Military Children – The World They Live In

Adapting to change is something we all struggle with, and we all know how change (and lots of it) can disrupt children and affect their wellbeing.

Military children are inspiring.

We waved goodbye to Daddy in our house for the 2nd time in 2 years. Last year, she had her 2nd birthday a month into his deployment and was barely aware that he was going. When she asked, I told her Daddy was at work (or on holiday!), but with little concept of time at that age, she didn’t know when he was coming back. That was probably made all the more confusing when his tour was extended, and he returned for 2 weeks R&R in the middle of it before heading back out to finish the tour off.

This time is different. It’s a much shorter tour for a start (just shy of 3 months as opposed to 8), and Olivia is older now. She’s 3.5 years old and much more aware that Daddy has gone away to work for a while.

It’s something she’s used to, though more from me being away at work than Daddy. In fact, she is used to both of us working long and unusual hours, having little routine in terms of who will be picking her up from the childminder, or who will be tucking her into to bed.

She takes it all in her stride, only occasionally being upset that either Mummy or Daddy aren’t around when she wants us. I am so immensely proud of how well she manages all of that change at such a small age. I suppose the big, independent and fierce personality (that she was destined to inherit from me and her Nanny) probably has a lot to do with it!

The other home truth about military families is that, usually, when one parent goes way, the other one is around to do everything. If they work, it’s part-time or in school hours or a normal job with normal dependable hours. The army mantra is still very much set back in the 1950s, expecting the ‘wives’ to do everything when it comes to childcare or managing a home. I’m not sure how this equates when the serving member is a woman with a husband at home, but, in our situation, Olivia is a bit of an anomaly in that respect. When Daddy is here, it’s him doing the majority of the home life, but in reality, neither of us are dependable because either of us could be away at the drop of a hat.

She didn’t choose this life, and no military children do, no military spouses do either, for that matter! We’re all lumped with it and have to make the best of it. But our children are certainly the most incredible little people, managing the change so well and with few complaints along the way.

Their voices are rarely heard. Spouses often feel overlooked when it comes to the respect and awe that their service member receives for ‘what they do’, because the people left behind dealing with the everyday are forgotten. If the spouses feel that way, imagine how the children must feel. Especially those like Olivia who are too young to really understand where Mummy/Daddy is other than ‘at work’ and wondering how long it will be until they’re back.

The cake we baked for Daddy after his last deployment!

Unfortunately for Olivia she has even more change to come. There is no support at all for military families needing childcare while one spouse is deployed, and so Olivia will be spending the weekdays with Nanny for the next 3 months so that I can carry on going to work.

Military life is so incredibly frustrating, and definitely better suited to single people who want to travel the world! Our family of four became two, and is soon to become one, whilst we wait for Daddy (and Kiera with him) to come back home.

I’m so proud of our ‘pad rats’ for adapting so well to everything that’s been thrown at them. But we certainly cannot wait to have Daddy back home!!!

Are you a military family? What’s your experience of military life?

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Mental Health Monday: Deployment-Related Depression and Anxiety

When Jamie was away in Afghanistan, I was already in a bit of a low place. I was still studying my Bar course full-time and working part-time, and the stress of it all got to me quite a bit. It really didn’t help that, at the time, I was still not able to drive and so I felt really alone and isolated throughout the first 4 months. Plus, does anyone actually enjoy being home alone? Or is it just me that feels really creeped out by it?

My closest family support was my husband’s uncle and their family (who were amazing help) and my mother-in-law, but they weren’t exactly around the corner!

It’s no surprise that I started to feel low, especially given that my recovery from PND was still relatively recent at that point.

So, off I tottered to the GP to talk about it and to make sure I was okay.

The GP wasn’t particularly helpful and kept talking about himself and how his wife copes with him working long hours (NOT THE SAME BRO). But… I was advised to self-refer to TalkPlus, so I did that and I engaged in CBT which you can read more about here (spoiler alert: it was really helpful!)

But actually the most helpful things to me when I was going through that deployment weren’t medical-related at all!

Firstly, the other SWAGs (Soldiers’ wives and girlfriends) and I had a WhatsApp group – where we mostly chatted about rubbish – but it was nice to have that group of us from up and down the country connected in some way, and taking our minds off the deployment! I’m still really good friends with some of them and try to keep in contact with as many of them as possible (if you’re reading this, sorry I’m so terrible at staying in touch!)

