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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Life (and struggles) of a Military Kid (and mom)

Recently, Henrik has created a new game, and he plays it almost daily. The game is called, "Moving to a new house". The rules are simple: you pack up everything. Seriously, everything...including the rug, and you move it to a whole different room.

The first time I caught him playing this game he asked if he and the neighbor could go up stairs "to play away from the little kids". Because they are good kids, I obliged and was proud of myself for letting him be more independent.  They were playing nicely, there was no shouting or crying, and I didn't feel the need to check on them because I could hear nice conversations between the two of them. But, when it was time for the neighbor to go, I went up stairs and saw something I'd never thought I'd see: the entire play room, THE ENTIRE play room, was in Henrik's bedroom. Toys, not thrown all over the floor, but in the bins they belong in, neatly piled into a corner. The table and chairs, the rug... literally everything except the desk that has my printer on it, was in his bedroom. "MOM! Look what we did! We moved to a new house!" he said excitedly. I was in shock, I can't believe he picked up the rug! He even took pictures off the wall and put them in his room in a neat little pile. "Wow! It's beautiful!" What else are you going to say?!

A few days later he played the game again. I knew that this meant that toys would be placed in different bins, puzzle pieces removed to a new box so "they wouldn't get lost," and a lot of cleaning for me to do after the "clean up". So we just modified the rules: "you can't remove toys from the bins or put them in any other boxes". Henrik agreed and I watched this time as he moved box after box from the living room to the front room. That night I told Eric about the game (now that it had happened again) and he said, "Do you think it's because we have moved a lot?"

DUH! That's exactly what I was thinking. This was, and always has been my fear of raising a military kid: that they wouldn't know what "home" was. To be fair, Henrik has moved more than most kids his age, even for a military kid. He's moved eight times in his three years. And, that mostly was due to the flood: trying not to be homeless, looking for stability with our family, the rebuilding process, the moving back to the flooded house, still rebuilding, the training that Eric went through, and finally moving here, but EIGHT TIMES in three years. That is a lot. Even for an adult.

I tried not to think about how horrible Eric and I were for moving our boys across the country so much. One day, the opportunity came about, and I asked Henrik if he liked to move. He told me that he liked going to new places and getting a new room. So I asked another question, "Do you want to move around a lot, like we have been doing? Or do you want to have one house that we can have forever?" He chose the forever house. He's killing me on the inside. Eric and I have decided that we will stay in the military as long as it's good for us and our family, but with this new information, do we really have to think about getting out? We are thinking about buying a house after we see what Eric's job looks like in a few months, it would mean another move for the boys, but we'd still being in the same town, so maybe it would be OK?

I tried not to think about it, but as a parent, it's one of those things that will always haunt you: Are you making the right decisions for your kids? This is one of those issues that you will constantly play out in your head 1,000+ times to see if you can get a different outcome, but I don't know the right answer.

I was a kid from a divorced family, we traveled a lot from house to house, and it was hard. I lived out of a duffel bag for a long time and hated it. As a result, when I married Eric and we joined the military lifestyle, we moved across the country right off the bat, and I made sure that I made each house a home right away. No matter the length of the assignment. But apparently, my rapid unpacking skills and trying to instill in our kids that we always have a home in the house we live in, and a home in Michigan, isn't as effective as I'd hoped. 

For a few days I was able to forget about it, or at least not let it bother me, but as we were getting ready for Christmas, and we were getting out the decorations, the stockings, and talking about Santa, Henrik looked at me and quietly said, "But mom? We live in Colorado Springs now... we don't live in Minot". I was honestly shocked at what I thought he was implying, "Yes, you're right" I quickly replied. "But Santa knows where we li..." "But HOW?" I was quickly interrupted. "We don't have lights on the outside of our house, how will he know how to find us!" he finished, deeply concerned and out of breath. I looked at him with tears in my eyes. "Santa knows if you move, he knows if you've been good, he knows if you've been bad. He knows everything. It's okay..." He didn't look convinced. "How about, we go and get some decorations so Santa really can't miss our house" I cheerfully exclaimed. Henrik smiled.

So, we went to the store, right away, and playfully walked up and down each of the Christmas aisles and talked about the decorations we liked and didn't like, ones that were big enough for Santa to see from the sky, and pretty ones that were more subtle. We finally decided on some small, but well lit trees to put on the porch. Henrik informed me, "with three trees, Santa will find us". I was happy he was happy. I was glad I was able to convince him that we had a home and could make his world better, at least this time.

I guess there isn't really a heartwarming end or silver lining to this one. I don't know how to make Henrik, or someday Theodor, know (even though we talk about it a lot), that no matter where we end up, we have new aunts and uncles, new friends, and we get to experience a new place every few years. I don't know how to tell him that eventually, he will learn a lot about himself in each of the places we go and through the different kinds of trials and experiences he has in each place. I don't know how to tell him that he's lucky that he gets to move all around the country and see so much of it when most people don't leave the state they are from, or how he's able to have such a loving, widespread military family no matter what. And it breaks my heart that he doesn't quite understand that Daddy and I are still from Michigan, and that we will always have our "home" there. We will always have gone to school there, were raised there, met there, were married there, and even returned with our kids to show them all of the things we love about our home and the family that we have there. 

This new game, and this new worry about Santa explains a lot about Henrik. I already knew these things, but this is a confirmation that he is much more sensitive about life, moving and himself than we are led to believe. For example, he wants to stay in a room with Theodor, he wants their beds to be one big bed, but prefers our bed so we can be "close, and warm and snuggle". He can keep track of every toy he owns, and has some system in his brain where he knows that "that Tiger Jeep was left at Pal's house". He almost always has a toy in each hand and hoards toys into a safe place when he plays. It makes sense though. He's a kid who grew up with loss at age one when we lost our house and a lot of his toys to 7.5 feet of water. He's moved away from his dad twice, not due to a deployment, but due to a flood. He's seen his mom worry about finding a house. He has seen his dad work hard to build a house for our family. The same house that was destroyed in the flood.  And then, Henrik was angry and sad when we sold the flooded house because it was the focus of our life for two years, and, his dad built it. He couldn't fathom giving it to another person, even though I told him the new people would start their family there and they needed it now, not us. 

Henrik is more sentimental than I give him credit for, he's a lot like me actually.  We hold on to things and places, and we keep memories forever. It's not the stuff that makes a home, but it's the whole atmosphere for us. It's not easy for me to move around and get a new life or a new house just like that either. In fact, part of the reason I wanted to move back to the flooded house was so Theodor could have his first steps there, so he could play there, so he and Henrik could know why their dad and I chose this house for our family. And now, I'm in a position where I dream about that forever home in Michigan near family and the things I love so dearly there, but it's something I can't have just yet. 

Somewhere in all of this there is a lesson for me. I don't know what it is yet. But I know that my son is like me, and that means I have to figure out a way to make him understand that home is where your family is. And he's got family all over this country. And he's always got a home in the house we live in, and a home in Michigan. And someday I'll figure out how to make it all make sense to him. But for now, I just have to make it make sense to a three year old, and if moving boxes from room to room and talking about the kind of forever house he wants is what needs to happen, I'll do it, a million times. 

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