Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Deployment Survival Guide

John has been home a whole month which is crazy.  We have been spending a lot of time as a family adjusting to our new (better) normal.  I have had some time to think about all of the things that helped get me through his deployment and want to share them on this blog.  Remember, this is MY survival guide as a 30 year old mother of two toddlers.  I am perfectly aware that we all have different wants, needs, and situations.  If I had written this on John's first or second deployment (with no kids and graduate school/a full time job) it would have been totally different (um, survival tip #1 would have been dinner and drinks with friends at least once per week with a trip to the Norfolk BANQUE for good humor).   Notsomuch anymore.

1.  A sense of humor and a can-do attitude.

This isn't just a deployment survival tool, but a life survival tool.  There were many mornings where I would be standing in the kitchen at 6:30 AM while two kids cried and whined, the dog was standing at my feet looking for breakfast, and the cat was meowing because of the kids crying.  And I would just LAUGH.  Maybe in a maniacal way, but I still laughed.  It was either that or run screaming out the front door. 

Look for the humor in things, embrace the fact that you can't change your situation, know you are capable of much more than you think.  The days where I let the dark words "I can't do this" into my mind were my worst days.  The days where I would remind myself that "this too shall pass" and work on one issue at a time, forgave myself for not being perfect, and remembered the big picture were the better days.

2.  Family and Friends

It is okay to accept help.  It is okay to tell people you need something.  In October (rock bottom) I called my mother in tears.  I was just absolutely at my wits end.  My mother got in the car and drove the four hours down to help that day.  Be HONEST with yourself - I needed help.  Thankfully, my mother arrived as my knight in shining armor.

Surround yourself with as many supportive, happy, encouraging people as you can.  If a friend offers to help you and you need help - take it.  There is no trophy for doing everything yourself all the time. 

3.  Boxed Wine

I'm not kidding.

Although the name of this blog implies that I drink a lot, it isn't really the truth.  I probably have one glass of wine about three times per week.  Early on in the deployment I would open a bottle of wine and inevitably it would get dumped down the sink a few days later because I didn't drink it in time.  I'm sure a lot of solo parents have this issue. Enter my friend Melissa, the guru of wine, and she recommended Black Box.  (this is not an advertisement, I am not being paid, blah blah blah)

Black Box is 4 bottles of wine in an air-tight bag in a box and lasts about a month.  It gave me the freedom to drink wine at my leisure without worrying about wasting another good bottle of wine.  It is a high quality boxed wine so it doesn't taste gross or make you feel like you are slumming it.  If you are the type of person who enjoys a relaxing glass of wine in the evening but doesn't like the pressure of having to finish the bottle alone then BB is a good ticket.

4.  Get out of the house every day

Even if getting out of the house is a long walk around your neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store - just go.  There was nothing that gave me the "blahs" faster than sitting around the house all day.  I got cranky, the kids got stir crazy, and toward the end of the day it would be a train wreck.  I needed to talk to at least see that there were other adults in the world.  The kids needed the change of scenery.  We needed milk.  It was almost always a win-win to get in the car and go somewhere. 

5.  Luxuries

Reward yourself.  Decide what you love, what you can afford, and make sure you do something nice for yourself.  My luxuries during this past deployment were a cleaning lady every other week and a babysitter once per week.  For you it might be a bi-weekly pedicure or massage, buying yourself new shoes each month, or something else that makes you happy.  Obviously this is at the mercy of your budget and your preferences. 

The military pays you more during deployment for a reason.  Taking a parent out of the house makes things markedly harder.  You cant' just run to the store after bedtime while your spouse holds down the fort.  You can't schedule doctor's appointments for when your spouse is available to watch the kids.  If I wanted or needed to go somewhere without the kids, I had to pay someone $10-$12 an hour.  You start understanding why "family separation pay" was created... and it isn't to save for the new car when you husband returns.

Go over the budget before your spouse leaves and see if there is some room for a babysitter, drop in daycare once per week, or any other thing you desire.  It is important to recharge your batteries and look forward to some alone time every once in awhile.  If being a good mother is the most important thing to me, then getting away from them a few hours per week is an imperative. 

