I thought I was brave before. When he deployed. I thought that getting on with it, spending Friday nights with a Criminal Minds box set, Ben & Jerry’s and a bottle of Pinot Grigio was brave.
I thought going to friends weddings and birthdays alone was brave.
I thought spending my birthday without him here was brave.
I thought navigating the “sideways head tilters” was hard.
I knew nothing.
The gut wrenching sobs of your child when Daddy drives away to deploy. Hiding your feelings of dread, anger, mama bear protectiveness, pushing them right down, deep, deep inside you so you can comfort and try to reassure them.
Denying yourself your own big sobbing session, clamping the lid down on your own emotions and holding your babies as they either cry, or get on with what they were doing, not quite grasping the enormous vast stretching amount of time in front of them.
Dropping them off at school and letting their teacher know (again) that Daddy’s gone away, whilst your child tries to convince you they have a tummy ache and really can’t go into school today. Walking away from them as they call out for you and just hoping and trusting they will have a good day and get the support they need.
Unflinchingly cancelling Friday evening zoom plans with friends because for the last few nights, you’ve all camped out in mummy and daddy’s big bed. Because they need your physical presence to reassure them you aren’t leaving too.
Trying to convince them that 2/6/9 months really isn’t that long and feeling like a total and utter fraud because it is a bloody long time. They know it and you know it.
Being brave doesn’t always wear a uniform.
To all you brave mums, dads and children out there- you are fucking awesome. Keep going.
<This is an actual mid deployment email I just sent Popeye, my thoughts are added in italics.>
Hi Popeye, the kids are finally quiet in in the living room (eating ice cream and watching something American and squeaky voiced) and I thought now would be a good time to email you about how everything is here on the home front.
We have had a day full of good intentions , but, have been thwarted at every stage. We had planned to get your parcel posted today, then realised I had run out of brown tape.
“There is a simple solution to this problem” I thought, “lets go to the local supermarket and purchase some, excellent, splendid”. So we decided to go to <Insert generic supermarket name here> for tape, jolly ranchers (Note that Popeye had specifically requested these for his parcel, as he had decided only american candy will do, and I of course have all the time and resources in the world to acquire said item, and do so with a quiet sense of matrimonial pride, obvs) and some new pjs and trousers for Sweetpea (who is growing taller at an alarming rate).
We also needed a gingerbread man cutter for making gingerbread (no shit). I was attempting to be a wholesome autumnal earth mother doing Nice Things At The Weekend.
I had a quick google and <generic supermarket> apparently dont sell gingerbread men cutters. So I thought:
“We can quickly nip/pop/dash to <large chain craft store> then go to <generic supermarket>. Simple”.
All before the post office shut at 12.30. Easy. So we get up and leave at about 10.30 (#achievement) and proceed in the torrential rain to <large chain craft store>. Sweetpea and Sproglet (now aged 6 and 4.5 dear readers) especially enjoyed it when mummy drove through the big puddles/floods making huuuuge splashes over the car. We get to <large chain craft store>.
The queue is along the whole front of the store, and around the corner. I suggest fucking it all off seeing if <generic supermarket> have any sodding gingerbread men cutters. This was met with severe disapproval from the board. SO at circa 10.50am we are found waiting in the sheeting rain, huddled in our 2m square boxes, limping towards the entrance.
WE GET IN.
Upon reaching the doorway and the member of staff (guarding) the entry way I feel the same rush of exhilaration I used to get upon entering a nightclub. Ignoring the feeling of dismay at my lost youth, I battled around the shop whilst the kids informed me they DESPERATELY NEED everything in sight because they miss daddy. I do not fall for their ploys. I tell them they can have something from here or a magazine from generic supermarket. The magazine offer wins. Then we round a corner and find the cooking section! (I also lost Sproglet for a minute or so at one point but thats another story, all was fine.)
They have sodding gingerbread sodding effing cookie cutters!
“Fuck yeah! I am a good Mum! Holy shit I CAN DO THIS!!! I ROCK!” I think.
