The Army Wife: a picture of perfect strength and grace, quietly supporting her husband at every turn with a baby on her hip. She looks like Donna Reed and cooks like Julia Childs. She is always at the ready with an American flag, a covered dish, and a welcome home kiss. She never misses an episode of Army Wives, starts every day on her treadmill, and her politics lean to the right. Disagree if you like, but that is the stereotype. She is, at the very least, who I thought I should become when Jay and I first said, “I do.”
For those of you who know me well, know that the last 11 years of being an Army Wife has come with challenges for me. I don’t fit the Army Wife stereotype. I do not have children, which means I lack a major accessory when attending Army functions. I don’t look like Donna Reed. My hair is a little wild, and I am always completely accessorized. (What I lack in baby carriers and diaper bags, I more than make up for in scarves, hoop earrings, charm bracelets, and fabulous shoes.) In my opinion, treadmills are torture devices designed to bore you to death while you pull a hammy. My covered dishes never turn out like the pictures in my cookbooks. I tried to watch Army Wives. That didn’t go well. And as far as my politics, I can’t stomach any cable news network, whichever way their bias sways. I proudly stand next to my husband at every turn, but chances are, he’s getting an earful more often than he would like.
Army Wife stereotype be damned! I propose we replace the stereotype with my must-have list of critical survival skills I have learned over the last twelve years:
- An Army Wife must be flexible. Go on, keep doing that yoga. That kind of flexibility will help any marriage, but I’m speaking of emotional flexibility. Strong emotional attachments to any place or routine will only push her off the nearest ledge once her husband announces, “Hey, honey, we’re moving! Again. For the seventh time in twelve years.”
- An Army Wife must have the ability to kick someone in the throat, but the patience not to actually kick someone in the throat. (I’ve never been arrested, but I’ve known plenty of wives who end up in jail while her husband is deployed. She never gets bailed out as quickly as she would like to be.) Yes, an Army Wife must stick up for herself. Often times, no one else will. Piles of bureaucracy will bury her, along with frequent lacks in common sense found in the standard operating procedures of every office on Post. But, you still matter, so speak up, sister! Just try your best to avoid assault charges.
- An Army Wife must be self-sufficient. I’m not just speaking of becoming a professional mover, car mechanic, and bug zapper. (Trust me, there will come a day when, while her husband is deployed, the Army Wife will move to a new home, change a flat tire, and kill the biggest spider known to mankind, all without the help of her hero. He’s off fighting wars. She’s fighting Murphy’s Law and insect Armageddon.) I’m also speaking of mental fulfillment, a fulfillment gained all on her own. While drowning in a sea of green camo, an Army wife needs a hot pink, polka-dotted life raft, something of her own that she can hold onto year after year, move after move. ( Jay’s career is not my life. I didn’t earn his rank. He did.)
So, throw out the stereotype. I have. I am still married. Jay is still happily married to me, even though I will always be more Rosie the Riveter, less Betsy Ross. I do however, in the spirit of full disclosure, take pride in being my version of his personal USO Girl, holding onto a few Donna Reed qualities just for myself. I do not wear pajama bottoms in public because I have dignity. I do not ever don my husband’s PT shirt because I’m not in the Army. (Unless you plan on going on a battalion run, please take off that shirt. I’m begging you!) I frequently cook my husband dinner because I like to cook and I love Jay’s food coma smile after a home cooked meal. I try to stay in shape because I want Jay and me to be the eighty-year-old couple at the VFW still spinning around the dance floor unafraid of broken hips and deteriorating discs. And, finally, I smother him in kisses at every homecoming ceremony.
For my Army Wife sisters out there, what qualities are missing from my definition of the Army Wife stereotype? What survival skills would you add to the “must have” list? What USO Girl qualities do you hold on to? Share your wisdom below!