PEORIA, Ill. — My firstborn child recently turned 2 months old. Amidst the irresistible joy of having a new little buddy, I look back over these last eight weeks and wonder how my spouse and I survived.
I am a writer, but there are no words I can find adequate enough to describe the terror of sleeplessness that was brought down upon us. Remember doing dorm guard duty in basic training? It was kind of like that but instead of one shift a week, we had to be awake every two hours, every night. No weekends. No sleeping in. Pure torture.
There were times — exaggerated by the fog of exhaustion — when I honestly thought my body was going to give out, and I would simply die. Don’t judge. You either know what I’m talking about or maybe someday will be in for the same surprise.
There was no option; the little guy completely depends on his mommy and daddy to survive. That is the mission — to keep him sustained and thriving as efficiently as possible. Military instinct made it clear: I had to adapt and overcome. But how?
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said the well-being and care of ourselves, each other and our families is the focus of Comprehensive Airman Fitness. It’s about mental, physical, social and spiritual wellness. That is where I started. Yes, I referenced an Air Force doctrine to apply at home — because it works.
Coping was the first step to everything else. It really helps to just acknowledge that yes, I am going to be beyond tired; no, I am not going to feel rested; and no, it is not going to feel good. When I remember to focus on that situational awareness, it somehow doesn’t burn me out quite as badly when the baby alarm sounds off at o-dark-thirty in the morning. Having that mindfulness helps work through the frustration when the baby projectile pukes everywhere, hoses down the walls or goes nuclear on a fresh diaper.
I do not get it right every time, but every success is a success, and it helps.
I am a big cardio person. My day does not feel right if I don’t get a good 45 minutes in at the gym in the morning. In this new world of exhaustion, burning calories at the gym may sound counterproductive. On the contrary, the physical fitness helps keep me mentally fit. Being able to test my endurance while blasting some tunes is my meditation. Getting back into a routine of good nutrition was just as important. It is convenient to pop a carbed-up pizza or lasagna in the oven, but it is not what my body needs. Sometimes the easier option in physical fitness is not the best option.
Sustaining those healthy habits post-baby takes extra work and I will never be perfectly consistent, but every good day helps.
We had tons of support from family and friends, but I was not expecting my fellow Airmen to ask how the family was doing every time they saw me. When I’m walking the halls like a lost zombie, that simple communication and connectedness makes a difference. Not only do they let me unload the weight of the struggles, but I also get good advice because most of them have been there and done that. That’s teamwork.
It is not just ears to listen and a reminder that they are thinking about my spouse and me. It is a social support from Airman to Airman, and every little bit helps.
Spiritual fitness covers such a multitude of areas in this experience. It is the underlying principle that motivates me in all the other areas. Spiritual fitness takes effort and choice just like any other aspect of Comprehensive Airman Fitness. What kind of parent am I going be? I want to be the best parent a baby could ask for, so I try to pay attention to my attitudes and reactions under stress. I try to persevere when weak, because it is all for the kiddo. Perspective is good fuel for a tired mind. It gives me a new sense of purpose to sacrifice my needs for his. I keep reminding myself that the complications of having a newborn are temporary, because it is true.
Part of spiritual fitness is finding that silver lining in what looks like only dark clouds. Obviously, it is not always easy to be spiritually solid and I do not always get it right, but every little win helps.
It may all sound like Parenting 101 to the uninitiated, but I promise it hardly feels that simple in the moment. Life’s challenges never do. That is why it is so important to practice mental, physical, social and spiritual wellness on a regular basis. That is why the Air Force built the Comprehensive Airman Fitness doctrine. You can never be ready for the trials life throws at you, but you can be prepared. In the meantime, what can you do to support your fellow Airmen’s fitness during their struggles?