Mission:All in a Name

The Webster dictionary says that a name is a noun that we use to identify a person, place or thing.  For us,names are important and we give alot of thought when naming our children as I am sure the majority of us all do.

For our first born, it was easy.  Mike has to cross the Mason-Dixon to get married so we named our 1st born & boy, “Mason”.  His middle name given was “Bernard” after my grandfather and one of Mike’s great-grandfathers.  The second pregnancy, 2nd boy came along and I had a list of boys names that I just loved.   To start widdling down the list Mike started doing research on names…..My top two were Carter and Connor.     After very little searching Mike found that Carter meant “one with a crooked nose”.  Mike did not want his child’s name to have this meaning, so we name him Connor, meaning ” In Irish the meaning of the name Connor is:Strong willed or wise ‘Hound-lover.’ Also from the Irish ‘Coachuhhar’, meaning high desire. Famous bearers: In Irish mythology Connor was an early king of Ulster.; 20th century Irish diplomat Connor Cruise O’Brien. “

He was given “William” as a middle name as every McCullough since as far back as we can trace has a “William” in the family tree.   Connor was our scary, fast delivery and bless his heart, he came out with a “Clinton”!  Mike was worried about a crooked nose, but he had a crooked noodle!!!!

Naming Avery was easy.  I am from NOLA, so I wanted a household, Southern name.   With my love of hot-sauce and being from Louisiana, we named her “Avery” after the p[lace where Tabasco Sauce is made: Avery Island.  For her middle name my father use to always tell me “are you  sure your middle name is not “Grace”!” and so “Grace stuck”!

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Mission: Puppy Passport

Taking Nola on the streets with me is a challenge.  Not only am I having to watch for crazy divers, but I also have to watch for locals throwing stones at her and street dogs attacking.  It has been the first time since moving here in August 2016, that I braved the streets and took her on a local hike through the villages this morning.

The street dogs were out with vengeance, but nothing a little bit of screaming and a rock in hand did not fix.  We came across a local child that threw a stone at Nola and the parents just watched and laughed and then we have the local street dog…hiding behind a fence, barking profusely to cal his posies to back him up and then follow us as if we were the Piped Piper.

This morning’s walk got me to thinking…..here is an International dog that carries a passport who still thinks she is a puppy and walks the streets of Ethiopia without a care in the world.   Nola was born in Frankfurt, Germany, lived in Heidelberg, Germany in her puppy years, moved to DRC Congo then back to Germany (Stuttgart) and now living in Ethiopia.  She literally holds an International Pet Passport and seen more of the world than most people.

You can learn something from Nola-she is friendly, plays and adapts to her surrounds; she finds brighter side of life and loves unconditionally.   She is your sunshine when your down, you shoulder to cry on and your workout buddy who is there to push (more like PULL) you through a workout on the hottest of days.   She is a go to when you need a hug, a friend when you need someone to just listen and a big part of our family.   Nola is amazing and a key to who we are as a family!   We ❤ NOLA!

Mission: Broken Tiaras

 

As a parent we would like to think our children are perfect in every way….with school, with friendships, with looks, with smarts, with talents……but in reality, most of us know that is not true.  That our kids have flaws and quirks, but they are perfect for us and our family.  We love our kids, stand behind our kids, help our kids and just be there to love them and give them support.

But we all know that ONE person who’es child is PERFECT in every way and does no wrong.   That is what Avery is dealing with right now in 5th grade and I have not seen anything like this.

Avery has been friends with this girl since the first day of school.  Our families got here the same time period and our families hit it off as we have kids the same age and the parents seemed fun and amazing people to be around.    We would hang out on most weekends together and the girls did many sleepovers.  But since the the school year has progressed Avery has made other friends.  She has never outed this girl, but has tried to include her with the new group of girls so that they could all be friends together.  This child was not having anything to do with that.  If she could not have Avery for her own, then no one could be friends with Avery.

She has gone to girls in their class making up rumors that Avery said “this or that” about them and has physically pulled girls away from Avery as she was talking with them, putting her arm around them and saying “how are you doing?  Lets get away from Avery and go hang!”   Seeing my daughter hurting, I went to the Mom thinking we were close friends and about to go on vacation with them.   Of course the Mom said this was all of Avery’s doing and her daughter does no wrong.  I talked with Avery and several of her friends when they have slept  over and we had a “Mean Girl” talk.  They asked questions and talked about how they would handle the situation.

We went on our spring break with this family and instead of the girls coming together to talk, the girl made the situation worse.   Then when the girls went back to school it because uncontrollable for Avery to handle and the behavior of the other girl became toxic.  Again I went to the mother and she flipped out and went psycho.  Not only did she accuse Avery of doing everything her daughter was doing to Avery, but we had proof of her daughter’s physical abuse (scratches and bite marks) and again she said that Avery did that to herself to get her daughter in trouble.

