Thursday, March 31, 2011

11 day Rob diet

We've been taking Rob's absence in baby steps. The first week we could Face Time with him via iPhone multiple times a day, and Grace loved starting the day cuddling in bed talking with Daddy. Now we don't get to Face Time every day, but every few days and talk to him once a day. When he arrives in Kuwait in a few weeks he will be halfway around the world and a bazillion time zones away. Since I'm "swimming in free time", I'm sure the kids and I will be sitting here expectantly in front of the webcam just waiting to chat.

Adventures in solo-parenting have been, adventurous (for lack of a better word). Turns out a lot of things weren't as I expected. That doesn't mean it was all bad, or all good. It was life, and I'm still alive to tell about it. So it must not have been that bad.

I'm not known for my patience. If patience is a virtue, then I am whatever the opposite of virtuous is. (Just ask my psychiatrist, he will atest to my need for "mommy's little helper" of an anti-depressent/mood stabilizer. No need to be ashamed of the pharmaceutical help, whatever keeps the kids unharmed and me off the evening news). I had assumed that I would be out of mom-ergy (the energy required to keep mothering throughout the day) by the second or third day. I've been getting lots of props from pals confessing they lose their cool if their husbands are late getting home. Well, duh. If you know the help is on the way, and it is delayed, obviously shit will end up hitting the fan (maybe even literally). I'm no hero, I lose my cool too when my hubs isn't home when he says. If you know the break isn't coming, you somehow ration your parenting energies to last throughout the day. I have tapped into an unknown spring of mom-durance (the endurance needed to single parent when needed). This was something I never expected of myself. I feel so mature and grown-up.

What I didn't expect was the loneliness. Incredible loneliness. I miss Rob's physical presence in the house. He left a t-shirt on the bed and I would bury my face in it just for his smell for days. Then the bacteria from the man-pits part of the shirt eventually took over and it became more odiferously offending rather than comforting.

It not just Rob I miss, but my life the way it was. I have a wealth of amazing friends and aquaintences here in Athens, so loneliness was the last thing I expected. I didn't consider that most of my social time is in the mornings when Grace is in pre-school. In Rob's absense I now need to take advantage of the time I have with just one child. Making sure I get some excercise, running erands, or getting a minute to clean up the house a bit has cut into my traditional routine of playdates and bliss. It is unrealistic to expect my friends to be free to socialize right when they are getting their breaks and their husbands are getting home, taking over some of the parenting load and destressing with their spouse at the end of the day (I don't mean sex, because I know putting-out is the last thing on the minds of the vast majority of stay-at-home moms by this time of day). I didn't write the rules of domesticity, but I am no stranger to living by them. This unexpected loneliness made me feel like I had moved into a glass box. Everything appeared as normal, but I was suddently separate and very different from everyone else.

To kick things up a notch, it rained all weekend. It made for the longest weekend of my life. Even Grace was begging for friends by the end of the day. In hindsight, the rain was ridiculously metaphoric. It made the new, uncomfortable situation at it's worst so I could learn that I really could do it.

I'm doing it all right. Now that I change all the diapers I realize that my children poop ALL DAY LONG. Cute on the outside, but on the inside they are pint-sized shit factories. One day I STOPPED counting at NINE diapers. Without fail, just as we are about to walk out the door, Fin usually has a red face and followed by grunting. It's like a sixth-sense for him; Mom's trying to get Grace to school on time, Fin's bowels hit the exit button.

Not only do I have to worry about the kids putting things in their ears, but me as well. I had to see my doctor this week thinking I lost my hearing on the right side due to impacted wax (eww). Once she got a look she informed me there was something small, white, and "manufactured-looking" in my ear. Really? (I wish I made this stuff up). Later in the day after a much needed nap, I awoke with full hearing. The mystery of what was in the my ear or how it could have gotten there may never be solved. It made for a weird day, but now I can fully appreciate the pitch of the kids' simultaneous meltdowns.

I also learned the hard way that if left alone for too long with a tube of Desitin within reach, Grace will cover not just herself, but also her brother with it. The universe is odd, because just like that, a Desitin coupon will also appear on my next Target receipt. Ask and ye shall recieve, I guess.

What I never expected was that I would love my children even more. One night during incredible thunderstorms it was revealed that our aged cancer-ridden Chihuahuah is not the only one terrified by the noise. Grace ran into my room full of fear. I snuggled her close and suggested we hold hands as we lay on our sides facing each other. We comforted each other the rest of the night as the man of the house slept soundlessly in his crib.

Last but not least, if heaven is a smell, it is a baby named Fin (when he is clean). My chubby little babe loves to rock to sleep, but by bedtime I am more than ready for an hour or two to myself to unwind. A few nights ago I was done in by Fin's charms. His soft rolls, cherub smile, sweet smell, and adoring giggles had me locked in. In that moment, I wished time could have stopped right there. The days are going by ridiculously fast, and I am often rushing around trying to do it all. My babies keep on growing, even without their dad here. It was in that moment I stopped my worrying and stopped my rushing and just was. I know that someday he will be a man, and before that he will be a boy. But just for right now, he is my baby.

It's been a learning curve learning to do this without Rob. It reminds me of being a new mom, and then having your second child. You stress about how it is going to be, take time to adjust, and then function just fine as if it was never any other way. I'm doing this, we're doing this. I couldn't be prouder.


We said goodbye to Rob eleven days ago. I've been meaning to write about this experience for, well, eleven days now, but my free time is incredibly limited and I am exhausted by the end of the day. Once the kiddos are down, I just want to park it in front of the all-American pastime (DVR reality shows on TV) and knit for some all too brief moments before I put myself to bed.

