Tuesday, August 31, 2010

358: No plan B

Tonight is going to be short. It was my longest day of the year. I had a full day of school and then open house. I was out of the house from 7:25a.m.-8:40p.m. Lil Bit spent all day in daycare. She does ok in daycare, but doesn't sleep well, so she comes home crabby and fussy. The only hours I get to see her, she tends to be really upset. I find myself opening my cell phone to watch videos of her during the day. Today I spent most of the day trying not to cry.

While this has been a tough week, I don't generally spend this much time teary eyed unless my allergies are acting up. I spent all weekend with her. She probably cried about a tenth as much as the least fussy baby I've ever known. She and I have a great time together and she is so ridiculously laid back, calm, happy. She woke up giggling Sunday morning and really smiles at me in the first moments of every morning. It hurts me when she is upset and when my few moments to play with her are tainted with her tears and frustration. 

Tonight, I had no plan B for the baby. If I had really wanted to leave her at home, I am sure I could have beat the bushes and found someone, but I couldn't imagine leaving her all day in daycare, picking her up only to drop her off with someone else for three more hours. I was worried about getting into trouble, but I couldn't leave her. I spend all day, counting the minutes to get to her. I wasn't going to put her down if I could help it. She was so deliciously well behaved and adorable. But I still had to come home and sterilize two sets of bottles, make up a set to take tomorrow, prepare the coffee and fix a lunch, set out her teeny socks and matching bib with her outfit and feed the dog. Then somehow find a way to settle down and get some sleep tonight.

It was just another reminder that flying solo with no plan B gets a little tricky this far away from Moms and family. She is worth every second. Everyone who saw her tonight, told me how beautiful she is and many remarked how much Daddy is missing. No matter how hard it is for me without him. I can't imagine how hard it is for him there without her. He is missing so many moments. Hope he knows that we're missing him in our moments too. He is my plan B, my back up, my go to guy, my best friend, the puzzle piece to my jagged places and I miss him and talk to my Lil Bit about our daddy man everyday.

Monday, August 30, 2010

359: No news is good news?

Tonight's story isn't mine. This morning I walked past a friend of mine. Her porcelain face seemed tense and harried. She told me she had a rough weekend. She sat with me in my classroom in the relative peace of the hallway before the first bell. She has recently adopted a dog with some bizarre health problems, so I anticipated hearing about her Wilma antics, but when she asked me if I had seen the news, I knew it had to have been war related.

Her husband deployed late June to Afghanistan. Teary eyed she told me that her husband's helicopter had been shot down Friday during Ramadan's Night of Power. 50 or so insurgents had swarmed the base and attacked his helicopter. His Apache took 15 bullets. She said it was a miracle that none of the crew were wounded or killed. She said it was the only such incident since the beginning of the war where there were any survivors. Some of you, not being military spouses or mothers, may not understand why she spent the entire weekend sobbing after she knew he was fine or why it was all I could do not to cry as we talked this morning, but it goes back to what I said yesterday about the illusions of safety and control we have even when we know better. 

Even we, in the thick of the home front, lose sight of reality. As long as the emails and phone calls keep coming, we focus on the missing them, the missed date nights and holiday dinners. We focus on how the stupid generic trash bags he bought before he left tore and spilled brown sludge all over the kitchen floor. We focus on the things we'll do when he gets home. We ignore the danger and pretend that those dark government cars only come to someone else's home. I have been surrounded by this for a few years now. I have watched a girl literally shatter as her mom said those dreaded words, "Daddy isn't coming home." I didn't even know her, but helped pick her up and held her while we got her off the phone and to the counselor's office. But even then, I tell myself, that it can't happen to us.

My friend got a big dose of reality this weekend and it made us both realize that no matter how the press paint it, these are war zones and people are killed, people loved just as much as my guy is. Right now, I am trying my best to finish writing for today and get to bed, Chad's shirt laying beside me, the dirty shirt he wore all day one day last week and covered in cologne before finally taking a shower and changing.
Just one deep breath and the tears come. I decide to put the shirt in a plastic ziploc bag so it will smell longer, never knowing when or if I will ever get a chance to ask him to dirty a new one and try to tell myself that 36 hours without an email doesn't mean anything. It usually doesn't, but today I needed to hear that he is ok, even though what happened was in another country because while I tell myself no news is good news. They call or visit when the bad news comes. I need that touchstone, that momentary, "you're ok today" so I can rest easy and not worry. The worrying would kill me if I let it. Which is why we all do it, we all pretend, until we can't, that they are just away, but they are so much more than that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 360: Frozen

I missed him today. He was online and I wasn't in front of the computer. By the time I realized he was on, he was gone. I feel guilty for missing him. He needed me to find and send him a document, and I didn't get the message in time to help him. This is one of the hardest parts of surviving the deployment. How do I balance living my life, doing my best to pass the time and being available for him to chat. Their schedules are sometimes so random and vary often. Between the craziness of his schedule and the 9 hour time difference, it is so hard to be there waiting every time he has a chance to talk.

