Coming to terms with our new identity as a military family

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 “[email protected],” 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.

UPDATE FROM ARIEL:
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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Comments on Coming to terms with our new identity as a military family

  1. Hmm, I’m not quite sure where to start with this one, because you seem like a really awesome girl, and mom…BUT, I’m going to be straight, the tone and constant assumptions about all other military wives irked me.

    I hope that you will embrace and come to understand that being in the military/AF is a WAY OF LIFE, not just a job, and you will get out of it what you put in. It is sincerely one of the best communities I think anyone can have the honor to be a part of, and it would behoove you to stop pigeonholeing how every other wife feels/acts/votes/etc. before you meet them.

    Hundreds of thousands of people and kids have gone through and made it through deployments, and I get the feeling that you two strong girls can do it too. Good luck!

  2. Parents do what they have to for their kids, and sometimes we have to choke a bit on our principles to do our best. Think of this though-you and your husband are part of less than one percent of the population that vounteers for our country. And that one percent will be the only ones that understand how hard your deployments are…wether they are crunchy or not…and just because they don’t look like grrrls doesn’t mean they don’t feel the same as you. Everyone has a tough time finding like minded friends. You’ll just have to do it more often since you’ll be moving. I don’t often have many military friends when we move, but I do try to keep involved somehow because if I had listened to non-miitary people about how to deal with deployments…wow, it wouldn’t have gone well. You can live in one world and have your foot in the other. PLEASE go to the class or pick up the books on how to survive deployments and how to survive when he comes back. I can’t say it enough. Best wishes, Normal looking Grrrl, Military wife for 14 years, mother of three, and almost 4 of the last 6 years alone while he was in the middle east, and STILL looking for my new friends at our new station.

  3. It really sounds like there’s so many offbeat military partners just in these comments ago that you should start a forum! Nothing anti-military, because as one poster mentioned, that might start problems for your partners – but just a place to post about deployments, morals, schools, tattoos, whatever – and know that the people listening are the best of both worlds – alternative friends who understand. Starting forums are really easy, too – I think forumotion.com is a good place to start! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I have nothing but respect for your husband; my mother joined the Air force after I was born because they were absolutely in the same position: unable to afford anything, struggling to get by, and for a couple months living on welfare. I grew up in the military environment, and I got to see some amazing things: I lived in England and Japan, and I met tons of interesting people that have formed me into the woman I am today.

    My mother retired from the Air Force in 2008 after 21 years, and I admire every day those that can make the sacrifice of their time and energy to protect people they do not know, even if that’s not what they went for.

    I know it’s hard to be in the military environment, dealing with the war and the politics, but once I realized that it’s truly about supporting the men and the women, and not the bullshit they’re forced to do for love or family and genuine patriotism, it was a lot easier. (Not to say that you don’t! Just that it was something I had to learn; I spent a lot of my teens hating the military, without realizing that the military was made up of unique and mostly genuine people.)

    I hope you guys find your niche in the military lifestyle (I think you’ll be surprised; I met some of the most amazing and eclectic people on military bases), and that your husband will be back with your family before you know it.

    (And that going away picture? Broke my heart.)

  5. I wonder if there is a group for offbeat military wives? My SIL’s husband is a Lt. Cmdr. in the Navy, and she feels like she doesn’t have much in common with the other wives for very similar reasons.

    My husband works for a large military contractor, and he has worked on programming weapons systems and military aircraft, which isn’t the same thing as actually fighting, but neither of us support the wars either. I wouldn’t worry too much about explaining things in great detail to your daughter. Kids see things in very black and white terms and don’t understand nuance. I think if you just say, “Daddy fights the bad guys” that will be enough, even though in reality it’s much more complicated than that.

