Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 24: The boys are back

Today was a very long day. I got up at 8 and hopped into the shower. By the time I was done showering, the baby was up. I grabbed her and a handful of Cheerios and turned on an episode of Sesame Street so I could dry my hair and get dressed before getting us both a proper breakfast.

We scarfed down a bowl of cereal each and started the very long trip to pick up my husband's sons who are visiting for the next couple of weeks. It is about a 2 1/2-3 hour drive on a normal traffic day to get to the meeting place, then we usually spend about an hour eating, transferring stuff, and using the restroom before heading back. We hit a really rough spot of traffic but made good time the rest of the trip and were still under three hours.

We managed to make it through another (second this week) trip through Wal-mart and home in just about an hour, which I thought was amazing with three kids who'd been locked up in a car all day. We then put away all the groceries and decided we were too tired to cook (I was too tired to cook). Middle Monkey wanted Chinese food, so rather than completely blow my diet by heading to a buffet, we went to Panda Express. I was really good and looked up what to order before I got there. Even with nibbling on Lil Bit's lunch a tad and snagging a bit of her cookie, I was under my max calories for the day. It felt good to make Middle Monkey happy. Eldest Monkey got shrimp, his favorite, and was happy too.

We came home and set up the new sprinklers. We're going to try to water every morning and night before Chad comes home. The water bill will be atrocious, but at least the grass might look a little less ghastly when he comes home. There are spots that might be beyond help, but we're gonna try. Then we took a walk to try to dry off a little from where the sprinklers got all of us. Lil Bit had climbed up on her swing set and was shrieking with joy every time she got doused. It was funny.

After our walk it was time to get into pj's. The boys are 12 and 13 and are growing. Once we got into their drawers, I just decided we might as well tackle another headache and sort through what fits and doesn't. They are only here for an odd week here and there so clothes get bought and worn randomly. Sometimes something lasts a few years because we bought it big and we can pass it from Elder to Middle Monkey before it needs to join the Goodwill pile.

We managed to go through three drawers worth of pants and shorts, whittle it down to now two drawers, and add a nice couple of stacks to the bag of things I have to donate. Everyone had a quick dessert, brushed teeth, said prayers and went to bed. I'm the last one awake and I'm about to head that direction myself.

Driving with the baby wasn't fun, but the way the boys' mother and I worked it out, made it easier. She napped for about half of my solo trip and the boys played with her the whole way home. She still got fussy and cried a few times, but not too terribly badly. The boys were well behaved and very helpful. We tackled three chores this evening after getting back to town and now can relax a little more tomorrow.

Having the boys here will mean having some help getting things finished before Chad arrives, but it is hard to know how hard and fast to push when we just aren't sure how much time we really have. We may have a week, we may have 3-5 days. We may have nearly two weeks or, heaven forbid, longer. They aren't telling them anything at all. We may actually get notice before he does. Although he will obviously know when they move from Iraq to Kuwait, which should give me a general time frame. Once he is in Kuwait, I'm gonna prepare for a 72 hour countdown and worst case scenario have a day to rest before the plane lands.

We're gonna try our best to have some fun, let the boys bond with their sister, and plan a special celebration for their dad. I may need a nap by the end of the week, but I won't be quite as lonely and I will definitely be busy. As much extra work as having two more kids is, I am so glad the boys are back in town. I missed them. It will be nice being a family again. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 25: Expectations

My husband and I took the first step today in preparing for our reunion. We communicated about our expectations. It sounds simple, but if you don't think to do it, often you both end up disappointed and angry.

I can speak about this confidently because his second deployment, his first with me, we had a few rough moments after he came home. As the deployment wound down, I had started to imagine the joyous reunion, make plans for us and so had he, but we each assumed it would go smoothly.

Without talking to each other about what we expected and planned, our plans conflicted. Our ideas about the reunion and especially the first few days were different. I didn't want to assert my desires over his after he spent a year in war, but it was hard not to let my feelings get hurt or be disappointed when he didn't envision our first few days together the way I had. He knew the year apart had been hard on me, and Chad didn't want to push his agenda, but had things that were important to him.

What we discovered last deployment was that all we needed to do was each talk openly about how we see the reunion and following days or even weeks going. He says what he wants without worrying about me. I say what I want without worrying about what he wants. Then we each can consider the plans and compromise and neither one of us has to give up all of what we want.

We do this usually a couple weeks before his return over email. The first rule is to be open minded when you read the email. Don't take every little word and analyze or twist it. These emails are kind of like the first draft of a story, open to revision. Part of the process is being willing to give in completely to your spouse. Both of us have to be willing to go along with each other's desires. If we start there emotionally, compromising becomes easier and we both get most of what we want.

By talking about what we expect or hope for, we can both envision "worst-case scenarios" in which the other person gets what they want completely and we lose out. But even just thinking about it, makes it more manageable. Then what really happens is usually better than that worst case scenario.

The goal here is to be together with the person you love and enjoy that time together. Both of us want that, what neither of us wants is to argue at all or have disagreements. Some disagreements are just part of being married, but this is one we have learned to head off at the pass by talking about it now instead of waiting to see how things shake out.

It is probably one of the easiest things we can do to make the reunion go more smoothly. Ask him if he wants a big return celebration or just a small get together with a few friends, invite the whole family, or just you and the kids. Find out how he envisions those moments he gets off the big white bus and runs across the field. Decide which things are really so important they are worth fighting for and what things don't really matter that much. I've found that the more we talk about it, the fewer things actually matter and the more we each get to just loving each other. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 26: Nightmares

I dream every night, but I don't always remember my dreams. I tend to remember the really good or emotional or scary dreams. Like most people, I remember dreams from which I am awoken in the middle. My dreams tend to show me what emotions I'm suppressing or fears I'm avoiding.

Last week my dreams were all about relationships. I knew how much I am missing the close, romantic and intimate relationship with my husband, even though I am trying not to think about it too much. After so long without him, I started feeling very isolated. I have friends and talk to my mom and mother-in-law several times a week, but Chad and I have a closeness that nothing can replace.

I miss the feeling of being in his arms, kissing him, feeling his heart beat. To survive the deployment, I put all those feelings away in a little box. I feel like I have them pretty much under control, but after six months apart, they start surfacing in my sleep. Then he comes home for R&R and I get a little fix. But two weeks or so of rushing around and stressful contact, is almost just enough to make the cravings worse.

Based on my experiences, this is the part that gets a lot of the spouses in trouble. The emotional and/or physical cravings start and they are so strong that they start spending time with people of the opposite gender. The problem is even the most innocent of friendships can be polluted when your emotions are so fragile. I know when I start having these dreams, I am really vulnerable. I make a point not to spend time with anyone male, just because it is too easy to put yourself in a bad position to make a bad decision.

I've seen too many of my friends' marriages struggle with issues of infidelity, physical or emotional, to want to even take the risk. The dreams are always subtle about trying to get close to friends or trying to find my husband. But my dream last night was more obvious. I dreamed a crazy convoluted nightmare that my husband was returning home by ship, escorting the equipment and vehicles home from Iraq. They were attacked and in the confusion, Chad somehow ended up in freezing water with killer whales. The army called me to tell me he was lost at sea, but they hadn't recovered his body, so I refused to believe it. I knew somehow he would find a way home to me. After a day or two, I had to accept that he wasn't coming home because no one could survive in that cold water for longer than a few hours at best.

In the dream, once I'd accepted his death and started grieving, then he turned up alive. I think I'm just so afraid that something is going to happen to him as the days are ticking down so slowly until his return. He will have nearly a week after leaving Iraq before he actually lands in America, which means his time on missions should be winding down in the next couple of weeks. But it can't come soon enough for either of us.

He is just so tired. He is spending 18 hours a day in gear that weighs almost 100 lbs. in 130 degree heat on constant alert. He is just tired. I'm more emotionally tired. I spend a lot of time trying not to think about how much I worry or miss him. I spend a lot of time trying to appease a cranky baby without relief. I get a maximum of two hours a day to myself and then I have to triage what gets done. I know the dream was just a dream, in fact, I think I knew it was a dream at some point in the dream. But the queasy heart twisting fear is real and won't go away until I hold him, wake up next to him, and do it enough that I almost get used to it. Maybe then I'll get a good night's sleep.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 27: Almost Again

Last night and today, the news was all about Nasser Jason Abdo, an AWOL soldier from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He had been raised to an Islamic father and Christian mother, but had claimed the Islamic faith personally more recently. He joined the military in 2009, and not too long after that, he filed for a discharge from the military as a conscientious objector. His request had been approved, and then he was found in possession of child pornography, so he went AWOL (that is absent without leave).

My first thought was that if he was such a good Muslim that he was released from his military service with a recommended honorable discharge, he probably shouldn't have ANY pornography as Islam prohibits lewdness, much less CHILD pornography. I worry about the vetting process if such obvious crap can get him out of his contractual service to his country.

I have no idea what he was thinking, but he seemed to be planning a terrorist act here at Fort Hood. He was staying downtown at a motel, where they found weapons and explosives. The police chief Dennis Baldwin who held the press conference this morning answered the question "How close was he to having a bomb?" by saying that if they hadn't acted today, he would have been here giving a very different briefing. Somehow the gravity of the situation reverberated in his words. I rewound the conference to watch from the beginning.

