I haven’t posted in a while, and to be honest it’s because I’ve been ashamed. And embarrassed.
You see, after about seven or eight years of back to back ship drafts and a deployment every year, Popeye finally, FINALLY got the holy grail of drafts. A shore draft. For 18 months.
I was excited. I was elated. I was apprehensive. We have NEVER spent this much time in the same area. He has NEVER been able to come home for this many consecutive evenings.
It was unsettling at first. Unnerving. Having to share my space and meal plan and consider him too. It was odd to have another adult around so consistently to parent our girls. It was weird to find housework tasks done, and to be able to split chores equally and daily.
And the reason I didn’t blog about this before now is the total overwhelming all consuming guilt I have felt, and still feel, about how awesome it is.
Despite several Well Meaning People giving me sage advice like “you’ll be sick of each other in a week”, and such nuggets of wisdom as “you’ll be wishing he was back on deployment in no time” what I have actually found is that I love having Popeye home. It’s great having the love of my life, father of my children here. Physically, emotionally here.
With that came huge waves of guilt.
How could I possibly blog to hundreds, possibly thousands of other military partners about how great this is?!?!
Surely that would be rubbing salt in the wound that is deployment.
But. After speaking to my sister, and some of my Navy Wife BFFs I was urged to blog.
The whole purpose of this blog is to give an honest account of Navy Wife Life. And this is part of that life. To ignore it because I’m awkwardly British and don’t want to tell anyone how happy I am would be doing you guys a disservice.
Also I want to shine a light and let you know there are such a thing as shore drafts! They really exist! They do! Spread the word!
Like some mythical unicorn Popeye has a shore draft. And for a chef to get a shore draft is really quite mythical indeed.
So for a few more months at least I’m going to enjoy every second.
After all these years I think we’ve earned it. Your time will come. And when it does be proud, shout it from the rooftops, and try to ignore the little voice in your head reminding you that soon, this bubble will burst and it’ll be business as usual.
Phone calls. They are, for some military wives, the silver lining in the shit storm of deployment.
You look forward to them, keep the phone near you, you might organise a good time to call or you might get the surprise of your life, anytime day or night, of the home phone going and the mad scramble to answer it, abandoning any menial task (like feeding your baby), to race towards that noisy cuboid full of promise.
A phonecall from your sailor is a drug, and you never know when you’re going to get your next hit. And boy oh boy how you crave it.
To hear their voice can be the pivotal point of my week, the elation I feel when I hear his answering “hello, it me” is bloody mighty.
And then it’s over, they have to go back to work, or get in the taxi in some tropical haven, or (more likely) you get cut off suddenly.
After the phonecall, I suffer a massive comedown- I get Post Telephone Sadness Disorder, PTSD.
Post Telephone Sadness Disorder is characterised by the following-
Looking at Facebook photos of Popeye
Staring at the home phone willing it to ring again
Temporary consumption of excessive amounts of chocolate (on a school night) or port (love a bit of port) and quavers
Alternating between big cuddles for the sprogs and shutting myself in the kitchen because they are doing my nut in.
Rereading emails I’ve sent and he’s sent
Watching twilight (I don’t know why, I guess phone PTSD effects us all differently).
Luckily, unlike its much more serious name twin actual PTSD, the effects of phone PTSD are relatively short lived, don’t (significantly) effect daily functioning and (hopefully) invokes pleasant flashbacks and memories.
Phone PTSD is a bitch. But it’s a condition I’m happily putting up with because the phonecalls are so worth it. Now I think about it, it really is actually a bit like a drug comedown (I imagine, I have no experience unfortunately I’m far to boring for any wild youth experience in that department).
But it’s a side effect of deployment that we’ve got to live with. A bitter sweet reality that adds a little variety to the day to day routine and the (fucking huge massive scary) countdown.
It’s a condition that we do live with. Another aspect of deployment civvies never really understand, so I like to do it in style, quavers and port at the ready.
