Sarah Miller counts time in bite-size chunks.
With an iPhone app, she tracks the days until a trip home to California and a visit to Disneyland. How long until Father’s Day? Fourth of July? Her husband Chris’ birthday?
Her phone has the answer.
It’s a neat mental trick to keep her from thinking too far into the future.
Her husband is roughly a third of the way through his fourth Army deployment. She waits at home in Thurston County with their two kids: 4-year-old William, and daughter River, born in January.
River’s birth was a gift in more ways than one, Sarah said. After Chris’ most recent deployment was delayed by a snowstorm last winter, the Army decided he could stick around for the child’s arrival. The baby was 6 weeks old when he left for Afghanistan.
“I try not to think about it,” 26-year-old Sarah Miller said of the couple’s separation. “A year’s too long. I think in little milestones.”
Adjusting her thinking that way helps keep her emotions in check as she goes about the job of temporary single mom.
She and the kids, along with their dog, Byron, and their cats, Steve and Stubbs, recently spent a week camping out on the first floor of their suburban home while workers tore out ceilings and replaced sagging drywall upstairs.
Sarah balances the needs of a pre-kindergartener and an infant. In the space of an afternoon, she feeds, rocks, coos at and changes the baby. She tries to keep William from bothering the dog, praises him when she can and scolds when she must.
There’s no “Wait till your father gets home.” She’s both enforcer-of-rules and cuddler-in-chief.
Over nearly nine years of marriage and now four deployments since they fell in love in high school, the couple has worked out a communications system that works for them.
On this deployment, they’ve been able to Skype regularly. That’s a switch from Chris’ first overseas mission, when they could only communicate via satellite phones that created conversational delays and sometimes cut out unexpectedly.
“We always said ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye’ at the beginning so we didn’t miss that,” she said.
Now, they pay for Internet service that makes communication easier. She tries to keep live calls upbeat and saves any negative information for email.
“If I’m talking about bad stuff, I usually email,” she said. “And I write in the subject line: ‘Venting.’ That way if he’s having a bad day, he knows not to read it right away.”
Miller says she was at one point involved with the Army-sponsored family readiness group connected to her husband’s unit but backed off because she thought there was too much “drama” involved.
But she does try to stay connected to close friends who are also Army wives. Her mom visits a few times a year and they stay in touch by phone.
Like a lot of women with loved ones deployed half a world away, Miller sleeps with her phone because she doesn’t want to miss a call from Chris. Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, she gets a message from him.
“He texts me, ‘Go to sleep,’” she said.
The Miller Family
Who they are: Staff Sgt. Chris Miller, 29, and wife, Sarah, 26. Their children are William, 4 years old, and River, 4 months.
Current separation: Miller is deployed to southern Afghanistan this year with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. He left home in February.
Number of times deployed: This is his fourth.
Quotable: “If I’m talking about bad stuff, I usually email. And I write in the subject line: ‘Venting.’ That way if he’s having a bad day, he knows not to read it right away.” - Sarah Miller