My husband has never been the easiest guy to find gifts for, but this year it’s even more of a challenge. Because he’s deployed, there are two warring factions going on in my brain.

One says to send him a bunch of bright and shiny stuff to help brighten what is bound to be a difficult Christmas away from his family and friends.

The other whispers “less is more,” knowing that he’ll have to mail all those lovely but cumbersome presents home at some point. And really, can he wear a cashmere sweater in Afghanistan?

I have always struggled with gifts for Rob.

Not because he is “high maintenance,” but simply due to the fact that he knows exactly what he wants and he doesn’t like to wait for it.

Meaning, if he wants something, he tends to buy it himself. (Which explains why there have been a few “dream cars” over the years, one of which is here for me to care for during his yearlong absence.)

Yes, the man has good taste and he likes what he likes. I certainly don’t begrudge him the things he loves, but I do wish he’d help me out a little.

So what does a much-missed deployed soldier want?

There is always food, though Rob has been urging me NOT to send sweet treats lately, now that he’s apparently on the “deployment diet.” There are books, which he adores, but he has shelves full of them here at home — any of which I’d be glad to send him. He is also fully capable of ordering his own books off of Amazon.com.

I thought about getting him a magazine subscription or music. Another idea is to buy him some lighthearted gifts that will make him laugh and hopefully help him forget (for a few minutes anyway) that we are separated by thousands of miles this holiday season.

The last time this happened was in 2009, when he also deployed to Afghanistan, that time with his battalion.

We were living in Germany then and our boys were much younger. It was both harder and easier in different ways.

I do recall having a very difficult time during Christmas but cannot, for the life of me, recall what I sent him as far as gifts. I realize a pile of wrapped material goods can’t fundamentally change anything, really.

And in truth, I suppose that’s where this pressure lies: To put together a box of presents that will so bowl him over and amuse him, that he’ll temporarily forget where he is and why his wife and kids aren’t with him.

Yes, it’s a pretty tall order.

Going online to help me solve this dilemma wasn’t very helpful. The recurring themes were, “don’t send too much” and “you can’t go wrong with food.” The other items people frequently suggested were holiday decorations such as lights and ornaments, “risque” photos of wife or girlfriend, and homemade kid crafts. My husband, like most men, is drawn to all things high-tech, so I could buy him the latest gadget — perhaps one of those calorie/step/sleep trackers that require an engineering degree to set up and use. (Do we honestly need to know exactly how little sleep we get?)

Still other ideas — I could have a T-shirt made with my image printed on it ... or a pillowcase.

Tacky, but quaintly sentimental. I could knit him a hat or a scarf, if only I had mastered knitting. I could write him a poem. I could mail him small “toys” from a novelty store or send DVDs (they watch a lot of movies over there).

I suppose all of the above is acceptable, but somehow, it doesn’t feel like enough.

It doesn’t feel like enough because it ISN’T enough. Whatever I send him will have to deliver some very heavy messages.

This Christmas box to Rob needs to deliver a lot of love, as well as let him know how very much he will be missed on Christmas morning when the boys wake up and start yelling for us (I mean me) to get up.

It will have to make up for the fact that only one of us will be brewing coffee that morning and forcing a smile while trying to hold back Ryan and Andrew from attacking their gifts overflowing under the tree. These things I send will have to tell him that though I will go through the motions for our kids (and possibly be Academy Award-worthy in the process), it’s going to be a Herculean effort to keep the tears from flowing. Of course, I am the lucky one to be home, in a familiar setting, with the kids and the dog.

I realize this and am grateful for it.

The sad truth is, this Christmas will be tough for both of us. There are countless families — military and civilian — who will celebrate the holidays without their special loved one. I will get a box of gifts in the mail to my husband, hopefully by the Nov. 30 deadline. I just wish I could send him my heart.

Gail Dillon, an Army spouse, journalist and Air Force veteran, lives at Fort Hood with her husband, two sons and a Goldendoodle.

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