With the return today of HMS Defender (and if many of you wonder why I bang on about this ship in particular ok I will just say it- it’s Popeyes old ship where I met most of my NWBFFs and felt part of the Royal Navy community for the first time and not just some kind of Lone Ranger navy wife freak) and im filled with such excitement on their behalf, I’m so crazily proud of the families who have waited 9 months for them to finally come home.
(After doing basically a 7 month deployment about 2 mins before this one- mental).
I can see the wives and the girlfriends, the sisters and the brothers and the mummy’s and daddy’s in my minds eye in a few short hours, finally getting that hug and kiss they’ve waited and waited and waited some more for.
But as well as all of this excitement for them, and soppiness and nostalgia it’s reminded me that it’s my turn to say goodbye next. For 9 months.
And I am seriously freaking out.
After I did my first deployment and met Popeye at the homecoming I was naive. I didn’t pause to think there will be another one. And another and another.
The second he stepped off the ship a new countdown started to the next time he would deploy.
What happened? We had a minimum of a 6 month deployment with less than 12 months inbetween for four years. That’s a lot of deploying.
It was awful. It was hard. It was surreal.
But it was doable. I look back at “deployment Olive” with no small degree of awe. She was hardcore.
“Did I really do that?”
“How did I do all those deployments?”
“Can I really do it all again?”
(in a very small voice, like a stroppy toddler) “But I don’t want to!”
Thinking about this upcoming deployment is filling me with dread. Not just because I know how hard it will be, but because this time I’m on my todd with our two gorgeous baby girls. No pressure then.
And that’s going to bring a whole new level of shit and heartache and stress and strain that I haven’t encountered before.
And that is a type of deployment I know nothing about.
So watch this space my lovelies. Hopefully my blog will stay the chirpy quirky space it’s always been. Not some kind of weird online written record of my unraveling.
I need success stories please!
So as the WAGs of HMS Defender wave that mighty ship home, with the sodding brass band blasting, and the little tug boat getting zilch recognition; my thoughts are bitter sweet and let’s be honest, a bit “me me me.”
This navy life is (as my good pal Ronan would say) a roller coaster.
“Ooh are they coming home already? Wow the last 9 months have really flown by haven’t they?”
The above are probably the two most dangerous sentences you can say to a Navy wife or girlfriend at the final sprint of a deployment countdown.
To the friend/co-worker or family member with (obviously) good intentions and also a possible death wish:
NO IT HAS FUCKING NOT FLOWN BY.
It has been an almost hysteria inducing, vast stretching of time that has at times has felt swamping and insurmountable.
Time now, at this final push, is threatening to reduce the strong, capable, independent adult from the last few months into a (at times) quivering, adrenaline pumping, vom inducing, panic stricken bag of nerves and self doubt.
The “flying by of time” should be given more appropriate descriptive metaphors such as-
Ninja Snail Time- I.e went really fucking slowly then went all stealth ninja-ey and fast right at the end, catching the poor unsuspecting Military WAG off guard.
Untrustworthy Time-I.e the homecoming date and subsequent countdown has changed more times than I’ve changed my knickers. Don’t trust it.
Alternative Reality Time I.e time, as a concept, has passed completely differently for you and your sailor. He is expecting home to be some kind of time capsule of half a year ago and you can’t remember what family occasions and days out he has missed because there have been so bloody many he has missed. You are in separate world and separate times.
To all you who dare utter “the two sentences of time” (outlined above, can’t bring myself to type them again) can I just say this:
Time has NOT flown by for us.
We have walked, limped, crawled, carried and been carried to get here. But we have not flown. (We have not sailed through it either before anyone gets punny on me.)
So please for the love of God and all that is Holy do not patronise us. Do not comment on it. You don’t get it. Don’t pretend to. It’s like a cat trying to understand why a dog likes walks so much when they can go out through the cat flap at any time.
I’m not feeling copey today and to be honest I’m feeling angry today. Strike that- im feeling furious today.
And I’m feeling guilty too because it will only be a few weeks. Maybe a month. Ok maybe it will be six weeks apart, two months tops. I just wish you could give me a fucking straight answer so I can plan my life a bit. Just a bit. Oh yeah and more than a days notice would be nice too.
