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.

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A Holiday Pops! Home for the Holidays NSO Concert

Last night was truly a magical holiday-themed evening that culminated with snow falling from the ceiling at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as the National Symphony Orchestra, Ashley Brown, Santa Claus, and the Washington Choir sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

A Holiday Pops! Home for the Holidays NSO Concert

Founded in 1931, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) presents approximately 175 concerts each year. As part of their ongoing Notes of Honor: NSO Salutes the Military initiative, the NSO has offered a free holiday concert in collaboration with the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore for all members of the armed forces, veterans, and military families for the past three years. We were lucky enough to score tickets and so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to attend such a great event.

 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

It was our first time seeing a performance at the iconic DC landmark. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, commonly referred to as The Kennedy Center, opened in 1971 and hosts roughly 3,500 performances each year (check out this NY Times article from 1971 about the structure – “[Washington DC]… is the home of government of, for and by the people, and of taste for the people—the big, the bland and the banal. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, opening officially Wednesday, does not break the rule.”}. Attending a performance at the Kennedy Center has been on my list as a must-do during our time in the nation’s capital so I spent the evening wide-eyed with a big grin on my face.

NSO Holiday Pops! Concert

When we attended the NSO concert on the Capitol lawn on Labor Day, one of our favorite parts was when the orchestra played Armed Forces Salute, which is a melody of all the service songs. Veterans and those currently serving are invited to stand when their branch song is performed. So last night, because the majority of the audience were military-affiliated, the concert hall was booming as soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines sang along. I get chills every time.

 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Notes of Honor

We all agreed that it was a spectacular night. I love that our children enjoy attending such events and it truly is a joy to watch them develop an appreciation for the arts. 

 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

So thank you NSO and the Notes of Honor program for putting together such a spectacular show for military families. We can’t wait to go again next year (assuming we are still stationed here..ha!).

Confessions of a Military Spouse

Over the weekend, we attended a hail and farewell on Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall. The Army isn’t necessarily known for it’s beautiful instillations or spectacular locations but the rolling hills on Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall offer some of the most gorgeous and uniquely American views of both Arlington National Cemetery and the National Mall across the Potomac River. Whenever I am on the post, I’m calmed by the history, beauty, solemness, and unity that hangs in the air.

Hail and farewells are traditional Army events where incoming and outgoing personnel are recognized. While I side-eye some of the more outdated military social practices (e.g. calling cards and officer wives clubs), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed attending military balls, dining outs, promotion parties, and hail and farewells over the years. And last night, while animatedly talking with some of Clay’s coworkers – a glass of cabernet sauvignon in my hand – I had the realization that such social engagements are what keep me going when I am frustrated most with the Army. When I stripped down our somewhat transient and seesaw existence, it’s simply a collection of moments involving the breaking of bread together, camaraderie, and respect.

Sometimes I wonder if I should write more about experiences specific to being a military spouse. I mentioned in my All Things Army: You Asked, I Answered post that I tend to get a bit squirmy when writing specifically about my husband’s career – I try to do so in as vague of terms as possible, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the blogging world. I’ve written about dealing with disappointment and what it is like to return to a duty station and the time I didn’t bloom. But I like to think of this space as so much more than just the sliver of my life that is occupied by being a military spouse.

I am so incredibly proud of my husband – he works hard and gives so much of himself to a cause greater than him. And there is a lot about our lives that is directly impacted by his career. Yes – I am a military spouse because I am married to a member of the military, but it is just one small part of who I am as a person. In fact, I don’t own one piece of clothing with ARMY silkscreened or embroidered on it. All of the spouse-related pins I’ve acquired at various functions over the years are tucked away in a jewelry box, never worn. And I still need to glance at the program when singing The Army Goes Rolling Along at official events and I refuse to use “hooah” as part of my vernacular.

But I also my husband’s biggest cheerleader. I think he is an absolute wonderful human-being, husband, and father and an incredible asset to the Army. I encourage him to compete for difficult assignments. I continue to sacrifice some of my own career aspirations in order to support his. I look forward to the hugs and kisses when he returns from a trip or simply comes home for the day. And I am there for when he simply just needs to talk. I am  many things and a military spouse just happens to be one of them.

After the hail and farewell, the few leaves that were left on the trees rustled in the wind as we walked back to our car from our host’s house. Clay held my hand and thanked me for putting up with the craziness of his job. And when I replied, “I love you and support you and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” – I meant it.

Where Will We Settle After Saying Goodbye to the Army?

