Working Through Work-Ups

“Tell me again why we’re doing this.” is what I wanted to say as my husband grabbed his last bag before giving me a kiss and heading out the door. Instead, I said something along the lines of, “Fly safe. We’ll miss you!” Here we are again, deep in the middle of a nine-month set of work-ups where Ben is home for a month, gone for a month of training, all leading up to a seven-month around-the-world deployment. I didn’t need reminding for why we were doing this, but it would have been nice in the moment to hear someone else give me a good reason for putting our young family through this tortuous up and down schedule of inconsistency. Daddy’s home one minute, gone the next, and Mommy’s left to pretend like everything is normal.

We have done this before with one baby, now we’re doing it again with a baby and a toddler. The days can be long, yet ironically every night at bedtime I ask myself, “How has another one passed by so quickly?” Still, each day is filled with trying moments where I find myself wishing away time. Lately my prayers have sounded something like, “Just get me to bedtime, Lord” or “If we can just make it through this next month of work-ups…” or “Everything will be easier once this deployment is over.” The little things we tell ourselves to not focus on the painfulness of the present.

But no matter how many times I try to pray the day away, there are still two little people who depend on me to be their rock and demand I give them my best effort. I’ve learned that there is beauty and grace to be found in this moment, no matter how dreadful it might seem. When my two-year-old is testing my patience, not making sense, and pushing boundaries, I look at him and try to take him all in. “This is how I want to remember you forever,” I think. Messy hair, arms covered in bug tattoos, knees skinned up, peanut butter on his cheeks… perfection. Or when our newborn has spat his pacifier out yet again and wants to be rocked to sleep one too many times, I try to soak in the weight of his little body in my arms, swaying back and forth with the exhaustion only a mother could know. Yes, this is grace-filled life being lived.

There is a family picture that hangs in our living room of the four of us just a week after our second baby, George, was born. In some ways I remember that day so clearly, but in others it is just a blur. Walt got up at 4:00 AM, confused, sick, and refusing to go back to sleep. Exhausted and frustrated, we all ended up in the den by 5:00. I was tempted to cancel the photographer, but not knowing what another day might bring, decided to push through. When she got here, I wished I hadn’t. Our house was disheveled, Ben and I had circles under our eyes, Walt was hyper and not listening to anything I said, and the dog was all over the place. I felt sorry for her having to make this circus look decent! Somehow, she did.

Now, months later, I look at that picture and only recognize the good. You can’t tell that Walt didn’t feel well, the circles under our eyes aren’t as apparent as I thought, and George is alert and beautiful. I almost have to try to remember how painful it was at the time. The grace is all that shines through.

I suppose I’ve always looked forward to the next best thing in the midst of struggle. “Oh, once this semester is over…” or “once I graduate college or get married…” or “once we move from this awful duty station…” and so on and so on. But now that I have children, these thoughts make me pause. When this deployment is over, our baby will be over a year old. Do I really want to wish away his entire first year of life because I’m overwhelmed? Of course not. It’s precisely in the moments of stress and chaos and loneliness and exhaustion that grace-filled life is being lived. These are the days that one day I will reminisce about with Ben and describe to our children with a vivid rosy hue, circus and all.

Seasoned Navy wives will tell you that work-ups are harder than deployments, and in many ways I think that’s true. Stress is high, plenty of alone time at home, little communication between you and your spouse, schedules are a mess… All of this is exacerbated, of course, when kids are thrown into the mix. It’s easy to feel like a martyr or single parent when your partner is gone so frequently and can’t do much for the family from afar. Parenting alone is lonely, but I strive to push through and see the grace that’s painted all over the bigger picture of our circumstances.

When I’m ping-ponging back and forth between the bedrooms of a squirmy two-year-old who can’t help but crawl out of bed for just one more minute of attention and a fussy baby who’s still getting used to his nursery, I think of how fleeting this season of life is. It will be gone before I’m ready for it to be. And when I’m sitting in a dark hallway, burying my face in the fur of our golden retriever, listening to make sure those boys stay asleep, I imagine Ben on an aircraft carrier, somewhere in the middle of the ocean, sacrificing for our country, who would probably love to be sitting right where I am. And somehow, the grace shines through.


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