My House Is a War Zone

My House Is a War Zone

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

My House Is a War Zone

Take your work seriously, but never yourself.

Dame Margot Fonteyn

On any given day, my boys conduct special ops that result in explosions. This is sibling warfare—mostly constitutional skirmishes. I’ve ruled on issues of privacy: “Yes, you do have to knock before barging into your brother’s room to dump cold water on his head.” “No, I don’t care if that ruins the surprise.” Freedom of the press: “You wrote what on your brother’s notebook?” The right to keep and bear arms: “I understand you need all these rolled-up socks for your munitions supply, but you need to wear socks in the winter. Period.”

I’ve experienced germ warfare: coughing at the table on your neighbor’s food, sneezing in your brother’s direction or licking all the cookies and then putting them back. I’ve witnessed psychological warfare, which is all about making someone believe that you’ve used his toothbrush to swab the toilet.

Being that I am Captain Mom in this little battleship, and admittedly ready for anything, I shouldn’t have been a bit surprised when my husband dropped a verbal bombshell into our living room. In ninety-six hours, he’d be in the Middle East war zone. I was hit with a stinging realization: Aww, crap. I’m married to a navy guy. It wasn’t a real secret or anything, I mean the uniform, dismal pay and horrifyingly long hours were kind of a giveaway. It’s just that, during the last year, in the alternate reality that is military family life, I’d come to look upon my future as bordering on idyllic.

In our decade-plus marriage, we’ve survived deployments (man never home), job combined with war college at night (man home long enough to sleep and shower), overseas tour (man moves us to unrecognizable home) and job combined with master’s program (man home for showers, sleeps during class). Clearly, we’ve done harder stuff for longer periods. The thing is, that was a different guy. The guy they’re sending to the Gulf is a man who escaped the Pentagon on 9/11. Since that horrible day, he’s read intelligence reports that gave him nightmares, seen photos that made him want to gouge his eyes out, and endured endless limb checks from a nervous son who can’t forget where Daddy was that day. The guy who ran home that night was a newly minted dad and husband. One compass point away from death, he became a guy who suddenly wanted to live for more than his job.

The guy they’re sending to the desert has spent the last year reading fewer late-night reports and more bedtime stories, less time catching up on e-mail and more time catching fly balls with his sons.

The irony here is that the man loves the sea but hates the sand. He’d rather lick Hampton Boulevard than go to the beach. So, even without the bugs and the bombs, this would be a less-than-ideal situation.

Still, I feel sorriest for our sons. They’ll have to come to me with their math homework, so their grades are headed for the toilet. They’d have better luck stopping a dog on the street and having him bark the answer—I’m just that bad. I’ll have to assume the driving instruction of our eldest, and I know there’s not enough Maalox in the city to help me survive that nerve-racking experience. I’ll have to take over tending the yard, which means my annual “death to all growing things” campaign will have to start early this year. Since my husband is leaving in less than a week, I’ve got a short amount of time to get up to speed on some important issues. I must learn vehicle maintenance, tool identification and the Zen master approach to the breakfast smoothie. Only when we have achieved the proper balance between the banana and the strawberry will the puree be perfect.

Some things just won’t get done. Our eldest son must be driven to crew practice at 5:00 A.M. At 5:00 A.M. I’m sleeping like I’ve been chloroformed. I’m going to have to beg, borrow and bake my way into a good carpool or invest in some smelling salts. I just pray someone else out there is a sucker for brownies.

By the time my husband comes back, I will have written a dozen notes in lip pencil because I can’t find a lead version, convinced the kids that Dawn dishwashing soap is perfectly acceptable bubble bath and tricked them into believing that they have to eat their vegetables because right now, Dad’s eating dirt.

Hopefully, we’ll look back on all this and have a good laugh. Because, after that, I’m going to have a really good cry.

Melissa M. Baumann

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