In our recent homeschooling adventures I’ve decided to teach Katherine bits of practical information. (Which, I feel, is the ultimate reason to homeschool.)
This week we were going to learn about knife safety. We’ve had this plastic lockback knife kit for a couple of years and never built it. (We had the same kit before but she was too young and we lost all the pieces so I saved this one for when she was old enough.)
For one reason or another we didn’t get to the knife lesson this week. I set the kit and the “My First Knife” guide aside for Monday instead.
I work the swing shift so I came home last night at midnight and noticed the kit was gone. I thought I probably misplaced it and didn’t think much of it.
This morning she happily announced that she had built the knife all by herself!
Do you know what the first words out of my mouth were? No, you can’t guess…
“UGH. KATHERINE! You were supposed to wait for me! Look! You didn’t even do it right. You never listen!”
She sadly squeaked “I’m sorry.” and I had a moment of “What the fuck is wrong with me?” and “Why am I like this?”
I took a second, thought about it, and re-worked the locking mechanism in my hand.
It did work. It just needed a little bit of extra pressure from the first use.
I apologized and hugged her as she waited for her french toast at the microwave.
I said “I’m sorry, I was just really sad that you didn’t wait for me because I’ve been waiting so long to do this with you. But you built this knife perfectly and I’m so proud of you! I’m more proud than I am sad. Look at you! You’re growing up so fast. You’re feeding yourself. You ironed on patches onto your apron all by yourself. You even built this knife with no help at all!”
She said “It’s okay” even though I know it’s not okay.
This isn’t anything new. Every day I can’t help but wonder how badly I’m fucking her up with my constant cycle of explosions and apologies.
I thought about where this all came from and I realized it’s the same thing, over and over again like a broken record.
I haven’t been around.
I haven’t been around and I blame myself for it.
Right after I gave birth to Katherine I was fortunate enough to be non-deployable for a year when, at the time, all of the other branches only gave their female servicemembers 6 months.
As soon as I hit that 1 year mark I was off to “C” school in Great Lakes for three months. Right after that we PCS’d to San Diego then I checked in to TPU who promptly flew me out to Japan to meet my ship on deployment. We came home for just enough time to squeeze out a rough training cycle during a yard period then homeport shift to Hawaii just before another deployment.
When I came home from that first deployment I was scared that she wouldn’t recognize me. I still don’t know if she did. I came home to a child that was much heavier than I remember.
When I came home from that second deployment she was speaking in full sentences, I was absolutely baffled.
All the while on deployment I was worrying about weather she was being fed correctly or even bathed regularly. (That’s another blog post entirely.)
I came home, a newly-minted First Class and I wanted to get out.
Why would someone who made First in five years want to leave the Navy?
Chalk it up to a “case-by-case basis”, but I was done.
With my impending divorce, I knew my daughter deserved better and I wanted to take her back home to San Diego where I grew up; where my family was.
I was up for orders and didn’t see anything open for San Diego. I took it as a sign that it was time to go.
I would have done anything to go back home, if that meant getting out and working at Chuck E. Cheese, so be it.
“Anything” came in the form of me getting orders to San Diego, two weeks before my EAOS.
They were sea duty orders but at that point it was easier to re-enlist than to get out. (It was around this time that the idea for “To Go Ashore” was born.)
So I took them. If I was going to be a single mom, I needed the steady paycheck. Not to mention, there was this part of me that felt like I owed it to the Navy to do back-to-back sea after getting pregnant during my first sea tour.
So I go on to USS Ship #3 and I realize it’s the same old song again the same exact equipment and personnel issues I’d seen on Ship #1 and Ship #2; that was the easy part.
I grew disillusioned and lost my sense of purpose. I was missing Katherine grow up for THIS?
A yard period/training cycle into an LOA plus all of the underways and inspections that led into our INSURV which came right before another deployment; all the time away from home, that was what broke me.
If my daughter was acting up in school I blamed myself for never being home.
If my daughter talked back to her grandma, I blamed myself for being too tired, too useless to discipline her.
Even when I was home physically, I wasn’t “there” in the present moment.
To this day, I still blame myself. Maybe this whole time SHE was the one waiting for ME. To finally be home. To finally be there.
I ended up LIMDU for mental health reasons and ultimately MedBoard-ed out.
To make a long story short, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for the Navy but I swung too far that way and felt like I wasn’t doing enough for my family. It was a constant tug-o-war that I could never win.
That’s the funny thing about military life, all the inadequacies are built right in for your convenience. There’s always the next step up, the next piece of equipment to fix.
It seems to me that you can get all the quals in the world and become MCPON and you still won’t feel like you’re good enough.
The work-life struggle isn’t unique to military life, however. It continues into your civilian life as well. A tale as old as time. It’s up to you to find the balance.
Figure out what your life’s purpose is. Or as my friend and life coach Ryan Charaba likes to put it: Figure out what makes all the “FUCK YEAH” lights in your head shine brightly and filter out anything that isn’t that.
It took me until very recently to understand this but for my purposes, I am enough. And so are you.
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