“Stay Safe”: Our Relationship With Superstitions

Marine couple hugging

One of the “issues” that I’ve developed over my years as a military spouse is a close relationship with certain superstitions.  I don’t mean the *spit-spit* thing my Mother-in-Law gives to keep away evil (I have managed to keep my spitting to a minimum; and besides, sometimes I think she just does that because she wants to hawk a glob on people),  but I do feel like it is very important that I follow certain routines.

I don’t think this is such an unusual bit of learned Obsessive-Compulsive behavior.  The stories of good-luck routines in sports are well known, and I don’t think my issues with it are really any different.  Well, except for the life and death aspect involved – it’s not just losing a game when your spouse is in a war zone.  I definitely have routines when Air Force Guy is in a war zone.

The thing is, even when your spouse returns from a deployment, that feeling of the possibilities – the possibility of loss – never entirely goes away.  I may have more control over the situation when my husband is home, which means that I don’t feel the necessity to invent pseudo-control behaviors like not washing a few things my husband left in the hamper when he left for his exotic all-expense-paid vacation in the sand, but because the knowledge of that possibility never really goes away I still have certain routines.  And when those routines are interrupted…

A few days ago I got to bed late and I was absolutely exhausted.  I had spent the previous week fighting a chest infection that was always on the verge of developing into something awful, but never quite progressing beyond the coughing-when-exercising stage.  As a result, when AFG got up to leave at o’dark thirty in the morning, I was still completely exhausted and wiped out and didn’t wake up.  Because I didn’t wake up, I didn’t get to tell him what I tell him every morning before he leaves the house (which is the same thing I tell him every time we end a phone call during a deployment), “I love you, Hon.  Stay safe.”

Really, thinking back on this it sounds ridiculous.  It’s only six words and I say it every single morning.  I’m pretty sure the man has the idea by now, and missing a morning isn’t going to change that.  And besides that, I was absolutely exhausted.  The reasons for it being an acceptable lapse all made sense.

Except I could not make myself see that.  I woke up with a start about half an hour after I normally get out of bed and noticed first that AFG wasn’t in bed any longer.  Then I noticed the time.  I realized that he had obviously left for work long before.  I also could not remember telling him that I loved him and to stay safe before he left.  I began to get very agitated.

I kept telling myself that I was being ridiculous, because he knew those things already.  The man is old enough to know to stay safe, even when driving during morning rush hour in the DC Metro area.  Intellectually I knew that my growing agitation was completely silly.  But emotionally?  There was no slowing that roll.   I called AFG’s phone on the off chance that his commute had lasted longer than the usual insane amount of time it takes for such a short distance, but of course he wasn’t able to answer.  I texted a few times.  I knew that he wasn’t usually able to call me until lunch.  And I went on about my day, doing what I had scheduled, with the uneasiness of a thwarted superstitious routine bundled tightly into the back of my head.

Luckily for me, AFG had forgotten something in his car.  When he hiked out to grab it, he noticed the text messages and missed call on the phone and called me right back to ask if anything was wrong.

“No,” I told him.  I just forgot to tell you I love you.”

“That is very sweet.  Thank you!”

We chatted a few more minutes before he had to head back in, and then said good-bye.

“Stay safe,” I said.

Later when he got home, we talked about my little superstitious fugue, and how such a small part of an everyday routine can be so important.  AFG completely understood, because he has his own little routines and symbols that are an absolute necessity during deployments.   It may seem strange to some people, but there isn’t a lot of individual control over the macro-curve of the life of a military family.  We can ask to go, or not to go.  But in the end, that decision isn’t up to us.

We can’t control the missions, we can’t control the deployments.  But we can control our reactions.  And even though AFG is old enough to know that I love him and that he should be careful, it doesn’t hurt to remind him.  It certainly does make me feel better, anyway.

About the Author


airforcewife started her military journey as an Army National Guard wife, but upon experiencing base housing decided to aim high and made the switch to the Air Force. That's worked pretty well for Air Force Family so far, even though airforcewife holds the spouse world record for Come to Jesus talks with various members of the command.

