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.
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.
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!
First of all I need to say thank you. Thank you for being there for me when I was doing my first deployment and doubting if Popeye would still fancy me when he came back. Reassuring me when I had worries about if I could do this navy life lark, and turning up with a clinking carrier bag and packet of twenty.
Thank you for being there during all the other deployments when I leant on you for support, when I needed an emergency buddy at A&E, when the car broke down and I needed help. For sending round your partner to mow the lawn when I was by myself with Sweetpea. For answering the phone when I was in tears from watching Christmas adverts.
Now for the apologies. And an explanation.
I’m sorry that as soon as Popeye has leave I go to ground. I’m less reliable than a Flake. I don’t text back. I forget plans. I cancel plans and I am so vague about making plans until the last minute.
Please don’t take this personally. I still love you and need your friendship. I’m not ditching you. I think or rather I hope you understand this.
If you don’t then maybe our friendship isn’t strong enough to survive one of us being a military spouse. And my marriage will always come first.
My time with Popeye is so precious. And since we became parents it is even more so. When he’s home we are in our own bubble and we never know what we want to do day to day. Except to be together. As much as possible. Even when we start to annoy each other.
When he has leave it is our one chance to put us first, possibly all year.
Our relationship might need alone time desperately, not just rudey times but quality time.
We need time together to get to know each other again. We’ve both changed whilst he’s been away and we need time to date, to flirt and then to become a functioning couple again. Whenever he comes back it feels weird to even kiss him or have him close to me for a few days. It’s a good kind of weird but it still takes a while to get used to it.
We need to create memories. All the missed birthdays and anniversaries have to be compensated for in a few short weeks during the summer and possibly Easter. Christmas is usually filled with family visits and as such is so mentally busy we hardly see each other. Besides he’s never had all 3 bouts of leave in a year since I’ve known him. So we use these precious few days to treat ourselves and spoil each other. Because we don’t know when our next opportunity will be.
Sometimes our time apart has really tested us. We need time to resolve any issues that have come up whilst we’ve been apart. This is not something we can do in a public/social arena. We need to be at home, talking and finding our way back to normal.
We need to get practical. As you know I try to carry on as “normal” when he’s away but there are always projects or plans saved for leave. This can be because only he can do them or because I feel only he should do them.
Like putting together his daughters new bedroom furniture because he missed her birth and first 6 months of her life. Like decorating the house so it feels like it’s his home too, and so he can find out where everything is kept in the kitchen before we have that big summer BBQ. Because he hasn’t been here since before we moved house and he would be mortified if a guest asked him where something was and he didn’t know. In short we need time for him to feel at home.
I hope you accept my apologies because we won’t be changing. And I hope you accept my thanks because I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being my civvy friend and balancing out the madness and giving me a reality check of how it’s supposed to be. Thank you for your perspective.
You will all know about The Big Black Kit Bag. That HUGE bag with a zillion handles and really useful pockets all around the outside. And it has like the hugest, strongest, chunkiest zip that can do up no matter how many pairs of shoes you squeeze into it.
It’s usually used for carrying all of Popeyes belongings to and from the ship or everything we need for going on a family holiday or for hiding Christmas presents. Very useful. Also very annoying.
It is also called the “Kit Bag”, a “Pussers Grip” (apparently) and “That fucking bag” or “that stupid thing” (usually precluded by me tripping over it and shouting “Popeye MOVE that fucking bag/stupid thing”- for a little context).
I have a very messed up relationship with this bag. In fact I can go so far to say that it is by far the most complicated relationship I have with a bag.
I LOVE the Big Black Kit Bag when I see Popeye emerging down the gangway in his civvys at homecoming with it slung over his shoulder.
I LOVE seeing the Big Black Kit Bag on the back seat of the car in the rear view mirror when we are driving home and getting the hell outta Pompey.
I LOVE the Big Black Kit Bag when it’s put down in the dining room or kitchen or hallway when he first gets home.
During these times, when the BBKB catches my eye, I get a little “zing”, a little rush of happiness and adrenaline. “I love this baaaaaaag!!!!!!” I squeal in my head. I have to restrain myself from dive bombing it in a bear hug and getting into it. I probably would try to sleep in it if I could. (Aside: I can actually fit in it btw. Don’t try this at home etc, go out instead).
I HATE the Big Black Kit Bag when it has been sitting in the dining room or kitchen or hallway for a good few days, or even over a week, getting in my way and generally spewing it’s contents out in every direction all over my/ our (super duper post-deployment tidied) house. I can only imagine Popeye does this because
He NEEDS his Xbox RIGHT NOW as a matter of life and death and had to grab it out of the BBKB in a nanosecond.
He feels the need to display all of his dirty kit and civvy clothes to me as either a subtle hint for me to wash it for him (not going to happen) or to show how very very hard he has worked. Poor lamb.
Some kind of Tracy Emin “Unmade Bed” modern art tribute.
To mess with my head and/or trip me up because he is jealous of my lovely toes and feet.
The other time I HATE HATE HATE that bloody Big Black Kit Bag is when it’s on the bed. Being filled with clothes and books and stuff getting ready for a deployment.
