Thursday, April 3, 2014

Honoring the Military Child and My Time as One


April is the month of the military child, which may not seem like its very important since it is also the month of ten other things, including "National Welding Month", but it still needs to appreciated.

People who haven't been with my blog very long might not know that I am a military child... My dad is actually still in the army, twenty three years this February. Anyways, he has been deployed three times. There was actually a five year period where he was only home about 10 months total. He went away on two deployments, and then a bunch of six to eight month courses in between. By the time I was ten years old I lived in eight different homes, been to Europe with the military twice, and attended four different elementary schools.

 So why am I telling you this? Lately I have been pondering what it means to me that I had an unconventional childhood. How growing up in the army has affected my adult life, and how that has affected the choices I've made since I've been on my own. Especially now that I am a military wife.

My relationship with my father is wonderful. I'm not going to tell you I was raised in an ultra strict military household. Pretty much the complete opposite, when I was a young child my dad was more like a goofy big brother than an imposing authority figure. My father wasn't there for my birth, he was overseas in Europe. This is a common story in military families, but almost unheard of in civilian circles. Just one of the very first things that separates my childhood from others.

My first interstate move happened when I was seven years old. We lived on Fort Bragg for a little under five years, and it was really all I knew. I remember my father picked me up from school and drove me home. When we arrived under the carport, he parked and then broke it to me that we were moving to Alabama. I think I cried, but when we arrived in Alabama I adapted and made new friends. It wasn't terribly traumatic.

My most difficult move happened when I was 13. We moved from beautiful Germany to not as aesthetically pleasing Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was the middle of seventh grade, and I was introduced to what I would later name the octopus. This was my first time going to a non military school, at all of my previous schools getting two or three new kids a month wasn't exciting. I learned that at civilian schools, there is always the one or two socially awkward kids in the class who latch onto the new kids (with their octopus tentacles) and never let them go. Not to be cruel or unkind, this is just one of those things I found to be fundamentally different between DODDS schools and civilian schools. I spent many months mourning the loss of all my other friendships (while being entangled in the octopus and not able to really branch out and find new people to connect with), spending all of my allowance on phone cards so I could call my friends still in Germany at four in the morning, desperately trying to maintain those connections. Its not that I wasn't socially awkward, or that the friends I eventually made weren't. Its just the octopus' socially awkwardness didn't mesh well with mine. It was here that I learned that mutual compatible weirdness was the recipe for a lasting friendship. I eventually made friends that were more suited for me, which is actually when I met my husband, and my best friend who has held that title for almost ten years now.

We moved again between tenth and eleventh grade, to Alabama. I had exactly six friends (I use the term loosely, there were about six people who knew my name..) for my last two years of high school. Two of those friendships were lasting, and we're actually closer now through social media than we really were in high school. My last two years of high school, which I hear are supposed to be memorable, passed me by. I didn't even buy a yearbook, and only one person came up and hugged me after graduation. My mother had to beg me to walk on graduation day.

It wasn't all bad, it definitely wasn't all good though. Was all the moving, instability, and broken friendships worth it?

I discovered the answer to that question when I went to university. I started school in June immediately after graduating high school. That November my family moved back to Germany, and I was essentially alone in the country. All of my distant relatives live on the west coast, and I went to school in Asheville, North Carolina. Even though my family was far, I was one of the few freshmen who didn't suffer from crippling depression. I was also one of the only ones who actually knew how to be slightly adult. One of my friends and I wanted to find an apartment together for the summer semester, and I remember one of the housing offices called my phone and I answered while we were walking to class. When I was finished with the call, my friend said to me "How do you do that?" I didn't know what she meant, so I asked her to clarify. "How do you talk like an adult on the phone. I could never do that". I realized I was one of the few students in our year who could be trusted and depended on to make choices for myself. In the fall, I was interviewing people to take my friend's place in the townhouse we rented together because she moved back into the dorms. One of the applicants was twenty five years old, and she brought her mother to the interview! I could not believe that. I was 19 years old, and conducting an interview on a twenty five year old, while her sixty year old mother held her hand and helped her answer all the questions. My parents were on another continent, and were vaguely aware of my actions, because they knew they didn't need to breathe down my neck to make sure I didn't do something rash or get myself into trouble. I feel that my experiences as a military child, constantly having to adapt and change helped me become an independent and intelligent young adult. I had a confidence in myself and my abilities that my peers definitely lacked. Now when I move someplace new, I jump in with both feet and get involved with many activities, and try to make as many friends as possible because I know I don't have time to wait for somebody to become my friend, or time to waste being shy or timid about joining groups and becoming involved in activities.

