Tag Archives: military spouses

The Hidden “I” in Team

 

At regular intervals throughout his 26-year military career, my husband has been promoted to the next rank. Each time this happens, there is a little ceremony, during which my husband gives a brief speech. After two decades of being married to a Navy man, I have that speech pretty much memorized.

“Captain So-and-so, thank you for the wonderful introduction. Also, kudos go out to Petty Officer Whatsisface for the lovely decor and delicious cake. *clears throat* When I joined the Navy [#] years ago, I never imagined making [current rank]. I merely aspired to learn, to travel the world, and to serve my country. But I stayed in the Navy because, simply put, I love my job. And the reason I love my job is because of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work for and with. [Names various people in the command, to include Admiral Whooziewhat, seated nearby.] But there is someone else here that I need to recognize. Someone, without whom, I would not be standing before you all here today. Someone who has been my teammate for [#] years — my wonderful wife, Lisa.”

Women swoon, men wink, cameras flash, I blow my husband a kiss, and he smiles in return. And every time, at that moment, I actually believe it’s true.

Soon after, I find myself alone, changing the wiper blades, taking the dog to the vet, paying the exterminator bill, and ordering our son to shave. My teammate is not around, because he is halfway across the globe. It’s not his fault; he’s working to support our family.

But, when I become the sole manager of our family, I am often frazzled, overwhelmed, and unshowered, walking around with my arms held up like a crazed zombie in search of Sauvignon Blanc. My personality waffles between deranged inmate, vicious dictator, catatonic robot and hormonal sobbing mess, while I try my best to handle our chaotic home life on my own. This doesn’t feel like teamwork, but more like some bizarre form of solitary confinement.

My husband just left for Italy. He’ll be gone for a only a week, then back for a week, then gone again to Alabama for a week, then home another week before he’s off again to Texas for another week. These little work trips are minor annoyances when compared to the long deployments other military folks are enduring, and besides, managing the home front alone gets easier the older you get, right?

Uh, not so much.

Like an old umbrella stroller with a wobbly wheel, an old shirt with a loose button, an old desktop computer with too many image files, an old blender that gives off a burning smell every time you try to make a frozen margarita — I used to work really well, but the older I get, the more likely it is that I’m gonna blow.

The kids tiptoe around the house, hoping that I’ll wipe the smudged mascara away from my eyes before I take them to school, and wondering whether I’ll force them to eat cheese and crackers again for dinner. The dog senses tension, and follows me around the house, licking my pant legs. But with the distraction of the DVR, therapeutic happy hours with the neighbors, and a secret can of Pringles stashed in the laundry room, I know I will cope until my husband gets home.

I must admit, I have come to enjoy certain aspects of my temporary solitude — total control of the TV clicker, sleep uninterrupted by snoring, cheese and cracker dinners. And he, too, relishes his “me time” while on travel — total control of the TV clicker, sleep uninterrupted by his wife telling him to stop snoring, restaurant dinners.

Despite the suitcase full of dirty laundry and the generous gift of hotel mini-soaps he deposits with me upon returning home, we are undoubtedly happiest when we are together. But as a military family, we must often work separately toward our common goals. As sports writer Amber Harding once said, “… there most certainly is an ‘I’ in ‘team.’ It is the same ‘I’ that appears three times in ‘responsibility.’”

From soup to nuts, and back again

 

20131113_174218No sooner did I drop my husband off at the airport, than I felt the tickle at the back of my throat.

He was off on a Navy trip to Bahrain for a couple of weeks, leaving me in charge of the house, the bills, the kids, the dog, the trash, the leaves, our son’s college applications, our daughter’s inevitable fashion crises, and my own mental and physical well-being. So, this was the last thing I needed.

By the time I got home from the airport, the tickle had upgraded to a full-blown head cold. One of those throat-itching, eye-watering, lung-wheezing, phlegm-thickening, mucus-dripping, sinus-filling afflictions; that compels you to guzzle cold medicine and bury yourself under the covers, because you’re going to be totally useless.

But being useless was not an option. Before the three-o-clock middle school pick up, I had to walk the dog, have a mammogram, shop for groceries, iron my son’s dress shirts, start my column, return a few emails, walk the dog again, get something out for dinner, and try to take a shower and look human.

