Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Logistics of Madness

I've been downplaying our upcoming deployment by reminding myself that my children are older. They don't need me for everything anymore. I'm not breastfeeding, they can both walk, they can tell me what they want (which is a blessing and a curse), and diapers have long left my Amazon Mom subscribe and save list. The season of carrying babies, pushing a stroller, lifting, feeding, rocking to sleep for hours, up for 2 am nursing sessions, rinse and repeat has passed. Deployment will be easier. We have a new chapter now. One of school days, extracurricular activities, religious education, and... nevermind...

Parenthood doesn't get easier. It just changes. It is this crazy changing, morphing, challenging, fun journey that never quite gets easy. Just different. And so while this deployment won't be defined by diapers and naps, it will have it's own unique set of challenges and trials.

As I've been trying to piece the puzzle of my life for next school year together I am starting to have palpitations. And anger. And bemusement. How the hell is Kate supposed to dance twice a week, have soccer, go to her Catholic preparation classes, do homework, and have fun with her friends. And oh yea, I've got two kids. So poor second child gets nothing? So I sign him up for something and all of a sudden I feel like a failure because I've become that mom that overschedules her 4 and 6 year olds. No, I've overscheduled myself. I'll be doing this solo. Oh yea, I'm supposed to cook dinner and bath them and read books every day too. I'm already exhausted and I haven't completed one single day of this possible schedule.

I'll have more me time. Last time, I had not one hour to myself during the week unless I paid a sitter $12/hour. I did that once per week so I could occasionally run an errand alone or go to a doctor's appointment or just stare into a cup of coffee and drink it while it was hot. They weren't even preschool age yet. Connor was a chubby baby who couldn't crawl when John left - and walked only a month after he returned. Kate turned 2 a few months after he left. Those of you who read my blog back then know that many days I survived by the skin of my teeth. And wine. And some great friends who sometimes drove long distances to hold a baby while I took a shower longer than 5 minutes.

This time, I will have a first grader and a TKer (California lingo for PK kids whose birthdays just miss the Kindergarten deadline). They will both be at school M-F for about 6 hours. That is HUGE! I'll have time to run errands, keep the house from looking like a tornado blew through, and exercise.

But it is everything else that is giving me anxiety. How will I make sure it all gets done? And honestly, the other thing that's been weighing on me is that I feel really lonely already. In a perfect world, I do believe it takes two people to parent. Obviously it isn't that way for everyone. Women put on their big girl panties every day and make it happen for their kids. I will too. But as I stare at all of these screens to register my kids for various things, I want to look across the room and ask "hey, could you take Kate to soccer on Wednesdays at 5:30 while I make dinner?" or "Would you like to coach Connor's flag football team?" Normal, everyday parenting discussions. But that chair across the room is empty and will be empty for the better part of the next year. He's feeling awkward because while he isn't totally checked out on the things going on at home, he doesn't feel like his opinion really matters since it's up to me. All of it is on me.

And so while he's flying long days, debriefing at midnight, and tired the next day it is pretty hard for me to convince him that my worries over church vs. dance vs. soccer are important. But they're important to me. And also, in the midst of all of this caring for others (which is the name of parenthood, I get it), I wonder if I'll lose myself in all of this. Will he return to a shell of his wife because I spend the next 10 months literally living in my snazzy minivan going from point A to B to C?

Just things on my mind lately. Not sure how I'm going to deal with the gridlock I'm facing. If you have any words of wisdom, leave it in the comments.
Friday, June 5, 2015

Welcome Home, Carl Vinson


Almost 10 months ago I stood on family beach at Point Mugu and watched a group of my dear friends and their kids wave goodbye to their husbands and daddies. They knew it was going to be a long deployment; one of the longest carrier deployments since Vietnam. And with the majority of the fight with ISIS being limited to air power, they knew their husbands were flying into the fight.


It was a strange experience standing on the beach with them. I was invited to capture those moments, but I still felt like I needed to keep a safe distance. Like an unwanted fly on the wall I was invading their intimate moment. I was going to go home to my husband, they weren't. What the hell was I doing there? So I stood way back, dug myself in the sand, and happened to get the lucky shot above.

