A year in the life of a CALFIRE wife. My husband and I spent 256 days apart in 2017. This has been the hardest year to date. This has also been one of the best years too and we have so much to be thankful for.
Sometimes people think that a firefighters station is just in town and their families get to go visit and eat dinner at the fire station when they are on shift. This is true for many fire families. But for thousands of others, their firefighter works too far away to visit.
My husband works a 72 hour shift every week and he goes in the night before because we chose to live 8 hours away in Idaho for a better quality of life. He is gone 4 nights and home for 3. This is a tough schedule. But I have something to tell you, it was WAY tougher than you can imagine. In 2017, because of trainings, horrible fires and having to go in the night before, my husband slept either at a fire station, hotel, or in his Engine 249 days of the year. He also went on a successful Elk hunt. And that left 109 days in 2017 that he slept under the same roof as me and the kids. That is Less than 1/3 of a year. This number really saddens me.
I can’t tell you how hard it has been on him because that would be for him to share, but for the first time in our marriage I can see it on his face that he is exhausted and burnt out. He just missed out on the first year of his son’s life and almost all of our daughters “terrific 3’s.” He missed the ups and downs of our fast growing children. Next time you see a firefighter, know that they don’t just risk their lives for the lives of strangers. They also sacrifice being present with their families. Everyday, our daughter says “I really miss Daddy, will he be home tonight?” And just about everyday I say “Me too. Not tonight, but hopefully soon honey.” We don’t ever know when he will be home until he walks through the door. We are so blessed that he has walked though the door after every shift.
I don’t remember fire season being the whole year. Was there always so many large fires where the firefighters are held on shift? Did they always spend that many days away from their station? Does it just seem different because we have children now? How do they even stay healthy when they have to eat a sugar loaded sack lunch, restaurant food and base camp food for a month straight? He never once complained by the way. I just know that in previous years he was able to cook healthy meals and establish a regular fitness routine when he was actually at his fire station. I’m almost positive he blacked out July, August, October, and worked 19 days straight in December coming home just before Christmas. (Thank you for all your prayers to have him home.)
Communication is the foundation of every relationship. A great portion of our communication is a few daily text messages and occasional FaceTime chats. Some days we get to FaceTime “daddy” before bed, other days the only 10 minutes he has available to call happens to be in the middle of a double child meltdown while I’m trying to cook dinner and I answer “I’m sorry, but this is a really bad time, we can’t chat now. We love you.” There have been week stretches when my husband is on a strike team working 36 hr shifts with 12 hours off at a hotel. That means we are lucky if we even get an “I’m ok” or “I love you and call u sometime tomorrow” text message. Often the phone call is after the kids are in bed and they don’t get to hear his voice.
When we finally get to chat it is usually 9pm. I’m emotionally exhausted from being a mom of 2 and he’s physically AND mentally exhausted from fighting fires and running calls. Our conversation is short and mostly about the kids, finances, his work, the home (dog missing, chicken dying, well pump breaking, broken sprinklers, you know-all that fun stuff that comes with owning a home and big yard!)
When he comes home after anywhere from a 4-42 day stretch, our routine is thrown off and the kids struggle with this. They miss him and my daughter is so excited for him to be home, but she then refuses to let him read to her, cook for her, or basically anything for at least a day if not 2. I struggle because I do everything myself when he is away and he is very helpful at home and I quickly get used to having help. It’s very hard for me mentally when he leaves for work, I have to remind myself that I can do it all by myself again. Even just a few days of him home really throws the kids and I off. It is so nice to have someone else go out with a flashlight in the pitch black to shut the gates, count the chickens, or see what the dogs are barking at. To have him kill the spider or wasp in the house, to check the basement, porch and every closet in the house because you heard a weird noise right when you crawled in bed and to watch the baby monitor so you can shower without getting out with soapy hair to sooth a crying baby.
This year our daughter turned 3, our son 1 and we celebrated 6 years of marriage. We made so many great memories, spent a week at a cabin in McCall, ID, a week under the stars in the Sawtooths and a few days here and there as a family. We survived a brutal first winter and I shoveled snow for the first time in my life while wearing a newborn and entertaining a toddler. I drove the kids in ice and snow, got stuck in ice and snow, adopted a kitten, went to the fair, went to the ER, the zoo, the beach (river), parades, festivals, birthday parties, BBQs all alone with two beautiful kids stuck to me like glue. We missed him and he missed us. We love him more than anything and are very proud of him. A few friends of mine have actually met my husband and I explain to them how lucky they are!
The kids and I continue to explore new places and enjoy our lovely home. We hope 2018 allows us to be a family in person, to grow and strengthen our relationships with each other that have weakened and to enjoy the everyday ups and downs TOGETHER. (Maybe even a date with my husband? We havent been alone without a child since March 2016).
Marriage is HARD. Raising little ones is HARD. Being a fire wife is HARD, but I think the hardest of all is asking for help. People often say “let me know if you need help.” That is a well intentioned statement, but taking them up on the offer is hard and often ends up me still having to call and ask for the help that was offered. I don’t want to call and ask for help at 10 pm. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, so I don’t and I just always say “thank you, but we are doing alright.”
I intended to update my blog at least monthly and stay on topic with homemaker content. I have a dozen drafts saved on great topics, but I lack the energy and motivation to do them. I’m just exhausted. I thought you might be interested in knowing more about being a fire family and how it has really affected us this year. Please be kind, I wrote this on my phone over the past 3 days. I could spend a few extra days editing, but I’ve got to go keep the kids and critters alive in these freezing temperatures!
Happy New Years!
Be Wild. Live Naturally. Love Genuinely.
When he is home I try to take as many photos as I can of him and the kids.
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