Navigating the Holidays in a Fire Family
As all firefighter families know, even though your partner’s schedule can at times seem like a dream, they don’t always get major holidays off. **Sigh** It comes with the territory.
From the time I met him, my husband has never had a conventional 9-5 schedule. I remember the first Thanksgiving I spent alone – even before we were married. My family lives in another state, and my two kids from my previous marriage were with their Dad. “It’s just another day honey,” I said to him, “I’ll bring you a turkey sandwich if you get hungry.” (He was working as a medic for an ambulance company at the time and doing 24 hour shifts.) And later, when he was picked up full time after being paid-call for a several years and was gone for an entire MONTH at the academy? “I’ll support you in anything you want to do because I love you!”
A firefighter’s family (as well as other EMS and Public Safety Families) learns to adjust their way of thinking when it comes to those boxes on the calendar. We stop looking at Saturdays and Sundays in terms of a weekend and instead, replace our thought process with a new one that is made up of shift days and overtime and being “forced on.” These become your new normal.
Sure, weekends don’t exist anymore in the traditional sense, but they are replaced with long mid-week “weekends”. “Date Night” is replaced by having lunch together while the kids are in school! It’s a give and a take and like most things in life, you learn to compromise and make the best out of the time you are able to have together. We’ve been married for 16 years now, and I’ve been known to joke that since he’s gone half the time we’ve really only been married for 8. We even scheduled our wedding so that it wasn’t during NASCAR season. (He was working part-time at the race track.) We induced labor with our two kids on his days off.
This year, Johnny worked on Christmas Eve, but last year he worked Christmas Day – also his birthday. When you have family wanting to spend time with you during the holidays, the loss of even one day can make a big difference. It can make scheduling the holiday a real pain! And since Christmas is his birthday and it was the first one he’s had off in a long time, he wanted to do something different – after all, he was turning 40! So we took the kids to Disneyland for the day and celebrated Christmas on the 26th. That’s what he WANTED, so that’s what he GOT – although it wasn’t popular with his parents, to say the least. **grin**
We’re surrounded by loving and supportive people who claim to understand that it’s just the nature of the job, but I don’t think they really do. They’ve never had to experience it. It’s not a matter of “getting used to it” at our house. It’s more a matter of accepting it as a way of life. We’ve celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas at the fire station, and I even announced our second pregnancy by bringing in a cake with our due date on it. (The other guys got it right away – but he didn’t!)
So after we opened our gifts on December 26th I asked our 10 year old son what his favorite gift was and his reply nearly made me cry. “I don’t know. I just like it when we’re all together. I like spending time with my family.” He gets it.
Holidays are not a date on the calendar. They are special times spent with loved ones. That’s all that matters at our house.