Couple holding hands supporting one another

Important Conversations to Have Before It’s Too Late

Do you remember the moment you first realized you were “head over heels” for the person you now call your spouse? A moment in time when you found yourself envisioning a life with them — what would they be like as a lifelong partner or as parents together? I remember feeling a flood of emotions when I realized I was crazy for a man in the Navy. I just wanted to be with him and figure the rest out later, and although we did just that, there are a few conversations I wish we had before life threw us curveballs.

To some, these conversations may seem like common sense. Although average, everyday things are just a little bit different when you throw being in the military into the mix. Finances, support, intimacy, communication and parenthood are topics we sometimes don’t realize we didn’t do justice to premaritally until we are faced with them down the road. It’s difficult to understand or navigate a deployment or unaccompanied tour until we are in it. It’s important to have a good, strong foundation. It makes readjusting a lot easier than if you are trying to come up with a plan on the fly.

Finances

When we lived in Virginia, I worked outside of the home because it suited our family, and I was able to save a substantial amount of my income, which we used as “family fun money.” Then we moved to California, and I completely underestimated the cost-of-living difference, causing us to run through our savings in just four months. This meant I had to go back to work sooner than expected, which meant finding daycare for my then-two-year-old and four-month-old. That in and of itself was stressful because the cost of daycare is substantially higher in California than at any of our previous duty stations. This forced us to ask the question: “Will I be working just to pay for daycare?” Learning how to make one income support a growing family is truly a learning curve, and the curve is sharp if you come at it too fast like we did. So, trust me when I say that financial transparency and literacy are definitely conversations you want to have premaritally and continuously as your relationship changes with time.

Support

Support can mean so many things, especially when our relationships have a long-distance component. I know I’m not the only one who’s ever heard the saying that it’s okay to grow and change as long as you grow and change together. That part is so true, especially in military life, because growth and change are inevitable. We have to purposefully put in the effort to make sure that we grow together while apart. Support plays a huge role in that — including emotional, physical, mental, financial, social, etc. Some duty stations are harder than others. For us, shore duty breathes life back into all the parts of our marriage.

Love and Intimacy

Love and intimacy are the core pillars of a marriage. As we move through life and our relationship evolves, we sometimes push those things onto the back burner. As priorities shift, we forget to pour into that part of our relationship. I once had to sit my husband down and tell him I missed my best friend. I missed having quality time with just the two of us. Ten years, three kids, an unaccompanied overseas tour and sea duty did not allow us to spend one-on-one time feeding our relationship. I never thought we would feel like strangers to each other, but we did. Learning from that time, we have insitituted mini-dates to spend time feeding our friendship, relationship and marriage as often as possible. It is worth the effort, and nothing to be taken for granted.

So fall head over heels in love. Take the leap of faith that it will all work out. Don’t leave it up to chance. But talk about the important things and truly communicate with one another in a way you both understand. And when life throws a curveball, hold onto the feeling you felt the first time you realized you were in love. It makes the hard times a little less hard and the pivot a little bit easier.

Lizann’s husband and their children sitting on a bench

What I Learned When I Left My Service Member Home With the Kids

For the past two decades, while my husband was serving in the Marine Corps infantry, I spent a lot of time taking care of our five children by myself. We were never stationed near family, and we couldn’t afford child care. From giving birth alone to handling ER visits or juggling the schedules of five different schools, I faced unusual challenges whenever my husband deployed, went to a school or spent time training in the field.

When I started working, there were suddenly times when he was responsible for all the kids by himself. For the most part, he has done a great job. He takes care of everyone, makes sure they are all fed and manages to create unique memories with the kids along the way.

Temporarily swapping roles, even for a brief weekend trip, gave each of us insight into the challenges of each other’s parenting responsibilities over the years. When I traveled for business trips, here is what I realized:

  • The deployment curse is real, and it isn’t only for deployments. The first time I went away for a three-day work conference, it was both a role reversal and a comedy of errors. Someone got sick and threw up, a school event threw off the schedule, and dinner was burned because the toddler had an accident. Listening to my husband’s frustrated voice while I was across the country in a hotel made me feel sympathetic and helpless. I couldn’t help noticing the irony of the situation. Military spouses joke that “whatever can go wrong will go wrong — usually as soon as the service member leaves!” This is true even when roles are swapped!
  • The primary caregiver carries an invisible weight of knowledge. “Default parents” have complained about this for years, and military spouses are no exception. When our service members leave, we manage everything from doctors’ appointments to home maintenance and restocking groceries. It’s a part-time job that requires a lot of time, effort and organization, no matter which gender is doing it. The downside of this responsibility is that during a temporary role reversal, such as a business trip, the secondary parent can’t fully step into the primary parent role. There will be phone calls and text questions. While this can be frustrating when I’m immersed in a work environment, I have learned to use it for productive conversations afterward so we can appreciate each other’s chores and discuss ways to share the load. It’s an opportunity to shine a light on the invisible responsibilities of a primary caregiver.
  • Our parenting styles are different because we parent in different circumstances. When I’m alone with the kids, I rely on structure and routines. It’s the only way to keep things moving smoothly, and it helps the kids know what is expected of them. It also helps me maintain personal standards and avoid slipping into depression. When my husband is in charge, things are more relaxed. They may stay up later, play more video games or get pizza delivered for dinner. Sometimes, this bothered me. It felt like he was “cheating” or taking shortcuts after I had worked so hard to maintain the home during deployments. Then I realized that he was able to enjoy the luxury of a more relaxed environment because he only had to hold down the fort for a few days at a time. I had to maintain my survival routine for 6 to 9 months on my own, so of course it would look different from his weekend responsibility.

