by Maggie Phillips, Guest Contributor
Today I had the stunning realization that as of November 2016, I have spent just slightly more time out of the workforce than in it.
Appropriately enough for an epiphany of this magnitude, it occurred at a church. I had been to a christening during which I learned both the father and the godfather had attended my alma mater and I excitedly introduced myself when it was over.
After our initial circle of congratulations for having attended the same school 12 years apart, they asked the question I should have seen coming but by which I found myself completely blindsided.
“What,” one of them asked, “Do you do now?”
At this point in my story, I feel I should mention my husband was TDY. I was wearing a 6 month old, and pushing a 4 and a 2 year old in a double stroller.
“Oh,” I said, without even trying to finesse the facts a little bit, “I married a West Pointer after graduation and now he goes off and I stay home with these three.”
If there was a sound eyebrows make when they sort of knit together in the middle and droop down on the outsides, that sound would have been deafening as I watched my audience respond.
A little annoyed with myself as I heaved my 80+ pounds of kids uphill to my minivan, I felt tears spring to my eyes as I thought over what I could have and should have said.
How about that I used to work for the Army? I had a security clearance and wrote for 3 and 4-star generals.
I write now. I could have mentioned that.
But I’m nowhere close to the breadwinner and I feel like saying writing is “what I do” to strangers is only a step above saying I enjoy watching TV in my spare time.
It’s fashionable I realize now for military spouses to have a side hustle or a professional career. When I was growing up as a military brat, the closest thing your average military spouse had to a side hustle was, as a friend once observed, wearing seasonal applique denim dresses and volunteering at the thrift shop.
But that’s all changed now.
I sometimes feel like I’m the only military spouse who isn’t on “Shark Tank.” For months I’ve been telling myself the R. Riveter bag girls were operating on a different level than me. I couldn’t start an upscale accessory company if I wanted to, I consoled myself. I have no real sewing experience.
Guess what I just found out? When the R. Riveter people started, they couldn’t. even. sew.
It took me 7 months to finish the biography “Hamilton” was based on because I kept falling asleep from the sheer exhaustion of reading about his many accomplishments.
Had I made a mistake in staying home with my kids?
It was a decision I made before we had our first child. You see, I suffer from anxiety. Not terrible anxiety, but worse than average.
I know it’s 2017 and because of the Internet everyone’s turned into a Cathy cartoon bragging about how overwhelming they find adulting and consequently, how much they love staying in with their Ben & Jerry’s or avocado toast or whatever. On a scale of 2017 Cathy to like, say, a Woody Allen surrogate character, I land squarely on “occasionally slightly medicated.”
I was a little worried about what balancing the stresses of a career, kids and a husband in the military would do to me.
I felt opting out of the workforce for a time would be the right course of action. Three kids later, I find myself watching my friends with their jobs and their start-ups and I wonder how I got left behind.
To an extent, I probably suffer a bit from being a millennial. An old millennial, but 1987 still counts and I definitely identify with a lot of the charges against them.
I’m risk-averse and kind of lazy.
I call my parents a lot.
On the other hand, I’m lucky to have a good example. My mom is a military spouse of over 30 years who plugged away at writing for years. She had plenty of pieces rejected, but she kept at it. She’s now a published author and has worked as a paid writer.
Maybe I’ll never be the R. Riveter founders.
Nobody is ever going to buy my half-finished cross stitch project off of Etsy.
Nothing I can come up with will ever really wow Mark Cuban, although for the record I had a dream about a business idea for a line of perfumes that lets you smell like your favorite character on “Friends.”
But if there’s one thing I learned from that “Hamilton” biography, it’s that I have 17 more years to sufficiently earn the murderous wrath of a sitting vice-president.
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E. Margaret Phillips who goes by Maggie has worked for the Army in different capacities for over 3 years, for both U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and for U.S. Army Public Health Command. She has been published in the United States Foreign Service Association’s Foreign Service Journal, and in the U.S. Army professional publication, Military Review. She is a mother of 3 and has been an Army spouse for 8 years.