From A Distance

From a distance the world looks blue and green….anyone else have Bette Midler singing in their head?

Tom and I have had our fair share of time enduring long distance.

There was that time during grad school. Then we had it again our first year married when he went to basic training. The last time we tackled long distance, he was deployed.

We still have spent more time in a long distance relationship than we have in-person.

And we have been together for 7 and a half years…whomp whomp.

So at first when we realized that we would have to do long distance yet again for about a month, we thought it was no big deal.

We can do a month.

But y’all, I am here to tell you that a month is still hard!

This time we have a kid.

That for me was/is the hardest part of this separation. In times past yes we had things going on that we missed (holidays, traditions, random days, etc..). Yes one of those times, I wasn’t sure what Tom was doing most days and feared for his life.

But this one takes the cake on hard separation.

This time, Tom was missing out on big things in George’s life. And George was missing special time with his daddy.

That made this time much different. George made this one different and probably much more impatient with the situation.

Then add in that I was starting a new job and Tom was beginning his out-process in the Army, and the fact that we are in limbo land with a place to live.

A month is no big deal…

I actually think the shortness of it made it more difficult in some ways. Regardless of the time, long distance is hard.

Any long distance couple knows that communication is the key. The two of you have to find ways to keep connecting and be clear about whatever is going on with you.

That’s really the only advice I can give to those embarking on the long distance journey. Open communication. You have to figure out what that means to you. Even in our relationship, communication has looked different each time we have been apart. You have to adjust to the circumstances you are in. BUT open communication is still vital.

This time for Tom and I it meant texts and FB messaging throughout the day and calling Tom on my  commute. We didn’t chat much at night just because I usually fell asleep on the phone. Whoops. We Skyped a few times so George could see him, and I often had Tom on speaker so George could hear his voice on the phone.

Every day I would describe what new thing George did trying to keep Tom as involved as I could.

We have been searching for a place to live, so much of our Facebook chats have been sending each other links and discussing our options as I called realtor after realtor. (another blog post coming to you soon)

I will be honest, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. We are both very stressed and arguments have happened. You just have to work through it, and for us that means hammering it out even if it calls for a late night. We are firm believers in not going to bed mad, but I know that doesn’t work for everyone. (My mantra here is to adapt to your situation…)

There has been a lot of trust in this separation. Trust that I could find us a suitable home and a caring person to take care of George. Trust that Tom could successfully part ways with the Army in time and gather all of our belongings without wanting to burn it all. (We have a lot of stuff, and for that I am thankful my husband is a master packer.)

I will just say that I believe this time was harder for Tom then it was for me. His whole support system was here in MO (mostly in one house since I have been staying with his parents.) He also was finishing the arduous task of leaving the military. There are lots of briefings to attend and boxes to check off. Oh the paperwork…The list of things he had to turn in and sign was astounding. He also had the mission of packing up our house since I just brought my clothes and George’s things in my car when I moved after having a two week notice that I needed to move. It was a mighty big undertaking. He really is the best for dealing with all of that, and I love him for it.

Tom called me many times because he was bored and had nothing to do or he would be stressed because he had everything to do.

I also had our sweet baby, so again, harder for Tom.

Army paperwork or George’s diapers–Clearly, I had the better deal.

And while, I was sort of a single mom for the month, I was fortunate to have the help from my in-laws. It would have been so much worse without them.

I will say that because I had a new job and a baby to take care of, the month did fly by. (Keeping busy is also key to a long distance relationship in my opinion.) Still a hard month, but luckily it went quickly.

Tom will be home this weekend. (Like forever home together) We will officially be a civilian family. Crazy to think we started this roller coaster ride 3 years ago with the military. And in 7 and a half years, this is the first time I can safely say that Tom and I will never again live in different places. (Unless Taylor Swift comes to her senses and sweeps him up from me…)

It has taken a lot for us to get here. There were times in the last year that I never thought it would come.

God is good. His plans come together for us even if they don’t go as according to our plan. And sometimes His plan is better than we could have ever imagined. (You’d think we would learn to let go of our own plans and not think that our plan is the master plan…but I digress.)

So happy the three of us will be back together again in a matter of days!

Tom, we are almost there. We have been dreaming of this day for so long. I love you, and thank you for all that you have done to get us here.

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 Have you done long distance? What is your sage advice?

Missed

Missed.

The biggest downside of living in various parts of the country and away from your family are the moments missed.

I have missed weddings, births of my nieces, holidays, and just ordinary days.

Today marks another thing missed.

This past weekend my family said goodbye to Mabel, my step-grandma.

She had a stroke recently so we knew it was only a matter of time.

She was this little old thing that just loved to tell a story. (Sometimes three or four times in one sitting.)

