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'Right Side Up' takes effort

Judy Davis is excited about the release of her first book, “Right Side Up: Finding Your Way When Military Life Turns You Upside Down,” but writing a guide for military spouses was not on her radar until recently.

Army life took her by surprise six years ago when her husband of 17 years rejoined the military life he had left before their marriage. Entering military life in mid-stride with two teenagers was a challenge, said Davis, for her and the whole family.

Living with uncertainty

September 2001: Dark green mobility bags, zippered mouths gaping open, mar the order of our living room floor, and our lives. In more peaceful days the bags were forgotten, stacked on top of some boxes in our garage. Now they’re spread out on the living room floor, demanding our attention, like the news footage from New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

My husband empties the bags, scrutinizes their contents: T-shirts, camouflage gear, gas mask and other necessities strewn on the carpet. One bag has a small American flag attached, clinging by one corner. It’s a reminder of another war, stapled to the canvas at the last minute before a departure 10 years ago. In the relative peace of the intervening years, it was easy to forget what is now clear to us. Life is uncertain.

Plant before blooming

She met her military husband in her hometown. They fell in love, got married, moved a couple of times for training assignments and had two babies along the way. When I met her, she was at the last of those temporary duty stations, but it couldn’t be temporary enough for her. She had her sights set on her husband’s next assignment — a large city on the East Coast — and she had her current location in her crosshairs. Her rapid-fire criticisms of the small Midwest town expressed disbelief that such a backwater could even stay on the map.

“Why would anyone live in a place like this? Haven’t they heard of Chicago and New York?” she asked me. “I have got to get out of here.”

Douse of reality

There’s a social media deluge going on. Men, women and children, sometimes entire crowds of people at once, are dumping buckets of ice water on themselves or each other. This wetting-down has a purpose, mostly raising funds toward research into treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or other forms of support for those who have the disease.

I talked to someone this week who had not heard about the “ice bucket challenge.” Explaining it to him made me realize how crazy it sounds: A person takes video of himself or herself getting doused with several gallons of icy water and posts it on social media and then challenges several friends, by name, to either donate $100 to the ALS Association or dump a bucket of cold water on their own heads. Judging by the videos I’ve seen, most people do both: give money and receive a cold shower.

'Schoolhouse Rock!' and the policy wonk

Watching the machinations of our nation’s government — its actions or lack thereof — we may feel helpless, unable to affect the decisions that affect us as military families. But Reda Hicks, an Army wife, attorney and self-described “policy wonk,” is convinced that we can make a difference. Hicks has a fascination for the finer points of legislation and policy, particularly as it relates to military members and their families, but realizes that many people feel overwhelmed by these issues.

The basics are not out of reach. For an outline of how federal laws are made, Hicks says look no further than a childhood favorite, “I’m Just a Bill,” from “Schoolhouse Rock!” The musical cartoon segment, now decades old, shows the journey a bill takes through the branches of  the U.S. government to become a law.

Psychology yesterday

A friend gave me a clipping from an old magazine, an article supposedly about military families, which brought home to me how much more our way of life is studied, understood and appreciated by those outside our world than it used to be.

The story, from a 1986 issue of Psychology Today, presumed to explore and analyze military life. Unfortunately, at the time there was so little data available about military families that the author had to rely on anecdotes, generalizations and unsubstantiated theories. She admitted in her story that studies and surveys of military families in the mid-1980s were either outdated or questionable. As a result, much of the story was either laughable or offensive. Sometimes both.

Moving checklist

Life doesn’t stop for a relocation, whether across town or across an ocean. It just keeps coming. For military families, our lives are not just what happens in between moves, it’s what happens during those moves, too.

This is not a moving summer for my family, but thinking ahead to the next one I’ve been decluttering and cleaning out some boxes in our basement. I came across my to-do list from two moves ago. Perhaps the fact that I’m holding on to a 3-year-old list indicates how much cleaning out I need to do, but I’m a saver. I call it curating the history of our life on the move, and I had good reason to save this particular list.

Job search blues

Felicia, an Air Force wife and veteran, knows a few things about the tough job market. She and her husband, Sal, have lived it. Sal retired in 2013 after 20-plus years in a specialized and skilled military career field. He was ready for the next adventure, but he didn’t know that adventure would be a job search. For a year and a half, he slogged through employment websites, job fairs and unresponsive potential employers. And that doesn’t count the nine months he spent searching while he was on active duty.

Eighteen months after leaving the military, Sal found a job. Felicia said they both gained hard-won insights into the job climate for veterans.

Unmerry birthdays

My daughter is a military child with a travel-season birthday, so she’s celebrated quite a few birthdays in hotel rooms and empty houses on one end of a move or the other. On her 13th birthday, three days after our arrival in Germany, we took her to a castle. She was not a happy princess, however. She pointed out that the castle was a ruin, appropriate for her birthday mood. We had just moved halfway around the world, leaving her closest friends behind in California.

Her golden birthday — when her age matched her birth date — was not golden to her. It was her 15th birthday on the 15th day of the month. We were stationed in Germany, but her birthday fell on the 15th day of a summerlong road trip visiting family in the States. That pretty much took the shine off the golden birthday thing.

Being there

Just a couple of weeks ago my mom called to tell me that her brother, my Uncle Cecil, had died. She told me the funeral date had not been set yet, and then added, “I know you can’t come. …”

She didn’t mean it to sting, but I felt it. In our military life, it seems we are often too far away at significant times. I know the strain of being distant when my family needs me closer, or when I need to be closer to them.