Planes

As we started the day today, my mind was flooded with memories of 9/11/01 when the world fell apart for America. Sitting at my desk at work, I remember a friend opening the door and telling us what was going on in New York. I immediately called my mom to see what was going on and, as we were talking, the second plane slammed into the South tower of the World Trade Center.  I will never forget that day and the days that followed. The fear for our country and the sadness for all of those families who lost loved ones in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. Those planes represented hate filled destruction, anti-American sentiment, pain, sorrow, grief, fear, guilt for those survivors who questioned “why them and not me?”, so many emotions. For a long time, I was afraid of flying because of the events of 9/11. Those passengers had no idea what was about to happen to them when they boarded those planes. Sometimes I would look up at the sky and see a plane flying overhead and my mind would go back to that day and I would want to cry from the deep sadness that I felt. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how much an event can touch our hearts so deeply that we can’t control the tears. I have felt like that many times in the years since that day.

Today, sixteen years later, as I was getting my daughter ready for her first day of school, I was again experiencing some of the same emotions of that day but for a couple of reasons:

Since moving to St. Kitts in 2014, air travel has become the norm for our family. It’s simply how you get anywhere when you live on an island. So, as I was looking at her, I thought about how hopping on a plane is just a normal thing for her; like getting in the car to go to school. I could not imagine how those passengers felt aboard those planes that day. Honestly, I can’t allow myself to ask all the questions that run though my mind about what it was like for them during those final moments. If I did, I would probably never fly again. It was such a sad and confusing time.

The other reason that the emotions have been running the gamut today is because of the recent passing of Hurricane Irma over the Caribbean islands and into the US. While our little island was spared the worst of the storm, many neighboring islands were destroyed leaving many without anything except the clothes on their backs. One of those islands, Sint Maarten, holds some special significance for our family because it’s where my husband also works in addition to our island. He travels there frequently and we rarely travel with him so we were extremely blessed to be able to ride out this storm together in the safety of our home in St. Kitts. Some of our friends weren’t so lucky. For one reason or another, they ended up being separated from their loved ones during some of the scariest days of this disaster. Because the airport in Sint Maarten was not operational from just prior to the storm until now, no flights have been going in or out of the country. During these days, our emotions have ranged from joy upon hearing that everyone was ok to sadness over the level of destruction, relief for our own safety to fear for our friends’ safety. There has even been some “survivors’ guilt” because it could just as easily have been our island instead of theirs and now were are back to “business as usual” while they are in a state of uncertainty. It just doesn’t make sense. These past several days, the planes have represented frustration, fear, and desperation for all of those whose loved ones have been stranded without even basic necessities while we were left feeling helpless just a few miles away. If only a plane could get there and bring them home.

We’ve been hearing reports of evacuations starting for several days with one of my friends hopeful that she would be reunited soon with her father and another praying to be reunited with her husband. I’ve heard that planes were being chartered by different groups to get people out but the process is slow and none of us wanted to get our hopes up. Then, this afternoon, as I was driving to pick my daughter up from school, I looked up to the sky and saw a plane take off. When it banked toward Sint Maarten, I started to cry. That plane, that tiny plane…represented hope. It represented people whose loved ones would be reunited with them very soon; after days of waiting and praying.

I was struck by the two extremes in my emotions today; both represented in my mind by planes; both bringing me to the point of tears; both shaping what this day will represent to me in the years to come. I think the thing that I am realizing is that, even amidst the worst imaginable destruction, after all the pain and suffering, the worry and the fear, there will always be hope.

Fly little plane…bring them home.

Pack Mentality

February 4th, 2017 will mark our three-year anniversary living on the island of St. Kitts. During this time we’ve met and said “goodbye” to many friends and co-workers. The joke between us has been that it seems like everyone travels in packs. Each group seems to come and go at approximately the same time.

Some of the “packs” move on as their time as students comes to an end and they move along to their clinical rotations while other moves are brought on by new opportunities for faculty and/or researchers. We have been lucky enough to have gotten to know quite a few of these nomads.

