“Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home.”
The lyrics to Phillip Phillips’ song “Home” have always struck a cord with me. As a Navy spouse who’s moved eleven times in the eighteen years I’ve been married, each duty station to which my husband has been assigned has ended up being “home” to me, even if only for a short while. While the different towns, both big and small, across the country have been part of my family’s story, it is my fellow military spouses who’ve made each chapter so memorable.
Along with Mother’s Day, May is also the time to acknowledge Military Spouse Appreciation Month. Since 1999, Military Spouse Appreciation Day is celebrated the Friday before Mother’s Day, meaning that this Friday, May 12, 2017 is the official day you’re supposed to say, “Good job,” to the “silent heroes” you know.
The mere mention of “silent heroes” makes me laugh because there are very few military spouses I know of who can actually be described as silent, nor do I know of any who think of themselves as heroes. I find it ironic that we are called “dependents” because the majority of military spouses I’ve known are in fact the most fiercely independent people I’ve ever met.
While some commands might acknowledge our “special day,” it usually goes by unnoticed, even by our spouses. I tease my husband each year on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, reminding him that he’s supposed to appreciate me extra that day, but for the most part, it’s just not a day that most people know of, even though it’s been officially designated by Congress.
As this year’s Military Spouse Appreciation Day approaches, I’m going to change things up a bit. To me, this holiday shouldn’t be about others bestowing attention and praise upon military spouses; it should instead be about us celebrating each other, acknowledging how our support of one another is what keeps us sane.
What does a military spouse look like? That answer depends upon who you ask! The general perception, at least from what I’ve observed, is that military spouses are followers, not all that ambitious. People make the mistake of assuming that military wives fall head over heels in love, abandon any aspirations they had for themselves, and move from place to place because they only care about their husbands’ careers. Wrong!
The truth of the matter is that there’s no single right answer as to what a military spouse looks like. We come in all shapes and sizes, each bringing our own bits of charisma and life experiences to the table. If I had to categorize military spouses, here are a few classifications I would use:
*I know men are military spouses too, and in no way am I trying to exclude them in the descriptions below as I repeatedly use the word “she”. Male military spouses, these categories apply to you as well, of course!
The “Guru” Spouse:
You didn’t picture yourself ever being a military spouse, but here you are, and it’s time to act accordingly. The “Guru” spouse is someone’s who’s been in the game for a while, who graciously shows you the ropes as she shares the lessons she’s already learned as a Navy spouse. She’s the one who will teach you to never burn bridges because the Navy is like six degrees of separation, and you are sure to bump into the same people over and over again. She will also teach you all that pesky military etiquette that you’re somehow expected to magically know once you say, “I do.” Not sure what to wear to a military function? She will tell you, and even offer to go shopping with you if you don’t already have the right outfit in your closet. You admire her enormously, and appreciate all her wisdom, which makes it less daunting to be a Navy spouse.
The “I Hate the Navy” Spouse:
This is the spouse who upon hearing about any changes to her husband’s schedule instantly blurts out, “I hate the Navy!” As she unpacks her household goods and notices several pieces of broken or missing furniture, she murmurs it repeatedly. She’s in a bad mood, and needs a hug (or a glass of wine). She is tired. When she finds out that her husband’s deployment has been extended, she may add a few choice words to her “I hate the Navy” mantra, and usually will need the whole bottle of wine to be consoled. She will let you know over and over again, “I didn’t sign up for this” as she fantasizes about her “forever home” once her husband is out of the Navy.
The “I Love the Navy” Spouse:
She is the object of the “I Hate the Navy” spouse’s skepticism because she’s able to maintain a good attitude all the time. Seriously . . . All. The. Time. She loves events like the Mom Prom (a.k.a. the Navy Ball), where she can wear a full length gown, and willingly has learned (and remembered) all the acronyms used by the military. She follows world events religiously, and when the “I Hate the Navy” spouse complains about extended deployments, she offers patriotic optimism about why the prolonged deployment is necessary. She frequently wears propaganda clothing (that’s what the “I Hate the Navy” spouse refers to as T-shirts that say Navy on them) and wears military themed jewelry. She has a tendency to annoy other spouses sometimes as she tries to one-up others or name-drop “important people” she knows, but she’s overall harmless.