Head cold or no head cold, I had to be firing on all pistons.

I decided to make one minor adjustment to my jam-packed schedule that might ease the pain of functioning while sick: I’d take five minutes and throw some chicken soup on the stove before heading out to my 9:30 am mammogram appointment.

In a flash, I had onions and carrots chopped and sautéing in a pan, alongside my old Revereware soup pot which was simmering with chicken and spices. Next, I plopped four ribs of celery on the cutting board and began slicing.

I was coming to the end of the bunch when, shshshwing! There it was – the very tip of my thumb laying neatly on the edge of the cutting board.

The next few seconds were a slow-motion controlled panic. I watched my uncut hand reach for the severed cap of flesh and place it back on the tip of my thumb, albeit crooked, and unravel multiple sheets of paper towels to wrap my bleeding appendage. I flicked the stove off, grabbed my purse, and jumped into my minivan, mumbling to myself, “it’s gonna be fine, it’s gonna be fine, it’s gonna be fine.”

“Hi, I’m here for a mammogram [nervous laughter] … you’re never going to believe this [nervous laughter] … I just cut the tip of my thumb clean off,” I jabbered to the lady behind the base clinic check in desk. Despite a convincing look of utter apathy, the woman directed me to a nurse who preliminarily wrapped my thumb and told me the doctor would take a look right after my mammogram.

As the adage goes, you learn something new every day, and on this particular day, I learned that it’s nearly impossible to unhook your own bra strap with one hand. Somehow, I was able to get the task done like some kind of awkward high school boy on prom night, just before the technician came in to squash my bits and pieces between two glass plates. After several painfully humiliating images were procured, I was free to dress and head back across the clinic to see about my bleeding thumb.

With only one of the three hooks of my bra strap precariously fastened, I waited for the nurse, then the doctor, then the nurse again, then the doctor again, before my thumb was finally treated, and I was released to go wait all over again for a tetanus shot at immunizations and for medication in the pharmacy.

Four hours after entering the clinic doors, I left with a bandaid on my arm, wilted mammories, a thumb that looked more like a chicken drumstick, and a completely neglected To Do list.

Despite the chaos, I felt compelled to finish my chicken soup, needing it now more than ever. At dinnertime, I ladled the hot soothing elixir into bowls, careful not to slosh any broth onto my bandages, and placed them on the table with a box of oyster crackers. The kids and I sat in silence, inhaling the salty steam, blowing gently on spoonfuls.

“I can’t believe you made this soup with all that craziness going on today, Mom,” my middle schooler said with a compassionate slurp. “Mmmm,” she mumbled with her mouth full, “it’s still really good, Mom.”

Yes, it certainly is.

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 Bottom Drawer

Forgotten, but not lost.

Forgotten, but not lost.

Ironically, there are benefits to moving so often as a military family. Every few years, we’re forced to go through all the used markers, pillowcases, snow boots, kitchen utensils, Barbies, tae kwan do trophies, tax records, and saucepans, and throw a bunch of stuff out.

As a person who attaches sentimental value to everything from seashells and matchbooks to stained bibs and hospital bracelets, this can be stressful. But the sands of time grind away my sentimentality, and eventually, I end up chucking out mementos that I formerly believed to be too precious to part with.

As we prepare for our next military move to Rhode Island, I’m reconsidering items I thought were useful or nostalgic enough to haul around for so many years. For example, Aunt Millie’s (may she rest in peace) old end tables, with the cigarette burns I thought I’d buff out one day, were relegated to the donate pile. Although I kept one file of my kids’ artwork, anything with cracked macaroni or yellowing glue was photographed and discarded. Similarly, clothing that has not been worn in the last five years – except for my college duck boots which I hear are coming back into style — has been delivered to Goodwill.

Some collections, however, get pared down with each tour, but are never completely discarded regardless of their current usefulness. For example, I’ve been adding to several tubs of old t-shirts for years, because someday, I WILL make each of my kids a t-shirt quilt before they go off to college. And, I have at least four boxes of old toys and books that WILL seed the fantastic playroom I envision for my future grandchildren. I WILL use that stuff someday, I swear.

