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  1. The Reunion Rules

    April 8, 2014 by JennySokol

    Separations are tough on marriages, and military life is full of them. Separations are supposed to be tough, though; it’s expected. What’s less expected is when reunions are tough.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a completely smooth reunion, especially one that follows a combat deployment. (If I did, I didn’t believe it.)

    Reunion training ensued when the military community collectively realized that the wars weren’t going to end in 2004, and that homecomings were becoming increasing complicated. I’ve read the handouts. I’ve attended the counseling. I’ve learned from experience.

    At first, I learned the basics. Don’t drop the babies in Hubby’s lap and tell him you’re exhausted  (at least not immediately). Then I graduated to the more advanced lessons, including don’t insist he watch the firework show at DisneyLand (explosives, crowds, and an unnerving, giant mouse).

    Eventually, it dawned on me that the “reunion rules” shouldn’t only apply to reunions. If I could just follow the “reunion rules” consistently, my marriage would thrive. Everyone’s would. I haven’t mastered them yet, but I’m working on them.

    I’ve learned that pain lurks in unexpected places. There are unseen wounds that even time can’t heal. All you can do is listen.

    I’ve learned that now is not the time to overindulge. Do not spend tons of money celebrating. Don’t drink too much. Go to sleep, for heaven’s sake. Stop eating cake and go for a walk.

    I’ve learned to schedule a date without the kids. Do this even if you’re convinced that the kids need you every waking second and especially if they look at their Grammie and scream as if she’s a wicked witch. Also, if anyone asks if you want to sign up for a couple’s retreat, say yes. You probably look like you need one.

    I’ve learned that no one wants to communicate with someone who is overly critical. When emotions are high, be gentle and respect one another. In other words, geez Jenny, shut your pie-hole and listen already.

    Lastly, laugh, play, and be patient. A happy marriage is a marathon, not sprint.

    To all you who have more years of experience than I do, what have I missed?


  2. Conscious Uncoupling

    March 28, 2014 by JennySokol

    Gwyneth Paltrow is a polarizing figure, meaning she’s more annoying than a telemarketer at dinnertime. Yes, this post is shaping up to be awfully judgmental. I’m moody and Lent stinks and winter in Virginia apparently does not end in the spring.

    Back to Gwyneth. Once, I watched a TV segment in which Gwyneth and her trainer (who likely had her hip bones surgically removed) talked about the unattractiveness of muscles. So bulky and unfeminine. From Gwyneth’s website GOOP, I learned that most of what I eat is toxic. Also I’m comparatively pudgy, lazy, and poor. So no Gwyneth for me, thank you.

    I didn’t cackle wickedly when I read that Gwyneth and her rock star husband separated (because I’m a decent human being, even when moody). I did, however, cackle wickedly when she called her impending divorce “conscious uncoupling.”

    “We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

    Surprisingly, “conscious uncoupling” is a real thing, and not invented by Gwyneth herself.  Like all bizarre new age trends (think cupping, oil pulling, leech therapy), conscious uncoupling sounds ridiculous.

    During the five-week, multi-step program, a devotee undergoes  intense self-examination. Blame and finger-pointing is a big no-no. The authors of the book “Conscious Uncoupling”  explain on GOOP that people in 1900 rarely lived fifty years. People nowadays live too long to be in one monogamous marriage. Essentially, blame evolution, not your exoskeleton of anger and resentment. The words endoskeleton and exoskeleton appear frequently, as well as self-love, consciousness, and psychic infrastructure.

    “When our masculine and feminine energies reach equilibrium once more, we can emerge from our old relationship and consciously call in someone who reflects our new  world, not the old one.”

    For the evolved, conscious uncoupling is actually about coming together, not apart. What this means is that Gwyneth is even better at divorce than regular folk.

    Or is she? What about all that stuff she’s going to miss out on, like a divorce party with Pin the Tail on the Ex and a cake shaped like male genitalia? And she’ll miss out on scratching up his car and ruining his life while she’s focusing on her endoskeleton. What a shame. What’s so wrong with good old fashioned rage?

