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The Home Front: An Iraq Soldier’s Wife on Her Family’s Sacrifice.

At long last, my husband is back from Iraq.

By Korinthia Klein |

During the fifteen months my husband was deployed to Iraq, I had to function as a single parent. It was an exhausting, stressful time – so exhausting, in fact, that my sleep-researcher brother totaled up the number of hours of sleep I was averaging during Ian’s deployment and declared I should be dead. But as hard as it was having Ian away (see the Babble essay I wrote back in the spring for details), the idea of having him back at the end of the summer also caused me to worry about what readjustment would be like for all of us.

There’s a stock image of the family reunited. As the wife awaiting her husband’s return from war, I was supposed to be giddy, all happy preparations and excitement. In truth, I was extremely irritable the week before Ian’s plane finally landed in Milwaukee. Anticipation drawn out over such a long period of time can make you feel sick. The sheer exhaustion was catching up with me and I worried I would collapse in the home stretch. I ate too much, was short-tempered with the kids (now closing in on six, four and one), and a little scared. It’s hard to welcome someone back into the most intimate folds of your life when you’re not sure who that person might be anymore.

The scene where the wife and kids meet the returning soldier did not go at all as planned. My husband wanted to see us at the gate as he stepped off the plane, but the guest passes we needed to pass through security took more than an hour to get. The kids got squirrelly. The baby got hungry. There were a lot of little shoes to take off and put back on. The stroller had to be collapsed. My daughter’s backpack full of stuffed animals had to be searched for bombs. We got lost trying to find the gate. We missed Ian, paged him. He missed us, paged us. By the time we all found each other at the information desk, I was shaken and frustrated.

Aden ran to her daddy and hugged him. Mona followed her big sister’s lead. By the time I got my arms around Ian, all I could do was sob. I was happy to see him and angry that he’d been gone. I wept with relief and joy and regret and fatigue. (The scene was politely ignored by passing strangers.) On the drive home, there was too much to say, and no way to say it in a van full of small children. Ian was able to let go of the frustration of the airport instantly. He said in Iraq you learned to let the past be history because you needed all your attention in the new moment. Still grouchy, I worried we were already on a different page.

And in the weeks that followed, there were plenty of things to get used to. Ian marveled at the quiet as we went to sleep, because he’d lived so long with mortar fire and the constant whine of generators and military jets. I kept forgetting that he didn’t know where things belonged and that he still had to be introduced to some of the people and places the kids and I know best.

But we quickly established a new routine. School started. We potty-trained our toddler. The children adjusted remarkably well. It’s hard to believe Quinn’s daddy was a stranger to him only a few weeks ago. He rides around in his father’s arms as if it’s the most natural place from which to survey the world. The baby has crying spells that Ian at first took personally, but I reminded him that it’s hard to compete with a breast-feeding mother no matter who you are.

Considering Mona was only two when her dad left, she’s accepted him back into her life with surprising ease. She has moments when she comes to me saying she’s “scared of Daddy,” but they seem calculated for dramatic effect to get out of chores.

Aden, now almost six, had the hardest time with the separation and the reunion has been more complicated for her than for her siblings. When life got hard and her emotions were overwhelming, she used to cry about Daddy being gone. Now, when she’s upset she seems to flail about for good excuses to cry, but they are harder to come by. She has also come to the realization that although having Daddy home is fun, sometimes it just means one more parent around telling her what to do.

And the two of us as a couple are doing fine, although with three kids there is less time to be alone than we would like. One more person around to take care of the endless work that needs to be done to keep a household running is a huge relief. I haven’t touched the laundry since Ian came home, and I’m finally getting some sleep. I’m still not over the shock of being able to walk out of the house alone, unencumbered by children every time we need to mail a package or buy milk.

Recently, I got up the nerve to ask Ian about his chances of being redeployed. He said it was a possibility. I told him I didn’t know if I could do it again – that if he loved me, he wouldn’t ask me to. I wanted to ask him to leave the Reserves for the sake of our family, but I couldn’t. Ian has told me his presence saved lives in Iraq, so I’m stuck with a dilemma as old as war itself: I need him home with me to help raise our kids; he needs to use his talents to make a difference in the world. I don’t know which one of us is being selfish.

After weeks of trying to readjust to being a family of five, it’s finally starting to sink in that I’m not on my own any more. Today, while I was picking a few things up at Target, Ian took Mona and the baby with him to pick up Aden at school. As I stood against the front of the store, protected from the rain, waiting for them to return, I realized that for the first time in many, many months I was alone and smiling. All the responsibility for the kids and their schedules was, at last, not just on my shoulders.

The van pulled up. Quinn was asleep. Mona cried out, “Mama! You’re back!” When I asked Aden how school was, she said, “I did good,” with a satisfied smile. Ian was wet, but looked proud that he’d successfully picked Aden up in the rain despite being burdened with a sleeping baby and a three-year-old in mid-tantrum. The van was warm and dry. In the back was a fresh supply of diapers. The girls were the embodiment of a joyful noise and all I wanted to do was kiss my husband. Ian may have come home last month, but I feel like I just arrived.

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About Korinthia Klein

korinthia

Korinthia Klein

Korinthia Klein is a violin maker and the mother of three in Milwaukee WI. She, along with her husband run a violin store called Korinthian Violins. Korinthia also performs in her area with the Festival City Symphony and the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra. She currently teaches at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. A former Babble blogger, Klein currently continues to write on her personal website, The Quiet Corner. Read bio and latest posts → Read Korinthia's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “The Home Front: An Iraq Soldier’s Wife on Her Family’s Sacrifice.

