Category: Military

When I Say I’m Fine and I’m Not

Last week was a not my greatest showing. If I were on stage in a bedazzled gown competing for a ‘scholarship’ (::eye roll::) awarded for irritability and annoyance, I would’ve been a contender for at least the Top 10 – no swimsuit parade necessary. I was frustrated. I was angry. And I was exhausted from trying to argue with myself. I did my best to hide it from my husband and kids but my poker face failed me and my inner turmoil was noticeable. So when Clay asked me if everything was okay, I responded with, “Yeah – I’m fine.”

Except I wasn’t fine. And he knew it.

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Despite growing up in a two-parent household with three younger siblings, there were moments when I felt like the people tasked with loving me the most didn’t really know me. By all accounts, my childhood was happy. I played with my siblings, I had plenty of friends, and I actively pursued sports. But despite having the outward appearance of an active and social existence, I slowly came to the realization that no one truly got me. I was the ‘quiet’ one in my family – I devoured books and often found myself retreating into the comfort of my own thoughts. And a move across the country during my middle school years pushed me deeper inside my head.

I’m sure the dichotomy I experienced as a teenager is far from unique. I often felt like the true me existed somewhere in the space between the image I projected and the thoughts that never left my head. Even though I had a boyfriend, friends, a job I loved, and a busy calendar in high school, I’d feel lonely because I felt that no one really knew who I was – and perhaps that’s because – like most teenagers – I was still discovering who I was as a person.

And then I met Clay during my first few weeks away at college. Over those formative years, our relationship grew into something that I’ve struggled to put into words since. We spent hours talking about anything and everything. We laughed when no one else did. We learned how to effectively communicate and create spaces where we could retreat when we wanted to leave the rest of the world behind. I finally had an understanding of what life is like when someone truly gets you.

18 years later – it’s safe to say that he still gets me. So when I say that I’m fine and I’m really not – he knows.

In my defense, I said everything was fine because my frustrations were Army-induced and I knew that there was absolutely nothing either one of us could do that would immediately alleviate my desire to continuously scream “It’s not fair!” while stomping both feet. You know those little twinges of jealousy that begin to sprout when someone announces that the military is sending them to an amazing place? Or when a spouse is able to have a fantastic career? Or when the family gets to experience something amazing at the hands of the military? Normally I am able to prevent those little jealousy buds from sprouting into something bigger but lately I’ve been cultivating an environment inside my head that was allowing them to thrive.

All of these unproductive, poisonous, and infuriating thoughts that I’d unsuccessfully fought off came to a head last week. So on Thursday night, we put the kids to bed and then opened up a bottle of wine as we settled in for a conversation that we went into knowing it would be difficult and likely filled with statements that could be misinterpreted and hurtful.

I consider myself pragmatic. I understand that the Army does not owe me anything. I get it. As a spouse – I am nothing in their eyes. If anything – me and my children are financial burdens and obstacles for the Army to get around in order to have more of my husband and his time. This May marks 15 years in the Army for Clay. And since I’ve been in the picture since his cadet days, I’ve been by his side for the majority of the ups and downs – often times with an annoyingly positive attitude. I’ve encouraged him to compete for difficult positions. I’ve hugged him tight before sending him off to war. I’ve turned down job offers because we received last minute orders across the country. I’ve consoled children because they miss their dad. I’ve gone weeks without communication. I’ve learned to be flexible and how to manage last minute changes to plans. And I’ve learned to give when the Army asks for more.

To Clay’s credit – I’ve felt like an active participant when it comes to his career. Whenever he is presented with an opportunity, we discuss it and make a decision together. But there is only so much control we have when it comes to the Army – beyond choosing to stay or leave. It’s no secret that I dream of living overseas. Honestly – there have been times when the prospect of doing so is the only thing that keeps me happily grinning and bearing it for the sake of the Army. At times it has been so close that I can taste the hefeweizen and chianti. But then something ‘better’ for his career comes along and he is given an offer he can’t refuse.