However they are quite small, actually, they are teeny tiny. Sweetpea provides excellent verbal feedback that this will not do and is UNACCEPTABLE in a cookie cutter. She had much higher expectations and this pathetic excuse for a biscuit cutter does not meet her creative vision.
Undeterred ignoring her whinging, we venture forthwith to the tills. Only to be met with a queue to rival the one outside, albeit slightly drier. Then, right on time, Sweetpea needs the toilet, now, this very second. “No mummy I cant hold it in. We need to go noooooow.” Then bladder synchronicity occurs, as so often does with small children in public spaces, a strange phenomenon as now Sproglet too, needs the toilet and is jumping around declaring it to all customers and staff in the large chain craft store.
I admit defeat. We leave the full basket and the premises. I realise the garden centre next door has loos AND theres no queue.
Feeling that my luck may have FINALLY changed, we venture in. Only to suffer immediate auditory, visual and olfactory assault. There is Christmas shit EVERYWHERE. Bear in mind it is early October. I do love Christmas, but this looked like some kind of weird festive acid trip. The girls ran off, shrieking (again) about how we needed EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. My calls of social distancing and not to touch stuff falls on deaf ears, their bladders mysteriously reinvigorated at the sight of so much sparkly plastic tat.
We ended up spending over £20 on, well, nothing much really, we got something for your parcel (still unwrapped and unposted, sitting in the dining room) and left.
Upon securing the children ready for the drive, Sweetpea suddenly realised, she in fact felt very car sick. She felt car sick if I drove slowly, if the window was open or shut, if she closed her eyes. She did the puppy dog eyes and moaned quietly. She made fake retching noises. She stated her complete and utter inability to visit generic supermarket for essential parcel sending items and the hunt for the fucking cunting gingerbread cookie cutter.
I gave up. We came home and they had lunch, the mystery nausea disappearing as she realised we had pickled onion monster munch in the cupboard.
And so, my love I decided to buy everything on Amazon Prime. Fuck it all. Fuck it all to buggery. Jolly ranchers, brown tape and gingerbread paraphernalia will be here on Monday and I will get everything posted then, if I can, between work and the school run (which is at ridiculous 2.30pm now, basically just when my morning coffee has kicked in and im about to be fabulously productive working from home). And Popeye, when you reallllly think about it, by getting lots of stuff from amazon, im actually saving us money on boxes. So its win win. Sorry about the jolly ranchers.
We miss you loads and I hope youre doing OK. Loads of love, Olive
p.s I may make this into a blog post, its alright isnt it? Love you!!!! p.s2- from Sweetpea- “Write I love you daddy and I hope you come back soon love from Sweetpea then do a full stop”. p.s 3 from Sproglet- “love Sproglet.”
Oh oh oh (or should that be Ho Ho Ho given the festive season is deffo upon us?) I have had a BAD day.
Compounded by the serendipitous sods law that this weekend Popeye is duty watch. Of course.
First of all- I committed a major Mum Fail. I forgot Christmas Jumper Day. This puts me squarely on Father Christmas’s naughty list. And Sweetpeas naughty list too if the meltdown she had in the playground this morning is anything to go by.
Picture the scene: It was a cool crisp morning. We were characteristically running late because Mummy had had too many Sauvignon Blancs and had stayed up to watch the election results come rolling in.
We briskly (because of the aforementioned lateness) walk across the playground and she notices that “EVERYONE IS WEARING CHRISTMAS JUMPERS MUMMY! Why have I NOT GOT MINE???”
As other parents dropped of their kids with a kiss on the cheek and a wish of “have a good day darling cherub!” My darling blessings had a meltdown, in the middle of the playground complete with loud wails of “why did you forget mummy- I TOLD you to check the newsletter!!!” (Sweetpea is 5 but has a better handle on current affairs in her world than many of the major politicians at this time).
So after chucking her at the classroom door I grabbed sproglet and we dashed back home. I found a sparkly Christmas-esque jumper, drove back and lobbed it at the unsuspecting receptionist.
“Now” thinks me “im glad that’s over…on with my day”.
I had planned to go to the garage to fix a slow puncture. It was only a 20 min wait, sproglet entertaining the other customers by trying out new cars to buy and being very excited that the map of the country on BBC news was blue- her favourite colour.
