Taking on Transitions – Advice from One Military Spouse to Another

img_4469

I’ll readily admit it: two months into our move here I had no idea what I was doing, and it scared me (see: A Time for Everything). I had just moved to a new country, started an “adult” life, and married. In fact, it had been a pretty crazy year (see: The Last Eighteen Months: A Reflection). One day, sitting in the house by myself on our temporary rubber couch loaned from base, I felt like I had hit rock-bottom. I couldn’t imagine doing this crazy new life, day in and day out for three whole years. How did anyone survive this sort of transition and isolation? Realizing however that some folks had (and I knew some of them already) gave me pause: so people do live through this! But how? I picked up my laptop, flipped it open, and typed in a name on FaceBook of a girl I grew up with. We’d been on the same swim team, debated in the same high-school league, and come from the same Southern state. But most importantly, she was a military spouse too, and she seemed to be thriving where she was. I asked her recently if she would mind if I shared some of the advice she gave me, and she said “anything I can do to help new military wives!” which is a summation of her usual awesome attitude.

I’ll add this as a caveat: I don’t think this advice is helpful just for mil spouses – I think anyone going through a big transition (be it a move, college, career change, etc.) can benefit from some of these strategies.

img_5383

Kristen started off by telling me something we all need to hear: you’re not alone. “…the question you are asking is one that every military spouse stationed abroad asks.” With that in mind, here are eight things that can be done to help during times of transition.

  1. Get a job. I’d heard this advice from others, and it did indeed make a huge difference for me. As Kristen said: “If a job is available, and you’re interested, go for it. That will help a lot. I chose not to work while in Japan because I wanted the freedom to travel to Michael’s different port visits, a sacrifice for time together that was absolutely the right choice.” Five months into my new job, it has already brought me an increased sense of purpose and community, and helped me to learn so much more about the area here and the resources on base.

2. Socialize, despite the distance. “Don’t let travel time keep you from social opportunities. We’re South Carolina girls, used to the luxury of everyone/thing within a 20 minute driving distance, so I can see how being 45 minutes away from most Americans seems impractical to drive/train/bus just for coffee or a social meet up. Do it anyway. You won’t regret it.” This is so true! We are at a remote location, so our base is about 40 minutes from everything else American here. I didn’t want to be “that expat” who went to base for everything, but the face remains that sometimes you just have to go somewhere you can understand the language!

img_5591

3.  Spend quality time with your spouse. Even though Aaron leaves for work about an hour and a half before I do, I still get up and have breakfast with him. Kristen emphasized the importance of intentional time with your spouse as well: “In the brief times when Michael was in port, I always drove in with him in the mornings. Sometimes I went home after dropping him off, sometimes I stayed on base for various reasons, but we both loved that time together first thing in the morning, even if we weren’t talking the whole time, just sitting quietly in the car together.”

4. Volunteer. “Look for volunteer opportunity on base. These are a great way to get connected, meet people, and feel like you’ve spent time well. The organizations may be different, but I bet your base(s) have a lot of organizations that would love your talents!” This has proven so true in my case! I have loved becoming part of the great non-profits and spouse groups on base. The Officers and Civilian Spouses Club (OCSC) and the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) are two groups I’ve enjoyed helping with.

5. Bible Study. Like me. Kristen found some of her closest friends through her base Bible Study. “This past year I also served on the board and that was a good outlet as well. We have a fantastic ministry through Cadence International, a hospitality house that hosts several bible study/teaching services a week.” We have also been blessed with a great Cadence house nearby – what a great outlet that has been! A group of us from the house are even training together for the Athens Marathon and 10k this year!

6. Getting out and about. Whether it is a trip to the store, a walk in the woods, or a day at work, getting out of the house in some shape or form every day is worth more than a change in scenery. It gets you engaged in the world around you, learning new things, and even just getting some good exercise. Kristen added: “I would encourage you to develop some kind of routine, an appointment every day that gets you out of the house.”

7. Exercise. Kristen emphasized this strongly: “Military life often leaves us feeling out of control and sometimes powerless. For me, I decided to challenge myself to see how much progress I could make physically, how much stronger I could become from the beginning of a deployment to the end. It’s fun, and gives a sense of accomplishment I missed when I left the professional setting.” When Aaron decided to run a marathon in November, I decided to sign up for the 10k. Modest in comparison, but it gets me outside and running! There are also lots of exercises classes offered on base, and I have taken advantage of them when time and work schedule allow.

8. Stay connected with home. I expressed my sorrow to Kristen about missing important family moments, and Kristen reminded me that there’s not always much we can do about that, but we can “keep in touch, and Facebook messenger and its voice and video call features, iMessage/FaceTime are gold.” I try to call my mom once a week, and when Aaron is gone for training, I will use my evening time to call and catch up with friends and family members as well.

_DSC6826

Unfortunately, there’s no “big secret” to perfectly adjusting through transitions… or at least I haven’t found it yet! If you do, definitely let me know. However, there are things that can be done to help ease into a new life. The eight ideas above have been useful to me, but I’d love to hear from you! If there’s something I missed, or if you have had success by using one of the things above, do let me know!

Advertisements

“Bonjour Paris!” – With Ian and Will in France

We left for Paris two days after the tragedy in Nice. It was with a heavy heart that we thought of the country we were travelling into – France has experienced so much pain in the last year and a half.

img_5625

After a four hour drive through the beautiful french countryside, and a thirty minute drive through the crazy outskirts of Paris, we pulled up into the tiny garage of our AirBnB in Saint-Ouen. The house was small, but very lovely. Built sometime in the early 1900s, it was tastefully and completely fitted out. We crashed for a bit on the couches while we planned our evening excursion.

img_5659
Ian on Les Deux Plateaux Colonnes de Buren

We decided to set out into the city to get some dinner, and see some of the sights before the late summer sun set (around 10:30pm!).

