I Was Wrong

I remember writing about solo parenting many times throughout the last deployment. Reading many parenting blogs, military support websites and feeling overwhelmed by it all, but still armed with strategies and support to muscle our way through.

As we prepared for this round, I kept thinking how much easier it was going to be. The kids are older now. They can talk and express themselves! They can bathe and dress themselves, even brush their own teeth. They help out with household chores (albeit reluctantly at times). There are no diapers. They are in school, so there will be breaks that we will all get from each other. This will be a piece. of. cake.

Hindsight is not only 20/20, it wears big-ass rose-colored glasses.

Yes, physically, this deployment will likely be easier. Yes, they will have school, that's true. What I wasn't prepared for was the depth of emotions coming from the kids.

Duh.

I know. I know this stuff. Nightly Hannah expresses frustration about missing daddy, sometimes crying, but not all the time. They will ask questions, randomly, catching me off guard. Everyone processes this stuff differently. I was not a military kid, so I don't have that experience. The spouse experience is just different. Both of them go from zero to meltdown far more quickly, which was to be expected. Logically, I get it. I've known the kids would have a hard time, that it would no question be an emotional upheaval. I guess what is surprising is that I wasn't as prepared for it as I thought I was.

I was wrong. Deployments and separations are NEVER easy.

Ever.

They don't get easier, you don't get used to them, and every one of them are different. They are their own unique snapshot of time. They all have their own challenges and victories. And don't get me started on the "Well, you knew what you were getting into when you married a man in the military. What did you expect?"

Bullshit.

For the love of all that is good and holy, stop saying that crap to military spouses! Comprehending it and walking it are VERY different.

The kids will survive, thrive, even though they miss their dad. We'll be fine. We will get through it, like every other time. It may not be perfect harmony, but We can do hard things, like Glennon Doyle Melton says.

We can do hard things.

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The Life Raft of Gratitude

Navigating this deployment with kids old enough to comprehend time and distance more than they did the last time around, I’m finding that it’s teaching me how to teach them how to navigate tough emotions. One has to have a good cry, the other wants to not talk about it, for now. “Later, mom. We’ll talk later.”

The urge to fix it is there. It’s like this gene that makes us desire to make everything all better is implanted the minute we hold our children for the first time. I resist this “fix-it gene” because in the long run, masking over feelings is not healthy. I want them to sit in the middle of the mess and know it’s going to be okay. Cry, rage, be mad, exhaust all of it. Feeling all the feelings is healthy and normal. Stuffing, ignoring, masking, and distracting pain will only prolong the inevitable. You cannot go around, over, under pain; at some point you have to go through it. It takes guts. When I don’t know what else to do, I grasp for the things that ease pain. Exercise and physical exertion are often-utilized tools in my belt. I don’t always have that in me, though. That which eases without fail: gratitude. Gratitude is the raft for traveling through the gut-wrenching sludge of pain. It’s a survival vehicle that my kiddos will know well.

For today, I’m focused on the little things; a freshly mowed lawn, dogs that seem to sense a shift and are snuggling in close as if they know we need a little more love today, the dishes that were done last night so I could just sit and be today, teaching my daughter the exquisite release that comes from laughing through tears, the automatic coffee maker for preparing a warm pot before I even slipped a foot out from under the covers, and the quiet calm of knowing that the worst part for me is over, so I can focus on what the kids will need in the coming weeks.

Figuring out one thing – even a tiny thing – that I am grateful for can create a 180-degree shift in my mood and attitude. It creates calm in the midst of chaos, fear, and uncertainty.

I used to love browsing shops and looking for sales before kids. Getting lost in a store or the shelves of a Barnes and Noble was a way to pass deployment time. I still enjoy it a little from time to time when I am afforded the opportunity to escape alone. I really don’t like shopping with other people. While I would gladly stop a bullet and step in front of a train for my kids, I loathe dragging them to the store. LOATHE.

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As a person who gets distracted easily, the concentration of remembering what I need from the list I left in the car (but am too lazy to go back and get), mentally canvassing the cupboards and refrigerator from memory, checking ingredients and prices, all while attempting to keep the kids in line, not grabbing stuff, and preventing bodily injury to themselves and unsuspecting passersby with the cart – I come home exhausted and cranky.