Over the polite/slightly annoyed chuckles of the other customers and vauxhall staff, I am informed that my tyre has a nail in it that has gone through to the inner bit and also it’s on the side of the tyre and therefore it cannot be repaired and I need a whole new tyre. (I have no idea what an inner tyre is or why the outside of the wheel is so vulnerable versus the middle bit but whatever).
I calmly enquire how much a new tyre will be. They reply. I think I may be having some kind of stroke. I ask them to repeat the figure. I have a mild panic as we are well skint in the run up to Christmas and we don’t have spare cash pouring out of our orifices to spoof away on tyres.
Luckily for me- I have my credit card. Strictly only to be used for Very Serious Grown Up Emergencies and definitely not to be used for any of the following:
Barbie Mermaid films on Amazon Prime
The latest series of The Handmaids Tale
Monthly beauty box subscription
Even though I obviously would never EVER use my Grown Up credit card for the above- it mysteriously had drawn itself nearer its limit. I knew this, sitting in the Vauxhall garage. I felt a bit sick.
Nonetheless I knew I could use it for such an extravagance as a tyre. I pulled out my purse, to find the credit card, with hair flick and a confident smile to the garage man (no one wants the garage man to know you’re skint) aaaaand it’s gone.
I give a high pitched slightly hysterical giggle and pull out ALL my cards. Debit card x 2, library card, national insurance card, driving licence, several old gift cards that have about £0.05 balances, zoo pass, gym pass, club card, THREE casino cards (embarrassing), my maternity exemption certificate (my kids are 3&5 years old-no idea why I still have that).
No credit card. Gone.
I turn to poor innocent Sproglet who has a penchant for being a light fingered Dickensian thief playing with mummy’s things and interrogate ask her is she’s nicked borrowed one of mummy’s special money cards. She claims innocence.
So- in front of alllllll the people there (who knew Vauxhall dealers were so busy?) we leave. We are on a quest (I tell myself)- a quest to Find The MasterCard of Destiny.
We are cast out of the warm confines of the Vauxhall dealers. Out into the cold cold winter wind.
The main problem with this quest is that it is mid December. And on the day of the quest we were running late for the school run and there was the whole evil Xmas jumper day forgetting mother drama- so we
were NOT dressed for extreme cold. We had coats over T-shirt’s. No hat scarves or gloves. It was bitterly cold. Sproglet started crying. She fell over twice during the long trek back home. All the time I was worrying about where the fuck she had hidden her thief stash accidentally left my credit card.
We (eventually, after many trials and tribulations) get home. I set her up watching CBeebies (standard). I go for a fag and swear at the sky immediately start looting methodically searching the house.
I looked ALL MORNING. It was gone. Disappeared. Vanished.
So I check my banking app. Hmm several transactions from Luxembourg. I have never been to Luxembourg. In fact I probably have only ventured as far as London in the last few months. I’m not entirely sure where Luxembourg is.
I ring Popeye. It goes to that snooty bitch otherwise known as “Voicemail” because he’s on ship.
I leave a second “losing my mind” voicemail (the first was mid walk home when I was cold, alone panicking and ashamed- I may have also sworn at him a bit- uncalled for. My bad).
Give up on contacting my husband. Remember I’m a Navy Wife. Realise I can do this. This is nothing compared to what I’ve coped with before.
I ring the bank. I speak to a lovely lovely lovely man called Rishi (who also spoke to Sproglet who was watching Moana- Rishi apparently looks like Maui- they spent some time bonding over this whilst I was trying to sort out my life).
Rishi calmed me down and sorted out my funds. Credit Card is locked.
Me and Sproglet walk back in appropriate winter attire. By this time it’s time to pick up Sweetpea from school. We get home. Popeye rings. He has not heard the manic, panicked voicemails. I fill him in.
He has the termerity to ask me “what else did you manage to get done today?”.
I’ve been finding it hard to blog lately. Like real hard.
I’ve been being a full time mum, working for the NHS in a vaguely serious if-you-fuck-up-at-work-someone-could-get-really-hurt capacity.
