merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

October 23, 2013

putting on my big girl panties

   Another Guest Blog, but this time from a northern friend upta Maine!  Since Callie's Mariner began, I have loved, loved, loved comments and e mails from this funny lady, so I asked her to share something with all of you and just as I suspected, it was right on the money.  Thanks so much, Liz!  This was something I'm certainly going to read over and over in the coming years to get me through tough times...I'm so glad to know you're out there!

Photography Elizabeth Meadows
I like to think of myself as a modern independent woman.  I was taught that I could do anything I set my mind to--that being a woman should never be a reason to not accomplish or get what I wanted or needed.  Girl Power and the like, ya know?  Tough as nails.  Oh, and I’m a Maine Girl, which means I exemplify the word rugged.

   I’ve always had my mom as the most amazing role model.  The woman refuses to accept, even in her late 60’s, that she has limitations.  For example, I stopped in to visit a while back and found her standing on top of her kitchen cabinets! (She is only 4’11” so her head didn’t even touch the ceiling!)  When I asked her what she thought she was doing, standing on the counter, with her cell all the way across the house, living alone and having had a hip replacement a few years back, she simply replied that she was cleaning the top of the cupboards - no big deal!!!  Two additional questions immediately came to mind; Who the hell cleans the tops of their cupboards? And, what would possess her to do it herself when she knew I was on my way?  The answer to both questions was instantly clear – My mother has NO LIMITATIONS.  Or, if she does, not only have I not discovered them, but she simply ignores the possibility that they exist.  So, you can see where I got the impression that as a woman, I am supposed to be rugged, tough as nails, and riding the line of being a full-blown women’s libber – pretty much invincible.  Right?  Well, not so much really…

    The truth of the matter is, my husband and I got together when I was 19, and maybe that made it easy for the two of us to presume that it was perfectly fine if we chose to be children forever.  I mean, who was going to tell us we had to grow up?  We don’t want children of our own.   

Please don’t go on a rant about how we’ll change our minds when we get older, or how my clock is going to start ticking, or how selfish it is of us not to want children.  We’ve heard it all before.  And to these I say this; 1) We don’t want to grow up 2) I’ve buried that clock and took out the springs – in my mind anyway 3)  We know we’re selfish – see 1!!

   Now, where was I? Oh, right – listing the reasons we haven’t HAD to grow up… We don’t own a house or have a mortgage, we don’t carry a loan on a vehicle, and we don’t feel obligated to live anywhere in particular ie: close to our families.  So, for the past 13 years we’ve been free birds.  We’ve lived in a bunch of different states, we’ve had some amazing adventures, some crazy jobs, and through it all, we really, really like each other.  Just two crazy kids exploring this great big world - TOGETHER.

     So, that word, TOGETHER, is what brings me back to my definition of myself as a strong, independent, modern woman.  You see, that word, TOGETHER, turns all of that into lies.  I’m not independent – I’m one half of a couple and have been for most of my adult life.  I’m not modern – I might as well be from the fifties, marrying my high school sweetheart right after graduation.  And, I’m not all that strong – I haven’t had to do anything on my own, pretty much since we met.  But, you see, I was forced to turn the spotlight on all of these things the day my husband decided to go back to college to become a Merchant Mariner.  Well, maybe not that exact day, perhaps it was more the day he first shipped out to complete his co-op project freshmen year.  It was that day that it hit me.  Smack up-side the head.  $#%&! Being a mariner’s wife was going to suck!

        I was suddenly in charge of the entire life we had built together. I was in charge of getting the bills paid. I was in charge of making sure the cars were running properly. I was in charge of giving our diabetic dog his insulin shots.  I was in charge of renewing our lease.  I was in charge of taking out the trash, doing the dishes, laundry, and vacuuming. And, that was just the “regular” stuff.  I didn’t realize until later that my life would now include the really crappy, unforeseen things.  I would have to figure out the steps to take after I got into my very first car accident.  I had to deal with having bought $150 worth of groceries only to come home to the ‘fridge not working.  I would have to protect myself and the dog when a black bear stole the trash can, and kept coming back to check for more.  I would have to change the flat tire on the truck.  I would have to prepare for one of the largest hurricanes in decades and try to keep myself calm and reasonable when all I wanted to do was camp out under my covers with the dog.  And, to top it all off, I was expected to do all of this while not becoming a raging alcoholic, laying on the couch for days in a deep depression or eating my way to 400lbs!!!  THIS WAS SO UNFAIR!!  How did I get tricked into growing up?  How did I get tricked into becoming an actual, real, live WOMAN – an adult even!!  AND, why didn’t my other half have to grow up too?!

   Well, I didn’t have to be jealous of him for long, because, it turns out he was having some growing pains during my trials and tribulations as well.  It tore him apart when I informed him hurricane Sandy was coming and we weren’t able to communicate for three days (don’t you just love ship communications?), and he was left feeling completely helpless.  He felt like a horse's ass when he asked if I had paid the bills or changed the oil, since it made us both feel like I was being checked up on, and couldn’t be trusted to get things done.  And of course, let’s not forget that he had just started a new job in a new field, where he felt like the new guy that couldn’t seem to do anything right, thousands of miles away from home, with very limited lines of communication to the people he loved.  And, to top it all off, he would have to have absolute, complete trust in the faithfulness and ability of his new bride (we were together for 10 of those 13 years before we actually got married) to keep the life we’d built TOGETHER running smoothly.

