Navy Wife

May 2, 2011

The Thursday before last, I had had it. William had whined and screamed all day--as well as the five days previous--and I couldn't endure another second. So when my husband finally came home from work on my assigned evening of freedom (we have an arrangement), I decided to take myself out to dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant. All my friends were either working or wrangling their own toddlers, so I went by myself.

I just about had the whole restaurant to myself, too. I had arrived before the evening dinner rush, so the place was empty except for a couple having drinks in the corner. It was so nice just to sit in the quiet and stare at the ceiling, sipping sweet tea and thinking about the huge plate of Gorgonzola pasta I was about to enjoy--artichoke hearts included. Mmm, my favorite!

A manager soon noticed me sitting alone and decided to check on me. He almost immediately asked if I was military. I suppose my eating alone must have clued him in. I said yes, and then explained that my husband is the one who serves--I just support him at home. He then thanked me for my service. "The wives have the tougher job," he explained. "The men only have to focus on the mission; the wives are responsible for dozens of other tasks to keep the household running."

I felt both humbled and grateful. It's not every day that someone recognizes the contribution you make to the happiness and security of others--even if those others are your own family. I have been on both sides of the fence (military and civilian), and I can say from experience...he's right.

Life within the military (as a soldier, sailor, etc.) is a different world. In the military, you are removed from civilian life and then kept almost too busy to think about it. While serving, you're concerned about how your uniform looks, how to master your training, whether your superiors are going to yell at you again, how to keep your buddies out of trouble, how to avoid falling asleep on duty...and that's only if your mind is actually rested enough to function properly. It's an all-consuming environment, and it's designed to be that way. Yes, you often feel lonely and miss loved ones. You wonder how they might be doing without you. But every day is just one mundane task and expectation after another, and responsibility for failure or laziness is shared among the group--specifically among those in the higher ranks.

Compare that to a spouse's role. There's no one standing by to direct the spouse, to help her in her tasks, or to take responsibility if she fails to do something right. She is both boss and laborer, father and mother. There is no one to relieve her from her duty of caring for her family except for what she can arrange. When raising children, each day presents her with new and complex challenges for which she often feels ill-equipped to handle. She desperately misses her husband, worries about his physical and mental health, and counts the seemingly endless days, hours, and minutes until she will see him again. She carries the entire weight of the household on her shoulders. She knows if her husband is disabled or killed in action, she will have to work in addition to all of her current responsibilities--and as of now, she can hardly find time to do all of the laundry. If there is an accident, she will be the one to explain to her children what happened to daddy. Her mind is often a whirl of what-ifs, trying to think of strategies to deal with potential setbacks and emergencies. She may have to move in one year, two, three or four, and then it's back to finding new doctors, schools, and a home for her family all over again. In the meantime, she watches her friends who are married to the same life come and go. The minutes or hours she spends collapsed in front of the TV or computer offer only a slight reprieve from the stress and utter loneliness of her world. Her every task and chore is at the mercy of her child(ren)'s needs and whims. If she succeeds in reaching a goal, no one is standing by to hand her a medal; if she fails, her family's happiness as well as her self-esteem is compromised.

It's hard to put a military spouse's life into words for those who aren't inclined to understand it. All some people see is that most of us don't have to work at a regular job; we get to stay home with our kids, watching TV and playing with blocks or Play-Dough, not having to answer to anyone with a title. That's true, but there's a mental and emotional side to it that most people don't see. When a man with a civilian job goes out to work, he remains part of the civilian world. It's easy for him to come home afterward and find common ground with his family. But when a service member goes out to work, he becomes part of another world with a different culture and different rules. For those hours, days or months, he is cut off from the civilian world--sometimes, even from sunlight. His homecoming often means everyone in the family must adjust and readjust. Roles are renegotiated, relationships restructured, a year's worth of memories crammed into a bedtime story. So, yeah, I can appreciate a thank-you from a stranger. I don't expect it; after all, this is what I chose to do. But at least the rare acknowledgement lifts my spirits and lets me know that, yes, even without a title and a paycheck, I am doing something that matters to someone.


Jen said...

You're very strong.

I hope you enjoyed your dinner out.

April said...

I did, thank you! It was just what I needed.

Cebs said...

First off, that dinner sounds wonderful! lol. Second off- perfectly said. I know all of my military wives/moms would strongly agree with how you put that!

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