And then there’s the stuff I recently whittled down to one bottom file drawer. It contains documents that not only took years of hard work to assemble, but cost me over $90,000 to acquire. When my husband and I first married in 1993, this collection was huge and took up at least a dozen boxes. But with every tour, the contents aged, became obsolete, and were thrown away.

Other than a few musty books which reside on our shelf just for show, the bottom file drawer now contains the only tangible evidence of my career as a litigation attorney.

The hanging folders in the bottom drawer have tabs inscribed with titles such as “Resumes,” “Transcripts,” “Licensing,” and “Writing Samples.” Even though none of these documents have been referenced since I quit working in the 1990s to raise our kids, I keep them all neatly filed in case I need them to land that six-figure partnership offer in a high-powered litigation firm one day.

Although I won’t readily admit it, I know down deep inside that these old documents, now yellowed and stained with spots of rust from ancient paper clips and staples, will never realistically serve to supplement any future application for my employment. But I can’t bring myself to throw them away, just in case.

Besides, the file drawers above contain my children’s birth certificates, report cards, physical forms, the deed to our first house, mortgage documents, college savings statements, the dog’s shot records, orthodontist’s bills, car insurance policies, passports, tax forms, orders and other essential documents memorializing 20 years of life as a military family.

Like my college duck boots, the tub of t-shirts, and those old toys, my legal career will stay packed away a while longer. I WILL get to them eventually. In the meantime, I’ve got other, more important things to do.

 

Culture or Torture? Lessons learned while traveling with kids

My column in the April issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

My column in the April issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

April is the month of Spring Break, and Spring Break is a time for travel!

The possibilities are endless: a Caribbean cruise, camping in the mountains, sight-seeing in Rome, hiking the Appalachian Trail, a B&B in the French countryside. Simple, adventurous or extravagant, a change of scenery takes you from the late winter doldrums into an invigorated spring.

But wait. Hold up. Just a sec . . . What about the kids?

Unless you have a team of well-paid nannies who will keep the kids entertained at home all week (not likely on a military budget) then the kids are coming along. And the presence of children during travel tends to change things a bit …. Ahem, that’s the understatement of the century.

Instead of leisurely lunching on brie and wine at a Parisian street café, you’ll find yourself at nibbling nuggets at the McDonalds on the Champs d’Elysie. Rather than braving class 4 rapids on Pennsylvania’s Ohio Pyle Gorge, you’ll be splashing the sticky cotton candy off your face on the log jam at Wally World. Forget about scheduling your couples massage at the spa, because you’ll be wading in a suspiciously cloudy kiddie pool at a motel off the interstate, asking yourself how this could be happening. Again.

BEEN THERE, ENDURED THAT

Take it from me, I know. While stationed in Germany, I planned family trips to Ireland, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, France, England and Scotland during our three-year tour. I wanted to jam-pack our time overseas with cultural and educational experiences that our kids would appreciate for the rest of their lives.

Problem was, I forgot. They’re kids.

Oh, yea. Bummer.

I soon learned that kids — my kids, at least, and very possibly yours — don’t want to wait two hours for traditional indigenous foods at an authentic local restaurant. They could care less about mountain scenery or sylvan country settings. And they absolutely hate lingering in art and history museums.

We discovered the hard way that, unless we were planning a trip to the Threshold of Hell, we’d better figure out how to keep the kids happy. First, we learned the Cardinal Rule of Travelling with the Kids:

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Sure, you want to think positive. I’m all for that. But don’t envision life-changing authentic ambiance, edifying cultural experience, thrilling adventure, romantic interludes and indulgent relaxation. Family trips have the potential to turn out to be as relaxing and cultural as chaperoning a fifth grade field trip to Bowl-O-Rama. With that mindset, you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised.

Now, in order to avoid the brink of insanity while traveling with the kids, I’ll share some strategies we learned.

#1 Oh my gosh, gross!

My kids are so cultured, they have thrown up in six states and seven foreign countries. Nothing kills ambiance like the lingering scent of upchuck on your shoes, so keep gallon zip-lock bags and wet wipes in your purse at all times.

