I've been thinking of this particular post for many months now - dreaming of it, actually - but now that I'm here, I'm not really sure I can articulate my feelings concisely.
It's been a YEAR, y'all!!! 362 days to be exact - three hundred and sixty two days that I have spent without my husband home (by the time he gets home). Ok so there were 3 weeks there in the middle when he came home for my grandmother's funeral - but I can assure you, those 3 weeks had their own struggles!
How can I describe what these 362 days have been like?! I'm not sure if I can! But I'm going to try.
I ran track for 6 years. I considered doing it in college as well, but decided I couldn't commit to being an athlete and a student. Plus I wasn't *quite* good enough to run at KU, which is where I really wanted to go (although I did make it to the 6A State track meet!). My events were the open 100, 200, and 400, as well as the 4x1, 4x2, and the 4x4. My favorite event was probably the 4x4 - the LAST event of each track meet! I was a sprinter. They tried to get me to run distance and they had to sub me into a 4x8 for one meet in particular....it was awful. It was embarrassing how much slower I was, actually. And I think I threw up afterwards, too! Distance is NOT MY THANG. I loved sprinting. Launching out of those starting blocks, spiking the track with every stride. Pushing my body as hard as I could in a full-out sprint to the finish - and you still have to kick it up a notch at the final straightaway! It still makes my heart pound to think back to all of those races. Passing off the baton to a teammate just to run all the way back across the infield to cheer them on. Merging into one lane during the 4x4 and elbowing competition to get the best position. Being the first one to cross the finish line as the anchor in a relay. I still get butterflies!!
You get to the point in the race (especially the 400 or 4x4) where you basically can't feel your legs. You're not really sure how to run faster, but you know you have to keep going...keep pushing...focusing on your running form and breathing. And just when you want to quit, that's when you hear your teammates and coaches yelling at you, cheering you on, warning you of how close the competition is. It becomes so routine to hear them race after race, practice after practice, that you internalize it and you can push yourself even when you want to quit or feel like you have nothing left to give. "Dig dig dig!!! Stride out! Stride out! Relax your jaw! Push it! Push it! All the way through!!! GO!!!!" It's kind of awesome to hear everyone cheering you on from the side of the track and up in the stands. It certainly helps!!
I am so grateful for my time spent on the track team! Never once did I think at the time that all that self-coaching I learned to do during tough races would come in handy years down the road.
I have thought of my running days often during this deployment. How in the heck do I push on when all I want to do is crumple to the ground in defeat? Or because it hurts too much?
You don't grow if things don't challenge you. Or push you out of your comfort zone a little. You can't improve if things are always comfortable. Growth is pain, unfortunately.
Let me tell you, that first week when Chris was gone, I started out really strong. I was in the starting blocks, awaiting the sound of the starting gun. I was ready and I had braced myself for it. There's some agreement among military spouses that when you are anticipating a deployment, you just want it to hurry up and get here already so you can get on with the struggle so you can get it over with. And that was definitely us - we were ready. The first few days were alright...but by the end of the week, things tanked and both kids had fevers (I think Ava ended up with strep?!) and I found myself already at the hard part of my race. I remember wanting to quit everything and I was mad and stressed and I felt hopeless. So I started mentally coaching myself. "Walk into the living room and start picking up the toys". "Just walk over there". Even when every fiber in my body just wanted to drop to the floor in emotional exhaustion. I already felt overwhelming defeat.
"How in the HELL am I going to do this for a YEAR?!"
It was so extremely hard to NOT sit there, at the beginning of my race, and see just how freaking far away the finish line was.
It took a little time, but I got into a groove with doing everything by myself. After the first month or so, things seemed to get a little easier to handle. But having a 5 month old and a just-turned-2-year-old to deal with all by myself, 7 days a week with no break was super challenging. And I had some really hard days. Winter came along and I didn't realize it until it was almost spring - but winter almost broke me. We didn't have opportunities to play outside due to the cold weather. We all had cabin fever, and I thought that the walls would cave in on me some days. I began to wonder if I needed to talk with my doctor because I was really feeling depressed. I had a hard time peeling myself off the couch to do anything besides feed and change the kids. I took care of the essentials, but I had a hard time finding joy in anything else. It was a horrible feeling. I still feel...ashamed...that I couldn't have done a little better job. I relied on screens to occupy Ava and I didn't sing as many songs and read as many books with baby Liam as I did when Ava was a baby. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I had this time to spend with my babies and they were growing up before my eyes and Chris wasn't even here to enjoy his own kids. I should be grateful for the time with my kids....
...but the reality is, is that you can't pour from an empty cup. You can't run your race if you are dehydrated or starving or haven't slept or didn't stretch or warm up. You also can't run back to back races and expect to do well. I felt like I was losing my race. I was drowning in my own life.
And let me tell you - asking for help is something that is WAY harder than I think a lot of people realize. To ask someone for something small like watching the kids for 2 hours so I can escape those 4 walls felt like admitting I couldn't handle this season of my life. It felt desperate and weak and vulnerable and I didn't like it. I felt like a burden. I kept thinking, no, I can do this, I can push through. I can self-coach myself through this. But the truth of the matter was, was that I had tripped on a hurdle and I didn't think I could get back up to jump over the next one.
Thankfully Spring came and we were able to get back to the playgrounds. Being outside saved us and I felt happier! I did get to escape to Vegas with a friend, and I'm so glad I booked that trip. It was perfect timing and exactly what I needed to get through the rest of the deployment!
