Holiday Deployments: Letting Go of Perfect
Military mom blogger Katy shares tips on how to let yourself off the hook this holiday season as part of the Care.com Interview SeriesAs a Marine Corps wife, Katy B.has grown accustomed to 'piloting the zoo,' aka her family, through every training session or deployment on her own. In fact, that's what she named her blog. With two young girls, two dogs and five moves under her belt in just six years, Katy took the time to share with us her advice on flying solo through the holidays.
1. Find family or friends to share your holiday. "Nothing is more miserable than sitting around, alone, thinking about how much your holiday sucks because your loved one isn't there," Katy says. If travel to family is out of the question, see if other wives are staying around and have a big dinner together!
2. Make the holidays a special marker in your deployment countdown. Katy's first Christmas alone marked an important point in her husband's first deployment, so she made a point to go to great lengths to celebrate. She recalls, "I was so pumped for Christmas during the first deployment because it marked the halfway point!"
3. If they can't be home for the holidays, send the holidays to them. For the first Thanksgiving while her husband was deployed, Katy mailed a "Thanksgiving dinner" care package to him. It included turkey jerky, Pringles for the mashed potatoes, dried cranberries for cranberry sauce, apple oatmeal cookies for apple pie. She suggests getting creative with the holiday packages to keep you entertained and give him a fun and special taste of home (even if it's with Pringles) so that your soldier can feel like he's still a part of your holiday.
4. Forgo the 'perfect holiday.' As we've often heard before (but perhaps rarely listened to), there's no such thing as the perfect holiday. So why force it? "Accept your limitations and don't make yourself sick over it," Katy advises. "People aren't going to remember that you spent all night color coordinating the glitter on your various decorations, but they will remember if you are so stressed out that you are snappy and mean to your family."
5. Focus on the positive. Katy acknowledges that the toughest thing about being alone during the holidays is putting on a happy face when all you want to do is cry. Try to find something positive in the holiday -- maybe it's a special dessert, a fun tradition, or a scheduled Skype call with your special solider. "There is always something good to focus on, no matter how small it may seem," she says optimistically, "and that is what gets me through the day."
Read more advice from Katy in our full interview below. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Please tell us a little about your family. What branch of the military is your spouse (or you) in, and how long has your family been in the service? Were you part of a military family as a child?
My husband is in the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned in 2004, and we were married in 2005, so 6 years. Neither one of us were part of a military family.
How does your family celebrate the holidays? What are some traditions that make up your holiday season?
We didn't really do a lot our first couple of years because he always ended up with duty! We go to my parents house for Thanksgiving, and Christmases have been spent at my in-laws', at my family home during deployment, and last year it was at my house, since I was due Dec 23rd with our second daughter. My family came down. It was great not having to travel, and since I had just given birth, my mom took care of all the big holiday dinner stuff!
One thing that has been consistent has been our Christmas pajamas, Christmas ornament, and scary/action movie on Christmas Eve. Growing up, my siblings and I always got new pajamas every Christmas Eve and we would all go downstairs and watch a movie in them. Christmas morning, we would all sit at the top of our steps and get our picture taken. I am starting the tradition with our girls. No matter where we are, my mother always makes sure that I get my jammies and an ornament from the collection she has been buying for me for the past 20 years.
If you have spent the holidays with a deployed spouse, how did you celebrate?
I was at my family home, so it was great to be surrounded by love and support. I was pregnant with our first child at that time. We got to have a long video chat and I sent him a Christmas-themed care package, complete with decorations for his room.
Can you offer tips for any military spouses going through their first deployment/holiday season?
If you have a good, non-stressful relationship with your family, go to them or have them come to you. Focus on the positive. Nothing is more miserable than sitting around, alone, thinking about how much your holiday sucks because your loved one isn't there. Make it a special marker in your deployment countdown. I was so pumped for Christmas during the first deployment because it marked the halfway point! For Thanksgiving, if travel is out of the question, see what other wives are staying around and have a big dinner together -- also great if their husbands are gone on training too!
