Monday, September 26, 2011
The Day(s) I Built a Play Set; or, What Being an Army Wife Means to Me
This is our first deployment with kids, so it's taken a bit more adjusting for me than the last one. The first week was hard on me. The second week was much easier. By the third week, I began to realize that I could do this for a year, if I had to (which, thankfully, I don't - at least not this time).
Before he left, we bought a giant play set for the backyard, with the intention that we could get it built relatively quickly, and we'd have a fun and safe place where Ant could burn a lot of energy every day, without me being obligated to take both kids to the park (which is something I don't like doing alone, since I have to hold Sweet D the entire time, so if Ant gets stuck somewhere or slips, I can't just run up and help him with my arms full of baby).
We picked out an awesome one. A slide, monkey bars, a rock wall, a rope ladder, climbing steps, swings, a tunnel, etc. There were two different building kits to choose from: do-it-yourself, or ready-to-assemble. We're not really that big on DitY type stuff, so we spent the money to get the ready-to-assemble kit. Husband borrowed a friend's pick-up truck, loaded up all the pieces and brought it home. We unloaded it all and moved all the pieces to the backyard, and Husband got working on it right away. We figured we could get most of it built over the weekend, and maybe finish up the rest in the evenings after he got home.
How foolish we were. Destroyed by our own hubris.
Ready-to-assemble simply means that most of the wood has already been cut to size. Most. Not all. None of the wood had pre-drilled holes, but all of the wood required them. Add to that more than several pieces of fairly warped wood, and we were looking at a lot more than two days' worth of play set building. Combined with two small, usually screaming and impatient, children, I soon realized the likelihood of the play set ever being finished was dwindling.
Husband worked on it for several hours the first day. Until all his drill bits were broken. After a run to the hardware store, he got in a few more hours on Sunday, with meager results. I'll admit at that point, knowing he was so close to deploying, I was feeling overcome with frustration and anger. So much for our plan to have the play set finished. Ever.
After coming home from work, Husband would go out and work on the play set for a couple hours each day. It was coming along, slowly. I helped when I had the chance, but for the most part, I just kept the kids from screaming at him so he could work.
Then he went to Ft. Sam Houston for training for a week, and I went to South Dakota for a "vacation." We got home that weekend, and I decided we had to do as much as we could before he left. We worked for about four hours on Sunday, again until all our drill bits broke and we had to stop. On Monday, we found out he would for sure be deploying that weekend (Labor Day weekend), so he was determined not to spend his last days with us out in the blistering heat, working on the damned play set. I resigned myself to not having the play set while he was gone.
Thursday morning he got a call that he'd be leaving that night at 1:30am. I was a little frustrated that they'd taken away our last night together, but at least we finally had a time. Four hours later, they called and moved it back 24 hours.
"That's it," I told him. "We HAVE to do as much as we can to the play set."
So his last day here, we finished up everything we could. The main structures were up, and the braces for the swing set. It was a wooden frame, but at least I could hang the swings by myself. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
The morning after Husband left, both kids took a nap at the same time. Determined to at least get the swings hung, I went out to work on the play set. In less than two hours, I got the swings hung, the slide securely attached, the rope ladder up, and the rock wall parts in place. Over the next couple of days, working on the few occasions the kids both napped at the same time, I managed to build the climbing stairs - which involved cutting the 2x8 boards with a manual saw. I was so proud of myself, I became determined to do as much else as I could.
I've since attached the telescope (it doesn't actually work, but don't tell Ant that), and the tarp over the top, as well. And I built the monkey bars (which also involved the manual saw, a lot of gigantic bolts, and a good amount of swearing). The monkey bars are not yet attached, however, because they require two 10.5" holes to be dug where the legs will be secured in the ground, allowing the top to be level. I struggled for an hour or so one afternoon with a post-hole digger, a shovel, and a pickaxe, and only made it about 6" in the rock-hard soil.
I had more than a few friends comment on how I should either wait or find a "man" who could dig the holes for me. Surprisingly, I balked at the idea. At first I didn't know how to explain it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, I have to do this myself. As an Army wife and a mother to our little Army brats, I have to finish this play set, and without help.
"Why?" a friend asked.
"Because. What if Patrick were killed? I have to know I can build my kids a play set."
I know it sounds ridiculous, but that's the truth. I have to prove to myself that I'm good enough, and capable enough, to be both their mother and their father. I have to be able to bake them awesome Minion cakes, but I also have to be able to build them big play sets. I have to be twice as patient with them while he's gone, and twice as loving, because I'm both parents right now. When one of us would get fed up with them, the other takes over. They deserve the patience and love of two parents. Whether it's for a day, two months, or 12 months, it doesn't matter. When one parent is away, the one who stays behind has to be good enough to be both.
The play set is just a microcosm of the reality - just the physical embodiment of my role as "dad," but if I can do it, by myself, then I'll feel confident that I can do anything else. I can handle a two month, or a nine month, or a fifteen month deployment. I can be strong enough, loving enough, patient enough to be what my kids deserve - and what civilian kids with both parents at home can take for granted. If I can do this, I can truly be an Army wife.