“I could never do what you do.” I hear this refrain again and again. No matter where I go, if I’m not with other military spouses, conversation inevitably makes its way to some form of this phrase. I always respond with, “yes you could,” because of course you could. We do what we have to do, do we not? Sure, there would be some people who would just put up their hands and say “no way. I’m out,” but for the most part, we are in, all of us, no matter what is thrown at us.
I never would have predicted, as a young midwesterner in the 1980s, that I would end up married to a man in the military, moving house 12 times in 23 years and going strong. Never. Nor would I change it if I could. Sure, the military has bumped and bruised us along the way (years of deployments, among other things), but it’s also led us to a life of great opportunities to meet people, travel and learn from the world. Am I where I thought I would be when I thought about my future 25 years ago? 10 years ago? No. But what makes the military life unpredictable and hard, also makes it exciting and even inviting.
In 2009 our family of six moved from China back to Northern Virginia and we were finished moving. Really finished. I was over it and ready for military retirement. The deal was: Horatio was going to deploy in 2010, and then he’d come back to us, do a twilight DC job, and then retire. When he was away, though, he called me on FaceTime and said, “I got a call offering us a new job. How’d you like to move to Taiwan?” Initially, I said “no thank you,” (literally) but after weighing the pros and cons, we found ourselves unpacking boxes in a house on a mountain in Taiwan in 2014, and then back in Beijing in 2016.
Home is where the Navy sends us.
Horatio is doing an important job that he’s passionate about and good at, and our family enjoys the perks of, and looks past the downsides, of living all over the world as we support him. While Horatio does his job, I do mine, the kids do theirs. I have a lot of responsibilities that are a part of his job. I don’t get paid, but these duties, both at home and in the diplomatic corps, are no less important. It does not escape Horatio or me that without me doing my job, he could not do his effectively.
Some days are less easy than others. The air pollution is bad, the traffic is a giant mess, and it feels like there’s an obstacle in the way of almost anything we try to do. Thankfully, though, when I can’t find my own strength to get through it, I can always count on the other transplants around me to help me keep things in perspective.
Life can be quite a challenge, living in a culture so different from our own, so far from home. (Did you ever hear of a Chinese squatty potty? Google it with caution.) Would I love to live closer to my family, drive on the roads with civility and shop at Target whenever I please, while not carrying toilet tissue and hand sanitizer wherever I go? Yes. Do I dwell on it? No. What would be the point? Instead, I celebrate the fact that our willingness to serve our country (yes, I said OUR willingness) has led to our kids having a sense of what it is to serve, going to state of the art International Schools, meeting high level officials (both US and foreign) and visiting countries that would have been unattainable (South Africa, Australia, Cambodia and Israel, to name a few) had we not chosen this life. Our kids have seen obscenely wealthy people and desperately poor people in the course of a day, on more than one occasion. It’s my job to point out these contrasts and pull lessons from them. Plus, we’ve all learned to speak Chinese, which is another thing that people say they could never do. Let me tell you, though, if you lived in a country that speaks another language, you’d do your best to learn, even if it’s just the basics. We are in our eighth year in Asia. We have lived in 9 different cities, the kids have been to more than a dozen schools, combined. It’s our life. How do we do it? We find the strength or it finds us. The kids and I know that we are here for the greater good. Horatio serves our country, so we serve our country.