According to an article in the Austin American Statesman byJeremy Schwartz, he was planning on bombing a popular restaurant and then shoot the survivors. Just listening to the conference and reading the news articles brought back some of the emotions of the Nidal Hasan shooting from November of 2009. In fact, Abdo even bought his guns at the same shop, Guns Galore, which is apparently also frequented by Mexican drug cartel bad guys.

I don't know which restaurant was targeted, but tomorrow, I'm meeting a friend for breakfast and it is scary to think it could have been us. He probably would have chosen somewhere closer to the post, but if he had bombs and guns, it would have hurt a lot of people, military personnel, their families, and just innocent people.

He wanted to "get even" with the army so targeted Fort Hood because Hasan did. Families, friends, patriots would have been wounded and killed. I don't know how many of these types of attacks are thwarted every day, but I would guess many of the perpetrators are not U.S. Military. I'm not even sure how to feel about having another near attack near my home. It's scary. They caught him. He seemed to be acting alone. He was disturbed enough he triggered the gun shop's personnel's wariness.

But he was miles from my house, building a bomb or several, planning on killing people going out to eat in hopes of killing soldiers. I'm really glad the shop owner, police, and FBI coordinated to catch him and prevent the attack, but I'm sad that he got as far as he did, that he was plotting to hurt fellow Americans at all. He would have hurt a lot of innocent people.

It almost happened here again. We're still waiting for Hasan to face trial for the murder of 13 people and the wounding of 32 more. It is hard to believe how long it is taking for him to get to trial. In fact, I'm horrified to find that he is still drawing a paycheck from the military and all his medical treatment from his wounds incurred as a result of his attack is being provided by the military. He won't come to trial until 7 more months and will have all his needs provided for him by the army in the meantime.

I'm sure Abdo will receive the same treatment since his discharge was not processed due to the child pornography images on his computer. I really want to know how a "devout" Muslim joins the military during wartime and then spends all of his time in the service appealing to the military and the public to be discharged from the military service. Why did he join if he objected to the war and violence? It isn't like he converted later.

I don't know if today would have been the day, but it could have been. A violent attack that would have cost lives to Fort Hood, American soldiers almost happened here again. And I don't know how to feel about it. It was prevented, but it was almost and that is enough to scare me. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 28: Out of the closet

After being so bored yesterday, I decided to get up and get moving today. The baby woke up just before 8. I made her an egg and hopped in the shower. We were out the door and on the way to the vet's office around 9:30.

The dog got a Canine Influenza booster shot. They did it in the lobby, so we didn't have to wait too long, which was good because the dog howls like crazy at the vet. I don't know if she is scared, nervous or was protecting the baby. She just is so loud and crazy.

We brought the dog home and vacuumed out the car and then went out for a "quick" shopping trip. We ordered new furniture last week for the bedroom. We're upgrading to a king sized bed, so in addition to our new bed, dresser, nightstand and mattress, we need a new comforter and sheets. I've already spent so much money that I decided not to redecorate with new curtains, etc. and just to work within the color palate we have.

I also needed a few things to round out my wardrobe for back to school. We went into Kohl's and I found a few things, but no comforter. Then we walked down the shopping center, which was very hot in our 105 degree heat, and went into another clothing store. I needed a white cardigan because my classroom is so cold all the time. I found a white cardigan and a couple of really cute outfits, but they didn't carry household items.

We went to the linens store next door and did find a new comforter and two new gigantic pillows that are for decoration. I looked pretty interesting trying to get three very large bags back to my car with the baby. I thought I had a lot of stuff before I got home, but then realized, I had a full closet, with no room for the several new outfits I brought home.

I spent the rest of the afternoon taking things out of my closet. I tried everything on and created two piles, one for discard and one for storage. It wasn't too much fun, but I did find some clothes in my closet that I had forgotten about, did clear out some drawers too.  It was one of those jobs that I always say I'll do during the summer, but never seem to actually get around to doing. Well, I actually did it. I significantly cut back on my clothes, and I was too busy to be bored.

My husband says that I'm OCD because I organize all my clothes according to tops and bottoms and then by color. I think it is just nice to be organized. I don't organize them according to sleeve length or season, but I do try to group them according to color. It makes sense to me. That way I know where to look for what I want to wear.

He might call me OCD, but he'd be proud that I got rid of things that I won't wear ever again and cleaned out my closet. Maybe tomorrow I will work on my shoes? Bet you thought this entry was going to be about something else. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 29: Heat Boredom

You know how people get S.A.D. during the winter, that is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Basically the lack of sunshine affects their moods and triggers a depression. To some extent, I get that. I get so tired of going to work in the dark and coming home to the dark. We spend most of the winter closed up from the darkness.

Well, we have plenty of sunshine in Texas summertime, but it has been so hot that no one goes outside. The block where children play and swarm usually during the summer is a ghost town. Except for a few hours in the evening and before ten a.m., the block shows no life whatsoever.

After 30 days of over 100 degrees, I feel just as locked in my house as I do in the winter snows up north or in the darkness of the work week. I am not really a busy person. I like laying around and not doing much. I like brainless television and naps, but even I can only do that for so long before I am terminally bored.

Today, we watched Sesame Street, played puzzles, tickled and laughed, and napped and did it all again. I miss my husband for many reasons, but today I missed having someone else to talk to, to spend time with, a reason to get out of my pajamas and do something other than play with the baby and clean.

Crossing fingers, we are under three weeks before his return, possibly even less. And I'm starting to get really bored, but there isn't much I can do in this horrible heat. I took the baby for a jog yesterday and nearly had heat stroke by the time I got home 45 minutes later. I could barely complete 2.5 miles in the time I would normally be over 3 and working toward 4. I was sick to my stomach and getting dizzy. The baby was bright red under her shade and with plenty to drink. It just is too hot.

She is finally walking well enough to go to the park, but not until after dinner time is it cool enough to attempt. And with just her, sometimes by dinner time the last thing I want to do is go through all the effort to go out. Missing my husband is pretty much an every day thing now, but today it was all day.

I need someone else here to talk to, laugh with, take over when the baby has jumped or climbed on my last nerve. This week she's learned to climb and now can escape my little baby jail that had been keeping her safe enough to leave in the living room for a quick shower or whatever. Not so anymore, she has mastered climbing and getting out is less scary than the fact that she might fall. So now I feel more nerve racked and crabby than before since I can't even get a break for a few seconds before I'm peeling her off something else.

I'm tired and bored and lonely, and that is nothing compared to how horrible my husband has it. I'm really ready for this to be over!! UGH!! I suppose the good news is that the days are actually moving. We are getting closer and closer to the end even if it feels like it's moving at a turtle pace. I really only have four more days before the boys are here and they will definitely keep me busier and be company, not terribly relaxing company, but hopefully they will be gungho on project Daddy prep. and help get everything done around the house we can so that he truly can come home and relax.

Maybe I can too, before I head back to 187 days worth of teenagers who don't care what a sentence is. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 30: Stop Loss

I haven't seen the movie. With my husband deploying numerous times, I didn't think my emotions could handle watching the movie. I don't think it is some blockbuster Oscar caliber film, but my emotions have been undone by cheesy Hallmark movies many times. Since I haven't seen the movie, I have no idea regarding its accuracy. 

The term stop loss is a military term that can extend a service members time in active duty or within a specific regiment/unit. When people enlist in the military, they are really signing over their entire lives for all intents and purposes. The military pretty much owns you, for a long time. The first commitment is usually 8 years. Four of those years are usually active duty, although the active duty component can be as brief as two or as much as six. 

Then the rest of that commitment is not active. Sometimes people serve that time in the reserves and sometimes just in an inactive status. It depends on the initial contract and the needs of the army. While the recruit believes that the amount of active duty time is a firm amount, the military can change it at any time. I've even known friends who've been asked to come back to military service ten years after they finished their contracts. Now, those were requests, but within certain guidelines of which I am not well versed, they can compel your return. 

Another way the military uses the term stop loss is to eliminate movement within the military. It keeps people in jobs, units, regiments, etc. The military uses this to manage personnel. My husband has been stop-lossed several times. 

My husband has been busting his butt to get to his next promotion. To get that promotion, he feels he needs to be a drill instructor. Today he was told that if he didn't have orders to PCS as of today, that he would be stop-lossed in his current regiment/squadron/troop. I have no idea how true this is or will be. The army is a pretty fluid thing until it isn't.

Nothing is a done deal until it is a done deal in writing. But that didn't make getting that news any easier. Yesterday he was told that he might come down on orders late this year and we might PCS (permanent change of station) within a few months of his return or within this year. 

While moving is scary, I'm kind of ready for the new adventure. I'm certainly not excited about staying here and spending the next year gearing up for him to leave again. His regiment is already preparing for their next deployment. We really don't have any control over what happens. All he can do is ask, push, file paperwork. 

And we wait. But hearing that he might be stop-lossed already, is frustrating and depressing. He's deployed four times. He says this was the worst experience he's ever had in the military. He won't tell me details for security reasons and not to anger anyone who might read this, but I know, he's had some rough experiences. When he says this was the worst, it must have been pretty rough. 

I'm not excited about his staying in this unit or regiment. But I'm really not excited about another deployment. Emotionally, it is just devastating to have to start thinking about his leaving again before he is even home. It taints every moment of his return, of the year we get together (minus the months of school, training, etc.) hanging over our heads. 