I’m feeling angry that I have no control over these gut wrenching events in my life. The goodbyes and even the hellos. I’m feeling angry that at every goodbye you say you want to leave the navy once and for all. You keep throwing me into a turmoil of thinking “how will we manage financially?” And “should we move back to Somerset or would we stay here?” And “how will my part time wage support us?” Only for you to settle back into the routine onboard. Your conviction that this is the time you will hand your notice in fades away, like the shore fading away on the horizon as you sail away from us. Me and the toddler and the baby. Your own personal cheer squad. How dare your job make them cry.
I’m feeling guilty because other wives and girlfriends have it worse than me. They are doing 6 or even 9 month deployments and I have no right to be feeling this low. No right to be freaking out and crying already. You’ve been gone like two hours ffs.
The other wives and girlfriends must be reading this thinking I should strap on a pair. And I should! I’ve done 6 years of long long deployments. I know I can do this.
But I’m fed up of never knowing when you’re coming home husband. I’m fed up of this bloody 9 month will they/won’t they deployment hanging over our head. Can’t they just decide either way?
Why didn’t they build the ships so they effing work?
So, in summary: angry at hubby/navy/world. Guilty because it’s not hubbys fault/ other wives would slap me round the face for moaning about this. Tired because of a toddler and baby. Fuzzy mouth and head because I drank a whole bottle of prosecco last night because of this craptastic news.
Yep. Deffo not a copey kind of day so far.
Love you though husband. Like totes foreves. I’ve got your back.
This special guest blog post is by one of my NWBFFs, “Pepper” (see what I did there- running with the condiments pseudonyms like a boss). Pepper is tackling a 9 month deployment after literally just finishing a 7 month one which is when we met as SWAGs (Sailor Wives And Girlfriends don’t you know). She’s here to tell us what the eff to expect and how shit it really is *gulp*. Take it away!
The 9 Monther
Ok so “monther” isn’t actually a word, but it is what I and other MW are calling it, in fact it is the polite term used for this long, looooooooonnnnng deployment.
I have to confess that I haven’t been a navy wife for very long, just under 2yrs in fact, but in that time I have dealt with him leaving for a 6.5 ‘monther’, several mini deployments(3-6wks), BOST, extra sea trials, and we are just over the half way mark of a 9month stint. Yay! Deep-End well and truly jumped.
He was on the 6mth tour when we heard the dreaded news(via the news funnily enough, I mean why give us actual navy families a heads up? Let’s sell the idea to the all knowing civilians first), and safe to say us wags were pretty upset. BUT, our guys were already deployed so this won’t affect us for ages, right? HA! Wrong!
4mths back just before Easter leave, the sailors are told they will be getting important news, WHEN THEY GO BACK!!! Seriously? Well done RN, just let us stress throughout the only time we’ve had in ages with our sailors. Well we did stress, as the RN are as transparent as clingfilm stretched thin on a toilet seat and just as unpleasant.
The “news” as expected was a 9mth draft starting in 5mths.
OK, OK, Calm down, it’s not that bad, I mean, this is what we “signed up for” right? …urgh, worst comment ever! But 9mths, not too bad, 40wks, 280 days…OMG! I can’t do this, nope, I CAN do this…the truth? I HAVE to do this because he HAS to do this.
Anyway, you know the drill, we don’t see them much whilst they prepare to leave, if you’re lucky you get to spend a week or if you’re REALLY lucky 2wks just before they set sail.
You console yourself with the other navy ladies, we are strong, we make plans to make it all easier, “look at it in chunks, not the entire thing”, ” 3mths until Christmas”…Oh God, Christmas! He’s not here, ok, it will be fine, it will distract us, 3 birthdays in December, Daddy isn’t going to be here, that’s fine, Mums do it alone all the time. New Year, well who cares anyway? It’s just another night, that’s what wine and Jools Holland is for.
The next chunk takes us to mid-deployment leave…that’s right, you heard me, MID-Deployment leave. They can come home, funded kindly by the MOD, TWO WHOLE WEEKS, well 2 days travelling, but that doesn’t matter, 12 WHOLE DAYS, OK there might be flight delays, but we are positive souls us Navy wives, all that matters is our sailors are coming home, and we get to see them, the children get to see them, their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…hang on! Where did your precious 12 days go? He hasn’t even landed yet and the whole thing is planned and your 12 days slumped in bed for lazy mornings, sofa days, the odd romantic meal, they’ve all started blurring into the distance before he even stepped foot on home soil.
