My husband just left on a very long trip. I mean like 9 months. (Although the last time it was for a year, so I’ll just be thankful for that.) There are already a million and one ideas all over the internet, but having been in and around the military for nearly all of my life, there are a few things I’ve picked up that have worked for me to help pass the time while loved ones are away (for whatever reason), and a few more things I’ve learned to help a KID pass the time.
For the grownups, the main thing anyone will tell you is to KEEP BUSY. My husband calls me a shark, because apparently they cannot stop moving or they’ll die. He used to say that each time he went away, he would come home to my having built an entire shelving unit or having done a dozen home improvement projects. That’s just how I roll. Keeping busy, for me, helps keep my mind from watching the clock.
Roller derby was a good distraction in the past. Work. Friends. Projects. Family.
I always warn family and friends to expect a ton of conversation if they call—I work from my computer at home, so I can sometimes go days without talking to an actual grownup. When you call, you might want to be sure you have a little time to chat with me. I’ll probably talk to you about all kinds of random things, down to a new detergent I’m trying or something. Sorry. This is the kind of stuff I bore my husband with on a daily basis.
This trip, I started keeping a little notebook by the bed to sort of write little notes in at the end of the day. Last time, it seems like day to day moved so quickly that I’d forget the seemingly inconsequential things, like a road being repaired, or a new chair for the bedroom. When he came home, I can imagine it must’ve felt like he hadn’t been a part of any of it. It may be boring to read when he gets back, but that’s okay.. I don’t ALWAYS write in it, but if something’s on my mind, it helps. And if he never reads it, that’s cool too. As a matter of fact, maybe it should just be a journal for yourself. There might be all KINDS of crazy stuff in there…
Usually, we pick a TV series to watch together. Well, separately. Or you could both read the same book in separate places.
The first deployment, our daughter was so little (not yet 2 years old), it was difficult for her to understand what was going on. There are all kinds of fun projects for older kids, but not so much for the littler ones. I found with our daughter, what helped was a book from a place called Flatten Me. My husband thought it was a bit silly, but we put daddy’s face into a visual storybook we could read at night and see, and that really helped. We had a “Daddy Doll” that ACS gives free to families, and that was fun to hug the last deployment. This time around, he sits by her bedside table, and we kiss him goodnight.
Now that our daughter’s a little older, she’s a lot more able to understand that daddy’s gone for a long time. I can involve her in sending care packages or writing emails. There are a TON of ideas out there for kids to count down time, but the key in parenting (I find) is finding out what works for YOUR kid, and being totally cool with that, and not letting anyone else make you feel bad for doing anything differently.
For us, with a crafty artsy daughter, I decided to make a paper chain. My friend Ashley B. is a crafty schoolteacher with two kids, and she gave me this idea she used with her kids when her husband was gone: She made a paper chain with her kids, and every day they would tear off one chain as a countdown to when daddy would be home.
(This is Ashley B’s paperchain. The giant rubber band ball is a decoration they use to hang up their kids’ artwork)
But since countdown days always change, I decided we’d make a link each day to add ON to a chain, and maybe decorate the house with it when he comes home. We have a little “Daddy Chain” basket, with strips of construction paper, a stapler, and stickers to decorate each one with, and I write the number of the day on the back of each one. If things get busy one day, or we forget, I just add a blank one on later. No big D. The thing with all these projects is to let them be there to HELP you, not to feel like they’re a chore. Last thing anyone needs is more stress, or pressure to be a Superparent.
We also spruced up a “Daddy Hat.” This is another idea I took directly from my friend Ashley B (the schoolteacher and fellow army wife).
(This is Ashley B’s daughter’s ACU hat. It’s okay to totally snatch ideas from your friends–that’s what military “family” is for.) 🙂
I got a regular ACU hat, and took a nametape (that my friend Ashley D made for a craft show, but that you can order from any clothing sales or alterations store) and stuck it on the back. (In aviation, the term “stick buddy” is like your copilot, your pal.) I found an easy flower tutorial on Pinterest and threw a few quick flowers together (my daughter picked the colors). Ashley’s cool tip was that the flowers are actually PINNED on (in our case, with a bobby pin) so you could change them out later if you want. And there ya go!
(This one is ours. A wee bit too big for her, but she loves it.)
Another good thing that helps is letting her decorate a package box. Just get a bunch of your favorite size of Flat Rate boxes from the post office, and bring a few home. Let her go crazy decorating the inside & outside. Take her to the store to pick some things out to put in the package. Let her be a part of it.
So, if you have a partner that’s gone for long periods of time, how do you pass the time on your own? If you have kids, what works for you with them?