Assimilation, or lack thereof.
When I committed to writing a three part PCS series back in October I truly thought I would write them all in about 3 weeks. My diatribe about how everyone thinks we have it super easy first, then the pack out the next week, then the physical move/unpack the week later.
When you move to a new place it isn’t the physical move that is the challenge. While purging and packing and driving can be physically exhausting, it is the emotional toll that it takes that is hard. I hear so many conversations and see so many Facebook posts on the tips and tricks of physical moves. Tape colors and typed signs (and basically everything I talked about earlier in this series), but I often don’t hear about the emotional toll, or the tips and trips to feeling at home in your new space. And honestly, can we really teach anyone how to be happy?
The NPR article that originally sparked the idea of this series, and talks about how “easy” everything is, is missing 90% of the point. Moving physically is expensive, yes, and the military takes away some of the physical and financial burden. But they can’t take away the emotional burden. And the emotional burden of ripping away the familiar every few years is incredibly difficult to articulate.
One of the reasons I’ve avoided this post is that I haven’t felt at home in Colorado yet. I hadn’t transitioned. And to write a final part to this story would have been a lie. Boxes have been unpacked long ago and the kitchen has been organized and the kids have been enrolled in school, I’ve just not felt like I had completed this move emotionally. Mentally I was still back in California with my amazing friends, supportive neighbors, and warm sunshine. I missed my routine and the sound the palm trees made in the wind and the knowledge that I could drive 10 minutes and dip my toes in the cold ocean. I had made a home there. And now Uncle Sam was telling me I needed to make another home somewhere else. Somewhere dry, cold, beautiful and mysterious.
The hard part has been finding my footing. We are a Navy family in an Air Force land. As I’ve aged I’m becoming much more melancholy about the nomadic lifestyle. In my 20s it was an adventure and I truly 100% believed that and lived that. Now in my mid 30s, as most of my friends are settling into their forever homes and their kids are attending forever schools, I am living in a rental in an unfamiliar place. It felt wrong. Like I was wearing the wrong sized shoes on a hike. And this hike is at high altitude where I have to stop every few hundred yards and contemplate where I am going, why I am going there, and why my feet hurt. The big question of “WHY?” has plagued me this time and I wouldn’t be authentic if I said I had found the perfect answer. I’m also envious of my civilian friends who seem to have it all figured out. I’m jealous that they can count on where they are, they can map out the next 10 years and know that the friendships their kids are forming so innocently and excitedly won’t be ripped away in a few short years.
So here I am, two months after moving to my new place, finally writing the last entry of this series. The kids are settled into their schools, we all have doctors, I’ve met other families and kids and moms, and we have been skiing a number of times. And I am finally, finally, starting to feel at peace with being here. My daughter has been the catalyst to my burgeoning happiness. She loves the mountains and the snow, she loves her school, she’s learning to ski and loves it. She is embracing the newness and the beauty in a way that I am trying to foster and emulate. Experiencing Colorado through her eyes, eyes that light up when snowflakes fall, has been incredibly healing for me.
Give yourself grace when you move. It doesn’t matter why you are moving: PCS for the military, job change in the civilian world, to care for family, or just a change of scenery. I will always suggest taking advantage of where you are: discover what makes your area unique and create a list, tackle that list and make memories wherever you go. Logically I know that we only have one life, and a life of experiencing new things is a privilege many would love to have. But don’t deny yourself the time and space to be sad about the move itself.
When I got her I felt incredibly guilty for how I was feeling. So guilty that I avoided writing because I didn’t think I had anything meaningful or useful to say. It was the walk through this experience, and the feedback I was receiving from other military spouse friends going through similar transitions, that made me realize that I did have something useful. And that is simply permission to walk your journey and feel your emotions and be kind to yourself. And that is why Part III is about the emotional transition and not the physical transition.
Happiness is a choice in a lot of ways, but not being happy doesn’t mean you are broken. It means you are human.