  6. Hi, I really enjoyed your post. I have, and currently am, experienced a lot of what you are feeling. My husband is currently active duty Air Force. He joined not because he is a God and Country fanatic, but because he wanted good things for our family and a stable, moderately well paying job to support us while I was in college. A week after he left for basic, I found out I was pregnant. We finally moved to our base three weeks before our daughter was born. She is three now (four in January) and we have survived, in no particular order, two short notice deployments to Afghanistan, a year and a half when my daughter and I lived at the university I attended while my husband lived 1,000 miles away at his duty station, and nursing school (which is its own beast that can sap you of many tears). I understand what you mean about relating to others. Because I am not a stay at home mom and we have not lived with my husband during his whole tour at his current base, it has been difficult to socialize and find others like me. But they are out there. Be open. We have met so many wonderful people, open, kind, unique and so helpful. So many people are attracted to the military for many reasons. Just remember that many people you meet are feeling the same feelings of loneliness. The holidays are the hardest for us because we can’t always afford to travel home. But we have found others who want to share their holidays because they can’t travel home either.

    I hope you are able to enjoy where you all move to. I love to travel and am so excited to move next. And I have found this to be such a wonderful experience for my daughter. When my husband deployed and I was full time nursing school, there were so many people wanting to help and provide my daughter with the love she was missing until her dad returned. I have gotten through this by reminding myself that no life is perfect. As long as my husband and I want a life together, we know it will not be easy, AF or not, and this makes us stronger. It has made me grow up and learn quickly. I am a 24 year old who is well versed in moving, raising a child alone with almost empty emotional resources, and mutual marital support from thousands of miles away. I am so proud of our family and our strength. You will be strong because you have to to succeed. Allow yourself to hold onto that and allow some of the guilt and worry fall to the wayside. Good luck!

    • Wow. I cannot imagine nursing school on top of all of this. You must be so motivated and strong. Props to you. Thanks for writing this it made me feel like there’s hope for sure.

  7. I found this post really hard to read. I know how hard this type of separation is, trust me, I have been living apart from my wonderful husband for 18 months as he has done pre-deployment/deployment, my daughter was 5 months old when he left, and will be two when he returns. He has missed first words, first steps, etc. I call what I do Solo parenting, while I have a supporting cast of characters, the success of the show relies on my performance.

    While I know it is hard, I think in some ways your attitude towards the military, those who serve and their partners may be making it more difficult. I would suggest that you not judge military wives by their “tacky yellow ribbons”, any more then you want to be judged by your tattoos or life style. Remember, for all the ways you are not the typical military wife, you have a lot of things in common.

    They are mothers that have to explain to their children why daddy is gone, and do bed time alone and struggle with separation and all the pain that causes just like you. You cope by writing on a blog, they cope by making a big sign that says how proud they are. And as far as military members are concerned, I would bet that the majority of people are there because they are trying to get a better life for their families, regardless of how they feel about current conflicts.

    Remember, when you make assumptions about people you imediately put up a barrier, I am sure you have experienced that, just like most of us who follow this blog have. With that barrier in place, you may miss out on bonds and friendships with women who share a lifestyle with you that no one in the civilian world can know or understand.

    I commend you for what you and your husband are doing, it is not an easy decision to make, good luck as you grow used to your need life.

    • I agree. I also had a very difficult time reading this post. I found myself getting infuriated. One of the reasons my husband joined the Army was the same reason that your and many others’ husbands joined the military. I’m a feminist lib that doesn’t agree with this war, though my husband is currently on his way to Iraq for a 12 month deployment. Yet, I am extremely proud of him and the men and women he serves with, and will proudly display my “tacky yellow ribbon” and explain to my two daughters (and soon-to-be son) the sacrifices that their dad is making for them and their country. Not a single military wife I know fits your assumptions. We are a very diverse group of people.

      This is a world you’re new to and it’s scary. I understand. But know that we all share many of those fears and struggles, regardless of our viewpoints. Speaking from experience, dealing with the constant separations and struggles are much easier when you have a support system. And what support system is better than other women who have been there? It is an amazing community if you’re willing to embrace it.

