Embracing Deployment Chaos

During her husband's 11 1/2 years of active duty service with the US Navy, Laura worked full and part-time, completed a Master's degree and the lion's share of her Ph.D., birthed 2 babies, moved 9 times, and still remembered to buy milk. Check out her advice on facing the chaos head-on in this week's guest post.

Guest Post by Laura Paganucci

Being a parent is hard.  We all know it.  No matter what walk of life you may lead, we all face seemingly insurmountable challenges, achieve great victories, and experience more defeats than we care to admit.  I have learned a lot about myself while being a mother, from patience, to absolute love, to the limits of my frustration.  More specifically however, my time spent raising children through deployments gave me my most prized quality, resiliency.

While my husband was active duty with the United States Navy, he was deployed, detached, or training for well over half of our marriage, was gone 3 of my daughter’s first 5 years, and he didn’t enter my son’s life until the age of 2 ½.

As such, I learned to be resilient.  I remember my first day going it solo in Japan.  It was evening, about 95 degrees and equivalent humidity.  My daughter, then 2, sat in her stroller and my son, 2 months old, was literally glued to me with sweat, no longer needing the Bjorn to stay upright.  I stood at the head of the Ginza, a 6-block length of storefronts showcasing screaming neon lights, kanji characters, restaurants and unknown street food, all on a stick.  We had been in country for a week and my husband was gone.

So there I stood, a sight to behold, a tiny white girl strapped to two wide-eyed children, sobbing in public, in Japan, at the busiest intersection in town.  I admit, not the proudest moment of my life, but a moment none-the-less.  At that exact point in time, I made a conscious decision to begin embracing deployment chaos.  I embraced the chaos when my daughter decided to stuff a plastic lizard tail up her nose and proceed to swallow it, prompting a trip to the base ER the night before a ridiculous bus trip to Nagasaki.  I embraced the chaos when I opened the door to my tiny faded red Honda Fit, a kid on either hip, to find 12 inches of standing water after the latest typhoon.  I embraced the chaos when I realized my potential mistake, after getting on the plane of course, in taking my 7-month old son to a third world country just so we could get a week away with my husband.  And I embraced the chaos even when my daughter cried for her father every night and my son no longer remembered the man I so desperately loved.

Don’t get me wrong, embracing deployment chaos was rarely pretty.  It meant being stoic in public and for my children, but melting into tears when alone.  But it also meant wiping away those tears, standing up straight, and setting sights on tomorrow, taking every day one day at a time.  It meant finding the good in my day and celebrating enough little victories to turn the tides to happiness and contentment.  Embracing deployment chaos wasn’t just surviving, it was living, even when faced with those many seemingly insurmountable challenges of parenting, alone, in a foreign country.  I learned to be resilient.

This resiliency allowed amazing things to happen.  While my husband was deployed during our time in Japan, we lived next to a woman whom I now consider my sister and her children, my children.  Our family expanded.  During that time, my daughter attended a Buddhist pre-school, learned Japanese, was wrapped in a fiery orange kimono to celebrate Girl’s Day, and ran through thousands of torii gates as if she were frolicking across a local playground.  My son rode the Shinkansen many times and dreamed of speeding trains, and he learned to adore the attention of petite Japanese women squealing, “kawaii!”  But most of all, my little family learned to be an impenetrable team, depending on and finding absolute joy in one another.  And when my husband did finally return, we embraced him and all of the challenges associated with re-integration, multiple moves, good-byes and hellos, new schools, and new jobs.  He is now, again, part of our team.  My daughter no longer cries and my son knows his father. 

We are resilient.