a year to remember

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So, it’s 2015! Happy New Year!

We spent a nice Christmas here in San Diego with my family (my parents and my younger brother, who flew down briefly from northern California to join us). Dave took part in our Christmas morning via Face Time, and patiently sat through two hours of the kids opening presents and my intermittent narration and coffee-slurping. He will be home in just a few weeks, which is very exciting to us all even as time seems to crawl by. Why do the last weeks of a deployment move more slowly than any of the ones before?

I was a crabby mom this morning, tired of the big kids’ squabbling and the little one’s clinginess. I wasn’t at my best, and I wasn’t proud of it. Still, I was aware of how lucky I am that this deployment is almost over. Six months, with a husband not in a war zone! I was reminded of Amalie Flynn’s honesty in Wife and War, when she compares her husband’s yearlong deployment to the six-month deployment of a fellow Navy wife:

“Another wife and I are talking, standing in the grocery store…And she is saying how her husband will be gone for six months, and how hard it has been, motioning towards her shopping cart, filled with soda and chips and a child, how hard it has been.

And, in my mind, I am comparing it, six to fifteen, the fifteen long months my husband will have been gone, by the time he gets back, more than twice, twice as long, twice as bad.

But, instead, I say what I always say.

I say that a deployment is a deployment.”

I’m glad Flynn came out and said this, because it is true. Of course a year-plus deployment is worse and harder in every regard than one half its length. Several times in recent weeks I’ve asked myself, What if this were only the halfway point? What if this were only half the distance I’d feel, half the holidays and birthdays and milestones that would elapse, half the nights I’d spend by myself? And I feel grateful that I am almost done instead of halfway-done, because I haven’t fully moved on to relying on myself. There are broken items that I can still set aside, thinking, he’ll be home soon enough to fix that. Things I’ve earmarked to talk with him about, knowing we can discuss them face-to-face. I haven’t forced myself to make new friends.

While my mom was in town, we started watching the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” We both loved it (although I’d recommend reading a few reviews before you consider embarking on that series with your own mom!!). It’s a great show for many reasons, but I was intrigued by a couple of episodes in the first season that dealt with the strain of long-distance relationships. The protagonist, Piper Kerman, is serving jail time for a crime she committed a decade ago, and her blindsided fiancee, Larry, waits patiently on the outside.

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While military service is hopefully a different experience than being incarcerated, the show touches on so many familiar themes — waiting, doubt, boredom, the incredible slowness of time.

Sweet Larry, like any military spouse, wonders what Piper is up to in the strange, intense world of prison, and she resents him his freedom. “Tell me everything you got,” she says desperately over the phone when he returns home from a shopping trip to Whole Foods. Dutifully, Larry recites them in all their exotic, unattainable, organic glory: cucumber, almonds, bell pepper. Later, he’s featured on an NPR segment dedicated to long-distance relationships and, like any mil spouse, measures himself against the hardships faced by others in similar situations. He’s made acutely aware that there are always going to be people who have it harder than him. One of the men on the show with him, in fact, has a partner working at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and they haven’t seen each other in two years.

My favorite quote from the show comes from one of the female inmates, a stringy yoga instructor called Jones. Her philosophy for getting through jail time is, funny as it sounds, an apt way to think about a deployment.
It made me think of these past six months I’ve had with my three children, and how much work it has been — how bad I’ve often felt that my older kids were left to their own devices while I tended to their younger sister — and what all that work means, in the larger scheme of things. Jones compares it to a mandala, painstakingly made and then wiped away:

“Work hard to make something as beautiful and meaningful as you can. And when you’re done, pack it in and know it was all temporary. You have to remember that it’s all temporary.”

Beautiful and temporary. That’s not really my style: I’m a long-term, substance kind of girl. But “Yoga Jones” made me think of deployment as a sort of practice. The subdued state of being I’d been living in could possibly be an elevated one: a small trial to be made as good as it could be, and then, just like that, wiped away.

So tonight, we had a New Year’s Eve party. Just me and the kids. We splurged. I let them pick the menu: hot dogs, olives and pickles, French fries AND Lay’s potato chips, green salad with honey-mustard dressing, a sundae bar with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce and caramel and Maraschino cherries. We bought a strobe light and glow sticks. We danced the night away. Dave had celebrated the New Year on his side of the world a full day before. We all kissed at midnight and shouted, “HAPPY NEW YEAR, DADDY!”

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We had fun. We boogied and laughed and did silly dance moves. We danced to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and to Cyndi Lauper, and the Culture Club, and Wham!, and the Proclaimers. We posed for a picture together.

2014, you were a mixed bag. 2015, here we come, and let it be a year to enjoy — a year not to wipe away, but to remember.

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4 thoughts on “a year to remember

  1. You truly have come through the thick of it and have done a great job in the process. Sure, there are always challenges people face out there that are harder in relative terms, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that keeping 3 very active children entertained, educated, healthy, and happy for 6 months (all by yourself!) is one hell of an accomplishment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your writing. Really love it. You are able to write beautiful truth. (This is why I’m so excited about your novel!) This post made me cry and I could totally relate.

    While some spouses love to play the “who has it worse game” (and for good reason; some people have it really terribly hard), I think there’s another contingent of us who put on brave faces and play they “no, I don’t have it that bad!” game instead. I know Stephen was gone for longer, but I always feel like I have it easy because it’s just me and Geronimo, no kids. I have major respect for those facing deployment with little ones and careers and goals and good attitudes! I agree with Dave, your ability to gracefully take on this deployment and come out successful at the end is one hell of an accomplishment. I hope your reunion is soon (although I know it never feels soon!) and happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Amy. What a nice comment!!

    I think women play the “who has it worse” game for a variety of reasons, and I liked that Amalie Flynn wrote about it in her memoir — which reads as if in “real time”– because it illuminated her state of mind. I don’t think we fret and compare and resent other women when we are feeling *happy* — I think that is something women engage in when they are under stress, and when their lives feel unbalanced. So for Flynn to illuminate that in her memoir spoke to the stress she was under during her husband’s long deployment. It’s that kind of honesty that I think her memoir does so well!

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