme weight in that because you aren’t just managing your own feelings anymore. It is hard lesson to learn when it is ok to be selfish but when do you have to not be. There is some beauty in this for sure, which is why marriage is great, but it is shocking at times how your feelings unfold together.

Favorite thing to do together:

We love to just jump in the car and go to random places to “window” shop. Personally, I love when plant shopping is involved. It’s nice for us to just get away from the house and talk and move through stores leisurely.

We also love binge-watching shows. Becoming one with the couch while playing rummy and eating snacks while watching the Office is one of the most stress-relieving things.

Obviously, we really live on the edge…

What is something we haven’t figure out yet:

While we have been married for 10 years, and together for 14, we still haven’t completely figured out our communication styles. Both of us are stubborn and like to be on the “right” side, so we can fight pretty hard. Tom also said that he doesn’t always know what he wants so how am I supposed to figure that out, but then the expectation is there to hear each other out. I also have a really hard time apologizing to him, which is not helpful ever. We have also grown and changed over our time together, so sometimes we think we have each other figured out but something is different that we have to make new adjustments to. But on the plus side, our arguments are usually pretty quick and move it out of our systems, so I guess we are a work in progress!

Favorite thing about the other person:

Tom said that I am patient and very forgiving, and that he is still 100% twitterpated. I love Tom’s commitment to things. When he goes in on something, he goes in 1000%. And his level of loyalty is unmatched.

Advice for other couples:

I don’t think that any relationship is the same, nor would I ever say that we have it all figured out. Like I said we still struggle with communication a lot of the times, but we try every day to do better. We do have a couple nuggets of advice though.

We believe that you should be such an advocate for your marriage. There should be no question that this is your priority. It requires both of us to be all in and be the ones rooting for each other. We have to be pursing each other every day.

In order to do that though, we know that we have to take the time to be right with ourselves. Both of us have gone to counseling so we can be the best version of ourselves for each other and our family. This may take a lot of work but as the saying goes you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. With this takes recognition and support from your partner to do this work and find ways to support this individual growth. We have taken a lot of pride in making space for our self care and finding the right careers so we can be happy in all spaces.

Finally, and certainly not least, sleep in the same bed but have separate comforters. Sleep is so important, but we have different needs when it comes to our comfort and one of us is a burrito roller in blankets (me), so we learned early on that separate blankets made everything more enjoyable. Hands down, relationship saving advice.

It’s hard to believe at times that we met as 22 year olds at an amusement park. It feels like we have had so many lives together: grad school, living in Iowa, deployment and Fort Campbell, moving to our home state, and welcoming three babies into the world…

Here we are 10 years into marriage with this most amazing life. So here’s to many more decades together!

And on to the next…

And just like that, George is done with kindergarten.

There is a weirdness that is settling in from today. It’s like I know that we are done with kindergarten for George, but at the same time it doesn’t seem real that he is old enough to be a FIRST grader.

To think back to August and all of the unknowns of the year, it is hard to compile all the thoughts and feelings that we have gone through during this year.

George’s kindergarten experience will be so different than his siblings thanks to all that was 2020.

He had to wear masks. At the beginning of the year, I thought this would be our biggest hurdle, but he often choose to wear it away from school. The last couple weeks our county lifted those restrictions, and he still choose to wear it at times.

The parties, assemblies, field trips, and programs all looked different than “normal” or were non-existent.

There were several weeks of virtual school thrown in during the year. In the midst of these weeks, I honestly didn’t think either of us would survive.

Learning in some areas came really easy to George, and other areas we had to work as a team to identify new approaches. He started to see the school speech pathologist to help learn specific social skills. This kid just loves to talk and doesn’t always see the cues that he should stop.

On the other hand, he was recognized for his caring spirit and the way that he shows joy to others. He is such a light, even if his talking can be distracting at times. It was always great to hear the ways that he was filling others’ cups up throughout the year.

He learned a love for drawing, and even though he says he hates to write, we have books and books of hand crafted signs, doodles and charts to prove otherwise.

We saw his interests change due to peer influence, so we welcomed Minecraft and Pokemon into our lives. He also continuously was inviting his class to our house and planning sleepovers without cluing us in. (Mind you these never did happen, he is just the friend who likes to corral other friends for a good time.)

It’s been a wild ride, and it’s crazy to think still that we have a school-aged kid, but here we are celebrating our first year through.

