I am not a dependent
This issue has been weighing on my mind since before I even became a military wife, back when I was "just" a girlfriend... a particular breed not even recognized by the group of women you are seemingly forced into bonding with once you become an "official" member of the inner circle that is wifedom.
I grew up never knowing what military life looked like. I remember the first time I stepped foot onto Pearl Harbor. It reminded me of The Truman Show...a world within a world with their own restaurants, houses, and gas stations. In my naive little mind, everyone in the military lived in tents on dusty barracks like they did in all those war movies I used to watch during 10th grade history class. Joe was the first person I met that was affiliated with present day military life and I got schooled quickly by some of the ladies attached to his command... I remember so vividly hating every word I heard.
In this world, there are rules. People we can hang out with, people we can't...things we can say, and things we can't...expectations and limits and functions and ceremonies and a whole host of acronyms I couldn't even begin to define.
This lifestyle...the uniforms, the balls, the homecomings...it seems so romantic at first. You get to dress up, marry the guy who has the bad ass job, and you get a card...a card that gives you access to all the things. In some ways this life is awesome, and it is certainly adventure. I've seen more of the world since becoming a military wife than I had in the previous 26 years of my life combined.
But then you get pregnant and life as a military wife truly starts to sinks in. You start to realize your "role" and all the things you have had to give up and compromise...the job you left, the years of college tuition you'll never get back...the constant battle of defining yourself beyond the words "mom" and "military wife". Is Julie even in there any more? I'm still trying to find her...
The word military wife...what is that even? You know at a Christmas party once, I introduced myself and the fellow spouse said, "Can you just tell me what your husband does, because I will never remember everyones name". Lord Jesus give me the strength not to punch this woman square in the face.
We have completely redefined what it means to be a woman in just about every other aspect here in the United States, but the military spouse is one left untouched. In this world, it's best if we just play June Cleaver, putting on our Sunday best whilst tending to the needs of the family and bless his soul, the hard working husband.
I know what everyone says..."you knew what you were signing up for."
To that, I call bullshit.
I did not know what I was getting myself into and even if I did, what was I supposed to do? You fall in love with someone and you'll move heaven and earth for that person. I've been married to a sailor for five years now and even knowing all that I know now, I'd still choose him and this dreadfully outdated lifestyle of ours.
I assume it must have been easier back then. In the 50's all the wives stayed home. No one had jobs or hobbies or a college education, but today...today is so different. Today the women of the world are kicking ass. They are CEO's and trailblazers, and inventors, and thought leaders. The women of today live incredibly full lives yet so many of us are just here in this tiny bubble of ours with our aprons and yoga pants and red eyes from the months of raising babies alone while the husbands are out protecting this great country of ours. THEY are heroes. We on the other hand...we are "dependents". God I hate that word.
I chose the man, but I didn't realize that choosing the man and relinquishing your dreams and independence as a woman were one and the same. I didn't realize that at 17, as a graduating senior, I had to have the foresight to know that I was supposed to pick a career that could transcend the boundaries of state and could withstand a cross country move every two to three years. With a career in non-profit well versed in Pennsylvania regulations of the developmentally disabled community, I chose wrong. My first job as a military wife...I took a 20 thousand dollar pay cut and climbed several steps DOWN on the ole corporate ladder. Our next move, I worked at a home daycare just 20 hours a week getting paid under the table a wage the equated that of my first high school job.
The men and women serving our great county make these amazing sacrifices, but the thing is people, we too make incredible sacrifices just the same yet no one but the other men and women who stand in our shoes know what life here is like. Not even our family members. Why is that? Why don't people see us?
When I was going through severe postpartum depression raising two babies under two years old, alone with a husband out to sea, I had no where to turn. Family was six hours away and as a new wife in yet another new state, I knew no-one but the few women I had met briefly at our welcome party. That was my "village". I was struggling and the only communication I had was brief e-mails to my husband every three or four days, who was God knows where in the world. E-mails that were filled with desperation and dread...e-mails that got flagged for what was written in them and the only life line I received was from a more senior wife who had caught wind of said emails and texted to see if everything was OK. "Of course!", I said utterly embarrassed and unwilling to open up to this woman who I had just met a few weeks ago.
