Tag Archives: husbands

My sailor won’t batten down the hatches!

My column in the June issue of Military Spouse magazine!

My column in the June issue of Military Spouse magazine!

Ahoy, fellow Milspouses! Are you tethered to a soldier who doesn’t know how to hang a ceiling fan? Does your airman plead ignorance when it’s time to program the remote? Are you anchored to a sailor who can’t assemble the baby’s crib? Does your marine call the plumber when the faucet leaks?

If you answered, “Aye,” to any of these questions, then I’ve got the scuttlebutt for you! Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful sailor’s wife who got stuck doing ALL the home repairs….

SO, SO NAIVE

A couple decades ago, I left home to marry a Navy man. A true greenhorn, I assumed that military men were all “manly” types who tinkered with cars, hooked up stereos, and fixed stuff around the house.

For the first few tours, we rented or lived on base, so my misconceptions about my husband’s fix-it skills persisted. It wasn’t until we bought our first home in 1998 that the truth was revealed. I soon realized that, not only did my husband have no fix-it skills, he also didn’t feel an ounce of embarrassment if I handled the bulk of the yard work and home repairs.

In denial at first, I believed he’d change as the demands of our growing family increased. I decided to set a good example, and bought a manual on DIY. With a baby on my hip and a toddler at my feet, I replaced the kitchen faucet. I hung new ceiling fans. I assembled the baby’s crib. I aerated the lawn. I replaced the sprinkler heads.

LITTLE DID I KNOW…

Ladies, I even jig sawed my son’s soap box derby car — and loved it.

The feeling of accomplishment was so exhilarating, I forgot to notice that my husband hadn’t joined in my DIY efforts. He even stood idly by as I embarked on a two month project to build shelving along one 15’ wall of our playroom. I couldn’t see past the sawdust to notice that my husband hadn’t lifted a finger to help.

One night while simultaneously nursing our third baby and chopping onions for dinner, I asked my husband to assemble a simple table-top grill. Half an hour later, my husband sat looking cross-eyed and annoyed at the instructions. “I’m telling you Honey, you could strand me on a deserted island with this thing, and I’d never figure it out.”

A few days later, I was relaying my frustrations to another Navy wife while we watched our kids on the playground. Expecting compassion, I was surprised when she told me it was all my fault.

RUDE AWAKENING

At first I thought she had no idea what she was talking about, because her aviator husband was super-handy; whereas, my husband was still uncertain about the term “Phillip’s head” and referred to the hardware store as “a haunted house.”

However, she explained: “I grew up on a ranch and am no stranger to a tool box, but that has always been my little secret. Try being helpless,” she whispered, “trust me, it works.”

Tragically, it was way too late. My husband had already seen me chop onions, nurse a baby, and assemble a grill all at the same time. There was no going back. And now, as a salty ol’ navy wife in my “roaring forties,” I’m still the one who programs the remote and assembles the IKEA dressers.

BE WARNED!

It might be too late for me, but if this is your maiden voyage as a milspouse, there’s still time! You may be perfectly capable of skippering your own boat, but don’t go overboard. Stow those fix-it skills in your ditty bag and play the roll of landlubber Ginger or sidekick Gilligan while hubby takes the helm. He’ll figure out how to replace the toilet tank float or fix the cabinet hinge in no time.

Be ye in a Navy port or on an Army fort, heed this whale of a tale and your DIY projects will always be smooth sailing.

5 TIPS FOR GROWING YOUR OWN HANDYMAN

  1. First printed in 1991, The Reader’s Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual is the veritable bible of home improvement projects. Order it on Amazon and give it to him as a birthday gift. [Hint, hint.]
  2. If your husband flounders in the hardware store, don’t be his safety net. Give him time to get his bearings, and he’ll navigate his own way.
  3. Be his crew: offer to assist without trying to take over the project.
  4. Rather than nagging hubby to be Cap’n Fix-It, positively reinforce his DIY efforts. He may not want sea biscuits, salt pork, and a jigger of rum; but a homemade lasagna dinner is a motivating reward for tinkering with the plumbing or car.
  5. Spread out your suggested projects, maybe motivating your sweetheart to tackle one home improvement project per month. He’s busy defending America, after all, so the boy does need an occasional break.
Pick up your own copy of Military Spouse Magazine today!

Pick up your own copy of Military Spouse Magazine today!

The Skin and Bones of Contention

The wild things that go on in our bedroom.

