Monday, March 9, 2009

Let me know if you need anything...ok, how about right now?

So, it's almost here. We've known it was coming for more than 6 months, but in less than 48 hours, my husband will be deploying for 5 months, leaving me to manage the madness of 3 kids under age 5, two part-time physician jobs, and a home (can someone remind me why we thought a half-acre of grass was a good idea?).

We recently had a few families over to dinner. They are dear friends--originally the parents of our kids' friends from preschool, now our close friends in their own right. They live 5 minutes away. As they were leaving after dinner, a few weeks before my husband was to deploy, one of the women said to my husband, "Well, if we don't see you, stay safe" and to me, "Let us know if you need anything." My heart sank, and my husband immediately saw it on my face.

Now, I'm not complaining...well, not that much anyway. Believe me, I know it could be waaaaay worse. He's only going for 5 months, not the 12 or 15 month deployments that Army families cope with all the time. It's pretty safe, as deployments go. We'll even be able to talk on the phone for about 20 minutes once a week. And, most of all, I fully expect him to come home to us. At some point, he won't be in the Navy anymore, and all of this will be behind us.

But the fact of the matter is that I will definitely need things. When people say, "Let me know if you need anything," the implication is that you probably won't, but just in case, you know how to find us (and we won't be finding you). The fact is that needing things is not the exception; rather it is the rule during deployment. I need things right now, and he hasn't even left yet. Like someone to babysit my kids for a few hours so that I can have a date with my husband where we finish sentences (or do our taxes), someone to help me cook and freeze a bunch of meals to decrease the evening madness, someone to invite us to dinner on the sad evening of d#1 of deployment, and most of all, someone to reassure me that I can do this, we can do this, and we will all get through it.

I have been giving "Let me know if you need anything" a LOT of thought since then. As far as I can tell, we only say it when it is clear that help will be needed...and a lot of it. Someone's husband dies: Let me know if you need anything. Someone's baby is born prematurely and is in the NICU: Let me know if you need anything. Someone loses his job: Let me know if you need anything. And, most relevant to us, when we are the bearer of catastrophic medical news: Let me know if you need anything.

If these words make it to the antechamber before your lips, STOP THEM RIGHT THERE! This is probably a situation where the person in front of you needs not just anything, but everything. I have decided to banish the phrase from my vocabulary and instead make a concrete offer. She can say no or barter for something different, but at least she knows I expect she will need help--it's not a sign of weakness and not an exception. If she wants to refuse it, she is free, but I won't make it easy. From here on out, I'll be saying "I'd like to bring dinner tomorrow night for you and the kids. Is 5 o'clock okay?"


  1. First - I'm sorry about your husband deploying. I wish you all the best as you manage daily life without him.

    Also - thank you for pointing out the flaws in "let me know if you need anything". I sometimes try to be specific in my offers of help, but from now on I'll make absolutely certain to make them specific. That way, if the person in need doesn't need dinner, they might be more likely to say "no, we don't need dinner on Friday, but could you do some laundry."

  2. First, thank you for parting with your hubby for a few months in the name of keeping the rest of us safe at home.

    Second, your last paragraph is absolutely awesome. I have learned, after being a necessary recipient, to take that same tack. Lots of people made mindless and not-really-intending-to-follow-through statements of "let me know if you need anything" when we were going through first a severe car accident that killed one sister and left the second in our care while she healed from a broken pelvis and humerus, and second, our baby dying from renal agenesis. I never called any of those people. The friends I treasure most now are the ones who just showed up and knew what to do. I make it a point now to be that friend for other people. Show up with a meal on a bad day. Grab the kids so that they can have a couple hours of peace and quiet. Be a doer, not an empty promiser.

  3. Geesh! I want to drop off some spaghetti and meatballs, then watch the kids while you run to Target. Plus do a load of sheets. Sending a mental Alice from the Brady Bunch your way....

  4. First of all, thank you and your husband for your immense sacrifice.

    Secondly, when people say that, I think they usually do want to help but don't know how. Keep of list of things you need and when they offer, ask them to pick something off the list to help.

  5. I understand how you feel. When my twins were born (so 4 under 5y), I was terrified. No family. No real friends (we had moved w/in the past year. I got a lot of the "if you need anythings...", but no real offers for help). After 4 weeks of not sleeping, I gave in, told my husband I needed help, and found a mother's helper which HAS helped significantly. Although, it's cutting into our savings right now, the help and support she offers is priceless.

  6. In the days leading to my husband's planned deployment, I received several specific offers for help - I hadn't appreciated what a difference it was in having people offer tangible ways to help instead of the generic Let me know...but I do think like RH+ that people do want to help but don't know how, and if given a task, would gladly do it.

    I'm pretty sure I've said the same thing- usually to someone I don't know that well, but did realize they would need help and I could do something, anything for them.

    I'm glad he is going to be out of harm's way and gone for a relatively short time as deployments go. It will be over before you know it, with the help of some friends.

  7. This is what I want to do for you: be here when you need to vent or moan for the next 5 months (& beyond). Make me a list of other ways I can help and I'll pitch in!

  8. I love this post. It is SO TRUE. It drives me crazy when people say that.

    Also, you are extremely competent and inspire me to NOT COMPLAIN for at least a week about workload. I am very impressed & with you in spirit.

  9. People who say that may really not know what would be helpful - and having a list of specific things you could suggest would be helpful.
    I would assume these offers are genuine (a few may not be able to make good on a specific request - but I think that will be exception, not the rule) but that the person needs a little guidance.

    Thank you for you and your husband.

  10. Thanks to all who responded with the offers of concrete help--including a real-life home cooked meal by KC and her family! It makes me feel better to know you are all out there. As Heidi, I am going to try to be a doer friend from here on out.

  11. why do you feel someone owes you? My husbund works out of town on a regular basis - 4 weeks off 1 week off, or week on, weekend off. I had live in caregiver sinc birth of my children. And never wined about other people having to lend me a hand. You and your husbund knew about this for a while and your 3 children deserve having a sold plan for their care in the next few months. Best to you and your family.

  12. Anon - She doesn't feel someone owes here. The someone's are coming up to her and making these meaningless statements and she's deciding whether to call their bluff!

    When my husband had a BMT I had this situation. It was Deacon's from church. Since I knew that food was one of the things they expected to help with I said - we need individual meals because husband won't have a big appetitie, I'll be driving him to the hosptial every day for 60 days and I don't know if I'll be able to leave him to go to the grocery.

    Ah - ha- my freezer was full of TV dinners and they were a great help. I have no doubt in my affluent community that a request for something that someone could pick up at the grocery was easy to fufill.

    I think the thing to do is to consider the person who offers and what you think they might expect to do. It probably would help if you'd warn them first, as in: if I get called away suddenly can I call you to take Suzie to soccer?

    Someone you trade play-dates with might be a pitch-hitter babysitter.

    Someone with a teenaged boy might be able to provide a lawn mower.

    It's totally different if your husband travels a lot as mine used to. Then you arrange your life to cope. I for one didn't work full-time then so unexpected child-related events weren't a problem with work.

    I'd also add that whenever my husband is out of town cooking is the first thing that goes. No child that I've ever know has suffered because he/she had frozen pizza three nights a week!

  13. I, too, am a physician and spouse of a deployed naval officer (SWO). Those words, "let me know if you need anything" and "the time will pass quickly" or "it's not that much longer" would always take the wind out of my sail. As we approach the end of his deployment, a new one can be added to the list: "We'll have to have you over when [your husband] returns." I don't mean to sound bitter but rather I am trying to use these experiences to learn how to be more supportive of others going through similar circumstances.


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