I couldn't believe it. I had just received the most desirable, magical piece of paper ever thought up by mankind. In my hands, I held my DD214. My End of Active Service orders. I was free. I remember driving off base thinking to myself, “This, right now, is the last time I'll ever wear this uniform. I'll make this drive many more times, but never for the same reasons. Wow.” I was out! FINALLLYYY!
But wait. Now what? Well, I speak Pashto so, let's see what they have for that. Well, looks like all of the jobs seem to be in Augusta, Georgia. That sounds like fun! But dang, Carolyn doesn't get out for a year. I know! I'll just come back every weekend! But dang, she's pregnant. What if I miss Charlie being born? Ugh. After much deliberation we decided that I'd try to find something in Jacksonville. I started off thinking, “This will be easy.” Yeah right. Even with the skills that I had acquired and the education I had, I found nothing worthwhile. I would basically be working to pay for daycare and before and after school care. No thanks.
Finally, I went to work the overnight shift at a local warehouse store. It started off great. I'd work all night, then head straight home. Carolyn and I would high-five. She'd head off to work and I'd take the kids to school and such. This worked out great until my boss decided to bump up my hours. I was seeing my pregnant wife almost not at all. (Although the bigger she got, she didn't really mind having the bed all to herself...lol.) Our family life turned into “Hi, hon...don't forget to 'fill-in-the-blank.' Have a good day! Bye!” <goodbye kiss> Neither of us cared much for it. Then came the final blow. Some far-away general decided that 2D Radio BN should begin 24/hr operations and that the best shift for my wife to work would be the midnight to 8:00 AM shift. Cool. I didn't like my job much, anyways. Well, at least that problem solved itself. For the next month-ish I ended up busying myself with menial tasks around the house and having greater freedom for whatever the kids might need.
Now back to those new found freedoms and liberties that I mentioned earlier. I had not been forced to run since January, 2011. When I got out, 2012 was more than halfway over. I finally started running on my own in June, 2012. It was pretty atrocious. For someone who had a respectable (read: far from perfect) running time while in the Corps, it was a real shock the first time I went running. But a new realization sprung up within me. The realization that I didn't *have* to run. I didn't have to do anything. Heck, if I wanted one man formations everyday at 0530, I could do it. (I didn't.) This betrays my (extreme) stubbornness but I realized that now that I didn't have to run, I actually wanted to (for the first time in my life!).
I began searching out running buddies. I asked a few of my friends, former associates, and co-workers of my wife if they were interested in joining me for a run. But an interesting fact about Jacksonville is that the working population of the town already has PT scheduled for them. And for some reason, that seems to be enough. They aren't looking to get up at ridiculous hours or to extend their days any longer. And those very few that did want to do that were already part of a running group, typically made up of their fellow service members..
I had seen the Stroller Warriors stickers and was vaguely aware of the club but I had assumed (without basis) that they weren't as “serious” as what I was looking for. After not having much luck finding anyone else and since I’d soon be toting my own stroller, I looked into it. First, I realized that they were a lot more serious than I had believed and I got really excited. Second, I realized that they were an exclusively female group. I was pretty surprised by this. I was talking with my friend Evan, also a stay-at-home parent, having just EAS'd from the Corps, and he and I developed these super-great plans to force Stroller Warriors accept male dependents. I mean, what kind of world is this? They just think that discrimination is cool? <insert perceived upper-class titter> Oh, we shall show them! So I jotted down a quick email and sent it off. The next day, I received the following response:
Thank you for contacting us. Recently, we have been talking about including male spouses in our club. One of our chapters, has been very successful with making it work. So, if you are interested we would love to have you join us! You would be the first male to join SWCL.
So, wait, I was welcome? They would “love to have me?” Was that an exclamation point/mark? Huh. Well, so much for the epic war that I was expecting. Expecting or maybe even hoping for? Hmm...
On January 21st, Charlie was born and I didn't run at all for a few weeks. I somehow had plenty to occupy myself with. Slowly, I started running again, pushing the stroller. I could not believe how hard it was!! Before, I would run fiveish miles with no problem. Now I was dying at two miles. But I kept trying and it slowly got better.
