Reflections of an (almost) post-deployment Forces Wife

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Our deployment is coming to an end and I can’t help but look back and do some reflecting on successes, failings and realisations. I am sure the thought that will cross many of your minds will be, ‘well that went quick.’ This is a common phrase that is often bandied about. I know this because I’ve said it before to those left at home during a deployment. It’s because when you are not directly in the thick of it, it does seem like it flies by. For the ones left at home it is a blur of time, one that feels like you’re simultaneously both in an eye of a hurricane and standing still.

Daddy Big Feet left at the beginning of October 2018. But he was away even before then on a month long work trip overseas, so he missed Little Feet A’s first day of school, pumpkin season and then halloween, Little Feet B’s 2nd birthday, Bonfire night, we missed his birthday, the build up to Christmas and Little Feet A’s first nativity play (she was Mary). And that was just the things he missed at end of 2018. When you start to run through all the events that came and went, all the tears and all the laughter it’s only then you acknowledge the time lost. Little Feet B was saying single words when he left, she now can speak in full sentences.

In hindsight, I am actually grateful at the timing of the deployment. It being at the end of the year meant there were so many days and events to look forward to. Being someone who always like to do crafts with the Little Feet, Autumn is one of my favourite seasons. So we had loads of fun activities we did, bonfire night, trick or treating, birthdays, nativities. As a result, the Little Feet’s tears subsided fairly quickly. On top of that I was very busy with my own work and so evenings and any spare moments I had were at computer or at our craft table.

Alas, it has been the second side of this deployment, after Daddy Feet’s RnR which has been the real kicker. I have spoken about the double edged sword of the two week break that deployed personnel are given if they are away for 5 months +. It is wonderful off course, but it is also deeply unsettling for all involved, especially for Little Feet. This is our first deployment with Little Feet and as a result it has been all new territory. For us the second half has been filled to the brim with oceans of tears, sleepless nights scattered with nightmares and for me a whole lot of emotional eating with glugs of gin and wine thrown in for good measure.

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  1. Having no kids during a deployment is deeply lonely, but doing a deployment with two young children is mentally, emotionally and physically shattering.

At the start of this deployment I knew it would be interesting to compare the deployments that we have gone through as a couple. The first one happened soon after we got married. I was pregnant and we had our dog Pongo, but no children yet. Daddy Big Feet went out as a squadron so there were many wives and girlfriends left behind. This was great for camaraderie, however I had no kids at the time where most others did and though the wives made sure to include those without kids, it was still isolating. Those 6 months were some of the loneliest months I have ever experienced, especially as we were miles away from family and friends.

This time round though I have found it lonely, I haven’t been short of conversation as my Little Feet barely stop talking. Rather this time it has been truly exhausting in every sense. The early mornings and late nights, walking the fur ball, planning ahead so not to be caught out, my own work, homework, swimming lessons etc. Having said that, the first half of this deployment I was full pelt ahead, I had all the energy even without much sleep. The second half of this deployment however I have found I have been on my knees.

Deployments in whatever life situation you are in are rubbish. Period.

2. Unexpected side effects of stress

I have always been affected by stress. As a teenager I used to get migraines in the aftermath of stressful and emotional periods. These thankfully subsided the older I got, however as time went on this was replaced by stress moving internally to externally - to my scalp that is. It’s a running family joke that you can tell how stressed I am by the amount of dandruff you can see.

As it happens the older I get the more my body reacts to stress, now stress is inextricably linked with my skin and the gradual emergence of eczema which I never previously had. In the last 6 months my body has just been falling apart. As a result I have had to really be disciplined with making time for my own self-care, which has not been easy and I’m the first to admit I’ve fallen short regularly. I’m not great at putting myself first. The majority of this eczema came out on my hands which as a parent is extremely difficult as you are washing your hands multiple times during the day, then bath time, washing up and it was during winter so I had to go everywhere with my gloves as the cold just made it worse.

Stress can emerge in very different ways for different people. Watch for them and make sure to monitor them, they aren’t always physical.

