Friday, August 10, 2012

Back to the Culture

I sat in the car, arms across my chest, pouting.  Sulking.  We had just left the first get together with friends and colleagues since being back in Hampton Roads.  It was a typical affair - waterfront, jet jocks, food and beer.  But it was different.  And I was not happy.

"I am never going to one of those parties again," I said.

Ever the wise husband, John simply replied, "whatever you want, dear" and stared blankly at the road ahead.  I know that he was thinking "where the hell is my wife?!", but he didn't show it.  And for that I am grateful.

We left Norfolk back in 2008 and went to Patuxent River, Maryland.  We were DINKs, our biggest responsibility was our dog and cat (and maybe our mortgage).  But we were free spirits.  We did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.  Only held back by the constraints of our jobs.  I wouldn't say we were huge partiers, but we definitely embraced the carrier aviation community and it's constant "festivities".  The culture of Naval Aviation (probably all military aviation) is one full of traditions.  Men and women who are smart and serious, but daring with a dash of crazy.  I mean, you have to be a little crazy to do this.

Call the ball?  How about hand me the puke bag?

Aviators tend to be laid back, fun, and pretty much the opposite of the stereotype I held about military members before becoming a Navy wife.  My exposure to the military prior to marriage was basically "Top Gun" and "Full Metal Jacket".  An interesting dichotomy of misinformation.  (Um, hello? where is the fighter pilot beach volleyball league I was promised?)  I was expecting the military balls I attended to be full of pomp and circumstance.  I expected my husband's superiors to be very serious, want to be called sir/ma'am, and to need white gloves and pearls to meet with other wives.  Maybe I would also need my hair cut into a bob and to always cover my shoulders with a cardigan.  My calling cards would be on linen paper with navy blue engraving. 

Not so much. Not by a mile.

My first few years as a Navy wife were a huge surprise in a fantastic way.  The gals in my husband's first squadron were awesome.  We faced down deployments together and took good care of each other.  There was always something to do, always someone who knew what you were going through.  Someone to have dinner with, go dancing with, or just commiserate with.  At that point I was the biggest cheerleader on the planet for this lifestyle. 

Surviving holidays together on deployment, half melted ice luges, 80s parties, HOMECOMINGS!

I was sold on this life hook, line, and sinker. When I would hear military spouses start ripping each other apart I would get defensive.  Those were my friends, no, my family they were talking about. 

But then we moved.  And I experienced a wives club that wasn't as friendly, cohesive, and "kumbaya".  As my husband battled through Test Pilot School and I experienced my first taste of leaving one good job for another job, and we struggled with infertility I started to fade a bit.  The sparkle was gone and I started to feel sorry for myself.  Moving?  Long days?  New careers?  No friends?  Okay, maybe I was a little too enthusiastic those first five years in Norfolk.  Had I been the Elle Woods of Navy life?  Cheerful and clueless?

When we moved back to Norfolk in the early months of 2011 my life was entirely different.  We were no longer 27 year old DINKS.  We were 30 and had a 2 month old and an 18 month old.  Priorities had shifted and we were facing down a deployment essentially the moment we returned.  The "real Navy" was about to swallow us back up - but not in the form of ice luges and my VAW 126 wives group of old.  I was scared, I was a little bitter about leaving another great job in Pax to return right back where we started, and it was bittersweet to return to a familiar place without all of the familiar people.

Which brings me back to the pity party in the car a few months ago.  This party, this harmless and normal spring shindig where people just mindlessly socialize and catch up made me feel about an inch tall.  I felt old.  I felt unattractive and frumpy and tired.  There I was, spit up on my shoulder and in my "fat jeans" chasing my toddler around the back yard while holding my baby.  In my midst were fresh, lovely 25 year old women in their cute sun dresses and 4 inch stilettos.  I was "that old wife", the one with bags under my eyes and the inability to have a conversation because my child is about to climb the fence and dive into the water.  But it was my problem - not theirs - that I felt out of place and unwelcome.  They were doing exactly what I had done for several years.  I was just sulking.

Thankfully, things are shifting again. 

John has been back from deployment for over 8 months now. The past few weeks have been a busy flurry of parties and the annual Hawkeye ball.  I'll be honest, when I first saw our calendar for July and August I flinched.  It just looked like a lot of "mandatory fun" where I would have to chit chat and have to get dressed up in fancy attire, make sure my nails look presentable, and maybe even get my hair done.  Would I be the belle of the ball?  Or would I just be the frumpy mess of hormones I had been  just recently?

It has been a blast. 

Last Saturday we attended our first Hawkeye Ball since 2007.  It is a formal dinner crossed with a crazy after party with costumes and bands.  Once you take the uniforms off, all of the things that make military balls a little stuffy completely fades away.

Party themes included "The Dictator", Tour de France, and some old school Olympic nods

I am thankful for this second wind.  Chances are, we will be in the Navy for at least 10 more years.  And chances are, I will sometimes feel like the frumpy, tired, uncool wife who just sucks at life.  But the chances are also good that the pendulum will shift and some nights I will be incredibly thankful that I can hang out with such a solid group of people.  And that I can be in a room full of guys in 80s short-shorts playing flip cup against Sasha Baron Cohen look-alikes.  I mean, that is a unique life experience, right?

I'm still waiting on the beach volleyball league... 


Jeanette Murray said...

Bring on the Ice Man! I felt so lied to when our first mandatory fun Bn picnic included exactly zero guys without their shirts on diving into sand. Boo...

Glad things flipped back round again for you. I think we all go through it though, with every lifestyle. Ups and downs. Hope everyone has more ups though, obviously!

Pete said...

The TOPGUN volleyball players are out in Lemoore Jill...

Karen @ And Then We Laughed said...

Awesome post, Jill. I think you're totally right about the pendulum shifting. And I also think that a conscious effort needs to be made NOT to be the frumpy uncool wife. I'll tell you is WELL worth the effort. :) Glad you had a great time!

Jill said...

Pete, is this a ploy to get me to visit you in that smelly place? Because if I get there and you are lying... It won't be pretty... ;)

I might need some photo evidence.

Angie said...

I keep waiting for the beach volleyball league as well!

I feel like the old, frumpy wife most events I go to. I am trying to change that feeling, but it is tough when I am surrounded by 20 somethings that have more energy than me.

Julia P F said...

I have so been there! It's crazy how a few years can seem like a hundred sometimes isn't it? I find myself feeling smugly superior at times, like WE never did "that". WE were so much classier, etc. in reality it was exactly the same thing I'm sure.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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