My heart skipped a beat as the familiar Skype ringtone filled the room. When my husband’s pixelated, but undeniably handsome face came into view, tears filled my eyes. I wasn’t sure this special moment was going to be able to happen.
My husband shipped out on a year-long deployment shortly before our son’s first birthday. Since duty had also called him to miss his birth, I wanted to plan something extra special that could somehow bring us all together to celebrate that day, despite the thousands of miles between us.
Looking back, there were five key steps to the planning process that helped make the day go a little smoother for us. I’m sharing them with you today with the hope that they might ease some of the ache that goes along with having to celebrate a special milestone while separated from the ones you love during deployment.
I wanted my husband to feel like he was actually there participating in the party right along with us as much as possible. I put together a care package for him that included his very own party hat, noisemaker, plate, napkins, and homemade cupcakes (wrapped in cling wrap and foil, stored in an air-tight container, frozen, then placed in the box just before I headed to the post office) with a tub of store-bought frosting on the side. He did say the cupcakes weren’t exactly delicious, but he was happy he was able to eat them with us anyway!
In our experience, it can take weeks for packages to arrive at APO addresses. Wanting to make sure his box of party gear got there in time, I purchased the supplies about a month before. I prepared the package, and sent it about three weeks before the day of our son’s party, and it arrived the week of – just in the nick of time.
We weren’t exactly sure when my husband was going to be able to connect with us that day, so we set up early… and waited. And waited some more. Our only guests were family and close friends who understood the situation, so they didn’t mind. In the meantime, we set up our Skype connection and invited other family members and friends who couldn’t be with us that day to call in and say hello.
Have a back-up plan.
At times, electronic communication connections are not the best or most reliable, and it can be extremely frustrating when the audio and video cuts in and out. Being prepared to experience technical difficulties helped to overcome the annoyance and disappointment when they actually happened. I had my phone nearby so my husband could call when he needed to, and I also asked family and friends to snap pictures and capture the special moments on video, just in case we got disconnected.
Expect imperfection, and enjoy the moment anyway when things don’t go exactly as planned.
I think this one pretty much speaks for itself. It’s difficult not to have high expectations for celebrations, but when things don’t go as planned, it’s easy to get caught up in disappointment. It helped to remind myself to be present in the moment and not dwell on the little things that didn’t go exactly the way I’d wanted them to. Having a sense of humor to fall back on relieved a lot of the stress, too.
Even though our circumstances were far from ideal, hearing my husband’s deep voice join in to sing “Happy Birthday” to our baby boy, and getting to experience his first taste of cake together as a family when Daddy was on the other side of the world was truly wonderful.
At times, it felt like my husband was really there celebrating with us. And, you know what? Thanks to the wonder and triumph of modern technology, he was.