#2 Take appropriate steps, literally.

Bell towers, monuments, castles, forts and tall buildings are great places to run the “squirrelly” out of kids. Beware that you may need a portable defibrillator for yourself, but a coronary event may be worth it if it means your kids will be so tired that they’ll sit through dinner peacefully tonight.

#3 Kiddie comfort food.

Pommes fritz, furai, chips, papas fritas – whatever you call ‘em, don’t even think about sitting down at a restaurant that doesn’t have French fries on the menu.

#4 Space out.

No, I’m not suggesting that you take sedatives while traveling with the kids, but find wide open spaces where you and hubby can soak up local ambiance while the rugrats spread their grubby little wings and fly. You can nibble local cheese and bread while they scare pigeons in the piazza, or chase bumble bees in an alpine meadow, or roll in the grass at a city park.

#5 Wet them down while you wet your whistle.

When deciding where to stop for a glass of wine, look for a nearby fountain, stream, lake, pond, or tropical fish tank. If they can splash, throw rocks, feed ducks or tap on the glass, you have a decent chance of sipping your wine in peace.

#6 Capture the memories.

Be sure to take lots of photos, because no matter how torturous family vacations may seem, someday you’ll look back and wish you could do it all over again. 

Pick up a copy today!

Pick up a copy today!

I can’t wait to move!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

Well, first, there’s the heat. The year-round, thick, hot, humid, gnat-infested, sweat producing, Florida heat. The lousy palm trees certainly don’t do much to shade us from the relentless sun around here – I swear, it shines about 300 days a year! I don’t know how the locals can take it.      

And then there’s the sand. Not just any sand, but that fine, sugary Florida sand that you don’t feel until you’re back from the beach and you find out it’s all over your house. It’s a real hassle, I tell ya.

Of course, we can’t forget the local culture, and all its slow cooked “southern charm.” I swear, if another person opens a door for me or calls me “ma’am,” I’m gonna lose it! I’m sick and tired of sweet tea, cornbread, barbecue, fried chicken, coconut shrimp and tropical drinks!

Thank goodness, we got orders out of this place! Good riddance!

Part and parcel of the military experience is The Military Move. Every few years, we are forced to “pull chocks” – say good-bye to what has become familiar and settle in a new place. It’s tough, and sometimes we develop subconscious strategies to help us cope with the stress.

We settle our families into every duty station – be it Kentucky, California, Alaska, Arizona, Italy, Japan, or Florida. Even if it’s difficult at first, we eventually find our groove. The kids make friends, we get jobs, we find a pizza place and join bunco groups. As time passes, we incorporate local foods into our meals, we adopt local customs, we use local lingo such as “Yes Ma’am,” “You betcha,” “Prego,” and “Aloha.”

And just as we begin to embrace our new lifestyle, we get orders to someplace else. It never fails.

However, military spouses won’t allow themselves to wallow in self pity for long. After shedding a few tears – usually over a little wine and copious amounts of chocolate, or vice versa – we pick ourselves up and simply start seeing things differently. Our new orders may dictate that we must move from Paradise to Poughkeepsi, but somehow, we convince ourselves that we need a fresh start.

As for me, our new orders say that we have to move from the secluded southern beaches of Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and settle in the chilly north, at the Naval War College, Rhode Island. In the coming months before we pull chocks, I’m sure I will shamelessly blubber and hug my Mayport friends at a neighborhood fire pit. I will most likely feel no guilt as I gorge myself one last time on southern fried chicken and biscuits. And I’m pretty sure I will get misty when I take one last shell walk on what has become “my beach.”

However, to ease the pain, my subconscious mind will say, “This duty station is the threshold of hell, and the new one will be WAY better. Seriously.”

So, I can’t wait to move to Newport. The quaint little towns. The ocean-splashed cliffs. The lobster. The quirky New Englanders with their funny accents and old-school mentalities. The Technicolor falls and the frosty white winters.

I’m 100 percent certain. There’s not a doubt in my mind. No question about it: our new duty station will be WAY better than this one . . . [gulp, sniff] . . . Seriously.

