Lessons Learned After 5 Years as a Wildland Firefighter’s Wife {Part 2}

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So last week on Country Wife Chronicles, I shared Part 1 of this post, “Lessons Learned After 5 Years as a Wildland Firefighter’s Wife.” You may want to check it out to get a little bit of insight as to how I ended up 5 years into this Fire Life.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things to help me cope with the absence of Wildland Man while he is away fighting wildfires during fire season. It is always an adjustment and takes some intentional preparation, but I sort of feel like I’m getting it figured out.

In my previous post my lessons learned focused on preparing for and enduring the fire season. I shared with you how preparing for the fire season, lowering my expectations during fire season, communicating my needs to Wildland Man, perfecting our long-distance connection, and getting comfortable with being alone were crucial in my ability to survive the fire season.

This week’s blog post looks at some lessons I’ve learned in how to respond when Wildland Man comes home from a fire, how to handle the close out of fire season, and some perspective we’ve gained on some big picture ideas in the Fire Life. Once again, I hope that you can take something away from this post and find it applicable to your own life.

Lessons Learned, continued…

6) Welcome Him Home: When Wildland Man returns home from a detail he is usually coming off of extremely long days with very little sleep. I have learned to give him some space and just love on him first and foremost. You see, when Wildland Man is away, I’m just going about my usual day-to-day, all the while adding to a ‘short’ list of things I need him to tend to when he gets home. Early on, I would rush him at the door with a honey-do list once he got home. Of course I missed him and all, but I also thought to myself, “I need him to get this stuff done before he gets called out again!” That didn’t always go over so well.

So, now I’ve learned to give him a couple days to recoup once he returns home. Even if that means he gets called out again before those tasks can get accomplished. They’ll get done…eventually. Even if not until after fire season is over. Most of it can wait if I’m being honest with myself. I have learned to savor the moments of having him home while I have him, not knowing when or if he’ll get called back out. I’d rather enjoy a couple quiet days at home than be able to say my to-do list got done.

When I get the call that Wildland Man is coming home, I do my best to cancel any plans I had made for that day (and the next couple if needed), just to be with him. It is important to me to make him a priority, especially when I don’t know how long I’ll have him around during fire season. I just don’t want to regret not spending time with him in the interim.

7) Don’t Fall in Love with the Money: The dollar signs can be tempting in careers such as this. There is always an opportunity for overtime and hazard pay if Wildland Man desires to chase after it. But it is important to keep our priorities in check. There have been times when Wildland Man could have chosen to go on a detail that would have paid well, but provided very little experience that he was seeking. Other times he has chosen training, which offered time away with no additional pay, that boosted his credentials and has the potential to further his career in the future.

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We regularly discuss career goals in our home so as to not get sidetracked by opportunities that pay well, but don’t align with our game plan. There are times when Wildland Man doesn’t have a choice in which details he goes on, but whenever he does, I’ve learned to speak up and voice my feelings. Together we work to balance opportunities for experience and advancement with additional overtime pay to help pay the bills.

We never got into this field for the money; in fact we took a pretty major pay cut in the past to leave careers neither of us was happy in (Check out “How to Walk Away from a Career in Search of Your True Calling”).

8) Make Sure the Sacrifice is Worth It: As long as Wildland Man loves what he’s doing, we are ok. But, I’m always doing a happiness check with him. Not every day is great, but once the bad days start outnumbering the good we’ll need to do some soul searching and a job check. No career is worth being and staying unhappy in (been there, done that). Especially one that does take you away from home so much. We will find something else to do if the sacrifice of time away for fire experience no longer feels worth it. Until that day, though, we’ll keep living the fire life. Because there really is nothing like watching your husband live out his purpose in life.

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9) Expect an Adjustment Period: If I had to choose the greatest lesson learned, this one would be right up there with my secret weapon for long-distance relationships (check out the “Perfect the Long Distance Thing” lesson in Part 1). During my first summer of wildfire season I missed Wildland Man so much. It literally pained me. It was my first time experiencing this shift in our lifestyle, I didn’t know what to expect, and it was a steep learning curve.

But after the first few rough days, I started to find my groove again. I began to transition into my new routine, finding methods and systems for coping with his absence and my new lonely existence. I sort of got used to him being away. My house stayed cleaner, I could keep up on laundry better, and my schedule shifted with my new circumstances.

Then Wildland Man came home. And I was elated. I’m pretty sure I bawled my eyes out that first summer when he walked through the door and was home. I missed him so much. I was just so happy to have him home, to hold, to talk to, to kiss.

