9 Things Only Military Families Think Are Normal
There are many specifics that separate military families into smaller groups: the service member’s job description, years of service, and location, to name a few. But, when it comes to describing what a normal military life looks like, we are so much more alike than different. We are probably more similar to military families we’ve never met than to our own families and friends who don’t serve.
Determining what military normal actually is could only be answered by posting the question on social media to hundreds of spouses. After two days’ worth of comments, I knew I found a few common threads that tightly weave military families together regardless of which branch of service. It was heartening to read over and over again the “Yes, this!” and “Us too!” And, "Normal, what’s normal, anyway?”
After reading through, I’ve pulled the main themes of military normal and compiled a list for your entertainment and appreciation. I am sure there’s at least one scenario you can personally relate to.
9 Things Only Military Families Think Are Normal!
1) Benevolent Stranger Syndrome
Milspouses help each other out all of the time; there’s no doubt. We have no shame when it comes to asking for a favor that only another military family would understand. On the spot emergency contact requests are the norm, so are a host of a “friend of a friend” arrangements. Requests for last minute child care, trips to the ID office, and scary drives to the ER are not out of the question. Nor is it strange to ask a neighbor to borrow the bathtub because the kiddo needs a bath and hot water is not available at your house.
2) Pick a State, Any State
Where are you from? America. It’s one response given to cover all the states the military has sent you. We all get tired of listing the litany of duty stations we’ve lived only to state at the end, but I was born in ____. Non-military people probably mentally check out after hearing duty station number 2 anyway.
What’s worse than the DMV and taxes? Living a military life and trying to do the legal thing during tax season and when your license expires. Really, there’s little else worse than this aggravation and confusion.
One fun aspect of state hopping is moving from region to region and learning a whole new vocabulary. You probably say one or two of these every day: Fixin’ to, asking for pop, soda, or using the catchall phrase Coke in the South, pushing elevator buttons up North, mashing elevator buttons south of the Mason Dixon, and asking the question, “Where is the water/drinking fountain/bubbler?”
Colloquialisms abound, and so do accents. (And why is it so easy to pick up an accent you weren’t born with?)
3) PCS Related Amnesia
Although a temporary condition likely caused by moving stress, PCS Amnesia wreaks havoc on military spouses across the country. From blank stares at the gas pump to sourcing Amazon to remember past addresses, PCS amnesia doesn’t discriminate.
My personal version of amnesia occurs at Target. Because they all look the same inside, I often find myself in the home goods area stopping to remember where I live and if the rug I have in the cart works for the house I currently rent. In the morning, others lie in bed for an extra moment to take in the scenery and process exactly what city they slept in last night.
4) I Walk (Give Birth, Move, Drive Across Country) Alone
Being alone is a given in military life. Whether or not it’s something you cope with ease or difficulty, we just do it. Alone. Again, and again. Spouses stronger than I have given birth in foreign countries—alone. Oh, but sometimes they have their older children in the hospital room because they don’t have anyone to watch them, does that still count as alone?
When your spouse is gone, what actually constitutes as “sick” for a military parent? Allergies that make it hard to breathe and your face ugly? No. A fever? Probably not. Vomiting? Maybe, getting closer! Body aches that physically make it impossible to make a school lunch, well now, that’s an illness. You’ll recover faster than most, but you’re still sick.
What about the healthy parent that stays at home with multiple sick kids, alone? She is probably wishing she was sick in the bed while throwing crackers and juice boxes at the kids in front of the TV.
5) What Does My Spouse Do? I Really Don't Know
USAF photo by TSgt Ted Nichols via af.mil.media
Nor do I remember where he is at the moment or when he's coming home. Unless your spouse is a legit CIA operative deep undercover, non-military families really don’t get this concept. Jobs change, people switch offices, absences grow longer, and the years tick on.