I know it is ridiculous for me to feel like I have to sit here frozen to the computer or my phone every second and that he certainly doesn't want it that way, but the disappointment is palpable when I miss him. While perhaps a tad exaggerated, each time he calls or emails could be the last time we talk. We don't have the luxury of pretending that we have second chances. He is nearly as likely to be killed driving onto post (maybe more, have you seen those people drive?!) everyday as he does in Iraq, but not falling into bed next to him each night, losing precious years with him makes mortality tangible.

I remember the day we got married. His mother came into the bride's room and asked me if I were sure I wanted to marry him. I don't remember what I said exactly, but I remember feeling that the only regret I had was that it took me so long to find him and I regretted that I wouldn't have as many years to love him.

And now I have lost two + years already and will be losing another one out of the precious few we have together. We might have another 40 years at best and it isn't enough. I need every second I can find to love him, and feel cheated out of so many moments that a missed phone call feels like a lost week. Sometimes it is. I hope he knows how important he is to me and that even a missed moment is enough to keep me frozen to my computer or phone.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day 361: puke and a dirty shirt

The week has just flown by and I don't know that I have really processed that he is gone. It is hard to feel anything when I am so exhausted I have actually hallucinated a giant spider or small gecko crawling across my shoes. At least I am telling myself it was a hallucination so I don't have to sleep in a hotel. and God, if it wasn't a hallucination, can I pick the gecko? Momma don't do spiders! Although when he is deployed, there aint nobody else. I have had to evacuate geckos, bats, spiders, and snakes. One snake tried to share the shower.

I was so wiped out I thought I would be anti-productive today, but if you're wondering how to motivate a very tired momma to get off the couch and get out of her pj's, Lil Bit knows - just puke on her! The first bottle of the morning made a reappearance all over the couch, me and her. I was out of my pj's, had a load of laundry going and the baby in the tub by 9.

My first load of laundry meant emptying Chad's hamper. We spent last weekend cleaning house and doing laundry so that when he left I wouldn't have extra work on my hands. Somehow he managed to fill an entire hamper in less than 24 hours. I don't know how he does it! As long as I was doing a load, I might as well separate his laundry too. Doing this last load (or three) of his laundry is always an emotional minefield. Having the pile of dirty clothes is a way of keeping him present for me. I generally pick one or two things and leave them most of the year just so he doesn't feel so gone. The laundry is one I don't let sit too long for obvious reasons. I don't know if I can explain how it feels to wash and put away those clothes. It is almost putting him away and hiding him in the recesses of my head and heart. I am torn inside between the quiet contentment I get from organizing and cleaning the house and the pain of its emptiness. I kept one shirt that still smells of his cologne and held it around Lil Bit as we listened to daddy's voice on the answering machine and the recorded storybook. I don't know if the smell makes much difference to her, but it does to me. Such a little thing, but it brings the tears right to the top today, especially when I heard his voice cracking on the last page of the story, "and when you think I can't love you any more, I do." The tears sit on my lashes, daring me to blink.

But that is generally as far as they get. I feel silly crying alone. It doesn't fix anything and can't bring him home. I know it is probably important that I do cry from time to time. Somehow though I always find that one movie that will let me cry on those days. Today it was Remember the Titans, uplifting and sad and I cried through the whole darn thing. The baby thought Mommy was funny. Somehow, holding her was all the more poignant today. She needed my snuggles. In less than two weeks, her brothers went home to their mother, her father and mother went back to work, she started daycare and then her daddy left for a year. She is very little, but it just has to be a lot for her. I just wrapped her up so tight and my tears blended with hers a few times today. Luckily she is mostly all smiles and now giggles too. It is hard to be sad when the baby's whole face is grinning at you waiting to see you smile too. I think she is going to save me this year. Every time I start to get maudlin, she pulls me back. Heck, every time I need to pee too. But her complete adorableness also makes glaring not having anyone with whom to share it. Nothing is quite so sweet as seeing this big, strong, fierce soldier sprint into the nursery to watch her laugh or the tender way he touches her tiny hands and snuggles her for long, lazy naps. There is a hole in our home today and it is only Saturday, 361. But the dirty shirt will sleep on the pillow beside me to try to kick just a little dirt back into that hole.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 362: the news

