5 Things the Navy Taught Me About Being a MilSpouse

Brad Crooks Photography

Brad Crooks Photography

This post was originally posted on Spousebuzz:

Happy Birthday, Navy. I fondly remember the first time you and I were formally introduced. I was in a bar, in Tallahassee, Florida where I ran into a high school classmate of mine from Denver, who had gone on to become a naval aviator. I instantly fell for him, and you. Your traditions, your strength and your breadth of capabilities (and let’s not forget flight suits and dress whites) all appealed to my sense of patriotism and love for our great nation.

As with any long term friendship, Navy, we’ve certainly had our ups and downs and our fair share of disagreements. I’m not sure I’ve fully forgiven you for that time you sent my husband back on deployment less than four months after homecoming. Or how about the move from Guam when you lost part of our shipment? I’m still replacing items from that.

Mostly though, Navy, as with all of my closest friends, you’ve helped me grow. You’ve taught me invaluable lessons about myself, marriage and life.

Here are 5 things you taught me:

Military Spouses, Facing Deployment, but Not Alone

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

“Drowning is silent.” During my high school life-guarding days, our manager used to repeat the phrase in earnest. Lately, the verbiage has played in a loop in my mind, as I struggle physically and emotionally with my husband’s coming deployment.

I vividly remember my first rescue at the pool, and now that memory feels like the best metaphor for our current situation. A 4-year-old in pigtails and a bright purple suit tiptoed down the zero-depth entry into the throng of swimmers, slowly getting deeper and deeper into the water. There was something about her cautious steps that drew my eyes to her. Then the purple suit was gone. The pigtails went under. The crowd didn’t notice, but I dived in and pulled her out. Drowning is silent — that’s one reason we watch our pools so closely.

The challenge with military life, and maybe it’s just parenting in general, is that oftentimes no one is watching. How do we know when we’re getting in too deep? With raging mommy guilt, back-to-back work trips, long-standing commitments, my inability to say no, and laundry and deadlines piling up around me, the week before last I felt as if I was that little girl in the purple suit. My husband returned from a three-week “underway” on a Friday afternoon at 3, only to return to the ship the next day at 6 a.m. for duty, meaning another overnight stay. He would be gone only for one day, and after nearly a year of what feels like a revolving front door, it should have been nothing. Instead, as my 2- and 4-year-olds argued over who ate the last imaginary piece of pizza, I had a meltdown. What happens when he leaves for seven to 10 months straight? How am I going to do this by myself for the next year?

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Here’s Why You Should Marry Him, MilSo

This post was originally posted on Spousebuzz:

Dear Military Spouse To Be:

Just like a woman awaiting to give birth for the first time, you aren’t truly ready for military life. You can’t possibly know how much your heart can love, and conversely, how much it can ache.

Recently one of my favorite authors published a column on about why you shouldn’t marry your military love. While I believe it was intended to be tongue in cheek, it encouraged you to run the other way, or at least wait until your significant other was out of the military before you wed. As with most things, there is another, if not several other sides. This is one of them.

Nearly eight years ago, I stood at the top of what seemed like an impossibly long aisle. As the doors to the church opened, I saw my groom in his dress whites and my father asked if I was ready. The word still gives me pause: ready. Excited? Absolutely. Confident in my decision? Without a doubt. But ready? Is anyone really, truly ready for the unknown? With any marriage, civilian or military, you never fully know what twists and turns your lives will take.

Just like a woman awaiting to give birth for the first time, you aren’t truly ready for military life. You can’t possibly know how much your heart can love, and conversely, how much it can ache. But if you can make that walk down the aisle, I can all but guarantee you these things.

No words in a column can prepare you for the incredible adventure you are about to begin. Yet somehow, we find a way to make that walk, to say those vows, and to look at our collective future with optimism, commitment, and unbridled love.

If you can make that walk down the aisle, I can all but guarantee you the following things:

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A Spouse Deployed, Still Fighting a Foolish Battle at Home

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

Who has it harder – the one deployed or the one left behind? After 13 years of war, I think it’s a reasonable assertion that the one in harm’s way generally holds the trump card. But there is another side. A friend of mine once said in a Christmas card that her son might be the soldier, but her daughter-in-law and grandchildren were the troopers.

