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He’s been home almost three months now. Time always drags when they are gone and flies when they are home! Deployment uniforms have all been tucked away, ACUs are the standard again.
Reintegration after deployment has been much easier than I expected it to be. And that kind of makes me nervous. I know that sometimes the worst problems happen after they have been home for a while, but right now, I’m not going to borrow trouble. I’m just going to enjoy it for what it is and what it has been.
Phase One: This is oddly comfortable
(the first few days)
It all started off with homecoming – the day you dream of for a year. But when it came, I was honestly surprised with how I felt, how we felt. The ceremony was exciting, but I was calm and collected. I wasn’t the wife jumping up and down, or the one with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t run and jump into his arms. I didn’t hold him for hours. We exchanged a quick kiss, and I took him home–home where he belonged.
About an hour later we were standing in the nursery and both said the same thing: “This is just too weird…it feels so comfortable and normal.” It was like it was no big deal. It wasn’t Prince Charming riding in gallantly on a white horse to save my world. No, it was just a battle-worn man finally getting some peace. It was like waking up from a bad dream and just going on with the morning. It was just life moving on. And at first, I almost felt guilty that it wasn’t a bigger deal. But then I realized that relaxed is how it should be.
Because RnR was so difficult, I expected reintegration to be so as well. I expected fights and anxiety and stress. And yes there has been some of that. But my attitude going into reintegration was different. Over RnR I tried to fix everything wrong in a short about of time – which backfired into my face. With reintegration, especially knowing that we finished our LAST deployment and that he is never leaving me again, I felt like I could relax and be more patient with him. Not everything had to be perfect. We have the rest of our lives to recover from all this crap with have been through.
Just an example: Because of jetlag, my husband has trouble sleeping when he first comes back from overseas. The first night he was home (both on RnR and after redeployment) he wanted to stay up and play video games. Over RnR this frustrated and angered me. I felt panicky and anxious. I think we even fought about it. We only have 14 nights together…I miss him so much I don’t want to spend even one of those nights apart!! But, after redeployment my thoughts went more like this: Eh, we got the rest of our lives to sleep together. I can’t expect his body to just adjust immediately. I’ve been doing this for a year, what’s one more night? and I went to bed in peace just being glad he was home, awake on the other side of the wall. And yes he stayed up the entire night. And it was okay.
Phase Two Part A: Stir Crazies
Sometimes I wonder what the Army is really thinking when they put their policies into practice. They try to be family friendly, but they rip a family apart for a year, teach and train them how to function completely independently, and then attempt to put them back together by lavishing them with gobs and gobs of time to spend together immediately following redeployment. My husband had 4 days off, then worked half days for about a week or two, then was completely off for like 2 or 3 weeks. In short, he was home all. the. time. After the first deployment, yeah it was a little weird, but we were still practically newlyweds. But this time? With a toddler? wow…
We got lucky, ahem…rather more like unlucky, in that this 2-3 week phase was also when most of our regularly scheduled “stuff” was on New Years Break. There was no PWOC and no MOPS. And because all the soldiers were coming home, there were no playdates or coffee breaks. And it was winter, cold and rainy. We just stayed home and watched TV, or I did housework while Russ played games or slept. But no, this wasn’t relaxing. Because life with a busy toddler doesn’t stop.
Ezra reintegrated very well to Russ being home. He LOVES his daddy and daddy began helping out a lot. He took over bath time, gets Ezra dressed, helps with playtime, and Ezra lets him do it all. He has no partiality and very few “No, I want mommy!” moments. But, the change was still stressful for him. He was fussier overall. He went through a 2-3 week nursing and sleep regression. We went from nursing just a few times a day to nursing like a 3 month old baby – every 1-3 hours! Naptimes were a nightmare. Ezra didn’t want to miss out on moments with daddy, even though he was exhausted. He would fight or even refuse to nap, which made him fussier, which made him want to nurse more. The same thing would happen at bedtime, and he would be up several times throughout the night. It was a vicious cycle.
Russ didn’t really know how to help when Ezra got fussy. He wasn’t used to how much attention a toddler took. (Ezra was three months old when he left, and the only preparation for toddlerhood my husband got was the two weeks of RnR that happened BEFORE Ezra started walking!) There were many moments of frustration when we just didn’t quite know what to do with each other, or Ezra. Sometimes we just wanted to cuddle and watch a show, but Ezra was far too fussy. Or we would lie down on the couch with Ezra in the playyard and as soon as we got comfortable Ezra would be jealous and start screaming.