One of Jamie’s friends who had left the army by this point was also a big help – he would drive me places if I needed a lift or just pop round for a cuppa. Again, it wasn’t much but it was nice to know that I had someone there who could help me out or just take my mind off things with a chat. He’s been through his own mental health struggles with PTSD so he definitely understood the importance of not being alone!

I was obviously forever anxious that something was going to happen to the husband abroad, but regular phone contact was possible for us so I am really quite lucky. Even so, I put a lot of effort into sending shoeboxes of goodies and drawings from Olivia and Kiera and writing letters too. It gave me something positive to focus on and helped entertain the kids!

I also forced myself out of the house despite not driving! I went to uni, I worked part-time, when I finished uni I got a full-time job (that literally started 3 days after I finished so I had no time to dwell on anything). At weekends I tried to go to places with Olivia, I made use of the Welsh Guards Welfare Service and the amazing days out they had planned for their families during the deployment! I went out on my own or visited Jamie’s family (involving a lot of train rides – thank god for the HM forces railcard!)

The evenings were definitely where I struggled – I was finding it harder to sleep and just hated being alone. That’s mostly where the CBT came in to help with my motivation and routine.

Just talking to other people about how I was feeling – not necessarily medical professionals – was one of the best medicines.

So if you know someone whose partner is deployed, give them a shout. Check they’re okay. Go round for a cuppa and let them know you’re there. It can honestly be the most lonely time and just knowing you have a friend who cares can work wonders to help someone feel a little less down about it.

Have you experienced any deployment-related mental stress? What did you find helped you through it the most?

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Deployment Makes a Mummy’s Girl – Sarah’s Feature in Army and You Magazine

Having previously been featured in Army and You magazine with a short interview on how I managed to study for my dream career alongside being an army spouse, I was contacted again to write a Blog Spot piece.

Never did I think that I would be given the title Best Blog, and I am so thrilled for my personal blog, Someone Calls Me Mummy! Thank you for recognising my little blog!

You can see the post I wrote about my bond with Olivia during Jamie’s deployment below, along with a piece from The Military Husband.

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Deployment Makes A Mummy’s Girl…

Before Jamie left for Afghanistan, Olivia was a huge daddy’s girl. I mean, to the point that I was seriously dreading him leaving! Of course, the situation wasn’t ideal – I was studying my Bar Professional Training Course in London, working part-time, and not driving. Looking after Olivia was just another part of my hectic life that I had to arrange on my own while he was away.
 
She turned 2 the month after he deployed, and, luckily, I managed to skip out on the whole terrible twos phase (THANK THE HEAVENS). Okay, okay, I didn’t skip it out altogether – it just hit when she was about 14 months old and only actually resolved itself when Daddy went away.
 
Like I said, before he left, she was a massive Daddy’s girl. I simply wasn’t good enough, and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Every new mum feels that way sometimes, but I was convinced she hated me. She did that classic thing where she would be angelic for her Daddy but really misbehave for me. She used to be so clingy for him, and all of a sudden he wasn’t there anymore.
 
When your kids are so young, there’s really no way of preparing them for one of their parents leaving. I couldn’t tell her in advance, and he left late at night so he didn’t get to say goodbye. We simply told Olivia that Daddy was going to work, which was true. That then evolved into laughing that Daddy was on holiday (which may as well have been true, given the 24 hour gym and the cinema room on his camp!) and her simply being stuck with me for the next 7 months.
 
It was rough at first, she asked for him all of the time, again and again, and it was awful having to tell her that he wasn’t here. We were quite fortunate that Jamie had wifi access whenever he was in his room on camp (American camps eh? Super fancy!) and video calling him became part of our routine. She was definitely more accepting of that and stopped asking for him so often. At the same time, she became a hell of a lot more clingy with me.
 
