19 August 2013

What They Should Have Told Me Before I Married My Man In Uniform

Today my lovely grandparents celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary.

That large number is the perfect representation of their solid love and commitment, through the best and worst times, and I pray Tyler and I are fortunate enough to approach such a milestone.

Our three and a half short years pale in comparison to grandma and grandpa but what we've learned about each other and our marriage in the past years only has me more convinced God brought us together for an indelible purpose. As a pastor's daughter who attended a Baptist university and spent a semester learning in a Marriage/Family/Worldview studies course, I had heard all about the "M" word and what to expect, what to know and what not to do. And while I maintain that learning about something is a whole different game than actually doing something, I would have appreciated a little side course in "What to Do if You Fall In Love With a Man in the Military" just as I'm sure others would have appreciated a course in "What to Do if You Fall in Love With the Perpetual Student...or a Doctor...or a Police Officer..." Would it have changed anything? Absolutely not. Would I have heeded the advice? Knowing my 22 year-old-self, probably not. But yes, it may have saved some anxious days, frustration and a few glasses of wine.

1. Yes, we are your "typical military family"

Not only is my husband one of the over 300,000 active-duty personnel in the Air Force, he is also included in studies of divorce, training and promotion records that get scrutinized by lawmakers, media outlets and budget-cutters. After spending the first portion of my life fighting against stereotypes as a pastor's daughter and middle child, you can imagine my chagrin when I realized some of those published numbers and categories include little 'ol me.

We are also people who are excited to have kids, but realize that once we do, things get a whole lot more complicated and single parenting is a reality for much of the time. We're the people at church you're trying to decide if it's worthwhile to get to know (we are!) We're the people who break leases and cell phone contracts. We're the people who get paid money to move, but not time, effort or sentiment. We get the occasional Monday or Friday off but not always Thanksgiving or Christmas. We're the people you're trying to decide who deserve free healthcare and full benefits after retirement. When each individual family looks like 300,000 names on a piece of paper to the government, it's pretty hard to break the mold.  

2. It's not my career, but it is my life. 

No, I do not fly the jet. I do not sit in hours of classes or go through months of training. I do not take PT tests or wear a uniform everyday, but all of this is still my life. Sit with us at the dinner table and try to argue that it isn't. You will never catch me saying that "we" have been in this phase of training for so many weeks, or that "our" class of students is really small. Thankfully, I am not the one in the cockpit and do not talk like I am. However, if you ask, I may impress you with my vast second-hand knowledge of techniques and procedures. It is not my career, but it is my life.

3. I will never get to adequately use my education.

This year marked the 5th year I have been out of college, degree in hand. Since then, I have also obtained a High School English Teaching Certificate. I have long thought about furthering my education with an inspiring Master's in _____(anything!)______ but all matters of practicality have so far stopped me. 

It will always be a challenge to find a different job everywhere we move. It is a machete to any civilian career when the Air Force gives just 10 months in a given location before shipping us across the country. It is ignorant to label a military wife without a job (or children as an "excuse") as lazy, uneducated and uninspired. I have often given myself this pep talk, as different job prospects laugh at how I could be the best person for the job, when I will barely be trained for the job and they will need to start their search again.

In my saddest moments, I have realized that my previous career goals and my potential may never be realized. I may never get to wear a pencil skirt and heels to an office again. My writing may not appear in the New York Times or my teaching methods revered and copied. And it's not about being a woman. It was my choice to don the proverbial uniform and follow my husband's career, no matter if it meant a future for my career or not. 

4. The day when I got to choose my own friends ended the day I said my wedding vows.

Don't get me wrong, I am not forced to hang out with or befriend anyone. But when my life revolves around where I move based on my husband's career, my friends will also revolve around where I move based on my husband's career. And truth be told, it's a whole lot easier being friends with the significant others of my husband's coworkers. This has so far proven to be both wonderful and less-than wonderful. I have a few great friendships that have stemmed from my husband's career, but no matter what, my friends will change based on our location.

It's bittersweet thinking back to the friends I had "pre-military", knowing I am missing out on camping trips, lunch/coffee dates and celebrations. While I am the first to admit that we live a pretty cool life, able to experience many different cities, states, and countries, travel when he has time off and meet countless amazing people, not everyone lives as we do. Our friends back home and the people we meet do not experience night flying weeks, do not have the large possibility of living overseas within the year, and otherwise cannot relate to our life.

5. My life and experiences may sound similar to so many others, but each one of us is unique.

Now, the title of this post may be a little misleading in regards to this final point. Because I actually was told what it would be like to be married to a man in the military, and it turned out more detrimental than beneficial. I was warned, soothed, instructed, and advised about what my life would be like before I was even engaged. Those countless well-wishers likely didn't realize what they were doing to me, but I found myself expecting different things that would never apply to my husband's career. I wish they would have rephrased most of their lectures to sound a little less like, "when your husband goes on deployment for 18 months, you will have no choice but to move back with your family" and much more like, "it may be different for you, but when my husband was deployed for 18 months, I felt more comfortable moving home to be closer to my family." At the very least, one's reaction to a given situation will make the experience completely different. There are thousands of spouses in the military, and not a single life will be shaped exactly the same way. And because sometimes a military wife occasionally likes to talk about her experiences in the military, you should let her. And not expect it to be the same for everyone.

There are many things military wives share that no one else can comprehend and yet, there are things we all share as wives and spouses. The feeling of dread when a husband is late, the anxious thoughts when a phone call goes unanswered. Waiting at the doctor's office. These are familiar with everyone. It may be hard to reach out to someone you know has gone through so much since the last time you've talked, but as I've experienced in other countries, even if you have none of the words or phrases correct, it means the most to the local simply that you are trying to learn their language. The rest will fall into place.

I can't even comprehend how blessed we are to live the life we do. We are proud to support our country and while it is hard on many days, we have never watched a sunset or gazed at the mountains and said it wasn't worth it. 


Courtney said...

This is really honest and I love it. I relate to each point. I have my sad days and moments, too, where I feel like I have had to sacrifice a lot of my own dreams and goals. And I really miss my family. But I know God has been faithful to me in every way, so I try to remind myself that this is *right* ... even if it doesn't always seem that way. Thanks for posting this, though. Glad we got stuck being friends with each other ;)

Holly Stavness said...

This is so beautifully written!! You are amazing and I think you and Tyler are doing a great job. Thank the Lord that He is with you every step of the way. Love you Buddy!