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If you had told me twelve years ago, I would survive that deployment, go back to work full-time, move again, raise four wildly independent teenagers, send one of them to Air Force Basic Training twice, and my husband would be in the position he is in today, I would have called you a liar.
Our Air National Guard unit rarely deploys for longer than 120 days at a time. Though they often come home for a few weeks and deploy again. That deployment was from October through January. We had been blessed for me to be able to stay home with the kids, then ages two, three, five, and six. I dislike winter and here I was home with this little crew almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
One wall in the basement was shower board for drawing, practicing writing, playing school, and the calendar. The kids drew on it all the time. Most days I didn’t pay much attention to what they were drawing. Then I noticed it. Four little stick figures without faces and one flaming red, wild-haired, face with a giant round mouth facing them. This would become the boy’s signature drawing over the years when he was upset with me. Even today, and he just turned 16.
I wasn’t sure what they had done or what I had said to cause him to draw it. But it hit me, like a ton of bricks. That’s how they see me. Over the next few months, I was more cautious of how I handled their fragile little hearts. I didn’t want to see that face on any of their drawings again.
The six-year-old retreated at school, her grades dropped, her stomach ached every day. Her teacher asked her what was going. She told her, Daddy was deployed, and no one understood. Her teacher pulled up a chair and took out a small photo album. She showed the six-year-old pictures of her own Dad. He was in his military uniform. She understood. Their Dads had worked together for a few years. Her teacher knew he was deployed and she shared what it was like when she was little.
Five years old with a late birthday affords you another year at home before you start school. It also makes you very independent when you want scrambled eggs, a particular dress to wear that hasn’t been washed, or the two-year-old to stop following you around constantly. It might even help you develop your sarcastic sense of humor that makes you sound like your Mom and gets you into trouble.
Being two years old, and the baby of four, you’re still trying to figure out this whole life thing. Then Dad leaves and you don’t understand why. You use your markers on the furniture rather than the drawing board, paint the carpet rather than your nails, and smear peanut butter on the walls instead of bread.
It doesn’t matter how old you are if you use the microwave, set the time for one and the number of zeros it will allow, then stand and watch quietly as the flames shoot out when you open the door; or you partially open the garage door for the cats to get out and Mom sees light but doesn’t look close enough and takes the garage door to the middle of the driveway as she backs out, it’s her reaction and her words. That's all you remember about the things you’ve done that you probably shouldn’t have done.
Do you remember the times she praised you or you did something fun? Do you remember the words to her bedtime prayers? The ones asking God to forgive her for losing her temper, asking for Him to allow you to forgive her for her temper, thanking Him for fire extinguishers, the neighbor who put the garage door back up, warm winter days, and even snow.
I remember those prayers because they were the hardest to say. The ones where I knew that I was the flaming red, wild-haired, face with a giant round mouth facing my children. I was the one that needed to be punished. I needed your forgiveness. I needed someone to understand what I was going through. I needed God.
That was by far the toughest deployment we’ve lived through. We made it through and came out on the other side, stronger, more resilient, with new life skills learned, new appliances, and a new Mom.
A Mom who learned that I had to put God first every morning, in order to make it through the day. I had to have some time each day, during naps, to take care of myself. I needed to teach you how to do things, dishes, scramble eggs, wash laundry so that you could all be a helper.
My words hurt sometimes, and I need to watch how I use them. I learned that it is okay to ask for help from you and others, that I don’t have to bear the burden alone. I learned that God has us, we just need to go to Him and find rest. I turned to Matthew 11:28-30 for comfort, knowing that He would take care of us.
Mom, you aren’t alone. Even if you, like us, don’t live close to other military families. Reach out to someone. Even my civilian friends realized that I needed help. While I constantly told them we were fine, I now realize that I should have admitted it and let them take my kids for a sleepover, pizza, and a movie, to the park, for a quiet moment of rest for me. I wanted to be the tough, independent, awesome military wife and mother that I saw in movies, read about in books, or met on base at family day. I’m still not the perfect wife and mother. I struggle every single day. I see the looks on my kids' faces, the dog begging to go outside, my husband who suddenly needs to work in the barn when my words are not very nice. It hits me I’m back where I started. I need to ask politely for help. I need to find my joy, peace, and love again. I need rest and stillness in God.