There’s a lot of stories we are told, and tell ourselves, about the dreams we hope to have fulfilled.
And then life happens.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Because the things you learn about yourself, and the people you choose to live your life with you, can only be learned when you’re living, not dreaming.
We are so much more than we could ever dream to be.
When you marry a soldier, you don’t get a FM or an AR book. You shuffle through a newcomers’ brief and sign up for a few AFTB classes.
Then you find out what midnight recalls, Niagra Starch, “The Field,” and deployment means.
Sometimes you learn this in the first year.
Marrying a soldier changed my dreams.
1. Adult life isn’t lollipops and rainbows.
When he signed up, I was 17 years old. I’ve literally been with this man for over half my life. I dreamed of sweet love letters in the mail. He sent me sweet letters, but also information about life insurance and bank statements. I had to learn about bank statements. I had to read over life insurance. I was 17 and he was 19. We are too young for this. All the lollipops went away.
2. Loving a Soldier isn’t easy.
We had rough years. My parents weren’t thrilled with the prospect of him being the “one.” We didn’t have Facebook or consistent internet access.
Letters would come in weeks, not days. Words were often misconstrued. I didn’t know that I’d one day spend years away from him while he was away on the other side of the world.
3. Dream weddings are just dreams.
We had a shotgun wedding at the courthouse in Kansas. Later we had a backyard wedding in his sister’s backyard. It cost us $1500 to include the honeymoon to Savannah. We were young and in love. I didn’t know that love was really what we needed.
4. Being prepared.
Soldiers leave in the middle of the night—without a kiss goodbye, and we will survive.
During the aftermath of September 11th, he was recalled in the middle of the night. I didn’t talk to him for a few days. I didn’t know where he was. I cried. I sobbed. I called into work. I didn’t know this would happen. No one told me this would happen. I learned how to be prepared. How to say goodbye. How not to cry. How to help him get his duffle on his back in less than 30 minutes.
5. College isn’t late nights and drinking.
I went to college while married to a solider. I didn’t get to stay out late with friends. I had to study hard and pay my own tuition. I learned how to work hard for every college credit I earned.
6. College isn’t guaranteed.
We moved in the middle of a school year. After getting settled at our new place and enrolled at a new college, I got pregnant. I had a baby. College as I knew it was not as important as my new baby. College took a back burner. It’s still there.
7. Pregnancy glow is a myth.
My soldier was in Germany while I was in the bed on bed rest. I sent him videos of my belly as our baby moved around in it. I sent pictures each week of my growing belly. My best friend stayed with me for the last few weeks until I was induced.
8. Being a first time mom is a challenge—especially when you will do it alone.
My soldier was gone for the first 22 months of her life. I had all the sleepless nights, fevers, first steps, and first words… all of it by myself. I didn’t get to share it with him. He got pictures and videos.
9. Homecomings aren’t like the ones you see on TV.
Sometimes they are quiet and intimate in a crowded airport while your 22 month old clings to you, terrified of the strange man who happens to be her daddy. Sometimes they are on hot bleachers and delayed by two hours in the July heat while your two children cry, wet their pants, and drop the last granola bar you packed in an ant pile.
10. Military balls don’t look like a Cinderella movie.
My first few balls I spent hundreds of dollars on dresses, manicures, and updos. I sat for hours through formalities I did not understand. Now I wear dresses a few times, brush my hair, and put on mascara as I run out the door for another ball. I understand and appreciate those traditions.
11. Raising kids as a single parent for years at a time is my reality.
I dreamed that we’d both be smiling under an oak tree while our girls frolicked through the fields. I didn’t know I’d spend endless nights in the same routine desperately needing a break, but still carrying on because it is a necessity.
12. Mowing the lawn and replacing radiator hoses isn’t man work.
I’ve had to mow the lawn, fix a washer, replace a radiator hose, change lightbulbs and the list grows every year. I don’t get to put things off until he comes home that night—he won’t be home for a year.
13. Driving Miss Daisy.
I don’t like to drive and I’m nervous in traffic and bad weather. I don’t have a choice about driving when he is gone. I had to learn to drive interstates, parallel-park, and drive in the snow.
14. Coffee in the mornings is not always us sitting on the deck and holding hands.
Some years the closest I get to sharing coffee with him is drinking from his mug or sending him a picture of my coffee.
15. We will spend few conversations by a fireplace, but many conversations via text messages.
I imagined long talks in the evening by the fireplace. The Army sends him away so I cherish the times we can have those talks. Otherwise, we rely on social media and text messages. We make do and still manage to stay strong despite the communication challenges.
16. Anniversaries, while important, are just a block on the calendar.
We have to celebrate them when we can. I never dreamed that we’d say goodbye for a year on our 14th wedding anniversary.
17. Nineteen years ago, a nervous seventeen year old boy gingerly knocked on my door as he was prepared to meet my parents for the first time.
He nervously stumbled through conversation as I silently blushed at the supper table.
Who knew that nineteen years later, to the day, I’d welcome him home from a year-long tour in Korea?
The Army didn’t dash my dreams—it changed my perspective. The fairytale ideals I had as a young girl morphed into realities. It is a lot of hard work. We spend many evenings in tears as we spend years apart. Sometimes I think Army wife life is the loneliest life there is.
Then I remember all the challenges we’ve overcome and realize we grew closer and stronger.
I’m thankful for this life.