The military life is hard. They own you. You give up complete control of where you live, when you get to be home on a day to day or year to year basis. And even when you think you've got a smidge of control, they take it away. I'm a natural control freak. Ever since meeting my husband, I have struggled with the lack of control I have in my life. It is good for me to learn to deal with being more flexible, but it is really hard especially when it doesn't affect just me, but my husband whose pain is my pain, and my child/ren. 

I can't do anything but wait and pray. And hope we get a chance to avoid the Stop Loss. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 31: More than disappointed

All the redeployment briefs and meetings and preparations kind of sneaked up on me. I've been so busy surviving this year, and then all of a sudden, my husband's regiment was sending out all this redeployment information, websites, Facebook posts. I didn't feel ready. I immediately went into the first stage of return prep, anxiety. Will he be happy to be with me? Does he still love me just as much? Will he be different? Am I different? Can I re-adjust to being married? For a little while, the panic makes you kind of wish for more time.

That may not make sense to you, but, it's true. I haven't lost 40 lbs. like last time. I didn't finish my novel, the one I'm trying to write. I didn't watch a million chick flicks or get even halfway through my movie queue. It isn't that I didn't want him home, but emotionally I kind of shut down and went into heart hibernation.

As much time as military wives spend alone, it is self-preservation to find a way to enjoy being alone. You take over the remote, maybe even his closet, you make decorating choices without asking him, you enjoy the freedom of not having to compromise the day to day things with someone, not balancing your needs with someone else's, not compromising what you want to eat for dinner. Being alone is easier in some ways than a marriage is (probably why so many marriages are failing). Marriage is work, and learning to enjoy the break is part of surviving the heartbreak of being separated so often.

I love my husband and want him home, but emotionally, I have to wake back up. I was doing pretty well without him, keeping busy, filling my days, then it started, redeployment talk. And I ignored the first few rounds, kind of like ignoring the stores putting out the Christmas displays the week after Halloween. You see the Santas and scoff, for a couple of weeks, but you start thinking about Christmas and traditions, presents, maybe plans and the next thing you know you're shopping and it is only Nov. 15 and you have 40 days to wait to give your mom that amazing cashmere sweater she is just going to love.

Two weeks earlier, you weren't even thinking about Christmas, but now you can't wait for it to get here. Each day gets longer, and while you're busy and have so much to do, the days pass slower somehow. And December feels farther and farther away.

That is how I feel tonight. I haven't really cried just from missing my husband in a long time. I've cried at a sad movie that turned into tears for Chad, but it doesn't solve anything and it doesn't bring him home and I don't want to be weak for my family who need to know I'm OK and tough. So I've learned to shut it off. I used to cry every Sunday afternoon when we were dating. I lived 5 hours away and drove down every Friday night and home on Sundays. It was really hard. I knew we were only going to be apart for five days, but leaving him broke my heart every week. If I managed to get into the car without crying, I cried for the first hundred miles after he couldn't see me.

I'm not colder, at least I don't think I am, but I am more guarded. I don't let myself focus too much on missing him. Even this countdown is a way for me to be positive because I can see that I'm surviving, that the time is growing smaller. But all the redeployment talk started things going in my subconscious.

I've been dreaming about relationships, weird stuff that doesn't make any sense, but that I know reflects the emptiness I feel right now and the lack of intimate relationships I feel like I have. Then today I looked at the calendar and realized that my countdown might not be off by weeks, that he might not make it home before my school year starts, that he might not get to see his sons before they have to go home. And I've been sad all day. I'm really trying very hard not to cry right now.

I don't miss the way he leaves stuff everywhere and moves things I thought were perfectly organized. I don't miss the fiery furnace of heat he puts off when I like to be chilly when I sleep. I don't miss his cutting up dead things in the kitchen and using my good dining chairs for the clamp on his meat grinder. But I've realized today, that I am aching for him so much. I don't think "I miss you" even touches what I feel.

I've been cut off in any meaningful way from the one person who feels like an extension of myself. He is the best friend you stay up all night talking to because you can't wait to see what you'll talk about next. His laugh makes my heart giggle. I hear him laugh and a laugh bubbles up inside of me and it can't come from anywhere but my heart. I watch stupid movies that he loves because when he laughs, I can't help but crack up with him.

Even though we email and chat, I don't tell him so much. Sometimes at the end of a rough day that I somehow managed to survive, the last thing I want to do is write it all down and tell him about it. I don't want to complain about the girl at work who acts friendly one minute and snobby and witchy the next or the office politics about who gets which room or class to teach or gets belittled by the administration. Some of the things that make my day so hard are just too hard to email. If he were here, I would just fall into his arms and let him hug me until I could face whatever is hurting me.

Looking at the actual calendar today instead of guesstimating, I realized that his return isn't quite as imminent as I thought and I am more than disappointed, I'm a little broken. I started getting into the Christmas spirit before Thanksgiving and December is a long way away. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 32: Night out

A friend of mine from school invited me for a girl's night in. We had dinner, a little wine, and talked, played games, etc. When she planned the get together, I was still sick as a dog and just couldn't plan how I'd feel minute to minute, so I didn't plan on going.

But this week I decided that I felt decent enough to try to search out a babysitter. I have left her about four or five times so far in her life, two of those times were date nights with my husband and two were doctor/dentist appointments. She had a sitter for a few hours for a my same friend's bachelorette party/bridal shower. Tonight would be six times she's been watched since she was born, and you could maybe add another three or four trips to the grocery store, errands, etc. while we were visiting family or they were here. In 15 months, I think I've left her less than 9 or 10 times at all, not including daycare.

I thought after spending the whole summer with her, I deserved to take a few hours with friends, and I certainly did. I was gone for 5 hours, from 5-10ish. But it was hard for me to leave her. I spent the afternoon playing with her, feeling guilty for leaving. Around ten I started missing her face. The only reason I wasn't home earlier was because the girls got me talking about how much I love her, love being a mom.

I know my mom didn't spend all day every day just sitting around playing with us. She spent more of her time cleaning house, doing laundry, cooking, running errands, but I feel guilty when my attention is taken away from her at all. Some of my responsibilities mean I spend an hour or so researching on the computer or shopping online so that I don't have to drag her into the 110 degree heat or paying bills.

I really spend very little time cooking or cleaning while she's awake, and try to be really present with her. After all of June and July with her, I thought taking one night would be easy, but it wasn't. I felt lonely for her after a few hours. I needed the night out. It was so nice to have some hours that I wasn't focused on her. I had a couple glasses of wine, sat and talked with friends without worrying what she was breaking, getting into, or more recently climbing! She is going to be my little monkey for sure!

I needed the break, but also feel guilty for needing the break. I liked having a bit of adult freedom away from the baby, but really struggled with leaving her with a relative stranger since we don't spend a lot of time with the young neighbor girl. I wonder how it will feel after my husband comes home. Will it be easier to leave her for a few hours with my husband or harder because I'm sharing her attention?

I got home and found my little sneaky pete sitting on the couch, just pleased as punch with herself. The sitter tried to put her to bed twice, but Lil Bit is a manipulative little cuss and started screaming. Being 14, she just didn't know that she was getting played. After we walked her home, I just took her into her crib, put her down and walked out. She didn't make a peep. But that also felt good, like she needed mommy. The night out felt nice, but coming home to a warm smile and big hugs and kisses felt awesome.

Balancing myself as a woman and person with who I am as mommy has been pretty hard this deployment, but she gives me a reason to be and frankly, she is so freakin' cool that it is hard to put her to bed most nights. I just wanna see what she does next. Deployment is hard, but it gave me a year to bond with my little girl in a way that I won't ever forget, even if she doesn't really remember it. Of course, I would trade it for being able to share it with her daddy, but since I can't, I feel amazingly blessed to have gotten this time with her.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 33: Weird things we do

Last night I was sending a quick email to my mother-in-law, and it occurred to me that I've been doing some odd things to prepare for her son's return. It is not always easy for me to switch gears from independent, single gal to considerate wife again. I always want him to come home, but it is sometimes fraught with anxiety and conflict.

I'm sure he gets anxious to be home and anxious about coming home and trying to catch up on the year he missed. His sons have changed some over the year he's been gone, but they are at a slower stage of maturation than his daughter. She will have changed more than anything else. I'm sure he is a little nervous about coming into parenting her after she and I have developed our own ways.

While reintegrating has its challenges, I really do want him to know how happy I am to have him home, so I'm working on making sure this feels like a relaxing haven after his interlude in the armpit of the world. I started yesterday by steam cleaning with my Shark. I cleaned the foyer, some baseboards, the air intake into the A/C. Then I used my new steam carpet cleaner to start working on the carpets. I'm sure he isn't going to be licking the baseboards or worried about the intake grate, but while I've got the time, I want to do it right, make sure that it doesn't just look clean, but is clean.

Today, I went shopping for a couple of hours. With a one year old shopping is not easy, furniture shopping was an extra challenge. I spent an hour bouncing from mattress to mattress trying to find the just perfect combination of plush and firm to meet our sleeping needs. That was not entertaining for the baby. I had already walked around the entire store shopping the bedroom sets, twice. I took the baby home without buying anything because he hadn't emailed me back about the sets. I was afraid to buy something without at least asking him. I figured he probably wouldn't care, but when we spend money, we ask and talk about it.