We, much like our animal counterparts, want to feel secure with those who are most like us so we actively (or maybe subconsciously) seek out friends that make us feel comfortable and accept us for who we are. That was the hardest thing for me during that first long year. We met a lot of people when we first arrived and there was no shortage of opportunities to meet people and make new friends. While Matt seemed to adapt well, I always felt like I wasn’t quite accepted into the group. Maybe it was because I was “just” a stay-at-home mom or because I don’t hold a Ph.D. or because I don’t speak multiple languages. Who knows the reason, I just didn’t quite fit in.

Thankfully, after about a year and a half, I started having coffee with some of the other moms that I had met in the PTA who had also recently found themselves without a job for perhaps the first time in their lives. We all seemed to be in the same boat; going through the same struggle with finding our new purpose after years of working and having careers of our own. This is no easy feat as many of them have advanced degrees of their own. It was only after joining this group of ladies that I started to relax and actually enjoy not having a job to rush off to. I was finally able to just be myself and relax without fear of being mocked for my accent or completely left out of the conversation.

Luckily for me, these ladies have families that also mesh well with Matt and Kylie so it’s like our own little island extended family. Most weekends we are doing something with at least a few of them like hiking, going to the beach, or even just going for a movie at the local cinema. It’s so nice because there isn’t this pressure to be anything other than ourselves and they understand when Kylie is having a bad day. They don’t judge her for being a child who is learning how to deal with her emotions and they recognize that sometimes, their children act the same way and they don’t blame Kylie for standing up for herself. No one talks about work; we just enjoy being with our families and each other.

Recently we had to say goodbye to one of our “pack members” as she and her family moved back to Taiwan after being here on assignment with the Embassy. This was a difficult goodbye because, not only were we losing one of our coffee moms, we were also saying goodbye to their two beautiful children from our little school and her husband who was always willing to help wherever he could.

“Many people will walk in and out of your life. but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart. – Eleanor Roosevelt

On one of their last nights in St. Kitts, our coffee group took the mom out for a night of fellowship and fun at the beautiful Salt Plage overlooking Christophe Harbour and Whitehouse Bay. While we were sitting around sipping champagne, I started thinking about all of us and how each of our personalities come together to make such a dynamic group of amazing women. In all, we represented at least eleven different countries and came from varying levels of financial, educational, and religious backgrounds. And here we were, totally accepting of all that we are and perfectly perfect just as we are. I know this happens in other places so it shouldn’t seem so surprising that our little group has become so close. But, with all the division in the world today; with all the division in my home country right now, I just wanted to be able to somehow show everyone that all they have to do is open their hearts and allow each person to be themselves and just see that there’s no reason for all this divisiveness at all. As long as a person is kind, that should be all that matters.

As an American living in another country (I choose not to say foreign because it doesn’t feel that way to me), I am so grateful that I have been able to find friends from all over the world that accept me for who I am. I have come to know about their backgrounds and their traditions and cultures and have been able to have a view of the world as a “World Citizen” that I never would have had if we hadn’t taken this journey. I just wish everyone could have this chance. I think it would go a long way in healing this world if we could all just be a little more understanding.

So, my advice to you is:  No matter where you go in life, don’t be afraid to find your pack, even if they are from different backgrounds. Your life will be so much richer when you open yourself up to another’s point of view.

 

For Bailey

There are no words to describe just how much I miss you my sweet girl. I’ve been trying for months now to write this but nothing seems to do this grief justice. I think of you every day since your body decided it was time for you to go. For almost twelve years you and Molly were the one constant in my daily routine and I’m still trying to find a way to make the world to stop spinning out of control since you’ve gone. Of course, as with any death, I’ve had to find a way to continue on without you but life will never be the same. Our home is a little less comfortable now; a little less of a safe place for me. Not in the traditional sense of the word “safe” but in the emotional sense.