    During all that self-examination, maybe finger-pointing should occur. Maybe you’ve been a condescending jerk or a cheater-cheater-pumpkin eater. Now would be a perfect time to examine those tendencies to avoid future conscious uncoupling.

    Ah, I feel better. Honesty, judgement, and a spoonful (or three) of vanilla frosting does wonders for the soul. Gwyneth could learn a thing or two from me.


  3. Now Accepting Compliments

    March 20, 2014 by JennySokol

    When I receive a compliment, I try my darnedest to simply smile and say “thank you.”  This doesn’t come naturally.

    I used to accept a compliment like this:

    “I like your shirt!”

    “What, this old thing? I got it at Goodwill, in the bargain bin. I had to wash it in Borax because of the smell and the underarms stains. It makes me look fat, so I wear it on days when I’m already feeling bloated.”

    Once I realized the pathetic error of my ways, I slapped myself upside the head. I began to notice when others deflected or dismissed compliments, and it started to bug me. If I say I love your hairstyle, I mean I love your hairstyle. I don’t want to hear about how your hair is secretly frizzy and unmanageable and thinning. 

    The other day, I remembered that I needed to pass this nugget of wisdom along to my daughter. She was watching TV, smashing popcorn into her pie-hole in a way that is endearing only if you are young and attractive. I told her I needed to teach her the proper way to accept a compliment. She paused the remote and said, “Oh, I know how to do that already.”

    Skeptical, I tested her. “I love that barrette.”

    “Thanks.”

    I pushed further. “Nice earrings. My grandma has those, too.”

    “Thanks.”

    Awestruck, I was. Evidently her classmates take it one step further. My daughter dished that girls these days don’t just accept compliments, they agree them them, as in:

    “I love your scarf!”

    “I know, me too. Thanks!”

    or

    “Your hair looks so cute in that braid!”

    “I know, my sister is the best at braiding! Thanks!”

    I find this possible trend both refreshing and disturbing. Like all generations, the selfie generation will face unique challenges. It seems as if confidence and the ability to receive compliments will not be among them.


  4. Leaning in at Home

    March 14, 2014 by JennySokol

    Eventually, the stay-at-home-mom gig comes to a close. The kids can tie their shoes and complete their homework without assistance. It’s time to pack up the lights and the stage, climb onto the tour bus, and set out for a new gig. Time to dust off career dreams deferred.

    In my case, getting canned from a lovely writing job with little growth potential provided additional incentive. I formed a freelance writing LLC and am now behind the wheel and stepping on the gas. Lookout, world!

    Leaning in at the boardroom table isn’t too difficult, however, considering (1) I’m the only person in the business and (2) the business occurs in my home. Did I mention my company has a dress code? Two levels below Casual Friday; I call it Comfy Everyday.

    Knowledge is power, so I headed to the library to hunker down between aisles, eager to gain insight into the business world. Immediately, I discovered I’d been doing too much.

    IMG_3381

    I shook it off and turned my attention to negotiating contracts and assignments.

    IMG_3378

    But saying no isn’t really the answer. In fact,

    IMG_3383

    Is it me, or are self-help business books rather negative?

    IMG_3384

    Thank goodness the library owns multiple copies of this one.

    I learned that Comfy Everyday is not promotable. Also, my cell phone is way too small.

    IMG_3380

    What if I don’t care about leaning in, or even being rich? What if I  just want enough money to order an appetizer and not feel totally extravagant?

    IMG_3379

    At least at home I’ll be able to manage household tasks at the same time as my work, right?

    IMG_3382

    Oh dear. The problem is my Comfy Everyday dress code. It’s not nearly casual enough.

    IMG_3385

    The most important lesson I learned from my morning in the library? The biggest problem I may face will be working by, for, and with myself. It’s just plain dangerous.