I was so into my own feelings regarding the Stroller Warriors that I wasn't paying attention to my Carolyn's feelings on the issue. She had mentioned before Charlie's birth, she felt that I had too much time on my hands and didn't want me associating with a 'bunch a women' with similar time constraints. After he was born, she was more of the feeling that I'd have my hands full. I'd also brought home a copy of the Military Spouse that Stroller Warriors was featured on and she got excited and (pointing to Stephanie) said, “Oh, I know her! She lives down the street. I've seen her at school with Teddy. We were pregnant at the same time.” Somehow, knowing Stephanie (even this little bit) made her feel as if this group was to be “trusted” and gave her the confidence that this wouldn't “...turn into another episode of Housewives of LA.” (Yes, those are quotatation marks (Is that a real show?).)
Still, I didn't do anything. I'd resigned myself to the boring life of the male military spouse. I had the comfort that, since she was getting out soon (at that point, in September), I wouldn't have too much longer until roles reverted to what they were “supposed to be.” And by “supposed to be”, I've come to realize that this means whatever is easiest and most expected, both for myself and for society-at-large. This has nothing to do with this place called “The Real World.”
In early April, I heard about the Run for Cole from a friend. Seeing as it was on a day that Marines had off, I finally decided join up and to come out for an event. After all, Carolyn would be with me. I'd be safe. Carolyn and I had a great day. There were a lot of spouses, I felt comfortable, and she felt comfortable. It was important for her to actually see the club. I remember her noting things like how the group was bigger than she'd thought, how well setup it seemed, and how the climate was so positive.
For the event, Stephanie had asked if people would be willing to bring out food and snacks. I had volunteered to bring out chocolate chip cookies. After the run, when we were all eating, I heard a lot of (positive) comments on the cookies and people asking who'd made them. Normally, I'd have taken credit, but for some reason, I didn't. I later mentioned it to Carolyn in a random comment as I was collecting the tray that they were on and she expressed outrage. She (very memorably, to me) said, “Andrew, I've spent eleven years in the Marine Corps, trying to be a woman in a man's world, fighting this exact stereotype. Yes...it's PC for a woman to attain to a man's level. But its just as okay and right for a man to attain to a woman's level! You know this! Don't be ashamed of the fact that you are a good cook! Just because the shoe's on the other foot doesn't mean that you should meekly accept the stereotype!”
Did this magically make it all better? No. I'll be honest, the first actual workout that I went to, I still felt out of place and a little awkward. But apparently I was the only one. That day I met a great deal of members, from SW leadership to the rank-and-file members. Although each person was unique, the one thing that all had in common is that they wanted me to feel welcome. This was only the beginning. I thought that I knew what SW was all about, but this was the beginning of my education. As I began attending workouts, I once again felt the camaraderie that I mentioned earlier. But more than just a running camaraderie, I realized this was a way-of-life camaraderie. Regardless of who you were, there was someone there who related to what you were dealing with and had the information that you needed and the willingness to share it. This was not a running club, this was a network of like-minded individuals who also happened to enjoy a good outing on Greenway Trail pushing the kids or waking up at 5:30 AM to go for a ten mile run. Well, “enjoy” might be the wrong word for the latter.
Looking back, I'm amazed at how much I've learned from this club. Yes, I may have been able to gain access to the club (against its will), but thankfully we never had to find out. The club was too mature for my immaturity. More importantly, I had completely missed the point. Earning “the right” to attend a particular clubs functions would not have earned me any favor, respect, or goodwill. Funny thing about those characteristics is that they are pretty much only gained when one first gives them. Well, heck, I wish I'd have learned this before age 30, but hey, at least you folks were there to do the teaching when I was ready. For the record, you were all pretty nice about it, too. Thank you all!
Andrew Morris is a former marine, military spouse, stay at home dad to Teddy, Leo, and Charlie, and Stroller Warrior. Starting June 11th, he'll also be a full time resident of Illinois and a student at the University of Illinois - Urbana/Champaign. He and his family will be greatly missed at SWCL but as he says..."Once a Stroller Warrior, Always a Stroller Warrior."