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.
So we have survived the first longish stint of Daddy Being Away.
It was only about a month but Im feeling bloody proud that I have managed to keep both children alive with very little outside help and snotty colds and 8 week jabs. Im also a tad relieved that I haven’t lost it and left them at a nunnery. (And no this is not just because I don’t know any Hampshire nunneries).
Ive had quite bad mum guilt that I didn’t try to do more wholesome “making memories” shit. I didn’t even attempt any baking and I can safely say that the iPad is partially raising my toddler. We have watched a lot of Disney.
But they are alive so I’m chalking it up as a win.
Whilst Popeye was stuck down in Plymouth (because his ship was buggered-giant surprise) we were able to finally try out the separation pack we had been given from Little Troopers .
This helped with the mum guilt because I was getting so fed up of this:
Me-“on his boat.”
Sweetpea-“[see] Daddy soon?”
Me- (silent sob) “no see Daddy later. Daddy gone night night on the boat.”
Sweetpea-“bye bye Daddy”
Me- “yes that’s right, bye bye daddy.”
Talk about heartbreaking! And, after the gazillionth time, dare I say, a little bit annoying?
That’s when the separation pack really came into play. It actually helped Sweetpea grasp what was going on and helped me not lose my mind from having to explain it to her over and over again.
It gave the whole downer of being separated from Popeye/Daddy an actual positive vibe and I can’t recommend it enough.
What is it? An A4 pack of resources and ideas of things to do to help your children cope with a parent being away from home.
First I chose an area in the house to put it all up. I didn’t want to to be too prominent in the house- I didn’t want her to be reminded Popeye was gone all the time- I also chose somewhere quiet so she could go there to think about Daddy when she needed to.
( I also wouldn’t put stuff on the wall above the dogs water bowl if your child likes water play and pulling things off of walls. 😑)
I found an OK photo of Sweetpea with Popeye and put that in the special “Hero” (a bit cheesy for me but v sweet for children) frame. This gave Sweetpea something to focus on and she could go and kiss the photo good night or we used it to talk about Daddy from time to time too. She also put it down the loo at one point but I’ve told Popeye not to take this personally. (And photos don’t dissolve if you antibac them btw- who knew?)
My favourite thing about the separation pack was the chuff chart. It’s supposed to be for the kids but to be honest I was using it just as much as the Sweetpea.
The chuff chart is really practical- you can adapt it for any length of separation-you just add another calendar sheet if you need to. You can decorate or colour it in and there’s a “notes” bit if your trooper needs to jot anything important down. You can put stickers on it if you’ve been on day trips (not that we did lol) and really adapt it for your family.
As Sweetpea is quite little we did a ten day countdown as she only knows up to number ten. By the time we got halfway through she was getting the idea. She was running up to it first thing when we came downstairs ready to cross off another “sleep”! (Not sure if this is because the pack is really good or my daughter is a child prodigy/genius. Ahem).
There’s a little instruction leaflet that was brilliant for people like me who are permanently exhausted from single-parenting-without-the-benefits or (also like me) have the creative ability of the DVLAs phone system.
We did one of the ideas from the leaflet- we made a Post Box for all of the art Sweetpea did whilst Popeye was away.
It worked really well when he got home and they opened the box and she could show him what she had made for him.
If he had been away longer we would’ve posted them out to him. I really wanted to do the “send a hug” idea too but Sweetpea would not lie down and after trying and failing to pin her down to draw round her outstretched arms with a felt tip between my teeth I admitted defeat. Maybe when she’s older or when she’s asleep.
In general the activities and ideas are really varied and can be adapted depending on the age of your Little Trooper or what interests them.
There is a big map too where you can put stickers of where you’ve lived, where you’ve been on holiday and where your service person is. This was great but I felt it was a bit geared towards army families and soldiers that are based in one place for a long time, so to cater to our situation I cut out a picture of a navy ship from the patterned writing paper in the pack, and moved that around the map. You could get a photo of the ship for longer deployments but doing this worked fine for us.
There’s a bit in there that explains why the official flower of military children is a dandelion. Not going to give it away here but it had me in actual proper tears and I’m now thinking of getting another tattoo this time of a dandelion.
All in all it is a really useful little kit. You can join an online community of Little Troopers and they do meet ups, camps and events, so that your children can get to know other military children. This is especially useful to families like ours that don’t live in married quarters. And they are a charity so they do lots of fun fundraising stuff too.
I need to vent, here, in a safe space where I won’t jeopardise my marriage. First let me say I’m not so ungrateful that I don’t love having Popeye home as much as possible. I really really do.
Ok I’m a navy wife, yes sure, but also I’m a mum. I’m a woman in my own right with a career and friends and stuff to do.
As much as I love and adore and get a giddy thrill out of hanging around waiting for Popeye to turn up after however long bobbing around on the big blue it may shock you to know that I don’t like being messed around.
Saying goodbye is tough. In fact it’s worse than tough. It’s shit and getting shitter. Having kids has tipped me over the edge in terms of “goodbye tolerance”. Now, when it’s time for him to go, I just want him to go.
Give us each a kiss, maybe give me a cheeky bum squeeze and go. And more importantly don’t come back!
Let me elaborate, due to the “technical issues” the type 45s have been having, “bye” hasn’t actually meant goodbye in our family for almost a month. A friggin month. A month of goodbyes, tears, getting my bum in gear to cope, getting wine in the fridge, giant bars of chocolate in the cupboard, sky+ing “my” programs on TV and getting on with it.
Only for Popeye to turn up! Again! At home! His two feet decidedly still on the land!
Cue my heart leaping through my chest with happiness, soaring endorphins, goofy grins, cancelled plans with friends and having celebratory takeaways.
Until tomorrow. And tomorrow’s goodbye. Tomorrows heartache. Looking at our little girls face again and explaining “Daddy’s going night night on his boat, bye bye Daddy.” Waving his car off the driveway and wiping a tear away. Again.
Again I get my bum in gear. Again I shift, smoothly and silently into deployed single parent mode. I galvanise myself and my household into coping with Popeye being away. To this being a one-woman show. Complete with fish fingers for dinner, slobbing around watching Peppa Pig and not prioritising washing any of Popeyes stuff. Classy.
Hang on a sec! what’s that noise? His key turning in the lock? Joy of joys he’s home! It’s brilliant to see him, of course it is.
But keeping this up is exhausting for me! It can’t be healthy to be up on cloud 9 with a surprise bonus night or weekend of leave to then crash back down with a bump to the horribleness of goodbyes.
I know it’s not his fault the ship keeps breaking. I know it’s a fleet wide problem blah blah blah. But what is also a fleet wide problem is the families who are on a non stop roller coaster of not knowing which way is up, when their sailor is going to be home or what the hell is going on!
Planning a life, or any kind of stability, in this atmosphere of uncertainty feels like trying to eat a picnic in a whirlwind. Which is a weird analogy but it’s the only one I can think of that fits.
I keep trying to get on with our lives but then “the navy effect” happens and we are once again riding those emotional waves before Popeye has even got onto the real ones. Often with little or notice and whether we want to or not.