Two weeks after redeployment, it was a Friday night….when I thought I was just about to go nuts, I looked ahead to the next week with relief! We were going to be visiting a new church on Sunday, and MOPS and PWOC were starting back up! GIRL TIME!!!! And then Ezra threw up…in the car…2 minutes from home. Seriously you couldn’t wait to do that?!! (I just have to interject and say that Russ really went “above and beyond the call of daddy duty” for me and hosed out the pukey carseat in the cold and dark backyard while I dealt with pukey baby. He was amazing!) But then Ezra threw up 3 more times between 9PM and midnight. He refused to eat and had a fever for three days. Scratch church and MOPS. More TV-watching, fussy-toddler-entertaining, stay-at-home time. He was just starting to get over it when I got the same virus. I threw up 4 times Monday evening. More TV-watching, fussy-toddler-entertaining, pukey feeling, low-appetite -having stay-at-home time.
Don’t get me wrong, this all would have been MUCH harder to deal with had my husband still been deployed. I thanked God constantly that he was home to help. It was just that the whole flu virus thing happened on the tails of already being stuck in the house for two weeks as a newly-reintegrated family with an active toddler. It was just rough.
Phase Two Part B: Does he really need his winter coat?
I’m putting this into a separate section for clarity sake, but these things happened simultaneously with the stir crazy phase.
Russ, like any wonderful man would, desperately wanted to help and fit into his “new” role as father and husband again. My husband is highly analytical and a strong leader, often known as a “take charge” kind of person. He began to “help” by asking me tons of questions about why I do what I do (and analyzing to see if there was a better way it could be done). His intentions were good. But I didn’t take it well. Most of his questions were out of curiosity, but I felt like he was being critical. I was used to doing my own thing, without having every move I made being questioned. One afternoon within just a few hours he asked me why I had to take the diaper bag into the store, why we kept the little-dinky-umbrella-stroller-that-he-doesn’t-like-because-it’s-too-short-and-doesn’t-steer-well in the car instead of the big one, tried to fix the broken car remote that I’ve been putting up with for months (Why are we worrying about this NOW?!?!), talked to the mechanic about why the car was doing this annoying thing… Then the next days it was 29 degrees and he argued with me about why Ezra needed to wear a winter coat when we were going to mostly be in the car and just running into the store really quickly. Once we got to the store I told him to get out the stroller (the little-dinky-umbrella-stroller-that-he-doesn’t-like-because-it’s-too-short-and-doesn’t-steer-well), and he responded “Do we NEED the stroller?” and I just lost it. “FINE! Don’t take the stroller. I DON’T CARE!!!” A fight ensued.
The details really don’t matter. Diaper bags, strollers, winter coats…it’s all fluff. The crux of the issue was that I felt threatened, criticized, and over-analyzed. I felt like he thought I was doing everything wrong. (Even though he told me a thousand times what a great job I had done while he was deployed and how he couldn’t even fathom how I handled everything!) He felt like he didn’t have a place in the home, that he was just trying to help me…men are fixers and that’s just how they are wired. He even went so far as to tell me that when he can come in and fix things he feels like a hero. And he wanted to be that for me.
We came to the following conclusion: Aprille needs to be a little less sensitive and let Russ help her. Russ needs to be more tactful and realize that Aprille has some things covered and doesn’t always need everything fixed.
The following day we went to an Operation Faithful Support session which gave us further opportunity to discuss this topic in a safe and supervised setting. It was JUST what we needed, and some of the other spouses and soldiers were able to offer wisdom from their own experiences that helped us work through this issue.
Phase Three: When do I get a break?
(Weeks 2-4, and still now sometimes)
As much as I tried not to, I had many expectations about redeployment and reintegration. One of these expectations I don’t think I ever would have voiced, but it was there. That desire for single-motherhood to be over. The expectation that once he’s home everything will be okay and I will FINALLY get a break from doing it all. I envisioned bubble baths and a lot of extra me time.
