Can’t deny my military identity

Posted Dec. 05, 2010, at 5:43 p.m.

Upon Dustin’s suggestion to “Santa-tize” my words, and so as not to be accused of the exact thing I was writing about, I wrote last week’s column with a heavy dose of ambiguity. The intention was to confuse children. The result: confused adults.

For those of you who still are scratching your heads, wondering whether I was writing about sex or lingerie, here’s a hint: I could have answered Ford’s question with something like, “No, Virginia, there really isn’t … .”

The responses to last week’s column were varied but plentiful. Some readers questioned whether the topic — yes, that topic (which, no, isn’t sex) — amounts to parents lying, and they wondered how it might affect society. I’ll give them this point, if only because the whole tradition seriously disrupts years of warning against “strangers.” When else would you gleefully — eagerly, in fact — accept a total stranger into your home at night while you are asleep? It’s a scary narrative, actually.

Other readers never got to this point of criticizing because they didn’t have a clue as to what I was referring. They were still stuck on my use of the word “stuffer,” and their imagination got the best of them. I never knew how many different ways there were to interpret “stuffer.”

My opinion of the gap between people who instantly “got it” and those who did not is that anyone with a child on the cusp of asking “the question” is probably in the same mindset that I was two weeks ago. If you do not have children, or if your children are too young or already grown, the Sears commercial probably passes without notice. It does not become your Grinch. But for those parents trying desperately to hold onto the magic, it is equally upsetting as the first time your child finds a lost tooth in the bottom of the trashcan. Another era is gone. Socially unacceptable or not, these moments hit many mothers right in the heart.

The responses that puzzled me the most, however, were the ones suggesting that I’ve veered too far from my military wife pigeonhole. One commenter wrote: “I thought this column was about military life? Over the past year, it has morphed into a column about (mostly) her oldest child, waffles, vacations, etc. I miss the original vision for this … ”

Another poster wrote: “I was under the impression that [this column] would be about the Trials and Tribulations of a Military wife adjusting to Life in a Small City. Evidently she has adjusted real well and has forgot she and her family are in the Military System.”

After I finished laughing about the waffles, I did some soul searching. Have I lost my identity as a military wife? Have I forgotten that I’m in the military system?

It took me all of two minutes to ponder this because the answer is so clear to me. My military upbringing and life are the thread woven into everything I do. It is who I am. I am a military wife in the same way that I am a woman, mother, writer, blond and short. It is part of me, and it colors every other aspect of my life. I don’t have to tell you that I’m a mother. You just know it because of the stories that I tell, my perception of a Sears commercial and, unfortunately, the extra 10 pounds around my hips and the fact that I spend most Friday nights doing laundry.

I can’t tell any story without it being influenced by my experiences as a military wife and daughter, even if I don’t explicitly make note of it. In the same way that someone who has grown up on a farm or in a city sees the world in a particular way and through the lens of their own history, the military is my filter. It is why I can hang my own curtains, for instance, or why I can set up our television and DVD player, and my husband cannot. It is why my husband’s one-week business trips seem “like nothing” (compared with a deployment). It is why the smell of jet fuel reminds me of home; why I feel like anyone in a flight suit or uniform is quasi-family. It is why I know the pain of making friends and then leaving them behind with another move. And, more practically, it is why I have lived in four different houses and five cities in the past 10 years.

For nearly a decade, I have written this column as a way to shed light on the lives of military families. It is unfair to expect that military families exist only in the explicit context of a military base, that if I’m not writing about a deployment or parade, my experiences don’t count as being that of a military wife.

In this regard, perhaps my biggest contribution then is showing people that military families are pretty much just like all other families. Only different. I cannot abandon my military identity any more than I can deny being a woman. It is part of everything that I am.

I thought that was obvious. Then again, I thought last week’s column was obvious, too.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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