The big thing I’m thankful for this deployment? Amazon Prime and our local HEB Curb-to-You online service.

Seriously. LIFE. CHANGING. I know I’m late to the party, but whoa! School supply shopping? DONE. Birthday shopping for August? DONE. The next upcoming birthday and Christmas will be done and done online. I will never have to leave my house if I don’t want to! No crowds, no hassle, no problem! I got this!

Table for 3 please. We’ll take gratitude for things large and small, with a big ol’ side of humor.

 

 

Center

Inhaling his scent, hair sweaty from fever-soaked sleep, it was clear that I would be scrapping errands and instead caring for my sick 8-year-old. His sister was home with the flu last week, and as usual, it’s floating through our home despite any attempts at sanitizing every surface, doorknob and light switch.

Secretly I love it when my kids are home sick. Not that I want them to be unwell, but when they are, that’s when they show that they need me. Like most families with school-aged children, we have school, homework, and other activities that keep us busy. Having one or both of them home forces me to center all of my attention on them, and it slows my pace.

I don’t worry about the to-do list. The focus is only on right now. Napping with him in our bed (and all 3 dogs!), reading, or just being still, I get to do it all – guilt free. I get to fuss over them taking their temperature, fetching a glass of water, and rubbing the menthol goo over their chest and back. More than a simple ‘I love you,’ having them home sick gives me a tangible way to show love to my children.

It gives our life a centering pause.

Too soon they will not need me as much, if I’m doing my job correctly. Motherhood is that of slowly working ourselves out of a job as our charges learn to do things for themselves, everyday becoming just a bit more independent. Eight years has gone by like a blink. I can only surmise that the next 8 will go by just as quickly, if not faster.

For today, I’m taking this gift of time with my sick child. I breathe into his hair again, caressing his flushed cheek.

“I love you, mom,” he whispers in a cracked, weak voice.

“I love you, too, kiddo.”

Radical Honesty

Authenticity, radical honesty, and simply put in the author’s own word: brutiful – Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior is sitting with a bookmark half way through it’s pages, begging me to finish it.

Seriously.

It is SO raw and honest. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. Reading this feels like when you stare directly into the sun. It’s piercing honesty will force you to set it down, simply to digest it before picking back up again. Her response of “how was your day” with 3 children left me open-mouthed, marveling at how brave she is to bare it all. It’s against the rules to say this stuff out loud. We are supposed to “cherish every moment” while raising our kids. Aren’t we?

B.S.

Not every moment is Instagrammable. Some of them down right suck.

“It was the best of times and the worst of times. I was both lonely and never alone. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed. I was saturated with touch – desperate to get the baby off of me and the second I put her down I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. This day required more than I’m physically and emotionally capable of, while requiring nothing from my brain. I had thoughts today, ideas, important things to say and no one to hear them.

I felt manic all day, alternating between love and fury. at least once an hour I looked at their faces and thought I might not survive the tenderness of my love for them. The next moment I was furious. I felt like a dormant volcano, steady on the outside but ready to explode and spew hot lava at any moment. And then I noticed that Amma’s foot doesn’t fit into her Onsie anymore, and I started to panic at the reminder that this will be over soon, that it’s fleeting-that this hardest time of my life is supposed to be the best time of my life. That this brutal time is also the most beautiful time. Am I enjoying it enough? Am I missing the best time of my life? Am I too tired to be properly in love? That fear and shame felt like adding a heavy, itchy blanket on top of all the hard.

But I’m not complaining, so please don’t try to fix it. I wouldn’t have my day or my life any other way. I’m just saying – it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain – an entire day with lots of babies. If’s far too much and not even close to enough.

But I’m too tired to say any of this. I’m a windup doll that’s run out. So I just say, ‘Our day was fine.'”

-Glennon Doyle Melton, from Love Warrior

How often do we respond with, “I’m fine”? And how often are we not fine at all?

While not all the specific parts of her life are necessarily universal, most are symptoms masking the truths which are; shame, vulnerability, worthiness, etc.

