My question for this post is, “How do you count down the time while your spouse/significant other is away?”

My life has been a series of semesters for the past 4 years.  I have been in grad school since August of 2003.  I have found that my “time gauge” for DH’s return from wherever is based on semesters (or mid-terms, finals, etc.).

When DH was deployed to Iraq I knew that once the spring semester was over we would be about 1/3 of the way through the deployement.  Then, at the end of the summer semester we would be over the hump and the countdown would really begin (estimated date of return, of course).  BUT, DH was wounded in the middle of my summer semester.  Believe it or not, I completed the semester through snail mail and e-mail, including writing two papers.  UGH!!!  It was not easy, but I am very persistent (and quite stubborn!).

Currently DH is gone and has been since 11 June.  This go ’round I knew that the end of my summer semester would include DH coming home (he’s TDY on the other side of the states).  I have finished my summer class, but I still have my internship.  The good thing is that 3 days after I finish my internship (for the summer) I will get to see DH!!!

This current separation from DH has been really hard for our 4-year-old daughter.  She cries often and says she really misses her daddy.  And she asks, “Why did the Army need Daddy to go to Ft. Lewis?”  We showed her where he is on the map and she tells everyone where her daddy is… but that doesn’t stop the tears.

I have been telling my daughter, “Daddy will be home in August” all summer.  Well, much to my heart ache as a mother, the other day my daughter said, “Mom! Next week is August and Daddy will be home!  YAY!!!”  I had to break her poor little heart and tell her that yes, the month of August does start next week, but Daddy won’t be home until later in the month.  She just didn’t understand.  I got out a calendar and explained to her what I meant.  I feel bad that I gave the wrong impression about when DH will be home.  But I did learn that I need to be more specific next time and explain things a little better.

Mommies (and Daddies) and 4-year-olds don’t have the same “time gauge.”

What’s your time gauge?

About the Author

Joan D'Arc

Joan D'Arc has been an Army spouse since 1997. She started her marriage as a geographical bachelorette and experienced her husband's first deployment before their first wedding anniversary. Since then, she has had two beautiful children who amaze her (and frustrate her) every day. Joan fought her way through graduate school and is now a Licensed Social Worker. Joan enjoys volunteering with Soldiers' Angels and giving back to the military community in any way possible. Joan feels very blessed to be an Army spouse and wouldn't trade this life for anything!

  • Well. I had been counting down with a MLB calendar, you know, crossing off the days with a big blue sharpie. But the plans changed (he’s taking another year-long assignment in Iraq) and now I will have to rethink the whole countdown process. I am thinking I will just need to get schedules for football, basketball, and then another baseball schedule. Then he might be getting close to coming home.

  • kss

    I guess I haven’t quite figured this one out yet. I did set up an automatic counting ticker, but that moves so very slowly its a bad sign when I notice everyday passing. When I’m busy and especially when I’m working with different teams and interacting with lots of people, I count down by weeks, since they seem to fly.
    But one count down that I do notice happening without even my needing to do anything is the amount of time I am OK when I don’t hear from him. About the 5th day I feel anxious and agitated and by the 8th day I am furious with the whole situation.
    At the moment I’m in that agitated zone because I’ve not heard all month. And that’s even though my BF warned me he’d be out of touch for 3 to 4 weeks!!

  • Jen

    We started out the deployment with a huge, multi-colored chain that dh and the kids made a few days before he left. Each month was a different color (themed for each month – orange for October, green for December and so forth) and every night, the kids took turns tearing off a link. It was draped in long swags from the landing of our stairs, and we had a good time watching it get shorter.
    When the extension came along, that bad boy came down. I just didn’t have the heart to add more loops to it. We mark time in months done now. When it gets closer to the time he will get home, I’ll break out the “___ days until Daddy is home” chalkboard for the fridge.

  • phyllis

    I don’t even do the count down thing it is too far away. When people ask I say 1 year they say when I tell them July of 08.

