Everything

Up here in Sacramento, some of the elementary schools are year round. The kids have been in school for eight days and so far, so good.

You really can’t go wrong when you don’t have to worry about Daddy leaving.

I have to say I feel a bit spoiled. Very surreal for the past month. I can sleep in on school days! Imagine that! We can take turns getting the kids ready for school.

I have help. I have a spouse. I have a partner.

Most importantly, I don’t have to do it all.

I was definitely in denial at first. Even after two weeks of R being home, I still felt like I had to do everything. Never ending laundry piles. Dishes galore. Parenting! Oh, the parenting!

My husband had left the Navy a month ago and the tasks he’s completed since then is nuts. Effing nuts!

Got caught up with bills (some military spouses feel me, right?). Found a job. Re-fucking-financed the goddamned house to save 2% interest, translating to a savings of ALMOST $700 a month! What the heck?!

A part of me felt embarrassed about how much he’s been able to do. Why couldn’t I do any of that? I’ve been here for five goddamned years!

But not once has R made me feel that way. Not once.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have our family complete again. When R was gone, the kids were amazing. They could teach workshops in resiliency, seriously with all the crap they’ve had to go through.

Today after school I asked the kids what was their favorite part of having Daddy home. Our oldest son M said it best: “Well, he’s never been here so… Everything.”

First day of school. L, 6 years old, 1st grade.

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A, 8 years old, 3rd grade.

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M, 11 years old, 6th grade. I said, “Come on, let’s take a picture together!” He said, “I don’t feel very comfortable right now!”

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Twenty Years

After two decades, his day has come.

My husband R retired from the US Navy… Yesterday!

He began the day just outside of JEB Little Creek and finished it in Kentucky. He will be with family in a few days, spending time with them until the next chapter of our lives begins.

R is quite emotional and rightly so. What a huge transition!

And yet I seem to have forgotten the other person this affects greatly! That’s me!

I won’t have this independence that I once loathed, this independence that basically forced me to suck it up countless times through the past twelve years, this independence that compelled me to work, even while pregnant and raising two preschoolers.

I wonder what will happen to this independence. R would never hold me back; the Navy did that for him. I wonder if it will be difficult, if I will push myself, if it will even matter how thick skinned I’ve had to become.

It was no easy feat.

His new chapter. My new chapter. What difference does it make really? Come along for the ride.

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One of the few photos I have with him in uniform. Top: Navy Day Ball 2000. Bottom: Family trip to Disneyland, 2012.

The Toilet Paper Connection

Is this a mid-life crisis?

Like many of you I’ve had a million things on my mind, the bulk of which involve my husband R.

While I cannot go into detail about what we face in the next few months, he will undeniably be going through many changes in his career and health. His right thyroid will be removed next month as it is playing piggyback with a benign tumor the size of a tennis ball. His left thyroid has a cyst that doctors will be testing at the same time they take that damn thing out of his throat.

He’ll be home in two weeks on leave. R will be able to see A receive her first holy communion, an important step in our Catholic faith.

I nearly fainted at the prospect of buying her a new gown for the event. While a gorgeous new white gown is certainly not mandatory by any means, tradition and Filipino Catholic mom guilt (by my mom, not me) have prevailed.

Oh man, we had to get a veil too!

I am happy to say that I found a discount store and for the price of a dress at a popular bridal store, I was able to buy a dress, a veil, and four pairs of shoes for the kids!

But money is just one of the things I’ve been stressing over. The dog’s bills went up to four figures but thankfully we have been able to pay for most of it off in full. (Hey, that’s money too!)

I can’t help but feel total anxiety over yet more life changes and granted, these are wonderful changes, but they are stressful nonetheless. I really have a lot of respect and admiration for fellow military spouses and their families who keep it together. I cannot imagine a world where I actually live with my husband, where my kids get to see and hug and kiss their father every single day.

Will we seek therapy? I hope so! It would be unrealistic to expect an easy transition. In some ways I feel like I’m being demoted, from the sole decision maker and primary caretaker to an actual partnership with someone I’ve been married to for almost thirteen years but really have lived under same roof for less than half of that time.

And it is in this partnership that I have anxiety. I suspect I will fail on more than on occasion.