I am so proud of George. He was able to adapt to being new at school, to the constant changing atmosphere, and also to becoming a big brother again through all of it. He is such a smart kid, and I loved seeing him make connections with his teacher and friends. And on to the next we go!

Daphne Turns FOUR

I always dreamed of being a mom, but I especially dreamed of having a daughter. Well, she is the challenge I never knew that I needed.

Looking back at my post from her last birthday, it is hard to believe how much she has grown in the last year. She is still as fierce and independent as she was a year ago, but she is a different child at the same time.

She is like a mirror to all of my insecurities and flaws. I see pieces of me in her, and I am determined to do right by her because of my own past. She is humbling to me in every way. I love my boys, but there is something about this little girl that makes me different.

She is already stronger than I ever was, and I hope that we never squash that fiery spirit. She always is very adamant about her feelings and feels them to their fullest. She is opinionated and strong-willed. I know that we are fostering someone who is not going to back down from making her voice heard. She is brave and fearless now, and I hope that we can continue to nurture that for years to come.

I mean, someone who can pull off wearing jammies days on end has earned some respect.

She is my sour patch kid though. She knows what she wants, and she will put her foot down and try to wear you down. This does come with its challenges, but I have to applaud her level of commitment.

I do believe that some type of entertainment is in her future. She loves to sing, dance, tell stories, and put on comedy routines for anyone who will pay attention. She lives to make other people smile by her performances. I want to just bottle her singing up forever.

And, while she is independent, she is still our little girl. She is an expert in procrastinating bedtime and finds any and all excuses to come talk with Tom and I after lights are off. Then in the middle of the night, she crawls into our bed so she doesn’t have to sleep alone-most of the time I don’t even realize she is there until I wake up in the morning to see that she sneaked in. She has a neighborhood of stuffies that keep her company at all times. She has a descriptive name for all her bunnies: green bunny, scraggly bunny, clean bunny, mommy bunny, baby bunny, snuggly bunny, swaddle bunny…So many bunny stuffies.

She loves all things princess, purple and pink, dinosaurs, and unicorns. She loves to create with tiny things like miniature tea sets for Calico Critters, Legos, and her fairy garden. She hates to be wet but will spend hours at a water table and playing in our mud creek. She has been planning a “flower festival” for the better part of a year with the planning committee ever changing directions. She loves to be outside, but she hates when I make the family go to the trail. She loves to bake, but only chooses to eat butter bread, fish sticks, and fruit. She fights me going to gymnastics, but she has the biggest smile while doing beam and loves to show off her bear crawl.

The brain on this child is also astounding. She is insanely smart, and I am constantly amazed at her vocabulary. It is astonishing that we had her assessed for a verbal delay 2 years ago. I cannot wait to see what she does at school next year. She loves to read and learn, and she will spend hours with art and craft projects. She will sit still just meticulously drawing “maps” of our house and city. It makes me wonder if she will be a city planner or architect some day.

My favorite thing to have come out of this last year is watching her become a big sister. She is by far the best sister one could ever ask for. She is always helpful and caring with all things Wally. I am loving watching her mature through their relationship. She takes care of him and spends a good deal of her day making sure he knows how much he is loved. To say she is obsessed with her new best friend would be an understatement. My heart swells just watching them interact and play together.

This girl is going to turn this world upside down some day. She sure changed mine the day that she was born. It was love at first sight. I am glad to have a front row seat to see all that she can do and see who she becomes. Forever her cheerleader I will be. I am overwhelmed when I look at her and see all the possibilities for her and the world around her. I adore her with all that I am. A smile is imprinted on my heart because of our Daphie Girl.

My New Self

On the eve of returning to work full time, I have so many thoughts. This maternity leave has been hard and amazing, but it really put a light on some areas in my own identity that I needed to work through.

The pandemic and having Walter made me do some self-reflection that I honestly have been avoiding. I have been moving through life just kind of in the zone long before the pandemic hit. I was just getting things done, but not really taking the time to enjoy it. I was anxiously awaiting the next thing or compiling the next to do list. I found myself resentful of others and then feeling guilty all the time.

In December, it kind of came to a head for me. Granted a lot of the emotional turmoil could be attributed to having a baby, but it was really a pivotal moment to realize I needed something. I wanted to be a different mom. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be anymore. I had let my anxiety overrun me.

