An Open Letter to the Military: Regarding the Recent Deployment to Haiti, Rumors, and the Homefront

Dear Military,

As you know, it has been about 20 days since my husband deployed to Haiti. I am almost 100% certain that the inbox of our FRO (Family Readiness Officer) has been inundated with inquiries regarding our service men’s and women’s return date. I, as a spouse and a mother of two little girls, am not immune to the desire to know either but have moved away from asking since I can already predict the answer is not yet known. However, this does not eliminate the frustration and anxiety that I and other spouses are currently experiencing. 

It is obvious to those involved that our stress and overwhelming dissatisfaction about this deployment is more so in relation to the fact that our men and women just got home from their recent 7 month deployment. It is a constant fear of mine, as well as voiced in other spouses, that our ‘family time’ will be cut short or worse non-existence upon their return due to the realization that they must start ‘work-ups’ to deploy again in the near future.

With the rumors looming around us like a plague it is easier said than done to not grab a hold of one and hold on to it until it is shot down. At times, for me, it can make a huge difference in my day to follow a rumor for a couple of hours instead of looking into an endless tunnel with an indefinite end. Occasionally, I even welcome them – even more so to get me through the ‘rough days’. Currently, the rumor that has grabbed my attention is that some spouses have been given a return date. It would truly be infuriating to know that a selection of spouses is receiving more information regarding homecoming while other spouses are counting up days instead of having the opportunity to count down. Although my logic comforts my emotions in the belief that this too is nothing more than a rumor – it still is very challenging to overlook.

I am aware that representatives of the unit are not authorized to provide specific dates and/or information until they are given permission to do so. Reflecting on the circumstances and the barriers around the deployment, I began to contemplate ideas or ways we as spouses can be alleviated from the stressors of this current situation. I understand with a full heart of compassion that Haiti needs the help of the International community to assist them in returning to, at minimum, what their world was like seconds before the earthquake. I am proud to be part of a nation that can assist in this mass effort providing extraordinary and grand humanitarian relief. I am aware, via the news and updates from the CO (Commanding Officer), that our service men and women are consistently and productively providing this assistance where needed as well as supporting NGOs. What would be reassuring at this time for us spouses on the homefront, and to say the least – encouraging, maybe to tell us what the determining factors are in regards to the length of this deployment? Is there a list of areas/towns in Haiti that need to be visited first? Is there a group of NGOs that must be assisted? Is there a goal of how many people of Haiti need to receive direct assistance from us? At this point – anything is truly better than hearing nothing. Speaking for myself, I feel that if I received an update more often, even to say that ‘nothing new is known’, would be more consoling than passing another day with silence amid incessant rumors.

Nevertheless, I appreciate and applaud the rapid planning and organization of the upcoming “Family Appreciation Day”. My daughters and I are truly looking forward to having a delightful time as well as the given opportunity to meet other spouses and families in which empathy can be utilized at its best. This being the first event I am attending, since recently moving into the area, I am unaware if there will be Chaplains and/or counselors at hand to casually introduce themselves and “check-in” on us spouses and children and possibly go as far as extending their therapeutic services. With the present unexpected back-to-back deployment along with the added strain of it being ‘indefinite’ it should almost be anticipated that risks of anxiety, depression, and even alcohol and drug abuse may be high amongst family members. I say this not only as a  licensed professional in the field of mental health but also as someone who is facing these circumstances and know what a difference it  would make to hear someone come to me and say they understand how difficult this can be and simply ask me how I am doing.

I hope that my letter does not find you bothered by my spoken standpoint for my desire to know something that may very well be unattainable, but with that, I hope you can also understand the position I speak from. It would be more than a blessing to just have my husband home already, but as I mentioned – at this point knowing anything is better than knowing nothing.

Until then, my prayers are with him, the entire military, the people of Haiti, and the families of those here on the homefront. I not only pray for strength but that we may also continue and strive to be optimistic during this fractious time.

Sincerely,

A Military Spouse

The Epitome of Lonesome Weekends…

 It’s another day – another night – another Saturday – another Sunday – another weekend spent alone without my husband.

