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.