The Importance of Being Seen

When I was in high school, I discovered the other Richard Gere classic, An Officer and a Gentleman. I can’t remember why I rented that VHS, but it probably had something to do with a film class I took my senior year. Mrs. Kelley was always trying to introduce us to something filmed in black or white or a movie rife with ironic plot twists. So, I both blame and thank her for this gift of becoming temporarily obsessed with marrying a military man. And it taught me that in the military spouse world, there are 2 camps: #TeamPaula and #TeamLynette.

Fast forward about 10 years, after college, when I was working for the Department of Defense and my favorite movie was When Harry Met Sally. I wasn’t looking for a newly commissioned officer to carry me out of the factory and off into the sunset. And I certainly wasn’t telling any 2nd lieutenants that I was pregnant just to land a proposal. I had 2 cats, an apartment with a capitol building-view, and a job that valued me as much I valued it. But between issuing boots to Camp Shelby, MS and undergarments to San Luis Obispo, CA, I was introduced to a (relatively) newly commissioned officer.

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And I let him carry me to England and then off into the sunset.

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And all the while I did not once think about what it meant to be a military spouse. My husband was in the Army, but as a Reservist, it was more of an inconvenience than a sacrifice. He was pushing troops through Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC on our first wedding anniversary. He was unavailable one weekend each month.

And then he got orders to deploy a second time. And that changed everything.

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We smiled through the tears and said goodbye for another year. I began to volunteer more with the Family Readiness Group (FRG). I began to identify more as a military spouse. It was defining me in a way that I felt I could no longer ignore. And, for the first time, I felt the incredible burden of isolation. My husband, a Reservist, was attached to a unit out of Las Vegas. The closest unit support during the deployment was 2,000 miles away. I faked happiness almost every day for 12 months. Thank goodness we did not yet have a tiny human that depended on me. I barely kept the cats alive.

No, I cannot recommend telling a servicemember that you are pregnant just so he will propose. This life is not worth that. Besides, we have not-so-nice names for those people. No…you have to be a Paula to make it in this world. You have to love the servicemember first and only then are you willing to make the sacrifices that the uniform demands. And some days it feels like it just never stops.

To the spouse who stands in the parking garage of an airport and wipes the tears of a toddler who just doesn’t understand where Daddy is going and why…

I see you.

To the spouse who Skypes during the Cub Scout Crossover Ceremony so Mom can see her baby boy move up in rank, even while the Army keeps her on the other side of the country…

I see you.

To the spouse who juggles parenting duties while running an at-home business because it allows her to be creative, make money, and work on the military’s schedule…

I see you.

To the spouse who never gets promoted at work because it’s hard to reach a new level when you are only there for 24 months…

I see you.

To the spouse who orchestrates an international move with children underfoot and a deployed husband who will be returning home just in time to leave again…

I see you.

To the spouse who writes military obligations first in a new planner before anything else because the mission supersedes everything else, because you don’t have to show up at that Change of Command/Hail and Farewell/Promotion Ceremony, but you are a team and you support one another…

I see you.

To the spouse who not only doesn’t “bloom” at that new duty station, but damn near withers on the vine, despite an honorable attempt at finding something good about it…

I see you.

To the spouse who must become a caregiver, who widens the hallways and installs a ramp, who misses the arm that used to wrap around her and the man he once was, but is determined to make it OK…

I see you.

To the spouse who spends hundreds of hours researching great school districts, then cross-references that with safe neighborhoods, then cross-references that with the closest grocery store/swim lessons/soccer team/dental office/veterinary clinic, then finds out the duty station has changed and starts all over again…

I see you.

To the spouse who holds a child while his best friend’s household goods are loaded onto the moving truck…

I see you.

To the spouse who is also a servicemember…

I see you.

And to the spouse who was also a servicemember, but the logistics of it all just got too damn complicated…

I see you, too.

To the seasoned spouse who is on the cusp of a servicemember’s retirement or has just reached that milestone, who is now worldly but weary…

I see you.

To the child-free, unemployed spouse who is finding it hard to meet people when there aren’t the usual mutual interests like a child’s school or the workplace…

I see you.

To the spouse who moves up from stepmom to primary parent during a deployment, who figures it out as she goes because it all just kind of sucks but, as parents, we want to absorb our children’s pain…

I see you.

To the new spouse who is woefully unprepared for life as a military spouse, even though everyone will forever say, “You knew what you were getting yourself into”…

I see you.

