JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Being a military spouse can be a daunting role filled with long days living in a service member's shadow, but Stephanie Gonzalez is proof that doesn't have to be the case.

Since marrying an Army officer, Gonzalez has learned to adapt and make the most of a lifestyle in which changes and relocating are inevitable.

She does this by approaching each move as a new opportunity.

"It starts with knowing what you want and not being afraid to pursue your goals," Gonzalez said. "You can always make things happen for yourself."

Gonzalez and her husband, Maj. Michael Gonzalez, were military brats when they met in grade school. After traveling to different parts of the world, the two reunited and married nine years ago. They have three children, ages 8, 6 and 2.

Prior to meeting Michael, Gonzalez was a school teacher and educational program administrator. She continued serving in the public education system after marrying, but by the birth of their second child, decided she needed a change.

"When I had our second child, I just needed a business plan that would allow me to be accessible to our children," she said. "I thought, 'How can I caveat things I've been doing for the state as an educator in the private sector''"

Gonzalez's solution was to start up an instructional design company, which involved writing curricula and textbooks for companies such as Microsoft and Discovery. It gave her the flexibility she needed as an Army spouse and enabled her to generate income while keeping skills fresh.

"If we were in the middle of a move, or I was getting ready to have a baby, we could structure my projects around it," Gonzalez said.

When her husband received orders to Washington, D.C., Gonzalez welcomed the move with a new project. She and a friend started a children's accessories line featuring unexpected themes for girls such as reptiles, trucks and monsters that would eventually lead to the creation of her latest business endeavor.

"We hadn't really launched the accessories, and I was looking for a place that I could use them," Gonzalez said.

When Michael came down on orders for Joint Base Lewis-McChord last summer, Gonzalez wondered what awaited her family. One of the first things she noticed upon arrival was a lack of indoor play space in DuPont - the community they now call home.

"There are more children per square inch in this community than anywhere we've lived," Gonzalez said. "Yet, there was nothing in our immediate community where you could go and have a safe, engaging and affordable playtime for your children."

Michael was on his fourth deployment when she pitched the idea of opening DuPont's only indoor play space.

"Every time we move somewhere, she tries to do something within the community just because it's our community," Michael said. "It's a good way to get infused in a community that we claim to be ours."

Gonzalez took the idea of monsters from her previous accessories line, and married it with the indoor play space, which she named "The Rubber Room." Guests won't find gooey goblins inside, but instead "an oasis with a variety of activities where little monsters can burn energy while parents unwind and swap stories with other parents," Gonzalez said.

The center officially opened its doors last month, and has grown into more than a play escape. Gonzalez offers a variety of daily classes for both children and adults.

Lindsay Davidson, military spouse, met Gonzalez last summer during a playgroup session with her son. Davidson instructs some of the classes and helps manage "The Rubber Room."

"I'm looking to spend my time staying busy," said Davidson, whose husband is deployed with 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Davidson said working with Gonzalez has really had a positive impact on her 2-year-old son, Layken.

"It's awesome that I can socialize and work while he's with me, and see that he gets something out of it," Davidson said. "He's become noticeably more independent."

Gonzalez said she hopes to have established a positive role model for her children and other military spouses. She encouraged others not to be afraid of taking on new challenges, which she understands can be intimidating, especially as a military spouse new to an area.

"You can find time to balance everything out if you have focus, talent and tenacity," Gonzalez said. "It doesn't really even matter what your educational background is. You can make anything happen for yourself."

Davidson plans to continue her role at "The Rubber Room" as long as she is able to.
"I'm sure when my husband comes home, it will be a struggle for me to balance this and him, but Stephanie's doing it," Davidson said. "She had the idea and went for it. Just seeing all that she has done as a mom and spouse is really inspiring."

Laura M. Levering is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.