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Two years of STA-21

It has been over two years since we found out that my husband was picked up in the Seaman to Admiral program (STA-21). Once he was conditionally accepted, it was a stressful month getting all the acceptance letters and paperwork together for us to receive orders and actually be accepted. It was hard saying good-bye to our good friends--as well as the beautiful island of Oahu-- before moving to the east coast. We had a month of leave before he went to NSI in Rhode Island, which we spent at my parents' house, the first week adjusting our toddler to the six hour time difference, with a weekend thrown in there of apartment shopping in North Carolina. A few people had suggested one area or another, some we couldn't find an apartment in our price range or in the distance we were looking to live from W's school. While my husband was in Rhode Island for the 10-week NSI "boot camp," I stayed with my parents. Because we hadn't found an apartment yet, I dragged my mom with me to North Carolina, eventually finding a place for us to live. I signed the lease with my power of attorney and moved in over the next couple weeks. I stayed at our new place to have our HHG's delivered and then came back to unpack before W graduated from NSI. My whole family went to Rhode Island for W's graduation. It was over 4th of July weekend and I really think I left a piece of my heart in Portsmouth. We toured Newport; we wandered downtown Portsmouth; my dad and I found the most adorable used bookstore (we both left with a box of books). I would love to live there one day, right next to that used bookstore. After graduation, it was time for the long drive from Rhode Island to North Carolina, with a brief layover at my parents' house. Then we were home-- a family living under one roof with nothing to do until classes started in the fall.

W and I had a huge adjustment to make. The entire time we had been married, he was attached to a sub. First in the shipyard in New Hampshire, then in Hawaii preparing for deployment. We went from fast cruises, change of home ports, 3-day duty rotations to home together every day and every night. For a month, his only obligation was to PT with the ROTC one morning a week. We loved each other, but we needed space. I think we were both crossing the days off the calendar until school started. The little things became massive points of contention. (Seriously, it is called a laundry hamper. You can take your clothes off and put them in there when they are dirty. Otherwise, it is called a drawer.) I really think he was just used to living out a sea bag and dumping an entire month's worth of clothes on me over the weekend, which isn't a bad thing when you are actually living out a sea bag. For the first time ever in our marriage, we needed to figure out what shows we liked as a couple and what time we should serve dinner. I was so used to DVR'ing my Lifetime movies and eating avocados spread on toast after D went to bed that it was a change letting someone else have a say in our shows or want to eat "real food." My son and I had become snackers and grazers, sharing five or six small meals throughout the day.

The baby back pack.
North Carolina November 2011

When school started and W had to balance family and a homework load. That first semester was filled with Sunday evening cram sessions and frustrated discussions explaining that I was hoping we could do something together that weekend and him frustrated because he had three tests the following week. It was a strange schedule to adapt to with a family. When I was single and in college, I usually saved all my homework until the middle of the night and stayed up writing papers that were due the following day; I would then sleep until noon, go to class, work, and do it again. While W is a full-time college student, he also has to complete his mechanical engineering degree in three years or under or else it is back to the fleet. School--and a lot of it-- is his full-time job. There is pressure to maintain his GPA, to complete as many classes as possible each semester, and to spend quality time with his family before we go back to Navy life.

With the attitude that he would be home for the next three-years, we decided from the beginning that this would be a great time to have another baby. Because of W's schedule with our first son, he didn't spend much time with D as an infant. This time, even if he was busy, he would actually be home for the sleepless nights, the first words, the first steps, things he had missed. Much to our surprise, instead of having one baby, we were having two babies: twins! Suddenly, we needed to move from our two-bedroom apartment on the third floor to a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor (can you imagine carrying two infant carriers up two flights of stairs while wrangling a toddler?). We needed to buy a new car. Moving from Hawaii, we had sold W's truck and only kept our Jeep Grand Cherokee, which would not accommodate three car seats, two of them rear facing. W's busy schedule got busier as he moved his family, searched for a vehicle, watched D during my hospital stay, or came home early when I was on modified bed rest. Our babies were born the week before he took finals. After finals, he had one-week before his first summer session started, a summer full of major classes. Throughout the pregnancy he had started scheduling more, setting aside time for studying. After the babies came, he had a study schedule. I knew when he would be home and when he would be gone. It was great knowing when the Calvary would arrive. Even better, when he was home, his time was dedicated to us, not studying. I wasn't interrupting him or distracting him. Of course, after the kids were in bed or there was a long nap, he would pull out his text books and get back to work, but I actually had help during the day and for bedtimes.

We still stick to a study schedule, especially when we have a lot going on in our family schedule and his school schedule. The summer sessions are busy. Last summer he took four classes, two each session. This summer he should only be taking three classes, one of them stretching the entire summer instead of crammed into one of the five-week summer one or summer two sessions. During the semesters, he tries to keep a "work" schedule, leaving in the morning and coming home in the evening. As his schedule filled with major classes, his study schedule has become more and more rigorous, studying while I put the kids to bed or coming home later than usual. One of his goals is to keep the weekends free from studying, though he always brushes up Sunday night after the kids have gone to bed. The weeks leading up to finals are the hardest. As the semester draws to a close, most of his classes give their last test, projects are due, and then finals start. However much he studies or gets home late, it still doesn't compete with life on a boat. I can call or text him during the day. If I have a doctor's appointment, I can work it out with his schedule so he can be home to watch the kids. He is home every night. Life in the "civilian" world is very different from life on a fast attack submarine.

