Lessons from “Mutilated crumbs and gummy worms”
The continuing chronicles of an Army wife and mother
“Here Lies Lizzy. She cleaned up crap well! This is the epitaph that will go on my gravestone,”
I had blurted out my chosen epitaph along with a handful of expletives, including one in Czech my mother had recently taught me. Eric had roared with laughter, scribbling the caption on the pad of notecards he always carried.
That first deployment was imminent, and we both knew it was the reason for my pathetic outburst. By time he finished writing, I was lying on my back with arms spread across blankets like a sea star stranded in the dunes of Kill Devil Hills near the Atlantic coast. He laid down next to me, gathering me close as I laughed tears into his green stained shirt.
Time stood still during those years at Ft. Bragg, the height of deployments and me being a stay-at-home mom of three small boys. Days and months blended. It felt like we’d never leave the Carolina sandhills and cleaning up after boys and dogs was the only thing I would ever do.
However, now, despite the challenges of the past decades, most people assume I’m depressed as we become empty nesters in a few days and with my title as Army wife ending as Eric preps for retirment in the next year or so while completing over 30 years in the Army.
In fact, I’ve gotten numerous condolences. Yet I don’t see my roles as ending, just changing. Motherhood is an evolving vocation, and I will go from proud Army wife to proud veteran’s spouse while continuing to support all my guys.
As a result, when someone says, “I am sorry,” with an expression as if my kid has died when I tell them he’s off to college. I say, “I’m excited.”
How can I explain in a brief exchange that I see the completion of this phase of life as an accomplishment? I am proud. I did my job. Plus, it’d be weird to stay stuck in time, not to mention boring and why I’m writing this post.
Notwithstanding my foibles and the mishaps, I enjoy being a mother and love being a boy mom. However, there is more going on in my little nugget than the stereotypes associated with being an officer’s wife and mother.
Will I miss aspects of my kids’ childhood? Of course…
- When life was slow, revolving around simple pleasures of splashing in puddles or driving match box cars and trains through mounds of dirt.
- I wish kisses on pulpy cheeks and hugs could still chase away sadness or problems.
- Teen years shone a more powerful spotlight on what kind of men my sons were becoming and witnessing their personalities unfold was a treat.
- The thrill of competition in Danny’s light steps as he walked with easy confidence onto any football, baseball, and rugby field—the joy of performing with his band in Germany.
- The satisfaction on Sam’s face marching with his JROTC team in a loud, clear cadence, and taking numerous leadership and academic roles—teachers telling me Sam stories.
- Joey and the Lakeside marching band performances still knocks me off my feet and I will always picture him cradling the baby bunny he saved from the local pool, head bent with golden curls—even the countless calls and notes home from teachers and friends because of his antics now makes me smile instead of pulling my hair out.
- Finally, the constant stream of friends at our home makes me glad I could be to give another kid a ride or meal, or just a safe place to hang out.
It was worth being there.
In terms of leaving the active-duty community, I will miss:
- Belonging to something much greater than myself.
- The instant connection with milspouses and sisterhood I could rely on for anything.
- The diversity of cultures and people found in one location like the PX or commissary.
- The energy and mindset that anything is possible, mentally, and physically is a feeling I’ve only experienced in the military community.
I was privileged to be a part of it.
On the other hand, things I won’t miss:
- Monotonous household tasks.
- 15 summers moving.
- Long hours, days, and months by myself away from my husband, friends, and family.
- Perpetual expectations of being the go-to volunteer as an officer’s wife and SAHM.
But, every job has the nitty gritty and annoying personalities we all must tolerate, so the above is mox nix.
The greatest challenge, however, was military life made the pursuit of my professional goals impossible. Even if we decided to do the geo bachelor thing, the energy and expense of two households, childcare, and other maintenance required if no one is home to do it, and general stress and time apart was something we decided would be more detrimental than it was worth.
Civilian families face similar challenges, especially during this pandemic. But the military lifestyle, especially when moving every other year, frequently deploy or go on TDY, makes it depressingly difficult for spouses to have a career and why so many of us stay home to raise kids or take jobs below our “pay grade” or that have nothing to do with our passions and goals.
So, now, I’ll be able to focus a bit more on personal goals. Eric too. It is as if we were back at SJU and CSB, starting over again.
Like then, I don’t know what this phase of life will look like or exactly what we’ll be doing, but I am looking forward to a change of pace and the newness of it all.
Instead of spending months unpacking boxes, getting the kids set up in a different environment while juggling, and struggling to keep up minimum writing skills and requirements, I am eager to spend summers reading, researching, and developing my craft.
Its like a big itch I need to scratch—writing. The more I do, the more I want to do.
Additionally, I’ve gained perspective after spending my entire adult life immersed in the military community, including two decades in the aftermath of 9/11:
- I experienced how precious and fleeting life is.
- I know the value of battle buddies and a support system.
- I learned what make life sweet, and it is those things that get us through the drudges.
Of course, I want to keep doing the things I enjoy like hanging out with my friends, sisters, and my own kids, and raising pups, but again—just have more time to do so.
Though I loved spending weekends at ball games, marching bands, and drill teams, I am looking forward to days off revolving around me and Eric’s interests, even if it is a hike.
I also want to do things we haven’t had the chance to do yet, like show him the fall leaves in Vermont, or take a drive to Amish country to get fresh maple syrup.
Big trips too, such as going back to see old friends in places like Colorado, as well exploring the new, like the California Redwoods and Norwegian fjords.
Plus, I want to keep the same hairdresser, chat with familiar faces at a favorite coffee shop, and keep up with dog walking friends. I also want to find new friends I can talk about nerdy things like books and a church that will feel like home. And when I find them, I don’t want to leave.
So now, for the first time in a long time, Eric and I have more of a say shaping our future. And like all retiring military couples and empty nesters, we must carve out a new existence, knowing what makes us tick and how we can best continue doing what we need to do, as well as love—not only for ourselves, but for our kids and those around us.
Motherhood is not over, and neither is our impact on the larger community.
Because one valuable lesson military life has taught me, is that setting an example can be the most impactful part of living and parenting, not to mention the most rewarding.