Life as a forces family
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.