Vanessa has her own photography business and two small children. She met her husband in high school, and describes how they made the decision together for him to join the Air Force. Although it has been a roller coaster in many ways, she is proud to be a part of the military and wouldn’t trade it for the world. The following excerpt is from my interview with Vanessa in Germany.
I had never had any sort of military experience at all. So it took a lot of prayer and thought to decide if this was the best decision for our future family. Once we looked at all the benefits and also looked at whether or not he was just going to enlist or be a commissioned officer, it was a no-brainer for us. When he joined ROTC that was great because we got benefits right away. They started paying for his school right away. They started paying for our housing, which was a big deal.
He was trying to lean towards a career where it would be a normal schedule. And they told him he’d probably deploy, but at the time it was four month deployments. Maybe every couple years kind of thing and we were like, “Okay, that’s doable.” All the benefits, the healthcare benefits, steady employment, and the thought of traveling for us was actually really exciting.
Coming from a really small town myself, I was ready to get out. I wanted to see the world. So we made a decision and he signed on.
I was probably more in love with the idea of just being with someone and getting ready to start a family and moving somewhere than I was about trying to pursue my own career at that point. I just kind of felt like everything would fall into place. Either I would get a job and I would do it, or I wouldn’t and I would have a family. So I wasn’t, “Well I need to do this. I need to have my career so how’s this going to work.”
I wasn’t career-oriented at that point.
I started off working in a preschool classroom, and that was useful. I’ve always liked working with kids. And then once I graduated, I was able to move into the Kindergarten. (At the next assignment), I still wanted to work with kids, but I wanted to focus more on children that had disorders, some sort of early intervention, something like that. And I thought that it was going to be easy for me, I guess in my immature mindset, thinking that getting out of college I’m not going to have a hard time finding a job. But it took me almost five months to find employment, and for me that was very frustrating.
(The job I got) was dealing with children with special needs and also children in a low income setting and how that affects their development. (It was a) really phenomenal organization. I was able to do all kinds of things with my career.
I really felt a sense of accomplishment because I found something that I had actually gone to school for and was utilizing my education.
I was pursuing what I thought was my dream of working in child intervention. It was a really rewarding job. I really liked it. (Then) we found out shortly after my son was born that my husband was going to be deploying. That was really devastating. It was hard to tell our families too, because they didn’t want to see him leaving plus leaving me and a new baby. So that was really hard. But I had made the decision to quit working before we’d found out that he was going to deploy.
I just knew that I wanted to be home and raise our children. It wasn’t even an option to put them in childcare.
I saw that from my experience working with the 0 to 3 year olds. I saw how devastating it was to some of these children to have their parents gone the entire week. When we had early care and late care, some of them would come in as early as they possibly could and leave as late as they possibly could. And I didn’t want that for my kids. I just didn’t want that, and we were financially able to make that decision and stay home. I was just fortunate to do that. But yeah, that was solidifying for me to see these little babies being left, and I just couldn’t do it.
It was good (staying home), but I started to realize that I needed to be doing something.
But I didn’t want to be doing something that would pull me away from my kids all of the time. And actually, that’s when my love of photography really started to take off. I had these cute precious little babies, and I’m trying to capture everything I possibly can. In my ever-failing mommy brain I’m trying to picture them in a newborn phase and I can’t do it. All I can think about is the spit-up on my shirt or whatever. So I started taking snapshots, and then it developed into more stuff. I got a nicer camera and took some shots of the boys and printed them in a decent size and hung them on the wall. I got a lot of encouragement from friends and family to pursue this. And never in my mind did I think that I would go to school in developmental psychology and end up being a photographer. But it just sort of fell into place. I didn’t think I’d be going back to work, but I thought I could do this.
I could start a business and I could travel with that business, because I could take it wherever we go.
I could do it out of my home. And with the military, it wouldn’t really be an issue because it was there with me. It was just a part of me. So it seemed really reasonable, something where I had a creative outlet. I could be contributing to society or be a part of something bigger than myself, still creating my own schedule. I was still able to be there for the boys when they needed me.
