Halloween is just around the corner, and it’s kind of a big deal in our house. For a recap, you can read THIS.
Earlier this week, my husband left town for a two-month Air Force-sponsored trip to the southwest Asia, so he won’t be joining in the festivities, but that will not stop us! No, no. In fact, we will be in OK for Halloween with family and friends, and I intend on stretching out the holiday as long as possible. I am attending adult parties both Thursday and Friday night, a family party Saturday night, a neighborhood association gathering Sunday night, and then, of course, we will trick or treat on Monday since that’s when the actual holiday occurs.
I figure if we are all fratched out on sugar highs, we won’t even notice that we still have sixty days until Daddy comes home. Let’s be real--I’ll throw a pack of Smarties and a Tootsie Pop at each of the boys, send them to bed, and then spend each night cuddled up with the Kit-Kats and Reese’s peanut butter cups while I watch late night reruns of Friends on TBS. When the madness is over and all that is left in the pillow case are those weird peanut butter taffies and gross jawbreakers, I will throw away the candy waste and wake up the next morning with resolve to make the best of the next two months, and step one of deployment survival will be complete.
I should really start this survival guide by saying, this will be the shortest deployment we’ve experienced yet, so I feel a little like I’m cheating and acting like this is a bigger deal than it is. In our little corner of the Air Force, deployments are typically four months long. For clarification purposes, a deployment is an instance where he leaves and stages out of another country to support war efforts. This should not be confused with “trips”--which can last anywhere from one week to one month; “temporary duty”--which can last any length of time, but usually involves training somewhere in the United States with more flexibility/possibility of seeing each other; or “remote assignment”--which would take him somewhere most likely for a year to a place where our family is not invited.
So, a deployment for us is usually four months, and our spouses go more frequently, as opposed to some of my friends’ spouses who go for longer but less frequently. Deployment schedules vary drastically from branch to branch (and more specifically from air frame to air frame in our world), but the steps of deployment survival seem to be consistent across the board.
I have already detailed Step 1 above, but let’s give it a name:
EXCESS. This stage involves acting in a way that is contrary to typical behavior and almost always involves too much of a good thing. Even the most disciplined spouse may find herself looking for her dignity at the bottom of a bag of snack-sized Twix. (I have several male friends whose wives are the active duty members, and I in no way mean to exclude them, but in reality, most spouses-at-home are women, so for the purpose of continuity, I will be using feminine pronouns from this point forward.) Other spouses (around the time the first tax-free check comes through) may experience sudden budget-blindness and justify the purchase of a new handbag. Still others may wake up at a resort in St. Bart’s, surrounded by friends, with the fuzzy memory of how a last-minute girls trip happened so quickly. (Thanks, LivingSocial!) However this stage plays out, it’s important for us all to go through it because without living excessively and irresponsibly for a bit, we would never find the motivation to move on to stage 2:
GROWTH. During the growth period, your average military spouse (to be referred to as AMS from this point forward) snaps out of her delusional thinking. Clearly, no one really wants to gain three pounds a week in chocolate. Expensive handbags are fantastic (until one of the kids decides to empty the contents of his cereal bowl in one of the inner pockets), and St. Bart’s can only last so long before the children start to wonder where their mother went. So, AMS digs her heels in and formulates a plan. It’s during this stage that the Christmas decorations get reorganized--who cares that it’s July? It needed to be done! AMS might take up a new hobby--cross-stitching, synchronized swimming, or archery. She spends her evenings (that were spent emptying the DVR reserves during the Excess stage) sewing new curtains for the sunroom, writing a novel, and planning out a detailed list of activities for the kids including educational trips to the science museum four towns over, a weekend of apple-picking, and one trip to Disneyworld with the grandparents. The junk drawer consists of a box of toothpicks and a few paperclips, organized nicely into trays. The kids are on the best sleeping schedule of their lives. AMS has never been so productive and efficient. And then that fateful day comes that moves her into stage 3:
ANGER. All is going smoothly in AMS’s world. The linen closet is organized by color, and AMS has finished reading for all three of her monthly book clubs. After sticking the last Tupperware container of pre-made dinners for the week in the freezer, she takes a glance at the calendar for next week. And there it is. A giant red circle she drew before her husband left over the day that marks the “halfway point” of the deployment. Suddenly, AMS is angry. She is is forlorn. Her hand instinctively reaches behind the alphabetized spice rack for the Boy Scout caramel corn. And the Cool Ranch Doritos. And into the freezer for some Rocky Road ice cream. IT. IS. ON. Halfway? HALFWAY! We still have as much time left as has already passed? What on God’s green earth am I going to do for the next half? RE-organize the wrapping paper bins? Start another blog? Plan a trip to Great Wolf Lodge? GOODGODINHEAVEN, this is never going to end. With the light at the end of the tunnel dimming a bit, AMS settles in with her snacks, sets the DVD player to play When Harry Met Sally on repeat, and wakes up with her hair stuck to the couch by a glob of popcorn and ice cream. AMS has reached stage 4:
DOLDRUMS. In Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth, a young boy named Milo finds himself in a place called the Doldrums. He runs into some inhabitants, the Lethargians, and has this conversation:
"Well, if you can't laugh or think, what can you do?" asked Milo.
