Weekends growing up on base were the best. After playing outside with a bunch of kids in the field, collecting sticks for fort-building, riding bikes, and fishing at the query, all of us on the block would gather at a neighbor’s house once the streetlights came on. Lounging on a green velvet sofa, a gaggle of kids would gather around for a game of Clue or Life.
The shag carpet between my toes, I loved hanging out with others like me, while our moms sat at the kitchen table playing Bridge, drinking Tab, sharing stories about life.
It was a little slice of heaven. For most of us on the block, half of our dads would be on TDY at any given time, for six-week rotations.
The people in the neighborhood became an extended family. We had a village of mama bears taking care of us; their doors and hearts were always open for us.
The ladies we considered second moms, were teachers, nurses, at-home-moms, and my idols.
Growing up around these women was a gift. I didn’t even realize the lessons they taught me until decades later when I became a military spouse myself. After twenty-three years as a military bride, I can reflect back on some of the things these spouses taught me:
~You do not wear your husband’s rank.
They taught me to treat each person with respect, no matter what job or rank they had, and never act as if you were above another person.
I watched my mom and her friends treat each family equally. I didn’t know the difference between an officer and an enlisted serviceman until I was a teenager because I never heard my mom’s friends discuss rank.
~ Home is where the military sends you.
This old-school crop of wives were masters at turning houses into homes. Whether it meant adding temporary wallpaper to space or creating a family wall of photos, each family quickly put their stamp on their residence.
I don’t remember ever hearing anyone complain about a space being too small, the neighbor’s house being too close, or the view not being good enough.
My mom and her friends had a way of making things work, improvising, and appreciating what their place had to offer.
They understood a home was about the people they inhabited it with rather than the square footage or the kind of countertops in the kitchen.
~ Create a network.
The military spouses I grew up around were masters at making fast friends and relying on each other for strength.
If there was a seamstress in the bunch, she would help hem the school pants for a neighbor, while the mom with the nursing background might help decide if a kid needed stitches after an accident on their bike.
This tribe of women was not afraid to ask for or offer help when needed.
Spending time with new and old friends was a priority for the spouses. Cookouts, game nights, and impromptu gatherings on the front porch were a frequent part of base life. The moms facilitated a welcoming culture. They formed horseshoes of inclusion rather than closed off circles.
~Friends aren’t defined by geography.
To this day my mom is still friends with those women she spent time sitting around the kitchen table with. Families would come and go, but relationships were formed fast and forever. It is probably one of the greatest and hardest things about being a military family. We say goodbye more than most people will in a lifetime.
Unlike most civilian friends, though, military spouses pick up right where they left off. Even when there may be decade-long breaks or thousands of miles between them. It’s a bond that can’t be broken.
~ It takes a village to raise military kids.
Early on I witnessed other families helping each other pick-up the slack during deployments. Whether it was establishing carpools, meal-sharing, or letting a kid hang out with another family while mom took a sick kid to the doctor, the whole neighborhood pitched in.
If a mom had to attend a meeting or function, there was always a place for the kids to go and hang out, have a snack while doing homework until dinner.
There was never a question growing up what would happen if you failed to act respectfully towards an adult. The neighborhood moms made sure to remind us to use words like please and thank you, use our napkins, and to hold the door for others.
Taking off our hats during the National Anthem, facing the flag, and standing quietly was modeled for us. When evening taps played over the base loudspeaker, no matter what game we were in the middle of playing, base kids would hold the ball, turn towards the flag, and place our hands over our hearts.
Words like sir and ma’am were uttered often and when you forgot to use them, there was always another parent in earshot to remind you.
~ Support your serviceman
What I remember most about my mom and her friends was a deep love and appreciation for their husband’s service. They understood it was way more than a job; it was seen as a calling.
The women in my mom’s life didn’t keep score or resent the military for the sacrifices endured by their families. They willingly accepted the good and the challenging parts of military life.
Military service was seen as a privilege for many of the women I grew up with. They proudly flew their flags and loved being Americans. It didn’t mean they never struggled and found aspects of military life difficult, these outstanding women understood service did not come without sacrifice.
They were part of one of the greatest generations of military spouses America has ever seen. I was blessed to call them all mom.