We took the metro (a first for the boys!) into the city, and emerged into the sultry air of the Paris July evening. The Paris architecture was stunning – tall apartment buildings with detailed columns and wrought iron rails blocking the view, and when you walked around them and peered down the streets, glimpses of the Seine or the gold gleaming roof of a government building.  Paris was more like Barcelona than London (to me). Warm-colored stone, and the bright windowsills, and doors with more of a Southern European feel than the Northern European vibe of London or Bonn. But the city that it reminded me of most of all was Philadelphia, and apparently that is no coincidence.

img_5651
Walking around the Palais Royal at sunset

We ate dinner in a charming downtown establishment, then walked down towards the river – I was longing to get a glimpse of the famous Seine. The sun was setting in a haze of purple and orange as we rambled through the parks around Palais Royal, and saw a group of Parisians playing Boules in the gravelly pathway. We rounded a last corner, and the beautiful Louvre complex spread out in front of us – what a moment that was! I slipped my arm through Aaron’s, and we just smiled and laughed as the boys whooped and ran around, getting pictures of the famous building.

img_5637

We eventually made our way back to the AirBnB, and watched “100 Foot Journey” to get ourselves in the mood for French cuisine before turning in for the night.

img_5675
Sunset through the Louvre arch

The next day we went to Notre Dame for the International Service. Only in France would a service be advertised as “International” and then be 99.99% in French. I’m serious – I think one sentence was English. We were honestly a little disheartened by the tourists inside: there seemed to be little to no respect for the building as a place of worship. It seemed that many people were just there to check off another box on their “Paris List.” That doesn’t bother me in and of itself, but when you’re treating a historic place of worship with the same nonchalance as the Arc de Triomphe, and with less respect than the Louvre, we have a problem.

img_5687

Notwithstanding, we had a good time, and a pleasant walk around the city. The day was hot, so we avoided the sun and instead set off down the shady sides of alleyways. We happened upon Shakespeare & Co. bookstore quite by accident, and naturally had to go inside, where I spent a happy few minutes wandering around the crammed bookshelves and walking up and down the rickety stairs in search of the poetry section.

For lunch that day the boys went off in search of something cheap and hardy, and Aaron and I lunched at Laduree – a must-see on our list since Aaron’s sister recommended it via a Pinterest Pin. 🙂 The lunch was lovely – I had a fantastic omelette, and Aaron had some sort of delicious roast duck. It was cool, quiet retreat after the heat and noise outside.

img_5739
Courtyard of Les Invalides

Quick note about the food in Paris: it lives up to the hype. Everywhere we ate was simply delicious, and we didn’t need to break the bank in order to have a good meal. One of my favorite things was the breakfasts provided for us by Aaron, who walked down the bakery and picked up some baguettes each day. I cannot imagine a more Parisian thing than opening the door to see your husband standing on the step with an armful of fresh baguettes for breakfast: it made me very happy. 🙂

On our last day we visited the wonderful Louvre. It was so crowded we only had time to zip through the amazing place – lingering over some objects because we had to: who could bear running past the Winged Victory, or the entire two walls dedicated to David? Seeing “The Oath of the Horatii” in person almost knocked me over. I had forgotten that it was in the Louvre, so when we rounded a corner on the way to see the obligatory Mona Lisa and I suddenly came face to face with David’s masterpiece, I was literally brought to a standstill. After I’d recovered myself, I told Ian and Will about the painting and the story behind it, and I think I now have to more converts to the David fan club.

Next we visited the Musee de l’Armee, and Napoleon’s tomb. That was a fantastic tour! Aaron and I got in free with our military IDs, which was a plus. The width and breadth of the military museum was impressive. We arrived not too long before the 6pm closing, so we had to go faster than we would have liked. The crowning jewel to my mind, however, was the building that housed Napoleon’s remains. The vastness and intricacy were stunning, and I was interested to see all the Romanesque and classical influences – the man clearly thought he was Rome’s latest, greatest emperor.

img_5691
Outside the Musee de l’Armee

We wandered down to the Eifel Tower in the evening. We’d seen it peeking at us from a distance the whole trip, but it was neat to finally go and stand at its massive base. It was larger than I could have imagined, and also… sand-colored? Did anyone else not see that one coming? It looks steel-grey in most of the pictures I’d seen.

img_5720

We thought about staying until the sun set, but it was July, and that would mean waiting around until nearly 11pm.

Instead we wandered into a little French Cafe somewhat off the beaten path. The first floor was tiled in black and white, and a group of older Parisian men sat outside, sipping their wine and laughing, probably at the passing tourists. A waiter inside showed us up to the comparatively quiet upstairs, where we ordered drinks and talked about the trip while we waited for our food to arrive.

There’s always a danger in getting expectations too high when visiting a famous city, especially one you’ve heard about and read about so many times. But Paris is so big and intricate, that I’m sure you could visit a dozen times and still feel there was more to discover. My brief glimpses of the Orsay, Louvre, and even the Paris streets and alleys, have only succeeded in making me want to discover more.

Till next time, Paris – Au revoir!

P.S.

With Paris, the bulk of our adventures with Ian and Will came to an end. I cannot think of two more chill or game people to have stay: they were happy to explore the village or explore a nearby castle at the drop of a hat; they made trips to the commissary seem fun (partly because they insisted we use the kiddie shopping cart…); they threw themselves into the culture, into the language, and into household chores. They made our lives brighter, and our first trip to Paris unforgettable.