Originally Written: February 10, 2017
There’s a popular belief among military families that reintegration after a service member comes home from a deployment is the toughest part of the whole scenario.
The first time Alex came home from a deployment after we began dating, I was working 5 days a week and starting my bachelor’s program in college. We lived 50 minutes away from each other and sort of led our own lives, so him returning wasn’t vastly different than when he was gone.
The last time he came back, we spent his two weeks R & R finding and moving into a new house. And then the second we became settled, BAM, I was pregnant with Evie. Everything in both our lives (and Landon’s) was changing. Adding Dad back into the mix was just another new jigsaw piece we had to learn to fit into our puzzle of a daily schedule.
No, Alex coming back will be fine. (I mean, I could be wrong, and this time around it’ll be a whole new craziness, but I won’t know that until it happens.)
For me, the pre-deployment is the worst. The absolute WORST.
I hate it.
The actual time spent apart? It’s hard, but it’s manageable. Some days suck, but for the most part you get into a routine and you just GO. Mentally, you’re prepared to pull Mom and Dad duty; you’re ready for the inevitable car breakdown, the trip to the ER, the nights where your kids won’t fall asleep and you just want to get to the kitchen to eat some chocolate and peruse social media. At least when the loved one is gone, you’re in it. Every day gone brings you one step closer to their return. Every time you manage to cook and clean up dinner, you can tell yourself, “I did it. I survived today.”
You figure out how to succeed by yourself, and your kids learn the new schedule, and everyone just goes forward with their life.
But this time beforehand?
It sucks, ya’ll.
It sounds terrible, but there’s a part of me that wishes we didn’t find out about deployments until the week before. Because for 6 months this knowledge has been hanging over my head like a bad weather forecast. When you know it’s going to happen, it’s all you can think about.
From that second on, every event, every outing, every happy moment is overshadowed by that ugly little Report Date.
You see, you can go on a trip now, but pretty soon….
You can celebrate the holidays, but this time next year…
The kids can learn a new skill, but the next one won’t be seen by Dad…
When you get told so far out, you think it’s the greatest favor the military could give you. 6 months seems like an eternity.
Then that first month passes and you realize, “We didn’t do anything! We wasted a whole month. Now we only have 5 left!”
And then 5 turns into 4 which trails into 3, and all of a sudden someone gets sick, someone else has a rough patch, and real life steals those precious days away like a thief in the night.
Little things sadden you. Like watching television with your loved one and commenting, “I can’t wait to watch the series finale, it’s going to be amazing.” And the other person replying, “Too bad we won’t be able to watch it together.”
It’s like a slap in the face. A brutal reminder that every night, once the kids are in bed, I’ll be the only person downstairs. I’ll probably waste too much electricity running the tv just to have background noise.
It’s not something you forget, either. It’s not as if you can spend an entire day running around completing errands and then fall asleep not once having thought of the deployment.
It’s there. It’s always there.
I think the absolute worst part about it is how it’s lighter fluid to any potential explosive situation. It ignites so much unnecessary drama in my marriage, my parenting, my relationships with others. It refuses to be ignored; it thrives off acknowledgment and its awareness breeds power to it.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have gotten frustrated at Alex over something stupid and commented, “Well, I’m going to be doing this for 6 months…” Or “You’re about to be gone…”
Which isn’t healthy or helpful. My husband didn’t CHOOSE to leave his family for so long, nor did I choose to raising my two kids by myself. He has no control of the situation, and using it as blame is cruel.
However, it’s hard not to when it’s the perpetrator of many disagreements. My husband gets frustrated when I won’t let him help out around the house, but the thing is, I don’t want to get accustomed to his help. I can’t come to depend on him to dress the kids in the morning, because once he’s gone I’m going to have a hell of a time adding it to my daily chores.
Since I know I have to do everything alone, I want to make sure I’m capable of it while I still have the backup. Except, by doing that, I’m robbing my husband of feeling helpful and potentially bonding with his children.
It’s a Catch-22.
The same sticky situation could be applied to quality time spent together. Alex has a bunch of use or lose leave to take before he’s gone, and I love that. Except the kids are starting to get used to him being around so much, and I already know my son is going to take his absence hard. It’s sort of like we’re giving someone all the ice cream they want for a month, telling them to indulge, doctor it up, treat themselves…and then we snatch it away from them cold turkey.
We as a family walk a fine line between putting too much on our plate and not using our precious time wisely.
Every time before Alex leaves, I go into crazy productive mode. I need to get everything done.
Eyes checked, dental checkups for everybody, tune ups on the car, yearly vet checks, organizing the attic, legal notes accounted for, etc etc You name it, I’ve probably already forced my husband to do it.
Except the thing about those To Do’s is they are endless. I cross one off and two more pop into my head. We’re running out of time, and it flusters me to think that there’s not enough days in the week to get everything done.
Not to mention, by doing all that nonsense, my husband and I aren’t spending time together. Not really, when you think about it. We’re next to each other. We’re filling out paperwork side by side, but we aren’t doing anything fun or relationship building.
Every military members gets so little time off work, that I almost feel angry that what time Alex has is wasted on essential tasks. On any given day, I see the man for 3 hours. He gets home when I’m cooking dinner, and that’s when the kids get their time with him. When we are eating, it’s a battle of who is taming what beast. Then right after the food is off the table it’s bath and bedtime for the toddlers. Any parent knows how smooth THAT adventure is.
By the time we both make it out of our respective rooms at 8:00 o’clock, we’re exhausted but we try our best to use those last 2 hours to be together. We catch up, watch something together, talk, but really, we’re catching each other at our worst. We have so very little to give that honestly, we’re both just grateful we have somebody who understands that we’re tired and need quiet time.
When there’s a million things to do before the member leaves and a dozen people who want to see him before he goes, I get selfish and distant. Why do I have to share? It’s not like I’m spending all that much time with him as it is…
None of those thoughts or ideas would bubble up or even be conceived if I didn’t have 6 months to sit on them. You could take any tiny nugget of information and blow it into a gigantic popcorn kernel with that much time on your hands. The only thing that deadline has is time, and it’s gonna feed on your dread and your worries until it’s like a neon sign in your mind.
So, how do I combat this beast of negativity?
- I plan awesome fun adventures for when my husband returns. We don’t have a firm date yet, but we both want to go on an amazing London, Ireland, Scotland tour over a few week period where we just travel and explore and be a family.
- I create a busy schedule for myself while he’s gone. The busier I am, the less time I’ll have to think about his absence.
- I prepare for stressful situations and create a plan to help me navigate through them. It might sound crazy, but I ask myself what’s the worst thing that can happen when I’m on solo duty, and then I create a plan of attack. It reminds me that nothing is impossible and that I can handle anything. Whatever it is, I got it.
While I have never done a deployment in a foreign country before, I know I can survive. I’m not scared of it, I just wish the dang thing would get here already. Let’s just get this ball rolling so it can be done.