It Doesn’t Take a Village: The Story of an Active Duty Single Mother

Story Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Melendez

Photo: U.S. Navy Photo illustration by Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Melendez.

U.S. Navy Photo illustration by Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Melendez.

 

Many parents will tell you that raising a child is tough. In fact, it has even been said it takes a village. Chef, maid, chauffeur, doctor, lawyer, loan officer – parents do it all. It’s a full-time job where oftentimes the boss is unfair, uncooperative and usually younger than their employees by a couple of decades.

However, most parents will still say raising a child is rewarding, even under harsh circumstances – even with the most grueling of schedules – and even when it is done alone. Petty Officer 1st Class Brandie Wills is most parents.

As an active duty service member and single parent, Wills knows a thing or two about harsh circumstances. with a daily routine that starts before sunrise and ends long after night fall, she’s familiar with grueling schedules and with the unexpected exit of her daughter’s father from their lives, she knows what it is like to feel utterly alone.

However, adding to the list of things she doesn’t have time for, there’s self-pity. Her schedule doesn’t allow for it. As a promising up-and-comer, Wills was named the Chief of Information’s Shore Junior Sailor of the Year for 2011 and is intent on one day becoming the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. The first secret to her success – balance between work and home life, which sometimes masks itself as more work.

“There are some days I just want to quit,” said Wills. “I don’t want to do the mommy thing or the active duty and the mommy thing. But I have to do it because that’s what is best for us.”

Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Brandi Wills gets her daughter ready for day care.  (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Melendez/ Released)

Petty Officer 1st Class Brandi Wills gets her daughter ready for day care. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Melendez/ Released)

Wills starts her day every morning at 4 a.m. She gets herself and Sophia ready and has to be out the door of her Baltimore home by 5:45 a.m. to drop her daughter off at day care. Work at the Defense Media Activity, Fort Meade, Md., starts promptly at 6:30 a.m. and pushes on till 4 p.m., after which she has to be on her way off the base to pick up her daughter on time in order to avoid extra childcare costs.

Once she walks through the door to her home there is a noticeable look of exhaustion on her face as she climbs slowly up the stairs to the living room with Sophia in her arms. But there is no time for rest yet, she still has work to do.

“I don’t have much free time. It’s kind of troubling,” said Wills. “I don’t have a spontaneous life at all. That’s the biggest change since becoming a mother. Everything has to be scheduled, and if I wake up late, or something throws that schedule off, it can really ruin the whole day,” she said.

When she can set her daughter down, Wills immediately turns cartoons on the TV. This gives her just enough time to change out of uniform and begin making dinner.

On auto-pilot, Wills moves through the second part of her day. Sophia follows close behind asking question after question. Regardless of how many of these questions Wills answers, Sophia’s curiosity is only satisfied momentarily before she is back at her mom’s heels with more requests.

After dinner, Wills uses her second wind to play with her daughter. It is in these moments when Wills said she sees the value and purpose for her sacrifices. It’s during these moments that Wills knows she owes it her daughter to be not only the jack of all trades, but the master of one – being both parents.

Sophia’s father left and hasn’t been heard from since, said Wills. It’s only due to the casual webcam chats with his grandmother that reconfirms that he’s still alive, she added.

Even before her transfer to DMA, Wills sensed that things may not work out between her and Sophia’s father, but she decided to give him the benefit of her doubt and they made the long move from California to Maryland together.

“I knew back when were in San Diego that things probably weren’t going to last. But we tried and moved out here together,” said Wills. “I hoped he would have stayed in our life. But after he moved and didn’t call to let us know he got to Las Vegas safely, I pretty much knew he was out of the picture and it was just going to be me raising Sophia.”

After Sophia’s father left, Wills said she fell in to a deep depression and even contemplated suicide out of the fear and anxiety of having to raise a child on her own, while balancing a military career.

“I pretty much had a break down, and I told my chief I had to go home to Ohio because I couldn’t handle work at the time,” said Wills, her voice dropping. “I went and got help. I got counseling and was put on anti-depressants. Sophia needs her mom. She doesn’t have her dad, so she needs me,” she said.

These days, even though the stress of being a single mother and Sailor haven’t subsided, she has gotten a better handle on her situation and now serves as a positive example to her Sailors and to the other mothers she meets.

“She’s one of the people I look to for motherly advice,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexandra Snyder, a mother to a daughter and pregnant with her second. “I have never seen her raise her voice to Sophia, and they are always having fun together.”

Although Brandie knows she has a tough road ahead of her, she said she now has a more positive attitude about her situation as a single mother and wants to be that example of strength and resolve for her daughter and other single mothers balancing home and a career.

“It’s doable. There are times when it sucks and there are times when it’s awesome,” she said. “But to all the single moms out there, you can do the same. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

In the end, it may not take a village to raise a child, just a dedicated parent with the spirit and ambition of one.

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