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.

 

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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.

 

What 2017 Taught Me

I swear I was just on a plane to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a shy little Specialist Amanda Ridder straight out of airborne school traveling to her first unit, unsure of practically everything you could imagine. I blinked and here I am: Specialist Amanda Ridder about to become Specialist Amanda Baker, a young woman open to a new chapter of her life once again.

2016 was the year I graduated basic, AIT and airborne school. Before joining the army, I was a 25-year-old college graduate living at her parent’s house waiting tables. I took the leap and joined the 1%, and no regrets ever since. And I’m just getting warmed up.

After the whirlwind of 2016, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be ready for 2017! I had conquered my biggest fear yet by volunteering to jump out of five perfectly good airplanes! I set the bar pretty high for myself.

In 2017, I grew to understand that time would open my eyes to even bigger challenges that I never predicted; that Google never told me; that a manual could not teach me. I fell in love and got engaged. I am planning not only one, but two weddings: one here in Washington in 18 days and another in  Missouri on my fiance’s family property next year. This alone goes to show how blessed I am. And yet again, I have set the bar higher.

I can only imagine what 2018 has in store.

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.

 

 

Thoughts with my younger me

If I could transport back in time and speak to my younger self, my seven-year-old self, I’d tell her how beautiful she is and to never lose that imagination. She loved pretending to be Pocahontas and run on the front lawn barefoot as if dashing through the forest. She played in a kiddie pool with her neighborhood friend. She loved dancing in her backyard to her boom box that played Britney Spears CD’s.

I would travel back to middle school and whisper to thirteen-year-old me that I shouldn’t insist that dad buy those boots that I’d never wear to the school dance.

To my seventeen-year-old self, I would tell her that her boyfriend would not be the man she’d spend the rest of her life with and to thank the heavens for that. I’d tell her that she will spend the next ten years of her life with all of the wrong boys.

“The man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with,” I’d say, “is with the wrong ones, too. Be patient, and continue on. He’ll find you when God knows you’re both ready.”

If I could check in with the woman I was five years ago, I’d tell her to be prepared for her life to take a giant turn.

I’d tell her, “The storm will come in and it will be fierce. But like everything, it will die down and you will find an even greater strength within you. You will be braver than you have ever been.”

Checking in with the woman I am now, I am telling her not to crumple up this page and throw it away. I am telling her to keep writing and believing in herself, because I know my seven-year-old self would tell twenty-six-year-old me to do what I love and get my feet dirty.

Seven-year-old Amanda is my guide as much as I am hers. She reminds me to embrace the imagination within me, dance when I think no one is watching, and stay in touch with old friends. Thirteen-year-old me whispers, “Dad will always have your back.” She tells me that in his eyes, though, I don’t need boots in order to be beautiful. Seventeen-year-old Amanda is on the verge of finding love and tells me to never give up on it when I have found the right one. I reassure her that I have indeed found him.  Twenty-one-year-old me reminds me that every day is a gift. Live it as though tomorrow won’t come.

Time collapses upon itself to reveal an untold story: the one I am living now and the one I will continue to live. I honor what me at seven, at thirteen, at seventeen, at twenty-one went through to get here.

This is where I am meant to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing pains of the heart

I am writing from a computer in the Warrior Zone at Fort Irwin, California. I am currently on a two week rotation at NTC (National Training Center), learning how to be a role player. This training has some downtime, so while I’d love to bury my nose in a book in the library, I figured that I’d take this moment to catch up on my blog.

It’s been such a long time since I posted about current life. The last time I spoke of my personal situation was in Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in November, when I was hyperventilating about jumping out of airplanes. I ended up being the first jumper on a couple flights, and loved the experience. My dad was at my graduation to pin on my wings. I arrived at my first unit and immediately wrote an article for LA YOGA Magazine titled “Fear: Yoga for the Courage to Jump from a Plane.” The story was published in March.

A lot has happened between then and now.

