Monday, April 11, 2016

The Life of a Military Kid- The PCS

Just when you think military kids are resilient, something comes their way and they are once again put to the test, up to the challenge without a choice, that society and yes, even military parents, put on them. They go from being comfortable and confident in who they are and where they belong, to feeling lost, afraid and confused. And while being resilient is the thing they are called most, most of them are like a duck in water, like most of their parents, playing it cool on the surface, but scrambling to find ground to stand on.

This year, our military kids are being put to the test once again, and during the Month of the Military Child too. They are going through a PCS or a Permanent Change of Station, and, in our experience, a PCS doesn't mean moving from door to door, it means a month of change, driving and living out of a suitcase. We are open with our kids, they knew when we knew that we were going to move. They knew that it was still far off. They knew that we had to pick up boxes for  DITY move, so when we found boxes from another military family, packed all three kids in two cars and filled them to the brim with boxes, they were excited. They got to help and be part of the move. We discussed how we'd be living in a smaller house so we could sell some of their toys that they were no longer playing with and use the money for their dream trip to LegoLand. They happily sorted out toys, happily discarded toys that were broken and knew that they got something special out of this task. But still, the boxes were empty. 

For a few weeks the boxes stayed empty, but filled the garage leaving only enough room to get their bikes in and out. They hardly noticed them as they climbed towers to get to their tackle boxes, but this week, with just a few weeks left before our move, their rooms started to get empty. Their toys started to get sorted, their walls became bare. Last night I told them that they could take one medium and one small stuffed animal on the trip in the car and the rest would be packed to meet us at our new house, they groaned, but understood. They made their selections, and gave he rest hugs as they got settled into bed. This morning, I told them to give their animals one more kiss and to put them in the box so that they could meet us at our next station. Teddy took it hard. He asked four times if these toys were going to our new house. After assuring him, over and over, he finally started to give each animal a hug, a kiss and some sort of message for the trip. It was adorable. It was something he would do. It was also heartbreaking. To see the struggle in a four year old to try to understand how long they'd have to be in a box, and how long he'd have to be away from his beloved stuffed animals before we actually left the house.  And how long before he could open the box again is almost too much for him to handle. But he did, and did it like a pro who has moved six times and is on his seventh move in four years. 

A few minutes later he went to the basement and grabbed his plastic backpack on wheels. He took it upstairs to his room where I was. He insisted that he pack his things that he wanted in our new house. I told him I'd happily do it with him when it was time to pack a bag for the car, but he, very direct, said, "This is not for the car, this is for my things that I want in our new house". Then he went downstairs. I assumed he went to watch TV with his brother, but when I came down with the trash and the dirty clothes from under their bed, I saw his bag, a lunchbox, two baseball hats, a pair of gloves, and his tackle box waiting by the front door. All perfectly stacked. All in line. All looking like we were leaving in the morning. I called him to the door. 

"Is this what you want in our new house?" I asked calmly and at his eye level. He nodded proudly. "You did a really great job packing your stuff. This isn't for the car though, it's for the truck, right? We'll put it in the moving truck and pack your backpack with toys right before we leave, right?" I asked, trying to get back to our original conversation about how he didn't need to pack his play things right now. 

"This is just stuff I want to have when we get there. It's for the truck," he explained using hand gestures that made me think he was a teenager. "Did you pack some snacks in that lunch box?" I asked, curious if I needed to put things back in the fridge. He nodded again and smiled at me. I smiled back and gave him a hug. He went on his way back to the family room to play cars. 

About an hour later his sister discovered the bag. She, as a curious 17 month old would, took the bag on wheels and stated to move it around the house. Then she noticed the lunch box. She picked it up, and walked around saying, "Open it. Snacks?" Teddy got nervous. He shoved her away from the lunch box. She of course cried. He got yelled at by his dad, because his dad just arrived home and had no information on the importance of the packed items. When Eric told Teddy to give the lunch box back, Teddy started to breathe heavily. He got red in the face. He clenched his fists and let out a grumbling yell. I went over to him and held him, so tight. I had to explain that his sister was just curious about his things and how she wanted to carry a lunch box and a suitcase because she thought they were really cool. He finally calmed down. I wiped the tears from his face. 

Once again I told him we weren't leaving yet, that we had so much left to pack, and that he still have 7 more days of school. He nodded even though I know he didn't understand. Eric took the baby to bed and Teddy perfectly placed his items by the door again. 

It's moments like this, as a parent, especially a military parent, where you have to sit back and wonder if you are doing the right thing. I know that at this point in our career and life, we are. Once I reassure myself of that, I move on to how big this whole concept is and how life changing moves are to anyone, especially a child. Thankfully, we've talked a lot about how California would be an amazing place to live with lots of places to visit. We've talked about how they will attend a new school, get a new room, new friends and how we'll feel like we're on vacation all the time because the weather is so nice. And while they are excited about all of that, I have to imagine that there is so much fear and panic inside them right now. Yes, we've seen Inside Out, lots of times, it has to be one of the best movies for military kids, but maybe we need to watch it again and talk about it while relating it to our new and upcoming  move. 