Air Force Family has four children, two pit bulls, and a Mother-in-Law who lost her mind eight years ago. Despite the reputation of pit bulls, airforcewife would like to assure you that her Mother-in-Law is truly the most dangerous of the group, and is banned in more places than the dogs.

airforcewife gets through Air Force Guy's frequent deployments and TDY's by frequently attending her boxing gym, after the chance discovery last deployment that hitting things really does make life better. She also volunteers as the Ambassador for Sew Much Comfort to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and in a variety of other causes throughout the year.

airforcewife has no idea what the future holds, but decided five years ago that she wants to be Andi when she grows up.

  • I totally get it, and we do similar things ~ “You take care of you”.

    And also thank you. Not quite 2 months past homecoming, and not my first homecoming, but have been finding myself being “wierd” lately … and then I read ” The thing is, even when your spouse returns from a deployment, that feeling of the possibilities – the possibility of loss – never entirely goes away” and it all made sense …

  • You described me to a “T,” and actually that same thing happened today. My husband always texts/calls before flying and we say our “i love yous.” Always. Except for today. I had that uneasy feeling all day and I just couldn’t shake it till I knew he was safely on the ground again. All I could think of was that something would happen to me or to him and we didn’t say we loved each other one last time. Thanks for this post. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this way and I know it won’t be the last, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking it.

  • Ray Cole

    What a human interest article! All of you…the author and the commentators…are all great.

  • textbookleftovers

    Glad to know I’m not the only one with some leftover craziness after homecoming. LOL.

    On a related note: Does anybody else get so used to saying “I miss you” during a lull in the conversation that they say it even 3 months after he’s returned?

  • Sarah

    What a lovely post.
    And LOL to textbookleftovers’ “I miss you” comment.

  • Amanda

    C and I have lots of little “rituals” like that… some for both of us, and some that are just for me while he’s away. Especially if he’s in a place where we can’t have a lot of contact. We laugh about it, but I have a photo of the two of us that I adore, and every night before I go to bed I have to tell him (by telling the photo) “I love you darlin”. I’d say it to him if he was in the room, and I like to think that he can hear me even if he’s 5,000 miles away on his own sandy little vacation :D It’s such a small thing, but it makes me feel better…

  • hehe….yeah same here….I always say “i love you” to him and him to me every time he walks out that door…

  • Melanie

    What about other superstitions? Am I the only one who doesn’t change the sheets when hubby is gone? It was okay at first (1-2 week trips), but I had to amend the weirdness when the trips got longer. Now I can wash them, but I have to put them right back on — and It has to be the sheet he slept on the night before he left. When he recently deployed for a year, I put two sets of sheets on the bed so I could have a little variety! :)

  • Carolyn

    My husband has been in law enforcement for 10 years. He now works in the Judicial Center so the risk is not nearly as bad but when he worked patrol often times in the evenings and overnights when there were more calls he would not leave until I told him some phrase I have now forgotten. In fact if I wasn’t home or he went from one job to the other (he did Reserve for a while so he also held down a full time job as a Dispatcher in another county) he would call me and make me say it just to be safe. In fact as he left, if I hadn’t already said the phrase, he would just stand there looking at me waiting until I realized what he was waiting on.

    I haven’t actually thought of that in a couple of years and your letter made me remember it. I guess we all have our superstitions.

  • T. Keene-Latham

    Don’t feel silly! I’m the same way, even though my ‘ritual’ is a little different.

    My husband gave me an extra set of dog tags of his before he left on deployment, and I promptly put them on, and never once took them off, even to shower or sleep, until he’d made it safely back home.

    I can’t explain it any more than you could explain why you were so agitated over missing your morning goodbye, but I just had this heavy, dreadful superstitious feeling that if I dared to take off the dog tags, something horrible would happen to my husband.

    Even though he’s back stateside (though he’s undergoing a MOS change and is away at AIT), I still can’t bring myself to put the dog tags away somewhere. They’re hanging from my rearview mirror in the car, comfortable wound around (read: tangled with) my rosary.

    So…I’ve managed to pry them off my neck, but I can’t quite seem to let them out of my sight for long, regardless.

    I think this kind of thing is just a kind of par-for-the-course neurosis all military spouses develop in one way or another.