For the first time since I packed up my Hyundai and left for North Dakota, I will be having a North Dakota Christmas. Fresh off of my husband’s six month deployment, and what has been a whirlwind of trips to Pennsylvania (either pregnant or with our young daughter), I’m…relieved. Somewhat.
Things started to hit me after reading this CNN Opinion piece reminding Americans to think about our Military members and their families. It hit home for me, more than ever this year. I had some “luxury” in that my husband is older, that I am actually older than the average military spouse on their first marriage. According to Military.com, the average age of the first marriage (of military members) is 22, four years younger than the national average. The article, while I absolutely hope and recommend everyone reads, sheds light on things I hadn’t realized about myself, and so many people I have come to know.
Without further ado, here are some things I hope we can all remember this holiday season.
1) We are still your children. We still exist. And yes, we miss you.
It matters, so much. The little things. Call us, don’t wait for us to call you. Last year, friends who lived down the road sent us a family Christmas card of their daughter, the same age as ours. I can’t tell you how touched Tim and I were by that card, which remains on our fridge, along with outdated pictures of nieces, nephews and cousins.
We hadn’t managed to even make any Christmas cards, send anything, as our first two Christmases were consumed by travelling plans to Pennsylvania. It would’ve been nice. Only now, as we are spending Christmas in North Dakota, will we be able to do the little things, like make sure our Grandparents have updated pictures of Eden.
Sometimes, you don’t realize you forgot us. I never thought I would be so petty as to complain about not getting this or that. Then, last Christmas, I walked into my mom’s house, and saw a fridge full of Christmas Cards. What was deeply hurtful, was many of them were from my own family! This was such a simple act, and I knew there was no malice in it, but from home to home we bounced around, and every fridge I saw, quietly whispered, “we forgot you.”
Later, I spoke to Tim, and he gave me the all encompassing response:
You get used to them forgetting about you.
2) I don’t expect you to get everything.
I know you were happy to see me during the holidays. I get it. I was anxious, overwhelmed, maybe even an asshole to you. Maybe I didn’t even get to see you. Maybe I saw you but it wasn’t enough. Maybe it wasn’t what you expected or had hoped.
Prior to the day I left for North Dakota, the only time I took long road trips or flew anywhere was for a self-centric vacation.
I can’t lie to you. I can’t make that untrue. I am glad I traveled then, now at a different point in my life–which has brought me to new horizons, with a family, home, and new responsibilities. But my husband, daughter and I are essentially restricted to an 8 hour radius with an exception of 30 days a year.
We literally can’t do it all. We can’t see everyone. We can’t relax. We can’t feel like the Holidays are a vacation when we have to ping pong from house to house, phones ringing off the hook, baby crying all night because she isn’t home, see the things we want to see just for the brief one time a year, and see everyone too.
My husband is a man of ultimate sacrifices. He, like so many other military members, sacrifices a minimum 335 days a year to serve the military, and the other 30 days he selflessly drains himself, making sure he sees family, friends, and in-laws.
We don’t always get each other, loved ones don’t always get us, and we don’t always get them. It’s okay. We have to butt heads, agree, eye roll, get sinking-stomach-but-what-if-we-want-to-go-on-vacation feelings every time the holidays or leave accrues. We have to take a vacation anywhere in the country, feeling as if we betrayed our families for not using that time to see them.
3) We are trying.
See above. Military members never cease to amaze me with what these often, very young people go through. Turning 21, first loves, promotions, marriages, deployments, loans, bills, divorces and travel expenses are a lot to manage. It isn’t free to travel home for the Holidays. It is a lot of juggling, regardless of age.
For me, just getting my footing here as an individual, making friends, fighting off soul crushing stay-at-home mom boredom, has been marred by constant shift switches, deployment, and yes, travelling during the Holidays. This year, a less stressful holiday season comes at the sacrifice of seeing our families, together, without us.
4) For us, it is a struggle to explain what “home” means.
I spent nearly seven months in Pennsylvania during Tim’s first deployment in our marriage. It started as excitement. Everyone was so thrilled that Eden and I would be close to family for such a long time.
As his Deployment day approached, the gut churning dread arrived. I was going to be without my partner, my best friend, raising our daughter primarily alone.
Home (Pennsylvania) never started feeling like home. I hated the traffic with Eden. I hated driving 20 minutes to 2 hours to see anyone. My Grandfather, who I was estranged from my entire life, does a Lifetime Movie style redemption and then proceeds have a stroke and pass away a month later, requiring a roller coaster of emotions, car rides with Screaming Eden, Late night phone calls with Tim, and me, required to somehow keep my shit together and be a parent and student while all of this happened.
This place, which I loved, thoroughly drained me. I was completely torn. Even here, people spoke of my deployed husband as if he was mythical, never coming back. I expressed excitement, I expressed how I missed him, how I missed North Dakota, even, and it was taken as an insult. It was constantly responded with “What’s so great about North Dakota” or passive-aggressive comments about living somewhere “worth visiting” to make me feel better in some strange way.
Nothing was the same without my husband. Eden cut about 10 teeth during the deployment, we shared a room, we slept very little, and I just missed him. And it was hard for people to get it. That the only reason they could spend this time with us, was because he was not there.
For me, Home is having my family together.
So this holiday season, remember us. Not US-us, but all of those who serve in the military, their families, deployed, or not. Deployment during wartime is not the only time we need your support, your spontaneous check-ins, cheesy cards, and kind words. Right now, families are separated, dreading the next cycle of deployments, and living in the constant wonder of orders to a new base.
We are trying to be strong. I know, for Tim, he always is much stronger than I am. People depend on him to be strong, to not complain, to be grateful–which he is. I depend on him to be a supportive husband, and Eden relies on him to be an amazing father.
I am grateful, this year, we can spend the Holiday season together as a family. Remember though, sacrifices from Military members are both near and far.