New School Year, New School

Every year at the beginning of a new school year military kids throughout the world are starting at a new school. This year is my daughter’s first year to start at a new school where she doesn’t know anyone. As military parents, it can be hard to see our children having to put on a brave face because of our way of life. This year it will be more of a challenge as schools will likely look a lot different because of COVID-19. I’d like to offer five ways to help encourage your child in the face of a new school with new friends and with new school adaptations.

  1. Have a good morning routine that they can count on. With all the changes in how schools are operating, coupled with a new school, having a morning schedule is really important. A good breakfast with family time is a great way to start off days of uncertainty. Over time your child will know that morning routines are something they can rely on. It’s also a great way to keep them grounded in familiarity and comfort at the beginning of the day.
  2. Write notes of encouragement. I love writing on my daughter’s napkin every day before school. It has inevitably turned into a game to see if I can come up with something different to write and draw every day. She always wants to be surprised with whatever I write, so she is careful not to look while I’m doodling on the napkin. Then, at school in the middle of the day, she has a reminder that I’m thinking about her and I love her. I believe that the simplest of acts can have the greatest impact. And it is nice to know that on every good and bad day there’s a small note of encouragement waiting to meet her every time she opens her lunchbox.
  3. Make sure your child feels comfortable with the after-school routine. Last year, our after-school experiences were all over the place. It started out with a severely overcrowded school bus. After the crowding situation was under control, she had problems with the bus being a completely chaotic atmosphere. And eventually, I began picking her up from school. I’m not saying parents need to make any dramatic changes so you can be able to pick up your child from school every day, but just make sure they are comfortable in their after-school routine. I hadn’t realized that riding the bus put my daughter in a lot of situations that I wasn’t okay with. And it took a huge weight off her mind when I committed to picking her up from school every day. And as a parent I had to realize that I needed to keep asking questions to get to the bottom of it. Sometimes it’s hard to have the patience to keep asking, but it’s worth the peace of mind that they are safe and comfortable.
  4. Challenge them. This may seem like an odd suggestion, but as a military family we’ve made it a priority to always push ourselves and each other to be better. Seeing our children face challenges may be hard for us as parents, but the challenges in and of themselves aren’t bad, and they shouldn’t be seen as something to avoid. In fact, challenges build confidence and help with future challenges. My husband and I will challenge my daughter to make a new friend or learn a couple things about a new friend and tell us about them. Or challenge her to ask a question during class. All simple, easy tasks, but a small way to build her confidence and show her that she’s capable of doing a lot more than she thinks she is.
  5. Build them up. Make sure you have a healthy line of communication with your kids. Ask them questions and always build them up, not in a puffy, arrogant kind of way, but speak life into them. Use kind words and take the extra time to speak to their insecurities. The truth is there is no formula for making sure our children have a great school year, free of bad days and self-doubt. But we can be an anchor for them when their expectations of their school or friends are not met.

The reality is, whether your family just went through a PCS or not, this year is filled with adjustments. The best way to encourage our kids to push through the new challenges is to model for them how we deal with changes ourselves. Staying positive and challenging yourself to set a good example is the best thing you can do to encourage your kids. Talk to them, ask questions and build them up.

Benefits of a Do-It-Yourself Move

When a service member receives PCS orders within the United States, they have two options for moving all their belongings from point A to point B. The first option is to sign up for a government move, where a professional moving company packs up all your things, drives them to your new location, stores them until you have housing and then delivers them to your next home. The second option is to do the packing and moving yourself. Formerly called a Do-It-Yourself, or DITY move, this is now called a Personally Procured Move, or PPM.

Even though a PPM is a lot more work, there are many reasons it is beneficial and still a popular choice for military families. Yes, it’s sweaty and exhausting, but in the end, it might be the right way to move your family.

You can make money doing a PPM.

This is the main reason a PPM is attractive to military families, since the Department of Defense is approved to reimburse families a percentage of the cost of hiring a professional mover. Rates are based on service member’s rank, number of dependents and distance to the next duty station, so it’s easy to look up what your move is worth.

Of course, that amount won’t be your total profit, since you will have to reserve a moving truck, purchase boxes and packaging materials, pay for the gas in the moving truck and possibly ship your other vehicles. You will have to weigh your moving truck when it is empty, then again after it is loaded, and keep your receipts to request reimbursement. But if you do your PPM correctly, you can walk away with some extra cash. You can use that money to get new furniture, to cover your first month’s rent or for any of the other major purchases you face after a PCS move.

A PPM gives you more control.

For years, military families have been sharing stories of their bad experiences with the military-approved moving companies. With thousands of moves every year, it’s not surprising that there are problems. But potentially having your items lost, mislabeled, or broken upon delivery, can be scary.

When you move yourself, you have control of your belongings the entire time – you decide how to pack precious items, you choose where to stack them in the truck and you ensure they are locked up each night when you drive. When you do a PPM, your boxes won’t get lost in a warehouse or accidentally shipped to another family.


A PPM happens on your timeline.

Have you ever spent half the day waiting for the movers to arrive because one of their crew members couldn’t make it through the base gate security? Or had your delivery date changed at the last moment? How would you feel if you paid money to board your pets or send your kids to child care, only to find that the moving company had changed the schedule?

When you do a PPM, you don’t have to deal with any of those changes. You can get a mobile storage unit and start packing weeks before your move…or get help from friends and move everything in one day. When you are driving the moving truck, all your household belongings arrive at the new place the same day you do, so there’s no sleeping on the floor and waiting in an empty place for your furniture to be delivered. One great benefit of a PPM is being independent and making the move fit your own schedule.

You can pack things the way you want.

