Before 9/11 my husband spent some time in Korea - without me, of course, as is usually the case. As such things generally go, I was very pregnant with my third daughter at the time. My eldest daughter, who was 7, made a fascinating discovery one day while I was sleeping off some of my pregnancy exhaustion.
When you pour alcohol in the sink and then toss a kitchen match in it, fireworks ensue. And it is very, very, very dangerous.
Luckily, I smelled something odd about two minutes into the "experiment" and managed to propel myself watermelon belly first into the bathroom and put an end to the attempt to burn down my house. Weeks of grounding and a Texas summer without rubbing alcohol followed.
But this is not really what I had in mind when I decided to write about keeping the home fires burning. I was talking about the other fires, married people fires. The good fires that our insurance companies don't freak out over.
Over the years, hubby and I have worked on stoking those fires extensively, trying many things with many different results. Snap, crackle, pop is not only about Rice Crispies.
The amount of time hubby and other "Super-Suits" are gone, though present some very unique situations. On the one hand, I appreciate him more than I ever could if he were always home. I am well aware of what I am missing when he is gone, and I'll move Heaven and Earth to make sure coming home is always a good experience for him, and something to look forward to and long for. On the other hand, it's very easy to get caught up in the daily grind of homeschooling four children, keeping my house clean, mowing the back yard, and trying to plan nutritious yet tasty meals that appeal to the Chicken Nugget generation; the end result of this being that sometimes when hubby is gone for a few weeks I forget to shave my legs with any regularity.
And then, of course, there is also the dreaded and yet somewhat unavoidable irritation at having to focus so much of my work on someone else and occasionally feeling like I wish someone would focus that much attention on me. I have been known, on occasion, to consider advertising for my own wife.
In our many years together, married to the military, hubby and I have come up with a few things that have been very helpful in keeping the spice up. We're always looking to add more, and so I would love to get more suggestions in the comments. If there's one thing we can never have enough of, it's ways to show how much we love each other - especially as we write history right now. That fortune cookie curse - "May you live in interesting times!" is out in full force. Interesting times make interesting relationships that don't operate under the "normal" rules written for couples and families with a totally different way of life.
This is a short list of some things that have worked for our military family.
1) Love Letters. I've already written about The Art of the Military Love Letter. I truly can't stress how important love letters have been to us. As one commenter on that thread put it so brilliantly - "...I look at it as still having "pillow talk" even though we are separated by half a world." Indeed.
2) Random touching. I well understand that not everyone is comfortable with public displays of affection, but one of the best pieces of advice my Grandmother ever gave me was to make sure that I took time to "pet" my husband every day. And she didn't mean that in a gutter way (all the time, anyhow!). That description was my grandmother's way of telling me to make sure that I had time every day - even if it was just a few seconds here and there - to devote entirely to my husband.
On my way from the kitchen to the bedroom, I might pass by my husband sitting on the couch. As I pass him, I take my grandma's advice and gently ruffle the back of his hair. Nine times out of ten, as I pass back on my circuitous route from bedroom back to kitchen, hubby will give me a brief kiss as I pass him. It's amazing how the little things spiral!
However, random touching is nearly impossible for us a good part of the year. How do I keep "touching" his thoughts? That brings me to...
3) Little bits of "I'm thinking of you!". On my end of the equation, when hubby is gone I just don't have the mental energy to send gushy love letters every single day. I make a big production of sending one every week no matter what happens, but that still leaves six days a week when I have to come up with ways to "touch" my hubby. Part of that is looking for ways to make him laugh or give him a little bit of humor as often as possible. I became a professional at scouring the card section in every store I entered. Sometimes I would buy hilarious birthday cards and then put stickers over the "Happy Birthday!" part. There aren't a lot of humorous military themed cards out there to choose from, so I improvised.
Another thing I did was put little inexpensive things in the regular every-day mail I sent hubby. Sometimes it was the first orange leaf of fall. Pictures were definitely a regular way to "touch". Sugar free gum, something not available at hubby's location, got stuffed into envelopes. When McDonald's had their Happy Meals with the Build-a-Bear Workshop miniatures, hubby got one representing each child. The children needed to find a way to "touch" their Dad, too.
Lemon Stand's husband had a great idea to "touch" his family back home during one of his deployments - he would pick small flowers he found growing in the oddest places of the desert soil and save them. They were a symbol, and a very powerful one, I think. It's also proof that "touching" our loved ones long distance doesn't have to require tons of money. In fact, it's often when we have little money to spare that we come up with the best ideas - the thought definitely counts.
4) And this is the most important kindling for fires at home and I should have put it at number one... TELL each other what you need. I can't count the number of times I have succumbed to feeling that my husband should "just know" what I need. Doesn't he love me? Isn't he my best friend and life's companion? Well then how on EARTH did he get the idea that I might want bleu cheese dressing on my salad? I have ALWAYS been a ranch person!!
And my husband has had his own issues with the fact that I'm not omniscient. Like the time I made him Eggs Benedict (or Eggs MacArthur for you West Point families) as his first breakfast back from deployment. I thought I was doing something very nice for him. He thought I had completely ignored all his repeated hints about changed dietary habits and his new inability to eat certain foods. It seems so silly, but at the time it was a big deal.
Deployment makes communications exponentially harder. If those of us at home had our way, our spouses would email us as proscribed times each and every day, with a specific call schedule set up so we could prepare and be home at the correct time to hear their much missed voices. And with everything they are doing over there, we can't even beg and ask them for a schedule to save our sanity - schedules simply aren't possible when they are doing their jobs. We have to settle for what is possible, and during deployment the communication ball definitely seems to be firmly on the home side of the court. How can there be successful communication in this situation?
It's tough, that's for sure. Keeping the home fires burning for military families is often not a 50/50 proposition. If military families think inside the conventional box when it comes to family communications, we'll be butting our heads against a stone wall, only ending up with huge headaches and a vast feeling of frustration. There is a definite strong need for marriage counselors and spokesmen who specialize in the unique military family situation. With so many Dr. Phil specials on what each person needs to contribute to a civilian marriage to make it work, military families can be driven nuts trying to follow a formula that is not wholly applicable to their situation.
Luckily, we have each other. I'd be willing to bet that on SpouseBuzz alone there are several hundred years of military spouse experience waiting to share ideas and information on how to keep those fires burning. And I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm breathlessly waiting to hear them.