Number five, CHECK!
Though still many weeks away, I can’t escape the quiet excitement at the thought of wrapping up another deployment. This weekend, I found myself thinking that as much as I don’t enjoy being without my husband for nine months, I can’t help but be grateful for a few blessing these months have given me. Yep, you read that right, blessings!
Deployments always challenge me, and yet the challenge with each is revealed differently. I’ve been a girlfriend, a newlywed, a 1st-time mom, a tired mom to a toddler and newborn, and twice I’ve navigated solo parenting as a part-time professional and full-time mom of two young, rambunctious kids. Five deployments in nine years.
I’m the first to admit that this was the hardest of our five. If I could have known then what I know now, I’d tell the new mom to stop worrying. Dad’s absence in those early months won’t impact his ability to connect with our son. I’d tell her to sleep more and clean less. I’d tell her that waiting months to un-decorating the house after a major holiday is totally acceptable. I’d tell her that chicken nuggets and pizza are sometimes just what everyone needs. Oh, the things I’d tell her!
For those who’ve been there, we wouldn’t wish this kind of separation on anyone. And yet, deployments remind me to appreciate small moments with our kids, knowing their dad would give anything to not be missing that same moment. The kids and I have seen each other at our worst and best, day after day, and we’re better for it. Through hardship, I was given a chance to get to know my children on a level I might not have otherwise. It’s hard to not be grateful for that gift.
For me, deployments have a “grounding” effect. It’s an opportunity to remember all that I love most about my husband and our family. It’s an opportunity to renew my appreciation for all the quiet contributions he makes to my life and our family’s life. And this time, even more than previous separations, I was reminded that my world just isn’t the same without him in it. It’s so easy in the day to day bustle to forget the things that matter most. Deployments force you to notice. I consider that a gift.
So, number five was different. And the differences took me by surprise. Dad’s presence (or absence) was noticed like never before – at the dinner table, during bath time, during midnight runs to the ER, during a myriad of “firsts”, during birthdays or school awards presentations, or even on a day of kite flying in the front yard. Dad was missed in prior years too, but this was different. This time the kids were old enough to ask, to miss, to cry, to be angry, to be sad in ways they’d never felt and I’d never had to console.
I was different too. This time, sending packages and writing letters were things I just didn’t make time for – or at least not as often as I felt he deserved. And yet, thanks to the gift technology gives all deployed families, we have Skype-d, Facebook-ed, and stayed connected in a way that changed this experience for all of us.
My husband was able to hear his young daughter’s vocabulary bloom in real-time, and I have been able to see the smile that his children’s laughter brings to his face. Perhaps because you know what is at stake, those moments carry so much more weight than a typical Sunday afternoon family interaction. And I’ve cherished them, especially when I leave our 4-year-old alone with her dad and come back to find them playing peek-a-boo with the camera and each other. I feel like separations are often overrun with moments like this that make your heart simultaneously break and swell with love.
I know my husband loves our children. I know he is a great father, but to see the simultaneous joy and pain in his eyes when he talks to our children over a webcam – well there again, a gift of sorts. Watching him watch them changed how I saw him. Many talk about the sacrifices of the military spouse, not just the Soldier. It’s true. There are sacrifices on both sides of the webcam, but there was never a moment when I felt mine were greater than his. In addition to being reminded of my own strength I, perhaps for the first time, truly understand my husband’s strength, and it will forever change how I see him. Yet another gift.
Before he left, as is a tradition of ours, he hid about 20 notes around the house for me to find. On each, a word of encouragement or just a phrase to make me smile. And for nine months, I’ve been able to wake up and go to bed each morning seeing my collection of notes that now line the mirror on my dresser, reminded in bright pink that I am cherished. Another gift.
So yes, I’d give anything to have had my Soldier home these past nine months. And yes this letter would read far differently if he hadn’t come home to me, to us. Even still, when I think about the path we are on and the impact of these months apart, I cannot imagine a path that could have helped me learn so much about myself or my husband in such a short amount of time. I can’t imagine a life other than this one, with all its challenges and its blessings. Through each separation, I am forced to remember, and then somehow manage to forget, that I am stronger than I believe. Perhaps someday I’ll learn how to hold tight to that lesson.
There are always blessings, even during deployments. You just have to be willing to see them, embrace them, and treasure them. We ALL have our bad days, but seeing some sun in this experience is what makes it tolerable. And if you let it, this experience that you’d prefer not to have will allow you to thrive and grow. Another gift.
Tell us! What are your favorite “gifts” of this crazy military spouse life?
Written in 2014, this letter sat on my computer as a reminder of what hard looked like. It eventually became the inspiration for this blog. Our five deployments have ranged from 4 months to 15 months, totaling 40 months over nine years.
Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, story-worthy socks, cream cheese icing, warm bath towels, and morning snuggles with her kiddos.