True Stories of Real Army Wives: My First Teaching Job

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Sun., Aug. 10, 2003

Alan,

Hey Babe! Tomorrow is my first day of work. In case you haven’t yet gotten my previous letter, I got hired by Graham Elementary School downtown yesterday! Yay!!

I’ll be making $32,000 this year. It’s a state charter school serving mostly low-income students, but it’s located in a church. Yeah, it’s different, but I’m excited about it. I’ll be teaching 3rd and 4th grade in one classroom, all subjects.

It’s going to be tough. School starts the 18th, but teachers start tomorrow. I have to be there at 9:15 am, and from now on, I have a full-time job! It’s exciting and yet terrifying at the same time.

Last night, I cooked dinner for 8, mostly our neighbors: Elsie, Cloe, Annie, Kayla, Katherine, Jay, Phan, and myself. After dinner, Jay left and all the girls stayed and talked while I cleaned up, joining them occasionally in the living room.

I’m glad you met Kayla’s husband. She’s a real sweet girl. She’s enrolled at Central Texas College.

I got those three cameras developed today. I cannot believe you managed to use up 3 cameras in 1 month. And almost all of them are landscapes! Take pics of you and your friends, geez. Just do the method we use to take pics of ourselves, hold the camera in your right hand and click. I do it.

 

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Not all of Alan’s “landscape photos” were uninteresting. This one is of the Tikrit Palace Compound, which became 4th ID Headquarters during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Alan!! I’m so nervous!! How can I be a teacher??

I’m so scared! But it did hurt my feelings in one of your letters when you said you didn’t know how I’d be with kids because you’ve never seen me with children. Hello! Kid’s Klub! And did you ever notice Laura Ellen and Matthew like me? I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but I couldn’t help it.

It’s so weird that I’m starting a new job tomorrow, and you don’t even know about it. I hope you call or email soon so I can tell you. I love you so much, and I hate not being able to share stuff with you. But I’ll deal.

I keep having these dreams that we’ve lost touch, and in them I’m always sad because you never call or visit.

In the dream, I’m all confused, and I don’t understand why we aren’t together. Dream April doesn’t know that you’re in Iraq. Many times you’re just in another state, but always we’ve lost touch, and I’m so hurt.

Depressing, huh? I guess my subconscious knows you’re gone, misses you, and feels abandoned, like a cat in a box on the side of the road. Ok. Ok. Sorry. I’ll stop.

I MISS YOU! I miss you so much I just want to cry! And if I keep thinking about it, I will cry, so I better move on to another topic.

Your family has been really helpful with the teaching job. Your mom and Ellen gave me lots of good ideas, which will help. I’m glad there are lots of teachers in the family.

I love you so much, Alan. Keep praying for me. The first year of teaching is super hard, but add that to the stress of a year-long deployment, and the thought is foreboding. I’m just thankful I’m a Christian. I couldn’t do anything on my strength alone. All credit is due Him.

Thank you for marrying me, Alan. If you were here, I would climb up in your lap and hug you so close and just have a good cry, while you tucked my hair behind my ears and told me everything will be okay. How I wish you were here. I know you do too.

I love you, you big stud muffin.

Forever Yours,

April

 

************

Was it a bad sign that I hadn’t even started my job yet, and already I wanted to cry?

Starting a full-time job like teaching was exhausting, and I was still trying to be a good housekeeper and a faithful friend. The funny thing is that once you have a full-time job, whether you are a man or a woman, something has to give.

No one can do ALL the things. Even without kids, we have to delegate things to give ourselves space to breathe.

When I was in high school and college, I worked, but I had certainly never been a school teacher before. To this day, I will tell you that all teachers are underpaid, and I have all the respect in the world for them!

 

***********

Tues., Aug. 12, 2003

10:48 pm

Dear Alan,

I just have too much to do to get to bed early! And I’m sleepy! But I guess you know what that’s like.

I had in-service training from 9-3. I stayed after and talked to Mrs. W. I can’t remember her name, but it starts with a W. There were so many questions I still had unanswered. Mrs. W. was very helpful, and she will be extremely easy to work for.

After work, Annie needed me to drive her to the PX so she could buy a phone card to call her fiancée, Drew, in Germany.

