This morning, I was scrolling Facebook when I saw a post from my friend, Randi. Now, you must understand that to know Randi is to love Randi and her writing. She is brutally honest. She is incredibly empathetic. And she writes with a fierceness that few do. She is witty, devastating, and uplifting. And I wanted you to read her words today because I know they’ll resonate with you.
Tomorrow is Military Spouse Appreciation Day and here’s how it will go down.
We’ll all (active duty, Guard/Reserve, veteran spouses, ex-spouses, etc.) love on each other. We’ll tag our village, sing praises, share some camaraderie, etc.
There will be blog posts all over the interwebs acknowledging that we too serve and sacrifice, followed by a round of Dependa-trolling as the less kind among us remind us that we signed nothing, fought nowhere, etc. The more vocal of us will shut that down and we’ll go on about our recognizing each other and our efforts in the military family space.
There will be ceremonies, proclamations, limited edition coins made. Tea parties, luncheons, and awards. (There will also be so many of us up to our eyeballs in FOMO as we wish we could hang with the cool kids. Hell, as we wish we WERE the cool kids.)
Almost everything that will happen for Military Spouse Appreciation Day will be initiated, hosted, or driven by people within our community – military-connected businesses and publications, on-base activities, and the like. And while every one of these efforts will be special and meaningful and appreciated, none of it is about why we have a designated day.
Because nobody needs to tell you what you’ve given up or taken on for this life.
Not one moment of your military family’s life has been even remotely improved by an atta girl or atta boy. Stars and stickers and coins and certificates go in drawers of things you’ll have to move time and again. Or soon lay forgotten in the thick of it all.
Military Spouse Appreciation Day may be named for us, but it’s meant for a civilian world.
A reminder to them of what we do. A little glimpse, if you will, into our world. A world that is somehow enmeshed with theirs and similar to theirs and yet in so many seemingly insurmountable ways, an entirely different animal altogether. And nothing about Military Spouse Appreciation really does much to bridge that divide other than an occasional “like” from a civilian friend on a FB post that we share with and write for each other.
So I’m not going to tell you that I “see” you and all you do (I do).
I’m going to tell your civilian families and friends and neighbors and employers what you won’t. Because we’re big on the big girl/big boy pants in these parts. And we carry our burdens and scars on the inside.
I’m going to tell them that, “No, your spouse away on business trips some weekends is not in any way the same as sending a loved one away for months at a time.” And that you’ve already perfectly timed how long you can keep it together at the airport and get to your car after waving goodbye before losing your shit. That the window of keeping it together is exponentially larger if said car will have children in it when you make the eternal drive back home with one less passenger.
I’ll tell them that you can’t watch the news when your service member is away without doing calculations of time zone, distance, and last known location to determine exactly how far away your loved one is from whatever bomb, natural disaster, or other horrifying news may or may not have happened right where s/he is currently stationed.
I’ll tell them that you smile and say “we’re good” to everyone who asks, including your service member and then cry in a ball on the bathroom floor or down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or run until you can’t feel your legs or the pain of missing someone so much you can’t breathe.
I’ll tell them that it’s not helpful to say “I don’t know how you do it, ‘cause I surely couldn’t” because most days you have no freaking idea how you’re going to get out of bed or make it to the shower let alone get through a day. You can’t do it either. But you do.
I’ll tell them that there’s a whole dance (power struggle) that takes place each time your loved one leaves or comes back. A renegotiation of roles and responsibilities and hurt feelings and struggle to relearn or learn anew where each of you fits in now. That sometimes who you send away isn’t who comes home and you may find yourself having to learn to love an entirely new person – or not.
I’ll tell them that the world stops when your loved one is away. And yet the world still demands you do ALL. THE. THINGS. And you do them. You work or search for work or question why nobody will hire you. You go to school or get your kids through school or go to school while getting your kids through school. You make sure the bills are paid, the broken things are fixed, the house is maintained, the food is cooked, the dirty things are cleaned, and more. You raise babies to somehow not be psychopaths even though they’ve lived a kind of dysfunctional life. And those babies are miraculous – they grow up with a service mentality, with a sense of the importance of giving back rather than taking. And you did that for them. You raised them like that.
Most importantly, I’ll tell them that you do all of these things and more mostly on your own. That your support system is a badass village of people you love, many of whom you’ve never actually met. And that your life would be infinitely better if your village included them – IRL family and friends and communities that understand that showing up for you regularly is exceedingly better than paying lip service to one day of the year.
Randi Cairns is a nonprofit professional who has dedicated over three decades to advocating for vulnerable populations. She’s also the owner of Randi Cairns Consulting, where she provides nonprofit and small business consulting and freelance writing services. And she’s the snarky but loving voice of Throwing Pots & Pans, coming (one day) to a bookstore near you. Her favorite title? Proud Mama of four children who she hopes will always have a passion for learning and a heart for changing the world for the better.