Not made of steel

Dear Spouse Calls,

I am Superwoman. At least, that’s who I was while my husband was deployed. While he was gone, I took care of everything at home for three kids and two pets: Every doctor, dentist, orthodontist and veterinary appointment, every emergency room trip for stitches, earaches and pneumonia.

I drove the carpool and got three kids to three separate schools five days a week. I did the nagging about homework and chores, read all the bedtime stories. I gave all the lectures, hugs and kisses, dried all the tears. I made dinner most nights. Sometimes we ate mac and cheese, but remarkably, no one starved.

I took the heat for saying “No” when our 15-year-old wanted to go to a rock concert. I ran interference when our 12-year-old was snubbed by mean girls at school. I made costumes for school plays and Halloween, planned birthday parties and baked cakes. I took kids to skate parks, to the mall, to the library, to Disneyland. I put up the Christmas tree, did all the shopping and mailed all the cards. I took down the Christmas tree.

I taught Bible study and hosted neighborhood coffees for moms and preschoolers. I cooked meals for families on base when they had babies, or surgery or worse. I survived a computer crash. And that’s the short list.

Now my husband is safe at home, and for that I am truly thankful. What little he says tells me this deployment was more dangerous than I imagined. So it’s hard to admit that living with him for the past few weeks has been more difficult than living without him for seven months.

I thought I was doing my part while he was gone, but I was wrong. Apparently, I did not pay enough attention to car maintenance, and the yard is a mess. The bathrooms need cleaning, and the shirt my husband really wanted to wear today has not been washed. What I planned for dinner is not what he wanted. Our children are disrespectful, because I’ve been letting them get away with murder. To top it all off, my driving is unsafe, and I can’t choose an appropriate parking place to save my life.

My husband speaks pleasantly to other people, and I wonder why he has nothing good to say when he is at home with us. He’s been deployed before, but it was not like this. What is happening to us?


Dear Spouse,

You are not superwoman. You are me. This is the letter I never wrote but could have. This was my life when my husband returned from his third combat deployment. While exercising my super powers at home, I didn’t think about how a combat zone would change my husband.

When he came home he felt left out of the family loop, so he nitpicked. He wasn’t ready to talk about his experiences, but he wanted me to recognize his mental and emotional exhaustion. I thought he was ignoring me. He needed my patience without having to ask for it. Instead, I saw his behavior as a problem, not a need to be met or understood.

About six weeks after he came home, my husband saw a civilian specialist for a suspected heart condition. After telling him the tests were clear, the doctor asked, “Have you been in a war zone recently?” Of course, the answer was yes, and the doctor said, “There’s your answer.”

Those simple words were a turning point, an acknowledgment that the end of deployment was only the beginning of readjustment. It was permission to take the process seriously, to ask for help, for time. Permission not to be the man and woman of steel.

We met the enemy, and it was not us. The enemy was the fallout of war. That knowledge empowered us. We could forgive and move forward, stronger and wiser.

I still wish I had been kinder, more aware. I wish I had accepted my husband’s silence when that was all he could give. I wish had explained more to our children. After eight years and another deployment, I’m still learning. This is still a process, and I’m still not Superwoman.

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