By Josie Beets
Last Monday morning, my life took on the characteristics of a Lifetime Original Movie. Not the one where I convince my teenage boyfriend to kill my parents, or the one where my gymnastics coach is so harsh I develop a debilitating eating disorder, but the one where I send my husband off to war. In the pouring rain. While crying, of course.
He joined the Army right after 9/11 attacks, inspired to fight back. (My reaction to 9/11? Stockpile beer. You know, just in case.) He got out, went to law school. We met volunteering in New Orleans after Katrina. (I know. Really. We were in People Magazine.) We married, he went back in the Army, we moved, then we moved again. We have two kids, I have a full time job and an hour commute, and now a husband in a war zone.
I didn’t plan on marrying into the military. Counterculture was my thing in high school and college. I moved to Los Angeles then New York so I could fully immerse myself in the culture of the other, of the non-mainstream. I took great pride in smoking and drinking and staying out late, and made a hobby of having grand ideals about politics. I even protested the Iraq war my future husband fought in. But while I was busy on my way to being a bleeding heart liberal punk rock public defender, I fell in love.
For the most part, I’ve grown to love being a military family. The pay sucks, but what it lacks in cash it more than makes up for in honor, integrity and pride. Everyone is definitely not doing it — in the all-volunteer force, only one percent of Americans are currently in the military — so it plays into my underdog, outsider mentalities.
But it’s not a perfect institution; like any micro-community, it has its bad apples and bad actors. Even worse, sometimes the Army fails its Soldiers, a hard truth when you think about how much a person has to give up to serve.
And our military lifestyle is not easily compatible with my professional career. I’m a lawyer by trade, meaning every time we move I have to take an unholy licensing exam in each new state. If you know a lawyer, ask him/her how they would feel about taking “the Bar” every three years just so they could live with their family and pursue their chosen profession.
The idea of a co-equal partnership in all things domestic with a partner who is in the military is something close to a bad joke. When he’s home, my husband leaves for work at 5 am and returns at 7 pm (referred to as 1900 around here). When he’s deployed? Fugheddaboudit. Add to this our normal marital push and pull over chores and errands, and I end up grumpy about my share of the work-life balance.
Underscoring this “grumpiness over profession and home” is the steadfast knowledge that I am tackling all of this with the love of my life. I sometimes struggle to remind myself of that, but when I do, I remember that it’s all worth it. Totally. Mostly.
But for the next six months, the love of my life will be 9.5 hours ahead of us, in a strange country where people have a bad habit of shooting each other. In all of the ways that matter, he has it worse than me: [insert your own horrors of war here, since I refuse to think about them, kthxbye!]. But, the Army spends time and money making sure he’s trained to tackle those obstacles. Me? I’m still mad I had to take three years of law school to be a lawyer, yet they just handed me a baby at the hospital and sent me home. (Seriously? Not even an outline?!)
Like so many of us navigating parenting, marriage and work, I’m making it up as I go along — with the motto, “Fake It ‘Til You Make It.” The problem with being mom, lawyer, and spouse at the same time is you never really do any of them very well. Learning how to live in the in-between is the journey.
Josie Beets is an attorney, military spouse, and mom. When she’s not at her day job (which she loves – hi boss!) she is Online Editor of the Military Spouse JD Network. You can also follow her on Twitter @JosieBeets.