Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Learning Gratitude in Deployment

This week's post for Everyone Serves is a deployment check-in: How are we doing? Where are we in the cycle? What things might be making deployment easier/harder for us? 

Each of the contributing bloggers are at different phases of the deployment journey. If you are interested in a few different perspectives on the issue, I recommend checking out the other posts here.

So...how are you doing?

Oh boy is that a brave question to be asking me right now! Today makes exactly eight weeks since that tear-filled morning when Jake said his good-byes to us and got on a plane leaving Houston. Eight weeks down, some thirty-two(ish) weeks to go. Sigh.

Thinking about that morning for more than a second just wrecks me inside. Jake has deployed more times than I can count (probably more times than he can count), and generally approached the whole thing with a "must be Tuesday" kind of attitude about it. But when faced with actually dropping Howie off at school, actually saying good-bye to his son for nine months, my steely husband dissolved into the giant puddle I expected him to be pulling me out of. 

And I know exactly how he was feeling because that same feeling hits me like a tidal wave every now and then. In those moments, all I can do is chant my new mantra over and over: 
catharsis is good for the soul. 
catharsis keeps you sane. 
It's true. In my post about the mental health sections of the Everyone Serves Book, I talked about the importance of taking care of oneself--emotionally, mentally, and physically--during a deployment. And there's nothing like a good cry sometimes to let loose some of anxiety, fear and frustration that burdens us. It's excellent advice.

But what I'm learning is, taking care of myself is sometimes easier said than done. And during deployment, even a good cry can feel really lonely. 

Even when Jake isn't deployed, my life is hectic. I work a litigator's schedule, I volunteer, and I have a three-year-old. It's more than a little insane all the time, yet somehow I have always managed to eke out "me time" somewhere. 

But over the past two months, whatever knack I had for doing that has totally evaded me. It takes all my time and energy to take care of Howie and stay afloat at work. So anytime I get a notion like "I miss adult conversation, I should meet up with a friend," I instantly think "um, when? In your copious free time? You have none! Get back to work!"

It took a while, but I figured out it's all about Jake. Not in the "oh, I'm sad he's gone" sort of way. Although that is true. No, this deployment is teaching me that I may fancy myself as very independent, but, despite the hundreds of miles of distance usually between us, I actually rely heavily on my husband. Here's what I mean:

Weekends off. Sure, Jake was only with us two days a week (and since January, two days every other week). But they were two glorious days in which parenting was not just on me. For a brief period every week, it freed me of sole responsibility. Someone else was there to love, care for, and manage our son. That meant if I needed to catch up on work/get a pedicure/go to the grocery store sans toddler, I could do it. 

I'm only now realizing how those "days of absolution" kept me from reaching my wits' end. 

Non-Work Grown-Up Time. Every parent knows this, but being around kids constantly can drive you nuts. No matter how much you love your children, sometimes you just need adult conversation. And work doesn't cut it. Because that's just another kind of obligatory engagement...which sometimes feels like you're dealing with children. No, there is nothing that can replace a grown-up activity (preferably involving grown-up food) with another adult who has grown-up(ish) vocabulary. 

Weekends with Jake meant an assurance of non-work grown-up time because we always scheduled a date night when he was home. And I had someone with whom I could talk, work on projects, or watch movies that weren't made by Pixar.  

Sounding Board. I talked about this one in my "unravel" post, but even remotely Jake has always been my rock and confidante. Who else would sit and listen to me puzzle through issues for hours on end? Well, the truth is there are some that would be willing, but unfortunately they have things like, say, their own lives that get in the way of listening to me drone on and on.

It may sound like I'm saying that deployment is really tough right now. Well, yes. But the more important thing I'm saying is that deployment is showing me the ways that Jake blesses me I never really thought much about before. Deployment is teaching me a lesson in gratitude.

Although it would be really awesome if, the next time I need to learn an important lesson, Jake could go somewhere else. Like Fiji. Or maybe Bali.

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