Maybe this was more than anybody needed to know about me, but I feel like its important to share my experiences. The media has a funny way to portraying military families. One minute they're showing homecoming videos, and talking about returning heroes. The next they talk about how military families are overcompensated for their sacrifice, and that we "understand" why they need to slash the meager pay our service members receive.

I am a full time nanny to two little boys under the age of five. Both of their parents are in the military, their father is overseas, and so often do I have to try to soothe their sadness because they miss their daddy. When people they know move away, they constantly tell me about all the people they know who went on "trips". When I went to Disney World, I had to explain several times that my trip wasn't a forever one. But I know that one day our time of being stationed together is going to end, and then it will be a permanent trip. I do not look forward to that day.

I actually kind of love and hate watching homecoming videos. It brings back such vivid memories of standing in freezing hangars at two or three in the morning waiting for my father to walk through the doors. Most times he had been gone for fifteen months, or even longer. When I got married, my dad went to Afghanistan four days later. Every time I talk to distant family, they always say things like "they're sending him back again? Can they even do that? Wait, he's in the middle east again? He was just there" I'm not going to lie, sometimes it annoys me. But then I remember, they have no idea. They don't live it. They didn't grow up with it. They have no idea that some mothers and fathers are on their sixth or seventh, year long deployment. They have no idea that as soon as my dad returns from one deployment, his unit is almost always scheduled for another one the very next year. But the military child knows. We know missed births, birthdays, graduations, weddings, Christmases and every holiday or celebration in between. I am almost twenty three years old, and my parents have never visited me in my adult life or been to my house, or met my dogs. I have no idea when they will ever step into my home. I remember at nineteen years old desperately looking for ways for my parents to come visit me. I just wanted them to see my home, and see me excelling at school, my two jobs, and everything else. I just wanted them to be in my home and show me that they were proud of the independent person I became.

I guess the point of this whole post is, when you thank a service member, be sure to remember in your own mind the sacrifice that not only they and their spouses make, but also their children. It is a sacrifice. When we're four years old and our service member parent is trying to explain to you why he has to go to the "field" for a month, we don't understand the sacrifice we are making. When our friends go on "trips" and are never seen again, we don't understand why. We don't know our special circumstances growing up. We don't know we're different. Sometimes it still baffles me when friends tell me that they graduated with people they attended school with in pre-k. We don't know what we're missing. We don't know what kind of work our parents are doing. All we know is that we have to be patient a little longer, wait a little more, and leave behind more people than we can ever remember.

So this is to the military child. We are better for it, but it does come with a price.


  1. Christine,
    Another aspect of being a military child, is having strangers, that you only vaguely remember, constantly checking in on you. I am very proud of the young woman you have become, and even though I haven't seen you in 14ish years, I still hold you dear to my heart. The military is a unique beast that produces rare and beautiful progeny. God bless you and keep being amazing.

    1. Thanks so much Mitzi! And I remember you quite well! But yes, there are many people who come up to me when I go home to California who go "Do you remember me?" Even though the last time I've seen them was when I was two years old.

  2. I has such an opposite childhood compared to yours. My parents moved to their second house when I was 2 years old and my mom finally sold it 35 years later after my Dad had died and she had remarried and they lived their a few years together. Everyone is so stable in my family. I went to one elementary school, one junior high and one high school. Everyone knew everyone.

    I think it's why I like change so much now. While I've lived in St. Louis all of my life other than college, I have moved several times and hope to someday live abroad. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Its funny. Even though I never stayed in one place growing up, I still get itchy feet after a year or two. Guess its a good thing I married into the air force. We're going to South Dakota next summer! I left my university to go to Germany two years in because I was feeling cramped and needed a change of pace. Its pretty cool though, I get to see a lot of the world that many people don't have a chance to experience.