By Erin Gaul

When people ask what it’s like being a military spouse, I tell them it’s like being on a roller coaster ride.

You are nervously giddy with excitement when you are in line, not knowing what to expect. Once you are strapped in, the butterflies take over as you approach the first summit and then reality hits after the first drop. Through all the twists and turns, the rest of the ride is a combination of periods of exhilaration, anxiety, happiness, uncertainly and trying hard not to throw up.

The author, Erin Gaul, also a USO employee, smiles with her husband and children. | Photo credit Courtesy the Gaul family

It has been a few weeks since COVID-19 has forced our family to shelter at home and I find myself feeling these same roller coaster-type emotions. Excitement was mixed with concern when the news first broke that I wouldn’t need to put on real pants for a few weeks, or fight with the kids in the morning to get them off to school on time.

The house buzzed with anticipation as we prepped for the upcoming weeks of isolation, swapping classrooms and cubicles for makeshift home offices and school desks. But after all the excitement of the first week in pajamas and lunchtime cartoons in Spanish (which counts as a Spanish class in my lesson book), our COVID-coaster ride has now taken us on a journey of loop-de-loops, quiet stretches and steep drops that has us holding on tight and ready for what’s around the next turn.

I am not a big fan of roller coasters, but my time as a rider on the “MilSpouse G-Force Cyclone Express,” alongside other amazing military spouses, has provided me with some insights on how to ride out this unexpected global pandemic – hopefully, they help you, too.

1. Semper Gumby

Just like the little green man, “Semper Gumby” or “Always Flexible,” is a motto commonly heard around military households. Military families often pencil in plans, knowing that dates can – and will – most likely change due to unforeseen circumstances. It will hurt when things don’t go the way you expected or envisioned, but the more you practice the mantra, “Semper Gumby”, the more you can enjoy the roller coaster ride.

2. Take it One Day at a Time

Goals are great, but when times are tough it is okay to just have the simple goal of surviving the day. Dishes can wait until tomorrow, cereal or popcorn for dinner does count, and realize when you wake up in the morning, you’ll have a fresh chance (and some crusty dishes to wash). And that is okay.

3. Stay Connected

It takes a village. MilSpouses take this phrase to heart and embrace the fact that there will be times when you will need to ask your village for help and other times when you will be available to return the favor. Help can be a quick text or phone call to check in, some surprise flowers (or toilet paper) to brighten someone’s day or even a pizza delivered to a friend who needs a little break in the kitchen.

Technology has helped grow this village from just our current neighbors to friends around the world. As crazy as this COVID-Coaster ride has been, we don’t know when it will end, so staying connected will be more crucial than ever.

4. Charge Your Own Batteries, Too

Electronics don’t run when the batteries have lost their charge, so be sure to find some way each day to recharge your own battery. Some people enjoy the mindfulness of yoga, others (like me) watch TV and order cookie dough to be delivered.

Humans don’t have low battery warnings like cell phones, so it is very important to find some time each day to do what makes you happy.

5. Embrace the Suck

Own the fact that this COVID-coaster is going to be hard. But you can handle it. Sure, you’re not going to like doing it, but finding the positives in each day will help keep your spirits up. Remember, no matter how long this COVID-coaster takes and no matter where this quarantine takes you, we are all on this ride together.

Even though some might be riding with their hands up in the air, screaming in excitement, while others may be clutching the safety bar in terror, we all will get through this together – 6 feet apart – and have some crazy COVID-coaster souvenir photos to share.

-The author, Erin Gaul, is a 17-year (and counting!) military spouse and current USO employee.