    IMG_3386 


  5. The Blessings of a Health Scare

    March 6, 2014 by JennySokol

    The blessings of a health scare don’t reveal themselves until after the crisis is over. That sigh of relief comes after the biopsy comes back benign, the lab results prove negative, and the x-rays show all is well.

    Good health is so easy to ignore; bad health, impossible.

    My son’s recent sickness caused an asthma flare-up, which in turn caused my normal life to come to a stand-still. It no longer mattered whether his team advanced to the finals of the basketball bracket. I didn’t care that “Braveheart” was overdue and accruing library fees daily, that we were out of milk, or that the laundry room floor was barely visible.

    I only cared whether my boy could take a deep breath. On the worst nights, I snuck into his room to sleep on an air mattress next to him.

    Do you remember those newborn days, when your eyes flew open at every strange gurgle or gasp? Do you remember watching your baby in the dark, his little chest rising and falling rhythmically, marveling that you played a part in his creation, and praying that you could take care of him properly?

    Last week, I returned to those newborn days. It made me stop, amidst the craziness of life, and fully realize my blessings.

    When my children are healthy, I rarely sneak into their rooms to thank God for them. I rarely pray for those sleeping in a children’s hospital.

    Instead, I get wrapped up in why the soap in my sons’ shower never needs to be replenished, why he would rather put clean clothes in the hamper than just put them into drawers, and why cutting his nails is such a massive inconvenience. Why does he continue to eat the last Eggo and then return the empty box to the freezer?

    As soon as his symptoms appeared, my exasperation disappeared. I only saw the boy who regularly presents me with clay statues,

    IMG_3482

    the boy who saves special rocks, and the boy who occasionally brings his sister breakfast (a bagel) in bed.

    He’s improved and I’m relieved, but I don’t want to let go of this kind of gratitude.

     

    Have you ever been blessed by a health scare?

     


  6. Treating our Vets Right

    February 26, 2014 by JennySokol

    On a recent visit to a nearby military gym (on an Army post), an elderly, overweight man sat down in a chair next to my rowing machine. The chair was pushed aside against the wall in such a way that the gym staff probably didn’t expect anyone to sit in it. He was facing me, at an awfully close distance.

    I made eye contact and acknowledged him with a closed-lip grin. He smiled back, then closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall.

    I continued to row, watching him from the corner of my eye. He breathed heavily, so I knew he wasn’t dead. Still, he didn’t look super-alive, so I took my ear buds out and asked if he was ok. He responded that he was fine.

    He watched as I rowed until I asked an improbable question: “Are you waiting for this machine?” He was not. He looked like he wanted to talk, so, with one hand I slide my iPod into my pocket.

    “What service were you in?” I asked. Indeed, he did want to talk. My new friend told me about life in the Navy in sixties, about his first wife who couldn’t handle all five kids when he deployed, and the Chief who nudged him out of the service. 

    As I rowed, I noted that this man, who retired decades ago, still identifies strongly with those in uniform. He chooses to work out, albeit not vigorously, on a military base far from his home. My new friend confided that he comes to the base, specifically the gym, because he understands the people, and they understand him. The young soldiers are kind to him. Everyone he sees shares a common connection. Talking with him turned out to be the high point of my day.

    Veterans are a tiny minority in today’s society. Thank heavens they have places to gather and reconnect. Still, I wish he felt as special off-base.

    What we hear in the news speaks volumes about how we are caring for our veterans. Hundreds of thousands are waiting for medical care due to the VA backlog. Twenty-two  commit suicide every day, and young male veterans under the age of 30 are three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts. While homelessness is difficult to capture statistically, it’s been estimated that roughly 100,000 veterans are homeless.

    It’s true that the character of a nation can be measured by the way that nation treats its veterans. As our troops return home, I hope America will choose to be a nation of character.


  7. Generals and Admirals Gone Wild

    February 19, 2014 by JennySokol

    The word “inappropriate” is often used describe the recent bad behavior of prominent military leaders. “Inappropriate” is grossly insufficient.