I check my email first thing and spam, spam, spam, Chad! Yay! While I knew he was safe, it is nice to hear the details. He has his first cold of the deployment. I don't know if he gets sick more often in Iraq or is more aware of it because he has nothing to take his mind off of it. Poor baby. When he is sick enough to take medicine, I know it's bad. I wait to reply until I can get to the computer. Typing an entire email on my cell is less than ideal. But even reading his email puts me behind schedule and I must have spaced out in the shower, because at 7:30, I am just running out the door. Why do I do this to myself, try to fit ten activities into five minutes? and schedule myself down to the last second? I don't know why I keep doing it when I know it makes me run late, but I can't seem to stop. I do make it to work on time, but barely.

I take a second to catch up on Facebook and see several military wives are hearing some of the same things I am. "Why is your husband going to Iraq? I thought all the combat troops were home." It feels like a punch in the chest when I hear that, like somehow my husband's sacrifice this year won't count as much because people don't know about the troops that are still there and still transitioning INTO country.  I make it a point NOT to watch the news while he is gone because every roadside bomb sends my heart into a tailspin until I hear his voice again, so I don't know if it is ignorant reporting or crappy listening, but why don't most people know that no one extra came home. Soldiers scheduled to finish their tours came home, but all the hoopla over bringing the last combat troops home is ridiculous. All they did was say some of the troops are now support personnel. I know people who were combat troops one day and "not" the next. We are still sending people over there. It is still dangerous. They still need rifles, pistols, hand grenades, but are primarily supporting and training the Iraqi army and police to take over fighting the insurgents. I guess I am partially angry at the blatant propaganda that is deliberately slanted to misguide the American people into feeling good that that Iraq war thing is over and partially upset that people continue to talk about things of which they are ignorant. I don't understand the details of many things and sometimes am guilty of complaining about how things are done, but when people criticize the army or the soldiers and don't have a clue what they are talking about, it makes my blood boil!

Yes, they get paid and we do get free health care during active duty, but that doesn't change the fact that these men and women were not drafted into the military. They volunteered to put themselves into harm's path for the rest of us, just like a police officer or fire fighter. The pay they receive seems to be pretty average overall and the extra combat/hazardous duty pay is a few hundred dollars a month. We couldn't live on just his salary without cutting back significantly but he makes about what I do. Of course that could just mean both teachers and soldiers are REALLY underpaid.

I hear more people say ignorant things about soldiers than anything else. Like someone close to me suggested, not to my face luckily for her sake, that my husband must want to be away from his family all the time to keep getting deployed. They don't have a choice. Some duties do not deploy and there are circumstances under which a soldier ends up non-deployable or in a garrison post, but if your unit is slated to go, you go, whether it is your first, third, or fifth deployment.

Not all soldiers are perfect or even good people, but a majority of them are heroic by nature and heroes by choice just for going over there so we don't have to. Take a second to mentally or physically thank a soldier or his/her family today. I am sacrificing the day to day moments with my husband that most people take for granted. He is risking his life and leaving behind most of the things that the rest of us would consider elemental to our cores. He doesn't get to hunt or fish or eat dinner with his family. He doesn't get to sleep in on the weekends, or ever. He works 19 hour days without relief with basically frozen dinners for every meal. He misses his favorite TV shows and Christmas every other year. It is a sacrifice you wouldn't make, so don't disrespect those who do. Disagree with the politics all you want, but thank a soldier for the right to do so.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 363

Survived one whole day without forgetting anything. Turned everything off, brought my lunch to school, didn't leave briefcase at home - woo hoo! I am sure I have many rough days to look forward to as Lil Bit gets bigger, sleeps less and starts MOVING. Never underestimate the joy of knowing the baby can't get into stuff yet. I know it's coming, but for today, I just wanna crash. She fell asleep in her car seat on the way home. Am I a rotten mom for leaving her in the seat for her nap? She hasn't slept all day and I wanted time to actually eat. Anyone else notice a baby can be quiet and happy until mommy has food? Can she smell the food or just sense I might actually get to eat without bouncing her on my shoulder? I am already missing the extra pair of hands to get her when I am in the middle of something, just worn out or would like five minutes alone in the powder room without worrying that the dog is licking her head again. I have survived a deployment as a girlfriend/fiancee, one as a wife, and now one as a mother - can I be done yet? Ugh.

