While I was packing up my Christmas decorations, let’s just say not in a timeliest of manners, I had one of those bubble thoughts pop into my head that took me by surprise. I was wrapping up all those precious handmade ornaments that my military kids have made at each school they have attended. Each special thing assigned a duty station, memories of different homes and special friends there. I thought, “How well do I need to pack these up?” That is not a “normal” thought; yet totally legitimate for the life we live. We may move again before next Christmas.
That thought was followed by the thought of saying goodbye to this house, to these friends, and this community. And the kicker thought—the one that really went to my heart: No one else here thinks the way I do. Abnormal thoughts for sure, but we in the military do a lot of not normal thinking, don’t we?
We are currently stationed in Chicago, far from the “comforts” of military life and military support. In one sense, it is wonderful to get away from that life and play civilian for a while. No FRG to deal with. No deployments. No middle of the night phone calls. But on the other hand, I find it too easy, even painful, to see the differences between military life and civilian life. Sometimes it seems unfair. And here in civilian-land, it is always right there in front of me, all the time. The differences in our lives sometimes unexpectedly smack me in the face. HARD.
It was my daughter’s Christmas concert. I stood in an overly decorated gymnasium; unlike I’ve seen in any military community school. I saw many families I had met since moving here about a year ago and was well aware that my husband hadn’t met any of these people yet. He is gone during the summer months for work, during all the barbecues and get-togethers. He isn’t around at after-school pick-up (shocker: in the civilian world, even the dads pick the kids up from school!) I was proud to stand in that gym with him if only to prove to everyone he actually exists! Then in a moment, smack! Tears came to my eyes as I realized that the majority of these families had all been together since preschool, if not before. Some of the parents I have met actually went to this elementary school. Then, another smack! Much harder this time. I realized that they would all be doing this type of thing together for years to come: Concerts and summer camps, birthday parties and barbecues. They would all go to the same high school graduation. Together. They will watch each other’s kids grow up.
I watch my dearest friend’s kids grow up only on Facebook. I have never felt more out of place than I did at that moment. I do not belong with this group of people.
We will leave in a year, and my eight-year-old will have to start her fifth new school. The majority of these civilian families will never experience yanking their kids out of school in the middle of the school year and plopping them in an entirely different world. Certainly not more than once. They don’t know what it is like to just sit with another military spouse whose husband is gone. To be joyously miserable together. They don’t understand the village it takes when all the husbands are gone. They don’t know what it is to look at another mom and just know you need to take her kids for the afternoon, because she is about to lose her shit.
I belong with my military families. I miss that life. And I CHOOSE that life.
It didn’t happen overnight.
I’ve gotten used to the questions now. It took a minute, but I started owning and being proud of this life I choose. I’ve done hard shit. And so have my kids. And you better believe I wear that like a badge of honor. So go ahead, ask your zillion questions. Be astounded by our life. I’ll answer and even feel good about being an advocate for military families. Civilians should know what it is we do, how we live, and the trials and tribulations we go through. The rollercoaster life we live. Yes, my daughter is eight and has gone to four schools in four states. Yes, my husband leaves for months at a time. No, I don’t have a nanny. In an emergency, I rely on my fellow military spouses, not family, because my family lives 1,000 miles away. It just snowed 12 inches; I will shovel because my husband is gone. No hot water, let me problem solve. Burst pipe from the Polar Vortex? I’ll deal with it (true story) because that is exactly what we military spouses do.
Living here in civilian-land has shown me how much I love living a military life. For all the ups and downs, I get more out of military life than I do civilian life. I know that now. I’m proud of taking care of my family when I’m on my own, even if it is hard. It is empowering. I love supporting other military spouses on their own rollercoaster ride. We do it together. And when I am sick and my neighbor brings me chicken noodle soup and takes my kids? Yup doesn’t get much better than that.
I find myself longing to be back around people who understand my life. Who can relate. Who just know. Who pack their Christmas ornaments up the same way I do with the same crazy thoughts. Here, I am an anomaly. Here, we are different. And you know what? That is perfectly fine with me.
And what about the kids? I feel bad my daughter has been the “new kid” in school four times now. Seems we always PCS in the middle of a school year. But my kids have GOOD friends that live in New York, Texas, and now Chicago. And when we get together with those friends, the joy is immeasurable. Hardly a day goes by without me hearing the cute little voices of their best friends in Texas, through a rousing game of Roblox or Minecraft over the Ipads. My kids certainly are resilient, much more so than kids who have never moved. And I am constantly told here how friendly and not shy my kids are. How fast they are able to make friends. How well they talk to adults, and how easily they transition. I am PROUD of my kids. The older they get, the harder it gets, and the more I learn about and from them.
As military spouses, we deal with SO MUCH MORE than a “normal” family lifestyle. This is profoundly obvious here in the civilian world, in the Chicago suburbs. Worrying if I should pack the Christmas decorations well or if I can get away with a quick clean up is one grain of sand on a mountain of shit to deal with in this life we live. It is a source of stress, of anxiety. But here is my point: I choose this life. I don’t have to move every two years if I don’t want to. I am not on orders or under the direction of the US Military. It is MY CHOICE. I could end all the moving and sad goodbyes and PCS troubles and lifestyle changes if I wanted to. Just knowing that helps me. And to be honest, that concept took me a long time to wrap my brain around. Sometimes, still, I have to dig down really deep to get there, but eventually, I get there. Being stationed at terrible-to-most places sucks, but I do have a choice in the matter. At the end of the day, I choose my husband. I choose my family. And I choose this life. And so could you. So when you are stuck in the shit, what do you choose? And here is the clincher—any choice you make is actually okay, believe it or not.
Rebecca is a prior service military spouse. She has spent the last 15 years of her life entangled in military service. She has a 16-month deployment under her own belt, four more of her husband’s as a spouse, seven PCS moves, two kids, and two dogs. She holds a Master’s Degree in Health Systems Administration, which she has never been able to use, but that’s okay, it’s still cool. She also has a Classical Pilates Apparatus Certification, which she is able to use at each new duty station. Rebecc loves to learn new things. She is a business owner, a serial volunteer, and a lover of nature, cuss words, horses, veterans, and wine.