After struggling a bit last week, the Dancin’ Johansons were back at the top of their game this week — or, at least, functioning within normal range.
I felt a sudden abundance of patience and long-range-vision. The things I love about my kids seemed even more pronounced than usual — the way Nora can flop in the blue armchair and read for four hours straight while her brother’s football whizzes past her head; the way she spotted a bar called “Phileas Fogg’s” and cried out, “Mom! That’s named for Phileas Fogg from Jules Vernes’s Around the World in Eighty Days!” (which she read in about two days last year).
The way Soren focuses when he plays baseball — told by his coach to take right field, he grabs his hat and glove from his gear bag and runs to his position, all the way mouthing “Right field, right field” silently to himself.
The way Susanna insists upon pushing a stroller with a stuffed lion in it all the way to school and back to drop off the big kids, pausing to “feed” leaves to Lion and chat with him. “It’s a beautiful day, Lion. Do you see the dog? DON’T YOU TOUCH DAT DOG!,” etc.
This week was special because it was Nora’s 9th birthday. We celebrated at a local bounce house with some of her friends. When I asked her what kind of cake she wanted, she requested “alien cupcakes.” This was an unusual request; I was energized by the challenge. Nora cracked me up; in her typical funny way she said, “Mom, there are the most successful cupcakes I’ve ever seen.”
My mom was in town, which went a long way towards improving our daily condition. She watched Susanna so I could get out and write in the morning; she did dishes like a maniac even though I kept telling her to stop.
Dave was able to participate a little, from afar.
I’ve always loved the way that man writes bubble letters. Pointy bubble letters — so unexpected, such an oxymoron!
He even sang “Happy Birthday” with us and patiently sat there all flatscreen while we ate cake:
(He’s the glowing light behind the cake, there.)
Nora got to bring the class tortoise home on her birthday. He’s a Russian tortoise named Ivan — clever, eh? And he was quite the celebrity around here.
So, life went on. And it felt pretty normal and good. Instead of wishing that Dave were here, I tried to think about how much fun all these little, daily things will be for him when he gets back. I’ll be totally jaded, but it’ll be like new again for him to see Soren play baseball, or hear Nora’s geeky little anecdotes from school, or listen to Zanny rattle off an earful of important-sounding nonsense.
It reminded me that, while it may not hold up in a strict cost-benefit analysis, the occasional deployment does serve to call into focus the things that matter. It helps you not take things for granted. Now, if this were a really high op-tempo and Dave were doing back-to-back deployments like some people were forced to do five or six years ago, I would never dare sing this tune (and I still feel like I might be struck by lightning for it).
I’m thinking in particular of his first deployment in 2006. It only worked for us because he had just that one deployment that year and returned unharmed. But it really did make me see him in a new light, and really appreciate him, when he came home.
One morning, not long after Dave had returned home from his six months at sea and was back at work, I went to a meetup of moms with babies roughly one year old. After doing the usual swapping of birth stories (a requisite, female version of the proverbial pissing match), the conversation turned to marital challenges during our babies’ first years. Many of the moms were describing what a difficult time they had with their husbands during that time: the squabbles, the resentment (he doesn’t do as much as I do, he doesn’t handle the baby the way I would, etc.). I listened and while I felt sympathy for the other moms, I had nothing to add to the conversation because, between schools and training and the deployment, I had seen so little of my husband all year (I think we had spent 10 days together between January and July, 2006 — I have it written in my journal).
In some situations that might strain a marriage, but in ours it didn’t. It felt like magic to have him around again. I could not believe my good fortune. Nora and I had gone from being alone together all the time, to suddenly having this handsome man around who would come home from work and help out with stuff. He would take the baby out for a little stroll around the apartment complex while I made dinner. And then, when she went to bed, he liked spending time with me! It was a freakin’ miracle! I felt like I had hit the jackpot. He’d arrived in Virginia ten days before we got there, and single-handedly moved all of our stuff out of storage and into the new apartment he’d found for us. I love this image of him, so determined after having to be away from us for so long, moving all these boxes like some superhero, teeth gritted: “I AM GOING…TO REUNITE…MY FAMILY! Raaaarr!” Is that not sexy as hell?
So, while I wouldn’t recommend deployment for the casual reader as any sort of marriage rejuvenator (way too risky!), I do want to focus on that feeling of gratitude that I get whenever my husband comes home. I want to milk that good drug for all it’s worth. Because all those signs and letters, all those words you write when someone is away,
they are all true.