I never wanted to be a military spouse. I wanted a husband who came home every night before dinner, just as my father did. I wanted my kids to play with their cousins every weekend, just as I did. As a young adult I had naively wished for a different life than what I have now. I’m glad I was wrong. I’ve come to realize my life, our life, is just perfect, for us.
Together, my husband and I have done three deployments. The first was right before we were married, the second five days after our first son was born, and finally our third, when we triumphed over a six-month deployment with three children. It’s been almost two years since our last deployment experience, but the lessons learned are still fresh in my memory.
We were living in town at the time, when we realized a deployment was looming and inevitable. Jointly we decided to move into base housing or as I liked to call it, “my gated community.” The neighborhood we moved into was perfect for our growing family. It had excellent schools nearby, walking paths, and playgrounds every couple of blocks. Everyone was so welcoming. Our neighbors brought over plates of cookies and children rode their bikes in the cul-de-sac as parents watched for cars and socialized. My husband always knew we were in a safe environment. It really took a lot of the stress and worry away from him when he was 12-time zones away.
I am thankful for the community that we moved into, our neighbors will be lifelong friends, but I also remember moving into the new community and not knowing a soul. That’s where the website Hello Mamas could be a great way to find similar, like-minded friends who happen to be moms too.
Before my husband left to “far-away work” as we call it in our house, I had the kids pick out three types of Hershey’s Kisses and Hugs, one flavor for each child. Each day of deployment, the kids received one Kiss or Hug from Daddy. I made sure to grab a few extra bags, just incase deployment was extended and I couldn’t get ahold of these specific flavors they picked out. We made an event of counting out how many days Daddy was going to be gone. We lined the Kisses and Hugs up in straight lines and made a math lesson out of it. Then we added all of the candy to a large jar. It was shocking to see but the kids didn’t seem fazed. I think they were too focused on the amount of candy in one place!
In addition to our daily Kiss count, we did a weekly count. The kids would take turns putting little sticky happy faces on the deployment countdown chart I made. There was one point during the deployment when I took down some happy faces from the chart because deployment was extended. I remembered hearing stories about how my former CO’s wife stapled extra links on to their family’s deployment paper chain during the middle of the night when their deployment was extended. I knew it was bound to happen.
As most spouses know, if something is going to go wrong, it will go wrong while your spouse is gone. In our case it was a bee swarm that attacked our gas barbecue grill shortly after my husband left. Thankfully I was able to call Lincoln Military Housing, our maintenance phone line and they swiftly took care of the problem. I nostalgically remember all of the bee-inspired art projects created in our house that summer. Our two older boys still occasionally talk about the time the bees attacked our grill. The situation was stressful at the time, but now I’m able to laugh about it.
Bedtimes are challenging. During workups, we had a difficult cycle of keeping the kids up late, well past their usual bedtimes, just so they could see their dad. I would then wake them up early for school in the next morning. It felt as if everyone must sacrifice when the squadron was home and our favorite service member would work long hours to help his squadron get ready for deployment. The kids’ behavior suffered because of the lack of sleep, my patience would dwindle, and one-on-one time between my spouse and I was limited. Getting ready for deployments is hard! One of the things I actually enjoyed about solo parenting is what I’ll call: Mom’s-way or the highway. I was the only one enforcing the rules. There was no other parent to negotiate bedtime. If I said, in bed by 7 p.m., the kids went to bed at 7 p.m. The boys couldn’t ask Dad for a second opinion. I always had the final say.
Summers with a spouse on deployment can be long and tedious. It was especially difficult since our children were in my care the entire day. It was important to schedule events to look forward to: a trip to see grandparents, a county fair, or a weekly farmers’ market. Also, I liked to schedule an occasional babysitter to go out and socialize with the gals and talk about other things besides Power Rangers, The Wonder Pet, or Minecraft. Outings to the park or playing outside with neighbors kept our little ones tired and ready for sleep so that I could have some down time in the evening. I love to play around on the computer and I’m fairly creative, so I documented our life through photography and then made at least six photo books of our growing family. I also learned how to make silver jewelry using my Silhouette Cameo die-cutting machine. I enjoyed this hobby time because I never really had time to work on or discover hobbies while my husband was home.
This military lifestyle is certainly not easy. It can be frustrating at times when you have to wake up sleeping children in the wee hours of the morning just so they can talk to their dad on a subpar internet connection in a far off land. Sometimes we are just surviving. But before you realize it, you’re cleaning up the house, buying man food, and making welcome home signs. Sometimes life has other plans for you and I am eternally grateful to have this sometimes-crazy military life as my own.
Elaine is a Navy spouse of 10 years and a mom to four children — three boys and a little girl. She is a former marketing manger and teacher who uses her talents to help non-profit organizations such as InDependent and Children’s Storybook Museum & Garden in Hanford, CA. She is a news junkie who wakes up each morning to her favorite daily email newletters, theSkimm and Briefing. Her hobbies and interests include photography, crafts for kiddos, and cake decorating.