Thursday, April 22, 2010

The "eyes" have it

It’s 8 p.m. Dinner has long been finished, milk has been drunk, play outfits have been replaced by pajamas. My son is lying on the floor, trying his hardest to watch the Backyardigans while my husband lies across his legs to keep them from moving.

One hand is on my son’s forehead, the other holding his chin. All the while, I hover above them both, waiting for the perfect moment; the moment our son tries to catch a glimpse of the cartoon; the moment in which I can squirt a thin strip of eye ointment into his infected eyes.

If it seems like torture, that’s exactly what it sounds like at our house four times a day for five days. Parents call it pink eye. Doctors call it conjunctivitis. I call it “the infection with the absolute worst treatment ever.”

I should have known the ointment would be a problem when both the physician’s assistant and the nurse cautioned me when they explained the prescription they were giving me.

“You will probably need someone to help you,” each of them had said, eyeing me with what I now know must have been pity.

The first time wasn’t so bad. But that’s because he didn’t understand what we were doing. The next time, he was ready; arms flailing, head turning, and all the while, his eyes were snapped shut.

Seven treatments into it and it seemed using the ridiculous eye ointment was getting more difficult, instead of easier.

So I did what I usually do when I’m having trouble with something: I googled it.
This is what I found:
1. Place the fingers of your non-dominant hand along your child’s forehead.
2. Place the thumb of that hand gently on the child’s cheek just below the lower eyelid.
3. Gently pull down on the cheek skin with your thumb.
4. This will cause the lower lid to curl outward — you should see the thin pink “shelf” of the lining of the lower lid.
5. Using your other hand, gently apply the ointment along that thin pink “shelf.” Start at the inner corner of the eye and smoothly move across to the outer corner.
Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
Where in the directions does it address the crying that starts — and continues — as soon as we initiate step 1? What about the wails of torture the child emits as the eye ointment hits the eyelashes time and time again (which means that the medicine has not gotten into the eye, which means you must repeat each step)? And where does it mention that the child will eventually start to wail as soon as he or she sees the ointment tube?
I even checked my precious book — the one I consult for everything from runny noses to speech progress. Nothing.

We tried it with my husband holding him as I aimed the ointment from above. We tried sitting in the floor, me holding him and my husband wielding the tube. We tried it with him in a chair, we tried it with him lying there. It became as repetitive as a Dr. Seuss book. As I smeared the cream on his bottom eyelid with a Q-tip (“This totally counts,” I asserted to my husband) all I could do was laugh. Who, pray tell, came up with the idea of squirting a strip of ointment into the inner eyelid of a wriggly infant? Probably the same person who decided that giving a dog nightly mouth rinses was an “easy” way to keep his teeth clean. It’s as though someone was sitting in a room thinking, “Hmmm, what’s the most physically and mentally trying task that we can give a parent just getting used to parenthood? I know! Eye ointment.”

With the eye ointment glistening on his bottom lid, our now-exhausted son fell asleep in my husband’s arms. The day’s treatments were finished.

Only 12 more to go.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why I won't shop at Home Depot

For the past, oh, seven months or so, I've waged a silent war against Home Depot. Not because I don't like their prices -- they don't seem any more expensive than any of the other home improvement stores. And it's not that I don't dislike the location. In fact, I have to pass Home Depot in order to get to Lowe's. It's not even the fact that Lowe's offers a 10 percent military discount (which we rarely use, because the hubbs isn't the "in your face type" that demands the discount, and subsequently, demands to see a manager if the sales clerk denies that the discount exists).

It's because of their ads.

I looove commercials, whether on the radio or on TV. I'm the type of person that would fulfill an advertising guru's wildest dreams. With few exceptions, commercials almost always make me want to buy the product (exception one: Taco Bell's shrimp taco - if they used frozen meat that they thaw in vats of warm water; which I know to be true because I worked there for two days when I was an undergraduate, how can I trust them to properly handle shrimp?!?).

