My mother-in-law taught me how to manage being an Army wife

“If you take care of the small things,
the big things take care of themselves.
You can gain more control over your life by
paying closer attention to the little things.”
~ Emily Dickinson


My mother-in-law, Gaynor, taught me how to manage the logistics of being an Army wife. Day 50 living out of suitcases in one of the longest of our 14 PCS moves has confirmed this. Though overseas moves have been longer, this transition has been the most unpredictable.

As a result, sitting in my sister’s house, thinking about managing all the moving parts, it’s dawned on me the importance of implementing strategies learned from my mentors over the years of moves, deployments, and high optempo lifestyle.

Without realizing it, I’ve picked up Gaynor’s skills since first meeting her as a college kid.

I think back to when my husband, Eric, and I met on a university campus in beautiful 1,000+ acres in rural Collegeville, Minnesota. He was attending St. John’s University, while also serving in the Reserves and ROTC. I was from Cleveland and out of my element as a 17yr. old freshman.

Though we came from different backgrounds, we hit it off. And 1 ½ years later, we married.

Eric and Elizabeth’s country wedding in MN

I wore a short white sheath dress with a Bardot neckline that I found on sale at the mall. Eric dressed up a pair of khakis and white shirt with a green and yellow floral tie I bought him. And within just a few weeks of planning, Eric’s mom and sisters threw us an outdoor country wedding.

Carefully planned, the day included a turkey roasting over a pit and a homemade cake decorated with fresh cut flowers. All family that could, came, and children played near the fields as we said our vows. Though I had been nervous at the start, by the end of the day, I was running around barefoot.

That following school year, because I was so far from my own home, I spent breaks in Eric’s hometown. When he was away training, I crashed at his home. Gaynor was always there, making sure her home was a sanctuary for me and anyone who stopped in.

Gaynor helping take care of newborn, Danny

And as the military took us round the world and our family grew by three boys, I knew we always had a place to stay for weeks or months at a time.

Not only did we have a beautiful home to return to, Gaynor would dote on us in her quiet, diligent manner.

And despite seeming to have little in common, we got to know each other while watching old movies and Masterpiece theatre. Over hot coffee, I listened, learning about how she grew up in an orderly household in a small Midwestern town.

My own up-bringing was the opposite. Our house in a big city spilled over with kids, dogs, books, art, music, and a lot of commotion. Minus the constant ruckus, I share my mom’s interests. But, as I observed Gaynor, I realized the benefits of slowing down and focusing on the little things.

Soon, I began incorporating Gaynor’s techniques into the running of my own home. Everything from stocking up on groceries and necessities, to writing lists, and planning for unexpected scenarios when things where not as hectic.

Gaynor helping get Sam and Joey off to their first day of school

I saw how implementing schedules and tackling small chores and problems while still small, prevented bigger ones that could easily turn into an overwhelming task or crisis.

And when I made these minor tasks part of a daily routine, it made my life easier. The house seemed to run itself with a little preventive care. I also found when something unexpected happened—a common occurrence in the Army lifestyle—I was better prepared to handle the situation.

Often, being an Army wife has meant relying on my ingenuity living far from friends and family and having a spouse away for extended periods. An organized system to fall back on when on my own has made everyday life less daunting in a strange of foreign location.

As I found out within the first year of being an Army wife in Unterklausen, I didn’t always have the “luxuries” of a washer and drier, communications, or entertainment, and stores could be closed for days. I learned not to run low on gas or diapers. And I never regretted having a supply of peanut butter crackers, water, and a fresh change of clothes in my car.

As a military spouse, I’ve also discovered the importance of making friends fast. With this outreach and by having an organized system to fall back on, other spouses can step in to help. And vice versa—Us milspouses operate the same.

And last, not only does focusing on the smaller, seemingly insignificant tasks, free up energy when the major events occur, it can also be psychologically beneficial. A sort of mindfulness—taking life one day at a time, along with cherishing the brief moments of peace.

Gaynor pinning the rank of colonel on Eric

In sum, tackling the hours and days, one chore at a time, creates a sense of accomplishment. And by preventing the accumulation of little stuff, the big picture seems less overwhelming. Or in military speak: The equivalent of fulfilling each mission, no matter how small, wins each battle—which wins the war. Thanks to my mother-in-law, I have learned this.



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