   These are the things I think about when someone says that sentence to me that sets my teeth on edge; “Well, you KNEW what you were getting into when he chose to become a Mariner.”  Why is it, they always say it in such a condescending way?  Why is it that they seem to have it in their mind that we deserve the hardships that come with this life?  Why is it that a day that I’m feeling lonely and missing my best friend, my partner in crime of the past 13 years, or I’m just feeling sad, that they think they have to right to utter those words?

   All those years before he became a mariner, we rarely spent a night apart.  There were multiple jobs we had working together.  There was a time when we lived in a teeny tiny studio apartment, thousands of miles away from our families, no computer, in a new town with no friends, just each other.  We’ve been through a lot TOGETHER.  The truth is, it never occurred to us that this career would require us to continue to work on US, our life together, our relationship, our struggles, our successes, our goals, all TOGETHER but completely separated from each other.  So, when someone suggests that we “knew what we were getting into” they’re wrong.  I don’t think any of us KNOWS what we’re getting into with this life.  I don’t think any of the mariner wives I’ve met on-line or in person truly KNEW what they were signing up for.  There are things you just don’t foresee.

    You don’t realize that you’ll go through separation anxiety where, just before he leaves, you feel overwhelmingly clingy, or just the opposite, where every little thing he does drives you up the wall.  No one tells you that there is a phenomena that occurs when he leaves – really bad stuff happens and YOU have to deal with it, all by yourself!  No one mentions that there will be things that you shouldn’t tell him, because YOUR daily drama is not something that he can help you with.  Or that giving him things to worry about might put him and his crew in jeopardy if he’s concerned about you and doesn’t have his mind on his job.  You have no clue until you’re in it, that there may be a time on the first day he leaves that you will dread going home because you know the house will be empty.  Or that you’ll find yourself carefully selecting the perfect pair of underwear or outfit to wear to pick him up at the airport.  And that the truth is he probably won’t even notice that you have clothes on – you could wear dirty sweatpants and he wouldn’t take heed because he’s just happy to see your face and be back on solid ground!

    These are the types of things we have no idea about when we “choose” this life.  But, it is also these things that we find a way to handle, deal with and manage.  He and I are truly just the new kids on the block due to the relatively short time we’ve been a part of this industry, but in that short time I’ve learned some very important things about my relationship with my husband.  We’re solid.  We can get through just about anything.  We honestly love each other.  And, we’ll make it through TOGETHER, for however long we CHOOSE to be in this industry.

     As for me, well, I’ve discovered something undeniably important about myself.  I AM that strong, independent, modern woman that I pretended to be all those years.  That image of myself that I felt was a farce, was actually, honest-to-God, true.  I really AM rugged, tough, smart, and strong.  There is still a good chance I may never entirely grow up – well, at least that’s my goal!  There are definitely days when I just don’t feel like putting on my big girl panties, so I DON’T!!!  

     I listen to the community of Mariner Wives that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of, and I realize a lot of them are just like me.  Some of us got a serious kick in the pants the first couple of times our mariner shipped out.  But, we stepped up and we make it through.  And some of them do it with such finesse that it makes my head spin!  Seriously, I have the impression that some of them had their big girl panties tattooed on!  I mean I changed the truck tire and all, but I imagine they could have done it in 3” heels in a blizzard – so I’ve got that to aspire to!!  
                                        Best of luck ladies!   Liz

Photography Elizabeth Meadows

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner


  1. As one who knows you...( and use to write your lease) .let me just say ......YOU ROCK LIZ!!!

  2. Literally, I finished reading this and exhaled, "thank god it's not just me." This week it snowed the first time of the season and my heat stopped working :)

  3. I'm the father in law to this young lady who penned this article. I gotta say I'm proud of her for her self insight to not just herself but that of her husband as well -- he's my son. One of the proudest days of my life was when I watched Lance and Liz as they graduated MMA. Liz didn't get a diploma but her name sure should have been on his. 4 years of concentrated study when you are trying to make a new married life together is hard and wasn't done by just one of took both of them to earn the degree and the right to shine because of the feat they accomplished. I've talked with both of them independently when Lance is at sea and Liz is at home. Both of them have their trials and both of them suffered with the other one not at hand. Both of them glowed when the homecoming came and they talked out their experiences. Only to have the short time together and then they get to do it all over again. Its a life not unlike so many couples apart because of the military rigors. I grew up as an army brat and can remember the coming and going of the warrior and the time when they came back together and fought over who was the "head of household" until the next deployment. I don't envy a mariner couple nor any military warrior family. It is hard. It is tough. It is grossly underpaid and misunderstood by those outside of their loop. But when the warrior or mariner comes home, skin harder from the salt and sun, it is a life to live, a life to love and a relationship known only to them. I'm proud of Liz and of Lance and their ability to write and vocalize their chores.

    Yes Liz, you are tough and you'll get tougher. But your sweet and nice and that is why home is where you are. It is why you are able to make the nest a home. Both of you never forget you have family that cares, who at least try to understand (you know we can't but we DO TRY). Lance, she is worthy of you and Son, you are worthy of her. I love you both.

    1. Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful! Thank you for writing this and for supporting Liz!

  4. Gah. I loved this interview! Then I read the comments and loved those too! You go girl!

  5. Great read. My Grandmother 96 and Mother 76 still going!

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