Catching Up With Becky Hepinstall Hilliker

Becky and her family in swimming gear at China Lake

I must confess, when I received Jessica’s invitation to write a guest post with an update of what I’ve been up to this year, my first thought was:

“Well, crap. How do you stretch abject failure into 500 words?”

How’s my new book coming, you ask?

Well…that depends on how you define “book.” If you call a 1/3-filled pink heart-covered notebook scribbled with an outline, scene ideas, random notes and tidbits of research a “book” – then it’s going fantastic!

When I look back over my interview from last year I can’t believe I’m in pretty much the same place.

Baking on a Navy base in the California desert. Four kids. Two dogs. A Guinea Pig. One often-absent husband. One occasionally-resentful-but-still-tamping-it-down-into-the-dank-recesses-of-her-soul wife. Did I say that out loud?

Little victories here and there. And lots of mundane deeds no one will care about.

You know, laundry, cooking, projects, school-trips, sports, activities, all those things that take up SO MUCH time…but result in very few concrete accomplishments.

I hear about all these amazing military spouses that are achieving so much in their careers while facing the same challenges (and often, way worse ones) that I am. Reading their stuff typically sends me into a shame spiral that can only be cured with a can of whipped cream. Or two. What? I get the fat-free kind. I’m not a monster.

And recently my husband took a position that comes with a sort-of “job” for me. Now, do I have to take on the responsibility of mentoring a group of spouses? Of course not. But I wouldn’t miss the chance to connect with fellow spouses and maybe even help them through a few years of this crazy journey. If something I have experienced, or some tiny little tidbit of knowledge I have about surviving a tour without actually pulling my hair out (or anyone else’s) helps even one person, then it is 100% worth it. And I really enjoy it.

But it’s another thing that gets in the way of that book getting finished before I qualify for the senior discount at Denny’s.

So here’s the funny thing: despite my feelings of inadequacy, apparently others don’t necessarily see me that way. Besides asking me what the secret is to my youthful glow – which mostly happens when I say it to the mirror – people often remark to me:

“I don’t know how you do it all.”

They see me juggling my kids and my husband and squadron stuff and are aware that I’m working on a novel and apparently think I’ve got it all figured out.

Oh, the irony.

Today I found a woodchuck nesting in my laundry room. She looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I’m subjecting my young to such filthy conditions.”

And I’ll concede, being mommy-shamed by a woodland rodent is a tad hurtful. I’m just thankful that they’re pretty clean animals – those baseball pants I dragged out from under her babies totally had another wearing in them.

Sometimes I make hot dogs for dinner. Sometimes we eat in front of the TV. I’m pretty sure I scare the driver when I stumble to the bus stop in my yoga pants, which may or may not occasionally be on backwards. And every now and then I convince one of the kids that it is mismatched sock day at school.

But you know what? I’ll bet there are a whole lot of those other spouses out there that drive me straight into the arms of the whipped cream can who are secretly harboring a woodchuck of their own.

I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t disappointing and frustrating that my book is coming along slower than I’d like. But I’m finding that it helps to adjust my expectations a bit. Is book-writing my true passion? Not really. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I do love to write. But I am foremost a history nerd – that’s really at the root of why I write.

I want to share amazing stories, especially from the forgotten footnotes of history. I love talking about historical tidbits with anyone who will listen. Sure, sometimes they feign death in the hopes that I’ll stop droning on.

But it doesn’t work.

When my sister, Kathy, and I wrote Sisters of Shiloh, we wanted to bring attention to all those kick-ass women who really fought in the Civil War but were ignored in the textbooks.

And this new novel is set in an abandoned town that most people don’t know existed.

But in the meantime, when I’m unable to work on my book, I’m feeding my passion for history in other ways. I volunteer with my kids’ classrooms and accompany them on field trips. One time I got to tag along with my daughter’s fifth-grade class on a trip to a Civil War battlefield. We took a bus equipped with a sound system and the teacher made the mistake of asking me to talk a little with the kids about where we were going. Oh, the joys of a microphone and an audience that can’t escape!

So there you have it. How am I progressing as a Military Spouse in the Fine Arts? That depends on how you look at it.

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. But in the end, it’s progress. And if you’re reading this and feeling like you’re not accomplishing what you thought you would, I hope you’ll adjust your expectations, take a breath, and find a way to feed your passion in whatever ways help you achieve some balance with all that this crazy life as a military spouse brings.

Now I must go, I’ve got a woodchuck to feed.

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