OK you’ve got this, you’ve got the exact dates he’s home well in advance so you can sort things with work etc, oh wait! You haven’t, what? So begin the panicked emails to your lovely sailor man, you “understand, it’s not your fault dear”, until the 100th email with nothing confirmed, then it “IS ALL YOUR FAULT, YOU AND YOUR STUPID NAVY JOB!!!” You get so riled that you’re not even sure you want them home, think of the disruption. All of a sudden your 12 precious days have whittled down to 8, maybe 9 because you haven’t been able to sort work at such short notice, but that’s OK, he can check in with the relatives whilst you work…
D-Day, you’re at the RAF airport, ID badge proudly on display, you’re getting your sailor back, you’ve done your Homecoming Maintenance, THEY LAND…with only 2hrs delay. BOOM! Time to see if that water proof mascara you bought especially, will hold up. And then they start coming through arrivals, you’re soooo excited, nervous, stomach clenching, and you spot your sailor and HE’S IN RIG!(right there and then you don’t care about the mascara, or the limited days), he’s home.
First night you get home, he drops his huge black bag, and hugs, so many hugs, smiles, tears, kids, dogs, cats. So much love, giggles. You find yourself wanting to get him everything at once. Is he hungry? Does he want tea/coffee/alcohol? Would he like you to cook? Ooooo take away? He chooses of course, you’re in your own little sailor love bubble…then bed, oh sweet heaven this is the best moment you’ve had in the 4mths since he left. FINALLY you have someone to “Netflix and Chill” with 😉…
You wake up, and excuse the language, you shit yourself that someone’s in your bed, but then the sweet realisation hits that it’s your sailor.
From that point the clock is ticking, you know that this isn’t homecoming, this is all going to end soon, way, WAY too soon. So it begins, everything you planned, well it’s actually revised a little, you haven’t taken into consideration that he wants to spend an “hour” on the Xbox, or have a loooong nap due to working and flying. That’s OK, let’s take it easy. Which you do, a bit too easy, next thing you know 5 days have gone by and you have hardly seen any of your family members, he never did the rounds whilst you were in work, he was actually doing the chores around the house that you planned to take up a maximum of 30min, until he explains that a “broken shower head” is in fact a broken pipe and takes half a day. So you start arranging to visit people, resenting the precious time it is taking away from your time with him(or is that just me?), “wish I’d just planned a family get together, that would’ve only taken up an evening and then he’d be all mine again”
Day 9, the plans have gone out of the window, you wake up feeling sad, the euphoria of having him home has ebbed, leaving a rock in your stomach and a lump in your throat. You spend every minute you can watching him, smelling him, staying up waaaay too late so you can squeeze as much time together as possible. You know what’s coming, Hell! It was only 4mths ago that you were going through the exact same thing. This time though you actually REALLY do hate the navy. You hate the 9monther, MID-DEPLOYMENT leave sucks ass! Whose stupid idea was this? Who is so callous as to think it’s OK to dangle your sailor in front of you, only to tear him away again after a few fleeting days? You wish he hadn’t come home, you don’t want to say goodbye again. NO! NO! NO!
You avoid looking at him, it makes you well up, when you catch each others eye, you both have that ‘knowing’ look. “I’m going to miss you so much” becomes the beginning of every conversation.
It’s time. Your bubble is burst, your sailor is in RIG and you hate it, he’s leaving you again. You tell each other you are half way done, “HEY! We got through the worst part, it didn’t go THAT slowly, we got this”…except you haven’t. Right there and then you haven’t got this. He’s leaving for over another 4mths, longer if it’s extended, shhhhh! That won’t happen. This time it’s only Easter, more birthdays, Spring/summer weddings, anniversaries, children’s exams, plays, graduations that he’s missing.
It’s basically another bloody deployment, and it sucks!