The transition to married-single-motherhood is fast, change quickly or you’ll drown. There is no learning curve, no time to whine, no one to quite confide in anyone as everyone around you is in the same boat.

So you adjust, you adapt, you change, you survive.

Now in the coming months I can do this with my husband but do I want to?

Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I don’t want him around nor am I saying I don’t want to be married anymore. Oh, hell no!

I’m just saying this next transition as he retires, as he moves back home with roommates he’s barely lived with will be stressful, which I’m sorry to say will mostly be on him. I just hope that the kids and I can help make this as easy as possible.

I know the kids are very excited. They love him to pieces and my existence sort of disappears when he is around. I don’t mind. Better that than being angry with him for his frequent absence in their lives.

I worry that they’ll take advantage of Daddy who is torn between wanting to do everything for his children yet not wanting to them to become too dependent on him.

Case in point: the toilet paper incident. L was about four years old when R came home for recovery. I came home from a sub job to hear L in the bathroom while R sat on the couch watching TV.

“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaddy!” she called. “I need tooooooooooooiiiiiiiiiiiilet paper!” R started to get up.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“She needs toilet paper,” he said.

I leaned over on the couch to peek in the bathroom. “She’s got a full roll.”

He said, “Yeah, but she needs me to hand it to her.”

I laughed and laughed to which he replied, “Aw man! I got played!”

And there you have it. My regular-life crisis.

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Sacrifices and homecoming

Dinner with Daddy before he left, February 2010

When my husband’s unit returned to the states in October 2010, his work wanted him there for the homecoming. Though several charities and organizations offered to foot the bill, he still had reservations about going.

He was still in a lot of pain and you could see it in his face and by the way he walked. He tried to hide his limp and he was embarassed he was still using a cane. The nerves in his left leg weren’t firing, causing his foot to involuntary drop as if he pointed his toes. It hurt for him to sit, stand, or walk for long periods of time. Like clockwork, he would get fatigued by early afternoon and was done for the rest of the day. He couldn’t walk or stand after he reached that point. The only thing that helped was lying down, a big problem if he’s on a long flight. His urethra tore in the accident so he had a superpubic catheter (connected to a hole cut through his skin and bladder and just under his belly button) and a urine bag, or “pee bag” as we affectionately called it.

Despite his medical conditions, I knew in my heart I needed to gently encourage him to go.

He had to go for his team. They bravely continued their deployments knowing that someone on their team almost died. They needed to see him, to talk to him, to breathe a sigh of relief that he was still alive and kicking.

Most importantly, he had to go for himself. I know he needed to see his friends again. To be with the men and women who had his back, who screamed when they saw the car roll over, who helped lift a car door off his broken bleeding body, who tied the turnicate around his shattered pelvis that ultimately saved his life, and who called me every hour to tell me where my husband was until he was back on American soil and holding my hand.

My husband was thrilled when I suggested he bring our son and even more thrilled when they said they had funds to cover M’s flight.

I pulled up to the airport feeling like I had never felt before. I was dropping off my husband but knew this wasn’t like other drop offs. He was coming back in five days.

Five days. I felt like I won the lottery.

I forgot about the lottery when it dawned on me that he was taking our baby. Our boy. Our first born. This would be the second time in my life that I wasn’t sleeping under the same roof as M. The first time was when my husband took him for a week-long visit to his parents’ house in Idaho. I didn’t have time to miss them as I was very pregnant with the second and slept most of the time.

The thought of not being with my son made me breathe a little faster but this was nothing compared to what my husband lives with every single day.

To be the one left behind feels like you’re being deserted. You have this household to run, kids to keep clean and well-fed, a house to maintain, bills to pay, and sanity to manage. Sort of like he’s jumping ship, every pun intended.

Sometimes I take it personally, as in why would he want to go? Why can’t he just retire early and I’ll go back to work full-time? If he wanted to stay, wouldn’t he find a way? Surely there must be some loophole that we and every other military family haven’t explored.

Sometimes I reach out to my friends and make plans to catch up. I know when I’m avoiding feeling something, anything, when I take on too much.

Other times I just can’t stand it anymore and cry.