I raced back to the store this evening after Lil Bit's nap to place the official order so that when he gets home, the bedroom set will be here, installed and ready for him to enjoy. Unless he gets home at the earliest possible date, the bed should be here and I should be able to have it decorated and ready for his first night on a bed that doesn't kill his bad back.

But that isn't really strange. I've spent the last two weeks gradually inching the thermostat up a degree or two every few days. After spending a year in 130 degree heat, he comes home to air conditioning that actually cools the air and freezes. We're all wearing shorts and sweating while he wears sweatshirts and jeans and complains about being cold. It happens every time. I got the idea that warming the house a little at a time might make it so I can be comfortable a bit warmer than I would usually keep it. We're still going to need it cool at night, but hopefully, he will be more comfortable when he gets home than usual.

Maybe these aren't really strange, filling the freezer, stocking up on food and wine, cleaning house, but I haven't done anything halfway. My plan is to prepare so well for his return that he doesn't have to think about a thing for awhile unless he chooses to be busy. He has worried about us, himself, his soldiers, their families, insurgents, people he protects, etc. all day, every day for the past year. He deserves to take some time to mentally relax as much as physically relax.

I think I've thought about almost everything, even if I haven't gotten to the liquor store for margarita fixin's just yet or bought his favorite toiletries. If you think of something special I can do to welcome him home, please let me know. We've already got a big sign from last deployment and are planning on having a bunch of family and friends here to celebrate. We're definitely under a month and may be with in a few short weeks. Doing all these special things for him (whether he will ever even notice) is really for me too. It keeps me busy and from losing my mind with impatience as this deployment winds down.

So going overboard, cleaning past 1 a.m. and shopping all day, etc. are just some of the crazy things army wives do to keep minds busy, hands busy and help the time pass by making sure he has the best Welcome Home ever. 

Day 34: Steam

Have you ever wondered why housewives seem so excited about cleaning house, new amazing products, etc. After spending a summer as a stay at home mom, I understand. While you can see great progress at times in your children, for the most part your days feel like the same thing over and over. You start wondering what day of the week it is, forget what you've done today because you remember doing it every day for the past week and it's a little fuzzy if you're remembering today or yesterday.

Housework, while menial and tiring, is something that produces tangible results. However short lived, really cleaning something feels productive. As part of my mission to prepare for my husband's return, I decided to do something about the abominable carpet. I thought about calling professionals to clean the carpet, but was not pleased with the results last time.

For about the same amount of money, I could buy our own steam cleaner. So that is what I did. I bought a Hoover SteamVac PowerMax Spin Scrub. It was one of the highest rated by Amazon users and Consumer Reports. It came yesterday. I put it together this morning, and started cleaning small areas at a time.

First I used my Dyson Animal Ball Vacuum to go over the carpet. Then I started steam cleaning. I only did the front entrance and small hallway before taking a break to play with the baby and get her dinner. But my plan was to wait until she went to bed and do the living room (aka baby jail), so it would be dry by the morning and she could play on clean carpet.

Little did I know how filthy our carpet really was. I keep the house pretty clean. I'm not a neat freak (although no one would know, when it's just me, I can let the house go in favor of rest or sanity, much farther than most who know me could ever guess), but I do try to dust, vacuum, pick up, etc. unless I'm too busy or sick. I will always put my relationships before cleaning house, but I try.

My Christmas gift was the Dyson. Right after the baby started pushing up and trying to crawl, I bought a Shark hand steam cleaner to do the baseboards, tubs, toilet, etc. I like clean. If I had ANY idea how dirty this carpet was, I would have wrapped the baby in latex. We own probably the most effective vacuum on the market and use it, but the Hoover made it look like I've been using a lint roller to clean the carpet.

The water was almost black after the fourth pass through the living room. It is 1 a.m. and the carpet looks a million times better, but I know it needs another treatment. I will probably wait until next week to do it again. I have to move furniture, rearrange all Lil Bit's things. But the perfectionist in me wants to do it until the water comes up clean or at least not black and opaque. I did two more passes than I planned because the water was so filthy.

It may not feel like a giant accomplishment, but the room we spend the most time in is much cleaner, and looks amazing in comparison to what it did three hours ago. I may be cleaning house to fill time, feel productive, prepare for my husband's return, but it still feels good to have done something today. I just wish it would have gone a little faster. I'm exhausted, and ready to drop. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 35: Out and About

After last night's bout of loneliness, I knew I needed to change up today to fend off the blues. The baby slept in ridiculously late, past 10! I went in to check on her at 10 and couldn't wake her with some talking an gentle nudges, so I left her. I must have at least started the process because she was up about fifteen minutes later.

The movie Winnie the Pooh came out last week, but I was still too sick to consider it on Friday and then she was puny. Today, she was well rested and happy, so I decided to try it. I think she's probably still a little young to maintain her attention for a movie, but she did fairly well for most of the movie. She sat on my lap, nibbled on popcorn, and watched the screen. She even signed balloon when Christopher Robin held a balloon. I'm glad there were only a few people there all with wee ones too when she got restless and started her earsplitting screeches until I let her walk around the entrance aisle.

After the movie we ran a few errands, which can just take the steam out of you dragging a little one into the car seat, out of the car seat, into a stroller, out of the stroller, into the car seat again. We ran errands for a couple of hours. Our last errand was to mail some things and head home. She was fighting a nap and getting cranky, but I had one more thing I wanted to do.

We stopped at the meat market. Yes, the meat market. We have an old school butcher shop on the way home from the UPS store. It is one of the lovely things about Texas. Chad loves that little shop. So I went in an ordered a bag full of meat, rib-eyes, sirloins, pork chops, pork tenderloins. It was a very expensive last second errand, but as I put the meat into the freezer, I knew it was something my husband would really appreciate when he comes home.

I already started buying things for the family and welcome home party. I figure if I spread it out over the next couple of weeks, I can fill the freezer, pantry and wine rack before he comes home. Then the day before he gets home, I can fill the fridge with his favorite produce.

It isn't a big thing, but taking a few steps to prepare for his return made me feel less lonely and made it feel more real that he's coming home. Also, keeping busy all day, made the day pass much faster. It was bedtime before I knew it. A few hours of playing with Lil Bit, she is too darn smart, and she climbed up into my lap, ready to go night night.

A busy day out and about in the sunshine was just what I needed to cheer up. And tomorrow is already Thursday, the week is almost over and we're a week closer to hello!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 36: Operation Homefront Surprise Homecoming

A few months ago we got an email about interviewing to be on the TV show on TLC. I dismissed it because Chad surprised me three deployments ago with an amazing proposal. If you haven't read those entries and don't know us personally, it was an amazing day. He had the local sheriff pull me over and pretend like he was arresting me, when I didn't know he was home from Iraq. We were filmed on the local news and on the front page of the paper. It was amazing, but I think I had my 15 minutes of fame.

I see the promos for the show every once in awhile, but haven't made it a point to watch. In fact, I've kind of made it a point not to watch it because it brings up all the emotions I try to manage daily. Especially now as it gets closer to my husband's return, it is harder in some ways to watch those kinds of shows. TLC's show has soldiers surprise their loved ones with returning from combat, but it is hard to watch and not be just a little jealous, and I just can't watch with dry eyes.

I am happy for the people on the show. I am happy their soldiers came home safely and are reunited with family and friends, but it is a little hard for me to watch when his return is so close and yet so far away. I don't know that all wives feel like that. Some throw themselves into every welcome home ceremony until it is their turn, but others have a hard time watching all the joyous reunions while they are still so sad and so alone.

One of my friends during Chad's third deployment got really emotional when some of our friend's husbands started coming home. Our husbands were all in separate units, divisions even, but were pretty much deployed at the same time. I think it took a couple of months for them to all be home, but it was close, but when the first one came home, she took it really hard. It was their first major separation/deployment and she missed her husband so badly that each day was pretty tough in general. She didn't mean to be a downer, but watching our friend celebrate and be happy was just a reminder of how much longer she had to wait.

I think her emotions were more pronounced than mine, but as Chad's return draws closer and the days feel longer, I am kind of understanding how she felt. I don't need to watch a show reminding me that my soldier isn't home yet and making me cry and get all weepy. I do better to avoid such shows. Once the tears start, it is hard to stop them, but last night the show featured some friends of ours from church.

I had to watch. Philip got to see his baby daughter for the first time and surprise his three older children at school. They were the last segment of the show and I didn't make it through the first story without crying. They started on Fort Campbell, where we used to live with a young mom and one year old baby daughter who hadn't spent much time with her daddy after her birth. I listened to her talk and felt sad all over again for all the precious moments Chad has missed with Lil Bit. By the time they got to Philip and Katie, I was a goner. I cried my mascara off watching his children rush into his arms.

While I'm glad I watched it, tonight feels a little more lonely than last night, and the days are dragging. When we got to the 15th, I knew we only had 3-4 more weeks to go, weeks!! not months or years, weeks, this should be easy, but today is only the 19th and that feels like a lifetime ago.

I don't want to rush my summer vacation away, especially after spending the last two weeks sick as a dog, but what I wouldn't give to have Chad home with me for these next three weeks. OK that is enough of that, I'm gonna get started weeping again.

