Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Switch

Since John returned a few weeks ago I have found myself in awe of the attitude switch that occurs between my deployment mode and my-husband-is-home-and-I-am-a-damsel-in-distress mode.  For example, if I see a bug?  During deployment:  Scream into a pillow so I don't scare the kids and then suck it up and dispose of the bug.  Post-deployment: Scream like a banshee and run and find John to dispose of the bug.  Outside.  In our neighbors yard.  Then let him take care of the two scared toddlers.  See also: opening jars, unclogging toilets, changing light bulbs, putting air in my car tires, and, most importantly, packing for road trips.

Traveling was part of survival during deployment.  I needed company, adult interaction, a change of scenery, and to attend family obligations or important events.  I won't lie and say it was a breeze, it took many hours of packing as quietly as possible because the only time to do it was during naps or when they were sleeping in the evening.  But I did it. And I didn't need much wine or Valium or cheerleading to get it finished.  But now?  Oy vey how the hell did I do that all by myself?

Watching John try to pack all of our crap into our car for this road trip made me laugh wonder if I could have done it without him.  Deep down the answer is a resounding "duh, of course", but seriously, I am starting to understand why people are so quick to say things like "I could never do that" when they look at your situation from the outside.  I think we naturally let our guard down to the point where you can live happily and healthily with the resources we have.  This avoids gray hair, overeating, and divorce.  So if our husbands are gone, our guard goes up and we work it out.  Husband home?  He gets to mow the grass and I let lots of things just seamlessly slip into the "his" category without a lot of fanfare. 

Those of you who know my husband know that when he gets home I yield to him in all things packing, organizing, and filing.  He is borderline OCD and when it comes to certain things it really is his way or no way (or really, his way or he will re-pack the car, re-fold his laundry, re-organize the office). So I save myself some time and just let him do it (or in the case of the laundry, begrudgingly learn how to fold things the "Naval Academy way".  Yes, our shirts look like little rectangles).  During my deployment road trips, I did not care if certain things were in the trunk or if I had to use the area below the carseats to store things.  I didn't think too hard about having a "base" in luggage before stacking other lighter objects.  I just packed.  And I am proud to say I was never that person on the side of the highway whose items were strewn across the lanes.  But it wasn't perfect.  And I surely didn't optimize space to the perfectionist standards of Johnny.  A few times I even thought about taking a picture of my packed car and emailing it to him just because I know the reaction would have been funny.  And that he would have had a small tic for the rest of the day.

Overall, our road trip was a success.  Gifts got where they needed to go (and we packed all or them with plenty of rear-window visibility), the kids had a blast with their cousins, the food was excellent, and we lost just enough sleep to make us appreciate our own beds by the time we returned.

Hopefully my three readers didn't think I was a total scrooge for not blogging the obligatory "Merry Christmas" post on 12/25.  I really do hope you had a wonderful holiday (no matter what you celebrate) and got to soak up a lot of quality time with your loved ones.  For your patience, and overall viewing pleasure, here is the holiday photo that sums up what it is like to try and get four kids under five to pose nicely for a Christmas photo:

The soundtrack is even better than the picture.  Three adults laughing, three toddlers crying, and a train whistle just for fun.  This photo is totally going in the "wedding rehearsal dinner slide show" file.  For all four of them.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thank You, New York Times!

Yesterday in the Op Ed section of the New York Times they published a short opinion on why the military pension system should continue.

The middle of the article sounded a lot like my personal plea to keep the retirement system in the military stable.  It reads:

Needless to say, there are critical differences between the civilian and military work forces. Soldiers who have risked their lives for our nation should not also have to risk their retirement savings in stocks. But there are many more mundane sacrifices required of career service members that also make it hard for them to build up the kind of wealth — whether in their houses, their careers or the careers of their spouses — that cushions civilian retirees from the whims of the market.

Service members are often required to move, for example, which hinders their ability to build home equity. Many have to put off purchasing homes, and those who do buy do not have the option of choosing not to move if their mortgages become underwater. For this reason, the housing crash of recent years has hit service families especially hard.

Frequent moves also make it hard for service members’ spouses to find work and progress in their own careers. This is most likely a primary reason that median household incomes for military families are lower than those of their civilian counterparts.