3. Comfort eating

In the last 5 months, I have had to admit to myself that I am and probably always have been a secret comfort eater. Whereas many wives I know end up losing weight and seemingly eat much better when their husbands are away, I am the opposite. With no time to go to the gym and having to work in the evenings, exercise bar doing school, nursery runs and dog walks are non-existent.

Op-healthy starts again when Daddy Big Feet returns.

4. Having your own work or hobby during a deployment is essential

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Having a sense of purpose and something you can throw yourself into just for you is vital. It keeps your mind occupied and gives you something to focus on. My work has been my life saver this deployment.

Make plans, create goals, keep busy.

5. That going T-total on a 6 month deployment was a laughable idea (ask any forces wife)

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Our last deployment I was pregnant and so was completely T-total for the entire 7 months. This time round I had planned to do the same. Two weeks into this deployment I realised this was a hysterically hilarious decision and reached for the Gin. I have not at any point regretted this decision! Some days knowing I had a G&T or glass of wine waiting for me after the Little Feet were in bed kept me going like you wouldn’t imagine.

Alcohol in moderation takes the edge off. Any more then moderation is a BIG mistake when there’s only you to get up in the morning.

6. That throwing some house rules out the Window is ok

As a family, we are quite strict in some aspects of our Little Feet’s lives. We eat together at the table and not in front of the TV, the Little Feet aren’t allowed to watch tv in the morning during week days but are on the weekends, the tv doesn’t go on in the afternoon until at least 4pm and no televisions upstairs.

Some of these were thrown out of the window this deployment and I have no regret in doing so. We got a tv for our room upstairs so that on the weekends, I could doze while the Little Feet watched TV safe in the confines of our bedroom and they were allowed breakfast upstairs those days too. Films during evening meals happened on a Sunday night - a night where I didn’t have to fight with them to eat their food. Sweets too. I have used more sweets as bribery then I have ever done, in particular for luring Little Feet A out to walk Pongo our dog at the weekends. Something that has always been a battle with her. Give her a lollipop though and she’ll happily skip around the fields with not so much as a frown on her face.

Compromise is essential.

7. Putting certain things ‘down’ during a deployment

Spinning plates above your head like a circus act can often be how we feel during a deployment. Desperately trying to keep everything spinning perfectly so life can continue as it normally does. If you manage this during a deployment you are a bit of a legend in my book, but for most some of those plates do end up hitting the ground and shattering at some point or many points. Putting some things ‘down’ for a season can be important. Where as I would have liked to have posted more on this blog over the last three months it has taken a hit. The last three months have been really tough and unfortunately it was this space that I had to put down.

Seasons come and go, sometimes you have to let go of something for a while.

8. Co-sleeping

An emotive topic. One that everyone has an opinion about, especially those without children. Sorry to those who are reading that that applies too. I was one of those people. I was THE best parent when I had no Little Feet. I regularly used to compare my dog to other people’s children and was adamant that I would not raise a fussy eater. Let’s be honest, we are all like that. By the way, I now have a fussy eater and find it annoying when people compare their dogs to children!

Now, I don’t think we would say have ever properly co-slept. Little Feet A regularly came into our bed from about 4am until Little Feet B came along. She was an awful sleeper (thankfully she barely stirs now) and she just loved the comfort of sleeping in our bed. If she didn’t come into our bed, that would be her, up for the day at 4am. It was a no brainer.

Little Feet B as a baby and young toddler just couldn’t sleep in our bed, she just would never settle, she’d flail about like an octopus trying to dance with a starfish and no one got any sleep.

Then Daddy Big Feet went on deployment her need for comfort at night went through the roof. She spent the first month of his deployment having to sleep on my chest when she woke up at night, just like she did when she was a newborn. As time went on and I tried to break this habit, I realised I was exhausted, fractious and it was affecting my parenting. Not able to let her scream as she shares a room with her sister and spending hours sat on the floor in their room at night, I was mentally and physically exhausted. So, I went into survival mode. She goes to sleep in their room and anywhere between 23:30-1:-00 she comes into bed. I don’t even bother trying to get her back into her bed. You know why? Because in minutes she is fast asleep in our bed for the rest of the night. Breaking that habit is future Grace’s problem. For now, we survived and you know what? It has been nice to have company in bed.