  8. Great post, and it’s wonderful to see so many military mommas on here… I was wondering if I was the only one!
    My husband is active duty Navy, a Seabee, and is currently deployed to Afghanistan. We are expecting our first child in November, and Shawn probably won’t meet him until he’s six months old. It breaks my heart! I am back “home” with my family during this time, and I really do wish that I had some more connection with military wives at this point. A facebook group would be welcomed by me, so I will definitely be checking back to see if it becomes a reality.

  9. While I understand your concerns, it’s important to reach out to your new military community. Though you might not agree on issues social, political, or otherwise, they are the best support out there because they know exactly what you’re going through. I grew up an Air Force brat (my dad joined before I was born to put himself through school), with my dad deployed for months at a time, and I cannot imagine what our life would have been like without our military family. They’re not all rah-rah military types (most of our friends have been far, far from this stereotype, and they’re career military members). Your daughter will also appreciate having friends to whom she can relate as she gets older; to this day, I always immediately get along with other military brats despite whatever differences we have. The military culture seems creepy and nationalistic from the outside, but on the inside it’s totally different, and I hope you will eventually be pleasantly surprised by the friendship and support it will offer you. And as someone who learned pacifism from my father the colonel and feminism from my stay at home mom, I can tell you there are a lot of offbeat types the the military community, as well as some of the most decent, hardworking people I’ve even encountered.

  10. M husband and I have just started trying for a baby. He is a Corporal in the Canadian Forces and he is away about 60-70% of the year. As I think forward to all the things that he will miss out on and the all the trying times I will have to endure alone, I take comfort in knowing I am not alone. There are other fierce, independent women out there who can empathize with the life we have chosen.

    I am also not a bumper sticker, flag waving military wife but I stand proud knowing that I support my troops right from my home, always putting my best face forward and always, always, praying for a safe return.

  11. Oh, mama…and Scarlett…and papa… My heart breaks a little for you, but I think you’ve thought it out really well and have made some very responsible decisions. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

    Scarlett is going to grow up to be very proud of you both.

  12. Not a mom yet, but I just wanted to echo what several people have already said (and beautifully). (Plus, I think I’m the first Marine wife to comment; gotta make sure the USMC gets some representation!) From the outside, military wives look monolithic in terms of culture. And to some degree, we do present a unified front to those on the outside. But once you start meeting us and being a part of the group, you’ll realize that we are varied, diverse, and fun! My husband is at The Basic School (post-commission officer’s training) right now, and the wives I’ve met are all interesting, hilarious, supportive people. They get me more than my own friends back in my hometown. You’ll be surprised at the people you bond with, and the support you get. I have found that all wives are immediately welcomed into the group, no questions asked; there’s no test you have to pass! I know it’s tough right now, and sometimes it gets tougher, but you will find ways to adapt. Just be yourself ๐Ÿ™‚

      • You know, I thought I would hate it here, but it’s really nice once you get used to east coast traffic. And since our stay here is going to be extended by quite some time, it’s a good thing I changed my mind! ๐Ÿ™‚ where are you guys stationed?

        • We’re in California at Camp Pendleton right now, but we were in Quantico before that, and I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be sent back there again by next summer because I really liked it there.

  13. Thank you for sharing. I know you must be in a difficult spot right now, and I know how it is not being able to relate to those around you. My fiance and father of my baby (due in April) is over seas at the moment, though due to immigration and not the military. No one really understands what that is like, though I feel as if you would. I often compare my situation to the military situation, though I am also a pacifist.

    Just, thank you once again.

  14. I too am new to the Military Spouse lifestyle and I also came into it with a preset stereotype that all military wives were uneducated, Pro-War breeders who all tried to outdo each other by who could incorporate the most red, white and blue flag pins into their outfits.

