I still remember the planner my homeroom teacher passed out the first week of middle school. The size of a spiral notebook, it had daily sections for recording assignments, monthly calendars, and reference pages (useful in the days when the internet was still a novelty). I leafed through it, copying down everything–homework, piano lessons, dance classes, birthdays. I loved seeing my life written down, spelled out before me. I loved knowing what to expect and what to plan for.
Not much about my love for scheduling out my life has changed except the quality of my planner. I no longer carry a freebie with Eagle Middle School on the front; now I buy designer books with colorful covers and specialty pages for meal planning and habit tracking. My Sunday planning sessions leave me feeling satisfied and secure, ready for the challenges of the week ahead.
So that being said, the unpredictability of military life can be rough to say the least.
My husband didn’t become active duty until we were 28, after we’d been married for six years. We were used to making decisions about our future–where he went to graduate school, which job I would take, where we would live. When he joined the Army, we knew, in theory, that we would move a lot, that he might get sent overseas, that he would be working for the government rather than himself. But we didn’t really comprehend the magnitude of the changes we were facing, the control we were relinquishing.
The many benefits that being a military family has provided have been coupled with challenges, and while the physical burdens have been obvious and expected, the mental ones have proved just as heavy.
I was excited for our first assignment–we were sent somewhere I’d always wanted to live, and our new home surpassed my expectations. But when the time came for us to PCS again, we were sent thousands of miles from my friends and family to a place I had no interest in. While I grew to like our home and made new friends, it was difficult to adjust to being two thousand dollars in plane tickets from home, in a rural setting where the only attraction within ten miles was a Walmart.
A few months after our move, my husband was notified that he was being reassigned to a unit that was preparing for a nine month deployment. A few weeks later, he was told that he’d been placed with another unit that was going to assist the National Guard for 30 days overlapping my due date with our third baby. Meanwhile, he’d been preparing for a 10 week training course over the summer.
These three assignments were incompatible–the dates conflicted, and he was assigned to multiple units. As we tried to communicate with the commanders to figure out which assignment he actually was going to be sent on, I was plagued with anxiety. Would I be on my own for our baby’s birth–or just the first year of her life? Or would my husband be gone for a few months in the summer at his training course, allowing me to go on an extended trip to visit my parents? I wanted to buy plane tickets and make contingency plans, but I had no idea what was actually going to happen.
I lay awake at night, panicking, with no idea when we would receive more information.
I tried to tell my brain to turn off, to stop worrying away at the idea of what was coming next for our family. I had plenty to focus on in the present–two little boys, an exhausting pregnancy, church and community obligations. I could easily bite off one day at a time without obsessing over the future, but I couldn’t let it go. I wanted control, but someone else was in charge.
A month ago, I gave birth to our baby girl. As my pregnancy stretched on and my due date came and went, that same sense of anxiety and lack of control nagged constantly in my mind. Because my oldest son’s birth was a C-section, my provider was very strict about not letting my pregnancy go beyond 41 weeks. I had never gone into labor on my own, and I dreaded the extra interventions and risks that came with another induction. Tension and fear zinged through my veins as I awaited labor, desperate to avoid the outcome that wasn’t what I wanted. I wasted hours on Google, looking up signs of labor, wishing that something or someone could tell me when it would happen.
Not knowing felt unbearable.
And then, two days past my due date, I woke up and knew that I was having a baby that day. Less than three hours later, my husband and I were driving to the hospital, my deep breathing escalating into wails (especially when the first two gates we tried to enter on base were closed). My husband raced me through the halls on a wheelchair he’d found abandoned by the door. Less than ten minutes after we’d reached Labor and Delivery, my baby girl was in my arms.
All of my fears about induction, about continuous monitoring in the hospital, about something undefined going wrong, were nullified. Instead, we had our healthy, sweet girl essentially how I’d hoped we would and an adventure to seal the experience in our memories.
Just like going into labor, I often don’t know what will happen in this military life. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with the home where we live, while others will present more challenges (I’m looking at you, giant bugs and swampy humidity). Sometimes, my husband may have to leave our family at an inconvenient time or do a job that he would never have chosen himself.
It can feel trite to frame these experiences as growth opportunities, but the reality is that we can suffer through the uncertainties or ride through them. Spontaneity is not one of my shining qualities, but the uncertainty of military life has presented me with opportunities to learn and experience much more than what my preference for schedules and regularity would permit. I’m uncomfortable with being forced to live in the present because the future is unclear, but the moments where I’ve surrendered my tight grip and embraced the unknown have brought memories, adventures, and yes, growth opportunities. And for this type-A control freak, that is a gift no deluxe planner can orchestrate.
Lorren Lemmons is a mama to two blue-eyed boys and a brand-new baby girl, a military wife, a nurse, a bibliophile, and a writer. She lives in North Carolina.
Her work has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs, Mothers Always Write, Holl & Lane, Upwrite Magazine, Tribe Magazine, and Parent.co.