Do what works for you and your family. Your children need a Mummy or Daddy that can function properly. Outside opinions on that are well and truly not welcome.

9. Knowing that it will be an emotional time is not the same as seeing it happen in real time

This seems like an obvious statement. I knew emotionally it was going to be a rollercoaster ride, but boy did it throw us up to outer space and then let us free fall all the way back down to Earth. To those who are adrenaline junkies and think that sounds kind of fun, remember the part when you enter the Earth’s atmosphere and then turn into a gravitational fireball? Not so fun.

The first half of the deployment we had the expected emotions, the second half caught me unprepared. Basically I got cocky. The amount of emotions Little Feet A had after RnR when her Daddy went back and the form it presented itself in took me by surprise and we are still seeing the effects of the aftermath even now.

Lesson: Don’t let your guard down and assume just because your Little Feet are fine for some of the deployment that they will be for the whole of it.

10. It is surprisingly easy to end up blocking out your spouse by just trying to just get through to the other side alive

This has been an important reflection and lesson for me. Our spouses are working almost every day when they are away and when they are done they go back to a soulless bedroom with only electronic contact and letters to the ones they love. It is really hard to be left at home, but it is also really awful for those on deployment too. It’s hard for them not to be jealous when we are having fun and hard for them when we are down and going through hard times without them. The pressure of having to be enthusiastic and talkative over the phone for 6 months is extremely draining. This goes the other way as well. Being low, down and negative down the phone for weeks at a time is not helpful to either side. I have been painfully guilty of this since January and it was something that has to be addressed.

Be mindful of your spouse and the emotions you are both feeling. It is hard for both sides.

11. It’s ok, not to be ok

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You don’t have to be positive all the time, that is exhausting and unrealistic. Sometimes we need that time to batten down the hatches and hibernate in the confines of our house and mind. But we just need to be careful not to set up camp there, light a fire and start roasting marshmallows over it. The longer you stay down there, the harder it is to pull yourself out of that watering hole.

Have your time and then get up and try really hard to snap out of it. Try look forward to little things in your day. Even if it is a hot cup of coffee on your own.

12. It’s ok to say no and prioritise your family over other people’s feelings in order to survive a difficult season

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Seasons like these are hard. You can’t do it all and if you find yourself doing it all you generally are looking at sometime in the near future crashing and finding life too overwhelming. It will eventually come to a head, I talk from experience. Knowing your limits and those of your children in order to keep a steady routine will mean a more smooth sailing deployment. That means if you’ve been out all day and someone asks if your kids want to come round for a playdate and you know that your child will have a meltdown at the end of the day because of it, to say sorry but no. If they really care about your situation then they’ll understand. Or when you’ve had visitors every weekend for a month that you have to say no to someone who wants to come visit.

Put the welfare of your family unit first. Preservation for survival. Most people will understand and if they don’t well perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to that friendship or acquaintance.

13. Faith is everything

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Some people find solace and strength of mind in exercise, some in friends and family, painting, cooking, going out drinking, watching tv or having a bath. For me, it is some of those things too, but ultimately my faith in a power and God greater then anything here on Earth gives me weight to the anchor that keeps me grounded in a life often swept with uncertainty.

Find where your anchor is and make sure you give it the time and attention it needs. Soul reviving for your frame of mind.

14. I am stronger and more resilient with every passing deployment and posting

When I first got married and moved to our first posting I was a completely different person to who I am now. In order to survive the life we live I have had to pull up my boot straps, thicken my skin, know when to battle and when to fall back, when to put myself out there and when not to, to be stronger of mind, stronger of trust and continue to be open to friendships wherever we go.

These are all still works in progress and will continue to grow and evolve.