I’ve had to accept my childhood demons. I’ve even named them. I’m working through all that shit and I’m doing ok. Popeye is here, but he’s not really (in my head) because he’s like, totally drafted to an actual ship and stuff.
I love blogging. I love being 100% honest with you. But I’m beginning to think the reason I haven’t blogged so much recently is because, well, the truth hurts.
I know you read this because it picks you up when darling sailor has buggered off for X number of months.
I know you read this because you (bloody rightly so) need a giggle on an evening.
I know that this blogging malarkey helps you guys. Like. Just a tad. In the utter shit storm of deployment I hope it’s a teeny weeny nugget of “yeah yeah that’s MEEEEE”.
Because that’s what I get from it too.
I just write some stuff down, don’t proof read (apart from typos- and even then I think fuck it), I don’t first draft or second draft. I don’t send it to my NWBFF for a quick “is this mental?” Check. I just write.
And you lot read. And you read and you read and you like. And you comment. And you message.
And sometimes you massively disagree which is GREAT because I have no idea what I’m doing and maybe you guys do.
So. I guess that’s what this blog post is all about. God sometimes I wonder if I should do videos. But that’s impractical because a- you would see my actual face
B- it would be some lame millennial thing that I don’t quite understand
C-(this is lame) I love seeing my thoughts be actual printed words on a screen. Because I know that words and feelings can be translated in that way.
In the way that only a military partner really gets. Reading that email. Getting that familygram. That true expression of love and faith against all odds.
I want to talk about leave. More explicitly parental leave. Like when your toddler has decided to throw up at 7.35am and you’ve got a huge important meeting to go to. Or when your kid has conjunctivitis and your childminder can’t have them for one day. Or you’ve used up ALL your parental leave after the last d&v bug did the rounds and now you are facing eating into your annual leave or taking unpaid leave. Whilst your partner is around.
In most couples you have the option of one of you staying home for the compulsory 48hours or whatever until you can whack them back into childcare.
In military couples you are on your own. Shore draft or not. It doesn’t matter.
Although the Navy spouts that it will be flexible in terms of releasing service personnel when they are able to (I.e they are alongside, the ship is in dry dock or have a Mythical Shore Draft ) this, in my experience very very rarely translates to actual help. To an actual parent being ALLOWED to look after your sick child.
If you go to the Welfare service (which is ace but stringent- to weed out the piss takers obvs) or the Naval Families Federation then you can get help and be pointed in the right direction.
BUT that is very hard to do for the following reasons-
It’s 7.36am you’re covered in vomit and you can’t get in touch with your Popeye
2. You can’t ring Welfare or the NFF because it’s sparrows fart o’clock in the morning and you need to ring Work for another parental leave day or sort out some last minute childcare NOW.
3. Your military partners boss has a stick up their ass that they can’t dislodge.
Now. Points 1&2 are either out of our control or are long term solutions to long running child healthcare issues. Point 3 is what really winds me up.
I get the feeling it’s very much of the school of thought of “Well it never did me any harm”- which can be roughly translated to:
“Well I was never there for my wife and she divorced me and that’s why I haven’t handed in my chit coped fine. He should do the same”
This attitude massively pisses me off for one thing it totally disregards the partners career- what if I am the main breadwinner?! Even if I’m not does that mean that my career is less important than his?!?
Does it mean that he shouldn’t be there for his child when he can be???
No it does not.
(*disclaimer* this whole blog post is very much about the ship being in dry dock/alongside/sitting around waiting to be fixed with harry black maskers/ mythical shore draft- I’m not talking about when the might of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy is flying at full sail.)
The other thing that really really pisses me off is that it actually goes against the Navys own ethos about supporting family life.
The very high ups would be shocked and disappointed that the lower ranks were are abusing their power in this way. Using petty technicality to foster resentment in a relationship, inequity in marriage and ultimately the discrimination in career prospects and performance for the military spouse is quite simply- wrong.
So- speak up! Get shitty! I know that your Popeye (if they are anything like mine) will be mortified that you have taken the initiative and contacted Welfare or the NFF. But do you know what?
