The deployment strikes back…can’t you hear the Imperial March reaching its crescendo?
Deployments are weird like that, very much Darth Vaderesque in the way the roll up on you like, “What? Say something. Bet you won’t.” …and you don’t. You kind of stand there; a cowering, blubbering idiot as your Soldier takes its hand and marches off with it. You want to pick up a rock or something and chuck it at Deployments head, but you’re afraid it’ll turn around and murder you telekinetically. So, you stand there and wave.
So it was with me and the Twinks early Saturday morning. I, being myself, brought cookies, coffee, pastries and goodie bags. Nothing says, “Deployment Avoidance,” like cookies. Every time Hector approached me to say something, I bounded off on some counterfeit errand that needed to be run in the middle of a company parking lot. I wasn’t ready to cry, so I delayed it. I watched as the Twinkies said their goodbyes. My heart wrenched as I saw my son’s lip quivering, and it tore right in two when his façade of strength finally crumbled and he folded into his Daddy’s arms for a manly hug. Ultimately, though, my time came. That moment every military spouse, parent, child or friend loathes…the final hug or kiss for [insert number] months.
I clutched his uniform and openly and unapologetically sobbed. I’ve done deployments before. I’ve been an Army wife for nearly eighteen years, for God’s sake. I’ve never learned the art of saying goodbye without crying though. They don’t teach those classes on post; I probably wouldn’t go even if they did. When I lifted my head and opened my eyes to look at him, a wave of tears washed over my face. I chuckled to myself because I thought of those cartoons where faucets come from the characters eyes and pour out tears- and it was all me at that moment. No shame at all.
I looked up at him and said, “Don’t do anything stupid.” Eloquence is my middle name. I watched him pile into the van with his battle buddies and we waved as the van drove off. The deployment had begun.
I’d love to say I stood there praying, but I didn’t. I, instead, stood there going down the list of “Deployment Facts”. Yes, there are facts of deployment, and since we’re military spouses, there’s a list associated with them (we do lists, and we do them well).
Here, in no particular order, are the:
Facts of Deployment
(according to Marta)
#1: That final kiss before they board the military vehicle/bus/ship/plane will say so much, but not enough.
This is a riddle to me. How a singular act of affection can be loaded with so many emotions. Like, when you get married, you’re all, “This kiss is full of love and hope!” When you’re giving the Kiss-of-Death it’s more, “Die.”
Deployment kisses are unique in that they say, “I love you, I’m scared, I’m sad, I’m depressed, I’m anxious, I’m hopeful, I’m waiting, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want you to worry about me, I want to throw myself on the ground crying and do backspins like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum,” all wrapped up in a kiss.
You can never kiss long enough or passionate enough.
You can never kiss long enough or passionate enough. One: because of military bearing; two: because you just can’t. Without getting too R-rated, you want a kiss that is the equivalent of two faces melding together. You want your lips to penetrate their brain; you want to kiss them so hard. But you can’t, because there are people around, and it’s just gross. So you give a vanilla kiss, and you rue the day you were ever taught to be classy.
#2: You’ll tell your children, “It’s okay,” knowing you’re lying to them…and they’ll know it too.
This will be my kids’ third time going through the emotional upheaval that is a deployment. While Korea has only recently been labeled a “deployment”, children don’t understand the jargon that qualifies a military separation. They know it’s going to suck. They know they won’t be happy for a while. Me telling them anything other than those two facts fall on deaf ears. I would be willing to wager that whenever I have been delusional enough to say it, their immediate mental response was something along the lines of, “Oh, please! Shut up!” Thankfully, my children know I’d ground them for life (and death) if they ever came out of their face like that, so they refrain.
But they’re right, it’s so easy for us to say, “It’s okay,” because we’ve learned that it will be okay. We know that the pain of saying goodbye is profound, different in each of us, but it does wane. The routine will be established, school will recommence, laughter will return and life will go on. In that moment, however- on the tarmac, in the parking lot, on the docks- they can’t feel that. They only feel sadness, ache and longing for Daddy or Mommy.
…we can’t tell our children, “It’s okay.”