    Since October of 2012, roughly thirty admirals and generals have been investigated for offenses that include gambling, assault, adultery, bullying, verbal abuse, bribery, and binge drinking. More “appropriate” words to describe such antics? Shameful, unlawful, pathetic.

    Sadly, the American public has grown accustomed to politicians who misbehave. Inevitably, scandal redirects a politician’s focus from serving the public to either covering tracks and managing bribes, or crafting and repeating carefully worded apologies.

    Misbehaving military brass is even more problematic. Fraternization within the ranks, adultery, and abuse is destructive to unit cohesion and morale. When leaders fail their troops, commands, families, and entire military bases feel the repercussions.

    When Brigadier General Bryan Roberts warned “Team Jackson” (Fort Jackson) that he had zero tolerance for sexual harassment, this married man did so while being investigated for assaulting one of his girlfriends. He was subsequently found guilty of adultery and assault.

    There’s the general who emailed his buddies (other generals) about pleasuring himself three times in two hours after meeting with a “hot” congresswoman. There’s the general who, when confronted about his derogatory comments towards women, allegedly replied, “I’m a general, I’ll do whatever the f*** I want.” That married father of two subsequently pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including forcible sodomy, adultery, and indecent acts. His trial begins in March. There’s the nuclear commander who confessed to binge drinking in Russia with an intriguing woman who seemed to know an awful lot about his profession. The sordid list goes on and on.

    Are we to believe that these behaviors manifested only after stars were pinned onto collars? That the power simply went to their heads (or other body parts)?

    I suspect that, behind closed doors, in emails, and on the golf course, these men always behaved and talked a bit like frat boys. I suspect that minor — but telling –indiscretions were overlooked. (Or no one administered the Knucklehead Test.)

    When we pulled into foreign ports when I served aboard ships, I watched married officers accept condoms as they disembarked. Their friends and seniors simply shrugged. Misbehavior is tolerated and, without intervention, it’s eventually promoted, right until it wears stars.

    Hundreds of admirals and generals are the real deal. They’re the men and women who have kept their noses to the grindstone, who have served honorably in difficult times, and who must shake their heads at the shameful antics of their colleagues.


  8. Miracles, Arriving!

    February 12, 2014 by JennySokol

    (I hope you Navy peeps appreciated my nautical title.)

    Life is full of miracles.

    A box of them were delivered right to my doorstep. Contents listed: Miracles! Alleluia!

    miracles

    Inside, I found ten of these:

    Chicken Soup for the Soul

    A story I wrote about my son is one of the 101 stories.

    I want to share the experience of finding miracles on the front porch, so I’m giving away five copies to you fine folks.

    There are many sophisticated methods of running blog contests to promote readership, ensure fairness, etc. My method is not one of them.

    If you would like a copy, please indicate so in the comments. The first five people people who request a book will get one. (I’ll email you for your mailing address.)

    If you happen to be number six, I’m terribly sorry. Look around, I bet you’ll find a miracle elsewhere!

     

     


  9. Down with Cupid

    February 11, 2014 by JennySokol

    Steel your fragile hearts. Valentine’s Day (aka Single’s Awareness Day, or SAD) is nearly upon us.

    At the tender age of 12, I began to associate Valentine’s Day with being a Giant Loser. That year, I sat through classes waiting expectantly for a Valentine-gram to be delivered to me by a gaggle of cheerleaders. I watched as other girls giggled over their carnations. Oh, how I longed for a secret admirer.

    The girls with carnations at the end of the day were the ones who wore Madonna bangles. They didn’t have forehead pimples or rubber bands that popped off of their braces during conversations. They knew the subtle difference between flirting with a boy and quietly stalking him.

    The carnation tradition continued for five years. My girlfriends and I eventually learned to send them to each other, but Girl Power on Valentine’s Day never feels empowering.

