You know when you get a really bad cold or the flu and you spend the whole time kicking yourself for taking your previous good health for granted? Maybe I’m the only one, but I sit there with my box of tissues and hot tea promising myself that once this cold passes I will wake up every day with gratitude in my heart for the nose that I can breathe through and the throat that is no longer sore and my wonderful 98.6 degree body temperature. That’s a little like this deployment.
I’d like to say I never took my husband for granted, but unfortunately that is far from the truth. Now that he’s not here every day it’s like I’ve been given clearer lenses and I see the vital role he plays in our family. This is something I would have said and fully believed about him prior to deployment, but I say it with more conviction now. I think a lot of people think that I miss him for all the practical ways he can help me around the house or changing diapers or killing the gross spider in the bathroom. While I do miss and appreciate those things, I miss him because of who he is, not what he does. I miss the person, not the extra hands.
He is a play mate for the kids. I wish that I had let him wrestle with them right before bed without complaining about him getting them all riled up. I wish I hadn’t rolled my eyes when he did goofy voices with Will at the dinner table. I wish I hadn’t made side comments about too much technology when he was watching the 20th video of an airplane taking off on YouTube with the kids. In those moments, he was everything they needed and wanted him to be. They were bonding in their own special way and he was communicating his love for them. Just because it’s not the way I bond with my kids does not mean it’s wrong.
He is a fierce protector of our family. I wish I hadn’t let out those not-so-subtle sighs every time he paused the TV to listen to what he thought was a strange noise from outside. I wish I hadn’t given him “the look” at the playground when he repeatedly told the kids to be careful. I wish I had hugged him when he reminded me to bring my pepper spray along every time I went on a walk around the neighborhood. My husband is trained to protect and sees it as one of his most important duties. He doesn’t care if he comes across as a helicopter parent or paranoid. He will prepare for the worst because if the worst ever happens, he knows he has the lives of five other people in his hands. I do not envy him that responsibility. There is nowhere in the world I feel as secure as right next to him because I know he would die before letting anything happen to me.
He is a cheerful provider. There are many out there who provide, but it is often hard to find one that provides cheerfully. My husband is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as are many in the military. That is no exaggeration. Yes, he may be technically “off” some days, but he is receiving phone calls and texts right and left. He could be (and has been) called into work at any moment, day or night. His schedule could change at the drop of a hat. If they need him in the middle of the night he gets up out of bed, puts on his uniform and goes.
I could continue on for a while, but my point is that I did not appreciate these things like I should have when he was around every day. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” has some truth to it, but instead I think the phrase should go “Absence gives you a clearer perspective on those things you love about your spouse”. It’s not quite as catchy. However, we often get so close to our spouse that our view of them becomes a little blurry. We see a distorted picture of faults, little annoyances and things they do that do not fit in with the way we like things done. Then we start to step backwards and the picture comes into focus. We still see the faults and annoyances, but they are smaller and much less important than we thought they were.
The kids and I went to visit him while he was still in training. He had been away for a month and a half at that point. While we were there I tried to get him a little more situated in his hotel room by organizing the contents of his massive suitcases. There was one afternoon that he was at work and I was busy ironing, hanging and folding his clothes. Suddenly, I had a lump in my throat and tears were streaming down my face. I realized how badly I missed taking care of him. I thought of all the times I had moaned about ironing one of his shirts for church or inwardly grumbled about the pile of laundry I had to do. Now I was standing there folding his uniforms and making sure every wrinkle was out of his shirts and grieving the fact that it was the last time I was going to be able to do that for a long time.
Now I am not naïve enough to think this attitude about laundry or any of the other things will be one that lasts. Just as I end up almost immediately taking my health for granted once my cough and congestion subside, I know that I will not always appreciate the gift I have in my husband like I should. The piles of dirty uniforms will return along with my sinful grumbling, inward and outward. My prayer is that in those moments of grumbling I will remember the alternative. If the stacks of uniforms are missing then so is a necessary and wonderful piece of our family. If the kids go to bed panting and sweaty from another wrestling match that means they got to spend time with their favorite play mate. If he hovers as they try out the monkey bars and curvy slide it means that he’s being a daddy instead of staring at his phone.
In time this 15-month case of the flu will be a distant memory. For now I’m keeping the tissues and Tylenol close.