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.
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.
Why does no one talk about the Parallel Universe of new flung parenthood?
Sure there are a zillion million websites and vlogs devoted to telling you platitudes Such as “you’re doing brilliantly” and also the bloody classic “motherhood is so hard but it’s so rewarding”.
Well I am just here to raise a small flag (as a mother of 2 and 3 year old girls) to say to hell it is!!!
As a new Mum all you can think about is four things (mostly 1 &2 to be fair)
sleep. Glorious sexy wanton sleep. SLEEP.
breastfeeding- my boobs! They hurt! Am I doing this right? Are they getting enough and I can’t believe stuff is coming out of them!!!!
3. Am I clean? *sniffs self*. Nope.
4. I really should eat.
5. Sleep. I really want to sleep. I would commit a crime in order to sleep right now.
And that’s basically it.
For the first few week or so as a new Mum the entire world can just do one.
All that matters in the world is you and your little one. And getting the sodding bastarding latch right.
And I think that’s okay.
In fact I think it’s more than ok.
I think it’s a essential component of human kinds survival.
I think it’s an instinct.
I think it’s a way of saying that I NEED to hold my baby right now, thanks mother in law/ helpful now-great-aunt but this is MY JOB.
And yes- I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.
And yes!!! It fucking hurts!
And yes!!! I AM GOING TO KEEP GOING
It’s my baby and my body and my mind all involved in this gig called motherhood.
My body can tolerate more than my husband or partner will ever know.
I know my mind is strong. I’m the strongest woman Popeye will ever know and I’ve got this.
I look at my baby’s face and realise failure not an option anymore because I made this.
This total and utter perfection. This smallness. This beauty.
This infinite potential.
Let me tell you mothers of small squidgins of loveliness- the haze will lift. And you won’t even know its happening.
An hours more sleep here, a shower alone during nap time there, slowly the streams of babbling get clearer, they reach out a small hand into the wide world and grasp precisely what they were aiming for.
And suddenly they are there- demanding food in receptacles that YOU TAUGHT HER TO SAY. And she can sing all the songs from Frozen.
Now suddenly she can get dressed, tell me the plot to moana and insist she has pigtails today.
And I know. I’ve done it.
I’m a mother.
The fog. It’s gone. Her clarity brings my role sharply into focus like it wasn’t when she was my infant baby.
How did this happen?! From those first crazy days of learning how to latch, how baby wipes are an essential component of civilised society and wtf a jumperoo was- I really don’t know. But I did it man.
I never ever knew what I was doing.
I was alone and scared a lot of the time. During deployments with a newborn to a six month old, and another 9 month deployment with a 2 year old and a six month old. Woah.
I did that. We did that.
I don’t know how it happened. From the moment I found out I was pregnant it’s been like a runaway train. There was excitement. Then tiredness. And goodbyes. And homecomings. Then more goodbyes then (more) tiredness. And another homecoming.
I see them grow and bloom. And now I’m back at excitement again.
The Navy is endless dreams, limitless opportunity, ‘a life without limits.’
…from whose perspective?
The navy is weekending, spending week days apart and weekends at home.
The navy is rubbish signal, unanswered text messages, ‘one tick’ WhatsApp’s, and satellite calls- calls on a timer, non private calls, no calls as he’s at sea, drunken inebriated calls after a run ashore, quick calls as he is exhausted from fire exercises and desperately needs sleep.
The Navy is missed dates, missed appointments, missed opportunities, missed anniversaries, missed birthdays, giving birth alone.
Cancelled weddings, rearranged weddings, then ‘back to the original date’ weddings, to be ‘ship’s programme has changed again but nothing is set in stone so who knows? Weddings’.
The Navy extracts the usual impending excitement towards approaching milestones and events, replacing it with anxiety and worry; missed excitement because deep down you know that until he is in front of you and it is happening at that moment, things change and it may never come to fruition.
The Navy is deployments, the emotional cycle of deployment, emotionally distancing yourselves from the relationship as a form of self preservation, attempting to live a normal life when a ‘normal’ life is blatantly incompatible with retaining the serving person’s deployability and operational capability.
The Navy is the psychotic ex girlfriend who has the power over your every move, who can and will swoop in at any given moment to rain on your parade, exert her authority and remind you that no matter what SHE comes first and she always will, ‘suck it up buttercup and pull up your big girl pants!’