I don’t want to bore you with my life story since jumping out of airplanes, but I do want to say how many “firsts” I have had since being stationed in Washington. And damn, there have been A LOT. Each new first experience opened my eyes a little more to a completely different lesson, different challenge, different world. And to think I have only just begun my military career!

Outside of the army, there were first-time experiences, still. I moved in with my boyfriend whom I met one night at a swing dancing class. I have fallen so hard for this young man who has given me an incredible amount of joy since we met.

Not only was it my first time ever meeting such a man whom I trust, love and dance with, moving in together has been a whole other adventure! A wonderful one. I moved into his apartment that is right outside of base. His dog, Titan, welcomed me into his space as well.

I have a home with my boyfriend. It still amazes me every day. My boyfriend has a six-year-old daughter who lives in Missouri with her mom, the woman he divorced two years ago.

This past summer, his daughter flew out to stay with us. This was another big step for me. Now looking back, it was a big step for her as well. I think about how nervous I was to meet her and be introduced as his father’s girlfriend, but I had met greater fears before; this wasn’t any different.

I am fortunate to say that we got along well and learned a great deal about each other. She loved to learn how to spell and hunt for words in word searches with me. We took her to dance and walked Titan to the park.

My parents even came up from California to visit. Many great memories have already sprouted from those occasions. We took her to her first Mariners game in Seattle, to the Space Needle, and around the fish market.

Besides fun visits and trips to Seattle, there were challenges. There was a motherly and authoritative learning curve on my part. Majority of the battle was me adjusting to a new dynamic in the apartment. I have never had a child of my own, so understanding another person’s child and her rhythm, her needs, her tantrums, her favorite foods, her playfulness was a whole new ballgame within itself.

But I was determined to understand and make the effort every day to adjust, to open up a little more if I could. She left me a gift bag in our bedroom the night before she flew back home. When she left, the apartment felt a little empty and, to this day, my boyfriend and I miss her a great deal. We are making a trip out there in September to see her and his family. I am beyond excited.

My heart is so full, and it barely knows what’s happening all around it. It’s beginning to grow more and more. All I can do is breathe and surrender to the growing pains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took joining the army to grow up.

Looking back on old Facebook posts and photos, I discovered one jarring fact about myself before I joined the army: I didn’t know what it meant to be an adult until I arrived at my first unit.

Before I was a Soldier, I was ambitious and eager to excel in English, following my love of writing and literature. Receiving feedback on my essays was almost addicting; I couldn’t wait to figure out my professor’s standards and exceed them with every draft.

I was a dance instructor, pushing myself out of my comfort zone of simply being the student. It was one thing to make it to a dance class and follow, but it was another to lead. Simultaneously, I studied and taught yoga.

Then I was a performer, joining a small dance company and participating in late night ballroom dance rehearsals.

I was a traveler. My best friend and I joined a tour group, enduring two fast-paced weeks of visiting seven European countries. Before then, I traveled to Ireland for one week with another tour group, having met no one before the trip. On domestic soil, I flew to Nebraska to read a research paper I wrote for the 2015 Willa Cather Conference.

I was a journalist, an editor of a local newspaper and intern at a Los Angeles based yoga and Ayurveda magazine.

All the while, I was still living under my parents’ roof and reaching my mid-twenties. Despite my hunger to embody what I loved doing – dancing and writing, I could never support myself or keep more than a few extra bucks in my checking account.

Flash-forward to now, I am still struggling financially. I predict that I will be struggling for at least another year, before I finally have it all figured out. I’m no longer under mommy and daddy’s roof; I’m under Uncle Sam’s.

I have much more growing up to do, milestones that have yet to be crossed. The journey isn’t black and white, though. I didn’t leave my childhood behind and begin adulthood when I joined the military. A new chapter began, furthering the tale of my existence that I hope to pass on to the children I hope to have one day.

Even then, I’ll never stop learning and exploring who I am, who I was meant to be, and who I am supposed to be with. I have faith in the journey and everything that is beyond my control.