I needed help, and I needed to put some time in to focus on my needs. So while I had this time at home, I knew that I needed to ask for help not only with the baby but how to navigate this transition so I could come out of this sacred time with a clear head and clear focus.

So in order to truly do the work, I started investing in both a therapist and a personal trainer. I needed to cry some things out and sweat out some other things. Both have been instrumental in my health journey post-partum.

I have not been in counseling since I was in grad school. And through my profession, I knew I needed help analyzing my anxiety and really talking through it instead of just pushing it aside to get everyone to the next thing. My perpetual to-do list was wreaking havoc on my ability to live in the moment. I had this need for perfection that drowned out any opportunity to be vulnerable even with those closest to me. My emotions were in control of my world view. I know I am an emotional person; this is nothing new. Most of the time I can keep them in check in public. But at home, I was losing it. I couldn’t enjoy my family because the only thing I could think about was the fear of not getting things done. I was nit-picky at anything and everything because of the chase to perfection. At home, I had a really hard time just appreciating what my family was doing because I was always on to the next thing. I had become so wound up trying to control it all that it was coming out in expectations I had on my family, which were often unrealistic. My anxiety manifested in all kinds of ways in unexpected situations. Some times it was in fear, some times it was in anger, and some times I just sulked around the house.

I didn’t want this anymore.

It was as though birthing Walter was also a rebirth for me. I wanted to do better, and so I needed some help processing it all. We only are given this one life, and I was just marking things off without really embracing anything. Working with my counselor has been really refreshing. I have been validated, but I have also been challenged. I won’t get into all the things since counseling is a personal journey, but I will say it has been helping me. Here is the thing, I still have a lot of baggage where my anxiety stems from. I still LOVE a to-do list. I still want things to go well. But I am learning more coping skills to keep the panic attacks and overthinking at bay. I am learning to look at the facts instead of imagining all the what-ifs of imperfection.

Often times as moms, we feel that we have to do it all and we often sacrifice our own mental health to take care of all the things. The mental load is taxing. My anxiety made me feel selfish in so many ways which is why I left it unaddressed for so long. Not being perfect really hindered me connecting with my kids because deep down I didn’t feel that I was good enough. Understanding that I wanted better for my kids and to actually enjoy my kids, I have to be a little selfish to take care of my own needs. Having Walter and this pandemic really helped me see that I couldn’t keep living this way for them, nor did I want to for me. I want to experience more in the moment. And while I do always have the to-do list looming over me, I can ask for help and communicate better to build a team around me. It’s also okay to be vulnerable and share how I am feeling even if it is not perfect. I also know that I am enough.

Honestly, what I was looking for was accountability. I needed someone to check in with every once in awhile to talk through my insecurities and walk me through how I can navigate my self talk when I start to spiral. I needed some one to tell me what to do in the gym so I could be stronger. I need the accountability to focus on my self growth so I can be a better wife, mother, friend and colleague.

Coming out of this maternity leave is bittersweet. I know that I will never have time like this at home again. I was able to spend weeks off at the holiday time with my family since I essentially didn’t come back to work after Thanksgiving. I have been able to see George off to school and most days pick him up from school, which is time I have really come to love. I have been able to see Daphne explore her world in a way that I wasn’t privy to before. Obviously spending time with Wally is a dream come true.

But honestly, I am most thankful that I found a new version of myself through this time at home.

I want to be mentally, emotional, and physically strong for the people around me. Having this space has helped me understand that I am not selfish for asking for balance or for help. It has taught me more about my priorities and how to focus on my family. I am learning more on how to vocalize those needs so I can be more available. I am coming back to work with a renewed sense of direction and passion for what I do. I am excited to come back to work for I know that it doesn’t have to be an either/or anymore. I can still crush it at work and crush it as a mom. I also am learning that crushing it in life doesn’t mean that I have to be perfect. It’s ok for me to ask for flexibility so I don’t have to sacrifice one identity over the other.

Nor do I have to sacrifice myself to make it all work.

So all in all, I am so grateful for Walter joining our lives because of the little person he is becoming and will be. He is everything I dreamed of. But I am so eternally grateful that I am becoming me too.

So cheers to the end of my maternity leave and all the emotions I am sure to have!