Four years ago, I sat on the couch in my favorite maternity pajamas, my legs curled to the side. Completely preoccupied, I was willing myself to read, while my fingers lightly traced arbitrary circles around my very pregnant belly. My phone rang, and the “No Caller ID” on the display sent a sense of relief coursing through my body. My husband was calling from Iraq, where, days before, his base was attacked while we were discussing baby names. After a warning siren and a quick “I got to go,” I was left holding my phone, breath, and what felt like our future. I sat in my car pleading with God to let this child meet his or her daddy. Per security procedures, all communications on his base were suspended, an apt term for how I felt during those quiet days.

The phone call I had been waiting for finally came. Unfortunately, the discussion was not what either of us intended. Somehow, we quickly steered into the unchartered territory of who had it worse. Years later, I’m still mortified by my reaction.

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Deployments: Costly. Remembering Why We Do It: Priceless.

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

There is a vintage poster I saw years ago touting the slogan “Join the Navy, See the World.” Early in our marriage, we fulfilled it, hiking the jungles of Saipan where my grandfather fought during World War II, watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, exploring the castle grounds in Kumamoto and jumping from waterfalls in the Northern Territory in Australia. Over his first deployment, I met his ship in exotic ports at every chance.

His second deployment was to the Middle East, where his adventures were of a different kind: flying in combat as an air ambulance mission commander. This round, he is again attached to a ship that will (I hope) pull into a port that allows visitors, but whether or not, with two toddlers, I’ll be able to make the journey overseas remains to be seen. Consequently, when my husband and several of his shipmates were asked to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston a few weeks ago, I knew I had to take advantage of the chance to see him. A dear family friend agreed to watch our children, and for the first time since our pre-parenthood days, I set off to meet him for a child-free weekend.

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The Military Marriage Trapeze Act

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

Photo Credit: Trapeze School New York/DC

I clipped in my harness, took a deep breath at the base of the metal ladder and slowly started the long, precarious, 23-foot climb. As the ladder gently swayed with every movement, I tried to create the illusion of composure while getting to the platform at the top as quickly as possible. The mixture of adrenaline and fear is my version of a Long Island iced tea: seems like such a good combination, until you get sick or black out. I remind myself that people (like me) actually pay for this feeling.

It was my sixth flying trapeze class. I was still fairly nervous. A handler greeted me on the platform and reviewed the trick I was attempting: the Pullover-Pump-Shoot, my first “blind catch.” I had done the trick close to 30 times, but never with a catcher. Jump from platform, feet come over the bar for a complete backward rotation, and upon command, pump my arms and shoot over the bar into his upside-down hands. “Seems easy enough,” said no one ever. A blind catch is exactly that: You can’t see the person catching you while you’re in the air; rather you just have to let go and have faith that he’s there. I missed him on the first attempt, plummeting to the safety net. My second (and final) effort was textbook. I could be heard yelling “Wooh!” on the video when I felt his hands grasp my forearms. That rush is tough to beat.

My husband’s cousin Clare introduced me to Trapeze School New York over a year ago, and I was instantly hooked. Our bimonthly class and dinner has become a sacred ritual. The logistics have become more challenging while my husband is away on a Navy deployment, so I greatly cherish those few hours, doing what my mother used to threaten us children with: running away to join the circus.

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Resolutions for a Year of Change in a MIlitary Family

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

Two toddlers, painting a new picture at home for 2015.
Two toddlers, painting a new picture at home for 2015.

I’ve never cared much for New Year’s resolutions. Mostly, I subscribe to the mentality that if you want to make a change in your life, you don’t need a specific date to do it. This year, however, I’m giving it a chance, hoping that “if I write it down,” I’ll be more inclined to commit.

With deployment hanging over our heads, 2015 will come with incredible challenges for our marriage, our children and ourselves. My husband’s leaving will wreak havoc on so many aspects of our lives, and the anticipation of the actual departure is just as hard, if not more difficult. In the military spouse community, we talk about just wanting to rip off the Band-Aid, instead of slowly tearing it away, prolonging the inevitable pain deployment bears.

I have to believe my feelings about being a temporary single mother are synonymous with anyone in this situation. It’s incredibly daunting. And so, how to manage? The piece of advice I receive over and over is that in order to not just survive, but also to thrive, is to take care of myself first. To do that, I need to make some changes. This year, I am pledging to own my choices, invest in myself, and be more intentional with my time.

Perhaps it’s my daughter’s fourth birthday today that has thrust me into a near-constant reflective state, wandering through the coming complexities of life as a single working mother. Last week while my toddlers were painting, my 2-year-old spilled his glass of water, intended for cleaning brushes. As the colors on his paper quickly melted together, blurring the distinct patches of primary colors, my daughter gasped, “Beautiful!”

