If you see me walking around with a silly grin on my face, it might be because my husband is coming home for his two weeks of R&R very soon. That is the halfway point, also known as “Rest and Relaxation,” and is the Army’s way of making year-long deployments somewhat bearable.
I can tell I am more than ready because my jaw is starting to ache from gritting my teeth. Also, even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming.
For example, as I eyed the stack of dirty dishes in the sink after dinner last night, I almost started weeping. These are all familiar signs and Rob’s return will be met with much fanfare and relief. Our previous R&Rs have been very different than this one will be. During his first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we were living in Germany and his return home was precipitated by the sudden death of his beloved stepfather, Al.
After very long flights, we met up at his mother’s house in Yorktown, Va. It was dreadfully sad but also eerie because Hurricane Isabel had just passed through, leaving devastation in its wake and no electricity. I’ll never forget the darkness underscored by the constant thrum of the generator as family members tried to comfort one another, make meals and somehow cope.
Our second R&R was much happier, though equally complicated. Once again, we were stationed in Germany while Rob was deployed to Afghanistan. He was homesick for the beach and wanted to meet at one of his favorite vacation spots, Wilmington, N.C. The big lug had planned a marriage renewal ceremony in honor of our 10-year anniversary and much of his family drove or flew in from various places to help us celebrate.
To make it even more special, he was even able to talk the reverend who married us the first time to preside over this do-over union. Staying in a scenic beach house, spending the first week with all these special people and then getting the last week to ourselves as a family made this R&R a joyous time. But logistically, it was not easy.
This time we are staying right here on Fort Hood, in our regular old house. There are pros and cons to this.
On the plus side, it requires no travel for me and the boys. (Obviously, this is not the case for Rob, who will be making his long journey home over the course of several days). Spending a couple of weeks being a “normal” family just doing routine things sounds appealing. Plus the dog would love to see his dad, too.
The cons are that being home means chores, a long honey-do list, and other rather mundane obligations. In our case, we plan on getting our taxes done (yawn), and he promised to tackle a number of fix-it jobs that have been building up. He also told our older son he would take him shopping for a new bike. None of this sounds terribly exciting or romantic, granted, but I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because being back together for two weeks will feel like the most decadent vacation ever.
Being the realist that I am, it’s hard not to think about the fact that he will have to leave again once his 15 days are up. Some military spouses have told me they are not big fans of R&R for this reason — that it is hard enough to say goodbye once, much less twice. And those with smaller children, who don’t understand why Daddy is leaving again, certainly doesn’t make the situation easier.
I can understand and respect this but for me and my two boys, a brief break is going to give us the energy and the motivation to finish out the year. I liken it to the simple analogy of “bonking” while running a marathon. Bonking is the term for that empty, exhausted feeling of having used up all available energy stores. Once you eat an orange and drink some water, you can envision running 13 more miles. Or in our case, do six more months of this. At least that is the plan — I’m just playing it by ear.
So as I wait for Rob to come home in the coming days, I’m also trying to keep my expectations reasonable and squelch those pesky preconceived notions about how things are “supposed” to go. Despite a few years of Army life under my belt, it is still a learning process, an adjustment and an adventure each and every day.