Teddy was on edge all day. He fought with his sister, and me. And when he saw me take the trash outside he followed, "I WANT THAT BOOK! TAKE THAT BOOK OUT NOW!" He screamed and moved his fists around. I had to pick him up and carry him inside. "Teddy, that book has been ripped for years. You have broken ALL the pieces. It's missing some pieces too! I don't want to move something that we can recycle. If it means that much to you, we can get a new one that has all of the pieces and isn't ripped to shreds!" My answer was apparently a horrible one. He screamed and cried into my shoulder. "But... tha--that's MY BOOOOOKKKK," he sobbed. I sat him on the counter. I rubbed his shoulders, I held him, and just let him cry. I knew it wasn't about that book. I knew that it was because books were being packed, his room was becoming empty, boxes were accumulating in the front room, and he didn't even know where California was on the map even though we've showed him several times. He didn't know how many days we had left in this house and he didn't know what his life looked like, except for vanishing before his eyes. 

When I pulled out the birthday books (just three months late, but thought I'd better do it before we move), to do their annual interview, one of the questions asked what your mom and dad did for a job. Teddy said that Eric, "goes to work, launches airplanes and stuff... and works with the super heroes". I got a smile out of that. When I asked what I did for work, his gaze shifted away from me. He lowered his head and quietly said, "My mom takes my stuff from me." On a normal day, that wouldn't  have hurt, because we all know moms are mean. But today, he came out swinging with his attitude, and anger all because he was confused. But because I took the crying and the whining and the fighting like a champ, he took as big of a swing as possible with this interview question.  I looked at him to see if a stare would change his answer, he didn't even flinch. Usually when he says mean things he cracks a smile. Not this time. 

"Teddy," I said seriously as I grabbed his hands, "I'm not taking your toys. You'll get them back. We have to pack them all up so we can put them on a truck and the truck driver will deliver them all to our new house. Do you understand that?" He just stared at me. "Buddy, do you understand that you will get all of this stuff back? It will just be after we go and visit our grandparents, our friends and drive across the country." With his head lowered he said, "but you threw away my book. It's gone forever and now the garbage man has it and not me, I'll NEVER GET IT BACK!" I had to stop the tantrum before it could start. I picked him up, held him and let him know I was sorry. I told him I hated moving, I told him I hated packing more. And I told him that I was so proud of him for helping me by packing his bag, lunch box, his gloves and hats. I let him know that he was being a huge helper to our family so we could get to Daddy's next job. He kind of smiled. He held on tight for a while. 

While today wasn't a good day, tomorrow might be better, and the next will be better than that. It always gets easier, but there is that panic that we all have before something huge in our life. Moving is scary, whether it's down the street or across the country, making a change in who you know and what you know is one of the most difficult things. I know a lot of adults who have never left their own town or state. And part of me, loves that the military offers us the opportunity to see all that this country has to offer. So we can see the world through different eyes and be exposed to new ideas and new things. But days like this make me want to stay put, in this house, in this neighborhood, for a lifetime. I know when he wakes up in the morning he'll want to help pack. And I'll let him. And I know that maybe tomorrow afternoon, he'll have a melt down because too much of his life is now sitting in boxes in the front room. I also know, that he will be OK. I know that he won't be OK because he's resilient or a military kid. I know he'll be OK because Eric and I work hard every single day to explain this life to them. We make them feel like they are part of the mission, the reason to serve their country. We let them know, that by moving around and maybe leaving something comfortable, they too are helping their dad do his job to keep this country safe and strong. And while a  four year old won't understand that today, tomorrow or even next year, it's the inclusion in the way of life that helps them become stronger and more brave than most of us will be in a lifetime. 

So, to my boys on this Month of the Military Child, I want you to know that each day you amaze me. The fact that you are able to let toys go to children who don't have them, to sell items in a garage sale, and to even pack up toys and your life into boxes for a month at a time is beyond impressive. The fact that you can move from place to place and feel settled and comfortable shows that you are stronger than most adults, and for sure just as strong as Iron Man. I know that this moving around thing is a challenge. I know that you have to say, "see you later" to more people in your short lives than most people say in their whole life shows that you are kind, loving, caring and welcoming to all that you meet. I am proud, honored even, to have you serve this country in a way that can be argued as more difficult than the way your father or I serve. The two of you, and soon, your sister, are the reasons this country should be thankful. You put up with so much on the home front that most people can't even imagine. For now, Dad and I are doing what is right for our family, and one day, we will have to think about moving you one more time. Know that we always have your best interest in our hearts. Know that we appreciate your sacrifices and your efforts. You are truly inspiring.

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