Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alone With My Thoughts

All my family (including the dog) left yesterday for fun at the cottage.  I needed to stay behind because, well, part of running our own business means we don't often get to leave town together for any extended period of time.  (I remember that from my childhood, when my parents ran their art gallery.  We took very few family vacations, and when we did they were crazy whirlwind events where we crammed in as many Eastern states and museums as possible.)

It's very quiet here.  It's especially strange not to have the dog in the house.  At least last year when I had to stay behind Chipper greeted me at the door in a frenzy of joy every day and gave me a sense of routine.  It occurred to me at work that if I didn't bother to go home at the end of the day it didn't matter and no one would know or care.  That's weird.  And I didn't realize how many habits the dog had shaped in me until he wasn't underfoot.  When I was cleaning out the fridge I could leave an open garbage bag on the floor, and I can run out the door for a moment without worrying the dog may get out if I'm not careful.  It sounds silly, I'm sure, but it's a peculiar level of freedom I'm not used to.

I had high hopes for both writing and violin making during all this uninterrupted free time, but I've fallen into a lot of cleaning instead.  The house has gotten completely away from me lately, and to straighten up a room and have it stay that way is sort of exciting.  (Because I am old and my idea of exciting is very sad.)  Being in my house right now reminds me of a time when I visited a friend who had no kids and I watched her put her keys on a table and it struck me that in her world, those keys would still be there when she went back later.  No little hands were rearranging random items as part of some endless game that threatened her sanity as a byproduct.  I marveled that I ever lived in such a world and never appreciated it.  But now I straighten up a room and when I walk through it the next day it's still clean.  Trippy.

Something I was not expecting to do was relive memories of Ian's deployments.  But while I was cleaning up a couple of rooms downstairs tonight I was listening to the radio and Terry Gross did an interview on Fresh Air with a writer named Angela Ricketts who has a memoir out about her experiences at home with three kids during her husband's deployments.  She lived through eight of them.  Eight.  I only had to get through two and that was plenty.

I could relate to so much of that interview.  At one point she said when the kids were small she at least had the sense that they would be spared some of the memories and difficulties of their dad being away, but that during the last deployment her son was in sixth grade.  I burst into tears.  Aden just finished sixth grade.  It's not hard to imagine how upsetting a deployment would have been for her last year.

I wondered as I listened to Ms Ricketts if some people would think she was whiny for admitting to her end of the struggle.  It happens.  When my essays about dealing with my husband's deployment were published on Babble (both the one where he was in Iraq and the one where he came home) and then reprinted elsewhere, I got comments from people who were disgusted by the fact that I was complaining while my husband was at war.   One of the hard parts of being the spouse back on the home front is that nothing can compete with war in terms of stress and sacrifice, so no matter how difficult a time you are having you feel petty for admitting any of it is wearing you down.

But it is hard.  And I haven't had to think about it in such detail in a long time.  It's left me feeling even lonelier here in the house without even the dog to cuddle.

The one thing that differed greatly between my experience and hers (besides the overwhelming number of deployments she had to deal with) was that she had the company of other families in the same position.  I didn't have that, and it sounds as if it could have helped.  Ian's first deployment involved his joining a unit in Texas, and all the family support groups were down there.  I didn't know anyone else in my community going through what I was going through, and all my family was out of state.  I was so painfully alone back then.  Alone, yet drowning in small kids so never by myself.

A few years ago I complied the emails Ian and I sent to each other during that deployment into a book.  I even went to the trouble of hiring someone to help me write a non-fiction proposal to see about getting it published.  But after literally over 100 rejections to my novel I didn't have the energy to figure out how to get non-fiction rejected, too, and it never went anywhere.  I suspect a better approach would be to use the emails to write a regular memoir, because I think I could write a good one.

But after listening to Ms Ricketts I don't know if I could take the emotional toll.  She was very brave to choose to examine and relive such complicated times.  Just remembering how many nights I tried to cry quietly enough not to wake the baby back then has me feeling a little on the brink.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about how much harder things were during the deployments.  And not a day goes by that I don't appreciate all that I have now that they are over.  There are plenty of reminders, and on some level those experiences are never far away, but I haven't tapped into the raw feelings associated with them in a long time.  Not having anyone here to hug is proving to be the most visceral reminder of all.


  1. What a thoughtful and moving post - thank you. If you ever get to the point of writing that memoir, I think it would be thought provoking and meaningful to many readers.

    1. Thank you. The email compilation alone is actually pretty interesting. Ian's stories from Iraq aren't like any I've ever heard, and my emails document pretty well what I was going through. At the very least I have them for my kids to look through one day.

  2. Ha... so good to know that I'm not the only one who gets excited when the house is as clean as it used to be sometime long back, and more so if it stays that way for more than a few hours :)

    About publishing, have you considered self-publishing your novel, or putting it out there in the Kindle format? You could promote it here on this blog/platform and through guest post bylines, and when you have X sales, you could approach the agents with hard numbers and try to sign a deal for your next book (the memoir?). I don't know anything about the publishing world, but you're an awesome writer and it makes me sad to see your posts about rejection. Since you are an entrepreneur/business owner as well, I think you might be able to pull something like this off?

    1. Actually, I did self-publish my novel. (Go click on the picture of the of "Almost There" in the sidebar. My mom drew the cover!) I spent about two years trying to go the traditional route just so I could know I made the effort, but I think my work was just not commercial enough. People liked the quality of my writing but didn't think they could sell the book. My second novel might be more salable, but at this point I may just go straight to CreateSpace again since that's what I know.