I found another picture of my husband on Facebook, but still no emails. This first part is hard. We haven't set up a pattern or gotten into habits yet. I don't know when he might call or if he'll call soon. Previous deployments, Kuwait was a bus stop to Iraq, but Chad thinks he might be there training for a little longer. I wonder if it has really hit me yet. I may just be running on fumes and when I have a few seconds, the truth will crash down like a tsunami. I am just going to enjoy my little trip down this river called Denial!

Met another blogger/army wife. She is having a rough few days. This is her first deployment and feels a little lost in a new job and alone. Plus some of her experiences with army wives have been less than positive. I wonder why so many of us get negative or gossipy? Maybe the complaining and gossip keeps  them busy or takes the focus off the deployment stress? I don't know for sure, and some people just have to be in the center of all the drama, but I guess I hope I can an example for her of how to handle the separation and stress with grace.

Day 364

Yesterday I forgot the eggs on the counter when I went to work, so I am minus eggs for the week. Running to the store just is too much of a hassle with a baby to make it worth the effort this week. I drag myself to the car, but outside the school doors, a breeze whips around me. What? not 107 today? Only 90!! Sheesh, it is a cold front, so I decide it is time to start working on my exercise regime and take the baby for a walk/jog when we get home. One of the nice things about a deployment is that the only schedule I have to account for is my own. It is hard to take even a couple of hours away from him when he is home because he is home so rarely. Even when he isn't deployed, he works late, stays overnight for staff duty or spends a week at gunnery or goes for a few weeks or months to various schools. It works out that he is gone more than 50% of our lives "together," so I generally opt out of most activities that get in the way of having dinner together, but when he is gone, I can eat at five and walk at eight or vice versa. I play these little mental games like enjoying the relative freedoms in order to survive the crushing loneliness and emptiness.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and I have only a few hours of energy left, so I rush into the house to change for a walk. The house smells too strongly of coffee. Uh oh, a tiny green light glares at me accusingly. Stupid, cheap coffee pot doesn't shut off. Luckily, I didn't start a fire and roast my Maggie dog. Two days and two brain farts. Goal for tomorrow, don't leave baby anywhere or put bra in the freezer. Being a working parent is hard and doing it alone, so far is a work in progress.

After the walk, I check email, also a new mandatory activity every few hours. I just never know when he'll get a second to chat online. No news, but on Facebook, his regiment has posted pictures from Kuwait. I sift dejectedly through albums of pictures. They are a sea of digital ACU's and it is hard to see anyone, but then it might be? is it? oh, it is, it's him. Just seeing his face makes me feel whole again. At least now I know he has made it to Kuwait and is safe. I wasn't really worried, but each moment between emails, phone calls, skype sessions has a weight to it that defies definition. His voice is a touchstone, a security that buys another night of peace. For tonight, the picture will have to do.

Day 365

A very brief hour and a half after good-bye, my alarm wakes me with a start. Groaning, I drag myself out of bed, too focused on getting myself ready for the second day of school and getting my Lil Bit ready for daycare to allow myself any more tears. I manage to get out the door only ten minutes behind my projection, but I am running on autopilot. I have rediscovered an appendage, my cell phone. I have an iPhone, so I am extremely attached to it anyways; it practically does the laundry! But now I have to reprogram myself to carry it everywhere. I never know when my husband will call. He is still on post, most likely drawing weapons and waiting for the bus to load and take them to their flight, but for all intents and purposes, he is gone. I do relish the fact that I can still text message him. I send him a quick picture of the baby in her red, white and blue outfit for the day and hope it doesn't break his heart. I could barely drag myself back to work after the summer, leaving her five days or fewer a week for nine months. How in the world can he? how does he? just pick up and leave his children for a year at a time year after year after year.

He has two sons, eleven and twelve from his first marriage. They have been through all three deployments. Last deployment his younger son really struggled with missing his father and feeling angry about it. I am already planning some new things to help Chad feel more present for them throughout the year. They have daddy dolls, which seemed too childish, but I took some for them from our marriage retreat in July, and when they saw them and understood that daddy's picture would go in them, they both grabbed them and carried the dolls around for the rest of the afternoon. Last night, his older son called crying. His sobs echoed out of the phone and broke like soap bubbles across my heart. Chad tried to explain where he was going and that he would be back soon. Due to some developmental delays and autism, we don't always know what he understands or feels. This was the first time we experienced him breaking down. His mother, father and I were all surprised to hear him expressing such strong emotions. I wanted to hug him through the phone. Out of everything, I think that was the moment Chad understood he was really leaving again and had to fight back the tears himself.

