Summer vacation season is fast approaching and I am agonizing over where we should go this year. This one feels more significant because of my husband’s impending deployment. So instead of planning your basic fun family get-away, I’ve noticed I’m struggling to make this trip so chock-full of special memories and amazing sights that it will magically whisk us all through the coming year of separation a little faster and easier. Of course I realize my wishful thinking is naive and unrealistic, but hey, a girl can dream!
As I pore over websites that showcase dazzling Alaskan glaciers and waterways, sparkling Cancun beaches and craggy Montana peaks (all of which we’re considering), I can’t help but recall vacations from our past which were also wrapped around deployments. There was the short and somewhat melancholy trip we took to Ireland just prior to the beginning of the Iraq War. Our older son Ryan was a baby then and in all of the photos, I “wore” him in his carrier on my chest or back. Everywhere we went, the grass was preternaturally green and our faces—though obligingly smiling in most shots—have a pensive cast to them. We knew Rob was leaving in a few short weeks and like many families, we were resigned, sad and frightened. The fact that neither of the two hotels we patronized used central heating only seemed appropriate given our bleak situation.
The Florence, Italy trip Rob and I took alone after his return a year later had an entirely different vibe. We were living in Hanau, Germany at the time and had left 2-year-old Ryan in the capable hands of Rob’s mother and her cousin for five or six days. When I think about Florence, I remember the gorgeous cathedrals and the Ponte Vecchio, of course. I vaguely recall the food and the stunning artwork. But what stands out most of all was an overall sensation of relief and gratefulness that Rob had made it safely through this scary deployment. The way we interacted with one another also comes to mind. As a couple reunited after a long and stressful separation, we were figuring out how to get our groove back and at times, it almost felt like we were on a second honeymoon.
Then there was the “Rest and Relaxation” vacation we met up for in 2010. I flew with the kids from Germany, meeting Rob and his extended family in Wilmington, N.C., and then we all settled into various beach houses on a lovely stretch of sand and water. He had been craving the ocean badly. Since his Afghanistan deployment was more than half-over, this trip was lighter and had more of a festive flavor. Having most of Rob’s family there made it even more fun. While there, we also celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a beautiful marriage renewal ceremony.
I’m sure all military families have similar bittersweet memories interwoven with deployments, TDYs and other separations.
I have a tendency to have high expectations and planning our vacation is starting to raise a few red flags that I’m doing this again. There will be laughter and fun and lots of distractions wherever we end up going, but I’m kidding myself if I think that any of us will be able to forget for one minute what’s coming down the pike. I don’t care how many margaritas we drink!
Whether we take an Alaskan cruise, a Yellowstone hiking adventure or just decide to bask in the sun at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, is ultimately not that important. What does matter is being together and making memories, whether they be of the “suffering” sort (literally seeing our breath in those Irish hotels), or the “fabulous” kind (tucking into an obscenely delicious Umbrian dinner during a 2009 pre-deployment trip to Italy). Our vacation will be a success because we are experiencing it as a family. And if that includes shedding a few tears in the process, so be it.