By: Jill Qualters
Sometimes this nomadic military life can be really hard. And when things feel out of control and a mess, is it okay for us to complain? Complain to our spouse, our friends, or scream at the sky? Punch pillows and cry because we feel ungrounded while it appears that everyone around us is so rooted? Adults are calm and composed, right?
I look around at my civilian friends and they appear so much more together than I feel. They have forever homes, schools that their kids know they’ll graduate from, jobs they are committed to, friends that they don’t worry about saying “see you later” to. They are “adulting” better than me. Here I am, in a new place and I don’t even have a dentist! What adult doesn’t have a dentist?
Me. The military spouse in a strange land. And at 35 years old, these strange lands are, quite frankly, exhausting.
My family just recently PCSed to Colorado Springs from Point Mugu. It was our sixth PCS and you’d think I’d have it all under control by now. Instead, this was the hardest move I have ever endured. In 14 years of Navy life, I have never felt so out of place, sad, and then guilty for feeling sad, than I did this past November. I know the drill now:
Wait… wait… wait… for orders. Get orders. Go!
Research schools, find house in good school district, call school to make sure your kids can go there (mid-year, remember? There may be no room). Apply to rent house or make an offer to buy, cross your fingers and wait again. If you have pets, beg for them to be included in the lease. Set up utilities. Which cable company? Trash pickup? Internet? Does my cell phone work in this new darn house? What is that noise? Is this room always this cold? Why does hot water take 10 minutes to get to the master bathroom?
Once you have those basics set up, you expand your search to gyms, hair stylists, doctors, and dentists. That’s if you’re lucky. If you have special needs, you need to add those specialists, speech pathologists, and psychologists. Get used to being told “we’re not taking new patients” from the most popular practices. Even get laughed at by the ones who “you need to be on the waiting list for years.” Years. I don’t have years. Settle for your second, third, or even fourth choice.
Find a church. Find a vet. Try and meet your neighbors and pray that they are kind. If you move mid school year, prepare for adjustment between teachers. Is your new school Common Core? No? They’re taking a test on Florida history this week and you just moved from California? Too bad, take the test; we’ll see how it goes. Can I pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Does the school allow nuts? Nuts.
Yep, I’m nuts.
And this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Most people don’t realize how entrenched they are in the place they live until they are forced cut ties and do it all over again somewhere else.
In the midst of all this change, you are encouraged to do it with a big fat toothy smile and a ton of grace and gratitude. We are military spouses, right? We are stronger than a silly PCS move. This is an adventure, damn it! Embrace it and enjoy! Get that new location plaque for your “Home is where the Navy Sends Us” sign and move onward and upward.
When I was struggling this past November, I did a little digging to see if there were any writers out there who had tackled what I call PCS Paralysis. I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning because everything felt huge, heavy, new, and in my personal case: cold. But everything I read was “military spouses should be grateful for the pay, the Tricare, that the military pays for the moves.” Or “new place! So fun! Go find some great restaurants and get on with life!” Or the most typical of all, “Adventure! Embrace it!”
Some went as far as to call military spouses “dependas” and the ones that were complaining were absolutely vilified. Scum of the earth. I should be ashamed for not being grateful for this big crazy adventure the military so generously provides me. I started to wonder, what the heck is wrong with me? Is it that I’m not grateful? Not strong enough? Am I depressed? These questions did nothing to help me get through the feelings I was having. It made me feel guilty, and guilt is never an empowering or productive emotion.
So here I am to tell you something I’ve learned through this not-so-great PCS experience: It is okay to not be okay with everything. It is okay to not be happy all the time. It is okay if your adventure feels more like a death march right now. It can be powerful, even freeing, to admit your feelings out loud.
I just so happened to PCS at the same time as two of my very close Navy wife girlfriends. We three scattered from Point Mugu to three very different places but we had one thing in common: we struggled. All of us would sheepishly chat with one another about how things were going and inevitably feel a rush of relief when we realized that we could relate to one another. We weren’t alone! We were embracing the suck together.
Our challenges were all different. For me, my son couldn’t get a spot in full day Kindergarten and that was making my re-entry into the workforce impossible. I was missing my village back in California. I was missing warm sunshine and adjusting to living in what felt like the driest place on earth. For my friend Patti, her middle school daughter and elementary son were having a really tough adjustment to a new curriculum in school. Meanwhile, she was trying to find work in her own field while filing for unemployment from the last state. My friend Kim was up to her eyeballs in boxes because her new house is much smaller than her last. Due to a delay in her HHG getting delivered, she’d had to go right back to work the day after they stacked the boxes to the ceiling in her kitchen. She was trying to unpack a house while working full time and juggling mom duties. And of course, all of those other chores I listed above were getting put on the back burner. Who has time to find a new doctor when they can’t even find their blender?
We were all trying to untangle different knots that our moves had left us in. We missed our friends. We were all staring down the holidays in a new house surrounded by boxes and unfamiliar walls. We are all seasoned military spouses but we were all struggling.
Curbing the number of PCS moves a career military family makes is an important retention initiative. The Army and the Air Force are known for having “PCS Season” where they try and move families in the summer time when school disruptions are less likely and more houses turn over and moving is generally considered “convenient.” The Navy doesn’t focus as much on summer moves and my family has moved between November and February all six times. But honestly, while the school glitches and lack of housing options were definitely a big piece of what made this move hard, I can’t say whether moving in the summer would have cured my PCS blues completely.
The thing that seems to be working for me and my friends? Time. We have now been here three full months. I’m getting used to the sounds and smells of my house. The kids have made friends and have fallen in love with their school. We’ve been skiing every weekend and working hard to find the adventure that everyone preaches when talking up the military lifestyle. It is coming together piece by piece. Day by day, this foreign town is becoming familiar. And eventually, like most of the places that we’ve been thanks to Uncle Sam, it will feel like home.