We Love and Miss You, Saddie

I will never forget the moment when my husband’s seven-year-old daughter was physically torn away from him on a September morning in 2017 at an elementary school in Missouri.

Time stopped. It actually slowed down with dramatic effect, as if I saw the whole scene happen in slow motion in Cinemax.  

Saddie had to go back to school after the Baker family and I had spent a week with her on the property.

Matt and I were dropping her off to Katie, her mother, so she could walk Saddie into class. But Katie was late. We had arrived earlier than the time we agreed to meet her, just to be safe.   

Students filed into their classrooms by 7:40am. We stepped out of the rental car we were waiting in and stood directly beside the flagpole. Matt received no text from Katie and had no clue of her whereabouts.

Ten minutes later, we spotted Katie darting across the parking lot towards us in her Army uniform, an E-7 rank on her chest. She had been promoted recently and re-married to her fourth husband.  

I handed Saddie’s rolling backpack to Matt. He let go of Saddie’s hand to let her greet her mom who was walking towards us in anger. When her mom approached, she latched onto Saddie’s hand and yanked her backpack away from Matt.

“The drop-off zone is over there!” Katie scolded, pointing across the lot and cutting him off. 

I stood in shock. Two seconds into the exchange and she was already making it seem as if we made Saddie late!

Matt and I watched Katie drag Saddie inside.

I realized this was it — this was our last time seeing her until the next visit and Katie wasn’t allowing us to say goodbye!

Matt knelt down, opened his arms and shouted, “Saddie! Come give me a hug!”

Saddie looked back at him with her sad brown eyes. Katie wouldn’t let go of Saddie’s hand, even though she was struggling to keep up with her mom.

That was the last time we saw Saddie. But that was not the last encounter we had with Katie’s cruelty. 

On a day in April 2018, Katie e-mailed Matt the world’s worst words: There is no way possible that you are Saddie’s biological father. 

Following a DNA test, this turned out to be true.

He could hardly breathe. He could hardly stand.

Although he was still the legal father and we had visitation rights with Saddie to be in our wedding, Katie didn’t allow it. Her reason was that Saddie would be spending time with her biological father. Katie refused to compromise with the parenting plan.   

We missed Saddie greatly on our wedding day and every day beyond then.  

I’ve grown angry. Out in the world exists such an evil. There are predators who thrive off of inflicting pain and getting what they want through lies and manipulation. Years of lies and manipulation. 

It’s not justice.

I remember when I met Saddie for the very first time at the Arthur Murray dance studio in Tacoma. 

Matt and Saddie stood in the doorway to the studio when they spotted me sitting in a chair by the window. Saddie darted across the dance floor with a big smile on her face and gave me a tight squeeze as if she knew me all her life.

We got along well that summer that she stayed with us in our small apartment. She called me Amanda Panda.

She loved to color. She loved playing with Titan. She loved my parents. She loved Matt.

One day, she was out playing with the kids at the apartment and one kid said something mean to her. She came inside crying and Matt immediately scooped her up into his arms and comforted her.

“Shhh,” he whispered to her. “It’s okay, baby girl. I’m here. No one is mean to my Saddie.”

I admired all of his parenting and hoped that one day I would be half as good of a parent as he was. 

Matt shares the same fears and sorrows that any parent would have who discovers that the child they raised from birth to when they were eight-years-old is no longer theirs.

He fears the child will not be raised with her best interest in mind, that she is shown what manipulation and psychological warfare looks like, and the most scariest of all – that she will absorb the tactics and antics that she was subjected to as a child from the parent she resided with most.

He and I both feel a great deal of sadness for not being a part of Saddie’s upbringing and do not have the opportunity to see her grow. We will miss out on many moments that would allow her to feel a sense of love, belonging and stabilization.

No matter what, he will always be Dad to Saddie. Biological or not, we love her.

We always will. 

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Closing the 2018 Chapter


I took this photo of my husband, Matt, whom I was away from all of January on a trip to West Virginia. I remember going back to work after the New Year and being told that three days later I would be traveling there for a month-long course. I was miserable in West Virginia. When I came back, Matt had a surprise date night prepared. He took me to an arcade where we played all sorts of video games and had a blast.

In March, I traveled to Okinawa, my first time ever seeing Japan. The views of the water were amazing, especially at sunset, but the sushi and ramen were even more amazing! I felt so fortunate to travel to such a beautiful country and be immersed in its culture.

