During Ian’s last deployment I dealt with the Army calling me. Well-meaning people would check in from inaccessible places like Ohio and Texas and who knows where, and ask me questions that made me cry. I remember once when I was about eight months pregnant a gentle sounding soldier in Columbus asked how he could help, and I told him unless he could carry the laundry up the stairs for me, he couldn’t. I was hormonal and stressed and tired, and I hated these calls. I finally wrote to the Army and told them not to contact me unless it was about something I needed to know. The worst was someone doing a survey for the military. He asked a long string of somewhat personal multiple choice questions about how we were coping with Ian’s deployment. About halfway through I burst into tears. I missed Ian so badly and I was so tired, and each new question forced me to examine in detail just how hard things were without him. It was awful. I kept choking out answers and the guy never paused or asked if I needed a break or if I should even continue.
The only time he deviated from his script was after he asked me, “In what ways has your spouse’s deployment been beneficial to you and your family?” and I answered, “None.”
“You can’t think of anything that’s been good about it?” He sounded somewhere between astonished and annoyed.
What did he want me to say? I was pregnant and caring for two small children alone. I was scared all the time. I was tired and overwhelmed. Mona and Aden were growing and changing and Ian was missing it. There was nothing good about any of it. The guy eventually sighed and plowed ahead with his questions. I don’t know why I didn’t hang up, except that the Army had given me the runaround on so many things from healthcare to ID cards that if complaining helped fix something I felt I should do it.
But this time I feel more grounded. And this time my kids are old enough to be swayed by my perspective on what’s happening. So even though I would still answer, “None” on that insensitive survey, here is everything I can find on the bright side of this deployment:
The only possible upside I could have mentioned last time was the steady income. That was nice, but not nice enough to matter, so I dismissed it. We don’t live extravagantly. We have gotten by for years on Ian’s weekend Reserve income and my teaching and repair work. When we enrolled Aden in Head Start the person processing our paperwork pointed out we were eligible for food stamps. We never made much but we never spent much. We found our kids highly entertaining and watching them was free. (Before them we had bunnies–also cheap entertainment.) We used the money he made last time to open the violin store. A portion of the money this time is slated for some necessary work on the house before Ian returns. I’d still rather have Ian home, but I won’t pretend that steady income isn’t welcome. I’m grateful, especially in these troubled economic times, that money isn’t among my worries.
I am not pregnant. It cannot be emphasized enough how much easier it is to deal with a deployment while not pregnant.
My kids are far more self-sufficient than last time. Having to do everything for everyone all the time was exhausting. I remember once on our way out the door trying to figure out why it took us an hour to get out of the house in the winter, and then it hit me that if I even just dressed and redressed myself four times in a row, it would take a long time, especially with boots and coats on top of everything. I also never got through dressing everyone without one of the kids needing to have a diaper changed. Quinn needs some help putting on his pants, but other than that they all dress themselves now. It’s great.
They can all use the bathroom. I didn’t mind diapers, but now that they are over, there is nothing I miss about them. Mona was nearly four by the time she was potty trained. I looked at Ian when he got back from Iraq in 2007 and said, “You thought the war was rough? You have two weeks to potty train Mona before school starts.” Quinn, on the other hand, potty trained himself months ago. Not long after he turned two he got tired of diapers and that was that. He’s even dry at night. I’m not boasting because I can take no credit for it, but it’s a relief not to be up and down on the floor all the time with diapers and wipes and ointment. I don’t miss the diaper bag.
I know who I can turn to. The last deployment taught me who I could count on and who would rather be left alone. That’s useful. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, and I know which people really meant it when they said, “If there is anything you need….”
I am completely in charge of the Netflix queue. Not that this is a point of contention in our house, but Ian can never think of anything he wants to put on it, yet he wants to watch what I get with me. Rightly or wrongly this influences what I choose, and now it doesn’t matter. I can go through all five seasons of Angel and not feel any guilt whatsoever.
I’m getting to know more of the other parents and friends in our kids’ lives. Since Ian was always the one picking the girls up and dropping them off at school, he was the one who saw everybody. People have been introducing themselves to me on the playground so I’m finally able to put faces with names.
The house is neat. The house gets away from Ian when he’s here, but when it’s just me in charge, the house stays tidy. I think part of that is when there is another responsible adult in the house, each of us thinks/hopes/wishes the other will pick things up. Now when I pass an item on the stairs I go ahead and put it away because I’m the only one who will.
I can sleep with the covers in a big messy wad.
I feel more informed about our finances. When Ian’s home he pays all the bills, but now I’m writing the checks and sending out the envelopes and it’s good to have a more exact sense of what we pay for water and electricity and the phones. Makes me feel more like a grownup.
Visitors. I love my brothers, but it’s unusual to see them more than once or twice a year. Arno is coming to see me after a conference in Chicago in late October, and Barrett promised to come out and help at some point, too. Mom and dad are working on dates to visit, as well. I’ve got things pretty well under control so far, so I don’t know how much ‘help’ I need, but don’t tell them that. I love having them here, and if Ian’s deployment draws them in this direction, I’ll take it.
The shoveling service. My friend, Gabby, wants to help from afar, so she hired a lawn and shoveling service last time, and asked me if she could please please please do it again this time. Who am I to refuse? Here’s hoping for enough blizzards this winter for her to get her money’s worth.
Our kitchen table really only seats four well. When we all try to eat together, either Ian or I get squished or one of us just stands nearby to eat.
Health insurance. Ian and I went without coverage for a long time because none of our employers offered it, and the available options were way more expensive than we could afford. We even paid for Aden’s birth out of pocket, but when it came time to have Mona, Ian didn’t know how we could handle it. We signed up for Badger Care, which is a state run health coverage program here in Wisconsin, and it was great, but didn’t cover Ian. Since Ian’s first deployment we are all covered by Tricare, the military health insurance. It’s convoluted and sometimes very frustrating, but it’s there, and I’m very glad we have it.
Extra drawer space. Ian gave me permission to purge old shirts and socks, etc. from his dresser. Whatever’s left I will soon box up and store in the basement until he gets back. For awhile my own shirts will have elbow room.
Email. I think often about my grandma during World War II, living here in Milwaukee, caring for my mom and giving birth to my uncle without grandpa around. She didn’t hear from her husband very often when he was at war. I get quick little notes on my computer frequently. I can keep Ian up to date on funny things the kids say and do and ask him questions if I need to. Deployment without email would be far lonlier than I care to contemplate.
No terse discussions about the Scooba. We have a Roomba (vacuuming robot) that we got for Christmas a couple of years back that is very handy. So Ian decided we should invest in the mopping version as well. It drives me crazy. It takes longer, is more work, and does an inferior job compared to what I can do myself. He’s a happy guy with a gadget, though, so he defends it and buys it new batteries. For the time being, at least, I have unplugged it and banished the Scooba to a lonely corner of the laundry room.
If Quinn wants to snuggle at night there is room in the bed. Usually if there is a night he needs cuddling to sleep better, either Ian or I have to flee the bed and sleep somewhere else.
The kids are all mine all the time. Not that I ever resent sharing, and not that there aren’t moments they drive me up the wall, but I love seeing them so much. They are lovely, fascinating people, and my life is filled with hugs and nuzzles and smiles. I’m a very lucky person and I know it.
Looking it over, it’s a good list. Now ask me how much of it I would trade to have Ian home.
(Photo of Mona and Ian by Chris Kraco)