Entries in military wife & life (47)
first, a little story: two years ago, I hosted my first ever giveaway on tulips & flightsuits. it was exciting on a lot of levels, but it was especially exciting because someone I didn’t know won, a girl named claudia! (it has always been amazing to me that people other than my mom actually read this blog!) so, I emailed claudia to congratulate her. what happened next I could have never imagined: claudia wrote me the most enthusiastic, heartfelt, amazing email back. it felt like we were old friends. she said her husband, tommy, had been really confused when she started jumping around saying, “I won! I won!” (it’s hard to imagine how excited some of us get over calligraphy return address stamps!) she also said she was a new military wife & felt like we had a similar outlook on life. I couldn’t have agreed more.
& so began a cross-country email exchange. her husband was stationed in washington state, mine in virginia. we were pregnant around the same time, and welcomed brayden (her amazing son) and ellie into our lives. earlier this year, we learned our husbands would be deploying, and coming home, around the same time. claudia & tommy had already been through a few deployments. her perspective, honesty & strength completely inspired me. she was so consistent about emailing me & encouraging me through out the deployment. so many of her emails struck such a chord, at just the right moment, with what I was feeling. we talked honestly about how much our babies had change since tommy & ryan had deployed, how much we anticipated seeing brayden and ellie reunited with their dads, all the amazing people who had surrounded us & how excited we were to have the boys home.
then one night, a few days before claudia was anticipating tommy’s arrival and a few weeks before ryan was to get home, I received this email:
“Mary, I know we've never met in person but I feel that connection to you as a military wife, and as a mother. Yesterday afternoon I found out that our sweet Tommy was killed in action. I was told that it was instant and he was in no pain and for that I am grateful. Our escort, Brayden and I are on our way to see him back on US soil as he comes off the aircraft along with his chosen escort and dear friend Jacob. Tommy's parents will be meeting us there. We have had amazing support in WA and will likely continue on to CA from Delaware. I'll talk to you soon friend. xo Claudia”
the impact this email and my friendship with Claudia have had on my life, our family and my thoughts on being a military wife are hard to put into words. what was really interesting to me was how much I learned reading the incredible coverage of tommy’s life. the thing is, claudia and I talked like wives and mothers – we talked about tommy and ryan as devoted husbands, brayden and ellie as constantly changing, growing children – I didn’t know much about where tommy was deployed or what he did in the military. I certainly didn’t know he’d deployed five times and all the incredible accolades he’d earned as an army ranger (read more here, here & here).
what was also powerful to me is that as I processed this news in claudia’s life, I could only do so through imagining myself in her shoes. after I read her email, I spent the rest of the night trying to imagine how I would possibly fly with a 17 month old, across the country, to receive my husband’s body. the thing is, all military wives have filled out the forms with their husbands, the ones that go into incredible detail about what should happen should they die in the line of duty. we’ve all had to seriously consider this possibility. but now, this sweet friend of mine was living it. when ryan returned home a few weeks later, I was even more present, even more grateful, even more intentional – because it was so incredibly real to me that homecomings are not promised. not every wife who endures a deployment gets to welcome her husband home. to put it in stark numbers, over 6500 service members have been killed in iraq & afghanistan since 2001. they were husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, daughters, sons, dear friends.
I am so incredibly blessed to know the macpherson family – to know tommy’s story and to see claudia and braydens strength.
claudia & I have been emailing, and even spoke on the phone (it felt like old friends so quickly) over the past few weeks. I am so very moved by her devotion as a wife and mother. she has taken such incredible care of brayden, designed an incredibly intentional program for the memorial service and spoke beautifully with her son in her arms at the service for tommy. ryan & I have constantly thought of this family & are so honored to be a part of the team that plans on surrounding them with love for the long road ahead. I can hardly wait for brayden & ellie to meet. I am so excited to share many lattes with claudia.
