Today is the last day that I have to wake up alone. It’s the last day that I brush my teeth standing on one foot while blocking my over-zealous ten-month old from playing in the toilet. It’s the last day that I get breakfast for my three year-old while breastfeeding my teething infant. It’s the last day that, once I put them to bed, I sit on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands while I think about every insignificant stress that has led to the tears of frustration and exhaustion. Today is the last day before my husband comes home.
Being a military spouse, you learn to deal with things you never planned for—whether it’s a disconnected phone in the middle of an important discussion which leads from frustration to fear, or leveraging your parents, friends, coworkers, neighbors, to make it through an extended period of time to retain your sanity.
And a learning process it is. This period of time has been the hardest for our family, pushing us, pulling us, and, yes, making us stronger in the process.
Lesson 1. You’ll need more help, and less pride. People will offer help, and you’ll think to yourself, yeah, sure, okay. Don’t do that to yourself—your pride is not worth your sanity. But be specific. The offers of help will be there —but if you don’t direct people to what you need, they won’t know how to help.
Lesson 2. You’ll never be able to do everything that you want to do. I had to make compromises. I had to sacrifice one bad behavior for another. And the guilt was nearly insurmountable. Yes, my kids watched more television than I wanted them to. Yes, they ate McDonald’s more frequently than I am willing to admit. But, you have to do what you need to, to survive.
Lesson 3. You’re both suffering, and neither is worse, nor easier, but different. In the midst of teething, toddler tantrums and sleepless nights, I would get so resentful. My husband was sleeping for uninterrupted hours and was relearning to be child free. I was envious, and scared, that this new life he was making for himself would become his preference. But he was suffering. It’s never easy to talk to your spouse, hearing them cry for help and feeling helpless. My husband missed firsts: first word, first crawl, first peek-a-boo. He missed his children, his family, the reason that he deployed in the first place.
Lesson 4. You’re raw. You’re both raw. And because of that, you’re vulnerable. The sensitivity is unbelievable. One word in the “negative” sets you both off. Honestly, you can’t change that part. You’ll fight, you’ll lose your temper and you’ll struggle.
Lesson 5. If something can go wrong, it probably will. Bad things happen in threes (or sixes, or tens). It ranged from health emergencies to broken sprinklers to frantic job changes.
Lesson 6. The best piece of advice that ever came to me in preparation for this experience wasn’t, “It’ll go quickly” (it didn’t), “We’ll be here to help” (not always), or “You’ll be okay” (I wasn’t). It was “you’ll learn how capable you are, and you’ll be proud of that ability.” I was capable, I was strong when I needed to be, weak when no one was looking. But I did it.
I hope that we will never go through this again, but it’s entirely possible. This advice is to remind those who are living without their partner that there are others who suffer, others who share the pain, frustration, and fear. It’s to remind those who don’t have to live through this that there are those who do, and a kind word, lending hand, or pat on the back is never misplaced.
So here’s to the families struggling to take it day-by-day, minute-by-terrified-minute. I would never wish to do this again, but there was one thing that I learned over the period of time that he was gone: My family is stronger for it.