Many of us have enjoyed the videos of Soldiers coming home. Those doggone things always, and I mean always, bring on the eye sweats. Disappointingly, not many get a glimpse of the gut-wrenching deployment ceremonies. We feel for the spouses and the parents, but seeing the children clinging to their parents’ legs and wailing for them not to go, is the reality that shakes you to your core. The service member is forced to pry their child off of them, and walk away- all while their heart is breaking. That, is why we can’t tell our children, “It’s okay.” Their world just walked away from them. It isn’t okay. But, it will be. So, that’s what we tell them, “It’s not okay. I know it hurts, but it will be okay,” and because military children are the most resilient beings on the planet, they will rise to the occasion and be more than just, “Okay.”
#3: People will try, and sometimes fail, at offering comfort.
Military spouses are a unique section of society. We have developed our own way of doing life and have our own dialect, which is sometimes not even understood by our military member. When one of us is facing a deployment, the response is usually, “That sucks,” or if they’re really classy, “I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.” No amount of idle chit-chat will change the fact that, for this sister /brother in front of us, their life is altered. We don’t try to wax eloquent. It is what it is.
That being said, if you’re not “in the know” (and, heck, even if you are in the know and need a refresher) you can make attempts at offering comfort that may fall flat. Here’s what to avoid:
we don’t want to feel guilty for asking or receiving
- Make it point to avoid saying things like, “He/She will come back to you!” While we recognize the intent is good, all you’re basically saying is, “They won’t get blown up and die.” Which, while reassuring, we know it’s not a certainty and it’s, quite frankly, not something we want to think about days into the start of a deployment…or ever.
Here’s our reality: our service member has to fill out a will, register his next of kin, and take a photo for media and notifications in the event something terrible does happen. We have to attend meetings that tell us what will happen if he is injured or killed in the line of duty. It does happen, we know it happens, we pray for it not to happen, and we don’t like being reminded of its possibility- ever.
The best thing to say is, “I’m praying/thinking/sending good vibes for you and your Soldier/Airman/Marine/Sailor/Coastie”. Period. Well, wine. Maybe, “I’m sending/bringing over a case of wine,” that may work too.
- Avoid calling too soon- or waiting too long- to check in. A quick text the day after their loved one leaves that asks, “How ya’ holding up?” works wonders. Waiting till the end of the deployment to send a message that says, “I’m praying for you,” (unless you’ve been in Antartica and your reception was non-existent) is better left unsent.
- Don’t offer hollow assistance. I was once told during a deployment, “I can watch your kids…if I absolutely have to. Like, in an emergency, if you have no one else. Okay?” Even if my head was split open and she lived next door, I would’ve never made a phone call to her. You don’t have to offer anything to a blue star family (we’re grateful if you do); if you do, make it a genuine act of volition. Not an offer with strings attached, not one done begrudgingly, nor one that’s an empty promise. We need help sometimes, and we don’t want to feel guilty for asking or receiving it. If you can’t do that, it’s perfectly fine not to offer at all. I promise.
#4: You will hate weekends.
The worst times during a deployment are the weekend. Call me a spoilsport, but seeing families out together when my Soldier is gone, makes me mad. Dates with friends don’t happen on weekends because they’re out with their family doing whatever it is that families together do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those people when my Soldier is home, but deployments are very much like the flu: once you have it, you don’t remember what being normal felt like; and once it’s gone, you forget how miserable you were.
weekends remind of us of our loneliness
Of course, we don’t hold against our fellow spouses that they’re enjoying the time they have with their service member. We know it’s only a matter of time before the shoe’s on the other foot; it just sucks being lonely, and the weekends remind of us of our loneliness. The best remedy for the weekend blues is finding other bon-bon binging, romantic chick-flick-watching spouses and spend the time together. There’s no better date than someone who hates the weekend as much as you do.
#5: Things will break/die/leak/blow up, and you will be the one to deal with it.
During our final embrace, my husband whispered softly in my ear,
“I forgot to put gas in the van. I think you need to stop and put a couple of bucks worth into the tank so you can get home.”
At 3AM…so began another deployment. Crap like this will happen during the deployment. Sometimes all of these things will happen at one time! Buckle up, Buttercup, life as military spouse gets bumpy.
I remember when my husband went to Kuwait two years ago, both Twinks were sick, my air conditioning was acting stupid and some idiot let go of their fully-loaded grocery cart and it rammed into my car…which was already parked in Siberia because it had been hit a few months before!! I stood in the parking lot at the end of my figurative rope and almost cracked the cart offender’s head open. Like, I was close to catching a case, and the scary thing? I was trying to figure out how to angle my face when I got my mugshot taken! I didn’t even care at that point.
