The first few days of Ian’s deployment were surreal. The first steps of a long journey don’t feel any different from the first steps of a walk around the block. Everything felt normal with an underlying sense that it shouldn’t.
After a couple of weeks we were in a new and fairly predictable routine. That felt good, like I was in control of things, and Ian being gone wasn’t going to be too disruptive. We could miss Ian, but still lead our lives just fine. It was inconvenient but doable.
Somewhere about a month in is when the true effects of having a deployed spouse start to hit. Certain things began to get away from me at about the three week mark and I started to get frazzled. I may have a handle on most things inside the house, but the outside is another story. There is nowhere in my schedule to do anything with the yard. I would make a mental note on the walk from the house to the car that the hedges looked awful and the peonies needed to be cut down and the mulberry tree that seemed to be growing right out of the foundation of the garage needed to be chopped back into submission. But when? Quinn is next to me practically every minute, and between shuttling girls around (to school and violin and choir and birthday parties) and running my business, there is just enough time left to go grocery shopping and do other basic errands. Something had to give and that something was the yard.
Luckily, I know incredible people. I think we all do, but most of us are never in a circumstance to call on them for anything.
My neighbor from across the street offered to mow my lawn, which he did on a Sunday morning and I was grateful. When I came home with the kids later in the day, the hedges were also trimmed and the garden cleaned up and the pots overturned. The house didn’t look abandoned anymore and I was really happy. That bit of help came at a time when I really needed it, and I sent a note across the street with Aden to thank him for doing so much. My neighbor called a minute later saying he couldn’t take credit for the additional yard work because he hadn’t been sure what he should touch in the garden. It was Garden Fairies.
The kids and I speculated at dinner about who could have done it. “Sophia’s dad did it once, so maybe it was him! Or Anna’s dad, or maybe Julie since she has to look at the garden from her window anyway…. ” Between the girls and myself (with Quinn echoing everyone for good measure) we came up with several likely candidates for the Garden Fairy Brigade. I pointed out to my kids how lucky we were to know so many nice people that an act of kindness toward us could even be a mystery. We all smiled as we finished our dinner and as I went to bed I still couldn’t narrow down in my head who the Garden Fairies might be.
The very next day I found myself in a minor mini-crisis at the violin store. I’ve been doing pretty well at spreading out the work I need to do so I don’t get overwhelmed, but a surprise rehair showed up. (A rehair is when you put new horsehair on a bow. Violinists need their bows reahaired every six weeks to two years depending on how much they play.) It was an expensive cello bow that I’ve done before that takes a lot of concentration to do well, and I agreed to work on it because I’d just gotten back from the library with Quinn and he had a new movie to watch and a snack to eat. I figured he would be distracted long enough for me to do the job even though I hadn’t planned for it. Of course, the minute I cut the old hair and there was no turning back, Quinn had a meltdown. He wanted to climb in my lap, and when I told him ‘no’ he turned into a wailing puddle.
After about ten minutes of Quinn thwarting any chance of my doing the rehair I was starting to feel panicky. I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, and just then a friend walked into the store to buy new strings for her instrument. It was my girls’ violin teacher, and I found myself telling her I was getting frustrated with Quinn keeping me from my work, and she offered to take him with her on some errands for a little while. It was like a miracle. Quinn was perfectly happy to take her hand and we put his booster seat in her car, and they went to the post office and the bank together. He can be lovely company (if you’re not trying to rehair a bow), and he was happy to get a lollypop from the bank teller. I was able to do the rehair in peace and get it done on time, and I felt so…light. That half an hour of quiet exactly when I needed it gave me a whole new lease on life. I was glad to have my son back again when they returned and he was glad to have a happier mommy.
The week before Halloween I was lucky enough to have my brother, Arno, and a friend of his, come visit for a few days after they attended a brain conference in Chicago. Arno’s friend was one of the sweetest guests imaginable, and he fixed little things around the house for me and the kids. His family was back in Boston, and that he was willing to take a little time away from his own daughter to play with my kids was incredibly nice. (They miss you, Satra, if you happen to read this!)
But the reigning champion of selfless helpers these days has to be my brother, Arno. The day his friend flew home we had a disaster involving something called the P-trap in our basement. Sewage everywhere. It even blew up out of the basement toilet. Roto Rooter came and fixed it, but left us the mess to mop up, and there is something so impossibly disgusting about knowing it’s not just human waste you’re wading through, but other people’s waste, that it makes me gaggy just thinking about it again. I went out and bought a giant container of bleach and a couple of sets of disposable gloves, and I fully intended to spend some disgusting mopping time down in my basement, but Arno did it all. I figured we’d feed the kids and put them to bed, and then the two of us could go at it, but Arno decided it couldn’t wait. I made dinner while he went down with plastic bags wrapped around his shoes and cleaning tools we knew would have to be sacrificed to the cause. He scoured everything and used up the entire container of bleach and made extra sure that the whole bathroom and the path to the washing machine in particular were CLEAN. When he was done he threw away his pants and he headed straight for the shower.
The amazing thing about having my brother here is he actually made me laugh about the whole mess. I love him so much. And as much as I felt like the world’s worst hostess to have Arno clean up sewage on his visit, the truth is he was there to help. I could not have needed it more! If that had happened while I was alone with the kids I would have cried. I’d have had to wait until the kids were asleep and stayed up all night alone mopping my basement, trying not to throw up and alternately weeping and cursing. But instead I baked my brother pumpkin pies. We laughed at the incredible grossness of the whole thing. I made a joke about how he didn’t owe me presents ever again because he was good for all my birthdays, and he misunderstood and thought I meant I wouldn’t give him gifts anymore (since how do you top a sewage cleaning experience as a present?) and we laughed so hard I almost peed myself. To top it off, after giving the kids a lecture about not using so much toilet paper (the likely cause of the disaster to begin with), Mona used the toilet and waved to the bowl after she flushed saying, “Bye bye! See you again soon!” Who knew sewage backup could be so funny? (Says the woman who didn’t have to clean any of it.)
Oh, and the Garden Fairy? Turned out to be my friend Carol who seems to be making a career out of saving my sanity on a regular basis. She is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever known and I’m so proud to be able to call her my firend. Her husband recently fixed a door in my house. I paid him in apple pie.
I went out and bought a supply of disposable pie pans this week. I have a feeling if these first couple of months are any indication, before this deployment is over I’ll have a lot more baking to do.