I was so honored to be the guest blogger over at California Casualty this week with this post! This site and their newsletter is directed towards first responders. So I wrote for that audience, trying to best represent a fire wife’s view on the holiday stress. Maybe you can relate 🙂
I’ve been married to my firefighter for over 10 years now. He’s been a firefighter for all that time. It’s all I know. And when we were young with infants in our arms and toddlers constantly underfoot, I was a hot mess of a young fire wife. I would stand at the front door at 6 am with an already fussy baby in my arms praying the 3-year-old would sleep another hour. And I’d cry as he walked out with his evil gear bag. I’d cry about why he was leaving to go have breakfast at the fire house instead of spending 10 more minutes with me. Later that day, I would imagine the wildest rescue accident possible, starring my firefighter as the victim. And when I couldn’t reach anyone at the station phone, I’d turn on the local news to confirm it wasn’t really happening. I’d fall asleep before he’d call at night and wake up angry. Convinced some toxic malice overtakes him at the firehouse and he falls out of love with me while there, refusing to call and say good night.
Yes, these are real life thoughts in the head of a young fire wife. You can chalk it up to postpartum hormones or 29-year-old learning-to-be-married selfishness. But now, only 11 blink-of-an-eye years later, my 40-year-old wisdom has finally got a grip.
Oh how I wish I could bottle my lessons up in magic fairy dust and send one to every new fire wife out there.
Maybe, just maybe, some of you can relate to these crazy fire family dynamics. And nothing makes the fire wife grinch come out on attack like the holiday season. Oh how can the holidays frustrate a fire wife. Let me count the ways.
- 12 Hours of Overtime
- 11 times being asked where your husband is while single-mom-ing the church Christmas party
- 10 gifts still left to wrap by yourself on Christmas Eve
- 9 -to-5ers bragging about 14 days off work with their family
- 8 little gifts to find for the guys on his crew
- 7 dozen cookies to bake for the neighborhood cookie exchange
- 6 text message photos from the store to figure out which gift is best for the father-in-law
- 5 upset family members because you can’t attend family Christmas on the day planned because he’s on shift
- 4 different plans to explain why Santa is arriving the morning of the 24th instead of the 25th
- 3 hour drive, by yourself, with kids in tow and car packed to the hilt, to celebrate Christmas without him at your parents
- 2 bickering kids who are missing their Daddy
- 1 tired firefighter who took a very hurt baby girl out of a mangled car at 1 am and doesn’t want to hear you whine about any of these minor annoyances
You’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch! Is that really all I can think about? Does my firefighter really want to hear the replay AGAIN of how we’re going to pull off Santa’s arrival on the 23rd? Or another play-by-play of the conversation with the sister-in-law? Is this ringing any angelic bells for you?
Want to know some secrets that will melt your ice queen’s heart this holiday season?
Maybe not but I’m going to tell you anyhow. Here’s a little background info on what might be running around her pretty little head:
The first few years of our marriage, I spent fighting and resisting the firefighter family system. I literally grieved the holiday traditions I shared growing up with my family. I struggled to find a rhythm when one year it was Christmas on the 23rd and another on the 26th and every 3rd year we could actually travel together. I craved our own set of family traditions for the holidays and took the control freak approach to planning perfect family memories for those 12-hour periods he was home and awake on a December weekend. Putting up the tree. Driving around to see the lights at night. Baking and decorating cut out cookies with the kids.
It became forceful and stressed as I tried to fit my family traditions into the new firefighter lifestyle.
Here’s the clue. She is GRIEVING. Not rejoicing and fa-la-la-ing.
She might know only her family life traditions and yearns for sharing that with you. But like everything else in marriage, it’s new and different, and especially really weird with this wacky fire service schedule. And you only get one chance a year to test it out. Then next year, it’s different again. And some crappy years, she loses you for Thanksgiving AND Christmas AND New Year’s. And some really, really crappy years it’s Leap Year and happens twice in a row.
Here’s what NOT to say to a wife in this delicate state:
- “You know I have to go to the station. Why is this different than any other day?”
- “It’s no big deal. I’ll be home tomorrow and we’ll celebrate then.”
- “Go on and enjoy yourself at my family’s Christmas without me.”
- “Don’t wait for me. You can put the tree up with the kids.”
- “I’ll call/text you a lot.” (And then don’t. Because firefighters have busy days. But broken promises do more damage than the hope they hold.)
- “When you visit me at the fire house, it will be just like we’re all together for Christmas.” (No. It’s not just like that. It’s like celebrating with you and 8 other prankster boys. )
- “Why don’t you cook up a nice dinner for you and the kids at home on Christmas day?”
- “The kids won’t even notice what day we open gifts.”
So what *should* you do and say?
You’ve got to be on her team. To join in the cause. Simply recognize her efforts. Be understanding of those feelings. Help her grieve. Ask her how she’s feeling and brainstorm ideas for how to make it all work. If you really want to wow her, surprise her with thoughtful new traditions specially designed for your little fire family. Special ornaments. A firehouse recipe you make at home. Be present with her on your off days and enjoy some holiday cheer together.
Basically, remember the Who’s in Whoville who loved Christmas a lot. The truth is, it’s not about when or where or how you celebrate. Because Mrs. Grinch, Christmas, means a little bit more. You’ve already got the keys to heart and only you know best how to make it grow.
(PS – If she’s still a hot mess, you might want to hook her up with a bunch of other understanding fire wives in our private community at FirefighterWife.com/join. It’s been said multiple times that this group has helped many women understand their firefighters better and improve their marriages!)