Becoming a parent was something I always wanted and absolutely love but it’s a constant struggle; a constant source of stress. Am I making the right choices for Kylie; am I helping her to become the kind of person that can handle the world that she is growing up in; or am I just completely screwing everything up and she’s going to end up with a terrible life because of something I’ve chosen to do now? I never had those worries with you. I could just love you and I always knew that I was making the best choices that I could for you with the resources I had and I could see that you were thriving and happy. You were always my happy girl despite the health problems you faced. Being a dog mommy was so much easier and I needed you girls to help keep life in balance. Every night I would just look at you two and, while I was questioning everything about how the rest of the day had gone, I could just give you both hugs and kisses and know that I had at least done one thing right that day. I had loved my girls and they loved me back without question.

I have felt you both around me so much lately. I was dreading Christmas because I have been feeling guilty about not spending last Christmas with you. I never dreamed that I would lose both of you in the same year. But, since we had volunteered to dog-sit over the winter break, we faced spending the holidays without the distraction of family to help me through missing you. I have to say though, and people can call me crazy if they want to, I know that you had a hand in arranging it all. Each of the three dogs that we hosted in our home seemed to act as a messenger for the two of you at different times. When I would start to feel sad and missing you either Roo would poke her head into the shower like Rudy & Molly used to do, Saffie would nudge my like Molly always did or Jax would come lay on my feet or beg for cuddles like you always did. They didn’t do it all the time, just when I was thinking of you and missing you. It felt like maybe you were using them to let me know that you were still here; like you were saying “hello”. It has helped me so much.

I remember the day I brought you home. You were such a pudgy little thing. You wouldn’t let anyone hold without crying until a friend of mine put you inside his jacket and got you all cozy and sleepy. Then you got to spend the rest of the day at work with me being held and passed around from person to person. After that day, you insisted that I carry you everywhere like a baby on my hip until you were too big for me to do so. Then, you still tried to get me to pick you up every chance you got. You also had a habit of eating rocks in those early days and we spent several afternoons at the vet having x-rays taken to make sure that they were small enough for you to pass. One such afternoon I remember taking you into the local post office. Everyone was amazed at how you just sat there on my hip like a toddler. You loved everyone and were very gracious as they all petted you and told you how beautiful you were with your dark chocolate fur and blonde brindle markings. You were my spoiled rotten girl and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Your new sister wasn’t sure she wanted to give up being an only dog but she loved you so much. She wanted you to know that she was the boss and that made you cling to me a bit more. She would also play tricks on you like closing the door to your crate and making you think you couldn’t get out, hiding and then tackling you every time you tried to explore the yard, and barking to distract you from your chew toy so that she could steal it. Watching the two of you grow up together was so much fun. You were both good travelers and we enjoyed many years of traveling to the Outer Banks of NC to spend vacations running on the beach (your favorite place to poop). You always enjoyed chasing the seagulls and other birds on the beach as well as stealing the soccer ball from Molly and running back to us with it. She always looked so frustrated and you were so happy with that big goofy smile on your face when you would drop it and circle around us to take off after it again.

There are so many memories of your happy face that I am so grateful for. Since Molly was the alpha, you didn’t get many chances to play the tough role and be in charge with her. However, when you figured out that the calves would run from you, I remember how happy that made you. You would run along the fence line barking your head off and then come running back to me like, “Did you see that Momma? They are all scared of me! I’m tough!” All with that goofy grin. Then, in the winter, you would sneak under the electric fence to bring frozen cow patties back for you and Molly to snack on. You were so silly. You were always my protector. I belonged to you and there was no question about it. When we would take you on hikes, that was the only time Molly would let you lead. You would charge ahead into the woods and get just out of sight. Then you would circle back to the end of the line and make sure I was still hanging in there with everyone. You would touch me with your nose and then run back to the front again. There was also swimming at the river which, besides the beach, was your absolute favorite thing. While Molly would struggle and fight against the current, you would just puff your body out and float lazily around; occasionally using your tail as a rudder and a paw or two to turn back to us. Sometimes you would scare me by going so far away from us before coming back but it just seemed so effortless for you. You were a born water dog.

