(Definitely not a Nashville Party)
Nothing compares to the mixed feelings of seeing your bedroom collapse down to a few cardboard boxes every few years. It marks the close of another chapter in your life but turns the page to a new one. I have seen those boxes and turned that page myself, eight times in eighteen years. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to moving to a new place. Everyone has a unique journey. Much of the advice that is presented to you is not tailored to your individual success and is downright damaging. This is because very few people can relate to the lifestyle that you live and do not realize that cliche advice is less applicable. Luckily, I am here to assess the value of common advice granted to military kids throughout the moving process.
“Move on and never look back”
The application of this overused phrase, in relation to moving, can severely limit your social outlets and comfort level in a new place. The disorienting nature of moving somewhere new requires you to look to your past for stability. Especially in a foreign country, you will be slapped in the face by one thing after another. Storefronts in a foreign language, SLAP. No friends, SLAP. Lost moving boxes, SLAP. The next time one of these SLAPS hit you, before pushing forward, take a second to “look back.” Take a second to look for the things you know. The things that are already in your corner. The constants. For most military brats, this can be a sibling, a pet, or even a close friend who is always down to FaceTime. Your constants should not hold you back, but rather be your springboards who want to see you flourish in a new place. And in this new, spinning place that you are entering, finding an old rock or two to keep your grounding is as important as finding new ones. These people are your security blanket – your insurance policy. Does that mean to drive recklessly? Of course not. But determining these constants will give you the confidence boost needed to attack your new situation.
Once you find your constants, you will realize how outrageous the commonly preached mantra of “move on and never look back” is. Many of the people you endear and trust the most can become thousands of miles away. If you have friends from your past that will stick by your side, do not let them go. These people can be your saving grace in another new place that you call home. Move on? Of course. But please, take a second to look back.
“Just get into a new routine”
Another common piece of advice granted to military children, spewed by everyone from counselors to grandmas, is to get into a new routine. While this may seem logical, to set yourself up with a sense of normalcy from day to day, it has one obvious pitfall. How the hell are you supposed to create a routine when you know nothing about a place, have no friends, and are struggling to find the smallest of successes? Creating a routine cannot be willy nilly and spontaneous. It needs to be carefully crafted to promote your personal growth. I can arrive in a new town and tell myself that my new routine will involve waking up at 6am, going to a coffee shop down the street, reviewing some notes, and then driving to school. That sounds productive, but what if that coffee shop is the worst coffee shop east of the Mississippi? What if the traffic en route to school is awful during that time? There needs to be a phase of exploration in a new place. You cannot be trying to cram everything you are introduced to into a concrete pattern that you are formulating. You need to gather your building blocks first, not constantly build with every block you find, until you realize you have subpar blocks. Stop thinking about routines and start thinking about expanding your arsenal.
“Don’t draw attention to yourself”
You should not be afraid of attention. A crucial part of adapting to a new place is trying new things and exploring. Go to the student council club meeting, then the chess club meeting. Hang out with the football kids, then the tennis kids. Try this restaurant, then that ice cream parlor. Casting a larger net will increase your odds of finding a real, quality student organization, friend group, or food spot that is best for you and your interests. Eyes will be on you because you are “new,” but this attention should not deter you from gaining familiarity with your new surroundings. Doing so will allow you to accumulate options that will be beneficial in ultimately deciding where to invest your time. You are not drawing attention for the attention, but rather as a byproduct of you expanding the cap of your social potential.
“You only get one chance at a first impression”
This one is true, plain and simple. However, not all first impressions are made equal. Meeting Byron in Spanish class is not the same as meeting your parent’s commanding officer. Despite this, we are often only equipped with ancient techniques that do not apply to the modern school setting. When introducing yourself to Byron, you can skip the firm handshake and small talk about the weather. The utmost formality that many military kids are taught prepares you for the utmost formal situations. But everyday life is a few notches below that. Instead, consider spending that one-shot first impression in a more relaxed manner. You should try your best to radiate a sense of calmness, but sincerity when introducing yourself to a new person. When they speak, be an attentive listener. Details about themselves should not be going through one ear and out the other. Yes, you are trying to accumulate building blocks for yourself, but these are real people, with real lives, and real ambitions.
A key strategy is to aim your conversation towards activities or groups that person is involved in, to try and find common interests. If one is found, then feel free to share some of your experiences. If your conversation carries on easily, consider asking for their Snapchat or Instagram to help you “network” in this new social environment. Remember that you and Byron do not have to become best friends. This conversation may be lackluster and go absolutely nowhere. Heck, you may never speak to one another again. However, simply “knowing a guy” and knowing what they are involved in, will help ignite your conversations with other people you meet and give you branches into new friend groups. Be cool, spread out, and always end with “it was nice meeting you.”
