Ok *oversharing alert* family and friends click away now.
Popeye has just reminded me of something that has happened every deployment and I’m wondering if it happens to you too.
Thing is, it’s a tad embarrassing.
A smidge, a pinch, a wee bit cringe inducing.
When your partner deploys, companionship and wholesome friendship issues aside, it leaves a big gap in your sex life. There’s a *ahem* how do I put it- a romantic need that he just *ahem* can’t fulfill because he is several thousand miles away.
We all have our own “coping mechanisms” and this post is not about that. It’s about something else that happens after a “dry spell” spanning several months.
Every time Popeye has been on deployment I have had (occasional) rude dreams.
(This, so far, is pretty normal right? Stay with me. It gets weird)
Every time Popeye has been on deployment I have had rude dreams that are not starring Popeye.
(Ok ok we’re all grown ups here, we can admit that dreaming about someone other than your partner does happen and although totes cringey and not something you mention down the phone- not exactly something entering into the realms of bizarre.)
Here it is-
Every time Popeye has deployed I have had rude dreams about low status TV personalities.
Not even proper slebs! These fantasy dreams have starred such well known hotties as
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Each time I’ve woken up totally and utterly freaked out and emailed Popeye in a state of utter squeamishness.
I don’t know why my subconscious seeks out middle aged gardeners and organic chefs as prime X rated dream stars.
But it does. And it scares me. I don’t get my brain. When I’m awake, they do nothing for me. Sorry Al and Hugh, no offence but you’re just not my type(s).
Tell me I’m not the only one?
Seriously, you guys have had freaky weird sex dreams too, right guys? Right?!
I want to set the record straight once and for all about something that gets said to military wives frequently around homecoming time. It is usually said by our old pals Well Meaning people but can also be chucked around by randoms you meet out and about, who have all the quiet tact and discretion of HMS Queen Liz coming into Portsmouth.
Heres the basic script:
Military spouse: “OMGOMGOMG I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL POPEYE IS HOOOOOME!”
Well meaning twat person: “Aww thats cute. Give it a few days and you’ll wish they were away again. Lolz”.
Oh how we all laughed! These well meaning people, how spot on they are. How well they know what we go through. Its uncanny. Unsettling even.
(Heavy sarcasm alert.)
Why on gods green earth would we want them to bugger off again?
This is what I want to say to these well meaning people (because you cant really say it to their faces, unless you’re a total cow/self confident superstar.)
Statement of truth, from Olive, to all you Well Meaning People:
“When the loves of our lives return to us from the sea, or the land, or the sky, from war torn countries, landscapes filled with unimaginable horrors, dangers and poor wifi, we are elated.
They are home safe. We can speak to them again, we can touch them again, we can smell them again (not in a creep way).
After the initial dazzling, hazy period after homecoming fades, when all the friends and relatives have been visited, the family holiday completed, the special homecoming food and booze consumed; the return to real life commences.
Its not glamorous, its not perfect, its not chocolates and flowers.
Its remembering their annoying habits (leaving his toothbrush on the side of the sink), their idiosyncrasies (like letting rip with the hugest fart every morning when they wake), and their faults (cannot load the dishwasher correctly).
Its them getting used to being at home with us again too. Its very much a two way street. We change when they’re away too.
We are stronger, we are more confident, we can top up the oil in the car, get two kids up and out by 8am and we can manage the family finances alone.
It takes time to find the balance.
Healthy, normal couples find the balance by communicating. Synonyms for this include bickering, nagging, sarcastically reminding, huffing and stropping and of course, the old classic, moaning.
And here we come to the core of the issue-
None of this means we want them to leave again!
Yes they can do our heads in, and I’m sure I annoy the hell out of Popeye at times (infact I know I do, because he tells me).
But understand, dearest Well Meaning Person, that this in NO way equates to us wanting them to leave, to having to go through a deployment again.
What it does mean is that we, as a normal couple, are finding our way back to everyday life together, again.
So please, when you think of your “hilarious” commentary on my relationship, kindly STFU.
I was so worried Popeye wouldn’t bond with our eldest, Sweetpea. He was deployed for 7 months and I was terrified he would miss the birth.
Which of course he did, by about 35 minutes.
