By the age of six, I had already experienced life in three different houses, in three entirely different places. I had become a professional at packing up my room and knowing exactly what to bring to get me through the first few days before the rest of our belongings arrived at our front door. Basically, moving had become second nature. I knew just how attached to get to people so it wouldn’t be so hard to leave them, and I had almost gotten used to being one of the only ones in the class whose mom or dad wasn’t at the annual Thanksgiving play.
My parents, both now retired U.S. Air Force veterans, served for a combined 26 years, both with the U.S. military and the Royal Air Force overseas.
I remember the first time I realized just how much mine and my brothers’ childhoods differed from those we were growing up with. Mother’s Day was a Sunday that year, so my small class of 10 held a tea party complete with crumpets and jam, coffee and tea, and arrangements of hand-picked flowers set out on the tables.
The smiles on my friends’ faces as their moms made their way into the classroom tightened the nerves in my stomach because I knew the chances of my mom being able to get away from work for the event was slim. I knew she would try her hardest and if anything, I could still eat with my adoptive second family – my best friend since day one.
Sure enough, her mom walked in and we both ran up to hug her. She looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, baby. They’ve got her on another project.”
I had held myself together so well until those words, and at that point, I was an ugly mess. Crying and snotting while trying to make my way down the aisle holding the hands of my best friend and second mom.
I still enjoyed the tea party that day, but it just wasn’t the same without my own mama. At the age of 7, I just couldn’t understand why everyone else’s parents worked jobs they could easily ask off for, when mine wasn’t able to.
But what I tend to forget is she and my dad were there for every other little thing and when they couldn’t be, they made up for it. They never missed a birthday, never missed a family dinner, never missed making chocolate chip waffles for us before school. They didn’t always have loads of free time, but the time they did have, they spent with us. Dad would take us outside and chase us around until we collapsed in a fit of laughter. Mom would pull out a game of Monopoly while making dinner.
Having a parent in the military, regardless of what branch, affects your development more than you realize…especially during your younger years. I grew up never knowing when we would have to pack up and move again. I had more “first days” than the average child should. I was incredibly shy until the sixth grade because a part of me felt like I never had enough time to get to know someone before we had to leave again, so I simply never wanted to try.
I guarded myself from my own emotions.
As much as it felt like a burden sometimes, I’ve found it to be the biggest blessing in disguise as I’ve gotten older.
I still grew up with a sense of adventure and a greater appreciation for the world, because I was lucky enough to see places few people get the chance to. I grew up with friends in every corner of the United States and the United Kingdom, and still, to this day, I can send them a letter and know they’ll write back. I grew up having a close relationship with my two brothers because they were all I had that remained consistent. I grew up in a tight-knit family because when my mom got her orders, we stuck behind her. She was technically the only one required to move, but why would we not want to be with the woman who held our family together through everything?
I grew up having a set way of doing things and utmost respect for rules and laws and obligations. I knew the value of right and wrong because being the daughter of a pretty badass woman and a strong man put the three of us children in the limelight 24/7.
I never got the option to choose whether or not I wanted to be a part of a military family, but there’s not a day I don’t wake up, and am not thankful for such an experience and lifestyle. It’s been the biggest part of my life since birth, and even though both of my parents have finally retired. I am glad that all the lessons and experiences and friends those years gave me are still relevant today.
I am proud to be a military brat and I am proud to have been raised in such a way.