Friday, July 15, 2016

Home.

It feels like yesterday and a eons ago in a way I can't quite articulate.

First day of deployment: friends and family rally around. I remember being shocked and touched by the outpouring of support the day my husband flew off into the unknown. Flowers, wine, chocolate, magazines, funny gifts, notes, left lovingly by people who understood. Day one of deployment is paralyzing so the outpouring is much appreciated.

Back in 2011 on my husband's last deployment he was driven to the carrier by friends because our kids were in bed and I didn't want to drag them out into the night. I kissed him goodbye on our porch and then walked back inside, leaned on the door, and heard our old antique clock nearby "tick tick tick tick" in the quiet. I shook my head thinking of how time would be something I would be paying so much attention to. How many months have passed, how many to go, how many how many how many. It was there that I promised not to wish away the precious months with my kids. At that moment, I had a 6 month old baby snoozing in his crib. That is a precious time, and I knew that wishing away the months was a mistake.

Halfway through deployment: Or so we thought...
Things are routine now. But they've been gone "forever" and it still feels like "forever" to go. I've met many military spouses that think halfway is the hardest part. While it makes sense to frame it as "all downhill from here" like you are on the top of the hill of the roller coaster, many think of it as a valley and feel helpless in the face of the long climb ahead. I'm not sure how I feel about halfway, even after four deployments. It depends on the day or even the hour at that point.

We had an awesome halfway this deployment. Our CO and XO wives poured their hearts and souls into making the whole evening magical and full of surprises. We had dinner at an amazing restaurant, read hand-written notes from our husbands, and toasted each other. I even ran into the ocean in a cocktail dress. It doesn't get much better than that!

Extension: Oh, extension...
I was sitting on my porch on my 35th birthday and my friend pulled up to take me to lunch. When she got out of her car her face was sullen. "Have you heard?" she asked?
"Heard what? That I'm old?" I answered hopefully. Knowing that that wasn't the answer but hoping it wasn't what I feared.
30 day extension. On my freaking birthday! What the hell, universe? Seriously?
We were 6 weeks from homecoming at that point but had heard rumors that they wanted the carrier to stay on station longer to keep pressure on ISIS. But we had all hoped that the Navy would keep the 7 month commitment to families. That was wishful thinking.
Listen, the Navy loves to spin extensions as something to be proud of. Proof that what our spouses are doing is working, that they are needed, that they are professional warriors and 30 days is a drop in the bucket. But between you and me? They suck. Moving finish lines suck. Telling your kids that daddy will be gone longer than expected when they've already been missing him for so long sucks. Thinking of all the new things you will now have to do alone sucks.
We get it, we move on, and we embrace the suck. But it doesn't change the fact that it is like tripping over the hurdle when you are so close to the finish line you can feel it.

And then finally, after 8 months and 240 "sleeps" as my kids like to call them:

Homecoming: the thing that makes it all (almost) worth it.
Our squadron spouses were all crossing fingers and toes that all of our air crew could make it back together as one unit. Our planes flew hard for 8 months of combat cruise and then had to make a long 2,800 mile journey back to our base. We are a west coast squadron who deployed with an east coast carrier. So when they hit 400 nautical miles off the coast they took off. And we all sat in silent prayer hoping that no warning lights would pop.
And they made it. And they were home.











Welcome home USS Truman, Carrier Air Wing 7, and especially to The Wallbangers!

Thank you to Tanya Craft Photography for coming out and patiently awaiting the arrival of our squadron! You aren't just a great photographer, but you've been a wonderful neighbor to me and my kids.

Lastly, one of the sailors in the squadron made an amazing video that illustrates the fun, crazy, much unseen parts of deployment and the mighty Hawkeye. From port calls to catapult shots, night carrier landings to laying on the beach in Dubai. So many ups and downs to a carrier cruise: (this is a Facebook video so the link will take you there)

VAW 117 CRUISE VIDEO

I hope this gives you a glimpse into the last 8 months of my life. I'm sad I wasn't able to write to you all during that time. Hopefully that changes as we face our next adventure: PCS. We don't know where, we don't know exactly when, but we know it is soon. Never a dull day!








Sunday, July 10, 2016

In the Waning Days

This deployment was nothing like the last one in many ways. If you have been a reader of my blog, you know I've been totally absent. Last time John was gone I would write 3 or more times per week; it was my outlet and my saving grace, but it wasn't to be this time. The world has changed, we are more interconnected, and I simply didn't feel safe with "anyone" (or even my small group of readers) knowing that I was home alone with two kids for eight months. Especially with the mission my husband and his squadron was tasked with.

It was different in many other ways too. My kids are older and so I was definitely less drained and had more time to myself than 2011. I had a much larger "village" with school, sports, dance, friends, and friends who became family. I live in a wonderful neighborhood in a beautiful area with gorgeous weather. The lonely, physically exhausting deployment of 2011 was not repeated and I am grateful.

We are in the waning days. There is a bright light at the end of this long tunnel.

I am so proud. Proud of my husband for his service and sacrifice. Proud of my kids for their strength and good nature. Proud of my fellow navy wives - some going through their first deployment, others going through their 7th or more. Proud of myself for juggling the many tasks and roles somewhat gracefully over the past 240 days.

It is a controversy in the military community about whether military families actually "serve" the nation. Make any mention about a spouse taking an ounce of credit for her servicemember and you are met with a chorus of internet disdain (just google "dependa" if you want a taste of that vitriol). And while you'll never see me sporting a bumper sticker proclaiming that as a Navy wife that I have the "toughest job", I also do not believe that families and kids have "nothing" to do with the success of the US military. No, I wasn't issued to my husband, but my husband wouldn't serve if he couldn't do so with the kids and I by his side. And while my kids aren't flying off an aircraft carrier every day, they are definitely cuddling their daddy dolls and longing for their father every night. My kids have sacrificed. My fellow Navy wives have sacrificed, and I have sacrificed. I am okay saying that, proud even.

