I sealed the dishwasher and pressed the start button for the second time that day. I sighed and reached for my grande-sized beverage on the breakfast bar, reheated it for the umpteenth time since that morning. Hot cup in hand, I went back to the counter. I let the rhythmic sounds of the dishwasher settle my weary soul before the bus deposited our oldest.
These are small moments alone. Some days, any moment of self-care looks like a hot coffee and some adult white noise. Even if I am alone.
There weren’t that many margins in my days around this time last year.
My husband was attending an advanced training course. The hours were long and unpredictable. I didn’t know if he’d be home later that evening or at all. I stared at my phone daily, knowing I wouldn’t see a message from him but peering into it anyways.
I wanted someone from the unit to ask how our family was adjusting to the course and the new community. But it had been nine months since the semi-truck deposited our belongings, and I still hadn’t made any friendships within the unit.
Never before had I felt such a strong desire to connect with a specific group.
I had that cookie-cutter community once, yet I didn’t desire it when I went without it at the next two duty stations. But it was so different here.
If his previous unit was a Starbucks retailer, the new unit was an independent, small-batch roasting company. I know what’s on a Starbucks menu. I didn’t know the idiosyncrasies of this specialized brethren, and I wanted to lean on some mamas who had been around longer than I.
I wanted my phone to ding with a message from an unknown number. I wanted my loneliness to bubble over into excitement when I saw it was an invitation to a spouses’ coffee play date. I don’t know how they would have gotten my number- I was that hopeful.
I wanted to become part of the tribe that gathered weekly at each other’s homes.
I wanted to be added to the ‘who’s bringing creamer and snacks’ rotation. I wanted to prepare my brew and cradle the hot mug while I asked how they adjusted to less communication, doubled responsibilities and more frequent out of town trips. I wanted to be comfortable enough to sit cross-legged on the floor while my kids built with blocks or secured the area with Nerf guns.
I wanted to laugh about the hard parts of my new reality and talk about the things I couldn’t share with others. I wanted a friend (or two).
It’s been almost a year since the course’s completion. My communities have grown by means of weekly ministries, church, playgroup, neighbors, and the people I see regularly around town (because baristas count too). But not within the unit.
I haven’t yet been invited to weekly gatherings; I don’t even know if that’s even a thing. But I got to know a certain spouse over the summer who unknowingly taught me about taking responsibility for my end of connecting with others. That’s right – I need to do my part, too.
This newish friend of mine is really good at reaching out to people.
Over the summer, she sent a mass email with an invitation to some gatherings she was planning on hosting at her house. Whoever came was welcome, and she was happy with that.
I realized that’s what I could have done when he was going through the course and even when we initially moved here. I too could have sent out an email invitation to those I didn’t yet know. I could have pursued them. I could have opened up and expressed my need for community.
Last year I relied on others to extend the invitation. I expected meetups with the battalion spouses group to be effortless and not at all awkward. I wanted to skip those first date jitters, pass go, and fall into comfortable friendships. I wanted a new friend to just know I was here.
I wanted the benefits without doing the hard work. I wanted friends to fall from the sky.
Last year I longed for communities of PCS past. But with time and the unknowing example of a friend, I learned to first love on my actual communities and to pursue if there’s a connection worth going after.
While I’m not that into resolutions, I’d say mine would be to find joy and connection ‘even if.’ And I want that for you, too.
Let’s find joy even if our current communities don’t resemble the ones that came before it.
Let’s find joy even if no one reaches out to us.
Let’s find joy in our real-life people and not focus on where we think we don’t fit.
In a world where social interactions are tagged and shared on Facebook, it’s easy to see what we weren’t invited to and what group we’re not a part of. It’s easy to throw in the hat and proclaim there’s no one left for us. But there’s always a place for us.
Sometimes we just have to throw away our preconceived notions of what we think something should look like. Let’s practice erasing our expectations and love on life as it is, right now. I think we just have to wade those awkward first meetups and friend dates before we find our people.
Let’s worry less about finding that mom tribe and learn to love ourselves and our community, even if it is not what we expected.