Yesterday I booked an Airbnb for a little family getaway over Veterans Day weekend. Now that our children are older and active in sports, scouts, and school-related activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sneak away for a weekend. Add in Clay’s unpredictable schedule and the art of planning a simple weekend retreat rivals a Renaissance masterpiece. We recognize that we’re simply in the season of our life together where the kids’ schedules reign supreme when it comes to planning. And from what our predecessors have told us – it will feel like both the longest and the shortest season yet. Clay and I have been thinking a lot about our long-term goals and where we see ourselves (both professionally and location-wise) in ten years. And now that we’re likely on the downhill slide of Clay’s Army career, we’re often asked by others and ourselves, “Where do you think you’ll end up when this is all over?

While Clay still has about six years until the earliest he can retire from active duty, the idea of retirement no longer feels like a nebulous concept reserved for those older and higher ranking. You know – those who watched the first season of The Real World in real time or identified more with Pretty in Pink than Can’t Hardly Wait. When talking with our fellow downhill-sliders about what’s next, phrases like ‘forever home‘ and ‘military retirement state tax‘ and ‘lucrative job offer‘ are tossed around with ease. I admit that I am tad jealous of my peers who have a definitive idea of where they want to end up. Some want to go back to their hometown or state, others want to go back to their favorite duty station, and a few want to go to a place they have only visited or dreamed about. Meanwhile – Clay and I are like “Uhhhh….not sure. Maybe somewhere with snow?”

That’s not to say that we’re completely lost when it comes to our next chapter. We have learned over the years that flexibility is a large piece of the success pie so like most other areas in our life, we are determined to keep an open mind and not close ourselves off to opportunities that may not even be on our radar yet. A lot of where we end up next is dependent on how old the kids will be when Clay retires. Will we have to factor high school into our decision? Or will they both be off at college when that time arrives? To be honest, I am not sure how much we will factor jobs into our choice. One of the biggest perks of military retirement is that we’ll have a safety net to pursue careers with lower pay but fill our cups in a way that’ll make us feel beyond rich. I’d like to think that we won’t be motivated by money so much that we choose to live in an area we’re not crazy about because of a higher paycheck. That is not exactly how I envision spending the next season.

Okay – so where do we think we’ll end up? Here are a handful of locations we’ve discussed as possible post-Army places to call home…

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Washington DC area. We have been stationed in the Washington DC area twice thus far so it arguably feels the most like home than any other place we’ve lived since embarking on this crazy journey together. Ideally, we’d live closer to the district and not have to worry about school ratings. I’d love a little townhouse in Old Town Alexandria or a condo in Foggy Bottom. I hope wherever we end up, it is in a walkable community. I hate being chained to a car so living in a city or a walkable small town appeals to me so much more than living on multiple acres in the country.

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Maine. A little seaside village or a quaint lake town in Maine sounds pretty darn nice right now. Portland would suffice as would Augusta. The winters would be white and the summers absolutely gorgeous. Clay spent his childhood summers vacationing in Maine and would happily sit beside me on the porch of our shake-shingle cottage. We had such a great trip to Maine last time we were stationed here and looking forward to going back again someday…maybe for good – who knows?

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Northern Arizona. Growing up in Phoenix, I spent a fair amount of time in northern Arizona. When visiting the Grand Canyon during our Spring Break adventure, we commented on how much we love Flagstaff and the surrounding area. Living in a high desert with four seasons totally appeals to us and the art and food scene sounds right up our alley.

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Michigan. The world is divided into two camps. Those who are aware that Lake Michigan has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and those who have yet to visit the wonder of pure Michigan. Both of my parents are from Michigan and I was born there so I spent many summers vacationing in Glen Arbor and consider myself well-versed in the landscape of the Leelanau Peninsula. Clay loves it just as much as I do and we could totally see ourselves living there someday.

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Colorado. Our time in Colorado has been limited to brief visits but we’ve loved every single second of our time in the Centennial State. We hope to be stationed there someday – if anything to prove that we could totally call Colorado home.

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New York City. While I don’t necessarily see us calling New York City home for the long haul, we both would like to live there for a few years. For as much as I love the outdoors and mountains, there is an energy I get from being in a bustling city that is absolutely intoxicating. As a kid, I always pictured myself living in New York City. And because life has a funny way of working out, I may end up doing so – I’ll just be in my late forties instead of my early twenties!

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St. John, US Virgin Islands. The other week, Clay and I watched a family search for a home in Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI on Beach Hunters. Clay and I fell hard during our visit to St. John four years ago and we’ve dreamed about living there ever since. St. John is definitely the most ‘pipe-dream’ of locations to live post-Army but we refuse to rule it out. Although – just like the family we watched on Beach Hunters, we may be priced out of St. John and have to settle for St. Thomas. Oh darn. Poor us.

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Only time will tell where we end up. Maybe it will be somewhere on this list or maybe in the next few years we will discover a place that feels more like home than any place has ever before. Or perhaps we may choose not to settle anywhere and travel the world a’la Gone with the Wynns until we feel the urge to put down roots.

Do you currently live in your forever place? If not, where do you see yourself long-term? If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?