Since my husband left for deployment, I have found weekends to be one of the most challenging experiences. My husband and I always look forward to the weekend like a guaranteed mini-vacation. It was time for family and to create great memories for our girls. Even if we went to the commissary or ran errands – we always incorporated a nice drive and/or dinner at a restaurant. Those days have vanished in the wind and now the weekends appear like nothing but a dark blur that vaguely has the same ambiance as before.

Besides toting my daughter to and from track and checking off my To-Do list, the weekends have converted to nothing but a web of routine and I find myself stuck right in the center. I robotically get up, get the girls ready and dressed, and get us moving out the door only to return home and continue our habitual practices of the week – bathe, read, and off to bed.

At times these weekends can be a mixed blessing. There are days that I am so emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted that doing nothing is a haven for my heart, soul, and body. I submerge myself in my bed and cuddle into my pillow while the girls take a midday nap or watch a movie. It’s as good as it gets some days.  

Today it was what most would consider a lazy day – but for me it was more of a lonesome one. I woke up unmotivated to peel myself off from the bed and let alone remove my pajamas. Even with my extra-large cup of coffee, I lacked the enthusiasm to enjoy the nice day with my girls and moved more like a zombie not once letting the sun stroke my face. I relentlessly confined myself to the four corners of my bedroom all day – pressing on my pillow like a stone trapping a fly, squeezing it almost flat – dreaming and longing for it to be my husband here with me but instead I got a fluff of feathers and all I could do is bury my tears and fears beneath it.

I was tremendously (and guilt-fully) grateful my mother took my oldest daughter for the day and right when my toddler woke up from her mid-day nap my father was here to entertain her until about my mother returned. Although I know that my family and friends tell me there is nothing wrong with taking a break – being a military wife, it’s as if you are molded to just keep it going and accustom yourself to everything around you all while doing it alone. It’s very difficult to ask for day to myself – even if it’s to just be limited to my bedroom to sulk. However, I can easily grasp that what I am feeling today should only burden me and never my daughters. It’s not fair to them to have ‘mommy looking sad’ as the day passes and (even worse) restraining them to our home because I have no desire to see the light outside of a bulb on a ceiling or stand. Even on my most gloomy days, I become elated knowing that my daughters are off getting spoiled for the day – no limits, no boundaries, no impatience, no sad faces, and (most of all) no yelling or crying. 

Every day is not like this of course. I do my best to maintain busy and to go out to visit friends and family as often as possible. And I am usually invited ‘somewhere’ just about each weekend. It’s just every now and then it hits me like freight train with no brakes that my husband isn’t home. Surprisingly, I find it especially more difficult on nights I do go out to have a nice enjoying night be it solo, with friends, or with my daughters. Those are the nights I find it to be the most difficult drives home, walks to the front door, and to fall asleep. Going home after having a good night and seeing everyone enjoy each other only reminds me more of how I am the only one going home alone. Just about everyone within my circle has their person to go home to and it’s here where I get the heart-breaking reminder like bull-horn two inches away from my ear that I don’t have my person to go home too.

It is here within these moments coming home lying on my pillow I learned that the eye, even when sealed, can still trickle tiny tears in tune with every beat from my shattered heart – but although minuscule, they are hefty in sentiment. Each tear reminded me of how as much as I try to close out my emotions from feeling lonely – no matter the resistance it will always seep through. It doesn’t matter how I spend my day – blissfully with daughters, shopping listlessly, reading, writing, have dinner and wine with good friends, moping at home in my pajamas – the feelings at the end of the night will remain the same. My bed is large and I lay alone in it. 

You don’t know what empty feels like until the person you love that loves you back completely want to be together but are powerless in any efforts to make it real. An empty heart is a heart that is limited. That piece that makes it beat is dead. It is dark and rough but easily converted back to what it knows as ecstasy. I know my heart will be filled again. And I know my heart will beat again and that it will intense and soft – it just won’t be that way again until my husband is home.