      Non-fiction seems sketchier to try to do with the self-publishing route for some reason. But it may be worth the effort at some point. I don't ever see my story reflected in the Army Wife tales. The people in normal Army groups always have stories about being able to help each other, and I was all alone. What contact I had with the Army made things worse. Boy, thinking back to surviving that last pregnancy while caring for a toddler and a preschooler without Ian.... I'm not enjoying the flashbacks.

  3. I found you during your writing for Babble about Ian's deployment, and your writing at the time helped me think about my husband's deployment again and process some of it. Much shorter, and solo, but it's own struggle. I'm fine to leave that back in the past, but occasionally we bring it out together and look at it, reflecting on where we've been. So much better to enjoy the present.

    1. Definitely gives you a different perspective to have to walk in those shoes, no matter for how short a time. And I don't think about it in more than passing anymore, which is why I was caught off guard by how hard that interview hit me.

  4. I think it's tough being in the house all alone for long periods. It's bliss for a little while, but then I start to get a little lonely. I'm glad to hear you are getting a lot done.

    I love your writing and would read it in any format.

    Your writing at Babble was what drew me in. Your support over the years using your experience during Ian's deployment has been invaluable. Stress is stress and I don't think there are the 'stress olympics" comparing wartime with taking care of three kids and a business on your own. Anyone saying anything different is a total dork.

    1. Thanks, Peg. (And by the way, my grandma's name was Peg, so I always smile for two reasons when I see your comments.)

      I wrote a post at Babble a long time ago called "Pain Is Not a Competition" that I still think about from time to time. It was about the struggles Ian and I were having adjusting to parenting together again. Everyone is entitled to their own pain and everyone is different, but there are moments I think we just want to be heard so we don't suffer alone.

      I'm amazed at the casual cruelty of people who don't realize that. I did start to read the comments on the Fresh Air story, and sure enough barely a comment or two in were people saying, "Well, my spouse was deployed and I didn't have any of these problems" and "Families of soldiers know what they are getting into so they shouldn't complain" etc. It's infuriating. I think in my first Babble essay I said something like, "Soldiers volunteer but their families are drafted." And what are kids supposed to do? Most of the stress comes from trying to help children deal with everything.

      Anyway, I was kind of hoping on an NPR site that maybe there wouldn't be as much ignorant posturing, but some people just lack compassion, even in cases where offering it should be obvious.

  5. HA! Google tried to eat this comment and I was smart enough to copy it before I published! Genius. Um... anyway... back to my comment:

    Hmm, that was a great read, thanks for posting.

    First and foremost, I'm a bit jealous of your house that might actually stay clean for a few days. :)

    But mostly, I am surprised... I probably shouldn't be, knowing how The Internet is about bringing out the worst in people... but I am really shocked that people are critiquing you for complaining because your husband is at war and his experience is "worse". What?! I thought it was kind of universally known that the families of deployed soldiers had a hard time. I am really sick of the idea (also prevalent over the internet and even one I previously held) that we should not complain about our own sufferings because someone always has it worse. Of course someone always has it worse, but that doesn't invalidate an individual's own experience. If someone else is going through something worse than you, why, then they don't need to read your posts if they can't deal. ITS THAT SIMPLE.

    Um... end rant. I'm kind of in a ranty mood tonight. I liked your first book and I'll read your second should you choose to publish it in any format.


    1. Not only is the house getting cleaner, but I started tackling the "box of guilt" under my bed of kid related stuff that has needed weeding and sorting for years. I will literally sleep better when that is empty.

      I remember one comment in particular when one of my essays was reprinted in a Chicago paper somewhere, in which a woman said I needed to "put on my big girl panties" and get over it. Some of the comments showing up about Ms Ricektt's interview are even worse. But I try to remember that most people are supportive and kind. Still, it's disheartening to know that many people are quick to kick someone when he or she is down. I think it's defensive. I think they don't want to believe they could ever be in such a vulnerable place themselves, so if they can lay blame they feel safer.

      I'm so glad you liked my book! I'm looking forward to doing the final edit on my second novel. My mom is already working on the new cover.

    2. Part of your reply here really resonated with me. After we lost Hannah, folks were brutal in their condemnation. Looking back, I like to believe it is because they are telling themselves it could NEVER happen to them because THEY wouldn't make the same choices. It's a recognition of that vulnerability and a quick need to sweep it away because the mere thought of losing a child is so paralyzing. When folks SHOULD be offering support and love they criticize because, quite frankly, they're terrified.

      Some of us learn from this and go out to be better, kinder, less judgmental human beings. Some, however are still jackasses. Understanding their motive does NOT make it any easier to deal with. They're STILL a jackass. :oP

    3. Wow, just when I feel like I can't be surprised by people anymore.... You actually had to suffer people being mean to you about the death of your daughter? Unreal. I'm so sorry. I had a discussion with the kids this morning about the idea of "loving your enemies" and what that means, and how incredibly hard it is, and that some lessons we have to teach ourselves over and over because they are not easy. Fewer things are harder than trying to love the jackasses.

    4. Oh, the meanness was NEVER in person, always through the anonymity of the 'net. It's easy to be a coward and judge and be hateful when you don't have to face the person you're being hateful to. Think about how folks respond when a baby or child is accidentally left in a car, how quick they are to judge and say, "I would NEVER leave my child in a car! How could you forget your baby?"

      I learned that unless you know all the circumstances in a person's life you have no business judging them. You have no clue what is really going on. It's easy to sit in judgment when nothing bad has happened to you. With loss comes ever greater compassion--at least it did so in my case. Not that I was mean and nasty, but I wasn't as open minded about parenting as I have become.

      We had a priest who would always pray, "help us to love those we have a hard time loving, and for those who have a hard time loving us..." Loving thy neighbor is definitely not always easy. :oS