What I didn’t expect was that just the opposite would happen. As I mentioned above, Ezra became very needy. We were nursing more, I was sleeping less. Tired mommy = cranky mommy. Russ was extremely helpful with things like getting Ezra dressed, but he also brought a lot of extra responsibilities to my plate: I was now cooking for 3 instead of two (and with my food allergies and Russ and Ezra both being extremely moody eaters, no we don’t all eat the same thing). Russ also brought
15 million several extra loads of laundry a week to the table. On top of that he expected cuddles, well-deserved pampering, and lots of favorite tv-show-watching with his babeh. (Can we say all 6 seasons of Lost in about 6 weeks? that has got to be some sort of record!) Who was I to say no to the puppy-dog-eyed war-worn husband?!?! And the screaming toddler crying for “na-na?” I had all this extra work to do and less time to do it in, because both of my boys needed my undivided attention. I began to feel like I was in a tug of war between my husband and my son. I felt like if I took care of Ezra, Russ was jealous. (It didn’t help that he would say little things like “I know Ezra is your priority right now…it’s okay.” or “I feel kinda neglected.”) But if I spent time with Russ, I was the bad mom because Ezra was getting neglected and was screaming and crying all of the time. I felt like I was in a lose-lose situation. Exhaustion got even worse. I was drained. I started fantasizing about running away and checking into a hotel by myself for a week, with nothing but cheesy movies and bubbly ginger-ale to keep me company. I just wanted to escape. Oh, I will come back…in…like…a week. I promise! I kept wondering when I was going to get a break. I had a rough deployment too you know? But, I’m the wife and the mom, and that means that my needs come last…again!
I had another moment where I just locked myself in the bedroom, in the dark, listening to Rascal Flatts “I Won’t Let Go” with tears streaming down my face. And then Russ came in to ask about dinner because it was 7PM already. Okay, toaster waffles and sausage it is. And when I was busy in the kitchen with dinner, and he wanted me to come cuddle with him because he felt like I was upset with him. Um, no, I’m doing this because I thought you wanted dinner!!!!!
We had a fight one evening. Russ was gaming with his online buddies in the bedroom, and Ezra spilled a bottle of maple syrup all over the kitchen floor (of course on the carpeted half), was walking in it, and was tracking it all over the rest of the kitchen. I thought, If Russ were deployed, I would have to deal with this on my own. But he’s NOT! I went in and told him “baby, I need you to get off right now…”
“Um, do you need me like NOW? or like can I get off in a few minutes?”
What part of NOW don’t you understand!?!?! It just got worse from there. It was probably one of the worst fights we have ever had. Maple syrup and game time wasn’t the issue. The issue was that for a year I was 100% available to him 99% of the time. I would take middle of the night phone calls, mid-day skype date, rearrange my schedule, and miss appointments whenever he was down and needed to talk. And now that he was home I wanted him to reciprocate that and be 100% available to me, because I felt like I deserved that. I told him that I thought I was doing it gladly, but looking back, now, I can see how resentment grew a little bit when I felt like that sacrifice went unnoticed.
This, my friends, has got to be the hardest part of reintegration, and motherhood in general. I can’t say that there has been one magic fix to this, but I can say that it has gotten easier. Both Russ and Ezra have relaxed and aren’t quite so clingy and needy. Ezra is back to nursing less and sleeping better, which allows for more cuddle time with the husband, so everyone is happier. It has just taken time.
I have learned to schedule breaks for myself as often as possible. It’s hard to squeeze in the me-time, but I’m searching for opportunities all the time. I think that the turning point for me was getting that night away with Russ. 22 hours of NO BABY, no nursing, no sleep deprivation. Just a comfy bed, uninterrupted TV time, and cuddles with my man. Date nights are also extremely helpful!
Phase Four: I love my family
That, really, is all there is to be said. The issues that I have mentioned here are some of the most difficult things we have experienced so far. Yes, Russ still has severe anxiety problems, but praise be to God he is completely off of all sleep and anxiety medication and functioning almost completely normally!! We are in contact with and will be meeting with the behavioral health professional he saw during deployment, and I know she is going to take good care of us and help us work through the issues that still need to be addressed because of his anxiety problems.
We still fight, we still get on each other’s nerves, and I still want to run away sometimes. I still just about had a panic attack when he was considering taking three more weeks of leave “just because” with no plans to go anywhere. I still get exasperated at the extra laundry and cooking for three, but I’m learning tricks to make my life easier. But mostly, I just love being a family again. We have so much fun together. Ezra ADORES his daddy, and Russ takes amazingly good care of both of us. We are learning how to be a team again, to share responsibility. Life is beautiful. I’m so incredibly happy that he is home and I wouldn’t trade him and his deep love for me for anything.
The day he came home I had this phrase running through my head:
Today is the first day of the rest of your lives.
And now, we are living it.
For more of this family’s reintegration story, click here for the Loving a Combat Veteran archives.