It seems clichéd to say I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last 12 months but I really have. This time last year my hubby left for a 6month op tour in the Middle East and I became a single mum to two very young children: aged 3years and 15months. Now, I know I am lucky in many ways because this was the first real separation we have had even though we were together 6 years at that point, but that is part of the reason that it was such a steep learning curve.
The day I took hubby to the airport was an emotional day for lots of reasons. Obviously, I was fairly distraught at him leaving but it was also the day that Scotland was hit with one of the worst snow storms we had seen. I have to say, it matched my mood but it made for a stressful journey home that’s for sure! It took over 2 hours to drive a 30min journey and I almost came off the road just before I got home.
From that first day I felt the weight of responsibility, not just in terms of being responsible for the kids in a physical sense but also for helping them negotiate the emotional journey they would go through over the next 6 months. There were many times that I reassured my daughter that it was ok to be upset and to miss her daddy while trying to control my own sadness. I have to say, there were also one or two times when we had a little cry together.
As she was only 3 she did not, or could not, always vocalise her feelings. She would often say, ‘Mummy, Daddy has been gone for too many days…’ but she was also much more clingy and insecure than she previously was and these were all warning signs for me that she wasn’t as ‘ok’ as she sometimes seemed. I did my best to reassure her and make sure she felt safe and loved but it was never going to be the same as having Daddy home with us.
I also learnt a lot about myself during this deployment. I am an only child and I have always been perfectly content in my own company, enjoying a quiet house as much as a house full of friends and family. I thought I would enjoy having the house to myself, and to a certain extent I did, but I guess you can have too much of a good thing! There were times when I really missed being able to talk through my day with someone or basically just having an adult conversation!
I seem to be rolling out all of the clichés today but I also really learnt who my true friends were during this time. Some of my friends, and family, were a massive help and I literally could not have got through it without them. Some shared the physical load, babysitting or helping with bath/bedtime and providing some much needed adult conversation. Others helped by organising playdates or inviting us for lunch, etc, helping to pass the time and distract the kids. Others were at the end of a phone providing much needed moral support. In short, I found my village!
One more cliché before I’m done… absence really does make the heart grow fonder! Although we were massively lucky in that my hubby was posted somewhere with half decent (but only half) wifi and so we could send messages and usually video chat, the time difference meant that we could usually only do that just before the kids went to bed. Most parents out there will know this as the witching hour when the kids are tired and slightly feral. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to have a sensible chat while two small children use you as a climbing frame, but it isn’t easy… it was snatches of conversation at most. We did manage to have a proper talk around once a week, when the kids were at nursery, and I really looked forward to that time. I could actually speak to ‘hubby’ instead of ‘daddy’ and that meant a lot. I did miss him terribly though and it was often a tearful goodbye.
The other difficulty was that my hubby and I were also trying to organise a transatlantic move during these phonecalls so there wasn’t much time for general chit chat. We knew that when he came home we would have a matter of weeks before we moved our family to the States to start our next adventure.
Given all of these pressures, it is a wonder we all made it through in one piece but not only did we do that but I think we are a stronger family for having gone through it. Please don’t get me wrong, I would never wish to do it ever again if we can help it, but we are definitely all stronger, individually and as a unit, than we were this time last year and for that I am grateful.
If you want to read more about how we got through the deployment, see Go Big or Go Home. If you want to read about the joyous moment hubby finally returned, see The Homecoming. The rest of the post-deployment blogs can all be found here. Enjoy!
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