Our morning drop offs at the Childminder became that much more difficult because she just did not want to leave me! That phase of the horrible crying fits at her door lasted for a few months, and eventually Olivia got used to the fact that she just had me around. Maybe she got a little too used to it, though! Now, she’s flipped and is all for mummy, all the time. I can barely go to the loo by myself, because she wants to be with me. 
Deployment changes lots of things, and, yeah, you get used to how it is after a while, but I for one never expected it to change the way our little girl was with us. She still adores her daddy, but it took some work getting her to be okay with him when he first came back, and even now, she’s a mummy’s girl at heart. After all of the trials and tribulations, it really did bring us closer.

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Life of an Army Wife – Why We Need a Routine!

If you’ve followed my stories before on this blog, you will know that my husband is a serving member of the Grenadier Guards, and he has recently completed a tour of Afghanistan.

Don’t get too excited, by a ‘tour’, I mean, literally, he went to a 5* resort with a 24/7 restaurant, gym, cinema room… etc. etc. You name it, the American camp he was on had it! Gone are the days where our soldiers were on the front lines out there! It’s still dangerous, of course, however just for context, before he went away, his many, MANY briefings indicated that his biggest threat to life would be a road traffic accident.

Now, that probably sounds like I’m downplaying it a lot, but really, there wasn’t all that much to worry about with him overseas. There were some scary moments where a couple of bombs went off in the city, or his vehicle broke down in the middle of Kabul and they had to wait out in the open for it to be fixed, but on the whole, the 7 month tour was without its dramas. (For him anyway!)

The hardest parts of the tour were the time difference, the radio silence, and me effectively being a single mother, trying to fill up my empty time.

Jamie was 3 and a half hours ahead of us, which doesn’t seem like much of a difference, and at first it didn’t affect us very much at all. He began the tour in early April while I was still on my Easter break from uni, and even when I went back to uni, it was only then for exams. So I would do an exam, come home, maybe do a little part-time shift at next, then go back to being mum for the rest of the day. It was fairly flexible and because I was available pretty much all of the time, the time difference wasn’t all that noticeable…

However, come June, I started working full-time. Olivia had to be at the childminder’s house for 07:30 dead on, otherwise I would miss my train to work at 07:38. From June until August, my train journey to work was pretty much the only uninterrupted period of time that we would be able to talk. Luckily, things have changed a lot since he last went to Afghanistan and he was able to use wifi from his room on camp, so we could send messages or video call as long as he was in his room. But by the time I finished work and got home with Olivia, he would be getting ready for bed. Still, Olivia got to speak to him most nights, though not for very long before I had to crack on with dinner, bath and bed for her too.

And so part 1 of our little routine developed. The strict morning routine of me habitually running to the train station to catch my train within 8 minutes of dropping Olivia off, and the strict evening routine of Olivia’s phone call with daddy, dinner time, bath time, our talcum powder thing (where we pretend to go crazy with the powder and shout “don’t tell dad!” while doing so), and bed time, listening to Daddy reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt on the CD player.

It got harder to manage that effectively if Olivia missed Daddy’s call because he was out on a patrol, or if he was away from camp for longer than a couple of days. You know what it’s like, toddlers asking for something, you saying no, then they want it more and become even more persistent in their annoying whining about it… it was like that, except she was asking for Daddy, not just another piece of chocolate or something equally unimportant. Those times were stressful for me too, not least because I would be worrying about where he was (as he couldn’t usually tell me if he was leaving camp) and when I would speak to him next, but also I’d have a pretty much inconsolable child and I didn’t know what on earth to do about it.

I suppose that actually fed into the second, and biggest, part of our routine. We started filling our time up full of things to do. I found evenings so difficult, as it had been the first time in 5 years that I didn’t have any studying to do. Netflix played a large part in the evening “me time”, as did blogging until the pressures at work got slightly higher and I had the facility to work from home (big mistake – now I feel like I never log off). Filling up our weekends was slightly more difficult. Before Jamie came home for R&R (Rest & Recuperation) in August, I was still not driving and had to rely on trains or buses to get anywhere.

The first thing I focused on was throwing Olivia’s birthday party in May. People thought I was crazy doing it all at our house – I did the food, hired a bouncy castle, invited about 20 kids, and yes, it was hectic, but the cake, the picky bits and the other things I had to plan and organise made it a big distraction for me!