Survival mode requires some brain dumping of things you:
1. Are very worried about, but cannot control, so out through the ears it goes.
2. Your mind is packed full of names and dates of things not directly impacting you, so the non-scary TDY gets tossed aside so you can focus on swim practice, science fair projects, and job interviews.
6) Last Minute Plan Man
No one understands why we cannot plan ANYTHING. It's frustrating for sure, and our friends and family only know just a taste of what military schedules are like and how plans (both last minute and made well in advance) are broken. Important events are constantly missed due to last minute work obligations or because we just couldn’t commit to your destination wedding 6 months in advance, even with the save the date card.
You name it, we’ve missed it, and probably lost money on deposits and “no refunds.” Airplane tickets, baptisms, funerals, summer camp, on and on, all ruined because of impossible planning.
There’s no good, I mean logical reason, except for military service, to put up with all that heartache and chaos.
7) Military Family Potpourri
- Boxes of random curtains
- Foreign currency in last year’s winter coat
- Home décor that is a dead giveaway to where you’ve lived
- A couch squished into your living room now because it fit in the last house
- Job hunts for positions we’re overqualified for
- One giant lump of anniversarybirthdaychristmas holidays rolled into one day to catch up on celebrations
- Forced to use to the worst Exchange, pharmacy, hospital ever with the longest lines in the history of the world
- Kids that call Publix, Kroger, and Safeway the commissary because that’s all they know
- Unofficial call signs given to spouses because they’re loved and appreciated, too.
8) Military Alphabet and Number Soup
Take a minute and think about how many military acronyms you know, but wish you didn’t. It’s probably dozens. Working knowledge of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta...should proudly be listed on your resume, for a TBD purpose later.
The same is true for the tangle of vital strings of numbers, whether the sponsor’s social or grocery store card numbers. You’ve got hundreds of important digits swimming around upstairs. And you know what happens if you forget the order of even one social security number? The end of life as you know it. Worse sometimes, no BOGO box of cereal for the kids.
Military families need a whole new bag of tricks to overcome moving OCONUS and juggling numbers: currency, the metric system, voltage, and watts. Don’t forget time zones and military time. Doctors say that memory exercises ward off brain disease.
A military family’s body may give out faster, but our brains will live on and on.
9) Madness! It’s Just Not Right to Move this Way
It's not normal, unless military life is your calling, to move the way we do. Shape it how you want--it’s an adventure, part of the job, lucky to see the world--it’s still bizarre, and civilians don’t relate. I bet you know how much all of the worldly goods in your house weigh. Ask your civilian BFF. He’ll have no idea and wonder why on earth you're asking. Just to show off, tell him how much your car weighs, too.
Its difficult to even express the craziness that PCS timelines inflict on families. Two weeks, two months, or two years, they are all very reasonable timelines (according to the military) to uproot and move to Europe or Asia (possibly alone), unpack multiple shipments, and track down lost items to claim damage and loss, all just to turn around and do it again.
But, after complaining about the constant of upheaval of moving, what’s that ants in your pants urge to move again after two years? It's maddening to be happy at your current duty station, yet be overcome with the mixed emotions of feeling trapped. Can’t we just be happy to sit? Do we really miss eating tacos and broccoli for dinner because that’s what left in the fridge two days before pack-out?
What a mix of random ideas and events this list is to anyone outside of the military!
But for those military families past and present, they represent memories of struggles, friends, family, homes, and joy. Separately they all appear arbitrary, but tossed together, they come together to produce military normal life--whatever that is.
I realize this is just a partial list of what defines military normal. Younger families haven’t approached some of these situations and perhaps never will. Older families don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. If your baby’s birth announcement was made to your spouse by the Red Cross, you've lived and done some hard stuff! The stress of moving will never change for any military family, but hopefully we’ll all maintain our status of Benevolent Stranger.
A very special thank you goes to the dozens of spouses who agreed to share with me their military normal lives.
For more stories of this crazy, funny military life, click below to download our free "You Gotta Laugh! Funny PCS Stories" e-book!