“Mom, it’s just another new school!”
My oldest was about to begin middle school and I’d been lying awake nights, praying for faith it wouldn’t annihilate her. She and I attended the school’s orientation, which gave me sweaty palms.
Walking back to the car, hoping my worries wouldn’t infect her, I asked if she felt anxious, and she replied: “Mom! it’s just another new school!”
I stopped mid-stride to understand how anyone could downplay the magnitude of a shy kid jumping into a sea of 1,400 strange faces. But for a girl who had attended six schools through 6th grade (and now nine schools through 10th), it was life as usual.
My younger girl only has a birthday party every few years. Most summers, we move and she doesn’t have time to make friends before her August birthday. She lived eight places before she turned 12.
Sometimes we celebrate in May so she doesn’t miss a party with the friends she’s gathered over two years.
My kids are military kids. April is the Month of the Military Child.
The average child growing up with a military parent will move six to nine times before adulthood, which is three times more than the average American child.
Military kids arrive at new schools without connections to peers or staff. They miss out on opportunities.
“Sorry, kid, try-outs were last spring” means an already vulnerable student has missed a chance to connect with a team and do the activity he loves, gives confidence and makes him feel like himself.
The school might misinterpret a girl’s transcript, placing her in the wrong level of math, then changing her schedule three months into the year, requiring another round of starting over socially.
A boy might know histories of four states and learn the same science curriculum two years in a row because of varying requirements.
She only gets to see extended family every few years because she is stationed on the other side of the country, or ocean.
He wonders whether to tell Mom how sad he is Dad is deployed, but doesn’t want to add to Mom’s stress.
She struggles to accept the new normal of her parent’s life-changing service-related injury.
But what doesn’t crush their souls ultimately makes military kids strong. If they’re lucky, they encounter peers who are open to new friendships. If they stay long enough, they gradually build acquaintances into affection.
At the very least, they learn how to adapt and endure. They’ve benefited from (or survived) five ways of teaching reading and four styles of coaching basketball. They know if one approach to a problem doesn’t work, another might.
They have more practice making friends and reaching out than most well-adjusted adults do. If they stay in touch with old friends, those friendships enrich both lives.
So there are advantages to the military lifestyle. At least one parent is employed, with a housing allowance and healthcare. The military supports families with programs and advisors, and veterans have advocated for military kids for decades.
Military parents often instill respect and self-discipline in their children, readying them for the working world.
Because the military is one of the most diverse institutions in the country, its children are accustomed to interacting with people of all backgrounds.
They might speak a second language early in life from living overseas. They may have learned to ski in the Alps, surf in Hawaii and navigate the subway in Seoul.
They are aware of world events because news affects them personally. They can learn quickly and adjust as needed. They are an under-recognized resource for any community honored to have them … and most U.S. ZIP codes do.
During this Month of the Military Child, let’s give them a hand for what they’ve endured as their parents serve our country, and cheer them on for what they can become.
Sarah Becking of JBLM is a military spouse, volunteer and one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at SarahLibrary@yahoo.com