I’ll leave you with part of an email I sent to claudia a few weeks ago that says so much of what I feel:
“…last night, I was spending time with one of my dear friends, a military wife, with two boys. we were talking about discussing with kids what really makes a superhero or a soldier really special is that he is brave AND kind. that bravery means nothing without kindness and kindness means nothing without bravery. there's no point in being super brave and strong if there's nothing to protect -- and to really protect something, you must really love it. similarly, you can't really love something unless you are willing to protect it. more often, if you have a son, you have to really talk with him about the kindness part -- the world tells boys to be strong/brave and that's what matters, so it takes more effort to show them kindness is just as important. & on the flip side, ellie is going to be told her whole life to be nice/kind, but she needs to know if she really loves something or cares about it, she must be willing to defend it in some way.
so this is all to say, we're both heartbroken for you and aching and wishing we could do more. but we were also were reflecting last night that tommy's life has already touched the next generation. it has because we can talk to our kids and about a man who was brave and kind. we don’t have to tell them about fictional superheroes – your husband’s story is way better. we can tell them about tommy because he clearly died being brave, and lived a life that required him to be brave on a daily basis in ways that most people are never asked to be. but when you emailed me, you didn't call him brave tommy, you called him “sweet tommy” -- because you and brayden are the ones he loved. you felt that love & kindness every day. you are so much of why he decided to serve -- the ones who he loved enough to be willing to protect.
i cannot wait to tell ellie about tommy. & i know brayden's whole life will be touched by his dad and how he lived. i have to confess i've been googling tommy's name & when i read the articles and what the men who knew him said about him in combat, i was just so moved. i'm not sure i've known a braver man (and you know what they say, behind every brave man is an even braver woman --- and you are my dear!).
we’re here for the long haul – a part of the enormous tribe that will see you & brayden through the days ahead. our guest room awaits, my phone is always on & if there is any role ryan can play in brayden’s life, at any point down the road, count him in. sending you so much love tonight – xo, mary”
and now for some truly stunning images.
claudia is so incredibly strong and thoughtful -- in the midst of all of this, she thought to have her friend and incredibly talented photographer, tegyn friedman, come and capture the day tommy was laid to rest. given brayden isn't old enough to really remember this & how much this day matters in the life of this family, these images are so incredibly important. they truly move me.
claudia, i can't thank you enough for allowing me to share your story. sweet readers, claudia has a blog of her own that you should wander over to. and tegyn, thank you so, so much for allowing me to share your stunning images. readers, you can see more images of claudia, brayden and a day to honor tommy right on her blog here. and if you're in southern california, look at more of tegyn's work.
finally readers, i hope this post has given you a chance to tell someone you know about a man who was brave & kind, and the incredible family who stood by his side. claudia is a sweet reader of this blog, so if you want to leave her & brayden some love in the comments section, i know she'd love to hear from you. xo
I thought these exact words many times over the course of this deployment. I thought about them in terms of our experience. I felt like our family was being asked a lot of during this season – at moments it felt like too much, like it was unbearable. But I also thought about this because I was struck by how I really hadn’t understood this truth before. I certainly didn’t understand this while I was growing up – I didn’t know a military family personally & while I surely felt a sense of patriotism and had a gut level respect for those willing to serve, I had no idea what military life really looked like.
And while these five years of knowing/falling in love with/being married to Ryan have increased my awareness and understanding significantly – deployments aren’t something that can be explained or observed.
I also thought about it in terms of knowing that this deployment our family just went through is an average deployment in terms of the military today. There are many that are much harder – Marine Corps and Army deployments are often 11 months or longer. Many service members are put in harms way many more times than Ryan was during this deployment. Many families are currently in their fifth or sixth deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan – and less than one percent of the country is serving right now in the military.
