Sometimes when I'm babbling away on the phone to my husband about the kids, bills, or the retired vicar popping by when I was in my pyjamas; it's very easy to forget he's far away, doing what he's doing. I've seen the odd photo, but I can't really picture where he is, or imagine what his days are like. The gulf between his world and mine is so vast. The more I think about it, the bigger the gulf gets. I know my husband works seven days a week, that his job takes up every waking minute, and I'm often amazed by how he seems to able to switch out of all of that on the phone to me. I couldn't do it.
Over the year he's managed to phone home every two or three days, which is pretty good. Much better than the last 6 month tour 3 years ago, when calls were erratic. I remember not hearing from him for 10 days during the toughest, darkest part of that tour. Afghanistan dominated the news then, fighting was intense and there was so much sadness. It was the longest 10 days of my life.
It's been very different this time - he's not on the frontline and I haven't worried as much between calls. But I never ask when he's going out. I'd rather not know.
Our phone chats haven't always gone smoothly though - he has a knack of ringing at a really bad moment - when I'm trying to get the kids to do their homework, eat, or I'm just about to head out the door. There's never a perfect time is there.
I always feel guilty after one of these distracted calls, and I can't ring him back - I have to wait for him to ring me, or email him to call home. We rarely talk at night because Afghanistan is a few hours ahead. If he wants to catch up with the kids, it tends to be breakfast time, which is bedlam, or early teatime/bathtime (even worse!) Weekends are usually best.
I know the kids have missed their dad desperately and are so excited about him coming home - but they can be totally useless on the phone, especially if there's something else going on. He's pretty realistic about this, but it must be hard.
That's why once in a while I've asked the kids to write or make things to send to him. The eldest usually writes a letter, the youngest draws a picture and the one in the middle does a bit of both.
I often get a lump in my throat when the kids show me what they've done. So heartfelt, loving and honest. And I know getting messages like this have meant the world to their dad over the last 12 months.