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The Curse of a Military Child

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I grew up on the road from town to town
My daddy’s line of work kept us movin’ around
I got fond memories of the way things were back then
The warmth of a neon when a cold storms movin in.
— Wayne Hancock, “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs”

There’re two kinds of people in this world (okay, there’s more than just two, but for the purposes of this, we’re going to say two) – travelers and homebodies. I’m a traveler.

I come by it honestly. My dad was in the military, and we lived a life that every couple of years had us going somewhere else. By the time I was six years old, I’d lived in a couple of states and a foreign country. By the time I was nine, I’d already bounced around to several different schools and seen friends come and go only to work on making new ones. It was always the same — just about the time you were figuring out the rules and the groove of one place, you were off to another to start over. While amazingly frustrating from a child’s point of view, I look back on it now and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything — it informs the me of today as much as anything from my youth.

Parents do their level-headed best to teach their children, to help them grow and mature to eventually leave the nest and start a nest of their own. But I would argue that even with the best of parents (mine were pretty darn good) some of the toughest lessons, the ones that stick with us throughout our lives, are the ones we learn on our own.

Learning to quickly make news friends, learning to adjust to a new environment, never accepting the permanence of anything, learning to cling to your family when it got too tough (to this day, my brother is my best friend in the world; there were times when all we had was each other), and so much more — these were just some of the lessons I learned growing up in the manner I did.

And that legacy sticks with me – every couple of years I get an itch, something inside that says it’s time to move on. There’s something I’ve just got to see over the next hill, down the freeway, around that bend. I swear, somewhere, deep down, this need to move is why, at least in part, I joined the military.

I wouldn’t argue that there’s nothing to be said about growing up in one place, going to school from kindergarten through high school with the same core of friends. I look at some of my friends who have had that, people who have had friends they’ve known since they were children, and I’m a little bit envious of  the deep connection they have to one place, because I know that deep down I have no such connection. Heck, even the place I spent most of my time growing up in high school has long passed. My parents left Alaska, moved to Kansas, only to move again to Texas: once the bug bites you, there’s no salve to cure the itch.

But of those who would make their case for growing up in one place I would ask this: have you ever seen a midnight sun over a glacier peak, or have you ever walked the chilling halls of a German castle’s torture chamber, or have you ever jumped in a car on one coast and ended up on the other and experienced everything in between?

It’s an easy thing to say “America, the Beautiful,” it’s quite another to have seen its beauty with your own eyes; to have taken in the air at the highest points in this great nation all the way down to the lowest, to have played in both the Pacific and Atlantic, and to have swum in the many different gulfs and seas that surround our land.

America is such an amazingly rich tapestry of people, colors, sights, and sounds that I feel I’d be depriving any child if I were to take away from them that opportunity to experience it all themselves when they’re young, when that love of all things and new things and experiences can be a foundation pillar for the adult they become.

The homebody might say “Home is where the heart is.” Me, I prefer the words of Jack Kerouac: “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

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About Mr. B

  • Ode-ar

    Nice article Ben … I bounced around as well, literally from one end of the world to the other and my father was an ex-soldier too, a veteran of the British Army and later involved through part of my childhood on military contract work.

    But all of it does open the eyes, especially the eyes of the “comfortable”.

    Moving around just became normal. It was worth all the angst of (at least) half a dozen different schools. I’d recommend it too, although it might not suitb every Joe or Joanne.

  • Ex Army brat here, too. I was in 16 different houses before I turned 12, and those were the ones I could count. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in one neighborhood. When we had our own children, he thought it particularly tragic if we made our children switch schools. I couldn’t see it as a negative, but as a positive to meet new people.