I know I am lucky to have family and lifelong friends around that can assist me in days like this but my heart truly feels for the other military wives who don’t have the same fortune as I – to have a moment or break every now and then. I know it is probably a standard emotion that comes along as the wife on the home front through deployment and that this too shall pass – but for me, the lonesome weekends has been the most difficult. I am aware too that this deployment will not be the last one we experience- I just hope next time around, which I know I most likely will not be around family and friends, that it will get easier and painless (I’m skeptical – but I will hold on to hope).

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night.  I miss you like hell. “

 ~Edna St Vincent Millay

Roaches, and Spiders, and Trash – OH MY!

'Insectophobia'

'Insectophobia'

                (Yawn) I haven’t been sleeping well this week. I get up early (due to hungry little ones) and come night, I watch the clock until about 2-3am. I try to shut every distraction off by midnight but even then I find myself tossing and turning in bed like a fish out of water. And no – this time it’s not the worries or anxiety of deployment keeping me awake, but my fear of a creepy-crawly insect taking a stroll on my body.

                You see, earlier this week I was laying in my bed surfing the television channels before going to sleep and then all of a sudden from the corner of my eye I see a little figure zip by. At first I assumed it was nothing but a moth as it flew towards the light (I can deal with those) but when I took a closer look I realized it was a cockroach – a flying one! I WILL REPEAT –a FLYING COCKROACH!! I haven’t seen those since my travels to Central America and the Caribbean – I didn’t even think they survived in this kind of weather!

                I, of course, bolted out of my bed and was drowning in fear. The only reason I didn’t scream to the top of my lungs like I wanted to, was because my toddler was sleeping in the same room and my oldest daughter was next door. I had chills running through my body and every hair on my arms were standing tall as I stared at the cockroach still on the wall. Once I thought I saw its antenna’s move (yuck!) – I ran downstairs. Yes, I left my children behind – but only because I was thinking of what to do! Well, to make this story short (as I can’t bear to speak of it anymore) the cockroach has moved on to insect heaven and the accomplice – my broom – was placed with the garbage outside.

                I can remember the first spider I had to exterminate solo when my husband was away. It was like a milestone in my life! Now, I’m not talking about a little spider either – it was one almost the size of the palm of my hand. After moments of pacing back and forth nervously and with the encouragement of my sister via telephone I grabbed the weapons of my choice – a broom and a can of hairspray. I managed to decimate the bug that night, but the next few nights were disturbed with phobia just as they are now.

                In addition to the bugs – the trash, or more like the diaper genie, was another highpoint of my life on deployment. A couple of days after my husband was gone I noticed a disgusting odor in the upstairs of my home. At first I had no idea where it was coming from until I went to drop a dirty diaper into the diaper genie (usually it’s my oldest daughter’s duty to take them). I almost fainted from the horrid stench. It never even crossed my mind to empty it! This was my husband’s job! I changed the diapers and he emptied the trash. So here I found myself, for the first time (mind you, I’m on my second child in diapers) emptying out the diaper genie. I took a deep breath, braced myself, and opened the diaper genie – only to realize I had absolutely NO IDEA how to change the bag! After a quick examination of the contraption I finally did figure it out. In addition to my contractual obligation of changing the diapers I now have to empty the trash as well. I still haven’t fully accustomed myself to doing this though, because I usually don’t get it done until I notice a fly or two swarming around it – but hey, it gets done.

                Besides adapting to everyday life while on deployment – I didn’t get much warning on these little things we take for granted. Until military separation I never had to worry about exterminating insects, putting out mousetraps, and/or taking out the trash. It’s amazing how we easily fall into our roles in marriage. These ‘roles’ we play are easily overlooked until one of us is absent. The bugs, the trash, the lawn, the loose screws, the oil changes, the car washes, the bbq’s, the light bulb changes, the bill paying – I could go on and on! And every time I replace my husband in these roles I punch myself right in the “I miss my hubby” button.