I was trying to figure out how to angle my face when I got my mugshot taken!
It’s inevitable that things will happen whilst our loved one is deployed; what can’t happen is us getting jail time. That’s just not cute. My solution has been to take whatever repair classes the hobby and auto shops on post offer. Most are free for the spouses of deployed soldiers. But, even if they aren’t, most fees are worth it. I’m sure everyone has friends who are proficient at common repairs and maintenance; ask for their tutelage.
My other go-to? Youtube, of course. Heck, one time, I learned how to solder a circuit board! Did I need a circuit board? No, but that’s not the point. Youtube will help you figure out anything.
My husband’s buddies and my friends’ husbands are always willing and able to help when I just can’t gather the strength or will to do it myself. Asking for help is hard for some of us Type-A folks, so if you’re the handy one and you know your buddy’s wife will be going it alone, check-in from time to time and offer your help. Speaking of “handy type” and “buddy’s wife”, ladies, don’t forget that there are military husbands out there holding down the home-front. Not all husbands know how to, or like to cook, sew, grocery shop, or do a little girl’s hair. Take mine for instance, the man tries so hard and having my cookbook has helped him incredibly, but he just can’t master a three course meal because cooking is not what he enjoys doing. Those are the times you can step up and offer your strength to a deployed spouse. Make a meal and drop it off. Teach them how to do a ponytail. It’s a mitzvah, I tell you.
#6 Skype/Facetime/Messenger fights are inevitable.
I can’t tell you the number of times my Soldier has video called and I’ve handed the iPad to my kids and said, “Here. Talk to your father,” and walked off. It’s actually a number I’m not quite proud of, but you know what? It happens and anyone who tells you you’re alone is lying.
Between being launched into single parenthood, the stress of numbers 2 through 5, and sheer annoyance; you’re bound to fight or give the silent treatment at least once during the deployment. At least once. It may be more if you’re an overachiever like me. Have your arguments. You have them at home, don’t you? Have them, but shorten the cooling off period. In my case, as mad as I am, I still sneak glances at him while the kids are telling him about their days. I “accidentally” let the camera catch glimpses of me. He knows my schemes so he indulges me by yelling, “Hey, Good-looking! I see you!” By the end of the convo, I’m all up in the screen talking about how devoted I am and how much I miss him.
…don’t hang up or end the call without a resolution and professing your love.
Have your heated discussions. Yell if you need to. But, don’t hang up or end the call without a resolution and professing your love. Don’t. (see #3, bullet 1). If anyone tells you you should never argue while their deployed, tell them to shove it…unless, it’s a Chaplain, then just tell them, “Okay, Sir/Ma’am,” and ignore them.
#7 Your children will act like the spawn of Satan at least once.
You will be tempted to send your children to Timbuktu during the deployment. As I type this one of the Twinks has barricaded himself in my walk-in closet to, “Be alone.” I offered to send in bread and water but he’s refused. I’ll provide updates as they become available.
Children are dealing with the same issues as us, only on a child’s level. No, they don’t have to worry about tax season or replace the van’s tires; they do have to deal with schoolwork, snot-nose bullies, and emotions they haven’t yet learned to master. Life as a military kid isn’t easy- I should know, I was one. When my mother left for South Korea, I was twelve-years-old (a year older than my children are now). My father made me go to school the morning she left. When I walked in my teacher, shocked though she was that I was made to come to school, moved my desk, herself, to a back corner, deposited a box of tissues on my desk, put a wastepaper basket nearby and left me alone the whole day.
Since my twins are homeschooled, we took the entire week off. I can’t imagine trying to reign in their thoughts or their emotions right now. To do so is an exercise in futility and it’s asking for drama that isn’t necessary; nor is it healthy. While not everyone has the liberty to dictate their child’s school schedule, most schools are very understanding when it comes to deployments. Having a conference with, or shooting an email to, the teacher helps you both make compassionate plans for your babies once their military parent has left.
Get help for your babies
Schooling aside, children will be fraught with emotions that will, at times, manifest themselves in…how should I put it…demonic ways. They will make you wonder where in the hell they came from; then you’ll face the shocking truism that they did, indeed, come from you. Most often, it’s a passing phase, but sometimes true depression can manifest itself in the most unpredictable ways. The military has become a lot more supportive in this vein. There are a plethora of resources available to our children to help them sort out the very adult feelings we ask them to take on as military children. The stigma associated with reaching out for help and seeking counseling has been punched in the face, because stigmas are stupid. Get help for your babies, especially if they’re acting unlike themselves.
