A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

Twenty years ago I sat in a stadium watching my future husband receive his commissioning in the US Navy. With a stack of blissful hopes and dreams we jumped into the military life and flew into the unknown. For that hometown 20-something girl, every single thing was an unknown. Dropped into a completely new world, she fumbled through those first few years, trying her best to understand the new military community and her place within it. I wish I could write her a letter to calm her fears and let her know that she was on the precipice of something rich and amazing.

Dear Younger Self,

Congratulations on your beautiful wedding! That epic day filled with sword arches and a Top Gun serenade seemed like the perfect launching pad for your new life.

Now here you are, two weeks later, unpacking boxes in your new apartment and thinking “What on Earth just happened?” All your family and friends now live thousands of miles away and South Texas surrounds you like a foreign country. (And why is this foreign country so freakishly hot????)

I see the way you are looking around now, disoriented, skeptical and lonely…But let me tell you something: you are going to be okay. Actually, you are going to be more than okay. You are going to have the adventure of a lifetime. LISTEN TO ME:

I know you are lonely now, but you are going to have deep and meaningful friendships. You will have friends from all fifty states, some for a period, but some for a lifetime. You will have close neighbors who invest in you and care for your children. You will meet other military spouses who will become your new family, your new world and your new tribe of military code-breakers. They will meet you in the parking lot when your car battery dies. They will laugh and cry with you during seemingly endless deployment cycles. Find these friends.

Finding your tribe takes effort but you will learn to do it well. Don’t wait around, don’t sit inside, leave the house and pursue people. At first it feels uncomfortable to join a new group or be known as “The Mrs” but I promise you the reward is there for the taking. Eventually you will become so efficient and bold in your quest for tribal membership that you will compose emails like “I like you and I think you are fun, wanna meet me for coffee?” And they do. (Actually, you will do this more than once). I guarantee you that every time you relocate to a new city you will find fantastic friends who will warrant tears when you depart. They sit around the world now, just waiting to meet you for coffee.

You will not be in control of your family’s schedule and there is nothing you can do but laugh. I’m serious here. I see you feeling annoyed, angry and beyond frustrated with the Navy but fighting is futile- you will always lose. You can stubbornly plan a vacation ten months away but sometimes your husband won’t know his schedule until a couple months before. Years of your life will be dictated by the schedule of a ship or the affairs of the world, none of which you can control. The sooner you can accept that, the happier you will be. (Don’t choose anger, choose donuts. Just kidding. Maybe not. Apple Fritters are forever.)

Remember- It’s not his fault that the ship is leaving. Don’t blame him for the schedule when it is inconvenient. When he is walking out the door with his pack and you are laying on the floor with the stomach flu, hoping your unsupervised toddler doesn’t grab any kitchen knives, he isn’t trying to purposefully run out on you. He’s trying to stay employed and not go to a sleepover at the base brig. Pull up your big girl pants and stop taking his schedule as a personal affront! If you want your marriage to succeed, you must learn to separate the two.

Deployments will seem like the end of the world but they are often forgettable. Your first deployment will be nine months long but years later you will barely recall the details. And all those times he deploys when your kids are young and you feel like their hearts will be crushed, the truth is that they won’t remember those separations either. I don’t mean to downplay the effort it will take to persevere through a deployment (because those times will push you beyond your limits), but those separations won’t define you or your kids. Your husband will miss some milestones but he will be there for a million more moments later and those relationships will thrive.

Your kids will have a different childhood than your own, but that is okay. You will wonder if moving them is traumatic, if not living on the same street will damage them. But then you will watch them learn about farming in California, walk the streets of Paris and tour the Capitol Building in DC. You will see their world views broadened through their personal experiences & friendships and you will know that their horizons are wider than you ever dreamed. Contrary to what you worry about, your children will have strong, beautiful roots that grow in many directions.

Your professional career is going to struggle but that’s okay, too. You will love some of your future jobs, but there will come a time when balancing work, family & the military life will be very difficult. “The flexible one” will need to be you and that’s the blunt truth. When your kid has a fever and can’t go to school, your husband won’t be coming home from the ship to handle it. When your kid is crying in the school bathroom after Daddy deploys, you will be the one to show up. And that’s when you will realize your most important job- to show up every time. You will be your family’s grounding force in an ever-shifting world and that stability will be worth more than any paycheck.