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If you couldn’t guess, Mabel is the one in the bright red shirt, surprisingly with her eyes open. (Which is a rarity in most family pictures…)

Since my dad remarried when I was fairly young, we were fortunate to be have 3 sets of grandparents for most of our life. Granted, we call them Mabel and Bob, but the love of grandparents none-the-less.

I find myself without much to say or being able to verbalize it. There are so many emotions that cannot be fully expressed.

Emotions of the loss, emotions of not being there for my step-mom, emotions that Mabel will never meet George, emotions of separation.

At times like these, you just want to be be there and with your family. Unfortunately though, I cannot make the 8 hour drive (more like 10 hours in my current pregnant state) to be at the funeral today.

So you do what you can.

Mabel, here’s to you and your full life.

I guess this means someone will have to fill your shoes as the ringer at holiday card games and keep us on our toes.

 

 

Whitener Wednesday-The Engagement Year

If you missed the first few parts of Whitener Wednesdays, you can read the first three parts of Tom and I’s love story here, here, and here.

Today’s episode is all about…you guessed it:  The Engagement.

I left off last week with a trip to Savannah before our big move to Ames, IA.

Let me give you a brief back story before I get to the engagement story. Tom and I had only gotten back together about 6 months before this trip to Savannah. We both knew we were going to end up getting married, but we discussed that we would not get engaged until we lived in the same zipcode for awhile. Tom was very adamant about this fact, and I agreed that it would be a good idea. I was pretty adamant with wanting to physically go ring shopping together in person before Tom decided to pop the question. I wanted to ensure that he didn’t pick out something that was way too big and not my style at all. Maybe the month before this trip, I had started looking at ideas for rings to know what we may be getting ourselves into before we went to a store.

But again, we had agreed that we would wait until we lived near each other to make this trip to a jewelry store.

We had planned on making this trip to Savannah as carefree as possible, which meant that I was not allowed to make any definite plans. We would just do anything that our heart desired that particular day. It was to celebrate the end of grad school and a new chapter of being in the same time zone again.

So the first night we were in Savannah, we had a nice dinner (where we found out Mint Juleps are gross). Tom suggested we go find a mini-golf place, which is something we always do when we travel and were some of our favorite dates in Kansas City.

We tried finding several on our GPS but each place no longer existed or we just weren’t the best navigators.

It was also at this point that I started to get a severe case of food poisoning. So it was back to the hotel we went because my insides were on fire and did not want us to have a good time.

The next day, I still wasn’t feeling great. Tom, however, was very insistent on going miniature golfing. It was very uncharacteristic of him to be some emphatic about our plans, and my sick brain just wasn’t getting it. We actually got into a little bit of an argument because I thought we could just go another day, and I thought we weren’t making any plans. Tom, however, said we had to go that night and promptly went to the concierge to find out where a real mini-golf place was.  He was very persistent.

So I put on a smiling face and tried to be pumped about mini-golf which we did find on the first try.

It was kind of a lame course, and it was being over-run by 8th graders hopped up on energy drinks and sweets.

This whole time I am trying to be positive and not roll over from dehydration, and Tom is cursing under his breath at the teenagers. He was so visibly upset the whole time, I just tried getting out of there as soon as possible. I think our night was even further soiled when on the last couple holes, some kids started putting AS WE WERE STILL GOING! Seriously, our balls were still on the green and they just started running over us.

We went inside the arcade to cool off on a few rounds of skeeball and try to win some tickets for a way awesome prize (if we were still in elementary school). When we went up to the prize counter, Tom said, “Hey, here is an engagement ring for you,” as he pointed to a plastic ring in the glass case. I just rolled my eyes at him and walked to the car.

We were both kind of spent at this point. I was still exhausted from the food poisoning. And I thought Tom was just being paranoid about the middle schoolers. He had been acting really strange all day.

We ended up going to the river walk to watch the sunset and just relax. As we sat on a bench there, a street musician started playing nearby, a saxophonist no less.

And then I am not really sure what happened. It was a blur.

Tom was on one knee and said some things. As I registered that he just asked me to marry him when he pulled out the ring, I slapped him in the face.

I was in shock and thought he was pulling a prank since we had agreed not to do this until we went ring shopping together and lived in the same city! This wasn’t really happening!

In fact, it was. He had to repeat it and he apologized for not doing it on the mini-golf course, but he didn’t want it ruined by those punk kids.

Obviously, I said yes and apologized for slapping him.

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And then we celebrated over french fries because I still couldn’t eat much (hmm it sounds like how we celebrated finding out about George…)

The next day we went para-sailing and then did a walking tour de Margaritas from our hotel to the river to celebrate in style. Tom ended up winning the tour from our hotel to the river because I got another visit from the food poisoning fairy, which  coupled with the few margaritas I did have made for just a wonderful night of celebrating…

Super awesome.