Goodbyes seem to be more private than Hellos in the military. We all think about the homecomings; we love those photos, YouTube videos, and articles. Even though only 1% of the country serves in the military, 100% have watched the heartwarming surprise homecomings and reunions on television. But as they fly away, as a plane or ship becomes a black dot on the horizon, most have never seen or contemplated in their day to day lives. You don't see many photos of families sitting on the beach watching a ship steam away. It's sad. And as a military spouse myself, I find photographing the comings and goings of military personnel very draining. I've been where they are, I will be where they are again.

Wednesday morning, after what seems like yesterday and a million years ago at the same time, I was lucky enough to photograph the fly in of the VAW 116 Sun Kings. Because Point Mugu is the ultimate military fish bowl (love it or hate it!), I have gotten to see many friends go through countless ups and downs this past 9 months. They have all done amazing things and really thrived. They have all had days where they wanted to throw stuff and drink all the wine.

Some of the kids have grown so much that they are almost unrecognizable; something that makes me so sad that I can barely write about it. My own husband has left a small baby and come home to a toddler. It really is one of the most bittersweet moments describable when a service member comes home to a child that he or she misses desperately, but that baby has grown and changed. Time does not stand still.

Homecomings themselves can be bittersweet. They are happy, but they are also sad in their own way. They are a relief from anxiety and worry but a reminder that not everyone gets homecoming. And they are the beginnings of reintegration, a piece of deployment that all too often isn't discussed or taught. Photographing homecoming shouldn't be about getting "happy happy happy" (which is often how the media portrays it). It should be about attempting to illustrate the immense emotional experience that happens when your loved one returns from war. It is messy and complicated and beautiful.



 


 
 

 
 



Happy homecoming, VAW 116, Carrier Air Wing 17, USS Carl Vinson, and Carrier Strike Group 1. 
 
All photos Copyright of Jill Qualters
Please write for permission to re-print.
jillqualters@yahoo.com
Friday, May 8, 2015

Thank You, Sister Wives


Thank you, military spouses.



In the sea of "I don't know how you do its", you are the ones who say "you can do it!" You know that empathy beats sympathy every single time.


While the rest of the world forgets about a deployment or a detachment (because most can't fathom how long they are really gone), you are the one with the wine, chocolate, and shoulder. Often and always. You understand paper chains and M&M countdowns. Homecomings aren't just youtube videos to you.

 

You are the easiest friends I have ever made. You are the most generous, thoughtful, and wonderful.
 



You are adventurous. Most people can't fathom your organizational skills, creativity, and willingness to move across country or around the world into the land of the unknown. With an open heart and an optimistic outlook you learn new cultures, deal with rejection, and celebrate the first time you drive on the "wrong" side of the road. Even if you do mistake the windshield wipers for the turn signal the first 10 outings.



Your friends list is never full. You don't discriminate. You are a master of all trades. You know that Murphy's Law is TRUTH and can fix a dishwasher, change a tire, and rock power tools.


"You just wait until your dad gets home" is not a phrase you ever utter. You handle it. While you aren't a single parent, you are a professional solo parent.


Most importantly, you are the light. You hold down the fort. Your children know you are their constant, your friends know you are dependable, and you absolutely are a vital part of the military complex. Without you, believe me, things would quickly fall apart.


Thank you, military spouses. Today and always. You are the best sister wives.



 
Monday, April 27, 2015

And They're Off...


Four months ago I blogged about this year being "the year of workups". We've been pretty lucky in that things have started slowly and we have a few shorter periods of time away before things get crazy. Like a slow drip drip drip to prepare for the deluge that will inevitably hit us later this spring and summer.

Work ups inevitably stir up memories and anxiety for me. It is pretty easy to live my life day in and day out without a care in the world and then *bam* I remember why this life can make me jittery and things start to unravel a bit in my mind.

Almost exactly 7 years ago, in the midst of work ups almost exactly like these, a helicopter went down in Fallon, NV during a training exercise that my husband was flying in. It was my husband's first brush with death up close - in the plane they were there, communicating and participating - and then *poof* no contact. And it was his first experience planning a mission with a group of guys that didn't come back for the debrief. A learning experience both for him and for me. It was also one of the first times I saw a headline and held my breath because the type of aircraft (Seahawk) just happened to share a name with my husband's squadron at the time (the Seahawks). A coincidence that was absolutely and totally paralyzing while I wasn't in contact with John.

I've said it a million times, writing this blog is cathartic. I have come to appreciate the military spouse following I have and I do try to keep everything pretty upbeat and (hopefully) helpful. But I am also a real military spouse, and as we inch closer to deployment I can't promise everything will be neat and brave. I get scared. And when I get scared, I often write.

