The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my dad was offered a job that would have moved us out of town. Because I was a bratty teenager, I felt my “You can’t move me in the middle of high school; it’s not fair” argument was as valid as my dad’s argument for career advancement, better pay, blah, blah, blah.
We ultimately didn’t move. My dad found a job elsewhere in my hometown. The pay wasn’t as great as the opportunity he passed up, but we got to stay put. I got my way. If I know them at all, my family would agree it all worked out, but I’ve always harbored some guilt over the way I acted that summer.
We ask a lot of our military kids (mine will gladly tell you I ask them to take the trash out, clean their rooms and brush their teeth way more than a nice mom would). They didn’t ask to grow up in a world where the only constant is the lack of consistency. They change schools and make new friends every two or three years, and they regard mom or dad being gone as something as ordinary as Monday rolling around after a weekend.
It’s a tough job, but they always come through, and the military community rallies behind them. There are free tutoring resources, specialized non-medical counseling options, Operation Purple Camp, Daddy Dolls and books dedicated to them. Each April has even been deemed the Month of the Military Child, for crying out loud. That’s the only recognition I’m aware of that celebrates the sacrifices and resilience of kids just because of their parent’s profession. But, if you ask me, they deserve it, all of it, and more.
I had a thought the other day: Do they know how amazing they are? Do they know the why behind daddy leaving or our family moving? Do they think we’ve gypped them in some way, and is that going to materialize in some sort of passive-aggressive phase in 10 years (a mom needs to be prepared, after all)?
So, channeling my inner Lois Lane, I sat down and interviewed my kids. J, my son, is seven, and R, my daughter, is nearly five.
Me: Where were you born?
R: The United States!
Me: Do you know which state?
R: Sorry, no. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.
J, laughing at his sister: New Bern, North Carolina
Me: How many places have you lived?
J: Do you mean countries, or states, or—
J, speaking with his hands: OK, so three states, plus Japan.
J: Nuh-uh, you only lived in two sta—
Me: There’s no wrong way to tell me. She said three. That’s right, three places altogether.
R, dreamily as she sits in her kitchen in Japan: Wow, I can’t believe I got to live in California.
J: Yeah, that’s where the Great Chicago Fire happened.
Me: Nope, that was in Chicago, Illinois.
R: Where is “Illi-snows” at?
Me, sensing the rabbit hole: Next question, which house was your favorite so far?
J, still giggling from question one: This one is funny because the laundry room is right by the kitchen. All but one of his houses has been like this.
R: I really like Nana and Papa’s house because they don’t have an upstairs.
Me: But, that wasn’t one of our houses.
R: Oh, yeah.
J: I liked our California house because it had soft, “turney” stairs. A landing.
R: I “reery, reery” liked those swirly stairs in our cabin.
J, now in complete hysterics: We didn’t live there either! We were just there on vacation.
R, joining in the contagious laughter: Oh, yeah, right.
Me: What school was your favorite so far?
R: MISS KELLI’S SCHOOL!!!! The CDC in Monterey, California.
J: This one, this one! Because I get to go upstairs every Wednesday. Apparently, stairs are synonymous with cool.
Me: What is the best part of moving?
R: That we’re in the military!
Me: Right, that’s why we have to move, but what do you like about moving?
R: Ummm…OH! We get new furniture, but it’s really the furniture we already had!
J: I like hotel rooms. They’re really nice. Oh, and airplanes, of course.
Me: What’s the worst part about moving?
R, with eyes as big as dinner plates as she flashed back to the Japanese Encephalitis vaccination: Getting shots. I hate shots.
J: It takes a long time to get there and get our stuff.
Me: Is your dad gone a lot?
Me: Where does he go?
J: To work.
R: And Hawaii! And he eats pancakes.
Me: Do you miss him when he’s gone?
J: I only miss him when I’m at home because when I’m at school, I’m having fun.
Me, teasing and only mildly hurt: So, you don’t have fun with me at home?
J: (blushing) Mooooommmm, stop!
Me: What is your daddy’s job?
J: Being in the military…
R: I forgot the name…
J: …I think it’s the…Army?
My husband, bounding into the room: WHAT!?!
J, jumping two feet out of his dining room chair: Ahh, oh yeah, Marines! I meant Marines! We all laughed, and I kicked my husband out of the room again, so I can get some organic answers.
Me, whispering as not to disturb the Marine in the next room: What do Marines do all day?
J, deadpan: Paperwork.
R: And fly airplanes.
J, summoning the courage to name drop again: It’s a C-130…or a CB30
Me: You were right, C-130.
Me, just for fun: What is mommy’s job?
J: To get us to school on time.
Me, shrugging: Well, that is something I do.
R: Your job is bigger than outer space!
Me: How many friends do you have?
J: So many that I can’t even count them.
R, modestly: Like a 100.
Me: Where do your friends live?
J: Most of them…I actually don’t know. They could be anywhere by now.
R: Ooooh! I know where one friend lives! I saw her!
Me: Why do you think we have to move?
J, very matter-of-factly: Because we’re in the military, and I know that because someone told me.
R: …chewing a piece of chicken…
Me: You’ve lived on base and off base. Which one is better?
J: On, because on base we have a library, the MCX, two squadrons, a pool, another pool and a gym. Oh! And I get to play outside until colors.
R: Off base, one of my friends lives there.
Me: Would you rather live in one place forever or move around?
In unison: MOVE AROUND!!!
My husband, who had snuck back into the kitchen: Why?
J: Dad, you can’t ask us anything, only mom can ask.
J, staring at me expectantly, clearly unaware I already asked: Well, are you going to ask me?
Me: Exhale. Why?
J: Because living in one place is boring. And, I notice that we’re in a pattern. We move every two or three years.
Me: Where do you think we will move next?
J: Yeah, Virginia, because they have tree houses there, and we could probably get one. Or a pool…
Me: How many places do you think you’ll live by the time daddy retires?
R: I can’t count that high, I’m only four.
J: Like, 100
Me: What does retire mean?
J: Retire means that you get taken away from your job and you have to go find another job.
Me: What is your favorite thing about being a military kid?
R: We get to move and then we get new furniture, but it’s really our old furniture, but we missed it, so that makes me happy.
J: We get to move a lot.
I go through phases of guilt for asking so much of these kids — uprooting them, making them endure such a boring house while my husband is away (thanks a lot, son). But, getting their thoughts made me feel so much better. Most of what worries me doubles as their favorite parts of their childhood, and we’re giving them a pretty cool one. We all are.