As a military brat I’ve learned a lot of things that most kids don’t get to. I learned how to pack a house in two days or less. I learned how to pack a backpack full of toys/books/whatnot that would keep me entertained for several weeks (including a few plane trips and car rides). I learned what makes the grass green. I also learned what makes the grass grow (For you non-military brats, it ain’t miracle-gro.). I learned to never surrender and never accept defeat. I learned how to identify different people on the playground- bully, loner, new kid, best pals, etc.- just by looking around for a few minutes.
But some of the things I learned, I didn’t realize were out of the ordinary. I developed social skills that I probably wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise, being an introvert with little desire for making new friends. But the friends I made were friends for life, and I think it takes being a military brat to really appreciate that.
As a homeschooler I never had the issue of being the new kid in school. But my siblings and I definitely experienced that “new kid” feeling at church, at the playground and any community events that ever occurred. We learned to just walk up to folks and start talking. By the end of the day we usually knew if that person would become a good friend or if it wasn’t worth starting a relationship for. Because all of the other kids were military, they knew how it works and often reacted in the same way. We never felt awkward being the new kids, because there weren’t very many kids who had lived in the same place for more than four years.
Then I moved to a small town. It is a close-knit community of people that actually know each other. This is the kind of town that you go to the store and address the person at the cash register by name, and people use manners. And get this, most of the kids have actually lived in the same town for their entire life! This concept was so alien to me that I actually sat and pondered that for a while. I couldn’t imagine growing up with the same circle of friends, graduating high-school with kids you’ve known your entire school life, or going to a youth group with the same kids for just as long. That isn’t even getting into how long the adults have known each other.
There are some disadvantages to that. It didn’t take me long to realize this as I began assimilating into a small-town lifestyle. (Another lesson from the military. Adapt, adjust and assimilate into your new culture.) In the military, you make friends and make ’em fast if you want friends at all. Everyone is constantly moving so you learn pretty quickly that you’ve got to step out and introduce yourself if you’re ever going to meet anyone. It’s also a really great way to learn judgement skills. I think military brats are better than average at determining whether a friendship will last after only a short time with someone. We also learned how to think several steps ahead of things. (That can be a bad thing though, as I have often strategized and thought myself right into trouble by doing that.)
So moving to a small town, for the first time we actually felt like new kids. In the awkward, outsider, clique crasher kind of way. Everyone in town is really polite, and they are an amazing bunch of people. Here “community” isn’t just a stupid title. Neighbors are neighbors, not just people living in close proximity to another housing unit. But that means that new kids, are definitely new kids. And uh, the whole make friends fast thing…it’s apparently really awkward in the civilian world. I would go up to kids and just start talking to them. I tried to be relaxed, like I had always been there. I know that socializing isn’t my strong point, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen people freak out and tense up as fast as when I’m talking to a small town resident like I’m a local.
Of course this didn’t last too long. My siblings and I have all made our own friends and we love it here. But I still ponder those first few conversations I had with people. Being a military brat I would ask stuff like “Oh, so how long have you been going to youth group?” or “What’s your favorite subject?” occasionally adding in a “how many siblings do you have?” I never really thought to discuss things like weather or light topics. Honestly, I’m still terrible at conversing with civilians. Does anyone have a code? Like, a handbook? It’s funny how we’ve learned to deal with foreign countries and customs in the military, yet we’ve had the most difficulty with a plain and simple American town.
Despite the awkwardness (excuse my poor vocabulary) I wouldn’t trade it for the familiarity that locals share with each other. I think we have the advantage in that we are used to odd situations. Being thrown out of your comfort zone is just part of life in the military. True, we’ve had several facepalm moments including a few “oops! I just scared the living daylights out of a civilian!” and “Did you really just say that? Were you raised by barbarians?” and several times that we caused someone’s eyes to widen and nervously back away from us…..but those just add some fun to life.
And hey, for all that it’s worth, I’m loving the civilian life too. It’s really cool to watch God’s timing unfold. Had I lived here all my life, I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much. But had we stayed in the military, there are things that I would’ve missed out on here as well. Not to mention the friends I’ve made in both lifestyles. You know that “time” chapter in Ecclesiastes takes on a whole new light when you look at your life. I know that this is true of everyone, and each year that passes adds depth to that meaning. I never expected to be where I am right now. When I first got here I still had sand in my shoes and an itch to keep wandering. Settling down somewhere for an unknown amount of time was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to do. Yet now, I am content. God has rearranged my life into something about ten times more beautiful and amazing than I could have imagined. I have no idea where it’s going next. I can live with that. So here I am, a fully adapted civilian. Well, sort of. But until God moves me I’m staying here. When we first moved I never expected to say that.
So to all of you military brats adapting to the life of a civvy, take it as an adventure. You’ve lived some crazy awesome lives, and it’s only going to get weirder and crazier (but in a good way.) just do the same thing you’ve been doing. Never surrender, never accept defeat. And to civilian kids, your lives are more unique than you would believe. I know that you get bored sometimes and wonder what’s the point, but there is something special about being part of a community. It’s not an advantage everyone gets to experience.