At some point or another in a marriage, a wife faces a delicate dilemma: How to incorporate her husband’s deer head, bowling trophy, concert poster, stereo speakers, bar lamp or autographed sporting equipment into the home décor. In nineteen years of marriage to my Navy husband, I’ve learned that solving this domestic quandary involves compromise, diplomacy, tact, and sometimes, trickery.

After each of our eight moves, I set about making each new house our home. The vast majority of the unpacking and home decorating has been left to my discretion as the wife, and I always make a sincere effort to find spots for the treasured belongings that will provide a comfortable and secure environment for our family.

Sometimes, however, I must prioritize. After our most recent move, I was unpacking a box labeled “master bedroom” and came upon an item that my husband had purchased during our last tour of duty in Germany.

Despite the fact that he is squeamish about blood, has never hunted, and is afraid of my kitchen cutlery; he bought himself a full-sized reindeer pelt one night at a German Christmas festival. He’s not quite sure why he made the purchase, and admits that it may have been motivated by the half-dozen mugs of mulled wine he consumed that frosty winter evening. But, he insists, he must’ve had a perfectly good reason at the time.

After finding the pelt in the moving box along with our prissy floral bedroom linens, I wondered, How will this thing fit into our new bedroom’s decor?

On one hand, displaying the enormous hide might have added the Nordic charm of an igloo – all we needed was an ice machine and a dog sled to give our bedroom a real Tundra vibe. On the other hand, my husband might take the Eskimo theme a bit too far – turning the thermostat below 50, sleeping in a Caribou parka, and offering to massage me with whale blubber oil.

I shuddered at the thought and stuffed the reindeer pelt under our bed.

A few days later, I found the hide spread out in the middle of our bedroom floor like a fresh kill. The dog took a few sniffs and resolved to stay at least two feet away from the strange flattened beast in case it might suddenly attack.

A couple times, I hid the pelt from my husband in hopes that he wouldn’t notice, but he always did, and put the wild animal skin right back in the middle of our bedroom floor. If I tried to reason with him, he declared quite simply, “I like it,” and would not discuss the matter further.

While there have been many battles worth fighting in our marriage, I knew that this was not one of them. In my husband’s travels with the Navy, he has brought home countless souvenirs and memorabilia. Some items were special enough to become a permanent part of our home décor. Others had only a short time on display, before being relegated to a cardboard box in the garage.

There was the airplane propeller, the English cricket bat, the Yemeni sword, the German beer stein, the Middle Eastern vase, the Norwegian whale bone, the Korean chess set, dozens of Navy plaques and framed certificates, and scores of African items – wildebeest horns, warthog tusks, bowls, woven baskets, tribal warrior figures, Masai clubs, fertility masks, bongos, and carved wooden animals.

For husbands like mine, these items become more than just clunky, dust-gathering, tacky souvenirs. The items represent their athletic superiority, power, virility, and youth. Despite the fact that my husband has no sober memory of its purchase, that reindeer pelt is his manhood splayed out on our bedroom floor for the whole world to see.

I wouldn’t want to take away my husband’s manhood just because it doesn’t match the bedspread. And besides, the reindeer pelt reminds me a little of my husband – it doesn’t say much, lays around a lot, and sheds.

An edited version of this essay was published in the August 2012 issue of Military Spouse magazine as my new column, “Things that drive us CRAZY! ” This is the uncut original version, but if you missed the August issue, here’s my column as a PDF: MSMAugColumn

Don’t forget to pick up the September issue of Military Spouse magazine, where I am highlighted as a contributor, and my column “Things that drive us CRAZY!” tells a funny story of the challenges milspouses face when trying to find employment.

Mother’s Day – A real hoot.

(Lee Forrest/Flickr)

“Hey Hon, so whaddya want for Mother’s Day anyway?” my husband inquired a couple days ago, much too late to actually plan anything decent.

My mind flashed to Mother’s Days past. I winced at vivid images of kitchens destroyed by my children’s best intentions. My lips puckered at the distant taste of cold burnt breakfasts in bed. Allowing my mind to reminisce a moment longer, I nearly gagged at the thought of pond scum.

Well, not exactly pond scum, but that scummy film that forms in the bottom of a flower vase containing week-old cut flowers. My uvula twitched at the thought of slimy stems breaking the algae-like skin on the surface of old vase water to reveal murky dregs and the pungent odor of rotting vegetation.

I never really liked cut flowers because of the pond scum, but my husband orders them almost every year. He makes a call to the florist and, voila! his job is done. One year, I delicately suggested he consider potted flowers for Mother’s Day. That year, I received a lovely hydrangea that bloomed in my garden for years. I thought my days of dealing with green slime were over.

