Perpetual New Kid: My Military Family Story and Planting Roots as Grown Woman
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On Monday, my son starts in a new daycare class. While we knew this change was coming and he seems to be handling it well...I am nervous about it. I loved his old class and I loved his old teachers. It’s time for him to go to an older kid room but it seems so daunting. I am someone who hates change. I’m a steady eddy man. I like the routine. I am a total Taurus in that as an earth sign I’m fixed. I think things to be the way they are. This isn’t saying I don’t love new ideas or trying things creatively. But it’s like when I did my study abroad in England, I thought, I love trying new things this will be great. What set me off the first day? They didn’t have a snickers bar, the outlets were weird, AND they had two faucets in a sink. I know it’s not that big a deal but I hated it. I like trying new things in the comfort of a safe environment. I was always feeling like I was extra sensitive but after I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he elaborated on why certain people fare better in safer environments. As an adult, I have the ability to create a lot of my environment. When I was in charge of a smaller library, I did everything I could to make it lovely. In my home, I want people to know they are safe and welcome in my home so I have comfy furniture and lots of natural light. The point is, you forget how vulnerable you are when you are somewhere unfamiliar. As an adult, you know your capabilities but as a kid, it can be disconcerting. I don’t want to project this on my kiddo. However, I think people don’t talk about it that much. No one talks about how much they hate change except for people like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm or David Foster Wallace. The older I get the more I relate to George Costanza. We live in a society!!!! I think I’ve learned to mask these feelings with humor but as a kid-especially a young one- you don’t really have those skills.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
I read that book and I felt like it was a title for my life. I am not the kind of person who enjoys risky things. That being said something that shaped the person I am today is the fact I grew up in a military family and I moved across states several times in my childhood. We stopped moving when I was 11 because it was just too hard to uproot all the time. My Dad did two tours in Korea while my family stayed in the states. I remember when Dad came back the first time, I slept well for the first time in a year because everyone was where they were supposed to be. Apparently, when my Dad went to officer training when I was 18 months old I got really upset when he shaved his beard. Every three years of my childhood, there was a massive change on top of normal childhood issues. When I was in grad school, I had a mentor tell me she knew I was a military brat because I was an extrovert. She said I had to learn how to adapt to different situations and that is a skill not everyone has.
The past few years, I’ve been kind of shocked about how little a lot of people in this country know about the military. I think people feel it’s a monolithic thing where everyone looks a certain way and believes the same things. That’s not true. There are a million plus reasons to join, not the least of which is the fact you get your healthcare taken care of. You get a housing stipend and they help with your college. It is a really diverse group of people. What I can say with full confidence is that it requires a lot of sacrifice for your family and military families need a lot of support. One common thread of military kids is that you get to see the world and see how different schools are. Some people I know who grew up in different parts of the country would have to repeat grades in different states. We lived in a TLF (Temporary Lodging Facility- lots of acronyms in military life) when we moved to Ohio and I kept on forgetting my homework. My teacher wasn’t very sympathetic. Give military kids time to adjust to living in a new place. They are in a whole new space. New culture. New home. Be patient. You can’t write them off right away. Kids have all kinds of emotions and as a perpetual new kid, you learn how to mask them in some ways but it’s still not fun. Growing up in a predominantly military community, I had a lot of friends with parents from all over the country. You are fiercely loyal to the sports teams from where your parents grew up. Even though I grew up in Ohio, I only cheered for Wisconsin teams. The other thing is that you are incredibly close to your nuclear family. When you are away from your extended family, you turn to each other for support. If you meet grown military kids, we tend to be really close to our immediate family. I genuinely enjoy spending time with my mom and I knew my parents had my back. We had our own traditions and family culture. While we sacrificed time together, ie the two tours, we loved each other a lot. That being said, I decided I wasn’t going to put my future kids through that. I wanted to plant roots somewhere. I hope to stay in the same area if I can.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t branched out or tried new things. I’ve lived in places by myself and while I say I had a hard time adjusting to my semester abroad, it was one of the best things I did for myself. I am a lot braver because of it. I know I can take care of myself. I also learned how to make myself feel safe. Walking around English gardens listening to music on my iPod was a way to feel at home and safe in a new environment. After graduating from grad school, I was willing to go anywhere and then I moved back home I realized I loved my family and friends too much. One cool thing about where I live (Columbus, Ohio) is that my close friends boomeranged back to Ohio and live in this city. It’s a city of transplants and it’s really cool. It reminds me of when I was growing up in Boulder as a young child (not the natural beauty) but the huge university, fun neighborhoods, and food culture remind me of it. It’s also kind of a cool hidden gem. It’s hip but it’s affordable. Since I grew up only having my immediate family more than 500 miles from me, it’s great to have a support group of old friends and my mom nearby. I’ve just been thinking about this a lot because this is my first big change with Rhys since I went back to work. I wonder what kind of kid he’s going to be. Today we had a playdate/hang with some friends of ours, one of them grew up in the military as well. I was talking about living in Utah and he was like “is there a base out in Utah?” I said it was where my Dad went to graduate school but we talked about where we lived and the various bases. It was just nice to talk about a shared experience that not everyone has. A lot of my dreams take place in the places I lived as a kid, I have a lot of dreams that take place in the mountains. Where you live as a kid effects you in different ways throughout your life. It defines you in a deep way. I want my son to love where he lives. He does love his daycare/school. He gets to see his Grandma (or as he calls her Gaga) at least once a week.
Things You Can Do to Help Military Families
Support organizations like Operation Homefront and National Military Family Association that help military families. If someone is in the military, you can thank them for their service and thank their family too. Do yard work for a military family while someone is deployed. Cook a meal for a military family. Get coffee with a military spouse. Tell your kid to be nice to new kids because it’s scary and they are overwhelmed. If they seem snobby or reserved...it’s a defense mechanism. If there is a new military family in your community welcome them. Maybe be more flexible with military families during holidays. Give them more time to travel. Respect the fact that the military is not monolithic and appreciate the service they do but don’t make assumptions. Did you grow up in the military? Do you have organizations that you trust to help military families? Do you find yourself projecting childhood insecurities on your littles? How do you stop making it about you? I’ll keep you guys in the loop with the transition. I was not expecting it to affect me this much.