The Navy is arguments about whose fault it is, about resentment, loneliness and a longing for a sense of permanency.
The Navy makes you question what is important to you in life? What defines whether a person is successful, what your purpose is in life, are you doing the right thing? Are you, as the wife / partner selfish for holding them back by expecting their devotion to you and the family? Are you, the serving person selfish for expecting your partner to stay at home, suck it up, smile and get on with it, be the one who is left behind alone at last minute, be the one to pick up the pieces and cope with whatever life throws at you, alone… or is the Navy actually asking the impossible?
The Navy is ‘you knew what you were getting into?’ REALLY? How can you know until you live it? The answer is you can’t and you don’t!
The Navy is separate lives, living and breathing the ship, down time, work time, duties,
Living your life to the Navy’s ideology.
The Navy is awkward questions and discussions,
Strange activities that are somehow only within the military’s realm of normality and acceptance,
A shared sense of understanding as, for want of a better term ‘you’re all in the same boat.’
The Navy pushes you to your limit, your family to their limit, your friends to theirs-
It causes arguments, rifts, sleepless nights, anxiety, depression and uncertainty.
The Navy forces you to sink or swim.
In a couple or alone.
Faced with choices that either make you solidify your relationship and hatch a plan,
Or force cracks at the seams and force you apart.
The Navy has many positives as an employer but it is primarily the Navy and it ‘protects our nation’s interests’ but at what cost
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.
Obvious statement alert: Deployment with children is very different to deployment when it’s just you to think about.
I mean, there’s the stuff you kind of know you’re going to have to do; like explaining where mummy/daddy is, doing countdowns with sweets and sticker charts et al but what about the other stuff?
The stuff pre-children-navy-wife-olive had no idea about whatsoever.
Before starting a family I could (and did) wear pjs for a whole weekend, eat my weight in ice cream and have mad nights out with friends to numb the pain. I could cry at leisure and put on destinys child full blast whilst painting my toenails at 11pm at night because it made me feel better.
Now I have to be Super Positive Coping Mummy. SPC Mummy puts on a brave front, answers any and all heartbreaking “where’s daddy?” Type questions with a smile and a biscuit. SPC Mummy doesn’t drink (much) lovely lovely wine the night daddy goes because no matter what SPC Mummy is available 24/7 to attended to all and any small people needs. Including needing jam on toast at 5 freaking AM. SPC Mummy doesn’t get to watch soppy films all morning huddled under the duvet with chocolate, SPC Mummy is carrying on with going to the park, walking the dog and remembering to take carrier bags with her to Lidl.
Pre children when Popeye rang I was able to (literally) drop everything, hurdle the dog and drop roll over the coffee table to get to the phone.
Post children- I have missed the phone ringing due to bathtimes, being stuck under a sleeping newborn who has finally gone to sleep with the phone just out of reach, not to mention the ringtone obliterator that is sodding tots n tunes. Ten or so toddlers “singing” wind the bloody bobbin up is unsurprisingly incompatible with hearing Popeyes personalised “captain Pugwash” ringtone.
And if by some strange fluke of chance you actually get to answer the phone you now have to share those precious few minutes with a small person covered in jam that just wants to talk about Peppa Pig/ an interesting stone they found/ how mummy won’t give her another chocolate egg (side note: my daughter is still devastated Easter is over. Several months later she still blames me).
I never even considered having to explain to my toddler that every single boat does not have daddy on it. I never thought for a second that I would have to compare our family unit to that of Danny Dog from (of course) that Pig cartoon. Because Danny’s daddy goes away then comes back and decides to never leave again. So thank you for that conversation Peppa. Because my daughters daddy isn’t coming home for a long long time and then will have to go away again. And again. Unlike Mr Dog.
During bedtimes (when no one will just go the heck to sleep) I’ve daydreamed about a cartoon where there is an actual military family portrayed, showing our strength and resilience. Demonstrating the sacrifices we make in every day situations and it’s no biggie. How we switch from being a parenting team to the practical equivalent of single parents in the blink of an eye.
SPC Mummy probably should have her own TV show. Or at least a cape.
If it were a cartoon the most important thing it could give my daughters is an example of how our military family is a normal family.
Even if they do have jam smeared on their faces and stones in their pockets, this is their normal and now a deployment with children has become my normal too.
SPC Mummy- away!!!!
*swirls around in her cape and flies off to solve another deployment related toddler question*