I now pause to bow down and pay respects to parents who are solo all the time for whatever reason. Holy guacamole!
Was it hard? Hell yeah, but not in the ways I anticipated. Boat chores and maintenance, daily grind, and traveling with the kids was all perfectly manageable. What was the most difficult was the loneliness. Night after night having to get dinner on the table, things cleaned up, activities and such prepped for the next day and no adult conversation was crazy making. No adult company save for the passing chats of marina folks walking around or talking long distance with friends on Facebook. I experienced 2 deaths of people dear to me. I juggled medical issues, mechanical issues, technical issues, and all of the everyday. All alone. Manageable, but lonely.
I learned a lot from the experience. First and foremost, when somebody is struggling or going through a rough patch don't ever, ever say... "Let me know if I can help." Because people who need help don't have the strength to come up for air and ask for it. They can't let you know because they are treading water and out of breath. Just show up. Bring coffee. Bring wine. Tell (don't ask) the person you are picking up the kids for the afternoon and they can have some time off. Invite them to dinner on a specific night. Drop off a lasagna. Include them in potlucks and cook outs and get togethers. Having gone without all that and needing just a little of it so desperately, I realize how I can be a better helper to others when they are down and out and alone. Facebook doesn't count. Make the time. Show up.
As for the kids, it was difficult on them in different ways. I was grateful for Facetime which made it possible for them to have a video chat with daddy just about once a day. Virtual parents are no substitute for the real thing, but it's so much better than I imagine it was "back in the day", when kids just waited for a letter in the mailbox and stay at home parents lived in total isolation while the other was deployed. Thank you technology!
I noticed when we were around other adult men, the kids would gravitate to them. Our cousin in DC, friend's dads, dock neighbors, whoever it was they seemed to crave that daddy figure time. For Naia it was all very confusing. She knew Daddy was at work, and could point to Qatar on a map and drag her little finger back to Maryland. She knew he was coming back, but when? At age 4 they basically have zero grasp on time. To her, 6 months meant counting to 6 and daddy was supposed to appear. Zach understood fully. He can do math and understands time and calendars and time zones and all. Most days he was a big helper, and steady as can be. But once and a while he would crack. He would have a good cry and wish daddy was back sooner and say how unfair it was and hug a lot and then be ok.
It was of course hard on Doug too. He worked non-stop, 12 hours days, every single day for the 6 months. It was a grind. And being away from the kids was tough on him too.
This is why the blogging has been slow and infrequent. By this last month I was crawling to the finish line. Trying to meet deadlines, keeping it together, getting end of year homeschool review together, so tired... so very tired.
Getting Doug at the airport yesterday was sort of hilarious. We got there way too early, so excited about seeing him. Then the long wait started. The kids ran in circles, whined a lot, played games, spilled snacks, whined some more, ran some more. So many people steadily streaming out of customs, none of them were daddy. I started a joke to keep them going, I'd see a person who was clearly not daddy and say, "Look there's daddy. He's really short and bald now." Or, "Look there's daddy, he's got long blonde hair and wears red dresses now." It would make Zach roll his eyes and Naia collapse into laughter.
When he did finally come out, little Naia was so hopped up on anticipation she fell to the floor and wept. Yes, my sweet, we all feel it.
Despite the long haul, at the end of it all... we did it. It truly made us all stronger. It made us realize how important it is to stay strong as a family, working together and getting through the rough spots. It made me extra grateful on those long lonely days to climb into bed late at night and see my babies sleeping there, holding each other like little monkeys. Grateful to climb in next to them and snuggle all night long. And now so grateful that we're all together, home. Because home is not where you are, but who you're with.