The Sunday Rob left was probably the hardest experience I had ever watched. He would tear up simply looking at the kids. Thankfully they were oblivious to what was going on. Me, I was numb. I had never known what numb really felt like until then. I found comfort in very simple things, how my hand knit sweater wrapped around me like a wool/alpaca hug, and the physical warmth from the coffee mug in my hands.

Once we left the house, we were both instantly better before we had even exited the neighborhood. Like a band aid, we needed to rip it off and the build-up of Rob leaving the kids was worse than the actual event. I was thankful Rob drove and I could release tension from my fingers into my knitting. Some people are emotional eaters, I'm an emotional knitter. I love deftly maneuvering my fingers into beautiful patterns with expensive yarns. The rhythm is repetitive, trance like, and incredibly soothing. I knit when I'm happy, sad, mad, bored, or anxious. This day it was the anxiety of upcoming days, weeks, months of single parenthood that drove me to my treasured pastime.

Checking in to Atlanta Hartfield Airport was seamless and so very mundane. The everyday hustle and bustle of air travel continued all around us as I was treading inexperienced waters. Should I have been visibly upset? Resentful? Sad? Listless? Really I just felt numb. I watched as servicemen and women walked along on their way to destinations unknown. Some travelled to much more dangerous places, some for double the time of Rob's deployment, some even for a return trip to the Middle East they never expected. I also knew that some were on they're way home. To loved ones, spouses and children who missed them dearly, babies they had conceived but never met, and dogs who would would never forget them despite lengthy absences. An incredibly analytical person, I watched and took in the scenes around me with a new set of eyes. I felt excitement for the day Rob will return home and so incredibly thankful for the duration and location of his deployment. He will be in Kuwait (one of the safest of locations) for seven months, this is nothing compared to the year-long or eighteen month tours some many Army and Marine personnel are doing in places much more dangerous. An eternal optimist, while enduring this separation I am grateful for its brevity in comparison.

Looking back now, our goodbye hug was a little humorous. It was an embrace for dear life; I clung to Rob like he was a life-preserver. I wasn't sure I could survive the kids without him. He headed towards security and was instantly out of my sight. Everything around me seemed to expand and my field of vision just widened and drew back, just like in the movies. I had never felt so small in my whole life. Turns out there were no tears, no outbursts. Just me as a newly single mom leaving the crowd. Making my way out of the airport, to my car, and home to Grace & Fin.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pre-deployment work-up

A ship, or a battalion, or a carrier group, etc. will go through a period of "training evolutions" or drills to ready themselves for an upcoming deployment. The days and weeks of this is often called a pre-deployment work-up. For many Navy families this can mean long work days, last minute schedule changes, days or even weeks apart before the real separation officially begins. This also includes boatloads (no pun intended) of stress. Our little family has been doing just that.

Rob leaves Sunday. We have been busy updating wills and POA'S (power of attorney), buying recordable books, ordering a flat-daddy, getting Rob an updated passport, seeing family, spending time as a family, squeezing in all the "quality family time" we can, and fighting like two housewives on a reunion special. (Paging Andy Cohen, we need a referee to handle some of this and add witty commentary to lighten our moods.)

Apparently pre-separation feuding is completely normal and to be expected. The practical reasoning for such bickering eludes me. (Paging Dr. Freud, please have a seat on the sofa next to Mr. Cohen.) I've created the term or Pre-Deployment Bipolar Disorder for this experience. Subconsciously I don't want Rob to leave, and consciously (at times) I almost want to punch him all up in his condescending, never-wrong face. These marital spats are over quicker than they start and there are many a meaningful "I love you" from our lips and those shared gazes that speak louder than words between a husband and wife.

This week I'm doing really well. Last week I had my moments. I vacillated between feeling empowered, capable, and prepared to feeling so anxious and vulnerable I wouldn't want him to leave the room. I may no longer have the Navy here in Athens since the base closure, but I have more than a handful of friends who have offered and are ready at a moment's notice to help this family. This leaves me feeling beyond lucky, and appreciation does not even begin to describe the gratitude. For once in my life, I have no words.

This week it is Rob I am most worried about. I could not physically leave my babies. That is something I am most certain I am not capable of. To imagine what his impending departure feels like for my husband breaks my heart. When Rob returns Fin will almost have doubled his age and Grace will no longer be using diapers (hopefully) and probably be fluent in another language (more likely). The things he is going to miss coupled with Grace's pleading eyes asking for her Dad has the magnitude to break me in two. These things cannot break me, because I must not let them.

I am realizing I am about to become a different person. This will change me. I am going to be Mom & Dad for the next 7 months. I will be good cop, and bad cop. I'm going to be potty training on my own, and enlisting Grace to help teach her brother to walk. I will be teaching my children strength and endurance by example. Sweet Lord, I am going to need all the patience I can get. Some days I will be at my best, others I will be at my worst.

My good friend Mackenzie (another Navy Supply Corps wife) gave me the best advice so far. I blatantly asked her one day, "How am I going to do this?!" She responded, "You just will, because you have to." Starting Sunday, I will. Some moments I may think I won't be able to do this, but I just need to keep reminding myself that I can and will.

It also doesn't hurt that Chick-fil-A is just a block away. At least the kids won't go hungry. Unless it's Sunday, when Chick-fil-A is closed. Athens friends, take note, we may need to be fed and watered on Sundays.