The new Bounty commercial makes me want to tackle my cast iron skillet with a paper towel. The new Audi/Iron Man commercial makes me want an Audi Spyder, despite my aversion to 2-seater sports cars (and lack of Audi money). And nearly any food ad, save for the previously mentioned shrimp taco commercial (ugh!), draws me in, even to the point where I want to go get a Big Mac/Zaxby's basket/milk shake at 11 p.m.

But back to Home Depot. I already have a problem with ads trying to "sound" black. And Home Depot is one of the worst.

"Gurl, what you doin'?" "'Bout to go to da Home Depot Girl!"

The affected speech that is intended to be that of two girlfriends in the midst of a home repair literally disgusts me.

First of all, why should it matter if a person is black or white when it comes to the store at which I want to buy my shrubbery? Why must a woman be addressed as "girlfriend" in order to entice me to come in to buy paint?

Incidentally, I happened to hear back-to-back ads: Home Depot, then Lowe's.

The Home Depot commercial was full of "gurl" and "MMhmmm" -- so much so that I could practically see the necks rolling and fingers snapping as the one woman tries to convince the other woman to purchase items that will help her save on her utility bill. ("Close the door JoJo! You letting all the air out!")

Lowe's was a normal conversation -- no "girl," no "boo," just a discussion about a woman who advised the husband on what products to buy and who identified bugs in the yard. Although I could tell the couple was black (don't get me started on how I can "tell" a black person by his or her voice. It's a long story, and actually something I'd like to get a scientific basis for), there was no need to "prove" the characters were black by adding slang to the conversation.

I'm not offended by the ads, I just find it unnecessary and contrived. And I don't like it.

So, for now, I'm giving Home Depot the boot. Next time I buy my flowers, guurrrl, I'm going to Lowe's.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Mama's Gun

I never considered myself the motherly type. In fact, once I spread the news that I was pregnant, my own family seemed hesitant to respond immediately, lest it be some type of late April Fool's gag.

Even so, I have been pleasantly surprised that I've taken pretty well to the whole mommy thing. That's not to say that I'm the model mom. I let Cam eat a sucker to keep him still during an allergy test. I let him watch "Ni Hao, Kai Lan" (alone!) while I get ready for work. His dinner doesn't always include those recommended on the food pyramid. Actually, if I can get two of the pyramid's layers, I think I'm doing well.

So when I dropped Cam off at day care this morning, and was pretty much told that the providers were talking about me, I admit I was crushed. Boy-stands-you-up-for-the-prom crushed. Ace-an-interview-but- still-don't-get-the-job crushed. Stay-up-all-night-writing-and-still-get-an-F crushed.

It seems as though some of the ladies feel as though I'm not giving him enough in the morning before I bring him in. He's whiny, my secondhand source told me, so I must be bringing him in hungry.

Did I mention I was crushed?

No matter how irrational it may be, there are two things that I tie completely to my self worth; meaning, failing at one those means that I am a failure. Parenting is one of those things. On the surface, I'm angry. Angry that they have the nerve to talk about me behind my back, instead of asking me straight out what he eats in the morning (for the record, he gets a cup of milk and sometimes some cheerios, which he dutifully throws on the floor for Taz because he doesn't like eating at 6:30 a.m., which is 15 minutes after he wakes up. He can barely walk when he first wakes up, let alone eat.) Angry that they couldn't come to me after I made it a point to speak with them before he started eating breakfast at the day care during which conversation we discussed him drinking milk so as not to fill him up before breakfast (which is at 7:30).  Angry that instead of asking me to bring in sunscreen, they slathered him in Vaseline (from head to toe, including his hair) because the sun "dried" out his skin. Wait, wrong rant. Ignore that last one.

But just underneath the surface -- not far, like scraping a bit of paint from the wall -- I'm disappointed in myself. All this time, I thought I was getting the hang of things, when it reality, I wasn't. I know it's ridiculous to let the unfounded judgements of a few day care providers make me question my self worth, that's how I feel. Even though they don't know that when he first started eating there in the morning, I cooked breakfast for him, only to have it ignored. They don't know that I've offered graham crackers (his favorite) only to have them crushed into fine powder into the high chair. That I have to force him to even drink all his milk; that most mornings, he would rather stop before finishing half the cup.