In the Spring, we signed up for a couple’s retreat to the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue, Washington. We took our Australian Shepherd, Titan, with us. We spent one night playing pool and walking around a mall area. I remember one kid played on a grand piano and Matt took my hand to waltz with me in the middle of the mall. My heart exploded and I could not stop smiling.

I couldn’t have been more proud of my husband for receiving this award. He works so hard everyday and truly takes pride in what he does.

As a reward for Matt’s achievement, I signed him up for basic rider’s course to receive a motorcycle endorsement on his license. The bike hunting began soon after he completed the course, and he came across this beauty. He bought his first bike and rode it to work throughout the summer and fall. On some nights, he would ride me around town, cruising roads that overlooked the Sound. I had never felt so free. I smiled riding behind him while he listened to music play on his Sena. He would let one hand off the handle to pat me on the leg or do a little dance just to make me laugh, which happened frequently. And then I would smack him on the helmet to pay attention to the road.

On June 9, 2018, we had our big wedding in Missouri and it was the happiest day of my life. It truly was the wedding of our dreams. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

In August, we got all fancy and I took Matt to his first theater showing of Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount in Seattle. He surprised me with a beautifully orchestrated dinner at Ruth’s beforehand.

I found a new hobby with painting in my free time. Painting with acrylics was a little scary at first, but the more I practiced, the less cautious I became. It makes me proud to look upon my work that hangs on our walls and know that I created a work of art.

In October, I made the big decision to reenlist for an upcoming assignment that Matt and I are incredibly excited about. My coworkers and I took a short hike down to the water where our officer reenlisted me. Matt and Titan came along, and I gave Matt an appreciation award because of his continuing support of my military service and our future together.

I earned my first foreign wings following one of the best jump experiences I have ever had as a paratrooper. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful December day in Washington or a softer landing! It was also an honorable day to participate among our Canadian partners and be led by a new Jump Master.

Matt and I attended the military ball together where we enjoyed many wonderful ceremonial events, especially hitting the dance floor at the end of the night!

We challenged each other to see who would give the better Christmas gift this year, and I do believe Matt won! He bought me my first really nice camera and paint set. He did, however, love his present which was a hand sewn Baker family crest on a leather vest. Matt said that he hadn’t felt this excited about Christmas in a long time, and that really made this holiday special.

We have so much preparing to do and I may not be writing as much because of this. But I am thrilled to announce that we’ll be moving to Germany next year! It has been my dream to travel more throughout my life, and now I have the opportunity to live that dream with my husband. I cannot wait to share this experience with him and possibly grow our family along the way. 🙂 It’ll be a huge adjustment, but I know we’ll be more than ready for this new chapter of our story.

Bring it on, 2019!

Baker Life

I’ve been MIA from blogging since April and an update is most certainly overdue. Well, Matt and I had the wedding of our dreams in Missouri on June 9th. Family and friends flew in from all over the country. We powered through the 90 degree weather with 90% humidity, and instead of going to Nashville for our honeymoon, we stuck around the property simply relaxing and catching our breath before flying back to Washington.

When we came home, Matt received an award at work for Team Member of the Month! Immediately after, I signed him up to take a basic riders course and shortly thereafter, he found and bought his first bike. He’s been riding it to Seattle and back. One of these days, I’ll buy a helmet and jump on the back to ride with him.

We’ve been looking around at homes to rent, because we want a bigger, newer space to ourselves. Nothing has caught our eyes, yet, but we know for sure that we will be moving out of this dinky apartment in the next year.

Right now, loud and obnoxious fans are scattered throughout our apartment, drying the wet walls. A leak spout occurred four days ago from the 2nd-3rd floors above us, causing a cascade through our walls and into the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Repairmen ripped into the base of the walls, so we have holes throughout our home. Thank goodness our bedroom was untethered and we can get a decent night of sleep.

I hear that many newlyweds go through a tough first living condition. Not all… some have the fortune of living beyond comfortable without any strife. I guess our struggles had to happen early on in our marriage for us to later appreciate the simple things that we take for granted… like a place to watch TV or a bathroom to go potty in without fans blowing on you!

Not to mention it’s been a tough year on Matt after transitioning out of the army and dealing with the monster of an ex-wife. There is the proverbial “light up ahead”, but while we’re in this tunnel of daily life (and not so daily life) struggles, we keep faith, trust and love for each other. We are a team. We are so far from perfect, but man, we are perfect for each other in hard times. He picks me up when I’m feeling down, and I hope that I do the same for him.