Every month we would send a box out to the squadron to brighten their days and decorate their space seasonally. On one of the last months we sent out a box with a "Here Comes the Sun" theme. I asked the families in our squadron to submit a photo or video with what they are most excited to do once their sailor gets home. As I opened emails with submissions I was struck with how simple some of the wishes were. "Play with my toys", "snuggles", and "sharing pizza" were some of the popular ones. For others, the request was more serious and heart wrenching, "I can't wait for you to meet your son".

Wallbanger "Here Comes the Sun" video, 2016 (sorry it isn't embedded, just click the link and it should work):


These are sacrifices. These families are serving in their own way. No, it doesn't take away from the men and women standing the watch, manning the rails, sleeping aboard the carrier, and flying thousands of missions. The Truman will have traversed over 50,000 miles of ocean on this deployment and they deserve all of the accolades. But as I kiss my kids goodnight over the next few nights, the last nights of deployment, I know that they have served too.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Changes

Well, this sucks.

When I started this blog I never expected anyone to really read it. John, even as private as he is, considered this platform a blessing because it is a pathway to my thoughts. Thoughts that I probably wouldn't put in an email, but would blabber to the "world" in one of my random essays about how much deployment with two kids under two was crazy hard. So he would read my blog in port calls and probably compare my "we're doing great!" emails to "geez there isn't enough wine in the world" blog posts and just get an honest average of how we were really doing.

Then people started reading and people started recognizing me in our small little military world. I'm in no way famous, but as anyone in the military can attest to, this is a very small world. So become a blogger and a columnist in a small world and you quickly start becoming recognized. I have had a few creepy moments along the way, but none that would cause me to panic and delete the blog.

That said, with ISIS and threats to military families becoming more and more relevant in the last two years, I have often paused about how safe I was being. Now, I'm not going to dive into a bunker anytime soon and change my name, but I was aware of my own public persona possibly being a danger to the kids and I. Then Paris happened, John deployed the following day, and I felt a little scared. And then we discovered that someone had stolen the pictures from my blog and created "me" on Facebook. CREEPY. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. It wasn't me panicking because of one thing, it was a series of concerns with a gigantic cherry on top.

It isn't what I want. This is deployment where shit is real and where my readers get a glimpse into the crazy, hard, sad, fun, confusing normal that military families go through. I think it's important when 99% of the country has no "skin in the game" for some of us to talk about how it is to be in that 1%. Also, it's therapeutic for me to write and get feedback - positive and negative - throughout. So me locking down my blog was a sad thing to do. The plan is to open it back up when John returns, and hopefully the ways of the world will make it reasonable to do that next summer.

Anyway, if you are reading this, I appreciate it! Feel free to comment here now - nobody is reading except vetted friends, family, and military spouses. I do appreciate comments - even if they tell me to put on my big girl panties and deal with it. Sometimes I need that!

Cheers, everyone! Thanks for sticking with me.
Sunday, November 15, 2015

Today.

Today.

Today I said goodbye. It was the day that we anticipated and dreaded for so many months.

Today I had to tell my heartbroken 6 year old daughter that it was more than 30 days, more than 100, more than 200 days.

Today I stood on the beach with my military spouse sisters and waved goodbye. To what they are flying toward we don't know, and what adventures we will have when they are away is also a mystery. But today we stood shoulder to shoulder as our spouses go to fight as brothers.

Copyright: Lesley Watt

Today and every day we are a family.

Today my 5 year old son asked me with wide eyes if he was the man of the house. And today I still don't know a good answer to that question. He wants to be a big guy, but today he is still so little and I want him to feel free from stress.

Today we listened to the familiar hum of the Hawkeye engines taking our loved ones away. Today we start the countdown and look forward to that sound again when they'll be returning safe and sound.



Today I am grateful. Grateful for the friends in my life who understand, who encourage, and who love without bounds. For treats left on porches, wine between friends, the sounds of our kids playing happily while we absorb and process the day.



Today it was me. Tomorrow it will be another family somewhere in the world.

Today is day 1. One day down.



Sunday, August 23, 2015

Welcome to the Moo-au (a Navy COW Party)

 
We have been celebrating our squadron change of command this week and with that comes lots of tradition, parties, ceremony, and acronyms. COW (Commanding Officers Wife) is one of the most lovingly used yet greatly confused acronyms of all. Our new COW has been posting pictures on Facebook with her black and white gifts and decorated lawn. The comments of course ranging from happy congratulations to "why on earth are you celebrating being called a cow?!?" We realize that in the civilian world, calling your husband's boss' wife a COW would be not-such-a-good idea. In the Navy, it is invited and lovingly received.

I love the COW tradition and think it is a fitting and fun way to celebrate new command families. Our new COW works hard to make sure our squadron functions like a family. This is especially important right now as we are staring a deployment square in the eye.

On Saturday we had Kim's COW party. Our Officers Spouses Group (OSC) put a ton of time, thought, creativity and love into the ideas and gifts. We decided on a Moo-au - a Hawaiian themed COW party. A fun mixture of island colors and food, with black and white cow décor mixed in. It may sound like a hot mess, but our secret OSC Pinterest board quickly grew with amazing ideas and the party came together moooo-velously. There wasn't one person  that did everything; each person in our group contributed their skills, time, money, and creativity.

Welcome to the Moo-Au

 
 

 








 
 


 
 
 


 







 
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

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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