I say all of this not to make you feel guilty or be dramatic or to end this series with a cheesy one liner. I say it because if you leave this series with some new understanding or appreciation of military life, I don’t necessarily want it to be about our family. Because our stories aren’t really unique & while this deployment is now written about in the past tense for our family, as you are reading these words, military families are enduring. These families don’t want you to feel sorry for them or cast them as “others” who you couldn’t possibly understand. They just want what we all want: to be recognized, to be acknowledged. To give you a glimpse of the details of what they’re enduring, here are some tangible examples:
Today, a service member sat in Afghanistan, composing an email to his daughter whose fourth birthday is tomorrow. This will be the third birthday of hers he has missed. Today, a little boy played in his first basketball game ever, and wanted so much to look up and see his dad in the bleachers. Today a service member learned that the first Christmas he was supposed to be home for in four years will now be spent at sea.
Today, a military wife found out her husband has been extended, again, their family will face another two months of deployment, another holiday season with an empty seat at the table. Today, a deployed service member received notice that his wife filed for divorce – his marriage could not bear the weight and stress of the deployments any longer.
Tonight, a mom will put her three kids to bed, for the 195th night in a row, by herself. Tonight, a service member will sit on a boat, trying to find the words to tell his wife how much he loves her and wants to comfort her – unable to sit next to her at her grandfather’s funeral the next day. Today, a military wife will drag the trash cans up the driveway for the 35th week in a row, with a screaming baby in her arms, wishing so much her husband could do it just this week. Today, a service member came home and told his family he is deploying immediately and unexpectedly – they are furiously trying to get ready.
And most profoundly, today a wife answered the knock on the door all of us pray never comes. Her beloved will not be coming home. The homecoming she long anticipated will now be a casket received on American soil in Dover, Delaware, a graveside service with a flag presented to her.
Tomorrow, in the final post of this series, we’re going to learn more about that wife, her son & her amazing husband.
There are few things more important than taking care of yourself during a deployment. I know for Ryan, few things mattered more to him and gave him the peace of mind to be able to focus on the mission at hand, than knowing I was ok. This is something we struggle with in general as women – especially in seasons of life when a lot is being asked of us. I think having Ellie really clarified this for me – if I wore myself down, it wasn’t just me who was impacted – it hurt my ability to be able to care of her well. I certainly didn’t get this right all the time, but when I was trying to really care for myself, here are some things that helped me:
Honestly, the things that really made me feel taken care of or cheered me up were so small – running out to get a latte, lighting some candles, curling up under a blanket with an episode of Parenthood or Modern Family – the challenge was pausing long enough to figure out what might brighten my spirits and taking the time to find it.
WHERE TO SPEND YOUR TIME
One big question I know a lot of wives struggle with is whether to stay where you are stationed or go spend time closer to family & friends. Often times a deployment happens shortly after you get stationed somewhere, or in a place where you don’t have the same support system you would have at home. The only thing I want to say here is I think you have to be fiercely protective of doing what’s right for you. I’ve seen this decision made a ton of different ways & each time it was right, because it was right for that spouse.
For Ryan & I, we knew two things: we had really invested in building community here in Virginia. We’d spend a year and a half investing in a church, neighborhood, new friends we met by becoming parents around the same time as then & generally being really open to new friendships. I couldn’t imagine picking up and leaving those people for six months. We also knew I was going to have Ellie & with no family in the area, I was going to need some periods of sustained help with her. It made sense to us that I’d go home to Indiana two different times, each time for two weeks. We spaced the trips so they’d give me a respite at critical points during the deployment. We prayed about this, talked about it, sought advice, really tried to think about what would work best for our little family. And honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Our community here was so critical to our well being during this deployment, but so were those two weeks where the ratio of adults to baby was 3:1. When I got off the plane in Indiana, I was worn down and exhausted; two weeks later I would board a plane for Virginia refreshed & ready to tackle the next bit of deployment. I am beyond grateful to my parents who so generously welcomed us into their home for a month total, who also came to Virginia to pitch in here and who loved all three of us so well during this journey.
sweet readers, this is our final week of deployment posts -- i'm so grateful for your willingness to read this series & am eager to hear your thoughts. some of my favorite posts to write will go up this week. i'll do a three post series in december/january on ryan's deployment homecoming, but for most of december, we'll be back to the usual on t&f -- a rehearsal dinner we hosted at our house, a friendsgiving we won't soon forget, a little getaway ryan & i are about to take, some thoughts on being still during the holidays & some ellie girl antics. for now, another post on our family's experience with deployment...
