The last time hubby left on a deployment, we were stationed overseas. His deployment was for six months and it was the longest six months of my life. I had four kids at home with me then: my older teen, my pre-teen, and two toddlers. My son had been potty trained (he was about three and a half at the time) and within a month of hubby leaving, he was bed-wetting nightly. My eldest was my saving grace because no one, and I mean NO ONE ever checked on us to see what we needed…not anyone from the church we had been attending for years, nor hubby’s shop. It was painful. It was exceptionally painful to go through that experience feeling so alone. I did have friends, but they were busy with their own lives and children and what I really needed was the kind of help you would expect from, well, a spouse: maintenance on the house and vehicles, help with the kids, etc.
I allowed a lot of resentment to build up then. I resented hubby’s ability to be parenting-free for over six months. I resented going to the post office and watching oodles of people get care packages weekly, while all my envelopes seemed to be primarily bills. I resented the people I went to church with and the people hubby worked with for never checking up on us. The only thing I didn’t resent during that time was my children. That was back in ’09 and the experience was so emotionally traumatic for me that I’m tearing up as I type this today.
Now it’s nearly a decade later. A few months ago, hubby informed me that he was leaving on a six month deployment to a place that only conjures fear when I hear it. I thought the worst of it would be him telling me, but things have gone progressively downhill since then. First, he informed me that his deployment will now be seven months, not six. Which really means about eight months total, if we include the travel time. For anyone who has had a spouse deploy, you know that an extra month tacked on to a deployment feels more like an extra three or four months.
My eldest is not here this time to help me. She was so helpful (thank you, Elder Nerd)…though I sometimes worry that the experience made her rethink having kids. My mother is here this time, which I hope will be helpful. We often butt heads so it’s a toss-up. I’m not affiliated with a church at the moment and I have never met anyone from hubby’s shop. So it feels like I’m in the same boat I was in when he deployed in ’09. Except now the dynamics of my family have changed: elder nerd is graduating college and the next in line is often bogged down with school. No, I don’t have toddlers anymore. The “Babies”–as we affectionately call them– are now pre-teens. My girls are stoic and able to handle stress with or without my help, but my son is really struggling.
As hubby is trying to get three million things done before he goes, I’m trying not to get in his way. I desperately want him to take leave (vacation days) but I know that he’ll have to spend every moment getting ready to leave instead of being able to relax with us. We’ve informed the schools that he’s leaving so the counselors can look for red flags that might signal some behavioral issues. I dread those phone calls from the school because I know they’re coming. My son has just missed almost two weeks of school. First I thought he was lying about his ailments, then I realized he is indeed suffering something: he is getting migraines. Of course, all this is happening as hubby is preparing to leave. Just a little taste of what it’s going to be like when he’s gone for nearly a year.
People, military and non-military alike, seem to feel concerned for those that deploy. I don’t disagree with that–I know that hubby is not going on a vacation. I will worry every day about his safety and that he comes back of sound mind and body. However, I contend that it’s much harder for the spouse and kids who stay behind. I will not be surrounded by people who are going through the exact same thing that I am (like hubby will). My kids will see me for the vulnerable person that I am, and that I can’t possibly fill the role of two parents, no matter how hard I try. My son’s anxiety will probably continue to manifest physically over the next few months. My girls, stoic as they are, will have breakdowns after a few months and I will be spending a lot of time comforting them…comforting, comforting, comforting…I foresee a lot of nights when I’m touching hubby’s side of the bed, wishing he could email or text me. I also foresee a lot of tears: my own and the kids’. It’s not going to be a vacation for us either, and we will feel his void poignantly every day until he comes back. And then the challenges of him reintegrating back into the family will begin.
This is the life of a military spouse and mother. I will not miss this when it’s over and I try to look ahead to the time hubby comes back and we can look at his retirement from the military.
If you know someone whose spouse is deployed, ask them how you can help, no matter how put together they seem. If you know they have no support system, offer to take the kids once in awhile so that Mama can nap or get some house-cleaning done for the day. Bring little tokens of gifts, like a coffee mug filled with chocolate treats or go on a lunch date. If you’re at the grocery store, ask if there is anything you can pick up and drop off. Most of all, if you’re the praying type, pray over their family. And if you’re not the praying type, send positive energy and goodwill in their direction. If I had had someone like this in my life in ’09, I would have felt seen and remembered. I would have felt loved.
I don’t know how to comfort myself about this last long deployment. I can only hope and pray it will be better than the last one.
Writer: CJ Heath