I’ve been using most of my writing time lately to edit the manuscript I’m putting together. I’m compiling my husband’s and my email correspondence during his first deployment back in 2006 and 2007. A friend on the receiving end of both of our mass emails at the time said the juxtaposition of our stories would make a really interesting book. On the chance other people think so too, I’m giving it a go.
It’s fascinating to put yourself mentally back in a place you used to be. I’m shocked at just how much I’d forgotten, or possibly blocked out.
When Ian was deployed the first time we only had six days notice before he had to leave. I was two months pregnant. The girls were two and four. I had so many responsibilities with work and teaching and performing that my life was not set up to work as a single parent and I was sent scrambling to figure out what to do. It was a long fifteen months.
Ian’s stories are fascinating. He was on a general’s staff dealing with information that gave him an overview of all of Iraq. I’d forgotten just how upsetting some of his accounts were. While sorting through and editing some of his own emails Ian actually became somewhat anxious and unhappy again. I told him I would do the rest of it. I shouldn’t have asked him to relive the war for my project, but I did need his help identifying what information may not be suitable for print because I don’t know what the army would approve of or not. Now I only share with him the parts of the book about silly and funny things the kids did, which strangely mirrors the way I communicated with Ian back at the time.
I’m surprised, reading back, at just how difficult Mona was. I remember her as being challenging, and I can still recount certain vivid moments and character traits, but she has mellowed so much that I’ve long since let most of those feelings of frustration go. It’s strange to imagine her again as she used to be. She didn’t really connect through talking for a long time, preferring to go through phases of only making puppy noises or quoting certain cartoons. I had completely forgotten just how many lamps she broke.
I forgot just how much time both Aden and I spent crying.
Even if the book goes nowhere, I’m glad to be getting that crucial period of time in our family’s history down in some form for my kids to see later. Only Aden may have vague memories of that first deployment, but it shaped so much of how we function as a family.
I wish so much I could convince my dad to write down what he remembers of his family history growing up, but he just kind of dismisses the idea when my brothers and I ask. There have been small attempts to wrangle information out of him here or there, but nothing I could easily recount to my own kids if they asked. My mom has created beautiful art books about my grandparents and great-grandparents, but I want to know her own story most of all.
One of the things we may sacrifice a bit as parents is a sense of our own story having much meaning after a while. My life prior to my kids doesn’t seem as important somehow. I enjoy focusing on my kids and the future. But when I think how much I want to know my own parents as the people they were before I came along, I realize how much my own history may mean to my kids one day. I don’t know what kind of time I’ll ever have to document much of my past for them, but at least this period of war and the blur of small children will be something they may find interesting.
I think especially when you have your own kids it makes you stop and reevaluate your parents not as parents but as people in a way few events do. My children may be curious in the future how I juggled all of them with their dad away, and the ways in which their dad did his best to stay involved despite the distance and circumstances.
The one thing they may not see in the edited collection of emails is just how often their dad and I said we loved one another. Most of my editing is removing emails that don’t advance any sort of narrative, and after the third little note that just says, “I love you” I’m sure readers would get the point. It’s funny, though, editing out so much love and leaving in the trauma, because it’s the opposite of how I try to live my actual life.
In any case, this process of immersing myself in my own past for a bit has made me both laugh and cry, as well as make me thankful for my family all over again. We’re in a better place today than we were five years ago. Many things are easier, I’m doing more of the things that interest me, Ian is home, kids are growing up…. The one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is Quinn would be just as happy spending all of his time in my lap today as he was as a baby. And his laugh still makes me melt.
(Kids of the past:)