Thanks for listening, I appreciate you all out there.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Racing Facebook Part II: Respecting the Power of Social Media


Yesterday a bunch of my USMC friends messaged me that a blog post I wrote last year about CACO notifications and social media was making the rounds again in the wake of the helicopter crash in Florida. It isn't lost on me that because of that post my blog gets very "popular" when tragedy strikes in the military aviation community. And honestly, I have very mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I don't want to become the face of loss in our community. I write this blog for many reasons - some selfish (it's therapeutic for me to write and reflect) - and some because I hope that every once in awhile someone reads my words and goes "me too!" or "thank god I'm not alone!". Not to be the one who pops up on Facebook feeds when the worst happens. That truly gives me the heeby jeebies in a macabre way. But I also think the message is important and worth hosting so I am coming to terms with the fact that this may become something I have to be okay with.

Theresa and I are both glad people are still reading her message about being gentle with social media and speculation in the wake of incidents in our community. The article was written to be read and spread and thought about. It is also meant to be discussed and debated. I still get emails from people who either strongly agree or strongly disagree with the message that Theresa and I are trying to spread. Some think that raging against the machine of social media is fruitless and we should all just accept that finding out via Twitter or Facebook that our loved one is missing or dead "is what it is". Some find comfort in the idea that we should try and remain quiet and sit on our hands until we know families have been notified properly. Opinions and debate are healthy and good. As for Theresa, she has been working hard with Gold Star Families to try and remediate the outdated and slow CACO process and bring it into the 21st century reality.

Last year I wrote an article for Military Spouse Magazine regarding social media and CACO notifications. Theresa helped me by generously sharing her thoughts and opinions (again) with the hopes of making this horrific time a little easier for the next men and women who will have to endure it. I never linked it here, but in light of the incident Tuesday I thought it was relevant.

Article in full: http://militaryspouse.com/coping/racing-facebook-respecting-the-power-of-social-media/

My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the 11 service members killed Tuesday night. May they rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015: The Year of Work Ups

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you are doing well and setting into the fresh new year. It is a balmy 81 degrees right now (at 10 AM) and I still haven't quite gotten used to the no season thing out here in California. Don't get me wrong though, I love it. Aside from a grumpy October (too hot for my "basic bitch" pumpkin spice lattes) I have just adored the idea of always being outside, having windows open, and enjoying unlimited Vitamin D.

Every blogger I know wrote something about resolutions. I don't have any resolutions, really. As I become older I realize that resolutions never really stick for me and it is just a matter of making changes as they present themselves. I've started a 365 project to help keep me active with my camera, and hopefully, assuming my lovely editor doesn't fire me, will be writing more at "Military Spouse Magazine" this year. So my two favorite hobbies of writing and photography will grow this year.

The biggest change this year will come in the form of work ups. Or should I say Work Ups. It feels heavy on my heart so I feel like I should pronounce that phrase with more emphasis. Maybe in some spooky font.

WORK UPS

There, that's better.

Work ups are the typical training rotation that happens before a Navy unit (air wing, carrier strike group, etc) deploys. The general public tends to think that the units are either home or away. Lots of fanfare over departures and homecomings, but not much about the long cycle of in and out that precedes them. It isn't just deployment that turns family life over on it's head and means a lot of time away. It is the preparation for said deployment that is really tumultuous. As of my veteran Navy wife friends said to me a few days ago, "if you can survive the tempo between now and November, deployment will be a piece of cake." Sadly, that's true.

This isn't our first rodeo. John has done three previous deployments and we've done work ups before. But as our kids get older and more aware of the presence of their daddy, the ins and outs of training and exercises tax them more and more. Which, of course, taxes me more and more.It sounds cliche, but the burden has shifted from me (mental and physical task of getting two babies through the last deployment) to my kids.  Connor, our four year old son, will call out for John in his sleep when he's away. Kate, our five year old, just pretty much wants her daddy around 24/7. Even the work day is an inconvenience to her. I've become more seasoned and definitely don't pine away for my husband (sorry, sweety!) the way I did when we were 23 year old newlyweds and facing down our first deployment, but having to carry my kids through this experience is going to be a new emotional experience.

I won't be changing any diapers but I will be wiping many tears.

