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?
What a cool post! I subscribed for the art, so wasn’t expecting this! I am an army wife and an army mom. My husband is away a ton, though not always with the military, and my army son is posted across the country. I never clued in to the talking thing til you just pointed it out. GUILTY! My youngest kids are 12 and 14, so they are just ‘used to’ the travel at this point but that chain could be applied to a lot of things! And I might get my daughter just such a hat for Christmas -though I’ll have to figure out the right language for sappers! Thanks for the ideas, inspirations and smiles!
We have a complicated story and are not a military family, but are in the tv production world which has kept our partner/dad away from us 18 weeks since Feb. (We are now on location with him and headed back to our new home in Chicago in 5 days). Our daughter was diagnosed with lead poisoning in Dec last year at her one year wellness visit. It turned out she was being poisoned by our big old beautiful vintage “gut rehabbed” apartment, so we put all our things (including 98% of my sewing/art/craft supplies) in storage and started bouncing around with family in 5 different states. All of our financial resources have had to go to medical bills etc…and well, living.
My point is not to just share my story but to share how we’ve navigated being w/o a home, with a partner/dad gone for 6/7 weeks at a time, and still healing from lead exposure. And in one word: CREATIVITY.
Parenting, and I think stay-at-home parenting lends itself to being a creative environment. But when all your “tools” are locked up away in some cold sterile storage place it means you have to turn up the creativity to like 1000. My little girl has had a lot of TP and PT character friends and lots of different homemade playdohs and we use anything paper as a painting, drawing palette.
I’m also hobbled on an air cast after falling so our typical go to the park days that we would do are out. So its been an even bigger challenge to come up with projects while healing myself, on location and away from all friends and family, and with a mate who’s doing 14 hr shoot days. Entering us in your contest took up a lot of fun busy time and connected us with grandma. And we bought one of those big cardboard houses that you color-life saver!!!
Now with the halloween holiday coming up and our impending leave back to our new home (finally), I just made a “Halloween Village” out of TP and PT rolls, lots of construction paper, glue, and patience.
Thanks for sharing your stories and inspiration on here 🙂 Best of luck to your family these next 9 months. I hope you all get to Skype on the regular.
Yes I remember your photo with the tote bag! Sounds like you’re doing an amazingly creative job–that’s wonderful! Stay strong & get well soon!
What a cute idea! I don’t have minor children anymore but a fun idea I will be sure to share with others!
Not only are your ideas (borrowed or not)… fabulous, but you also present them in a way to let everyone know WHY you do it. Reading this post makes me actually miss the life of a military wife. You would think that after 20 years, I would be happy to have him home all the time… I truly am. However, the one thing that I miss is the family that I could always count on; no matter how far from home I was. Thanks for sharing… and you and your daughter hang in there!
Thank you so much! Military life is hard, but it’s all I’ve known. The idea of being in one spot sort of intimidates me. We’ve had some great paces and not so great, but what really made it matter are the friends.
First of all–I love your work. I mean, I crazy-love your work. It is always inspiring to stumble upon new artists. However, since I have only recently begun to follow your blog I had no idea you also had an association with the military. I don’t have little humans, but I am also a military spouse and an artist, and it is always fascinating to read the perspectives of others.
Stay busy. I wish you all the best, and I hope the time flies by.
Thank you so much! Army life is definitely weird. I appreciate it!
We are Air Force, and my marriage has been my first experience with military life, and it is certainly a sub-culture all its own.
love your art. especially that armycap, I just had to share it with my friends.