Then I had to drive to Copperas Cove and fill out my “I have a job” form. By the time I got home it was 4:45. I came in and changed, vacuumed the house, tidied up, and collapsed on the sofa at 5:30 or so for a brief break in which I consumed like literally 20 ounces of blue Gatorade in 2 minutes flat.

I was exhausted!

So I made myself dinner, and I was all excited about watching the Miss Teen USA pageant, but I didn’t even really get to watch it because the phone rang. It was your mom, and the call was helpful because I got some good ideas from her. Then my mom called, which was good, but they were both very long calls.

Then I had to get online and submit my application for certifications, and I got that done, and that brings me to now.

I don’t have any idea how full-time workers keep a clean house!

There is delicate laundry hanging to dry all over the place, dirty dishes in the sink, clean, unfolded laundry and school supplies everywhere! I could get much more done if the phone didn’t ring so much, but I know that it is good for me that so many people love me and want to talk to me. Even still, I did ignore three other phone calls.

Oh, Alan! I CAN’T WAIT ’til you get back! I need you! That would help my busy-ness because you can take over the laundry. You’re better at it than me anyway.

 

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Me, in teacher classes. Yes, I used to be tiny, but I promise I do have a right arm. That was an odd angle.

 

I also learned more about the school and my room today. This school is fine arts oriented. Many children miss out on opportunities for piano, dance, those types of lessons because their parents can’t afford it, like when I was little. I wanted to take dance but couldn’t because it was too expensive.

This school has several fine arts teachers to provide those services. They have chorus, piano, violin, ballet, etc. Really! Pretty cool, huh?

Yet they have no media center…not so cool…But I think it’s a good school, and I’m excited about working here.

I love you, Alan, and I miss you so much. I get letters from you constantly, almost everyday. It means so much to me! You know that though because I’m sure you feel the same way about me.

I know I’m complaining about getting too many phone calls, so allow me to clarify. I am thankful that I am loved. It is a blessing. Calls from you MAKE my day. I love it.

So you just call ANYTIME.  I love you so much, and I always will. Hang in there. It’ll be winter, or at least fall, before you know it!

I love you,

April

*************

I didn’t even get to go into my classroom until the third day of training, and there was such an overwhelming amount of cleaning, decorating, organizing, and planning to do in there.

My friend Sarah was a life-saver. She rescued me day after day, organizing my things, filing my papers, helping me move desks. I couldn’t have done it without her.

We poured ourselves into setting up that classroom, which left little time for planning the actual lessons! I was left furiously scouring the internet for good first-day-of-school ideas the very night before school was to start.

And I’ll tell you all about the first week of school, and the mother I called “the Toothless Wonder” — Don’t worry. Only in my head I called her that– next week!  😉

 

Want to catch up? Click here for last week’s post and here for the very first post in this series.

 

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Kids’ Names, The Cop, & Living a Life that Matters

Real Army Wives Series *******This post is part of the series, The Real Army Wives. For last week’s chapter, click here.*************** Friday, July 8, 2003 Alan, Hey! I’m being bad. I’m in class, and we are watching a truly boring video. So I’ve been brainstorming children’s names for our future children. These are some that I have come up with. Tell me what you think, and try to think of some names to add to the list. 🙂

Girls:

Gracie Elizabeth  (my favorite) Kathryn Jennings (Call her Katie.) Autumn Faith

Boys:

Cody Alan John David David Alan  (but David is such a common name.) 🙂 I know I said we’d wait 5 years, but I hope you don’t really plan on sticking to that… 🙂 I just can’t wait for you to get back! I got a letter from you today. It was written June 23, and the CMIC had been attacked in broad daylight. : ( I’m wondering if you are in Ad Dwar yet and how that is going. I REALLY hope you like your new job. I know you’ll be great at it. You’re great at everything you do. #1 Cadet–RA of the Year–Cum Laude—You are amazing. I love you, April

*******

July was an exciting month.

My house was an active hub where we came together when we were tired of being alone. The house next door was also a hub because it seemed like Katherine and Nick’s (The Beefcake’s) house was always hosting one or several long-term house guests. First, Nick’s cousin Jay moved in. Then there was Phan. Jay stayed the whole year, but Phan was only there for a few months. Later they also introduced us to Tegann and Josh. Between Katherine’s house and my house, our little corner of the street was a regular YMCA for 20-somethings.

