My First Colossal Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

***This post belongs to the series True Stories of Real Army Wives. A new chapter appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com.***

My First Great Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

 

My last post was about how miserable I was as a teacher. Alan must have called me the morning after my first or second day of teaching from Iraq.

What he wrote in response to my hardship is one of the most touching, empathetic, heartfelt letters I have ever read. No, he wasn’t physically there, and yet with this letter you can see how he was still obviously there for me when I needed him most.

Tues., 19 Aug., 2003

6:35 am

April,

I love you, April. I just got off the phone with you, and I’m bursting with feelings of grief, sorrow, sympathy….things I’ve never felt so strongly for anyone else before…only myself!!! April, I hurt so bad for you right now, but indeed, I am giving it all to God RIGHT NOW, our Rock, our Fortress, our Comforter, our Lord.

Oh, April, how I wish there were something I could do, there! Aaaugh!!!

But what this has done is it has forced me to go to my knees and begin this battle by asking for help where the most help will come from!

April, I know you can do it (teach) and do it EXTREMELY well….However, enjoying it is a completely different story! April, if it’s still this bad by the time you get this letter then I have no problem with you quitting.

When you feel bad, it really makes me feel sick at my stomach….literally. And when you said you’ve been too stressed out to eat all day long, I could have cried! Now I don’t have an appetite!

Oh, April, I just love you so, so much. I want so badly to be there with you. God knew this was coming all along just like he saw everything coming that’s happened over here. He wants us to turn to Him for strength! He loves us so much more than we can even imagine!

Oh, April, I love you so much. I feel so terrible, but I know God will get us through this and when it’s passed, the three of us will all be that much closer!

1 Peter 5:7   “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”

April, I love you…and I am praying for you harder than ever!

Always Yours,

Alan

 

*******

Y’all must think I am pathetically weak to fall apart at such a thing as having a job that I hated. Ha! That’s how it felt at the time though.

Alan took this trial on as his own, not just as mine, even though we were oceans apart. That’s how you support your spouse from overseas. He never once downplayed my unhappiness, even though he was in a WAR zone, and I was simply unhappy at work.

I forged through the first four weeks of teaching.

There was the day I even got to work so early, I set off the school alarm and caused all sorts of trouble. But gracious, why did they give me a key if I also needed an alarm code!?

There were parent/teacher conferences where I faked “happy teacher” as well as I possibly could.

I was an emotional mess. I lost 20 pounds and got down to a pitiful-looking 110 pounds, on a 5 foot 6 frame.

During this time, three soldiers from Alan’s unit, 4-42 Field Artillery, were killed in action in Iraq.

Up until this point, I’d built Alan’s Iraqi world in my mind as not a super dangerous place. This wasn’t anything like the Vietnam War, I figured. Alan was hooking up utilities and working with the Mayor’s office of Ad Dwar. He worked with the local civilians, so he must be okay, right?

Then came the three deaths, and these weren’t faceless names on the news. These were men in our very own unit. Reality once again nudged at me with a pitchfork. “Wake up, April, your husband is in combat. That’s why he gets “hazardous duty” pay. This is real, and anyone you know, including Alan, could be next.”

I didn’t say much about that to anyone, I stuffed my feelings inside…

only to let them come roaring to a head when children in my class made fun of the pledge and danced around making faces and wouldn’t stand up straight and put their hand over their heart.

That was it, the proverbial final straw. I was leading my 3rd and 4th graders in the pledge, and THAT KID kept goofing off and disrespecting the flag, the teacher, the country, in my mind everything, and of course, it had to be the very kid whose mother was constantly bothering me. (Look, I still treated him very nicely. I was professional, but this day his behavior set me over the edge that I was already falling off of.)

So what did I do?…..Well, I went on a tirade, giving the offending boy, his buddies around him, and the entire class, a very thorough lesson on the reason we say the pledge with respect. I reminded them that many of their mothers and fathers, and step-fathers, and cousins, and my husband were overseas fighting for us, and the least we could do was show proper respect. They were passionately instructed on sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I exalted the importance of respect in general.

The class was silent and wide-eyed. They were like 10. What did they know?