  1. tiffer says:

    This story was beautifully written.  I was almost in tears.

  2. BBBGMOM says:

    I read your article this past spring and had been hoping for an update.  Your story is beautiful and I am so happy and relieved that your family has been reunited.  Bless you all.

  3. chyna823 says:

    *sniff* What? I…I’ve just got something in my eye…I need to go get a Kllenex…

  4. Karen523 says:

    I am sooo very happy for you. What a joy that you are all back together again. How many times have you breathed a sigh of relief? Enjoy every second of your time together. All the best.

  5. AllisonWonder says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. We’re facing the possibility of my husband being sent for RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) training for 6 months shortly after #2 arrives, and it’s so good to read essays by temporarily-single parents who are willing to be honest about the experience. Best of luck to all of you!

  6. chattydaddy says:

    It so nice to hear about other people’s quiet struggles. It does seem like the cumulative impact of little victories and moments of joy is what it’s all about. I have one child and a second on the way, and can only imagine what it would take to raise three children alone, even for a few months.

  7. me and the three says:

    Thank you for this. I am on month three of a year long deployment, home alone with three kids ages 6, 4 and 2. Frustrating, exhausting but somehow it must be making me stronger. I dream of the day my husband comes home and life can get back to “normal”. Thank you again and I am happy for you!

  8. supporter says:

    As far as the dilemma of who is being “selfish”–you for wanting your husband to stay home, or him for wanting to possibly go back and continue making a difference in the world–I think “selfish” is the wrong word. You both have very real, legitimate wants and needs, and neither of you is wrong for wanting what you want. Maybe a new word needs to be invented for that very situation.Please tell your husband THANK YOU for doing the job he did. Our soldiers are the best for the selfless sacrifices they make, and we deeply appreciate the work they do.

  9. Peace loving mom says:

    Wow not one anti war response.its a sad day when very few in this world can judge truth from falsehood and right from wrong.May God lead us to the straight path.Theres nothing else to hope for when people have been misled to such a degree.When wil we ever live in Peace when folk like yourselves are being fooled into believing u r doin a noble thing wen lives r being destroyed on both sides of the world.And no i dont think u r bad people just misguided and being led by the embodiment of evil and injustice.peace loving mom

  10. Anuharada says:

    This article kind of disgusted me. It was almost as if you didn’t care that your husband was risking his life for his country, just as long as you didn’t have to be bothered by your kids by yourself anymore. I’m reading this over and over again trying to see if I had read anything wrong or something like that, but I don’t think I had…Your husband comes home from war, and you’re relieved that you don’t have to do laundry anymore? …what? Adjusting from being in combat to normal life is hard enough, much less having a wife push all of her problems onto you after you’ve just had a traumatic experience. I could just be totally miscontruing this, but this was the reaction I had. As for you husband, tell him I said thank you for protecting our country.

  11. Korinthia says:

    To Anuharada:I appreciate what you’re saying, but the point of my essay was to show people who aren’t aware of how the stress of deployment affects some of us at home. Of course I understand how hard it was for my husband to be in Iraq, but he told me regularly that of the two of us I had the harder job. Maybe most families get through such an experience better than I did, but I suspect there are a lot of hidden stories of anxiety like mine. The mere fact that my husband was at war made my situation nothing by comparison, but that just added guilt to what were real struggles. Because such struggles don’t get discussed people don’t imagine they exist. My husband recognizes his sacrifice doesn’t compare to that of a lot of other soldiers–does that mean his struggles didn’t count or don’t matter? I’m thankful every day my husband is home and that we can live and parent as partners again.One of the things I like about Babble is the willingness of its writers to discuss openly the complications of parenting today, even when it makes them look selfish or petty or less than perfect. We are human even as we parent. Recognizing we are not alone in our worries and flaws should make us more compassionate.Do you really want to thank soldiers for protecting our country? Find a family like mine and offer real help. Doing laundry doesn’t sound like much but it can mean the world to someone who feels stretched to the limit and alone. And support the USO–My husband said they were the only group in that regard who really knew what they were doing.

  12. A fellow army wife says:

    It’s been almost exactly a year since my husband returned home from his 18 month deployment. I just wanted to say how nice it was to read this article, as people so often have an idealized version of what it must be like when a soldier returns home.I have lived and breathed those same feelings, with four young children at home. Out of milk or bread at the wrong time, I’ve been the mother in the supermarket line with the crying baby, overtired toddler, and older children who are having a sad day thinking about Daddy. I’ve gotten the unsympathetic stares from strangers, and learned not to share that Daddy is deployed after being verbally assaulted with my children in tow… with angry announcements that my husband is a murderer.And yet the number of people who were supportive of our family far outweigh those who aren’t. The small gestures of kindness and tokens of gratitude were so appreciated. And yet, sometimes all we really needed was someone to help with the overwhelmingly real things of everyday life. The laundry, dinner, or a quick trip to the store by ourselves to pick up diapers at 11pm when you’re unexpectedly out and have to take all the kids with you to pick up such a basic necessity. Readjustment, too is not something people factor in, when thinking of a deployment. Quite honestly the first 3 months were the hardest, and after a year, we finally feel whole as a family again. And orders came in for another deployment. Thankfully the last set of orders, which came last month, and would have had him sent immediately were still within the one-year period when he was non-deployable, and this set of orders is still a long way out…But thank you for sharing the all too real slice of life, and being open about your feelings. Maybe it will help others to see a less idealized version of what things are like for those of us left at home. My husband also says it was a much harder job for me to be here than it was for him to be there.

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