I think the biggest challenge of this time of solo parenting has been that the kids always come first. I can't tell you how many times we would FaceTime with Chris and he and I wouldn't even really get to talk because we were focused on the kids or Ava would run off with the phone and refuse to give it back, or hanging up would upset her. We started FaceTiming less and less because it was hard for Ava. She didn't understand why daddy couldn't play with her. She started asking to go bye bye so we could pick up daddy. My heart hurt on the daily for a lot of this year. We communicated primarily though text messages. But there isn't a whole lot to talk about when Chris can't share any details about his work and mine just basically involved wiping butts and talking about how the kids slept and how many bites of dinner they ate and what we got at the grocery store. There wasn't a whole lot of excitement to talk about. Plus, we were both struggling. And it was hard to keep each other positive and on track. So we didn't always talk every day.
It was really hard for me to celebrate the kids' birthdays without Chris. I threw 2 parties and I just wanted to cry that the babies wouldn't have their daddies there. But I tucked my sadness away and did my best to make their birthdays special.
I did get some opportunities to get time out of the house by myself. I went to go see a movie by myself. I sat at the bar and had a drink by myself. I dined in at a restaurant by myself. A lot of firsts for me! And it was kind of liberating. I've never really been "on my own" - I went from having college roommates to living back at home to getting married. I never really explored life as a solo person. It's like I kind of discovered a side of myself that I didn't know existed. I know that I am a stronger person now. I know that I am more self-reliant and I've learned a lot of coping skills. I've learned how to throw on a happy face when inside everything is falling apart. I've learned that sometimes you just have to suck it up and put everyone else's needs before your own. I've learned taking risks is usually super rewarding, in one way or another! I've tried to embrace saying "I'll try it!" instead of "oh no - there's no way I can handle that!". On the flip side, I've also learned how to say no and admit when things are just too much to handle and how to cut negativity out of my life. It's not always been an easy thing to balance, that's for sure.
I've also learned not to judge a person too harshly for always being on their phones! You never know who's spouse is deployed! I have taken SO many photos and videos of the kids this year; it's ridiculous!! Texting, waiting for a call, checking emails...that phone is vital for military couples!
This has been a very isolated, lonely, and defeating time in my life. I've felt pretty helpless and overwhelmed. A lot of things have popped up in the first year of homeownership that I've had to figure out or that Chris has had to deal with from a distance. And some things have just been sitting and waiting until he comes home. It's really really really really hard to do things around the house with 2 toddlers. Everything takes about 12 times as long as it normally would.
How do you pick up a dozen bags of sand and rocks by yourself from Home Depot with a baby and a toddler?
I figured it out.
How do you shop for a new washing machine when the old one breaks by yourself with a baby and a toddler?
I figured it out.
How do you take the car in for an oil change with 2 toddlers?
I figured it out.
How do you go to birthday parties and chase 2 toddlers by yourself?
I figured it out.
How do you go swimming with 2 toddlers by yourself (who have zero swimming skills)?
I figured it out. (This one was risky; I don't do it anymore)
How do you use a public bathroom with 2 toddlers running everywhere??
I figured it out.
These are just a few of the logistical things I had to work out. So many times I would just come home and cry because these tasks were just so exhausting and took everything out of me to maintain my composure in public. I'm not sure if this year has been more physically exhausting trying to keep up with my kids or if it's been more emotionally and mentally exhausting trying to keep my emotions in check and stay one step ahead of the kids. I've learned rules and structure and expectations are key in having a smoothly running household. But I've also learned that I've had to lower the bar of expectations, because I can't be great at everything. I let more things slide right now because there's just not enough of me to go around - I'm spread too thin!
I have definitely been humbled by this year. I've tried to keep my head down and just get through and come out alive on the other side of the finish line. I'm feeling very tired of "just getting by" and I can feel that my nerves are fried. Instead of running a 400, I've been running a Steeplechase. Sometimes I've cleared the waist-high barriers, and other times I've fallen into the water, face first. I've crashed and burned many times this year, but I've always managed to get back up and keep going.
I've done my fair share of complaining and venting, and I'm so very grateful for those who have listened to me over these many months. I'm grateful for those who have reached out and helped me with a favor or were simply just a shoulder to lean on.
I'm tired, y'all!!! I'm just a few short strides from crossing that finish line and I'm feeling agony and excitement, as well as relief that this is almost over. I kind of wish I would have kept a journal along the way, but honestly I was just over my head with all the things I had to keep up with. My bills might not have all been paid on time and my house certainly wasn't very clean, and there were almost always heaps of laundry everywhere. I do love all the fun things I got to do with my kids, but I will probably always look back on this time with sadness that Chris wasn't here and that I felt kind of miserable the whole time. Don't get me wrong - I had my happy times, but there was just so much struggle. It was truly difficult for me to stay positive, and I am generally a positive person!
There's so much more I can say about this separation. I even can't tell you how many diapers I have changed or messes I've cleaned up or how many times a night I was up with the baby (thank goodness he sleeps through the night now!). It's hard not to focus on the negatives when it's been such a challenging year. I tried so hard to keep things clean and happy for the kids. I've wanted to take the stress off of them and be a happy mommy for them. I've done many things to try and protect them from feeling anxiety - it's been a hard year for my Ava girl, too. My husband and I have both made many sacrifices this year. It's going to be a great feeling to have the 4 of us together again and the babies can have their daddy back! Crossing this finish line is going to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.