                My husband right now is playing a bigger ‘role’ not only for my family but for our country as well. I don’t resent the fact that I have to do all these new tasks that are normally not on my to-do list. Actually, after those nervous breakdowns and/or gag provoking moments, I find myself proud that I survived it all solo. But don’t get me wrong, these roles will be waiting for my husband when he returns. I especially have no desire in continuing to be the household bug exterminator. Until then I will resume full responsibility of the stomach-churning – repulsive duties that belong to my husband. And with each spider, cockroach, and trash I handle these days – I smile in the end because I know miles and miles away (knowing my husband) he is either laughing at the thought of me handling a bug or wondering if I have remembered to take out the diaper trash out this week. Oh, the joys of deployment (smile).

 

…..and it is now past midnight – hopefully I can get some sleep tonight – if not, I may have to invest in a bed net!

Down with NEEDLES!!!

needle

                Not too long ago today I was peeling my daughter away from the corner of Quest Diagnostics. It took three adults including myself to hold her down to get blood drawn for her yearly school physical. The sniveling began from her chocolate eyes (as she calls them) since last night. I gave her a heads up on the clinic visit because my 6 year old going on 35 – doesn’t like surprises – she would prefer to prepare herself  (I assuming emotionally, mentally, and physically).

                Prior to leaving our home this morning and last night – we bargained and made a deal. She was allowed to cry but had to control her screaming (because it is really that BAD – at times to the point her throat hurts!). If she was capable of holding back her screams she would get to pick where we had lunch (fast-food obviously) along with a ‘prize’ of her choice (within budget of course).

                On the way over to Quest Diagnostics, my daughter even opted to not bring her Nintendo DS – (anyone who has a child with one knows what a big deal that means) she said couldn’t do anything but think about the ‘needle’ – and of course all that said with tears. My heart ached for her because I knew exactly how she felt – I myself am no fan of ‘needles’ and have to prepare myself for blood work. The only difference is that it is not as socially acceptable for an almost 30 year old to scream and cry at the site of a needle in public as it is for my 6 year old.

                Inside the center, my daughter was as nervous as a mouse trapped in a snake’s cage. She shriveled herself up on the chair, hoping to not be noticed. Once her name was called – the river began to flow from her eyes. So there we were with the sweetest phlebotomist you can ever have for an uneasy child. I thought for sure my daughter would find comfort in her soft tone voice. YEAH RIGHT! As soon as she saw the room she began to back pedal like we were dragging her towards electric chair. She went behind the door and cried in the corner. I could see her trying to convince herself to just get it all over with. I could hear her whispering “I can’t do it – I can’t do it -I hate needles”. My heart stung with pain as I tried to console her and just like any other mother – I wished I could’ve taken her place.

                I tried to talk to her and explain that this is something that is a must and that there is no other option. Needless to say – talking didn’t work. The phlebotomist then pulled out the “frantic child plan” – one person holds child’s legs – another person holds the arms – and one other person draws the blood. I think my daughter’s screams could be heard in the next town! Screams so deafening that nearby glass could have shattered. Even as we walked out of the room the phlebotomist said jokingly “I will send you the bill for my hearing aid!” as she waved goodbye. Nonetheless my daughter survived the needle (just like she did last year and the year before) and in the end she still got the fast food and yes, the ‘prize – I gave in. Looking at her through the rearview mirror of my car driving back home I could empathize with every tear drop that fell on her sweet cheek. Not only because I too despise needles but because I could connect to what she was feeling in so many levels.

                Whenever my husband leaves for deployment, training, duty, work, or for whatever reason Uncle Sam calls him, my family and I have no choice and his response is a must – there is no other option. I also prefer to know as early as possible if and when my husband has to be away from us (thus where my daughter most likely gets that from) so I can emotionally, physically, and mentally prepare. When I was told my husband’s deployment date I too found myself feeling trapped in a corner – attempting to convince myself that I could do this. The military had become my ‘needle’.