But I do know that, and still. Still, I feel as though I should have done more -- force fed him oatmeal or applesauce. Wake him at 5:30 a.m. to give him time to want to eat. Something. 

Though I hate to admit it, I'm not yet at the point where I'm not affected by what people say when it comes to my parenting. I am totally and utterly affected by it. But I have to remind myself of Cam's belly; the potruding pot belly that shows me that no matter what they say, he's not starving.

And that, I guess, is something.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Lost ...

The hit television show, “Lost,” is about a group of plane crash survivors who find themselves stranded on a mysterious tropical island. Each episode, the characters become more and more confused as they encounter polar bears, a monster made entirely of black smoke and unknown assailants.

For many of us, our first experience in the Army life may feel a bit like that. It’s easy to feel lost as we try to become acclimated to the new world we have entered.

But unlike those plane crash survivors, we don’t have people lurking around every corner, threatening us with harm. Instead, there are those who work countless hours to provide us with everything we need to become acclimated to the Army life. So for those who are new to the military life, I offer the following tips:

1) Take a visit to the Army Community Services center. When I arrived at my husband’s first duty station, he was instructed to take me first to ACS. Although I had no clue at the time what ACS was, it made a huge difference. I got the chance to see what types of services were offered, get a calendar of on-post events and I even left with a couple of job leads.

2) Take advantage of the free classes and events. Fort Jackson offers a wide array of classes every week. The best part is, they’re all free. Whether you want to learn how to “speak Army,” get a handle on your finances or learn how to deal with your active toddler, there is a class for you. ACS even holds events for newcomers that provide information on various on-post agencies and what they have to offer.

3) Contact the hospital. Even for those who never get sick, it is a good idea to be familiar with the on-post hospital. While Moncrief Army Community Hospital doesn’t have an emergency room, there are several other clinics, including an urgent care clinic, that offer family members and Soldiers an opportunity to be seen.
It is also a good idea to stop by the TRICARE office to make sure that you and all of your family members are enrolled. A couple of weeks ago, I missed out on an appointment for my son because I never bothered to fill out the proper paperwork. Taking a few minutes in advance to make sure all of your paperwork is in order can mean avoiding a hassle later.

4) Get in touch with your unit’s Family Readiness Group. At an FRG meeting the other day, one of the women shared how she had an emergency soon after she and her husband reached their new duty station. With her husband already away on assignment, she was left to take care of things alone. The FRG offers support for spouses, whether in an emergency or not. Don’t wait until a deployment to seek guidance from the FRG, start now. If your unit doesn’t have an FRG, or if you’re unsure, speak to the company commander about possibly starting one.

5) Get out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to want to keep to yourself upon arriving in a new place. But it is healthy for you — and your family members — to experience all that the post has to offer. Check out the community calendar at Or take advantage of the hourly care options on post and take some “me” time to go shopping, work out or just take a nap while the children are under the care of trained professionals.

Is this an exhaustive list of hints to get you ready for a new life in the military? Of course not. But I can assure you that there are many men and women, much wiser than me, who have the best advice possible.

And many of them are right in your unit.

Editor’s note: Crystal Lewis Brown is an Army spouse of five years and editor of the Fort Jackson Leader.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Balancing Act

Ooops! I totally forgot to post this two weeks ago, so there will be back-to-back Crystal Clears. If you're not at Fort Jackson, I may not be able to help you with specific about your post, but I can certainly point you in the right direction!

Last Wednesday, on our production day (i.e., the day we send the newspaper to the publisher for printing) I was stressed out. We were running a bit behind and were scrambling to make our mid-afternoon deadline. As stressed as I already was, I doubted it could get any more hectic.