The next year it seemed like a heck of a lot of work driving over to the garden center for another potted plant when my husband could simply call the florist from the comfort of his Barcalounger. Back to the pond scum.

I shuddered, and tried to focus on an answer to my husband’s question. Hmm, I thought, is there something that my family would enjoy that would not require me to clean the kitchen and wash out dirty vases?

I recalled Mother’s Day 2007. My Navy husband was in the 5th month of a yearlong deployment to Djibouti, Africa. I met some other “geographically single” military moms at an indoor play center to let the kids run off some steam while we chatted. A couple hours later, the kids, sweaty and sufficiently coated in invisible ball-pit bacteria, told us they were starving to death.

The mothers begrudgingly trudged toward the exit. “Ugh,” one mom groaned, “I really don’t want to cook.” “Me neither,” another chimed in, her lips stretched downward in an exaggerated frown.

After months of parenting alone, I seriously contemplated eating my daughter’s filthy sweat-dampened socks to avoid cooking another meal. “Hey, you guys wanna go out to lunch somewhere?!”

We huddled in the parking lot to plan a lunch outing, but our excitement soon turned to disappointment when we realized that, without a reservation, we’d be lucky to get Slurpies and Slim Jims at 7-11 on Mother’s Day.

We said our good-byes again, and slogged to our respective minivans.

Just then, a 150-watt bulb blinked on in my deployment weary brain with possibly the best idea I’d had in my entire life. “I know where we can go!” I blurted. The other moms and their offspring looked to me with hope in their hungry eyes across the quivering asphalt, and I bellowed with outstretched arms like their pseudo savior, “HOOTERS!”

Much as I had predicted, we had the whole place to ourselves, and lazily munched on wings and fries late into the afternoon. The waitresses seemed more than happy to cater to feminine clientele who don’t giggle nervously and ogle at their ill-fitting shirts, so the service was excellent. While I did have to wipe drool from my 11-year-old son’s chin a time or two, all in all, it was a perfect Mother’s Day.

“Hon, did you hear me?” my husband inquired impatiently.

“Oh, yea,” I said, snapping back to reality. For a fleeting moment, I considered suggesting a replay of that wonderful day in 2007, but I thought better of it when I realized that Mother’s day at Hooters only works when fathers aren’t around.

The taste of chilled scorched eggs and the smell of slimy vase water suddenly seemed appealing when compared with seeing one’s husband stare bug-eyed at a woman half his age while sucking down chicken wings and beer, so I said, “Breakfast in bed and a vase of flowers would be just wonderful.”

Sentimental Sofa

When I met my husband almost 20 years ago, he had a couch. It was his “bachelor couch,” and even though it may have looked cool back in 1990 when he bought it to furnish his bachelor pad, the upholstery pattern on that piece of furniture can only be described as a cross between a Bill Cosby sweater and the wallpaper in a gynecologist’s office.

However, I came into the marriage without a couch, so on our limited budget, I was thankful to have one at all. For the first couple years of marriage, the couch was a useful piece of furniture, despite her crisscrossing shades of teal, gray and mauve, and the outdated honey oak embellishments on the armrests.

Moving with the military every few years, I thought my husband’s bachelor couch would eventually be jettisoned like other outdated items from our past – my black and white TV, his old girlfriend’s wine glasses, the kids’ worn out stuffed animals, my stirrup pants – somehow that old bachelor couch just never went away. Sure, we bought other furniture, but the old bachelor couch stuck around in a spare bedroom, or waited in a storage unit until we could find another use for her.

More than a decade into the marriage, I suggested that we donate my husband’s bachelor couch to charity. “But she is so well built and still has so much use  – we can’t get rid of her!” he replied, incredulously. I never brought it up again, and as I sit here in my office writing this column at my desk, that 22-year-old bachelor couch sits just two feet away, made tolerable with a striped slipcover.

I could feel threatened by the fact that my husband has had a longer relationship with his bachelor couch than with his own wife; in fact, when I am alone in the room with his couch, I sometimes feel her mocking me.  But I have learned that, as much as I dislike her distasteful appearance, my husband’s bachelor couch symbolizes something for him, something with which he is not yet willing to part.

Perhaps, the couch that my husband purchased in his mid-20s reminds him of his youth, his virility, his long-gone full head of hair and former waistline. Or perhaps, she reminds my husband of buddies from his squadron days, who sat upon its sturdy cushions to watch football in unspoken camaraderie.

And as much as I don’t like to think about it, perhaps she reminds my husband of old girlfriends, who were probably tacky, wore too much make up, drank wine coolers and did God-knows-what with him while lying on her garish upholstery.

