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Getting back on the merry go round

My mother bustled into the kitchen.  “Honey, it’s almost four o’clock. Sam has gardening club at school today. You have to pack a substantial snack, put his equipment into the car, and pick him up not at the normal place but at the school bus stop and get him to lacrosse practice by 4:25.”

I squinted at her.

“Zip! Zip!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands.

Maybe it was just the jetlag, but in a mere 12 days it sure seemed like a remarkable amount of change had occurred in this family.  The five-year old learned to ride a bike without training wheels.

The junior shucked her basketball uniform, donned a bikini and started her life guarding gig. The seventh grader learned to cook scrambled eggs. When I left he wouldn’t eat scrambled eggs and now he’s changed his name to Denny and slaves over a hot stove every morning.

The whole thing made me feel a little dizzy. If I felt so disoriented after being absent for less than two weeks, what does Brad feel like when he tries to get back into the family after being deployed for six months?

I can’t imagine.  No wonder this Marine in Hawaii was telling me that it was no joke to try to reenter the family after deployment.

“When I got back from Iraq, my family was like a merry-go-round,” he told me. “Remember those things on the playground? Not the thing with the horses but that metal thing that spins in a circle really fast?”

I nodded, smiling as he rocked back and forth the way we used to when we were trying to jump on board the ride.  “I kept looking for a space to get on.  Kept looking and looking,” he said, his head whipping back and forth.

“Then I’d think I saw a place to join in. I’d start running and the place would be gone.  So I’d wait for the next place and then that would go by.”

I could picture it exactly.  The merry-go-round was never my favorite ride.  It was OK if you were really little. Then your brother or sister would make sure you were in the middle and holding on tight to one of the handles. 

Sometimes the big kids would get it going so fast we’d slip to the

edge and cling for dear life.  I remember my brother grabbing me by the waistband once and hauling me back onboard when I was slipping off.

  Once in a while, the other kids would stop the merry-go-round and let you on before they started it again.  That was safer, but you couldn’t count on it.  You couldn’t rely on the kindness of strangers.

That Marine told me he couldn’t rely on his wife for help either.  “She’d be standing in the middle of that merry-go-round screaming at me to get on. Why aren’t you on already?”

  “So what happened?” I asked.

“We got divorced,” he said with a shrug.

The problem is with families is that when someone pops off the merry-go-round for whatever reason, we can’t or don’t slow down long enough to get them on board.

But I know from watching my own husband reenter this family over and over that you can’t wait for the right moment to get back on. You have to run as fast as you can and cast yourself onto the ride knowing that you will certainly skin a knee, bruise a kidney maybe crush the unseen rider.

 I do try to slow the ride down a little.  I scuff my shoes in the dirt so that we’ll slow enough for him to climb back on. But I’m always reaching for the back of his waistband.  Ready to lift him on board at the same moment he jumps.

A 19-year military spouse, Jacey Eckhart is a nationally syndicated columnist with and the host of “The Jacey Eckhart Show for Military Families.”

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