Childless confusion and childless ignorance invades all aspects of my life. Especially on a military base.
I’m used to three distinct kinds of traffic here, and only three: base traffic, beach traffic, and the traffic that comes from every blue-haired lady living within a 20 mile radius going to the post office at exactly the same time which, it’s worth noting, is also exactly whenever I happen to go to the post office.
These things are the rhythm of my childless day, and the the only things I really have to plan my workday and childless family life around. So imagine my surprise when I showed up at a pilates class on Tuesday at the regular pilates time only to find out the regular pilates time has moved without any apparent warning. That was the summer schedule, ma’am. It’s the school year now.
We don’t have children.* So when it’s suddenly the end of August and everyone is hurling around town between the hours of 7 and 8 a.m. and 3 and 4 p.m., I’m caught off guard.
I’ve long referred to bases as the most fertile places on earth, and that makes them a really strange place to be when the only hand you have to hold when you cross the street belongs to your sweet, hand-holding husband.
Living childless has its perks: we can have too much wine with dinner and not feel badly about it, we can watch any movies we want without arguing over when we’ll put on Veggie Tales, and our house is remarkably clean.
But when it comes to living childless at a base, things start to get complicated. Not only does the world suddenly turn on this intrinsic, the-school-year-has-started clock, but you’re thrust back into a series of events that pervade military life in which you are automatically given the awkward role of trying to figure out where you belong: are you a family? Or are you two singles?
Do you go to the Easter Egg Roll and be those creepy adults with no children looking longingly at every family with them?
Or do you instead hang out with all the single Marines, who inevitably are in a very different life place than you are,** and are back home watching whatever ESPN is showing and drinking their cold beer in peace? Do you placate yourselves with the knowledge that you’re at least not being that creepy couple at the Egg Roll, you’re just those people turning their good friends into third wheels?
Don’t forget the Christmas parties, where you’re that adult couple that looks like it’s either lost its child or its sanity. You’re the people sitting by themselves in a sea of huddled families, clapping perfunctorily at the children’s winter wear contest and all throughout the talent show. Why are you here eating boxed mashed potatoes and watching children get their pictures taken with Gunny Claus? And dammit, can’t someone lend you their child so you can get your picture made with Gunny Claus, too?***
And family fun days!
You know what’s fun? Bouncy houses! You know what’s super fun? Buildings entirely full of them that have sprung up specifically to cater to all the family fun days military units have! It’s a great business plan. Children are dragged away from the t.v. and forced to have non-digitized fun while adults socialize over lukewarm colas and lousy beer. It’s like Chuck-E-Cheese’s, only the adults are actually supposed to have fun too. And most of them do! You see them having it! Because when their kids are jumping on these incredibly awesome-looking bouncy castles, and they ask their parents to come jump with them, these adults get to! Their kids want them to, and it’s both normal and good parenting to play with your kids.
But when you don’t have kids, you’re standing there, holding your sub-par pizza and drink, wondering exactly how early you can extricate yourselves from this event without seeming rude. If anyone knows the answer, please, share.
Single Marines don’t tend to go to these things, because it’s all about “family fun.” And since they’re not yet families, and they’d rather drink their lousy beer in peace at the bar anyway thank-you-very-much, they don’t have to go.
But when you’re a childless, married couple, you’re sort of expected to be there. And you get to spend a couple of hours just staring at the bouncy castles because no, you’re not under the age of 12, and no, you don’t have a child begging you to come play with them, so no, you don’t get to have any fun.
Throughout the summer, we childless couples are let off the hook. No one is on the school year schedule, and everyone, childless and not, is traveling, having barbecues, and living remarkably similar lives. But all of this comes crashing down at the start of the school year, when the entire population of military bases across the country ceases living in the same world we have shared all summer and revert to this breakfast/drop-off/pick-up/homework/dinner routine, and because you don’t have children, you miss the memo.
The world launches back into its normal cycle without you, and you’re standing there, holding your spouse’s hand, trying not to step on the small children who suddenly appear under foot at the PX, racing between their parents and the school supply section, and you steel yourself for another year of holiday parties, family fun days, and all the other awkward moments that come for the childless few among us.
So if you, too, find yourself the childless anomaly on the base right now, confounded by sudden speed at which you’ve been thrust into yet another childless school year, don’t despair. Pour yourself an adult drink – one that isn’t lukewarm soda or lousy beer, because you still have a childless family fridge free of lunchables but loaded up with delicious beer and wine for grown-ups – and toast to us: we’re not alone.
And while everyone else is rushing around, we can stop and enjoy the start of autumn. I’ll imagine you and yours holding hands, watching the leaves change and fall, and take a little bit of comfort in knowing we’re not so alone in this after all. And when you stop to think about it, don’t you love the fall? It makes me want to be school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.
Just knowing you’re out there is enough.
(Ten points and eternal love to the person who gets that reference.)
*Not for lack of trying.
** See above
*** This year I’m getting that picture. I love Gunny Claus. So when you see that lone woman standing in line to get her picture taken, wave and say hi. That’s me.