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Dear Military Spouse: You Are Extraordinary

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I scrambled the eggs and smiled.

It was Sunday morning. My kids were just waking up and stumbling downstairs with tangled hair, mismatched pajamas, eye boogers and stinky breath.

My husband had gone fishing and wasn't back yet.

My coffee was hot and rich.

Life was good.

The day before, my husband had made breakfast for the family. A few days before that, he manned the homefront while I was out of town attending a conference.

Give and take. Balance.

He scrambles the eggs one day; I scramble the eggs the next. No resentment. No haggling. No missed expectations or either of us feeling overburdened.

He came home from fishing, and I greeted him at the door with a smile, a hug and a kiss -- just as, in dozens of past marriage counseling sessions, he told me he always hoped I would do.

But I didn't do it that Sunday because it was the "right thing to do," or because I was "investing in my marriage."

I did it because I was happy to see him and wanted to kiss him.

He set the table; I served the food. Give and take. Sharing the load.

He didn't set the table because I asked him to, or because a marriage counselor told him to help out around the house more. He didn't tell me how none of his friends have to set the table in their homes. He set the table because it was time to eat.

The two hardest experiences of my life have been being married to a soldier during war time and parenting. Both are difficult. Mashed together, they sometimes feel impossible.

I know I'm not the only person who feels this way. I know that at any minute, on any day, there are a few thousand people out there who feel like they're drowning.

These Must-Have/Must-Do lifestyles are hard. They rob us of our reserves. No one has extra to give, and there's a temptation for us to want to hoard every extra scrap for ourselves.

This is not a wrong desire. It's a survival instinct when we're feeling starved.

I will not tell you that you are wrong for feeling starved. I will not tell you to "dig deep," "pay it forward" or "invest in your marriage." Those are crap words from people who haven't lived through prolonged, no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel exhaustion and emotional starvation.

But I also will not tell you that it's OK to hoard those scraps or that doing so will turn out well. It isn't OK, and it won't turn out well.

I am not an uplifting writer, by the way. It's not my style. I don't trust uplifting. Uplifting is a big, smelly pile of steaming B.S.

I dislike a lot of the writing aimed at women precisely because it has a happy ending. By the 220th page or the 800th word or the 115th minute, the moral of the story has been tied up in pretty pink bows and everybody is A-OK! With extra exclamation points!!!

I dislike that kind of writing because -- to people who know they are not A-OK! -- forced cheerfulness and tidy endings feel false. It's like they've just seen the lifeboat sputter away, leaving them alone in the water, drowning. And, instead of a life preserver, the people in the boat -- the people who had the power to save them -- gave them a thumbs up and a big smile.

What I want to say to the person in the water is this: I see you there, drowning. I know you aren't just going for a swim. I may not be able to pull you to safety, but I will get in the damn water and try.

What you are doing is extraordinary. I really mean that. I really, really want you to know that.

I don't mean extraordinary as some kind of meaningless synonym for awesome. I mean it as EXTRA ordinary. As in, here on the first floor, here's your ordinary -- that's what most people are doing. But way up higher, maybe around the 11th or 12th floor, we've got EXTRA ordinary. And that's what you're doing.

What I want to tell you, especially all my military spouse, Must-Have Parents out there, is that this life we're living is not normal.

We are blazing a trail right now. There's no map for us to follow because no one has ever done this before. We are just totally winging it.

Never has a tiny sliver of a generation gone to war and stayed there for 15 years. Never have so many service members been married with kids. Never have their families been left behind to exist in a civilian population that truly doesn't understand the burdens and the stresses. Never have American children spent their entire childhoods worried about war.

That Sunday as I scrambled the eggs, I realized that my marriage was good, my children are thriving and my husband and I are good co-parents. But that calm realization came only because we've had a solid year of no deployments.

I could scramble the eggs and smile because I knew that there would be days when he would scramble the eggs. Because I felt like -- finally -- I had the ability to have an equal say in my relationship and family instead of both he and I trying to carve out a life from the scraps the Army left behind.

Our Must-Have days aren't over. He's deploying again in a few months. I'll be the only egg-scrambler in the house again.

But right now I'm not, and it feels amazing.

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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