During quarantine, a friend of mine posted some thoughts she had about how certain aspects of quarantine compared to military life and it got me thinking about my childhood. Growing up in the military taught me a lot and prepared me for different parts of life. The constant moving, uncertainty and changing of plans taught me to appreciate different cultures, that life happens and to just go with the flow, to appreciate what you have, how to say goodbye, make friends, and that it’s not always all about you.
My siblings and I had the privilege of spending most of our childhood in Europe. My parents wanted us immersed in the local culture, so we usually lived “on the economy,” in other words, off base. They also enrolled us in the local schools of whichever country we were in at the time. My first memories are of Kindergarten in Germany and our German landlord making us triple layer sandwiches. We spent time with the locals, learned their language or at least tried, celebrated most of their holidays, and learned their customs. The armed forces are filled with families from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. We learned to celebrate differences and saw how one similarity — being in the military — brought many different people together.
Moving around taught us to connect with others quickly because we weren’t sure how long we would be in town.
You also needed someone to confide in other than your siblings and take your mind off of the bad times. Making friends was also easy because everyone was looking to make new friends; we were all in the same boat. The opposite of all the hellos is all the goodbyes you have to say, either in person or from afar. You can’t always make it halfway across the world for the funeral of a loved one or friend, so you learn to say goodbye in your own ways. Your moving dates could get changed and your goodbyes are cut short or your time at your location is extended and it gives you more time with them. Many times a goodbye turns into a see you later because you end up getting stationed with your friend at the same base later on. One of my high school friends actually lives in Chattanooga now, crazy huh?
The constant on the go teaches you what is truly important and that family is who you make it.
For most of our lives, my siblings and I grew up on the other side of the world from our family. There were times we were blessed to live 1.5 hours away, but then it was back across the sea again after a few years. Our grandparents would visit occasionally and we would visit them, but many times there would be years in between those visits. This was before Skype, smart phones, and Zoom. We spent holidays and celebrations with neighbors and friends. Our family became who we chose to include in our intimate lives. I’ll never forget some of the summers, birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases and New Years spent with the other families living in the same building complex.
Going with the flow is something that all military personnel and family members have to learn quickly because there’s usually not much you can do.
One of my dad’s earlier assignments was supposed to move us to Italy. Our household goods were packed up and on their way. We were then told that we were being moved to England instead because my sister had broken her leg and they couldn’t treat her in Italy. What were we to do? We ended up living there for six years. I remember on September 11th, our household goods were packed up and we were supposed to fly to the United States the following day. Because of the tragic events of that day we weren’t able to fly anywhere for a few more weeks and we had to start school late in October. There’s no use in complaining because you can’t do anything to change the situation so you learn to make do.
The other lesson I learned from the constant changing of plans is that it’s not all about me.
You learn early on that the world is bigger than you and your little family. Mom and dad miss graduations, birthdays, and big events because they’re doing their duty to serve their country. There was a time when my dad would be gone for four months at a time and mom got on with life. My dad was also deployed for a year where he missed my college graduation, my sister’s high school graduation, the death of our dogs, and my brother almost scalping himself (that’s a story for another time). You learn to grow up, step up, and help out a lot.