My husband has been home for several weeks now, which means we're squarely in what I like to think of as the "pushy houseguest" stage of reintegration.
Let me explain. Remember that relative who came to stay with you to help right after you had the baby, had surgery or had some other major life moment?
You were grateful for her (because it's pretty much always a woman) assistance and glad for the company and the chance to catch up. Then she started rearranging your pantry, folding your towels differently and tsking at your messy closets and your kids' poor eating habits.
Remember how you wished she'd just shut up, drink her coffee and watch some Maury Povich?
That's what I mean by pushy houseguest, friends.
This is a delicate time.
It's a time when a Must-Have Parent, exhausted by months of solo parenting, must frack for those hidden, untapped reservoirs of energy to find the strength to bite back critical words, lest she earns that slur that rhymes with "itch."
Another military wife friend refers to the whole deployment cycle as "Wait-Honeymoon-Suck." By that terminology, my husband and I are definitely in the "suck," though "suck" seems a little strong. It's not really that bad. This is definitely better than having him gone.
But still ...
The Passive-Aggressive Post-It
It's bad enough that this week I caught myself employing a strategy I perfected years ago with my college roommate: The passive-aggressive Post-it note.
(Though not with actual Post-its, those -- like unaccompanied bathroom visits and cars with bucket seats -- were a pre-kids luxury that I didn't appreciate at the time. My kids like to draw little animals on Post-its and leave them all around the house, so I don't buy Post-its anymore. My messages get delivered via Sharpies and duct tape. And online.)
This week's messages were "Big things = Big Shelves;" "Little Things = Little Shelves" and "Vegetables." These were all taped up inside the refrigerator. "Turn Off" was stuck on the light switch in the garage.
(Not in the bedroom, just in case you were wondering.)
There are, of course, many more messages that I want to write, like, "This is where the dirty clothes go" on the hamper and "I think it's time for you to just move in" on the bags stacked in the corner of our bedroom that he has yet to unpack.
I'm trying to pick my battles.
Rome didn't conquer the world in a day, or something like that. (Though it would be nice if he'd do more of what the Romans do.)
It's not a great strategy, but it's a tad more subtle than constantly nagging.
Fortunately, we're more mature than my college roommate and I were because now we've got subordinates (aka children) to manage. Children are not subtle, gentle or tactful. Tactics that worked before he left don't work anymore, and I find myself debating whether I should tell him or just let him figure it out for himself.
I say things like, "Well, I guess that's one way to do it." And then I cringe when I watch as he learns the same lessons I had to learn while he was gone.
It hurts to watch him fumbling in the kitchen, trying to remember where we keep the ... anything. It's obvious that he desperately wants to help.
It stings to see him confused when a super fun outing isn't fun at all because the 2-year-old missed her nap time and he's forgotten how important naps are for a 2-year-old -- a nap I debated on warning him about.
It burns to see him staring, stunned, at that pile of bags in the bedroom, clearly overwhelmed and not sure where all his stuff is supposed to fit because the holes that he left in our life and house months ago were filled with other things.
So I'll frack a little more. I'll dig a little deeper. I'll uncover that reservoir that I never even knew I had. I'll only write the "if-I-don't-say-something-I'll-scream" notes. I'll keep picking my battles.
Because he's trying. And I'm trying. When we both keep stepping toward each other, we can't help but eventually meet in the middle.
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