Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife

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Christmas Carnage


My father isn’t allowed to buy my husband or brother-in-law weapons at Christmas anymore. That stopped after the machetes. I’m surprised it didn’t stop sooner with the crossbows. I know my dad laments never buying them throwing stars. But the weapons era has ended, largely because my sister doesn’t like dangerous things in the house with her child.


Dad has no sons of his own. He and my mom had Sarah and me, which meant that dad was surrounded by girls for the better part of two decades. His only male compatriots were the two male dogs we had over the years, one of which never learned to lift a leg while peeing.


I don’t think dad regrets not having a son. He loves my sister and me. He’s always been a great dad. But there was a certain lack of boy stuff that I’m sure he missed. He used to take me to fish and game shows when I was small. He’d weave through the crowds and I’d hold onto his little finger so I wouldn’t get lost. At one show he got me a bright pink tackle box that I filled with the only fishing tackle I ever wanted: sparkly pink and purple worms that I’m confident could never nab a fish. As an adult I visited my folks and discovered that my dad still has my old tackle box and bedazzled worms.


Dad loves his girls, but he still likes the roughhousing and camaraderie of boys. That’s why he was so tickled by his daughters’ choices in mates.


My husband and brother-in-law are both such boys. They play video games religiously, love gadgets, and think of grilling as an art. One year at Thanksgiving, my dad had 3 turkeys going on different devices so that he, my husband and brother-in-law could all tend one. There were only 6 of us for dinner that year. With 3 full-sized turkeys. I think one of them was even a turducken. None of them saw this as strange or extravagant.


It’s not that he couldn’t have gotten my sister and me crossbows or taken part in other typically “boy” pastimes. For all the unfortunate gender normative, we just weren’t very interested in camping, fishing, hunting, or “roughing it” in any way at all. In the same way that our husbands are such boys, my sister and I are such girls. And that’s just fine.


So now at Christmas there are no new weapons. But dad and the boys have taken to shooting dad’s guns in the meadow of the 20-acre ranch he shares with mom, trusting that the far-off “neighbors” won’t call the cops.


How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?

My dad has a song for everything. I remember once watching “I love the 90’s” on VH1 when my dad walked into the room, changed the channel, and stated: “2000 zero zero party over, oops out of time.” I couldn’t even be mad. He’d partied like it’s 1999 to assert television dominance. Somewhere, Prince smiled.

Part of having a song for everything includes listening to obscure bands from bygone eras. He is, in fact, the original hipster. For a time when I was in high school my father worked from home, and occasionally I’d walk through the front door to music blaring from the turntable and my dad rocking out at the computer. That was how I was introduced to Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, a Northern California band from the 70’s that still play in the area from time to time. We even saw them perform once.

“How can I miss you when you won’t go away” is a Dan Hicks classic song. When I left for college I bought a few Dan Hicks CD’s and this song was always a favorite that reminded me of home. In fact, I surprised my dad at my wedding by blaring this song during our daddy-daughter dance. We both laughed.  Here he is reacting to the song choice:



But it was a bit sad, too. We all knew that my first military PCS would be two short months after the wedding. I’d never lived more than a car ride away from my closest friends and family. Now it was my turn to move 3,000 miles away.

Leaving my family has by far been the most difficult part of marrying a military man. Sometimes I’ll find myself on Google Earth looking down at my parent’s place and noting whether or not the red truck is in the driveway.

I used to visit every few weeks. My folks live just north of San Francisco in beautiful Marin County. It’s just a hop skip and a jump to the Carneros region with some of the world’s best wines. I felt a comfort there that can only come from feeling truly at home.

Now at least with technology it’s easier to stay in contact. We FaceTime on holidays, and we have a long-standing tradition of sending what we dub “neener-neener” pictures to tease each other like small children about whatever neat thing we’re up to. My mom, the other runner in our family, might send me a picture of herself holding a glass of bubbly wine at a picturesque winery. The same winery where as I child I had my first unexpected taste of sparkling water and in my disgust, and much to my mother’s horror, opened my mouth to let it dribble down my front. In response I might neener-neener back a view of the Atlantic coast from my run route.

In this case, all she needed to do to set off my jealousy was send a picture of champagne flutes:


My dad sends me neener-neener pictures of him smoking a stogie while playing a new instrument. I’ve lost count of how many ukuleles he owns. I’ll send back an audio file of me playing classic rock. Every time I smell a cigar I think of him.

The one set of neener-neeners that always gets me are of my sister’s growing baby bump. I wish so much that I was there to see her grow. As kids, I begrudged my sister every glass of water she asked me to grab while I was up. Now I would happily get up of my own accord to get her anything, if only I could be there. I’ve yet to come up with anything I can neener-neener back.

At least I can see them all. 30 years ago if I wanted a progress report of my sister’s baby bump, or my dad’s ukes or my mom’s trips to wine country, they would have to use a film camera, wait for the photos to develop, then snail mail them across the country. Now I can get photos instantly or see them live when we talk, and for that I am grateful.

There’s a silver lining to the military lifestyle that I didn’t expect. All of the spouses that I meet are in the same boat. We’re all transplants trying to get along in new areas. We all have families elsewhere. I guess that’s where the military family comes in.

I have forged strong bonds with other spouses. I have been amazed by how women will rally to help each other. There’s a program to make meals for new moms, and there’s an unofficial support network to reach out to women (or men) while their spouse is gone. Last year Cameron had to be out of town for Valentine’s Day. I was bummed since it was our first married V-Day, and we hadn’t been in town very long. So my new friend Sally took me out to dinner to be my Valentine as her husband was also away. It made me feel cared for more than she knows. Little acts of caring are countless in the military family, and it helps to make me feel at home.

This year Cameron and I will move to the farthest reaches of the states to settle in Hawaii. I will still miss my family. That will never change, but I am glad to be able to see and speak with them easily. My mom has often told me that I can come home anytime I want while Cam is deployed, and I may. I may not need to though. From what I’ve seen and experienced spouses are good at banding together. I’m less anxious about this move because I know there will be a support network when I get there.

The past few years have been an amazing journey of growth and learning for me. I met the love of my life and went from a California hippie to a New England navy wife. I ran my first and second marathons and realized that I am stronger than I knew. I made friends that I truly love having in my life, even when they move half the world away. There have been numerous ups and downs, but even missing my fam, I’m actually happier now than I can ever recall.

I guess the Greatful Dead say it best, and I’m sure my singing father would approve:

Sometimes the light’s all shining on me

Other times I can barely see

Lately it occurs to me

What a long strange trip it’s been