A Tale of Two Civilians

Actually, it is really a tale of three civilians, but two of them work together.

I think the biggest thing that military spouses need is support. True support, not just something said in passing. Let's face it, it is nearly impossible to do this alone, and yet that is what so many of us find ourselves trying to do.

Get the kids to school (or teach them yourself at home), find time to work out, get various children to various activities which are often scheduled at the same time and across town from each other, keep your spouse's morale up, send CARE packages, don't fall apart in front of your children, and make sure that there are clean clothes available to wear, even if they don't match.

Also, it's usually a pretty good idea to get your kids fed, too. Just in case someone asks. And what usually happens is that nowhere in the equation is there time to take care of yourself. We'll do that when our spouse gets home, right? No time at the moment.

When you factor in being thousands of miles away from family, your options on help truly narrow. And when you don't live in a military community, you might find things get very surreal. To say the least.

At this point we are not living in a military community. Air Force Guy is deployed (again) and my kids are just far enough apart in age to all be doing activities on different levels and at different times. Even with each kid cut down to one sport, Scouting, and CCD that means that we're running every night Monday through Friday with multiple appointments each day and with swim meets on weekends. Plus the home-schooling in the morning. Schedules must be kept with machine precision for all this to work, and I'm sure every military spouse can relate.

Last week, the religious education director at our (civilian) church called me and let me know that the teacher for my son's class (First Communion preparation) had given notice and they needed someone to take over. This was all phrased in such a way that I truly felt unable to say no, even though I really couldn't figure out how this was going to set into my schedule. That's the problem when you ask someone who is used to volunteering to volunteer for something - there's that sense of duty and the knowledge that someone has to do it, and "someone" generally means "you."

It was during the training meeting that I was most profoundly shocked when I was told that my son would not be able to make First Communion this year because our schedule does not allow me to make the mandatory evening meetings for parents - which are held with a no children allowed rule.

"People need to sacrifice for their children's religious education," I was told.

I have to admit that I was speechless. I realize that a person can always do more, but I do volunteer a lot in quite a few different organizations - and I'm going to go ahead and say that I probably understand the concept of sacrifice. At least a little bit.

And then there was the fact that this speech was given to me on Monday. Monday - when death led the news cycle for just a bit in the very place my husband is taking a year long vacation.

I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I know I don't feel good.

I think what bothers me most is that I feel for military families collectively that in primarily civilian communities we're rather forgotten in the day to day scheme of things. The deaths on Monday weren't exactly a secret - and it was probably not the best backdrop to lecture someone with a deployed husband about the necessity of making a bigger sacrifice and the implication of not knowing what sacrifice is. I certainly don't think that statement was made with any malice - just for some reason the person didn't think. It isn't a part of their everyday world like it is for me and for other military spouses - we see the faces of those we know, others just hear numbers. Most people don't spend every day half planning and expecting to get a knock at the door from Uniforms. It just doesn't hit their radar screen.

So there are civilians. And then there are civilians...

Were it not for the two leaders of my evil blond daughter's Girl Scout troop (and two other extremely active Mom volunteers), there would be no Girl Scouts in my family. These two women work their hearts out with a gaggle of giggling fourth and fifth graders - and the times they've picked my daughter up, dropped her off, or asked if I needed help getting her to an event are countless. They've never ever held the fact that I'm unable to physically help out at meetings (because I'm usually driving another kid to swim team practice and picking a kid up from CCD) against me, never held it against my daughter, and how they keep from getting burned out when they give so much is utterly beyond my comprehension.

At the end of last year, when AFG was home from a 6 month TDY and two months before he left for deployment one of the leaders noticed he was with me as I picked up my daughter.

"Your husband's home!" she said to me.

"Yeah, but not for long. He's leaving again in a couple of months," I said.

"Yes," she said, and then emphasized the next phrase very clearly. "But he's home now."

And she was right - he was home right then, and thinking about the fact he was getting ready to ride off into the sunset again in a few short months was only shadowing the time we had left to spend together.

Such a little thing, and yet it meant so much. It was true I needed to think about the situation differently, but the pointer wasn't issued rudely, snidely, nor from a lofty position of superiority. It was not delivered by someone who had never done anything to help my family when we were floundering. It was delivered by someone who had made it a rule to help in the way she could most, from the position she was most able to make a difference. "You just don't understand!" would have been an inappropriate response from me. That statement was something she did understand, even if she wasn't another military spouse. She had been supportive enough during our time here that she had earned the right to be frank with me.

It was 180 degrees from the experience I had at church.

Neither of these leaders, nor the active moms who sacrifice so much of their time to the Girl Scout Troop, have ever treated me any differently from the other civilian parents in the group. There is none of the kid glove treatment that I sometimes get from people who don't know how to react when I explain why I can't do something or be somewhere. No one ever tells me, "I'm so sorry," when I explain that my husband is deployed and so I might not be as available as I should be to hold up my end of the Girl Scout volunteer hours because I'm stretched too thin. I'm always greeted with a smile, and when things that I *can* do come up, I'm never made to feel that my help is mandatory, just that it would be great if I could spare the time.

I'm just a normal Mom, with a bit of a different situation that requires some creative thinking. And I'm eternally blessed they are willing to put out that extra effort to think creatively.

Being military in a civilian world has never been easy - there is such a gulf there, and too many people see it as too wide to bother to cross. And let's face it - as military family members we often vacillate between reaching out and pulling back abruptly when no one grabs the hand we've extended. This is our normal, so verbal recognition feels contrived. We all know someone struggling through more than we do on a daily basis. I truly feel sympathy for those civilians who want to help, but don't know how and feel like everything they try is wrong somehow.

It's not an easy road to navigate - for anyone. Like many other military spouses, I have tried to turn some of those hurtfulcivilian situations into a joke, something funny out of something that can be truly painful or leave you feeling isolated and cast aside after the ceremonies of Veteran's Day. My jokes, in turn, have at times legitimately hurt the feelings of those civilians who truly try to help. It's a vicious circle.

How do we change this? This is a long war, and it's not close to over. We'll be doing this for a long time, and as self sufficient as military families are, we can't do it alone. We need real support - help at home, and the understanding that emotionally we are in a very different place than many Americans. We don't want kid gloves, we want to be as normal as we can be - with the understanding that our normal is not normal.

But it's how to get to that point where I get lost.

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