Practise makes perfect…?! Maybe…

15. You know who your real friends are During a deployment

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When you go through a deployment, it becomes very clear, very quickly who your real friends are. They are the ones who check up on you, who send you post, who ask about your kids, ring you, text you, who come visit you and let you cry if you need to. Who will drink with you, eat junk food with you, look after your kids, wash up or cook for you. Cherish those ones, they have your back.

True friendship is like oxygen and an energy drink that is life giving and energising.

16. Though it was ten times harder then a deployment without kids, it was equally ten times BETTER

A sentence of paradoxes. We finish back where we started. It was tougher it’s true. I shouted more than I would have liked to, I was stricter more then I would have liked, there were more tears than I would have liked and more sorry’s from every party than I can count.

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The talking doubled with Little Feet B going from singular words to full sentences which was equal amounts of tiring as beautiful. With it came bickering but also more playing, more tantrums but also more sister hugs. In a single day those girls have the ability to drive me up Everest and back again more times then the Duracell bunny running with no where to go. There were days when I thought I couldn’t possible listen to another round of ‘Let it Go’ or ‘Do you want to build a snowman’. There were days where I thought I couldn’t do this, couldn’t do another day on my own with them. But when all is said and done, we have laughed and loved hard these few months too. It’s true we’ve fallen out so many times, but I’ve also fallen for these girls harder then ever. That’s what hard times do, they help you assess your life. Assess what is important and what isn’t. Assess how strong you are and what your weaknesses are.

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Conclusion

This life is not for everyone, it is truly wearying at times and can be very lonely. If you cannot adapt and evolve to the situation you find yourself in you will not survive with your wits or more importantly your mental health. The longer I am a forces wife the more I understand the sense of weight that is entwined with. There are military wives who have been doing this a really long time and they are some of the wisest women I know. Being a part of this life is hard and will regularly push you to your limits. Fearing you can’t go on but trudging on regardless. Like muscles that need tearing apart in rigorous exercise in order to be put together stronger, forces wives wear this struggle and experience as a medal of pride. Not only because of how hard our husbands work and the sacrifice they have to make from being away from their families for so long, but because we know as a collective what we do matters and that forces wives are some of the most resilient and constantly evolving ones around.

We learn. We adapt. We conquer. We survive.

And I think I have proven I have done just that.

Thanks for listening, for all the private messages I received over the course of the last 6 months. You’ll never know how much they have meant.

Here is to the the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter and wider. Here is to the next season, whatever that may involve. We’re ready for you. Let the next adventure begin.

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The deployment thankfulness jar

Life as a forces family

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For those of you who have been following for a while, you will know by now that The-Rainbow-Tree house is a forces family. Daddy Big Feet is in The Royal Air Force and we move every few years depending on where the Queen sends us. 

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Being a forces family has many pros as well as cons. Today I will be zeroing in on deployments. As a military wife and mummy I feel that is really important I raise these issues and try where I can be transparent about the life we live. People outside the military often know little about what the life is like, and I have had on occasions words such as ‘odd’ be thrown out. I feel this is due to misunderstanding and assumptions being made. It is my hope that this post will give, albeit a small insight, into one of its most challenging elements of being a forces family.

We found out last month (September) that Daddy Big Feet will be deployed from mid October this year (2018) to the end of March next year (2019). 5 months. This was fairly last minute and particularly difficult as he found out a couple of days before he was due to fly overseas for work. So he was away for the majority of September as well.

This will be the first time Little Feet A and B will experience him being away for an extended period of time. The last time he was away for 7 months I was pregnant with Little Feet A. As this was over 4 years ago he was due another deployment. This is just how military life works. The girls are used to him being away on what we call 'long work' for a couple of weeks at a time. Months however is a different matter.

Dealing with a deployment where you only have to worry about your own emotions is hard. Spousal loneliness is hugely prevalent and rarely ever talked about. This deployment however, will be the first time I will have the emotions of two small children to counter-balance too. This is my most daunting prospect. Things such as will I have enough energy for them and how can I be the Daddy as well as the Mummy over the course of 5 months are some of my biggest worries. My Little Feet adore their Daddy and play very ‘actively’ with him. They rough and tumble constantly and this has never been my thing, even growing up as a child. I am the inventive, craftsy parent… if you hadn’t guessed that already.

