John came home from Iraq Wednesday and things were not as I expected. Let’s just say this entire year has not gone as expected. It has been one big surprise party, minus the presents but with all the clean-up and unexpected guests. We found out in April that he would be deploying to for a year, leaving me alone with our four kids, two unruly dogs, and one fish, just on this side of eternity. After the hysterics died down, I got down to planning. I’m a big planner. Planning calms me…if I can just map out a guide for us, navigate all the imagined pitfalls and have a backup for each harrowing scenario, I feel oh so much better. I told John optimistically, “This year, I’m hoping not just to survive, but THRIVE!”
Then he left. And it became apparent that thriving was being optimistic to a fault, and surviving might even be in question. In the first month, our dining room chandelier blew up, taking out the electric in the house for a week, the four kids came down with a raging case of puke-a-palooza, which took out the second week. I found myself both the instigator and victim in two, yes TWO, car accidents, my first accidents ever, and when a helpful friend came to take a look at the car, he left the window open and, yes, it rained, and yes, our car’s electric shorted out. This was only to be topped by the humdinger of all the nasty surprises….I discovered our toilet had been leaking sewage into our yard for years, leaving us swimming in…errrr…one big nasty mess. And this was just the FIRST month. It was going to be a very, very long year.
In spite of these disasters, however, I was determined that after surviving nine months of his deployment, his brief two-week hiatus home should be perfect. My optimism juices resurged and I plowed full throttle into planning mode. I cleaned, put our finances in order, made the long delayed trip to the beautician, and even submitted to a semi-masochistic waxing. I dropped the big bucks on some new additions to my dusty lingerie drawer. Every “i” was dotted, every “t” crossed. We were ready.
And then came Wednesday. After seeing my last daughter off on the school bus, I made an immediate run to the commode and settled in for the long haul. My stellar run of vomit-free years had come to a violent end and I began to see my perfect welcome home plan for John slipping away. Not only were we not able to greet him at the airport with flag and banner waving, we weren’t even there to drive him home. When he arrived home via taxi, he found his once coiffed wife hunched over the toilet, retching, sour and smelly. Smelly didn’t even begin to describe my condition the next morning, when I awoke to the unpleasant surprise that my bowels had awakened before me. Now THAT was a big, nasty mess. Each of us over the next few days succumbed to the stomach virus, upsetting both our plans for John’s grand welcome and our expensive reservations at the local water park hotel.
We were just bidding the tummy bug farewell, when, hello! Here came the pinworms. Suffice it to say that the pinworms were not content to infest my children alone, but moved on to bigger better buffets in bigger better bodies, and that diagnosing the condition the FIRST time, involved my poor husband as chief inspector of the bottoms. I’m sure that THIS was not the vision of his family he had expected to take back with him to Iraq. Discovering them was shocking and disgusting but ridding ourselves of them was even worse. The medicine we had to take tasted awful, and the laundry associated with pinworm de-infestation was unequaled in quantity and consistency. We bleached down every possible surface of our house and then suffered the intense, wracking humiliation of a second coming of the pinworm a mere four weeks later. Diagnosis on the SECOND go-around was self-directed and involved a flashlight, a full length mirror and several curse words. It was awful.
Talk about plans going awry. I sent my sweet husband back to Iraq at the end of this, backup pinworm meds in hand and not quite as rested as I’m sure he had hoped. His trip home was not the romantic idyll that I planned for, but it no doubt gave him a good picture of what life had been like while he was deployed, and inadvertently buoyed his enthusiasm to return to Iraq. He could return slightly more prepared to dodge those rockets and manage his troops because after surviving pinworms and puking, life in a war-zone seemed just a little less bad. And I have to say, the experience wasn’t without merit for me too. I learned that plans are no match for Life’s surprise parties, and the best way to handle deployment from the homefront is with a sense of humor, a bucket at the ready to catch the next surprise (or clean up after it), and some pinworm medication tucked in your back pocket, for good measure.