Try these tips to ease the pain of constant change

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

My gravy’s better than your gravy

My column in the November issue of Military Spouse magazine!

We do it every year. We cut out recipes. We make lists. We go to the commissary. We elbow each other out of the way to grab turkeys, cranberries, yams, and mini-marshmallows. We jam enough food into our pantries to feed an Army, or Navy as it were.

Why? Because it’s the holidays, of course!

When our guests politely ask, “What can we bring?” we are faced with an interesting dilemma. On one hand, our brains are about to explode over all the details of hosting, so contributions would be nice. But on the other hand, we have envisioned holiday meals using our own family traditions, and what if our guests bring dishes that are weird and unfamiliar?

I experienced this phenomenon seventeen years ago, when we were stationed at Fort Ord, California. Unable to fly back east to spend the holiday with our relatives, we accepted an invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner at another family’s house on base.

“What can I bring?” I asked the other wife. “Uh, well, um….” she stuttered nervously, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

I fancied myself a pretty darned good cook back in those days (before kids turned my brain to mush and our staple food into mac-n-cheese, mind you) and was looking forward to contributing to the meal. “What? But, but, you’ve got to let me bring something,” I exclaimed. “Well, alright then, how ‘bout you bring frozen corn.”

Frozen corn? Are you kidding me? She wasn’t.

Over the next few days, I hounded the other spouse, offering my Sausage Apple Pecan Cornbread Dressing, my Guiness Gravy, my Swiss Onion Bread, my Waldorf Salad. She resisted, but finally agreed to let me bring a lousy pumpkin pie and a tub of Cool Whip.

I swallowed my disappointment that Thanksgiving — along with her bland stuffing and starchy gravy – and resolved to make what I wanted from then on.

However, year after year, the same dilemma kept cropping up, and I realized something. Whether a military spouse is the host or the guest, military spouses don’t like to give up their holiday traditions.

So, unless we want to spend holiday meals alone, we’d better learn to compromise.

If you are a guest, don’t turn your nose up at your hostess’ jellied cranberry sauce because you only make it from scratch. Don’t judge your host if he doesn’t brine the bird, and then make passive aggressive comments like, “Could you pass the canned gravy? I think I’ve got some meat stuck in my throat.” Don’t be bitter that you weren’t able to show off your Pecan Cheesecake with the Gingersnap Crust. Just eat whatever they serve you and shut your pumpkin pie hole.

If you are hosting, let your guests bring their Tex Mex corn dish even if it might clash with your Ambrosia. Who cares if your friend has a different take on sweet potatoes – surely, no one has ever died from not eating marshmallows. You can give up your stinking Parker House rolls just this once, and let them bring their Gammie’s Poppy Seed Loaf if it makes them feel at home. You’ll survive.

Besides, this is the time of year that we’re supposed to think about all the things we’re thankful for, and isn’t that being able to celebrate the holidays with our family and friends? NOT the Green Bean Casserole, for Pete’s sake.

Think of it this way: good friends and family are the meat and potatoes of life. The food? Well, no matter whether it’s canned, powdered, or slow cooked from the drippings, it’s just the gravy.

I give and give, but what do I get?

Click on this photo to see a larger version of my column in the October issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

I’m going out on a limb here and say that the majority of you have a bottle of mustard, a can of cooking spray, a stick of butter, or some other food item in your kitchen that you did not purchase. No need to bother with FBI profiling, exhaustive research or statistical analysis. We all know it’s true.

You did not pay for that jar of Spanish olives or that bag of frozen meatballs, did you? Now don’t get your cammo undies in a bunch here, I’m not accusing you of being a thief. To the contrary, I’m merely pointing out what’s unique about us military spouses.

Unlike most in the civilian world, we military spouses are accustomed to people coming and going in our lives. Deployments, PCSes, and frequent change are part and parcel of our military lifestyles.

And every time your neighbor or best friend PCSes, she bestows to you memories of afternoons chatting on the patio during deployments, of the times she took care of your dog when you visited your parents, of the night you brought her wine and Dove Bars because she was crying over her husband’s new orders.

Finally, she bequeathed something that will last for months to come: that bottle of cocktail sauce she had in the pantry.

