Every time the word ‘military’ is brought up, it is followed by ‘war,’ ‘veteran,’ or ‘service.’ Never is a child thought about when we think of the military. I, like the almost two million others, live a life that is not your typical upbringing. It does not take place in one place, it is not surrounded by the same people and it is not easy. It is the life of a military child.
For those who do not know, military families move to a new place every three years or so. It could be sooner; it could be later. For myself, I moved about every three years (with one exception). I knew friends who never lived in the same place twice, and I knew friends who frequented the same base every couple of years. Unless you were a contractor’s kid, you never lived in the same place long enough to call it home.
Personally, I feel I do not have a home. Not in a sad way, more of a matter-of-fact way. When I get asked where I am from, I ask, “What do you mean?” It is so common at this point that it has become a joke. Do they want to hear where I was born? Where I lived the longest? What about my favorite place, or the place where I remember the most memories? Do I mention my parents’ home of record, or do I claim to be from all over?
What do they want me to say?
It has gotten to the point where I simply ask, “Do you want the long answer or the short answer?” They laugh, I laugh, and we discuss it. I explain how I have lived on different continents, tasted foreign foods, learned new languages and spell my words weirdly. I get to be a topic of conversation where the people I meet want to know how I can handle the chaos in my life while still being so humble about where I have lived. However, I also get the question:
Are you even American?
They mean no harm — but when I do not understand what brands they discuss or the pronunciation of great American landmarks, I cannot help but feel excluded on some inside joke. Although I cannot speak for all military children, I can speak for myself. Since moving back to the United States, I still feel as though I do not belong. I repeatedly ask what jokes mean, what brands are, what games have been created and what new trends there are. I feel like an outsider that cannot fit in.
My life has become a spectacle to watch from afar and murmur in amazement — but never wanted to be lived. Although the travel is fascinating, the leaving cannot be tolerated; the goodbyes are too hard; the deployed parent sucks; the isolation is frightening. For most, it is better to appreciate the glamour from a distance but mask the cracks that show the truth.
No one likes to hear that you must grow up faster and learn to handle life on your own. No one likes to learn that having a parent, or parents, leave you for months on end takes a toll on your expectations of family. No one likes to hear that you can never learn to live in one place for the rest of your life after you have spent the majority of it in constant movement. No one likes to hear that you are always expecting to leave, so it is easier to make in-the-moment friends rather than lifetime friends. No one likes to hear the sacrifices you have learned to make as a child.
But would I ever want to change my life?
Absolutely not. I have had opportunities that most people will never get to experience or could even fathom to happen in their life. From living in multiple countries to interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds, being a military child has opened my eyes to perspectives that cannot be described unless you experience them.
I have many people ask me why I do not want to change my life. How, despite knowing that nothing is permanent, why I would not want to change something in my past to keep stability. How, when looking towards my future, I do not plan to settle down and remain in one place. Despite these curiosities, my answer is because I appreciate the changes.
I was able to see the world while most people my age were barely leaving their hometown, let alone state. I visited most of Europe, lived in dream American vacation spots, and traveled to parts of Asia. Each place holds an unforgettable memory. Memories like the time my family and I were almost pickpocketed in a subway in Rome, and we were happy about it because we felt like a normal person. Memories of the man we rented our house from lived during Franco’s regime and told amazing stories every time we saw him. Memories of how I learned to say six different Korean words and nothing else, yet the lady I bought my eggs from at the market every week always knew what I meant and tried to talk to me about what the best deals were that day. My family and I have friends that we still see from when we met at a restaurant five years ago in Belgium. My closest friend lives in Valencia, Spain, and we still talk every day.
I have had people who like to tell me that it is so unfortunate that I have had to deal with moving all over, never getting to remain in one place and keeping the same friends for years. I, however, disagree. I may not have gotten to live in one place my whole life, but I have seen more of the world than my grandmother ever got to. My friends may not all live in the same country, but we always find a way to stay in each other’s lives. I am tired of the narrative that military children suffer because we move so much that we are in immense pain due to never having a ‘real home’. Although my home may not be a single spot on the map, I have made my home in the hearts closest to me — and that is the best home I will ever know.