To the spouse who is making plans for after retirement…for a garden that won’t get ripped up every 18 months, to buy that piece of Amish furniture that the movers will just bust up anyway, to take that couples-only trip that will be possible when there are grandparents around to watch the kids, to paint the walls and not have to repaint them white again, to become active in the community and be able to see their participation pay off…

I see you.

To the spouse who spends the days with kids, bravely counting down until Mommy or Daddy comes home, and nights reaching for someone on the other side of the world…

I see you.

To the spouse who realizes things aren’t quite right after a deployment, who is trying to determine if he just needs time or if it’s time to worry…

I see you.

To the spouse who makes it possible for a servicemember to serve this country, in whatever way the mission deems fit, whenever it is necessary, without worry about if things will be OK at home…

I see you.

To the spouse who opened the door to a chaplain and a casualty notification officer…

I see you.

Tomorrow, Friday, May 10th, 2019, our country will honor and celebrate its military spouses. Maybe you will hear about it, but maybe you won’t. Chances are, there won’t be any television commercials advertising lunch specials or radio ads inviting spouses to an event, free of charge. More likely it will be other military spouses who want to make sure their fellow milspouses feel appreciated and honored. Like this blog post. I don’t write it for me…I write it for the hundreds of spouses I’ve met in the past 14 years and what their sacrifices have taught me. But that’s OK. Because if we are getting real, military spouses are the ones pushing their servicemembers front and center. We live in a country that, regardless of politics or religion, race or creed, supporting the military is non-negotiable. That usually means supporting the servicemember and y’know what? That’s exactly how it should be. We did not agree to die for you. We are simply supporting the person who did agree. And we are not sleeping in a tent in a Forward Operating Base that was built in a valley that is surrounded by people who want to kill us. We are just taking care of everything back home, waiting for the day they come back home…whether it’s on a bus or in a casket. That’s not hyperbole, that’s just the reality of the world we live in right now. Maybe peacetime is right around the corner.

The great contradiction that comes with being a military spouse is that we know we do not wear rank, we do not serve, but that does not mean we don’t sacrifice. And when I Google Military Spouse Appreciation Day Discounts and I only get links for Veterans Day, that says something about the value this country places on the people who are making sure Servicemembers are supported at home.

For the record, I have always felt appreciated by Neal, as well as my family and friends. Every time he is in front of a microphone, he takes a second to thank us for supporting him and his career. He hasn’t missed a Military Spouse Appreciation Day since we started celebrating it in 2011, even though it always falls 48 hours before Mother’s Day. But the rest of the country is not there yet. Maybe they think we are all a bunch of Lynettes…ready to bail when life gets challenging.

But the truth is, if you meet a servicemember and his/her spouse and they have been married for more than a year, it has probably already been challenging…especially during this current operational tempo.

So, thank that spouse, too. We don’t want to be rewarded, we simply want to be seen.

And if you are looking for ways to support a military spouse, here are a few ideas:

*Most of the time, spouses are the primary caregivers for children. Offer to babysit so the spouse can have some time alone – even if it’s spent walking around Target!

*Cook a meal when the servicemember is away on deployment or temporary duty assignment. That’s one less thing to worry about that day.

*Be a friend. This is especially true for military families stationed in civilian communities. We can all agree that becoming friends with someone who is going to move away in 2 or 3 years feels like a friendship that is doomed from the start. But joy can be found in just one moment. You don’t have to be lifelong bffs.

*If you own a business that offers discounts to the active duty servicemember, consider extending that benefit to the spouse. If that isn’t a viable option, simply voice your appreciation. Just see them.

*Buy from military spouse-owned businesses. And if you need some help, I’ll be featuring several in the next couple of weeks!

*If you own or work at a museum, consider joining the Blue Star Museums program (an initiative that pairs Blue Star Families with the National Endowment for the Arts to offer free admission to military families at museums nationwide, from Armed Forces Day until Labor Day).

*Join Blue Star Families and become a Blue Star Neighbor. Their mission is to link military and civilian communities so that they are stronger, together. They are always offering ways to support spouses and families.

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One thought on “The Importance of Being Seen

  1. Good points all. It’s way to easy for most of us to ignore the spouses of that 1%, especially if we don’t live near a BIG base. Am sure there are plenty of military spouses around, but they don’t wear uniforms or nametags. Hope in your neck of the woods there’s some celebration today. You know, strength in numbers. Miss you.

    Like

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