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Month of our 5 military kids

April is Month of the Military Child which has made me think a lot about our 5 military children. Our oldest son-- 8 years old and in 2nd grade-- has attended 4 different schools: 2 public schools across the country from each other (kindergarten in Washington DC and 1st and 2nd in Washington state), plus homeschooling kindergarten in South Carolina and preschool in North Carolina. He has lived in 6 different states and 8 different houses. This is his second time having his dad on a sea tour (though he was 2 years old when we got off our first boat).

For our other 4 children, this is their first time having their dad on a sea tour, though not the first time they have been separated from him. However, we were able to video chat and call him on our previous separations. Our 6-year old twins have lived in 4 states and 5 houses. So far they have done school "normally," 2 schools, both in the same state. One was preschool and they have now moved on to the elementary school to attend kindergarten. Our 2-year old has lived in 3 states and just as many houses. Our 9-month old has lived in 1 state and 1 house. All of our children have flown across country and all except the baby have driven across country.

There is a joke in the military community. How do you have kids in the same state? Have twins. For us, that has been true. Our oldest was born in Maine. Our twins were born in North Carolina. Our 4th son was born in South Carolina. Our last baby was born in Washington state. We have moved away from every single house that we have brought a baby home to and we will eventually move away from this home, where we brought our last and final baby home to. The countdown is on until we PCS (Permanent Change of Station) from our current duty station and we've already been discussing where we want to go next, for shore duty. We have moved every 1-3 years for over 10 years.

Besides having shallow roots, our military children have had to shoulder burdens we didn't want to put on them. We have had hardships and struggles that have required them to step up to the plate and be understanding. We have come together and made it through pregnancy loss, bedrest, asthma (and RSV and bronchitis), countless stomach viruses, hospital stays... without family nearby. Sometimes without baby sitters and without friends. Our kids can cook meals, do laundry, and clean house. They know how to put the baby and toddler to bed.

They have dealt with disappointments we didn't want them to have to swallow. They have missed out on school events, playdates, sleepovers, field trips, sports, and special outings because there wasn't anyone else to take them. We have tried to maintain our routines and a sense of normalcy, but life happens. And when you recently moved across country, your spouse is deployed, and the baby has bronchitis and you have mastitis, sometimes life gets put on hold.

The only certainty they have is uncertainty. From the moment we moved to Washington state, our oldest was counting how many years and months we would be living here. They constantly ask me questions: "Where are we moving next? When is Daddy leaving? When will Daddy be home? Is it a duty day? When does he have duty next? Will he be home for my birthday this year? For Christmas this year? For the school carnival this year? Did he get my email? When will we get an email from him? Where is Daddy going?" There are so many questions I cannot answer for them.

They say good-bye and never know if it is for now, for awhile, or forever. Even with family. We say good-bye at my parents' house and I don't know when we will see them again. Will my family fly out to visit us? Will I see them in a couple months? A year? My sister-- my best friend-- hasn't met my daughter yet. They say good-bye to friends and neighbors when we move. We say good-bye to friends and neighbors when they move. Will we ever see these friends and acquaintances again? I don't know. They don't know. There is a chance. But there is a chance we won't. We invest a year-- or years-- into relationships with an expiration date. We exchange promises that we will stay in touch and sometimes that works out and sometimes our children sob when letters aren't returned, future visits don't materialize, and friendships fade into distant memories. We don't even always know where our kids will be finishing a school year-- current duty station or next duty station?

We get ready to move and deal with our children's meltdowns and incessant questions. Their tears when their things are packed. The sleepless nights as we live in a hotel room. The exhaustion when our household goods arrive and we unpack as they battle over who gets which room. We struggle to maintain order as we negotiate furniture placement and closet organization. We hype up new sports teams, clubs, or storytimes. We chase down neighbors who have lots of kids like us! Kids the same age as ours! Look, that neighbor child also owns a bike like you! And we wipe away tears when the kids don't like the storytime the same as at our last house. We hide our tears when they aren't as enthused for a club at this duty station as at the last duty station. We talk big when they ask where friends are from past duty stations. We lay awake, crushed by anxiety, as the first day at the new school approaches. We vent to friends about the struggles and feel small when they dismiss them, "Give them time! They will adjust. It will be fine. Wait until they are older and you see how much harder it is to move then." And our kids get older and it gets harder and we worry about how much harder our next move will be. We worry, "Are we doing the right thing?"

I read blogs and books and stories and basically anything that talks about military kids. Military kids are resilient! Military kids are dandelions-- they grow anywhere! Military kids are strong! Military kids will be all right. And I think about the anxiety, stomach pains, potty training regression, tantrums, and tears our kids go through with each move. How much harder it is each time. And I wonder, "Are these blogs written about my kids? How do I know they will be okay?" And Lord help the military child grown to adult I met. I could be in line at a coffee shop with all 5 kids wailing and I'm ready to conduct an interview, "What was one thing your parents did to help make the life of a military child more normal? What were some of your routines and traditions?"

With all of that on their plates, what makes them so special? Our 5 military kids know how to rise to the occasion. We may have pull your hair out days and nights, but when push comes to shove, we get through as a family. That's vague. What I mean is that after I get 4 crying kids and one pouting kid to bed and the house is a disaster and my back is spasming, I can guarantee that at least one of the kids will quietly come find me to offer to clean up. I can guarantee that the next morning I will have 4 sheepish boys crawl in to bed with me to tell me how much they love me, how sorry they are, how I'm the most beautiful momma, and how they want to make me breakfast.

