There is this unspoken (ok, sometimes loudly spoken) concern for kids of military parents.
Will they adjust with the next PCS?
How will they make friends?
Should we stay here while our service member moves on to the next duty station?
I’m not going to answer any of those questions for you.
Even if I had the answers I won’t give them to you. That is something that is a family decision, something that only you can decide. What I can tell you is how growing up military shaped my life.
I was born in Southern CA on a base that no longer exists, in a hospital that is no longer there. The day of my birth my mom was attending a regular doctor’s appointment and my dad was working. When the message finally made it to him that I was on my way he drove an hour to the hospital as fast as he could. Just barely making it there, to the hallway, outside of the labor and delivery room I was born in.
I’ll fast forward a few years and my parents were divorced, on very good terms. I was a daughter of dual military parents which I can imagine can really put a strain on a relationship; I can’t remember a time growing up where my parents were ever stationed together.
Both my parents were in the Marines, and my earliest memory was living in Beaufort, SC where my mom was a Drill Instructor at Paris Island. I remember the play yard of the daycare I attended and I remember running to the fence every afternoon when my brother walked by to pick me up and each afternoon I remember getting yelled at for being too close to the fence. I remember bits and pieces of the house we lived in and I remember the cat my brother found and we named My Fuzzy Amigo; she lived until I was about 22. I remember the mural we painted on my brother’s wall and the 7-eleven by the house that we visited all the time; but I don’t remember the base. I do know I was happy though.
Fast forward and I’m living in Quantico with my Step-Mom and my Dad. First in Stafford and then in Woodbridge and finally on Base when a set of orders to Okinawa, Japan were held due to a medical reason. I remember each school, riding the bus to one and the book mobile that came by each week, walking to school at the next and the ‘track’ for PE (which was the sidewalk around the school), and finally attending the school on base and finding out I was dyslexic. This is where my memories explode into a rich vibrant life of a military child, growing up in Quantico became the closest thing I had to a home. I knew that base like the back of my hand. I remember my brother and I riding our bikes to the building my dad worked; late in the evening and on the weekends we would throw rocks at his office window so he’d come down and let us in. I remember sliding down the empty halls in our socks because that was what we thought they waxed the floors for, our own personal play ground. And I remember getting in trouble for sneaking over to the copy machine and making tons of copies of pictures we drew just because we could.
But wait… Occasionally there are flash backs of the time before Paris Island (my ‘earliest memory’). One where we are fishing under a bridge with my dad in Okinawa, another we are on the beach and my brother get stung by a jelly fish, I must have only been about 3. There is this great one of my brother crashing his bike into the rice patties and the Mamasans running to him… and the stench that radiated off of him and his broken arm when he was pulled out of the rice patties, that one is pretty funny. Oh! I remember the bathtub, I loved that bath tub. The next flash is my brother, Dad, and I (before my Step-Mom) living in Jacksonville, NC; I have a distinct memory of riding in the middle seat of our old pickup truck, all bundled up before dawn riding to the daycare listening to the radio. Memories like this fade in and out among the other memories I have from growing up. Always happy memories, funny memories, memories that make me think, my childhood was GRAND!
Returning to my elementary school years, I moved back and forth between my parents , sometimes my brother moved with me and sometimes we lived separately . He graduated when we were once again living in Okinawa, I was about 11; he was 7 years older than me. I delivered the Stars and Stripes in Okinawa, waking up at 4am to do my two paper routes alone on my bike before school; and with that money I explored the town around base with my friends, riding our bikes all around the local area and playing in the parks from dawn to dusk during the summers. We moved back to my Mom’s after that when she was stationed at New River and we lived in Swansboro, NC (Jacksonville). That is where my brother decided to join the marines and he left for boot camp. Mom moved to Okinawa and I stayed back with my Step-Mom and Dad; Dad was stationed in Quantico again but my Step-mom and I lived in Jacksonville, NC. Then Mom moved back and we moved to Ft. Lee, VA, where I spent half a year in middle school and entered high school. That is where she retired and I moved on up to Quantico with my Dad and Step-mom again to finish out my high school years where I graduated a year early; I went to 13 different schools growing up if I can remember correctly, between moving and switching from the grades where the schools separated. 13 different schools, and no I cannot remember any of my teachers or any of the names of my friends over the years, except for a very select few.
There were some hard times here and there but the good, great, awesome times truly overshadowed any of the struggles we ever faced. I am proof that it can work, life can go on, and healthy normal adults can be the product; at least I consider myself a healthy normal (ok, semi-normal) adult. I never attended counseling for the way I grew up, and I never got into any trouble past the normal teenage limit pushing. I also never hated my parents for the way they raised me. I did… I did always vow never, never, ever to marry into the military, period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, it just wasn’t going to be in my future. I thought I had done my share of military life; but the truth was… I couldn’t settle for staying in one place. As soon I was 18 I was out on my own traveling and exploring, stumbling and picking myself back up, and it only came natural to meet and fall in love with someone in the military to continue on with my journey. It was never planned that way, like I said; I even avoided it as much as I could. But then, I met my husband just after my 21st birthday, and things fell into place, I didn’t know I could be happier until that point. I’m now turning 30 this year and have three kids of my own, living my own crazy, amazing, military life and my kids are doing alright and *gasp* even loving the journey we are on.
Don’t get me wrong, life isn’t perfect as a military kid, but it’s up to the parents to make the best of it; the kids will naturally follow. My only suggestion to take away is to always, always, always, be open-minded. Open-minded to moving, open-minded to exploring, open-minded to letting go of the reins and throwing your hands up and just living life for all it’s worth wherever you are. Trust that your kids will then grow up open minded and accepting to change, they won’t resent you or the service member (which ever it may be, Dad or Mom), and they won’t hold this crazy life against you; if you show them how to thrive in such a life. They will look back loving the memories and experiences they had growing up, and will carry that with them throughout the rest of their full and vibrant lives. Maybe, just maybe, even sharing it with their kids in the future!