I am a huge fan of Brene Brown. What she discusses in terms of shame and vulnerability in an academic way from the viewpoint of a researcher, Glennon “does her research in the field”. If you have read Brown’s work or seen her TedTalk, you need to know Glennon Doyle Melton.

I’m going to go finish my copy while you go purchase yours!

It’s Time

When I was pregnant with him, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life. I read all the books, studied up on exactly how he was developing and growing. We dreamed about what this little baby would be like when we were able to finally meet him, like all parents-to-be surely do. When I held him for the first time I was on so many drugs from the c-section, but I distinctly remember the overwhelming and crushing tidal wave of love I had for this boy.

Watching your child grow and learn to crawl, and walk, and do all the miraculous everyday things they do is – in a word; incredible. Going through the sleepless nights, the endless days of diapers and feedings that feel like every day is groundhog day – all of it in hindsight seems to pale in comparison as we move into new phases of hard.

We’ve always known, really.

From the time he was two and half and cowering under a chair in the doctor’s office, when he still didn’t have any words at three, and stuck to the sign language and the mother/son way of communicating that we had developed, the way he speaks without consideration of volume and personal space, the rigidity of thought, and the extreme meltdowns when plans were not executed in the way they were supposed to be; we knew deep down. We’ve met with professionals, each reluctant to give us the official word for various reasons.

He’s not like other kids. He’s different.

He will eat the same 4 things every single day. For 5 years. Change to routine is hard. As a military family, moving is very challenging under the best of circumstances, it becomes chaos at times for us. Florescent lights in retail stores and the constant over-stimulation while shopping overwhelms him to the point of meltdown. Outsiders only see a bratty kid having a tantrum, because well, ‘he looks normal’. For the record, a meltdown is not a tantrum. While my heart is breaking trying to deal with his inability to deal with life, a stranger will mutter cruel and unwanted “advice” as they walk on by. This has happened more times than I can count.

It’s hard to watch your kid realize that he is different.

It’s hard to see him recognize that he doesn’t have many friends.

It’s hard to explain to him that to have friends, there has to be a give and take. He simply doesn’t have the social tools.

I cringe when people meet him for the first time and the wave of realization that he is different crosses their face.

I fluctuate between denial and harsh reality.

I’ve been living in the denial land of “he’s just a little different” and “maybe he will outgrow it”. We didn’t need a label before, but things are changing. Last night we met with his teacher at his new school. The first two weeks have been bumpy. He’s cried in class multiple times. He’s having a hard time adjusting. He is a quick learner and can do the work, but lacks the social skills for his age. He needs tools that a diagnosis will provide.

My heart breaks for his struggling little self.

It’s time now.

He’s different. He’s a kid who falls on the autism spectrum. And it’s okay.

Seeds of Safety

Walking to the corner I keep an eye on the other end of our road for the bus. Eventually it comes, lumbering down the street to drop off our kiddos from another day at school just a quick 3 suburban blocks from our front door.

The pavement wet from last night’s rain, I clutch the handle of my shabby umbrella and wait. A neighbor’s silver car pulls up, much like he did the other day, window down to speak with me. Last week he did the same, to assure me my kids got off the bus and are coming. I’m not sure if he thinks I don’t own a watch, I’m blind and cannot see their bobbing heads coming toward me, or I’m just too lazy to go all the way down to the bus stop. I prepare to wave him off again, but he stops and says, “I told them to get in the car – that I would take them home, but they said you were on your way.”

A thousand thoughts flew through my mind.

I only know this man from the bus stop. I am certain he is fine, that there is no actual danger with this person, he was only trying to be kind since it was raining out. He has a child in the same school.

“YES! That is correct,” I say pointedly, more firm than polite at this point, as he continues on his way.

What if they had gotten in the car? What if the guy was a creep? What if they thought because we had had a couple of morning bus stop chats with this man and his son that it would be okay to go with them? Last night on the news a student at a nearby school was flashed at the bus stop. When was the last time we chatted about tricky people and stranger danger? OH MY GOD. This could happen so damn quickly.

I march quickly up to meet the kids and drop the umbrella to squeeze them both so tight as my throat constricts. “I am SO DARN proud of the two of you!”