No one wants to see their box of heirloom china tossed onto the moving truck or crushed below a larger piece of furniture. It’s frustrating when movers throw clean clothes into a box of greasy parts from the garage. You can tell the difference between dog toys and toddler toys…but maybe your movers can’t. Careless packing can ruin your items or cause a lot of extra cleanup on unpacking day.

With a PPM, you control the packing process. You don’t have to direct traffic or repeat your requests. You can gather items into the correct rooms, label the boxes in a way that makes sense and organize things according to your own system to make unpacking go more smoothly. That peace of mind might be worth all the extra heavy lifting.

Next time you are preparing for a PCS move, consider doing a PPM. If you’re willing to put in the extra time and work, and you can round up some friends to help out on moving day, then you can enjoy the benefits of a PPM.

The Big Things that Aren’t in Your Moving Binder

My sister-in-law sent me a binder with tabs and pockets for Christmas 2019, and I’ve honestly never felt more seen in my life. I’m an unapologetic planner. So, when PCS rolls around, I crack my knuckles and sit down and get to work. The checklist writes itself: orders, housing, school, job search and so forth. It’s a choreographed routine I know well by this fifth move. But as I laundered and stuffed my daughter’s stuffed animals (otherwise known as her stuffies) into vacuum seal bags early in move prep this time, I found her sitting on the laundry room floor watching her stuffies spin round and round in the dryer. And she was crying. That was definitely not on the move checklist — comfort emotionally scarred 7-year-old while her stuffed animals tumble dry. This was new territory that couldn’t be anticipated, and as I would soon learn round about March 2020, that wasn’t the only PCS hiccup in our forecast.

Well, that escalated quickly

It wasn’t long after the teary-eyed stuffed animal goodbye that I (like so many of you) saw my beautiful, seamless PCS game plan unravel before my very eyes. COVID-19 shook up the 2020 PCS season in a way no one asked for or anticipated. We won’t even get into just how and to what extent since that is still developing every day at this point — too soon. But we can learn big lessons from this pandemic-sized plan change:

  1. It came out of nowhere.
  2. It escalated quickly.
  3. It reminded us just how small we are with our little plans, and that we can’t control everything, no matter how much we try.
  4. It made us eat the words we so often deliver as pearls of wisdom to our kids: “Life isn’t fair,” “Just control the things you can control,” and a personal favorite “This is the way it is, and the sooner you get on board, the happier you’ll be.”

Anticipate vs. plan

Could we have planned for the pandemic stomping on our PCS plans like a toddler mid-tantrum? Of course not. Could we have anticipated it? Yes ­— OK, well maybe we couldn’t have specifically anticipated a pandemic, but we could have planned for snags.

How does one “plan for snags” per se? If you want my personal opinion, that planning is two-fold:

  1. Don’t get too emotionally invested in Plan A. If that is too hard, just know you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. Sometimes it’s impossible not to get attached to a plan — I get that.
  2. Have viable backup plans. You don’t even have to write them down or flesh out every last detail until necessary, but keep them (yes, plural) in the back of your mind and make sure your spouse is also tracking.

Need an example not of pandemic proportions? Here’s one. Back to my daughter lamenting over her stuffed animals being packed up. My plan was to pack all of those on the Sunday before our Tuesday pack out. But laundry takes forever (am I right?) and I got behind schedule. So, I let her have them back that night and we tried again the next day. Then the tears came. So, just for the sake of keeping the peace, I let her hang on to just a few more that would be packed in the unaccompanied baggage (or express shipment) later. I know, I know, I caved. I’m usually more of a tough love parent, but I know my kid, and she needed a win in that moment. Five more stuffed animals weren’t going to put us over our 2,000-lb. weight limit, so no harm done.

“Just in case” of what?

Contingency plans, or backup plans, are really just-in-case plans. We fall on them when something has gone awry. If only we lived in a world where it was possible to know what to expect so we could protect our pretty plans (picture those pretty plans as a balloon) from anything intending to pop them.

While we can’t very well see anything coming, there are some things we might anticipate based on what we know about the PCS process:

  • Move dates may slide right or left.
  • PCS destinations can change.
  • Weather may impact travel. No one understands that more than a Patriot Express passenger trying to move in peak typhoon season.
  • You may have to travel ahead of or behind your service member to accommodate check-in dates, your own job or school schedules for the kids.
  • Your current house may sell or rent faster or slower than anticipated.
  • Your new house may be a total disaster when you arrive. Hands up if you’ve rented sight-unseen!
  • The base housing wait list may be long and slow-going.
  • Your shipment may take way (way) longer than desirable to arrive.
  • Your shipment may arrive damaged or lacking items from the inventory.
  • Your kids may have a harder time than you expected leaving friends, teachers and the comfort of their community.
  • Your kids may have a harder time than you expected with pack-out.
  • Your kids may just flat out protest the move and have an attitude or legitimate fear about the entire thing.
  • You (and this is absolutely a collective “you” for any member of your household) might overlook details, misread contracts or flat out forget something. We’re human. Moving is a lot. It happens. Give yourself a break if plans must change because of your own human error.

Keeping perspective in mind

The to-do lists of PCSing are big. The move can’t happen without forms and signatures. But don’t let the momentum and the need to get there and get things done overshadow the much bigger things that aren’t in the move binder. Take the extra time to console your kid who might be taking the change a little harder than expected. Soak up the farewells (even though you’ve done it a million times). You’ll never be in this place with these people again. Don’t take it for granted.

I’ll leave you with this little thought. No matter how many times we move, I have to remind myself of all the steps and offices and signatures that will eventually move our family from Point A to Point B. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget just sitting with my daughter on the laundry room floor saying “see you soon” to each stuffy. The documents eventually get shredded, but those little moments stick with us if we let them.

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