Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Ian’s been home from Iraq for about a month and a half now. The time feels longer. I can remember clearly enough how things were two months ago, but the anxious feeling that accompanied his being deployed has grown very distant. When things are how they are supposed to be they tend to click into place and work as if nothing has ever been any other way. I like that feeling. Unfortunately reality is such that this kind of transition is not as easy as that. It’s confusing when emotions click into place and habits don’t. The disconnection between what used to be and what still is can be difficult to reconcile.
Now, I am quite certain that we have been, and are, adjusting better than many. It’s sort of like when I read about marriage being so hard for a lot of couples, and I believe them and sympathize, but I can’t relate directly. Ian and I don’t have a volatile relationship. We’ve always been supportive of one another and we’re both pretty calm people. We have moments like any couple trying to coordinate different lives together where we aren’t on the same page, but at least we’re usually using the same book. I know many families welcoming soldiers home have it much harder than I do, where financial situations are tight or there are medical issues to struggle with or the amount of change that took place in that period of absence was life altering and the resulting homecoming is incredibly stressful. I’m thankful our lives aren’t that challenging. Our struggles to reintegrate Ian into our home again are minor. But they are there.
The most awkward adjustment is still that we’re in a new house. It was the right move to make and a big improvement that one day even Aden (forever loyal to her past) may admit to be true, but for the kids and I to have had a jump on making it home is still hard. Not just for Ian, but for me as well. I set up everything alone and got used to where it all is. Ian uses things differently, and to have him change anything feels like it shouldn’t be annoying, but it still hits me that way. We had to have a discussion about the pots all being in a jumble because we each had a different idea of which things went on what shelf. He doesn’t like where I put the accessories for the mixer. I’m not sure where to put the vacuum now that he’s using his little office space so it just spends a few days in each room as if cleaning the floors is imminent. The first year in a new house is like a grand experiment anyway, figuring out how everything works with the changing seasons, but that sense is heightened with Ian’s late arrival on the scene because it was like reseting our experience.
And then there are old problems that I forgot about while he was away. Little things that we don’t agree on that vanished while he was in Iraq. Like the dishtowel dilemma. I put up a small hook in the kitchen just to hold a dishtowel to dry my hands after I use the sink. He’s always wetting the dishtowel for something and hangs it back up to dry. Every time I go to dry my hands the dishtowel is all soaked, I grumble to myself and replace it and then toss the wet one in the back hall to go down to the wash. This drives Ian crazy because he’s taken over the laundry since coming home, so he’s the only one who actually walks in that back hallway and doesn’t appreciate the ever growing pile of wet dishtowels back there. It’s a charming little cycle we have going. Of course I’d rather have Ian home and doing laundry than spending time by myself with a dry dishtowel, but it doesn’t make the dopey little problem less irritating. And then I get to have a flash of guilt for not being anything but grateful that my husband is back safely from the war and I should let him hang wet dishtowels everywhere if it makes him happy. (But boy that would be annoying.)
Then there is the fact that life doesn’t usually take a break just because you may need some extra time for adjustment. We have a friend who served in Iraq before Ian did, and when Ian got home from his first deployment our friend told us that the best thing he could recommend was to do what he did and just take a month off and travel as a good way of making the transition back into American life. Sounds fabulous. This man is a marvelous person whom I admire greatly, but as you probably figured out he has no kids. I remember standing there listening to the suggestion that Ian leave us again after fifteen months away, our children ages 5, 3 and 9 months making noise around us, and squeezing his hand tighter and tighter as I panicked that he might decide a little travel was, in fact, just what he needed. Ian knew better than to even entertain the thought, but it was hard to argue that a break really would be ideal. The hard truth is that there are still frustrating elements to running our business and bills to sort out and dentist appointments to arrange and a thousand little trouble spots that go with having kids and a house and cars and everything else our lives involve, none of which care if we need time for transition or not. Ian’s had to kind of just hit the ground running, and I’m doing my best to assist but some troubles can’t be helped.
Ian’s written already about how the first month home was for him, but he didn’t describe too much of how things have been going with the kids. I think he’s handled jumping back into the parenting role better than anyone could ask. He was very good about stepping back from any kind of disciplinary role for the first few weeks. The kids needed time to get used to the general sound and sense of having him around first, and I believe it’s helped. But pretty much from the first week he had long stretches alone with them while I would run errands or go to work, and he was his funny, reliable self and had no trouble being dad again. He’s much more willing to give them time at the park or to set up play dates than I’m usually prepared to do, and they’re very happy with that.
Aden loves having her dad back. She was worried for him while he was in Iraq. She’ll hug me at random moments and whisper to me that she’s glad her daddy is home. Her biggest adjustment is having to suffer through the same lectures twice if she does something we don’t like, and sometimes her dad will offer up treats or exact a punishment in a way that I wouldn’t and she finds it a tad confusing, but that’s just the reality of having more than one parent.