The “Just So You Know, I was in the Navy” Spouse:
She was once in the Navy herself, and finds herself uncomfortable to be relegated among the spouses. She has resigned herself to being one of the spouses now, but doesn’t like it.
The “I’ll Never Reveal that I Was Once in the Navy” Spouse:
She’s the polar opposite of the above mentioned spouse. She wants to be seen as one of the Navy spouses, and doesn’t want to have to explain military acronyms to the “I Love the Navy” spouse. She made the decision to get out of the Navy, and, as far as she’s concerned, she would like to move on with the next chapter of her life. She’s one of you.
The “Reluctant” Spouse:
She’s new to this military life. She fell in love with someone in the military despite the fact that she herself had no interest in the military lifestyle of moving around. She’s pretty incredulous that other military spouses go with the flow so seamlessly when she herself finds everything about the military so overwhelming initially. She wonders what she’s gotten herself into by marrying someone in the Navy, and questions whether she’s cut out for this.
The “I Could’ve Been” Spouse:
She’s bitter sometimes, feeling her husband’s career has held her back from achieving her own professional fulfillment. If she hadn’t married someone in the military, she could’ve been doing this now or doing that (of course, this and that are both super impressive and important). She has multiple advanced degrees, and is one of the smartest people you know. When she tells you, “I could’ve been . . . ,” you know it’s the truth. She’s sacrificed a lot of her earning potential as well as overall job satisfaction, and while she doesn’t regret her decision, she’s always pondering how life might have turned out differently.
The “I Love Living Here” Spouse:
She may have only lived here for a short time, or maybe her family has been stationed here for what seems like forever, but she will tell you repeatedly how much she loves living here. She can’t imagine ever having to move, and just the mention of her husband’s next set of orders makes her cringe because no place will ever be as wonderful as living here. Period.
The “I Hate Living Here” Spouse:
She hates the weather. She hates the food. She hates her neighbors and her kids’ new school. She resents that she’s been forced to move to the worst place on Earth, and she has no qualms listing every reason why she hates living here. (She’s usually best friends with the “I Hate the Navy” spouse.) She can’t wait to move, and doesn’t even care where her family moves next, as long as it’s far from here.
The “Hermit” Spouse:
You’ll meet her at one command event, and then never see her again. You’re not sure why. Is she hanging out with “I Hate the Navy” spouse or “I Hate Living Here” spouse, or is she having trouble adjusting to this duty station? You liked her that one time you actually got to meet her, and look around for her at other military events, hoping to bump into her again. She seems like someone you could get on board with, and, even though you only met once, you miss seeing her.
The “We Are Going to be Best Friends” Spouse:
You met her exactly five seconds ago, and she’s already sent you a Facebook friend request. She’s a little overwhelming, but her heart seems to be the right place. You question her exuberance, but remind yourself that you just moved here and only know the people who live in your house, so you take a chance, and click accept. Besides, you’re going to need to be able to list someone from this new duty station as an emergency contact on your child’s school forms. This friend welcomes you into her world, and you are grateful because it’s often lonely when you first move somewhere. Her warm smile lets you know you’re going to be okay. She introduces you to all of her friends, who’ve met her the same way. She’s a keeper for sure, a genuinely kind soul.
The “A Mutual Friend Suggested We be Friends” Spouse:
She is the Holy Grail of military spouses. You’ve just moved somewhere new when someone introduces herself to you, telling you the name of the mutual friend you share. Instantly, relief washes over you as you look into your new friend’s eyes and smile. There’s an unspoken rule that Navy spouses do not connect “friends” they only mildly like with other friends, so if this new person tells you she was sent by your mutual friend, that seals the deal. There’s no way your mutual friend would have you be friends with someone she doesn’t like, and it’s an amazing feeling sitting down with someone who’s already been vetted by a trusted friend. You will love her forever, just as your friend who suggested you meet her does.
