Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back Home to the Real War Zone...

Home sweet home. I arrived home at about 8 am Saturday morning. And as I walked through the front door the kids were so excited that they were all talking at once. Izzy levitated off the carpet - straight up and down like a circus animal. Stupid pet tricks...David Letterman hasn't seen anything yet. The kids showed me a few new tricks, as well. Such as when Annalise holds Luke straight up above her head on a pile of pillows in our living room, Amelia bows before them and they both sing, "The Circle of Life" as Luke plays along not minding that he is always Simba.

I showed Amelia my photographs from Kabul on my computer. As we flipped through them she shook her head and said, "Mom, you weren't paying attention were you?" How did she know? She was looking at a photo of me at a long table with some interminable presentation being made in the dusty, dry heat at the Afghan training base, as a young Special Forces officer used Power Point to explain to General Petraeus all that the unit had learned from its mentors. I had had 1 and a half hours of sleep and a little too much green tea on an empty stomach. The room was swirling, I couldn't eat or drink anything in front of our Afghan hosts because it was Ramadan and I was pinching myself to stay awake. Amelia was spot on. I was not paying attention. She asked me in earnest, "But what if they called on you?" This was a question near and dear to her heart because in the week that I had been gone, she had skipped second grade and gone straight to third. I had angsted over this decision momentarily in the early summer after her teacher, Ms. Maxwell, had recommended it. And as luck would have it, my first assignment would be in Afghanistan and I would miss the first week of school altogether. What kind of mother am I? Somehow everyone did very well. I really am peripheral to this operation.

Amelia went on to question why I was wearing a head covering on Chicken Street. I explained that some Muslims believe that women need to cover their hair so as not to arouse the interest of men. I said some other religions believe this as well but in Kabul I was asked to cover my hair. She looked at me for a moment, puzzled. "Are they mentally ill?" She couldn't believe anyone ACTUALLY believed that by covering a woman's hair, men would not be attracted to her. I had no answer.

Meanwhile, I explained to the girls how I did not run with General Petraeus (they knew I had taken him some pink trimmed running shoes) but that he had challenged me to some sit-ups. I didn't run (okay call me a coward) because I began hearing stories about 7 minute miles and how David Gregory was sucking wind after a few miles, and how Petraeus' staff were upset that NBC didn't use that footage to show how the General crushed the journalist. I could not give the General such satisfaction. This would be no friendly post-chemo jog, as I had envisioned. Petraeus does not let anyone win. But I felt pretty confident in my abs, thanks to Joshua. So I said I would be happy to challenge him to some sit-ups. That's when I realized just how competitive he really is (and I am no slouch.) I asked him how many he could do. "One more than you." Then he added that a Navy Seal had once done 186, but Petraeus had done one more. I still felt I could take him. So after the interview he dropped to the floor and showed me some ridiculous sit-up that Amelia tells me is known as a lemon squeezer in gymnastics. Whatever. I started to do them and he kept saying you are not doing them right. I realized I had met my match. The next day on the Black Hawk as we flew over Kabul, as the blades made conversation nearly impossible, he would tease and put his hands behind his head like he was preparing to do a sit-up, and smile. But when I told the girls my story with a laugh and told Joshua that Petraeus says I don't do sit-ups the right way that's when my girls got their Irish up. ("We don't play for a tie, do we Annalise...") So now we are practicing our sit-ups waiting for a rematch.

In the meantime, they played on my guilt at having missed the first week of school and we went out for a mother-daughter mani-pedi at Toe-Tally. And I went for a haircut with Luke. This first week back has been a series of trips to the pediatrician, a morning at Fox learning how to file my expense report online. Back and forth to Rockville for Amelia's 3 hour gymnastics practices. Back home at 9 pm just in time for her to have a bowl of cereal and collapse into bed. Homework done in the car. Did I mention I run a taxi service? I came home from Kabul exhausted, but exhilarated. At the end of this week, I was simply exhausted, beaten down by the daily struggle to keep 3 kids and a family running on time. It made me long for a simpler war zone. One where every day you wake up and you know what you need to do and you do it and you fall into bed knowing that you are living that much closer to life and death, which always makes living all the sweeter.

Tonight after the girls returned from making Greg a birthday cake at next door neighbor Chris Downey's house, we cleaned up the downstairs of our house because "Home and Design" and People Magazine are coming to do interviews and a photo shoot with the family at dawn. A few last minute interviews before I get back to work and timed to coincide with October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month.) It's a bit overwhelming. We spent all day making everything look presentable. We even washed Luke's paw prints off the plexiglass that we had to line our stairwells with. Just when I thought everyone was asleep and I took one last spin through the living room, pleased at how we had erased any signs that 3 small children lived anywhere near the first floor. We had taken off the child locks, returned the books to the lower two bookshelves within Luke's reach. Pulled out the old Russian icons that had been carefully removed from the living room. Put the diaper changing table and all of Luke's toys in the basement. Lay out the new rug I bought on Chicken Street. Just as I was about the turn out the lights and head upstairs, I hear a cough, and then a gag. Luke has thrown up. Projectile vomited to be exact. I grab him from his crib and the smell of sour milk fills the upstairs hallway. Poor little guy. I shake my head as the last bits of spoiled milk spray onto the plexiglass. I get him cleaned up and back to sleep and wade into what looks like a crime scene. Good thing these aren't 'scratch and sniff' photos tomorrow. I shake my head and part of me wishes that I were back in Kabul, a real war zone. I smile at the absurdity and think, "Calgon, take me away."