Military Spouses, Facing Deployment, but Not Alone

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

“Drowning is silent.” During my high school life-guarding days, our manager used to repeat the phrase in earnest. Lately, the verbiage has played in a loop in my mind, as I struggle physically and emotionally with my husband’s coming deployment.

I vividly remember my first rescue at the pool, and now that memory feels like the best metaphor for our current situation. A 4-year-old in pigtails and a bright purple suit tiptoed down the zero-depth entry into the throng of swimmers, slowly getting deeper and deeper into the water. There was something about her cautious steps that drew my eyes to her. Then the purple suit was gone. The pigtails went under. The crowd didn’t notice, but I dived in and pulled her out. Drowning is silent — that’s one reason we watch our pools so closely.

The challenge with military life, and maybe it’s just parenting in general, is that oftentimes no one is watching. How do we know when we’re getting in too deep? With raging mommy guilt, back-to-back work trips, long-standing commitments, my inability to say no, and laundry and deadlines piling up around me, the week before last I felt as if I was that little girl in the purple suit. My husband returned from a three-week “underway” on a Friday afternoon at 3, only to return to the ship the next day at 6 a.m. for duty, meaning another overnight stay. He would be gone only for one day, and after nearly a year of what feels like a revolving front door, it should have been nothing. Instead, as my 2- and 4-year-olds argued over who ate the last imaginary piece of pizza, I had a meltdown. What happens when he leaves for seven to 10 months straight? How am I going to do this by myself for the next year?

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