Sunday, February 16, 2014

10 Ways the Military Family is Unique

By: Erin Whitehead
Click here to read the article as it originally appeared.
In so many ways, military families are no different than our civilian counterparts. We all have to get up in the morning, get ready for our responsibilities, go through our daily grind, enjoy whatever time we can together… and then attempt some shut-eye so we can tackle it all again tomorrow.
We have successes...and failures.
We have triumph...and tragedy.
We laugh...and we cry.
And through it all...we put our pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.

But being a part of a military family also presents some unique challenges, experiences, and joys that folks who have not shared our way of life may miss out on.

Here are my Top Ten Ways the Military Family Is Unique...what items could you add to the list?

10) We speak a different language.
At first, I didn't understand half of what my husband said when talking about military-related topics. To be fair, after 13 years, there are days I still wonder what in the world he means. But after all this time, I find myself speaking the lingo more often than not. I am constantly speaking in acronyms, much to the chagrin of my "civilian" friends, and can't help but cringing when someone says they like my husband’s "hat" when he is in uniform. But, unlike many of my military spouse friends, I never got the hang of military time and at this point I am too stubborn to integrate. It is hard enough to remember what time zone it is in every part of the world where my loved ones are... 17:00 will just have to be five-o-clock. (Wait! Is that right?!) I am too old to learn a snazzy new way to tell time.

9) We are masters at moving.
Sure, we dread the boxes, packing paper and stress of moving just like everyone else... but we probably have a system in place that will blow your mind. Whether we are moving ourselves, or letting the military movers come in and do the heavy lifting... we have done it so many times that it is a science. Those 8 numbered stickers on the belly of the dining room table are badges of honor! Give us 2 weeks, surprise orders, 3 kids, 2 dogs, 1 goldfish, and no other choice... we will OWN that move from NC to CA!

8) We are accustomed to getting along with all kinds of people.
Military installations are truly melting pots filled with folks from all walks of life. You will never find that everyone you meet at one base or post is the same. You are from Jersey, your husband is from Oklahoma, and your neighbors may be from Alabama and Spain. Everyone grew up with different religious and political backgrounds, and have all had many experiences since that may have shaped what they believe today. Educational backgrounds vary, and there are numerous cultural differences... all on the same block. I can truly say that my family has become very well-rounded as a result of the many different people with whom we have shared our military life. When my friend from Ireland sings French lullabies to the baby, my husband’s dear friend calls with his thick Boston accent, or my best friend cooks me a pot of Louisiana style gumbo...I know that my life has been enriched by my husband’s career.

7) You might call our homes eclectic.
All that moving around allows us the opportunity to live in places we would never have imagined. If we were stationed in Japan, for instance, you will probably know immediately when you see the cool piece of furniture we brought back proudly displayed in the living room. The family pictures hanging in the hall taken in Hawaii weren't from a vacation, but the three years all our military friends hated us for having the good fortune to be stationed there. Just take a look around our homes and you can probably make some good guesses as to where we have spent our lives. The Texas star in the kitchen, the conk shells in the living room, the lighthouse painting in the dining room... they are probably all treasures from our many different "homes".

6) We have had to consider our mortality.
I'll never forget the first time my husband, age 25, brought home the pre-deployment paper work and asked me to help him choose his pall bearers. I was not ready for that conversation... at all. But when you are headed into a war zone you have to face it, and while a shock, (and absolutely nauseating at first), you realize it's actually a good thing. Many of us have known people who have passed before taking the time to make a will or express their wishes to loved ones. It is hard for the family members left behind to blindly make decisions, and it can cause a lot of heartache. Because we had to face it, my husband and I both know exactly what the other person would want if the worst happened, we have wills, and have even had open conversations about how we would want the other person to go about the important business of living if one of us was gone. (My only request is that I would want him to re-marry and be happy... but he better not bring home some hussy to raise my daughters!) As uncomfortable as that first conversation was, I'm grateful to the military for forcing us to have the discussion.

