Last week, we hosted a small group of families with young children. One couple walked in without their daughter, and when I asked where she was, the wife casually replied that they’d left her with her grandmother. Envy shot through my heart. Not just envy that they could so easily call up a loving caregiver with no notice, but also envy that their daughter, and those of many of our civilian friends, see their extended family on a weekly basis.
My husband has been in the USN for almost 18 years, and only in the last two have we joined the ranks of military parents. We had our daughter while stationed overseas. For the first ten months of her life, we had no sitter options. When we returned to the U.S. nine months ago, we began the hard task of trying to find a trusted sitter so we could have a rare night out. And I experienced that scary, military mom moment of being faced with the line, “Local Emergency Contact,” on all paperwork relating to our daughter. What local contact? We just moved here. For the first few weeks, until I meet another mother in church or at the park, there are no local, emergency contacts. I write those words, knowing there is one major exception. Our military family.
That family is everywhere we go. In fact, my “Local Emergency Contact” became a military mom we knew at a duty station 10 years ago who now lives in our current area. We may not have seen her in 10 years, but she would gladly help us out by caring for our child if needed. Or loan us items while we’re waiting on our personal property shipment. I’m finding that it does take a village to raise a child, but our village is not made up of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I wonder sometimes, in what other job does a person’s coworkers become their supportive family, the village helping to raise one another’s children.
With our daughter still so young, we have yet to enter the challenges of explaining to our child why she, yet again, has to leave her friends and home. She doesn’t know that she’ll always be the new kid. We are just now entering the stages of having to find another doctor for her, then another, rather than her seeing the same pediatrician for 18 years, as I did. But what she gains is the chance to see and experience the world. Her passport arrived in the mail when she was five weeks old. At 19 months, she’s visited seven countries and by age two, she will have visited seven U.S. states. She may not remember these amazing adventures, but they won’t stop as she grows older. She will live in different parts of the United States, and get the chance to see just how different and wonderful and unique our great nation is. The Lord willing, she’ll live overseas again one day. She will have friends and “family” all over the world. And I hope and pray that one day in her future, she’ll tell us how much her military kid upbringing added to her life.
I lived a childhood far removed from the military life, growing up in the same house, in the same town, with the same people. The parents of my friends had been my parents’ childhood friends. Each time we move, as I unpack, I pull out my photo of my four year old Kindergarten class. I can name each child, since I graduated high school with 98% of them. Sundays meant dinner at Grandma’s house. Birthday parties were chaotic, crowded celebrations filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins, and since there were so many of us, we had a celebration about every two weeks.
Sometimes I long for that life for my child. I worry. Perhaps this military life that results in such absence from the people who love her most in the world is doing her a disservice. But then I get a reminder that we are not alone. Yesterday, a military spouse friend and I drove an hour south to visit a mutual friend, another military spouse, who had flown cross-country to visit her son and his family. This woman had previously given us one of our most treasured baby gifts – her prayer card with our names on it that she used for four years, after learning of our long time struggle to have a child. She’d been praying for our daughter to come into this world all that time, and upon our daughter’s birth, she sent us the prayer card with a ribbon tied around it. And so, yesterday, I remembered once again that while parenting as a military family comes with a unique set of challenges, we are so blessed in return with the experiences we can give our daughter and a larger “family” than we ever dreamed possible.