Jillian Mackinder

You Knew What You Were Signing Up For

"Footprint in the Snow" Photo by Jillian Mackinder

“You knew what you were signing up for.”


Thankfully, I haven’t had too many people say this to me, and though it usually isn’t said with malice, it is still so frustratingly inaccurate.


“You knew what you were signing up for when you married someone in the military.”


I assure you, I had zero clue.


I grew up with a dad in the Air Force and I was still completely clueless as to what my experience as a military spouse was going to be like. On top of that, I had no experience regarding deployments of any kind. My dad never deployed in twenty years of service. He rarely even went on long TDYs (military business trips). I had no idea what those things felt like as a daughter, let alone as a spouse.


Fortunately for us, in his current job, my husband can’t be deployed because he often leaves as a part of his regular duties. (They get you coming, they get you going, I tell ya.) The other day he left again. Thankfully like I said, not for a deployment–and we are very fortunate to have him around for the majority of the time–but still, he leaves. And when he does, it’s tough. This time, on the morning that he left, our boys asked if we could go to the playground that we had all gone to the day before–they don’t have to ask me twice to take them outside in the sunshine free from the captivity of our four walls. So we did.


As we walked up the snow covered sidewalk to the playground, I noticed a very familiar boot print. The snow on the sidewalk had melted a little, but not entirely, and enough of it had been left behind to refreeze overnight. It left an icy reminder of where my husband had been walking the day before. I yelled and got my sons’ attention.

“Look, Daddy’s boot prints are here!”

They responded by coming over, looking at the prints for a second, exclaiming a quick, but enthusiastic, “Cool!” before going on to the playground.


Not so with me. I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures of this icy boot print. And then the next one, and the next one. I walked all along that sidewalk and through the snow on that playground, following the boys and the giant boot prints, commenting about them to the kids and taking pictures along the way.


I must have looked like some kind of crazy fool walking up and down that playground with my phone pointed at seemingly random holes in the snow to anyone living in any of the adjacent houses catching a peek of me outside. I knew this, but I didn’t really care about looking crazy because it felt like my husband was there with us. So to me, it was amazing and worth however silly I may have looked. And I have to tell you…he had left our house only two hours earlier that morning. Two hours!! But when you know your other half is going to be gone for a bit, you relish any reminder of him, any way you can feel like he is a little closer, because you know that two hours is just the beginning.


The song “You’ve Got it Bad” by Usher kept playing in my head; it was ridiculous that my husband had left us a mere two hours earlier and here I was, taking pictures of his day-old footprints. But honestly, I know there are other women and men out there like me. People going through life with a piece of their heart out there, floating somewhere far away, sometimes somewhere they don’t even know. And they have done it more than would have ever cared to, and don’t want to be doing it any more than anyone else would. But those people are still out there, hanging in there and living life, because there is no other option.


There is no plan B. They just keep going because they have to. And I guarantee you they had no idea what they were getting into. They didn’t have a clue about the ache they would feel in the center of their chest. They didn’t have any idea about the crying, wishing it would just be over already, that they could just have that piece of their heart back with them again. And it’s not just the military, I’m sure. Airline pilots, truckers, fishermen, reservists, oil rig workers, astronauts– the list goes on and on, I’m sure, of people who have to leave the ones they love in order to provide for them and do their job.


If you had asked me before I married my husband if I knew I would be walking around a playground like a crazy person taking pictures of his day-old boot prints in the snow someday, my answer would have been a resounding “No.” And it may seem silly or hard to understand, but being separated from such a huge part of yourself is just hard. Sometimes unbearable. And it hurts every time, in a very raw way. And most of us had no clue it was going to be this way when we “signed up for it”, but we fell in love with someone who serves their country, or drives a truck, or loves space or the sky, or is called by the sea–and there just is no plan B.