This life was chosen for them. They get no say in any of it. They have to say goodbye to a parent on a regular basis. They have to say goodbye to their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. They have to say goodbye to their friends and their homes and their schools. When all the other kids have a history together, they're always the odd man out. They are so regularly labeled, "the new kid," that it sticks with them their whole life. Ask me how I know.
I remember walking into fifth grade and my teacher asking me, "Do you have some butterflies in your tummy?" I spent most of my childhood with butterflies in my tummy. Being the new kid all the time does that to you.
We were best friends when our dads were stationed in Plattsburgh, NY. We are still friends 20+ years later.
We ask our military kids to do things we'd never be comfortable doing. "Go make friends," as if it's that easy. We shove them into social situations that we as adults could not fathom. Yet, they do it. They make friends and they put themselves out there. Over and over and over again. They adjust. They embrace the new and let go of the old. They are a special kind of people, military kids.
This life shapes them. It turns them into vagabonds--and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word. They have no permanent home. They don't have the opportunity to truly settle anywhere. When they're forced to stay put longer than the norm, they get antsy to move on. They don't get to go to their cousin's birthday parties or have summer bbqs with Grandma. They don't get to go to middle school with the same kids they went to elementary with. The crazy thing about it is that they don't know any different. They don't grasp what they're missing out on. They don't complain about any of it. The pain is there. They miss their people that they've connected with all over the world. They have more than one best friend. That make new friends and keep the old thing...it hurts when you feel like you're somehow not honoring the old by making the new. Change is hard, but they accept it. They know there's no way to stop the change. Change is the only constant in their lives.
I have never met such a well rounded bunch of humans as military kids. They are hard workers. They are kind. They are compassionate. They adjust quickly. They are excited with each move. This is all from my perspective as a military brat, turned military mother. I am thankful that I have all boys, because I don't remember adjusting as well as my boys do.
Living on base is always an experience. Where else do whole neighborhoods come to a complete stop at the sound of our Anthem? These kids have respect for our flag and our nation because it is their lives. They know the cost of freedom. They have an understanding of what it takes to serve. Better than adults, they know we don't bash our president. Some of the things I see on Facebook about our Commander in Chief wouldn't even cross the mind of a military child. I am convicted by that thought myself. I'm not always a fan of the Big Boss, but I should be able to hide it better.
Military brats wear the label with pride. They grow up in a diverse culture unlike any other. They are surrounded by kids of all ages, races, backgrounds, religions and they learn to get along. They are protected from a lot of drama because when things turn to crap, who cares? They're moving soon anyway. That's not to say that the military is free from drama. Not at all. QUITE the opposite, especially here. But there's little time for drama. The smart ones avoid it at all cost. These kids get that they have limited time to find their people and form a bond. These kids have surrogate grandparents at each base. Other mothers who step in like an aunt would. Other fathers who can fix a bike tire if dad's gone. I hate the phrase "It takes a village," but sometimes it applies. The best part of military life: there is ALWAYS somebody to play with.
I hope all the above doesn't come across as negative. It's hard and it hurts, but it's an amazing experience. I would rather lead this crazy life than a boring one, and I'm certain my boys would agree. My kids have lived all over the US and now they get to explore Japan. Who can say they've done that?! Military kids can. They have best, best, best friends in so many places. I know this life of change has and will continue to shape our boys. It's fascinating to watch and I can't wait to see what their future holds.
Next time you see someone in uniform and feel the urge to throw out a thank you, be sure to thank their kids, too.