It was a rare weekend morning where I was up before our two kids, ages seven and five. I poured myself the first of what would likely be many cups of coffee, and for just a few moments, enjoyed a little silence before the chaos of the weekend would start. Birthday parties, practices, laundry, mandatory fun and multiple obligations — all the things that somehow unsuspectingly clutter our calendars on any given Saturday.
I expected to see my little guy bound into the family room, snuggle up on my lap and tell me about his “cwazy dweams,” but instead I heard his feet pitter patter to the kitchen. I slowly, carefully crept that way with the intention of surprising him.
Instead, what I heard next surprised, and immediately saddened, me.
“Alexa,” he asked the Amazon Echo in the kitchen, “How many days until my daddy comes home?”
“Sorry,” she replied. “I don’t know that one.”
To be honest, I didn’t know an exact date either. Sometime this summer.
I went in and talked to our son and told him daddy would be home around his birthday. He immediately asked Alexa how many days until the day of his birthday. Alexa answered and I saw firsthand my son wishing the time away; hoping the months on the calendar would somehow disappear. That’s not what I want for my kids. That’s not what I want for myself.
What happened to being able to enjoy the moment?
I realized: As military families, we live our lives in countdown mode.
Countdown to homecoming.
To the next deployment.
Countdown to the move, to the TDY, to when our household goods arrive, to when leave starts, when we get to see our families … the list goes on.
Often it seems we are so focused on crossing off the day on the calendar that we forget to enjoy the day.
The days turn to weeks, weeks to months, months to years, and all of a sudden we’re longing for the times when the kids were littler, we were younger, life was “easier.” When was the last time you asked a mom with young children how she was doing? Did she tell you how much she’s enjoying each day and really relishing the time with her kids? Or did she tell you she’s tired, or my personal favorite response that I’m so guilty of using: “Busy, but good!”?
The truth is, we’ve all become so busy that it’s rare to find unscheduled time. My saving grace of getting through deployment has always been to stay as busy as possible. But in that moment in the kitchen, I realized: We’ve gotten too busy. We’re too focused on counting down. Our constant hustle and bustle and rush is impacting our ability to enjoy our time together, to just … be.
During my kitchen epiphany, I realized something needed to change. I needed to change. I don’t want my kids wishing their time away while we wait for dad to come home. I want to create memories and experiences and stories for them to pass on to their kids. I want them to remember me, their mom, as this woman who handled it with grace, not audible sighs and, “Get. Your. Shoes. On. Now. We have to go. We are already late.” I want them to talk about our Friday family nights. Our adventures. Our strength. Our laughs. Not crossing squares off a calendar wanting each day to go faster.
I turned to my favorite resource (Google) for some advice. And has been true since its inception, my favorite search engine didn’t let me down. I came across a blog called The Minimalists, with a post titled, “Be on the Mountain.” Now, regardless of your religious beliefs or if you have any at all, the message is universally applicable. And I loved it.
In the post, they share a story in which God tells Moses to climb to the top of a mountain. So, Moses does and when he finally reaches the top, God commands Moses to, “Be on the mountain.” The author of the post shares, “I imagine Moses responded, ‘I heard you the first time: ‘Go to the top of the mountain!’ Here I am, just as you asked. Now what?’”
They go on to say that the point of this whole parable is that maybe all God wanted was for Moses to just “Be.” Instead of planning his descent or his next move or his countdown to the next thing, to just take a breath and take it in. Appreciate the wonder and the glory and the beauty of the mountaintop.
What a wonderful idea and gift for us all.
I immediately hung a post it note on my bathroom mirror, reminding me to “Be on the mountain!”
Instead of counting down today, I’m going to make today count.
Want more on military life?
- What You Need to Know About This Deployment Goodbye
- Why Deployment Meltdowns Are Actually a Good Thing
- To My Military Spouse Friends….You’ll Never Know
- 47 Things No One Tells You About Being a Military Wife
Mary Ellen Figueroa-Williams
My husband is getting deployed next year for almost a year. We have a new baby girl and a two year old. This article has given me a new perspective. Thanks for writing it. And that last sentence was amazing lol
I understand you dont want kids counting down the days and focusing on that but developmentally when they are younger then fourth grade they don’t have the same abstract mind as you and the countdowns do help then to concretely see the number of days and it helps them to focus on the moment. Like ok 300 more days got it….so I need to not worry about him coming today and go focus on my today activities.
Some times countdowns can be stressful for parents and meaninglessness but for kids it can be a connection to the deployed parent.
I understand this article but I also agree with Kelly as well. I think kids are more visual and aren’t wishing the days away but need to also see how much longer until dad or mom is home. Time can seem like an infinity to little ones and if they can see an end point to it all I think it will make coping easier. I think it has to be a balance of both. Living in the moment while we count down deployments. I also think of it as how many activities we can scratch off our bucket list while daddy is away. It’s my time to focus on my kids while I have a break from wife duties. But it’s definitely hard all around! It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. Just do what works for your own family and whatever helps with coping!
I agree with Kelly as well. I have an almost two year old and a three year old and the three year old thinks daddy will be home any minute…she asks me everyday “will daddy be home when I wake up?”. She doesnt understand that its going to be awhile. I think when they are very little that having a calendar to count down, like Kelly said, helps them focus more on the day they are in instead of thinking daddy could be home any minute. I think when they are a little older and understand time and the months then taking the calendar out of the picture is a great idea!
I just came up on this post today. I don’t know how old it is but its April 2020 as I post this. I know that what may work for me may not work for others and that is ok. I understand the process to which someone can feel like military life is draining and countdowns and such are depressing but I think families sometimes become too consumed with “military life” instead of just living. I’ve also seem many families try to “replace” their sailor or “distract” the kids with something like Disneyland or a puppy until he is home. So I am trying to give a different perspective. We are all living life and just so happen to be military families. Our family has never counted down to the next deployment ( we have had a few with the scattered week long ones in between) , or homecoming ( cuz we don’t really go), or really anything for that matter that doesn’t involve him actually leaving. This however is something we would do even if he was a traveling doctor, a pilot, anything that results in him leaving for long periods of time. Why? Because it stops the constant asking of when will he be home, it gets the kids excited about his travels and can be a learning experience for them rather that a long period of time that he is just ….gone. They end up engaged with the places hes gone and the stories when he returns, and they are eager to learn about the next place he is visiting. Its almost like they are traveling with him. It gives them something tangible. They know exactly whats happening instead of being told ‘daddy has to leave for a while’. If all you are doing is having a “Daddy will be home in 250 days” countdown then whats the point I feel. The intent should be to create moments and pull your family together despite the distance. Its FOR the kids. They like to be able to show him the things they are doing at home while he is gone. We have a map, where they track where hes gone with pins of what ports hes stopped in. This is for when they are curious about where he is and what its like there, a clock so they know when they can contact him via email or call when he is in port. We have a basket where they place all the letters and his favorite things they like to send him and more. Its very interactive. Its interesting how they aren’t even realizing how they are learning about traveling, tracking, how to mail things, geography, a little bit of math, reading( my son was really trying to read since he realized that’s how he could communicate with his dad before then it was tragic). I realized the kids just want info, the same info you want they want the only difference is you as an adult you don’t have to physically see it. They do, because they learn and understand by doing. Some kids don’t want you to be their liaison. Not only that. It may make your military guy feel the love while he is gone.