  • Nette

    We don’t. The first deployment that my husband did in the Navy was horrible for me… they suggested we number our emails 1,2,3 well, with one started every day more like a diary on my part halfway through it was so hard to see the number go up and realize that that’s how long he’s been gone for so I switched to dates… if kept me from thinking about it. And I tried the whole countdown thing… When my friends and I realized that we had counted down so much that with the extensions we were on our 3rd number 15 we had a good laugh and stopped. I figure I know that the ship will be home when it’s the night of the candle light vigil! That’s when I get excited.

  • newarmydad

    Can anyone give me a clue? I have been trying and trying to find out how long it will take for my wife to get her medical discharge. She has a broken pelvis and can do nothing so she basicly sits around the day room at AIT. Her DS’s are trying to break her moral and it is starting to work. We are having probs too and this is not helping us. They are hurting her so bad mentally it isn’t funny. They aren’t making her do any PT but they are mad cause she can’t do anything doctors orders. She needs to get out she wants to get out because she knows she can’t do her job. She loves the army but she knows that her body can’t handle it. That kills her inside. I think she is starting to suffer from depression she says she is not. Is there anything that she or I can do to speed up the process. It is starting to rip our marriage apart. Any help would be nice!!!!!!
    Thanks for the vent.

  • Jewel

    Counting down with a calender or ticker would just be too painfully slow for me. Since I don’t have little ones at home I count down with events in my life. Like the date my son goes back to college or the day my sister arrives for a much overdue visit. Other things like a big project or event due at work helps too. Once I get past it I’m that much closer to hubby being home.

  • Tracie (Navy wife)

    I try not to count down anything, especially with this deployment b/c he’ll be gone for a year and we aren’t used to that length of time away. [We Navy wives are used to 6-7 month ship deployments, not year long ground deployments in Iraq, which is what my husband is doing right now.] When we first found out, I’m like “you are going to miss all of spring, summer, fall and most of winter before you get back.” It just seemed unreal. The only thing I focus on is another month passing and count that off mentally but to physically do anything countdown wise would probably drive me nuts. I learned with our first ship deployment years ago not to count down. And mentally I just think to myself “he’s not here right now” … not, he’s gone for “x” amount of time or not coming back for “x” amount of time. That’s what works for me.
    Butterfly wife – I think that’s a great idea to focus on sports seasons because of your husband’s extension. I can’t even imagine what you are processing in your head with that. Whatever works for you though is all that matters.

  • Kel

    I realized that another week had flown by when trash day came around.. Stupid I know but it felt like i was takign the trash to the curb every 3 days.. It went by pretty fast.. With the kids we did the paper chain and I had to add rings while they slept when thigns got longer or the date changed and had to take them off…lol

  • well, after all the TDYs and the deployment and the extension… I didn’t count at all. I didn’t believe any dates at all. The next one… I will probably not believe it either. when I DID believe and start counting, I got slammed – twice.
    Some friends with little kids, did a chain by BUILDING one, not taking a chain off, but putting one on for every day and using it to decorate the house when he got home. or they added an M&M to the jar, and will serve it at the party.

  • Audette

    *raises hand* I have a problem… I am a geek without remorse.
    I have an excel spreadsheet for my counter. I actually got the original from a friend, and have since modified it so that its little messages change more frequently, and so that it tracks a couple points of additional information.
    It both counts up and counts down, and shows a percentage done. I’m thinking of adding a comparison to basic fractions (ie: 1/5; 1/6; 2/3; etc).
    It had a single entry for return date, so if they extend DH, then all it’ll take is modifying the one cell on the spreadsheet…

  • Kel – Trash days. I love it!
    Tracie – There’s supposed to be processing going on in my head? Actually, it took about 3-4 days or so, but I just got back on the path I’ve been on this whole time. Looking at the opportunities I have that I might have missed out on. I gotta look on the bright side of things or go crazy. Wait, I already did that. ;-)

  • Kel, I count by trash days too. :) I focus on one week at time. I pick a day of the week, usually the day he left, and tell myself just to get to that next day.Then, when I get there, I just look to the next one. That way, I am not stressed looking at all the days ahead.

