About In Wartime Calls Home, The Art Of Being Positive
By Team Infidel on December 20th, 2007
The pitfalls of constant calling have given rise to a new telephone etiquette based on a code that Jaine Darwin, a Massachusetts psychologist who has counseled military families, calls "shield your soldier."
Kristin Henderson is the author of While They're at War, a book on deployments. She says that when her husband, a Navy chaplain, was in Iraq and Afghanistan, "I was playing a role. My job was to keep his morale up. 'I'm fine — how are you?' That's all I wanted to say."
Hayes knows the drill. She'll write an e-mail and, before sending it, spend 15 minutes editing out "everything I think would upset him, things you can't let him know." Like that she was crying as she put up the Christmas decorations.
She never cries on the phone, no matter how she feels, and keeps her emotions in check. "I miss you" is OK, she says; "I miss you and I can't make it without you here" is not.
The self-censoring works both ways. Hayes says her husband broke a rib in Iraq but told her he didn't know how.
"How," she wonders, "do you not know how you broke your rib?"
The need to keep it positive, even if it's not, puts stress on the spouse who must dissemble.
Tiffany Rodriguez of Syracuse, N.Y., says that when her husband was serving in Iraq she would try to hold her breath and "go numb" to avoid crying.
Kathy Quast of Rockford, Ill., says that when she talks to son Matt, "I try to be up for him. I don't want to cry. But it's so hard not to."
Jenn Marner, an Army wife who lives in Colorado Springs, says that when her husband was deployed, "I tried to be the strong one" and kept problems to herself.
That lasted for about a month, during which she cried herself to sleep each night. Her relationship with her husband suffered. "He wondered what was going on with me. … You have people who cheat, and the worst goes through your mind."
Her conclusion: "Couples need to exchange deep, heartfelt messages, not just 'keep it light.' They must walk the line between candor and discretion," she says, "and you know when you've crossed it."
At Christmas, a single telephone call can bear the weight of a long separation — between the Kurtzmans at their family home in Maine and Josh in Samarra; the Karises in North Carolina and Eric in Baghdad; the Quasts in Illinois and Matt in Taji.
Kathy Quast knows the direction the conversation will take. "He never talks about war," she says. "He just talks about coming home."
What matters most, however, is not what is said, but that it can be said. Even that is no sure thing. Kathy Quast worries that something will happen to force U.S. commanders to close the phone lines, as they did last Christmas. She stayed home all day waiting for a call that never came.
Some troops will have to travel long distances or stand in long lines to get through.
Cindy Hayes and her daughter will fly to Los Angeles to spend the holiday with her family. They'll gather by the tree, her cellphone on the coffee table, waiting for a ring.
If Zack calls, it will be wonderful; if not, Cindy will have to be strong.
"I can't get mad," she says. "I have to learn to be very patient."
Tips for calling
According to interviews with home-front families and servicemembers, here are some generally accepted do's and don'ts for phone calls with those in Iraq:
*Before deployment, work out a communication plan.
*Rehearse younger children before a call, lest they get tongue-tied, and write down your own talking points, in case a call catches you by surprise.
*Don't lie, because the soldier is coming home someday.
*Don't ask, "Are you OK?" more than once per conversation.
Lisa Jacobs, with Navy Customs in Kuwait, says she never says goodbye; it's too final. When she calls Stockbridge, Mich., she tells her folks, "I'll talk to you later."