I do kind of wish I'd had Chad apply to be on the show, not to surprise me, but his mom. She was in on my surprise 5 years ago. I think it would be awesome to get her back. I didn't react too much because I processed pretty quickly that we were on TV and everyone we knew was standing around so I didn't do much but hug him like my life depended on it. If we were to surprise her, I think she might have a heart attack. I'm sure the scream would be heard around the world. I can already picture her reaction and it would be hilarious. I'm sure she's reading this right now and thinking, you'd better not!!

At this point, surprise or not, I just want him home!! The Welcome Home Troops signs all over town are always up because at Fort Hood, someone is always coming or going, but they are hardest to see when he is leaving or has just left and in the weeks before his turn comes. My heart has spent a lot of time coping with feeling abandoned by friends who aren't military wives or had their husbands around and they don't understand, feeling overwhelmed by raising this baby alone while trying to be a good teacher, feeling lonely and sad, worrying about his safety, being afraid that I would have to raise his daughter with only his memory, and I think I've reached a point where I'm getting tired.

I'm glad I watched the show, tonight, but it did stir up all sorts of emotions. The house is really empty tonight, especially since the baby had virtually no nap today and crashed about an hour ago. I just wish I had someone I could call to come over. I know I seem self-sufficient and maybe that is why everyone leaves me alone, but I run out of strong sometimes too.

Day 37: Now it gets hard

The waiting starts getting hard when they get close to coming home. I went grocery shopping today, and started picking up a few things in preparation for Chad's return and resulting Welcome Home celebration. I went to a grocery store closer to post than I usually go because it was closer to Lil Bit's doctor.

Turns out we have a pretty rough virus. I had it worse so far, but no guarantees that she isn't on the road down with her fever and crabbiness increasing. No treatment works but time, which is good news and bad news.

Either way, I decided to make a run to the grocery store while Lil Bit was in a fairly decent mood. The store was full of soldiers. Just seeing the uniforms, started bringing up so many emotions. Then I was putting the groceries into the trunk, trying to juggle my purse, the cart, baby and heavy bags. I started thinking about having to make several trips into the house, which is complicated with an ambulatory baby, and realized in a few weeks, I would have my soldier home to help.

It got kind of real then, in a good way and I realized how long the past few days have felt. The days are starting to get long, no matter how I try to fill them. I kept really busy today, busier than I've been in the past two weeks. But at the end of the day, only one day has passed. Months seemed to fly by at the beginning, but now the days drag on, drawn out like warm taffy.

It is just a mental thing, I know that. But somehow, the closer he gets to coming home, the longer each hour seems. I'm afraid to hope. I'm afraid to let my heart start opening and wishing for him again. But it is too late. Hope started to bloom during the redeployment meeting. We should be down to under a month or so, but rather than getting easier, considering the 11 months we've already survived, my Lil Bit and me, it gets harder. The days seem longer and time feels frozen.

Every day feels like you're tempting fate and yet, also running out of time to get ready, and yet ... and my mind starts just circling with concerns, fears, etc. These last days, however many we really have now, will each feel much longer, and strangely more lonely. Maybe my brain is with my heart and slowly preparing myself for the hectic craziness of having the boys here, the family and friends and FINALLY Chad, the other half of my heart. Without whom, I feel empty and conspicuous. He makes me fit in this world and I need him. I hope these days pass easily. I don't really want them to fly since I am on vacation, but I'll settle for not feeling like forever.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 38: The first part's mental

It has started to sink in that my husband will be home in a matter of weeks, less than four most likely. After feeling all year like it would never get to this point, it's here, and I don't feel ready.

I spent so much of this year sick or just swamped that I didn't have time to exercise the way I wanted to and I didn't lose the weight I was hoping to lose. It is hard emotionally for me not to look my best when he comes home. I am hopeful to lose a few more pounds in the coming weeks, but still recovering from this throat infection and feeling pretty weak, so it will be mostly diet and little exercise. I am hopeful I could lose maybe ten pounds, but that would be best case scenario. He told me he doesn't care, that I'm beautiful no matter what and that he is just so excited to see me, he could care less if I've lost weight or not.

The next thing is cleaning house. I'm hoping to start feeling better and get to the housework soon. I want to "spring clean" and purge things that are no longer necessary or are really just garbage. I also want to clear out space for my husband. A truth I've noticed in life is that we expand to fill whatever space we're in. I lived in a 900 sq ft. townhouse and was very cramped, between my husband, cat, two stepsons, and myself. When we moved into this house 1600 sq. ft., it felt huge. Now it feels like the walls are closing in. Of course, now we have a medium dog and a toddler whose toys have taken over the living room.

But through the course of a year, my stuff slowly expands to fill some of the empty places he's left. The fridge fills with diet yogurt and Lean Cuisine. The beer fridge gets full of diet soda and hard cider. The kitchen is organized the way I use it, not necessarily the way he does. It just doesn't make sense to live the whole year just waiting for him to come home. I sleep all over the bed; I organize the house the way I like it, and now it is time for me to start undoing what I've done in preparation to welcome my husband home, making room for him.

This is the first step for both of us, mentally preparing to change. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to deal with a year of separation. Likewise, reintegration takes mental preparation. He has to start thinking about coming home, being in America, turning off the soldier mindset, tuning back into family. I have to start preparing to share my space again. I've been king of the castle so to speak, doing what I want to do when I want to do it, when the baby lets me that is.

I have to mentally start preparing to let him back in, let him make messes, move things, take some control over raising our daughter. This is probably the hardest part of the reintegration process for both of us, the mental game. When he comes home, he feels like he's just walking right back in where he left, like coming home from a quick vacation. Everything is where you left it, nothing has changed. But in the year he's been gone, I've moved things, reorganized cabinets, changed how I do things at least ten times. He has to be patient that things aren't the same and not just push his way back in, and I have to be patient to let him wriggle himself back into the house even if he does things differently than I would.

One of the things I've started trying to do is realize my year to parent Lil Bit how I see fit is over. She isn't just my daughter. She is our daughter and he gets to have an opinion, a nighttime routine with her that is his own. She and I have had so much fun, just us girls, while she knows sign language, in some ways we've got a language all our own. It will be hard to share her and him. He also needs to respect what I've done this year with the baby and in my life and with the house.

The couples who struggle with reintegration, aren't prepared for the days after the joyous reunion. They don't realize all the little land mines and struggles of coming back together. After doing this a few times, I know we both have to start this process a few weeks ahead of time by thinking about how life will change, about how to be patient and understanding as we both face changes to our reality.

The first step to successfully reintegrating is mental. Because so much of the process is focused on the joyous reunion, people forget to think about the disappointments and frustrations as well and they walk into unprepared for the fact that it is like getting married all over again, moving in together new again. So we start by being prepared for the rough edges and conflicts and being prepared to be patient is the most important of all. He and I will both need extra doses of patience with ourselves and each other.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 39: Can't Tell you

One of the tricks to a marriage surviving a deployment is communication, not letting the year apart become a wall between you. You have to talk to each other and maintain a relationship. It is hard, very hard, especially when most of our conversations involve the words, "I can't tell you . . ." 

Yesterday, we got a few minutes on video chat with my husband. It was great, the baby loves it. But we ran out of things to say to each other. You'd think being so far apart filling the conversations would be easier, but it isn't. The things we might say over dinner each night, seem so trivial and not worth mentioning. Plus, there is additional strangeness knowing that his roommate is overhearing every word of our conversation. 

In fact, he was trying to Skype with a friend back home while we were talking on Gmail chat.  Both of our computers pick up sound to dictate when to receive and when to broadcast. I would cut out on Chad because his computer would be broadcasting Josiah's conversation. And he would cut out on me when the baby was squealing or babbling. It was hard to follow our conversation over his roommate's so we ended up looking at each other and typing. 

But we did a lot of looking at each other with not much to say. So much of what he does is classified or protected due to operational security (OpSec) that he can't tell me what he does day to day. Even details of his day that aren't classified are a part of where he is going and who will be with him, etc. so he can't discuss them with me over the internet or phone lines due to the chances that someone unfriendly might be listening. 

I try to fill the empty air, but the past couple of months have been just me and the baby. I can only tell him about her accomplishments so many times. She is adorable, but he can see that for himself. So we say, "I love you!" over and over. We talk about a few details in our lives that we need to coordinate, and we hope that it's over soon.

It is really hard to stay on the same page, feel like we haven't just missed everything when most of his conversations start with, "I really can't tell you . . ." Even things he could technically talk about, he can't while he has no privacy. It is hard for him to constantly feel like he is being watched or overheard. And he has to keep up a veneer over himself while in the trenches. 

A marriage can survive, but it is serious work to catch up on each other. I can't wait to get us a couple of margaritas and spend a night on the couch just talking. I am counting down the days. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 40: Sorry

Yesterday, I spent the morning at the doctor's office and the rest of the day drugged into a stupor. I did manage to eat some and keep it down, but drinking is still hard. The medicine made me so tired, I could barely stay awake enough to take care of myself and Lil Bit. Posting just wasn't going to happen. Sorry.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 41: Something wrong

Monday night, I threw up after eating out, so I assumed it was food poisoning. But I've been exhausted and queasy all week.

Every time I eat, my head feels like it is in a vice and I have trouble breathing. If I'm lucky, I only feel like that for a few minutes until whatever I ate digests enough to get off my stomach.

However, today, I was not so lucky. Whatever is making me sick, took two of my meals out of me like alien from the first movie.

