My daughter wandered into the living room to find me sniffling.
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
I wiped my eyes and blurted, “I’m just so sorry!”
She was mystified by my self-inflicted angst as I watched a TV special on “Military Brats.” (I know many of us don’t care for the term, but for good or bad, it stuck and you all know who I’m talking about: the children of a military member.) Through interviews and writings of now-adult brats, the show discussed issues they’d struggled with- feelings of rootlessness, inability to maintain long-term relationships, and substance abuse.
It was daunting to think this could be the outcome for my own four children. My then twelve-year-old sat with me while I babbled how sorry I was that they had to move so much-that their dad was deployed AGAIN-that I was just so sorry for the whole darned thing. Her older siblings joined us.
“Mom, it’s ok. Really.”
I blinked back the tears, and took a look at my children as they assured me. They were ok. There were struggles, but they all agreed they wouldn’t trade their lives for anything.
I learned something that day. Studies aside, my kids (now ranging in age from 14 to 21) really were-and are-ok. I’ve talked to other grown military brats who view their childhood as an asset. They’re confident, cultured, and well-rounded. The world is a different place than it was for the “brats” interviewed on that show, most of whom grew up during the Vietnam era and the 80s. Moving to a new city is more common in today’s culture than it used to be, not only for military families. Social media has completely changed our landscape, and it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with old friends than it was even five years ago.
I’m not sugarcoating the difficulties and stress that military life places on our children, but I discovered that my kids seemed to have the ability to focus on the positive. Which leads me to…
Top 10 Things I’ve Learned from My Military Brats
10) Flexibility is possible
As I wrote this, we were hunkered down in a hotel, awaiting the arrival of a hurricane. Wouldn’t you know that darned storm decided to make her unwanted arrival right as we were PCSing? The timing of our move looked like it would be different than initially planned (and we did experience delays, but nothing like what others went through). We weren’t sure what the upcoming days would bring. I was impatient, chafing, and downright grumpy. The kids? Sure, there were some grumpy moments. But they also gave each other manicures, played dominoes and card games, and watched as much TV and pinned as much miscellany as humanly possible on Pinterest in case the power went out. Once again, they astounded me. Their ability to adapt to whatever situation we’re in is amazing. My kids have a flexibility about life that I am still learning.
9) Resiliency is key
“Resiliency” has been a catchphrase for the military for some time. But when I look at my kids, I can’t help but think of them as resilient. They’ve had quite a few challenges packed into their short lives: multiple moves (my fourteen-year-old is on her ninth military move), dealing with a parent’s deployments, being the “new kid” again and again, constantly adjusting to new cultures, places, and countries. They’ve managed it with grace. They’re adaptable and bounce back like nobody’s business. They make me want to be better.
8) Find fun where you can
Once the movers leave, a tradition for my kids is some sort of indoor (and forbidden when pictures and knick-knacks are present) ball game. The large empty rooms seem to invite a little silliness. Whether it’s “wall ball” (a game which has become a contact sport in our house), keep away or hot potato with a volleyball-as soon as the moving van pulls away, I expect to hear laughter ringing from an empty room (and if my husband’s home, he’s right in the middle of it). These kids are masters of making fun wherever they can.
7) Focus on the positive
During one of my husband’s deployments, it became a sort of game to attempt to cheer each other up. Whether it was bringing an iced coffee to a sibling (or Mom!), walking through the room in a purple wig or giant nose and glasses to see if anyone would notice, or simply a late-night movie all snuggled up in their jammies, it made my heart glad to see my kids trying to coax a smile from a sibling. Sure, they’ve cried together, too. But they have lived out the meaning of looking on the bright side.
6) Everyone is a potential friend
They’ve lived all over the world, and have an interesting assortment of friends. If you talk about racism, they can’t comprehend why anyone would discriminate based on skin color-or any other factor, for that matter. They truly “get” this multi-cultural, diversity thing. So, basically, if you want to be friends? You’ll be judged on who you are and how you act, not anything else. Freed from some of the stifling provincial mindset most of us were raised with, they understand what makes a true friend.
5) Embrace life
“YOLO” (You Only Live Once)-why do I feel a military brat could’ve coined that phrase? They take both big and small risks with gusto! I’ve watched my kids extend the vulnerable hand of friendship to someone they barely know, and learn how to ski on a tall mountain in the Alps. I submit that both acts take equal amounts of bravery.
4) Appreciate the small things
These kids don’t take anything for granted, whether it’s having a parent back after deployment to something simple like electricity. Yes, lights. We joke now about how many natural disasters our family has been through. We weathered numerous earthquakes and typhoons when we were stationed in Guam, including two typhoons in the space of one week. This meant several weeks with no power, gas rationing, and… misery. I recall moldy furniture and washing out toddler’s clothes with bottled water, using a Lego table as a washboard. They remember the privilege of eating dinner at the chow hall, the delight of wearing the same clothes several days’ running (ewww), and the moment when the lights came on. For the longest time after, my 4-year-old would accompany switched-on lights with clapping her chubby hands and gleefully squealing, “Wights on!!”
3) Be fearless
If you walk into a new situation and the worst that happens is that you make a fool of yourself…so what? I’ve watched my children handle new situations with maturity, grace, and fearlessness. I’m often tempted to want to know everything about a given situation, job, or friendship beforehand, but watching how my amazing “brats” have handled life makes me braver.
2) The world is an amazing place
My youngest was better traveled at age ten than I was at twenty. When I find myself holding back, I look at the world through their eyes. There is always something new to be discovered, places to explore, friends to make, and chocolate to be eaten.
You couldn’t teach them a thing about this topic. By golly, they’ve lived it. They know firsthand the price that comes with active duty service. You won’t see them slouching or sitting during the playing of our National Anthem. No, they’d be the ones you see standing straight, tiny hand over heart. You might see a tear tracing its way down a teen’s cheek. It’s cost them too much to take lightly.
They’re my heroes.