Photo Credit: Richard foster, Flickr.com
Article by Stacey Faris, 2014 Yuma Proving Ground SOY
I love opportunities for adventure, learning and travel. Be it with family, friends, or alone, I’m always game for something new! So, when I got the chance to attend a Family Readiness Group training conference at Fort Bragg, I jumped on it immediately.
Because the conference was Tuesday – Thursday I needed to arrive early enough on Monday to find my way around, and wouldn’t be able to return home until Friday. As mentioned, I love an adventure, so I decided it made sense to bring along kids, ages 3 and 5. I mean, they were offering childcare for the conference; it seemed silly not to take advantage!
My reasoning for bringing the kids was twofold. First, I am a stay-at-home mom, and when I’m gone during the workweek things get a little chaotic on the home front. Despite the fact that my husband is currently in an instructor position, it’s still the Army and he can’t exactly ask for the mornings off. What’s more, he goes to work at 4:30 a.m., which presents a problem for getting my daughter off to kindergarten; never mind that my son is supposed to be at home with me all day. We have fantastic neighbors who offered help, but that’s a lot to ask even of our amazing friends.
The other reason was that my grandmother lives in Florida, just a short (everything is relative!) 6.5-hour drive from Fayetteville. Living in Arizona and having the majority of my family in Louisiana makes getting to Florida quite challenging.
So with the opportunity there and the logistics possible, I bought the kids’ tickets, loaded them along with two car seats, two backpacks, a wheeled three-eyed monster carry-on, two checked bags and my crazy self onto the plane and headed for Fort Bragg.
Three flights and an unplanned overnight stay in Charlotte later — seriously, what fun is airline travel without an over-night delay! — we made it to North Carolina. Thankfully, despite the travel craziness, the conference went great, the CDC was fabulous, and our hotel was very helpful to this weary traveler.
Our drive from North Carolina to Florida was just as interesting as our flights. We made an unplanned stop in Florence, SC to trade one rental car that had problems for a new one, which added over an hour to the drive that had already started later than expected.
We got to our stopping point at midnight when I was originally hoping for 9 p.m. Considering that the changing of seats, bags and kids takes me about 30 minutes, this was definitely my least favorite part of the journey.
Everything was worth it though once we got to my 84-year-old Grandma Joanie’s apartment. Watching her with the kids was priceless. My daughter read the funny pages to her great-grandmother every morning, and my son, proudly helped me wash and fold clothes for her. It brought back so many wonderful memories of my childhood spent with this strong, incredibly intelligent and adventurous woman. I know much of my desire to see and do more no doubt comes from my grandmother who took me to see my first Broadway show and on my first European vacation.
Thankfully our return trip was completed without incident. Our 1.5-hour drive to Orlando was easy which is unheard of on that stretch of interstate. The 4-hr flight passed quickly, and my husband was waiting for us in Phoenix when we arrived. He chauffeured us the three hours home with no problems. We got in at midnight, and hit the ground running on our normal weekly schedule 6 short hours later!
Was it insane to carry that much weight on my back through the airports? Yes!
Was staying in hotels alone with the kids for seven straight nights a little exhausting? Yes!
Were we ready to get home? Absolutely!
But would I have missed the opportunity to attend this incredibly important conference, let my kids spend time with their great-grandmother, and play on the beaches of Florida? Not in a million years!
What I realized as I planned and completed this travel in less than three and a half weeks, is it was an insane trip on the surface, but it made sense for us. More telling was that all of my military spouse friends understood.
Friends who have gone through multiple deployments, constant TDY, and hours that are unbendable understand that waiting around for your military spouse to be available means missing the boat half the time. So, they too have done solo spousing/parenting in hilarious ways and done it in style. Through the venue of social media, I asked them to share some of their stories:
Ambra Roberts, Army Wife: We took our Daddy Doll everywhere! We made people take pictures with him; dressed him like a ninja, cowboy, and rock-star; took him to football games; let him drive the car; and even let him sun tan on the dashboard. People thought I was crazy, but I have amazing pictures!
Dawn McDaniel, Army National Guard Wife: During our first deployment, I drove from Kentucky to Missouri then flew to Colorado to show off our new baby, who ended up being sick almost the entire time. Add that to the fact that this trip was in November of 2001 when getting through the airport was a nightmare! I’m so thankful for the National Guardsman who held the baby while I got the stroller and bags through x-ray! Thanks for the quick trip down super hero strength memory lane!
Brandy Alvarado, Army Wife: I PCS’d from Germany to NC with a toddler, an infant, all the luggage, car seats, and strollers by myself! Everything on this trip was memorable. I was 22 and had no idea what I was doing. I wanted to put the 2-year-old on a leash, but the hubby said no! I wouldn’t have made it without the help of the airlines getting carts and making sure we made it to our connections on time.
