"Give a guy a badge and he thinks he can do whatever he wants."
That was a comment posted on Facebook under a viral video of a cop just doing his job. This is the attitude that my husband and I, as a LEO wife, have to deal with on a daily basis.
Right now, Justin is working fire division, which is an underpaid and underappreciated job in itself, though his heart is in law enforcement. But since our city is a Department of Public Safety, all officers are trained and work in both patrol and fire division.
Every day I watch my husband leave for work there's a whisper of "He may not come back." in the back of my head. It's unnerving sometimes to watch him strap on his gun belt and put on his bullet proof vest, knowing that he may have to rely on those to save his life. I watch him kiss our babies and pray that after 10 hours he gets to come home.
As a wife of a public safety officer, every siren makes your heart jump. When he's working patrol and responds to a car accident, there's that fear that some idiot not paying attention will plow him down. When Justin's working fire and responds to a structure fire, there's the fear of a roof caving in on him. And there's always the fear that someone with a chip on their shoulder is waiting with a bullet for my husband.
I get why some people have such a bad attitude towards law enforcement. The whole "a few bad apples" thing. But most officers I know go into the field not for glory (and definitely not for money since Missouri's average salary for LEOs is under $30,000) but for an intense desire to protect and serve. It's something in their wiring that makes them willing to risk their lives for a stranger. So, to lump all officers in as "pigs" or "power hungry" is a huge insult to those who just want to make their world a little safer for their families.
But what does it mean for me, the wife of a LEO?
It means that most nights I put the kids to bed by myself. It means that most nights when he's on duty I go to bed alone and sleep fitfully until I hear the key turn in the lock after his shift. It means that there are certain restaurants that we can't go to because workers there have been arrested by my husband. It means that when we do go out to eat, Justin always sits facing the door and I watch him take note of the exits. It means that sometimes I have to listen without question when he tells me to turn around and go the other way because a game of "Name that Felon" just go a little too close to home when we are grocery shopping. It means the reminders to know your surrounding and be on guard are constant.
Birthdays are missed, as are anniversaries. Meals are wrapped up until he can get a minute to stop and eat. Or I cook, pack up the food, and drive with the kids to the firehouse to have supper with Daddy only for him to recieve a call in the middle of the meal and have to rush out. Phone calls are cut short. Text messages go unanswered. "I should get off at 11:00." means he'll probably be rolling in around 2:00 am.
Being married to a public safety officer, you learn to do a lot of things on your own. When a 24 hour shift ends up being a 36 hour shift, you just have to adapt and learn not to get angry. It gives me a much greater respect for single moms, that's for sure.
Holidays are another obstacle. Christmas sometimes means getting up super early and opening presents before Justin starts his shift. It often means going to family gatherings alone. And tomorrow night when you all are celebrating maybe watching the city's fireworks display? My husband will be standing close to where they're setting the fireworks off, ready to go if something goes wrong. He won't be with me.
|July 4, 2011. He was able to have lunch with us before having to go on duty.|
Divorce rates of law enforcement are higher than the national average. Maybe it's the crazy hours. Maybe it's the financial strain. Or maybe it's the habit these officers have of bottling up what they've seen and dealt with and having a tendency to shut out those who love them most. Sometimes it's really tough to hang in there when all I want to do is scream at Justin for missing this or that or just coming home and crashing for hours without so much as a hello. But I have to hold on because I don't want us to become another statistic.
So, why write all this?
Because, that cop that pulled you over for speeding may have just left a house where he had to stop a man from beating his wife and children. And those firefighters you scoff at as they take a leisurely lunch may have been out at 3:00 am responding to a fire alarm at a nursing home.
I'm not trying to get sympathy or anyone to feel sorry for us. We (together) chose this life and knew what we were getting into. But, tomorrow, as you celebrate, remember that there's a mom with three boys heading to the station to steal a minute and kiss with her man in uniform.
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