The baby got to watch and wonder what was happening. It was very sweet though, when I crawled back into the living room and sat on the floor, she crawled over to me and hugged me repeatedly. It was very sweet, although I'm pretty sure if what I have is contagious, she's going to get it too.

That won't be pretty. I think we're going to the doctor tomorrow. I can't risk going through the weekend getting worse. I'm trying to stomach some sprite because I'm getting dehydrated.

It isn't making anything better that the baby is doing this screaming thing when I put her down if I leave the room before she is drowsy enough. For weeks, she'll go to bed with a simple, "I love you, goodnight" and then she'll pull a drama queen stage. Last night she woke up and started fussing a little bit. Within ten minutes, she was screaming which she proceeded to do for two hours.

I was worried she was hurting or sick, but she would stop when I did something that made her happy and start again if she wasn't getting her way. She's been in her room throwing a fit off and on for 40 minutes. I'm struggling to keep down liquid and I'm dealing with a newly independent child who has started letting her temper get the better of her.

I know there is something wrong with me, but this is so out of character for her, I wonder if there is something wrong with her too. This wasn't exactly what I planned for my precious few weeks before the craziness of August with the boys and welcome home and company, family, etc. Somedays, all I got is all I got. I hate listening to her scream, but she is doing it to manipulate me since she stops the second I walk into the room. And I'm just too sick tonight to hold her while she falls asleep, which isn't the best precedent to set anyway.

Between not knowing what is wrong with me or her, I'm feeling pretty helpless and defeated. It took me two days to walk outside and get the mail and pull the trash can in. I like independence in short stints, this deployment can be over any time, really!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 42: Opsec

Today was my husband's regimental town hall meeting about redeployment (which contrarily to how it sounds, means coming home). It was pretty cool. They did a webcast, so I got to stay home and watch the meeting. Unfortunately the posted time until broadcast was incorrect and I missed the first part of the meeting, but I think I got the gist.

The one part of the meeting that they took more care to discuss than previous units have, was OpSec, or operational security for those of you unfamiliar with the millions of army acronyms. We always have to be cautious about what we say over the phone, on email or social media (like Facebook or blogs) but especially about issues involving travel or missions.

While it seems crazy to us here in America, but especially on or near a military post where the patriotism runs very high, there are people out there who look to hurt America any way they can. They monitor email and Facebook and search for information that might help them. I watch my readership and know that people all over the world check out my blog, who's to say that they are just readers? I certainly can't know that.

While no one likes an alarmist, no of us want to be responsible for hurting our soldiers. I'm not sure who was leading the webcast since I came in late and he wasn't familiar to me, but even he said that this deployment has been rougher than anyone anticipated and more intense than previous deployments. He didn't elaborate, but based on what my husband has said, it has been much more violent and mentally challenging. We have to take this threat seriously.

It might be a 1% chance that something one of the family members says would ever get read by an unfriendly, but that is enough to get my attention. Honestly, it could be 75%. I really have no idea, but my soldier's safety is worth taking extra precautions. I can't imagine the horror that something a wife or father or sister says could cause an attack on a plane full of soldiers heading home.

So my countdown remains inaccurate. We have a pretty good idea that he will be home earlier than he left and my countdown is based on the date he left last year, but I'm not going to change my countdown. As it gets closer, I will write about things that relate to the return, but I won't put one or zero until the regiment posts on Facebook the Welcome Home ceremony and he lands in Maine (on American soil).

Unfortunately, as we found on Fort Hood last November, sometimes the people we trust (like a military doctor who ended up shooting fellow soldiers and medical personnel) can be the very people we should be afraid of. It isn't ridiculous to limit conversations about returns, just playing it safe and that is what OpSec is all about.

Day 43: Mundane

Over the past couple of days, my husband and I haven't had any chance to chat, but have been exchanging emails about a very serious topic, new dishes.

When we got married, I had a nearly complete set of dishes. He had a few odds and ends. I've found that he is very hard on dishes. We're down to three salad bowls that match and have a variety of chipped and broken dishes.

I know it's vanity. We can eat on the hodgepodge of dishes we have, but it would be nice with his family planning on visiting for a welcome home ceremony and for the upcoming holidays to have a set of dishes that match, other than our good china, which we nearly never use.

So I sent him two patterns. Asked him which one do you like? He responded by telling me he spent hours dish shopping and sent me a pattern that I had already nixed. It is ok and close to what I wanted, but the more and more I shopped, the more I thought I might be wanting a bigger change, new colors, curtains, decor, etc.

The more I thought about wanting new decor, the more I realized that maybe we should wait to get a new set of dishes when we move and then can spend the money knowing what decor we have to work with.

He spent hours he should have been sleeping, shopping online for dishes so he could offer an opinion, which is very sweet, but I really just wanted a either or answer. So for those of you wondering how a deployment affects a marriage, even the mundane tasks of buying new dishes and deciding when to shop for a household that might not be yours in ten months is made much more complicated by the military.

I sent him emails Sunday, hoping to shop Monday. Tuesday I got an answer, but got food poisoning from a nearby taco place last night and didn't feel up to much today. So maybe I will feel better and get up and run around tomorrow, but not likely. I have too much to do around the house tomorrow if I can work up the energy to do that instead of play with the baby or ridiculous games on facebook.

I send an email that his misinterprets. He spends hours of time he doesn't have. I then feel badly that he wasted time on something that is important to me, but not really important in the grand scheme of things. I write him an email telling him I didn't need him to do all that and hope he understands that I appreciate his time and effort, but it wasn't worth his time instead of being hurt that I didn't like the dishes he liked.

Even the very basic questions and conversations are tougher. We decided to get another puppy as a gift for my husband who wants a hunting dog. Now, he is pushing getting rid of Maggie our dog of the past two years, just when we're getting her a friend, which she is going to love. He says he is worried that our dog who is a little nervous at times and howls sometimes is going to be a bad influence on his trained dog. I'm not interested in getting rid of Maggie. This new puppy is going to need training and he will learn more quickly from watch Maggie than any other training method. I know because I've done it with other dogs in the past. We had one dog professionally trained and two other dogs who learned from him. But it is hard for him to tell me how he feels and vice versa because we don't want to start an argument or cause hurt feelings.

He lives in the middle of a war zone. We haven't seen each other in months. Arguing over dogs and dishes isn't how we want our last conversation to go, should something terrible happen. We make a point not to argue over email and chat and have done a pretty spectacular job this deployment. It took us a while to learn what not to do, but once we got the hang of it, it was all good. But everything takes longer, is fraught with potential relationship landmines, etc.

Deployment even affects the dishes, the new mattress, the welcome home party, and the dog. The smallest things are harder, no matter how mundane.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 44: Undercover Boss

I don't know if you've seen this show on CBS, but a CEO of a corporation spends a week in the trenches in his/her company, learning how their mandates have affected the people they employ. The process helps them understand how hard their employees work, what issues are affecting their people and company, their own weaknesses as well as understand how the demands from the higher ups are received by the rank and file. I've seen a few CEO's truly realize how they're perceived and how regulations they created have been difficult or even ridiculous for their employees.

I think the idea of leadership putting themselves in the shoes of those they lead is or should be necessary. Many times as a teacher, I wonder if the administration remembers what it is like to be in the classroom or has been out so long, they wouldn't be able to handle how kids have changed. Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like your boss doesn't know or worse care what you're going through. Yet, most employers, administrators, managers, etc. don't have an opportunity to put themselves back into the ranks in order to improve their leadership or direction.

My husband has been in both the Marines and Army and has experienced many different types of leadership, some better than others, most not good. He doesn't communicate much about his current situation so today, I'm writing about his experiences previously and in general the issues I see and hear throughout the military.

One of the biggest problems in the military is that leadership has absolute power. If someone above you orders you to do something, as long as it isn't illegal, you pretty much have to do it. They can order you to stay at work every night until midnight and be back at four without any regard for your family or health. They generally don't do those kinds of things, but sometimes, they do. As anyone knows, absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you put someone on strict deadlines with serious consequences to get the job done, they tend to delegate as much of those duties as possible and then hold the people below them to impossible standards for doing jobs that aren't theirs. I've witnessed this over and over through my husband and friend's husbands.

But the biggest issue I think that leadership in the military faces is that officers come right out of college, get their commission and outrank all enlisted personnel. My husband has been to Iraq four times, faced all sorts of convoys, combat, IEDs, local issues, etc. but a second lt. whose never been anywhere is sending down mandates that make paper sense, but not real sense and no one can question his authority. Even if what he orders is stupid, ass backwards and dangerous or even putting lives at risk, questioning his orders (not disobeying, just asking a question) could end your career if he wanted to court martial you, write you an unfavorable evaluation, not give you credit for positive things you do, put you on the worst and most dangerous duties imaginable - and all you can do is take it.

The military combines guys with book knowledge, but little field experience with absolute power and creates a lot of awful situations for the enlisted soldiers. Some officers are great, make it a point to be aware of their soldiers below them, but even if the very top guy is great, their can be twenty below him who warp his orders or delegate too many responsibilities putting too heavy of weights on the soldiers below. Oh, and if you happen to have a leader who has some issues with rage or mental health - there is no way to address that either. Just suffer in silence.

