We were on vacation when the official word came through – my husband would be deploying with the National Guard for one year. 12 months. Maybe 13 months if needed.
This was not our first rodeo. My husband had been in the Marine Corps for almost ten years prior to being active duty Guard and deployed three different times, about seven months each. But twelve months…possibly more…how was that logical? Realistic? Sustainable? A year is a truly daunting amount of time to be without your spouse. The kids were about to start the school year, so how would I fill my days and keep my sanity? Then I realized – could do whatever I wanted (of course, I would keep the children alive and not let things go completely wild at our house). I stopped and thought as I looked at the calendar: What do I want to do this next year?
- I rested. By the time we got back from vacation, started the school year for the kids, completed all the pre-deployment events, and then sent him off with his unit, I was tired. Down-to-my-bone-marrow-tired. That first week of deployment, I took a nap after driving the kids to school. Every. Single. Morning. My batteries had been slowly draining over the last few years with having children and multiple moves and just juggling life. I decided to use the twelves month to nap when needed, to go to bed on time (even if Netflix was calling my name), and to rest.
- I read. Once upon a time, I would read a book or two a week. I love to read but really had not made time or actually had time for it since babies were born. So resting and reading went hand-in-hand. And as soon as I mentioned to two friends that I needed to get caught up on the last decade of best sellers, boxes and boxes of books arrived at my door. One friend included post-it notes inside each book giving me her quick take. I spent hours reading and resting.
- I wrote. The more I read, the more I wrote. I started writing for The Military Mom Collective about six months before my husband deployed. I also wrote for another website and submitted an article for a book (but it wasn’t accepted). I started two novels and lots of little rambling essays. Something may come of them, but maybe not. My kids know what I’m writing, and if they’re my only audience, then I’m happy to have wrote for them.
- I walked. A lot. Our midwestern town is small so I decided to walk as many errands as possible both because I really enjoy walking, and I really needed to get into an exercise routine. Post Office. Bank. Library. Grocery store. Book store. Cafe. Coffee shop. The kids and I walked to the movie theater, to church, and to restaurants (all within a half mile of our house). Plus we explored the hike and bike trails that run between the parks. But most days when they were in school I would walk on my own, listening to an audiobook or music.
- I enjoyed sole possession of the remote. Along with being behind on the best selling books, I was really behind on TV and movies. So, while my husband was deployed, I watched all the shows I’ve been hearing about for years. If I couldn’t find a movie on a streaming service, our library usually had it on their shelf. Sometimes I would fold laundry or load the dishwasher while something was playing in the background, but more often than not, I’d turn on a show after a walk and watch until it was time to get kids.
- I got a part-time job. A few months into the deployment, I started working one day a week at our local hospital as a per diem occupational therapist. I would cover evaluations when the full-time OT’s schedules were full or they had the day off. It was a great fit. Before having kids, I would easily work 50 to 60 hours a week in a rehab department, and I was close to getting burned out. Working one day a week let me keep one foot in the door and talk with other medical professionals (adults!) while doing a job I really did enjoy.
- I got another part-time job. About half-way through the deployment, I saw an ad for help needed at the science museum in our town. The executive director is someone I knew from college, and she explained that almost every school from 100 miles around was coming to the museum for their spring field trip. So two days a week, I was a mayhem manager (my words, not hers), and I loved it. Most of the kids climbing off the school bus had never been on a field trip in their life thanks to Covid rules. They were in awe of the museum and so much fun to teach.
- I grew out my gray. The week after having my youngest, I found gray hairs. So I immediately covered them up with blond highlights. That was eight years ago and many salon appointments. This might get me in trouble with the ladies who did my hair – but I’m not a fan of going to the salon. It’s not my jam to block out several hours on my calendar and sit with foil on my head just so I can tell myself there’s no gray. I grew out my gray inch by inch, and honestly, I really like it.
- I donated a lot and had a big garage sale. The week my husband deployed, our house was a disaster of camping items, school supplies, and Army odds and ends that he decided didn’t need to pack. Then came the growth spurts and load of clothes that suddenly didn’t fit my kids. I took a few days to go through my own closet and fine tune my capsule wardrobe. Plus, I decluttered the kitchen, dining room, and bathroom in preparation for remolding projects. Piles. Of. Stuff. I put the Army items in my husband’s closet to keep and started boxing up the rest of the piles to donate and sell. A big garage sale in early summer helped us clear out the clutter for remodeling and moving.
- I remodeled a kitchen – with help. We had been talking about updating the kitchen when we bought our house two years ago. I pitched the idea to my husband that deployment would be a good time to get that done. The kids would be happy with easy meals in the microwave, and I can live on hummus and crackers. No stove or oven necessary for us. So we had a company reface the cabinets, build new ones, relocate the fridge, and seal up a small wall. They were great to work with, and they didn’t mind me putting in the floor and backsplash.
- I remodeled a bathroom – also with help. They were so great to work with that I hired them to do the bathroom. No small feat in a tiny 100-year-old house. But the entire crew was awesome, and there weren’t too many scary surprises in the old plumbing behind the walls. I did the painting and some trim work, but really, they made everything super easy as we were getting ready to move…because we found a much bigger house just three blocks away that was for sale. And I wanted to rent out our little, newly remodeled house.
- I bought a house – with my husband. “You’re moving? On your own??!” Well. Yes and no. I had a pickup, time to take a load down the street everyday, four helpful kids who packed up their own stuff, and movers hired to haul the furniture. Folks might have thought I was crazy, but I got it done. The local title company we used had never had someone sign as Power of Attorney for their spouse. “You must do this all the time with him in the military.” Not really. First time for us all. My husband came home to a new house, but filled with all the same people who love him.