One very simple thing I found to be really important was some of the language I used to talk about the deployment or in how I answered people’s questions. It was important so I could talk about the experience really honestly, but also for how I was processing everything. I also realized that during future deployments, Ellie would be able to understand my answers to these questions. That made it all the more important that my answers were honest & reflective of how we, as a family, approach deployments. Here are the two most important examples:
There is a real temptation when your husband is deployed for half of your daughter’s first year of life to either say, “I’m a single mom for six months” or “he missed six months of her life” – the trouble is, neither of those things are true and it was really unhelpful for me to think of it that way.
Here’s why: I was soooo far from being a single mom – I can’t overstate how incredibly involved Ryan was with Ellie’s life during his time deployed. Despite being half a world away and having limited communication, he was a huge part of her daily life. I bounced ideas/concerns/decisions off of him constantly in emails. He (just like when he was home) asked such insightful questions, gave really thoughtful feedback, was the best at encouraging me through some of the harder transitions. Ellie & I talked about him all the time, she heard his voice every day and we looked at photos every chance we got.
Ryan was so observant – even through pictures, my stories in emails and the occasional opportunity to video chat, often he would point out changes in her that I hadn’t even noticed yet. I felt so incredibly supported, by him, through the whole thing – and consequently he felt so present in Ellie’s life.
He also did not “miss” those months away – he and I worked so hard at that. I emailed him a lot of detail about our days (some might call it excessive detail…). I sent him a photos constantly. Every time he pulled into port, he had numerous videos to download. When I had a conversation with our amazing pediatrician, or had read something in a book about an upcoming parenting decision, I filled him in and asked for his thoughts.
Long term, I think it would have been harmful for our family if I’d taken the mentality of “I’m a single mom” (what happens when he comes home? What does that say about his role as a dad during deployment?) or that he “missed that time” (this is not going to be the only deployment during Ellie’s life, do we set the tone that he is just absent for long stretches of her life?). We were really focused that this deployment was laying a foundation in so many ways – even though Ellie was too young to remember it, Ryan and I knew we’d build habits for our family and wanted to be intentional about as many of them as we could be.
Another choice I made in my language was how I responded to a question I got asked A LOT over the course of the deployment. In one way or another, I was often responding to this sentiment: “Wow that must be SO hard, how do you do it?” This is such a complicated question/statement. First of all, frankly, a lot of the people asking it were doing so as a gut reaction and probably didn’t want the length of answer really needed to respond (do you have the next hour for me to really fairly answer that? J) I also knew, in some ways they were forming impressions about military life/all military spouses and that I had a responsibility in how I answered.
What I came to was this – I acknowledged the truth – that it is really hard. I missed Ryan so much, it was heartbreaking to not have him hold Ellie for all those months, that I was often tired and weary – but that didn’t change the fact that we were really proud of him, grateful for the chance to be a military family and in so many ways, this deployment was a necessary part of our lives. In terms of how I do it – it all sounds cliché, but with prayer, one day at a time, by taking runs most evenings, often having a glass of wine at the end of the day, by leaning on friends – a thousand different ways.
We all know words matter – and especially on these two points, I wanted to choose mine carefully.
