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February 17, 2011

Interview with Lora

by K. Tsetsi

–by Kristen Tsetsi

Lora and her husband Dean, an Army officer, knew one another when they were children, but as they grew up, they led their own lives. When they eventually reconnected, Lora had been divorced for about a year and Dean was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. “He is, without a doubt, the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she says. Lora maintains the blog “My Camo Kids,” where she writes about her experiences as an Army spouse and a mother raising four young children. Of late, she’s been writing about the stress associated with preparing for the redeployment (or homecoming) of her husband, who is currently in Iraq.

LIFT: What did you do in the first hour after he left for Iraq?

LORA: Well, he left around 3 a.m. We had a big family night that night before, the kids stayed awake as long as they could watching movies, eating all kinds of fun snack foods, and cuddling with their Dad. They all fell asleep around 1 a.m. We tried to wake them up to say goodbye but none of them fully woke up. So took him and I dropped him off alone, my wonderful Mother in Law was in town so she stayed at home with all the sleeping kids. I drove home alone and climbed in to bed.

At that point I mostly just felt numb disbelief. It is a very unreal experience kissing your husband goodbye, knowing you won’t see him for 6 months or more, knowing that I would be sleeping alone for the next year while praying that at the end of the year he would in fact come home to us. It is hard to put in to words. It is a very empty feeling that I think is best described as being too sad to even be sad. If that makes sense.

“A lot happens in a year,” Lora writes in a February 4 blog entry. “A lot changes. And I think one of the basic, core fears that most military spouses face is: Will we have changed TOO much? Will I be the same? Will he be the same? Will our relationship be the same? Will our family be the same? My immediate answer is No, none of us are the same. … A year without a Dad, a year without a husband. A year in a war zone, a year away from your family. It changes you. We have to learn to accept that, and embrace it.”

LIFT: What would you say is your biggest fear, if you have one, about his homecoming?

LORA: I am most nervous about our youngest son. He was only 8 weeks old when his Dad deployed, and I worry how it will affect their relationship long term as far as bonding since they have missed this whole first year together. I believe that everything will be fine eventually, but I still worry a lot. Most especially about the initial period and how they will respond to one another.

My next big worry is all the other kids, it is a really big adjustment going back to two parents and they each have such unique personalities and needs that will have to be addressed. How the kids are doing and how the time apart has affected them is always my biggest concern.

LIFT: What’s been your favorite single moment during his deployment?

LORA: It wasn’t really one single moment, but for Christmas instead of staying home missing him and feeling sad we decided to take a special trip. I took all 4 kids, with my Mom, to Universal Studios, Orlando. We went to the new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”

Both our older boys are HUGE Harry Potter fans, so this was like a dream come true for them. It was such a great experience. I feel like it was the best thing for us, instead of trying to do all the same traditions without Daddy we went out and had a new adventure! Everyone was so happy, and it will always be a wonderful memory in the middle of a challenging year.

LIFT: How many times has Dean deployed in x number of years?

LORA: We have been married for 6 years, and he has had two 12-month deployments during that time. One to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. To put it another way, though, our 3rd child (our only girl) is 4 years old and has lived half her life without her Daddy at home.

LIFT: How would you describe what you think and feel during a deployment?

LORA: The first deployment was much harder on our children and myself. Everything was new and unknown, and my husband was in a very dangerous place doing a very dangerous job. I had a lot of trouble sleeping and eating. I felt anxious and scared all the time.

There is no way to explain to a person who is not in the military what it feels like to walk around every single day wondering if your husband is alive. Wondering what he is doing on the other side of the world, wondering as you wander the isles of the grocery store if someone out there is shooting at him or detonating a bomb under his vehicle. I felt like I was living in a fog for a long time. It was impossible to feel normal, and I often felt angry and jealous of my friends and family with their “normal” problems like a flat tire or a husband gone on a business trip.

I felt especially angry when people would complain to me about these things, or make it seem like some small thing was the end of the world when we were really dealing with life and death on daily basis. All I wanted to do was crawl in to bed and not come out for 12 months. But at the time we had 3 small children (now we have 4) and they are really what got me through it. We eventually adapted to our new “normal,” and I am proud of how well we all did during that year.

LIFT: Dean was already in the Army when you married him. How do you respond to, “You knew what you were getting into”?

LORA: I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. You could compare it to having a baby. It doesn’t matter how much you have been around babies–becoming a parent is a whole different ballgame. It doesn’t matter how many times you babysat as a teenager or how many babies you’ve held–you still don’t “know what you’re getting in to” when you have a baby of your own.

No one can prepare you for the life-altering experience of becoming a parent, just like no one can prepare you for the life-altering experience of going through a deployment. Hearing stories about other people’s experiences may give you a glimpse, but it is nothing compared to the reality. There is no way you “know what you are getting in to” just because you know your loved one will be deployed eventually when you marry them. You don’t know, because no one can know until they go through it themselves, just how significant and challenging the experience will be.

LIFT: What was it like for you after he came home?

LORA: When he came home from Afghanistan in 2008 it was much more difficult than I had expected. I thought that once he came home everything would be normal again, everyone would just be so happy, and life would resume the way it was before. But being separated for 12 months had taken a toll on everyone, and we all had to re-learn how to be a family.

The kids weren’t used to him, and had grown up so much in the course of a year that he wasn’t quite sure how to relate to them either so they had to reform their relationships. We had to learn how to communicate with each other again as a couple, from finances to chores and everything in between, and it felt like renegotiating the whole marriage to me. Back to square one.

It was a process that took several months before we all felt like a regular family again. I believe our marriage was strengthened, and it didn’t only strengthen my marriage but strengthened our family as a whole. Much like building a muscle, the fibers were torn and there was definitely some soreness, but then we were rewoven stronger than before.

My children have developed a very deep sense of togetherness along with an appreciation for time we do have together. We don’t take each other for granted. I think we all have a greater sense of what is important, and that no matter what we go through we will come out of it together as a family.

LIFT: How, if at all, do you think the military family has influenced the culture and/or media, or what, if anything, do you think the military family has taught us about ourselves as we enter our tenth year of war in the Middle East?

LORA: I carry on my keychain a small metal Army tag inscribed with the Army Values: Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Self-less Service. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage. These values are what military families are all about, and I like to think that the Military Family represents the core values of our country’s founding principles.

These are the values that America as a whole needs to return to, needs to focus on developing in individuals, and I believe military families can lead the way in our society. As the wars in the Middle East drag on, military families continue to sacrifice for the greater good.

The burden of these wars have been carried for ten years by such a small percentage of our population, but when I look at my military friends and their families I am so proud to see it being carried with such grace, dignity and perseverance. I think in this time where so many young people especially feel entitled and demand instant gratification that the military family can show us how to live life on a deeper level with a commitment to something greater than ourselves.

 

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