The “I Volunteer for Everything” Spouse:
She volunteers constantly . . . Navy family support groups and Navy spouses clubs, scholarship committees, homecoming committees, you name it. You secretly hate her at times because she makes you feel badly as you wonder if you should start volunteering more yourself. You don’t understand how she manages to pile so much on her plate, but she does it all with a smile. You’re grateful for people like her, especially when she helps plan fun activities for spouses during deployments or helps disseminate information to other military spouses. She’s pretty amazing because she keeps everyone connected.
The “Don’t You Dare Ask Me to Volunteer for Anything” Spouse:
She’s busy. She’s not busy. It’s none of your business whether she’s busy or not. She doesn’t want to help at all. She does want to help, but doesn’t want to be committed to signing up for something that’s months away, and would prefer to just show up to help the day of an event. She’d prefer you leave her alone so she has time to hang out with “Hermit” spouse. She wonders if spouses in the “real world” dedicate so much of their free time to their significant others’ careers and whether they’re expected to volunteer for things related to their spouses’ jobs too.
The “Perky Fixer” Spouse:
Your husband just left for deployment, which means that everything at home will, according to Murphy’s Law, go wrong simultaneously. Never fear though because the “Perky Fixer” spouse is on call! With just a press of the sad face emoji, you will beckon her, and she will pounce, ready to fix whatever’s wrong. Somehow she knows everything there is to know about plumbing, medical issues (for both people and pets), and, most importantly, how to turn that frown upside down. She’ll help you move, help you unpack, and even help you hang pictures. She is the person we all need in our lives, and even though you’re not sure how you were lucky enough to meet her, you never let a day go by without thanking your lucky stars she’s in your life.
The “Let Me Help” Spouse:
She’s not quite as magical as the “Perky Fixer” spouse, but she’s always willing to lend a hand. Need help with your kids? She’s there. Need someone to take you to the airport? She’s your girl. When you’re having one of “those” days, you know the ones where nothing’s going right, she’s the one who will bring you a bottle of wine or suggest you come over for dinner. She’ll hold your hand when you suddenly end up in the hospital, pick you up at the dealership when your engine dies, and be the last one at your party, helping you clean up. She’s your home away from home, your sounding board, your most trusted ally, and she is a true treasure.
The “Salty Sympathizer” Spouse:
This military spouse is that friend with an edge and a shoulder to cry on. She’s there to listen, and when you’re at your wits’ end, she won’t try to cheer you up with platitudes such as, “It will all work out.” She calls a spade a spade, and will agree with you when a situation is less than ideal. She too is known for sharing copious amounts of wine with you as she agrees, “This sucks.” She is the most honest friend you’ll ever have.
Now, here’s the actual reason why military spouses should be appreciated this Friday . . . With the exception of being the spouse who was once in the Navy, I personally have been every single one of the above-mentioned spouses at one point in time. Navy spouses find themselves almost constantly shifting their mindsets, depending on the given situation.
While Coronado is beautiful, the part I love most about living here are my military spouse friends. I can count on them for anything, and they’re the most loyal group of friends anyone could ever hope to have. They have truly become my family, and as PCS season (permanent change of station) is upon us, I’m already getting emotional as some of them begin their rounds of “Until we meet again . . . “. (As a rule, we try not to ever say goodbye, which sounds so final.)
As this Friday marks Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I send my love and respect to the military spouses I’ve crossed paths with along the way. While most people will go about their day this Friday unaware of the significance of the day, I want my fellow military spouses to know how much I appreciate them. Without their friendship and support, this experience just wouldn’t be the same. I thank my Navy spouse friends for making each place we’ve lived my home. Military spouses of all branches, may you continue to redefine the perception of what a military spouse looks like, and may we all continue to embrace each other along the way.