If I had a dollar for every time I’ve slapped my hand to my forehead and thought, “I’m such a fool,” I’d be rich. They say— whoever “they” are— that one should live without regrets, but for me, regret has always been a part of my schtick.

            Something in my childhood made me this way — a person who focuses on her own faults and beats herself up for them. Some are lucky to have iron-clad egos that protect them from criticism and self-doubt. I, on the other hand, was a kid with dreaded “self-esteem issues” that compelled me to constantly seek reassurance. Like many people with insecurities, humor and self-deprecation became my defense mechanisms.

            At my first dance in middle school, I won best costume when I came dressed as a huge onion, much to my parents’ dismay. That night, I got the laughs and attention I was shooting for, along with a “Boomtown Rats” record as my first-place prize. But, not surprisingly, no boys asked me to dance. In high school, my misplaced pleas for attention earned me the title “1984 Class Clown,” which I hid from my parents until it was reported in my hometown newspaper. Needless to say, they were not amused.

            In college, I fully embraced my newfound freedom to make a complete idiot of myself, much of which (mercifully) I cannot recall. The college memories that are clear make me cringe with embarrassment to this very day. Thankfully, digital photography and social media had not yet been invented.

            As a young adult in the workforce, I thought I made every rookie mistake in the book and was doomed to failure. I was actually quite fastidious, dedicated, hard-working and reliable, but as always, I focused on everything I did wrong rather than right.

            Today I still feel as if I’m bumbling through life. I’m always running late, I inevitably burn the toast, I say the wrong thing, I overstay my welcome, I never remember people’s names, I eat too much.

            But as our last child prepares to graduate from high school and leave the nest for college, I’m reflecting more clearly on my last 24 years as a military wife and mother of three, and I’m surprised to find that I have no shame, no remorse, no regrets.

            In fact, I feel pretty damned good about it.

            Being a military wife and mother hasn’t been easy by any means. At first, marrying a Navy guy seemed so glamorous. At our wedding, our relatives oohed and ahhed when Francis’ uniformed buddies formed a sword arch. Everyone believed we would lead a life of adventure, honor, pomp and circumstance.

            But reality soon hit, and I found myself where most military spouses eventually turn up — alone in an unfamiliar place without a job or friends, solely responsible for the household and kids. Facing daunting circumstances, nature, instinct or pure necessity kicked in, revealing qualities I didn’t know I possessed. I didn’t make a conscious decision to be a dedicated wife and mother, I just did what needed to be done without thinking about it. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

            When we were stationed in England, and our son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I shed tears, then hit the ground running because I had no choice. During deployments and TDY, I did what every military spouse does — I chopped onions, did carpool pick ups, nursed the baby, cut grass, took out garbage, paid bills, folded laundry, visited in-laws and fixed the leaky faucet.

            The added responsibility and stress that military moves, deployments and separations added to marriage and parenting forced me to put my own fragile ego aside and get to work. Looking back now, I realize that I — the bumbling class clown — became a rock for our family.

            I mix up left and right, forget to add email attachments, miss exits, and overcook beef, but I’m no fool. I’m a proud military wife and mother, who did whatever it took to create a stable home, and to raise three human beings who will soon go out into this world and touch the lives of others.