*above is a video e & i sent ryan during deployment -- i couldn't think of what photo would go with this post & then all of the sudden remembered this video, really the only of it's kind. i hope it sunk in a bit for ellie & that ryan knew how very much we meant those words.
it seems appropriate on thanksgiving that I’d try to put into words the gratitude we have for our friends & family who surrounded us with so much love during this first deployment.
this is an imperfect analogy, but you know how when you’re running a race, there are stretches when you’re all alone? and that's ok -- there’s space to breathe and soak up your surroundings, really process the race you’re running – but after a while, it gets lonely and you get tired. that’s when you need that next cheering section, water station, or homemade sign telling you to press on. well, that’s what our friends & family did during this deployment – when we’d just run uphill or were out of breath or desperately needed some nourishment, they met us with such giving, encouraging hearts. to give you a sense of the depth and breadth of their acts of kindness, here’s a partial list of what we’re oh so grateful for:
thank you for welcoming us into your home – for feeding us, enduring baby cries waking you up at all hours & making us feel a part of your lives. thank you for babysitting Ellie – for giving her such sweet attention so I could go to a yoga class, sit in a coffee shop, get a pedicure. thank you for checking on all three of us – emails, cards & care packages to Ryan, calls/text/emails to me. it meant so much to know you were thinking of us.
thank you for your prayers – some of you prayed each day for our family, others were there when I’d send a text with a really specific request – we truly felt surrounded by your prayers. thank you for inviting us to pizza friday each and every week at your house – it became such an important benchmark in our weeks. thank you for being willing to eat dinner at 5:30 so I could get E home for bed. thank you for driving us to the airport, picking us up from the airport, meeting us as weary travellers, reassuring me I really could do one. more. flight.
to my parents, who took ellie & i into their home for two weeks in july & two weeks in september, we wouldn't have made it without you. our indiana getaways can be summed up in the way we looked arriving (tired, worn out, exhausted), versus on the plane headed back (rested, happy, encouraged). you provided meals, wonderful conversation, long walks, adventures, a warm home & so much love. thank you for being there every step of the way.
thank you for pitching in – for installing baby gates, mowing our lawn, texting/calling each time you were headed to the grocery to see if you could grab us something. thank you to the very brave not yet a day friend for flying back from dallas with the stroller caddy when I left it there.
to all the guy friends who held ellie & gave her some guy time, thank you. to the sweet friends who insisted I have their extra Kindle – it was a saving grace for late night reading when I was sharing a room with e or on the plane when she finally fell asleep in my arms. you are so generous.
thank you for dropping off baked goods on our porch with a sweet note – it completely brightened my day. thank you for sending me home with leftovers – it saved me from walking in the kitchen after I put Ellie down the next night and sighing thinking “what on earth am I going to have for dinner?” thank you for your genuine encouragement – for lifting me up when I couldn’t quite muster the strength. thank you for answering my tearful late night phone call & just listening -- not trying to solve anything.
thank you for taking care of that dead cockroach that had been under Ryan’s boot for a few days because I could not-clean-up-one-more-dead-cockroach. thank you for taking our lawn mower in to get cleaned when I oh-so-wisely put gasoline in the oil tank – I promise never mow the lawn again. thank you for coming to our house to make dinner for me & hang out so I didn’t have to be alone or get a babysitter that night. thank you for going to four drugstores trying to find the right nasal aspirator when E & I were battling colds.
thank you for coming to visit and immediately tackling the pile of dishes in the sink or folding the clean laundry or running errands with me. thank you for waking up early & taking ellie on a walk (even if I accidentally locked you out of the house!) to the dear friend who came and not only helped me do about a thousand things for a baby shower I was hosting; but who also potted two mums; ran to get a rug pad I’d completely forgotten and who was with me at midnight trying to get a new rug under our VERY heavy bed, laughing hysterically we could be smushed like bugs at any moment – I truly love you & owe you one. to the friend who literally pulled out ten bags of vines/weeds/overgrowth from our backyard: you're the best.
to the navy wives who also had husbands deployed at the same time -- who prayed alongside me, who gave me the knowing hug when our babies had lost their minds & so had we, who met for a spontaneous lunch or dinner, and who inspired me every day by your strength -- i'm so very grateful to you.
to the navy wife who was in her third trimester of pregnancy and had a 20 month old, but who insisted on watching ellie each thursday so I could go to my favorite yoga class – you’re my hero. to all the friends who checked in on me during Hurricane Sandy, who texted, called, prayed, came over, offered to build a canoe from toothpicks, who identified themselves as “strong swimmers” – thank you for caring for us! to the friends who came to watch Ellie & drive me to the hospital to meet a dear friend's new baby at low tide -- during the hurricane -- y'all are rockstars. to the friends who came over with wine in hand each & every time ryan was extended, thank you.
