If one more person tells me how much "better" a nine-month deployment is than a twelve, I may have to punch them in the face. Well, not really, but I'd imagine doing it as I smiled back.
This is not easier, at least not on our 4th go-round.
Chatting with my core group of friends up here last night, all of us are feeling the lack of mid-tour weighing us down, weighing our aviators down. There's no respite this time, no anticipation to shorten the month before midtour, no fifteen day break to catch our breath and hold our loves before tackling a 2nd half. This time, we're starting out war-weary, all of us, husbands and wives alike, grinding ourselves down until there's simply nothing left of what reserves we had. There's feeling of exhaustion clinging to us all that hasn't been there in prior deployments, but we're pushing through. As we sat there last night, passing a bottle of wine and listening to our kids live up their summer vacation in the back yard, it dawned on me: we all have awesome marriages.
That's something to be immensely proud of in the normal world, but in the military sub-culture, where the divorce rate is even higher per 2011 data, that's something to celebrate. All five of us have been with our husbands over a decade, and almost all of us have been married over that same amount of time. Between the five of us, who are all in our early thirties, we have 58 years of marriage... we also have 21 deployments.
Realizing that we'd have a kid old enough to drink for the amount of deployments we've seen was sobering. Somewhere along this journey, no matter how young we feel, or how little we think we may have it together, we became the seasoned spouses. In our group, we all have separate talents and skills, some of us keep perfect houses, some of us (ahem, me, ahem) don't. Some of us are in college, some of us have graduated. Some of us hold down jobs, some of us feel like our job is the designated taxi-driver for our kids. But with all these differences, there are two similarities:
1. We are all strong, competent women.
2. We all are desperately in love with our husbands.
To me, loving Jason is easy. It's like breathing: so ingrained into my every moment that I barely notice it happens, but I know it's necessary for my survival. Loving Jason isn't something I take for granted, not in the least, but it's never up for debate or worry; it simply is. However, when he's deployed, we take extra measures to make sure our marriage is as awesome as it can be when separated by 6,000 miles, and a lot of these are the same as my friends. So in case you're struggling, or you just don't want to struggle, here are some ideas:
1. We send packages. You should have heard us last night, laughing about the amount of money we all dump into care packages. Especially now, during draw-down, when we want to make sure they're well-fed and not just stuck on MRE's. If there's something Jason needs, I hunt it down and send it immediately. Is it a pain? Sure, sometimes lugging four kids through Walmart is kind of the last thing I want to do, but let's face it: I'm not being shot at by the Taliban. He is. Therefore, if he wants the blueberry pancake mix and the electric skillet, then that's what he's getting.
2. We're available to them 24/7. I haven't heard a single wife in our group complain about middle-of-the-night phone calls. Instead, we've got our cell phones out while we're watching our kids playing together, anticipating the small moments in their schedules we might hear from them. Maybe we look rude (I did this with Jason while touring a destroyer ship), but my husband is my number one priority. Some stranger's opinion of me? Yeah, not even on my care-chart.
3. We don't frequent the bars. Jason's been gone nearly four months, and I've got out once. Even funnier? I drove to Jason's hometown of Scranton and went out with his best friends (to whom I am so grateful), because I knew that would make Jason super comfortable. That doesn't mean we in our group of wives don't go out if we're desperate to blow off steam. It means that we don't make a habit of it. My personal opinion? I treat Jason how I'd like to be treated if I were in his shoes. I wouldn't want him at the bar every weekend, so I show him the respect he would definitely show me.
4. We voice our concerns. In our group, we're an open bunch with our husbands. If something is bothering me, Jason knows. We've even been known to argue during a deployment (but we always settle it before communication is severed). Why? Because it doesn't matter that he's at war, he's still my husband, my partner, my best friend. I keep him as informed as if he were here. I share my worries, and I share his. That's the definition of partnership right? 6,000 miles is only the physical distance that separates us, there's not even a millimeter between the spirits of our hearts.
5. We keep it cutesy. Yeah, we're the ones on Facebook, posting annoying messages about our utter love and devotion. Get over it. ;) If there's an opportunity for me to show him how much I love him, I do it, and he does too.
6. We talk about money. Oh, don't you shake your head at me. There are a ton of marriages that can fall apart over finances, and this is just the same during deployment. I know what he's spending, and we keep a handle on where we're at. Talk about money, it's really not that scary.
7. We're faithful. I know, that should go without saying, right? Well, there's only room for two of us in this marriage, so we keep it that way. This is the easiest part, because for me, there's no one else I would rather be with in the world, so waiting the length of a deployment is a drop in the bucket compared to the life we still have ahead of us.
8. We're our husband's porn. Yup. I just said the word porn. Look! I said it again! Dirty, I know. Oh yes, we're that group of girls, the ones who pulled off the 1940's style pin-up pictures last deployment and sent them straight to Afghanistan. There were some happy aviators that Christmas. ;) Point is, and you can think it's icky if you want, but I have no problem sending him something a little visual that keeps him wanting to come home to me. Oh, that being said, I always err on the side of class. While the pics may be sexy, they're never trashy, so if a soldier comes across them, there's never ANYTHING to be embarrassed of. Oh, but if you're the girl who's sending the *ahem*ahem*... um... let's say... "skintastic" shots? More power to you. There's zero judgment from this side of the house. Way to keep those home fires burnin'. Trust me ladies, 9 months of foreplay makes for some SMOKIN' HOT reunions. ;)
*Okay, inappropriate hoping-my-mother-doesn't-read comment over.*
For the last two, I asked the other half of my marriage, my amazing husband. I figured I'd see what meant the most to him while he's gone.
9. We place our first priority on each other and our communication. He's right. If I know he's going to be off work and online, I make sure I'm home. He gets up an hour early sometimes to carve out the time to talk to me, and has been doing this for 3 deployments now (since the first had about zero contact besides the sketchy phones). If there are moments we can steal, whether it's through email, chat, skype, or old fashioned letters, we do. It doesn't matter that we're 6,000 miles apart, we are still each other's first priority. Well, I certainly don't argue if his first priority shifts to like... staying alive... when it needs to. Sigh.
10. It's the little things. When I asked Jason what kept our marriage rocking during deployment, this was his second answer. It's the little things. It's sending him a box full of tiny boxes, each filled with 33 different types of candies for his 33rd birthday.
It was sending him a photo album with 33 pictures, each captioned with a reason (some by the boys, some by me) that we love him. It's the forethought in a package, the time it takes to send a simple out-of-the-blue text that I love him. For me, the little things mean him texting me when he's done flying, so I know he's safe. It's finding a surprise letter in the mailbox, or discovering the note he hid in my writing notebook. Its when he took the time to arrange childcare and my hair appointment for mother's day. Little things make our worlds go around until we can be together again.
So that's it, well, kind of. Those are the big things at least. I don't think there's any real way to list out what makes a marriage work during a deployment, but these are a few of the things that work for us.
Most importantly, all you need is love. *Love me some Lennon*
So from us, these five wives, the mothers of thirteen children, with 58 years of marriage and 21 years of deployment between us: If there's one thing we can agree on, it's that love knows no time, no obstacle, no distance, and NO DEPLOYMENT that it cannot conquer.