Friday, March 22, 2013

Military Mom in Germany

I met Shana about 3 years ago in Dover. At the time, all of the officers in Troy's squadron fell in 2 categories.

1. Young lieutenants who were single/married without kids.
2. Older Officers with older (read high school or older) kids.

Shana and Donell fell right in the middle, with kids in middle school. Most of our "CGO Ghetto" friends living in the lieutenant area on base were just freshly married or just starting families. So Shana and Donell were a mystery to me for several reasons.

1. They had got married young and had kids young.
2. They were really cool.
3. Shana was a stay at home mom and I was planning on being a working mom.
4. She was freaking smart and witty and involved in everything.
5. They made choices that were best for their family, making no apologies about doing the right thing, no matter if you agreed with them, or thought it was difficult or mean.

How can you do all of those things and keep your head above water?? Shana tells all here. They live in Germany now and their kids are thriving and doing great over there traveling around Europe and living it up. Ahhhhhhh, I yearn for an overseas PCS...

Here's Shana:

My name is Shana, and this is the quick look at how I became a stay at home mom. Let me start out a long time ago in northern Michigan. For the first 5 years it was just me and mom, but by the time it was all said and done, I was the oldest of four kids. We were poor. Not the reduced lunch kind of poor, but the government cheese, one bath a week kind of poor. My parents worked multiple jobs just to keep us fed, and by the time my baby brother was born (I was 12) I had to miss school the day he came home from the hospital because mom had to work (it was an unexcused absence, but I digress) and she needed me to babysit. That was also the year I got my first paying job stuffing envelopes for an advertising agency. I would not be poor.

Flash forward to high school (mind you, still pretty poor but doing better). I am smart. Like, really smart. I got advanced classes, dual enrollment for college, even a scholarship that covered almost all my community college, but not quite enough. When I got pulled in to the guidance office, I had to tell them what I was going to be. “Housewife” was never on the list as an option, and I'm told to "pick something else." I do, and I worked hard, at school and at jobs. Sometimes working two or three jobs at a time, all while involved in cheerleading, band, and advanced classes. I fell in love. He had his own plans, and he was a year ahead of me, and he enlisted in the military. We got married, and I stayed at my parents’ home while I tried to finish college. But, their finances were still not much better and they were moving…without me. It was time for me to move to my husband’s apartment four hours away from my scholarship and make a home with him.

I got a job, then another one. At 20, I was offered an assistant manager job at Domino’s Pizza (I was still planning on going to college and “being something” at this point) and when the Domino’s owner found out I was a military spouse, he rescinded the offer because “I wasn’t going to be around long term.” This was the exact moment in my life when reality kicked me in the butt. I was not going to be able to be one of those successful women who had it all. I was going to have to choose, and the worst part is that I didn’t really get to make the choice, it was decided for me by denied opportunities. I worked two more years before we were sent overseas. It was a perfect time to make my break from being a wage earner to housewife. We moved to Alaska and I went back to college and tried to get pregnant. I did get my AA but what I didn’t get was pregnant. Turns out, getting knocked up wasn’t as easy as everyone around me made it look. We got extremely lucky and there was a fertility program at our base, for which we qualified and several tests and rounds of drugs later…I was the mom of two kids under the age of two.

I thought I was super mom. I had this thing locked down! They slept all night right away, everything was easy! I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t stressed, I had plenty of “me time.” I was happy. I had my hobbies, my husband was as eager to be with the kids as I was. My kids were happy, everyone was happy. This was working! Money wasn’t plentiful, but we wanted for nothing. I was surrounded by other SAHM’s (we were overseas, it happens a lot). I could be happy even without doing what I had been groomed to believe I was to do. I didn’t need a career. This euphoria lasted for about 5 years. As soon as the kids started school, there was "a shift." Not in my home, but in my neighborhood.

By this point, my husband had finished college (which was a miracle of co-parenting, creative solutions, and money magic, but that is a different story) and we were back overseas, as an officer’s family. That was when I started getting what my family calls “the look.” That is the way women, particularly Active Duty and college educated women, would look at me when I answered their “and what do you do?” question. They thought I was a modern day Peg Bundy, eating bonbons and watching soaps. That I couldn’t work because I was uneducated (which is true), and unable, and dumb. At one gathering, I was chatting about politics and my husband’s commander, a single mom who had previously given me “the look” when she said to me “Wow, you are smart?!” And when the kids were in school, I was constantly asked, “When are you going back to work?” I'm not done raising kids just because they are in school. One time, I caved to the pressure and enrolled in pre-Pharmacy classes. But the universe is unwavering in it’s signs. Things would block my way and show that it was not right for our family at the time. Women still give me “the look” but they can’t see that the choices we have made were the best for our family. That we decided even though I could do great things, the greatest thing I could do for all of us was raise two children as if it were my life’s purpose because now, it is and I am GOOD at it. I mean really, really good at it!

This is where I have to confess something. My version of good at it, doesn’t look like how I thought it would. I thought our schedule would be scripted like a day in pre-school. Breakfast, creative play, snack, read stories, lunch, recess, nap: Repeat. It didn’t look like that. It was “oops, we should eat lunch” and “we can play after I get all the laundry and shopping done.” The photos show that my kids were in onesies for most of their diaper days. And there was that one time that baby Brandon escaped the house. He was a very crafty child, very accident prone, and small. Yes, the Air Force investigated us for "failure to thrive,” which is code for neglect. We were cleared by a civilian agency. With the crisis averted, I went on raising amazing kids, exactly the way Donell and I had planned.

"The shift" was not just in my working contemporaries attitudes. I also saw a shift in my fellow SAHM’s attitudes. Some called me lazy. Yes, to my face. Because I am a SAHM, raising my kids not as if my life depended on it, but as if theirs did. What the other mom’s see is that I don’t do laundry, I don’t clean bathrooms, I don’t do dishes, and there are even nights I don’t cook. I don’t pack lunches and I don’t check homework. These are things Donell and I feel were important the kids could do for themselves. The quality of their life depends on these skills. I think they need me home more now than they ever did as toddlers. They need me to model a great loving and working relationship with my husband, they need to see me doing things that I love, and supporting our family in my own way. They need me to be there for them, every day and wholly present. They need dinner at the table every night, and life as usual when the military takes Donell away, or moves us to foreign countries. They need me to be the parent that drives them to the mall, or does their nails, or teaches them the electric slide before the big dance. My job is to release into the world two capable, stable, respectable adults and I’m not done until I am done.

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