Our Keepsake Journal is Here! 🎉

It was a relatively mild morning in October—cool even, considering we were in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We stood atop a concrete amphitheater overlooking a grass field in the middle of the small USMC installation known as Twenty-Nine Palms. All the unit’s seabags were lined up in neat rows, each one stuffed to bursting. John held our daughter Eleanor who had just woken up from a nap in her infant carrier. Blearily, she looked around and then smiled when John paused his conversation with some of his friends to coo at her. I sat with our son Sawyer as he played with the cloud sand he got from our deployment readiness coordinator. “Look, Mommy!” He showed me the wispy strings of the stuff stretched out like cotton candy, then squished it back up in his small fists. I wondered if he truly grasped what was going on that day.

While waiting, we decided to take a few photos together. In one of them, Sawyer is making a face while Eleanor grabs my hair. I still laugh at it any time I look at this picture–it was a mirthful moment on an otherwise difficult day.

Soon, a truck arrived and someone down in the field yelled something, and like clockwork, Marines lined up and started throwing Seabags down the line and into the back of the truck. Bags were tossed from one pair of hands to the next, to the next, to the next—a well-oiled machine. Within minutes, they were all loaded up. Sooner still, that entire field, now quietly bustling with Marines and their families would be empty as well, everyone having loaded up into busses and their cars to go their separate ways.

I put my hand on John’s shoulder to interrupt whatever conversation he was having and told him it was time for us to leave. I didn’t want to watch him get on that bus. And illogically, I thought that if we just “started” the deployment, we could “get it over with.” So, John walked us over to the car, carrying the infant car seat.

For the next six months, I was going to have to carry that car seat for Eleanor whenever we went somewhere. It’s strange how, selfishly, that’s what I thought about: the extra work I would have to do. John kissed Eleanor and then he turned to Sawyer, knelt next to him, and gave him a long hug. Sawyer buried his face into his father’s shoulder, and they held there for a moment. They murmured goodbye to each other, and John lifted Sawyer into his car seat, buckling him up one last time.

“Take care of Mommy,” he said, and Sawyer nodded. “I love you, Buddy.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

I kissed my husband goodbye, and then we were off. That was it for my family–hugs, kisses, and goodbye. Simple. As we drove away, I watched Sawyer in the rear-view mirror watching and waving at his dad. Then, when he lost sight of him, he simply looked out the window, the expression on his face unreadable. A few minutes later, a dam burst, and Sawyer cried for his father.

RELATED: Military Kids Are Serving, Too

Deployment send-offs are a familiar, albeit difficult, experience for most military families. But I must admit that we have been luckier than most in terms of disruption to our lives. In the first six-and-a-half years of our relationship, John and I never really had to spend much time apart. Yes, there were a few short periods of a month or two here and there when he had to go overseas or out of state for various reasons, and there have been plenty of inconvenient duty shifts and field ops he’s been away for, but we’ve never had a truly long time away from each other.

Well as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours, and the gods of war had decided it was high time to throw some chaos into our lives. Nine months before John’s deployment, when I was six months pregnant with Eleanor, John left for Warrant Officer Basic’s Course (WOBC). By God’s providence, he happened to be home on Easter weekend when I went into labor, but he had to leave again back to WOBC when Eleanor was a few days old.

In the next few months after that, John finished WOBC; he attended another course out of state for two months; we moved for a permanent change of station (PCS) from North Carolina to California; and finally, six days shy of Eleanor turning six months old, he left for deployment. To put that into perspective, John was only with us for about three months of the first year of Eleanor’s life.

As many of you are already aware, parenting a newborn is difficult enough, let alone doing it mostly alone (thank the good Lord for my village!) and with a 3-year-old in tow while still working from home. I never questioned whether I’d be able to juggle it all, but there were certainly days when I felt like I was surviving on caffeine and adrenaline. And then there were nights when I stared into the darkness, listening to the sound machine droning, needing desperately to sleep but unable to.

