“They serve too” is a phrase often used in military circles to refer to the fact that the family members of an active duty service member make sacrifices right along side their sailors or soldiers or whomever. It’s one that I traditionally smile politely about and nod in agreement, my heart filling with pride about how strong our military kids are. I even, on occasion, admit that my role, as military spouse, comes with struggles unique to the military life style. Usually, though, I make these acknowledgements quickly and quietly and then look to the positives for all of us.
I’m a glass half full kind of gal. I happily don rose-colored glasses whenever I can and think they look darn-spiffy with any outfit! So, while I do note that the last sixteen years as a Navy wife have caused me to move six times, I usually say, “I got to,” not, “I had to move.” I usually focus on meeting new people, not saying farewell to friends. I usually tell my kids how lucky they are to have been in almost all the states in their short, little lives, rather than dwell on how disruptive that might be.
That is, until recently.
It started with my husband letting me know he was thinking about retiring. And moving back to the state we grew up in. For some that might sound like a natural progression, but we’ve made a home here in Washington. Three times, actually. And by a home, I mean there are friends here who get me – my sense of humor, my frequent tears, my love of love, my hopes and fears. I just threw that last one in because it rhymed. And my people here, in this place I love, are smiling at me because that’s the Annie they love. That’s the woman they embrace. And this is the soft place I thought I’d land in for good someday. But I was wrong.
I’m not moving because my husband wants to, mind you. This is a mutual and difficult decision, agreed upon after much discussion. I’m moving back home because we have family there too. And they have served too.
My husband has mothers and fathers who raised him for 18 years and then let him drive off into this incredible adventure I followed him on for the last 20. I have parents who were forced to wave good bye days after watching me say, “I do.” We have cousins who we play games with, still! We have siblings that we’ve missed. We have a forever home there. I don’t know what it’ll look like, yet, but it’s surely there, as much as I’ll miss here. And, yes, we do have friends all over the country, not only in Washington, which makes our vacation options many!
Through all of the discussion these past months I’ve realized that the “they” in this phrase isn’t just me, our kids, or even our extended families, it’s also my husband. This might sound like a ‘duh!’ statement, but hear me out. Part of my rose colored view of our life has been thinking of my husband’s service as a job. I’ve even been known to say things like, “There are a lot of jobs that require travel.” True, true. But, there aren’t a lot of jobs that require travel in a submarine, under the ocean, for months, without contact. Oh. Yeah, I guess my husband’s job isn’t just another 9-5. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever worked normal hours for more than a week or two. The psychologist in me recognizes that as a possible strategy the military might be using to keep us off kilter and, therefore, dependent on and committed to this Navy life. Hmmm…interesting.
So, while viewing my husband’s camo duds as, “not that different from wearing a suit and tie everyday,” I’ve not even considered all that he has sacrificed too. Don’t worry, though. There’s a song for that and Scott’s been turning it up every chance he gets.
My career sailor used to hunt with his dads, uncles, and cousins. It’s one of the things he has consistently commented on missing throughout the years. But that’s only part of what this song means to me. Whether you interpret the words, “Huntin’, fishin’, and lovin’ every day,” to mean that Luke Bryan is looking to have sex with his wife and be outside every day or that he simply wants to enjoy all of his life, both apply in our situation.
I mean, we’ve managed to have three kids and are connected in that intimacy department…except when he’s out with his mistress, which is how many a sub wife thinks of her husband’s boat. Well, actually, we usually end up feeling like the mistress while our husbands spend not only their days, but many, many nights away from us.
Perhaps more important that not getting enough nookie, was the realization that I recently had about how much my husband was giving up in all aspects of his life. Just last summer I remember a conversation with a friend where I commented that we had settled into a kind of silent agreement that I would take the lead in parenting our kids, with his support being more for me than them. Then I saw this:
It hit me like a punch to the gut, that the kids had never built a tree house with their dad. That our oldest is thirteen now and still needs instruction on how to use a hammer. Not only have the kids not had a full two parent life, but my husband has been limited in his role as father too. Yes, it was our choice. Yes, we reenlisted and made the decisions we made along the way. I get that and I don’t regret them. But I didn’t realize that how much life was on the flip side of the coin.
Honestly, no matter what you do with your life, there’s always something you’ll be missing out on. Truth. What I failed to realize until now, though, is that our lives, although filled with incredible highs – experiences and opportunities we just would never have had without this life, we haven’t been living in consistent contentment. We haven’t been lovin’ every day.
So, while we face the unknown – jobs, a house, to homeschool or not – we face it together with renewed commitment to lovin’ every day. To loving each other. To loving our incredible kids and our parents and our families and our friends and ourselves. Every day. Because not only have I served as his partner in all things, and our kids have sacrificed, and our family has missed out on our lives and us theirs. Not only all of this, but Scott has served too. Loyally and proudly. He has sacrificed too.
“They” refers to a lot of people, I guess. But us? Our time is almost up. We’re almost done serving too. We’re passing the baton on to you.
(See what I did there? Rhyming can be such fun!)