The phone rings- I go all Phone Ninjaand leap the dog to answer it- it’s Popeye of course.
My heart leaps, my pulse races- just to hear his voice on the other end of the line is AMAZING.
“What’s that I can hear in the background?” He asks.
“I’m cleaning out the bath with bleach” replies me, “we had a toddler incident this afternoon involving dog poo, bare feet and the slide- so what have you been up to?” <frantic scrubbing>
“Oh it’s awful here I’m missing home so much”.
“Yes Popeye we miss you so much too- but what have you been up to?”
“Nothing much, you know, I’m so so tired I’ve just sat by the pool and read my book”.
I pause from scrubbing possible dog shit residue out of the bath and stand there in our bathroom with bleach water dripping down my forearm.
“What did you just say?”
Not realising the danger he’s in, the poor tired lamb, repeats himself.
“I just rested by the pool and finished my book”.
I give a slightly maniacal laugh, perfectly timed against the background noise of toddlers screaming and yelling and some suspicious thuds coming from the living room.
“You. Have. No. Fucking. Idea.”
I literally bite my tongue. I’ve never done that before. It hurts but it works. It stopped me from going nuclear on Popeye.
I managed to condense it down to only a five minute rant about his lack of perspective, empathy or understanding of what my day to day looks like.
Because I bit my tongue I managed to scale it back to only a handful of F bombs and C words.
Because I bit my tongue I only once told him that he has no idea I would actually shave all the hair off of my head to be sitting by a pool reading a book. I would buy a wide brimmed hat and style it out.
I then stuttered that I had to go. Hung up on him and poured myself a very large wine.
I stuck my feet in the paddling pool and read slow cooker recipes off of my phone.
I’ve broken one of the cardinal rules of navywifedom.
I’ve booked a holiday for when the ships due back.
And it gets worse.
Ive booked it for the day the ship gets back.
Because it’s my birthday that day.
I’m a total plonker.
It’s my birthday the day the ships back and it’s a significant number (30 ahem, I mean 21) and I’ve booked up a wholesome weekend in Centre Parcs.
(*waves at sniggering mumsnetters*).
So of course now I’ve cursed it. I’ve cursed my birthday, and homecoming and everything.
What the actual fuck was I thinking?!?!?!?!
Have my years as a military wife and prior to that, girlfriend, taught me nothing?!
Am I having some kind of delusional break?! Have I lost my grip on reality?!?!?!?
Of course now the homecoming date will change.
There literally is no point to this post apart from me
Freaking out about my (21st) birthday
Freaking out about having to see popeye and wear a bikini around him straight away.
Going on holiday with a man I haven’t seen in almost a year with two toddlers
The navy fucking up my (poorly laid) plans.
The actual logistics of sorting the house/kids/myself out, going to homecoming, turning around and bombing it down the A303
What I wanted was a lovely birthday and holiday with Popeye.
To be honest I was a little miffed that my birthday was going to be all about him.
What do you think? Am I being totally naive or am I engaging in some weird birthday self sabotage?
P.s if you get the MN and centre parcs reference, don’t jump to conclusions, get your mind out the gutter.
<update> of course something did go wrong and yesI did have to rebook the flipping holiday. I can hear the “I told you so’s” from here. Muchos love x
I’m into the second half of our glorious and magnificent 9 month deployment (sarcasm alert).
So far these phrases have become my vocal soundtrack: Yes I’m at the halfway mark, isn’t that great. Yes I’m sure this half will fly by. Yes it does seem so much more doable since having him home. Yes it was fantastic to have him home, utter perfection, top notch. He is afterall my hero.
(Please note the continuing theme of heavy sarcasm above).
The truth is, having to say goodbye again after what felt like approximately 3.25 minutes on one hand /all of eternity on the other was not wonderful or magical.
In fact it was one of the hardest goodbyes we’ve had. Or that I’ve had, I don’t know about him as I’ve not really heard from him apart from being told he’s alive and on the ship. At least it supports my working theory that goodbyes don’t actually get any easier.
