For some decisions, there is an obvious best choice, with very few repercussions. Dessert, no dessert? Dark blue paint, lighter blue paint? Heels, flats? Scrambled, fried?
For most of life’s major decisions, however, it’s not that easy. In fact, often there are several best choices to one dilemma, all with their own repercussions.
Two and a half years ago, Dustin and I found ourselves in the middle of one of those tough life decisions. The military was sending Dustin to Washington, D.C., for a relatively short tour, and for multiple reasons, we weren’t sure about moving the family.
It’s a predicament familiar to 21st-century military families. As more women become equal breadwinners for their families, they are less flexible about following a husband around the country, especially for short tours that hardly give your forwarded mail a chance to catch up.
Fortunately for our family, my career is portable. But there were other things to consider: the cost of living in D.C.; going from a school district with 4,000 students to one with 200,000; our children’s individual temperaments, ages and adaptability; and, perhaps most of all, for the first time in 16 years of marriage, we’d lived in a house for longer than 2 years and had a shot at not ruining our finances with another real estate transaction.
Basically, we had found an ideal place to raise our children, and we didn’t want to leave it.
Dustin and I both come from military families in which our dads were gone most of the time. We also grew up in a culture in which children don’t necessarily have a hometown. (Don’t believe me? Ask a military brat where they are from.) All other considerations aside, the idea of roots and a hometown is an alluring, powerful drug for adults who grew up in this move-every-two-years environment.
But the cons of not moving with Dustin were heavy, too. It meant that the boys would be without their dad most days of the week. He would miss baseball games, school events, trick-or-treating and, yes, many family dinners.
At this point in the conversation, Dustin and I had to laugh (that slow, fake kind of laugh). When was the last time Dustin had a normal 9-to-5 schedule and was guaranteed to be home for baseball games, school events, trick-or-treating or family dinner? Sure, not moving with my husband to D.C. meant I’d be the sole adult at home responsible for cooking dinner, folding laundry, remembering the trash and cleaning the bathrooms, but, hey, what else is new? Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
That was the last time we laughed about any of this.
Two and a half years ago, we were so conflicted and tortured by this decision that one day my friend Andrea came over and I was lying on the floor, crying like a baby in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper. I felt frozen with indecision.
That’s when Dustin said the magic words: “There are no rules here, Sarah. There’s no time limit either. Who says we have to make a decision right now? We can change our mind and move our family at any time.”
My legs slowly came out of the fetal position, crinkling and smashing wrapping paper beneath them.
The clincher? Dustin said, “If the only thing holding this family together is the fact that we live under the same roof Monday through Friday, then we’ve got bigger problems.” He went on to wax philosophical about how modern culture favors a narrow focus on immediate rewards; how his grandmother and grandfather were separated for nearly three years during WWII; how celebrity couples divorcing due to their “long-distance relationship” have made people believe that love is a matter of convenience, not a lifelong commitment; and how being a good father means more than just being physically present.
Dustin ended his soliloquy by stating the obvious: I was not mentally prepared to move. Neither were our boys. He said he’d go to D.C. and we’d re-evaluate our decision every two to three months.
True to his always-on-time character, Dustin asked each of us individually every couple months how we felt about living in multiple cities. We never lied and said it was easy, but, with Dustin’s help, we never lost sight of the big picture either: Our situation wasn’t permanent. When things got tough, Dustin repeated, “Spring 2015, people! Spring 2015!”
Yep, it’s almost spring 2015, and we are all doing a little happy dance. We did it. It wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t always awful either. And. We. Are. Still. Married.
Next week: What living apart taught us about love, marriage, commitment and family.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.