The Return Story

Photo by Ashland Police Department

I have been attempting to write this post for a long time, but I really want to be intentional about outwardly processing Tom moving back into law enforcement. For one it is not just my experience, and I need to be respectful of Tom’s journey to get to this place. And with being pregnant and having Walt, it has been difficult to have the brain power to find the right words to say.

One of the things I love about blogging though is that it is an opportunity to share stories and perspectives. There are a lot of emotions and opinions around police officers, and I am cognizant of what that means. I am not going to touch on all of it here today, but here is just a part of our story.

To give a little history, when Tom and I had our first date in 2007, he expressed his desire to be a police officer after we graduated college. It has been all that he has ever wanted and worked for ever since I have known him. He has had many road blocks to achieve this and spent many years adding different experiences to his tool belt in order to be welcomed onto a department.

In 2014, Tom left the Army and we moved back to MO for what we thought was his dream job as a police officer. What would transpire in the next three years became a nightmare instead of the dream that he always envisioned.

What he experienced with that police department was the definition of toxicity. He was not supported by other officers, and it was very much a “good ol’ boys” system. He attempted to change the dynamic in the community by building relationships and being out there in the streets but often was chastised by his colleagues for his proactive nature. He didn’t believe in doing things by rank and wanted to impact his town positively but was told repeatedly he was wrong. He would make suggestions for improvements or find trainings to approach things differently, and the negativity and backlash that he faced showed me that this department didn’t actually want to work for their community. This department made him feel like he was on an island because he didn’t fit their definition. He wanted to be better. I am here to tell you that this is the kind of department that many around the country complain about.

But never the less, Tom doesn’t half-ass anything. He was always trying to do good and learn more, and the job became all consuming because he felt he had to prove he was worthy of being there and more than just a rookie. His fellow officers though felt that there was nothing that this new guy could bring to the table and tried many times to break him. He was seeking value from people who could care less about him. There was a lack of respect, and they were constantly trying to beat the drive out of him with very childish and outlandish behavior from those who claim to be professionals with “high moral fibers.” What was happening among his colleagues began to affect our marriage and our home life tremendously.

In 2018, due to the apparent way that this department spit on him when he needed help, Tom made the decision to leave this “dream job” to work as a court Marshall, which was still law enforcement but with 9-5 hours. It was an opportunity for him to still be a cop but focus on our family a little more which was very much needed at the time since Daphne had just joined our family. It was a chance for him to step back and reevaluate what being a cop meant for him.

After working at the courthouse for some time, it was clear that this job was an illusion of law enforcement. Anyone who knows Tom is that he likes to be out where the action is. He likes to move and observe people out in the community. He was slowly losing himself at the courthouse.

But because of the toxic nature of the PD department he left, he was not sure he would be able to get back in to being a street cop. They had basically sullied his name in this area because he asked for help and tried to do things differently.

The reality though was that Tom just wasn’t himself. As a family we made a conscious decision that if he couldn’t be a street cop, he would leave law enforcement entirely to be able to just be a family man and help us to become more financially secure in a different job market. In the end, it was difficult for him to wear a uniform but not actually be able to do the type of police work he felt called to do.

So in 2019, he left law enforcement entirely to work an office job of selling mortgages to veterans. At the beginning, working at VU was really freeing. He finally felt valued, and his hard work was being praised. We had more family time than we had ever had, and we were able to focus on more of our family goals.

However as the months passed, we could all sense that there was something nagging at Tom. Working a desk job started having him miss what could have been as an officer. There was a lot of doubt and anger at what had transpired in his time as an officer. He felt as though he had given up on himself and his dreams. It was like he was reliving every decision that had brought him there over and over, which made for some dark months. Oh the conversations we had about regret, resentment, and such loss…

Then the pandemic hit and the protests happened last spring. These world events coupled with being stuck working in our makeshift basement offices provided a pivotal moment for him. Not having the ability to do something in the midst of what was happening in our world (whether it be due to the pandemic or the social impacts on the protests) really touched him. He was frustrated that he felt helpless and wasn’t contributing to the solution. It made him angry and bitter that he let some old “seasoned” officers force him out of a job that he loves because they were scared of the idea of what Tom brought to the table. He challenged the typical culture, and for that he was blackballed and eventually pushed out of that department.

So why return to a job that did nothing to support Tom?

