One lesson I’ve learned in my eight year marriage to the military is to use a pencil when marking dates on the calendar. Plans change too frequently to use permanent ink. Nothing is permanent in the military. But unfortunately, there are some occasions that can’t be erased from the calendar, events that can’t be postponed and penciled in at a later date. And when your husband is deployed, it’s those indelible events, those unchanging holidays, those missed moments that blatantly stand out because he won’t be home to share them.
At one point or another, my husband has been absent for every major holiday. He has missed New Year’s toasts, Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving turkeys, and Santa Claus surprises. He has also been absent for every family festivity. He has missed birthday cakes, wedding anniversaries, and family reunions. I thought I would be accustomed to celebrating special occasions without him, that somewhere along the way I would become inured to the fact that I have to find my own way of celebrating without him. But I’m not.
This month, Mother’s Day passed by with no flowers and no breakfast in bed. Next up is my birthday, a day that won’t involve blowing out candles or dining at a restaurant that doesn’t have a kids’ menu. But I don’t need grand gestures to know my efforts as a mother are appreciated, and I’m at an age where I no longer look forward to a day that steals another year from my youth. This isn’t the first year my husband wasn’t home for Mother’s Day or my birthday, and I imagine it won’t be the last.
It’s the special occasion that follows my birthday that gives me the most heartache: our 10th wedding anniversary. The hidden romantic in me always envisioned that we’d commemorate a decade of marriage by renewing our vows. For ten years I’ve debated between returning to the beach where we first said I do versus the traditional military wedding we didn’t have because my husband’s military career hadn’t yet begun. Because of this deployment, I will have neither.
Holidays and anniversaries aren’t the only special events my husband is missing. He’s missing out on our children’s milestones as well. He isn’t here to wiggle our son’s first loose tooth or see him off on his first day of summer camp. He isn’t here to witness our daughter’s first unsupervised trip to the potty or her sudden boom in vocabulary (which sadly includes her first “I hate you Mom”). He isn’t here to roll his famous nasal plugs for our son’s chronic nosebleeds, help with kindergarten homework, or share a manly Oreo dunk in milk. He isn’t here to encourage our daughter to count beyond 14, tug on her pigtails, or ensure that Barbie and Ken remain clothed during tea parties.
I try to capture these moments on my video camera, even though most of them pass by before I can hit the power button. I try to memorize cute conversations with my kids and stories of the silly things they’ve done so I can retell them in letters to my husband. I try to have my digital camera at the ready for any possible photo-worthy moment. Words and images are all I have to give my husband to help him feel included in our day-to-day lives.
Although my husband will be absent for my birthday and the Tooth Fairy’s first visit to our house, he is never absent from our thoughts. And as sad as it is to celebrate these special occasions without him, I know that there will be occasions in the future that will be even more special because he’ll be here to celebrate with us.
So for now, I’ll gladly ignore my birthday and hope my video camera is fully charged for the next big moment. Maybe next year I’ll get that Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. And as far as our anniversary, I guess now I have another decade to plan that vow renewal ceremony for our 20th.