Last night while I was waiting for my two-year-old to stop crying after being moved to her big girl bed, I realized how far I’ve come since I was a military bride of 22…and how much I have stayed the same.
Now, at my ripe old age of 38 with a spouse with over 20 years invested in his career, I was thinking of all the things I had to learn about military marriage back then. And all the things I STILL have to learn about military marriage.
This is what I would have told my 22-year old self:
1. You will always worry about your husband. Yes, those older wives look like they are doing everything right. They look like they are not worried. They make it look easy, but it’s not—even for them. Fake it till ya make it baby!
2. “Murphy” will keep visiting you. Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Law does not care that this is deployment #13. Murphy doesn’t care that your kids are throwing up and you have no more clean sheets. He is Murphy. That washing machine is going down!
3. “Is he home?” is code for “Is he dead.” When the TV news tells you of a helicopter crash before your husband’s command can break the news to you will always be just wrong. Your parents will call asking “Is he home.” They will use it like a code for “Is he dead?” Not. Cool.
4. You will be jealous of technology you never dreamed possible. Your new wife days were “pre-war.” Yes, there were deployments. But nobody died. You had hand-written letters that took forever to show up. You had long distance phone bills that seemed outrageous. You never dreamed of the Internet. Skype. Facebook. Email. What will future generations have to bring together people who are so far apart?
5. You will worry about post war fallout. Yes, you will be excited and relieved when experts predict the troops will (mostly) be home from Afghanistan by the end of the year. But you should know that the service members will then be dealing with TBI’s and PTSD. Those real things will affect more service members than the general public (or you) can fully realize.
6. The service member does have it worse. You will be right there with every other wife in a military marriage who would tell her husband, “You have it easier. You are the one who leaves. You have no idea how hard it is without you.”
Then you will figure out you have that wrong. The service member has it worse. While you were at home counting the minutes until the kids go to bed, the guys will be out there (wherever the “there” of the moment is) also counting down the minutes until the kids go to bed. The minutes they are missing. The hours, days, months, and sometimes years at a time that go by without them.
7. Service members won’t have time to grieve…until later. Once the war dwindles down for awhile, you will be one of those wives who think you get your husband back. You will be ready for all to be well because he has survived.
Instead, service members will be dealing with TBIs and PTSD. Service members will just be coming to grips with the loss that they have experienced while they were at war.
As a spouse, you will have had the time to bury your friends and properly grief. The service member just kept going back to war. Now their grieving process of over 12 years of war begins.
8. You will stop resenting his “trips.” At some point you will start hoping that when your husband is gone that you will want him to have some fun. Trust will be no question. You will figure out that you need something for yourself, too. Join a book club, the gym, a bible study, a job outside the home. Whatever it is, you will discover how to continue your interests even when he is home.
9. Everyone will someday need someone. Right now, you are probably thinking, “I don’t need the command, I got this!” But eventually, probably, everyone does need someone. The Chaplain, therapist, family support person, whoever—we need them. Find a mentor in an older spouse. The Ombudsman and FRG are volunteers, but they value their roles and have a passion about it. Use them!
10. Decide to be an older spouse. Get involved with the people in the command. Understand your husband’s job, if at all possible. Know your Ombudsman and senior spouses. Volunteer. One day you will be the older spouse who the younger ones turn to—be ready for that.
Because someday you will be the one standing in the hallway waiting for your 2-year old to learn to stay in her room and in her big girl bed.
It will be like you are 24 again, with your firstborn and trying to sleep train her. You will be the one standing alone, doing the job that has remained the constant and the always for your whole family. And you won’t be so very different than any 22-year old who ever started on this military life.
Teresa is a Navy wife and mother of four currently living in Virginia.