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.
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
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.