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Navy family: united we stand

One of the things I hear about all the time is the idea of a "Navy family," not as in my blog title, Kimber's Navy Family, which refers to our nuclear family, but a temporary family comprised of military members and their families supporting each other. People post pictures about how they love their Navy family, "Don't know what I would do without these girls! Love my Navy family!" Or make comments about how their Navy family helped get them through certain times in their life. I myself talk often about our Navy family. The past couple weeks, the concept of a Navy family has materialized once again in real and practical ways in my life. While we were away from the Navy community during my husband's years at college, I almost forgot about how present a Navy family is and just how much help our Navy family offers. Our Navy family truly becomes far more than just people we meet, but family, people that step into our lives and lift us up, people that bring light to times where you feel alone and lost. People that years after they entered into your life, you remember and cherish. Who is this Navy family?

1. The people that never leave.

While we were still newlyweds, I had our first miscarriage. It was a very hard time. I was far away from my friends and family at a duty station where I hardly knew anyone. The few people I knew drifted out of my life when it happened; I don't think they knew what to do or say and so they avoided me. I was alone and heartbroken. And then these two women burst into my life, one of whom I had met a few weeks before and another I had only had polite conversations with in passing-- a JO's wife and our chief's wife. Our chief's wife headed up the Sunshine Committee with our FRG; she coordinated meals for families that needed them and baby gifts for new babies-- things of that nature. When I had my miscarriage, she started bringing us meals, then she started driving me to my doctor's appointments. From there, she became my go-to person for all things Navy related. When our boat changed homeports, she came with me to the housing office and walked me through the check-in process since the boat was gone, I had no clue what I was doing, and I was sitting there with a baby and a power of attorney. Her and her husband have guided me and my husband along in our marriage, to raise a Navy family with emphasis on family. She has listened to me, counseled me, and loved me like a sister. Amazingly, we are now stationed near each other again. All these years later and she is still the person I call when I don't know what to do raising our boys or I need prayer or someone who will listen, cry with me, laugh with me, or just be there for me. I pray constantly to be the type of friend she has been to me and to love as openly and beautifully as she does. She is the person that embraces the good and bad in life and allows God to work through her to turn it into a beautiful masterpiece (while I am in the corner worrying, complaining, or crying). I love her and her family with all my heart. If nothing but this family ever comes of my husband's Navy career, we will have been blessed immeasurably.

The JO's wife has been another one of those friends. Her and I hit it off at a "mandatory fun" event put on by the boat. We are both from California. We both enjoy literature. At the time, our due dates were just days off from each other. When I had my miscarriage, our slow building friendship was thrown into the fire where something pure and beautiful emerged. I didn't expect anything from her-- a person I just met-- but she called me and said, "Listen. I really enjoy this friendship with you. I understand if you need space or time or if my pregnancy is painful for you right now. I want to support you. Please let me know what I can do and I am open to it. If you don't want to discuss my pregnancy, I am happy to do that." Since the other people I knew backed out of my life, her straight forward and honest approach was reassuring. Our friendship has grown like that over the years, strong and firm, honest, true, and loyal. We can talk about anything and everything and love the heart and soul of each other. We haven't lived near each other in awhile, but I think about her and her sweet family every day. We use social media and Skype to keep in touch with each other. When we get on the phone, we pick up right where we left off, laughing and letting our children say hello. I will be honest-- I hope that one of our sons marries her daughter-- but even if we do not become family in the legal sense, they will always be part of my chosen family.

2. The people that do not stay.

A strange phenomenon that happens with your Navy family is people you do not know helping you in deep or personal situations, some of whom you never get to know better past that point, but who you would equally support if the tables were turned. I have had neighbors bring me meals when I had sick children and my husband wasn't home. Neighbors come over and insist on watching my children so I could go to the ER or support a sick relative. I have had people drop off groceries, run errands, give support, offer much needed words of encouragement or an ear at moments where I felt alone, alone, alone. I have had neighbors add me to their family meals, dropping off food for me regularly because they know my husband has strange hours. I have had wine nights that lasted well into the wee hours of the night with women I do not know, but who I sat and talked with for hours because we both needed a friend. I have had people offer to pick up my mail, walk my dog, watch my children, or do any small errand for me because they knew I needed help-- and these weren't just offers, but people truly saying, "Let me help you. What can I do now? Tonight?" These are the people that I forever feel grateful for, these fleeting angels in my life. For one reason or another, a deeper friendship doesn't grow-- our schedules, the distance between each other's houses, or someone PCSing right at the start of a budding friendship-- but they are people who know what you are going through and who know how to help, who want to help, and who roll up their sleeves to lend a hand to a fellow Navy family simply because they are looking after their own.

