It’s probably a good thing I had no idea what I was getting into twenty-four years ago when I fell in love with the handsome airman who would become my husband. I’d spent my whole life in the same small town, was clueless about military life, and honestly didn’t even know what questions I should ask. Been there?
Oprah Winfrey recently wrote a letter to her younger self, which started me thinking about what I would tell my own “newly married to the military” 20-year-old self. For those of us a few miles down the road, we simply aren’t the same person we were at that age. But other than the tight bod and unwrinkled skin, I wouldn’t trade places with that younger woman! The hard-won lessons I’ve learned are too dear to me to wish to turn back the hands of time now.
But if I could write a letter to that quiet, insecure girl, here’s what I’d tell her:
Don’t worry so much about what people think. There will always be someone who will find fault with what you’re doing, so go ahead and live your life. You can’t please everyone, and you’d probably be a little bit boring if you could.
Keep your sense of humor. You’ll need it when the washer leaks, the baby has croup, and your eight-year-old needs stitches…all on the first day of a long deployment. You’ll need it on hour 14 of a 22-hour labor. The tears will come too, but learn the art of laughing at yourself and these ridiculous situations. It will stand you in good stead and go a long way towards smoothing over the rough spots.
Embrace the new. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. “Different” doesn’t equal “bad.” You’re about to learn a lot about the world, and, through that lens, about yourself. Yes, you had a great upbringing surrounded by loving family, but don’t be afraid now to step out of that circle. You’ll be ok.
All those places you’ve dreamed about visiting? Yeah, you’ll see Paris. And Rome and London, too. In the words of Dr. Seuss, oh, the places you’ll go! I swear I’m not making this up-you’ll snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, live on Pacific islands, ski in the Alps, travel in Europe, and live overseas for at least five years. Hang on for a great ride!
Recognize true friendship when you see it. Some of your best friends will have lives with no resemblance to yours. That’s how you grow, and frankly, it would be somewhat redundant if your friends were exactly like you. They will be older and younger than you, have different beliefs…but you’ll be blessed to know them. Stay open. You’ll learn quickly that rank and jobs have nothing to do with true friendship. The ones who bring you chocolate and hold your hand during deployments, drive you to the ER when you’re hacking up a lung from pneumonia, watch your other little ones while you’re at the hospital delivering a baby prematurely, walk with you through the dark days following miscarriage, cry and cling to you when you move away-those friendships will prove to be absolutely priceless.
You’re stronger than you think. Yes, your marriage is your most important relationship, but you’re going to discover a strength in yourself you didn’t know existed. You’ll survive multiple deployments, natural disasters, goodbyes, moves across the country and around the world (not to mention moves you’ll handle alone around the world!), and…well, I have to leave some things to your imagination, don’t I? You may not do it perfectly, but you’ll get through it. Don’t be afraid. You can do this.
Take care of yourself. You won’t have extended family around to help you pick up the slack. You’ll have to learn to pace yourself and know that you can’t be everything to everyone. It will be so easy to let all the tasks you need to accomplish take over your day. But you’re a human being, not a human “doing.” So pace yourself. Make an effort to be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Cultivate your faith and your friendships. Give yourself permission to relax, read a book, take a walk, soak in the tub. The world will not stop turning if you rest, trust me!
Enjoy the small moments. Don’t always be looking ahead, anticipating what is to come… yes, even when you’re in the middle of that frigid North Dakota winter! Take time to notice what is going on around you right now. You will lose some of the most important people in your life, your children will grow up and set off on their own, and, believe me, you will wish you could go back and enjoy those small moments again.
You’re on the brink of an amazing life! Drink it in, girl.
How about you? What letter would you write to your younger self?