It wasn’t really them I was losing it with. It was me, it was the world, it was everything. That morning I had a high school student in my classroom as a teacher’s assistant. I instructed her to watch the class, and I fled to the bathroom to cry and get my act together.

I stared at my sleep-deprived, red, mascara-streaked, freckle-covered, miserable face in the bathroom mirror. “What kind of a teacher am I? I have got to get out of this!”

Soon after, the administration announced that it was time for us to sign our contracts.

My mind reeled.

Then the moment came. Mrs. W. asked me to come by her office to sign my contract, and I had to tell her.

Mrs. W. was the principal’s wife, but she was also the assistant principal. She was an adorably cute but commanding and accomplished, small African-American woman with super curly hair. If she had asked me to please stay, I might have caved, as she was such a great leader. I looked up to her. It was humiliating to have to confess this to her.

“I can’t sign the contract because…because I don’t think I can finish this job and stay here all year.”

Mrs. W. looked so surprised.

Cue the waterworks. I tried not to cry, but there was no stopping them.

“This is so hard for me to quit, admitting defeat, and leaving these children with no teacher, but this job is too much for me. I cannot do this. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to admit this. You know Chelsea?”

“Yes, Chelsea, yes,” she listened intently. I know she was in shock. They all seemed to think I was doing just fine.

Chelsea was a student in my class, well known for being capable and working hard. Her mother also supported her well.

“I was Chelsea. I was that girl. Success mostly came easily, and now here I am, and this is it for me. This is my first time to completely fail at something.”

“Oh,” she said, and she said other things, motivating things, and she asked me to please sleep on it, but I knew there was no turning back. I put in my 2 weeks’ notice.

I wanted out of this job as much as you’d want to escape a 0 degree dungeon infested with rats and cockroaches. Teaching was so very not a match for me.

**********

The first week of my notice, I still struggled to get out of bed and go to school. One day I called in sick with a “migraine.” I didn’t have a migraine. I had a bad-life-choices-hangover, the kind you get from regret and confusion.

I felt guilty from lying about the migraine, so I went to work all the other days of my notice.  People there were kind. A replacement followed me around that last week.

She leveled with me, “Why are you leaving? You’re doing great. You should stay.”

I began to actually consider it. That last week wasn’t so bad. Some things actually started to click. It was week 6. My LD kid was learning his own spelling words and reading his own beginner books. Maybe I was making a mistake. Maybe I should stay.

I came in the Saturday after my last day to finalize the 6 weeks’ grades for the report cards. Mr. and Mrs. W. were there going through my class’ papers too.

Mrs. W. talked as she sorted, “All of the assessments are here, April. This is good. You know, we didn’t really believe that you’d quit. We thought you’d change your mind and come in Monday.”

Ever so young and dumb, and still excited about not being a teacher anymore, I didn’t get the hint. She was totally giving me another chance to stay. Perhaps I should have taken it.

I’ve always wondered if I made the right decision that year.

Did I just quit when things got hard? Yes. Yes, in the career realm that is EXACTLY what I did, which sounds weak, wrong, and disappointing.

I re-hashed that decision in my mind for years, but the thing is you can’t go back and fix the past. What would it have been like had I stuck it out, and why didn’t I??

Looking back now, I see so many different things going on. I was immature, and my deal-with-it- tank was already full from the moving away from home and sending my husband overseas in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There was nothing more anyone could have done for me. It was simply more than I felt I could handle at the time, and I have to make my peace with that and move on. Could I handle that job now, at 36? Yes, it would still be hard, but not the horrible misery it was at 22.

But that’s the thing about the past.

Our mistakes and failures are what make us sweeter, humbler, more merciful people, and sometimes also tougher, more dependable people, so long as we learn from them. I regretted quitting mid-year so much that I have been loathe to ever quit mid-stream again in anything.

You accept the past for what it is and learn from it all that you can.

 

 

 

 

Real Army Wives: Grim Reminders and My Guardian Angel

*******This post is part of the series True Stories of Real Army Wives. This blog series takes place in 2003, at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. All names of current military members and their spouses are changed.******

To read last week’s post, click here.

