Military Wives

Military wives are some of the strongest and most resilient women I know.  By the virtue of loving a man wearing the uniform and combat boots, these women agree to living the life of a nomad.  This nomadic existence is often fraught with loneliness, single parenting, and few established long term support systems.  As a military wife, I followed my spouse all over the word for 26 years.  I was often a single parent to our five children who at one time ranged from 1-10 years of age because Phil was deployed six months a year the first half of our marriage.  My job was to be the positive spin master and to make all of the moves fun even when I was giving up a job, friends, or a community that I had grown to love.  I was reminded at Hearts Apart last night, just what we spouses bring to the table.

As we talked, we laughed together talking about how difficult it is when the spouse is gone and there are many little ones at home. Even the bathroom is not sacrosanct.  It never failed.  Every time I would disappear, someone would start fighting, get hurt, or need my immediate attention.  Privacy?  Heck, I just hoped that Josh wouldn’t kill his sister and that Tim wouldn’t climb on the counters to get something he shouldn’t. 

Going to the commissary or grocery shopping was always a big deal. First, try navigating the grocery story with small children in tow.  I never had enough hands.  We lived in stairwell housing in Germany and they put the big families on the top floor.  What is a mom to do when the base rules say that children cannot be left alone, yet all of those groceries have to get out of the car and up the stairs? I ended up placing children on each landing and having a system where groceries were carried landing to landing.  Don’t judge too harshly, but the Disney movies got used when I was putting away the groceries and recuperating from the wild adventure of trying to make it through the commissary without any children having a major melt down on any given day.

School conferences, events, and medical appointments are another realm that military spouses often juggle seamlessly.  I went through pregnancies, one birth, surgeries, graduation, two PCS moves, and many key events alone because Phil was deployed.  There never seemed to be enough of me and even though the children knew what their dad did for a living, it wasn’t always easy to understand.  Military mothers often have to take that deep breath, put on a smile, and somehow make it all right even when they are miles from their own families and long term friends are often far away.

The military spouse has a lonely role.  We joked last night about talking the maintenance men’s ear off when something is being worked on in the house.  After weeks of talking to housebound children due to the weather or the child’s age or school vacations, adult talk—any talk—is something that is craved even if it is about the broken faucet. We live for those phone calls, e-mails, or cards.  Those small tokens can keep us going for days.

Yesterday, I was reminded how much the little things matter in recharging the resiliency batteries for families in terms of community outreach.  One woman shared that although housing does shovel the walks during deployment, with the winter we have had, there has been times they haven’t been able to keep up.  Her neighbor has come over and snow blown her walks for her so that she didn’t have to.  Another woman shared that her neighbors have been great at checking in on her and helping out occasionally.  My guess is that like I did, these women on the receiving end of community outreach are the very ones doing the outreach when their spouses are home.  It works that way. 

In our sisterhood, there is shared strength.  In the knowing smiles and in the glance that if a person looks deep enough is the woman who has to roll with the punches, has to keep a sense of humor, and has to be a woman who is the strength for her children and the mooring for her soldier spouse.  While I speak of the military wives, this is only because I was one and because there were only women at Hearts Apart last night, but make no mistake.  There are men who are the spouse and those men have an even lonier existence because there are so few of them.

Our community outreach is part of building stronger resiliency in the face of the storms.  Long term military people or people affiliated with the military can attest to the military changing.  No branch of service is immune.  With more frequent and lengthier deployments, these partnerships are critical.  Reaching out to a neighbor may seem like a small thing or maybe an inconvenience, but sometimes the smallest gesture can have the biggest impact on a say when the struggles are the most.  I will never forget coming home at Holloman Air Force Base.  I had all five children with me and there at my doorstep was a meal and the simple note that said, “Thinking of you.”  I do not know who made that meal, but 20 years later I can tell you that act has touched me for years and that act has compelled me to pay it forward many times. In the winter months when all people are stuck inside even more, these acts can foster sparks of joy and give the spouse a small hand.  In the military, we are family and it does take a village to create these strong family ties that give us what I like about my military family—a sense of belonging ,  a sense of pride, and a sense of purpose.





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