Our budget, however, is also very different from life on a fast attack submarine. We lost so many different pays coming here. The Navy pays a certain amount each semester for tuition and books. During the summer session, we are still short about $2000, as well as other out of pocket expenses during the fall and spring sessions. One of our biggest stresses after starting school was that we couldn't really plan our budget. We didn't know what student aid we would be eligible for, or if we would be taking out student loans (or how much we would want to take out), or how much classes and books would be at the start of each semester. Sometimes he could buy books used and cheap; sometimes he was stuck buying an expensive text book. One nice thing about being on a boat is that we always know how much we are getting paid and when. The first three semesters we were here (fall 2010, spring 2011, summer one 2011) we saved and stressed until classes started and we finally had "the bottom line." The summer sessions are always the great unknown when it comes to budgeting. Outside of our school budget, we have three little boys-- a three-year old and two one-year olds-- that enjoy swim classes, park and rec classes, and play dates. Even though D gave our one-year olds a surplus of hand-me-downs, one-year olds have the innate ability to fly through a wardrobe. (One-year olds are excessively messy people.) D keeps outgrowing his hemline, our boys keep needing shoes, we go through a gallon of milk in 30 hours, two loaves of bread in 5 days, a bunch of bananas at breakfast... My husband says kids are bad for the budget. We've finally figured out a system that works to help keep us on budget, but we knew coming here that it would be tight and that we would leave with student debt (much less student debt than most people. Thank you, US Navy).

Moving away from the military community was an adjustment as well. I was active in the FRG and lived near great friends who were full of help, advice, hugs, and game nights. :) Even when I just went to FRG meetings, it was something on the calendar, something to do, and there were people to talk to. Finding things to put on my calendar in the civilian area was different. There wasn't a base to take $1 yoga or zumba classes, a free gym, or "kids' fests" at the enlisted club. I felt like a lot of the people I met here weren't looking to make friends, as I was. They had their own communities, neighbors, churches, jobs, play dates. While our babies have been a blessing for a number of reasons, joining the local twin chapter after C and O were born ended up being a huge blessing for me. I met women who wanted to meet other women like them, moms of twins trying to figure out how to balance life with newborns. (Not being especially computer savvy, I've since come to find out there are lots of local groups like this for moms, not just moms of twins.) I think military families want to move into their new community, unpack, and get on with life. Before the twin group, I would hear often from the hand full of people I knew, "But you are so new here. Just give it time." Since joining the twin group, I have play dates on my calendar, women to call for advice or to chat with, and I met people like me who were looking to make friends. And whenever there is an opportunity to make a new friend, I jump on it. If I meet someone at the mall or Target or the park, I exchange my info with them. Some of the best friends I have made here were chance meetings while I was out.

The last thing that made life better here was our lease expiring at our old apartment. Because we were running out of space in our little apartment, we decided not to renew and to move to a larger place. Since our babies weren't even born when we decided to move into that apartment, I don't think we realized the kind of space that works best for a family of five. Now that we are in a house that has a fenced in yard and playroom, we actually have the space to enjoy being home. My husband can choose to study at home because he has room to do so, though school usually works best because we are just a little distracting. We feel like that now we know what to look for in a house and have made many vows that start "from now on, the next time we move..." These vows range from having a yard or place outdoors for the kids to play, somewhere fenced in for the dog, and living spaces in our house that accommodate the whole family and our activities-- train tracks take up a lot of room! Another thing we learned is the first rule of real estate: location, location, location. While our first apartment had a great shopping center right outside, it was secluded from everything I went to. Our new house is near a variety of grocery stores, tons of parks, and I can quickly get places. I love that my three favorite grocery stores, the pediatrician, our dentist, an urgent care, and five parks are within ten minutes from our home. Because our family had always fit in the places we lived--before we became a family of five with two pets-- I hadn't realized how much the right location and the right space can affect your harmony at home.

For the most part, we are just focused on enjoying our time together as a family. W will graduate summer 2013, just over a year from now. From there we are going to South Carolina for about a year and then who knows where? I know what life on a boat is like and know to be grateful we aren't dealing with duty schedules and underways. I'm so glad that the only reason we ever see the sea bag is when we need an extra bag on a trip. I feel like adjusting to underways and duty rotation will be harder now that I've had a taste of the "good life." So we are throwing ourselves full force into the life we've made here, the wonderful friends we've come to know, our interesting house with the great backyard, and a Daddy who only wears his uniform on Wednesday.


Michelle said…
Thanks for sharing about all of your experiences during your families STA-21 journey. My husband just got picked up for the program.He is leaving for Newport Feb 15th and I am heading home with my son who will then be 3 months old. Reading your posts confirms some choices we have had to make with the change coming. We will reunite with my husband in late April in College Station TX. He is attending Texas A&M, continuing his Ocean Engineering degree. Life is changing so fast it is nice to read about those who have been there and concurred! Thanks again. Michelle
Kimber said…
Hello, Michelle! First of all, congratulations!!!! :) It has been a fun, busy journey and I'm so proud of my husband for getting through all of it (and proud of me for staying sane! LOL!). Both my husband and I couldn't believe how quickly the three years went. I think we were just so used to be being on a boat that we never really adjusted to our "civilian" life while he attended college. If you check out my "Popular Posts" tab, I have a sectioned called "Blog posts on our STA-21 journey as a family." I have most, if not all, my blog posts on STA-21 linked under there!

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