So we have survived the first longish stint of Daddy Being Away.
It was only about a month but Im feeling bloody proud that I have managed to keep both children alive with very little outside help and snotty colds and 8 week jabs. Im also a tad relieved that I haven’t lost it and left them at a nunnery. (And no this is not just because I don’t know any Hampshire nunneries).
Ive had quite bad mum guilt that I didn’t try to do more wholesome “making memories” shit. I didn’t even attempt any baking and I can safely say that the iPad is partially raising my toddler. We have watched a lot of Disney.
But they are alive so I’m chalking it up as a win.
Whilst Popeye was stuck down in Plymouth (because his ship was buggered-giant surprise) we were able to finally try out the separation pack we had been given from Little Troopers .
This helped with the mum guilt because I was getting so fed up of this:
Me-“on his boat.”
Sweetpea-“[see] Daddy soon?”
Me- (silent sob) “no see Daddy later. Daddy gone night night on the boat.”
Sweetpea-“bye bye Daddy”
Me- “yes that’s right, bye bye daddy.”
Talk about heartbreaking! And, after the gazillionth time, dare I say, a little bit annoying?
That’s when the separation pack really came into play. It actually helped Sweetpea grasp what was going on and helped me not lose my mind from having to explain it to her over and over again.
It gave the whole downer of being separated from Popeye/Daddy an actual positive vibe and I can’t recommend it enough.
What is it? An A4 pack of resources and ideas of things to do to help your children cope with a parent being away from home.
First I chose an area in the house to put it all up. I didn’t want to to be too prominent in the house- I didn’t want her to be reminded Popeye was gone all the time- I also chose somewhere quiet so she could go there to think about Daddy when she needed to.
( I also wouldn’t put stuff on the wall above the dogs water bowl if your child likes water play and pulling things off of walls. 😑)
I found an OK photo of Sweetpea with Popeye and put that in the special “Hero” (a bit cheesy for me but v sweet for children) frame. This gave Sweetpea something to focus on and she could go and kiss the photo good night or we used it to talk about Daddy from time to time too. She also put it down the loo at one point but I’ve told Popeye not to take this personally. (And photos don’t dissolve if you antibac them btw- who knew?)
My favourite thing about the separation pack was the chuff chart. It’s supposed to be for the kids but to be honest I was using it just as much as the Sweetpea.
The chuff chart is really practical- you can adapt it for any length of separation-you just add another calendar sheet if you need to. You can decorate or colour it in and there’s a “notes” bit if your trooper needs to jot anything important down. You can put stickers on it if you’ve been on day trips (not that we did lol) and really adapt it for your family.
As Sweetpea is quite little we did a ten day countdown as she only knows up to number ten. By the time we got halfway through she was getting the idea. She was running up to it first thing when we came downstairs ready to cross off another “sleep”! (Not sure if this is because the pack is really good or my daughter is a child prodigy/genius. Ahem).
There’s a little instruction leaflet that was brilliant for people like me who are permanently exhausted from single-parenting-without-the-benefits or (also like me) have the creative ability of the DVLAs phone system.
We did one of the ideas from the leaflet- we made a Post Box for all of the art Sweetpea did whilst Popeye was away.
It worked really well when he got home and they opened the box and she could show him what she had made for him.
If he had been away longer we would’ve posted them out to him. I really wanted to do the “send a hug” idea too but Sweetpea would not lie down and after trying and failing to pin her down to draw round her outstretched arms with a felt tip between my teeth I admitted defeat. Maybe when she’s older or when she’s asleep.
In general the activities and ideas are really varied and can be adapted depending on the age of your Little Trooper or what interests them.
There is a big map too where you can put stickers of where you’ve lived, where you’ve been on holiday and where your service person is. This was great but I felt it was a bit geared towards army families and soldiers that are based in one place for a long time, so to cater to our situation I cut out a picture of a navy ship from the patterned writing paper in the pack, and moved that around the map. You could get a photo of the ship for longer deployments but doing this worked fine for us.
There’s a bit in there that explains why the official flower of military children is a dandelion. Not going to give it away here but it had me in actual proper tears and I’m now thinking of getting another tattoo this time of a dandelion.
