LET’S START WITH the basics.
Always ask for a discount. Ask for a cheaper movie ticket. Ask for a free pass at Sea World. Ask for cheap hotel rooms, ice cream cones, museum admission, and dry cleaning. A lot of times you won’t get it, but it’s good practice for when your spouse is away and you need to ask for special things. Like the ability to pay a parking ticket, getting around a Power of Attorney at the bank (because it needs to be on their letter head) or calling AAA to start his car that you are driving because he is overseas for several months.
Get used to driving on base. If you’re not from a military background, the first few times will be weird. The first time you’ll almost drive in the wrong lane. The second time you’ll make eye contact with the gun and not the guard. The third time you’ll forget to turn your lights off and be worried the guard will arrest you. The first hundred times you will feel like it can’t be right, you can’t possibly be allowed onto this fenced-in city. As soon as you are comfortable, have your mom visit and cruise through the gate like it is no big deal. Smile when she gets nervous about the gun.
Take advantage of shopping on base. Tax free shoes, groceries, iPods, and cheap gas, why wouldn’t you? When your mom visits make sure you bring her there too. Remember not to shop on payday or days when Donald Rumsfeld is there doing a book signing. There will be no parking.
Depending on his job, your husband might be away a lot and you will still need to eat dinner. I suggest buying the biggest Tupperware available at Target and quadrupling your favorite lasagna recipe so you can eat it every day for two weeks.
While he is away for a long deployment, make sure you think of five or ten clever or sage things to respond to people when they look at you like you have a terminal illness and tell you how bad they feel for you and your husband. For example, “I’ve got a lot to keep me busy!” or “I’ve got a strong support system” or “I’m really looking forward to eating Doritos for dinner three nights a week.”
Speaking of keeping busy when you’re on your own, do that. But don’t take up so many hobbies that when he comes home you don’t have time to hang out. I try to keep a balance between activities that I pick up. For every serious time commitment, like a class, try to pick up something you can easily dump or put on hold, like watching the Dick Van Dyke show on Netflix.
To show support for the military, buy things from your husband’s command like T shirts, hats, or maybe a travel coffee mug. Remember that if you buy a “MY SOLDIER IS HOTTER THAN YOURS” license plate holder, there is a chance your husband will have to drive that car to work one day. He will be teased and not happy with you. And you will kind of deserve it.
Do not think it is a good idea to plan something while he is deployed, like a wedding or a vacation. You will think, “It will be a constructive thing for us to talk about! He can take his mind off whatever thing is going on over there and I won’t need to be worried about sounding petty when I complain about bugs in the trash can.” Instead, try listening, and asking questions, and talk about the stupid bugs if that is what is going on in your life. You will both grow and change like crazy during a separation like this. Try to grow and change together.
Get a reliable cell phone with a loud ringtone. I feel worse about missing calls from overseas than finding out I needed to drive myself home from getting my wisdom teeth out.
When you are reunited, everyone will say that he needs to adjust to things you have changed, knowingly or unknowingly, while he was away. In my limited experience, this is half true. The first day I left him home while I went to work every piece of furniture I had moved was back where it belonged and I spent a day adjusting.
Surround yourself with a mix of positive people. Hang out with other military wives who understand what you are going through, can understand the acronyms you are using when you are talking about your healthcare, and can give you help and advice that only someone who has lived it can. Join social clubs or the FRG (as long as they don’t meet on Tuesday mornings at the playground and you are at work and also don’t have a kid to bring). But don’t limit yourself to that community.
Chances are you have relocated. There is an entire new city of people to meet! You will appreciate having friends that share a common interest with you and not with your husband’s job. Don’t let being a part of the military dwarf your personal development as a person. You can have your own life, is what I’m saying.
Be proud of your husband. And tell him that often.
Be proud of yourself. And tell yourself that often.
If you have children, be proud of them. And tell them often.
The military has a funny way of changing your personal plans, like where you are going to live, when you can go on vacation, whether or not your husband will be around for the birth of your first child, when you want to take a nap etc. All of that sucks, but it doesn’t take away from the important thing he is doing, and what you are doing. If you watch enough TV, the word “sacrifice” will start to sound cliché to you, in terms of being a military family, but it is a sacrifice. You don’t need to be doing this, but you are. Own the rareness and the specialness and the weirdness that comes with this life you have chosen.
Speaking of watching TV, don’t watch “Army Wives.” That is not real life.
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