You really don’t need her half-used tub of margarine, but after all the support and friendship you gave each other, this was her final act of friendship. She gave these things to you because that’s what we do in the military. We support each other because we share a common experience and understanding.

So, every time you see that bottle of French dressing on your refrigerator door that no one in your family likes, you will remember that being a military spouse is about giving.

Give strength, community, camaraderie, and that is exactly what you will get back. Well, that, and a half bottle of ketchup.

Sure, the monthly potluck dinners can be a real bore. Yes, watching your friend’s kids while she goes to her prenatal appointments can be a real pain. No doubt, getting another phone call from a worried squadron wife right in the middle of the Survivor finale can be really annoying.

But think of it like this – The bottle of balsamic vinegar your fellow military spouse left you only cost about $3.75. The gas you spent dropping her family off at the airport set you back at least $7.50. However, the common understanding and support she offered you when you were in need was priceless.

Give and you shall receive.

Read the PDF version here: October Column.

Mamma’s Boy-Man

“Are you sure you’re gonna be alright?”

“Yeeess, Mom. How many times do I have to tell you, I’ll be fine,” my teenage son replied while impatiently leading me out the front door of our house.

“OK, OK, but don’t forget to feed Dinghy . . .” I said, stepping over the threshold.

“Yes, I got it. Morning and night.”

“ . . . and walk him . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, four times a day,” he interrupted.

“Two . . .”

“Two short and two long. I got it!” He snapped and nudged me onto the porch.

“Please eat some fruit with breakfast tomorrow, and don’t sleep in too late.”

“Mom — Dad and the girls are waiting for you in the car.”

“And when you shower, don’t forget to use a little extra soap on your . . .”

“MOM! GO!” my son barked, giving me one last shove off. I managed a hasty smooch, then headed for the car with my overnight bag.

As my husband pulled away, I honked the horn, waved wildly out the window, and yelled, “We’ll call you!” My son’s bulky figure diminished in the distance, and I sat back and closed my eyes.

My mind raced. We’d never left him overnight before, and even though he’s seventeen, I just couldn’t stop thinking of what might go wrong.

“He always leaves things on the stairs — what if he trips and falls? Or, what if he tries to cook a pizza and sets the house on fire? What if he stays up all night playing video games, then he’ll be too tired tomorrow to get his homework done? Worse yet, what if he figures out how to order porn on TV? Oh Lord . . . we need to turn around and go back,” I thought.

The landscape out my window was turning from swampy coastal scruff, to woodsy wetlands. I stared into the tangled vegetation rushing by, took a deep breath, and tried to calm my nerves. I made a mental note to call home every couple hours, and, somewhere along the way to Tallahassee, I dozed off.

“You have arrived at your destination,” our GPS announced with her assigned British accent, and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

Ever since I met her at a swim team meeting in 9th grade, Patti and I had been best friends. Throughout high school, we were inseparable, and stayed in touch after graduation, even when my Navy life took us far away. Patti, her husband, and their two kids had just moved from Pittsburgh to Tallahassee, and we were excited to catch up after so many years of living far apart.

When you know people for that long, inhibitions tend to melt away. By eight-o-clock, we were acting like total idiots. Our kids looked on somewhat frightened, as we cranked 80s tunes and relived our youth. My husband channeled Modern English on a play drum set, and my best friend’s husband did a mean Roger Rabbit. The kids beat us in a merciless round of Right-Left-Center, and Patti and I cracked up over old photographs from high school. After midnight, we were racing across the pool in what we dubbed “The Noodle Olympics.”

Needless to say, we had a blast.

The next morning, we lazily sipped coffee and giggled about the events of the previous night. After lunch, we hugged, said our good-byes and piled back in the car.

About a mile out of Tallahassee, my cell phone rang, and I searched the bottom of my purse where it was buried.

“Hello?”

“Mamma, where are you guys?” my son asked with urgency.

“Well, we’re just heading out of Tallahassee – why, what happened?”

“You said you were going to call, but you never did. How long is it going to take you to get here? Can’t you hurry up?”