We know that life will always have its ups and downs, and we gotta make the best of it even when we’re down. He has a bigger faith and belief in God than I do, but I do believe that He or the Universe is looking out for us. When we start to feel uncertain or scared from life’s turbulences, something or someone steps in and reassures us that we’ll be okay.

I feel blessed for the speed bumps we go through together, because it makes the good times that much greater. It would be, however, quite pleasant if those speed bumps grow some distance between them! But we can’t control that. We can only control how we respond to the bumps in the road.

Eventually, we’ll learn how to fly above them.

Bright Spots

Bright spots. Those moments we look forward to in life with the person who will bring us joy, courage, comfort and light. In isolation or separation, those bright spots become rather dim to see; sometimes nonexistent. The one thing that keeps us moving forward during time and distance apart can be a phone call, a private meditation practice, a cup of coffee – something.

When we are apart from loved ones, all we can think about is time. What time is it at home? How much longer until we see each other again? When will this heartache go away?

I experienced this personally last month when I was away from my husband. We’re newlyweds. I was fortunate to have only been apart from him for 30 days, while so many others are apart from their spouses for much longer. That’s tough. Being a service member, I understood what I signed up for. Distance is inevitable; I just didn’t expect it to hurt as much as it did. The amount of negative self talk that I heard myself say was excruciating. Although I was in a class with other students, most of us didn’t socialize outside. I, at least, kept to myself with a book to read or Netflix on my phone.

While I kept in contact with my husband, I missed everything about him. I couldn’t stop thinking about when I’d be in his arms again. Every second apart from him felt like my heart would burst into a million pieces. I counted the days until I would see him again. Yes, we are fortunately in the day and age of smartphones – thank you, live video chat! But technology can only help so much. There were times when it hurt more to see him through my phone than not at all. Nevertheless, I am grateful that loved ones can see and speak to their family when they are states and even countries apart.

That was one of my “bright spots;” a live video chat with him. Just five minutes of seeing his face in real time made my stomach do a flip flop. A text message saying “Good morning” brought a smile to my face. Staying in contact with him through the distance was the best thing that propelled me forward, day by day. There were times, however, when I had to be creative and find personal joy in my solitary state.

One thing I did was set an early alarm to have a cup of coffee and dance before class. Yes…. dance. In my hotel room. Alone. In my pajamas. I put on Pandora and moved my arms, my hips, my legs. I didn’t care at all. It beat the hell out of going outside in the winter cold to go to the gym. On the weekends, I also took a drive through the country to see what was around me. I turned up the radio and explored. Google Maps failed me out there when I tried to find the nearest Bank of America and it took me to a veterinary hospital! That was part of the adventure and it was a fun story to tell my husband.

I took that trip as a learning experience. If I could go back and do it again (God forbid), I would’ve socialized and opened up more to company. I had no idea how critical human interaction was until then. I missed a friend’s wedding while I was there, and I waited in my hotel room by my phone for updates. I was miserable. All I could think to do was be patient and time would end my silent suffering. I thought updates on my phone of a wedding I wasn’t able to attend would bring me joy. It didn’t. I hurt myself more by not going out and sharing a drink or two with a classmate or fellow soldier.

Overall, January 2018 was miserable because I – not knowingly – made it miserable for myself. I am back home in Washington and feeling so much better, though. Not only am I back with my husband, I am back with a little more self-awareness in my back pocket. I know now that I found what can help me through isolation and separation.

It’s people. Good people. Surprisingly, good people are the proverbial few and far between. Good people who just want to share their humanness with one another and feel belonged. At the end of the day, soldier or not, spouse or not, we need someone to rely on or connect with, especially if you’re stuck in the same place together for a period of time. I guess everyone learns this at a younger age, but I’m not the fastest learner. Maybe I had to experience that little trip to make room for another one in the future and come home stronger, less vulnerable. I truly know now that the person to my right or left is sometimes all I’ve got to get through the day.

 

Welcoming 2018 Together

The idea of beginning again is like stepping onto a new Ferris Wheel.

We go around the same loop we did at another amusement park, except this ride is more grand and brings us to another vantage point we were never at before.

That’s the sense I’m getting as the morning moves on into the New Year’s Eve afternoon. My husband and I are newlyweds, and we get to enjoy welcoming the new year together. He’s playing Overwatch right now on his computer while I’m sitting in our tiny dining room, typing on my laptop. Our apartment is so small, but so befitting for our young marriage and we know we want to move out into something a little bigger when it’s right.