I told Clay as tears of frustration poured from me that it is absolutely infuriating that I am sacrificing so much for the sake of his thriving career in hopes of ‘someday’ getting stationed somewhere I really want to live. When we were in our twenties, it was easier to accept the not-so-great aspects of the military – after all, we had our entire lives ahead of us. But now we’re in our mid-thirties – I no longer feel invincible. Time is slipping through my fingers like handfuls of sand. I told my husband how there are times when I wake up feeling like a barbell is on my chest – weighing me down and preventing me from realizing my hopes and dreams. And I told him how the death of Luke Perry has only exasperated these feelings.

Growing up, I’d go into the family den and sink into the brown velour couch as I turned on the TV. As soon as Beverly Hills 90210 came on the screen, I’d set the ‘jump’ button on the remote to ensure that I’d have a quick getaway should one of my parents come into the room. They didn’t approve of their 9-year-old daughter watching the exploits of high school students in California but nothing was going to keep me from Dylan McKay on Wednesday nights. I am the age now where I think of 52 as young.  I explained to Clay that Luke Perry’s untimely death is just another sad reminder that we aren’t guaranteed time.

Perhaps one of the more disheartening aspects of my little breakdown last week is that if you were to ask me if I like having a husband in the military, I’d answer, “Yes!” approximately 94% of the time. I honestly do not currently desire a life on the ‘other side’ and do not wish for my husband to throw in the towel. But it sure would be nice if the Army threw a little carrot my way. Moving overseas is not in our cards anytime soon. It’s a tough pill to swallow. And his next assignment will likely be in a place that I don’t really want to live. I’ll make the best of it. I always do – complete with a smile. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t growing tired of doing so.

Clay and I talked a lot about our future that night as we shared a bottle of Restless Earth cabernet sauvignon. He understood my frustrations and expressed his own frustrations with having a career that demanded so many areas of his life. I explained that I just need these moments to wallow and stomp my feet because it can be incredibly difficult to constantly be molding my goals to fit within the confines of his ever-changing career. I am human, after all.

Last week, I wasn’t fine. But I am now.

What We Liked Best

There is really no way to know that you’re in the good old days until you’ve actually left them. The art of looking back fondly is a somewhat idiosyncratic effect of human nature. We always seem to have a more idealized take on our experiences when we’re looking at them through the rearview mirror. While we have certainly preferred some locations over others, when I think about all the places that we have lived together over the years I’m able to affectionally recall good times and assemble a highlight reel that features what we liked best about each area.

This is my highlight reel.

Clemson, South Carolina Whenever we roll into a new duty station, neighbors have little trouble determining where we went to college. Go Tigers! It has become a running joke among some of our friends, “Hey – did you guys know that we went to Clemson?” because we never shy from talking about our beloved alma mater. Because we got married during winter break my senior year (thanks Army!), we count Clemson as the first place we lived together, even though we didn’t actually live together our first six months of marriage (again, thanks Army!).

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Tillman Hall is considered the building that is synonymous with Clemson University. The dorm that we lived in when we met, Clemson House (RIP), overlooked Tillman Hall and Bowman Field. We would cut across the open grass as we walked to class and spent many afternoons playing catch or frisbee in front of Military Heritage Plaza, which happens to be where Clay received his first salute as an officer. We also enjoyed hiking at Table Rock, walking around downtown Greenville, and

Fort Huachuca, Arizona Clay proposed shortly after he commissioned. We were engaged about a week before he left for OBC (now referred to as Basic Officer Leaders Course) at Fort Huachuca. I did not accompany him to OBC because I had a great summer job in my hometown and it made better financial sense for Clay to live in the officer barracks since I’d be returning to Clemson for my senior year of college well before he graduated. I visited a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the area surrounded Fort Huachuca. We ate at the Mesquite Tree (sadly now closed), visited Bisbee (best coffee ever), and hiked in the Coronado National Forest. And of course – you can’t visit Fort Huachuca without visiting Tombstone – we took the kids there during our epic southwest road trip a couple of years ago – I’ll be your huckleberry indeed.

