Monthly Archives: December 2014

With Deployment Looming, How Do You Measure a Year?

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred moments, so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?”

A favorite line, from a favorite song, in my favorite Broadway musical, “Rent.”

With two toddlers and a husband gone more than he’s home, so many of the lines in that song feel like they were written for me: “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee.” Given the chance to write a Navy wife version, I would add, “In ‘underways,’ in duty days, in flight delays, and constant uncertainties. In dinners alone, waiting by the phone, schedules unknown, but surreal opportunities.”

Credit T. T. Robinson

This time of year, this week between Christmas and New Year, is fraught with nostalgia and that “unmistakable melancholy that permeates the joy.” It’s hard to believe we celebrated our seventh anniversary this week, and next week we’ll celebrate our daughter’s fourth birthday. As memories often do, there exists a strange dichotomy between what feels like a million years ago and just yesterday.

I can’t help but think of the week before our baby girl was born. My husband had just returned from back-to-back deployments, encompassing the better part of two years. Although our home was in Guam, I wanted to deliver near my family in case he didn’t return from Iraq in time. Four years ago today, we sat alone on my parents’ couch in the Midwest, wishing we could be in Georgia with the rest of my family to watch my brother marry my beautiful sister-in-law. Instead, we ate Chinese delivery food and binge-watched episodes of “Parenthood,” hoping that would somehow prepare us for the adventures that lay ahead. It didn’t.

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Dear Santa, Please Bring Daddy

An installment in the New York Times Motherlode Deployment Diary

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Standing on top of the 10-foot ladder, just higher than the “do not go above this step” label, I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t fall and break my neck during nap time.

As I am only 5-foot-6, rebelling against the caution and using those extra rungs was necessary to hang the pre-lit garland above the outside windows. After climbing, putting in a nail, climbing back down, moving the ladder two feet and repeating these steps several times, I was finally at a point where I could actually start hanging the boughs of holly.

I climbed again, this time with my 14 feet of decorations draped around my shoulders like a fur stole. As I separated the wires in order to position them on the nails I’d just finished hammering, my concentration was interrupted by a package delivery driver. Going to the mall with two toddlers sounds about as fun as, well, going to the mall with two toddlers, so I’ve done most of my purchasing for Christmas online this year.

The delivery man cautiously approached, and after watching me rest a foot on the windowsill for balance as I stretched to get the red bows “just right,” softly asked, care and concern in his voice, “Are you stable?”

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Deployment Work-Ups: ‘This Is So Stupid Hard’

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

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And just like that, he’s gone, again.

We had him for eight days straight, long enough to get a Christmas tree, to make lasting memories, to get into a routine. I can’t remember a time I laughed harder than watching him climb through the window of our S.U.V., after accidentally rendering the doors inoperable by tying twine on the inside handles to secure our 10-foot pine on top. My heart warmed as I watched him enchant our daughter with stories of his favorite Christmases, before hoisting her up on his shoulders to place the star at the top of the tree. As I passed by our son’s room during bedtime, I paused to listen to their conversation about excavators and cement trucks. I stood in the hallway, beaming, knowing I married a good man and a wonderful father, and simultaneously wishing these eight days wouldn’t end.

The time between work-ups and the number of days that he’s gone vary with each mission, and until just recently, the mood while he’s home would too. There is a steep learning curve when it comes to reintegrating every few weeks and for generally only days at a time. Occasionally, the hellos can be almost as daunting as the goodbyes, as the break in routine is challenging.

I cast a vulnerable line at the command Christmas party last week, when talking to a few of the other wives (all of whom I’d just met) about the aggressive schedule. “This has been really difficult on all of us,” I confided. A collective, audible sigh of empathy from the hushed circle. “This is so stupid hard,” one agreed. Another said, with a laugh, “I told him I’m moving back in with my parents until this is all over.”

All relationships, especially marriages, take work, and military couples are certainly not exempt. We’ve often thought that so long as this lifestyle doesn’t break you, your bond with your spouse will be indestructible. Our motto when we moved as newlyweds to Guam was, “You and me against the world, kid.” While I would put our marriage up against the best of them, we are far from flawless. The time before last that he was home, the flaws, and the claws, came out.

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Counting the Days: ‘It’s Too Many Whales, Daddy’

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

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If you’ve ever spent a day with a toddler, you know a great majority of your time is spent fielding questions. From the inquisitive (“Why is water wet?”), to the untimely and mortifying (“Is there a baby in her belly?”), to the disgusting (“Mommy mad I just ate worm?”), their questions are equal parts incessant, unfiltered and amazing.

Since my husband began the shorter departures (called work-ups) that precede his longer deployment, the questions from my two children have started to get harder to answer, both literally and in their emotional complexity. From “When will Daddy come home?” to “Mommy, will you please come back after work?”, their thoughtful contemplation often transports me to the brink of tears, and I find myself looking over my shoulder, as if expecting magical backup to appear where I know there is none.

For a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, “He’s gone for 17 sleeps, and then back for four, but then leaves again for eight” is just too much for them to process. Our daughter whispers to her “Daddy’s Girl” locket that she wears while he is away; our son clutches his “Daddy Doll” in his sleep, as if the screen print of his father in his flight suit will somehow hug him back. Challenging times, challenging questions, many of which are my own. The one I seemingly grapple with most is, “What can I do to make this easier on them?”

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This Holiday Together; the Next, Apart

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

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As I watch my babies sleep sweetly, one curled up on my lap, the other snuggled next to me, I am in awe. First, I am amazed that they are actually sleeping, at the same time, on an airplane, allowing me to write and start (and finish) a cup of coffee. And second, in that lasting Thanksgiving spirit, I am overwhelmed with my love for these two. I know this quiet moment is fleeting, and I yearn for the power to slow down time. “The nights are long, the years are short,” I constantly remind myself. For someone who ascribes so much value to being present, living in constant countdown mode while waiting for my husband’s returns feels ironic at best, overwhelming at worst.

It’s in these tiny occurrences when I miss my husband the most, as I know the magnitude of what he is missing. Our daughter’s first ballet recital, our son’s new sentences. The quiet cuddles, the powerful hugs. It is also during these times when I find my heart fraught with conflict; the calm that comes with the silence and the anxiety I experience as I worry about their well-being. With every goodbye, every day at sea without a phone call, every week that passes without any physical interaction with their daddy, I worry about the long-term fallout and the implications for each member of our family.

Will he resent the cries for me, the inevitable “No, Daddy, I want Mommy!” when he returns? Will he begrudge my allowing them to climb into our bed in the middle of the night, because I am lonely and exhausted, and I know it won’t last forever? Will the bond that the three of us are forming without him, the strength that will hold us together through the next two years, flex and allow for him to reintegrate seamlessly somehow when all this is done? Will I have the grace to let him do things “his way” after it’s been a one-woman show for so long? Can I keep those “home fires burning” when instead of sending him a thoughtful email after bedtimes, I just want to melt into the couch and binge-watch my TiVo’d episodes of “Ellen” and “Scandal”? And for my two angels, so young, so malleable, in these formative years where they will learn right from wrong, how to love, how to grow and so many lifelong lessons, I worry, am I enough?

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