Hopefully, these items will start being discussed more seriously and not be a mere footnote (or non-none as I saw in some original proposals).  Thank you, New York Times, for bringing these important factors into the mainstream news.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

So, How'd I Do?

Somehow a week has flown by since Johnny returned from deployment.  I have spent a lot of time walking around on cloud nine; I cannot tell you how amazing it is to have someone to take a baby out of your hands and replace it with a cup of coffee after a deployment.  John has had to stop me a few times and just say "I'll handle it" because I have become a scurrier these past seven months.  There were days where I honestly didn't stop moving (fluid motion between diaper changing, feeding, playing, laundry, more diapers, more feeding, trying to keep the kids from killing each other, cleaning the kitchen, going out on errands, more diapers, etc, ad nauseum) between 7AM and 7PM.  And then after bedtime I would walk downstairs and want to cry because of the mess in front of me.  My mom will attest that there were days when she was here that at about noon she would ask me if I had eaten anything and I would look at her and say "uuuh, no actually".  Forgetting to eat was the norm for awhile.  I wasn't the priority - the kids were.  Showering, eating, exercising...  they were all second to making sure the kids were fed, clean, safe, and happy.

Parenting, especially parenting a 2 and 1 year old, is a two person endeavour.  Probably a 5 or 6 person endeavour but let's be realistic.  But there were many times during the deployment where I would feel that what I was trying to do (be a good mom to two small kids) was nearly impossible with my setup (a deployed husband and no family nearby).  One of the 2432423 reasons I'm happy Johnny is home is that I think I will be a better mom - less stressed, more rested, and a lot more excited to go do fun things.

I've been thinking a lot about how I handled myself the past seven months.  If you have been reading, I started this blog as a way to remember the ups and downs of this deployment.  In my very first post I wrestled with the idea of time and how our life doesn't pause when things we don't like happen.  How, no matter what my attitude was toward deployment, nothing can change that I had seven months on my own.  So I better make the most of those seven months. 

On a very basic level we did great. The kids are happy and healthy, the house is still standing, both pets (and even koi fish!) survived.  Bills were paid, cars are in good shape, our rental properties are doing well.  Nothing fell apart.  Yay me. 

But as I strip the layers down, I know that there were many times where I wish I could have just relaxed and let things happen more gracefully.  Because of my anxiety, I often pick things down to the most minute detail and perseverate on them.  This isn't healthy.  I probably drove my mother halfway insane by my inability to let go and let others help me without worrying constantly about everything.  I worried about putting people out, about asking for help, about a babysitter coming over and seeing a messy kitchen, about not sending Johnny enough packages, about my neighbors thinking the grass was too long, etc.  I think that I would have done myself a huge favor by just letting some things go (and really letting go) over the past months.  Appearances aren't everything, and honestly, having a glass of wine instead of scrubbing your kitchen floor is sometimes the best choice.

I have a few friends who have recently said farewell to their husbands.  I really hope that they are good to themselves and worry less than I did.  I hope they find the joy in the everyday.  I hope that they pour themselves a glass of wine and just put their feet up a few times a week.  Put your coffee maker on a timer and pour yourself a cup BEFORE you pour that sippy cup.  Make sure you hire a babysitter and get out of the house at least once per week on your own.  And don't don't feel guilty about it.  Don't be afraid to ask for help because so many people are really genuine in their offers. 

I am going to compile a deployment survival guide in the next few days.  Mostly so that next time I can remember what really helped me.  But hopefully it will help a few others too.
Saturday, December 10, 2011

Go Navy-Navy-Navy

The slogan of the day is BEAT ARMY (sir!). 

If Navy wins today it will be 10 straight wins.  As a matter of fact, the last time Navy lost was the weekend that my husband and I got engaged back in 2001.  Not the greatest omen, eh?  Thankfully I'm not a very superstitious person.

If you love tradition and flyovers and men in uniform and (mediocre) college football, I urge you to tune in.  There is something very special about Army vs. Navy.  A respectfully vicious rivalry.  One of the best things about Army Navy are the spirit spots - short videos that the midshipman and cadets make to show their pride in their schools (and of course to tease each other).  Think of them as low-rent but more genuine Super Bowl commercials. 

