“There is someone walking behind you, turn around, look at me. There is someone watching your footsteps, turn around, look at me.”
Yesterday was “Military Spouses Day” but in reality, every day should be a day we honor and think about our military spouses. Close your eyes and visualize ‘military’. What did you see? A soldier or marine in sand beige, gritty, sunburned? A sailor, standing on the deck of an enormous ship in their pure white uniform? A pilot climbing out of the cockpit of a sleek jet. The sharp, silent dignity of the Old Guard standing at the tomb in Arlington Cemetery.
In each of these images, did you also perhaps see a wife or husband standing behind them? A woman, tucking her children into bed, struggling to find the right answers for the little three year old who asks over and over “where is Daddy?”, “I want Daddy to play with me tomorrow!”, “Why can’t Daddy read me a story?”. Moms, who have to be soft enough to kiss their boo-boos and tough enough to stand up when they are naughty. Dads, who are raising children while Mommies are off serving our country. Dads, who can throw a football with their sons but are also able to reassure their teenage daughters that they are pretty and their friends do like them.
You may be thinking, so, there are many single-parent households in the United States, what makes them any different? I am not a military spouse but I can explain the difference through my relationship with the two most courageous, beautiful, and independent military wives I know, my daughters-in-law (I hate using the word daughter-in-law, I always refer to them as my daughters).
Yesterday, my son left to return back to Iraq after two weeks of R&R (rest & relaxation, two-week leave at mid-point during a deployment). All fortitude built over the past four months, gone in an instant only to have to be built back up all over again.
“There is someone, who really loves you, here’s my heart, in my hand” Turn around, look at me.”
The military spouse, wiping up the kitchen floor long after the dinner hour has ended. Homework, a last-minute trip to the library or art supply store for projects “If I don’t turn it in tomorrow morning I’ll get an F!”
Trying to concentrate on whatever task at hand, always with the constant duality of fear and joy of hearing the telephone ring during the middle of the night. A barking dog, because a stranger has pulled into the driveway, the huge sigh of relief when realizing it only is people who are lost.
Twenty minutes each way, driving back and forth just to be able to use a computer because yours ‘died’ and you don’t want to spend the money to buy a new one, nor even ask for one. Only to sit and hope your husband can get on-line for a minute or two, jumping for joy at hearing the little messenger buddy noise/alert, completely dejected when this was just not the night. Returning home to a very lonely bed.
A brain never at rest; days that seem like years but turn into milliseconds during that precious mid-deployment leave. Not being able to just pick up a phone to share great news or to get support when you are in the emergency room with a baby who has a 103 fever. Making sure you’ve written down everything you want to tell them or ask them because when the phone awakens you in the middle of the night, in the haze you know you will always forget to say something. Precious calls that end abruptly due to random electrical/signal outages or incoming mortar fire.
“Understand that there’s someone to stand beside you, turn around, look at me. There’s someone to love and guide you, turn around, look at me.”
Since the beginning of both my sons’ military careers, one which began eight years ago and the other just over a year ago I have watched firsthand the love, devotion, sacrifices, and challenges of being their wives, military wives with grace, strength, and courage. Always 100% behind my sons’ decisions, always encouraging their goals and dreams, joyfully sharing in their achievements, and calmly reassuring them during difficult times. I love my sons more than anything in this world, they are kind, good, and loving sons, but I am not really sure if either of them truly understands the extent of their wives' devotion and selflessness.
For the past eight years, I have seen firsthand my eldest son’s wife’s total devotion to him, to their son (my little gremlin grandson), her family, us (two sets of ‘in-laws’), her siblings, and their children! Without fail, she makes sure my son never misses an episode of that funny cartoon (Metacropylse or something like that….), sending him a DVD weekly. I honestly believe if they lost power in the house … she would single-handedly figure out a way to produce electricity just so he wouldn’t miss one episode! The skillful packing of my son’s guitar to ship overseas, arriving without one scratch or dent! The ability to contend with things that arise suddenly (sometimes due to my son’s forgetfulness); figuring out how to track down an endless list of papers from hundreds of miles away, just to get on the base housing waitlist so he has a nice home to return to after deployment.
My other beautiful, independent young daughter (my younger sons’ wife), whom I thought would be able to cut back on some of the hours she works (but hasn’t), literally standing on her feet for a full-time shift (and sometimes, over time) while attending school, and taking care of family members. Walking each of their dogs (or them walking her) one at a time every day, twice a day without fail between school and work. She has driven hours through the dead of night after a long day at work…just to arrive on base first thing in the morning to be able to take and be with him during a doctor's appointment (after he was injured in training). She has been so supportive even in times when he has been most ‘trying’ while going through the medical board process. Neither of them knowing when the time will finally arrive for him to return home.
It always amazes me when someone callously tells a military spouse: “you knew what you were getting into when you married them.” I’m not even sure where that comment comes from because, besides my daughters, I know quite a few other military wives and I have yet to hear any of them complain. Sure, they joke about many things; multiple trips to ‘all you can eat buffets’; sometimes during a very long week, giving the kids McDonald’s two or even three times (instead of only once); how the army is once again, asking for that one single paper you do not have (because they lost it); and so on. What I would say to those who ask that question is we love with our hearts and think with our heads so in that sense, wouldn’t you want to fall in love and be married to a person with strong convictions, who is honorable, dedicated, and committed to service? These are some of the reasons spouses are extremely proud to be married to a serviceman or woman! Ok, yes… they also look great in uniform too!
I know my daughters realize they can count on me for support, always. Maybe I don’t say it enough but I try to find ways of letting them know without being intrusive or without taking anything away from them. I have also gotten into big trouble (with my sons) telling them about their husband’s antics as children … sometimes having to embellish a little just to hear them laugh.
Marlin, Jessica, and all the military wives (and husbands) I know or have had the privilege of knowing, I truly am grateful for your service and sacrifice that many times goes unrecognized or is not appreciated enough. Without your love and support, our men and women in uniform would not be able to serve as they do. Without your love and devotion, my sons wouldn’t be able to ‘be’ and ‘do’ all they are. God bless you all, you are truly America’s treasure.
In several parts of this article, I’ve included words from the song: Turn Around, Look at Me, which has been sung by various artists including the Lettermen (a group from the 1960s). The most well-known (popular) version was sung by a group called “The Vogues”.* This wasn’t included as part of my original article but after speaking for quite a while with my daughter last night, her sharing with me those last moments at the airport the day my son had to return back after his R&R; while walking away, he continued to turn around again and again until they could see each other no more. This morning the lyrics of that song popped into my head and have just played in my mind over and over again.
“I’ve been waiting but I’ll wait forever for you to come to me, look at someone, who really loves you… turn around, look at me.”