At the time it was my worst fear come true. But after a few hours in labour I really couldn’t give a flying fuck if he was there or not as I realised only I could do this. Not him. Me. Even with my amazing sister there as support, there was only one fandango available for the 8lb 3oz of blessing to shoot through.
So Sweetpea arrived safely at home, as planned. Phew.
Popeye turned up half an hour later which gave me just enough time to arrange myself like My Lady Mother complete with non medusa hair and clothes on.
I was petrified he wouldn’t bond with her.
He was only home for four weeks and after that gone for another 5.5 months.
I spent those four weeks willing them to bond, to have a magical father daughter connection etc etc. This is very tricky when exclusively breastfeeding a baby with a tongue tie and jaundice who spends 23 hours a day onyou.
Not that much “quality time” could happen.
Turns out this is normal for new babies. Babies need to be on their mum. Next to them, being held, being fed, puking all over, shitting all over, sleeping on their mum. Then feeding some more for good measure.
So Popeye left me with this four week old feeding pooping machine and flew back to his ship in the Middle East.
Time passed, homecoming happened! We were reunited as a family at last.
And it was fine.
Popeye and Sweetpea bonded brilliantly. They had an immediate connection and she’s now a real daddies girl. Breastfeeding her had no negative impact on their bond, it just meant I was stuck doing bedtimes for a bit.
And they are still so close. Even when Popeye deployed again for 9 months this time, when she was two. They really are thick as thieves and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
All my worrying was for nothing to be honest. Him being deployed did not negatively effect his relationship with his baby.
It took him some time to get to grips with the practicalities. Like how to put babygros on them. And to always have a pocket of wipes within arms reach.
And the somber knowledge that we will never feel rested again was hard for him to get his head round but all in all I have never been so glad to be proved wrong!
Plus he owed me so many nappy changes when he came home. Kinda made it worth it in itself 😉.
When I was pregnant again with Sproglet I wasn’t so worried.
This was because I knew
Only I can give birth, so whether Popeye is there or not is kind of irrelevant when you get down to the nitty gritty.
They will bond, whether that’s now or in a few months.
It’s not the job that stops some men being the best dad they can be.
It’s not the quantity of time you spend with your baby it’s the quality.
Look on the bright side, he will have to make up for it with nappy changes and giving you naps for all the night wakings. SCORE!
In short it’s the man not the military that influence if they will be a good dad or not.
There’s no rule saying you have to suck it up and smile sweetly when they tell you they are missing your anniversary.
You can be annoyed, and rightly so, you can be hurt, you can be miffed and vexed and whatever-the-hell-you-need-to-feel when they “forget” to tell you they are duty weekend until 4pm on a Friday.
Sometimes we military wives need a little reality check.
It is fine to be pissed off when your partner cancels plans. Even if the reason for this cancelled plans is some MOD top priority mission. It’s fine.
It’s normal to be slightly vexed at having to switch Friday night plans from romantic dinner then bars then casino to dominoes and a bottle of red for one in your pjs at 45 minutes notice.
It’s understandable to not be cheerful and jolly ho and well wishing, when calling up the travel agent and praying with crossed fingers, that you can rebook the holiday you’ve saved a whole year for.
It is healthy to feel the rage at these times. It would be bizarre if you didn’t. And if it didn’t you might start doing weird passive aggressive things like deliberately putting gone off milk in his tea before he leaves, or “accidentally”‘deleting all the game of thrones on the sky planner. Or you might take it out on the BBKB (Big Black Kit Bag) in a barely contained fit of rage.
Although it might make you feel better in the short term it won’t for long.
So please please ladies, don’t try to hold it together. When you feel pissed off, be pissed off.
Get vocal, get sweary, hang up on them if you need to. Cry if you need to.
Just don’t for Petes sake, bottle it all up.
Because at the end of the day, whether you lose the plot and let him have it both barrels, or you suppress it with your best stepford wife smile, the shits still going to hit you just the same.
At least this way you will deal with it in a way that it healthy for you. Because sadly the shits going to hit that military relationship fan again and again. And yes as time goes on you will get used to it in a way- but that doesn’t mean the shit doesn’t still stink.
Shout it loud and shout it proud ladies- but only if you want to.
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.