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The Many Meanings of R&R

The Many Meanings of R&R


The “Really Real” PCS

When we got orders to Maryland, we bought a house. We bought it sight unseen as a fixer-upper in an awesome neighborhood. We knew the town would be a great one to plant roots in if he got out. From day one, we started the renovating. Part of me knew that when we got orders back in 2019 that this would be the last move. And part of me was ready for that not to be true. After all, that’s my training as a military spouse. If there’s one thing that’s for certain in this life, it’s change. Then one day, a few months ago, it happened…

“Honey, I dropped my paperwork.”

“Wait…but I thought you wanted to go one more round to see if you could get promoted(?). I mean, you put your name in the hat a few months ago.”

“I did, but I changed my mind. I want to be around for you and the kids, work in the house. My mission is changing. It’s time. And when you know, you know.”

He’s done. We are getting out. And soon. We’re here.
We’re here??

"I am part of the military spouse ranks that saw the world and peacetime service change the morning of 9/11. We know how one event can shift everything… I am conditioned to be ready for anything to happen and be at the ready to take it all over… Share on X

Retirement & Readiness

Is this real? Part of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop. …for the Army to pull his paperwork, or for him to change his mind, or for him to get deployment orders or put on stop-leave. I am part of the military spouse ranks that saw the world and peacetime service change the morning of 9/11. We know how one event can shift everything, just as our relatives and military spouses before us did with Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and the many other conflicts that shaped military history. I am conditioned to be ready for anything to happen and be at the ready to take it all over and handle it all on my own.

For active duty, this is mission readiness. But we spouses have our own checklist of how to do it. And ours gets activated by that call late at night, that pregnant pause at a family dinner before the news delivery of an unexpected deployment or five-month-long TDY. We are all SO ready, because, if we’re not, we can get blindsided and knocked down by the sudden, jarring realization that our time at this duty station is not going to be what we thought it would, that our vacation plans have changed, or that our spouse won’t be able to attend that special family event with us after all.

That readiness I understand. But this…this readiness for retirement…this is new. And although we are three months in to knowing what we are readying for in February of 2023, part of me is still ready to move again, start looking for the new schools, communities with access to airports within 30 minutes to fly home if someone gets sick, and crossing my fingers with a heavy, hopeful heart for an assignment to a state where my professional license has reciprocity.


With any sign that retirement might not happen, the mental gymnastics start, and I begin to brace for impact. Reactivity & Reconditioning. As a mental health therapist, I teach my clients about the stress response system. We spouses live in a heightened state of alert due to the constant uncertainty and shift in duties that happen in our family system when our spouses leave. The pivoting we have to do with our careers, vacation plans, kids’ activities, and the juggling of daily life that happens when they are gone. We know what to do. We are ready. The military conducts its own readiness process with us, too, by the very nature of what happens with our families. But, for us, it is not done in a “rodeo” or conference format. Our training occurs when our duty stations change after we have an RFO (Request for Orders) in hand or when we’re notified he’s leaving when we thought this assignment was non-deployable.

So with 23 years in, when he says it’s over, I know in my head we are retiring. The words are understood. I see evidence of it happening. I mean, he’s home more and starting to look for jobs. He is even available for the first time to organize and run a carpool. I see it. It IS happening, but it’s going to take a while for my body to catch up, for my nervous system to relax, to trust that our plan is going to be carried out and things are not going to change and shift last minute.

"I am learning that, for military spouses, the change that happens within us is the true transition to retirement and our own gradual version of R&R." @iwillwaitvsp Share on X

Rest, Relaxation, & Rewiring

Rest and relaxation are only temporary concepts in the military. “R&R” leave is literally a temporarily allowed time for a service member to take some time away from stressful deployments or duty stations for the sake of their wellbeing. It is a necessity to regroup and recharge in order to get back into the fight and carry out the mission. For us military spouses, that means supporting that action for our service member. We do it on vacation in Hawaii when they get a week off from a six-month deployment to the sandbox. And we do it by providing a good foundation for a strong and healthy family system.

I am learning that, for military spouses, the change that happens within us is the true transition to retirement and our own gradual version of R&R. Some of us just need time, some of us need to talk it through with a friend or fellow military spouse, some of us seek out therapy to work on adapting how we are conditioned to think and our stress response system to react. Thoughts inform feelings, and emotions fuel behavior. But just as the work on this 1960s rancher rolls out, I see change happening; the work I am doing on myself to process this transition to retirement through VSP workshops, creative expression and meeting with my own therapist is helping me build new pathways in my thinking and teaching me to relax and respond – to know it is ok to let my guard down.

Woman during attic renovation resting by window

The renovation within is much like the new wiring being laid in walls of our house that will cast new light in the home that we will live our next chapter in. And when this transformation is finished, when the dry wall is up, when I trust we are REALLY not going to move again, when we transition from active duty to retirement status, I will know in my gut that “for now” is behind me and “forever” is ahead. And that will be the true R&R after 23 years. For now, I will continue to observe all the “R’s” at play and sit here fighting off the urge to look up Zillow listings in Colorado Springs because “we might get stationed there, or maybe that’s where we’ll retire.” With every noticing of catches in active duty conditioned spouse thinking and reframing my thoughts, I am slowing cementing in the belief that we are indeed retiring in Maryland and that it IS our real Permanent Change of Station. And maybe, just maybe, I will open up those two boxes that we’ve been toting around since 2000 to see what’s in them.

Tags :
Deployment,Home,Military Moving,Military Spouse,PCS,R&R,Retirement
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2 Responses

  1. Yep. Those darn boxes. I have yet to find out which one is carrying my life size jenga game I purchased during my 2nd duty station back in 2013. Hahaha.

    1. I love picturing the moment of discovery (and the awesome game night that will follow) when you DO find it, Frances! 🙂

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