There are three major logistical actions for military families:
- a PCS (where we move from one duty station to another)
- a change of command (leadership changes at place of work)
- seasonal travel
All of these bring some degree of stress and unease. But what I have found the most stressful for many of my military friends, is navigating our seasonal travel plans.
You see, military families can’t just pick up and go somewhere like our civilian counterparts can. Our service member, if they’re not deployed or at a temporary duty station (TDY), has to put in a leave request, typically at least 30 days prior to their departure. Then they have to wait to get approval, which can take weeks. As you’d guess, this makes travel planning difficult. Because while we’re waiting for command approval, flight prices increase and accommodations get booked.
That’s not even the most stressful part. You know what is? Facing the dreaded dilemmas that follow:
Who do we visit?
Whose family did we see last time?
How much are tickets to Seattle versus Tulsa?
How many people can we see if we visit San Antonio versus seeing my family in Buffalo?
Do we try to stay with family or is it in the budget to get a hotel?
Will your mom be mad if we don’t stay with her?
Often, we have to weigh between one milestone and another. A parent’s retirement, a family reunion, a best friend’s wedding, etc. What do we do?
When our own families are scattered across states, it’s incredibly difficult to make these travel decisions. Why? Because we feel like we’re always letting someone down.
We wrestle with the fact that someone is going to be disappointed with our choices and make it mean something it doesn’t (“oh, you clearly love his family more.”).
We’re pulled between loved ones who rarely understand the struggles we face but want to see their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. They (usually) have good intentions but forget or disregard this dreaded dilemma.
So we squeeze in as much as we can in the limited amount of time that we have. We hustle from house to house, trying to soak up as much quality time with loved ones, knowing that it will never feel like it’s enough. We hear the comments laden with guilt, “I just wish we could spend more time together” and “If only you didn’t have to go so soon.”
Instead of taking our kiddos to Disneyland or Six Flags, they ride a different carousel of meeting one distant relative to another of Mommy’s old friends to the random family reunion. They see a whirlwind of faces that don’t feel familiar because they’re not.
As the supportive spouse, we don’t take time for ourselves because that would be selfish. So, we suck it up, smile, and pray that someone will notice our sacrifices, too. We secretly hope that someone will offer to watch our kids so we can have an afternoon to ourselves browsing the aisles of Target and sipping on a cold brew in silence.
And just like that, we are saying our goodbyes, a word that is all too familiar for military families.
We don’t promise to see our family and friends again soon because we honestly don’t know when that next time will be. We wipe the tears from our eyes and bury those feelings of sadness, confusion, relief, and uncertainty, all simply expressed in a tear-stained smile.
And after our travel is over, we return to our military community as depleted as before we left.
We wonder who was the most disappointed with not getting to see us this time. We debate about if we should post our happy memories on social media for fear of offending someone we didn’t get to visit. We look at our partner, whom we desperately wanted to spend some one-on-one time with. We haven’t really seen them in what feels like months, and despite spending the last several days traveling with them, they feel just as far as before. Time with them will once again have to wait because their leave was used up on this trip.
We swear to ourselves that the next travel will be different. We’ll go somewhere warm. We will relax, lay by the pool, and let the kids play. But we know that the guilt of seeing those aging faces will win out. So we bury those desires for another stage of life.