On the Move: Lessons of an Army Brat

girl smiling at teddy bear

I moved 12 times before I graduated high school.

Go ahead. Pick your jaw up from the floor.

My mom was an active duty army officer and as the saying goes, "Home is where the Army sends you."  We lived everywhere from New York and Georgia to Indiana and Pennsylvania.  We moved about once a year, if not more.

Whenever you tell someone "I'm an army brat," you get a few questions like "Where did you live?" "Did you make friends?" And most common - "Did you ever adjust?"

If you asked me at 12, I'd say "New York, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Carolina."  Then I would take a moment to ponder the last two.   I would reply with a simple "Yes" to the friends question and "No" to the adjusting.

I wasn't happy about missing my friends, changing, or puberty.  In hindsight, what 12-year-old child is well adjusted or simply adjusted to life at all?  There's a mess of hormones and the universal desire to fit in and feel, well, at home.  Add starting over at trying to fit in year after year?  Forget about it.

By the time I reached college age, my lack of home state was a fact of life I couldn't ignore, and I decided it wasn't worth fighting.  In a strangely empowering way, this is what began to define me.  I liked having something fun to say when asked to share one "fun fact" about myself.  And while I don't see myself attaining an Oprah-like following of advice-seekers, I do believe I've gained a few valuable life lessons from my childhood that I'd never sacrifice.  So for any kid adjusting to a move (military-family related or not), here is my advice to you:

1.  Join Teams.  My way of adjusting to a new home and relating to a new friend was to play as many sports at school as schedules permitted.  Luckily, I was athletically inclined and played basketball, softball, and soccer.  My brother, on the other hand, preferred to participate in spelling and math bees.  It worked for both of us.

2.  Go Nuts on Facebook.  Before texting, Skype and Facebook, it's funny to think that my mother had to invest in a long-distance unlimited calling plan so I could spend hours on the phone with old friends.  Instant Messenger was a revolution for me in middle-school.  I imagine if I were 13 all over again, I'd be a Facebook junkie.  Wait, I already am.  

3.  Initiate the Fun.  Moving around and adjusting to a new life every year made college much easier.  As new students scattered from the first welcome events with little confidence in their friend-making abilities, I easily befriended dorm neighbors and invited my entire floor to join me for a soccer game during the first weekend of school.  When I entered the professional world, I credit my diverse upbringing with helping me to be more flexible with the ever changing dynamic of fast paced offices, specifically smaller startup companies, and having the confidence to meet new people.

4.  Find Friends Through Humor.  Despite my first-day-new-kid nervous jitters, I did my best to respond to new situations with one of two things: smarts or comic value.  All the moving around probably generated my sarcastic sense of humor.  I learned that if you make people laugh, you're one step closer to becoming their friend.  My mom definitely encouraged me to be funny, but never hurtful.  As an introverted mother raising an extroverted daughter, she taught me how to be sensitive to people's feelings and really listen to others.

5.  Know the Value of Your Family.  The most important lesson I learned through all of this was the value of family.  When my mom had a three-month war college to attend, my grandmother would pack her bags and live at our house so I didn't have to move again.  My brother, although five years younger, was a built-in best friend.  It made life much easier when we moved to each new town.

When my parents divorced and my brother started to live with his father full time, my mom and I became extremely close.  She wasn't a best friend (the parent- child line was drawn in rock, not sand) but we had a relationship where I really could tell her anything and it made a difference.  Not only did it change how I spoke to her but how I interacted and related to other people.

I went 12 for 12 - 12 moves in 12 years - and looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.  As a result of my tumultuous upbringing, I'm so aware of people (their preferences, likes, etc) and more accepting of everyday change.  Of course, I'm also a very good packer and moving buddy.

To the military moms reading this article, packing up for your 4th move in 5 years and wondering if your kids will turn out okay - the answer is a resounding yes.  They'll be fine.  Oh, and thank you for your service.  We both know the family serves as well.

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Comments (1)
Kimberly
This was a really funny read! It's always puzzling when pondering a move on a child - this was helpful. I'll use it as a teacher to help my families adjust.
Posted: November 28, 2011 at 5:11 PM
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