When my husband went on his 9-month deployment, I had a small panic attack. Last time he left, we were newlyweds and he was only leaving me. This time, he was saying goodbye to our 7-month-old daughter as well as me.
His absence was rough. It wasn't easy being a solo parent. We had just moved to a new location when he left, I only had a handful of reliable friends and the closest family was a three-hour plane ride away.
I remember when my child and I had a stomach bug. I thought I was going to have to admit myself to the hospital for severe dehydration. Luckily, a friend dropped off Zofran. I laid on the floor sipping Gatorade while my 1-year-old and the dog ate a mountain of Cheerios I had poured onto the floor.
I thought this was the worst point in the deployment.
I was wrong.
When my husband came home, I was excited. I couldn't wait to be a family again, to have the three of us under one roof and my child see the living flesh version of the picture she knew as "Dada" on our walls.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I knew my husband was going to have to catch up on a lot of things, but I didn't know how much this would test me. How it would test our marriage. How it would test our family.
It wasn't until he walked through our door that I realized it would be a long time before we would feel like a family again. That we could manage living together.
Before he left, we were in sync. Taking care of our daughter wasn't easy, but we knew enough about our roles to make things work. We took our teamwork seriously and if things didn't go well, they were only minor pitfalls; even when our daughter had to be hospitalized as an infant and we had to wake up every two hours to feed her for two months, we worked together and got through.
I never realized nine months could screw it all up.
Our child was no longer this tiny baby whose greatest accomplishment was crawling. Now she was running, talking and understanding the world around her. I was her world and she was my world. Her father was simply another human standing by and watching. Our daughter wasn't fearful of him, but she wasn't ready to trust and need him. This was very hard for her father. He understood, but it wasn't easy.
She would always want her Mama. Even when he went to get her in the mornings while I slept in, I could hear her ask for me. When she was hurt, she didn't want his hugs or kisses. How could he know how to fix the boo boos? He didn't have the magical touch Mama did to make it all better.
Even the way he read wasn't right. She would get frustrated because he didn't read in the right voice or describe what the bunny was doing. She was upset and he didn't know where to start.
I also changed. I was dependent on me and me alone. I knew if something wasn't done, it would never get done. If it wasn't done right, I would have to clean the mess myself. I had become OCD about everything.
I was having a meltdown because I wanted the silverware in the dishwasher to be a certain way and my husband didn't do it correctly. The me from nine months past would of never had given two shits about this, yet here I was, acting like it was the end of the world. I would get angry because he put the kid in the car when I wasn't ready to walk out the door yet. I was a mess because I felt like I had no control of my life, even though I needed his help.
My husband had a few faults as well. He had lived almost a year with people who were hostile and incompetent. Working in a limited environment with no weekends, breaks or even decent food will naturally cause an environment that is unpleasant.
Now he was home and had to learn to cope with the people he loved. He wasn't used to someone telling him how to talk to his wife or how to take care of his own child. I remember I yelled at him when I asked him to do something that he simply decided to do another way.
"You're treating me like I'm ignorant . I am your wife. What I say should matter."
It wasn't fair for him. It wasn't fair for any of us. It wasn't like he wanted to be gone for nine months. It was never his intention to turn his world upsides down while he served his country. He never abandoned us. We were very proud of what he did for his country and for us.
I remember when I talked to a family member about how frustrated I was becoming. She simply interrupted me and said "He's home. You should be happy. It's over. There's no reason to be upset."
It wasn't over.
Yes, he was home safe and in one piece. I thank all that is above and below me that he didn't arrive in a casket, have sever PTSD, or was MIA. I'm happy I don't have the horrors I hear around me.
But the struggle of what was lost isn't over. We are still mending the absence. We are still making up for something we will never get back.
A bystander simply thinks nine month isn't a lot and is a simple task.
When you step in our world, you will see how much nine months can change you. What nine months can take out of you. How nine months can heal in the end.
It will soon be nine months since I held the "Welcome Home" sign and kissed the man I needed and love.
I can happily say we are becoming a family again. My daughter wakes up in the morning and asks for her father. She wants him to dance every day. She loves to hear him read her books.
I'm learning to let go of the things I wanted to control. I learning that I'm no longer isolated in my little world and that his hand is always there to help.
My soldier is learning to listen, to trust me. To work as a team.
We aren't a perfect family. We are still trying to be in sync, but we are a family under one roof again for the time being.
The deployment taught us a lot about ourselves in such a short period of time. What we are capable of doing and what we have to fight for to feel normal again. That there is no such thing as an easy homecoming. That the videos we see online of soldiers greeting family is just the tip of the iceberg. It's a long road after their boots are on U.S. soil. That we have sacrificed more than just nine months of time.