Oh, the holidays. Tons of food, decorations, gifting, and lots of parties – J and I had FOUR Thanksgiving celebrations last weekend. Four.
We had a blast at all of them, but there was something that happened at almost every single interaction that I couldn’t quite understand, and that kind of started to really irritate me.
So, J has been in and out throughout the year (mostly out). This means that he provides the interesting anecdotes that people haven’t heard before. (There are only so many variations I can tell of the things that broke while he’s been gone – they all start to sound the same). It also means that he provides easy conversation – not necessarily in talking to him, but in that people always have a good couple of questions to ask; where’s he at, where’s he going, and what’s he got ‘going on’ these days. Totally get it – he’s pretty cool. Doesn’t bother me at all – I like bragging a little.
It’s what happens after I answer that bothers me. You see, J’s schedule will consistently comprise of a lot of time ‘out’ and then a lot of what we are going to call being ‘in flux’ which is a nice phrase that really means ‘who even knows at this point’. That’s essentially my answer, with one absence that we know is upcoming so people can plan around it a little bit. We’re buying a house, so that comes up and I have to say that, yep, I shall be doing the move while he’s gone… And then – inevitably, someone looks at me and says “I’m so sorry.”
I thought that maybe it was just me – we are a guard family after all, and a little removed from the level of knowledge that happens when living around a military base. But it actually seems to all across the board in this community. Several of my active duty wife friends said this is common from women whose husbands aren’t deployed often, or don’t go to many schools.
I guess I’m just confused as to what people are apologizing for… That he’s going to be gone? That it will be stressful? That he presumably chose this job and chooses to be away from me? I’m always torn between staying quiet, or telling people what this reality looks like.
If he’s gone, it’s because he’s earning a paycheck to keep his wife (and dog) fed and housed and clothed. He’s the primary breadwinner for our family, so if he’s gone it means that he’s getting us closer to our financial goals.
If it’s stressful it’s because he chooses to keep his skills and is getting to go to more schools – which means he’s learning new things, which means more career progression – that can only be a good thing!
If he’s gone, yes, he’s choosing to be away from me. But I knew that going into this that he wasn’t the type to ‘ride a desk’ and have a normal 9-5 job. Through the last year, J and I have been learning more and more about each other – and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that I would much rather him be in his job, where he feels like God is calling him to be, where he loves to be and then come home and enjoy being able to relax and just be with me. He looks forward to deploying, and that’s something we have had to talk about, and will continue to work through, but because he looks forward to being gone, he also looks forward to being home with me. And unlike a ‘normal’ job – he can’t exactly ‘bring work home’ with him – which is a nice bonus.
And the people in this community that he and I get to do all this with? Oh my gosh – they are the best. I’ve gotten to make lifelong friends. These friendships aren’t due to proximity – they’re tested by moves across the country, different deployment cycles, and the ups and downs of emotions that go along with all of the above. And are without a doubt some of the most encouraging, challenging friendships that he and I have gotten to make.
None of that is sad – at least not to me. But every time someone apologizes to me for my life being simply what it is, I feel a little like the kid who has fallen in the playground. You know – kid falls, scrapes up his palms but is otherwise fine. He would normally get up and shake it off. But this time, another kids mom rushes over and says ‘OH NO!’ Kid starts crying, because clearly something must be wrong – the other mom sees it even if he doesn’t! That’s kind of what happens for a minute after people apologize to me. I have to remind myself that my life isn’t something that needs to be apologized for. It gets kind of challenging, though because if enough people in my life and my friends’ lives think that it’s sad, and that they feel sorry for me, it’s pretty easy to fall into the hole of ‘well I should feel sorry for myself then, because clearly something is wrong.’
Obviously that’s on me – other people only control what they say, not how I respond to it. But it’s also on me to explain what is actually going on and give people a more comprehensive perspective on what life is like. How else can they know what to say if no one talks to them about it?
One of my friends put it best this way – “Ask me something instead. Something helpful so I can talk about this. If you’re curious – ask about my stories. I have so many stories. A lot of really sad ones, or frustrating ones, but some awesome ones too. But I can’t tell them to people if they don’t give me the chance, or cut me off with an ‘I’m sorry,’ before it even gets there.”
One of the things that J and I want to instill in our littles – foster, adopted, or bio – is that we’re a team. And “Team Sheepdog” (that’s not our last name – obviously – but I’m not putting it in here – OPSEC and all that) is going to move forward on what ever mission that we feel God has for us. One of the things that gets said the most around here is “It is what it is”. (If my former nanny boss is reading this she just laughed. I say it so much in my life that she bought me a mug that is just white text simply stating ‘it is what it is’ and I bust that mug out every. single. time. J is gone!) It doesn’t mean we just allow things to roll over us, but that we ‘adapt and over come’ whatever obstacle we are coming against. For that we need people in our community to understand the realities of what we do – the good, the bad, the painful, all of it.
He’s going to be gone, he’s going to be in dangerous situations, and I’m definitely going to be stressed out. It is what it is, but it’s definitely better when shared with people.