Wow, where did this year go? It’s August? Most of you know me from reading my blog post at the beginning of the year titled “2017 A year in the life of a CalFire wife.” If you havent read it please read it first and come back!
I have such a great update, our year is going so wonderful. I know a lot of you fire families had the same year we had last year, and the year before as we did and have been up against another long year. I won’t refer to it as a “Fire Season” anymore because that has changed. My husband is in is 14th year as a firefighter and I have been by his side for 8 of those years. It takes a long time for them to put in vacation requests. You can’t always do it as a seasonal for the following year and then when they finally get a promotion, attend a lengthy academy 10 hours away that they are notified about 72 hours in advance, your vacations aren’t always easily planned. They accrue an incredible amount of paid days off, just don’t always have the opportunity to use them.
After the longest year in 2017, my husband was finally in a position to request some good chunks of vacation days. My husband works a 72 hour shift (If there are no fires, no short staff, no staffing pattern, no shift trades, and the stars are aligned!!) when he requests one shift off, he can also get the 4 days on either side off which makes for 11 days off. This is a great amount of time and allows him to rest when he gets home, help pack for a trip and then also decompress and get some things done at home after vacation.
My husband has worked some decent stretches of a few weeks at a time, but guess what? They haven’t been too unbearable. You know why? Because he has all these approved vacation times which is my “light at the end of the tunnel.” I know that on a specific day he will be home, and not just for 18 hours, a guaranteed 11 days. You know what effect this has on the health of our relationship and family? I can’t even explain it. I just know that in previous years the never-ending stretches of 56 days apart followed by 96 hours off have been almost detrimental to our relationship. He would come home and it was like heaven for a few hours then strictly business having him help me get work done at the home before leaving again and not knowing when he was coming home.
In my post “2017 A year in the life of a CalFire wife,” I wrote “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 haven’t been alone without a child since March 2016).” I am happy to say that its August and in the past 7 months our family has spent an incredible amount of QUALITY time together. We did a Disneyland trip in May and saw a lot of other awesome Fire Families there. We went on a week-long tent camping trip to McCall, ID. We spent many days at our lovely one acre farm; fixing fences (kids and I watched), planting a garden, building a playground from scratch (ok we watched that part too), catching chickens & ducks, cleaning the coops, doctoring pets, disciplining children, cooking, cleaning, organizing, doing bath time, bedtime, yelling & laughing, parenting and being a husband & wife in person. Just like we hoped and prayed. And guess what? We finally had our first date alone without kids for the first time in over TWO years! It was actually a 30 hour date away to Tamarack Resort.
Would I say this year has been easy? Absolutely not. We still face all the ups and downs that goes with marriage, raising kids, owning a home, and everyday struggles. The important thing is we have been able to handle these things without the added stresses of being a long distance family the entire year. My husband has been able to watch the kids grow and learn in real-time not text messaged videos.
I know so many fire wives got a quick visit home around Christmas from their husbands before they got sent to academy and then off on strike teams for another never-ending year of uncertainty. (It’s truly amazing how there are so many of us pregnant right now!)I am nowhere near a “seasoned fire wife” but I would like to offer this advice. Use the vacation time. Request a bunch of it. Spread it out through the year and don’t feel selfish or unworthy of it. Your children are only little for a short window of time and no amount of overtime money will ever compare to the times spent as a family. There will always been over-time now that fire season is all year. And while there will be days, weeks, months that your firefighter is held on shift without an option of getting off, having had the family vacations throughout the year has allowed us to make so many memories. And if you don’t have children or you are empty nesters, use the vacation the time to build and maintain a healthy relationship with each other.
I know a lot of families just keep on with the old ways of the fire-life and don’t use their vacation time. They save it until right before retirement or they try to work as many days of over-time during summer to ensure they have the savings to make it through winter. But remember what I wrote above? It’s now a FIRE YEAR, there is now always an opportunity for overtime most of the year. Request the time off. Build and maintain your relationships at home. Make time to enjoy your hobbies. Steven and I were chatting on our drive to our childless date, and we both said we don’t want to be the fire couple that come retirement has a business relationship and doesn’t know how to be husband and wife because the time and effort was never intentionally made to keep the fire burning.
When my Husband left on July 11th, I had an overwhelming sense of loneliness. He leaves the evening before his shift and I always put on TV for the kids and I go in the kitchen to prepare dinner. I can’t describe the feeling so well, but it is an aching heart along with a pit in my gut. Thoughts of Can I do this on my own? Can I keep these children, this garden, these pets, and my very pregnant-self healthy? Can I survive the challenges that always seem to arise when my husband is on shift? The feeling usually lasts a day or so until I establish a routine of my own. I tend to use an abundance of essential oils (and chocolate) to help with these emotions. The kids really miss him and it is hard for them to express their emotions about dad being away. The other night my 4-year-old daughter cried herself to sleep after telling me “I think daddy might not ever come home.” My heart broke and I was all choked up consoling her as I had just been reading the tragic news of the fires.
It is now, August 6th and my husband is still on shift. The soonest he could be home will be August 12th for a few nights. My children and I miss him to the point of feeling sick, but we go about our summer days finding fun things to do and explore. Sadly, in the first 3 weeks he has been on shift, we lost three brave firefighters in the line of duty on the fires in California. Words cannot express how tragic this is. We only were able to discuss it through texting until this weekend. We were talking about how wonderful the ceremony for Braden Varney was and that is when he broke down. We still haven’t had an in-depth conversation about it due to time. He never had a chance to meet him, but our families are the same age and I think thoughts of “that could be my wife up there speaking and my children left without a father” really uprooted emotions that often get buried in this line of work. Recently, he was on a fire and I would get a “Good Morning I Love you” text really early and then not hear from him until super late that night or the next morning. As a fire wife, you start searching through all the Fire incident reports and forums looking for their Engine, helicopter or dozer number to see where they have been called to or what the fire situation is. Then you just continue to pray for their safety. When my cell phone made a tone for his text, I felt instant relief. He is okay. I didn’t even care that his text said “Don’t know if I’m gonna make it home tomorrow.”
I’m currently 32 weeks pregnant and have only 56 days left until my due date. Not only have the children done lots of growing since he left, but so has my belly. Between now and my due date of September 29, my husband has for sure one hunt but maybe two Archery Elk hunts if he draws a tag. We NEED the meat in the freezer so it is necessary that he goes. Our Elk supply is extremely low and we can see the bottom of the deep freezer. He does have a new satellite phone that I will be able to contact him on incase this baby comes before 40 weeks. Our last child was born at home on his due date 4 hours after my first contraction! We continue to pray he will fill the freezer and be home for the birth of our third child whom we don’t know if it is a boy or girl! Being a firefighter wife & a hunters wife is quite the adventure, but I am grateful to be married to a hero and a man who provides a freezer full of meat. He is taking six full weeks off, just as he did with the first two children, to be home with me & love on our sweet children.
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Be Wild. Live Naturally. Love Genuinely,