But as the elation wore off, I found my laundry overflowing, all of his gear dumped by the door, and sooty footprints in the carpet. My quiet solitude was no more. My new routine that fit my schedule was about to shift to include Wildland Man once again. I felt frustration creeping in. I was just getting things figured out, and now he’s back. This screws everything up.

I know, I know. I am embarrassed to even share that these thoughts crossed my mind. But they did. And I so didn’t expect it. And that’s when I learned to expect an adjustment period when Wildland Man gets home from a fire. It doesn’t just all go back to the way it was before. I had to learn to resist the frustration and let go of the control I had gotten used to having over my schedule.

The best way I’ve learned to cope with this adjustment period is to plan to take a couple days off upon Wildland Man’s return home to just enjoy each other. Even if it is in the middle of the week, I just drop everything and snuggle in with my hubby for a bit. He’ll be tired from long hours, travel, and probably sleeping on the ground for the past few weeks. He’ll be glad to be home, and he’ll just dump his gear, get cleaned up, and want to rest.

And that’s ok.

So, rather than getting upset about it, I’ve learned to expect it and plan for it. I’ll plan for a couple days of pizza and movies while we hole up in our home doing laundry and airing out sleeping bags and tents. Then, after awhile, I’m able to get back into my routine and Wildland Man will be rested enough to participate a bit in the process. He will get his gear sorted through and rehabbed for the next detail, he’ll help around the house, and I’ll have him home for the time being. I want him to be rested and recovered before he heads back out again, that’s what gives me peace of mind before sending him out on the fire line. So I let him move at his own pace, napping and sleeping in if needed. And I’ll adjust to having him home once again.

10) Celebrate at the End of Fire Season: You may be getting the feeling that we don’t do much to celebrate when Wildland Man returns home from a fire. And you’re right. There’s a lesson here too. During fire season, I never know when Wildland Man will get called out to a fire. He may get home from one, be home for a couple days and head back out. Or he might be home for a couple weeks. But I won’t ever know where that couple of weeks will fall on the calendar, if it happens.

And while I love the idea of celebrating Wildland Man’s return home after a detail with a weekend getaway or something special, it just isn’t realistic. In Part 1 of this post series, I shared the importance of lowering expectations and not making plans during fire season. In this post, I shared how important it is for Wildland Man to have some quiet days to recover from his detail upon returning home. For these reasons, we don’t do a lot to celebrate his return from a detail.

We do savor the in-between-details moments, but we hold off on any special getaways for the end of the fire season. As the season winds down, we start to plan our off-season trips, vacations, and getaways. Wildland Man’s birthday falls during fire season, as does our anniversary, so while we do still acknowledge these days during the fire season, we don’t do anything out of the ordinary or extra special for them. We save those celebrations for after fire season. We’ll plan a special romantic trip to celebrate our anniversary or go to a favorite restaurant for Wildland Man’s birthday. These celebrations are a great way to end fire season and kick start our off-season plans.

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Top 10 Lessons Learned

And, there you go, between Part 1 and Part 2 of this post series I’ve managed to share my top 10 lessons learned after 5 years as a fire wife. Just to recap, here’s the whole 10, at a glance:

  • 1) Prepare for Fire Season
  • 2) Lower Your Expectations
  • 3) Communicate Your Needs
  • 4) Perfect the Long Distance Thing
  • 5) Get Comfortable with Being Alone
  • 6) Welcome Him Home
  • 7) Don’t Fall in Love with the Money
  • 8) Make Sure the Sacrifice is Worth It
  • 9) Expect an Adjustment Period
  • 10) Celebrate at the End of Fire Season

I hope these lessons I have learned will benefit you in some way. If you find yourself in similar circumstances to that of a fire wife, I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to what I’ve shared here on Country Wife Chronicles about Living the Fire Life.

I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, but I have found what works for me in our situation. With that said, I’m always looking for ideas on how to thrive in this Fire Life, so if you have any suggestions, would you please share them in the comments below? I’d love to hear some of your lessons learned in your personal experience!

Join in on the conversation by commenting below:

  • Can you share a lesson learned from your specific circumstances in life that may relate to what I experience as a Fire Wife?

  • Any other Fire Wives out there? What life lessons can you share?

  • Are you a military spouse? An oilfield wife? Is your husband gone for long lengths of time? What lessons can you share that I could relate to in this Fire Life?

Thanks for sharing!

Be Still & Know…

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