  • Since we have 5 Kiddos we count how many birthdays will go by before we star the countdown to Hubby coming home. We just passed the lsat birthday of thisdeployment so now we count weeks then days.

  • angela

    My problem with the countdown is that it never seems to get smaller. I mean the day he left the year countdown started then the extension came and the countdown was still a year. Now my husband called a few days ago and said they are talking 18 months now. I told him they better not because if I tell these kids it is STILL a year after almost 6 months of telling them a year they are not going to ever think he is coming home. I am also starting to wonder.

  • I didn’t count down. I just stayed busy (well, more like distracted). I told everyone he would be home in March or April of ’07, which actually helped me get through those last few months when they were saying they’d be home in January, and I wasn’t willing to believe it. They DID come home in January, though, and it was a relief. :)
    The problem I have now, though, is that the passage of time while he’s home has taken on such a . . . speedy quality. “Getting through the day” was such a goal back then, especially when he was incommunicado for a couple months, and I knew he was in danger or in harsh circumstances, a sitting duck as a turret gunner in a travelling convoy . . . By choice, no less — but that’s my husband. :)
    “Getting through the day” has been a hard habit to shake. Now, he works all day about 50 miles away, and I just “get through the day” till he gets home, which kind of shortchanges my life a bit. I’m starting to train myself to get back into a mindset (yes, all the way here in July) of daily productivity, but it’s a real chore. It does help, though, that we finally have a baby on the way, after having to wait so long to start our family. :)

  • Val

    I cross off the days, but I’ve learned not to count. It just makes me feel good at the end of the day to say, “one more that I don’t have to do.”
    I guage more by big events: People coming to visit, places we are going.
    Sometimes I count by garbage days or credit card payments.
    And this time I told my daughter Daddy will be home about the time it is time to pick pumpkins. We just went out to the patch this week to see that they were flowering, so we talked about how the flower would make a pumpkin that would have to grow and grow and then we would pick it.

  • I did it by week, too. I didn’t mark a calendar b/c we had no idea when his tour would end. I just knew “sometime in the fall. Maybe.” So, until we got more info, if I could just make it until Friday I would be good. Then I had the weekend to regroup, work or whatever I needed. Monday, I would don my big girl pants and head off for another week.
    I love the build a chain and M&M thing…will file that in the back of the brain for our next deployment.

  • Audette, it gives this unabashed computer geek some serious warm fuzzies that you use a spreadsheet.

  • dizzylizzie

    i’ve always X’d off the days on the calander. aside from that, for the kids i did the chain thing and numbered them, but i didnt start it until we had hit double digits and had 99 days left. unfortuantely that ended up in the trash around day 36 when we got news of the extension. i was NOT going to add links. kinda defeats the whole purpose.
    and yes the 18 month extensions are coming/here. my DH just got extended for 187 days. thats six months and a week past the standard 12month tour. so now instead of seeing him the first week of Sept, we wait until march.

  • angela

    Are they really going to 18 months or does anyone know? My husband has been told several times to start planning for it and they have changed his R&R to fit that, but we don’t know for sure. I got a disturbing email from him yesterday saying he can’t do 18 months and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. I have been emailing him back trying to find out if he got extended for sure or if he is just freaking out over the worry of what might happen. Does anyone know? I really don’t know how to calm him down from this far away.

  • dizzylizzie

    i would advise him to see the chaplain. the extensions for 18mons are here. my DH just got his orders a couple days ago to extend his 12 month tour to 18 months and 7 days.

  • angela

    My hubby is friends with the chaplain and I think he is just as upset about it.

  • phyllis

    Is this regular army or Army National Guard? Can you please let me know.

  • dizzylizzie

    my hubs’ and his unit are active duty army phyllis

  • angela

    Mine is active duty also. He does not have offical orders yet, but has been told to expect them. I hope they are lying to him because I don’t think those guys(and girls) can take much more of this.

