May 22, 2015 by comhomflt
Reintegration. Some say it is the hardest part of the deployment. I wouldn’t say it has been so for us, but it has been harder than I expected, mostly because it didn’t fit the informed, “realistic” expectations I had imagined but also because I was more broken than I could have anticipated when it finally arrived.
Broken. The Navy takes every conceivable opportunity to hand out stress assessment charts and give stress inventory presentations and warn every sailor at each stage of deployment about the dangers of high stress levels. Given that PTSD is real and likely in a combat environment, this is a good thing. In fact, as I read stories of military members and their families from previous generations, I find myself wishing such resources had been available to them. I finally got my exposure to the infamous stress inventory at the Returning Warrior Weekend we attended last month, and there I was at the end of deployment: somewhere between the dangerous orange and red zones. Somewhere between “requires medication” and “needs professional counseling.” Yup. I did see a doctor, precisely fifteen days before homecoming; and I did get some medication to set my stress-imbalanced-hormones back on the level again. And it’s a good thing, too! Otherwise, that Pinterest-worthy homecoming sign, “So glad you’re home; Mom quit two weeks ago” might have made an appearance. I think homeschooling was the “bridge too far” in this case, but what’s done is done. I’m mostly recovered now and have greater empathy for others in similar situations, although it might be a while before I can hear the words “evening meeting” from my LT and not completely fall apart. Needless to say, I wasn’t the wife he left behind when he finally appeared on the airport escalator and descended to us amidst whoops and cheers.
Expectations. “It will be hard, much harder than you can imagine.” So, I expected the girls to cling to him every second, not even letting him out of their sight long enough to use the bathroom. I expected our Seaman to keep the 3-D version of Daddy at arm’s length. I expected some resistance to having a second parent on hand to give instruction and discipline. Thankfully, none of those things happened! We have noticed a bit of separation anxiety on several occasions, but, otherwise, the kids have adjusted beautifully. We undoubtedly benefited from the non-combat nature of this deployment and our ability for near daily communication, which allowed our LT keep up with the kids and my parenting decisions throughout his time away. Most of the challenges related to the return of a deployed parent occurred between him and me. Functioning at high stress levels makes it very difficult to parent properly, and though I was coping, it had become almost a minute-by-minute struggle. Thankfully, he wasn’t returning from a stressful combat environment himself, and my situation improved drastically with the medication and his return.
Expectations can be funny things, though. We both had them, of course, but I didn’t realize how different they were! It makes for great comedy, in retrospect.
Him: “I see us in a new house by next Christmas.”
Me (in my head): “Wow. That’s a neat idea. I don’t even want to think about how we’d pull that off, but it would be nice.”
Me: “I can’t wait until the holidays are over and we can start organizing the house – you know, finally put away that baby gear and de-clutter the closets – all that stuff I had to put on hold while you were away.”
Him (just as his terminal leave and vacation were ending): “I think it’s time to meet with the realtor. I’d like to be moved by this summer.”
Say what?! I’d been warned that the returning spouse may desire “large purchases,” want to go on “lavish vacations,” or in general, may quickly do something with large quantities of money that the homefront spouse would consider wasteful and foolish. Nothing, however, was mentioned about the spouse coming home and wanting to pack up and move ten years’ worth of life, while homeschooling no less! Definitely not foolish and wasteful; after all, we had PLANNED to move after deployment – on different timetables, obviously. All those dreams of family game nights, catching up on missed appointments (hello, wisdom teeth removal?), making time for long-delayed outings with friends, or enjoying together the many family events we muddled through with GIDaddy last year? Out.the.window. Replaced by frantic de-cluttering and packing and planning. And that plan to skip an AT this year? How about living apart for three weeks because painting 750 square feet of house while six people live – and homeschool – in it is highly impractical. Modest goals, like figuring out a workable grocery shopping routine or reassigning household responsibilities, were suddenly dwarfed by the challenge of having to create “empty space” in small closets and making our tiny house appear “spacious” without farming its minor occupants out for the indefinite future.
So, the long and short of our reintegration is this: it’s been happily ever after – almost – since that wonderful, fairytale of a homecoming day. The thrill of having him back hasn’t vanished yet, and family life feels perfectly natural again, despite the stress of moving. I still pinch myself to see if it was all real, though the memories and struggles are very real. Even without a move, I know it wouldn’t have been all “diamond sunbursts, or marble halls,” to quote Anne Shirley. I suspect discouragement may have set in for our LT as he transitioned from the tempo and drive of deployment to the hum-drum routine of life with four kids and the usual work schedule. And, while the decision to move now was for the best, I think I’d have gladly worked through those challenges in exchange for enjoying the feel of a little grass growing under our feet. Hopefully said grass will be allowed to germinate soon, but until then, I may not resurface. When things do settle down, I promise to recount the amazing, miraculous blessing from God that is our new home – if not for you, for our kids – because God is good, and his mercy endures forever!
This blog post has been brought to you by the brief lull between the end of school and the last burst of crazy packing…because in less time that it takes to go through NMPS and NIACT, this house will no longer be our home!