Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Photo on the Wall

There she stood, youthful smile and soft hair, the sunshine-filled tropical paradise behind her.  Framed lovingly and prominently displayed, the photo spoke of another time and a radiant joy.  As I waited for Little G to get her things after a sleepover, I turned to the mom of the hosting child and asked, "Was this you?"  After a wistful smile and a gentle glance at the photo, she answered, "Yes, yes...that was a long time ago, of course."

I, too, have a picture like that.  When My G and I were dating, we had photos done.  He's in his uniform, PV2 chevron and all.  I'm in a little black dress that made me feel amazing.  My hair is long, and oh, so golden.  We are so positively, achingly young.  Sometimes I just stand and look at the portrait and I smile.  It's a little wistful, a little happy-- there is a fondness for the girl in the photo and that bright open smile she has.

Growing up, my mother had a photo like that, too.  It was taken while she and my stepfather were on their honeymoon, and she stands by a bridge and her smile flirts with the camera.  While that marriage did not last, there is a genuine happiness and confidence in her smile that transcends the relationship.  When I was younger, I could not understand why she kept that photo in their room.  Why would she want to look at a photo of just herself, I wondered.  She wasn't and isn't a vain woman.

I think I understand now.  There is a need, at least among women, to touch base with the selves we were during the happiest moments of our lives.  It reminds us of the women we  were then-- confident, sure, happy, secure.  In moments of great triumph, we can look at these photos and tell our past selves, "Hey, we did it!"   In moments of struggle or challenge, we look at those photos for inspiration, to remind ourselves of our once-great and versatile strength.  We can remind ourselves what we have been through since that happy day, what moments we have already overcome. And once again, we can keep on.

I hope my daughters will both have photos like these of themselves.  Whether they hang the images on the wall or keep them in a drawer for moments of quiet reflection, I hope there are many times when the camera will quietly capture youth, and joy, and strength.  Years later, I pray those traits will be a comfort and a reminder of the amazing people they were, who they are, and who they will someday be.

Old photos can act as mirrors to our past selves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Go Ahead And Surprise Me

I will admit to being a little odd.  Weird, even.  Those who know me well are nodding their heads.  Those who know me really well are probably laughing.

A lot of my friends watch those "Surprise Reunion" shows.  The news is full of Dads surprising kids, or wives getting surprised at special ball games.  I watch these and I tear up and I think they're really neat.

But I've never wanted to be surprised with a homecoming.  I've told My G that I really would prefer some notice, even if it's a call from the airport.  I've told him I don't do surprises very well.  I've told him many things.

I'd want to get myself ready...maybe a pedicure.

Change the sheets and towels.

Clear off his night table and give him back his pillows.

Clean off his side of the bathroom sink (I swear, my stuff wants to take over the world).

Vacuum, do the yard, put stuff away.

A thousand and one small acts of love and welcoming, getting myself and our home ready for him to come back-- they'd all need to be done.

The other day, when Little G was at an academic awards ceremony, I saw a soldier come in who vaguely reminded me of My G.  Just a little teeny bit, just enough to think "oh, I wish that were him."  And then something clicked in my mind-- I've reached the point in this deployment where I would be okay if he suddenly got a chance to come home.  I'd welcome it.  If he showed up in one of those surprise homecoming things, I'd hope that I was dressed nicely but all the same-- I don't care.

The house can be a mess.

I can always shower later.

The yard may not be perfectly mowed.

His car may still have my lip gloss riding in the cupholder.

I really don't think he will care.  And I won't either, now.

We've gone through three of these things now, plus a year of Korea, and this is the first time I've been done enough, tired enough, so the thought of surprise didn't send me into a tailspin.

If that had been My G, with his rambling walk and proud step, I'd have knocked people out of my way to hold him.  I wouldn't be thinking "oh my gosh the house is a mess" or "holy cow what else does this mean for us"-- I'd be thinking one thing and one thing only..


Sunday, June 3, 2012

What I Wish I Had Known

I belong to a Facebook group of "older" Army wives; we aren't all necessarily senior spouses, but we are all past the age of consent and we have a bit of perspective and maturity under our belts.

This does not keep us from snickering about naughty words, but it does mean we know how to act with decorum when the situation calls for it.

Well, most of the time.

I'm proud to call them friends.  Our discussions are lively and interesting and vastly entertaining, even on days when it's a little harder to find a smile.

Just today, the question was asked: "What are things you wish you would have known about the Army life when you were a new spouse?"  A good number of the statements below were shared on that FB page; they are all things I've learned personally as well.

When I look back, I remember lots of warnings about Army life.  That if the Army had wanted him to have a spouse, they would have issued one.  I was told that I would generally come second, and that the Army life was hard and I better be darn sure I knew what I was doing.

What I wish I had known, what I wish I had been told--

He won't hug you in uniform because it's against the rules, not because he doesn't want to hug you.   He'll still hug you later, when the unit isn't watching.

That sweet senior spouse who is taking you under her wing?  Spend more time with her.  Ask for a phone number and beg her to meet you for lunch.  She won't mind that you are clueless.

The days are long, but the years are short.   (This goes for parenthood, too.)

Everything is subject to change.   You will understand flexibility in a way you could never have imagined.

Rank is important, but not as intimidating as you believe.

Other Army spouses may not all be your friends.  But there will be a common understanding between you that soothes and comforts.

There is much to dislike about the Army life.  However, there is a dignity and strength to service that will hold you up later.

You will never look at an American flag the same way.

Your kids will be okay.  Keep being their advocate, keep believing in them.  There might have been easier ways for them to grow up, but they will end up okay in the end.

Sock more into savings.

Those free classes about understanding the Army?  Totally worth your time.  Take all of them.  (I took the first AFTB, Army Family Team Building, class when it was a pilot program at Fort Riley.  I wish I had taken the other two in person instead of online and years later.)

Be very, very careful when the First Sergeant asks the family members if they have any questions or concerns.  Sometimes he will really want to know so he can fix things.  Other times, it's a trap and it's best to keep your mouth shut.   You will not like his answer if you are wrong about his reason for asking.

Remember to hang on to who "you" are, even as you're changing into an Army wife.  When the buses leave and that farewell hug is the dimmest memory, you will need the person you are inside, most of all.

Never, ever trust the word "should," as in "We should be able to be back in time for your birthday" or "We should get reimbursed for that travel."

Take photos of everything you own.  Keep paperwork with you when you move.  The Army movers generally do a good job, but sometimes stuff happens.

Homesickness will literally make you feel sick inside, sometimes.

"Home" will have a whole new meaning for you.

Get used to writing plans in pencil.

From another blog that I wouldn't have understood as a new Army spouse-- You will have a wonderful life, and a husband you love more than anything who will come and go in and out of it.

You will get used to "hurry up and wait".  (I did not say you'd like it.)

Give your Soldier space when he first gets home.  This is as true for the moments after a regular duty day as it is for after a year-long deployment.  You will both need to adjust for a bit before you can talk it through.  (This one will be an ongoing struggle.)

Many of these things are true regardless of the marriage, regardless of the situation.  Saving, learning, staying true to yourself-- all good to know when you're young and starting out.  We grow up, we build a life, stitched together by common threads.  Military spouses often have to learn these things faster in order to keep their marriage strong, because there are so many other things we must learn at the same time.

Most important, I think, are the simplest things--

Always remember to say "I love you," even if you're mad at them.

And grab a kiss before they leave.