Mother's Day Hits Different When Your Spouse is Deployed

This Mother’s Day, I will wake up alone in the bed I usually share with my husband. There will be no iced vanilla latte waiting on the nightstand. No faint sounds of spatulas, frying pans and Motown tunes drifting to my ears as my family bustles around the kitchen. I won’t wake to the mouthwatering smell of a roasted tomato frittata or my husband’s famous sweet potato hash. My kids won’t sneak into the room where I’m pretending to sleep and wake me with a breakfast tray, a gift bag, and a million kisses while their Daddy smiles down at the chaos from the bedroom door.

 I’m not actually sure the three people who made me a mom will even remember that it’s Mother’s Day. They’re just little.

This year, I’ll get up, comb three little heads of hair, choose three outfits, make three breakfasts and turn on cartoons before hopping into a quick shower and throwing some clothes on myself, too. I’ll clean the breakfast dishes, throw in a load of laundry and load up the kids to meet my parents for lunch.

On the way, I’ll call my mom. We celebrated together a couple months ago when she was in town for a visit, but I am lucky to have a great mom, so we will chat while I drive to lunch.

My dad and his husband will probably have a card for the kids to sign and give to me. We will enjoy a delicious meal and have a great day. I won’t go un-celebrated.

But Mother’s Day won’t be the hazy, sleepy, delightful mess of celebration and gratitude that it usually is around here because this year, my husband is thousands of miles away in an arid desert serving our country while I hold down the fort at home.

Deployment is a weird time for a family like ours. When he is home, my husband is the kind of dad and partner whose presence is so big, so loving, so full of light and warmth and laughter that when he is gone, we all feel it acutely. The kids have been out of sorts since he shipped out. My heart hasn’t been the same, either.

But it’s an unusual feeling because we haven’t suffered a loss. Our favorite Tech Sergeant is alive and well and coming home soon-ish. He isn’t right here with us, but he isn’t gone. Holidays and special occasions without him aren’t exactly sad, but they’re not quite as happy, either.

It feels like when he left, we all took a collective deep breath, and we won’t be able to exhale fully until we are collapsed into a big family cuddle puddle, finally back together where we belong. There’s a constant buzz of anticipation in our home, but the actual gratification is on a months-long delay.

You know how well kids tend to operate in a constant state of delayed gratification? Let me tell you: it’s not great. On a particularly difficult day, my oldest said, “Mommy, nothing is wrong, but nothing feels exactly right,” and I think that’s probably the best description of this deployment life that I’ve ever heard.

We made it through Valentine’s Day and Easter without a hitch. One of the kids had a birthday, and we rocked that party. Spring break? Check! We’ve been ticking off special occasions one by one as we count down to the end of this thing. It’s been okay. We’ve been doing fine.

But Mother’s Day is hitting me harder than I expected. It’s not because my tastebuds will miss out on his phenomenal breakfast skills. It’s not about the nice gifts; my husband actually sent me a beautiful purse I’ve been eyeing.

It’s just the little traditions that I can’t replicate on my own.

On most Mother’s Days, my husband makes a point to take a minute to really tell me what he appreciates about me as a mom. I know he will do that this year, too, but it’s not the same staring at his face on a phone screen as it is standing in our kitchen, wrapped in his arms, his strong hands absent-mindedly playing with a strand of my hair, or tracing a path along my forearm while he speaks.

Every year, my husband takes my kids to a store and gives them a little budget and lets them choose any item in the entire store to give me for Mother’s Day. I’ve gotten a tiny brass rhinoceros, a gold fish-shaped candle holder, a pink beach towel and even sparkly, bright colored eyeshadow. One year my second son chose flowers and snacks for me, then cried when I tried to eat them. It’s such a silly, fun tradition. I don’t actually need any more animal-shaped tchotchkes or cheap makeup, but I love having that moment every year, watching my babies’ faces light up as I rave about their absolutely perfect gifts.

Missing it is hard in a way I didn’t really see coming.

I know how lucky we are. I don’t need a reminder. I realize that being “not sad but not all the way happy” isn’t a real problem if we zoom way out to encompass all of humanity’s current experience. I am absolutely not competing in the difficulty Olympics — I realize I would not take home a medal.

It’s just that I don’t have the benefit of experiencing the entire big picture of the human experience. I only have this life; a life where I’m lucky to have a partner who usually makes Mother’s Day so special that being without him leaves a wistful, melancholy haze over the entire day.

I’ll still kiss my babies, and settle in for a movie and a long snuggle, and thank my lucky stars that I get to be their mom on Mother’s Day and every day. Gratitude and longing can exist in the same heart at the same time. While I’m thanking the Universe for my babies, I’ll be wishing their dad was here, and I think that’s okay.

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