On one of those nights, months after John had deployed, the Google Photos widget on my phone popped up with a photo of my son and daughter just a few days after John left. Smiling, I clicked on the photo and started scrolling through the memories from that day. Had that already been several months ago? Suddenly, I found myself crying. How had my children grown so much in what seemed like such a short time? I hadn’t expected to see how much Sawyer had grown in the few months since John left. In the photo, he still had his round baby cheeks and sweet toddler face. In the short time since John had left, he had become such a big boy, and I had somehow missed it all in this daze of stress, self-pity, and waiting.

RELATED: We’ll Get Through Daddy’s Deployment Together

And then it hit me. I had been so focused on “surviving” the year with John away, and “getting through” deployment that I was missing everything else going on around me. I had a countdown app on my phone and a fun paper chain for the kids to count down the days until John came home. By focusing on how hard parenting alone was and longing for the days when my family would be whole again, I was missing out on enjoying my children, living in the moment, and being thankful for the time I got to spend with them.

I had been ungrateful—mad even—that my job had slashed my workload since I was only available virtually. I took for granted the extra time I was getting to spend with my children and my parents. I had let that precious time slip away, feeling sorry for myself. I sat there in the dark, scrolling through pictures, awash with guilt and overcome with grief at the underappreciated time. I put my phone down and then kissed my sleeping children.

Since my revelation, I stopped focusing on the long-awaited future or on what had been missed in the past. Instead, I do my best to live in the now. I’ve let go of some of the stress and accepted that I simply will not be able to work as much as I used to and that the house will just have to be messy.

But perhaps most importantly, I am doing my best to be more present with my children and more thankful for my family’s help. After making a conscious effort to change my attitude, time flew by, and John’s return from deployment came faster than expected. Now that he’s home, I can look forward with excitement for the adventures to be had and backward with pride at what we’ve accomplished as a family. And with one deployment under our belt, I know there is nothing my family cannot face as long as we focus on each other with gratitude in our hearts.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Melody Kowach

Melody Kowach is a freelance writer and an adjunct English professor. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and enjoys writing fiction, poetry, and personal essays that explore the lessons she's learned while stumbling through life. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the great outdoors with her husband and two young children. Melody is currently based in Southern California and is always seeking new opportunities to connect with other writers and share her love of the craft.

Deployment Gets Hard At the 2-Month Mark: Here’s How To Cope

In: Motherhood
Mother and four children walking, color photo

My husband and I have experienced two extensive deployments together—the first as newlyweds and now, as parents to four. It is not lost on me that our deployment experience, so to speak, is not as substantial as other military families. But the sacrifice and hard are absolutely the same. Around the 2-month mark of each deployment, it really hits you just how long 9-12 months is. It’s the 2-month mark when you start to establish a routine and settle. It’s the 2-month mark when your kids just miss their dad and you miss your best friend. It’s that 2-month mark...

Keep Reading

Military Spouses are the Heartbeat of Our Nation’s Bravest

In: Living
Woman hugging husband in military uniform, color photo

Military spouses are a rare, beautiful breed of human being. They are the people who can pack up their homes with three weeks notice to move across the country to a new place and secure a house in transit. They are the people who list one another as emergency contacts after meeting at a potluck at your spouses’ work for an evening. They are the people you call at 2 a.m. for the random ER trip that only ever happens when your spouse is down range. RELATED: To The Military Spouse They are the people who become your family while...

Keep Reading

To the Military Mom Who’s Exhausted and Overwhelmed

In: Living, Motherhood
Military family hug

Dear military mom, Going through a whole pregnancy and/or birth alone can be very stressful. You’re feeling such guilt because you should be happy for this miracle of life yet you feel so depressed, lonely, and helpless. You’re managing other children—let alone a newborn—while forgetting to nourish your own self. You paint on a smile for every interaction you may have with other adults and your children to make sure nobody thinks you are vulnerable or unable to care for your family the way you are expected to. Putting so much energy into faking a smile for your children, you...

Keep Reading