Keeping the Homefires Burning

E and S wait at the airport to welcome home a soldier October 2005

Susie, S, and Melissa after walking in the Gypsy Day Parade October 2005

We moved through our day-to-day life slowly at first, and then gradually making adjustments to our new “normal.” The kids had trouble with dad gone, but for their privacy, I’ll suffice it to say school was not going well, there was separation anxiety, and they started sleeping in the living room. When Sean deployed to Hungary in support of Operation Joint Guard in Bosnia in 1997, J was 6 and E was 5. While he was gone, during the night they would both end up in bed with me. I woke up like a human sandwich each morning. Sean left for Kansas, and 14 and 13 year olds moved to the living room that night. A little too old to sleep with mom, but still needing to be nearby.
School started, and that occupied most of my time. The routine was very much needed after the rollercoaster summer. It was difficult to go to work most days and face people who cared very much for me, but asked questions that stabbed at my heart. “How long will Sean be gone?” “Have you heard from Sean?” “Do you know where he’s going?” “Is there anything I can do?” Sure, you can bring my husband home and we can all go back to our lives. The outpouring was amazing, and I work with an incredible staff, but it was heart-wrenching. Most days I wanted to hide away and not talk about him. I wanted to create this world–the here and now–and that world–the one when Sean called home, or I got an email.
In a way, those two worlds developed on their own. I went to work and about my daily business. Thanks to my teaching partner, Jessica, I spread news about Sean through the lounge without having to share most of it first hand. She made sure people knew what was going on. That was a lifesaver. When I needed to rant and rave and cry, she was there throughout the day. Thank you, Jessica.
I formed close friendships with six wives and their children whose husbands were also deployed with our unit. We were a family. Everyone took care of each other and our children. This is where it was safe to talk about Sean, and share my feelings with people who knew without a doubt what it was like to be alone. To worry about my husband going around the world to a dangerous place. To struggle with children who missed their dads. To complain about the unfairness of it all, without feeling like a whiner. This is where I could let my guard down. We ranged in age from 23-45, had 18 kids aged from 6 months to 25 years old.

I have to say that I think this group, my army family, is what got me through. We called and emailed daily. There were times when no one wanted to be at home, but we didn’t know what to do, so we would end up at Wal-Mart, kids in tow, and do our shopping together. Susie and I developed the habit of grocery shopping together as it was a task neither of us wanted to tackle, but when the kids pointed out we were two days without milk, bread (insert staple) it had to be done.

Through the next year we went to the park, swimming, movies, out-of-town trips, emergency rooms, school programs, BMX, baseball and soccer games, and any activity you can think of as a group. If Susie’s son had a BMX race, we were there. When K was in the school play, they came to watch. No one wanted to be alone, or at home, so there was always the call, “Meet me at the park.” “Meet me at the mall food court.” “These kids are driving me crazy, come over for supper.”

We planned group trick-or-treating, celebrated birthdays, did our Christmas shopping en masse, had 4th of July cookouts, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s parties. We had an enormous Easter egg hunt (12 of our kids present).

Our FRG took a trip to Denver for an FRG Academy in July 2006. Talk about an amazing trip! I don’t remember when we had laughed and had so much fun. Six women, no children, out of town. It was a blessing. Our group was presented with an award for service. Susie won the volunteer of the year award. It was incredible! It was as if leaving town gave us the freedom to relax and enjoy ourselves. Of course, two of the babies at home got sick while we were gone, so there were long distance phone calls from grandmas, to doctors, and pharmacies.

We also ran the FRG fundraisers, planned and hosted the picnic, Christmas party, and various other activities for family members. We made monthly calls to check in with family members. We sent care packages to the soldiers each month. The post office ladies were awesome when we came in laden with boxes. The customers were not as excited when they saw our piles, especially when we shipped 118 small Christmas trees, stockings, and other goodies in 30 + boxes.

My husband still marvels at the depth of our relationships. “How do you know so much about the Commander’s wife?” Well, I spent a year with her day-to-day. Basically, she was my “you” while you were gone.

He laughs when the phone calls come in, “Can you pick up my child at day care? I have to work late.” “If you’re going to the post office, can you stop and send something for me? The kids are sick.” “As long as you’re going to the dry cleaners, can you pick up my husband’s uniform, too?” We are used to doing this for each other, it seems strange NOT to do these things for each other.

There are fewer of us now that the soldiers are home. Many people go back to their previous lives and move on. But for those of us who still get together regularly, there is a part of our families that have been changed permanently. I went to my family gatherings this past year, and I missed my army family with whom I’d spent them the year before.

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