11 May 2012
my career as an army wife
I've been wanting to write a post about what it's been like to be an army wife for awhile. So when I heard that today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day I knew it was time. Only problem is, the reason I haven't written it yet is I don't know how to say what I want to say. But I'm giving it my best shot.
I do want to write about our service members at some point, but today I'm only going to focus on what it's like as a spouse. But don't think because I only focus on spouses I don't appreciate our soldiers. Because I still think I have the easy job in all this.
Also, every person's experience with the military is different. This is mine.
I guess I should start off by saying this is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Ever. Harder than college, harder than college with a baby. Harder than childbirth. But at the same time, I am in awe of how I have grown as a person since taking this title of "military spouse."
I know it's easy, when hearing about military service members and their spouses or children and what they go through, to say "Well, they chose that life. If they didn't want to deal with xx they shouldn't have joined." I know because that's what I used to think. But the fact of the matter is, you can't know what you're getting into. Just like you have no idea what you're about to get yourself into when having a child. Yes, you think you know. And scoff at people who tell you you don't. Then your child is born and you realize they were right. You really had no idea what it would be like. The same goes for military life. You don't know until you've done it. And like having children, it is so much harder than you ever could have imagined. But at the same time, you never could have imagined how wonderful it can be at the same time.
A lot of what a military spouse does can be compared to a single parent, or a family where the dad travels a lot. But it's not really a fair comparison. Yes, there are similarities. Yes, a lot of the same coping strategies can be used. But there is a big difference. In the civilian world, if you mess up it means losing money. Or missing a deadline. Or maybe getting fired.
When you're a soldier, if you mess up someone could, or does, die.
That's a lot of pressure. Not just for our soldiers, but for us at home too. Life is not perfect, things don't always goes well. But our soldiers need to be focused 100% on their missions, and that means putting our personal lives on hold sometimes. It's hard, but it's a lot better than knowing that someone lost their life because I had a bad day. (and it's not just deployments where lives are in danger. The equipment soldiers work with are dangerous, period. Lives are lost during training, in garrison, you name it. But the number of needless lives lost goes down when everyone is focused)
A phrase I think about a lot, use sometimes, and have to do myself, is "Suck it up." Not just for the reason I just wrote about above, but also because of how things work for us now. This is how life goes: Rob goes to work. I do everything else.
Now, before you get all up in arms about gender roles and all that, I want you to understand that it works this way because we have no choice. The cookie crumbles that way because he simply isn't around. Deployed or not, our soldiers work long hours.
So that leaves me, the stay at home mom. My staying at home is my career. That doesn't mean I don't let Rob help when he can, it means the choices I make are weighed against what is possible for Rob. For example, I get up with the baby every. single. night. all. night. because I can take a nap the next day. Rob can't. I have power of attorney so I can handle all the financial transactions we have because I'm able to make phone calls during the day. Rob can't. I prepare all meals and do all the housework because my schedule is flexible. Rob's isn't.
This is my job. And you better believe I'm proud of it.
This doesn't mean I'm always awesome at it. And on top of things. I have my breaking points. But that is where the growing and stretching comes in. There are many instances where my right-brained dyscalculiac self hits a wall. And I have a melt down. But once the melt down is over, I pick myself up and do what has to be done. Because it has to be done. Had you asked me when Rob and I got married if I'd be the one in control of our lives I would've laughed at you. But here I am, almost eight years later, running our lives.
This is especially true during the separations. No, Rob has never been deployed, but he has been gone a lot. The hardest times of those are when he's gone with no contact. Despite the long hours he works all the time, I'm able to send a quick text asking for his opinion or talk to him about things when he is home. But when he's out in the field it's all up to me to make decisions. And entertain children. To handle breakfast. And bedtime. And the whole day in between.
And there is always something to do. Always.
But it's not all bad. The excitement leading up to Rob coming home is unparalleled. The moment he walks in the door is the happiest moment of your life, every single time it happens. Separations can be the most romantic thing ever because you have to be vocal about your feelings since a phone call is all you have. You fall in love with your husband all over again when he finally gets to cradle your baby in his buff army arms. Your heart goes aflutter when you see your soldier in his uniform, because the fact is there is nothing sexier than a man in uniform. You soak up a simple moment because for right then, your life is perfect. And no matter how terrible the reception, or how short the time is, the sound of his voice telling you he loves you is the best sound in the world.
Military spouses are as diverse as it is possible to be. But the one thing we all have in common is we are in this because the person we love chose to defend our country. One of the questions military spouses hear all the time (and can be one of those "hated" questions) is:
"How do you do it?"
And the answer is simple. We do it because we have to. If we don't no one else will.
We are not better than you, we are not more capable than you. Simply put, we have been stretched and pushed to get to where we are by our situation. The same would happen to you if you were in our shoes. We don't need to be worshipped, or treated like celebrities. We do appreciate gratitude and respect though. For being those "silent ranks" that make sure our military is able to perform at their best. For doing this job day in and day out. And while your charity is nice, it's not expected. Or necessary. All we really need is someone to talk to after days of only speaking to kids. Someone to give us a hug when we haven't been touched by another human being in weeks. Or a smile to let us know we're not just another invisible person.
If you need to see what strength is, find a military post. Watch the young moms, the women running a fundraiser, the houses with their welcome home banners. Behind those tired faces, those determined looks, those typical houses, lie someone working as hard as they can to make sure they are doing their job, so that their spouse can make sure you are able to live the life you desire. Surely that is worth your gratitude, if only for today.