It’s that time of year again. Days filled with lists and ads and endless hours of shopping. The time when we run from store to store getting all the supplies and get cramps in our hands from all the check-writing. Workbook fees, athletic fees, class dues, and yearbook fees all come due at the exact same time. Since when did ‘free’ public education become so bloody expensive???
Even homeschooling families aren’t spared this angst. Mothers frantically search catalogs and websites for the perfect math curriculum and rush to get the sale price for the vocabulary workbooks before our free shipping code expires. Wide-eyed kids peruse the aisles at Target; concocting the perfect talking points. These points will be utilized in full detail when, at tonight’s dinner table, they attempt to convince their parents that even though they don’t go to “real school,” they will be needing a new backpack and lunchbox like their public school peers “just in case there ever comes a day when mom changes out of her stained yoga pants and semi-clean workout shirt long enough to take them on an outing that may involve a trip to the library and lunch in the park.” (No, really….I just made that up in my head. My kids have never said those words exactly because I wear a clean workout shirt every single morning 😉 )
Yes, the back-to-school malaise affects every man, woman, boy, and girl. But there is one group of people for whom this quickly turns into straight up PANIC every couple of years: military spouses. These are the people for whom the mere mention of the looming task of “filling out forms” causes night sweats and anxiety attacks. As if it weren’t bad enough trying to remember one’s current zip code, area code, and whether we live on a “Street,” “Drive,” “Circle,” “Avenue,” or “Way;” these forms insist on asking us for information like the name of our child’s doctor. I would bet all my bottom dollars that every last military spouse filling out these forms pauses at this precise moment to Laugh. Out. Loud-—literally. Because even IF we knew the actual name of our child’s PCM, we surely have no earthly idea what he or she actually looks like, let alone whether they are still stationed at the same base.
But there is one section of the forms that keeps us up at night–especially if we’ve been ‘blessed’ by a summer PCS: The Emergency Contact section. This section is on every form ever written by human hands. School forms, sports forms, even church activity forms. There’s no escaping being asked for an “emergency contact.”
Let me show you what that looks like for a military spouse who is sleeping on air mattresses in a house on a base that he or she probably doesn’t even remember the acronym for yet:
Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath.
Hear in your ears the loudest, most shrill “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!” that the human vocal chords can emit.
Yep. That’s it.
Sometimes, in order to secure our emergency contact, we send a text to our next-door neighbors asking them if we can use their names on our form. If they agree, we then have to ask these people who may as well be virtual strangers questions like, “I’m sorry to be lame. But can you tell me how to spell your last name because I can’t remember?” when in all reality what we mean is “I don’t even know your freaking last name yet; but in the off-chance my kid gets rushed to the ER and I don’t hear my phone could you please come bang on my door and tell me?”
And here’s a funny tidbit I bet we’ve all done once or twice. Upon meeting someone we click with we make a mental note. Then, we wait until at least the second time we talk (because you can “click” with anybody once, but twice? Twice is a sign from God above) to casually say, “Hey! So, how about if we be each other’s emergency contacts for the duration of our assignments?!” as if you actually just thought that up in your brain at that very moment. Military spouses are the masters of nonchalant.
But there are rare occasions when those blank lines give us the opportunity to fill in the names of people who have become near and dear to our hearts. These are the names of the ones we turn to and cry on their shoulders when our spouse is TDY and the youngest kid is sick and the dog has a vet appointment and the air conditioner just went out. These are the ones who celebrate our children’s birthdays alongside us…who we gather and exchange gifts with at Christmas. These are the ones who at any moment’s notice would drop what they are doing and come running. We do ordinary, mundane, everyday life-stuff together. And we celebrate the extraordinary, exhilarating, and once-in-a-lifetime moments together. Sometimes these people are fellow military spouses who’ve walked in our shoes a dozen times before and who understand without any explanations needed. Sometimes they’re civilians who know nothing of our lifestyle, but show up, sympathize, and embrace us just the same. These are the people God blesses us with who start off as complete strangers and by the end of the assignment, they’ve become our sisters and brothers.
The best part about these people is that we all know deep down in our souls that wherever we go…no matter how far apart life takes us….whenever we are together again, it will feel like we are “home.” The names we use to fill-in-the blanks become so much more than just our emergency contacts for the duration of our assignment. They become the names of our very best friends, our tribe, and our extended family.
So, my fellow military spouses, as many of you find yourselves in the middle of a form-filling-out season with many blank spaces and no names to fill them in, I want you to know that I am praying for you. You are seen and you are known. You are precious and beloved. You may feel lonely, but you are certainly not alone. May those of us who’ve been in your shoes a time or two show up to unpack your boxes, give you directions to the commissary, and offer to be your emergency contacts. And may God bless you with everlasting, ever-faithful friends from now until eternity.