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Fort Drum, New York The most obvious place for the Army to send Clay after spending months in the Arizona desert was of course snowy Fort Drum, New York – home of the 10th Mountain Division. We got married and after I graduated, I joined him up at the Canadian border. We spent three and a half years in the north country and ended up loving almost everything the area has to offer. We lived in Sackets Harbor, which remains the favorite place we’ve ever lived to this day.

We would walk to the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company for drinks, eat brunch at Tin Pan Galley, and catch a show at the (now defunct) comedy club. We kayaked on Lake Ontario, walked around the historic battlefield, and skied at Dry Hill. Yes – the winters were cold and white but the summers were some of the best we’ve ever experienced.

Raleigh, North Carolina After Clay ETSed from the Army and joined the National Guard (oh yes – Clay got out of the Army back in 2008…boy is that a story!), we ended up in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. We bought our first home, Clay ended up going back to being a full-time soldier, and we welcomed our first child into the world. While we have no plans to ever choose to live in that part of the country again, there were things that we really liked – like the Raleigh Flea Market at the state fair grounds and the Raleigh Farmers Market.

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Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Say what you will about Lawton but the Wichita Wildlife Refuge is up there as one of the coolest places we’ve ever lived near. Whenever we wanted, we could get up close and personal with buffalo and long-horned steer which was pretty amazing.

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Fort Leavenworth, Kansas We went to Fort Leavenworth knowing that we’d probably enjoy our year there but we were blown away by how much we loved Kansas City. It really has it all – music, food, sports, museums, and some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.

We loved Union Station, the National WW1 Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If Kansas City were closer to mountains or water, we’d consider moving there in a heartbeat after this Army ride is over. That being said, we certainly wouldn’t complain if the Army sent us to Fort Leavenworth again due to the proximity to Kansas City and the fact that it really is a lovely and beautiful post.

San Antonio, Texas If I had to sum up the year that my family spent in San Antonio, Texas in one sentence, it’d be: We didn’t love living there but if you haven’t been there, you should totally go visit! Most are surprised by our confession because San Antonio has such a great reputation – it’s a city certainly not lacking in culture and attitude.

We loved going to the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on a Saturday night. We’d grab a Shiner Bock and Frito pie and watch the traditional rodeo from the stands for the quintessential Texas experience. We also enjoyed Guadalupe River State Park and of course all of the food!

Washington DC There is our second time around being stationed near our nation’s capital. Because we’ve lived here the longest out of any other place (almost three years the last go-around and we’re currently on year two this time around), it feels the most like home by default. Of course we love spending time in the city, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian. But we love the surrounding area as well.

One of our favorite things to do as a family in this area is hike at Great Falls Park, which is where Potomac River “builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.” There are multiple trails with varying degrees of difficulty (but none are really all that difficult) with various look-out points along the way. So basically it is perfect for younger kids.

We are slated to leave Washington DC next summer so only time will tell what we will like best at the next place the Army sends us.

A Frocking Good Time

The military is filled with acronyms, words, and concepts that sometimes require additional explanation to those who aren’t immersed in the culture – like frocking. Frocking is when a commissioned or non-commissioned officer is selected for promotion wears the insignia of the higher grade before the official promotion date (aka ‘date of rank’). Last summer, we found out that Clay was selected to promote to Lieutenant Colonel and was subsequently offered a position that would keep us in the DC area a little while longer. In order for Clay to transition to this new position in the coming weeks, he had to be ‘frocked’ because his official promotion date is not until this spring.

On Friday afternoon, Clay pinned on Lieutenant Colonel in front of family and friends at the Pentagon. It was a wonderful ceremony filled with personal stories and some good laughs. In attendance were people from almost every duty station – it really felt like a snapshot of Clay’s career thus far. One of the many perks of being stationed in Washington DC – there are so friends from over the years stationed here too! The logistics of planning a ceremony in a building as secure as the Pentagon proved to be headache-inducing at times but it was by far the best promotion experience yet.


