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I'm married to a Marine, so why do I feel like a single mom?

Military wife, mom of two, and serious Starbucks addict —Tiffanie DiDonato has been featured in Allure Magazine, Good Morning America, People Magazine and has contributed to The New York Times blog, Motherlode. She is also the author of ...

I'm a 'sometimes single mom,' and my husband envies me

My husband has received orders overseas — again. We are a Marine Corps family, and during one of my weakest moments, cursing the very institution that supports us, my mom said to me, “You knew what you were getting into when you married him.” But the painful truth is, when it comes to my marriage and my husband’s career, all too often I feel like a single mom to our two kids.

Eight years ago, when my husband dropped to one knee and proposed inside a Massachusetts Olive Garden, I had no clue this feeling was part of the package. In my house there’s crying for pacifiers, dirty diapers, dried Play-Doh, formula stains, two shedding German shepherds, more screaming over baby carrots that look “Broken! All broken!” and only one parent, because Daddy is still working. Or he’s sleeping so he can go to work.

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“Mommy. Mommy? Mommy! Here, please,” my son insists while shoving for the 100th time his favorite Godzilla DVD in my face while I try to pee in peace. His reach is farther than I can extend my own arms. You see, here’s the other issue — I’m also physically challenged.

I was born with a rare form of dwarfism that would allow me to stand at only 36 inches tall. And despite successfully undergoing the controversial limb-lengthening procedures, gaining an unprecedented 14 inches (today I stand, instead, proudly at 4 feet 10 inches), I still endure the multitude of obstacles inherent to diastrophic dysplasia. Sure, I can reach the pedals in my car and drive, flick on a light switch, wash my hands without using a step stool and stock food in my pantry beyond the second shelf — all goals I dreamed of accomplishing in order to live a more independent life. But I will always endure chronic arthritis and severe joint pain. This makes motherhood even more stressful.

There are questions of every degree that devastate me: How will I mow the lawn? What if one of my kids becomes sick? What if I’m sick? A friend of mine says not having her husband around a lot is a piece of cake for her and her children. She can change all the lightbulbs in the home, grill their dinner steaks to perfection and — damn it! — doesn’t need a man to open any jar in her pantry. For me, not having Daddy around the house is less about who will take out the trash and bring the kids to school and more about having support.

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Being a military mom reminds me of that Johnny Cash song "When the Man Comes Around." In the Marine Corps there’s a man who goes by the name The Monitor, and hell often follows with him. He determines which Marine will receive orders to go and who is allowed to stay. Not every family is treated the same. There are no trumpets, no pipers, nor are there multitudes marching to a big kettle drum, but the hairs on my arms do stand up when that proverbial golden letter of change is delivered. It means I’m on my own to mend every single broken carrot and play mutant monster movies.

Sometimes I wonder, would it be easier to really be a single mother? If I wasn’t married, the void would be certain. Definite. Accepting to go through life with just my children rather than going through life with someone who loves us but cannot be with us seems, in many ways, simpler. I’d be able to replace the feelings of upset, helplessness and sadness with a sense of empowerment — men of the world be damned! And I wouldn’t have to lie to my older one, Titan. There are things I just can’t admit to: Daddy will not be back before we know it. Daddy’s job is not safe. And I hate it when Daddy puts the country’s needs before our own.

The other night I helped my husband gather his gear, clothes and other items for shipment. Titan poked his head into our bedroom and sweetly asked in his tiny voice, “Daddy, where you going?”

“Daddy’s getting ready to go to work,” I said bitterly. Ty, as we sometimes call him, left the room and then returned holding that damn Godzilla DVD. He placed it in the pile of stuff Eric and I collected. Eric sighed and said, “You’re lucky. You get to watch this with him anytime you want. I envy you, babe.” His words made me pause. He envies me?

Holidays. Birthdays. Doctor’s visits, checkups, gymnastics, T-ball and everything in between — I’ve been so consumed with concerns about enduring these days that I never stopped to think about what it would be like to miss them. Yes, my husband will be unable to help for many of the rough patches parenthood tosses my way. But he will also miss a chunk of the memorable milestones that make parenthood worthwhile too. I may feel like a single mom, but at least I still feel like a mom. My husband feels needed as a Marine, but he battles with feeling needed as a father. And that’s more important than any pity party I could throw myself while he’s away.

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Later, we made popcorn and finally watched Ty’s movie. He insisted on placing every toy dinosaur he owns on the couch with us. I looked over at Eric. He barely had any room to sit. Still he had a gigantic smile. It filled me with so much warmth and joy. Even if for a brief moment, I was complete. It brought me back to my mom’s statement: "You knew what you were getting into when you married him." No, I really didn’t know this feeling was part of the package.

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