Happy New Year everyone! The craziness of the holiday season is still upon us as the Christmas Season hasn’t ended yet, not for a few more days. I’ve been wondering how to end 2012 and start 2013, at least on the blogosphere. I’m still decluttering around the house so I’m not going to even come close to being totally finished by the end of the year. I should be further along before Chinese New Year, though! Since there are only so many hours in a day and a gal has to put things into perspective, I’m going to talk about the major event in our lives, Hubby’s year long deployment to Afghanistan and my major take-aways or lessons learned so far as we approach the eighth month apart and his two-week R&R.
I’ve been deployed before to the same country as Hubby so I have a different perspective than many fellow military spouses/partners who have not had that opportunity. I better understand his Army world because I lived it for a little while during predeployment training at Fort Lewis, not because I’ve been an Army spouse for a few years, & now really appreciate shipboard life in the Navy! While I didn’t miss the Christmas holiday period, I did miss all the spring and summer holidays with my family in Texas. I also missed countless birthdays and anniversaries and depended on Hubby to make sure flowers were sent on Mothers Day and so forth. Now that the shoe is on my foot and I’m essentially the single parent at home, I’ve discovered certain truisms, most the hard way, via trial and error.
Here’s my top 10 list of things to keep family morale and the (holiday) spirit alive while you’re apart, whether or not you have children and pets, like I do. That being said, this is my perspective of how I’ve been dealing with Hubby’s deployment while also living overseas. It matters not if you’re living in your home country or on foreign shores. The daily challenges, my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are still basically the same: keeping a home clean, stocked with food and drink and taking care of those who need you. In my case, those are my child and my dogs, and to an extent, my long distance family.
1. Maintain a routine. Even if it means just waking up at the same time and checking email before your first cup of coffee, keep some kind of schedule. It is so easy to get sucked into the “oh woe is me” syndrome when a loved one is deployed. Go to the gym, work your tail off whether at a day job or via volunteering, maintain your household and your sanity, do whatever you need to do to keep busy.
For parents, kids need a routine. My daughter attends preschool although I’m at home now mainly so she can learn more academic and social skills. Her daily schedule there is a basic routine and I find that the toughest nights are when we’ve broken from the bedtime routine. Same thing goes for family pets. Kids and pets reflect your stress levels too, so keep those in check, please.
2. Keep socially active. Get a sitter and watch a movie or go shopping. Be a good host and have a party. Since I live further away from the military base and housing areas, I really only keep up with a handful of military folks, usually through text, FB, email and the occasional lunch. Even when I worked on base, I didn’t socialize with anyone from work other than during the occasional lunch. Socializing after hours was too complicated with the work hours and the fact that I needed to get my child from daycare and home to feed the dogs.
Now that I’m again a retired, stay at home mom, I find myself keeping busy just keeping up with the household. The past couple of weeks found me on the phone or in waiting rooms for hours dealing with everything from a broken washing machine to passport applications. That’s normal. I have a lot more freedom to take care of last minute needs where in the past, I might have let things go a little longer. So I know that I could keep myself busy with household and personal errands all day if I wanted. If I don’t actively set up lunch and play dates, I would be a borderline hermit. And my preschooler deserves a great social life, even if it means I need to get out of my shell sometimes. And sometimes that means hosting a couple of parties just to make your child feel super extra special, especially when the most important man in her life is thousands of miles away.
3. Get out of the house. Take a hike, literally. Take the kids and the dogs out with you. Get some fresh air, especially during the gloomy winter months. Find a fun weekend event and take a day trip. Meet your neighbors. Make new friends. You get the picture.
5. Ask for help when needed. Find a supportive pal or group of them. If you can afford it, hire help to clean your home, walk dogs when you’re out of the house, babysit if you need an hour, or a mother’s helper to help with errands and so on.
6. An apple a day… Keeping yourself healthy, mind and body, is critical to your self esteem and knowing you’re okay will be a comfort to your deployed loved one. While I haven’t joined a gym, I know that I’m healthier than I was several months ago. I owe it to the 51 steps to the front door!
7. Live within your means. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Pay cash or use your debit card when practical and possible. Yes, the deployment may give your household extra funds for hazardous duty and family separation. If you are also living overseas, you may also receive a cost of living allowance.
Budget and build a safety cushion where you can. I’ve seen too many families struggle after a deployment ends because they already bought the brand new car or paid for a huge vacation, only to find other expenses also waiting in the wings, like holiday presents and the credit card bills for the last online shopping spree.
Oh, and if you’re blessed with a deployment baby, don’t forget all the expenses that come up after the birth!
8. Call home. Call your mother. Keep the lines of communication open. Skype and Facetime are just a couple of examples. Don’t forget the extended family who may not get calls or letters as much as you might. They’d surely appreciate a quick call or note with an update.
Our near daily evening routine consists of a Skype chat during dinnertime, sometimes starting with the crazy prep time. Hubby just wants to feel like he’s part of our routine, even when I’m feeding the dogs and trying to get Bella to wash her hands and eat her veggies.
9. Send a care package “just because.”Care packages are important! I remember sending care packages of Red Bull and potato chips to soldiers who were at small operating bases than mine while I was in Kandahar because they didn’t have the same amenities we did.
I keep a large Rubbermaid container handy where I put things that I find while shopping that needs to be in a future care package. It makes it pretty easy to find things to send when you are ready to prep a package.
Last, but not least…
10. Click…Take lots of photos documenting what’s been happening at home during the separation. One of the best gifts Hubby gave me this Christmas was a DVD of stories he read for Bella and at the end of it was a slideshow movie of what happened each month while I was deployed in 2010. Some of the photos I recall from emails sent that year, but there were quite a few new ones too.
After taking the photos, do something creative and fun with them. Make a DVD, a scrapbook, a calendar or something to present at the homecoming or even for next Christmas.
Final thoughts, there are a ton of creative ideas and projects out there. Google, Pinterest and Facebook have a ton of different things to do throughout a deployment year. They range from a deployment countdown (365 M&Ms in a jar, anyone?) to professional photo sessions (can you say boudoir photos?). Others bake or buy a ton of sweet treats to send. Regardless how you choose to mark time passing by, just know that you are not alone.