Because I’ve been around since his cadet days and the fact that all of his promotion dates have occurred when he was stateside, I’ve been lucky enough to attend all of his ceremonies and have an active role. When Clay commissioned in 2004, I nervously pinned Second Lieutenant rank on his shoulder completely unsure what the coming years would bring. For his First Lieutenant promotion, I had approximately 45 minutes notice that a group ceremony would be taking place on post with the other promotable Second Lieutenants. So all of us wives high-tailed it to Battalion Headquarters so we could pin our husbands. He promoted to Captain with the same group of guys shortly after returning from Afghanistan. And his ceremony for his promotion to Major was thrown together quickly and due to Violet being a stowaway, I was just thankful I made through the ceremony without throwing up.


The kids were able to be involved in the ceremony, which was super important to us. While the Army is their dad’s chosen career, it is still very much a team effort on their part. A lot is asked of military kids and it’s nice when they’re able to participate in such events.

We are so incredibly thankful to our family and friends who joined us on Friday for the ceremony and the festivities that took place later that night. Over the years, I’ve been incredibly proud of my husband and his accomplishments. His ability to do what he does so well and be a fantastic husband and an incredible father is nothing short of amazing. I’d follow that man anywhere!

Dealing with Envy as a Military Spouse

But I want my tooth to fall out too, Mommy. IT’S NOT FAIR!!!“, cried my five-year-old daughter as she burst into tears. Her sweet little friend had lost her first tooth that afternoon when they were playing at her house – the two of them had been comparing their wiggly teeth for the past few weeks during their monkey bar runs after school. As my daughter and I clomped home through the snow in our boots, I explained that her loose tooth would fall out when it is ready and she should be excited for her friend, instead of being envious. And that’s when I realized that I should probably listen to my own advice – because guys, there are times when the struggle is real and my envy knows no bounds.

While the green-eyed monster certainly isn’t unique to the military spouse community and social media only seems to intensify the feelings, there are aspects of the military lifestyle that seem to be the ideal breeding ground for jealousy and envy. For every exotic assignment to a tropical island, the mediterranean, or Alaska there is a family receiving orders to Fort Polk in the Louisiana swampland or to Cannon Air Force Base in the New Mexico desert. There are some positions that allow the service members to have a robust life outside of work and other positions that demand so much time that the family members are left begging for slivers of interaction. And for every deployment, there will always be some who come home earlier, some who come home later, and some who don’t come home at all. It’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.

You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself.

Margaret Atwood

I’ve been jealous and/or envious for a variety of reasons over the years. I have friends who have lived in some truly fabulous corners of the world while the Army has yet to send us overseas. I have peers who have thriving careers despite their spouses being active duty (totally not discounting their hard work – they’re all badasses who endure a lot of sacrifices to make it happen) while I feel like I got on the wrong train at a different station. I have friends who have planned fabulous events while I am over here on the struggle bus trying to coordinate my husband’s promotion festivities with little notice and changing schedules. I have friends who have parents that visit a lot. I have friends who travel to some jaw dropping places. I have friends who manage to take absolutely gorgeous pictures in their ball gowns while I end up looking like a busted can of biscuits. And I have friends who seemingly have an endless amount of time in the day to accomplish some truly astonishing goals – all while being beautiful inside and out.

I like to think that over the years, I’ve learned to deal with such emotions in a fairly healthy manner. I tend to think of the good in my life and that my life is exactly that – mine. I have gifts. I have talents. And I have many reasons to be grateful. I also remind myself that no one has it all – it simply isn’t possible. And comparing myself to others will always be a losing battle because I do so using the best of others and the worst of myself. Theodore Roosevelt told us that “comparison is the thief of joy” and there are bucket fulls of inspirational platitudes floating around the internet that remind us not to compare our middle to someone else’s ending. On a pragmatic level I know this – but there are still times when envy gets the best of me. So then what?

Honestly? I’m not sure. I suppose recognizing when I let feelings of envy get the best of me is a good start. I’m a complex human who experiences a range of emotions so it’s only natural to be envious from time to time. Such emotions don’t define me but how I react to them certainly impacts my world and how others perceive me. Life isn’t a competition. But it sure can feel like it at times.