I tried to always do something at the weekend with her – we went to SeaLife in London, we met up with other Mums whose husbands were deployed and did a morning at Coral Reef in Bracknell, we went on a trip with the Welsh Guards Welfare to Legoland. I think I (very rarely) got the train to Kent to see my mother-in-law, and my dad even came down from Hull to visit me one weekend when the Grenadier Guards had a big fun day on up at camp.

It was difficult not having family nearby, literally managing Olivia on my own, and Olivia only managed to see her sister twice in that time, adding to the feeling of the time just dragging by! I can’t imagine how much she must have missed both her and her dad, and she was still really too young to understand where they’d gone. She knew daddy was at work (on holiday) and Kiera was at her mummy’s, but she went from seeing them both all the time to not at all.

That’s why it was so important to get into a busy routine. The more things we did, the easier it became to just crack on with life and the time passed far more quickly.

After August, it was so much easier to get into an even better routine because I FINALLY started driving! I was able to find little clubs and activities to take Olivia to, like I had wanted to for ages, and it doubled up as something else to keep us busy and keep our minds off the fact that Daddy should have been home for good in August, as his tour was extended until No

vember just a month before his R&R and I received that news on my birthday (how kind of them!)

Our weekend itinerary is;

Saturday:

9am – Dancing
10am – Gravity Force Trampolining
11:20am – French
Afternoon – Housework (aka nap time)

Sunday:

10am – Gravity Force Trampolining (sometimes)
2pm – Swimming

In the middle of those activities we found time to make and send parcels to daddy which Olivia enjoyed doing, and it doubled up as messy play for her as she painted and decorated the shoeboxes and made pictures for him that we sent out to him on blueys or in his parcels.

As you can tell, we liked to be kept busy, and it made the time fly! Although it was still rough not having Jamie around and my evenings were pretty uneventful and long, spending that quality time with Olivia and keeping us both busy really helped to distract us from missing him.

Are you a military spouse? How do you distract yourself when your other half is deployed overseas? Let us know in the comments!

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The Truth About Your Sex Life After Kids…

You may hear a lot of people tell you that you’ll never have sex after having kids, in the same way that people tell you that ‘everything changes when you get married’.

Okay, family members – gonna pre-warn you now…

DO NOT READ THIS.
Disclaimer over and done with, let’s get down to the dirty business 😉
You may hear a lot of people tell you that you’ll never have sex after having kids, in the same way that people tell you that ‘everything changes when you get married’.
In my opinion, they’re both a load of bollocks!
The truth is, yeah stuff changes, but it’s just part of getting older.
I won’t lie, our sex lives were pretty bloody amazing (and still are)… But I mean, sometimes it would be 3 times a day or more, and while that’s awesome, it’s not really sustainable when you have little people climbing into bed with you in the middle of the night! Nothing changed when we got married, but we already had Olivia by that point.
After I had her, it wasn’t long before we started trying to get down to it again – I think the first attempt was 4 weeks postpartum, but it was still too sore for me down there after being stitched up so we had to hold off and wait to try again another time. I think it ended up being 8 weeks postpartum that we actually managed it successfully, but the first time after birth will change for everyone – some people literally go months without even trying, but Jamie and I being the way we were we couldn’t wait that long.
The next hurdle is then if you have time when either or both of you aren’t exhausted. In all honesty I don’t remember the particulars of how often and when, but I still don’t remember it being that much different for us. We were relatively lucky and Olivia slept through the night from quite early on, meaning we could still make a bit of time for us. Although sleep deprivation hit me hard from the midnight breastfeeds at the very beginning, you begin getting into a routine with your child and then the much needed me-time, or us-time, will go back to normal, or almost normal for us.
This may be the difference between one kid and multiple, but since Olivia started going to her own bed in her own room, it obviously became even easier to maintain our relationship as it was before having her… And let’s be real here, the 7 months apart while he was on deployment probably helped keep our sex lives going as soon as he got back!
We’ve now been married for a year, had Olivia for 2 years and have been together 5 years. I’d like to think that it’s just as it always was.
Things don’t need to change as long as you keep making time for each other, that’s all it really comes down to!
How do you make time for each other after having kids?

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Living away from your partner during pregnancy

My pregnancy was spent largely alone – the unexpected nature of my expectant motherhood meant that things had to continue as planned as far as possible. I stayed at university to complete my law degree until I could go on maternity leave, but that also meant living over 100 miles away from Jamie for virtually the entire pregnancy.

