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Motley Family

I had an opportunity to speak in front of 80ish people at the second Waupaca Story Project and tell a 5-minute story about gathering. I chose to speak about my Sister-in-Arms. Particularly about the 13 of us females in 4th platoon.

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I took snippets from my book with the gathering theme embedded throughout. It wasn’t the best presentation I’ve given, but I love my little story. Here are a few photos my husband took.

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And here’s my story:

 

Motley Family

Most of the time the word “gathering” envokes visions of turkey dinners or decorated Christmas trees, of egg hunts or theology, of bonfires and fireworks. Tonight I want to highlight the gathering of my Sisters-in-Arms.

How do traditions begin? How do bonds form? How do 13 motley women, with little in common, become tight as blood? Vulnerability, adversity, and persevering through intense hardships together. Falling and helping each other up. Laughter and joy… and heartache. All of these things forged our never-ending bond.

Our gathering started a few weeks before our deployment kicked off. My platoon of 11 females and 21 males were appointed two new females from―”gasp” Milwaukee―on that February 2003 drill weekend. We encircled Lori and Heather as though they were our prey. We were ready to tear them apart to find their weaknesses. The 11 of us females, who had already formed our bonds and declared each other fit for war, were apprehensive about these newcomers. Were they trustworthy? Were they capable? Were they going to get… us… killed?

It didn’t take long for us to absorb the two foster soldiers. They immediately joined the smoking group and fell right into step. The deployment quickly turned from days to months and our promised six-month deployment ballooned well passed the September date. By Christmas, my company had been ravaged by war. We had acquired purple hearts, broken vehicles, bombed police stations, roadside bombs, grenades thrown at us, gunshots whizzing passed us, and the most oppressive heat on the face of the earth, well at least in my eyes. There were breakups with partners back home, stolen money from fiances, broken hearts, and torn families. There had also been inside joke after inside joke. Best friends and battle buddies became synonymous. On Christmas eve, the girls and I put on our one and only Christmas CD—Destiny’s Child—opened a non-alcoholic bottle of wine, and sat around our three-foot-high Christmas tree with presents from our family and friends piled underneath.

Laughter, smiles, tears, and hugs filled the room while we opened our presents with our new sisters. When the unwrapping was done and the sparkling grape juice was gone, we cuddled together to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We were each other’s new family and we loved Christmas of 2003 and our rather unorthodox tradition. We were content and happy for the first time in a long time.

I’m often asked how we overcame the constant vigilance, fear, and unease. I answer with this story:

We were pounded by mortars and rockets often and on one particular night, our Captain told us to put on our Kevlar and vests at 2130. I was drained and cranky—sleeping would be impossible with curved plates digging into my back. I jumped out of bed and joined the rest of my platoon. Carlye, who’s always up for a good time, put on some dance music and yelled, “Let’s see your moves, Naylor!”

Since I love a challenge, I shook my hips to Sysco’s “Thong Song.” My gear banged around while I tried to ooze sexy. Laughter filled the room and the other females joined me. The joy in the room lasted even after we got the all-clear. Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” brought down the house. By the end, everyone had stripped down to PT shorts and sports bras. 

It was 2300 before we turned off the music. I hadn’t had that much fun since before our deployment. On other nights, the females and I went to the rooftop and talked and laughed and played on the bongo drums. Some nights we cleaned our weapons and watched Sopranos with our knives, pistols, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, and ammo piled high. Our arsenal was on display to emulate and to far exceed the villains on TV. Some nights we swam. Some days we ran and worked out. The fact that we had each other to lean on and cry with made the deployment bearable. 

When we finally returned home after being deployed for 16 months―ten months longer than promised. We had a ceremony at the Minor League baseball stadium in Madison. Our commander concluded the event with a declaration stating, “You are released.”

We were free, but my first instinct was not to run to my parents, not to run away from the company formation, but to go to my fellow females, my new family, my lifeblood. We were overtaken by emotion. We stood in a circle and gave each other a bittersweet hug. Our eyes were blurry with tears. We were all trying to talk at the same time.
“I love you guys.”
“I never would have gotten through this without you.”

“What will we do when we don’t see each other?”

“We better have get-togethers often.”

“Damn, I already miss you so much.” 

“Let’s email phone numbers to each other right away, OK?”
“One last group hug. Love you all!”

It was the end of our adventure together. 

To this day, there are few people that understand my complexities. My sisters-at-war know why I shed tears, the difference between my smiles, they know my happiness based on the glint in my eye. They can comprehend the torment I went through both during and after our deployment. They see through the cracks of my wrinkles and know what caused my premature aging. They know where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. We can cry on each other’s shoulders and not a whisper needs to be spoken because we know. We know that the nightmares, demons, aggression, and anxiety will never end, but the edge softens as time goes by.

We still make it a point to gather. Sometimes war isn’t even brought up, but we know. Our instincts tell us that we are among our chosen. Our beloved. Our kin. We are home.

 

 

 

Book Eve

Tonight, on the eve of my book release, I have so many emotions that I didn’t anticipate. When I started writing my story over a decade ago, I was single, a student at UW-Madison, and trying to recover from the worst stages of PTSD I’ve endured. I never thought about how this might impact my own children. I never anticipated being a principal when this was released. I guess, in some deep, dark place in my brain, I never thought this day would come.

