This is the full text of the edited article that was published by Redbook Magazine.
When I married Horatio, a naval officer, 16 years ago, I never envisioned myself becoming a single mom. But, here I am, parenting solo, the Commander-in-Chief-at-Home to four boys, for the third time since September 11, while my husband is on a 20-month deployment overseas.
When the grass starts growing in the spring, I’m out there pushing the mower, pulling weeds and trimming bushes. When a shelf in our craft closet fell down, I was the one at the hardware store, buying the parts, whipping out the electric drill and putting it back up.And when I decided that the family room needed freshening up, I painted it myself.
The accomplishment of banging it all out is pretty empowering, but sometimes it’s hard dealing with the emotional roller-coaster of parenting while Horatio isn’t here. I can power through the heavy lifting involved in running the household on my own, it’s the emotional leg-work that wears me down sometimes.
One of our boys is autistic, and when he has a rough day, I find myself carrying the weight of it all because sharing it with Horatio while he’s in a war zone feels selfish. Thousands of miles away, he is shouldering heavy responsibilities with international consequences; giving him something to worry about back home helps no one, except me. So, I try to keep my emails and occasional video calls with him light, and I find another shoulder to lean on, usually that of another Navy wife, who listens when I need it and offers help without hesitation.
I find renewed energy when friends and strangers alike express their gratitude for Horatio’s and our family’s service. Upon hearing of our situation, however temporary, many people share their thanks. Sometimes, at the boys’ school, another parent will approach us and tell us how thankful they are that Horatio is overseas keeping us all safe. Hearing a simple, “thank you for your service and sacrifice,” helps us get through some tough days. Most people are eager to help out a family with a member of the military serving abroad. I’ve been deeply touched by words of thanks and encouragement and offers of help from friends and strangers in our community.
The boys really miss having their dad around, but I am confident that I am managing the balance single parenting requires pretty well. I can toss the ball around with the best of them and I taught Bob how to ride a bike. I’ve even delicately managed the puberty and birds-and-the-bees talks with the boys. I’ve been a single mom enough times throughout their lives now that they can see that I can do pretty much any of the “dad” things they want me to do. They miss the rough and tumble play that Horatio so loves to do with them and they go to him for many of their needs when he is home because he is a wonderful, very hands-on dad, but they don’t miss the stereotypical “male” figure as much as people might think.
The hardest emotional aspect of our situation is managing the boys’ reactions to their Dad’s absence. They handle the void in different ways. Zack (13) and Dwight (11) can intellectually understand and cope with their emotions well, but Bob (8) and Harold (4) really suffer. Bob, especially, struggles with Horatio’s deployment. Each time Horatio has come home for a short visit and left again, Bob crumbles and I have to work overtime putting the pieces back together. During the aftermath of a departure, I end up spending a lot of extra time tending to Bob’s worries, fears and frustrations. Of course, this is the most important part of my role as single mom, but it is also the most challenging. A mom is only has happy as her least happy child and it can take upwards of two months to get the boys back to “normal” when Horatio goes back.
As much of a rock star as I may feel by doing it all when it goes well, I am always happy when Horatio returns home. Sure, I can do the heavy lifting, but I’d much rather not have to. The family reunion at deployment’s end is always exciting, but the adjustment is tricky.
While Dad is away, our family routines change according to the activities, homework load, etc. When he returns and the days don’t run as they did when he left, he can feel “out-of-the-loop” and unsure of his parenting role. Horatio and I sometimes disagree on what is worth making a fuss about. I can tolerate having to put the cereal box away for the millionth time it is left on the kitchen counter because I know that our son with Autism has bigger things on his mind, but Horatio can’t stand it when the boys don’t “carry their weight,” and can be quick to reprimand. When he scolds one of the boys, I sometimes take it as a personal attack on my parenting and it can take some time for us to work out our differences. I’ve been taking care of everything on my own, so when he chimes in with suggestions for me and demands on the kids, there can be a bit of push-back. Let’s just say, it takes a while to find the new dynamic.
I know I’ll have to give up my role as Commander-in- Chief-at home, when Horatio returns in July but I’ll be happy to give up some of my independence since it means I’ll no longer have to be a single mom. I know this sets me apart from other single moms who do it all the time. I’ll miss some of my alone time, being able to choose what to watch on tv and eating salads for dinner; but none of that is worth being separated from my husband and best friend.
We’ll take two weeks to adjust when he returns and then our family is heading to Disney World for a much-needed vacation. After 20 months “on my own,” it might be nice to take my own vacation.