And then I got a phone call from the day care. The baby had a rash and it looked bad, they said. I texted my husband to pick him up but that was a no go — he would not be free until several hours later. And I couldn’t reach the friends I thought might be able to babysit for a few hours.

Within a matter of moments, my day had gone from normal-stress (the type of stress in which Inormally thrive) to super-stress (the type of stress that makes me wish I’d stayed in bed).

Although everything worked out in the end, I couldn’t stop the anxiety I was feeling, even throughout the next day. Could I really do this working mom thing? Did my coworkers think me less professional? If I’d paid more attention, could I have prevented the rash (which turned out to be a bad diaper rash)?

All of us experience stress from time-to-time. As military spouses, I (with much bias) say that I think we may have it worse than some others. In addition to the normal stress that comes from being a mom, working, volunteering and trying to get dinner on the table every night, we also have a few added stressors.

What if my Soldier deploys? Will my drill sergeant/ supply sergeant/company commander husband get home from work in time for the baby’s first birthday party?  How will I ever be able to find another job if we PCS? We can’t sell our house, but BAH will only pay for one dwelling — how will we make ends meet? If Igo talk to the chaplain, will it affect my husband’s career? What will people think if they find out?

One great thing about the military, however, is that we do not have to go it alone. 

The Army’s not just an institution, we are a family; here on post, we are Team Jackson. 

And there is someone on post who can answer each and every one of your questions.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Seasons change

For about the past couple of months, I've been feeling some kind of way. Like, I am so sick of myself.

I'm tired of being/feeling negative; I'm tired of letting myself get wrapped up in things that really have nothing to do with me; I'm tired of fighting for things about which I really couldn't care less about.

I'm just tired.

So, for the past week, I have started an experiment. I won't get into specifics about what the experiment entails, but I will say that so far, it appears to be working. (The reason I won't get into specifics is because, frankly, I don't want to be asked about it. It's kind of like going on a new diet plan; every five minutes, it seems, someone is asking how it's going. You eat a hamburger and people are all like: I thought you were on a diet. And in spite of what I am sure would be very well-meaning comments from very well-meaning people, I don't want to hear it. Hearing it, in fact, might actually do the opposite of what was intended.)

I will say, however, that the end goal of this experiment is to come out me, but a happier, more positive version. I will worry less. If it is an important life decision, I will put the burden on God to fix; no worries for me. If it is an important work decision that doesn't directly involve my position, I will let that burden go to the person to whom the job belongs. Again, no worries for me.

Unbeknownst to them, my friends and family are also a part of this experiment. Because in order to keep myself on track, I absolutely cannot get wrapped up in other folks' drama. I cannot allow myself to wallow in problems; therefore, I cannot stand next to you in the pit as you wallow in yours. What I can do is try to help you or, if you don't want my help, pray for you. I can also ignore you. And though I hate to do that, if your conversation, question, concern, threatens to derail the progress I feel I am already making, I must.

Often, I think we -- especially women -- take on everyone's problems. We try to be everything, all the time, for everyone. Frankly, no one (save for Jesus, but even he had to die in order to bear our sins for us) is built to withstand those types of burdens.

This experiment, I hope, will help me to realize that.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Hello Spring!

I'm not really an "outside" person. I prefer to sit in the house, pretending as though today is the day I will clean the house, write something, teach Cam how to speak Mandarin Chinese. Usually, I end up doing something like watching back-to-back episodes of Mad Men, taking a nap and watching some of my fav cooking shows (although yesterday, I did  teach Cam where he nose is).

But yesterday, in the spirit of the warm weather, I decided to turn on the grill and cook up a barbecue-style meal.

Instead of making something up, I took out my Get 'em Girls Cookbook (guide to the perfect get-together, their second book) and got to flippin.'  I have to point out first, that in my eyes, the Get 'em girls can do no wrong. You know how sometimes, you follow a recipe to the "t" and it comes out totally unseasoned or undercooked? NEVER happens with this book. Or at least it hasn't happened so far.