The mother now goes to school daily with her daughter to make sure nothing happens to her princess, though she encourages her daughter to be nasty.  Avery and the other girls see this and question the behaviors and words of the mother.   The mother herself rolls her eyes at the girls, will go to the lunch room and tell her daughter loudly “don’t sit with them, they are dirty and nasty girls” and has even gone into class last Thursday and asked the whole class “does anyone have a problem with my princess?! I think not, she is a great person and everyone loves her.  So we will all be nice, right?!”

It was her daughter’s birthday over the weekend.  The mother has encouraged her daughter to wear a different tiara every day this week saying “it’s my daughter’s birthday, we should all celebrate the princess!”    You wonder why this girl acts like an only child and spoiled brat and that it is ok to treat others poorly, yet the mom encourages and participates in this behavior herself.  You are way over 40, it is time to grow up.  Raise a girl who is proud of herself and her accomplishments, who is a friend to all, who is willing to put others in front of her, who will make a difference in this world.  By supporting this “Princess” behavior you are creating a monster!

It is NOT ok to bully!   You are not alone, there are mean girls everywhere, but you have a friend in us.  If your child is going through a rough patch, Avery would love to be a pen pal and talk with them and share experiences, laughs and friendship! Feel free to contact us!    There is always one bully who likes to target the kids with the biggest hearts!  ❤   We WILL stand together…friends do not do this to friends!

 

 

Mission: Smoke & Mirrors

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In my 39+ years of life and my 15+ years as an Officer’s wife I still have not learned.   When I meet people, I try and see the best in them and try to make friends quickly.  I put trust in friendship and I give more credit to people than I should.

You know what I am talking about?   It does not matter if you are 16, 25, 45 or 60…we all know of that one or two people we made friends with after a short time and you think you are close.  Then the rumors, back stabbing and nasty come out and you are back dealing with BS high school drama!   Yes, you know the one, hell, you might even be that one!

Through out high school, university and military officer life I have come in contact with a person like this more times than I would like, but I had my cry and got over it quickly.   But here in Ethiopia, the women here have taken it to a whole new level of TOXIC!

From very early on here  I have welcomed new families to post, thrown many dinner parties to have people feel welcomed and get into a social circle so that they would not feel left out and have helped them when they needed it….only for them to turn around a punch a knife in the back.  I am not talking just random people at school or the embassy, I am talking about 2 women in particular who I considered close friends,  went on vacation together, was with each other most weekends.  These are the women who have made up horrible rumors that have gotten back to our embassy, have really hurt me and our family name, who continue to talk and slander to other Diplomatic women who I consider friends and they are not stopping.

These two women have done some pretty hard damage to my family and myself.  They have broken me to the point where I felt that I could not get back up. But I am here to tell you, I am not broken, I am a fighter and in due time, YOUR course will come and karma will bite you in the ass!    I will not lower myself to your level and come forth with your names, but you know who you are.  You might think you have broken me, but I am stronger than ever.  Watch out, I am here to make a difference and be here for others that have been bullied by you and others.  I will always wear my ❤ on my sleeve, my feelings and thoughts will be transparent, I am here to help and support those that think they cannot do it alone.   I am strong and I will fight like a girl.  NOTHING CAN BREAK ME!      I’m here for you too…..

Mission: Living History Book

Being a military child overseas, you go to the local schools of your country or a DODEA (Department of Defense) school if one is available.   Saying this they kids get a lot of world or host country history and little to none of US history.

My mom for the longest time (and probably still does) thinks that these kids should be getting US History as they are Americans and they need to know about their own country.   I have tried explaining to her that at some time in their education whether it be in high school or university that they will get some type of US history and if not, it is not a big deal.   If they are interested in US History that they can do research, go online, read books and watch documentaries.   Though my mom has not brought this subject back up in a few years, I know she really wants the kids to get educated on the history of our country.

On the flip side, my kids have been to wonders of the world (Pyramids of Egypt, Taj Mahal) climbed the Leaning Tower, Eiffel Tower, Mt Ararat in Armenia, tracked the North Pole, hiked the castles of Germany & France, swam in the Congo river- seen things and experienced things most people have only read about in the history books.  They have met world leaders (the Dalai Lama in Paris to Senator Hillary Clinton in Armenia), sat at the dinner table with US Ambassadors and International Diplomats and played in the jungles of Africa.

My kids may never be US History buffs or the next US Senator, but these kids have seen the world, traveled to 66 countries, been in all types of environments and learning by travel.   This is something that history books cannot give our children.   They are living the history one step at a time.