  • phyllis

    Thank you for letting me know. I am sorry they are doing the extensions to the soldiers. I know that they are short staffed. But it still sucks…

  • Mindi

    We have 4 kiddos from age 1 to 6 (at time of deployment). Our 4 year old takes it the hardest. We did the chain, but it seemed to get kind of old. The thing that works the best is Hershey’s kisses. Whenever they need a hug or kiss from Daddy, they can get one. I try to limit it to 1 or 2 a day. To begin with that was difficult, but it isn’t anymore. I also bought the kids 1 year Bible and we marked when we think DH will be home. Everyday we move a little closer to that mark.
    This isn’t countdown, but it has been wonderful for all of us. I bought 5 recordable voice boxes at Build-a-Bear and sent them to him. He recorded a message for each of us and when we received the voice boxes back from him we each picked out a Bear. They can hear Daddy’s voice whenever they want to (and I can too). He videotaped himself reading some of their favorite stories too.
    For myself I keep busy. I try to visit my parents once a month (an 8 hour trip) and I count weeks instead of days. The number is more resonable. He left on a Sunday, so Sundays are my favorite day for many reasons now.

  • Nance

    When my child was growing up…the best way to get thru to anything that was far off was to express it on paper at different intervals…
    I would have her make him a gift once a week & put it in a special box…maybe that she decorated…sit with her & talk about him as you do the project…this will be your sharing time – and make it positive (:
    He will love it when he returns….

  • Dedger

    Enjoy all these comments and posts. I am an Active duty Mother. My son got extended in May from 12 to 15 months. He is serving his his second deployment in iraq after only being in the states for 10 months. Luck huh? Anyway, it is hard on we Mom’s too and I cannot count down because it is just to depressing. He is a single guy and has had no life other than being in the sand box it seems for the past 2 years. I feel for all of you and God Speed to your loved ones!

  • anita

    My daughter is 6 and she loves Hersey Kisses. So we filled a jar with enough to cover the deployment and each day she takes one out and says “it is a kiss from Daddy”.

  • Liz (Army Wife)

    I have a 1 year old and a 4 year old, and my husband has been gone since February. My 4 year old and I measure incriments of time by Holidays and major events that are coming up. He knows his Aunt is coming to visit in October, then comes Halloween, then Daddy comes home for R&R, and so on. I have to repeat the list several times to him, but at least it gets shorter every month or so. My thoughts are with all of you who’s loved ones are deployed.

  • jody

    I tie a tiny yellow ribbon on one of my bushes outside (under the flag, of course) and it’s not really a countdown but it gives me the time to think of my son. The bush is really starting to look pretty even tho it’s been since April. I may run out of branches!!

  • Patiently Waiting

    Angela, your husband is not alone. My boyfriend was supposed to be gone 6 months and the day they left they all got the news it was going to be 18. He has had a hard time dealing with this deployment. He is navy and is used to 6 months out to sea, not a year and a half in sand. It has taken a toll on our relationship. He pushes me away one minute then acts like everything is fine the next. He is not due home till Sept of 08. He tried talking with the chaplain but the wasn’t any help. Since we are not married, I myself am very alone in this. My family and friends do not understand. Instead of being encouraging, all I get is “I don’t know how you can just sit around and wait for him, I could never.” I truly worry about his mental and emotional well being after all is said and done. I know he will not be the same person he was when we last saw one another.

  • chrissy

    sometimes they don’t come home

  • Margaret

    We raised 4 kids through many, many deployments…each age presents its own challenges. What works one deployment doesn’t work the next or works with a different child. Try many things and find what works for you and your family. One of our favorite countdowns was this-Use one large piece of posterboard for each month…draw out the calendar where each day’s square is about 4″ X 4″. Make a poster board for each month and a 4″ foil star for the PROJECTED end date (AND CALL IT THAT FROM THE BEGINNING). Thumb-tack the boards to the wall…ours were in the dining room about 18″ from the ground. We had a set of markers only for the calendars, that were kept on top of the fridge, and each night after dinner one child got to fill in that day’s square with something we did that day by drawing a picture or writing. It ended up being colorful, each child got to draw or write in turn, and best of all when my husband returned they went over the calendars with him and remembered to tell him of things they had done and were proud to be reminded of to share with him. The first week looking at all those blank squares was especially hard but after the first month was filled in, we all felt stronger, like we really could do this…it is the filling of blank space that helped us know we could keep moving forward…it turned out to be a positive way to count for us.