I am still in the army for at least another three years and he’ll be out next May. He’s already starting the job hunting process which is exciting. While we both love the army and are grateful to serve our country, he welcomes the idea of a fresh start to his career.

My new career in Public Affairs has been mediocre and not as busy as I thought it would be. In 2017, I published five articles – one in LA YOGA Magazine and four in the post newspaper. This is a huge step back from the weekly newspaper I worked for in California before enlisting. With my English degree, we’re discussing the option for me to apply for Officer Candidate School and move up in rank. If accepted, the risk of me losing PAO work is high. However, my mother-in-law was a 42A, a Human Resources Specialist, and we think that might be a good alternative for me. No matter where my career goes from here, I am grateful the army brought me to him and allowed me to get paid to write.

The morning after our wedding, we wrote down some short term goals we have that may stretch out into long term ones. However long it takes for us to accomplish them is however long it takes. There is no sprint in getting out of debt unless we miraculously win the lottery… knock on wood. We are in this marathon together. Our mantra is “we will get there,” or “we will make it.” I honor and respect that about us. We will work our butts off, and continue to work when we get there. One thing I admire about his family is that they don’t have to work, but they choose to. They are hardworking Midwest people, and I love them. I grew up seeing my parents work, work, work, and they still made time to love and care for each other and for me and my brothers. Lord knows it wasn’t easy for my parents; neither came from wealth. They made their own fortune which still wasn’t a bunch, but it was more than enough. My parents golfed together, they owned a business together, they raised three kids together, they traveled together – never wavering in love, responsibility or commitment.

I see that being us in thirty years. Still working, still dancing, still worrying, still laughing, still praying, still growing, still loving. I would be lying if I said it will be easy; it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take work. But with that hard work comes reward.

We will ring in this new year and welcome the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reborn as Amanda Baker

Four days ago, I woke up as a Baker and cuddled my husband and our dog. The wedding was a success – small, intimate and perfect. Matt and I made it to the church in the morning where we had close friends and family join us. We went to brunch at a local saloon and enjoyed our first official dance that night at the studio where we first met.

The following morning, a wave of emotions overcame me as I stood in the shower and I realized that I was no longer a Ridder. I remembered how one of my female friends told me when she got married that she would hyphenate her name and keep her maiden name. But I always thought that was ridiculous. If you’re going to change it anyway, change it completely. It’s less work and it’s less confusing, but that’s just my opinion.

Still, I felt something change within me. I wondered if every woman in the history of name changing by marriage felt this way. Did they feel that sudden tear in identity? A letting go of who they knew or who they thought they knew for 27 years? I took a moment to honor her – Amanda Ridder. She had done so much. She had fought so much. She loved so much. With the black ink of a pen and a few raw vows, she was gone.

I felt her soul linger a moment in the reflection of my foggy mirror of the bathroom. Glancing back at myself, the old self I knew so well – I was with her, and then without her.

I was reborn.

 

Gratitude

The fire cracks and pops in our fireplace at our apartment in Lakewood, Washington. Outside, the sun is hidden behind clouds and the evergreens, leaving a gray cast upon our neighborhood. Trees sigh with relief as their red, yellow and brown leaves fall to the wet sidewalks. 

I am comfortable and cozy in my warm socks, drinking a cup of coffee, thinking back on Friday night when Matt and I danced a solo Foxtrot to Michael Buble’s “Moondance” at the studio where we first met. He surprised me at the end of our dance and dropped down on one knee, presented a gorgeous ring and asked me to marry him!

I said yes!!  

Love has been pouring in from friends and family all across social media. I am feeling grateful to spend Thanksgiving in California with friends and family, and share the wonderful news.

I am moved beyond words by this man. There is so much about him that I am grateful for.

It was difficult to come up with only 10 things, but here are 10 specific things that he does that I’m thankful for…

  1. He dances with me spontaneously, anywhere at any given time.
  2. He brings me a glass of wine after a long day.
  3. Cooks the best steak and potatoes, ever!
  4. Tucks me in and kisses me goodnight when I turn in early like an old woman.
  5. Calls me on his way to and from work just to hear my voice, until he walks in the front door.
  6. Accepts me for all of my silly, “Damn it, Amanda” moments.
  7. Inspires and encourages me to write.
  8. Shares my love of doing absolutely nothing on our days off but cuddle in our PJ’s with our Australian Shepherd, Titan.
  9. Despite our adoration for being lazy, he shares the same ambition as mine to get outside, play around the park, welcome adventures and one day travel outside of the states.
  10.  He embraces life to the fullest and spreads joy to everyone around him.