6.  Set Realistic Goals

You will inevitably have some time where you can get some goals accomplished - do it!  Be realistic, write it down, put the time aside.  It can be anything from weight loss to getting your scrapbooks or picture albums organized.  After 7pm I often felt lonely and would look to my goals for inspiration on what to do with those hours.  You can only watch so many episodes of the Real Housewives... 

7.  Hit the Road

I traveled a lot less during John's first two deployments than this one.  Back then I was very busy with graduate school.  We lived on the southside and I would commute to Williamsburg nearly every day for class (about 45 minutes one-way without any traffic).  I usually didn't get home until close to 10pm.  I had internships in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, worked as a substitute teacher in my spare hours, and was just spread thin with my professional and educational obligations.  Because of that, I really didn't travel at all.

This time my obligations (Kate and Connor) were more portable-ish.  I would try to plan at least one trip per month.  Most of them were to Northern Virginia where my family is, but we also went to Connecticut and I went to Florida and France.  Packing and getting there were usually pretty stressful, but there wasn't one trip I went on that I regretted.  I got to see friends, the kids got to see new places, and I had a few extra sets of hands to help me.  It made time go by quickly and gave me small milestones to look forward to throughout the seven months. 

8.  Coffee on a morning timer

'Nuf said.

9.  Memberships

We belong to the YMCA and have year-passes to our local zoo, botanical garden, and children's museum.  I had zero excuse to be bored.  The YMCA has a daycare so if I was having a rough morning I could go put the kids in the daycare and run upstairs to jump on a treadmill for 45 minutes.  I could then shower in peace, get dressed as slowly as I pleased, and then pick the kids up feeling like a million bucks.  Our Y even has a "reading room" that is a quiet space for perusing People Magazine while someone else watches your kids.  Priceless.

Aside from being a good investment, seasons passes give you the freedom to go to the zoo or museum and only stay as long as everyone is happy.  If one of my kids just isn't having a good day, I can leave after 20 minutes and not be worried about the $20 I just wasted.  It gave me amazing freedom to just put them in the stroller, go see the monkeys, and leave.  No biggie.  No stress. 

10.  Make Communicating with your Spouse Easy

I like paper letters and love to send them to John.  To make it easy, I have a stationery drawer in my kitchen where I keep a big supply of cards and notes.  When I am at Target or Hallmark I don't buy one card - I buy 10.  Then when it strikes me, I can just go into the drawer and have plenty of cards to choose from, write it really quick (or let the kids scribble on it after breakfast), and throw it in the mail.  If it is easy you will do it.  If you have to go to the store, but the card, write the card, find the address in a pile of junk, then hit the post office for a stamp you will never do it.  But our spouses love and appreciate mail.  I'll never forget when it clicked with John why people are so happy and proud of their kids' artwork.  For him, having something that "her little hands" had touched and created meant the world to him.  So I made a huge effort to regularly do this.

If you don't love paper letters, use your iPhone or email account to send lots of notes and pictures.  Keep it simple and set yourself up for success.  If it is a headache you won't follow through and communication is incredibly important for everyone in the family.


That is all I can think of right now.  Of course, if you have some great ideas for women who are going through deployment, please share them in the comment section.


Cold Coffee said...

I have been through a deployment, but it was before I had a baby. Even though my husband is now doing the civilian thing, being a stay at home mom of a seven month old, SO MUCH of this is useful to a new mom--military or not, deployed spouse or not. It's so often about the little things. A cup of coffee ready and waiting after you've been up half the night and are staring at a disaster of a house is kind of like mommy magic. ;)

Jen said...

Start a blog! I did in 2009 when Jason deployed. It helped me process everything. Or I guess just a written journal helps. I like to go back and read about things I did or feelings I was having.

I wish I knew about (good) boxed wine back then! I wasted a lot of wine.

Katherine said...

I must say that I agree with every single word of this. My husband is gone a LOT for the miitary but they keep it under 30 days so we don't get the FamSep - yet he can be gone up to 6 months a year on these shorter missions. So I can't afford the baby sitter. But the get out of the house everyday rule - that's the one that does me the most good. Some days it's just a trip to the mailbox with a 15 minute stroll around the yard with my son, but even that helps.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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