Sunday, June 7, 2009

Counter-Cultural Enclave

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help one realize the blessings around her. This happened to me recently when my mother came to Germany for a visit.

My family and I live in a refurbished old apartment building full of US Army soldiers and their families in the midst of a suburb of Frankfurt, Germany. Every family that joins their soldier in Germany these days is required to live "on-post." This is a precautionary measure since 9/11 and is also intended to help families have a support network with the frequent deployments of our loved ones. Nonetheless, many of us (headstrong, independent military wives that is) chaffed at the idea of being forced to live in charmless, white-walled apartments amongst Americans in the middle of Europe. Having lived in a beautiful German home with my parents as a child, I in particular felt cheated out of my proper European immersion by this heavy-handed Army policy. I had had visions of a half-timbered home with heated tile floors and a pristine German garden just awaiting my care.

Well that is not what I got. Instead, we live in a 1000 square foot apartment that is atop six flights of stairs. The only outdoor space we can call our own is a tiled balcony just large enough for a single chair and sandboxed kid shoes. We have a small storage cage in the basement that my husband has filled with our excess clothing, furniture and baby stuff as if it were a Tetris screen and our goods the little colored pieces. It was hard to adjust to this. Hard to figure out how to take the garbage all the way down to the street with two young children in tow, hard to keep it semi-orderly. Yet, my mother recently drew my attention to how many blessings surround me in this stairwell of ours.

Military families are grouped into these buildings based on our husband's rank and family size. Therefore, you are pretty much assured to live near families of the same age and Army tenure as yourselves. This has meant that I share my days with a cadre of young mothers and their expanding families. I mean, truly share. You know when someone comes and goes, we take turns driving each other's preschoolers to the library when an infant sibling is asleep, we share playground watching responsibilities in the late afternoon so that other moms can tend to a dinner on the stove. It is all really remarkable. These ladies are the bedrocks of their families. We have all been through deployments, moves, frustrations, and cultural confusion. We all know the frustrations of figuring out family healthcare, schools and even grocery shopping at each new duty station. The wealth of shared experience on which we build our relationships must be quite unparalleled in any other living situation. I can knock on any of the six doors on my stairwell and ask for Baby Motrin at 2300. When someone has a baby, they have meals provided for them for almost a month by the rest of us. We carry trash down for wives whose husbands are away in the States at some training event. We share travel tips and birthing stories from the German hospital. We watch our children forming friendships as strong as our own and can't help but smile.

Military families are a counter-cultural enclave of sorts. We are accustomed to the virtues of obedience, patience, humility and courage. Military chapels are the cornerstone of any post and I do not have a single friend here who has not clung to God and His plan in moments of confusion and the inability to understand a certain twist in our military experience. There is very little talk of limiting family size in order to be able to pay college tuitions down the line. Rather, pregnancies pop up frequently in each building and we all rejoice together at the news.

I am grateful to the ladies that walk alongside me in this adventure of military parenthood. I hope all young parents are able to find the kindred spirits we have here. And Mom, thank you for calling my attention to the immense blessings I have just below the surface of petty frustrations.


Gina said...

Our walk with the Lord would be nothing without the community around us. Thank you for sharing such a profound example of what it means to be Christ for one another.

What a beautiful post!

Elena said...

That post made me cry. Thank you.

Rarely Sara said...

AWOL Mommy, this may sound cheesy, but I thank you for your service and sacrifice! Thank you for making the best out of the situation you find less than perfect. I appreciate that families like yours make sacrifices so families like mine can be free!!

Kat said...

AWOL, I really enjoyed reading this post, thank you for taking the time to write it! I appreciate your perspective and your ability to be thoughtful about your experiences...May God continue to bless your family as you navigate life overseas!

This Heavenly Life said...

That was so wonderful! It sounds like a wonderful way to raise a family - surrounded by community, not separated by car windows across busy streets. One door away from a helping hand, not several miles away from a friend you trust even though surrounded by neighbors you don't even know.


Logger Blogger Mom said...

Your post was beautiful and powerful.....just like you and your stairwell "sisters." Living in real communion is a rare experience these days as poplar culture encourages us to value independence, self-reliance, and "getting away from it all." I think you have found the deep joy that Christ intended for us. He showed us the way by forming a community of twelve and sending them forth to establish many more communities that were to look after each other. Just imagine how difficult it was to take the trash out from the catacombs! Love you! Mom

Mary Alice said...


What you describe is very much like the student family housing we lived in when my husband was in graduate school. I learned so much there and I will be forever grateful for the time and friendships. I also know that the community there made our year with four under 3 possible.

This change in attitude was the best help that your mom could give you to get through a pregnant apartment summer.

Kerry said...

This makes me really miss living on base.
I loved the standing 4pm "date" I had with my neighbor across the street, just to chat until the hubbys came home.

There's nothing like the community of the military, and I can only imagine how it is in a foreign country.

Live it up!!

B-Mama said...

How heartwarming it was to read this, Awol! Thank you!! I am so glad to read of your communal support among sisters who truly can relate to your experience and offer the most appropriate care during your times of need.

For the first time in our marriage, GG and I are beyond a built-in community and are really missing it. We're definitely a bit lonely!! First the Army and then grad school provided a close-knit bunch with whom to share mutual experiences at a similar time in life. We are now struggling to re-create this. Perhaps we need to head back into the Army? :) This is almost a joke! We've thought about it!

Enjoy enjoy. Smiling for you today.

Anonymous said...

Your post makes me miss living on base! We're currently "geographically separated" and I really miss the community of military families -- making instant friends, helping each other out, daily play dates, just taking care of each other. While the civilians living around us are very nice, the community just isn't the same. While military life has draw-backs, the people are wonderful!

Juris Mater said...

Wow, AWOL, what a great post. I think your heart is beautiful to be able to recognize the many blessings here rather than being frustrated by the drawbacks (and what a gift your mom gave you in helping you see that!). Stopping to reflect on blessings is such an important part of cultivating our own Christian joy and gratitude; I wish I was much better at it!

texas mommy said...

This is beautiful, AWOL. What a blessing to surrounded by other strong and faithful women and their families!

Kerry said...

There are certainly downsides to military life but you have discussed so many of the reasons I have grown to love being a marine wife. We are still in limbo in our decision to stay in or get out and it is such a hard decision. I know if we get out I will really miss it for all the reasons you have stated in your post and for many more. Many blessings to you and your Army families in Germany!