As this 238th birthday of the United States Marine Corps comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the many lessons I’ve learned over the last 14 years.. In celebration of the many amazing Marines I’ve had the pleasure to know, the families they fight for and the countless experiences I’ve been given, I’ll do my best to share a few now.
Lesson 1. Never take a moment or a person for granted.
In the homes of many military families is a framed picture with the words “Live everyday like he deploys tomorrow.” It’s a beautiful sentiment. An idea that should be followed. However, this sentiment should not stop with your spouse.
There will be many lasts as you move through your years as a military spouse. Realistically, you will have more lasts with every other relationship in your life during your spouses career than your last day before a deployment(s) with your spouse.
You’ll have last days with your “real” family (the ones you share blood with) as you say goodbye to be with your spouse. You’ll have last days with the friends you grew up with, and last days in your home town.
Only to turn around 2 to 3 years later and have last days with your family (the ones you made at your duty station) Last days with your friends, and last days in your newest home.
Savor every day and every encounter like you will leave tomorrow.
2. NEVER miss an opportunity to learn something.
No. I’m not talking about learning everything you can about the branch your spouse serves in. While that’s all moto-awesome, expand beyond your spouses service. Take every opportunity given to grow as an individual. Do not become “just” a military spouse or a mom. Take cooking classes, join clubs. Finish your degree. Then start another one.
And remember, you’re lucky to have the opportunity to travel the world every few years thanks to the military orders your family is assigned, (like how I twisted the words “military orders” into something positive? Hee hee!) GET OUT THERE. Experience the culture you’re surrounded by. Eat the food. Learn the language. Learn the history.
Ya know what’s worse than being “stuck in some s^&$ hole thanks to military orders? Leaving that s%^& hole and hearing people talk about the things they seen and did while they were there. “Scuba diving in Pensacola?! Whaaaaaaat?!” Yeah. You missed it because you were to busy locked away in your one bedroom apartment calling everyone you know- in other time zones- to tell them how miserable you are. That’s dumb. Don’t be dumb.
GET OUT THERE.
Lesson 3. Take LOTS of pictures.
Seriously. Take. Lots. Of. Pictures. And when you think you’ve taken too many, reload that camera and take some more.
When will you ever see that place again? Or those faces? Your spouse will never look the way he does right now. Your friends will move away. Your kids will grow. Capture every moment while you can.
Lesson 4. Celebrate.
Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate everything. -and then take pictures!- Kid 1 got every word on his spelling test right? PARTY! Your friend got a new job? Let her know you’re proud of her and do something fun.
Go to the hail and farewells. Go to the unit holiday parties. Go to the Balls. Your time with these people is small. Your reasons to celebrate are limited. Make reasons of your own.
In your life as a military spouse you will see darkness. You will know horror and fear. You will know loss and pain. These “stupid little gatherings” could be the only thing that pull you through. Create them. Create them often.
Lesson 5. Put yourself out there.
Ok, it’s not always easy to make friends. Especially when you know you’ll have to say goodbye to them sooner then later. Do it anyway. Ya know what’s worse than saying goodbye to someone you care about? Not having someone to say hello to.
Lesson 6. Always have cookie dough and crock pot meals in the freezer.
Ya never know when a family in your spouses unit will have a “life situation” that a good meal or some “I’m thinking of you” cookies can help. As spouses we endure having babies, broken bones, illnesses and so much more. And many times we will be asked to brave these things thousands of miles from our family and often our spouse. That frozen meal and your stopping in to check on them could be the one thing that pushes a “sister wife” forward. Reminding them they are not alone and are strong enough to keep going.
Besides, if you somehow find yourself surrounded by families that never need a helping hand, you have dinner and dessert for the days YOU don’t think you can get through. It’s a win-win.
Lesson 7. Share your stories and experiences. Good. Bad. And ugly.
And not just with your new friends. Share them with your family through social media. Too often we move away and lose touch with our BFF’s, cousins, aunts and uncles. Next thing you know you’re home for Christmas, surrounded by people you’ve known your entire life and you feel like an outcast. You’re lucky if they remember where you live, yet alone where you work or any interests you may have developed since the last time you seen them. This is lonely. And awkward.
Thanks to social media you don’t have to experience this anymore. Tell your stories. Share your pictures. Let them celebrate with you, or share in your bad day. Reach out to them. And ALWAYS return the favor. Let them know you’re happy for them when they have something to celebrate. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Encourage them.
Share your lives. You’ll be glad you did on your next visit home.
Lesson 8. Make traditions.
Especially if you’re raising “military brats”. They may never know what it’s like to celebrate 4th of July with BBQs with their cousins. Or witness a Christmas Pageant at the church they’ve gone to since the day they were created. Find a way to make this up to them. Give them traditions.
On the off chance you made it through the military life without children, make traditions anyway. Everyone needs a feeling of home that can only be created through traditions.
Lesson 9. Listen to your predecessors.
Sure, you may think you have nothing in common with the 70 year old woman going on and on about how easy you have it thanks to computers. -After all you can talk to your deployed spouse often thanks to technology. Hell, you can even see them! *Gasp!*
While it might seem worthless to listen to that woman rattle on and on about how hard it was to wash her clothes in the kitchen sink because the luxury of washing machines wasn’t a birth rite in her time, you’ll be grateful for her recollections when you discover TMO “lost” your washing machine. She is wise. Listen to her. Learn from her. Appreciate her.
Lastly, Lesson 9. NEVER miss the opportunity to tell someone they’re wonderful.
Whether it’s your best friend or some random person on the corner. If you are gifted the opportunity to compliment them for their awesomeness-whatever it may be- do it. It will make their day, and yours. Try it. You’ll see 🙂