I thought that being the caregiver for my children would be enough for me. And it was enough, but it still felt like I needed to be doing something outside of them. I realized I still needed a piece of me that was separate from my children. Because I didn’t want to continually see myself as a mom. I mean you never break free from that role, but I didn’t want that to be my only label. I wanted something for myself and I needed something where I was pursuing something individually that wouldn’t necessarily affect my children, but still I could go off on this career path and still feel like I was accomplishing my own goals.
The business idea started to really grow when my husband came back from his second deployment.
And then he found out a few months later that he was going to be gone for a year. And I thought, “This is awful. You’ve already gone on two deployments, and you’ve only been in for a few years. This is not what we signed up for.” So we had made the decision that he was going to get out because it was just too much on our family. He actually submitted his paperwork and everything. Sorry, I’m going to cry….
But after searching and searching and trying to find something that was comparable to what he was doing, it was nearly impossible. We decided together that it wasn’t going to work. We were just going to have to push through whatever deployment we were going to have to go through and he was going to stay in the military.
It was really hard seeing him as the caretaker for our family struggle so much. I didn’t want that for him.
I didn’t want that for us. And I knew he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. As hard as that is for our family, I knew that’s what he was supposed to be doing. So he pulled his paperwork, and they were like, “All right, but that means you’re going to leave. You don’t have a choice. You have to do this 365.”
We made the decision that I would go back and be with family. I registered with the state of Wyoming and that was a really proud moment. But I think my children probably suffered a little bit in that time because, not only was their dad gone, I was sort of not there emotionally. It was hard with your husband being gone and he was doing convoy missions in Afghanistan. So that part was hard, but I think I turned that emotional part of it around and used that for fuel for my own personal thing that I was trying to do. I needed that distraction. I needed something for myself while he was gone.
What were your hopes for the business when you thought about coming here to Germany?
I thought it was a great opportunity.
I’m going to be surrounded by military community where word of mouth within spouses is the most powerful form of advertising. I started just doing some friends and that kind of thing. But right away, it was just like wildfire. Just exactly like I thought it would be. There would be a huge need and I would have a huge target market here and it would just take off. And that’s exactly what happened. So at some point, especially around the holidays, I had to tell some people I couldn’t take anymore clients. And that was a first for me to have to tell people “no” because I was so busy. But it was really good.
I’m really, really proud of my work. I stand behind it 100%. I really love being able to give people something that they love and are going to cherish forever. I think it’s a priceless gift that you give to somebody. Yeah, it’s fantastic. I feel like I have a purpose.
(Vanessa explained before the interview that the Air Force has told her to close her photography business because her home-based business does not meet the requirements of the local Status of Forces Agreement. Although this was later rectified, during our interview Vanessa’s business is currently on hold.)
I feel like this has been taken away from me, like I’ve been cheated. There could be some kind of exception to the law. There’s this stereotype that military spouses don’t do anything. They kind of sit on their butts, or do whatever. They’re just there as caretakers. But I feel like they almost push us to be that way instead of allowing us to do these things and be a part of these things. It’s as simple as selling Pampered Chef or the other little franchise companies that military spouses are a part of. It creates camaraderie between us, and as silly as it is, you create friendships from a Pampered Chef party. That one important person could change your life later on down the road in your military career. So, by making it so difficult they’re taking stuff away from us.
I like being a part of something bigger than myself. I like seeing my husband in this role and him being a part of something bigger than us. I think it’s great and I stand by him 100%. I’m really proud of him. We went through that transition of him getting out, and I can’t see him not being in the military. And I’ve been able to have such great friendships and meet some of the most amazing people, and become part of such an amazing family. There’s a whole difference between being in a group of people that are in the military and those that are not. It’s like night and day. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I like being a part of that, just the sense of family that I have being a part of this. I really love it.
I’m proud to be a military spouse.
For myself personally, I think the hardest part is just dealing with the rules, with the military way. This is what it is. This is what you have to do. But I wouldn’t change it. I don’t want to not be a part of this, as crazy as that is, because as sad and emotional as it has made me, a part of us will always be military. Once you get in it, you can’t separate yourself from it.