5) Sometimes, Christmas is celebrated in July.
Every single military family has (or will) spend holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other important life events away from their service member. It's never easy...but we quickly learn to adapt. Many military families have kept their Christmas lights up until Spring Break so Mom could enjoy them when she got home from training. Dad often times spends his actual birthday eating a cake-in-a-jar on his rack somewhere in the sandbox... but saves the real celebration for months later when his kids can help him blow out his candles. We learn that dates are really just a number on a calendar, and that the celebrations of life can take place at any time.

4) We have some pretty amazing kids.
I know many, many, non-military kids who are amazing...but I must say that there are some qualities I notice in military kiddos that make me very proud. They are used to being the new kid in they are usually the ones who befriend the boy who just arrived from another state last week. They have been around many different kinds of they are usually more accepting of differences. They know what real sacrifice looks they are less likely to be devastated when the cable is out for 3 days. And they have experienced lots of they have the skills to cope and adapt when new situations arise. Sure, our kids have also carried a tremendous burden over the past 10 years of war, and we HAVE to be aware of their needs. But I also consider them to be some of this countries mightiest Heroes. Sometimes, great things come in small packages.
3) We can laugh at almost anything.
And really, it's because we have had to make the choice between laughing, or hoping there is a padded cell available, on multiple occasions. When we realize we will be giving birth to another human being while our spouse is deployed... we laugh. When the orders for our next duty station get changed to the opposite coast 2 days before the packers come... we laugh. When the car spontaneously sets itself on fire in our driveway two weeks into yet another training where our spouse is gone... we laugh. And when all four tires on the vehicle carrying 3 kids, 2 dogs, a goldfish, and the family photo albums blow out on a highway somewhere along the way during a PCS move... we laugh. Okay, so maybe we cry (a lot) at first. But we soon realize that crying our eyeballs out on the side of the road isn't going to get us to our new home. We better learn to laugh it off, figure out a plan Z, and get back on track!

2) We are used to not getting our way.
It is really hard for some of us to adjust, but we learned a long time ago that we were going to have little control over large parts of our lives. We are used to making plans, only to be told that the needs of the military supersede them. We shake our heads when we hear civilians say "I could never let my husband be gone that long", or "I wouldn't be able to live in a house that small", or "There is no way I could ever move to Alaska"! And even though we have to give up control over some pretty big areas in life... we know there are important things that can never be taken from us. Like our resolve to make our families strong despite the challenges, our love for one another, and our attitude in dealing with anything that might come our way.
1) We are fiercely patriotic.
Please understand that I mean zero disrespect when I say this. There are vast numbers of people in America who love their country, are very proud of her, and serve her in many incredible ways. The majority of them have never been a part of a military family. But I believe our patriotism (especially over the past 10 years) comes from a different place. It's not because we love America more, or are any better than anyone else. It's because we live and breathe the meaning of service to country every single day. We share our grocery store with war veterans, we share our medical clinics with wounded warriors, and we share our communities with young widows and their children. We are immersed in a culture that is constantly reminding us of some of the most powerful symbols of our freedom. Military uniforms, fighter jets flying overhead, colors presented every day, homecoming banners clinging to fences, and little children proudly wearing tee-shirts with a unit or branch of service displayed. Perhaps we get a little more irritated when someone doesn't remove their hat during the National Anthem, or when entire groups of people no longer stand as the American Flag passes them in a parade. Many people have forgotten these patriotic gestures, and it may very well be because life has become hectic and they have gotten lost in the shuffle. But for the military family, it is very hard to forget what that anthem or the flag stand for... after all, our loved ones have committed their lives to defending them.

There was a time when I took offense when non-military folks would fail to understand what my family was going through. It’s easy to do. But over time I have learned that there are many different people that I have a hard time understanding because I am simply not wearing their shoes day in and day out. That's all it is...we are living this life, not them. Of course we are the ones who "get it". So I no longer begrudge our civilian counterparts their differences and can even find that we have many similarities. But I cherish the things that make my military family unique. This life may be totally different than I ever expected. It may continue to be filled with obstacles to overcome and challenges to tackle. But the blessings and joys far surpass any of the negatives. I am so proud to be a part of a military family.

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