Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Big "D"

(I will warn you in advance...this is pretty long, and sort of a journaling, venting kind of post. Not the kind you usually see on MMH.)

In different circles, "The Big D" means different things.

If you live in some circles, it probably means "Divorce."

If you live in Texan circles, it might mean "Dallas."

But if you live in Military circles, it means "Deployment."

Yep, in our world, "The Big D" is Deployment. And it stirs up all sorts of feelings. Anxiety, stress, depression for some. If you are stationed away from family, some wonder if they should move back home for family support. Others stay where they are for stability and local military community support. Everyone has to make decisions for their family and their own well-being.

My family doesn't go anywhere. Where ever we are living at the time, is home. I see no reason to up-root the kids and move them away from their home, their friends and such and make life even harder.

Our unit is gearing up for another deployment. I see all sorts of posts of wives on facebook, things like...

"We only have ____ more weeks."

and "I don't know how I'm going to get through this!"

and lots of "Wo is me" posts.

Well....I don't go there. Yes, going through a deployment is hard. I mean your other half is gone. Your kids are missing their father and you your husband. Birthdays, holidays, family gatherings are all missing something.

But you can't fall apart. You have to keep it together, especially if you have children who are old enough to be aware of the changes.

I hear stories about wives who go into such a depression that they can't do their laundry or pay their bills or even function. They lay round for days crying and wallowing in misery. Their homes are falling apart, their children are late for school, up at all hours not going to bed. It is complete chaos.

I don't know if it is my German heritaged midwestern upbringing or what, but I can not fathom such behavior. In my book, that is selfish. Why are you going to do that to your children!? If you are falling apart and can't keep it together, how are your children supposed to feel secure? If you are going through things and letting your life fall apart, do you think your husband is going to feel good about your abilities while he is away? Do you want him spending his energy worrying about you and the kids? Or, do you want him spending his energy doing his job, staying alert and keeping safe?

I mean really!

This is now 2011. We have been at this a long time. My husband has been through 5 actual deployments, and separations beyond those. I actually sat down and did the math the other day. Since my husband and I have been married, he has been away for 77 months. That is 6 years and 4 months. Today begins month 78.

When he spent a year in Korea, it was before the days of internet and cheap phone calls. I found out the week he left, that we were expecting our second child. His tour was a typical year, and I spent that year alone with my daughter, who was only 1 at the time. It was just her and I. I did all my doctor's appointments, and went through 99% of the pregnancy by myself. Thankfully he was able to take leave, and we were able to save enough money to fly him home to be there for the birth. The army didn't pay for that, we had to. He arrived 1 week before Joshua was born and left again when Joshua was 1 week old. Jeff and I talked on the phone twice a month. We couldn't afford more than that! We wrote letters, and made the best of it.

Fast forward many years, 9-11 occurs and now we were facing OIF #1. It was stressful to say the least. When the guys headed over there, no one knew what was going to happen. No one knew what capabilities Sadaam might have had, and no one knew who would come home.

We knew Jeff was going to be leaving, but the day he left we had an hour's notice. The kids were in school back then and didn't even get to say goodbye. We were in the process of moving, and I was at the old house, finishing things up over there when I found out. I rushed home, so that I could say goodbye to Jeff. I wasn't letting him leave without saying goodbye. I literally didn't know if I would ever see him again!

We did the goodbyes...short and sweet. I refused to let him see me cry. I didn't want his last visual image of me (for who knew how long) to be of me in tears. I wanted him to have the mental image of me smiling at him, and loving him. Not grieving. I stood on the porch, waving to him and smiling as he drove away. Then I went inside and cried. About 45 seconds later he was back in the driveway, because he had left something vital and had to grab it. I hid in the bedroom, and didn't let him see me until I had pulled myself together, because I was NOT letting him have that visual image.

I also never let my children see me cry. If I was worried and stressed and needed to let it out....I would take a shower and cry there. No where else. If they saw Mom crying, it would only add to their stress and fears. I had to be strong for them! I had to give them a sense of safety and security, and that everything would be alright.

During that deployment, I heard from him a total of 5 times. Three very short, very poor-quality phone calls, and 2 e-mails. And most of those were while he was in Kuwait, before he actually headed into Iraq.

Now things have changed tremendously. When the guys go over, there are normally phone centers where they can call home for free, sometimes even have their own cell phones over there. During our last couple of deployments, my husband actually had internet right in his "home" and we could video message several times a week. (Of course, it is not like that for everyone, depending on where they are and what their job is, they may not have those capabilities.) Being able to see them and have that real-time interaction (though with delays, and many disconnections) made it like they almost weren't even gone. Almost.

The military has also made huge changes in how they support the families back home. The FRG's (Family Readiness Groups) for the most part have really come together to be there for each other. There are always some that are do I put this nicely?....Not really about support, and more about the gossip. But I think it has reached the point where those are the exception. Each post has support groups and activities for both the spouses and the children, to make things easier. The child care centers offer 16 hours of free childcare for each family every month so that Mom can have a break if she needs it. And on and on.

So things have changed tremendously.

Sometimes I feel like that cranky old person who looks at the new generation and says, "well back in my day, we didn't have it so easy." You know, the walked both ways in the snow, barefoot kind of things.

But really, it all boils down to, everyone has to do what is best for their family. People need to pull themselves up my their bootstraps and get the job done. And if your job is taking care of the kids, and keeping the house together so your husband has a home to come back to....then you do it. If it means dealing with hardships on your own back here on the homefront, you do it!

During our deployments, I have dealt with a child breaking a leg in a most gut-wrenching accident involving a rolling truck and the side of a house.

I have been stuck on the side of the interstate with a flat tire and three kids and two dogs.

I have had an excruciating episode (my first and LAST!) of kidney stones, and had to be hauled to the ER in an ambulance, in front of my children.

I have had to deal with a wretchedly dishonest landlord, find homes for our entire farmyard of animals, and move. Actually I have had to move twice.

I have had a beloved family dog die.
I could go on and on. But the point is LIFE HAPPENS. And we have to be up to the job. We don't have to go it alone....if need be, the support is there. We just have to utilize it. Don't be too proud to ask for help. Don't be embarassed. We all understand. There is no shame in it. But there is no reason to let your life and the lives of your children fall to the wayside. In my book, that is the real tragedy.

During one of those deployments, I read an article in the Fayetteville Observer newspaper, (our local paper at the time) written by a lady that writes from a military wife's perspective. She wrote an article about supporting the families back home while the soldiers are deployed.....that neighbors shouldn't assume she is eating three meals a day. That people should offer to walk her dog, because she might not be up to it...and on and on. WHAT!?! She made military wives sound like sniveling piles of mush. Needless to say I did a "Letter to the Editor" to refute this image that she was painting. In my letter I basically talked about these same issues...of needing to hold it together not only for the family, but for your own sanity. Her response? "Not all of us can be so lucky as to have family in the area." Double - WHAT!?! This was in North Carolina. My family lives in Wisconsin. I don't think that would be considered "local." All I could do is shake my head, and hope that people who read her article knew better.

We are Army Wives. We are a breed apart. Whether we do it alone or we do it together....we are strong and capable. All we have to do is realize that!