I hate it then. It makes me cry. Seeing it get filled with stuff makes me loathe it because it means Popeye is going away.
I kick it off the bed.
I do. I know it’s childish but I don’t care. I kick that monstrous thing off the bed onto the floor so Popeye has to repack. I do it every time he packs it. It’s like a compulsion.
So much so that last time he left he was so worried about what I’d do (post baby hormonal Olive is apparently v v scary) he packed secretly so I couldn’t kick the bag over.
I also hide things he has packed and tip it out onto the floor. I also hide the bag.
Like that will stop him deploying.
As I said, a very useful, practical kit bag. I just wish I didn’t have to see it about 50% of the time. It’s a weird coincidence that those times are when Popeye is leaving or the homecoming excitement has worn off.
I think I’m in an abusive relationship. Not with hubster Popeye, don’t worry, he’s a kitten, but with time. Let me explain this analogy, ahem: Time, it treats me badly again and again, reduces me to tears and g&t’s and yet I always go back to it when it promises me it will never treat me like that again and how much it wants to make me happy.
See? Time+navy+me=abusive relationship! Or at the very least some kind of unhealthy codependent relationship based on love/hate.
When you are doing a deployment countdown you view time as your mortal enemy, and I, at least, spend a large chunk of each day taking it down a peg or two mentally (hang on maybe I’m the abusive one…). I spend a RIDICULOUS amount of time thinking about time (ironic) and how months and weeks are really not all that long. In short, when Popeye is deployed I demean time, I shorten it and patronise it, I beat it into submission until its not too scary.
For example, two months sounds scary, eight weeks, not so much. Also to say he’s still away for two and half months is awful, but if I take time by the gonads and twist, two and a half months magically turns into ten weeks! Tah dah!
You can also do this not just with months and weeks, but also with days. *gets magic wand and magicians hat*. Firstly, this works best when you’re in the ten week countdown. It also works best when you are alone in the house, holding a giant bar of dairy milk, standing in front of your calendar. No one knows why this is, its just physics or something.
Basically you don’t count the day they are coming back, nor do you count the day you are currently on. This means you can easily, at any point, shave two days off of your countdown as and when needed. Viola! Take that countdown! Here’s some more time magic…
You don’t count the day they are back, because omgomgomgtheyarebacktodayimawakeat3amandIwenttobedat2.45.
You can also not count maybe two or three days before they are home because omgomgimsoexcitedandihavetocleanthehouseandwashthedogandthecarandmyselfanddefuzzandbuyfivenewoutfitsandemergencydiet.
Not enough? You can also cut off any days you are meeting up with friends or staying at other peoples houses, or hotels, because then you won’t miss your sailor as much when you go to bed if you are tired and tipsy and also (as every navy wife knows) time passes quicker when you’re busy.
At the beginning of a deployment round up how much time you have done to give yourself an ego and moral boost. So if they’ve been gone for ten days, that turns into a fortnight, which you mentally say as “half a month”. And then abracadabra-10 days = half a month! Which sounds a hell of a lot better than telling yourself “they’ve only been gone a week and a bit”.
A month consists, always, of four weeks, not five, no matter what the calendar (or the bank) says. This way you can say “one month down, five/six/seven to go!” sooner and feel smugger faster. (I know “smugger” is not a word, but I am employing word magic here as well as time magic so there). You can then use this feeling of amazingness to combat the ‘I don’t know how you do it’ well meaning people’s looks with an “aha but I have already almost,kind of, I’m getting there, DONE it biatches!”
Aaand the best thing is, this feeling of wowzers look at me surviving and time passing aren’t I brilliant only gets better as more time passes!
I suggest you continue lengthen time in this way so that you feel freakin awesome until you reach the halfway point when you can start to shorten time again because, hey you’ve done half a deployment now chick and you are feelin pretty fly.
So that’s one side of my relationship with time, the other side is the side when Popeye is home on leave. Suddenly the very fabric of time changes! Three weeks, which was a very short and laughable amount of nothing-time during deployment is now a beautifully long vast insurmountable amount of time that will last forever. Three weeks becomes an eternity that you refuse to see the end of.
That is until time tricks you once again. Because no matter how 100% sure you are that three weeks is, in fact, forever and ever, no matter how much stuff you plan to cram into those weeks, you will wake up one day, usually for me around about day 17-18 and go “oh crap we haven’t done anything apart from stay in bed,walk the dog, watch walking dead and eat subway for two and a half weeks! How did this happen???”
Answer: Time has tricked me, once again.
And so it starts again, the feeling of super-duper-time-on-steroids whizzing past us both, heading terminally towards him going back to that bloody ship again to spirit him away for odd weeks here and there until the next deployment.
It makes me feel like Wiley coyote and the “meep meep” bird. It really does.
One of our strengths is, as navy wives and girlfriends, we can weave a mysterious magic with time. But, as Spider-Man taught me, with great power comes great responsibility. And time will come back around and bite you on the bum the second you start to relax your attention to it.
My advice, never take your eyes off it, it’s a tricky, sneaky thing, which is simultaneously my best friend and my greatest enemy.