& readers, i owe you a thank you -- because this blank canvas, this space to write was such a blessing to me over those months. it gave me a creative outlet, a way to process & a community i've come to cherish so much. you cheered us on in your own way & it meant so much.
i hesitate to thank people by name, because there are honestly so many I’d love to thank, but there are a few families who I can literally not imagine this deployment without. thinking of their generosity to our family, on essentially a daily basis during the deployment, brings tears to my eyes and was such saving grace. I hope that in some small way, we can extend the kindness back to you – know that you’re truly family to us. to those families (you know who you are): we love you so much– thank you for sticking with us every step of the way.
photo above was in one of the very first moments the three of us were together at ryan's homecoming -- lots more homecoming photos coming soon (yay!), but it is not an exaggeration to say that our family wouldn't have made it to that moment without all the acts of kindness above.
As you might remember, my pregnancy with Ellie was incredibly challenging. Because I threw up multiple times a day for 16+ weeks of pregnancy, when I came out of that time, I really went to yoga for my wellness for the remainder of pregnancy. After a really challenging delivery, it was months before I was cleared for physical exercise. So, when Ryan deployed in May, I was just even thinking about taking up running again. It was the longest I’d gone in my life not running – a tool that had always been a way of processing life, getting clarity, dealing with stress, being well.
I could have never anticipated it, but Ryan deploying was the best thing that could have happened to re-start my running in a hurry. When we got back from North Carolina, that first weekend after he deployed, that Monday felt REALLY long. Around 4 p.m. it set in that, well, it was just me. There was no Ryan coming in the door that night, or any night for the foreseeable future. Bedtime was still HOURS away. So, I put Ellie in the BOB stroller and took off. And so began a ritual we continued almost every night of deployment. Sometime between 4 and 6 p.m., I’d look at Ellie, smile and say, “ok, let’s go.” And off we went on a well-worn path. It was so good for both of us. Here’s why:
For me, the fresh air was restorative, the rhythm I could get into would actually quiet my mind, the music on my ipod would propel me forward – and by the end, my heart would feel more at peace, I’d be filled back up with energy for Ellie and have a clearer mind for the night ahead. Things I didn’t even realize had been bugging me dissipated. “It is well with my soul” summarized what I felt when our stroller made the final turn onto our street and our house was in sight.
For Ellie, while she couldn’t tell me how she felt about it, my mama’s intuition told me it was one of her favorite parts of the day. You see, E has a hard time sitting still. She’s not one of those contemplative kids – if she’s not literally asleep or in her crib – she is ON THE MOVE. Crawling across the room, pulling up, dragging toys with her, shrieking with delight – she is VERY busy. And as she took fewer naps, I could tell that the stroller time became a chance for her to be awake & still. She had this window on the world – much of our route was along the water, the scenery was constantly changing, we’d see dogs and neighbors and boats! (oh my!) She sat back and took it all in. Sometimes, we’d stop at the swings (there were two playgrounds on our route!) which was a real favorite of hers. When we got back to our house, we’d sit on the front porch together & have a little chat. It became a really special part of our day.
Finally, the running became a great way of processing the actual deployment. First of all, there is one big hill I do twice on my run. Obviously, it’s a whole lot easier to go down than up, and as we started to get close to the half way point of deployment and then when we were clearly in the second half, I really tried to focus on that as I ran downhill. I reminded myself that we were running towards Ryan, towards having him home & that even if it didn’t always feel like it, it was getting easier, we were getting closer. Lots of days I really needed that reminder – I literally needed to go run downhill.
