“You’re going to love living in DC. There is so much to do,” my friend said when I told her we were headed to the nation’s capital. “Just be prepared to feel a little…isolated.”
Isolated? We were living at a duty station where the nearest Target was two hours away. That was isolated. How could I possibly feel isolated in a busy, sprawling metropolis with a large military population?
Then we arrived here last August. My husband helped us move into our rented house in Fairfax County, and then he left two days later on a six-month deployment. It was up to me to set up the house, get the kids enrolled and ready for school, and to try and make sense of the snarl of highways.
I thought things might slow down once school actually started, but kids in this area seem to move at two speeds: asleep or light speed. Even the parents I met at the school bus stop seemed to be constantly in motion, off to jobs, the gym, or grad school classes. I just wasn’t connecting. I felt stressed, exhausted, and, well…isolated.
No new assignment is without its share of challenges, but for most of us, coming to the DC area is not a typical assignment. At other duty stations, life seems to revolve around tight-knit base housing or our spouses’ units, with Friday night potlucks, coffee socials, and holiday parties.
Here, many of our spouses work long hours at the Pentagon or are away on deployments or constant TDYs. There are no office barbecues or kids’ Christmas parties. On top of that, it seems we’re constantly on the move with school life and our kids’ busy schedules. Without our familiar support networks, life in the DC area means that many military spouses feel disconnected from other military families.
I remember walking into my kids’ elementary school for “back to school” night just after school started last year. Tables were set up in the lobby offering information on countless activities for kids and families, everything from PTA to scouting to tae kwon do. I wandered the halls feeling overwhelmed and bewildered until I saw a table for something called the Military Spouses Group.
Lost, sleep-deprived, and laden down with bags full of school supplies, I know I must have looked on the verge of tears as I approached the table. The woman at the table smiled back at me with a look of understanding as she handed me the group’s informational flyer. “It’s a new group to help military families stay connected,” she said. “I hope you’ll join us.”
I did join, and the group has been a terrific source of support and friendship this past year. The group was started by military moms at my kids’ elementary school about a year and a half ago as a support network for military families. There are meals provided for our deployed spouses and those who have experienced a loss in the family. We’ve formed “breakout” groups for Bunco and book discussion. And of course, there are monthly coffee socials and lunches where we share the joys and struggles of life in a military family
The group also serves as a resource for the larger school community. On Veterans’ Day, we will hold our annual flag-raising ceremony with participation by students and active duty members of each branch of service. We hope to continue our work with the Wounded Warriors, and this year, we sponsored an ice cream social for the school’s new families, both military and civilian.
The group has been a wonderful addition the life of the school, and I think any school could benefit from having a military family group. The administration at my children’s school has been very supportive and responsive. Now that the year is back in full swing, it might be the perfect time to approach your PTA or school administration about working together to support your military families.
After a year here, I felt like an old hand this year at our school’s new student orientation this past August. New families filled the cafeteria for our ice cream social where they could enjoy sundaes and mingle with other students and families who have a unique understanding of what it is like to be a newcomer.
I smiled in recognition as a woman approached the registration table with a look of bewilderment. “Are you military?” I asked.
She nodded up and down with that familiar look of panic. It was a look, and a feeling, I knew well. It had been a long, often difficult year, but in those months since arriving here, my feelings of isolation had given way to a sense that even if we aren’t bound together by workplace or neighborhood or even branch of service, we are all a part of a larger military community here in the area.
I value the friendships I have made with civilians over the years, but there is something comforting and special about the bonds I’ve made with military families who understand the struggles and challenges of this life. I’m grateful that even in an area where we don’t always feel connected, that the Military Spouses Group has allowed new bonds to form and flourish.
“Here,” I said, handing her a flyer for the Military Spouses Group. “Welcome to DC. You’re going to love it.”