So . . . I am thinking about all three of Chad's children as I drop off Lil Bit at daycare and head to work. I am smiling, saying "hello" and "good morning" until my friend Liz asks me how I am. For a second, the dam cracks and tears rush in. I just shake my head and am glad she is such a good friend that she immediately knew I couldn't talk or even get a hug without losing my carefully placed facade of calm. Around ten a text message says they are boarding, and I don't know when I will hear from him again. They fly a few different patterns to Kuwait. He could stop in Newfoundland or Ireland or Maine before the final leg to Kuwait. But I don't know, I might hear from him again in a few hours or not at all for many days. As I text back one more I love you and be safe, I realize that my cell phone has to go everywhere with me again. It took me almost the whole year to get used to being able to leave it in one room and walk into another and now I am tied to it again.

This lesson is driven home when I get into the car at 4:40 and realize I missed a call while making copies. I frantically call back and call back because even though I kissed him goodbye twelve hours ago, now every phone call, email, text message feels like the last one. The last call on American soil and I missed it . . . then he picks up. We have only a minute before I hear the boarding call in the background. I am just glad I got to say, "I love you" one more time. Now, it really begins.

Day 366

          So . . . here it is. After months of looming, the day is finally here. His last day at home before leaving for Iraq, AGAIN. I try not to cry when I ask my principal if I can leave a few minutes early at the end of the day. I decide that supportive smiles are good, but not sure they are worth the pitying looks from my acquaintances who are at varying levels of understanding about what I am about to go through and really have been going through for months. We live near a military base; people, for the most part, get it, but unless you have gone through it and sometimes even unless you've gone through it more than once, the nuances of the challenges of this military life escape even the most sympathetic friend. By the end of the school day, I teach high school, I am ready to race home and take off my heels and see Chad, but there is an aura surrounding our exchanges. So many words hang in the air, unsaid but felt, back and forth. He wants to tell me so many things, but his mouth can't seem to juggle the marble ideas in his head and spit them out. Instead he grasps my fingertips with my arms wrapped around the baby and whispers, "I love you." And takes her, wanting his last few minutes with her too. By the time he sees her again, she will be crawling, maybe even walking. Today she smiles and is working up to giggling, but is still very much a newborn. When he comes home, she will have celebrated her first birthday and be several months closer to the next one. I watch him feed and snuggle her. Her whole faces explodes into a Cheshire grin when he smiles at her. I am worried that his leaving will subconsciously make her feel abandoned by men or sad even though as an adult, she will never remember this year without her daddy. I will have each day etched across my heart.

He wants to eat at his favorite sushi place. I think raw fish should still be swimming in someone's tank, but I concede. He is leaving his home and heading to a place he affectionately (read sarcasm) calls "the armpit of the world" or "prison" depending on his mood. I will be lonely and sad, and probably sleepless, but I can eat at my favorite place whenever I want, so I acquiesce. We have sushi and spend some time on the couch after dinner watching TV, because even though, in my head, I have plenty of emotional time bombs to drop and make this evening special, electric, etc. I don't really know what to say. If we haven't loved each other enough all year long, the next ten minutes or just the right phrase, won't fix it. We almost say nothing as we start to discuss the most ridiculous news headlines of recent days. The laughter pulls us together. We laugh and want to fall asleep, but he has to go inspect barracks, so we kiss goodnight. His goodbye is only for a few hours yet, but the word tastes bitter on my tongue. I fall asleep and wait to wake up at four to say good-bye. The dreams are frantic and jumbled images, some with him and some where he is already gone. At some point I reach across and he is there and I am tempted to stay awake just to memorize the safe warmness of him, but drowsiness wins and I crash back into slumber.

He wakes just before four and I get up to say goodbye. Some wives will take the morning and go to sit in the gym bleachers, hear all the speeches, etc. but I have to get to work and can't see waking the baby this early will help her stay in this new routine we're trying to develop, so we decided that good-bye is the same whether we say it now or in two hours. Besides I don't have to have a brave face for anyone at home. I cry ugly sobs when the minute comes. I am really trying here, but you can't capture the horrible lead weight in my chest feeling with words. I tell him to come home and be safe. And he is gone. I stumble around the house picking up cast off items that didn't make the final duffel bag. I finally drop back into bed for an hour or so before my first day as a single mom commences.