If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always had.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Radio host to (military) spouses: ‘No whining’

Here's the scene: Your husband of three years deployed to a potential war zone two days shy of your first child's three-week birthday. He had 18 hours' notice to pack up, call his family, get a series of shots, and get on a plane. You have no idea how long he'll be gone, or even where he is. You have no way to get in touch with him, save for writing letters and waiting for his phone calls. In the meantime, you have a house, a full-time job, a baby who isn't sleeping through the night, a car that needs a new muffler and brakes, and not enough money to do both at once.

Or how about this one? You've just moved, and he gets the word that he has to go to yet another training class. The good news is that it's only eight weeks! And it's in the States! You know nobody in your new neighborhood, you're not unpacked, and your family is a thousand miles away. Amid the boxes and the forms to get the kids into school, he's packing his duffel bag, and you're trying not to cry because you don't want him to feel guilty.

Then there's the inevitable: it's while he's away that the kids bring home a stomach virus from school, which they eventually pass to you. The washer floods the laundry room, the starter on the car goes, a storm knocks out the power, and your cell phone dies.

According to Dr. Laura, you aren't dodging bullets, and you shouldn't 'whine.'

I agree with a lot of what she has to say. She's pretty darn conservative, and I like that, but she's dead wrong about this one. As far as I can tell, she's never been a military wife, although her son is a paratrooper. She's right that it takes a special breed of person to be a military spouse*. It's hard to be the mom and the dad for months on end, never really getting a break, sometimes not knowing if your spouse is going to come home alive. Eric and I had it easy compared to a lot of folks. We lived all three scenes; the first was the hardest, and we only did it once. I was active duty at the time and faced deployment myself, which was a huge catalyst in my decision to get out at eight years in spite of our precarious financial status. Some families face extended deployments every year.

It's ridiculous to say that the families aren't dodging bullets. The stab of fear every time a car pulls up in the driveway, isn't dodging a bullet? Taking your sick child to the ER alone isn't a bullet? Lying awake at night, wondering if you're going to wake up a widow isn't a bullet? The bullets dodged by the spouses left behind aren't metal. They don't wound the flesh. They don't cause visible scarring, but their damage can be just as crippling. The bullets I dodged made me strong, but if I hadn't dodged them, things could have been very different. Fear could have caused me to take my kids and leave Eric and the military. I could easily have taken the path of least resistance and become a victim.

I wasn't strong when I married Eric. I had no earthly idea what I was getting into. My saving grace was my stubbornness, and that has to be one of the character traits of every military spouse I've met. We may cry when the going gets tough, but we keep going because our husband's friends said our marriage would never last, and we're not proving those jerks right. The broken down car and the sick kids aren't going to beat us; we only have to last one minute longer than they do. It's the deployments and the broken washers and the stomach bugs that make us strong. It's our friends and families who call to check up on us and get an unexpected earful that keep us going. It's our sisters-in-arms who know when to make us laugh that make it bearable.

To all of you military spouses out there, keep the faith. Lean on your friends and neighbors, and take us up on our offer to watch the kids for an afternoon so you can go to a movie. There is life after the military, and everything you're going through now will be worthwhile in the end. You're going to come out of this stronger, savvier, and more resourceful than you ever dreamed.

*When I was a young military wife, we were almost all wives. We were a little shocked the first time a man came to an Enlisted Wives Club meeting; the name quickly changed to Enlisted Spouses Club! Today there are a lot more military husbands, and although I can't say for sure, I think they have it harder than us girls. Our society puts the role of breadwinner squarely on husbands, but career choices for military spouses are limited when families move every two or three years. The next time you see a man in a minivan with DOD stickers and little ones in car seats in the middle of the day, shoot a special arrow prayer for them. It's true that he might be active duty and taking a day off work, but he might also be the one left behind and worried about his wife.



Blogger Beth said...

Yep, been there, doing that. We also have been pretty fortunate because Danny hasn't had to pull too many separations. We have done the year "deployment", but he didn't have to go to a danger zone. All in all we have been really blessed with our A.F. career. Danny has 20 yrs. in in Aug!

2:46 PM  

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