(While this article refers to Navy significant-others, I think the lessons can be applied across any branch of service. Huge thanks to Stephanie Carroll for this terrifically empowering contribution! -Andria)
By Stephanie Carroll (Navy)
Author of A White Room
The first time I went to a military base as a Navy girlfriend, I met woman after woman who had become a wife, mother, and homemaker. These are noble and invaluable roles in which women serve, but it freaked me out! I was concerned because it wasn’t just a couple or most—it was all of them. Plus, the worst part was how many told me they didn’t want to stay home but felt they had no choice.
Wife after wife told me it was too hard. She felt shackled to her husband’s career. Switching colleges every couple of years was too problematic and small military towns offered little work. Whatever jobs she could find couldn’t pay the cost of childcare. Moreover, the Navy and his career always took priority because it brought in the primary income.
Now before you freak out, let me ease the tension by letting you know that these are actually generalizations, exaggerations, and rumors and that in this article, I plan to disprove them. Let’s get started.
No. 1 – To start, at the time I met these women and heard these things, my future husband had just started his career, so we were young and the women I met were between 18-23 years old. As people get older, they gain more experience, discover more opportunities, and overcome more obstacles. That explains why almost every woman seemed to lack a career and why oftentimes Navy Girlfriends and new Navy Wives hear these impressions first.
No. 2 – It is a nuisance to switch colleges every couple of years, but there are a variety of programs to aid Military Wives. There are countless scholarships and grants to help Navy Wives with financial aid. Heck, when I first became a Navy Wife, we didn’t even have access to the GI Bill. Now you do.
Switching schools from state to state seems overwhelming but there are programs and policies put in place to help Military Wives with this process. Some wives fear that if you are not a state citizen, some colleges charge you double or triple, but there are laws that prevent that from applying to Military Dependents. Plus, most Military rotations are between three to five years, so that’s a big chunk of time in which to go to school. If you plan it right, you can graduate in one rotation.
That’s what I did. It helped that my husband extended his orders at our base to five years, but I also had to really load up on classes, five classes for two semesters. I also stayed behind for a month or two when my husband first reported to his new duty station. Big whoop! We’d done eight-month deployments twice! Also, many Military Wives simply attend internet colleges, which makes moving no problem at all.
No. 3 – We started our first duty station in Lemoore, CA, kind of a small town, or at least that’s what we thought. Our second duty station was in Fallon, NV. This place is so small, it was rumored to be the base where wives can’t find jobs and where Navy couples go to get divorced! I was really scared to go there but determined to prove the rumors wrong.
I had just graduated college and immediately landed a job as a freelance reporter for the local paper. Since I was only working part-time, I found another job working as an instructional aide, a job which didn’t require a college degree. So bam! Not only did I get a job right off the bat, I landed two within the first six months. Eventually, I became a full time journalist and editor and even helped work on a PR campaign to nix the bad rumors and let everyone know about the awesomeness of the little spunky town called Fallon.
The secret was to not listen to the rumors and to get off of base. A lot of people live on base and get stuck there. They never go into town and discover what it’s all about. Fallon was also where I started writing my first novel, and where I realized I wanted to pursue a publishing career.
No. 4 – This idea that the only work you can get won’t pay for childcare is partially true but only at first. When I first started working for the paper, I was writing one measly article a week and making less than $200 bucks a month. However, after that month, I renegotiated to write three articles a week, and I started making $600 a month. That’s still not very much, which is why I then picked up the second part-time job, which added another $600. Still not enough? By year two, I had earned my place as a full time reporter and was pulling in about $2,500 a month.
Sure, your first job might only be enough to cover gas, but as you keep working and earning more experience, you will qualify for higher paying jobs. At least the ability to pay childcare gives you the opportunity to start getting that experience.
Worried about not having a degree? Keep in mind my first job out of college paid $200 a month. Every job, regardless of education, starts small but can build upon itself if you keep at it. I know someone who started out as a hostess at a restaurant and now pulls in $3K as an experienced bartender.
Also check out Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society volunteer opportunities. They will cover the cost of childcare and gas so you can get some professional experience. I volunteered with them and learned a lot. No requirement either. Anyone can do it. The American Red Cross has similar opportunities. Bonus, it actually goes on your husband’s record and makes him look better professionally.
No. 5 – I think I’ve disproved almost all of the rumors I originally heard as a Navy Girlfriend, but there’s one that has some merit, and that is the feeling that his career comes first. I say this has merit because it is really hard not to feel that way sometimes but that doesn’t mean it has to be true. The problem is, if you don’t fight for your dreams, it’s very easy for his career to take over.
I started writing my first book in Fallon while working two jobs. When I realized it was what I wanted to do with my life, I pursued it relentlessly. I started in 2008 and read every book in the library I could find about writing and publishing. I edited and rewrote my book more times than I can count. Then in 2010, I started sending out query letters to agents. I was rejected by every agent I could find on the internet. It was so discouraging, I almost gave up.
In 2011, we changed duty stations again, and I started working as a reporter, but after some deep reflection, I decided that if I really wanted to become a published author, I would have to put everything I had toward it. My husband and I worked things out so that I could work part-time as a tutor and part-time as an unpaid novelist. We took a pay cut at first, but each year my husband earned more money in the Navy, and I even earned raises as a tutor.
Then, finally, in 2013, my first novel, A White Room, hit the online bookshelves. There were difficulties and struggles and moments of doubt, but I think what made the difference was refusing to settle. Determination and stubbornness helped too. But my husband was really key to this process.
I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I was shackled to the Navy and forced to put my dreams second, a feeling which actually inspired my novel, but he did everything in his power to compromise, support, and encourage me every step of the way. I couldn’t have done it without him, which is why my book’s dedication reads, Never without Jonathan. . .
So communication, compromise, and support are important. Make sure your Sailor knows what you want and make sure you are willing to let his dreams come first sometimes too. When my husband decided he wanted to get out of the Navy after ten years and pursue his dream of owning a vineyard, you better believe I was behind him.
As I spent more time in the Navy Life, I learned there were plenty of women out there who stuck by their Sailors, but who also pursued their dreams. Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams even if they are really big dreams. I know Navy Wives who have become teachers, nurses, chefs, authors, reporters, and officers. They had to work for it, though. They had to work with limitations, restrictions, and obstacles, but those who ignored the rumors and went after their goals successfully reached them. If I can and they can, then so can you.
About the Author
As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. She holds degrees in history and social science and graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno.
Her dark and magical historical fiction is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).
Stephanie lives in California, where her husband was originally stationed with the U.S. Navy. A White Room is her debut novel.
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Advanced Praise for A White Room
“A novel of grit, independence, and determination … An intelligent story, well told.”
—Renée Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine
“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper … the thoughtful, intricate story Carroll relates is absolutely mesmerizing.”
—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego
About A White Room
At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.
John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.
Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.
A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.
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