I guess I can’t blame him for grasping onto bygone virtues. Heck, I have two file boxes out in the garage that contain a useless jumble of high school yearbooks, photos, diaries, artwork, playbills, swimming ribbons, and even the bronze Junior Firefighter Badge I sent away for from a Smokey the Bear advertisement in the back of Highlights magazine. If anyone tried to throw those file boxes away, I’d turn from middle-aged housewife into vicious cage fighter faster than you can say “aggravated assault.”

Why? Because those scraps of crumpled paper and corroding metal symbolize a simple, carefree time. A time when my greatest worry was curling my bangs right or whether my parents were going to let me have the car on Friday night. So, on days when the minutia of my middle-aged life as a housewife and mother of three bogs me down, it’s nice to know that I still have in my possession, in two moldy file boxes in the garage, the hope that life can be simple and carefree again.

So, I will not begrudge my husband his reminder of days gone by, even if his “little memento” has had a longer relationship with him than I have and takes up eight feet of wall space in my office.  Besides, she has provided the rest of the family some consolation by facilitating many an afternoon nap.

The Call That Launched a Thousand Tears

So, I called my husband the other day.

“Hi Hon, so what’s up?” I asked.

Now, before I go any further with this story, I need to set the scene:

My husband, bless his heart, has been at Naval Station Mayport on the sunny Atlantic shores of northFlorida, for almost three months. He went ahead of the rest of our family to start his new job there, and to live in the oceanfront base hotel, with daily maid service.

I, on the other hand, stayed in our stairwell apartment on Patch Barracks in chilly Germany with the kids so they could finish school. Our seemingly fool-proof plan included me arranging and managing our household goods move, the shipment of our dog “Dinghy,” meaningful travel with the kids at spring break, inspection and shipment of our minivan, checking out of military quarters, arranging hotel and airport shuttle, and other tasks associated with moving a family across the world.

As a military spouse, I am used to handling things while my husband is away, so I thought this little three-month separation would not be much different from the rest.

I was wrong.

When I made that fateful phone call to my husband, I had endured a grueling week of shocking school progress reports, driving around base for two hours in search of my teenage son who had failed to turn in his final Biology project, a malfunctioning oven and resulting visit from the grumpy German Fire Department, a broken dryer and resulting shameless display of underclothes hanging on radiators and windowsills, and lots and lots of overwhelming move details. I was out of patience, energy and dignity.

“Well, I rented a movie last night,” my husband responded, “it was no good, but I got another great pizza from Sal’s.”

“Oh, that sounds nice,” I offered weakly, wondering if the kids would be OK eating cereal again for dinner.

“Today, Dinghy and I needed a little change of scenery from our daily beach walks,” he continued, “so we hopped in the car and went to the Riverwalk area for a nice long run and lunch at an outdoor café.”

I had fallen silent, but my husband didn’t notice.

“The folks at the café were so nice and gave Dinghy three bowls of water to drink since it has been so hot and sunny here.”

I stared out my window at the dark clouds that hadn’t lifted in days.

“And after that we headed back here to the homestead for a quick swim and to watch some boob tube. . . .So what’s been going on there?”

I began, slowly at first, to relate the details of my agonizingly stressful week. My rant picked up speed, leading to some crucial information about our move I needed to go over with him.

“Ooo, hey Hon, can I call you back in like five minutes?” he said.

“Uh, sure,” I agreed, believing the delay to be due to some minor urgent matter relating to our dog. Our 110 pound labradoodle was prone to gulping water and then spontaneously vomiting it all back up on a whim. I wondered if that was the problem.

Five minutes later, I answered on the first ring.

“Hey, so what happened? Is Dinghy OK?” I asked.

“Oh, heck yea, he’s fine. I just had to run down to the beach real quick. Right before you called I had come up from the beach to grab another beer. I left my beach chair and book down near the water, and wanted to go grab it before the tide started coming in.”

That was all it took. The floodgates opened and a veritable tsunami sprang from my tear ducts. Within 10 seconds, I was a wailing, blubbering, snotty mess.

Stunned, my husband had nothing much to say, offering only, “Hang in there, Hon, you’re doing a great job.”

My husband and I learned a dual lesson that day. I learned that long-term military separations are so much easier for the spouse to handle when the service person is somewhere icky like on an aircraft carrier floating out in the Pacific, or living in a tent in some God-forsaken dusty hot climate, or at least behind a big metal desk working day and night to support the family.

My husband learned that, next time his wife asks him, “What’s up?” he should definitely respond, “Oh, not much, what’s up with you?”

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