The military life will make your world bigger and smaller at the same time. Years from now, you will drive across the United States, from coast to coast, and know someone in almost every place. You will watch the news and think of your foreign friendships and the lessons they taught you about their home countries. Daily, you will pass souvenirs in your home- reminders from squadrons, port visits, tours abroad and all the moments when your world expanded a little further. You will realize one day that you are no longer the same person who was unpacking boxes in that first apartment.

Like every phase of adulthood…

This journey will pass in a blink. When these friends from South Texas begin to retire, your mind will replay all the emotions of the twenty years- the heartache of goodbyes, the stress of moving, the struggle of solo-parenting, the joy of Homecomings, the feelings of patriotism, the love of friends and everything in-between. You will grab your husband’s hand and think of all you have seen and experienced together and realize that the “sacrifice” of this life looks more like a beautiful gift.

SO GO. Don’t be afraid. A wonderful journey stands before you.

With love from your Older and Wiser Self,

p.s. Consider using eye cream a little earlier, then maybe you won’t have big bags under your eyes at age Forty. I’m just sayin.’

p.p.s. Never iron your husband’s white uniform without first confirming that the iron is clean. Especially not the night before a big event. TRUST ME.

43 thoughts on “A Letter To My Younger Self: A Navy Wife’s Reflection

  1. Excellent read Kim! I think this is a great idea and a good read for the next generation that is beginning their crazy journey through the fun, crazy, exciting and frustrating adventure of Navy life! I think young JO’s should read this as well! It’s a team effort on the home front for sure and they have NO idea what their spouse is about to go through!

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      1. Great job Kim , what an inspiration for the new military wife’s that are starting this awesome journey! I did it for 22 years and 22 more as a civilian in the military, I am glad and I am blessed and honor to have served our country ,
        My children are well rounded and super responsible individuals . I had the time of my life ,no regrets what’ so ever , I’ll do it again in a heart beat.

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  2. Hey Kim,
    I am so glad your mom posted this. You have a genuine talent for descriptive writing. I’m reflecting on your playing the Moonlight Sonata at the recital in your jean-jacket and laughing at how I judged that apparel decision. You have known your own mind for quite a while! This ‘letter’ is terrific, and I agree with Penny that it should be a part of any new Navy wife’s intro-packet. Brava my dear!

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  3. A friend of mine shared this on her Facebook today, and I loved reading it. As an Army wife, I tend to think only in black and gold, but reading from another branch perspective rings just as true. I appreciate all your candor and honesty – it’s much appreciated by more than you know!

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    1. Hi Melissa, thank you so much for commenting! I have the pleasure of calling some Army Wives my friends and I have loved learning how our experiences are similar (and sometimes different.) We are all doing our best to find our way through this military life!

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  4. What a thoughtful, touching letter to your younger self. I am that ‘younger self’ today – thank you for sharing your words of wisdom! My husband was a Navy helicopter pilot for his first ten years of service (we met at the tail-end of it) and now he is finishing his last year in medical school (again, with the Navy). While I have felt a lot of these feelings in his journey to becoming a doctor, I needed to hear these words as we prepare for his next 10+ years with the Navy. It truly is a wonderful journey with a lot of ups and downs. I’m going to try to remind myself of your letter when these hard moments happen. Thank you.

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  5. I had tears in my eyes as I lived through your early life raising 3 young beautiful daughters! Often you had to think for both yourself and Jerry. I didn’t marry my Navy pilot until we were older – but I will never forget the thrill of seeing him arrive in his striking white uniform…Go Navy!

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  6. All of this! We are approaching 18.5 years, and retirement planning is upon us. All of the sudden, I want to weep at the thought of it being over. It’s been an incredible journey.

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  7. My wife & I spent 21 years on active duty w/the AF, plus 32 yrs civil service. I twigged on the reality of your letter immediately. My poor wife was a Minnesota farm girl, out of her depth, but graciously guided to maturity by wives of squadron mates. Our kids spent their 4 years of high school in one place (North Dakota) and were surprised by how unworld-wise and ignorant of the world around them their classmates were. When my youngest son joined the Army, we took his best friend with us to attend his graduation from Basic Training. The kid nearly had a heart attack when he saw his first cockroach (obviously, not the last one for us). I’m sure some young woman is reading your letter and saying to herself: Yeah! Sure. Will she be surprised in 20 years.

    v/r

    Paul

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  8. “You will wonder if moving them is traumatic, if not living on the same street will damage them.”

