SNIPPET # 45
She was lonely, exhausted, and in pain. The base clinic had closed, so there were no crutches available to help Jackie Toops balance weight off her broken foot. The lovely two story home they’d moved into didn’t seem quite so lovely now, as she struggled to carry her two teeny children up and down those stairs on her one good foot. Inner conflict gripped her heart.
On one hand, 12 hours a day seemed like a long time for her husband to be gone. On the other, they were finally together again after his most recent 12 month absence. Jackie had been caring for their one young child while a complicated pregnancy resulted in an emergency C-section for the birth of their second child.
She’d been doing her best to support her husband’s drive to serve. She’d been managing well, too, thanks to support from family and friends. But now they were in Germany, far from home and that support system.
The life of a military spouse was harder than she’d imagined it being. She was mentally and physically fatigued, envious of her son’s open tears as he freely expressed the same longing for his grandparents that swelled within her own heart. Mixed emotions churned as she watched her husband meet their 5 month old son for the first time. Joy over her husband’s physical return was tempered with the practical struggles of him assimilating into their family unit, when she’d been managing on her own for so long.
Jackie Toops knew if she was going to thrive and care for her family, she’d need to shift her perspective.
“I was thrown into the deep end,” she laughs, and decided to use the experience as a “lesson in expectation.”
It’s these moments in her life and her decision to grow from them that make Jackie Toops an impactful voice of encouragement and support within the military community.
To those who have no real understanding of the demands and expectations placed upon military spouses, it can appear to be an easy life. Their housing is paid for. They can live on nice bases in nice places. Their spouses do all the work, and they are free to sit around and eat bon-bons all day, right? Insert snort-laugh here.
It’s only funny because it isn’t funny.
Jackie and her family are one of countless military families who at some point have earned incomes qualifying them for public assistance. She’s been through the strain of swallowing her pride to accept assistance from programs like WIC so she could put food on her table. She is one of so many women with prior successful careers, now floating in the wind of her spouse’s military assignments. She’s been plucked from her friends and family in the community she’s known all her life, and plopped into foreign countries, all the while singularly responsible for childcare, packing, unpacking, locating new resources, and maintaining her own sanity as she watches her husband deploy amidst regular news of casualties.
“It’s amazing what we do behind the scenes,” she says.
The life of a military spouse is far more of a job than she ever anticipated it being, but she committed to doing it well. She recognizes military service is something that pulled at her husband, and forgave him for the bait-and switch he pulled, announcing his intent to serve only after they were married. “I’m smiling about it now but at first I was like, Grrrrrr!” she laughs.
With the proper mindset, military life can be just as beautiful as it is challenging.
Each base she’s lived at becomes her home. The people – especially other spouses – become her tribe. They create bonds that endure hellos and goodbyes. Their children learn to do the same. They seize opportunities to explore the places they are called to. Her children have been to the Eifel Tower, romped in German playgrounds, and wandered through castles. Along the way they’ve developed coping skills, a sense of independence, and an excitement about all the possibilities their lives hold.
As her children graduated out of diapers and 2 a.m. feedings, Jackie found herself craving a creative outlet all her own. As luck would have it, she stumbled across Army Wife 101, the lifestyle blog created by army wife Krystel Spell.
“Blog” is a deceptive word, as Army Wife 101 is a high quality, professional publication offering slews of value to its community of followers. Jackie began writing for Army Wife 101 in stolen moments as her children napped, and then again when they went to bed at night.
Jackie Toops is proud of her work for Army Wife 101.
From lighter pieces designed to spark fun, to heavier pieces that provide insight and hope to those who need it, Jackie pours equal energy into each article. It’s important to her to be a conduit to that community for those who are already fully immersed in it, and those who may be reluctant to engage with it.
Those moments of anxiety and overwhelmed loneliness may be infrequent for Jackie now, but she remembers them well, and makes it her mission to help others understand they are not, in fact, alone.
The military life is stressful and for some, it outweighs their resilience. Jackie knows this as well as anyone. She also knows it doesn’t have to be harder than it already is.
Seven years of life as an Army Wife have provided a whirlwind of experiences for Jackie and her family. With the support of her tribe and a positive mindset, she’s found more beauty than struggle in these seven years. She’s learned as much about herself as she has about the military. She’s been inspired by other spouses, and she’s proud of her husband for his service. Now, she and her husband are preparing to tackle one more transition – back into civilian life.
It will be difficult for them both to separate themselves from the camaraderie and cohesion of the military community. There will be moments of nostalgia and doubt. There will be new challenges and unfamiliar struggles, and they will attack those as a team.
She’ll miss her identity as an Army Wife, but she’ll stay tight with the community and remain on board at Army Wife 101. She can also be found in her writing for other publications. She’s a contributing author for WSI Mag, blogger for Milspo Biz Connect, guest writer for HomeAway, and guest writer for FamiliesGoTravel.
You don’t always have to wear a uniform to serve; loving the person who wears that uniform is a service in itself.