… you know the rest of the lyrics. For those who are military spouses, this should be our mantra. Personally, I feel that this is how I can describe at least 65 percent of my married life. Between deployments, unaccompanied assignments and tours, temporary duty assignments, trainings, long work days and weekends, often I am parenting along.
I do not begrudge my spouse for this — he is doing his job and is away from our family, which I would not want to do either. His job guarantees at least one paycheck for the family, yet there are still many times when going it alone is very draining for me. As the solo adult in the house, I am responsible for the children, the house, the yard work, the bills, the cleaning, the activities, and anything else that life decides to throw at our family.
IT. IS. EXHAUSTING.
You may be asking yourself, but Rachel, you knew this when you married your husband. Why are you surprised? (Before I explain, I need people to take this out of your vocabulary. Did I expect this much separation from my spouse? No.) My only answer to this is that there is no manual, instructional, website, blog, or person who can prepare you for being married to the military. It is a life filled with unpredictables.
When I met my husband, he was not in the military. Once he decided to join and again when he chose his career, I researched what this life would look like. The first information I found guesstimated that he would be gone half of the year, not including any deployments.
What?! Still, I figured this was an exaggeration, and even if he was away, I could handle everything. He graduated from technical school, and we married five months later. Three weeks after our wedding, my husband deployed to Iraq for four months. Again, I considered this an anomaly. I was able to keep him home for four months after his return, thankfully, for the birth of our daughter, but then the TDYs started. They continued over and over again. Then the first unaccompanied assignment to Korea hit in early 2006. Then the return a year later, and the deployment a few months after that … you can see how this pattern develops.
Fourteen years later — with four deployments, three year-long unaccompanied tours to South Korea, and so many TDYs I cannot keep track of them — the days away are a fluctuating and underestimated number. My husband has spent half of our married life apart from myself and our children. He has been fortunate enough to see all our children’s births, but he has missed significant chunks of their childhoods. As I am writing this, we are nearly ten months into another year apart. I like to call him a traveling businessman, but most businessmen work in an office or other safe setting. There is always an element of danger and fear in a military member’s life.
Why do we do this?
Why do we, as spouses, choose to live this life? It could be a combination of many factors but for most of us, I hope, it boils down to one thing: We love our spouse and partner. I recently watched Hacksaw Ridge, and while I counted my blessings with modern technology and shorter lengths of time apart, I could relate to the spouse as she said her goodbyes.
You marry someone in the military because you love that person. Plain and simple. Even though you know you will spend a good amount of time apart; even though you cannot predict where or when your service member will be needed; even though you cannot fathom how you will make a life together; you love that person too much to not be with him or her.
I realize that this is not every military marriage or partnership, and there are trials and challenges with this life and with every marriage. However, I feel lucky that this is how I have felt about my husband since day one and still do.
We love them enough to live apart, to move frequently, to shoulder the burdens of parenthood and life, to pick up the slack when needed, and to love that person from afar. We love them enough to beam with pride and loathe that same career choice at the same time. We love them enough to weather the challenges and trials, even if alone, so that all of our family can have the best life possible. And even as the first or tenth deployment rolls around, we find ourselves carrying on. We may not choose every aspect of this life, but we choose the person — and that includes the military life.
So to all military spouses — past, present, and future — remember the epic words of Whitesnake and know that while you may go it alone, you do this for a great purpose and for a great person.
Going down the only road I’ve ever known …