                The days leading up to our physical goodbye all I wanted to do was shrivel up and disappear. Tears invaded my pillow and Kleenex became my best friend. I found myself frantic, nervous, and in shock at the fact that had no choice but to go through with this – there was no other alternative. The only option I had was to peel myself from the corner and learn to walk on the journey of deployment all while suppressing the urge to scream as my husband is pulled away from me. I can’t say the same for my waterworks however. Every now and then I need a good weeping cry to fall asleep and/or to get moving in the morning. And I’m sure, just like my daughter, these emotions will come up again in the exact identical form every time we go through deployments and such. But ultimately, I know (precisely as my daughter knew too) that regardless if kick, scream, or cry I too will get my end of the deal and will be ‘prized’ with being with my love again. Definitely worth the pinch…

Family Vacation Minus 1

La Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian - Pais Basco

La Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian - Pais Basco

            

               I have just printed out my almost 400 photos from our recent family vacation – well reality is that it was more like our family vacation minus 1. The girls, my parents, and I went off on our yearly trip to Galicia to see family. Although I have traveled to Galicia with the girls solo before – this year was like no other.

                Every year, I look forward to the month of August. I go visit my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins in the beautiful countryside of Galicia. Also a place where my girls can run free playing with their cousins from sun up to sun down – that being almost 10pm every night there! August is also the month of “Festas” in Galicia. Every little town and every big city celebrates some patriot or saint. Carnivals, fireworks, music, and food surround you at this time of year.

                Usually when we visit Galicia we normally stay in our home and see the same cities and sites as past years. (It has been this way since I was a wee little one year old) But this year, my parents actually decided to do a road trip across to San Sebastian to visit my mother’s cousins. I was excited at the thought of finally doing something out of the norm this year. It was a long dreaded 10 hour drive with two little ones awake the entire time but the end result was spectacular. San Sebastian is a gorgeous city – resembling a mini Paris! And the beach, La Playa de La Concha, is absolutely stunning. We enjoyed ourselves of course, but every step I took and every picture I snapped all I could say in my head was: “I wish he was here with us.”

                Even up to the days before leaving on our flight everything about the trip felt different. To begin with I didn’t even enjoy shopping for things we needed and especially packing for the trip. The day of departure to me felt like it was my last day on earth! No matter what people told me – I could not calm my nerves about flying. I even cried the night before, the morning of, and right before take-off. Well, I obviously survived the flight (and back) but it made me question myself – why am I so nervous this year?  I mean – seriously – I have been flying since I was in diapers! Sheesh!

                Once in Galicia, the unfamiliar feelings continued. I was not able to allow myself to fully enjoy my vacation outside of being with my family at home. I had no true interest in shopping for myself (this is one of my favorite things to do in Galicia!) or enjoying good ‘Albarino’ wine with my cousins. There were times that I just wanted to lay in bed in pajamas all day and stay there – ignoring the fact that I was surrounded by gorgeous mountains, beaches, towns, and greenery that I could be taking advantage of.

                Coming home however, I didn’t find myself that nervous, but instead saddened at the reminder that even though it is another regular vacation I normally take solo with my girls, this year my husband would not be waiting for us at home. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to being back in my routine with my girls. Why? I have no idea – because really there is nothing glamorous about.

                Glancing over all the pictures made want to dig deeper into my emotions about this trip. I wondered and probed my own mind to try and figure out why this year was so different.  I spent some time today reflecting back on my days in Galicia using the photographs as my timeline. As I went through each picture, recalling each moment, I came to realize that it was nothing but the feeling of guilt in enjoying my vacation while my husband is deployed. It troubled my mind, heart, body, and soul. It was the guilt that kept me from having a good time and it came from me and only me.

                My own husband, days before the trip, even reminded me to take pleasure in the vacation and to consider it a break from our routine. But it was the routine I wanted because it came without the guilt. Now thinking of it, I wonder how many other spouses on the homefront feel the same way when taking their children – or even a solo – trip while our husbands are deployed. That feeling of being this horrible selfish wife that wants to have pleasure and (oh gawd) ‘FUN’ – how dare she! The wife of a man deployed enjoying herself??– Oh the shame!

                Now looking back I find it all quite amusing. I couldn’t control my emotions at that instant but there is no reason for me to feel guilty and I know that. My husband never made me feel that way nor the ones around me – it was only that little anxiety-driven-stressed out elf on my shoulder that whispers in my ear every now and then that I apparently only hear and feel. It is surreal to assume that a wife of a deployed service member should be stuck in a web of routine day in and day out. In doing that we would do no good not only for our own emotional and physical health but that of our children’s as well.

