In the military, there are plenty of times where you have no control over your life choices — the biggest being where you live. When you receive PCS orders to a place that may not have been your first choice, you can’t really say, ‘I don’t want to live there, so I’m not going to.’ So, when we have the opportunity to control major life happenings in our military life, we do it — even if it’s difficult or inconvenient. We choose together and we make it happen.
At least that’s what we did.
When my husband found out he’d attend training after the military had already stationed us at our new duty station, we (the kids, pets, and myself) weren’t originally planning to tag along. We would stay home, build our support system, and get the lay of the land at a base we’d only been at for a few months. But, with the pandemic in full swing, a lack of established support, and other complications, jumping on the adventure with him sounded better and better as it got closer. Thus began a year of crazy: a new baby, a PCS, a few months there, a half a year of training here, home for a few weeks, then a few months somewhere else, and finally home again.
I mean, can’t everyone say they have lived in four different zip codes in a year and a half?
We knew we could only take what we could fit in our two cars and a roof rack on the TDYs, so we got creative. We took about a quarter of each of our clothing, our important documents, the kids’ favorite (small!) toys, and other basic personal necessities we couldn’t buy in another state. Then we adopted the mentality of ‘We’ll get it there if we need it, or we’ll make do for a few months without it.’
Regardless of how stressful or complicated the results of our choices were, we definitely learned some valuable lessons along the way.
Any house can feel homey (even a bare-bones furnished rental)
I pride myself on creating a home. I love carefully crafting a warm and welcoming space for my family, no matter where we live. Each move I rush to get the house set up within hours and days of our HHG arriving because I want to be as comfortable in a new place. But when you’re living in a barely furnished rental with basic furniture, minimal kitchenware, and a fraction of your personal possessions, it’s difficult to have a sense of “familiar.”
I quickly missed my stuff. I missed my comfy throw pillows, framed wall decor, carefully-decorated shelves, and the kids’ welcoming playroom. For 10 months total, we lived in houses with minimal decor and furnishings I wouldn’t have chosen for my home. But we embraced it … mostly.
We leaned into temporary living. I let my daughter go wild painting on construction paper to hang on her room walls with painter’s tape. I bought one or two new, cute coffee mugs to make me smile each morning. We brought our throw blankets from home to curl up with on the couch, and the few toys we brought became our creative decor. By this I mean, the toys from home thrown around our rental houses surely made them feel like home. Some things don’t change, no matter where you live.
Kids are resilient, especially young kids
I was so worried about how my young kids would react to being moved around from house to house for more than a year. It turns out, my worry was more for me. They adapted so well to vastly different areas of the country. I was actually quite shocked. In our new locations, we signed our big kid up for activities and tried to spend more time exploring unknown places than stuck at home. We made friends and attended open gym and library time. We found walking paths and parks that soon became some of our favorites. Above all, I realized we can give our kids familiarity and routine anywhere we are.
All kids are beautiful and resilient little souls, but military kids are truly one of a kind. I am so thankful mine are strong and handle changes with such grace at this point in their lives.
You don’t need as many things as you think you do (I promise!)
I’ve never been one for a capsule wardrobe. I have tried, but could never stick to it. Having a limited number of choices in clothes and kids’ toys eliminated a lot of major decision fatigue. I like options and variety, but I understand why people choose capsule-style wardrobes and tiny homes, especially after temporary living. Ironically enough, when we went home for a few short weeks between trainings, my husband — who’s even less of a minimalist than I am — commented how our master closet felt overwhelming. Immediately, I started clearing away clutter, desperate to recreate the visually-minimalistic appearance we had quickly grown accustomed to.
You can do anything temporarily
Even on hard days, when I missed my house and my stuff, I knew I could do it because it was temporary. If it were for years like at our regular duty station, we would have our decor, our bedding, and the rest of our clothing. But for a few months, we could stick it out and only wear a quarter of our wardrobe. I could suck it up and deal with generic office-style decor on the walls and basic-level kitchen utensils. It wasn’t my homey decor or ideal aesthetic, but I knew it was only for a few months. And because of that, I knew it didn’t matter. Besides, that wasn’t the real reason we were in those houses.
Being together is the bottom line
There are so many times in military life when we’re separated. There will be many times my kids are going to miss their dad, whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months. Making the choice to join him (and having the luxury of being able to do so at our current stage of life) was the right one. We went back and forth about whether it would be “worth it” to do this for our kids and our family. I wondered if my husband should just attend his training by himself and we should stay put in our secure environment. In the end, we chose to be together because we could. In our affectionately nicknamed, “Year of Chaos,” the most important thing we took from it was the memories and importance of being together.
We knew this already — the importance of being together — but it was refreshing to affirm it. Yes, there were some days we thought, “Oh shoot, we should’ve brought that.” And there were things of my own I wish I had, rather than someone else’s version I wouldn’t have chosen (my vacuum! I really missed my vacuum). Not having the option of all the kids’ toys wasn’t ideal, but it pushed us to get out and explore local parks and playgrounds more. After we realized our daughter, who loves to read, was missing her variety of books, we made the base library one of our weekly stops. I didn’t worry about shopping for home decor or clothing much while we lived in rentals because I knew we could only bring home what we could fit in the cars. Instead, we focused our time and our money on creating experiences, moments, and memories.
Those things, we could surely fit in our cars to bring back home.