The second big metaphor for me actually came with a funny story. Around the end of September – so Ellie was fully nine months old and Ryan had been gone more than four months, I started having trouble with my BOB stroller. One of the wheels shook when we were going downhill, it didn’t seem to go straight most of the time --I just felt something was off. My good friend Heather is the most amazing running mama I know and she recommended a local bike shop that’d already fixed her BOB numerous times. I said great, that I’d take it in, but like a lot of things, life got busy and it didn’t happen.
I really wanted to run one day and finally looked down and thought, “it kinda looks like that tire needs air.” (I’m clearly fit to be a rocket scientist). I pushed my hand into the tire and sure enough the tire was literally completely out of air. Our neighbors had a bike pump and Heather came to help me fill my tires with air. She asked me when the last time I put air in was, I responded, “Literally never. Not since we got it.” She told me with the amount we were running, I was supposed to be putting air in EVERY WEEK! I’d been pushing a stroller for months with almost no air in the tires. Awesome.
When I went on that first run after filling up the tires with air, I felt like Lightening McQueen. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to push that thing! Of course, it’d happened over time, so I’d just adjusted slowly to how hard it was to push that stroller. I don’t need to make all the almost cheesy life lessons that come from this – but it was also a moment when I needed to be reminded that just like it’s really hard to push a stroller without air – it’s really hard to go through life when you feel like your tires are empty. This deployment had forced me to really grow in how I thought about keeping my tires full of air – it had deepened friendships in my life, dramatically changed my prayer life, humbled me completely by seeing just how much “help” I need from others & shown me just how much I had to be grateful for.
Now, we're excited for some family runs!
p.s. E & I had some adventures running – so if you happened to see us sprinting to beat a thunderstorm on our tail, or running in the 10 minutes between crazy thunderstorms or doing laps on the streets around our house, thanks for understanding that we just kinda had to be out there!
This is probably a weird concept to many of you – how could there possibly be benefits of having your husband gone for months on end? But I actually think it’s a really important topic and something I was grateful other military wives spoke candidly about with me. Let me be clear, while all of these things were unexpected benefits of this season in life for our family, I would have given them all up to have Ryan home with us for the past six months. I’m not a military wife who is “excited about deployments” or “looks forward to them” or “wishes my husband would deploy,” – that’s just not me. But I also don’t believe in having a season in life where you don’t focus on the incredible opportunities it contained and blessings you found. So, here were some I found:
Probably the most stunning thing to me about this deployment was how it deepened my friendships with a few military wives in particular. They weren’t necessarily women I met through Ryan’s squadron and their husbands weren’t necessarily deployed at the same time, but they understand this life, they met me so consistently in this season & quite simply we did life together – we raised our kids, and broke bread, drank wine, told stories, texted, ran, walked, hung out on our front yards, prayed – together. Most of them had been through a deployment before, all of them had encouragement, love & a sense of humor they offered so generously. Along with my faith and our little family, these women are what I can’t imagine this deployment without. I’m grateful for the nights they kept me company after Ellie went to bed; the times they fed me a meal or met me for one; the wonderful mothering advice they gave so freely; the encouragement and strength that poured out of them. I will never forget it and hope so much I can offer them a bit of in the days & deployments to come for them. You know who you are – I love y’all.
TIME TO TACKLE PROJECTS
When Ryan deployed, I made a list of house projects/life projects I wanted to tackle before he came home. I painted our dining room & hung things on the wall. I completely re-did our bedroom (which was a surprise for him! more on that in a post to come!). I worked on some family photo albums. I miraculously kept seven tomato plants alive for the first time ever! I organized basically every closet in our house (pre-homecoming nesting is real folks!). These projects helped me mark the passage of time. As they came closer to completion, Ryan’s homecoming became all the more real.