Hannah, fumbling with her backpack straps looks up and questions why. I look at Jacob and smile. “The neighbor guy just told me he asked you guys to get in the car and you said no. That was the EXACT RIGHT THING to do!” Jacob grinned and related his version of events – all of which Hannah claims she didn’t hear, evidently ignoring her brother and his conversation as they were walking off the bus. We reviewed our family safety plan, that if we set a time and place to meet – that’s what we stick to. We don’t get in cars with neighbors, even if we’ve had a conversation or two, even if they are friendly. We talked more about the tricky people concept. It was a great opportunity to water those seeds I planted months ago, while praying I would never need them.

I am relieved this was not an actual situation, but being prepared and having the tools in their little tool belts will continue to keep them doing the exact right thing should a real situation present itself.

I breathe. We walk home. We do homework.

They move on.

I watch them and play with them and find I really don’t mind the 453rd game of monopoly quite so much today.

Deployments ARE Marathons!

Having a few races under my belt including a marathon, as well as a few deployments – I couldn’t help to note some striking similarities.

During shore duty, the duty stations where deployments are not a factor, my mind goes to what I call the “shore duty mental bubble”. These are the tours where deployments do not exist. This is where we emulate as close as possible to civilian life. Spouse goes to work, comes home. Rinse, Recycle, Repeat, much like a 9-5 job most of the time.

Then the PCS season rolls around and, like little pin pricks in a balloon, reality starts to pop my shore duty bubble. We have the “where to next?” conversations and things are up in the air for a while. It’s the moment when you realize that like life, none of this is really in your control. You have to just go with it.

What the heck does this have to do with running marathons?

When running distances, it is imperative to have your mental game on point. You cannot run a marathon and at some point not ever have deal with your brain. Thoughts you haven’t ever dreamed you’d be thinking – you’ll have them while running. Like gearing up for a PCS move and/or deployments, you take it day by day, or mile by mile, as they come. To be at peace with being uncomfortable, being in transition, or being smack dab in the trenches of a long run, it comes with going with the flow instead of resisting what is.

Marathons and deployments both require preparation. You wouldn’t go out and run 26.2 miles without training for it in some fashion. (If you do, you’ll likely pay for it.) Likewise, deployments require preparation and planning. As the cliche goes, fail to plan – plan to fail. 

On the heels of planning and preparation, there is only so much you can prepare for. Then you have to just let go. Running a marathon forces you to let go of what if. What if you get injured at mile 18? What if I’m dehydrated and there isn’t an aid station? What if my knees give me trouble? What if I need a bathroom? (If you are runner, you know strategy is everything in this department!) Anyone having gone through a deployment knows that the deployment gremlins always appear within the first month! It’s military murphy’s law. The washer will break down or the car will have trouble. The garage door will not open. The gremlins never seem to jack with your life with as much enthusiasm as the beginning of the deployment. Like running, we have to accept that this crap may happen. You may get injured at mile 18. That washer may break down. But what good is it going to do worrying about either before it has even happened? Worrying is like the front porch rocking chair: gives you something to do, but gets you no where.

There will be good deployment days and bad. Some of them are so awesome that the only thing that is not perfect is that your spouse isn’t there to share it with you. The kids had a great day, you had a great day. You got done what you wanted to do, or you just played all day. Some miles are like that. Free and easy, those miles remind us runners why we love to run. The distance ticks by and you barely notice it. It’s those miles that we chase, running all the other ho-hum miles, just to experience a few of the really incredible ones. Savoring the good days and good miles carries you through the not-so good ones. 

Deployments force you to be independent whether you think you are ready or not. Standing on the start line feels the same way. Ready or not, it’s go time! 3 months into a deployment or 8 miles into a marathon – it’s you. You put one foot in front of the other and go. There is support along the way, but ultimately it’s you, being independent. Day after day, mile after mile. 

Deployments and marathons will grow you in places you didn’t know existed. You’ll do things you never thought capable. It goes without saying that pride is a big factor in both. There is no experience like laying out a plan, setting goals, and achieving. Pride in your ability to endure and cope will astound you. 

Deployments and marathons have many things in common. It’s too bad they can’t both be over in one day!