In the end, he ultimately is the one that leaves, clearly the suckier deal. He doesn’t get a daily “Good morning” from three sweet angels. He doesn’t get to snuggle with his wife, a woman commited to him in sickness and in health. He doesn’t get to make pancakes with fresh blackberries picked from the side of the road. He doesn’t get to walk his kids to school every morning, pack their lunches, or help them with their homework. He doesn’t get to sit with them, vegging out to some tween show on Nickelodeon, or go camping in the living room on Friday movie nights.

He doesn’t get a good night kiss from his wife.

I don’t get a good night kiss from my husband.

How does he do it?

By definition of his job, he puts his life on the line every time he goes to a training where any small oversight could result in serious injury or death. Every time he deploys, he places himself in harm’s way.

[DISCLAIMER: This is the part where we’d go into lengthy and volatile discussions about Iraq, patriotism, politics, war, etc. and while I respect your opinion NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, this blog is not about that; IT’S ABOUT ME. Perhaps in time we can entertain these subjects but right now it’s ALL ABOUT ME. Thank you and back to your regular programming.]

But if you asked my husband what the biggest sacrifice he’s making right now, he wouldn’t tell you any of that. He wouldn’t say that it’s facing danger in every facet of his job, pushing his body to the limits to keep himself in shape to the point where he has broken ribs at several trainings, or even the money we’re paying out of pocket to pay for a separate residence [housing will pay for one residence and that is the house in which the kids and I live].

The biggest sacrifice he’s making is time. Or lack of it.

He’ll never get back the months of memories of each child or nights slept in a place that isn’t home. He’ll never get back the weeks we could have spent doing nothing which of course means everything. All of those hours playing with the kids or listening to me drone on and on about celebrity gossip.

All of the moments where he can just hold each child and get lost in their embrace.

Early retirement is off the table for him. With his twenty year mark being two years away, the financially sound decision is to just wait it out and most likely have disability stacked on top of his retirement.

Two years is not very long.

Not very long for a final and well-deserved homecoming. A PERMANENT HOMECOMING.

Reality check

There are few things I truly detest in life: kids’ birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, using butter substitutes when recipes call for real butter, going to the Borders and seeing that another dumbass reality star celebrity has published a book…

But what I really truly hate is seeing my doctor after gaining weight. Or in my case, twenty pounds in the past year.

I could lie and blame my husband’s accident last April. Blame his cooking when he came home to recover in October. Blame my knees for taking turns giving out after high impact Zumba classes. Blame my fourth toe on my right leg that BROKE after taking a pole dancing, ahem… fitness class.

But really I have no one to blame but myself.

I know what I should be eating and how much of it I should eat. I know to exercise and lift weights regularly.

And I did. Until last April when my husband’s car rolled over while deployed in Iraq.

Self-prescribed mocha breaks and the pastries to go with them. McDonalds for the kids so they can go to the playland. Portion sizes appropriate for my husband, six feet tall. Having dinners with friends. No sleep. Too much sleep.

That, my friends, is a recipe for weight gain.

I saw my doctor this afternoon and I told her that making an appointment her was my reality check. Twenty pounds ago, I was very active and eating healthy. I told her last year that I only needed ten more to be my college weight and we all know we were BANGIN’ in college.

But twenty pounds and one year ago, I was sitting in National Naval Medical Center, wondering if my husband would ever walk again, if they could put the seven pieces of his pelvis back together, and how I would explain to our eight year old son that he wouldn’t be going back to school for a few weeks. For a brief period I saw a number in the tens digit of my weight that I hadn’t seen since high school because I spent so much time in the hospital sitting next to my husband’s bed that I actually forgot to eat and trust me, I am so not that person.

I can’t hide anymore. Deeper depression will find me with a vengeance if I keep this up.

I was watching Eat Pray Love last night and when I wasn’t drooling over Javier Bardem, I thought about the scene where Julia Roberts’ character was having dinner with her friends and discussing THEIR WORD. Roberts said “ambition” which led me to wonder: Who am I? What’s MY word?

All I could come up with were job words and who I was RELATIVE TO OTHERS. Teacher. Writer. Wife. Mother.

If I remove the following [navy wife, mother, teacher, writer, –insert your labels here–], what are we left with? Or have our labels made us who we are?

I tell you one thing: I’ve got a doctor’s appointment in three months for a weight check. Hopefully I can add LIGHTER to my list of words.

Cheers!