Cuddles, letter-writing, and alone time with each child is the perfect cure for those superficial, emotional pains. Building a fort with your children and spending the night in there telling stories works wonders for hurting hearts (God help your back, though).
**Breaking update: Twin A has emerged from his hideout, has surrendered and decided to rejoin society**
#8: You will learn to survive on minimal hours of sleep.
I’m still afraid of the dark. Not even ashamed to admit it, either.
My husband is 6’4″ and weighs about 250 and he’s an expert marksman. I have never had a reason to get over my fear of the dark, because I knew that if a monster came from under the bed to chew my foot off, he’d be there to beat it into submission. But, I’m vulnerable when he’s gone, so I make sure my feet are securely folded into the blanket and I keep my gun nearby.
Every bump in the night is some sadistic rapist trying to get in and mutilate my precious, virginal body
I never sleep deeply or fully while he’s gone. Every bump in the night is some sadistic rapist trying to get in and mutilate my precious, virginal body…why are you laughing!??! No, really, every shadow, noise, car passing outside- everything- scares me. So much so, my children and I not only rehearse fire drills, but home invasion drills, mass shooting drills, and someone’s-ringing-the-doorbell-get-down-and-low-crawl-to-a-covert-space drills. My children have moved their trundle bed mattresses into our master bedroom and have decided to camp out for the duration of the deployment. Am I mad? Nope…but they better make sure the monsters don’t get ’em.
While I joke, I realize that a lack of sleep is unhealthy. Taking naps during the day, if you can, is a way to avoid exhaustion. Learning to say, “No,” is a lost art form that should really be brought back. Using the deployment as an excuse to cut back on the unnecessary activities is not only acceptable; it’s encouraged! You’re now doing it all on your own and desperate times call for desperate measures.
If you’re the friend or family of a Blue Star family member who has children, offer to give them a break. Watch the kids while they grab a cup of coffee, or roam around aimlessly. Take them out to lunch. When in doubt, send them more wine.
#9: You will cry over anything, anywhere, for any reason.
Reading a Facebook post he wrote about you? Tears.
Smelling his cologne? Tears.
Children telling you they love you? Tears.
Ice cream on sale? Tears.
you will cry about THEEEEEE stupidest things
Mark my words, you will cry about THEEEEEE stupidest things. Then you’ll cry because you’re crying about stupid things. At last you will cry because you’re trying to apologize through your blubbering, “I’m so sorry! I’m normally not like this!” But you won’t stop crying because they’ll tell you it’s okay and you know it’s not okay and they just don’t understand but it was so nice of them to try to make you feel better but you just want it all to be over with but the army doesn’t care about my feelings because if they wanted him to have a wife and children they would’ve issued him one and WAAHHHHH!!!!
It’ll go something like that. Just let it happen. Getting it all out will make you feel better.
#10: The reunion will make #’s 1-9 disappear.
I’m already counting down the days until my man returns. A friend and I just had this discussion on Facebook, apparently there’s a timeline which dictates the official start of the deployment countdown. Guess what? MY timeline is when the doors to that van that’s carrying him away from me close. Your timeline may be different because you need it to be different, but it doesn’t negate his/her timeline to your left and your right.
However long the deployment lasts, it will end.
However long the deployment lasts, it will end. That reunion will make all of the drama of the last [insert number] months melt away like bad foundation on a humid day. When the day comes for you to walk out on the dock/tarmac/gym floor, and you see your beloved walking in all disheveled and breath funky from days of traveling- none of it will be remembered. The butterflies will make you want to puke, you’ll worry if they still think you’re pretty, and your kids will be acting like chihuahuas hopped up on LSD; they’ll be so excited.
The kiss. Except this time, it’s just a kiss of contentment. He’s home…until the Deployment Strikes Back.
Are you going through a deployment? Know someone facing a deployment or soon to face one? What about friends who can help during a deployment? Share this post and spread the knowledge!
Very true. I can related so much. I’m so proud of you and your family!
I know you can, Marta! We’ve come a long way since Germany, haven’t we? Deployments and separations have taken their toll on our Soldiers and us as well, but I’m so proud of how well WE have done as Army spouses. I miss you!