Mission: Sisters, Sisterhood & Service

Never did I think that going to an all girls school in New Orleans would prepare me in more ways than one to becoming a US Army Officer Wife.    After Mercy Academy closed it’s doors in 1991 right after my Freshman year, I was faced with going to another high school.    At that point, I did not care where I would go as the school of my choosing had closed it’s doors forever.   My parents choose the Academy of the Scared Heart (ASH) for me to attend and finish out my high school years.   I was not happy with their choice at first.  Here, they were putting me in a school, with uptown girls who had gone there since birth.   I was from the west bank, my patents did not come from money, they both worked blue color jobs and I did not grow up in the ranks of a Scared Heart girl.    Quickly I found my place making good friends with Age Roth, Anna Sanchez, Ann Heslin, Katherine Cooper, Julie Couret & Gigi Roth.  Though I did not feel like I totally fit into this new world, they accepted me for me and we became good friends.   It was in the walls of ASH that I learned how to stand my ground, deal with rumors and high society,  know that girls started drama out of jealously and spite and where I could hold my head high while making a difference in the world.   It is also a place where the teachers (Leslie Graf, Barbara Mooney & Mrs. Kiefer) and Sisters believed in me, pushed me to my breaking point while being there to catch me and support me and giving me the spiritual and educational guidance I needed for my future.

After graduation I went to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, LA and I joined Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority.  I joined as I wanted a place that I would have a since of family and sisterhood as I was far away from my own family.   Though Tri Sigma proved differently for me, they did teach me how to cope with being stabbed in the back, talked about and rumors flying.   I learned  during that year in Tri Sigma that sister were not really sisters and they would do what is necessary for them to get a head.    You would sing, have fellowship and blow out candles together, yet outside of the sorority house, this was a totally different story.

With the experiences from ASH and Tri Sigma, they were the building blocks for Military Officer Spouses.    Since saying “I do” in 2001, I have made some really great friends who we consider each other “military sisters” and others that I wish to not be with again.   I have learned to deal with gossip and rumors, nip things in the butt, help other wives when they have been ostracized by other military spouses, socialized with high ranking officers and be the best military wife I could be.

It is not easy being a military spouse-we tend to wear our heart on our sleeve, make friends fast & try to fit into our new posts.

I want to personally thank those who I am still close friends with from my years at ASH and my military sisters.  Though you gals, I am the women I am today.  We have laughed, cried and clinked glasses together. We have been together through thick and thin and we are stronger than ever that no matter how much time has been apart, when we get together it is as we never had left.

 

Mission: Finding My Place

As a military child, it is hard for them to find their place in the world.  I think the hardest questions a military child has to answer is “Where are you from?”   For them, it is a very complicated questions that has many different answers….

Do you want to know where was I born? Where my grandparents live? Where were were stationed before? Where we are stationed now? What country are we from?

If you are a military spouse reading this, you know exactly what I am talking about.   My kids have always given the “TMI answer”.   So if you want to know where we are from and you ask my kids, you better have time to sit and listen as you are going to get the full story!

Through the years and with school projects, this question is brought up often.  Though you will still get a “more than you bargained for” answer, this has been consent-Mason says he is from California; Connor says he is American and French (as he was born in Paris and the only one with dual citizenship) and Avery claims NOLA though she has only been there a few times.    The kids have always chosen Louisiana as their “Where I am From Project” and long for the day that they can live in the US, experience US culture that they have only heard about and can proudly say where they are from while they are finally home.

We say “Home is where the Army Send You!”, but in our hearts, we know that NOLA is home!

Mission: A Breach in Security

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Like all things that can go wrong, do go wrong when the husband is out of the country.     It was in the middle of the night back in 2013, Mike was in Germany and the kids and I had gone to bed in DRC Congo.   Avery came into my room in the wee hours crying and saying that her lights were swinging from the ceiling.   I laughed this off, talked with her, turned on all the lights in the house showing her it was nothing and sent her back to her room thinking it was only a dream.   Right as I was finally getting back to sleep, I heard what sounded like someone running in my attic.  I froze!   I quietly got out of bed, grabbed the baseball bat and went room to room waking the kids up and getting them into the safe room and put on lock down.   Then I radioed in to the Marines at Post One at our US Embassy Kinshasa.   As we were friends with the marines, they started laughing when I told them what was going on.  They said they would call it in and send security out.    Three local guards checked the perimeter of the house and roof and said that they did not see anything suspicious.   The embassy’s RSO (Regional Security Officer) never did come to see if things were ok.    After the guards told me there was nothing wrong, I went back to bed, but made the kids sleep in the safe room just to be sure.  Within an hour the running above us started back up and now MY bedroom lights were swinging.