Those duplexes were an unbeatable support system.

On the flip side, Shelby, on the other half of my duplex, was not handling the deployment so well. By this point she was having an obvious affair, with her new boyfriend’s car always parked in the driveway. I remember saying, “Well, if it’s any comfort to her husband, she fights with her boyfriends just as much as she ever fought with her husband.” I never got to know Shelby. I did help her out with the cops once.

It was in the middle of the day when a lady cop knocked on my door.

“Do you know the people who live next door? I keep knocking, but no one answers.” “Yes, I know them. She’s at work right now, and the kids are at school.” “We received a complaint, and do you know if these kids spend a lot of time at home alone?” Oh, boy. “Well, usually if they get home and Shelby’s not there, they come over here, and I watch them.” This was true. “Our caller said that there’s a two-year-old and a baby?” “No. no. They are like 10 and 7. There’s no babies, and I would know. You can hear everything through these walls. That is so weird that anyone would say that. It’s not a perfect home, but I don’t believe there’s any neglect, and I know there are no babies. They are home alone sometimes, but not for long, and the oldest is very responsible.” The cop was satisfied and left. Yes, I watched those kids sometimes, but as their neighbor,  I felt like that made me part of their ‘village’, their built-in support system. I wasn’t about to start buddying up to Shelby, but I was happy to help her children. That afternoon, Shelby and her two children knocked on my door. She apologized for the cop showing up and explained that her dad was crazy and was trying to get back at her. He was the one who called the police. I’m sure Shelby knew that I knew what a wreck her life was, but I knew in my bones that for some reason I wasn’t meant to be the person to help her, even though I did want to. I focused more on the children.

*********

I also had my own, much less troubling, problems to sort out. I was talking to Elsie about how I’d missed Granny Mary’s funeral, which kind of put me in the dog house with my family. I was thinking about going down on July 26th weekend for my other Granny’s 90th birthday party.

Elsie thought quickly, “Fly down on the 25th, and we’ll be on the same plane!!”

We got Elsie’s flight numbers and I booked it. Up to that point, I had flown a few times, always by myself, except for our honeymoon. Elsie and I were so excited to get to fly home together! I wrote Alan all about it, and I told him, “How cool is it that there is a girl–my age–across the street–who I like being around–whose from my home town–and whose husband is deployed too????? That does NOT just happen. That’s God working. And you know, during this deployment, I’ve only seen Elsie get teary-eyed once, and that was the day she was here, and you called me while she was here. It wasn’t jealousy or sadness or anger. It was just pure emotion because she was happy for me. It’s so weird when you know EXACTLY what someone else is going through.”

************

Meanwhile, I began interviewing for teaching jobs and continued my teacher classes, and I felt happy. I didn’t need Ambien to go to sleep anymore.

In my letter to Alan, I explained,

“Our relationship has just put my life on such a—an unusual course, but you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything!! Not only do I have a man who I know loves me more than anyone, but I have a life that matters. It matters. It matters to the kids next door. It matters to the kids I will one day teach. It matters to Sarah, and Cloe, and Elsie. And of course, it matters to you. Isn’t that what we all want? To know that we matter? The FRG (Family Readiness Group) people are telling us not to expect y’all home until next March, though nothing is official yet. I’m choosing not to believe it because it is still up in the air. So I’m okay. For now, I’m better than okay. I’m happy. And you are still such a big part of that. Your letters–wow–your letters are a lifeline to me. Keep those bad boys coming.”   Last week’s chapter

Click here to read the next chapter.

 

 

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Real Army Wives: Sarah, Short and Cute


Real Army Wives Series Meet Sarah

left to right: Elsie, Kayla, Sarah, Me, & Cloe. Kayla’s sister was behind us.

***This post is part of the series The Real Army Wives. For last week’s post about The Coffee Group, click here.***

Okay, you may or may not get my title reference there to the children’s book, Sarah Plain and Tall, which you should totally read to your children. It’s such a great book.

I still vividly recall the day I met Sarah.