Lizann’s family smiling

  • Everyone needs time to recharge. Whether you are a working parent, a stay-at-home parent or a military spouse without children, it’s always important to get time to yourself for self-care. It is not selfish to take a break from your other responsibilities if your self-care time renews you and gives you fresh energy to manage those tasks. After spending years as a stay-at-home parent, I find conferences and hotel visits to be refreshing. I’m also aware that after several days alone with the kids, my husband will want time and space to recharge. We need to know and respect each other’s self-care needs, so we can each be our best for each other.

If you and your spouse will be swapping roles soon, either for a short trip or a long-term career decision, I hope you will reflect on these lessons learned and find meaningful ways to apply them to your relationship.

Sydney’s kids in a field of flowers

Fort Cavazos Bucket List

It’s amazing how two people can live at the same duty station and leave with entirely different experiences. Still to this day, I tell everyone I meet how much I loved being at Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood). Rarely, I don’t get a puzzled look followed by the question, “Really?!” as if I just told them that I love being stabbed with sharp pencils or something terrible.

Fort Cavazos is not a popular duty station. Many people complain that there isn’t anything to do in central Texas. Others get caught up in the post’s negative public image and don’t want to be associated with it. Some just find misery wherever they go and have a difficult time embracing new adventures. My husband and I do not fit into any of these categories and are big believers that you must be intentional in enjoying a new place. You must be determined to fall in love with it, and sometimes, you will. Sometimes you won’t, but you will at least leave knowing you tried your best to bloom where you were planted.

As we departed Fort Cavazos just two years ago, I want to share a list of all of our favorite activities for anyone who is looking for a good central Texas adventure, or for anyone who wants to carry on some of our family’s traditions in the Fort Cavazos area:

  1. Enjoy a picnic. One of our very favorite activities was picnicking in Salado. Usually on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, we’d pack up the car with our picnic blanket, some water shoes, swim trunks, a fishing net, and a change of clothes for our son, and spend the evening down by the creek. Our son would splash around for hours, throwing rocks and playing with his trucks while my husband and I sat on boulders along the creek edge, drinking cold beers. We’d get dinner from food trucks and eat it on our picnic blanket. We love the local shops and candy stores. The ride home was always silent as our son munched on gummy dinosaurs, and I tried not to eat the entire bag of candies I’d gotten for myself. We even spent two of our anniversaries in Salado. My husband took me to a bed-and-breakfast on the creek and a fancy dinner, and we enjoyed the rare leisure of shopping around the town at the sweet little boutiques. This is a wonderful place to shop for unique gifts for loved ones.
  2. Take a hike. Close to post are beautiful scenic nature trails featuring waterfalls and suspension bridges along the Lampasas River. Many trails are short and relatively flat, which makes them ideal for a family outing with little ones. I’d usually take my two-year-old son once a week as a fun way to get out of the house. He loved throwing rocks and sticks in the water and looking for bugs. We’d often get smoothies or snow cones on the way home for a little treat!
  3. Indulge in local restaurants. There are so many restaurants with great vibes. I have tasted some of the best barbecue you’ll find in the central Texas area (trust me, we tried a lot of other places). Some of these family-run small businesses are worth standing in a very quickly-moving line out the door.
  4. Capture memories with a family photoshoot. There are so many breathtaking landscapes on elevated plateaus overlooking lakes and scenic surroundings. Why not take advantage and have a family photoshoot? Our family took shots in bluebonnet flowers in April. We will always have these precious moments captured.
  5. Head to the lake. On summer days, we’d pack lunch, grab our floats and flip-flops, and head to the lake for the day. Hey, it might not be the ocean, but you sure can pretend it is. It’s nice and relaxing to look out at beautiful, light blue water and waves crashing along the shoreline.
  6. Say yes to dessert. To cure the Sunday blues, our family would often jump in the car after dinner on Sunday evenings and head to an ice cream shop for some homemade ice cream. Pro tip: Sometimes the stores that look like a complete hole-in-the-wall will have some of the best ice cream you’ll ever eat. I love trying all the unique flavors.
  7. Visit a farm. In the spring, we enjoy picking tulips and strawberries and especially trying farm ice cream. Many farms have no entrance fees and reasonable prices for purchasing tickets to the different activities. In the fall, they have a big pumpkin patch with hayrides, painting pumpkins, corn mazes, flower picking, barrel rides and more. Don’t overlook a visit to a farm!
  8. Roam the zoo. We absolutely adore visiting the zoo. Some facilities may offer special discounts for the military community. I highly recommend packing a lunch, as onsite dining options tend to be quite pricey. The whole family always has a blast on our zoo adventures.
  9. Explore national parks. Located in Southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park has it all. From the Chisos mountains to the Chihuahuan desert, you’ll find hikes with all different typographies and landscapes. It’s a bit of a drive from Fort Cavazos, but I mean it when I say it was one of the most memorable things we did in the four years we lived in Texas.

I hope this list gets you started on your Fort Cavazos adventures. Central Texas is an area like most that you will need to explore if you want to have fun. If you’re like our family, you’ll find that an ordinary place can quickly become a gem just by the familiarity and the memories you create there.

 

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