This has little to do with health but it’s probably a big reason why I chose to be a health coach who focuses on mindset. As a military kid, if you didn’t adopt a certain mindset, you could easily crumble under the weight of change.
I was born in a place where I only spent a few months of my life. My childhood memories are scattered across the globe. From the beaches of Guam to the mountains of Austria. Sometimes it feels like I’ve lived several lives already. At each stop I could reinvent myself. Pick up a new hobby. Play a new sport. Be a different person. No one knew who I was the year before, so I could be whoever I wanted. This is the life of a military brat.
Military kids aka brats, struggle with questions like “where are you from?” Everywhere and nowhere. “What school did you go to?” A lot. One time I had forgotten a password to an account so it kicked me to the security questions. The first question that popped up was “What street did you grow up on?” I knew immediately that my husband must’ve have set up that account. I would have never chosen that security question because there were too many answers, half of which I couldn’t remember.
But we knew which questions to ask each other: “What nationality are you?” Mostly because you wanted to know who had the best food at their house. “Where were you born?” Because we knew not to ask where are you from. “What base did you come from and how long have you been at this one?” Those questions might seem odd to the outside world, but it told us a lot about each other. Like if we had lived at the same base before, we instantly had a connection. And we usually gravitated to those who had come to the base around the same time as us because it meant we would leave around the same time so goodbyes wouldn’t be as hard.
Some questions we never asked each other: “Are you an officer or NCO (noncommissioned officer) kid?” and “What does your parent do [in the military]?” It didn’t matter since we were all in this together and some of us couldn’t say and or didn’t know what our parent did.
There are houses that I lived in that I only remember pieces of them. Like our house in Guam, I remember the long stairwell where I’d stand at the top and call for my mom to come tuck me in for the 5th time that night. I remember the magnolia tree in the back yard of our first house in Florida, where we built a tree house (a single board that spanned two branches). We’d spend hours up there plotting and planning how to get back at my brother and his friends for messing with us. I have no memory of our house in New Hampshire, but I remember my friend’s room where we spent hours playing with her Barbie dream house. I remember the window in my room in Italy. It was on the second floor but not too high that I couldn’t jump out to meet my boyfriend at the end of the rode where he waited for me on his motorcycle (it might have been a moped) and we’d go riding around for hours. That might be news to my parents, but maybe not. Each house holds a memory, each memory holds a piece of my childhood scattered across the globe. I’ve struggled with how each piece fits together.
As an officer’s daughter I could get away with a lot and nothing at the same time. If I excelled, then it was because I was “an officer’s kid.” If I royally fucked up, it was because I was “an officer’s kid.” I did both. My first job was at the Burger King on base in Germany. I passed out at the register one day. The first thing my boss did, was ask if I was pregnant. No, but I had stayed up all night drinking, without eating or sleeping. We knew to do those things off base. On base you were on your best behavior because it was drilled into us, “if you screw up, it’s on me.” I screwed up royally a few years later when I did get pregnant during my senior year. I graduated a few weeks before my class because my dad conveniently got orders back to the states. I had my first born on an Air Force base in Florida. I could reinvent myself again.
When you leave that life, you try look for things that will remain constant in life, but it’s hard to find them. So you try to settle but it can take years, if you ever do. You get a pet, but it takes a few tries to connect, because you didn’t have one growing up. You gasp every time you get a medical bill because you didn’t have that growing up either. You miss the convenience of trips to the BX, Commissary, and food court. (Walmart just isn’t the same). You try to make friends, but knowing that you might be “stuck” with them for more than 3 years, scares the shit out of you. You’re torn between wanting your own kids to know what it feels like to grow up in one place, but at the same time, you feel guilty because they haven’t seen the world like you did. When you meet another military brat, there’s an instant connection that you try to hold on to as long as possible and then let it go with ease when the time comes, because you’re both used to that.
For those of you who know military brats, be patient with them. They may seem a little scattered because they have a hundred ideas about life, because they’ve seen a hundred different ways to live. They’ve experienced the feeling of not knowing if their parent will come home from work, so it might take longer for them to let you in, for fear of losing you. They’re used to goodbyes, so if they seem nonchalant about you leaving, don’t take it personally. They’ve had to say goodbye so many times, they learned how to cope with it. We also know that each goodbye means a new beginning.
Each house, each base, each city, each country, and every friend I made along the way has shaped who I am today. That’s a whole lot of pieces to put together and I’m still working on it. I’m still trying to feel “settled.” But military kids learn at a very young age that home is not a place, it’s within you as a person and the people closest to you. As Pico lyer said at TedGlobal in 2013, “Home has less to do with a piece of soil and more to do with a piece of soul.”
To all my fellow military brats, hang in there, you’ll find your way. I promise.
From the Heart,
Coach Leslie J.