And so 2015 will pretty much be defined by the ins and outs of work ups. It's condensed and complicated; he'll likely be gone a total of 6 months between now and the end of the year when they are scheduled to deploy. And then we have the, ya know, actual deployment. Right now that is scheduled to be about 8 months. Don't count all those months, it literally makes me nauseous to try and digest that all at once. One month at a time, one thing at a time.

I started writing this blog when John deployed in 2011. This was my safe place, a place to write it all out at the end of a marathon day. I love looking back on those posts. Hopefully, this place can be that haven again. Hopefully you will all bear with me. I'll be looking for silver linings, for growth, gratitude for the great community I have around me, appreciation for the fact that I live in a neighborhood that does my yard work, three cheers for two kids who will be in school daily. Lots of things I know not everyone has. I promise not to be a damsel in distress.

My friend Karen's husband left her a gift when he was going through an equally challenging time in the Army. Just a patch on the kitchen counter with a message that I will be using to help me through.



Our expectations form our experiences in life. I don't expect this year to be full of family stability. That said, I will embrace what I do have: lots of friends who understand what I'm going through, great schools that my kids love, a great neighborhood where my kids can play freely and safely, wine and coffee, and the deep understanding that this won't last forever. I've done it before, I'll do it again. 

New year, new set of challenges. That's life, right? If you have any tips on getting kids through with work ups without setting them up for a lifetime of therapy (or a major separation anxiety issue), please leave a comment!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Without Him


I've watched my friends this Christmas. Lugging trees into their homes, stringing lights while perched precariously on ladders, and remembering to hide the Elf on a Shelf every night. They are frantically shopping for gifts, planning breakfast with Santa, going on Polar Express train rides, and fighting the viscous shopping crowds. They curl up at night with their hot chocolate or their (much deserved) glass of wine, stare at their tree, and wish they weren't alone. Gracefully they navigate the happiness of the holidays with the sadness of the holidays during deployment. It is a balancing act. One that I've done, one that I'll do again, and one that I deeply respect.


Did you know that elves can get all the way to the Persian Gulf in time to visit with a squadron, get a makeover, check in with Santa, and get home in time for breakfast? I find myself absolutely in awe of my long list of military girlfriends traversing deployment this holiday season. They are so creative, so inspirational, and still making this a magical time for their kids. They take a situation that many would find unbelievably stressful and turn it into something even more magical. It's truly amazing.

I have been putting a lot of pressure on this holiday time period. The past two years we have been buried under boxes in the middle of a PCS move. In 2012, we arrived in Kansas on December 14th. We somehow managed to get our entire house unpacked and a tree up by Christmas, but I promise you that there weren't elves making that happen. It was time, and sweat, and stress. I was proud of that damn tree, complete with one of those moving sticker ornaments (since we were still unpacking as we were decorating our tree), but it was a very stressful holiday.


Last year, we arrived in California on December 19th. No tree. No decorations. When my husband came home from Home Depot with a peanuts Christmas tree that played the music, he laughed. I cried. It was funny but it wasn't funny. One of those moments when I loved my husband so much for his humor but wanted to punch him at the same time.


We know that my husband will be deployed at this time next year. So with that knowledge I have found myself placing way too much emphasis on this holiday having everything. You hear me? Everything. Last year and the year before were hard. Next year will be harder. This year? I want it to be perfect. Too perfect. And I need to stop it.

When you get down to it, holidays should be a time to slow down, reflect, and enjoy family. If you are religious, they are a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus or the re dedication of the Holy Temple. I think it is that emphasis on family that makes Christmas during deployment so hard. Last year and the year before, while I wasn't exactly comfortable in my nest, I had my whole family with me to hug on Christmas morning. That is so much more important than stuff, trees, or even cookies and hot chocolate. Next year I know it won't be that way, and it isn't that way for many right now.

Take time to acknowledge any friends who might be struggling this holiday season. They will wake up, dry their eyes, and put a smile on their face so that their children enjoy a nice Christmas morning. They will be resilient and beautiful and strong. But they are also human, and humans need love. 

So to all of my fellow military spouses with deployed loves, cheers to you and your family. May you still find joy in Christmas or Hannukuh. May your tree not dry out, your lights not fade, and your egg nog be strong. Most importantly, I pray that your loved returns to you safe and soon. 


Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We live in the land of palm trees and Pinot Noir. For now.

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