Several things happened as that summer ended.

Ashley, a friend of mine from church and one of the first people I’d met in Killeen, experienced a tragedy. Her husband’s XO was shot and killed.

That was personal for Ashley. These casualties of war were personal to all of us, but it hurts so much more acutely when it’s someone you know.

Just knowing a friend of a friend was killed in action was haunting. Anytime someone young dies it just doesn’t feel right. It’s enough to make you scream. Why must there be so much ugly and injustice?

Who would be next? These reminders hung over our heads. None of us were safe. Not everyone was coming back home.

Good things still happened, though. Life went on.

» Read more

The Military Spouse of the Year Award

Kids’ papers often get turned in a day or two late. Sometimes things go missing for days before we find them at the bottom of a stack. My dining room table looks like…. Well, it looks like this:

 

My four-year-old loves to paint just as much as I love to blog.

This whole rule of disorder has been bothering me and also making me feel like a failure, so I decided to give up blogging.

“I’ll do it on the weekend,” I reasoned, “After all, I am committed to my True Stories of Real Army Wives Series, so that show must go on. I’ll just do that one each week, and I’ll become a better housekeeper. I mean stay-at-home moms are supposed to have TIDY houses, right?”

I took a couple of weeks off from the blog. It was a nice recharge. Maybe blogging is over for me.

Then I went to this Military Family Council Summit.

I opened my program. There was my picture. They used my Facebook profile photo, the one where I’m holding Daniel and look much prettier than I do in real life. (Thank you so much, Congressman Bishop and staff, for using a flattering photo!!!)

Reading my bio made me cringe. Is there anything more embarrassing than reading a write-up about yourself? Can I go hide under a chair? I do not belong here with all of these accomplished politicians and professionals.

I was sitting all alone because I’d made Alan turn around and go back home and change into his nicer uniform. Ha!

My phone buzzed. Alan sent me a text that said, “Don’t sit alone! Talk to people. Make a friend.”

I DO have a bubbly personality, but in certain situations, I suddenly struggle with feelings of total inferiority and instead draw in and go silent. Alan KNEW I’d be doing that, and I totally was.

A beautiful woman with a patriotic scarf and a sparkly USMC (U.S. Marine Corps) pin came over and talked to me. Her name was Andrea, and she was so charming and disarming. I finally started to feel at ease.

You can imagine my surprise when they announced her for the Keynote Panel, and she turned out to be the wife of the Sergeant Major of the entire U.S. Marine Corps.

I’m glad I had no idea when I was talking to her because I get all nervous and start eating my feet or running out of things to say.

Alan did make it there before too late, and then came the time for my Military Spouse of the Year for Fort Benning Award.

My nerves! Oh, but I felt so sheepish when they announced me as a “Professional Blogger.” After taking 2 weeks off from the blog, I was definitely not feeling like a pro.

It was an amazing day. Congressman Sanford Bishop presented me with a flag that was flown over the US Capitol in my honor, with a plaque certificate. Plus, I got to meet him and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (of Washington). This was so exciting!!

I also learned a TON of new things at the Military Family Council Summit, which I can’t wait to share with all of you here on the blog.

U.S. Representatives Bishop and McMorris Rodgers are the co-chairs of the Military Family Caucus, and we are always full of gratitude for them and all they do for military families.

I also want to say THANK YOU to my friend Chanda Chann for nominating me for this award, and to ALL of YOU who voted for me last winter. I’ve always said that I have the best friends!

I know what you’re wondering. Did I not take any pictures? No. Tragic, right? I bet Alan has a photo or two on his phone. I’ll share those once I get them!

But it is FUNNY FRIDAY, so here’s one more photo for ya:

This was how we kept John David busy last week: a $1 roll of leftover ribbon from the Dollar Tree. Yes, he unraveled it all over the entire house, leaving trails and tangles, but it was worth it. See? I told you I need to spend less time blogging and more time keeping house.

See, entertaining small children really isn’t all that different from busying cats. 😉 So the next day we gave him yarn. Haaaahaha

Have a wonderful weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

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