    Years later, when I wasn’t looking for him, I met The One. Soon after our first date, he presented me with a small bouquet of flowers, mostly carnations. I married him.

    I came to discover that The One hated Valentine’s Day as much as I did, but for different reasons. He didn’t like being forced to prove his love with overpriced flowers and a box of chocolates that required a chart to figure out which one is your favorite. He absolutely hated that a card company had conned him into spending $3.99 on a piece of pink velvet card stock with words he hadn’t even written. Valentine’s Day, he said, was for people who weren’t nice to their significant others the other 364 days of the year.

    Naturally, I thought this logic was a bunch of bull. I wanted my flowers. I had EARNED my flowers. When Hubby dutifully presented me with the obligatory gifts, I didn’t feel like he MEANT it enough. The more I thought about it, the more I disliked Valentine’s Day, right down to that chubby, naked, flying baby shooting arrows. We settled on exchanging a simple card and just being nice to each other the other 364 days of the year.

    This year, just to spice things up, I proclaimed a Day of Romance in lieu of Valentine’s Day. I scheduled it to occur on a night when we actually needed to attend a dressy event. So last Friday, after our date, I presented Hubby with a lovely card and a box of chocolates.

    He looked confused. If Marines panic, which they do not, I would say I saw panic wash over his face.

    “It’s Valentine’s Day, our way, remember?” I asked.

    Hubby looked at his watch. “It’s February 7th.”

    “That’s the point. No pressure on the 14th.”

    Hopeless, I tell you. I opened his Russell Stover’s and took a bite of each chocolate, looking for the coconut one.

    Even Not-Valentine’s Day is lame. There is no hope for this wretched holiday.

    Do you hate Valentine’s Day, too?

    IMG_3390Handmade cards are thoughtful cards.


  10. Bulls and Blessings

    February 5, 2014 by JennySokol

    Every few weeks, I get an email from スポーツエントリー . I can’t read Japanese; frankly, I’m not sure who スポーツエントリー is.

    My Japanese is limited to obvious observations like, “The weather is good/bad,” and “I’m from America!” While living in Okinawa for ten months, I also learned how to ask simple questions.

    The trouble with asking Japanese people questions like, “How are you?” is that they will respond. In Japanese. Then they will look at you and wait for you to answer. I responded by stuttering, panicking, and fleeing.

    The emails I receive originate from a race event company. I got on the list when I ran my first and last marathon on a small island south of Okinawa. A woman at the gym filled out my entry form, a woman at the bank wired yen to the race headquarters, and a woman at the base library read the important details to me. That librarian failed to read the part about the “shoreline course” changing to a “mountain course” for the first time that year. That part, I figured out in person.

    Even if I could figure out how to unsubscribe to these emails, I don’t care to. I like to see my name at the top of the message, and the pages of text that follow.

    Jenny  様

    2/3は節分の日。節分の夜に恵方巻きを丸かぶりすると

    その年は幸運が巡ってくると言い伝えられているそうですね。

    今年の方角は東北東とのことなので、

    1年間楽しく安全にランニングを楽しめるよう願いながら

    恵方巻きを食べてみてはいかがでしょうか。

    今回のメルマガでは、春の大会は勿論

    リレーマラソンや駅伝など、皆で楽しく走れる大会が盛りだくさん!

    最近寒さに負けて走れていないな・・という方も

    ぜひお友達や家族を誘って、楽しみましょう!!

    Okinawa was indeed a fascinating place. On any given day, I might see a man walking bulls on a leash, or teenagers wearing winter coats in 70 degree weather, or a woman biking with a basket of sweet potatoes on her head.

    Those emails remind me of all the interesting adventures that come with military life. When I’m seething about the recent budget cuts that will affect military families, or sickened by the antics of the brass (SPOILER ALERT for next week), or stressed about where the next set of orders will take my family, I see an Oki message in my inbox and smile.

    Military life, like that marathon, is full of ups and downs. Sometimes bulls stink up the place, but for the most part, it’s a shower of blessings.