  • Ronnette Synove

    I am a Marine Corps VET wife.
    My husband has deployed 9 times in 14 years of marriage.
    We figured out a long time ago to use military pay dates.
    It works great!

  • Stephanie

    My time gauge is paychecks. I know that my husband is currently 4 paychecks away from coming home! Almost there :)

  • Stephanie

    My time gauge is paychecks. I know that my husband is currently 4 paychecks away from coming home! Almost there :)

  • Stacia

    My 21-month old daughter and I make a calendar on posterboard. We start it a few days before my husband leaves and end it a few days after he gets home (or when he’s “suppose” to be home). Every night before bed, we write in that day’s block what we did. My husband enjoys reading our calendar whne he gets home.

  • Adriana

    The best thing that worked for my kids is when we made a paper chain. Like the ones we make at Christmas time but in all different colors. We worked on this chain for a few weeks. I cut all the pieces. We had different colors for every month. January we did light blue and white. For February we did red and pink. March was green and white. Continuing with different colors for each month. We did a whole 18 months like this. Even though my husband was only going to be gone for 13 months you never know when a deployment will be extended. It is easier to take off months without our kids noticing then it is to add months on to it. Each time we took a chain off we wrote on it something important from that day, if there was nothing special about the day we wrote love notes. At the end of the month we sent that month’s chain to my husband.

  • LarviasWife

    we have a jar that has candy, chocolate kisses, skittles or m&m you choose which candy you like! every day we eat a candy. this is a way that kids understand, calendars are a hard concept of time for little ones. but as the jar gets smaller the closer it is to daddy coming home. That is a concept that is understood. now don’t leave the jar down or they eat them all and say daddy’s coming home!!! and you can always sneak extra in if the date changes! i will say my kids always cry no matter and they are sad at times, but we really make a point of doing something each time to make it not as hard. one thing that helped was we made a little bear at the build a bear with daddy before he left. and then he took it on deployment. Then he took pictures with the bear at chow, in his rack, the gym, then once a week he would send that picture. he can send like 5 at a time so that if there is no contact the child doesn’t know they just go by each week they get one. then all along the way we made a scrapbook. so each saturday we’d go to target print the picture and scrap it, even every other week would work. then once he was on his way home a month or so before, dad would send the bear back with a note that said to take care of him till he came home, but that bear was with daddy that whole time, he smells like daddy and his work! and that bear was just with dad, so they love that. and now of course he needs extra love till daddy gets back, or just wait till you get back and the bear and daddy are home. my kids when they were little would show the bear the book and “talk” to the bear, it was a very sweet, like the bear understood. either way it gave my kids something to do and to watch the pictures get sillier and the book to get fatter and fatter. you can even put a page for each week and fill it as a count down (add pages if you need to if the date changes!) at first my husband was like..i am going to get beat up taking pictures with a teddy bear :) but the guys got a kick out of it and they would help take the pictures. anyway, i hope this helps. those two things have been out most successful ones. then the next deployment you do it again with a new bear but the last beat stays home, so it is truly a very special bear that can understand how hard it is not to be with daddy and it is a comfort. we also have a big map and we decorate for example a ship, or a building a tent whatever they are in. make it silly and pink with pom-poms lay it out there and have them decorate it. mark where you are and have them put where dad is at. my husband is navy so we would move it on the map as to where is was. we’d look up about that place and cook a dinner and pretend we were there too. get the other wives to do it and maybe that would be a fun way to get together and connect! hope these help or spark some more creative ideas!
    Jerri Lynn

  • Jewel

    Ladies, I almost wish I still had a little one at home. These are very creative ideas for counting down until your loved ones come home. I especially like the ideas about the bears. Your families will cherish those bears for the rest of their lives! Can you imagine the memories that come flooding back to them years down the road when they find the bear packed away in a closet or attic? My guess is the pain of seperation will have long passed and what they will remember is the strong bond of love their family shares and that sustained them through a very difficult time.

