This post will have to be short and sweet, with no photos (“more matter, with less art,” as Queen Gertrude would have liked it), because my computer is in the shop.
I haven’t fallen off the face of the planet and died, although this week has sort of felt like it: this was definitely the most challenging week of our deployment so far. Nothing seemed easy, and I felt my aloneness-with-three-kids acutely. The major trial of the week was unforseen and almost absurd: I showed my two-year-old a little video about using the potty, and brought in our trusty been-through-two-kids-already potty seat from the garage, and asked little Susanna if she wanted to use it. The weird result: she stopped going potty, anywhere.
She would sit on the potty, looking terrified, with her knees clenched together. But with a diaper on, she was suddenly aware that she didn’t like the feeling of peeing into a garment, even a disposable one, and she’d hold her pee for hours on end. Quickly realizing that the very notion of a potty had freaked her out, I put it back in the garage and stopped mentioning it. I decided to just try again in a month or so. But Susanna didn’t go back to using her diaper — like I said, she just stopped using any thing. She’d wait three or four hours, then start to whine about having to go. Six hours later, she’d still be whining, still refusing to pee. It was like having a colicky baby — the constant, incessant discomfort that I was unable to relieve — and there were the two other kids to take care of on top of it, with their own needs for homework help and attention and snacks. For the first time this deployment, I felt like it was truly more than I could handle.
A pamphlet I read once, years ago when we were stationed in Virginia, gave some basic guidelines for communicating with one’s spouse during a deployment. I distinctly remember that it mentioned not complaining to your spouse about problems they were unable to solve from a distance. If you wrote about a child with a cold, or a car that needed repairs, for example, your spouse would only feel frustrated by an inability to fix these problems, and (particularly if you’d written out your complaints by mail) by the time your letter had wended its way halfway across the world into the hands of your spouse, the problem would have long been resolved anyway.
There’s a certain old-school logic to this that I won’t dispute, but it also puts the burden of self-suficiency, even self-censorship, on the spouse back at home. In any case, I have simultaneously disregarded this advice as old-fashioned and borderline insulting (it suggests that your spouse’s hardships are real, and your own are not!) while at the same time trying to follow it. During this deployment I’ve managed to complain to my husband very little — I share the charming anecdotes about our children, and if I’m too tired to say anything then I just don’t say it, I wait until the following night to send an email. This week, however, my self-control took a hit, and I left my husband several messages expressing my distress, all to the soundtrack of a whining toddler. I described the sadness I’d felt having to pin her down to be catheterized, when the pediatrician thought she might have a urinary tract infection. I may or may not have left him a phone message suggesting that I felt “mildly tortured.”
But in an odd twist, one inconvenience of deployment actually canceled out another, because due to the vagaries of long-distance communication my husband did not receive my most desperate, self-pitying messages. Instead, I heard from him a few days later — a puzzled, upbeat “Where are you? Haven’t heard from you in a while.” I felt both exasperated and, well, saved — I was still the stoic Navy wife, but not because of my own strength. I’d been saved by a glitch in technology! I still have desperation as a wild card that I can pull out later, because that potent option hasn’t been used up.
So here we are, with that bad week down, and only about 2 months left in the deployment. Here’s to perseverance, a good dose of ignorance-is-bliss, and the occasional technological glitch that comes in handy.