I recognized that I knew nothing about the inner workings of the military when I became a new Air Force wife, but my natural optimism propelled me forward. I decided I would figure it all out as the issues arose – after all, experience is the best teacher.
Almost a year into our union with one another (and with the military), here are the things I wish I knew:
I wish I had known how to be a better neighbor. Despite the temporary nature of our first assignment and despite the differences in military rank and branch, I wish I had been a better neighbor. It never hurts to reach out, to be kind, to offer hospitality and genuine friendship-- particularly when the only real division is one very thin wall.
No matter what rank is pinned on or what color uniform is worn, we’re all just people trying to make it through another day. Often it is our rigidity – our pride or our adherence to the “rules” – that keeps us from becoming closer, not the division of rank itself.
I wish I had known more about moving with the military before I actually moved. For instance, I would have preferred it someone had encouraged me to decrease my Air Force wife belongings by half or some other dramatically large percentage to keep my new house from filling to the brim when our boxes arrived.
I have since learned the art of purging. I developed a close relationship with our local Goodwill. I am striving to maintain a healthy minimum of household goods.
That being said, it’s important to find the balance between hoarding and stark minimalism. Just because a table or a picture frame doesn’t fit in this house, it may be useful in another if it is of good quality or sentimental value. Keep it. Store it. We Air Force spouses are notorious for our resourcefulness, and there’s no reason that should change because of an impending move.
I wish I had known how easy it would be to develop close friendships with another Air Force wife in such a short amount of time. There’s something about the way we’re all shoved into this together, maintaining careers and new marriages despite more uncertainty than is typical to the American family, that binds us, and fast.
Recently I was with a group of girlfriends celebrating a birthday and I had a moment of epiphany that, although these women feel like soul sisters, most of us have known each other for only a few months.
Yet this is the family we turn to for celebration, for commiseration, for advice, for encouragement. We struggle through heartbreak together, plan surprises for one another, and beat our husbands at rowdy games of “Battle of the Sexes.”
We were meant to live life together, and yet just as soon as we are united we’re dispersed again, to Japan, to Georgia, to the UK, to Alaska. But the good thing is that, no matter where we go, those friends will support us from afar and new friends are always waiting to be made at the next assignment.
I wish I had known how to best interact with my husband’s squadron. I want to be the cool wife, the hot one, someone my husband is proud to show off and be associated with. I want to burnish his reputation with my own.
I want to be the welcoming one, the hostess, the mom figure, the relationship guru. I want to be warm and open without revealing our personal life or changing the way my husband’s subordinates or superiors view him.
But all of that is too much to juggle at once. I’ve finally decided to stick with what I’m good at – being myself, my husband’s biggest fan, my own boss, kind, silly and protective of my family, a semi-snazzy dresser who is not talented at billiards and who prefers to host brunch. The squadron can take it or leave it.
I wish I had more conviction about putting down roots in a way that allows me to pick them back up again and relocate without injury. This is both a metaphor and a literal phrase – I refer to myself and my plant collection. In the same way that I have struggled in our first assignment to pursue relationships, job opportunities and other commitments, I have struggled with buying plants.
Should I plant this hyacinth for spring? Should I pot some herbs for the front porch? Should I transplant these succulents? What do I do with it all when we move? I’ve since come to the realization that putting down roots – whether real or an analogy – is worth the risk every time. Regardless of the situation, there is always room for growth.
Erin R. Van Genderen is an Air Force wife who works as a freelance writer and editor. She is currently at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, TX and will move to Hickam AFB in Hawaii with her husband in the fall. She blogs weekly about food at littledutchwife.com.