What are some ways that you stay connected with your loved one while he/she is deployed?
I write letters. My husband loved getting letters the whole time he was deployed. It was a tangible piece of home, and I wrote so much (every other day or every third day) that it brightened his day. Lots of e-mails. He called me whenever possible. Video chat. Tons and tons of pictures. I also made every box a fun theme and had my girls do an art project to match the theme each time to involve them. For every aspect of making and packing the boxes, I included my children. They may have been only a few months old and 2, but I still thought it was important.
If your spouse is deployed over the holidays, what are your care package favorites that you'll be sending or have sent in years past?
The first deployed Thanksgiving I made him a "Thanksgiving" box with cut out paper turkeys, confetti, and a 'Thanksgiving dinner' which was turkey jerky, Pringles for the mashed potatoes, dried cranberries for cranberry sauce, apple oatmeal cookies for apple pie, some kind of dried pea snack for the peas, and sweet potato chips for mashed sweet potatoes. He got a kick out of it. Homemade Christmas cookies were a hit, along with the usual DVDs, iPod, etc.
If your spouse will be home for the holidays this year, what are you looking forward to most?
It will be our younger daughter's first birthday about the same time, and I am very much looking forward to that. She got very sick at 7 weeks old when my husband was deployed and we nearly lost her. I am so grateful that she is wonderfully healthy now. Our older daughter will be about 2 1/2, so that will just be so fun since she will finally start to understand Christmas.
Do you have any tips for other spouses who might be stressed or feel the pressure of making it the "perfect" holiday?
There is no such thing as the 'perfect' holiday. Just let that idea go! For our older daughter's first Christmas, we were leaving to go to my in-laws' for the whole time. My husband didn't see a point in putting up a tree since we weren't going to be there and it would die while we were gone. I got SO upset over not having my own tree for her first Christmas that I basically spent two weeks in tears and feeling like a horrible mother for not having a tree. When we got to my in-laws, they had a beyond beautiful tree, decorations everywhere, and went above and beyond to make my child's first Christmas wonderful. If I had let this idea of a 'perfect' Christmas go and listened to logic, I wouldn't have been beating myself up for weeks. Easier said than done, right?
Breathe. Accept your limitations and don't make yourself sick over it. People aren't going to remember that you spent all night color-coordinating the glitter on your various decorations, but they will remember if you are so stressed out that you are snappy and mean to your family.
Do you have access to anything like video conferencing or email on your base that helps you stay connected during the holidays in particular? What types of communication or technology do you depend on most during deployment?
E-mail!! He didn't have his own computer out there this last deployment. DO NOT let him deploy without one! It was really, really hard. It felt like everyone was getting these hours-long video chats several times a week and I got one video chat where we could both see each other and one where he could see us. That's it. I loved it when he was on duty and by the work computer. I could catch him sometimes and we could almost have a conversation by e-mailing back and forth.
If you had to write the book on getting through deployments during the holidays, what would be the top tips you would include?
Breathe! Accept that it isn't going to be as good as ones where your loved one is there, and make it the best you can. Focus on all the positive you can. Surround yourself with positive people that love you and will support you. Send as much of Christmas as you can to your deployed spouse--whether it be food, pictures, presents, etc. Don't let them feel left out, and don't blame them for being gone. They already feel bad enough as it is.
What is the hardest thing about having a deployed spouse during the holidays?
I think that is obvious. Your spouse, who you pledged to love, support, and be there for is thousands of miles away and everywhere you are bombarded by families and couples that ARE together, happy, and making wonderful holiday memories together and whole, and you don't get to do the same thing. It almost feels like you are being denied a basic human right. I mean, shouldn't everyone be together with their loved ones during the holidays? It's hard. It sucks putting on a happy face when all you want to do is cry. But there is always something good to focus on, no matter how small it may seem, and that is what gets me through the day.
Katy B. blogs about life as a military wife and mother of two girls in Coastal Carolina at Piloting the Zoo.
>>For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Holiday Boot Camp for the Military Spouse.
Photo used with permission by Katy B.