As you got older and started having surgeries for different things, you and I spent even more time hanging out together. You were always most comfortable when you could be resting your head on me. We spent months sleeping on the floor in the living room because you couldn’t climb the stairs and I couldn’t stand the thought of you being alone. And, there was always “couch time” where we would watch our shows and snooze together on Sunday afternoons. Then, in those last days, we spent many nights side by side on the floor while I kept my hand on your side to make sure you were still with me.

I miss running my fingers through your soft fur and hearing your big sighs. I miss you sniffing my mouth to see what I had been eating. I miss you getting up from wherever you were laying and coming to lean on me as soon as I sat down. I miss our connection. I just miss you Bailey so much.

Happy Birthday my sweet girl. You will always be in my heart.

Bailey Arianne Clemons-Haga (January 17, 2005 – October 3, 2016)

I used to miss my flip-flops, now I miss my clogs.

You’ve probably heard the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Well, maybe we should start realizing that the grass can be pretty darn green wherever we are if we’ll just give it a chance to grow.

When we moved to St Kitts two and a half years ago, we left our comfort zone in a big way. Life was good in our small town. We had a house in a quiet little neighborhood. Kylie had recently made friends with two little girls that lived down the street and life was moving along at a nice easy pace. We made weekly trips to the grocery store where we could find anything we were looking for and more. We had our favorite restaurants where people knew our names when we walked in. We were within a comfortable driving distance of Matt’s family, shopping malls and entertainment venues. We were close enough to my job and Kylie’s school that we could walk and enjoy watching the world come to life. We even had my parents close enough that Matt and I regularly enjoyed “date nights” together. And we had great friends that were there for us in good times and bad and were like a second family. We loved our life.

As good as things were, we both felt a need for something new, something completely different. We were both feeling mired down by the day-to-day routine of work and household responsibilities. Some days it was hard to take a breath and realize how good our life was. Then this email appears out of the blue…

Fast-forward two and a half years. We’re living the dream. Beautiful turquoise waters surround us. There’s salt in the air. We’re within walking distance of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Life is good. We are renting a nice house that’s large enough to host our family and friends. Our niece has moved with us to attend vet school and realize her lifelong dream. Kylie attends a wonderful little private school where she has lots of friends and life is again moving along at a nice easy pace. Matt’s commute to and from work has reduced from a high of three hours per day to a high of a half-hour per day. My job has gone from managing multiple design and print projects to managing our household and working a couple part-time jobs. Grocery shopping has become a multi-day chore and we still can’t always get what we want or need. There are no malls and a very limited amount of entertainment venues. We are multiple flights away from both of our families and “date nights” have dwindled to a few a year. We have our favorite restaurants where everyone knows our names when we walk in. We have made some wonderful friends from all over the world who have opened our eyes to many things. They are there for us in good times and bad and some have become our second family. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and grown so much from our experiences here. We love our life.

I know that everyone has also heard the saying that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes though, it’s worth repeating; even if only to ourselves. If you noticed, there were both good and bad things about both places I described. We can love our lives wherever we are if we just give it a chance. As long as we have the most important thing, which is love (that of our family, our friends, our community), we can be happy anywhere. I’ve definitely learned this lesson on our journey; no matter where we end up in the world, as long as I have the support of those I love and trust the most, I can make any place feel like home.

For Molly

I never wanted to think of the day when you wouldn’t be here following me around like my little shadow but today it’s been three weeks since I’ve stroked your soft fur, felt your kisses on my face, watched your curiosity about the world around you. I still find myself wondering what I’m going to do without you.

I still remember the day we met. You were running around with your sister playing with an empty water bottle with rocks in it. Such a happy girl! Because of an umbilical hernia, you were the last of your litter and nobody seemed to want you since they wouldn’t be able to breed you due to this “defect”. We had just lost our first girl, Rudy, in a tragic accident and were heartbroken. The family that had you loved you so much that they treated you like a baby and you were sad to leave them. For the first few days I was afraid we had made a mistake. You were so sad. I was sad (and felt guilty for loving another dog so soon). Daddy was sad too. But we loved you so much already. How could we not? You were perfect. So we took each day one at a time and you began to feel more at home with us. It helped waking up to your paw stretched across my chest and your head resting on my shoulder each morning. You healed my heart with your sweetness.

