January 29, 2012

View From the Other Side

Tonight on our rainy drive home from dinner at a friend's house I was lost in thoughts of how much my husband would have enjoyed the company of the evening. I was lost in how sad I was that he wasn't there because those are the times when I miss him the most. The happy times are hardest because I can't share it with him.

A few nights ago I served a casserole for dinner. I served the baby first, put her in her highchair and set her to it while I put servings on my plate and my son's. When I turned around my daughter was in the process of sorting out all the ingredients of the casserole into separate piles, and then she set to work eating each pile in turn. I know that things like this would have gotten a good laugh from my husband and it makes me sad that he missed it.

Then it occurred to me how much more difficult it is to leave than to be the one left behind. I've been so wrapped up in how my children and I are going to survive this, I haven't even gotten to how my husband feels.

There are two people inside my husband's body. There is Home Husband, the man I know and love, the jokester, and the devoted husband and father. Then there is Deployment Husband. Deployment Husband is distant. Deployment Husband calls sporadically, and when he does call he speaks in Deployment Voice. The voice that responds in one word answers and who's tone reveals nothing. I understand that part of it is the job. But the other part is for self preservation.

I cannot fully understand how stressful things must be for him while he is gone, doing what he does. But I respect it. What I haven't fully respected is how difficult it must be for him to leave. I haven't respected how hard it must be on him to leave me and our children standing there crying when he knows he can't comfort. I haven't respected how bad he must feel watching us disappear into the night when he's uncertain when he will return. I can't imagine how terrible it is to know that our children will grow up without him while he is away. How hard it must be to know that he will miss our son's first day of Kindergarten, the first time he reads a book on his own, and our baby will be talking by the time he returns.

I know that Deployment Husband shuts all of that off in order to do the job he must and get home to us again. I've known that for a long time. The rest of it hasn't really sunk in until now, and it makes me love and miss him even more.

As always in my prayers, I will ask God to protect my husband from harm. But tonight for the first time I will also ask that He grant my beloved peace of heart and mind that all is well back home. That we are doing our job so he can do his.

When he returns, we may be a little older. We may be a little wiser. But we will not be resentful that he missed important parts of our lives. We will be understanding of how it must have felt to miss them. We will welcome him with unconditional love, and our family will be whole once again.

January 28, 2012

On the Bad Days

I've been on hiatus for a while because there have been no words. Until now. This event happened several days ago.

"N, grab the milk from the fridge and then set your place for me please?" I ask my son. 

It's just us now, me and the kids. My husband got on the plane a few days ago. The plane that I hate. The plane that takes the father of my children, the love of my life, and my best friend into uncertainty and danger. The plane that takes half of my life as I know it away.

My son hands me the milk carton and I fill his glass.

"What land is Daddy in again?" He asks. As I stir our dinner on the stove I absently but patiently respond to his question even though we've been over this at least a hundred times. There is a pause, and he looks up at me as his eyes fill with tears.

"Mommy, are the bad guys going to kill my Daddy?"

My hand stops stirring, our food immediately becomes an after thought. My brain searches quickly for the right answer, for any answer as I squat down so I am eye level with my little boy. I struggle for composure. I don't want to lie, but I can't tell a 5 year old that it is a distinct possibility. 

"God is watching over Daddy and will protect him because He knows how much we miss Daddy. Ok?" I hug N hard. His innocent and trusting eyes clear as he nods his head.

The answer seems to be good enough. For now. I breathe a sigh of relief as my comforted child goes on his way to set the table for the dinner I am no longer hungry for. As soon as he is out of sight I let the tears fall and curse the reason my son is asking such a grown up question.

I've underestimated my child. He understands much more of this than I've given him credit for. His fear is the same as mine, and I saw at that moment how brave my little boy really is.

It's days like this, that I really hate the military. I hate that my child has to suffer that fear and uncertainty. It breaks my heart that no matter how much I try to shield my son from this, I just can't. For a moment I resent the fact that my child doesn't have the carefree childhood he deserves.

This is uncharted territory for us. I just hope to bring my son through this as best as I can. I will cry my tears into my pillow so he can cry his on me.

January 10, 2012

Living With the Glass "Half Full"

I will be the first to admit that I have it better than a lot of people. I don't need for anything, and neither do my children. I am well loved by my husband, my children, and my parents. My children are deeply loved as well. We can always pay for our groceries, we have guaranteed healthcare, and a guaranteed house to live in. We are indeed lucky. We know that. We are also aware of what we as a family "pay" in order to have our house, our healthcare, our food.