"Anything as long as it's nothing, and everything as long as it isn't anything," explained another. "There's lots to do; we have a very busy schedule-
"At 8 o'clock we get up, and then we spend
"From 8 to 9 daydreaming.
"From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.
"From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.
"From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.
"From ll:00 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.
"From l:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter.
"From 2:00 to 2:30 we take our early afternoon nap.
"From 2:30 to 3:30 we put off for tomorrow what we could have done today.
"From 3:30 to 4:00 we take our early late afternoon nap.
"From 4:00 to 5:00 we loaf and lounge until dinner.
"From 6:00 to 7:00 we dillydally.
"From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time.
"As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done."
"You mean you'd never get anything done," corrected Milo.
"We don't want to get anything done," snapped another angrily; "we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help."
"You see," continued another in a more conciliatory tone, "it's really quite strenuous doing nothing all day, so once a week we take a holiday and go nowhere, which was just where we were going when you came along. Would you care to join us?"
"I might as well," thought Milo; "that's where I seem to be going anyway."
And this is where AMS finds herself. The laundry can wait. The dishes pile up. There are so many other important things to do. Like watch Lifetime movies about missing children and battered women. Pinning recipes and quirky quotes to Pinterest. And Stumbleupon--so many things to stumble upon! And finding new Tumblrs about Ryan Gosling. And the cast of Harry Potter. The Little Caesar’s drive-through crew knows AMS by name--you really can’t beat Hot and Ready pizza when you’ve run out of pre-made lasagna and chicken pot pie. She was going to make more casseroles, but there was a Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy! At the end of each day, she checks off her mental to-do list. Everyone survives without major injuries. Check. Shower. Yesterday counts--check! Bought dog food. Oops--she’ll just give him some leftover pizza crusts until she can find time tomorrow to get out. It is a haze of nothingness that lasts until she gets that phone call--the one from her deployed spouse. During their fifteen minute phone call, after the voice announcing, “you have one minute and fifty-three seconds,” he tells her they have an estimated date for return. She yawns, and answers, “Let me know when it’s a little firmer,” and then glances at the calendar. GOODGODINHEAVEN, it’s time for stage 5:
SPRINT. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! That return date is a few short weeks away (maybe even days on a shorter deployment!). Look at this house! Who lives here--the cast of Animal House? The laundry! The dishes! That smell! We definitely have to do something about that smell before Husband gets home! Luckily, the cleaning supplies are still in their orderly place. AMS starts making lists for everyone in the house. You! Sort the laundry into darks and lights. You! Find all the rogue dishes throughout the house and bring them to the sink. You! Well, you just keep chewing on that pizza crust, and I promise I will get some food for you later today. She makes a phone call to Friendwithnochildren asking if she could take them for an afternoon, so she can get a haircut and pedicure. Husband has been gone for X days--the least she can do is pretend she hasn’t let her feet go the way of the Hobbit in his absence! There is rushing and running and scrubbing and scouring and baking and freezing and maybe even a little exercising. (The Doldrums are never easy on the waist.) And before she knows it, the stacks are put away. The smell is mostly gone. The dog has food in his bowl. And Husband is coming home.
If you look back over the stages, you will notice that if you add the first letter of each word together, you get “Egads!” an exclamation that originated in the late 17th century meaning, “Oh, God!” which is something that comes out of AMS’s mouth a million times during a deployment--for a myriad of reasons. Wherever you are in the process, hang in there. There IS light at the end of the tunnel--just put away some of the stacks of laundry, and you’ll be able to see it!