Monica Alonzo, Army Wife: I had our first two babies alone! Thank God for amazing family. I’m most thankful for a hospital with baby cameras that allowed Daddy to see baby live via the Internet before Facetime was a thing. He had access to a computer with our first, but not our second.
Leah Borg, Marine Wife: The craziest thing I’ve done is live in the same town as my husband but not live with him. He had training and was required to live on base. I was pregnant with baby #2, so I moved to the same town to have the baby close to where he and family were even though we couldn’t live together!
Jackie Engleman, Army Wife: Traveling alone or doing anything really that’s “meant for couples” by myself always gets me lots of, “You’re brave!” “I don’t know how you do it!,” “You don’t look old enough!” and “Do you have a husband? Why isn’t he helping you?” These comments are always from strangers and they just make me feel like a bad-ass!
Deb Muschinksi, Air Force Wife: Traveling 3,000 miles in a truck with two dogs and a 2-year-old. Did I mention that the 2-year-old stopped napping on that trip? She started again one we got back home, but that little girl literally talked her way across the country!
Christina Painter, Army Wife: I flew Space A from Germany to Charleston with my then 16-month-old son. We spent our first night in the home of a random Air Force family because we couldn’t get a hotel room. Then our flight got diverted to Maine instead of South Carolina, so we hitched a ride with the same random AF family to the home of her sister (who happened to be getting married the next day!), spent the night in their coastal Maine home, and toured New Hampshire’s tall ships with the family the next day before they dropped me us off at the airport. I don’t even remember their names, have no contact info for them, and yet had the best 48-hour vacation with them! On the Space A flight home, we got diverted again, hitched a ride with a random Staff Sergeant (we gave him $25 for gas) back to my car, and then drove the four hours back to base. Oh the fun to be had when your husband leaves you in Germany for a year!
Kelly Wright, Marine Wife: I bought our first house while my husband was deployed. I realized on closing day that I hadn’t really thought through the actual “moving” alone part of things! So I rented a Uhaul and literally threw clothes, books, furniture, etc into the back since I was only going a few blocks. When it came to the heavier items, I needed help so I called my realtor. He sent his friend, Coi (yes, like the fish) over to help. I called him, Clay, the entire time, but did offer him $100 in thanks.
Dawn Bakazan, Air Force Wife: I bought a puppy! I had two kids ages 10 and 8, and was also providing part time care for my 2 year old nephew. I did a road trip including a hotel stay with my two kids and the puppy. Some of my friends though I was nuts to do while hubby was deployed, but it was the best thing we ever did to help us get through!
Rebekah Kitzman, Army Wife: I flew from Kansas to Michigan with a 3-year-old, not quite 2-year-old, and I was four months pregnant! I tried to make sure we had seats together when buying our tickets, but was told I would need to wait until we got to the gate. We had a couple of transfers, and EVERY. SINGLE. TIME, I got to the gate and we were not seated together. Most time it was corrected right away, but once we actually had to get on the plane, take our seats (one kid in my row, the other a few rows back), and wait for someone to volunteer to trade seats!
Robin Currier, Army Wife: I don’t exactly know where we were after days and hours of driving for a PCS, but I was stopped at a gas station to attend to my youngest, who had been crying for a while. When I get him out of his car seat, I see a massive poop explosion all down his legs, up his back, in his hair, and all over his car seat. It was a gigantic mess! So, I get him out and take him inside to get washed up leaving my 15-year-old in charge. When I get out, four of my kids are running down the parking lot screaming and chasing the dog that is chasing our cat into the nearby woods! As this is happening the police arrive. Apparently someone called on the disruption happening in the parking lot. I had to try to explain to the officer why I was in the bathroom with my baby and not outside taking care of my kids. I grabbed the Wal-Mart bag with all of the poopy items, took the clothes out, and pretty much threw them at the officer to show I wasn’t lying! Meanwhile my kids are still running through the woods screaming and trying to get my cat out of the tree. So the officer goes over to the woods, gets my cat out of the tree, and as soon as he picked her up she pees all over his uniform! He was so mad I think he was ready to arrest me right then! Fortunately there was nothing to charge me with other than driving with a car full of kids. I literally sat on the curb and just cried for about 30 minutes. Then I stripped off the car seat cover, put the baby back in his seat sitting on a towel, rounded up the other kids, and drove the remaining 10 hours to our new home!
Many thanks for all those stories. And by the way, I hadn’t told you about another trip we made this summer.
My husband and I loaded our Subaru Outback and drove from Arizona to Louisiana with our two kids and my niece. Because my husband departed early to go back from leave, I made the return drive solo.
Four hotel nights and 1,900 miles later, I’m still here to tell you about it. Instead of thinking of myself as a glutton for punishment, like all my friends quoted, I prefer, strong Army wife, willing to accept the challenge of enjoying opportunities, seeing our family, and continuing our escapades no matter what the military throws our way!
And I know that all of our spouses willing to embrace the crazy along with me will never look back and regret these adventures!