    As a brat, I’ll say “Yeah, it was “traumatic”. But my Dad laughed and pointed out, he had seen a lot of tearful departures as the “True Love” PCS, until the plane leaves the gate, and then the replacement comes out from where he/she was hiding. You learn to make “lifelong” friends fast.

    But still, I wonder how weird it must be, to watch the tree grow in front of your house, and to graduate from High School with the same kids you started High School with, let alone grade school.

    But what an excuse “Sorry, I missed that, I was out of the country.”

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    1. That is a GREAT excuse!! I never moved as a kid and saw the trees growing in front of my house. This is why I was so torn about my own children having a different experience. I am concluding that there are pros and cons of both. Thanks for commenting Peter!

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  9. Kim, I am now 52 years old. My father was a 20-year Air Force veteran. My Minnesota born mother married my New York born father in 1964 and began an 11-year journey around the world on various deployments. This brought back a whole flood of memories from the stories that I heard from my mom and dad before I was born, and the reality that I lived for the first 8 years of my life – Turkey, Arizona, Germany, Arizona. This included 2 deployments in Vietnam. Every one of those points you made applies to my mother, from the world wide friendships that she made, to having to deal with a sick me alone while my dad was on the other side of the world, to how quickly the time went by. I wish my mom (and my dad) were still alive to read this. I know in my heart that my mom would agree with every word.
    Thank you.
    Tim

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  10. Not a Navy brat but I grew up in a Navy town (my “home port.”)

    As a kid I tended to gravitate socially to the kids whose dads were in the Navy, mostly because they seemed to have so much more on the ball. They had traveled and seen foreign places. They were curious of the world. Sure, they had a more stressful life, but mostly that toughened them and stimulated their minds and their manners.

    So like most good things, there are good and bad aspects. But from seeing Navy brats up close and personal, it generally made for more complete and interesting people.

    Just be careful of any accents they might pick up!

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  11. As a retired Navy Officer, I would just say- his uniform, he should iron it. It is his responsibility and I hope he didn’t give anyone flack over the whites. I hated the white uniforms- always something got on them within two minutes of putting them on.

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  12. The toughest DoD job is being a Navy Spouse. Colonel James H. Harrington, USAF Retired. I attended the Navy Command & Staff College and lived in Navy Housing thus part of my education was learning about Navy life. See, the Navy does not know how to count; a six month deployment turns into eight, a two week shake down cruise into four weeks, etc. Similar comments can be made for the other services to include the Air Force. I honor ALL military spouses and families for They Also Serve! Thanks for your service!!!!!!

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  13. Your reflections are so positive, sage, and timeless.
    I am a Navy Junior. (Not to be confused: Navy Jr / Army Brat )
    In the mid 1930s, my Dad was in Navy ROTC at UW, WWII escalated and he was called to active duty.
    His wedding to his sweetheart from Yakima was rescheduled, from June to January. After the ceremony, they boarded the train from Seattle to Patterson, New Jersey. I am sure my mother woke up alone and afraid in Patterson, much as you did in South Texas.
    She was an inspiration. This third child of nine, daughter of Swedish immigrants, embraced her new life. She learned the Navy, and eventually, the Washington DC, protocol of the 1950 USN. And she raised three children.
    You are right on about military children! We moved easily. We knew every museum in Washington DC, we swam in the Caribbean when we lived in Guantanamo, we played with monkeys in Panama, and I graduated from High School in Honolulu. My mother kept me grounded: she sent me to her University!
    Their many friendships were deep and special. The shared experiences were unique. They had a Christmas card list of 300 addresses…and this was fifty years ago! They treasured each recipient.
    Thank you for this essay, dear Kim.
    As you said, TO SERVE is a sacrifice on many levels, but it is also a beautiful gift … for those who love life, adventure, and their heroic spouse.
    Well done.
    xoxo

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