Coming to terms with our new identity as a military family

September 9 | Guest post by Kait Payne

I married a bartender. I married a goofy, bearded, garage band kid. In May he left for Air Force basic training.

He didn't join out of some messed up God-complex, and I love that about him. He signed up so that we were positive that our daughter's education would be paid for. After years of not being able to afford diapers, and him having to literally eat ketchup packets at work so that he could afford food for Scarlet and I, we decided as a family that something needed to happen.

This economy is a scary place for 20-somethings with no real work experience. Gabe had attended two years of computer tech school. After some research, we found out that that meant he could enlist in the Air Force as an E3 instead of an E1. It honestly seemed like the only option, despite the fact that neither one of us support this war. Signing up for the military knowing full well that he would likely have to fight a battle he didn't believe in was not something we took pride in. We just felt like giving our daughter every opportunity took precedence to all those other issues.

I didn't realize the weight of the choice we had made, honestly. Gabe and Scarlet are close, he did half of everything with her. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum and was sick and practically bedridden the entire 9 months of my pregnancy. Because of that, he said he'd take the first 9 months of waking up with her in the night. He's a good man, and a present father. I'm not just blowing smoke.

When he left Scarlet still insisted that we buy the kind of milk he drank and I had to pour him a glass every single morning, and then dump it and wash it out while she napped. It was hard on her. That's actually a giant understatement. She was so confused, and almost bitter at first. She felt abandoned, and that killed me. I had to explain time and time again that he was doing this for us and not to us.

Gabe with Scarlet right before leaving for basic training.

It hasn't just been hard on Scarlet, it's been hard on Gabe and I as well. He can't really relate to his UFC loving, typically single guy peers. Luckily for him he is outgoing and easy to get along with, but he still feels alone. Obviously being away from his daughter kills him, and he has trouble finding people who can relate to something like that. I have had a lot of people shower me with support. Other military wives from across the country have just been amazing with emails and things. I just find it difficult, because again I don't really relate to them. I wouldn't be caught dead with an email like "," and I'm not going to be waving a tiny flag anytime in my near future.

When we went down to San Antonio for his basic training graduation, I was entirely overwhelmed. I felt nothing like the other wives. They all had huge posters and showed their pride by screaming and hollering. I'm not really into pride in general. I don't scream. I bought a vintage USAF belt buckle an antique store, but that's about as far as my Air Force pride goes. I support my husband, and I am entirely proud of what he is doing for me and our daughter. And I guess to some extent I am grateful that the Air Force has given us a way to get out of this city and pay our bills, but honestly I am just sort of carrying a grudge because this was the only way for us.

I don't mean to portray all military wives as stuffy conservative jerks — I really don't. I'm only meant to say that this existence is really lonely for me sometimes. Our friends don't understand because they can't relate anymore. It's isolating. I don't feel like there are many people who I can relate to who see the world from the same sort of perspective that I do. I know they don't all shop at L.L. Bean and have Bill O'Riley posters over their beer pong tables, and I'm not trying to say that. I just feel nontraditional in a very traditional environment, and we haven't even hit base yet.

Kait, Scarlet, and Gabe = FaceTime!
He is at tech school right now. That means that instead of letters and a 15 minute phone call once every two weeks he gets internet access and a cell phone. This has helped Scarlet a lot. We got the new iPhones so we could do FaceTime. That feature has totally changed the way bedtime works in this house. It has definitely made Scar a happier kid. While he was at bootcamp bedtime was the most difficult part of the day. Now it's back to singing Blackbird by The Beatles before bed.

Although these things have made it easier for Scarlet, I think it's almost made things harder for me. When he was that far gone, it was like I could put him in the absent bracket of my brain. Now that he's halfway around, I get more bitter that he isn't around. I miss him more. It's hard to explain without sounding ridiculous and selfish, but having a halfway husband is no easy feat. I had to move my bed into the living room just to avoid walking into the bedroom at night and going to sleep alone. It's too much for me. I have no idea how I am going to deal with deployments.

Oh, deployments. I can't even say that word without cringing. He will be done with military school in February, and we'll be reunited! I can't wait. We'll be stationed and getting out of this city like we've always wanted. Happily ever after! Except not. Except then at any time he can be called to active duty. How do I rationalize that to my daughter, who at that time will likely be four years old? She doesn't have so much as a plastic toy gun. We're going to have to somehow figure out a way to explain to her that Daddy is going to fight, even though we preach non-violence. By the time she is in Kindergarten we'll be on base so she'll be at a school on base. Her friends will all have a parent in the Air Force. What ideas are they going to present to her? What do I do when she comes home with all the tough questions and I am the only one home to give her answers because Daddy is in Iraq or Korea fighting for something we think is irrelevant?

I think I will just explain to her that this is the means to an end. We've always tried to be as upfront with her as possible, and I really don't think that this should be an exception. I'll tell her to work hard, to make it worth it. I'll tell her to stay positive, and to be nice to people. Gabe is 24 and I am 23. If he chooses to retire from the Air Force, we'll still have so much life to live.

We want an RV. We want to be constantly moving and seeing the world while we can. I'll still be taking photographs, and we'll have albums full from the years before. And if that reality means that I have to face this one first, then fine. I'll be the only mom with a half-sleeve picking her kid up from preschool if I have to be. We'll have the only car without a tacky yellow ribbon magnet. Okay. I'll deal with all that, and my kid will not have student loans up to her ears when she graduates, and nobody will eat ketchup packets, and if we ever have another kid we won't have to worry about where the next diaper is coming from.

Based on comments, there was some interest in a Facebook group for offbeat military types. Well, someone started one! While the group is not officially affiliated of the Offbeat Empire, I'm happy to spread the word about it. 🙂

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