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Mommy courage

One of my good friends is doing MOPS this year and has been talking to  me about their theme: being brave as a mother. I can think of several times as a mother that I have had to be braver than I thought I could be, the first coming to mind when one of our son's was in the PICU for 4 days with RSV and there was nothing else the doctors could do for him. Since then there have been other things: asthma flare ups, injuries, sickness, late nights, solo parenting... Then there have been other times where the lines aren't as clear and I'm praying and praying that I'm making the right choice: disciplining a 6-year old {very different than disciplining 2 and 3 year olds}, disciplining 3 children, speaking up for my parenting choices to others when I'd prefer to stay silent... Last night was a new one for me: having the courage to enjoy the holiday.

It has been 4 years since my husband has been on a submarine-- 3 years of college and now going through the officer pipeline. When we first moved to North Carolina for him to start college, I was so jealous of his time. After coming from a fast attack submarine, I wasn't accustomed to him being around much. I tried to soak in every weekend, every weeknight, every time he could go to lunch with us... I wanted to do everything together and I felt panicked when our plans separated us or when we had too many plans in a weekend, even if we were doing them together. We are both homebodies and I felt like we should be home together, making the most of it.

My husband is the sweetest person I know and so loving. He eventually had a little chat with me about how much time we have together with the STA-21 program and that it is okay to enjoy life, doing things together or apart. I slowly relaxed {slowly}. I still sometimes would feel that panicked feeling in my chest if I was at a Bible Study and he was at home doing nothing {my husband is HOME and I am NOT THERE-- what am I doing here???}. By the time we left North Carolina, doing things separately wasn't a big deal. He started power school and golfed, did wood working; I hung out with girlfriends, worked on my writing. Of course I still have issues when we are too busy-- I know our children want to spend time with both of us together and, since quality time is my love language, I love when we do things as a family.

I suppose the foreshadowing for last night's feelings happened last week when I sat down to figure out our Thanksgiving plans. With shiftwork, I didn't want to be struggling to make Thanksgiving dinner with children underfoot only for him to eat and leave at odd hours. I kept thinking that I wanted to do something more than eating take out or a casserole because it might be our "last Thanksgiving together for awhile." That thought just kept bouncing around in my head. I found a recommended restaurant with traditional Thanksgiving fare that would give us the holiday feel without me stressing over a ginormous meal for just our family. I wanted him to enjoy this Thanksgiving because next year... where will he be next year? On a submarine. Home? Deployed? Underway? We don't know. We don't even know where we will be living next year.

Last night we were getting ready to go trick or treating. My husband was tired from shiftwork. Our children were over excited about a holiday-- dressing up, something new, general excitement. I was a little stressed because one of our boys-- the one who tends to randomly projectile vomit when over excited or after eating junk food-- wasn't eating his dinner and I didn't want him binging on candy later without "real food" in his stomach. The baby needed to be fed. All 3 older boys were covered in dirt and sand from head to foot after playing outside before dinner and I needed to give them baths before costumes. It was a busy start to the holiday, but one to be expected with 4 children. My poor husband-- who is genuinely tired from shiftwork-- pulls me aside and says he doesn't want to trick or treat long because he really wants to go to bed early. The panic hit my chest, "We have to trick or treat! We need to do this with the boys. They want to do it with you. We are going to do it as a family." He says he knows, but he doesn't want to be out all night. {Funny conversation in hindsight-- we set out with a 6-year old who falls asleep standing up at 8 pm, two 3-year olds who hadn't napped, an infant who wanted to eat, and my husband who is on rotating shiftwork.} We agreed to hit a few houses in our neighborhood, coming home in time for the kids' bedtime.

I kept thinking as we were trick or treating, "Enjoy this night. Next year you'll be doing this alone. Next year-- if he's home-- he'll be on 3 section duty days, but he'll probably be underway or deployed. If we're lucky he'll be home on shiftwork. Make the most of tonight." Thinking like that is so paralyzing. I knew I wanted us to stick together-- no breaking off and trick or treating with neighbors. We are doing this together, dammit. I felt that panic hitting my chest. Should I let our oldest go trick or treat with his friends? I mean, that is part of normal life, right? But he's only 6-years old, it's fine if we tell him no and have him go with us. I know my husband wanted to do this with all his boys, so it is good we said no, right? Ugh. Yes? No? Panic rising again-- he won't be home next year! Enjoy this year!

For me, this became a courageous parenting moment. I realized that my fears that we wouldn't be together next year {the unknown future} were taking over my ability to enjoy and live in this moment {the present}. And while I wasn't walking around telling our children, "You must enjoy this time with your father. He will probably be underway next Halloween," I wasn't exactly letting them spread their wings and just be. I had expectations of the evening that I wanted met. How is that fun for a kid? Trying to fit into a box his mom has made for the day? While I was thinking all that, I also realized that I don't want to teach my children to think this way. I don't want to train them to have those panicked feelings of making the most, clinging on so tight that they can't see what is in front of them. I know they will have struggles as military children, but why should I compound that by teaching them new things to be afraid of? To dread? Teaching them to regret how they spent a holiday-- time they spent-- before they've even had a chance to experience the day? My love language is quality time. Regret and anxiety are not quality time.

Remember Finding Nemo? Marlin tells Dory regarding his son Nemo, "I promised I'd never let anything happen to him." Dory replies, "Hmm, that's a funny thing to promise... you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little [Nemo]."

And as I write this blog post, we are watching The Croods. Eep says to her father, "You have to stop worrying about us." Her father replies, "It's my job to worry! We have to follow the rules." Eep goes on to say, "The rules don't work out here." Eep's father interjects, "The rules kept us alive!" to which Eep replies, "That wasn't living! That was just... not dying."

Last night when it looked like our night was going to go downhill before 7 pm-- fussy baby, cold family, tired husband-- I felt myself getting upset, "This isn't how I want tonight to go!" But when does life ever happen exactly how we want it to? I took a deep breath and let it go. I let go of my expectations for the evening, the panic that we have to make the most of tonight because of the unknowns of next Halloween, the desire for tonight to be perfect. When I did that, the evening was perfect. The boys sprinted from house to house (we were glad that we stuck together as a family in the end). We dropped the stroller off and held the baby, warming up my husband and actually putting the fussy baby to sleep. We ended up back home before 7:30 pm, letting the boys eat some of their Halloween candy while passing out candy to the last few trick or treaters. The kids were in bed on time; my husband was in bed before 8:30 pm. It all ended up working out and even I enjoyed myself once I let go, once I stopped clinging to everything so tight.

I curled up next to my hubby with my book last night as I fed our baby happy. Who knows where we will be living next Halloween or if my husband will be home. I do know that if he's underway, he'll be thinking of this Halloween and how our boys kept taking off as fast as their legs could carry them from house to house. How we had a hard time keeping track of our Captain America and Buzz Lightyear, but our Big Al {Alabama Crimson Tide's elephant mascot} was easy to spot. How baby #4 calmed as soon as he was picked up by his daddy and promptly fell asleep on his shoulder. How my husband spent the rest of the evening with one hand free, the other holding the baby, but how all the baby needed right then was his daddy. How the boys screamed with delight when we told them they could eat all the candy they wanted last night and how they compared and shared all their treats-- without us asking. How they fell asleep not 10 minutes after we put them to bed. Who could ask for a better Halloween?

Now, while it took a lot of courage to let go on Halloween, it was fairly easy to remember with all the Elsa's wandering the neighborhood. I will have a much harder time when Thanksgiving and Christmas come around. Hopefully I can breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy those days for what they are as well.

Do you find it hard to live in the present as a military family?


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