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Anyway, so that is our fun engagement story. Tom had it planned for months. He had gone shopping for a ring long before I was looking and just made up that rule about living near each other to throw me off track. He told all of my grad school friends before graduation a few days prior to our trip as well as my whole family. This also explains why he was so nervous. He had the ring in this backpack (in a waterproof box) the entire time because he was afraid something would happen to it, and he wanted to ask early in the trip so he could just relax the rest of the trip and celebrate our future. I just thought he was being a weird end of the world prepper with the back pack the whole time since he wouldn’t let it get farther than an arm’s length from him.

So much for our no-plan trip…

I had no idea. Complete surprise, and I love it that way.

We quickly started making plans for the wedding to be the following summer. A year was a great timeline to plan especially considering I would be in a new job, and that gave Tom time to finish his degree and find a job in Iowa as well.

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He had been job searching as soon as I found out that I had the job in Ames in April. He was scheduled to graduate with his Bachelor’s that December. So we signed on for long distance just a little longer since a job didn’t pan out by the time I moved to Iowa in July.

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He kept job searching, but the economy was not great back then and so many people applied for one police position in a department.

He did join me the semester after he graduated without a job, but with some great prospects. We were just sure with our connections and his experience that he would have gotten a job in Ames and were willing to bank his move on it.

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On the plus side, it was great to finally have long distance behind us. Tom finally got to see what I did first hand, which was great to finally share with him on a daily basis.

All this time, we planned the biggest party to celebrate our nuptials that June.

Unfortunately, the months kept passing, and Tom was not able to find a job like we thought. It was a very frustrating time seeing our dreams within grasp but not being able to reach them as we had thought.

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So here we were, 26 years old, ready to walk down the aisle but with an unsteady future ahead of us.

Come back next week to hear about our wedding day!

Did you have a knee-jerk reaction to your proposal? Did it happen as you thought? Or have you already dreamed up your future proposal?

Whitener Wednesday-The Grad School Years

Welcome back to the third installment of our love story.

This chapter was not as blissful as our first year. It was two years full of challenge, heartbreak, and endurance. In the end our love did prevail, but there were a lot of hiccups along the way.

We had left the honeymoon phase.

Tom helped move me to Clemson in the summer of 2008. When he left that day in July, I don’t think either of us were ready for the two years of distance in front of us.

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This was the door to my grad school apartment.

If you were not aware, South Carolina and Missouri are not exactly close to each other. (Also, if you were not aware of that fact, you may need to brush up on your geography.) It was a 16 hour drive between us, and traveling by plane was complicated since there was not a big airport near Clemson.

I also was starting a new job being a supervisor for RAs. When Tom and I met, I was not in any job that related to my field. This new job during grad school is kind of wonky to explain to outsiders what it all entails, which FYI is a lot more than just being a “Dorm Mother.” (My parents still don’t always understand what I am doing 10 years later.) It is something that is best understood when experiencing it in person.

So here I was starting a new chapter of my own life that Tom had no idea about.

At this same time, Tom decided to take another sabbatical from school due to his job going full time and extremely well for him.

The situation found us about 1000 miles away from each other embarking on new avenues in our jobs/lives without actually seeing it in person or really being a part of it. Long distance only make every day struggles more grandiose.

Yes, we would visit on 4 day weekends and holidays, but these visits were sporadic and not fully in touch with reality. Those who have been in long distance relationships know that those briefs moments you are together are spent soaking up alone time and are a break from your day to day existence.

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We talked every day and Skyped several times a week, but slowly our communication started breaking down because we weren’t sure how to be the best support for each other. We wanted to be there in person, but still had so much time apart.

That first year was a rollercoaster to say the least.

I was in my first year of figuring out what it means to be a Student Affairs professional along with the rigors of academia. And Tom was working full time and wondering what his life goals were.  It was at this time that Tom first talked about enlisting in the Army. My 23 year old self was not too keen on this idea. Although I tried being supportive, I guess you could say I didn’t have the heart for it. ( I would have never guessed that I would have agreed to this plan so many years later. Man I put up a fight then!)

To make matters more complicated, my degree program had a counseling focus. So we liked to talk about our feelings and had to do a lot of self-reflection. And of course after doing this for hours a day, it just kind of become a part of you to break everything down and put on your counseling hat even if it is for yourself.

Which only meant that I would over-analyze EVERY.SINGLE.conversation Tom and I would have about anything. And that first year we did have a lot of disagreements which I thought I could fix after having a few counseling classes. When I couldn’t fix our “issues,” I started doubting everything.