LEARN THINGS (even if I didn’t mean to)
I want to say at the outset, I’m a big believer in not taking over all the tasks your husband usually does. I don’t know about you, but my plate is full when Ryan is home – no need to burn myself out in the first few weeks of deployment. Some things were going to have to fall to me (I couldn’t have anyone else manage all our finances, etc.), but for most of the things Ryan usually handled, I relied on others. I hired a neighbor to mow the lawn. When things broke, I called a friend or our handyman (I wouldn’t have been much help anyway...). That said, a few times, I was on a mission & decided to take on the tast myself. So, one day I did watch a youtube video on how to use a drill. Then proceeded to hang Ellie’s mobile (It’d been on backorder for months & I couldn’t wait to hang it!). A week later she ripped it out of the ceiling (it’s still unclear if she has super human strength or if I did a terrible job hanging it). Either way, I decided to wait for Ryan to be home to re-hang it. One day, I really wanted to mow the lawn. I thought it would be a good rite of passage. Only trouble was I knew it needed gas, and though I was able to borrow some, it didn’t end well. No one gave me the memo that lawnmowers have both oil & gas tanks (feel free to laugh), so I put the gas in the oil tank. This halted my hopes of mowing the lawn very quickly. Another time, we had an inordinate number of cockroaches. I learned that I can kill a lot of cockroaches in one morning (I had to defend our house!). The camp counselor in me was super brave. Most of these just made funny stories, but they also felt like rites of passage & made me even more excited for Ryan to get home!
And then, as all you military wives know, there are just those nights of a deployment that are particularly painful.
Some nights all I could do after I put Ellie to bed was collapse on the couch with a glass of wine. Or bowl of Ben & Jerry’s. Or both. And that was dinner. I’d barely be able to keep my eyes open to scan some of my favorite blogs or watch a TV episode on my computer, but I refused to go to bed yet, because this was the one part of my day for me and I really needed it.
Some nights, I’d crawl into bed to email Ryan or just sit their and listen to the Jeremy Camp Pandora station & part of me would breathe deeply & relax, the other part of me would know the 1 a.m., 4 a.m. & 7 a.m. cries were all mine. They had been for two months and would be for the foreseeable future.
Some nights, I was missing Ryan so much it felt hard to breathe – I couldn’t even remember what it was like to have him there next to me, to sit with him & share a meal or talk about our days.
Some nights, I’d be holding Ellie as she was screaming (teeth? a nightmare?) at 2 a.m., wondering if she was ever going to stop, being so tired I could barely stand & missing Ryan so much I felt the tears running down my cheeks.
So many military wives had told me you’ll “get in a routine” and they were right, but I finally asked one of them, “is that just a nice way of saying it gets normal he isn’t there?!!!” She nodded emphatically yes. That was the unsaid sad truth about deployments – most wives I know got in a routine, and time did start to move faster, but it was because they had created a way to do things without the one person they wanted most to be there. This all struck me on a night, about half way through deployment, when I was watching one of the videos of Ryan reading to Ellie and he felt farther away than he ever had. We did have a routine we settled into, and it worked, time was finally moving, but it didn’t make his absence any less glaring.
As I’ve mentioned, so much of me anticipated/worried about deployments wondering what the secret was to survival – how did you do it? I asked an absurd number of military wives that question, expecting to they could give me an answer neatly wrapped in a bow (to all of you, I’m really sorry). I really thought someone could give me a list or books to read or set of strategies that if followed, would work. What I learned was what so many tried to tell me – there’s no secret, like so many things in life, you just put one foot in front of the other; if you’re a person of faith, you pray really hard; and the reality is you don’t have the strength until you need it.
I’m focusing these posts on what got us through it, on the practical things that helped us, on the stories that capture what this was like for us – I’m trying to be as authentic as I possibly can – striking a balance between being honest, and encouraging, while not glossing over how truly difficult deployments are. I know none of you come to t&f to hear me complain, but I also know you expect me to be transparent & vulnerable – my hope is the few posts I wrote like this one, which were honestly sort of painful to write, let you know that while this deployment was not a miserable season in our lives & there is much to be grateful for, it did push us to the end of our rope more than once – that’s really important to acknowledge.
*above photo: me collapsed on couch, with oatmeal for dinner, looking at that photo of us as a reminder of what this was all about -- baby monitor in the background, of course :)