Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ten Things a Retiree's Spouse Misses About the Military

It's been almost three years since they cased the colors at my husband's retirement ceremony and we said good-bye to the only way of life we'd ever known as a married couple. There are a few things I miss more and more as time goes by:

1. The excitement of a PCS. Much like childbirth, the painful memories fade with time and I'm left with how much fun we had planning for what life would be like at the next place. In our dreams, it was always the place our children would thrive more, we would travel more, we would have more kitchen cabinet space, and we would save money for college. The fantasy never actually matched the reality, but I miss those "We're moving on up in the world, baby, and it's gonna be great!" conversations.

2. A man in uniform. Though I love my husband's longer hair and dashing business attire, I miss the way my Soldier dropped in the chair each evening and unlaced his boots. I miss the section of the closet that was all camouflage. I miss the rattle of his dog tags. Seriously, I miss how much easier laundry was. Business suits do not wash and wear.

3. The impromptu dinners. I miss the call from my husband at 4 p.m. saying an old friend/a new colleague/a Soldier in need is coming for dinner. I used to always have a lasagna and chocolate cake in the freezer for just those occasions. I don't do that anymore.

4. The Dining Outs. I miss dressing up and going out with an entire room of people who understood my life because they were living it too. I miss watching my husband across the room as he schmoozed a commander or introduced a new Solider around. I miss holding his hand as we left the Club and reliving the night's punch bowl ceremony with laughter.

5. The patriotism. I still get plenty of chances to salute the flag, but I miss the Color Guard at formal dinners, the National Anthem before the feature film in post theaters, the retreat ceremony each day when everyone stops what they're doing - even driving - and salutes as the flag is lowered at the end of the duty day. I miss the tearing up at the beginning of "The Army Goes Rolling Along". Okay, I still tear up when I hear it. It's just rare now.

6. The diversity. I miss the people our family got to know as co-workers, neighbors, classmates, friends. They were from all over the world and from every walk of life. They gave my children a sense of their place in the world that I cannot duplicate here in civilian life. I thought I appreciated it then. I truly do now.

7. The TDYs. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" should be the motto of the military spouse. I have seen that a few days apart is just good for a marriage. A few nights of having the bed to yourself is good for the soul. I love the man. I like being with him. But I do so appreciate the chance to miss him. And if he gets paid a little extra to be away, bonus!

8. The travel. Sometimes we watch European travel shows just to torture ourselves. We are still looking for that dream job that will have us six months in the States and six months overseas. It's just not as easy to plan the travel when you're settled. While I feel like we took full advantage of every place we lived, it's hard not to think of all the things we did not get around to seeing. And it's hard to close the book on the possibility of ever getting stationed somewhere exotic and exciting again.

9. The change. It is very surreal to think I may be looking at these same walls in two, five, ten, even twenty years. It is suffocating to think of never rearranging furniture, or making trips to parts unknown to hunt for the just-right house, or meeting brand new people, or having a fresh start. It takes practice to get good at the same old, same old. There's an element of escapism when you move every couple of years. There's an element of endurance when you don't.

10. The dreaming. It seems we were planning for after-the-Army for many, many years. We knew retirement would come and it was a captivating past-time to imagine our dream home, dream careers, dream future. It's odd to be living it now. Not every dream came true (what were we thinking...a six-bedroom chalet with a weekly housekeeper? Really?), but there are lots of lovely perks we didn't even know to dream about.

Just as I would not trade our 21 years of military life, I would not trade the almost-three as civilians. The peace of mind and stability is rejuvenating. The roots our family is sinking now are strong and true. The permanent projects and renovations on our house are thrilling - we won't have to pass it along to someone else in 18 months! But, nevertheless, some things are vastly different. In a way, retirement is a new land with a new assignment. We've adjusted and we're happy to be here.

It's just too bad we can't have it all.

12 comments :

  1. As I sit here waiting for the official RFOs to see our next destiny I LOVED reading this..our time in Kansas is almost done (hard to believe we've been here 8 months already!) and in the words of a dear friends neice "life in Kansas is good" (this neice is now 17 but remembers being in kansas when she was 6 and still beams when she talks about kansas b/c her dad was home all the time :)....I am in the midst of dreaming, planning, and looking forward to the changes but LOVED your list...you nailed it Susanna!! My favorite: him dropping in the chair and unlacing his boots..Hugs to you and hoping for a rueben at O'Malleys with you once i come out of hybernation :)

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    1. I'm holding you to that O'Malley's date! Let's do it before it's too late. In the meantime, praying that RFO comes soon and has just the news you are hoping for.

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  2. Susanna, I loved this. It made me feel so much better about Adam going into the military. He's going to see so much and I am excited to see where he lands. After seeing "Lone Survivor" his comment was "I am proud I'm going to be a part of that." I'm always eager to see what you have to say and I can relate to so much.

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    1. Thank you, Dana. There are lots of reasons to be proud of that boy! He will be a fantastic addition to the Army. I can't wait to hear all about his adventures.

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  3. We just separated from the Army after my husband served 8 years, and I share some of your sentiment. There are far more things I miss than I ever realized - for me personally, numbers 2-7. What a nice post!

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  4. Thank you so much! I think it becomes a part of who you are no matter if you spent two years or 32 years in the service.

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  5. We have been retired 10 years now and I long for the days of every thing on your list! As you said we dream, plan and move on...retirement is good but WE so miss the military family and the comfort of them all around us. Good luck in your phase and Thanks for the memories!!!

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    1. Thank you so much! Making friends outside the military is very different. I think so too. Best to you and yours!

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  6. We're about to retire in only a few short months, part of me is so excited and yet the thought that there's a good chance we may never get to move and live in Europe again or another state again, is almost painful to my soul.
    I am excited to know that my children can finish growing up in the same area (we're not in our forever/dream home yet), but sad that the many wonderful experiences of moving to new places can bring them as well.
    Thank you for sharing, and I won't feel silly to feel sad that this time in our lives is nearly over.

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    1. I know! It's a love-hate relationship with retirement for sure. Enjoy all the wonderful parts of it and keep telling yourself that Europe job is still out there (that's what we do - ha!) Thank you for writing.

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  7. Hello Susanna! My gosh, how are you? Terry retired 1 Nov 2013 and he had to drag me with him kicking and screaming. We are still settling into this new life. Fortunately Ft Richardson is right here so I haven't had to go cold turkey.

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    1. Wow! Good to hear from you. All is well. I used to wonder why so many retirees settle right outside the gates, but now I get it. :)

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