Anyway, I decided to make the pulled chicken sandwiches w/ easy creamy coleslaw. I also made something they called gold rush, a delicious cocktail made with lemonade, sweet tea, peach schnapps and coconut rum. Think peach Firefly w/ a hint of coconut. For non-drinkers, just try mixing the lemonade and sweet tea. Delicious!

Anyway, here's the recipe for the sandwiches. I threw the buns on the grill and topped my chicken with the slaw and a slice of pickle. I also had a HUGE bottle of BBQ, so I didn't make my own. Seriously, the work put into this is minimal. This is the type of meal you can cook for a group while you're outside playing cards or dominoes because you're not trapped in the kitchen. If you want the other recipes buy the cookbook -- or both. It's worth it!

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp Get'em girl essential BBQ rub (too much to print here, but use your fav rub)
1 c. BBQ sauce (there's an easy sauce recipe in the book, too.)
cole slaw
sandwich rolls (lightly toasted)
dill pickle chips

I started up the grill (you can also do this with a grill pan) and while it was heating, rinsed the chicken under cold running water. Put it in a large bowl and pour the lemon juice over the chicken. Let sit for one minute. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Rub the chicken with BBQ rub and grill for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes before shredding with two forks. Stir the chicken into the BBQ sauce in a large skillet. Cook until heated through. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Window Seat

Four years ago, I made the decision that I would become a full-time writer. I would blog, I would write, I would flex my creative muscle, and at the end of it all, I would have a book and a steady freelance career.

Four years later, I have none of that.

I'm the type of person who feels, for whatever reason, that I am always one paycheck from living in my car (at best) and living on the streets (at worst).

Sidenote: I'm not sure why these fantasies of demise never involve us living with my mom or mother-in-law; for some reason, it's always us - poor, jobless and homeless.

So: I worked. Instead of taking the last of those years when it would be just the husband and me, I worked almost all of the time I was in Germany -- three jobs in three years with only months in between.
I acknowledge that  I have also been ridiculously and improbably blessed since we've moved back to the states. (Who was it that said "favor ain't fair?"

Convinced we would be stationed in Oklahoma, I cold-called the local newspaper and asked for an interview, not knowing if they were even hiring. Whether they were or not, I got a call back a couple of weeks later to work though; though, truth be told, I'd been out of the news business so long that I would have worked there for free for a while to build up more current newspaper clips.

When we ended up getting stationed in South Carolina, again, I got on the grind, looking for jobs before we even shipped our belongings. I applied for several and got a phone call about one.

Her: Did you claim military spouse preference? Me: Yes.
Her: Do you have a federal job now? Me: No.
Her: Well, unfortunately, you don't qualify for preference. Me: Thanks, anyway.

But, improbably, I got the job anyway. With no "preference," no prior military service or (non-temporary) federal service to get me on the unbreak-through-able list. (If you know anything about government jobs, you know that it's hard as heck to get in "the system." But once in the system, you're pretty much set for life, so long as you're not completely incompetent. Though in some cases, incompetence doesn't get you fired either).

Six months, one baby and 6 weeks of maternity leave later, I was promoted (isn't it amazing when other people's blessing leads to a blessing for you? That's why you can't be a hater.)

I enjoy my job; really I do. But lately I've been feeling like something is missing. I want to expand my writing, to write something beyond what I've been able to do lately. To focus on finishing? restarting? the book I began some years ago. To have time to volunteer again (I shockingly miss being a Girl Scout leader -- something I never imagined I would EVER do).

So, to that end, I have taken the first step. And that first step will open for all the world to see in a couple of weeks when one of my articles appears in Zora&Alice, a new magazine and blog. I pray that this will be the first of many opportunities with Z&A, but no matter what happens, I know that nothing will happen if I stay in my comfort zone, never pushing the limits of what I am capable.

Does this mean that I will be leaving my job? Of course, not.

But there will come a time when I reach that point at which I have decide what direction I want my career to go. And, this time, finally, I will not make the easy decision.