I wrote as therapy, I wrote because, for some unknown reason, I needed to keep those memories close and pen the very pain that I couldn’t articulate in person. It was a humbling, difficult, time-consuming, passion-releasing, tear-jerking, and healing.

Tonight, as I brace for an unknown journey, I feel like a balloon ready to burst confetti comprised of glee img_0931, worryimg_0926, relief img_0930, anticipationimg_0928, and gratitudeimg_0927.

I choked up as I held my book in my hand. How is the world going to take this story? Are they going to learn something from the historical perspective (I hope so), are they going to be bored when I explain the intricacies of working with Iraqis (I hope not!), are they going to judge my past discretions from years ago? Is this book going to be like a fizzling out sparkler? Is it going to go somewhere? Is it going to cause others pain or help others heal? Will Audible ever hire me to read my own story?

img_0925 Huh? Will ya? Audible? Are you out there?

This weekend, my husband asked me what my goals are for the book. It caused me to pause and reflect on the next step of |my publishing journey, something that I hadn’t yet taken the time to do. What are my goals? I smiled at him and said, “Go big or go home. Just like everything else in my life.” And thus, I have over 100 books waiting for their new home.

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I’m not looking to get rich monetarily. That’s not the point. The point is creating awareness around a relatively quiet war, to share the perspective of a female in combat, to discuss the tragedies of PTSD, and of course, to heal. I want to become rich with truth, empathy, integrity, selflessness, vulnerability, kindness, and gratitude. Those are the things that make me happy. But selling a book or two or one hundred or a thousand or a million… why not? (Amazon link)

 

The Top Ten Ways School Administration is similar to Military Police Work

Ten: I investigate criminal and delinquent behavior

Nine: Confidentiality is key

Eight: Most of the time, I don’t get to choose what my day will entail

Seven: I understand trauma from first-hand experience

Six: I dress for the part

Five: I train for an attack

Four: I serve others

Three: I search people, rooms, and lockers for contraband

Two: Working well with others is a must

One: Every day is an adventure

Epic family photo fails

Ever since we’ve struggled to capture the perfect family photo, I’ve embraced the beauty that comes from raw emotions. I have often joked that I’m going to start a photo album with all of our photo fails. Then I asked myself, “Who even makes photo albums anymore?” Ha! But a blog? Now that’s trendy…

It all started with this little girl who wouldn’t stop crying. Nothing was wrong, she was safe but she was sad. So I captured it. Now we look at this photo fondly. Her crazy blond curls and her poor sad face.

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Then we move on to the only family photo we captured at our youngest’s baptism. Lesson learned–take a picture at the beginning of the event before exhaustion sets in.

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These sad Brewer game photos are icing on the cake. It was most likely due to the fact that naps were skipped, junk food was plentiful, and the kids were out of their element. I like to think that the kids were just upset because their daddy dressed them in Cubs gear.

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The few times we try to get a picture with my husband’s family have proved futile as well. Two out of three kids crying are not good odds.

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In the end, we have great stories to tell and these pictures somehow make us smile and laugh a little more than the perfectly cheesy grins we always hope for. There’s the silver-lining for you. I would love to see your photo fails!

 

 

A lesson for all during 8th Grade Recognition night

I wrote the following speech for our June 2019, 8th grade recognition night. It’s not too often that one has the ear of hundreds of community members and students. It seemed like a great opportunity to share a positive message about kindness, and more importantly, of empathy. I wanted to thank NPR for setting the stage with their story on “The End of Empathy.”

Without further ado, here’s the speech:

WELCOME to the 8th grade Recognition night!

Dear Future Freshmen,

As you embark on this next chapter of your life remember that the most important thing you can do is to be kind. The second? Empathy—the ability to share someone else’s feelings—according to Webster’s Dictionary. I could talk all day about why kindness is vital to success, but I feel like kindness is all the rage right now. Instead, we’re going to take a walk with empathy. Why? Because empathy will open lines of communication, will teach you to think beyond yourself, teach you true compassion and understanding,  and it will help you to better understand the world around you.

National Public Radio came out with a report this April entitled The End of Empathy. The author, Hanna Rosin, identified that the American culture has been losing their appetite for empathy in the past decade or so. And that by 2009 young people on average measured 40 percent less empathetic than a generation before them.

In the 70’s, empathy was the buzz word. The idea was that we had to start to see the world through each other’s eyes in the midst of the rise of nuclear weapons. Students in the 70s even wrote letters to pretend Russian pen pals to learn how to open their hearts to the enemy.

The article went on to point out that empathy exists today, but it is usually for the people on our team, people we agree with. It also pointed out that without empathy we would just be alone. Feel alone. Isolation. We could go down another rabbit hole that talks about how social isolation is detrimental to both your physical and mental health and well being. Instead, let’s create a goal together, shall we?

Goal: Choose to understand others rather than fear them or dislike them. Before criticizing others, try to imagine how you would feel in their place. 

 It makes your minds richer, it expands your imaginations.

You will never regret those actions for as long as you live.

Class of 2023, you are amazing. Do you know that? You have persevered through four different principals, you didn’t have a single referral in 5th grade and halfway through your 6th grade year. Your music teachers have expressed that you are one of the most musically talented groups they’ve ever had.

Go forward and continue to do great things. Things that will make you proud when you reflect back on your younger selves. Things you can brag to your own kids about. I beseech you to not only be kind but to be truly empathetic.