Again, if you knew Tom in person, being a police officer is just a part of him. For the two years that he wasn’t on the streets, you could tell that there was something missing. There was no doubt that we did have some great moments in these two years having more time as a family. However, something needed to change. He wasn’t fulfilling his purpose. And having gone through a professional crisis myself, I knew that just because our family life was good, we weren’t going to replace that feeling of purpose completely for him. Nor would I want to ask him to because I know that would cause more issues down the road for us all. I didn’t want him to continue to become a shell of himself or worse resent the normalcy that our life had become.

Tom did go to counseling for some time to help process all of this. Honestly, it was like the police department was an abusive relationship that he needed to heal from. There was a lot of shady things that occurred that I will not share here. Even now, two and a half years later, his old department finds ways to interfere with his professional life. At best it’s a bother, and at worst it has bordered on illegal. Before he moved on to a new department, he needed to put himself in a better position to not have those negative feelings of distrust.

Through the growth and self-reflection, and then seeing the events happening in our country, he was itching to get back to law enforcement. He wants to make our communities safe. He wants better for our kids. He wanted more.

Then a God thing happened. A position opened up in our small town, and it was like everything just came together. He was ready, and here was an opportunity for him to return in the town we live in! And the department was everything that the other was not, so we were hopeful for a fresh start for him.

It still was a lot for us to process as a family. Being a police officer’s family isn’t just a simple thing. There are a lot of emotions and things tied up in it for us as well. I still had anxiety from how our marriage was the last time, and here we were newly pregnant with our third kid. We had to be very mindful of how this time would be different for us and our family moving forward.

And the culture currently isn’t just something we could ignore. There is a lot to unpack here as a family who is choosing this life. This is not the post to address all the situations of privilege in depth because I wanted to set the stage of our lived experience. I hope that those reading see that by highlighting Tom’s desire to return to law enforcement, does not mean that we are minimizing how others are impacted by law enforcement. We know that there are not good cops out there. We have seen them first hand. It was the toxic nature that forced Tom out of the job in the first place. We know the way law enforcement is viewed and the impacts of that. We have many conversations about the type of police officer he strives to be. He wants to be part of the change, and we understand the realities and duty that brings us as a family as well. As much as we know that bad cops exist, we very much believe there are good ones, with Tom among those ranks.

Remember, when we first met, all he wanted was to be was a cop. I wanted him to have that again, and I know that he would not be himself if he didn’t at least try to get that back. When you watch a loved one struggle and you know there is an opportunity to fix that, you want to do everything in your power to make it work.

So last May he went after his dream again. After a long interview process, he was sworn in as an officer earlier this fall, and here we are months later.

Tom is different this time around. It is amazing what a difference some self-reflection can do. Couple that with a supportive environment, and it has just been amazing to see the stark contrast of how he comes home and the influence he has. He is surrounded by officers who value his opinion and actually listen to his ideas. While it’s a small department and different than what he had envisioned all those years ago on our first date, this has been the perfect position for him. It turns out that this small department offers many opportunities that a large department would never have done for him. This department hears him out and lets him be his unique self, which is really bringing the best skill set to the table. He is REALLY good at begin a cop, and to see that being noticed and actually respected by his peers makes things drastically different. He gets to be part of the solution, and that has been really cool to witness. I am proud to see it all coming together and that he is able to honor his values while in a position of service to our community.

We may have lost some of our family routines and our meal times together, however we got Tom back. He is much more present when he is home and happier than I have seen him in maybe our entire relationship. And to be honest, we don’t see his time away from law enforcement as a waste. The last couple years has helped put things in perspective of what is valuable for not only his career but how the right department can respect the juxtaposition of being a cop, having a family, and him as a human being. Because he moved to this department, he will have so many opportunities to engage in the community and schools where our kids will grow up. He gets to interact with them in ways we never would have gotten previously. He has goals for his career that are being invested in by his supervisors. He can actually be out there helping the community and getting to know their needs.

At each point, it has not been an easy decision to move and pivot as things happened along his career. One thing that has been important to Tom though is how this has impacted us as a family. We have talked this through every which way at every step: when to go to the Army, when to apply for many PD jobs, when to step back and when to try again. Ultimately for me as his wife, everything came down to what is going to make Tom feel full. It has not been an easy road. The decisions have put us to the test on more than one occasion, and there is a lot on the line. There has been a lot of growth for both of us on how we want to navigate this as a team.

However, I have known from day one that loving him meant I would be a police officer’s wife.

Photo by Ashland Police Department