(I even have some adorable photos of Sarah…..but I left town for Hurricane Irma and didn’t pack my photo albums, so you will have to wait for those…….)

It was one of those oddly eventful days. Before Alan’s unit ever left, they hosted a Unit Sports Day, which was a fun way to break up the monotony of all the waiting for deployment.

It was February, so I wore these blue, bootcut, work-out pants I had with a white Alabama t-shirt tucked into it. My, how fashion has changed. I promise it was not weird in early 2003 to tuck in your t-shirt. It’s funny that I can often remember what I was wearing but never what anyone else was wearing…

Fort Hood had a policy of pulling people over for “random” car inspections, even if you did have your car dashboard military ID sticker in place as well as your personal military ID card. Sometimes it seemed like the inspections weren’t all that random.

That day the NCOIC, which means non-commissioned officer in charge, decided to pull me over for a random inspection. Of course, I was running late and nervous about even finding the sports day location, so I was annoyed by this. However, I complied like a good little citizen. For some reason I even had to get out of the car, though I have no idea why.

Once they were all finished inspecting my Grand Am and my paperwork, this staff sergeant handed me back my ID and said, “All done. You got a nice ass!”

Say wha??????  Well, that did rattle me a bit, but I spoke not a word, got back into my Grand Am, and drove on in a billion circles until I finally found the sports day location. I probably had to call Alan on the way there lost, knowing my typical pattern in the pre-GPS days. Oh, who am I kidding? That’s still my pattern!

The Unit Sports Day consisted of several groups of soldiers running different lengths of races. That’s all I can recall from it, and then there was a food booth, run mostly by wives. I joined the wives at the food booth, and that was where I met Sarah.

I’m sure I told Sarah my gate car inspection story, but I’m not sure if I made a lovely first impression after being flustered over the gate guard and the getting lost. Unfortunately, I also told that story to Alan in front of a few of his co-workers, who all hooted and hollered and egged Alan on to go down there and say something to this man.

Well, Alan did go down there, but we could not find the offensive staff sergeant. Instead, we found a regular sergeant who griped about how the staff sergeants were coming down there as if the regular sergeants couldn’t handle overseeing the gate, which they didn’t appreciate.

It was probably best Alan didn’t get to talk to the guy in the heat of that moment anyway. Of course, Alan’s a big dude, but he’s also very mild-mannered. I wonder if he had thought through what he was going to say.

Back at the Sports Day booth, I guess we handed out chips and hotdogs or sold them as an FRG fundraiser. Sarah and I got to talking and hit it off so nicely. Sarah was 25, and I was 22, so we had that bond of youth. Neither of us had lived in the Fort Hood area for all that long. Sarah lived in Copperas Cove with her husband and her two dogs.

Sarah is hard to describe because there are many facets to her personality. She is all at once outgoing but timid in some situations. Sarah is of Mexican heritage, but she was raised in San Antonio and had never actually been to Mexico. Her Spanish is excellent though. She is fun-loving but highly responsible. Sarah was one of those people, like my friend Jennings, who just knew how to jump in and help. That’s a gift that some people have, a highly useful one, of innately knowing the helpful thing to do and doing it without anyone asking.

Sarah is also that kind of friend who will give you the shirt off her back if you say you are cold. Also, she did an excellent job of killing ants in my kitchen that week the ants came marching in.

Sarah was a godsend.

One thing that always made me laugh about Sarah was that she never called any of her friends by their names when she would tell stories. It wasn’t, “Oh, I was at Janice’s house.” Instead it was always, “I was at my friend’s house,” which almost made it sound like she had this one friend when truly she had many.

I was amused to find that Sarah, who could not have been an inch over 5 foot 1 inches tall, was married to an enormous African-American man named Zack, who must have been about 6 foot 3. I couldn’t tell you what he was like though because that was another thing about early 2003. All of our husbands left the country before you got to know any of them.

On that Unit Sports Day, Sarah and I decided to go ahead and leave before our husbands left. Sarah’s car had a run in with one of those dirt-devil type of mini-tornado storms that had completely smashed up her passenger door window. That left her car-less that day, so I gave her a ride home.