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She didn’t know what to do with the hot dog she found so she just carried it around for awhile until it finally fell apart!

When we were trying to set our wedding date later that year, we couldn’t decide between three different dates so we wrote them down on little slips of paper and threw them into the air and you ran and brought back one of them. Matt announced, “October 15th it is!” and you wiggled your little butt. You knew you were making us happy. You lived to make us happy.

You were a lucky girl in that you got to spend your days with “Granny and Paw” while Daddy and I were at work. Since we both worked long hours and they are retired, you got to get lots of your puppy energy out instead of having to be penned up during the day. Of course there was always Hootie to play with but you formed a close bond with them as well. You also had your favorite toy Coco to carry around and treat like your very own baby. You were so gentle with the little stuffed dog that we still have it almost 12 years later and it almost looks brand new.

Then, for your first birthday, we brought you a real “Coco” named Bailey. You loved her and she loved you but you did boss her around quite a bit. You would have made a wonderful mommy dog (not that I believe in breeding). Of course, the two of you became inseparable and always have been. She still looks for you every time we come home. I hope you visit her in her dreams sometimes so she’s not so lonely.

You were always so in-tune with what was going on around you. Often, when we would let you out for your last potty break before bed, we would find you sitting on the hill staring up at the stars. I’m not sure what you thought they might be but Daddy always said that he thought you were contemplating your existence. I think you knew your purpose already. We had a deep bond, you and I. You always knew when I was sad or worried about something. Your fur caught more of my tears over the years than I can count. You helped me through all the nights worrying over Bailey with her two knee surgeries, always checking on her whenever she would whimper. You even helped me deal with the emotions of our struggle to start a family when I thought we would never have a child of our own.  And, the day that I took the pregnancy test, as usual, you were right there laying at my feet (the bathroom is lonely now by the way). When I read the results, you raised your head and looked at me and when I told you that we were going to have a baby, you jumped up and started wiggling all over. It was perfect. I couldn’t have imagined sharing that moment with anyone but you. Of course, I couldn’t wait to tell Daddy either but that moment was special, just between us girls.

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After we brought Kylie home from the hospital, the first thing you did was put your nose into her carrier and say hello. Lots of people had warned us about bringing a baby into the house with two big dogs but we knew that you girls would be just fine. You both loved her from the instant you met her. She was part of your pack and your instincts were to protect her. Those first few days, whenever anyone would come to visit, we would have to put you outside because you wouldn’t let anyone near the bassinet. You never growled or anything, just stood in the way like a furry road block saying, “This is my baby!”. And, during the next year of long sleepless nights, you stayed in the nursery with me waking up every 30 minutes or so just like me. She was not a good sleeper at all and you and I both were exhausted. But you never left my side or hers. On the rare occasion that I didn’t wake up right away, I would wake to find you poking your nose into her crib to check on her when she was crying. Every little noise she made, you were right there. I think you and I both gained more gray hairs that year.

As Kylie grew, you let her crawl on you, sleep on top of you, pinch you with her little fingers when she was trying to learn how to pet gently. You kept watch over her even though she was slow to form the emotional bond on her end. You loved her just the same. She was your favorite girl. She grew to love you as much as we did and eventually started to play with you. I can still picture you running along behind her as she rode her bike around the house giggling saying, “Look Mommy! Molly’s following me!”. And, even though your barking by the pool could get on our nerves sometimes, I tried hard not to discourage you from doing so. You were, after all, letting everyone know that Kylie had jumped into the pool. You protected her until the end.

Bringing you to St. Kitts was a very stressful time for us. In order to get you here, we had to put you and Bailey on a cargo plane all alone. You were always so sensitive to loud noises that I was afraid that you wouldn’t make it. Handing you two off to a stranger in Miami almost did me in. Luckily, you handled it better than Bailey did and all went well. We were so happy to finally have you two here with us!

Through the years, I’ve always been so proud to have you belong to me. You were always patient and kind with anyone you met, even if you were afraid of some of them. Even on your vet visits, you were so cooperative that I had several of them tell me that they wished all of their patients were like you. You wanted nothing more than to please and I don’t know if there has ever been a sweeter soul on this earth.