                Life will happen around us if we decide to move with it or not. It’s okay to have a little ‘fun’ every so often – guilt free – it’s good for us (everyone actually)! It is a gift I am extremely grateful for just to know that we are given another day of good health and another day we are still together (even if there a thousands of miles between us). I vow to permit myself to have some guilt-free fun with my daughters from this day forth because my daily escapades should be no different than if my husband is home or deployed. The love I have for my husband and family is beyond verbal expression and the respect, admiration, commitment, honor, and devotion will never be absent just because our family is minus 1 for that moment.

Dearest Everyone…

 

                 As a military wife and mom, life can be filled with joy, tears, happiness, and frustration. While our spouses are away protecting our country we are left behind to care and manage the homefront solo. We find ourselves stuffing our own packs with strength, patience, time management, budget skills, understanding, and love, everyday – including lugging it to and from the family vehicle along with the little ones.

                 I have begun this journey here to express myself as my family and I walk through the highs and lows of military deployment. Since the beginning I found myself challenged in so many ways – from the smallest crisis to the largest dilemmas you can imagine and each of them I have mostly dealt with alone.

                From the time my husband has been deployed, it has been almost like textbook. Everything I read and everything people told me to expect has pretty much happened, from pre-deployment anticipatory grief to extreme anxiety. But although it seems like every military spouse walks the same path – it is never the exact same journey and experience one feels compared to others.

                Today I can say that I am gaining control of anxiety and it is getting better. The first few weeks I felt I couldn’t even breathe. Feeling like I was trapped between two brick walls and every now and then a specter of some sort would come and squeeze me in some more. For a moment I even feared I had some sort of lung cancer, resembling a hypochondriac. I even turned to my sister, a physician assistant, for medical advice because I refused to admit that my difficulty breathing was a result of my fears of being alone and worrying about my husband being away. It took me quite some time to coming around and finally accepting that it was indeed anxiety. It was as though I had to go through my own 12-step program to get there!

                Once I recognized my anxiety, I turned to look my fears dead in its eyes, grabbed it by its horns and I began to yell back. I acknowledged that the only thing I have absolute control of is myself. I can’t control where my husband goes, I can’t control how often I can speak to him, I can’t control when the bills come or when we get paid, I can’t control my daughters breakdowns, and I can’t control life’s glitches (big or small) – all I can control is how I react to each and every situation. I had to learn to let go of my desire to be in complete control of the things around me. And let me tell you it was not the easiest thing I have done – that’s for sure.

                Just as I now try to unhook my toddler from her comfy-safety apparatus – the ‘binky’, the denial of my anxiety was like my ‘binky’. It kept me safe at night and in public. Even though I suffered emotionally one way or the other, deep down denying my anxiety kept me from believing that my husband is deployed. Presently, as my daughter is going through her withdrawal from her ‘binky’ I can sympathize with her knowing that her sleepless nights will be a result of thoughts running through her mind saying  “Now that I  know I can’t have my binky control my life, how will I get through my days – especially meltdowns?!?” After a couple of days I know her fears and tears will pass and she will manage her days without her security-binky, similar to how I learned to let go of my anxiety and deal with the issues I was facing. I’m not sure if knowing all this prior to the deployment date would have made me feel any better the first few weeks my husband was gone but I am grateful I learned to deal with it as part of my journey. It is something I can continue to take with me not only for the rest of my husband’s deployment but after – in my marriage, family, personal and business relationships, and now as I am challenged by ‘binky vs me’ with my toddler as well.

                So here I am sorting my life daily and starting this blog. Every day I am tested by some unknown force – but regardless even if I breakdown and cry, I know that I have to keep going because well, I have two little ones that react to how I respond to our daily adventures. I will be here day after day divulging all the good, the bad, and the ugly – and of course – how I got through it all (hopefully).

                 I miss my husband dearly and he knows it, all I can do is continue to keep my head up, my patience intact, express myself in a positive healthy way (here) and remember that all I can do is take it at my own pace because regardless the end of the road will come at its own time.

Until tomorrow….for whatever the day may bring….