Army spouse copes with deployment during the holidays
December 17, 2012
She's like most mothers. There's the hustle and bustle of getting the kids out of bed, then dressed and out the door for school. There's the daily grind. Dinner, kids' sports, afterschool activities, work, paying bills, things to do, people to see. If she's lucky, there may even be some "me" time, but doubtful.
But those tan combat boots no longer thrown haphazardly near the door can trigger a wave of emotions unfamiliar to the typical mom.
"I miss the can of shaving cream I put away every day when he is home," she says.
Jenni Lowell: Teacher, mother and Army spouse. She's married to the Army, and her husband is deployed to Afghanistan.
For Jenni Lowell -- married to Maj. Harvey R. Lowell, executive officer of the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment -- life can be rough.
Jenni and Harvey Lowell met when they were teenagers and became high school sweet hearts. Jenni was 14 and Harvey was 17. After attending college in Idaho, Jenni married Harvey in 2000 once he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. During their marriage they have been through four deployments.
Like many military spouses, Jenni Lowell turns the chaos of single parenthood into order while her spouse is deployed. She was willing to sit and share her experience.
Q: DURING THE DEPLOYMENT WHAT DO YOU THINK IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT ROLE WITHIN YOUR HOME AS A MILITARY SPOUSE?
A: Being the rock that my kids can rely on and making sure everybody is happy and healthy, surviving the best that we can. I mean we have to move on and ensure that we still have fun, laugh, giggle and play.
Q: HOW DO YOU BOTH PREPARE YOUR FAMILY FOR DEPLOYMENTS?
A: I let my kids know as much as possible every step of the way, not 'your dad's going to be leaving tomorrow.' We inform our children every step of the way and stress the importance of spending time together. We make sure that the kids know that 'today is just family day,' no extra friends coming along, just us as a family. The kids know that Dad is in the Army and that means Dad leaves and Dad comes back, Dad leaves and comes back.
I guess the trainings kind of help out with preparing for the deployment too. Before they go up the kids get used to dad being gone.
I feel the more open I am with my kids I think the easier it is. Some people say don't tell your kids anything, but I have found that if I explain the dangers of Afghanistan my kids understand why daddy is not here or why he cannot call, write, or Skype more often.
Q: WHAT AFFECTS YOU MOST DURING THE DEPLOYMENT?
A: Sometimes I would love to come home and just vent -- talk or just bounce ideas off of somebody, but there is nobody there to bounce off the ideas. Sometimes I think I just need an adult conversation to be able to get ideas, make sure I am doing something right or having another opinion is always nice to have as well. The comfort of knowing that someone is going to be there when you have had a bad day at work or the kids are being ornery, just a simple hug to say it's going to be okay is all I need sometimes.
Q: HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR SPOUSE DOWN RANGE AND HOW OFTEN?
A: Through Facebook, email and Skype, now that we have Skype up and running. We try to Skype at least once a week, but it doesn't always work because of the time change difference, it makes it a little harder. And when the guys are busy… the guys are busy and I can't control that. We try to designate Sundays as Skype days.
Q: HOW HAS YOUR COMMUNICATION CHANGED SINCE YOUR FIRST DEPLOYMENT?
A: The first deployment we didn't have much communication. For the first three months I didn't hear from him at all.
We used to write letters and now we email or message each other instead. I loved receiving the hand written letters. Now technology is so easy we just get reliant on emails and messages that the hand written letters have gone out the door. It is sad because I have all the letters that my husband has ever written me from high school, college, and past deployments. I think it is fun to reminisce and go back through them. I don't think it is as much fun to sift through emails.
Q: WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT HIM THAT YOU DON'T GIVE A LOT OF THOUGHT TO UNTIL YOU REALIZE THAT HE ISN'T HERE?
A: I miss his smile and his laugh. I miss that more than anything. I miss him playing and laughing with the kids. I think that is the number one thing because that fills the house with joy. I miss the sound of his car pulling into the driveway and the front door closing late at night. I miss his teasing. It's not always funny when he's home, but I sure miss it when he is gone. I miss the can of shaving cream I put away every day when he is home. I think it's the simple little things that I miss the most about him. He truly adds a lot to our family and when he is gone there is an empty feeling that can't be filled.
Q: WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST FIGHTS/ISSUES WITH YOUR HUSBAND WHILE HE IS DEPLOYED?
A: Normally we are really good, except for a couple weeks ago I brought up a concern with him about one of our kids and he said, 'It's just fine, don't worry. They are gonna be alright.' I was like 'but you are not here, you are not seeing it, living it, and you do not understand what is going on.'
There are concerns, issues, and problems that I deal with every day. When I do bring up an issue, problem, or concern, he will just tell me it's okay and then I feel he just brushed it off and doesn't understand. In reality, I'm frustrated because he doesn't have to deal with the problems, issues, or concerns that I have to. Yet, I am not living in Afghanistan, so I don't truly understand what he is going through either. I am learning that I don't understand 100 percent what is going on over there and he doesn't understand 100 percent what is going on over here. We just need to have empathy towards each other, be kind to one another, do not compare and contrast each other's situations, and support one another.
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK AFFECTS YOUR CHILDREN THE MOST WHEN HE IS DEPLOYED?
A: The kids have a hard time when their daddy is not able to attend events like soccer games, celebrate special moments, birthdays and holidays or even go on trips or vacations. I like traveling and going to places but I feel guilty going to all these places without him because I want to make memories as a family and not just me and the kids all the time. Sometimes you just have to do it just to have fun -- we are in Europe so you gotta go play too.
Q: IS THE DEPLOYMENT A LITTLE BIT EASIER OR HARDER SINCE THE KIDS ARE A LITTLE BIT OLDER?
A: I think the deployment this time is a bit harder because the kids are older and more aware. They really miss their Daddy. They sometimes cry at night saying, 'I miss Daddy.' I have to play the good guy and the bad guy and it is hard to be both at the same time.
Q: HOW DOES YOUR HUSBAND HELP STAY INVOLVED DOWN RANGE?
A: He reads stories, sends emails to make sure everything is going okay. He likes to hear all their stories, look at pictures to see what they are doing and how they are developing. He is always interested in what the kids tell him. He still teases them on the phone and makes up funny songs to sing to them.
Q: DO YOU EVER HAVE A BREAK DOWN MOMENT?
A: I think everybody has their break down moment. I think when I am sick and I don't feel good that is when I have my break down moments. When I am sick I don't have enough energy to chase after the kids and get everything done. I just need an extra set of hands or for someone to have pity on me.
Q: WHAT DO YOU DO DURING THOSE TIMES?
A: I curl up with the kids on the couch and we watch a movie and eat popcorn.
Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY STRESS RELIEVERS THAT YOU OFTEN USE?
A: The gym. The gym is awesome. There is an awesome group of ladies that I have been working out with. Functional fitness is awesome and it helps out a lot. When I don't go to the gym, I get sassy.
Q: HOW DO YOU ADJUST WHEN HE COMES BACK DURING REDEPLOYMENT?
A: We have always adjusted pretty quickly, except for the fact that I am pretty strong willed. I think I may have a hard time adjusting this time because I have gotten so use to juggling work, college, household duties and the kids. I have become really independent knowing I can do this on my own. Not that I want to do this on my own, but I have established a routine and it is hard to change a routine. I just need to realize that my husband wants to help and together we need to establish new routines or go back to the old ones.
I think dealing with change is the most difficult part of being a military spouse. I have learned that marriage is something you have to work on, it's not an easy thing. It's a daily thing that you have to work on, just like raising kids. It's not something you just forget about.