My family is deeply appreciative of what we have. Most of those who live the military lifestyle will agree that it is nearly impossible to take these things for granted because it can so quickly be gone. The things that military families deal with like living thousands of miles from friends and family, long separations, soldiers missing important days and holidays, spouses living the married lifestyle "alone", children growing up without their other parent present, picking up and moving 3 times in as many years, it can be stressful, lonely, and sad. But one thing I've found is that a lot of military families are some of the most optimistic people I've ever met. Maybe we have to be in order to stay sane. We have to be positive because it's too hard on us to see anything but the bright side of things. When our soldier is gone, we carry on with our families, we wake up and greet the day, we celebrate our holidays with out them. When we have to move, we do so with excitement instead of fear and negativity because it's just plain easier that way.

Recently someone not affiliated with the military in any way, told one of my family members that we needed to, "start living with the glass half full."

Um, excuse me? Really? You are giving advice on how to live positively? Seriously? Advice like this from someone who has been chronically cruel? Advice like this from someone who has been habitually miserable in her own life? Then it dawned on me. I now see this comment for what it was. A pathetic attempt to make just one more dig. Because I wake up each day with the circumstances that I've been handed (which are not always easy) and I choose to be happy. Some days it's a struggle but I do it anyway because it makes this lifestyle much easier to live.

I'm not suggesting that I am in a constant state of euphoria, or even need to be. That would be insane, or manic, or whatever you'd like to call it. Nor am I saying that on days when I choose happy, it doesn't turn upside down anyway. We're all allowed our rotten days. We are especially allowed those days when our soldier is gone, or we hear of an injury or a death, or we've been informed that we must pack up and move yet again, or we are PCSing to a less than desirable location, or we have to say goodbye to good friends for the umpteenth time, or our children are acting out and there is no relief in sight, or we simply can't spend the holidays with family this year because our soldier doesn't get leave. . . . there are plenty of reasons to be angry or sad.

But no, I don't need advice on how to live with the proverbial "glass half full", and don't worry about me. I will be ok because choosing "happy" is to see that with each problem, there is an opportunity. It is to seek the good in even the most dire of situations. Sometimes I have to dig deep, but it's always there even if it's just a shred. Choosing happy is the conscious decision to not allow the negative to rule your day.

It's not healthy to expect to be nothing but happy, and I of all people spend some time crying my tears. But guess what? When I'm done I find that they've filled my glass half full again.

January 1, 2012

Here Again.

"My birthday. Again. Our Anniversary. Again. Both kids' birthdays. Again. . . I start counting off in my head how many events and holidays he won't be here for, and immediately think of what we can do to compensate for his absence.

"I don't know how to do this. We have two kids this time, and they're old enough to understand Daddy is gone, but not why." I search my husband's eyes for answers. 

"I'm scared." I admit quietly, and will myself by all the grace of God not to cry.

The last time my husband deployed to a combat zone we only had our son who was 6 hours old. Our baby didn't know any better and I didn't really have to worry too much about how to keep Daddy present in his life. Pictures did the trick. Things were simple then.

Things are not simple now. After years of training, (the Army equivalent of a normal lifestyle because he is home more often than not) and 3 PCS's, we have come full circle. I knew his turn would come up eventually. I've been ignoring the inevitable as a means of survival but I knew it was coming. I just didn't know it would feel like this. We've done this before. Said goodbyes, dealt with separations, dealt with fear, and loneliness. We've done it a lot. We've done it more times than most in this life do, but it's different now. The consequences of what could happen are larger now. They're worse. Much worse, and I'm not even close to prepared to deal with that.

I'm just going to go ahead and say what some wives would be afraid to say. This could be the last time we're together. It could be the last time he holds his children, or me. It could be the last time I see his smile or hear his laugh. It could be the last dinner we have as a family. . . So I hold his hand a little tighter, hug him a little harder, kiss him a little longer, sleep a little closer. We are spending what little time we have left together and making the most of every second. These seconds could be all we have. It's been so long since we've done this, that I'm not sure how to process all that I feel. I'm not certain I am well enough equipped to coach our children through this. I feel like I'm about to jump into the deep end of the pool with a 1000 pound weight on my back.

The day he packs his bags and walks out our door for the last time, I can't promise I won't cry. I can't promise I will let go right away when he hugs me goodbye. I can't promise that I'll keep it together as he says goodbye to our children. I can't promise not to worry or be afraid. I will be lonely every night. I will probably cry myself to sleep for a while. But I can promise to be there for our children. I can make sure that we talk about Daddy every night, and help them know he misses them too. It's going to be hard. Very hard. But we will find a way to make it.

While we wait, I keep having to remind myself of what and who I am. I can do this. I have to do this. I love my husband enough to do this. I love my children enough to do this. I will pull through no matter what. I will find the strength to do it all, and be it all while he is gone. This is my service to our country so that my soldier can do his mission and come home alive.

A WWII Colonel's wife was once asked how she could let her husband go when he deployed. She responded, "I know that what happens to other men in battle could never happen to him. And I believe it with all my woman's heart to be true." So she let her husband go. Like so many other women before and since, I too will let my husband go. I will hug him and kiss him. I will watch him turn from us and walk away. And I will pray every single day that that kiss isn't the last one. Until he walks through our front door again.