It was my housemate, Shannon, that helped me through the morning sickness. It was my housemate, Elliot, who covered for me when I had a UTI. It was Shannon, again, who would accompany me to the first doctors appointment, and the midwife appointments, especially when I absolutely hated that first midwife in Southampton! So, I suppose I wasn’t really alone alone – but it’s something quite different from doing those things with your partner.

Everyone jokes about pregnancy hormones making you over-emotional, and yes, there are times when the hormones are slightly ridiculous… but usually, the feelings underneath the exacerbated crying fits are totally genuine. Spending my pregnancy apart from Jamie was really tough, and with those hormones to make things worse I did feel like an emotional wreck 24/7… which, of course, is when I needed him the most to cheer me up (which he did, but it’s not as easy over the phone!).

I accept that my pregnancy wasn’t a normal kind of situation… I don’t know anybody else who stayed at university living a fairly long distance away from their fiancé at the same time as being pregnant! But some of the things I experienced may be similar for other mums or mums to be. Single mums to be have to go through this all the time with no reprieve, so a big shout out to you girls! You’re doing amazingly. Army wife mums to be also may have to deal with this – one of my lovely friends up here is expecting, and her husband is deployed in Iraq… Jamie’s deployment in Afghanistan has been taxing enough without the added pressure of me having another baby! I don’t know how I would cope, so a big load of respect goes to the army wife/mum community, too. Particularly with army wives, it’s highly likely that they may even have to move house while they’re pregnant, and possibly even while their husbands/wives are still deployed! Although not the same situation, I had to move during pregnancy, when my maternity leave finally started!

Moving house is stressful at the best of times, but when you’re 7 months pregnant it can be a bit of a nightmare!

Because I had been studying at university and was about to go on maternity leave, meaning I had to move my entire life back from Southampton to Dover, Kent to prepare for giving birth and becoming a mother – how daunting is that? It was for me, anyway…
The hardest part was that I had no help whatsoever in packing up all of my belongings in preparation for this big move. Jamie was already living in Dover, so I had done the majority of the pregnancy alone in Southampton (though he made trips down on the train/coach for scans and appointments when he could). I got everything ready to move and waited for Jamie to come and pick me and my belongings up a week into our Easter break. I’d finished my coursework and at that stage was preparing to do my exams in the August of the same year (though due to PND I took a whole year’s maternity leave in the end), so I’d tied up all of my loose ends and was ready to get home and start nesting.
Being home, however, didn’t mean that Jamie was around all of the time. He did shift work in London, so would stay with his mum in Essex for 4, 5, or 7 days/nights at a time to save time and money. He would have been too exhausted to drive all the way back home in between shifts. But this was slightly more manageable. I had help when he was around, and when he wasn’t I had time to do things for me – I volunteered at my local Magistrates’ Court one day a week and started preparing our home for having Olivia. It felt more relaxing being in a normal routine, so even though some days were still spent living apart, it didn’t feel that we were because I was in our home instead of my uni room.
However, the next stressful thing was moving between NHS trusts… Southampton General Hospital and Buckland Hospital have completely different sets of maternity notes. Buckland couldn’t make sense of my notes from Southampton, and so I ended up spending a whole day with the midwives so that they could redo my notes into their neat folders. Before they took time to do that, it made appointments longer, and it was frustrating having to repeat things over and over again because they couldn’t find notes in my folder due to the different layouts. Something to bear in mind if you’ll be moving back to live with your partner towards the end of your pregnancy!
All of that being said, I don’t think I would change how it all worked out. I finished my degree, and had 1 year old Olivia at my graduation ceremony. Unbeknownst to me then, I’d also had some pretty good practice for life as an army wife coping with deployment! The only difference is now I have a child to look after as well as myself and definitely no pregnant belly!!!
It can be stressful, and it can be emotionally difficult to go through pregnancy alone, but it is possible, and sometimes it can be worth it. It made me determined and motivated to do the best I could for my baby girl, and it has probably actually made me more mentally resilient in the long run.