And that doubt just continued to eat at me, which is something I am not proud of to this day.

Summer of 2009 came and I was in Florida doing a summer internship. My heart was conflicted about our paths working together in the end. Here I was looking at the next year to start my full time job search, and Tom had just moved back to his home town because he was offered a job with the Sheriff’s department there.

Remember how my program was all about reflecting? Well I eventually reflected and self analyzed myself into breaking up with Tom. There was just a day that I felt that we were done. I just couldn’t see us working everything out and our long term goals ever matching up. I was focusing on what was in front of me and felt that I needed to look out for my own best interest. I decided we needed to break up. In my head, I thought we both needed time apart to figure out what/who we wanted.

The long distance had gotten to me. There were a lot of factors that played into this for me, which the blog is not exactly the place for me to delve into. Just know that I didn’t feel that I was strong enough to keep up this relationship, even though I was the one who had put us there.

I came back to Clemson after the summer internship in Florida in the fall of 2009. That fall my cohort and I prepared for our first job search and started making plans for our futures. At this time, Tom had transferred credits to a school in his home town and started working and going to school full time determined to finish his degree.

While thinking about where my future was headed, I had this nagging feeling that something was missing.

After some more reflecting, I said, “Self, you need to get Tom back.” So I started the long route of apologies and forgiveness back to our relationship.

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We spent about 5 months apart by the time we got back together, and it was right around the holidays of that year that we were back on track with everything.

We learned a lot about ourselves and who we were as a couple. We also started discovering where we wanted to go in the future. We eventually moved past me breaking off our relationship. (Although, while writing this, he razzed me the WHOLE time for leaving him.)

Jump forward to my last semester at grad school (spring 2010).

We were back in a good place. All of my reservations had been thwarted. I knew that we would eventually end up being married, but the answer of when was still up in the air.

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We talked about where we wanted to end up and our plans as a future family. We came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to live outside of the mid-west. I would focus on Missouri schools, and some schools in states that touched Missouri. The original plan was to end up in Missouri, but unfortunately when I job searched this was also a time when many colleges had hiring freezes and budgets were locked. Many jobs I applied for at the time were only anticipated positions.

Every campus I interviewed with, Tom and I also did research on the community and the police openings in the area. We narrowed down my options so that they would fit both of our job needs.

About a month before I graduated from Clemson, I happily accepted a job at Iowa State University. One, it seriously was the best career option for me, but it also happened to seem like the best option and fit for Tom as well. Everything seemed to be lining up for us perfectly.

May came and I graduated.

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Grad school was challenging for our saga. There were some very painful moments. I was not as tough as I thought when it came to distance and crumbled when things got rough. The distance made it much easier for me to run away. It took a lot for me to crawl out of the dark place that I had put myself. Luckily, I had a great support network at the time who helped me process things and get me to a much better place. I did in fact need that break, as hard as it is to admit. I needed to work out some of my inner demons and needed to be truly alone to do so. I know it sounds silly, but I needed that time to be selfish to learn that I really needed to be selfless in a relationship. It gave me the opportunity to realize how much Tom needed to be a part of my life and what he meant to me.

Long distance is evil, and definitely not something I wish on any relationship. You have to have a lot of trust, strength, and confidence in who you are as a couple. You have to live as a single unit but also at the same time have the identity as a couple. Balancing between two worlds is complicated and messy at times. You have to find ways to keep on living in the present, but also be present for each other. There is compromise and lessons to be learned along the way. Long distance will change you; sometimes for the better and sometimes not, and sometimes both. It is by no means a fun situation to be in (let’s be real the only plus side is not having to shave your legs on a regular basis and getting to be the decider of what is on TV 100% of the time). But you realize that getting through the distance is what you have to do because not having that person in your life is worse.

Fortunately, Tom and I made it through and are better for it. We are much more effective communicators, and have a much greater understanding of each other and how to compromise having gone through that experience. It also taught me not to judge other people’s relationships and covet what they have. You never know what experiences got them to where they are. Most people are surprised to find out that we were separated for a time. Every relationship will have it’s hard times, but you possibly will only see the good times. Every relationship needs work and diligent maintenance. Some of us (hang my head in shame) regrettably take more time to learn this lesson.

I will say that we were both ready to be done with long distance at that time and could not have been more excited about the prospects of our life together in Iowa. We planned a trip a couple days after graduation to Savannah, GA to celebrate the ending of long distance and my completing grad school.

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The picture on the left is the day that I moved to Clemson (2008) in my “front yard.” The picture on the right is the day I graduated (2010) in the same tree.

This is where this particular chapter ends my friends . At this point, we had been together for about 3 years.

Come back next week to see what happens as the move to Iowa looms ahead!