In my four years married to a soldier, I’ve come to peace with my lack of influence on many of the decisions that are made for our family, while I’ve also learned to appreciate the many other — though sometimes less consequential — areas of our lives where I do have direct control.
I’ve never been one to hesitate much when making choices. From choosing my undergraduate university (I only did three college tours and only applied to one or two of those schools) to saying (and I quote), “hell yeah” to our opportunity to move overseas after Nick’s Afghanistan deployment, I’m usually all-in on whatever decision I need to make.
So why am I struggling over three single digits? Why has choosing an area code left me stuck in such a heart debate? How is it possible that I can have babies in foreign hospitals and send Nick off to Afghanistan when we were just newlyweds, but that the impossibility of choosing an area code has brought me to tears?
Nick and I both have a pride of place in our own home states and hometowns. We were both lucky to have great childhoods, and to still have good relationships with friends we’ve known for most of our lives. Both of us are still able to go “home” to the houses we grew up in, because our parents still live there. And for me, the sense of home is heightened in that my dad still owns the family farm where he was raised and where I spent many weekends as a young girl.
Active duty service members can keep their home of record throughout their military careers, so no matter how many times they PCS, they can still legally call their home state “home”. They can vote there, they can keep their driver’s license there, and they can even keep a vehicle registered there if they so choose.
As a side note, this also means that when they leave the military, they can run for public office in their home state, and that they can boast residency over an extended period of time (a benefit for many business people and political representatives, alike).
Spouses don’t have quite the same legal rights.
There is a federal act that helps us out, but it only kicks in if we, as spouses, are “stationed” in our service member’s home state of record with them. So, if for instance, Nick and I were sent to Arizona on military orders, I could join him in his Arizona state of record for the duration of his Army career.
We haven’t been stationed in Arizona.
The other way the act protects us is that if the two of us purchase property in another state, we can establish residency in that state together. If he changes his home of record to that state, then I can attach myself to it, keeping the same state of record as him for the duration of his Army career.
We’re working on that.
Home, for me, is — in the emotional sense — with Nick and our kids. Legal status is secondary to heart status, and my heart is with my family.
Home, for me, is also — in the emotional sense — the place where I grew up. And where my dad grew up. And where most of my memories from childhood live: Missouri.
Home, for me, is also — in the legal sense — the place where the military orders say it is. Literally. Military service members receive orders to go to a new place, and as “dependents” our names are amended to those orders. Whatever location those orders sends us to is my new legal home, even if Nick (the service member) can keep a different state of record than what his orders send us to.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.
I’m happy to be together with my family wherever we go, and I’m so lucky to have had a great childhood in a safe little corner of rural Missouri. And, honestly, the Army has been pretty good to us so far in Nick’s career: Steady paycheck, travel opportunities, tax-free shopping, and great healthcare are just the start…
I don’t have control over Army life, though. I can’t tie myself too strongly to any one place or circumstance because ultimately the Army can send us somewhere else or change our circumstances without our input.
One of the things that makes that fluidity and transient-ness tolerable for me is that I have a strong sense of roots and connections to my childhood home. The other thing that makes it tolerable is that I’m in it with Nick.
For almost all of my life, I’ve had a Missouri phone number. Of course, I’ve had a German number here and a Taiwanese number in Taiwan, but even during our three years in Germany, our U.S. phone provider has held our Missouri numbers for us to re-activate when we have orders back to America.
We have orders back to America.
We’ve decided to change phone providers, and with that decision, we can either keep our Missouri numbers or get new ones that match our new geographic location: northern Virginia. Nick has made his decision, and his new Virginia phone number has been assigned.
But I’m stuck. I’m stuck in a heart debate. Do I keep those three little digits that tie me — in the only formal way that seems possible anymore — to my home state? Or do I join Nick — and in doing so, keep our family “together”— in adopting a northern Virginia area code?
You see, home, for me, is — in the emotional sense — with Nick and our kids, so maybe I should choose a Virginia number.
But home, for me, is also — in the emotional sense — the place where I grew up, so maybe I should keep my Missouri number.
I’m accustomed to the military telling my family and I where to go, and I’ve even found peace with the fact that the military has (and might again) tell us that we’re going to be separated for deployments or unaccompanied tours.
While I’ve found that peace, I’ve also learned not to take it for granted when I can directly control some aspect — no matter how small — of our family’s life. And so I’m stuck. Stuck in a heart debate over three simple little digits.