Mona seems to have made the smoothest adjustment, but mostly because she exists in her own little world to start with. She was old enough during this deployment to remember her dad in his absence, but too young for me to want to explain to her that her dad might be in danger while he was gone. Dad was gone, now he’s back, and there you go. I asked her recently what she thought of all of that, and she said, “Well…. The bad thing about having daddy away was that we miss him and you get more grumpy, but the good thing about him being away is he’s doing a good job with Army work and I have more time with you.” Mona tends to be more intuitive than verbal, but sometimes she finds exactly the right words.
With Quinn it’s been very interesting. Ian’s approach to Quinn has been not to stand between us. He figures if Quinn wants mommy, he gets mommy. It was hard, at first, for Quinn to have another guy in the house competing for my affection. Once the three of us were hanging out on our bed chatting about something one afternoon, and when Ian draped his arm over my leg, Quinn literally reached over and moved it off. He was visibly uncomfortable with any kissing or hugging between us, so we tried to be sensitive to that.
I did my best to prepare Quinn for weeks before Ian’s return that when daddy came home that there wasn’t going to be room for three of us in the big bed. Quinn had been sleeping in Aden’s bed, sometimes Mona’s, and even occasionally in his very own bunk bed, but still from time to time curled up with me. I just wanted him to understand that the choice to sleep with me was going to get more difficult with daddy home. Ian’s first night home we hadn’t planned for Quinn to be in our bed, but as we were all turning in my little boy came marching into our room hugging his stripey blanket. I reminded him that, “Don’t you remember, sweetie, that you need to go sleep in a different bed now that daddy’s home? Can you go sleep with Aden tonight?” and I could feel my heart break as his eyes filled with tears and he silently ran off to his sisters’ room. I couldn’t believe that he did what I asked, even though it hurt his feelings. I looked at Ian helplessly, and he shrugged and said, “I understand. Go get him.” So I found Quinn quietly weeping at the end of Aden’s bed, and told him we would make room. He hugged me hard as I carried him back down the hall and fell asleep with his head pressed up against my neck. We spent a long, uncomfortable night trying to make that work, but Quinn needed it.
Since then we’ve explained that if he falls asleep in our bed we’re going to move him to his own bed before the morning, and that’s been fine. He’s used to his dad being around now, and since he knows that my hugging Ian does not result in fewer hugs for him, he’s not as possessive. I’ve been extremely impressed with Ian’s patience in the whole matter. He’s an amazing husband and dad.
But I think the hardest thing to explain to anyone about Ian’s return is that there are things I miss about when he was gone. I certainly prefer him home, but I will admit to missing the complete control that comes with being the only adult in the house. I’m not going to say it was better, but I did things in a way I liked and I got used to it. I liked staying up late to get through serial dramas on DVD. I can’t really do that now. I’ve been going through past seasons of Madmen on Netflix which doesn’t interest Ian at all, so I watch them in little bits while I do certain chores while he’s not in the same room. I miss my private movie marathons, but they were something to do to make up for Ian not being around, so it doesn’t feel right to do them that way anymore.
I miss my kids on the days I’m at work. I don’t miss having them with me at work (although that still happens sometimes after school), but I liked being with them so much. They were all mine. I know it made me crazy some days, but overall I enjoy their company, and I’ve been going through a weird kind of withdrawal. On the rare days I get to pick up Quinn from half day kindergarten I hug him so hard I fear I’ll break him sometimes. And as much as I’m glad I don’t feel like a burden to my friends and neighbors now that Ian’s back, I miss seeing them. I don’t get to talk to them as often now, because for some reason it’s easier to make time for people in a crisis but not just for pleasure. I need to find a way to fix that one.
It’s hard to admit to having liked anything about the deployment enough to miss. It reminds me a little about how when we grieve we don’t want to acknowledge any pleasant moments mixed into that time because it feels like a betrayal. I remember the first time I miscarried how I felt like I would never stop crying, but then I had brave little Aden with me, trying so hard to make me happy, and how could I not be looking into that beautiful face? The juxtaposition of that kind of sadness and joy was painful but ultimately soothing in its own way. When Ian was gone it was scary and exhausting and frustrating. It was also challenging, sometimes liberating, and often sweet. I’ve had trouble letting go of some of my habits and routines that don’t fit with having my husband home, but not terribly.
All of life is a transition, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, from being the child to being the parent, even just from weekdays to weekends. This particular transition just happens to get more attention than average and comes with government supplied pamphlets if I need them. But I don’t need them. At some point the kinks we are experiencing will have to go under new headings, like growing pains or midlife crisis or just plain old family dynamics. We won’t know the day that the return from deployment transition is done because life just keeps rolling on. As long as we keep rolling together I’m happy, no matter how jumbled the pots may get.