My mother, a retired first-grade teacher, has always put a positive spin on things that appeared to be sad, unjust, terrifying or disgusting. I’ve always admired her capacity to see the good in all things, but there are times when this ability seems out of reach.
On a mud-splattered, dreary Monday morning in February, my mother would hear birds singing. Along a litter-strewn highway dotted with decrepit strip malls, my mother would spy Queen Anne’s Lace growing in a nearby ditch. If I served my mother a revolting casserole made from two weeks of mediocre leftovers, she would delight at the colorful pimentos. My mother could encounter a great big pile of excrement, and chances are, she would point out the “skat’s” scientific benefits — fertilization, seed distribution, or composting. I know, because she’s actually done this. Many times.
Having been a military spouse for 24 years, I found it difficult to channel my mother’s relentless positivity. Military moves, separations and inadequate pay were like big piles of excrement plopped down into our path. As far as I could tell, there were no benefits. These inevitable hardships were the sacrifices of military service.
But just because I couldn’t see a bright side doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.
Take PCS moves, for example. After I packed up my entire household, left my job and everything I had come to know, said good-bye to good friends and our favorite pizza joint, was I supposed to see rainbows and unicorns?
No, because there were no unicorns and rainbows, but there were certain hidden benefits of PCS moves. A fresh start, a clean slate, or a reset was sometimes just what our family needed. Our first move overseas gave my husband and I an opportunity to travel together, rather than spending all our vacations with extended family. Our orders to move from England were a ticket out of my tedious obligations as Parliamentarian of the Spouse’s Club. When we moved away from Virginia, we were relieved to get our son out of the school where he had been bullied. Our move from Germany enabled me to break up with the hairdresser who had turned my hair an unnatural shade of yellow-orange. During our move to Florida, the movers finally broke that microwave cart I always hated anyway.
With each move, we were given a unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves, our routines and our living situations. And in that way, moving was actually a good thing.
Let’s face it, military pay grades are not the stuff that dreams are made of. My minivan with 215,000 miles on it and interior carpeting that smells like pickled eggs is proof that military families aren’t wealthy. However, receiving military pay that is a matter of public record has it’s benefits, too. We never had to wonder how we stacked up to our military peers. Minivans, pot lucks, and bill-splitting were never frowned upon. There was no competition or pretentiousness. And in that way, military pay was actually a good thing.
Believe it or not, even military separations offer something positive. Aside from the obvious “absence makes the heart grow fonder” phenomenon, there’s also crumbs, clickers and communication to appreciate. Men are crumb-producing machines, and during the times that my husband was deployed or on travel, I relished my crumb-free existence. I also savored full reign over the television clicker. But best of all, my husband and I communicated best when he was away. We emailed and called often, and never forgot to say, “I love you.” And in that way, military separations were a very good thing.
Artists say that the lump of plaster is a masterpiece because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Real estate agents will tell you that the old shack is “a charming Cape Cod.” And my mother will tell you that the dog doo you just stepped in is an essential element of the circle of life.
Families enduring the challenges of military life can put a positive spin on their world. No matter how dark it seems, as long as the sun shines, there will always be a bright side.