Thursday, March 29, 2012

Army life = Life in a travelling circus

So in an earlier post I mentioned that I think that Army life is like being with a Circus and I promised to expand on that view a little bit. Now for all those that might not know me, I mean this in the most positive way, but it also encompasses some challenges and trials and tribulations.

"Army life as a travelling circus" - well it is a phrase I use often ("I have been with this circus for xx years as a wife") and I sometimes get knowing glances, flat out enraged stares or the occasional question "Why do you say that?"

Well here is why I see my life as an Army wife as being analogous to the life one would have in a travelling circus, or at least what I imagine it being...

Lets examine some of the inherent properties of life in a travelling circus: Once the troop arrives at a new destination, every person has a very specific role to play while erecting the tent and preparing everything for the show. Each person either is a performer or works behind the scenes. As such, each individual plays his or her part that is needed to succeed. Further, each person is specialized on what they do (Imagine the elephant trainer having to walk the tight rope without ever having practiced such a feat- disaster). Everyone tries to find their way in their domicile for the time being.

Once the show starts, new people will arrive to enjoy all the tricks and acrobatics. Sometimes you might see a familiar face, remembered from the last time the circus was in town, but generally most people will be new. Each town or city has its' own flavor and atmosphere. Some might have more dramatic tempers than others, some are more interesting than others, some feel like home while others do not, friends are made in some places and others will be left without really getting to know anyone. Some places the circus might be truly successful while in others the tent might be half empty, but once all of the shows in a specific location have been played, each member of the circus again packs up, stored everything, says their "see you laters" in order to move on to the next town, in which the procedure repeats itself.

As for Army life, I believe it is quite similar. Upon entering this life, be it as a wife or child of a service member, we arrive at our destinations without really knowing what is waiting for us. Each member of a family plays a specific role. For us, my husband usually does a bit of research on his new unit and their background over the last few years. He familiarizes himself with the leadership and starts to make contact. In preparation for the move I usually start packing all the things we hand-carry and start doing research on the post itself and the surrounding area. Once we arrive and have a place to live, my husband concentrates mainly on work, while I settle things at home, including unpacking and exploring our immediate surroundings.

Some places feel like home immediately, others need some work. Each post has a different feel to it: fairly conservative Fort Knox, sunshine Fort Irwin, interesting and exotic Korea and grounded and clearheaded Germany. Currently we are in a more liberal than most post in Washington State. I have made friends in most places, though not all and have found life agreeing with me more in some. One thing all locations have in common is meeting new people constantly and sometimes meeting up with old friends again... until it is time to say our "see you laters" again.

As you see for me there are a lot of striking similarities. I know not everything will apply to every military family, since for one reason or another we have moved a lot over the past decade, but nontheless it is really exciting and brings a lot of joy...

Things I wish I knew before marrying an Army guy...

I recently have read an article that was talking about all the things one Army wife wished she knew before marrying an Active Duty Soldier. It talked about things like deployments, being a single mom for long stretches of time and coping with the fear during deployments. Well I thought I would make my own list and would love anyone's input on this one as well. For me a lot of things have more to do with daily life, but also with some of the inherent issues of separations due to training and deployments. So here it is:

I wish I knew....

  1. that I would have to learn a complete new language of acronyms and abbreviations before I really could follow my husbands descriptions of his day... TA-50s, MOS, TOC, AGTS, CCTT and pack... anyone?
  2. that I will truly cherish my alone time when he is off to some training for a few weeks and will miss that if he "hangs around the house" for 6 months straight.
  3. that deployments not only are rough to get through but also help you grow and discover so much more about yourself.
  4. that it could annoy me if he gets home early unexpectedly, much more so than when he is late.
  5. that I would be expected to, or encouraged to, take on this certain role of Army wife and it really is not like the TV series Army Wives, even though some of the things are pretty realistic, but it is more about "just accepting" that the Army will rule my life through my husbands duties. (But really this is not as bad as it might sound)
  6. that there is more gossip on an Army base that in a Sorority house.
  7. that my kids would not be bothered too much by any move because even though they are only 4 and 5 we have moved 3 times in their lifetime already.
  8. that taking our dogs overseas is not cheap and presents it's own set of problems (hotels on post typically only have a few pet rooms available and they are usually booked out forever in advance)
  9. that there is no such thing as THE typical Army base, they are all different with different vibes, people, expectations, services and most importantly weather!
  10. Did I mention the gossip yet?
  11. that establishing a career for myself is so hard, between moves, job availability and kids I do have a few things that make it a bit complicated.
  12. that what I do can and will somehow reflect on my husband, not to talk about the fact that theoretically he can be held responsible for everything I do on post
  13. oh and the gossip, boy oh boy worse than in high school!!!
This is my preliminary list and I surely will add more as they come to me. PLEASE ADD ANYTHING THAT YOU WISH YOU  HAD KNOW BEFORE "JOINING" THIS CRAZY CIRCUS!! (as for me calling the Army a circus, I mean my life personally and in the best way positive: a lot of different places, packing and unpacking, new people around every corner, every person fulfills a specific role etc. *come to think of it that might be worth discussing in a whole seperate post- will do that later today I guess*)

Comment away please!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forever Changed

How to start.... well, at best let me start at the beginning of our sometimes crazy but usually fun journey. My husband and I met while he was stationed in Germany. At the time, wow that was more than a decade ago, I was a student at University of Nuremberg in International Business Management. Back then I never imagines the twist, turns, joys and sometimes heartbreaks life has in store for me. I imagined myself as a successful Business woman in some big company ...