It’s supposed to be two weeks of leave, except it’s actually not. It’s 12 days of leave, with flights here and back out at ridiculous o’clock so it’s more like 10 actual days face to face with your sailor and the rest is him flying across the hemispheres.
The pressure to do things and see people was insane. For 10 days I basically tried to present this Bree Vandekamp version of myself. This lasted approximately 20 minutes after he got back when Sweetpea had a meltdown and I announced I was getting myself a gin.
The doing things part wasn’t so bad, we went to the zoo, we went shopping, Sproglet had her first birthday party (I know I can’t believe it either), and Popeye fought his way valiantly to the bottom of the wash basket, (I had thought the exsistence of a bottom to the washing basket was just a myth or urban legend, turns out it’s a real thing! Just one I have never seen before or since).
And whilst we were doing things he realised, through the behaviour of our darling one and two year olds, that life at home is actually insane 80% of the time.
He realised why I don’t email as much, or in as much detail as I used to.
He realised why our house always has a surface level mess of toys/crumbs/opened wipe packets despite me tidying for a few hours.
He realised that cooking dinner is not a relaxing Annabel Karmel filled bonding experience, but rather an experience akin to Jason Bourne trying to evade the CIA whilst cooking beige food with the token floor offering of veg.
He realised that trying to reason with a toddler, and saying things like “calm down Sweetpea and listen to daddy” whilst she’s mid tantrum is like hitting your head on the floor. Which is ironically usually what the toddler is doing. He also realised I was right in that all you can do is walk away and ignore. *smug face*
He realised all this about our home life in just a ten day crash course in reality and was genuinely scared for me, and amazed that I manage to get them myself and both the girls up and dressed by 8am three days a week.
I was a tad smug. He was in awe of me.
And as for the seeing people- I took on board Peppers advice in her guest blog post and we took all the family visits in big hits, we saw all the family for Sproglets birthday and then saw the outlaws again another day for what was supposed to be a lovely day swimming with Popeyes nephew and our monsters but actually turned into a trip to A&E courtesy of NHS 111 advice for Sproglet (she had a rash but it was just from a virus- just a normal day in the life of parenthood 😑).
I’m so glad we took that advice and had people come to us/ went to see them in batches- to everyone else considering plans for homecoming leave or mid deployment leave- do this !!!!
We did all the things we were supposed to do, we had a wonderful alcohol fuelled date night, we had an blazing argument about pickle. We took zillions of photos. We laughed and I cried (he’s like a stone man or something and hardly ever cries) we did rock and roll things like rewatching Downton Abbey on box set and cuddled on the sofa. God damn it we did everything. In 10 manic days we compressed 4 months of relationship stuff.
It was exhausting. It was exhilarating.
Then it was over.
In the blink of an eye he was gone one night after bedtime was done. His shoes were still by the back door, his coffee cup on the side (Take That reference alert minus the lipstick marks), his toothbrush still left by the sink despite my nagging him to put it away for 10 days.
Now it’s back to work for me, and back to work for him.
We saw, we did, we said goodbye (again).
And I’m so glad he came home and we got that time together, even if every time I see the pickle now I have to stifle a sob.
I’ve been thinking I might have a go at writing some “open when” letters for Popeye. I’m sure you’ve all heard of them. Maybe some of you have even sent them, if you have I’m a teeny but in awe/jelly.
“Open when” letters are letters you write before they deploy that they can open when they’ve deployed at various pre stipulated points.
For example they might say “open when…
You’re missing me
It’s your birthday
It’s our anniversary
You’ve had a bad day
You’ve reached the halfway point of the deployment.
They are a really lovely idea and I’m sure they bring a lot of satisfaction and happiness to many of you.
But (you knew there would be a but didn’t you!) they just ain’t my style.
If me and Popeye were to do this, there would be some serious reality checks involved.
First of all I don’t know when the fuck I would find the time to write a dozen or so poignant declarations of love and reassurance. I barely have time to wash myself or go for a wee in private. Also I’d much rather spend those last few days actually hanging out with Popeye.
