Once you have a child, you finally realize how different life is once you have a child. That seems like a dumb statement, but hopefully it makes sense to parent readers. Before I had a kid, I thought I knew what it was like to have one. But I underestimated everything by a factor of at least ten. I underestimated the time commitment, the exhaustion, the way parenthood totally consumes every bit of your life.
And if I could go back and give myself a kick in the rear, I would.
In 2004 we lived on post and my entire neighborhood did our first combat deployment together. I think about that year often now that I am a mom and wish I had been more helpful to my neighbors.
You know what I did most nights after I got off work? Sat on my butt. Watched TV. Surfed the web. Did nothing. Same thing for weekends.
If I had known then what I know now, I would've been so much more helpful to my neighbors. Because you know what happens when Dad's deployed and Mom remembers at the end of the day that she's forgotten one ingredient for her dinner? She has to put winter coats on everyone, pile all her kids into the car, drive them the quarter mile to the commissary, lug them out, put them in a cart, go get the one thing she needs, and drive them all back home again. Wasting a ton of time and energy. Or she throws up her hands and feeds the kids Poptarts.
If any of my neighbors had just called me and said, "Gah, Sarah, I forgot to get milk today...would you please either run up to the Shopette for me or come sit at the house with my kids while I run do it?", I absolutely would've helped out. But no one asked me...and I was too ignorant to realize how helpful that could have been.
I should've offered to babysit for 30 minutes while my neighbor moms took a shower. I should've called them when I was running to the store to ask if there was anything I could get for them. I should've shown up early and helped decorate for their kids' birthday parties instead of just showing up when it started.
I can think of a dozen things I should've done.
Let my ignorance and naivety be a lesson to other childless milspouses, if possible, especially during deployment. Perhaps you are not nearly as dense as I was back then, and maybe you already offer to do these things. If so, you're a far better friend than I ever was! There are so many ways you could lend a little hand, especially if you're a stay-at-home wife.
On the other hand, if you have little kids and are blessed with having a childless neighbor or friend, don't hesitate to ask for little favors. Your neighbor with no experience with kids may not be up for an entire day of babysitting, but she probably could survive less than an hour. She could definitely run a short errand for you, or watch one kid while you run the other to ballet. Let your friend know if there's a small way she could be helpful, because if she's as clueless as I was, she just doesn't realize how ragged you're being run by solo-parenting.
When the whole neighborhood is deployed, we can all work together to run more efficiently. Half the equation is offering help to your friends...but the other half of the equation is asking for help!
And dear neighbors, I am so sorry for sitting on my duff for a year...