My husband and I were leaving Tiger Stadium, and my mind was occupied with getting back to our car and A/C. His mind was elsewhere. Evidently it had been for some time, and he could no longer take it. He looked at me and matter-of-factly informed, “I want to join the Navy reserves. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and researching it, and I really want to do it.”
To this day I’m not sure how I didn’t laugh him off immediately. There was something about how imploring he was. All I could muster in response was something dumb like, “Ok… ok… whoa. Can we talk about this?” He confessed that this had been a lifelong dream of his that he regretted not following out of high school — he always wanted to serve his country — and he felt like his window of opportunity was closing. Evidently, he had been researching it for months. I had all the questions.
Join the military? NOW?! What, are you 19 years old? (I should add here that neither of us were spring chickens. He was 27, and I was 28. And, oh, yeah, we had two toddler boys at home.) How could you not tell me you’ve been researching this? Isn’t that a little selfish? Am I being selfish for wanting to hold you back?
The more he talked, the more logistical my questions became: do you have to go to boot camp? How long? What happens after? Will you deploy? How long is a commitment? How often are you gone?
And this began the now six-year process of his involvement with the military. He left the next June — Father’s Day weekend, in fact — and was gone until November. During this time he completed boot camp and went to “A school” in San Diego, California, to be trained in his job with the Navy. He would go out to dinner with friends and spend afternoons at Coronado Island beach. Meanwhile, during his absence, our house got struck by lightning in the middle of the night, and I made my first trip to the emergency room with our second little boy. He was getting tan; I was developing grit and a dash of resentment (one time he sent me a video of the waves crashing at the beach, and I responded with a video of myself cleaning the house).
At one point I was able to fly out to meet him in San Diego, and I saw how much he had changed in odd ways: he liked guacamole now; he refused to jaywalk (a habit broken early at boot camp); he ironed; he woke up early; he cared a great deal how he presented himself. It was all new and fascinating, and I admit that I felt like I was cheating on my husband with this new guy who loved tacos and wanted a tattoo.
Since then, it’s been tough not having him around one weekend each month. It’s not just that he misses recitals and games and family functions; it’s that as a result of his being gone, my safer default assumption is that he won’t be home on any weekend. And that sucks.
Still, drill weekends can have their benefits. I don’t like going to the movies, while he does, so he goes every drill weekend, and I enjoy me-time after the kids are in bed (usually watching Great British Baking Show). I’ve become a very independent parent, not letting his absence or much else stand in the way of taking our (now four) kids places. Every summer he goes to a 2-week training on a base typically of his choosing, and we treat it as a family vacation, exposing our kids to places and experiences we otherwise never would be able to or afford. Plus, we get great benefits.
But always, always in the background is the fear and quiet inevitability that he’ll deploy. And we’re reminded that our reserve lifestyle is a tiny fraction of active military life.
At first, yes, it sucked. But no more than it sucked for my mom during hunting season in Louisiana. Or fishing season. Or duck season….
But now I’ve accepted all of it as just our life and family culture, as my husband teaches the kids “Anchors Aweigh” and “Hooyah.”