Secondly I’m 95%sure Popeye would either read them all in one sitting or forget about them until I mentioned them on the phone and/or the night before homecoming. Kind of ruins the magic a tad.
Thirdly I would be so tempted to put joke answers inside. I don’t think I can be trusted not to be a complete cow and do something like this-
“Open when… you feel like crying” *Popeye, with a sniff, opens letter*
“….ha ha ha ….tit…”
Or “open when…. you are homesick”
*opens letter, maybe a bit more guarded this time*
“….man up or hand in your notice… p.s it’s horrible here anyway…”.
Yeah maybe that’s not the best way to go.
Got it. I’m going to write him “Open when” letters, for a real (as in boring and normal) military relationship, my ideas so far include:
Open when…you’ve spent £200-500 on a night out, phone me from the dockside at 3am slurring, have fallen over and can’t figure out how to hold your phone and stand up at the same time
Open when… you forgot to top up your phone card and we get cut off mid conversation. Even though I reminded you yesterday.
Open when… you haven’t emailed me for days because you’re “so busy” at work but there are Facebook photos of you by the pool and/or selfie with a monkey in gib.
Open when… you realise I’ve spent hours buying, packing and posting out parcels to you and you moan I forgot to put in jelly beans.
Open when… you think it’s a sane idea to give me parenting suggestions from hundreds of miles away
Open when… you’re on a beach sipping cocktails and seriously say that you’d rather be here in rainy old Blighty than a tropical beach paradise luxury resort
Open when… you casually mention on the phone you’ve been doing the T25 work out for the last two months and how it’s going really well knowing full well I’m halfway down a bottle of rosé and have eaten an entire Terry’s chocolate orange since you rang.
And the best thing about this is that I can save time and effort in the contents of the letters! A one-word-fits-all “open when” letter system!
Pre motherhood phonecalls were excellent. Really top notch. Beautiful examples of clear adult communication.
I mean, we got cut off every five minutes or there would be some jarring darlek- like announcement from time to time but looking back, I can say, hand on my heart they were bloody lovely.
Since being blessed with two delightful toddling sprogs with only an 18 month age gap I can safely say phonecalls are shite.
Now, not only do I have to compete with the signal cutting whims of Mother Nature, and the urgently announced need for WO Pugwash to hot foot it to X deck for tea and crumpets with El Captaino, I also have to compete with two screaming small people.
They are happily smacked up on CBeebies, or whatever the latest offering from the iPad is, when the phone rings.
I spring into action, drop the latest pile of plastic tat I’m tidying, or clothes I’m about to wash, or the cloth that’s wiping rice crispies laced with fucking mastic off of the high chair and get to that phone.
The very split second I answer, the nano moment I depress the talk button with my thumb, the very instant I reach my goal- it happens.
My two little contented angels morph into the spawn of the kraken.
They simultaneously start screaming and shouting at me, whilst making a beeline for my calves. I don’t know why they do it, I don’t know how they do it. To be honest with you I don’t really care. The point is they bloody do do it.
So that’s the beginning of the phonecall buggered then.
The rest of it is usually a disjointed conversation, half me trying (and failing) to tell Popeye about my day. The other half is a disjointed running commentary, of what Popeye must only be able to imagine is some kind of scaled down humanitarian crisis. It goes a little bit like this:
“…yeah so I’m really hoping that I can get X done at work tomorrow. Sweetpea put that down, no now, mummy is getting cross, … otherwise it will really mess up the deadline, what is that? No, mummy will take that, it can hurt you, you will cry and need to go to the doctor. Yes the doctor will make your owies all better, but that’s not the point! …that I’ve got on Monday.
I spoke to my sister the other day, yeah she’s fine, she’s moving house and- oh shit Sproglets got a sippy cup full of squash, hang on, (cue wrestling-a-ten-month-old-over-a-cup noises) –give it to mummy, good girl, it’s ok don’t cry. Sproglet here, look! How about this toy ooh look it’s got lights WOW!…so they haven’t set a date for completion but it should be exchanging in the next- Sweetpea give it back to your sister, no, she had it first, give it back now please. Show mummy your BEST sharing!