All in all it is a really useful little kit. You can join an online community of Little Troopers and they do meet ups, camps and events, so that your children can get to know other military children. This is especially useful to families like ours that don’t live in married quarters. And they are a charity so they do lots of fun fundraising stuff too.
I need to vent, here, in a safe space where I won’t jeopardise my marriage. First let me say I’m not so ungrateful that I don’t love having Popeye home as much as possible. I really really do.
Ok I’m a navy wife, yes sure, but also I’m a mum. I’m a woman in my own right with a career and friends and stuff to do.
As much as I love and adore and get a giddy thrill out of hanging around waiting for Popeye to turn up after however long bobbing around on the big blue it may shock you to know that I don’t like being messed around.
Saying goodbye is tough. In fact it’s worse than tough. It’s shit and getting shitter. Having kids has tipped me over the edge in terms of “goodbye tolerance”. Now, when it’s time for him to go, I just want him to go.
Give us each a kiss, maybe give me a cheeky bum squeeze and go. And more importantly don’t come back!
Let me elaborate, due to the “technical issues” the type 45s have been having, “bye” hasn’t actually meant goodbye in our family for almost a month. A friggin month. A month of goodbyes, tears, getting my bum in gear to cope, getting wine in the fridge, giant bars of chocolate in the cupboard, sky+ing “my” programs on TV and getting on with it.
Only for Popeye to turn up! Again! At home! His two feet decidedly still on the land!
Cue my heart leaping through my chest with happiness, soaring endorphins, goofy grins, cancelled plans with friends and having celebratory takeaways.
Until tomorrow. And tomorrow’s goodbye. Tomorrows heartache. Looking at our little girls face again and explaining “Daddy’s going night night on his boat, bye bye Daddy.” Waving his car off the driveway and wiping a tear away. Again.
Again I get my bum in gear. Again I shift, smoothly and silently into deployed single parent mode. I galvanise myself and my household into coping with Popeye being away. To this being a one-woman show. Complete with fish fingers for dinner, slobbing around watching Peppa Pig and not prioritising washing any of Popeyes stuff. Classy.
Hang on a sec! what’s that noise? His key turning in the lock? Joy of joys he’s home! It’s brilliant to see him, of course it is.
But keeping this up is exhausting for me! It can’t be healthy to be up on cloud 9 with a surprise bonus night or weekend of leave to then crash back down with a bump to the horribleness of goodbyes.
I know it’s not his fault the ship keeps breaking. I know it’s a fleet wide problem blah blah blah. But what is also a fleet wide problem is the families who are on a non stop roller coaster of not knowing which way is up, when their sailor is going to be home or what the hell is going on!
Planning a life, or any kind of stability, in this atmosphere of uncertainty feels like trying to eat a picnic in a whirlwind. Which is a weird analogy but it’s the only one I can think of that fits.
I keep trying to get on with our lives but then “the navy effect” happens and we are once again riding those emotional waves before Popeye has even got onto the real ones. Often with little or notice and whether we want to or not.
I wanted to write a Valentine’s Day blog post to cheer you all up but then I realised I’ve never spent one with Popeye. Not one. In 8 years.
Kinda outside my sphere of experience.
So here’s to all of us staying in and watching pretty woman with a bottle of wine! Huzzah!
Let’s give civvy wives V day. Let’s let them have it and hold no grudges. After all we get homecoming and let’s face it that’s like 1000 times better!
Seriously I’ve decided I pity those civvys having to pin all their romance on one day of the year. Such hope. Such stress. Such potential for disappointment. Such pressure on all parties. Think about it, we get:
Homecoming sex.’nuff said.
All the times they’re at sea for a few weeks then they get weekenders and come home all randy and appreciative and want to take us out for dinner and dancing.
And mid deployment flowers.
And really cool presents from around the world.
Soppy emails and voicemails we can reread or re listen to over and over. (Beats a card in my books.)
So we basically get Valentine’s Day several times a year. Except for the card.
All that being said I’d still quite like to have him home for just ONE Valentine’s Day.