Sitting on a curb

Refocusing the “Just Three Years” Mindset

High school has been on my mind a lot lately, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Super Bowl halftime shows of the past two years — though these performances played like one of my favorite burned CDs. No, high school has been living rent-free in my head over the last couple of years because we are getting dangerously close to having a high schooler under our roof.

Kristi in high school bedroom

The focus on high school started about a year and a half ago, about the time we were waiting for orders to our current spot. I’d reached a place of acceptance that we were going where we thought we were going under the condition that it was just for three years. “I can do anything for three years,” I chanted, half to the universe and half to myself… repeatedly.

Sensing my newfound, conditional three-year acceptance while still waiting on those orders, my son saw my mild acceptance and raised my several years with one statement, “I want to stay in one place for high school.”

I couldn’t know it at the time — mostly because I was stubbornly trying to manifest the validity of my three-year demand with denial-laced thoughts, “Okay, but let’s see how he feels after a couple of years.” That statement set me on a course toward a paradigm shift. That thought would come later, as in present-day Kristi, nearly a year and a half after our son said those words.

Kristi in high school

The Two Camps

The statement that changed it all from our then-sixth grader sent my husband and me to our corners. There was his camp: The military brat turned Marine who has moved around his entire life but managed to only attend two high schools. To this day, he looks back on the place he graduated from high school as his hometown, and I have learned through conversations throughout the years how thankful he was to only have been able to spend his sophomore through senior years in one place, develop friendships and feel stable academically and socially.

Then there was my camp: The girl who attended the same school in the same town from kindergarten through senior year. In fact, I stuck around for another four years for college. My argument is that, yes, it was easier being in one place, but it was also predictable and, largely — now that I’ve moved away — forgettable. It was always the same places, the same people (the besties and less-than-besties alike), and even with all that time spent in one place, I have one box of “keepsakes” that I never look at, two high school friends that I still regularly talk to and plenty of people I know I’ll never talk to again. I don’t mean to be ugly; I hope they’re all thriving wherever they are. I just mean it’s normal to outgrow most people you knew when you were 15, 16, 17 and 18 years old.

I went into this debate advocating for life experiences and resilience over high school cliques and homecoming dances. While my husband agreed with me on most fronts, I wondered if that even mattered now that our son had made his wishes known. Of course, I was going to put his wants over my stubborn pride. I wondered how I was going to get over myself and manage to “get through” more than three years at our now-current duty station.

Kristi and son

The aha Moment

I feel the need to clarify that I was not digging my heels in over adding one more year to our orders. I’m no mathematician, but I do see that four years of high school only trump three-year orders by a year. So, to head off any potential for seeming completely unreasonable, I’ll share that we moved to our current duty station as our son entered seventh grade. This put him on track to finish his freshman year, the year we would PCS. Staying put for his high school years adds another three years to the three I reluctantly agreed to. Then there’s our daughter, who would probably appreciate us not packing up and leaving after our son graduates because that would leave her to finish her junior and senior years at a new school. By the end of this word problem, our three years have bloomed into eight and a half years.

While I can “get through” anything for three years, I’ve never attempted eight and a half — that seemed both impossible and unwise because so much life can happen in eight and a half years. If you’re our kids, you know, the ones at the root of this entire internal debate, some really big things will happen in the next eight and a half years: Starting high school, learning to drive, finding a lifelong friend (if they’re lucky), finding someone they absolutely don’t live with but have to tolerate (just one, if they’re lucky), first dates, even first love (brief pause while I bawl my eyes out) and first broken hearts. There will be big games and recitals, college rejections and acceptance letters. For the first time, (bear with me while I try to get this out because I’m still crying about the first love thing) it looks like our kids will move before we do. They’ll choose a path to follow and set out to take on the world.

Always the over-analyzer (thank you, English degree), I zoomed out even farther than the eight and a half years in front of me. Each two- or three-year tour has had a “just get through it” phase — usually the last year, give or take a few months. I am sitting here typing this today. I did “get through,” but 15 years of getting through military life doesn’t feel like much of a life. It sounds a lot like a chore or a sentence.

I can’t go back and try to be present for those months spent hyper-focused on orders or where we were going next, but I know I missed things while I was preoccupied with the future. Maybe it wasn’t something big to the untrained eye, but it was big to a mom’s heart.

So, here’s the aha moment: I don’t want to trudge through eight and a half years. I want to savor the next eight and a half years. I don’t want to wish them away because when they’re over, our kids will be grown. They’ll be in college and (hopefully) coming to visit me on every school break (please don’t ruin this for me if you know otherwise). I want to watch them do all the high school things that I know they won’t care about in another 15 years, but probably won’t undo all the cool life experiences they’ve already had.

I can safely say that I haven’t overthought this much about high school since I was in high school. (Please don’t let me regret this.) My husband was right. Our kids have been absolute sports about new places and faces their entire lives. If they want to stay in one place just to see what that’s like, I’m not going to dissect the reasoning behind it. I’m not going to spoil the ending — that high school isn’t the best four years of your life. I’m going to do my absolute best to stay present and focus on where we are because — right now at least — the where doesn’t matter as much as the what.

If you’re like me, and you’re guilty of a “get through it” three-year mindset of wishing away the time somewhere you couldn’t wait to leave in the rearview, drop the “it’s only three years” mentality. Three years through a different lens is almost four years, which is the same amount of time we spent in high school. And though those four years were utterly forgettable in the grand scheme of things, I came out a much different person than when I went in. If we let ourselves, we can grow just as much in every three-year (or eight-and-a-half-year) stretch. If you need me, I’ll be savoring where I am and trying not to rush the next few years.

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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  • Absolutely, Kristi! It’s so refreshing to see how you’ve shifted from just trying to “get through” to really embracing and enjoying these upcoming years. Prioritizing stability for your kids during high school is such a thoughtful mom move. It’s not just about where you are, but how you live in those moments that really shapes those years. Kudos to you for choosing to soak up all the experiences and memories that come your way. Here’s to making the next eight and a half years memorable, not just for the milestones but for all the little moments in between. Cheers to living in the now and loving it!

  • Social Media Admins says:

    Hi Kelly, thank you for your kind words!