So how are things with you? Really? Cool. Oh hang on Sweetpeas just come over. What’s the matter? You need a poo. Of course you do. Ok yes mummy will come with you and help.
What’s that Popeye? You need to go? You’re tired. Of course you are. I know how hard you work. No it’s fine. NO! DO NOT TRY TO WIPE IT YOURSELF! I’ve got to go too, love you, bye *click*.
And all of a sudden I’m standing there in the bathroom staring at a toddlers poo-ey bum wondering what the hell we just spoke about.
And realising how bloody excellent pre kids phonecalls were.
Keeping up a front of “coping”during a deployment is exhausting.
It is so exhausting that I can’t actually do it in front of my closest friends. I know if I see them and we have a quiet moment (I.e I have bribed the sprogs with biscuits or quavers or similar) they will ask how I’m doing.
And I will lose it. The floodgates will open and I will cry. I will get all snotty. I will be a total tit.
Even if I am actually doing ok. Even if today was going alright up to this point. Even if I got an email this morning.
And then, then I will have this weird compulsion to apologise for being like this and will start to call myself names to lighten the situation.
“I’m being an idiot”
“My god he’s only been gone X weeks, im such a loser”.
“This is pathetic I’m so sorry!”
Then usually crack a joke.
So I avoid my nearest and dearest in the beginning. Because with them I can let my guard down. Because with them I can let rip because I feel safe and supported. Because with them I can become a snotty, blubbering mess.
They’ve already seen me at my worst. Either puking in a toilet crying about a boy and how I’m never ever drinking sambuca again (uni and “wild youth” friends), or utterly zombiefied with massive black bags under my eyes and no make up with my v sore nipples out trying to work out the sodding latch (early motherhood/breastfeeding friends).
So me having a howl at the dining room table clutching a coffee whilst CBeebies blasts out of the living room isn’t all that shocking.
But I don’t want to get in that state.
I am coping, I’m doing this deployment. If they ask me how I am and I lose it then surely I am not coping.
That’s just logic.
Except I know that it’s not true. Yes I am coping. I mean, everyone is alive, clean fed and dressed. I’m still getting out and about and we still have lazy days.
Maybe breaking down in tears is part of coping , it’s just the part we all forget from time to time.
Maybe I need to let go of the pressure of being a navy wife and a mum with a deployed sailor from time to time. Like a release valve. So that I can keep going, one coffee at a time.
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.
One of the supposed “perks” about deployment is being able to starfish in bed.
Hell its such a well known supposed perk I even blogged about it- here.
It wasn’t a hugely successful blog post and now I have figured out why.
Because starfishing is fucking bollocks.
If you’re a military spouse anyway.
It is so unilaterally shit to roll over half asleep, throw your arm over and cuddle… nothing. Mainly because in your half asleep state you have totally and utterly forgotten about the sodding arse ache deployment and therefore also forgotten he has gone.
So your peaceful, possibly-rude-dream-filled-slumber, has been ruined. All because you dared to forget for thirty seconds that they’ve deployed. You utter monster.
Or you wake up slowly, a few minutes before the alarm/toddler has gone off, and stretch out. The early morning light fills the curtains, maybe a bird is singing or something.
You stick out a (slightly fuzzy deployment) leg, fully expecting to happily collide with the muscly sea salted leg of your sailor. You find…. Nothing. Nada, zip, zilch. Just the 100% cotton fitted sheet from primark (or the dog- which is just weird).
You circle your leg around in the bed, searching and searching in a half asleep state for his leg, like trying to find your keys in your handbag after a night out.
You try to block it out and go back to sleep. What were you dreaming about again? As for me, I try to nudge back into my semi conscious sleep state, it’s a lot more fun there, and (for the next few months at least) I’ll get a lot more action there than in real life.
If (when) that fails, I stretch out in the bed. Arms open, legs akimbo. The standard starfishing position. I try to appreciate it. I really do. But I’d rather be smacking Popeye in the nose and kicking him in his junk than meeting the cold horizontal cliff face of my bedsheets.