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  • Cheryl Stanley

Relating to Your Kids as a Former Military Brat: Pt. 2 Being the Parent

The world was much different when I was a child. The military world was different, too.

One thing that hasn’t changed? Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Traveling across the country in a car can be miserable for everyone—long days of driving or riding after saying goodbye to friends. Early in our married life, we were blessed with our oldest daughter, Laura. I always wanted a lot of children but moving with them meant the possible arguments, and “she’s touching me.”

So, when we started planning for number two, we bought the infamous minivan. There had to be room for them to spread out and for us to carry what my husband called “the baby support equipment.” Along with the odds and ends you don’t want to be transported by TMO…

God decided we probably couldn’t handle more than two, which in hindsight was a blessing. I hear it is easier to play man-to-man defense instead of zone. Looking back on some of those long road trips, it was all for the best. As stressful as some of those moves were, they are now treasured memories looking back.

Make it an Adventure

Knowing we would be moving a lot (we didn’t expect 20 moves in 25 years), it needed to be an adventure, and the girls needed something to look forward to. So, as they have already shared in previous blogs, we found destinations along the way to make it a mini-vacation.

Sometimes it was as simple as “free ice-water” in Wall, South Dakota, or the “expensive dinner at the fancy restaurant” that served famous Kansas City steaks. It might have been splurging to stay at a nice hotel with an indoor pool in the middle of March so the girls could swim. Most of the time, it also meant visiting family along the way. If you haven’t seen it, read my previous post on family. The Air Force schedule can make it difficult to plan vacations in advance, but we always knew we had the time during PCS’s, so we carved out the time to make them into vacations.

Find your Touchstone, a Place to Call Home

As the girls have mentioned, finding a sense of home can be difficult. So, we started them on their college journey early and often by visiting our alma mater as frequently as possible. Being a brat myself, I really never called any place “home.” We took the girls to Purdue every chance we got when we traveled. It was where my husband and I met and was probably more like “home” to me than any place I had lived.

It was our touchstone and quickly became the same for our girls. Each time we returned, even as the university grew and changed, it had that feeling of comfort and familiarity that I would associate with home. It was always important to find those places of comfort. It was exciting to see that our girls, found the same sense of home at our beloved university. In fact, both of them also met their husbands at Purdue… so yeah, we’re Boilers through and through.

Change is a fact of life

I remember the day Laura was married. She was married in the church that we attended as students, the church we would take them to when we were in town, the church she and her sister attended while they were students. Sadly, that church is no longer there. This reminder of how things change was sad, but a fact of life.

Facing change is constant for brats, but it doesn’t mean that we like it. Some events, like the destruction of a church for a shopping plaza, challenge us. We all grow attached to these memories and touchpoints. As a parent of two “brats,” I wanted to make sure they had something constant. We would talk about what has changed over the years to help them recognize that change isn’t all bad. And when they were attending, they would also send us notes about changes they were seeing on campus. This helped all of us to see change as a chance for improvement and growth: or as Purdue would say, “The Next Giant Leap.”

With my Dad being military, Grandma and Grandpa’s house changed too, so Purdue became that place for us. I was an adult when Dad retired, so their new community wasn’t really home, but the houses they lived in and still live in have some of those mementos that bring along cherished memories.

Reality is tough when you are young

Like Beth, I also moved between my Junior and Senior year in HS. It was very hard. There really wasn’t much for me to do other than academics. Up until this year of disruption, I had been on Student Council, on the swimming and diving team, active in our church, and surrounded by friends I had been going to school with for the past six years. In military brat time, that is an eternity.

Since Dad would be in school in DC before the move, my Mom was left to sell the house and move to Ohio after it sold. Not knowing how long that would take, my parents gave me the option of moving in with my grandparents and going to the high school both my parents attended so that I wouldn’t have to move in the middle of the school year. The house sold before school began in California.

My first “Girls Trip”

My siblings flew to Indiana, and Mom and I packed up the house and dog and drove across the country. I chose to stay with the family, and we moved to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, from California. I wasn’t exactly super excited but would still be with my family.

Remember, making it an adventure? I learned from the best! This was a girls’ road trip to remember! Every morning started with Willie Nelson singing, “On the Road Again.” Traveling with our dog, Duffy, was another piece to our fun puzzle. He was becoming a grouchy old man and was NOT going to be left behind. Getting him into the car every morning of our trip was simple, getting him out at night, not so much.

I learned a lot on that road-trip at the wide-eyed age of 17. Like driving through road construction on a freeway in front of the highway patrol is nerve-racking. Do it for an hour, and it is just tiresome. But the patrolman was patient with me, where else was he going to go? As soon as the road returned to two lanes, he and everyone else were thrilled to pass me. My mom just smiled and said, “You did just fine.” Again, some of the hard things the military throws at you end up being treasured memories later on.

Beth’s Turn

We were given an assignment to Montana from Washington DC the summer before Beth’s senior year. … Very similar to my own experience.

Rob had to go to school for ten weeks before our upcoming move to Montana, Beth and I had a lot of time to talk. I remember one night feeling like we needed a true heart-to-heart. Since I had been through the same situation, I really felt for what she was going through, and I wanted to give her some options like my parents had given me. Though I hated the idea of her not living with us for her senior year, Rob and I wanted to set her up to finish out her senior year as successfully as possible.

We have Options

We talked about her staying with friends and finishing her senior year in Virginia. I shared stories from my experiences and how it wasn’t easy. We talked and cried together. But in the end, she made the choice to move with us to Montana.

One thing I learned from my experience and shared with her, we had options. Giving her the options and allowing her to make the decision helped, but I knew, like me, it wasn’t going to make it all right. It was still going to be tough. There were many more tear-filled nights to come. But at least we had one behind us. What do you do next?

Plan a great family road trip, what else?

Like I started out saying, things may change but there are some things in life that we all share, no matter when you live them. These blogs have touched on how difficult it can be for military children to move and make friends as they grow up. These struggles are real and carry over into our adult lives. But as a brat, I wanted my girls to have a stable of a life as possible. The Air Force doesn’t always make it easy. But knowing what to expect, I think helped to at least make the journey interesting.

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