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A poem for my husband

If you’ve been following our blog up until now, you may or may not know that my husband is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

We recently received some pretty bad news about his deployment, and I’ll be honest, I’m not handling it all that well. I’ve been on anti-depressants again for a few months now and only recently upped my dosage, and I felt like I was finally content with my life. After all, I have nothing to be depressed about right?
Wrong.
Depression affects the way you perceive everything. And so, Jamie, my darling husband (warning: if you’re reading this you might want a sick bucket to hand), there’s only one thing that is unaffected by this horrible illness, and that’s the way I feel about you and our girls.
This is for you, for keeping me going through the tough times.

Our Love

Our love is like a tidal wave,
Powerful and strong.
Our love is like a piece of string;
It goes on and on and on.
Our love is like an hourglass –
Stuck forever in time.
Our love is like a rocket,
Seeing how high it can climb.
Our love is like an envelope,
Enclosing everything we are.
Our love is like an aeroplane,
Taking us away someplace far.
Our love is like an ocean
With beautiful depths to find…
Our love is like the sun;
It can make any other man blind.
Our love is like an angel,
Flying across the earth.
Our love is like a goldmine
With its irresistible worth.
Our love is like a mountain,
Standing steadfast and tall.
Our love is like a safety net
To catch us when we fall.
Our love is like a fairytale
With the happiest ever after.
Our love is like a playground
Filled with so much laughter.
Our love is unconditional,
Evergreen like the trees.
Our love is everywhere,
And it means everything to me.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

A letter to my husband…

Dear Jamie,

As you know, you’re currently enjoying your all-inclusive 5* holiday in Kabul, and our daughter and I are stuck at home, trying somehow to cope without you around.

Of course, I’m joking. You would never leave us for a 4 month holiday, you’re actually at work (perks of the army, eh?) but from what you’ve told me about your camp it sounds a lot like a holiday!

Don’t be annoyed, but I thought this would be more difficult than it has been so far. Today marks the two week point, and honestly I’ve been so busy that I just haven’t had time to think about you being away. We get to speak quite often on the phone too, so that makes it a lot easier. But it is still a big adjustment. It is now, and it will be when you return.

I can imagine you’ll find it so much harder to come back, assuming I do have Olivia in some kind of routine by then (I won’t hold my breath on that one), and Olivia, especially, will have changed so much from the baby you left 2 weeks ago. She’ll be talking even more than she is now, potty trained (I hope), she’ll have had her 2nd birthday and she will have grown both physically and developmentally. She’s not far off your intelligence now, so I’m sure when you come back she’ll have far surpassed you on that scale! 😉

I’m kidding, of course…

However, right now, I’m having to deal with a much naughtier little toddler, who is probably testing even more boundaries because she’s stuck with Mummy all of the time. I wonder what goes through her head, and whether she knows when she asks for you that you’re at work. She seems to be coping quite well, it’s more my sanity that’s at risk while you’re away!

Right now she’s upstairs with Amy showing her the “naughty” scribbles she did on her wall, huffing and puffing and chattering away. See? This is pretty normal for her. She’s okay. We both are, really. We just miss you, that’s all.

People keep telling me that this time will go by so quickly, but what I’m really worried about is when I finish my course in June. Having so much free time, I’m sure, will make the time pass much more slowly. I won’t have any more milestone points to take my mind off it. At the moment, all I’m thinking is that I have 3 exams, 1 a week for 3 weeks, and then 3 weeks of teaching, 2 more exams and then that’s it, beginning of June, course done. That really doesn’t seem that far away, and that’s the half way point of you being gone. After that, the only thing I have to look forward to is you coming back! I might need to plan my own little holiday or something with the baby… Not that it will be much of a break, but it will at least fragment the time up a bit.

Olivia’s pestering me to have a go on the keyboard so I’m going to let her touch my Mac (I know right, see? My sanity is obviously gone) and write to you too…

saAS`A` GYTCxzxzxxccvcxzxczzxdsddxxdwdedcwggghgvghgvsmnhgghjkljkljnknn, ngfhghqzfsxbv de HGfcvdfdfdddgfdfsdd 

Translation: love you Daddy, see you soon, stay safe, love from Olivia xxxxx

Right, that’s enough for now and the brat smells so I have to execute a quick nappy change before attempting to get out of the house for messy play – god help us all.

We miss you so much – you’re the piece of our family that holds it all together.

Lots of love,

the Mrs
xxx

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