This originally appeared in the Spouse Speak! column of the June 18, 2009, issue of The Flagship. The author, Vivian Greentree, is the Blue Star Famililes Director of Membership.
While there is no real way to emotionally prepare yourself or your family for the long separations of deployments, we can certainly do a lot in the way of logistical and organizational planning to help facilitate the situation. And though the phrase, “Men plan, God laughs” comes to mind, there is a lot we, as military families, can do to be proactive and make these separations and their ensuing stressors a little bit easier on ourselves and our loved ones.
For me, no matter how much I prepare and arrange, the fact I’m sleeping alone for the next X months (well, if you don’t count children and pets) isn’t real until the first night after he’s left. But here are some of the nuts and bolts of deployment preparedness I’ve managed to accumulate through personal trials and tribulations – the learning curve is steep isn’t it?
THE LEGAL STUFF
• Make sure all your legal documents are in order. While some insurance agents are usually very accommodating to those of us who say, aren’t on the top of our game with having all our certifying information handy, there are some people, like the guy who processes children’s passports at the post office, who aren’t. The post office guys outnumber the friendly agents.
• Closely related to the first bullet, make sure you have access to any joint or single accounts that you’ll need to pay bills, inquire after, or change things on.
• One way to make sure you have everything covered is to make a spreadsheet with accounts, passwords, and what bills you are responsible for and when they are due. Know what bills come from direct deposit, through automatic bill pay (we are big fans of web bill pay!), and the periodic ones that sneak up on you like pest/termite control and the water bill. If you already have a family budget going, use another tab to keep the information handy and in one, reliable place.
• Fix Things! No matter the season, our gutters, our cars (tires and oil changes, air filters, etc.) all get a once over. Knowing the one thing you didn’t check (or maybe did but it wasn’t ready to break quite yet) will break the first week your military member is gone, should not deter you from some pre-emptive maintenance and preservation. Since I’ve managed to get numerous flat tires, broken windows, gas leaks, an automatic cat litter box that developed a penchant for trying to eat the cat, and an alarm system that sent out false alarms after all of them had been working in perfect order days before my husband deployed, this is, among all preparations for deployment, the one that reminds me of, “Men plan, God laughs!” And, looking back upon a few of those “ordeals” from a safe distance where time has softened my perspective, I have to laugh as well.
• Set yourself up for success! And, by that I mean know your limits. I know I’m not going to take care of our yard by myself. With two kidlets, a full course load, and volunteer work, a “treat” to myself these days is my neighbor Josh, the aspiring owner of a full service lawn care company. However, I don’t mind cleaning, recleaning, and yes, recleaning our bathrooms where the little guys, ahem, miss. However, I have talked to other spouses who would rather hire an occasional cleaning service than spend that money on manicures, movies out with the kids, or in one case, two-ply toilet paper. Know thyself (and what you can handle…and what you can’t – or don’t want to!)
• Another way to set yourself up for success is to have a running list of services you use and their contact information – babysitters (and not just one – we are at the mercy of their social schedules!), lawn services, plumbers, repairmen, the number for gas leaks (which is, I’ve found, on your monthly gas bill), electricians, etc. These are the people who will save your sanity. Try to build yourself up a good list before you actually need them. Now, I know a lot of deployments happily coincide with a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) so this can actually be hard to do. In that event, see if you can get the 411 from your command sponsor or others who have been stationed there before.
THE FAMILY STUFF
• First, resign yourself to the fact that nothing you do to prepare is going to lesson the loss of not having your life and soul mate, the father/mother of your kids, and best friend for the next X months. Know this is one more thing that sets us apart as military families and that it is an honor to be able to be a part of serving a greater good. It makes it easier to tell my kids that dad can’t come to a school play or isn’t home to read to them when I can tell them why. He is serving his country and defending our way of life. And, we are doing our part by staying strong while he’s away for a little while.
• Still, there are some great ideas I’ve come across and tried that are wonderful ways to stay connected through the distance. One friend gets a map of the world and uses push pins to show where his wife has traveled with her ship. Another (and, as a candy lover, I strongly support this idea!) passed along the “Countdown Candy” jar where their family goes shopping for a specific jar and candy and then decorates it together before her husband leaves. Skittles and M&Ms are good for this one because they are so small and deployments seem to keep getting longer … that way you don’t feel so bad when you end up catching up on some days your kids might have missed and get to eat a handful. Another thing we did this deployment was to tape my husband reading to our kids before he left. We taped him the last few nights he was home and had grand plans about him sending more home. We didn’t follow through with the last part but the five or so originally recorded stories were enough to keep my little ones happy and feeling connected to their daddy.
• Technological advances have also made some additions to how one can prepare for deployment. Digital picture frames are awesome! And, the added bonus is that you can continually upload new pictures or send them snail mail on a jump drive. This can be done both ways – for the deployed spouse or the family waiting at home. Everyone loves pictures and they are definitely something that makes us all feel connected to our missing family members. Another idea is buying/downloading computer cameras and software that allows you to converse through an internet connection. This one, of course, is dependant upon the type of deployment and the technology set up they have. It is funny to me that my husband can check our bank account (and therefore, my spending habits)in real-time on the ship but can’t get the bandwidth to converse on a computer camera set up.
• Create a document with the contact numbers/e-mail/Web sites for base representatives, your spouse club, FRG, or other people who have information that you’ll inevitably want to have sometime during the deployment. I’m a big advocate for utilizing resources that others have come up with so I like knowing reliable Web sites like MilitaryOneSource I can refer to easily.
To me, there is no “right” way to prepare. Even after doing all of the above, I still feel behind the power curve. Things come up I haven’t planned for, couldn’t plan for, wouldn’t even THINK to plan for. Or something that I am sure I have covered completely falls apart. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you should have done more. Like our military members, there is a lot of on-the-job training involved in being a military spouse. And, nothing ever goes according to the book.
Vivian Greentree lives in Chesapeake, VA and is the Membership Director of Blue Star Families. She is also on the Governor’s Commission for Nation and Community Service. To contact Vivian, send her an email at email@example.com.