by Maggie Phillips, Guest Contributor
During the week, I have a routine that proceeds as follows, with very little variation: return from school pick-up, put kids down for naps, put on soundproof headphones and work/clean/zone out (as necessity dictates).
Today is a week day and all day my plan has been to write this piece on our new computer, settled into my quiet room.
Then why am I writing this piece in the messy living room on my old computer?
Oh, right, my husband is home in the middle of the day.
My husband, who is frequently gone, is undertaking the bittersweet task – unbidden – of disassembling our son’s bassinet. Intellectually, I am incredibly thankful for all the factors previously mentioned. Emotionally, my feelings are decidedly mixed. The middle child doesn’t want to nap, partly because she fell asleep earlier in the car and party because dad is home in the middle of the day. I can’t use the new computer for reasons too byzantine to get into here but basically (and I’m exaggerating a lot here), because my husband is frequently gone.
So my quiet sanctuary quickly became a place of drilling noises, small children noises, and my husband yelling over the din to explain to me exactly why I can’t get the new computer to do what I want and what I could maybe try to get done what I wanted.
Reintegration is weird.
We all want our service members home safe and sound, we are ecstatic during and immediately after picture-perfect homecomings, and then before we know it, we’re sitting alone in our messy living rooms on our old computers, chewing on a baby carrot because cigars are more for outside.
That children thrive on routine is a common refrain military parents hear. We are cautioned to keep our children’s routines as familiar as possible when our service member is gone, in order to provide some semblance of stability in a little world turned upside down.
Then, mom or dad comes home, and the world rights itself. Or does it?
In some ways, it feels like it just flips upside down again.
Eventually, the “without dad” routine just becomes “the routine” and we have to relearn the “with dad” routine. And who sets the routine in our house? Me!
And what am I, really, but a former child? I mean, kids can’t be the only ones who thrive on routine. Is there some magic age where we all outgrow our love of routine and familiarity, because I definitely didn’t. I didn’t outgrow that any more than I outgrew my love of the Beatles or microwave eggrolls, or other things I loved as a kid.
Or maybe, like my adolescent crush on Prince William, my infatuation for routine can evolve into something more complex. Just as I no longer thrill to the image of the sun’s rays reflected on William’s golden hair (in part because, let’s be honest, it’s not like he’s giving the sun a lot to work with these days), my entire universe is no longer thrown off-kilter if I go to bed an hour later than usual.
I knew that I’d gotten older – wiser, even – as my youthful Prince William-centric feelings transmuted to a weird fixation on Kate Middleton, and a (joking!) insistence with each passing year that she is trying to copy my life.
In that vein, isn’t it possible for me to look at the disruption of my “without husband” routine as less of an inconvenience, with a mature understanding that change is inevitable?
One thing I loved as a kid is ballet. I don’t do it anymore, but I did it for 12 years, and I think my parents would regret all the money they spent on lessons if I didn’t retain something. Ballet taught me that grace takes hard work, discipline and self-knowledge. But those things can only take you so far. The really graceful dancers trust themselves to know the right steps, to know what to do and when, and how to let go.
Rolling with the punches has never really been my strong suit, as every separation and reintegration reminds me.
I’m still writing this in my living room. My husband is packing up for his next TDY, because of course he is.
I’m tired – more tired than when I started, because now I’m writing at night, putting 3 kids to bed should be an Olympic sport, and I’m mentally drained just from thinking about starting up the “without dad” routine again in a couple of days.
Managing these things well takes grace, and I’m certainly no Kate Middleton, emerging radiant in a bespoke Jenny Packham on the steps of the Lindo Wing of Saint Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, mere hours after having given birth. But, in the words of the great Elaine Benes, “I like to think I have a little grace.”
I can learn to be grateful as my husband and I work to establish the routine when he is home. And if it gets a little frustrating from time to time, that’s OK, too. Why?
Well, for one thing, we’re still happily married.
The kids are dressed, fed and (mostly) clean.
Everybody’s up to date on their shots.
I’ve only been late to pick up my daughter from school twice this school year.
Not to brag, but I like to think that these things meet someone’s definition of grace under pressure. Maybe I should make it my definition.
E. Margaret Phillips who goes by Maggie has worked for the Army in different capacities for over 3 years, for both U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and for U.S. Army Public Health Command. She has been published in the United States Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal, and in the U.S. Army professional publication, Military Review. She is a mother of 3 and has been an Army spouse for 8 years.