Here are a few of my faves from this year so far:

Teach Me How To Mid
(I swear I could write a whole blog post on just this video and how I totally see my college self in these girls prowling around Annapolis, but I won't embarrass myself)

Party Rock Anthem

I hope everyone is having a great weekend!  I am soooooo enjoying having my family back in tact for snuggling up in a warm house with college football.  Bliss!
Friday, December 9, 2011

You Put Your Arms Around Me And I'm Whole

On December 7th at about 1:30 I got to see one of the most precious sights I could ever imagine.

Six and a half years ago, at our first homecoming after our first deployment, I would have never believed you if you told me I would let another girl have the first hug at homecoming.  I was so territorial about wanting it to be just about us.  Things have obviously changed since 2005, and it was very clear who wanted that hug the most.

To say I am happy that John is home is the understatement of the century.  I am happy for our son who will finally get to know his daddy.  I am happy for our daughter who has missed him so much these past seven months (and hasn't for one second forgotten about him or stopped asking about where he is).  I am happy for myself because I think my quality of life is going to improve drastically.  Adult conversation, hugs and kisses, and extra set of hands on our outings, someone to laugh with and watch the kids grow with.  I can't tell you how many times Kate or Connor has done something hilarious or adorable where I just wanted someone else there so badly it hurt.  Or at least wanted someone to share the story with at the end of the day.  We are finally whole again.

Connor has adjusted incredibly well.  All morning before the homecoming he was babbling "dadda" around the house.  I'm not sure if it was because I was telling Kate that we were going to see daddy, or if he had some kind of sense things were going on, but he seemed to get it.  And when I handed him to John for the first time there was no tears or apprehension.  He seemed totally at home in his daddy's arms.

I feel so incredibly lucky that my other half is home safe.  I am so lucky he is home for Christmas.  This was our third deployment but our first as parents.  I can't even begin to explain how having children changed the experience for Johnny and me.  We are still processing it and deciding how it will impact our decisions but if either of us took our blessings for granted seven months ago, we absolutely do not now.  We are very blessed to have one another.

Tomorrow, December 10th, will be a homecoming for about 6,000 families in Norfolk when the USS Bush and her strike group (USS Truxton, USS Anzio, and USS Mitcher) return.  It will be a wonderful holiday for so many people and I couldn't be more excited for all of them.  If you are interested, they are going to be live streaming the homecoming so that anyone who wants to can see the festivities. 

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season.  Please keep deployed service members and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  Not everyone is as lucky as me; there are many soldiers, sailors and marines who are still overseas and away from their loved ones.  And if your husband or wife is returning tomorrow with the big homecoming, I wish you an incredible day!

A huge thank you to my dear friend Audra who runs her business, Simple Soul Photography in the Hampton Roads area.  Not only did she take the beautiful photos you see in this post, she helped me wrangle Kate and Connor while they waited for their daddy and contended with some very loud (read: terrifying) jet engines.  As a fellow Navy wife and someone I consider a close friend, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect person than Audra to be with me capturing the day.  If you ever need photographs taken, or want to capture a special event, call her first.  She rocks.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Today is THE Day!

Just a few more hours until our little family is back together again.  Everything will be wonderful and amazing.

Well, until he tries to hijack the Netflix queue or use all the hot water in the morning.  But we'll take him! Happy happy happy day!
Monday, December 5, 2011

Tick Tock Tick Tock...

Oh you've gotta love the last few days of deployment.  Time slows down and at the same time the laundry list of things you thought would be done before your spouse returns mocks you from the kitchen counter.  I have become neurotic about hand sanitizer and avoiding germy places like the YMCA or mall play area (just keep telling me that the kids and I can avoid illness until he gets home, mmmkay?).  Sleep is harder to come by as 30 year old women are reduced to giddy restless 5 year olds on Christmas eve.  The long and short of it:  homecoming is pretty awesome.  Even the anticipation is amazing.