Playing devil's advocate, there are, I'm sure, all sorts of regulations about how to deal with tyrannical, maniacal leadership, but the reality (like seeking mental health help) is that if you attempt to deal with a situation and the leaders above the one you have issues with don't support you or you can't even get to them through the crazy guy, you've put yourself in a madman's hands with your life at his whim. Have plans this weekend, no, you got pulled to take over staff duty desk (24 hours of watching a phone and private barracks). Or worse, get put with the weakest soldiers and then evaluated poorly for their failures, even though you've only been their leader a week. I could spend a week thinking of all the ways a leader (nco or officer) can makes the lives of those below him miserable.

I don't know what the answer is. There needs to be a way (even if rarely used) to protect a soldier who addresses a serious concern about the fitness of leadership against retaliation and losing his career. I really think that the modern army has lost the ability to promote enlisted with experience into leadership roles. My 33 year old husband with four tours under his belt, shouldn't take orders from a 21 year old who just got out of college and has never been to combat at all, or at least not with impunity. Officers should have to spend a month being enlisted, see what they see, experience how the officers edicts affect their lives and sanity.

No one should lead until they know how to follow. True.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 45: Stay at home mom

The images this title brings to many is a relatively leisurely lifestyle. Of course, you have to feed the kids and get them dressed, but what do you do with the rest of the day? They're pictured laying around in front of the television and doing a whole lot of nothing. People dream of this job. I dream of having the luxury to have this job, but it is not what most people imagine.

A stay at home wife, might have time to do more things with her day, but honestly, you'd be surprised how fast a day fills up with cleaning house and running errands, paying bills, clipping coupons, laundry, etc. and how much stuff we just don't do when we work. Now once that wife has turned into a mom, all bets are off.

My day starts without an alarm clock, but with a random squeal. The squeal varies in mood, but generally she just uses volume to get my attention and is grinning from her crib when I walk in. I get her up, changed, and head to the kitchen for her breakfast. If I'm lucky, her squeal was not too angry and I took the time to brush my teeth and make the bed and pee before running in to her room. Then I spend twenty-thirty minutes trying to teach her to eat with a spoon. After she is wearing most of her oatmeal, I fry an egg for her to get her some protein. I still haven't eaten. Then I see if I can get her to drink some milk. An hour or so passes before she is changed again and in some clothes (or not, as her recent penchant for nudity dictates).

I could then put her into baby jail for a few minutes and work on dishes, but I have to chose between eating or dishes. Forget about getting showered. Showering while she is awake means I have to keep her occupied for about an hour if I have to get dressed and ready to leave the house. Generally, I wait until she naps if I can help it or I move her from jumperoo to jenny jump up or exersaucer and baby jail (the living room blocked in) to be able to take care of any task that demands my attention. I have tried to have her in the bathroom or bedroom with me, but in a flash, she tends to find the most dangerous things that I haven't put up yet or digs through trash cans, both hazardous and gross.

Basically, that kind of business is my whole day. I don't get much time to myself. I feel like I spend all day preparing food, feeding food, cleaning up after food and then making small inroads on another task only to get five minutes in and the baby is letting me know she is dirty and wants her diaper changed. Then I have to cook and eat for myself too. By the time I do that, it is time to get her a snack and then lunch and then nap time, which was like an hour yesterday and only two today. If I shower during naptime, that is really all I have time for. Then I have to feed her another snack.

By this point in the day, it is about 1-2 and I've changed her diaper at least 4 times since she got up at 8. We've had two meals and two big snacks and one handful of Cheerios that Lil Bit gleefully chomped on until she was full and then smashed the rest and swept them into the carpet. I've had to feed the dog and let her out twice (the new puppy is going to be awesome!). And I still haven't eaten lunch.

If I take a second to get myself some lunch, the baby stands at my elbow and begs for my food. She spent the last three days just walking around crying and whining. I think it is her teeth, but in general, she just is in a mood. She was a little warm earlier and tylenol seemed to help a little, but as soon as it wore off, she was whining and crying again.

I had an hour to myself today (shopping online for dishes, which we need desperately) because she refused to wear a diaper after her nap, so I put her on her potty in front of her potty video. She sat there dancing along to her video and actually pottied! But my search has been frustrating. Nothing I like comes in our colors and I ended up spending most of my free moments searching every site I can think of.

The toddler stage requires constant vigilance. She needs my attention more than she has in the past. She wants me to play with her, attend to her almost constantly. If I dare walk out of the room, she screams. Today she had three screaming jags due to a toy that alternated between amusing and terrifying her. I try to leave her for only a few minutes at a time. By the time I put her to bed, I feel like I've run a marathon, even if I spent most of the day in my pajamas in two rooms of my house. It is amazing how many miles you can run in one room, most of it on my knees.

My idea of a successful day is very different. Now, both of us are fed at least three meals and get to bed within an hour of bedtime and I get to watch her do something new. Today, she signed that she needed to potty. I put her on her potty. She went pee pee! I was so excited. She smiled from ear to ear and didn't fight her diaper. I don't think she's ready to potty train for real, but she is certainly on her way. And that is about all I got done. In fact, as a peruse the house, I'm pretty sure it looks worse than it did when I got up. = ( !

On a work day, I would be getting to bed about thirty minutes ago, and probably have accomplished more. Being a stay at home mom may not be a "job," but don't let anyone fool you, it is work! Watching a one year old is the hardest, most patience trying jobs I've ever had. Now, I'm trying to summon up five minutes of energy to do a quick clean so I can go to bed feeling less like a failure.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 46: Answer to Prayers

For loyal followers, a few months ago, I posted about something I was conflicted about. I had seen a friend and marriage in trouble, but didn't know what to do. I confronted the friend and hoped for a truthful answer, but didn't get it. I didn't want to go to the spouse without being able to prove my feelings that something wasn't right.

If I was wrong, I would cause all sorts of problems in their marriage for no reason. I imagined the arguments, the protestations of innocence, all hinging on my word that I heard from a close source who may or may not have an agenda. I couldn't do that.

If I was right, but the spouse decided to seek forgiveness and heal the relationship, my interference could make a further mess of things. Having stood in the center of such a firestorm, I knew the pain and heart ache of watching a marriage implode.

I prayed and prayed for guidance. I made myself sick about it. I didn't want the spouse to spend the next years in the dark while being cuckolded. But I didn't want any part of destroying a marriage that maybe could be saved.

I ended up not doing anything past my confronting of my friend. That may have been enough. I found out last night that the couple are separating and divorcing. I don't know for sure what was said because they are still living together, and I don't want to be in the middle of it. I know infidelity was never mentioned, but even if the complete truth didn't come out, I know that the "innocent" spouse will not have to live being deceived. It is beyond painful for them right now, but if the relationship is beyond repair, it might be for the best.

Both spouses acknowledged the issues between them were fixable, but only one spouse was willing to put in the work. I learned a long time ago, you can't make someone stay, care, or want to work it out. Even nudging someone in a direction is generally a losing proposition, but you have to offer the chance for reconciliation.

I don't know what their private issues were and even if I did, this might not be the place to air someone else's dirty laundry, but the constant separation had to have something to do with it. They've been together for around a decade give or take a few years and been apart almost all of it since they married. He's been deployed a few times and off training and career course, etc. It is hard to stay in love with someone when the distance is all you have.

Many military relationships don't work because they were based on the emotions of love, the initial infatuations or childhood impulses of teenagers and those emotions don't survive very long in any marriage. They are decimated pretty quickly in military marriages. When you don't see someone for a year, it is hard to stay emotionally connected to them and if your relationship didn't have a base of friendship and respect and honor for the commitment, it is going to flounder.

A friend of mine is going through a rough patch with her husband right now, not separation rough, but misunderstandings and disagreements. She said something that spoke to me the other day. She said she didn't always feel like the loving wife, somedays she just felt married. That is what commitment is. Even when you don't feel the emotional highs of romantic love, the truth of marriage is you get up and be a husband or wife anyway. Your job is to be that person's spouse whether they "deserve" it or not.

God loved us and saved us and we still don't deserve it, it was a gift given lovingly. A marriage should reflect some of the same ideals. I have a lot of days that I am not all mushy in love with my husband and wish he'd be quieter in the mornings or less of a disorganized mess, but I still do my best to treat him with the love and respect I vowed.

Funny thing is that the more lovingly I act toward him, the more loving I feel toward him. I don't know if my marriage will be the one that lasts 50 years, but I hope that realizing we're in a commitment even when we disagree will help us get there. And knowing that the true way to be happy in a marriage is to give until you've given it all away. When both people give like that, neither feels short changed or resentful.

So with all my talk of love, you may wonder why I titled this entry "Answer to Prayers", but knowing a marriage was imploding and being torn about what my role should be with rickety information and a convicted heart about spreading gossip, knowing that my friend made a decision and at least partially came clean to their spouse is an answer to prayer for me because now I know I did the right thing by saying what I did and planting a seed of truth. I pray for their healing, maybe someday as a couple, but for now, just healing and time to think and grieve.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 47: Recuperation

Today, I started working on the mess that is my house. I have piles everywhere. Between laundry, luggage,  mail and groceries, my house is a mess and I haven't checked my bank balance in weeks. I am hoping that all the bills I prepaid went through and I guessed right on how much my bills were going to be. I decided last night that today was going to primarily be a rest day, but there are so many things that need doing.

