Does anyone remember the torturous activity of marking one day at a time off of the calendar until it was, at long last, your birthday? When we were young, a year seemed like an eternity, and when we got within a week of our birthdays time seemed to come to a standstill. I’m sure my mom remembers the final days before my birthday as being equally torturous since she was harassed with the rapid fire question, “Is it today?”
We can learn a valuable lesson from the younger versions of ourselves. When a major event like a birthday, vacation, or, in this case, a military homecoming is on our radar, it’s easy to become so consumed with anticipation that time seems to drag because all we can do is think and wait.
There is one simple way to spare ourselves from the nail biting anticipation…distraction. I’ve learned from experience that keeping busy while my husband is deployed is the closest I can come to time traveling, and, since I haven’t once seen Doc Brown and Marty cruising my neighborhood in the DeLorean, distraction will just have to work.
During my first deployment, I made sure that my social calendar was always booked and my to-do list was never-ending. In six months, I repainted the entire house, started a local newspaper column, had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted, brought a second dog home, and worked part-time as a reading tutor. But wait, there’s more. I hopped on a plane a couple of times, once to Massachusetts and once back home to Texas, and I took a handful of day trips with three fellow spouses also battling through their first deployment. These same three spouses and I also spent every Friday night, without fail, sitting down to dinner together. We’d take turns cooking and hosting, and, aside from the great company, these dinners were a great excuse to fire up the stove and take a break from dinners of cereal and popcorn.
The deployment I’m currently handling is a whole new ballgame. As opposed to my husband’s first deployment where I created odd jobs for myself and sought out social engagements, I now I have a very active little boy, and I spend most of my free time chasing him around or cleaning up after him. As in every other aspect of life after having a baby, passing time during the deployment is no longer about me, it’s about the baby. Although, he’s too young to really know what is going on and why daddy isn’t here right now, I feel compelled to make the time go by as quickly as possible for him. Because our son is still so young (six months old when my husband deployed and now inching close to the one year mark), it’s not impossible to relive all of the activities from the first deployment, but it’s inconvenient, and in many cases, not worth the extra effort.
Since two hours seated in a movie theater isn’t ideal for a squirmy little boy, I steer clear of the theater these days. In fact, there are a lot of local hot spots and social situations that I’ve passed on during the last few months. As my son’s sole caregiver, suddenly the time and place where friends are meeting makes or breaks my attendance. A dark, quiet theater doesn’t exactly scream, “Please bring a baby here!” Neither does a dinner date with friends at a house that isn’t baby proofed or any restaurant without a ball pit. As any mom can relate, it’s hard to relax and enjoy yourself when your baby is spraying the waitress with sweet potatoes as she reads the wine list or when he manages to spit up all over someone’s couch the second it seems safe enough to get involved in a conversation with another adult.
The truth is, most of the time it’s just more convenient to stay home than it is to go out and it’s much easier to nix the traveling that kept me so busy during the first deployment. After one plane trip with my son in October, I decided we were done for a while. My son has more fun where he can roll around, play, and safely explore and, likewise, I have more fun when I don’t have to stress about whether or not two and a half minutes of spraying raspberries is still adorable to the people around me.
The thought of spending the majority of the deployment at home and going to bed early (in theory anyway) was initially very intimidating because it promised to be a huge change from the only way I knew how to survive a deployment. I was so afraid that the time would creep along like molasses on a cold day in January, but much to my surprise, this deployment seems to be flying by even faster than the first. In fact, my little guy has made the time pass so quickly that until a few weeks ago I hadn’t even stopped to count the months that my husband has been gone. I just suddenly had one of those “Holy cow” moments when I realized the deployment was halfway finished.
Occasionally—usually on the days that conclude with me digging oatmeal out of my hair and crushed up cheerios out of the carpet–I miss making spur of the moment plans with friends or deciding to take a quick weekend road trip, but now that I have my son I can’t imagine what I would ever do without him! Aside from his amazing ability to speed up the clock, he makes me laugh and amazes me every day—both with how smart he is and how much trouble he can find in less than sixty seconds. All of the traveling, dining out, and busy work of my husband’s first deployment can’t hold a candle to the ultimate distraction…parenthood.