I pushed my chair away from the desk and stood. Step by slow step, I walked out of the office and into our living room where my son sat doing his homework.
“They want to publish my book.”
It came out quietly, just above a whisper. I was dumbstruck—half in awe and half in shock as the words left my mouth.
My son looked up from his work, a smile growing on his face. He got up and pulled me into a bear hug. “I’m so proud of you, Mom.”
I said the words again with a touch of disbelief, as if I wanted to make sure they were real.
“They want to publish my book.” Then I said them again, with emphasis, jumping up and down, nearly shouting.
“They want to publish my book!”
And that was when the tears started to flow. Over twenty years of being a military spouse. Twenty years of watching my identity shift and change with every move. Twenty years of wondering if I’d ever really find myself. And suddenly, in that moment, I felt seen.
THE EVER-CHANGING SPOUSE
Here’s the thing—military spouses spend a lot of time reinventing identities. Your life of change, of moving, of worry forces you to become different versions of yourself. When you land in a new location and someone says “tell me about yourself,” well, sometimes that’s not such an easy thing to do. You struggle to sum yourself up because unending change does that to a person.
I was raised to believe that I could blaze my own path even while married, that I could indeed “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan,” like the Enjoli perfume ads of my childhood had told me. When I became a military girlfriend, and later spouse, in the 1990s, I quickly found out that the military world wasn’t quite set up for my particular brand of female empowerment. I had a great career and was going places, but unfortunately the military wasn’t as forward thinking and my life as a military dependent began to put a damper on things.
When we first moved overseas in 2004, I thought I had bid a temporary adieu to my job, but little did I know it was actually a full-stop goodbye. As consecutive overseas tours followed, the death knell sounded. My career wasn’t one of the more portable careers favored by military spouses at the time and remote work was still in its infancy, especially for people outside the United States. Thus, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom.
In the early years of staying at home with our son, I felt fine, the days went by quickly with play dates, activities, and snack times. However, that halcyon shine wore off and by the time school took up most of my son’s days, I was left to wonder exactly what I would do with mine—and I have to say, I wasn’t alone, there were a lot of spouses in the same boat. While some of my spouse friends at the time returned to positions as teachers, nurses, and bankers, there were a number of us whose former jobs just didn’t fit into the available job market overseas, leaving us to wonder what exactly we were anymore. The sympathy was palpable. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the refrain—or uttered it myself— “well, a long time ago I was a fill-in-the-blank.” Every once in a while, you’d find a group of us sitting and having coffee, reminiscing about being executives, thinking we were the most overqualified coffee drinkers on the planet.
WRITING MYSELF INTO THE NARRATIVE
To keep myself busy and my mind sharp, I turned to an old job skill and early love—writing. As our family continued to live overseas, I began to write about my life as a modern military spouse. Why not turn that skill into a hobby-slash-job and share my world with others? Even if for no other reason than to dispel the ridiculous clichés that surround the lives of military spouses—like being called a dependapotamus, or something equally degrading, horrible slurs that needed to be thrown out the window.
When my husband’s career path landed us in Sub-Saharan Africa, writing became my passion. Not only was I writing vignettes to family and friends back home about our rather unusual military life, I was also building an identity—now when people, be they other military spouses or civilians, asked me to tell them about myself, I could look them in the eye and say, “I’m a writer.” At first, my admission came quietly and nervously—there were a few times that people responded by saying, “Oh, that’s nice,” the backhanded compliment that caused my cheeks to flame and my mind to spin itself into a whirl of self-doubt. But over time, as my stories gained a fan base and my confidence was buoyed, my response to the “tell me about yourself” question came out stronger. I was writing myself into my own narrative, another of the multitudes of versions of a military spouse.
SHARING MY STORY WITH OTHERS
I didn’t begin writing with any real goal in mind, I was simply writing to entertain and inform. However, as my military life pivoted and changed, people asked if I would turn the stories into a book. I truly hadn’t thought of that, or at least I hadn’t thought of it beyond just binding the stories together for my family. A book seemed like a dream too far. Who would want to read about my life as a military spouse living in Africa? Well, I mean, my younger self would’ve read the book, but beyond that it seemed more of a vanity project than anything else. However, when a good portion of my original readers prodded me to think about it, I took a very hesitant step to see what, if any, chance I had at being published. And apparently, I had once again fallen prey to the plight of the military spouse, doubting that I mattered enough to be recognized, because when the book began to take shape, the interest followed.
A NOD TO THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
“They want to publish my book!” I was still jumping up and down, crying and laughing at the same time.
Eleven years of my life, of moving, changing, writing, doubting, and persevering. Twenty plus years of fighting the stigmas of being a military spouse. All of those years had sat like weights on my shoulders but lifted in that single moment, and I screamed with joy. An independent publishing house had heard about my book and wanted to publish it. My story about life as a military spouse living and working in Africa was going to find its way out into the world. It was a win. A win for my son, to watch his mom reach for the stars and catch them. A win for my husband who supported me as I worked to find my way. A win for spouses within our military community. A win for military spouses in general. A win for me.
As I let my son return to his homework, I walked back to my office and sat down at the desk once more, outside the window the afternoon sun shone bright. I had been seen and understood and couldn’t wait to share it with others. To share it with the world, but especially with others like me. I picked up my notebook and began writing down thoughts and ideas for bringing my book into the open.
Who am I?
I am a military spouse and I am a writer.