I thought I had a cute little duplex, but Sarah’s duplex in the Cove was much smaller because it only had two bedrooms and wasn’t in as nice of a neighborhood as mine was. Sarah let me come in and introduced me to her dogs. She even gave me a potted plant that sort of became my friend during that deployment and for a couple of years afterward. I remember moving with that plant onto base housing a year later and then even to Arizona in 2005.

Sarah was a great laugher and was better at having a handle on knowing how she felt than I was. I love to laugh with friends normally, but when I have a lot on my mind, I tend to space out. Intentionally, I shut the world out while I process. Phone calls go unanswered. Text messages do not get replied to, and I will even hide in my room rather than open the door to knockers.

After Alan left, it was time to space out. Sarah called frequently. She was reaching out to me, but I wasn’t answering. Most of the time I knew she was calling, but I was not ready to talk to people, not even to friends. I just wanted to be alone with my t.v. and my board games that I played versus myself. I realize it’s almost comical, me sitting in my living room playing 4 different hands of Skipbo against each other, but I don’t know what to tell ya. That was how I coped, that and many calls to 911, but you can go back and read that story if you missed it.

After my crazy-lady wake-up call, I called up Sarah and Elsie and invited them over.

Let me clarify that I wasn’t completely isolated. I saw my church friends Ashley, Theresa, and Wanda, on Sundays, at choir practice on Wednesdays, and at events. My neighbor Elsie and I talked frequently outside. Plus, Alan’s cousin Katie helped me out, checked on me, and even sent her husband over to cut my grass.  Then there was also the coffee group once a month. I wasn’t completely alone.

But this was part of my new GOAL, to begin to focus on others instead of just myself. I reached out first to Sarah and Elsie.

Elsie and Sarah probably do not even remember it, but it was huge for me because I was intentionally focusing on facing my problems and giving back to others just like me. That was what this was about. I wanted to gather these women and make a difference. We could do this together!!!

And I knew Sarah needed me because she had called and called, and I felt bad for being such an absent friend.

Sarah looked positively giddy when she knocked on my door around dinnertime, and held up a bottle of blackberry wine. I welcomed her in, and soon Elsie arrived. That very first night it was just the three of us because we had not yet met the rest of our group of mostly neighbors.

Was it blackberry wine or was it raspberry? It was something like that. The alcohol content was so low on it that you could freeze the whole bottle in the freezer. That wine was more sugar than anything else.

The only thing was that I don’t drink. I wasn’t sure what to do with this obviously thoughtful gesture, especially after having been such a bad friend. Elsie arrived, appearing pretty happy with Sarah’s wine too, so they urged me to open it.

I didn’t even have a wine bottle opener-thing, but we quickly discovered that it was a twisty cap anyway.

Well, the Bible does say that wine is for the miserable, and I didn’t want to let them all down, so I went ahead and partook. I’m sorry to tell you that it was quite delicious, and it became the sponsored drink of choice of our Army Wives group even though none of us were drinkers. (And don’t worry. I’m still not a drinker.)

Elsie and Sarah were the perfect friends for me. They were both jolly souls who seemed to be handling this deployment thing fathoms better than I was.

That night we ate and talked and laughed uproariously, and by the time Elsie and Sarah left I felt better than I had felt in ages. It’s amazing how uplifting the countenance of good friends can be!

It wasn’t the barely-even-wine or the food that brightened our hearts. It was each other, encouraging one another, and laughing and talking about a shared trial we were going through.

No one can relate to military life like a fellow military spouse can.

We were going to survive this year just fine after all, and did you know that we had all heard from our husbands in Kuwait too? The soldiers flew to Kuwait, where they lived in tent cities and were all able to call at least once. Then there was the month of silence as the 4th Infantry Division drove into Iraq, through Baghdad and set up camp.

Alan said they arrived to cheering crowds, though it didn’t stay that way as the months wore on. Alan arrived in Tikrit, they set up their tents or trailers there, and then I finally heard from Alan again, ending the month of silence, which had coincided with my month of hiding quietly in my house.

When Alan finally called from Tikrit, he gave me the phone number of a wife who also lived on my street named Cloe. Cloe’s husband was a soldier on Alan’s Fire Support Team, and she didn’t have a crew of Army Wives to hang out with yet either. She would be my next person to call to add to this newly formed little tribe.

 

 



 

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