Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of “Choosing Gratitude.” Be sure to read Part One!
I searched for my first professional job. I began reaching out to make new friends. I learned how to be more social, to break into conversation with new people, and my strong introversion was slowly transformed into a social extroversion.
I learned a lot about the military when I was hired, for my first job, as an installation news reporter. And again, I learned a lot about myself: How much I could take, how I handled stress, when I needed to take a break from the world.
I no longer feared being alone because I had already spent a year alone.
While some things are the same, they can still be different. The deployment brought new challenges to deal with, particularly the fear and anxiety that comes with having a loved one in a combat zone. I had to learn how to effectively communicate with my husband via email or Facebook messenger since calls were few and far between.
My marriage continued to grow, even while both my husband and I changed. Stress management was important and I needed to recognize the signs. But, I was fortunate to have an entire tribe of strong women who were my support when I needed it.
This time I had a slew of people who truly understood what I was experiencing.
To this day, I appreciate that experience. I’m grateful that I had the chance to learn so many valuable lessons that could carry me further into whatever might come next.
Little did I know just how useful they would be.
After years of being together except for some field training and numerous rotational trainings, my husband chose to go on TDY. This time had some additional unknowns. For the first time, I was facing a separation with children—three children under the age of 5—while living overseas.
With this separation came the usual learning curve. I was going to be the sole caretaker for my children. I wouldn’t be able to depend on a break at any point in the day. For the first time, I would have to be “on” at all times.
I immediately invoked all the lessons from the deployment. I reached out to friends when I needed them, even if it was something little (and many of them came to my rescue when my whole family got sick). I understood stress management and always tried to fit in just a few minutes for myself each day.
I did what I needed to do.
And I made it.
Now that the separation is over, I’ve once again learned a few new lessons. I’ve learned that I am totally capable of caring for my children completely alone. I can support them through a separation in the ways that work for them. While I’ve never been much of a believer in traditional gender roles, this separation has shown that I definitely don’t believe in traditional gender roles. I’ve learned that when I feel like I have nothing left to give, I can still give more. I’ve also learned that Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong will go wrong) is a big, fat jerk.
All kidding aside, I learned probably the most important, lasting lesson of all.
Appreciation for who my husband is and all that he does for us.
During the downtime, it becomes very easy to take our service members for granted. What they do in the home, for our children, and for us can be easily overlooked. We allow them to do things, and we are no longer as grateful for their contributions. We somehow don’t see what they do (outside of their military service), but once they’re gone, the voids they filled come to the forefront.
I spent the last six weeks figuring out the logistics of any outing—getting gas in my car, picking up mail from the post office, running to the grocery store, school drop-off for the older two, doctor’s appointments, and more—with three children in tow. These are things my husband easily took care of when he knew I didn’t have the availability or could use some help.
One day, while my husband spent a day in classes, I sat down and considered all of the things I was doing that I didn’t normally do. I wrote them all down in a message and sent them to my husband, with the sentiment:
“Thank you for all that you do for us. I know that I let it go unnoticed, but it’s now overtly clear.”
I could have been bitter and selfish. I could have focused on all of the things that I have to do that I don’t like to do. I could have been passive aggressive and blamed it all on him. After all, he made the choice to go. It wasn’t required like a deployment.
But in the end, I chose gratitude.