When I think of this group of people, I get the warm feeling I had sitting on someone's back porch-- I don't even know who-- drinking wine out of a plastic cup and chatting about books. There was a Scentsy lamp on the patio furniture and everyone was talking, laughing, fireflies dancing over the playground. I had gone for an evening walk with our dog and ended up crashing someone's going away get-together. I felt accepted, part of a larger group of people, and content. We all lived vastly different lives yet we were the same-- all married to sailors and all in this together.

3. The people you just met.

Often times, with Navy life, we are forced to ask brand new friends for help. Many of the Navy families I know are fiercely independent (or maybe just stubborn and slightly introverted). We build ourselves a little fortress, barricading ourselves inside with a small support network of carefully chosen friends and family, power of attorneys, and the Internet, hoping we can find our own answers or hunker down until the hardships are over. We can ask in chat rooms or text friends from past duty stations, but when it comes to asking for physical help-- GASP! Our insides turn to mush and our legs become shaky. We thank people excessively for performing the smallest tasks and send over meals and baked goods for weeks afterwards, "Just wanted to say thanks!" I recently had to text a gal I met days before to ask if she would walk over and sit at our house while our 3 older boys slept so I could take the baby to the hospital for his bronchiolitis. The baby was having a hard time breathing and our older 3 were asleep and I felt horrible asking. I was two steps away from loading everyone up into the van when I thought, "I'm just going to do it... I'm just going to text her." I did. I stared at the phone with a knot in my stomach, guilt washing over me, when she texted me back moments later, "Of course! No problem. Be right over." Why is it so hard? I don't know. But frequently moving-- between you moving or your friends moving-- means that no matter how you try to feather your nest, there are those moments that you need to ask for help. People I barely know have asked me for help-- from using my washer and dryer to baby-sitting to rides-- and I'm always happy to give it. The Navy family extends to these brand new friends we make, people who you click with instantly, like the JO's wife when I had my first miscarriage, who you know will become a great friend, but aren't yet. One of the big differences about budding friendships in the Navy is that often these friendships are started during times of great stress and turmoil, periods of your life where you do not feel like yourself, where you are asking for help all the time, where you are emotionally exhausted or spent and do not feel you are presenting your true self. Your Navy family can see past that. They see you. They have walked that road before and know that moving with children is hard. They have had the move where everything is broken and everyone gets sick the week your household goods are delivered. They know what it is like when your vehicle arrives at your new duty station a month later than expected or you are sitting on the housing wait list for months on end. These brand new friends think nothing of having you over for dinner, of moving your laundry to the dryer while you nap on the couch, of baby-sitting in the middle of the night. They are there through the storm and there when the dust settles. I've found often with these friendships that these are the friends who are in it for the long haul, that will be lifelong friends (read, "Saying good-bye").

One thing that makes me laugh about this category of friend is that sometimes huge basic gaps are missing in these friendships. These gals are throwing my cloth diapers in the washer for me, I'm scrubbing their kitchen, we're wiping each other's tears, we're at each other's houses past midnight, they're driving my vehicles and picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy for each other's children, but if we mention our husband's names we have to remind each other, "Yeah, that is my husband's name." These gaps definitely fill in later, but it is always funny to discover what basic things we do not yet know about each other when we feel like we've walked through fire together... in our 2 week friendship that already feels like years.

Do you have a Navy family? How have they helped you?


costos said…
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Michelle said…
I appreciated this post very much. I'm in the trenches with four boys five and under and I'm barely hanging on. I commented on your day in the life post a while back shortly after finding out I was expecting our fourth. He's here now and he's actually the easy one compared to my two five year olds and the three year old. I can very much relate to all the struggles you mention. Thanks for helping me remember that I'm not the only one struggling through this stage of life.

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