  • Sandee Wagner

    When my husband was in Iraq, he would sign off his emails with a line about “counting the minutes until I see you again”. When he finally had some idea of a date for his return, I did my typical IT geek thing and programmed a spreadsheet so that I could input the date/time and it would give me a minute count until he returned. I started giving his this ‘counted minutes’ time and I’m not sure he ever figured out how I was doing it… spw

  • jen

    sorry if this is a bit off topic…it’s my first time posting :-) so i’m not sure this will even be seen…and responded to…
    anyway, i’m set to be married to a wonderful man in ROTC (we’re in school together) and then i’m hopefully heading off to grad school for years and years and years lol
    i was wondering how it is to be in school and still be communicating and whatnot? i guess i could use some advice…he likes the sound of my voice so much that when we’re apart, he goads (spelling?) me into doing all the talking and i never get to here his voice! stuff like that…any advice?
    let me just say that i’m not worried about us at all, it’s more that i like to get some ideas into my head about things we can do together/for each other when we’re apart…makes thinking about being apart for 4-6 years a bit easier :-(

  • Sheryl

    Remember this phrase: “an idle mind, is the devil’s workshop”, so I try to stay busy… I work part time and go to school full time.. I have three kids,(two school age, one married and in college) I have a huge family that lives 2 to 6 hrs away in any direction, and we are always having family functions at someone’s house. The key word is BUSY… when you are busy the time flies by. Also, being busy makes me too tired to want to do anything else. I have seen my fellow military spouses get ‘caught up’ and it is NOT worth it. I want to be able to look in my husband’s face with a clear conscience… there is nothing like it in the world.

  • jen

    oh! sheryl, i’m not sure if that was directed at me, but i am well aware of the so-called wandering of wives in the military (the high percentage reported by the news is hopefully blown out of proportion) but ill have no problem keeping busy, and even if i did, wandering will never, ever be an issue…ever!

  • Darla

    This is to newarmydad. I know this is the wrong place to post, but I’m new to the post and didn’t know how to get a hold of a person individually. So sorry if this upsets anyone for posting a reply to newarmydad.
    About your wife, first of all only she could do anything about the way she is treated. Its all a mind game, and they are trained to play mind games with soldiers. If she is having problems with a DS then she should report it thru the chain of command. If the doctor says that her injuries can be fixed over time, they will put her on convelesant leave until she gets better. Then she will have to do AIT over. . She should be moved to a medical hold. So you might want to have her ask about that. Hope this helps.

  • Jeannine

    I mark off each day on the calendar with red sharpie. Once in a while I’ll get busy and forget so I get to mark off more than one at a time. But I was surprised to find out that my husband was counting down too. He counts how many Fridays he has left.

  • Kati

    When I was just turning my Daddy was sent to Korea with a deployment date of my birthday for a year. My Mother and I counted the days with a paper chain that she and I made the day he left and every day I was so excited to tear each link off everyday. It was a great way to count the days and I hope to carry on the tradition with my children!

  • Maggie

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned before because I didn’t read all the comments. We have found that counting backward’s on the calendar seems more happier for us. My children @ home are 13 years apart in age so I really need to find out what the oldest one thinks of how we are doing this. My husband is doing this as well. I still haven’t heard from him and he has been in the assigned country for over a week. Has emails, webpages, my space, etc…work better or do you have any ideas? For some reason we forgot, during the rush of deployment, to realize he is 8 hours ahead of us too. Has this been hard for you as well? Thanks!