How many of you know the feeling – your husband is deployed, s**t hits the fan at home, and you become utterly aware of how alone you are. Maybe “alone” isn’t even the right word – maybe it’s more that you suddenly come face-to-face with the staggering reality that EVERYTHING. IS. UP. TO. YOU. And you realize you can’t do it all yourself.
Know what I’m talking about? I thought so.
Last year, while my husband was on a 365, we had a baby girl, which made us a family of four. Mike was able to be present for the birth (thank you, God!), but he had to go back two weeks later. Our mothers were absolute saints, and took turns staying with us until I was back on my feet post C-Section. But when my daughter was 2.5 months old, that proverbial s**t hit that darn fan, and I hit a brick wall, where a choice expletive that I shouldn’t print here is the only word that came to mind.
Once again, I had managed to wrench my problematic neck, causing spasms all throughout my back. It was so bad that I winced in sharp pain while simply reaching into the freezer to pull out a pre-made meal to thaw (thanks for your foresight, Mom). I couldn’t lift my 12-pound daughter from the nursing position to the burping position without crying. Forget lifting her from her crib, or leaning over the tub or sink to bathe her. And FORGET even attempting to lift my 3-year-old or curl up in bed for storytime. I’m not exaggerating. It was bad. And it was almost nightfall — THE WORST time to feel alone.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to put the kids to bed easily – I’d barely made it through dinner, and I was in a ton of pain. This situation was unfortunately something I’d found myself in before, so I knew that overnight it could either get a little better or a lot worse, and there was no way of telling which way it would go.
Immediately, the “what if” worries ran circles in my brain. What if I can’t get my daughter out of bed to nurse her in the middle of the night? What if I can’t get out of bed in the morning? What if I simply can’t move? Who will take care of my kids? Who will even know I’m lying in bed alone, with children who can’t take care of themselves?
Time to call in reinforcements.
At this point, just after dinner on a Friday, I called Mia, who lived not far, and who’d insisted numerous times to call her when I needed her. The phone rang once, and she didn’t even say hello. Instead, she got right to the point:
I had to laugh. She knew, thank goodness. “Mia, my neck. I wrenched the hell out of it and I can barely move… Can you spend the night tonight?”
Without a pause, “Yes. I’m packing a bag now – I’ll be on my way in 30 minutes.”
Thank you, God, for Mia. And for Mia’s husband, who held down the fort with their own two kids and spared his wife for me.
Then, it was time to fix my back. A local orthopedic massage therapist, Laura, had worked on me numerous times over the previous 15 months, and had kindly given me her cell number if ever I needed her after hours while my husband was away. Boy was this ever a time…
I sent her a text pleading for a housecall, and she responded quickly saying she’d be over as soon as her last client left that evening.
In the meantime, I asked the babysitter across the street to come over the following morning, whenever she was available, simply so I could get some extra rest.
In the hour that followed, my son miraculously decided he could put himself to bed without any help, and my daughter fell into an easy sleep while she nursed in my arms. As I contemplated how to get up from the rocking chair and lay her in her crib, I heard Mia let herself in, and soon the faint sound of dishes clinking in the kitchen echoed through the house. The worries in my mind slowed their dizzying swirls.
I whimpered quietly as I laid my daughter in bed, and I heard Mia open the door for Laura. They introduced themselves, and my dog Maddox’s tail thumped against the floor as he eagerly offered Laura his belly.
I slowly hobbled down the hall, turning the corner to the kitchen where I found all the dishes washed and dried, and dinner was put away. “Oh, Mia, you didn’t -“
“STOP,” she instructed. “Go lie down.”
I turned to Laura and thanked her profusely. She set up a makeshift massage table in my bedroom (and I thanked heaven that my cleaning ladies happened to have come that very morning), and got to work. At first, the slightest touch was painful, but soon the tension eased bit by bit. By the time she was through, I could rotate my neck, and the pain wasn’t as severe.
I’m going to make it, I thought.
I tipped Laura generously, made an appointment to see her the next day, and dutifully followed Mia’s instructions not to show her where a single towel was and instead to go straight to bed.
Later that night, I rocked my daughter during her midnight feeding, and I thought about how much I missed my husband. These are the moments when it can be so easy to be angry with the military, and even to be angry with your active duty spouse. Dammit, why weren’t you here? I miss you. I need you. Why did they make you leave? I practically had to alarm the whole neighborhood to make it through the night! Come home!
I stared at our empty bed, Mike’s side having been slightly overtaken as I’d started sleeping in the middle. It seemed so lonely without two people in it. It seemed so lonely with my baby in my arms, my toddler in the next room, and their dad 10,000 miles away.
Mia was down the hall. She’d left her own bed, her own kids for a night so that I wouldn’t have to feel alone. And my dishes were done, and the kitchen was so sparkling clean, I was pretty sure I could hear a distant choir singing the Hallelujiah chorus. Laura had postponed going home to her own husband until nearly 9 p.m., solely because she knew how to help my troubled back and she knew I didn’t have anyone else. And the babysitter – God love her – would get up early on a Saturday to come play with my kids.
I wasn’t so alone after all.
In fact, I was surrounded by love, support, friendship – a veritable army of friends and neighbors ready to help me at a moment’s notice. How lucky is that? Even though it’s hard to admit we need help, it’s a good feeling to realize how many people will drop everything for you.
A while back, a childhood friend of mine proposed a toast at dinner that I think applies well here. “In the absence of family, we have our friends. So cheers to our friends who are like family.”
And cheers to all of you.