A beautiful mess. I think about that moment frequently, as I struggle to keep my work and home lives separate and balanced. Try as I might, they often bleed across the boundaries I’ve set, and I find myself in constant apology mode.

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With Deployment Looming, How Do You Measure a Year?

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary

“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred moments, so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?”

A favorite line, from a favorite song, in my favorite Broadway musical, “Rent.”

With two toddlers and a husband gone more than he’s home, so many of the lines in that song feel like they were written for me: “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee.” Given the chance to write a Navy wife version, I would add, “In ‘underways,’ in duty days, in flight delays, and constant uncertainties. In dinners alone, waiting by the phone, schedules unknown, but surreal opportunities.”

Credit T. T. Robinson

This time of year, this week between Christmas and New Year, is fraught with nostalgia and that “unmistakable melancholy that permeates the joy.” It’s hard to believe we celebrated our seventh anniversary this week, and next week we’ll celebrate our daughter’s fourth birthday. As memories often do, there exists a strange dichotomy between what feels like a million years ago and just yesterday.

I can’t help but think of the week before our baby girl was born. My husband had just returned from back-to-back deployments, encompassing the better part of two years. Although our home was in Guam, I wanted to deliver near my family in case he didn’t return from Iraq in time. Four years ago today, we sat alone on my parents’ couch in the Midwest, wishing we could be in Georgia with the rest of my family to watch my brother marry my beautiful sister-in-law. Instead, we ate Chinese delivery food and binge-watched episodes of “Parenthood,” hoping that would somehow prepare us for the adventures that lay ahead. It didn’t.

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Deployment Work-Ups: ‘This Is So Stupid Hard’

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary


And just like that, he’s gone, again.

We had him for eight days straight, long enough to get a Christmas tree, to make lasting memories, to get into a routine. I can’t remember a time I laughed harder than watching him climb through the window of our S.U.V., after accidentally rendering the doors inoperable by tying twine on the inside handles to secure our 10-foot pine on top. My heart warmed as I watched him enchant our daughter with stories of his favorite Christmases, before hoisting her up on his shoulders to place the star at the top of the tree. As I passed by our son’s room during bedtime, I paused to listen to their conversation about excavators and cement trucks. I stood in the hallway, beaming, knowing I married a good man and a wonderful father, and simultaneously wishing these eight days wouldn’t end.

The time between work-ups and the number of days that he’s gone vary with each mission, and until just recently, the mood while he’s home would too. There is a steep learning curve when it comes to reintegrating every few weeks and for generally only days at a time. Occasionally, the hellos can be almost as daunting as the goodbyes, as the break in routine is challenging.

I cast a vulnerable line at the command Christmas party last week, when talking to a few of the other wives (all of whom I’d just met) about the aggressive schedule. “This has been really difficult on all of us,” I confided. A collective, audible sigh of empathy from the hushed circle. “This is so stupid hard,” one agreed. Another said, with a laugh, “I told him I’m moving back in with my parents until this is all over.”

All relationships, especially marriages, take work, and military couples are certainly not exempt. We’ve often thought that so long as this lifestyle doesn’t break you, your bond with your spouse will be indestructible. Our motto when we moved as newlyweds to Guam was, “You and me against the world, kid.” While I would put our marriage up against the best of them, we are far from flawless. The time before last that he was home, the flaws, and the claws, came out.

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Counting the Days: ‘It’s Too Many Whales, Daddy’

An installment in the New York Times Deployment Diary


If you’ve ever spent a day with a toddler, you know a great majority of your time is spent fielding questions. From the inquisitive (“Why is water wet?”), to the untimely and mortifying (“Is there a baby in her belly?”), to the disgusting (“Mommy mad I just ate worm?”), their questions are equal parts incessant, unfiltered and amazing.

Since my husband began the shorter departures (called work-ups) that precede his longer deployment, the questions from my two children have started to get harder to answer, both literally and in their emotional complexity. From “When will Daddy come home?” to “Mommy, will you please come back after work?”, their thoughtful contemplation often transports me to the brink of tears, and I find myself looking over my shoulder, as if expecting magical backup to appear where I know there is none.

For a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, “He’s gone for 17 sleeps, and then back for four, but then leaves again for eight” is just too much for them to process. Our daughter whispers to her “Daddy’s Girl” locket that she wears while he is away; our son clutches his “Daddy Doll” in his sleep, as if the screen print of his father in his flight suit will somehow hug him back. Challenging times, challenging questions, many of which are my own. The one I seemingly grapple with most is, “What can I do to make this easier on them?”

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