Army 101 / Finances

To work, or not to work: that is the military wife question.

I sometimes find it conceited when bloggers apologize for not blogging. How have you been surviving without my regular updates? What if I’ve been kidnapped? What if I’m at the bottom of a residential basement pit, waiting for the basket to drop so I can put the lotion on my skin? You’ve been going about your daily life while I’ve been held hostage by a fictional, cannibalistic serial killer. I hope you’re happy with your choices.

That having been said, I realize it’s rude to go around the Internet convincing people to care about your blog, and then not really caring about it yourself. So I don’t necessarily want to apologize, but I do want to…non-apologize. Which is when you go through the motions of apologizing, but use circular logic to place the blame on the person you’re apologizing to. You’re all a bunch of jerks.

In case the post title is too vague, I’ll come out and say it: I got a job. Cue the hallelujah chorus.

I spent way, way too much time rationalizing my decision to not look for work as a new Army wife. Though, truth be told, I was relatively happy to be unemployed. There are few times in life after age 18 when you have the chance to be relatively responsibility-free. It’s been nice to spend all day crocheting a hat that looks like a shark. It’s been nice to dote on my dog to the point of his near obesity. It’s been especially nice to have time with my husband. Though he’s busy with studying and homework, our time in Monterey is likely the most time we’ll get to spend physically together until his military retirement. This time has been a luxury and a blessing to develop and strengthen our marriage, and for me to grapple with the reality of being an Army wife.

That’s not to say that a job search was ever far from my mind. Living on a soldier’s sole salary doesn’t leave much wiggle room for unplanned laptop crashes, or vet visits, or that time a few weeks ago when my car door caught on fire and melted from the inside out. (Yes, that actually happened. Yes, I’m fine. Yes, I am now afraid to use my auto-window controls.) And although life is manageable on that one income, I’ve been steadily searching for part-time work for a while now.

I was reluctant, however, to jump at most job ads. The job market is still in recovery, and Monterey is filled with Macy’s and Chipotles but not so much with magazines searching for enthusiastic part-time editorial assistants. I ended up applying for every freelance editing gig I could find on Craigslist, regardless of how sure I was that the client was Charles Manson. (True story: He—almost successfully—applied for a credit card while in prison. Smart man. Poor grammar skills.)

So when I came across a bona fide job listing in the Monterey area that was in my field, my heart skipped a beat or 10.

It was a Friday evening, and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning crafting a cover letter and tailoring my resume. I submitted them feeling simultaneously hopeful and pessimistic. It felt impossible that I would snag the first full-fledged, career-worthy job I applied for in Monterey.

But, by some twist of fate or karma, I did.

For the past month, I have been working full time as a writing coach for the Graduate Writing Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. Cue Academy Award acceptance speech.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the Defense Language Institute (where Jonathan studies) is not the only educational institution in Monterey that draws military. The Naval Postgraduate School, just a few minutes away from DLI, is a graduate college for military officers across all branches, Department of Defense and related employees, some civilians, and foreign military members. The coursework, as you can imagine, is focused on national security and the fields that support it—engineering, public policy, international studies, and many others.

Though I’m unfamiliar with much of the subject matter at NPS, I am very familiar with working at a writing center. In college I took a course—followed by an internship—in national writing center theory and application. I’d nearly forgotten that chapter of my life until this job came along, and I am now increasingly grateful for it.

Writing centers are not editing services; while good editing skills can make it easier to work with academic papers, editing is sometimes prohibited for writing center tutors. This is in part because it often requires the editor to do some re-writing, and writing that does not come from the student is, you know, plagiarism. But the subtler reason is that editing does less to help a student fundamentally than coaching—or tutoring—in writing does.

If you talk to any freelance client I’ve worked with, they will tell you that, as an editor, my tendencies are notoriously teacher-like. Fixing a comma splice is one thing; helping a writer understand how to better organize a story is a much more useful and fulfilling thing. And, when you think about it that way, academic writing and fantasy-fiction are more similar than they seem.

The Graduate Writing Center at NPS is an exemplary writing center. It is only one year old, and it was created because the students expressed a need for it. Because NPS is primarily a graduate school for military officers, it has sometimes been upward of 10 or 15 years since the students have been in college; and writing for graduate-level academia is a lot different than commanding troops in a warzone. So when the school decided to create a writing center, they really did their research. They studied and borrowed from some of the country’s most successful graduate writing center programs, and created an atmosphere that gives both the writing coaches and the students (structured) freedom, which allows for personalized and appropriate mentoring.

This job coming along at this point in my life feels a lot like luck and circumstance, but also a lot like fate. It is an opportunity for me to learn more about military culture, and an opportunity for me to do what I love to do in a way that actively supports students, academia, and the military. Which makes it somewhat of a dream job. The hours are sometimes longer than I’m used to, and the workload is much more intense than in my previous full-time jobs—in my first week of observing my new coworkers, I could tell that they were exhausted. Exhausted, but happy.