I locked my kids in the safe room and with a bat in hand I ran out of my house and to the guards.  Again, they assured me it was nothing, so I brought them in the house, turned off all of the lights and had them sit until the sounds came again.   Finally they heard it and knew that I was not crazy.  I called Mike who started laughing, but I was not play around.   The next morning I contacted the US DAT (Defense Attache) to see if he could get someone from the embassy to come and take a look.

A guy came from the embassy and got into the crawl space for the attic.  He saw animal poop, but nothing out of the ordinary, so he left.  Again that night the same thing….running, pounding and swinging lights.  The next day I had the embassy guy come back out.  He brought traps and smeared them with peanut butter and tuna however he did not set them, so whatever was in my attic was a fest that night.

I was now day #3 of no sleep waiting for whatever was in my attic to drop through our thin ceilings.   The embassy was claiming mice/rats at this point, but it would have had to been a hell of a rat to make stomping noises and make the lights swing.   Still nothing was found and Mike still was not home.

By day #4 the embassy just thought I was crazy, but I had my gardener get onto the roof and look for any signs of a breach in security.  He found that a piece of the side of the house that was next to the security wall was open…the size of a US football.  I contacted the embassy to tell them the findings and they came over and covered up the hole from the outside, not even checking if the animal was out of the attic.

That night whatever was up there started looking for food and a way out.   You can not only see the lights swinging in the hallway, but a ramming sound.   I just new something would be falling out of the ceiling.   Whatever was up there was now pissed that he was trapped.   This went on ALL night.

By night #6, there had been no sounds for 48 hours, so between the high heat and starvation I figured whatever was up there was dead.  I went to our guard and told him I would give him $20 and a flashlight if he would go up in my attic and try to get whatever is up there out…he refused!!!   So I called the DAT’s wife and she and I would take care of this.  After a few G&Ts for encouragement, we got into the attic to find a large looking dead cat.  We drug it out and we were told it was a 6kg civic cat.   The guards kept it for food and skins.  I was so in shock that I did not think taking a picture of it until it was already cut up.

Mission: In the Ranks

At some point in your spouses career you will meet someone that introduces themselves as “I am COL/GEN so-&-so’s wife”  We have all met this person at one time or another and some of us have met several of them.

The first time I met one of these, Mike and I were just married.  I knew, or so I thought, the difference between enlisted and officers.  I was not sure what to say when this spouse introduced herself as this.  So I stuck out my hand and said “My name is Jen, it’s nice to meet you.”  When I got home that evening, I told Mike of this encounter and had him run down the ranks with me.  To this day, over 15 years later, I can tell the difference between enlisted and officer, but I cannot determine the exact rank.

After years of being a military spouse and meeting these types of women at each post, this is how I look at it.   Though we are all military spouses, we all deserve respect and no one should have to bow down or curtsy just because your spouse is a high ranking officer.   We all put on pants one leg at a time and we are all supporting our husband’s mission while we are overseas and away from our families and friends.   We all are dealing with hardships, have been single parents while our husbands are TDY/deployed, dealt with kid and adult drama, had to “fix” plumbing or electrical on our own, have been a birth coach for another military spouse and a shoulder to cry on.   We ALL are military spouses and none of us hold rank.   Unless someone flat out ask, I do not say or wear my husband’s rank.

I like to joke and say that we hold the highest rank, but in fact, military spouses hold the Silent Rank-holding down the fort and backing up our spouses’ missions while we smile and ask like everything is under control.

Mission: Deployments to Destinations

In 1996, I was fresh out of high school and learning the ropes and ways of university life.   While I was sleeping in, drinking until wee hours with my sorority sisters and finding time to study, Mike was deployed to Bosnia in a peace keeping mission.   Then in 2006 Mike was deployed there again.  While I am dealing with 3 kids under 5 in the UK, dinners of cereal & mac and cheese, Mike was working during the days, eating great at nights and even going to the spa and on the coast with his boss on the weekends.  This was NOT something a military wife wanted to hear!

After 2 deployments 10 years apart, we went to Bosnia as a family in 2016.   From deployments to now a family destination we were able to see a piece of the world that was in conflict and experience to some extent a part of my husband’s military career past.

I do not know if we will ever get to experience Iraq or Afghanistan in our lifetime, but I feel that if families can visit these place where their spouses have been deployed to, it brings the family closer.   As families we do not get to experience being shot at and building being blown up, but we can see first hand where our husbands have been, see the aftermath of what they have been through and feel as we are part of their “deployment stories”.   As in the end, all we have are stories and memories.  ❤