By Brian Coatney
When you have four boys from ages 11 to 1 and your husband is an Army veteran of 10 years, life is challenging, but it’s especially challenging at Christmas during a
deployment. It’s a reality for military families everywhere but each one deals with it in their own way.
The last holiday deployment for the Ellis family was 2013. Rebekah lived with her in-laws in Miami while her husband, Matthew, was overseas. Though Miami isn’t the land of snow and sleds, the holidays are embedded in us no matter where we live, and Rebekah had to find creative ways to keep the Christmas spirit.
Both sides of their extended family live in the Miami area, so that meant lots of visiting, presents and food. Christmas in Miami also meant flip-flops, tank tops, palm trees and swimming pools.
“I feel worse for my husband than for us when he’s gone,” said Rebekah, who is now stationed at Fort Campbell with him.
That year, she sent him a fold-up, plastic Christmas tree with a string of lights and ornaments. Matthew sent back a photo of the tree set up in his room.
About Christmas Day, Matthew said he missed not seeing the kids’ faces when they opened their presents. Even when deployed, he helps Rebekah decide what presents to get their children.
“It’s just hard when I can’t be there in the moment,” Matthew said.
Care packages also conveyed love during his deployments. The kids sent drawings of Dad’s favorite things and handwritten letters along with practical things, like boxers and body wash, and sentimental favorites, like picture albums.
With the wonders of technology, there was regular communication during Matthew’s deployment — unlike the days when deployment meant letter writing.
The Christmas of 2014 brought a delightful change. It was the first time Matthew and Rebekah did Christmas at home with just the boys. They put the tree in the dining room, and Christmas music set the mood. One of their family outings was a walk along the Cumberland River to see the lights and decorations.
“It was nice to have my husband home,” Rebekah said.
Another pleasure last year was enjoying the holiday at a slower pace. Because extended family stayed in Miami, the couple said, “It was just us.”
On Christmas Eve, the family enjoyed the fireplace and played board games, like “Sorry” and “Life,” while drinking eggnog — which for Mom and Dad may or may not have been spiked.
On Christmas morning, the family ate a big breakfast, complete with bacon, eggs, pancakes and fresh fruit. After opening presents, everyone wore Santa hats with elf ears around the house while laughing at each other.
Tips for handling holiday deployments:
- Don’t stress about buying the perfect gift, and keep things simple when you need to.
- Pick realistic goals and let the rest go.
- Remember: “Sometimes less is more.”
- Know your children and decide what gifts really matter and what gifts don’t.
- Avoid overcompensating and always thinking, “That’s not enough.”
- Start preparing for the holidays early.