And, so far, that is exactly how I feel.

At home, our lives are still in a state of adjustment. Jonathan and I, in the course of our entire relationship, have never been actively working full time at the same time. But we are transitioning into equal household partners nicely. Weekends are consumed with meal prep, cleaning, and errands—tasks that formerly needed little to no planning. Evenings feel more like study hall and gym than recess and lunch. The dog is learning to hold in his pee for eight hours, and is expressing his displeasure by finding creative ways to empty and destroy all the trashcans in the house. Time is moving simultaneously faster and slower than it was a month ago. We were finally able to purchase a kitchen table, and have eaten at it, together, maybe five times.

So what does this mean for Army Pants and Flip Flops? Ultimately, nothing conclusive. My time in Monterey is quickly disappearing; my experience in military wifedom is growing, but not nearly as quickly. This blog has been a place for the anxieties, failures, triumphs, and lessons-learned that come with military life. And those lessons are far from over. Which, to me, means that Army Pants and Flip Flops cannot be over either.

Between some evening and weekend hours for my new job and my desire to keep my Etsy shop up and running, however, blogging may be on the back burner for a bit. But I hope that this little corner of the Internet can still be a useful resource for the plight of military wifedom (or, you know, of anxious people everywhere, trying to function normally in society without…or with…drugs).

Does every member of your household work full time, or does one person have more time to dedicate to the home? What are the challenges and benefits you experience in either lifestyle?

6 thoughts on “To work, or not to work: that is the military wife question.

  1. Awesome, congratulations! I was actively blogging (avg about 1/week) up until our daughter was born and since then I’ve only done about 1-2 a year, it still drags on my mind occasionally but with 2 kids now I’m waiting for things to settle down before I even think about writing regularly again.

    I work full-time (100% from home, blissfully) and Becky is a full-time mother and we love it. We’ve definitely gone through a lot of effort over the last 4-5 years to adjust our costs of living and quality of life expectations to deal with the single income home but in the end it wasn’t that hard and the time both of us get to spend at home and with our family is definitely worth it!

    Glad to see any updates, no matter how infrequent. Hope Jonathan is doing well too!

  2. Welcome! (however briefly) Back! At blogging conferences I love to say “don’t apologize for being gone” but I appreciate how you went round and round with it. Congratulations on the new job, it definitely seems like it was fit just for you. I think the occasional story about your current military life, or just life in general is great!

  3. I’m glad to hear that you found something that fit so well with your education and still allows you to learn more about the path that you’re on in life 🙂 It’s rare that such an opportunity comes to fruition.

    You posted this today, and, before taking the time to actually read it, I thought to myself “hey, I haven’t updated in a while, I should do that.” As bloggers are wont to do, I opened my entry with an apology! I think it’s an expected gesture. Like you, though, am I truly sorry for not blogging? Well, no, I had other matters to attend to. I am happy to have been able to update, though.

    Does every member of your household work full time, or does one person have more time to dedicate to the home? What are the challenges and benefits you experience in either lifestyle?

    Yes, every member of my household works full time; “household” being Jeff and I. Personally, I feel that Jeff has more time than I do to focus on the domestic tasks because he often has truncated work schedules, the ability, or the necessity of working from home. I need to keep in mind, though, that when he’s working from home–he’s working. It’s too much of me to expect him to do laundry or dishes or whatnot when he’s trying to take care of a client issue or fulfill a contracted obligation.

    One challenge that we face is the same as what you and Jonathan are starting to face–when to actually have time (and energy) to do the domestic duties. Our weekends are generally packed with grocery shopping, planning, cooking, and cleaning. It’s easier to do laundry during the week now that we have our own place, but Monday through Friday, the dishes stack up and the floors stay furry.

  4. Congrats on the job! I was hoping when they opened that center that they would hire military spouses. My Navy wish came true.

    • Thanks so much, Michelle! There’s another military spouse (who is former military herself) on the staff, and it’s great to hear things from her perspective.

  5. Congrats on the job! I’m quite impressed you were able to find something so awesomely tailored to your interests/experience in Monterey. I know how challenging finding a job can be, particularly while being a military spouse, so woohoo!

    I worked full time as a senior business analyst for a large retail company before my Navy dude and I got married, but that pesky move to Hawaii kinda put a wrench in any job dreams (finding a retail job that does not involve being in the actual store in Hawaii is essentially impossible). I did end up working part-time as an assistant librarian at an elementary school on base, which was fun because I met more people, got a little extra cash, and it got me out of the house. Now we just made our move to Norfolk (so different than Hawaii, how shocking!) and we agreed that I’ll wait to look for a job until after the holidays. Luckily there are opportunities abound in Norfolk so I feel much better about the job situation, but it’s almost more daunting this time around because there are “serious” options vs. options that allow me beach time. Returning to the real world is weird =\

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