I have a lot of friends whose husbands are returning this week with the USS Bush's strike group and air wing.  My Facebook page is a flutter with excitement and big plans for seeing their spouses for the first time since May.  Women who have been married for decades with butterflies in their stomach (mentioning excitement about sharing the toothpaste or a carton of milk).  People comparing this week to the anticipation they had before their wedding day.  We are all so excited to get back to our "new normal".  To have our partners home, for our kids to have their dads back, and to just immerse ourselves in holiday family time.

Even though I am one of the women who is losing sleep and trying to do countless things before "the day", I have been humbled by the excitement I see in others.  The military isn't an easy lifestyle.  And sometimes I really really (REALLY!) struggle to find the silver lining.  But this week I am seeing one of the illustrations of why the military can be good for a marriage.  You will never see this kind of excitement about husbands coming home from business trips or long weekends away.  I'll even go out on a limb and say that most normal "civilian" marriages probably don't even think about how lucky they are to have each other all the time.  They do what is natural - they take each other for granted - and that "butterflies" feeling fades as the years tick by.  In a way, these long stretches of time away from one another are a good way to recharge batteries and remind us of what is truly important.

More than anything, I cannot wait to see my daughter's face.  She is going to flip out.  It is going to reduce me to tears and I know it is just going to be unbelievable for her to see him and feel him and smell him for the first time in oh so long.  She is a total daddy's girl and I have wondered what has been going through her little two year old brain these past seven months.  But I know that very soon she will just be overcome with JOY in the purest sense.  It is going to be unbelievable.  I.can't.wait.
Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Haven't Been a Single Mother

I'm a Navy wife but I'm not a single mom.  My husband has been gone for almost seven months, but he has been here in every way he knows how.  I might not have his hands to help, but every ounce of energy that he can put towards our family, he does.

I know that when people tell me how they could never do what military spouses do, or could never handle two kids so small alone, that they mean it as a compliment.  That when they ask how "single motherhood" has been, that they are trying to acknowledge my efforts as an accomplishment.  Not insult me.  And definitely not insult my husband.  But I know that when John thinks of our family and hears me described as a single mother that it breaks his heart, fills his mind with guilt, and certainly doesn't help him feel like what he has been doing the past seven months is noble.

Don't get me wrong, single mothers are amazing.  In my opinion, they have it much harder than I do.  They don't have a husband to lean on in hard times (even if it is just over email), they don't have flowers sent to them on bad days, they usually don't have the luxury of staying home with their children, and they don't have a loving partner who tries to be present in spite of his absence.  While I am physically a solo parent, financially and emotionally I have an unbelievable husband and father as a partner.

Solo parent.  This has become my little catch phrase over the past 7 months to describe the fact that I might be changing every.single.diaper. but I have a sweet husband supporting me in every other way possible.  He writes, sends packages, reads books to our kids on DVDs so that they can "watch daddy" whenever they want.  He has been amazing, and I am so lucky to have him.  Deployment is hard, but it is not divorce or death.

Recently my good friend Julie wrote a Facebook status saying that she was about to embark upon a long journey of single motherhood.  She was referring to her husbands upcoming training and deployment.  Within a few days the rumor mill in her family was buzzing about how she was getting divorced and she received a few confused phone calls asking what had happened with her marriage.  It was funny in a way, but solidified my feelings on the verbiage we use to describe ourselves as military spouses.  Our husband's deserve to be acknowledged in our family when they are deployed.  Saying we are single moms is not fair to them.

I know that some of you probably feel like what I am preaching about is semantics, not a big deal, or that I making a big deal out of nothing.  I disagree.  I see the guilt and anguish that lies just beneath the surface with my husband.  While he is proud of his service to the country, he needs to be encouraged about his contributions to the family.  The military lifestyle really does challenge his ability to "be there" for everything that most fathers and husbands can count on (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, the birth of children, graduations, recitals, etc).  It takes it's toll on even the strongest and most stoic men and women.  By accepting the label as "single mother" I am agreeing that my husband isn't here.  And he is here. 

As we finish up the final days of this deployment, I want the world to know that most military parents do every.single.thing they possibly can for their families while they are deployed.  They leave a big part of themselves with their spouses and children.  John has made every effort this deployment to help me be a good mom and to help our children live a happy life.  So while solo parenting has been hard, I have never been a single mother.

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 are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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