In that moment, I felt a burning sensation in my heart. I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing the twinge of separation from my almost-grown son, the guilt of having briefly forgotten he existed, or acid indigestion from the French Cruller I’d dunked in my morning coffee.

“Don’t worry, Honey, we’ll be there soon enough . . . And besides,” I said with a painful swallow, “You’ll be just fine without me.”

Feel free to soil yourself

When the kids were little, I used to be good at things. I was organized, talented, nurturing, patient, creative, hard-working, energetic, and my bust stuck out farther than my gut. I was a good Navy wife, homeroom mom, team mom, committee chair, and block captain. I gardened, made healthy meals, kept my checkbook balanced, exercised regularly, scrapbooked, sewed, and was generally a damned good housewife.

But after 10 or so years of that, I started getting kinda tired. Not only was my energy level diminishing with each passing year, but my enthusiasm for the mundane everyday details of homemaking was taking a major dive. Making the kids’ Halloween costumes just didn’t thrill me anymore. The lemony smell of a disinfected bathroom had lost it’s luster. I bought a box of Hamburger Helper for the first time in my life, and felt not a twinge of guilt.

To make matters worse, my once lovey-dovey cuddle bug kids were no longer running out of school with their arms open wide yelling, “Hi Mom!” No, they were getting older and had effectively demoted me from “Center of The Universe” to “That Lady Who Feeds Us.”

I found myself seeking out activities that gave me a feeling of self-worth. I leafed through an old High School Physics text book I found in my in laws’ basement, and became hell bent on reading Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Brian Greene. But I soon realized that no one at Bunco or Book Club was interested in chatting about String Theory and Quantum Physics.

I tried to fulfill a life-long dream by signing up for sailing lessons at the base marina. However, I almost drowned when I took a Lazer out during a small craft advisory, capsized, and nearly ran the boat onto the rocks.

Finally, while my husband was on a year-long deployment, I tried my hand at writing funny essays. I entered a “Guest Columnist Competition” through the Virginian Pilot newspaper, and although my entries made the semi-finals, I didn’t make the final cut. Despite an editor’s critique which will be burned into my brain for all time (“too sociological and a bit preachy”), I found the process of writing columns strangely rewarding.

My husband returned from deployment, and while we should’ve been getting to know each other again, we were packing up and moving overseas. After settling in to our new life in Germany, I sent one of my columns out to a few newspapers just to see what might happen, and don’tcha know it, The Washington Post published it. Yup, outta the blue. Pretty cool…. but now what?

I started this blog and began submitting my columns to newspapers and magazines, in hopes that I might actually become a legitimate columnist. It seemed that, the more driven I became, the more bad news I learned about the industry. “Newspapers are dying, magazines aren’t taking humor submissions, no one will pay you, the industry is saturated with bloggers, you need to know HTML, social media, and SEO or you will never amount to anything.”  All signs were indicating, “Turn around, go back, save yourself.”  I soon had enough rejection letters to wallpaper the bathroom, but I kept at it.

Why?

No, it’s not the “love of writing.” I once heard a true story about a syndicated humor columnist who was in a bar having drinks with his agent. He was approached by a prostitute who said she would do anything for $100. The columnist took a $100 bill out of his wallet, held it up and shouted, “Thank you, Sweet Jesus!” He then turned to the prostitute and said, “Now, go write my Sunday column.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

What keeps me going is not the writing itself, but the effect my writing has on others. I just write sappy little humor columns, so it’s not like I’m changing the world here, but if I make someone laugh, it absolutely makes my day.

Some of my best reader comments have been things like, “I TOTALLY relate!”, “LOL!”, “Snorted coffee out of my nose!” and “Just peed a little!” So I guess you could say that I write to make other bored housewives laugh at themselves, wax nostalgic, and lose control of all bodily functions. Perhaps the readers’ reactions serve as a replacement for the genuine appreciation I used to get from my kids …. or perhaps I just think it’s funny that you sprayed Diet Coke all over your keyboard. Either way, I’ll keep writing as long as you keep laughing.

If my columns ever made you soil yourself, please vote for The Meat and Potatoes of Life as Top Military Mom Blog on CircleofMoms.com.  Just click the pretty pink circle below.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,720 other followers

%d bloggers like this: