When you are a military family, you get a lot of questions, especially from your own children, as they start to recognize that their lives are different than the lives of their peers. As April is the month of the military child and celebrates the remarkable resilience of our children, it was “perfect” timing for our oldest, to truly express the weight of this lifestyle on her shoulders.
Two years ago, my family got notice that we would be moving out of country for at least three years. From that moment we put on our resilient game faces and have made the absolute most of our adventure thus far, but it is not always sunshine and palm trees friends.
The first military move for my husband and I wasn’t a big stretch. We moved an hour and a half from where we had been living and most of our family and life long friends were a day trip away. Also, and this is the kicker, we didn’t have kids.
Seven years we lived in the same place. We brought our newborn babies home there, they took their first steps there and every milestone imaginable, for SEVEN years. Our daughters started their lives with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins close enough to be around for every occasion, and to be ever so present in their day to day lives.
We included our children in every aspect of our move to the United States. They participated in anything they could. They came on the house hunting trip, saw schools, picked out new bedrooms and enjoyed the beauty of the California sunshine and all the palm trees (we LOVE palm trees). They helped prepare the house for movers and attended “see you soon” parties like seasoned socialites. They shed big tears in painful goodbyes. And they did it all with love and support surrounding them.
When we started our move, they loved the two week long road trip across North America and ate up every bit of fun, food and culture we could feed them, showing them places and things neither my husband or I had ever dreamed of being able to show them. The the hustle and bustle of New York City, the majesty of the Grand Canyon, and every damn thing we could experience in between.
We worked tirelessly in our new community to put ourselves out there; I literally stayed at the school for all of morning recess every day and was early to every pick up to make sure we could connect with the parents of their ‘new friends’ to arrange play dates and to start to tend to the delicate roots of our newly blossoming life. Were there tears? Yes, lots. Were there days when we all just wanted to pack up and head home? Yes, a few. But mostly the days were filled with new experiences, new memories and slowly but surely, new relationships. We were indeed making connections and building capacity for a life and community in our new ‘home’.
As our oldest has matured through this experience, she has always held onto a piece of our ‘old life’ in her day to day. As her mom, I see it. I see it in the way she is hesitant to get too close to people. I see it in her face when our family aren’t in the crowds of dance recitals and concerts. She voices it loudly on the days when it hits her heart so hard she can’t bear it. But this week, for the first time she asked the question I was dreading. “Mommy, when are we going home?”.
My heart sunk. We had to really spell it out clearly for her now. We had to include her in the tough conversation and understandings of military life. We had been back “home” for a vacation about 9 months prior, but she wasn’t talking about a summer trip. She was talking permanence.
With a heavy heart, I said it. “Babe, this IS home, for now. And when we move again, that is where our home will be”. Trying to explain to an eight year old that the greater worlds definition of home will always be different than ours as part of the military community. We had to talk about, through all the tears, that although the physical location of where our extended family is back East will ALWAYS be our definitive home, in our world, home is defined as where we are together. We spoke, at length, about building a global community of friends. She smiled when we regaled anecdotes of times in our old home, and our new home. She was in awe when we listed the number of friends and families we know that had moved with the military and all the places we may run into them again in our travels.
Her doe-eyed, chocolate brown eyes looked at me with a sense of pride and also sadness. She knew that all of what we shared with her was true, and in that moment I felt it. She had lost something. She was changed.
That little glimmer of hope that she had held onto, vanished. In front of my eyes, her heart and soul was growing up. This experience and these realizations were building blocks in the evolution of her resilience. Building resilience, as it would turn out, is both the plight and blessing of life as a child in a military family.
While April is the month of the military child, the daily experiences of military children are shaping their lives and those are the lives of our future leaders. Recognizing their struggles and celebrating their strengths, is so much more powerful than pitying them for “all that they have to go through”. The beautifully determined, open-hearted and open-minded girls whom I have the joy of calling my daughters, and all of the children of military families around the world, deserve our recognition and commendation today and every day.