It doesn’t matter. I know he will be scared that you speaking up for your legal and policy based rights complaining to Welfare will end up with him getting stick from his superior-
But it’s high time that, in this era of defence budget cuts, 9 month deployments and serious recruitment and retainment issues (and putting operational commitments aside) this culture of “it never did me any harm” should be totally stamped out- and a new culture and understanding of flexibility and responsibility was fostered by the Armed Forces.
I know there’s a lot of sad posts about deployment. I know there’s a lot of “you can do it champ” style upbeat articles about deployment. Complete with Kirsty Alsop worthy craft projects to “keep you busy” and also make you spend a ridiculous amount on chalk based paint in B&Q and leave you with what was a perfectly good chest of drawers looking like something from Barbies Ikea Dream Palace.
There are also a lot of articles written about taking up a new hobby to fill those hours that deployment has left you with. Such as learning French, going to the gym or other worthy self-improvement activity.
Unfortunately, after doing a couple of deployments following the above advice I do have a bit of a problem with the practicality of its application.
Firstly- I do not have the time nor inclination to randomly start hacking furniture apart after I’ve said goodbye to Popeye. I may want to take apart furniture but that is mostly from rage and not through a new feeling of domestic pride or energy.
It does not fill me joy and a sense of satisfaction to sand and paint and sand and paint and venture into THE SHED OF DOOM to find a screw or Allen key in the pursuit of a home makeover.
It has never been a Kirsty Alsop experience. My floral dress get ruined, the dog ends up covered in masking tape and I end up thinking sod the whole thing I’m going to eat chocolate and watch Friends on the sofa.
Secondly- taking up a soul balancing, calm inducing hobby is a lot easier said than done.
I’ve found that after Popeye has deployed I don’t actually have that much extra time to myself.
It gets filled up quickly with having to do 100% of the life admin stuff overnight. All of a sudden I’m responsible for all bathtimes, lunchboxes, clean clothes, healthy dinners AND breaking up World War 3 that erupts in the living room over whose turn it is to watch Peppa Pig or Nella the Princess Knight. Diplomacy in the Land of Oyl takes a up a lot of my headspace during a deployment.
With all the above there is little time to learn French apart from the difference between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
My gym involves running around after two toddlers and a mad dog.
I do make sure to have something planned each weekend. Just something simple like meeting up for coffee with a friend or going to hell soft play with the kids.
Then one day is a PJ day and then we are back on the treadmill again.
Take it from me, grand designs are all well and good but they are just that: Designs.
Keep busy doing the everyday and you will get there.
My patented Wine and Chocolate on the Sofa method has been tried and tested and is way more successful at keeping me sane, teaching me French AND I don’t have to go searching in the shed or take out shares in Dulux to achieve it-
My home might not be up cycled to it to it’s eyebrows but it’s a place of everyday comfort. And that is what I need most when getting through a deployment.
So, take your bra off, stick Sabrina on Netflix and relax. You’ve got this.
Hey you guys, I’m back! All I can do is massively apologise for letting my blog slide these last few months pretty much a year. But like I’ve said to you before, I felt like a fraud, a trickster, a charlatan, basically for being happy.
The mythical shore draft was everything we have dreamt about (and by “we” I mean navy wives, not sailors).
I’ve had almost 18 months of help, of weekday evenings watching TVtogether, of having an actual adult physically there to co-parent with.
I have been living the dream and loving it.
But unfortunately, like every dream at some point you have to wake up
So I will be a “normal” navy wife again soon. Popeye is due back on ship at some point in the not too distant future and I will go back to living my life and routine at the whim of the Royal Navy.
It was fun while it lasted. I guess now the kids are a bit older I will have more stressful and slightly unhinged hilarious anecdotes to share with you.
I have visions of parents evenings, after school clubs and general feral children running through my mind. I can only assume that that, plus marriage to a sailor, will provide good writing material?
I’ve always been a glass half full kind of girl.
(P.S don’t forget to subscribe to Homeport magazine for exclusive articles written just for them! They are basically like the ones I write for here except Mike the Editor won’t let me swear.)