I woke up at 9. The baby hadn't made a peep. I was starting to worry about her, but she was just stretching too. I'm not sure if the trip or the travel has taken it out of us, but we're both very tired. She took two two hour naps yesterday and then slept very late this morning. I have a massive headache and not sure why. I am figuring out our finances for the next month and all I want to do is curl up and cry. I need to be more proactive while she is still asleep for her nap since I can't do much while she is awake, but I can't seem to find the inspiration to even move.

I haven't even made a dent in putting away the baby's clothes. I need to put something on her, but she is going through a strange stage in which she keeps trying to take her clothes off. I am trying to ignore it. At Grandma's we let her run around in a diaper a few times and she liked it. I am hoping she doesn't learn how to take her diaper off too soon. UGH.

She is going through a very independent stage. My mother-in-law says it is more common in 2 year olds. I am working on finding a way to combat it, but so far I am just trying to not yell to often and establish other strategies for me that keep her from situations that put her in a position to make a mess or get into trouble. Until she understands no better, I think it will be an interesting ride.

Spent most of the day resting. Her nap was over three hours. I think she'll probably go to bed early too. I still didn't do much. It may take a few days to get through most of it. Honestly, I did so much yesterday on top of being tired that I'm a bit ahead of where I thought I would be. I thought as she got older it would get easier, but it gets harder in different ways.

With her sleeping through the night, came shorter naps during the day. And then came some mobility and what I call baby jail to limit her from being all over the house. Now she has complete mobility and an uncanny ability to reach almost everything and sense what is the most dangerous thing to do in any room. I think she is trying to give me a heart attack. The funniest part is when I scream "NO!" when she is investigating a power cord or outlet or something sharp that she shouldn't have been able to reach, how she drops it and looks at me innocently and smiles.

Today was nearly a wash. Not much that I planned got finished. I did get through a couple of piles of mail and read Lil Bit several new books and a few old ones too.

Of course, now it is 10:30 and I am the most awake I've been all day. I hope to fall asleep soon and not be quite so tired tomorrow. I'm not sure how much is physical exhaustion and losing a battle against a summer cold and how much I'm wiped out from 24/7 sociability. Not my reclusive self's strong suit! But I also have found out that I miss the contact when it goes from all to nothing. At least I know it will be over in a few more weeks. This has been a diary of surviving a deployment, I'm wondering if I keep working on it daily once he comes home? Mmm, if you have a thought about whether I should, let me know.

I got an email today telling me how excited he is going to be to see me and I felt good and loved and needed. I needed that email today. And for the first time, I let myself start to get excited in my heart that he is coming home, maybe in much less than 47 days! YEAH! I am starting to plan the welcome home party NOW!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 48: Vacation Aftermath

I did everything I could to prepare to be gone so the house would be clean when I got home, but there is no way to prepare for the aftermath of vacation. First, when we got home, I was so tired, I pretty much just dropped for the rest of the day and tried to just stay awake until I got Lil Bit to bed.

This morning, the baby was wiped out. She woke up at 8 and crawled back into my lap for a nap before ten. I got up and showered so I could be decent for my friend to drop off the dog. As long as I was up and dressed, I decided to run some errands, but man, I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming heat after spending two weeks in mid-West mid-80's weather. I started running the car while I tried to read the directions for her new car seat. I kept her rear facing in her infant seat for awhile after her birthday, but on vacation the car seats we borrowed were all front facing, which she liked so much better, so I decided to bite the bullet and put her in the big girl car seat. I shut myself in a running car (in the open garage) to stay cool while deciphering directions that were at best incomplete and at worst poorly written and vague. I have a college degree and understanding the directions and parts was very challenging. I would imagine a lot of children are riding around in poorly installed car seats. We finally got the seat installed and after welcoming home the Magdog, went to run our errands.

First, we went to Lil Bit's school to register her for the fall. I was just planning on a visit to show off her walking, but they said they were filling up fast for fall so I registered her to make sure she'd have a spot in six weeks when it's time to go back to school. They decided to move her to the next room up. She will skip the 12-17 month room completely and go into the 18-24 month even though she'll only be 15 months, but she is way more advanced than the younger room already. She will have to play catch up for awhile with the bigger kids, but after our visit today, she'll be fine. She loved it!! She played with a bunch of the toys and the kids. She was giggling and having fun. I just hope she can pick up on some social skills like sharing and helping to pick up her toys.

After the trip to her school, we ran to Barnes & Noble to buy her some new books. She is getting more and more interested in books and I wanted to buy her a few more to enjoy while we're home. I was a bit disappointed at their in store selection for tots. There have to be millions of books written for children, why they carry so few is beyond me. I still spent $80.

Getting her back into the car seat was challenging after the book store, but I had no choice. I emptied the fridge before we left. Nothing perishable was left to spoil, which kept clean up on return low, but meant we had no food. We needed milk, eggs, fruit, veggies, and a little bit of everything. It was a longer shopping trip than I intended. She spent the ride home in a trance and fell asleep two blocks away from home. I left the car running while I carted in the groceries. She slept in the A/C while I faced the heat. The car thermometer read 123 when we came out from Walmart. I'm pretty sure the garage was at least that.

The heat really took a lot out of me. I got the groceries into the house, but that was about it. The baby slept in her crib for another hour. I tried to get things at least unbagged, but it took me the rest of the day to get it all put away. I quickly stored the cold items and let the rest sit until I had a rest.

Then I got the mail and started working on sorting through it all. By the time I got halfway through, the baby woke up. So I needed to do dinner and play for a bit, then it was time to start working on doing what I can to repair the lawn. It is so dry and brown that I'm not sure I can save it even by watering it every day for weeks, but I am going to do the best I can. That took another couple of hours to set up sprinklers and move them around. Lil Bit did love standing in the sprinkler spray, but then was soaking wet and covered in cut grass, which required a bath, then a snack.

Between the errands, the heat, the still tired after long, busy trip - I am achey and tired, but lonely a little bit. I got used to having someone around all the time when we were visiting family and friends. It was really hard today not to pick up the phone to talk to someone and a day I had planned to spend the day just recuperating seemed so lonely that I ended up out and running around for 5 hours.

The house now looks a little like a bomb went off. There are just piles of stuff every where. I am going to have to spend all day tomorrow just finishing the mail and getting to work on the bills. Somehow, the one medium sized suitcase became a frag grenade and spewed stuff all over my house. I figure I should probably have it just about picked up by the time my husband gets home and does it with all of his bags. Trust me, that really looks like someone blew up a military laundry.

For a day I hadn't planned on doing anything, I got a lot accomplished or at least started. Tomorrow though, I think maybe, I'll just rest.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 49: Homecoming

After two and a half weeks of travel, I'm finally home. I loved the visiting, but especially the last week with the boys and the friends and the holiday. I'm tired. It was just a long vacation. I was ready for a couple of slow lazy days, but two rambunctious tweens and one walkabout 14 month old were not interested and we were pretty much jam packed the entire last week of vacation. Yesterday we were out on the lake in the pontoon boat. We were busy. I can't believe my MIL and SFIL are taking a few days to take a little trip together after almost three weeks of company. I just came home and sat down. I spent most of the evening trying to stay awake and gradually unpack.

It was a long day and I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, but it wasn't too horrible. Lil Bit is still sleeping most of the flight and was pretty good. She was a bit crankier now that she is walking and was cooped up all day. I've got getting our boarding passes, checking bags, and getting through security down to a science. I even had my flights scheduled so that I just walked from one plane to diaper change onto next plane. We got on our first flight at 11 and were home by 2:30. If it weren't for the long drive to the airport and the anticipation of long security lines (no lines at all), it would have been a shorter travel day.

The hardest part was the last leg. When I got to the gate at DFW, I noticed a large group of soldiers. While seeing soldiers flying into Fort Hood isn't odd, a large group together is unusual. We smushed onto this very small airplane with crappy air conditioning and headed for home. The extremely warm temperatures cause a lot of turbulence especially for small, low-flying planes. It was really a rough flight from start to finish. I was sick the whole way. I was doing all I could not to throw up on the baby for 40 minutes. I was sweating profusely and shaking all over. I almost couldn't keep holding the baby because my arms were weak. I was so glad that she slept through it all. If she'd been squirming and fussing, I wouldn't have been able to deal.

But I was energized by the soldiers who literally surrounded me on the plane. They all wore the same Brave Rifles patch on their shoulders, meaning they are in 3rd ACR, my husband's regiment. I asked them if they were coming home just today. One of the soldiers said they were the Torch Party for 3rd ACR.

The Torch Party! That means they are returning to light the torch, pave the way, etc. for the return of 3rd ACR. While that doesn't mean my husband is coming home any sooner, it is a very concrete sign that he is coming home! I was surrounded by men who may or probably didn't have much actual contact with my husband, but were part of his mission in Operation New Dawn. Lil Bit kept reaching for the soldiers. She recognizes the material of the uniform from her daddy bear.

It was just neat to share our homecoming (despite the bumpy ride) with the men who are a part of Chad's regiment. I know they had a rough trip. Every leg of their journey was delayed and then the last plane ride sat on the runway without working A/C and ended up being awful. But they knew that when they landed, they'd be home. It was so exciting to get off the plane and see the people waiting for the disembarking soldiers. I saw one woman holding a very tiny little baby waiting for his dad.

It was a great way to end my vacation. Now I can spend the next three weeks or so getting ready for my guy's turn!!