Some people may think I’m crazy but you were the most human dog I’ve ever known. We communicated without words but you knew that I needed you and were willing to fight to stay here with me as long as I asked you to. You were my best friend and letting you go was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. My heart is shattered. Hopefully this day, your first birthday in Heaven (what would have been your twelfth here on earth), all your pain is gone and you have found Zeus, Hootie, Madre and Rudy to keep you company until we meet again. I love you Molly Moo, you’ll always be my favorite “yeller” dog.

Molly Abigale Clemons-Haga (March 20, 2004-February 28, 2016)

Learning to Live with Less

Growing up in the US during the seventies and eighties, I was like many children during that time. My parents worked hard to give me and my brother a happy childhood by spending as much time with us as they possibly could while both working outside the home and by making sure that, not only were all of our needs met, but that we also had many of our “wants” as well. As each generation before them, they wanted to give us more than what they were able to have while they were growing up. I don’t find any fault in that at all. I never went without anything that I needed and, by being a mostly good kid, I earned a lot of the things I wanted. I’m sure that there are some that feel that I was spoiled more than necessary. However, I always tried to make sure my parents knew how much I appreciated the things they gave me by taking care not to break them and by always thinking before I made a choice to do something so that they could always be proud of the person I was growing up to be. My brother and I understood that they were going without the things they wanted (and sometimes needed) to give things to us.

Having lived in St. Kitts for a year and a half now, I’m starting to wonder when each generation giving “more” material things to their children will be enough. When does it just become a habit? I mean, I don’t really need to give Kylie more than what I had growing up because my childhood was as close to perfect as anyone could ask for. So, is my obsession with buying her everything I think she’ll like really about making her life better? Or is it robbing her of the chance to learn how to earn what she wants for herself? Will having lots of things really make her a happy adult? Or would it be better for her, in the long run, to enjoy the things she has and find happiness in experiencing life? I think island life is going to be good for all of us because:

  1. I can’t shop all the time nor is it enjoyable when I have to.
  2. The latest and greatest name brand items are just not available here so I don’t feel the need to keep up with everyone else.
  3. The cost of importing non-essential items just isn’t worth it so you learn to live without them.

One of the things that I really like about the people here is that everyone is happy to have the things they have and they don’t seem to judge others for what they have or don’t have. Not that they don’t strive to better themselves and provide more to their children but they’re just happy living life. It’s not unusual to see a teenage boy riding down the road on a pink bicycle or carrying a pink backpack to school. The bike gets them to where they need to go and the backpack carries what they need. Who cares if they’re pink? It’s just not that important. This is the way I imagine generations before me grew up; before all the commercialization and constant push to have more things in order to validate your life. Continue reading → Learning to Live with Less

It’s never easy to say goodbye

“Don’t cry because it’s over. SMILE because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

To say I never thought I’d be living outside the US, much less in the Caribbean with its beautiful waters and year-round warm weather, is an understatement. I grew up in a small town that I never dreamed I’d leave. I had a small group of great friends that I could always count on. I couldn’t step outside my house without seeing at least one person I knew very well. I liked it that way. I knew people, they knew me; we all knew the values that the other stood for. It was all I had ever known. It was easy.

Then a girl named Rachel (the daughter of a friend of mine) packed her bags and moved to San Diego. She’d only been there once but was brave enough to say, “Hey, I’d like to live here. I think I will.” I remember the day her mom told me that she was leaving. There was such a sense of pride in her voice that she’d raised such a strong-willed daughter who was brave enough to move all the way across the country…alone…in her early twenties. I was proud of her as well as I had known her for almost half of her life and had seen her go through the struggles of adolescence and come out the other side just as bold as she’d ever been but also had become a kind and mature adult. I was a little jealous too. I thought of my own experiences at that age and wished that I had been brave enough to do what she was doing. I started to feel like I had missed my opportunity to step outside the bubble of small town living. Continue reading → It’s never easy to say goodbye