Three plus two is not simply another number. Three plus two is twice as many trips to the grocery store, four activities on Tuesday afternoon, needing the minivan every morning, staggering the shower schedule, frequent floor inspections, extra laundry and a bedtime routine that looks like herding sheep. It also means more hugs, extra laughter and the chance to pay back some karmic debt.
We’ve been watching a friend’s kids for a couple of weeks while she’s off serving with the National Guard out of state. Some days having just our three kids feels like a lot, but it’s amazing how much more organized and on top of things we have to be with five. We’re happy to do it, though. We know this is what “supporting the troops” really looks like.
Our friend in the National Guard is a single parent, and we’ve been able to relate to her in a way I don’t know if many others in our community can. My husband is a Major in the Army Reserves and has been deployed to Iraq twice. The first time he was called up we had six days notice, I was pregnant and our daughters were ages 4 and 2. Those 15 months were the most difficult of my life; juggling a preschooler, a toddler and a newborn on my own. Single parenting is not for the weak. Parenting with a spouse in a war zone is stressful beyond measure.
I can’t imagine not helping out our friend while she’s working in service to our country.
I learned a lot in those days about how much I can handle and what you can do when you have no choice. I also learned how to ask for and accept help. I don’t know why as parents we have the sense we should somehow do everything on our own, but I couldn’t have gotten through that difficult period of my life if it weren’t for family, friends, and even strangers who stepped up and helped me get through the most difficult days. During a deployment, you learn quickly who really means it when they say, “If there’s anything I can do ...”
Now when I hesitate about asking for help, I keep in mind how I feel when giving it. I’m glad to step up and, in my own way, pay back those who were kind enough to help me when I needed it. I know others usually feel the same but simply don’t know what they can offer. Military families of people serving in the National Guard or Reserves tend to go unnoticed by people who profess to “support the troops,” but we can often use a helping hand.
My advice to people looking to help military families (or really any families experiencing a stressful period) would be to make specific gestures rather than wait for someone to ask. Offer up blocks of time you are available to babysit or give a caregiver a break. Relieve them of an errand, or carpool duty, or making a meal. Even if they can’t take you up on an offer at a particular time, trust me, it will be forever remembered and appreciated.
I’ve had one person after another express astonishment that we are so willing to take on two extra kids for a couple of weeks, but it’s really not a big deal. They’re good kids, and the whole thing is like an extended slumber party with homework instead of games, but I can’t imagine not helping out our friend while she’s working in service to our country.