At one point in time, I even reached out to Military One Source to get paired with a counselor. We got eight free sessions through this service. I was out of options without a babysitter or family, and desperate for someone to help me through the darkness. I embarrassingly made the call.
The counselor stood me up three times. Three times I was left alone in a waiting room or by the phone during the girls afternoon nap. When it happened the third time, I asked her, "What is going on?" She informed me that paying clients took priority over the cases she received through Military One Source. Frustrated and shocked, I hung up...alone yet again to battle life as a suffering mom. I felt so isolated and so invisible. I missed the old me. I missed my old friends, my old job, and my old life. Motherhood was isolating in and of itself, but tack on military life and it became almost unbearable for me.
I remember those days looking in the mirror staring into the eyes of this unrecognizable human being reflected back at me. Who was she? What did she do for fun? What are her passions and dreams? What are her opinions and thoughts?
We all entered into this world without thought or education on what it means to walk in the shoes of a military spouse. Unlike our men, we didn't sit through years of training and we didn't take an oath. We just fell in love.
We sit at home expected to just "be" without question, recognition, or support. We move and we adapt and we chug along through life knowing that our country comes before our families and we accept the challenge and make the sacrifice and continue to walk alone seemingly unnoticed. We parent alone, we celebrate birthdays and Christmas alone, we hire the property managers, and take the cars to get serviced. We cry alone at nights, lonely and missing our husbands, our partners. We befriend news anchors on the television because some days that will be the only adult voice we hear. We cart the kids to and from activities and baseball games and swimming lessons and play dates. We make sure tuition is paid and that they have cupcakes on their birthday for their class. We find doctors and dentists every single time we move and we take them for their annual check ups and we sit in ERs when they are screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. We endure our own sickness alone without a moment of rest. We make friends with complete strangers, and pray that someone at the preschool drop off says hello and invites us for coffee. We grocery shop and cook dinners and pack lunches for two, three, four children and we pack and unpack our entire lives when the government says go. We house hunt alone and we vet babysitters and schools that will look after our kiddos while we gasp for some air. We live in yoga pants and pajama pants and baseball caps, and we diligently wait by the phone hoping to hear from our spouses for a brief moment while they are away. We mow lawns and take out trash. We read books and play games and we play the role of mom and dad when they are away. We kiss skinned knees and we comfort sad hearts. We help with homework and we referee fights with siblings. We are on all. the. time. It's relentless. We are strong and we are resilient, but we are also human beings with needs. We too want a mission and a purpose. We want to be seen and heard and recognized. We want a voice and an opinion and we want a life outside of wife and mom.
Yes, we have FRG meetings, and we throw baby showers for people we barely know because we are a "family"...we even get together to learn how to bake pizza, and take paint classes...but the actual support and recognition we all need and deserve falls by the wayside. There are so many FRG groups being dismantled because of lack of participation. They are in desperate need of an overhaul.
We are trapped in a life that resembles the 1950's housewife. It may have been OK back then, but I want more for my life. I want to evolve.
I am tired of being a "dependent". I am a lot of things but nothing about the word "dependent", defines me. I want more opportunity...more recognition for my fellow spouses, and more support than what an Ombudsman or our MWR currently offer. I want accessible services that won't take thirty phone calls and insider to find. I want a village of women who I can share my life with without having to talk to a bunch of women who's husband works with mine. I want my own life. I want to share my heart freely without fear of being seen as "weak". I don't want to push my feelings down so that I can keep up the facade of the doting officers wife. I just want to be able to love the man I do without a vow of service to an apron and rogue goldfish. I want to be someone. I want to be whole.
I love my husband and I am so proud of the man he is today, and I will continue to support him and the love and dedication he has for his job and his country, but let's get one thing clear...he doesn't get to have it all without me. He doesn't succeed and show up ready for duty if things at home aren't taken care of. I handle the homefront just like my other spouses do and that allows our men and women the mental space to handle whatever the country and their command throws at them. They get to have it all because of us...because of the sacrifice we make.
It's time to redefine what it means to be a military spouse and it is time to redefine our role back at home. It's time for change, it's time for support, and it is time for us to embrace what it means to be a women in 2018.