From a Veteran and a Mom: Reflections on Veteran's Day

Each year as Veteran's Day approaches, I reflect back on the many ways in which the military has touched my life. Many of my family members have served during wartime. I, too, served during Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn. My children's father is still active in the army. My time in the army often feels like a lifetime ago, but sometimes it feels like just yesterday I was putting on the uniform.

As a veteran, I often feel that I'm caught between two worlds: my life as a soldier in the army and civilian life as a parent. The military teaches you to always prepare for the worst while still hoping for the best. Parenthood teaches you that you can never be fully prepared for any given situation. Skills that I learned in the army such as planning, organization, or structured scheduling, while ideal, are not always realistic while raising two small whirlwinds of curiosity and seemingly unending energy.

My children have taught me to stay flexible and learn to live in grey areas while army training hinged on finite, black and white reasoning. We as veterans often struggle with accepting the spectrum of possible outcomes when faced with choices: where's the manual? What do you mean there aren't any field guides for parenting?

What I think I've had to adjust to the most since leaving the military is the lack of comradery and connection with other individuals going through the same circumstances. There are no assigned battle buddies in civilian life, no group of people who've gone through defining moments with you, who've formed an unbreakable bond through adversity. In the military, even the most frustrating of peers became family in the end. In parenting, even family become frustrating.

The struggle to find belonging is universal. Having experienced that connection in the army only to be thrust into the loneliness of parenting is surprising and difficult; isolation can creep in when you're busy with nighttime feedings or running the kids to extracurriculars. I often find myself yearning for the days I used to complain about. A stuffy uniform in 100+ degree heat with an unforgiving sun beating down, but beside my buddy who's going through it with me. Days of unspoken understandings and hard work.

Veteran's Day reminds me of the days I never thought I'd miss and the strangers who became brothers and sisters. I think of all the people who served, all the loved ones they left behind. I think of those of us who are forever changed by the things we experienced, and I think of those of us who never truly made it home.

Veteran's Day is a day to honor those who raised their right hand and made a commitment to our country, those of us who deployed to foreign lands. Armed Forces Day is a day to honor those who are still serving. Memorial Day is a day to honor and remember those who fought before us, those who didn't make it home, or those veterans who have passed before us.

This day isn't about the discounts and shopping sales. If you want to thank a veteran, talk to them. They might be more like you than you'd think. We often crave the connection we lost when we left the military. Afford others the rights we swore to defend. Teach your children to have courage to stand up for their beliefs and their passions. If you want to thank a veteran, remember the values for which we served.

Juli is the mother of two spunky redheads, a veteran, and an avid coffee drinker who's still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She enjoys painting, homeschooling, and howling along to her favorite songs like an alley cat. Juli lives in Salem, New Hampshire where you can find her enjoying the outdoors until hibernation sets in for the winter.

lifestyleJuli Gibbons