    I moved into base housing and found the opposite to be true. Military Spouses are just normal people. In our neighborhood we have everything from bikers, punk rockers, rockabilly couples, artists, hip-hopers, triathletes, gamers, business professionals, grad students, stay at home moms and foreign brides. The best part is that everyone all supports each other and gets along. We all BBQ together on the weekends, go to any of the many functions that the base offers and get exposed to a lot of different lifestyles and cultures that we wouldn’t otherwise.

    The military also goes above and beyond for Children. If you decided to put your child into one of the military schools, the teachers are all normal certified school teachers, some are military spouses, but many are just civilians who decided to travel the world and get an opportunity to live and work somewhere else. It is the same education that you would get anywhere else, but with smaller class sizes. You can also chose to put your child into any public school outside of base as well, you aren’t required to use the military schools.

    Many people in the military never see combat, they are just like your husband and decided to get into the military for steady work, free education or just to see the world. The military offers jobs to cooks, electricians, repair positions, counciling, photography, news reporting and film. Not everyone wants to be a life sized G.I. Joe.

    I have also gone through a couple under-ways with my husband, and although it is hard at first, it is also a good opportunity to work on yourself for a while. You can take advantage of the free mag flights and visit friends and family around the world, or take a backpacking trip to some country you always wanted to see. Luckily the community inside the military is very supportive and many other wives and families are going through the same deployment schedule as you and yours will. You will get to meet everyone and become really close while your husband is away. His command will also reach out to you and make sure that you and your daughter have everything you need. On your first deployment don’t be surprised if you get women dropping off dinners for you and checking in to see if everything is going well. They do everything possible to make the transition as easy on the family unit as possible and offer many classes on how to deal with deployments successfully.

    I know that right now things are new and seem stressful, but they will get better and you and your family will get to experience so many new and wonderful things. Just go into it with an open mind. Take part in the different programs and activities that the military community offers and you will love it.

  15. I know I’m late to adding to this, but I am an Australian Army spouse. I’ve bee through deployments, being moved interstate and being away from everything you know…..all within a few weeks of moving to a new area.

    While I don’t have kidlings, i know the importance of reaching out to those that can hep you. You don’t have to feel alone, just an email, a letter or a phonecall away you can find people in your exact position who can make you feel more at home than your snuggly teddy bear.

    I find that communicating with those around you, especially in army houseing, is the best way to limit your seclusion in the world. No matter your circumstance.

  16. Wow this is unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment, but after I click submit, my comments did not appear. Grrrr … well, I do not write all over again. No matter what, just want to say great blog!

  17. I know this comment probably won’t be read, and I’m not a mom (but plan to be – I read this blog to be prepared!), but I just have to say…I have SO much in common with you. My husband was stationed in Japan for 2 years, including the first year and a half of our marriage, during which I couldn’t find any work and ended up taking care of his 300 pound dying grandmother. And now we’re together, and it’s great, but neither of us have pride for something we find so repulsive. Maybe the economy made us bitter. Maybe it’s the fact I immigrated to Canada and lived in Europe, and have seen how much better other places in the world are, but it’s SO hard being part of the military community without hardly an ounce of pride. Instead of pride, I feel so sorry for the people who have to go and fight. Was it their choice? For many it was, but for people like us, we did it out of desperation – just to survive. And that makes it so much harder. However the experience has been very positive. I got to spend a month in Japan. I also got to live with my husband’s family for a year and a half, and they became my family, my parents, my siblings, my cousins, etc. And even though we still only end up with about $40 a month for food, we have a beautiful small home to keep us safe, and we’re finally together. Not to mention we have a great future ahead of us (in Canada) due to my husband’s experience and credentials.

    One last thing. Before I read this post, I honestly, truly thought I was alone in this. I never belonged to a “military wive’s club”. I get along more with the Marines themselves than the many dominant, stuck up wives (who all buy expensive furniture, expensive cars, and all dress the same). I’m not trying to bash – this is the first time I’ve ever been able to vent about this.

    Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in this.

  18. hey guys,
    how about an update?! how are you and how hast it been?
    iยดd love to hear how the story went on..

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