Perspective

Just to give some perspective, by the end of 2018 Daddy Big Feet will have accumulatively been away with work for 5 months. The majority of this will not have been deployments, but exercises and courses. This does not include the countless working weekends and overnight work meetings during the week he has attended. By the end of March 2019 he will already have been away 3 months, not counting all the time he will do away for the rest of the year.

Long deployments affect family dynamics from the moment they have been announced and long after they have happened. There is suddenly a need to cherish every single moment you have together and this can be a heavy weight to burden. It can immediately affect sleeping and behaviour patterns, enforce attention to certain house demands in preparation. Though any military spouse will tell you however much you prepare, the car, washing machine, shower, dryer, sink, child’s arm/leg will all break as soon as they walk out the house on deployment.

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Currently Little Feet B (24 months) is still suffering the repercussions of Daddy Big Feet having been away for three weeks in September. Any time he puts his uniform on and tries to leave the house she cries and it takes numerous times of telling her he will be back later for her to calm down. Her sleeping has still not recovered and I don’t really expect it to improve with the impending deployment. She spent the first two weeks in September of waking up in the middle of the night and refusing to settle anywhere other then sleeping on my chest - flashbacks to her newborn days. But who can blame her, she is talking more and more it’s true but she can’t yet really understand why Daddy is gone so long. If co-sleeping is the only way she can cope then who am I to stop it.

As always, the posts where I talk about our family life and circumstances are not intended to be to receive any sort of pity. Far from it. I love our family and am beyond proud of Daddy Big Feet, what he believes in and does. Long deployments are very hard for the people going away as well, especially once Little Feet enter the picture. I believe it is important to illuminate what forces life can be like and give credit to the families that live through it. Wives, husbands, children, girlfriends, grandparents, mothers, fathers and anyone that supports their loved ones from afar and keeps their families going at home while the serving member of their families are away for long periods of time deserve medals as well. The people in uniform cannot do what they do without a family behind them supporting them and loving them from afar. This is often hightlighted in speeches in military gatherings, but rarely talked about outside the forces. If they did not have this support, no one would remain in the military for long. 

Through Adversity 

Forces women, girlfriends, wives and mothers are some of the strongest, most resilient, steadfast and inspiring people I know. Through adversity they lift up their loved ones in uniform and trudge on. Each of the categories of woman mentioned have separate challenges through deployments, but for the sake of clarity and continuity, I'm going to focus on motherhood in deployment. 

A huge part of why this blog was created has to do with our identity as a forces family. All around the globe, wives or husbands sacrifice their careers so that their other halves in uniform may continue, for what many consider their calling in life. As a result those who follow evolve and adapt to survive. We become entrepreneurs. I know many women who have become small business owners, such as masseuses, barbers, hairdressers, writers, jewellery designers, app creators, property developers, photographers, artists or tutors, just to name a few. All so that they can continue a career and retain an identity, other then being a ‘military spouse’ through our transient lifestyle. For me I branched out to writing, freelancing and blogging. 

© Lasting Memories Photography by Lisa Marie

© Lasting Memories Photography by Lisa Marie

What now?

With this deployment lain out before us in the weeks and months to come, I feel daunted by the short winter days, the weekends after weekends of solo parenting, the nightly wake ups, the tears and tantrums, and the continuous fight against being tired. I do not doubt I can do it or have the strength to, I know I can. My world cannot stop turning just because I’d like it to and we cannot live our lives waiting for the future to come quicker. As a mother though, I will need to get inventive and one idea I have come up with is the

Deployment Thankfulness Jar.