“Put others first”
After your first few weeks, it can be easy to feel indebted to those who have taken you under their wing. However, your priorities still need to come first. Determine which activities, groups, and people are most beneficial for you. When choosing where to invest your time, consider which you have the most passion for. Consider which investments will promote successful habits and your own happiness. This may sound selfish or inconsiderate to place your priorities clearly over anyone else’s. You should remember that your investments do not have to be entirely selfish in themselves. Volunteer work, for example, is charitable and fosters personal character growth simultaneously. You have done the hard work of determining the very few constants in your ever-changing life and developing the best ways to adapt to a new place. You deserve to make this decision for yourself. As of now, you do not owe anyone anything. It is similar to the airline demonstrations that say, “Put on your oxygen mask first, then help others.” Remember that at this point you are far more vulnerable than others and you need to cement your footing in a new lifestyle.
As Aerosmith once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Eh – that’s probably too old. As Miley once said, “Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s on the other side, it’s the climb.” As a military kid, you cannot look too far down the road, because that road is uncertain. That is simply a part of the journey that you are going on. Embrace your time in a new place. It is still your childhood and you only have it once. You are tackling problems that many people do not face until they begin college or their careers. That does not make it easier, but it should be a reminder that you are building yourself a better future by gaining these valuable life lessons, even if they are a SLAP to the face.
My Grandparents’ House
Growing up in a military family and enjoying the “lifestyle” of childhood in perpetual motion, my grandparents were, to me, represented just as much by a certain place as they were by the people they were.
There was a place, firmly planted upon an otherwise amorphous landscape, that was My Grandparents’ House. It was a place that was a constant, where little else would be. No matter where I was going to school that year or which time zone I’d be adjusting my sleep schedule to, My Grandparents’ House was ever the same.
I was fortunate enough to have two Grandparents’ Houses, quite distinct from each other, but connected by the virtue of their size. Though all things are as giants to a child, even then my grandparents lived in sizable homes, one stately and traditional in a stately and traditional part of a stately and traditional state.
The other was in many ways its mirror opposite. Where one lay upon a street in a well-trimmed suburban sanctuary, the other rose a fortress of wood and glass and curious angles, nestled in a hidden and less-traveled woodland. The forest and My Grandparents’ House were entwined in ways, and it was visited by animals and creatures of all kinds. There was a majesty to it, and mystery too – a home full of antiquities, strange relics of distant lands and gifts from strangers with odd titles and odd names.
One house I remember in perpetuity for its holidays and its family gatherings, raucous and riotous and full of cheer and rancor alike. I recall the great carpeted basement where all the children would play, cousins a continent apart finding common interests or common causes to feud about. There were parties of a sort strange and exhilarating to the child’s mind, a glimpse and a faint taste of a “grown up world”.
Though I lacked the mind to appreciate their consistency in my youth, it is only now – as is the want of the passage of time – that I see them for what they were, stones of certainty in a world that was anything but. Alas, this reflection comes now at a time when both of these homes are taken from us, bought and sold into other hands and left to make new memories for people I’ll never know.
Of course, a house is just a house, a building with walls and a roof. It lacks for any true spirit, even if its design is artful, without humans to inhabit it. These homes were defined by my grandparents who resided within, reflecting without the souls within. So too have my grandparents been icons of consistency, strong boulders in a rushing current.
Such certainties are rare, especially for the military child. I am grateful that I had them, and though it is tempting to lament their absence, these places endure as I do – sturdily built and unchanged, erected in the forests and suburbs of my memories.
Iain M. Woessner
Long Distance Grandparenting
As a DODDS brat, I grew up overseas. I only saw my grandparents every two years, when our family went Stateside during the summer on “reemployment leave.” I do not recall ever spending a fall or winter holiday with extended family. My husband, Bill, grew up in a State Department family and had a similar childhood.
When Bill first joined the military, our oldest son was two years old. We realized that our military lifestyle meant our children would not know their aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents. We were creating a second generation of semi-strangers.
We decided to try to keep our parents— our kids’ grandparents —and other family members in our lives as much as possible.
Luckily for us, both sets of grandparents had the wherewithal to fly– or drive –and could join us whenever possible for holidays and important events. Bill and I would try visit our parents if we were on the same continent.
When Bill went to basic training and OCS, I flew to Germany to stay with my parents in Heidelberg. Bill would be busy for quite a while, so I thought I’d earn some money substitute teaching and easing into military life. It was wonderful to be back “home” and to spend time with my parents.
In Heidelberg, Erik attended German kindergarten as well as US daycare. I subbed at Heidelberg Elementary and Heidelberg High School. It was neat commuting to work with my mom—and teaching alongside some of my former teachers. In fact, the first day I showed up to teach in Heidelberg, I ran into my old math teacher, who upon seeing me, asked in almost horror, “what I was doing.”
I think he still had nightmares from when I was in his class, and to have me suddenly appear almost a decade later, probably threw him for a loop! Read the rest of this entry »