Our 5 military kids can roll with the punches. They aren't always happy about it, but they have learned that the world doesn't revolve around them. That just because you want something, doesn't mean it is yours. They have learned that life happens and we need to be understanding. They have learned that sometimes we need to take it slow for someone else, that we need to meet people at where they are. They have learned (and continue to learn) to embrace the moment; sometimes the current moment (not the unknown future) is enough.

Our 5 military kids have learned that feelings are okay. That sometimes you need to wallow in your feelings, roar with your feelings, retreat in your feelings, or melt in your feelings. Sometimes your feelings burst out of you and you have to sing! dance! laugh! or cry. One of our boys always talks about naming your feelings. Our military kids are learning that your feelings are amazing and wonderful things, but that they don't give you a right to hurt other people or to lash out. Our military kids are learning that there is a proper way to handle their feelings and to channel them in a good, constructive way.

Our 5 military kids have a sense of adventure. They talk about places we have lived and places they want to go. They travel. They travel messy sometimes, badly sometimes, and sometimes like old hats. They have long memories and remind you of the good things about past duty stations, about people you have known, about hard times you made it through as a family. My favorite is when they talk about the forgotten nooks and crannies in houses we have lived in. Their memories remind me of the halls I used to walk down, the rooms I used to keep clean, and the ages our kids were when that house was temporarily home.

Our 5 military kids have made me look at the world differently. Sometimes this is a deliberate decision. Like when their dad's schedule changes and he unexpectedly misses events, like their birthdays. I show the kids another way to view the situation and "make it work," make it fun, carry them through it and show them the good time. Sometimes it is accidental. In the midst of a move and unpacking and saying good-bye to friends we love and living in a hotel, they show us the fun. The adventure. The excitement and how life continues. We carve out a little time to go to the playground. We hit up a donut shop. And the next thing we know, we are laughing and enjoying an afternoon before we head back to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Sometimes the lessons come when we don't know we need them. Like when I'm tucking the boys in after a long day and my heart is restless because I'm mad at the Navy and I'm tired and I miss my friends and I miss my family and I hate this duty station and I'm stressed over how much of this is affecting the kids... and during prayers they grab my hands and thank God for such a wonderful momma who does everything for them and for a daddy that loves them so much that he guards the oceans for them.

Our 5 military kids are still young. To me, their momma, they are big kids now. Our twins have just turned 6 and I'm blown away at how time flew with them! How are they already 6? But 8 years old and 6 years old... those are still little kids. Our toddler and our baby are still little kids. When I look back on our life when our children are grown, I will remember this time as when all of our children were little kids. I know they have a lot more years before they are big kids. Before we have pre-teens and middle schoolers. Before we have teenagers and high schoolers. Before they head to college. What we have left is at least 7 years in the Navy before my husband can retire. We have 3 or 4 moves ahead of us in those years. Our oldest will be in 10th grade when my husband reaches 20 years. How our children handle moving and the Navy will be very different than how they handle it now and I don't know what our opinions will be then. Since each of our moves have been harder than the last, I'm sure I will have a different view of moving then than I do now.

But our 5 military kids have taught me how to handle change a little better than I have in the past. I hate change. But they have shown me how to take it one step at a time. To keep in mind the end game, but focus on the steps we have to take right now. They have show me how not to live in fear, but to embrace the present and the good things in the present. I have needed that lesson now. I worry about the years we have left in the military and how this life will shape them. I don't feel like the blogs and articles I have read have given me comfort in the long run. It feels like a lot of the posts I read address moving kids for the first or second time and how well they have handled those moves. Or how well a preschooler handled moving and what a great military kid he is. I think about our anxious oldest child and how horrible our last PCS was and what a mess it's been moving 1, then 3, then 4, and now 5 kids! I stress so much about our next PCS. Will all of our moves get progressively worse? Will we ever be near family again?

I don't know. What I do know is that right now, our 5 military kids are teaching me how to rely on each other. How to hold each other up as a family, a lesson I learned in my childhood that has carried me through adulthood and in to raising my children. They are teaching me about building a good foundation, having a strong home front. Loving fiercely and loyally. Cherishing our friendships and guarding our hearts. They have shown me that home is a safe place to lick your wounds and to be built back up again, just like when I was a kid. And comparing their childhood to my childhood has given me comfort. Because those lessons have stuck with me and if they stuck with me, maybe they will stick with them.

Being a military kid doesn't automatically equip them with the skills required to successfully navigate life as a military family. Our military kids have shown me that bravery doesn't mean having all the answers or always doing the right thing. They have shown me that life is messy and ever-changing and sometimes really, really hard. But in the chaos and rough days, there is beauty. That it is okay to laugh, even if you are sad. Life constantly moves forward and yesterday's mistakes are tomorrow's lessons. That while this life as a military kid may be very different from how I grew up or from the other kids on their street, they are still kids. They want the same things. Our military kids have shown me that the unknown future isn't as scary as even I think it is when we face it together.

They have shown me how cool it is to have someone thank them for their parent's service. Because every kid thinks their parents are heroes and military kids are lucky enough to actually have a hero for a parent.


Suzzanne Haight said…
I love how your kids gives you strength. Sometimes our kids will remind us that even how hard life is, the only important thing is we are together as a family and we smile and laugh and have fun.

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