Ten years ago this year, I stood in front of a nervous, shaky airman with one stripe on his arm, and held his sweaty hands as we said our vows to each other. At that point, I couldn’t look 10 minutes into the future, much less 10 years.
Yet, here we are.
Ten years of loving and laughing, of fuming and silent treatments, of seeing who would flinch first and finally fold the basket of towels sitting on the dining room table. Ten years of growing and changing and learning about each other.
On top of that, it’s been 10 years of navigating our relationship around the needs of the military, of learning how to say goodbye more times than spouses should ever have to, of attempting to plan pregnancies around international conflicts. Ten years of lessons from loving and living the military lifestyle.
1. Deployments make arguments seem petty. How many times have I griped at him to keep his combat boots out of the walkway? Or, to not throw his dirty shirts on the bed at the end of the day? And, yet, walking in my front door after dropping him off at the flight line for that first deployment, I wished nothing more than to trip over this silly boots again.
Even now, eight years after that first ‘goodbye,’ during an argument I remind myself, “When he’s gone, you’re going to wish he was here to bicker with you about the laundry.” Puts things into perspective.
2. Intimate moments can come from anywhere. Yes, in an ideal world, I would have loved to have him by my side as I welcomed our baby girl into the world. It would have been a magical moment to watch his eyes light up as he became a father.
But, later on, when I was up at 4 a.m. doing night feedings, exhausted and emotional, he was on the phone, in my ear, soothing me from thousands of miles away. I remember rocking our daughter, my phone balanced between my shoulder and my ear, and him softly telling me about his day. Those are intimate moments I will never forget, even though he was nowhere near me.
3. The marriage should come first. I know, I know, the military comes first, theoretically. But, really, the marriage comes first. He comes home when he can, he calls when he can, he chooses to be with us when he can. He chooses us. He commits to the military and does what they need, but he chooses us. I know he’d rather be home, no matter where he is or what he’s doing. As long as I know we’re first in his heart, I can handle anything.
4. A house is just a house. A long-standing, hot-button issue for military spouses, but this is my take on it. My home is where my family is, end of story. Staying behind in a strange town, with no friends or extended family nearby, while my other half heads off to a foreign country for months and months, is not my idea of love. He doesn’t need me to be miserable in what amounts to “just a house” to prove my commitment to him or his military career. As long as I’m there to welcome him back, that’s all that matters.
5. Finding ‘me’ was important. At 19, all I knew about myself at that point was that I had just married the man I loved, and… that was about it. As much as I was happy to be there supporting his career and cheering on his dreams, I had to figure out my own. I took classes, found my passion, and dove headfirst into it. Sometimes this meant coming home at 3 a.m. after working on the school paper all night, and long weekends hunkered down in the office, studying. The important thing? He was incredibly supportive, and that’s exactly what I needed him to be.
6. Deployments don’t keep them from parenting. t’s not an exaggeration to say that the morning after he came home from deployment, having just met his 7-week-old daughter, he let me sleep in and took the parenting reigns right away. I woke up, panicked when I realized the sun woke me up and not a crying baby, and ran out to the living room, only to find him rocking her in the recliner, smiling like he was seeing the world for the first time. Any worries I had about him struggling to bond since he missed her birth were gone.
7. Technology is more amazing and important than I realized/ After using AIM, Skype, Facebook, GChat, email, and iMessaging to do everything from watch a football game together on his day off in Iraq (thank you, AFN, for showing plenty of Cowboys games over there), to him watching me sleep as I labored at the hospital with our daughter, to him sweetly talking to his daughter as she stared at the computer screen in wonder, technology rocks. It rocks.
8. Being culturally and politically aware is a must. Politics, particularly at the federal level, are important for everyone, of course. But, for military families, every decision Congress makes in regards to the defense budget affects us. Whether it’s decreasing funding due to budget cuts, or increasing resources due to an emerging international conflict, it’s imperative we follow the changes.
9. We don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. For one thing, we move a lot, so give yourself a year or two, and you won’t be living next door to the Joneses, anyway. Everyone is at a different place in their military journey, so don’t fret. The green-eyed monster came out in me a few years ago, as everyone around me was buying their first home. I wanted to be a homeowner so bad! But, we were stationed at that base just for a temporary special duty, and it just didn’t make sense, so we waited. And, now? I’m sitting in my own home, finally. It was worth the wait.
10. How much I love him. It’s hard to explain the emotions that rush through your body when your cell phone rings, and the caller ID pops up as ‘unknown.’ Or, the anxiety of picking out the perfect homecoming outfit. Or cleaning every single crevice of the house the week they’re supposed to return. It’s especially hard to describe just how beautiful and dizzying that first kiss after hundreds of days and weeks apart. I loved him when I married him, and then he was sent to a war zone. After that, there aren’t words to describe how much he means to me.
It’s an honor to be celebrating 10 years of marriage with the man I met when I was 16-years-old. We were young, and the military lifestyle isn’t for the faint of heart, so the doubters were out in full force back then. But, we’ve made it this far.
Here’s to 10 more, my love!