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It is very easy to become negative when life throws you a curve ball. It is very easy to slip into a toxic cycle about fixating on the situation. It is very easy to wake up in the morning and wonder how you are going to get out of bed. It is very easy to wallow. There were days when I was heavily pregnant while Daddy Big Feet was away when the hours, days and weeks seemed to stretch out forever in front of me and I wondered how I would ever cope with the weeks and months ahead. We were posted in Scotland at the time and were a long way from any friends and family. It was a long slog and it was very lonely, even with the rest of the wives down the road. There were days when even if I was in a crowded room I would feel like I was completely alone. If I hadn't had my trusty furball to keep me company in the house it would have been even worse. In fact this was one reason we got our first furborn.

I did not have Little Feet at that time, and I think this perhaps was why I felt separate from the other wives who had Little Feet keeping them busy. It will be interesting for me to do some comparison this time round with how Little Feet change this deployment experience. I have two other humans to look after, a furball to walk and work to keep up with. YIKES.

The Deployment Thankfulness Jar is simple. We have bought a glass jar with a cork lid that we will display somewhere visible in the house. At the end of each week we are going to sit down together on Sunday and talk about the week we have just had. As we go through it we are going to write down one or two things we are thankful for that week. I may even do this for myself everyday in a diary. 

Alongside this, I am going to attempt to take a photo every single day of his deployment. 

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Reunions  

By the end of March that jar should be full to the rim. When Daddy Big Feet returns home we will sit down together and open them all up and read them. Then we will look at all the photos that we have taken over every single day of the deployment on a slide on TV.  This does two things, it will fill him in on things he has missed over the last 5 months and secondly, it will teach my Little Feet that we are powerful and that we can get through anything together in our tribe. That it is ok to get upset, it is ok to cry, it is ok to feel lonely, but that together we can also build each other up and that we can get through anything we put our minds to.

Positivity can change lives.

It is ok to feel sadness and talk about the ache inside yourself of missing a vital person in your tribe. In fact it is really important you do have those talks, give those hugs and see those tears, share those tears, eat those bars of chocolate and drink those bottles of wine and gin. Trust me, so many tears have already been spilt in our house over this impending deployment; new grey hair sprouted, stress related eczema and sleepless nights. But when we allow those feelings to overwhelm us (which can happen and HAS happened), this is not healthy and as a mother it is not helpful for my soul or my children’s. The Deployment Thankfulness Jar is my attempt to encourage both my children and my minds and thoughts to think in a positive fashion when the days begin to shorten and the winter months roll in. There is a beautiful symbol and shimmering silver lining in the distance with him returning at the end of March. It will be almost Spring…

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This deployment activity is just as important for me the mother, if not more really, as it is for the Little Feet. Everyone needs reminding of the things we are thankful for in our lives. Sometimes it is the simple things in life, from the swirling of leaves in the wind, to the smell of a burning fire, to the warmth of a heated blanket and the hug of a friend. Sometimes it is the big things, like FaceTiming Daddy Big Feet, or family visiting, going somewhere new, not walking the dog.

Nothing is too small, nothing is too big. All is valid, all should be heard. 

With the mention of FaceTime, I feel it is crucial to pause here to look back to yesteryears and the wives and children of those in the military in time past. Those who had to endure waving off their loved ones and knowing that they would have no contact with them or even if they would ever see them again. The lack of contact could have been days, months or years. My Grandad was in the Navy and was often sent away out to sea with no communication. I know that my Granny deeply struggled single parenting, so I know that she is looking down on me with knowing eyes.

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My heroes aren’t celebrities or royalty.

these women are my heroes. Your bravery knows know bounds, your strength inspiring and your sacrifice irreplaceable. I stand in awe of you and my respect for you is infinite.

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So I invite you to join us on this deployment journey. I hope that perhaps our Deployment Thankfulness Jar may inspire others who are in a season of deployment. Our journey will be long, it will be messy, there will be days when The Rainbow Tree house will be upside down and inside out, days and weeks where we might hunker down and hibernate. Through all of this though, I hope our honesty will help others in the same boat and will open a window for those who don’t know the challenges of being in the forces. It’s true, it is going to be a hard 5 months for us, but I am standing up in solidarity to all those others gone before us who have been, who are, who will be in the same position and saying, I am a Forces wife, I am a Forces Mummy with Forces children and this deployment will not defeat us. 

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