Instead, I married my husband after dating for just under a year ... to be faced with monumental changes in the months that followed ... switching Universities and majors, moving to a Military Installation, deployment, adjusting to the "American way of life", protocols, military etiquette, sharing an apartment with someone for the first time ... it made my head spin and adjusting to all this was not always easy . But fortunately I met a number of wonderful woman that I now call friends to guide me through all of this and who were always there to lend a hand, give words of encouragement and to set my head on straight. I think it also was helpful that I am not afraid of change and challenges- an attitude that has served me very well in our subsequent 5 moves.

Fast forward to the 2nd of May 2011:

Diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Classic Autism

Reaction: shock, disbelieve, relief and certainty

In December 2006, my son was born. Quite a large baby, but perfect in every aspect, blond hair, big and bright blue eyes that looked curious into the world. Almost exactly one year later, our little girl completed our family with her large brown eyes, wispy brown fly-away hair and her gentle disposition. By the time our baby boy was 3 years old I had noticed some things that seemed a bit off, but when I asked the pediatrician about them, he was diagnosed with a slight speech delay due to being raised bilingual, no referral for further evaluation was given. We had just arrived in Korea, the 3rd home for my kids and the 5th for me as an Army wife. I was told not to worry and moved on, at least temporarily. about 6 months later, somewhere around September 2010 I noticed that my son did not try to engage others like his sister did, I did not think much of it since he was always pretty independent, happiest playing alone, never "craved" being held, usually friendly but a bit distant. What did alarm me however and what I somehow had put out of my mind was the fact that his speech was not advancing like it should. This was pointed out by my mom who is a teacher and it alarmed her greatly. Having not seen our little boy in 5 months or so she thought that in fact his speech development did not advance at all and encouraged me to get to the bottom of it ...

After fighting the same pediatrician for another 6 months without results for a referral for further evaluation, a family practitioner made me aware of a developmental pediatrician who "visits" Korea a few times a year to evaluate all the Army kids that have suspected delays. So we got on the wait list for the next visit in February and went in for the 2 hour appointment on 2 May 2011. My husband was supposed to accompany us, but had to cancel the night before due to demands at work (not a big deal really, I am so used to that and really did not count on him being able to go in the first place).

So off I went for the 90 minute drive to Seoul with both of my kiddos in tow, thinking that I finally would be told that yes my son has a speech delay and yes he needs speech therapy and we would go from there. Never ever had autism at that point crossed my mind!! So we sat down to speak with the Doctor, he interviewed me for about a half an hour, milestones, behaviors, problems etc. Then he just interacted with both of my kids and tried to engage my son specifically, he wasn't having any of it of course. He was just interested in playing with one specific truck and would not share or play with the Doctor or his little sister. Nothing new, totally expected. In the last 45 minuted of the appointment the Dr then proceeded to question me about more specific behaviors:

"Does your son line up things?" *yes*
"Does he like to see things spin?" *yes*
"Does he get upset when there is just the slightest change in routine?" *yes*
"Does he repeat certain body motions?" *yes*
"Has he difficulties sharing?" *yes*
"Problems relating to others?" *yes*

I saw a pattern there and after the 10th or so question I asked him straight out: I know you suspect something, just tell me please! the answer floored me: "Your son shows all the classic signs of Autism." *Deep breath, don't you start crying now! But he doesn't rock back and forth... and he does speak...breathe, don't you loose it now!* and then I snapped out of my thoughts and started to hear the Doctor again when I heard the word high functioning and I had to ask to repeat...

The last 15 minutes of the appointment are a blur in my memory. I just know that I came out of the meeting with 3 handwritten pages of notes about what to do next and on top of that list was to get back to the USA. In Korea the US Army does not have the capabilities to provide therapies or appropriate support for my son.

I don't think I will ever forget that day, with the tearful calls to my husband, parents and friends. But I will also remember that this day brought me so much relief and certainty about what is going on. No more guessing what it might be, a direction to go forward and the clarity of mind that there are a number of things that I needed to do for both of my children.

2 May 2011 was the day that changed our family forever ...


I just would like to make clear that the views I express here are my own and do not necessarily reflect my husbands or the Army's point of view. With this I would like to remind every reader to freely express their opinion, but to respect my husbands safety and Operational Security as a whole. I reserve the right to delete any comment, link or expression without notice or comment. Thank you very much for contributing to my page!