Spouse Calls: Adventures in military childhood
Stars and Stripes May 18, 2008
Adventure is a word that comes up repeatedly in conversations about military childhood.
For some, the adventure continues in adulthood.
When I met Susan Phalen, she was chasing typhoons and other less dangerous news for a radio station in Guam. Since then, I’ve received news from Susan from all over: Paris, Marrakesh, Washington D.C., Baghdad.
Last month I wrote to ask about her military childhood. Her answer came from Kabul:
My dad was in the Air Force for 28 years. I went to 13 different schools in 12 years. As a child, it was great. As a teenager, it was horrible.
I remember riding the bus home from school on several occasions, thinking that I had to clean my bedroom when I got home, but then couldn’t picture which bedroom was my current one. My mind would flash through all the different bedrooms (that all needed cleaning) and then I’d remember, "Oh, yeah, we’re at McChord. My bedroom is the white-washed room (another white room) with the fancy new yellow bedspread."
Kids have a tendency to just go outside and make friends easily with whoever happens to be playing in the park. So being a military brat as a kid was perfectly fine with me.
It’s hard to know if my personality traits can be attributed to growing up as a military brat, or if I’m just naturally well- balanced, independent and brilliant. Well … perhaps I added the "brilliant" part.
I adapt easily to changing environments. It comes quite naturally to me. Now that I’m in my 30s, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. While I long for the security and serenity of a consistent environment, I get quite antsy as the consistency I’d hoped for begins to bore me. So I move, change jobs, or run with the bulls just to spice things up a bit.
This adaptability and search for change has led me down an interesting career path. I’ve spent the past four years working as a State Department civilian in war zones. It’s a love/hate relationship, being drawn to jobs like this. I’m surrounded by military. It’s a constantly changing environment, which is comforting, because it’s what I know. But it’s exhausting at the same time.
I think I am a lot closer to my family than I might have been otherwise. As a kid, the more you move around, the more reliant you must become on the things in your life that don’t change: your family, your siblings, the fact that no matter where you move or how many times you move, you will always have that same yellow bedspread.
As an adult, I tend to hang on to things. I don’t throw much away. I hang on to things that meant a lot to me as a kid. I’ve got boxes in the attic with some old toys, knick-knacks made in summer camp ... and, yes, I’m sure if I dug deep enough, I’d find that old yellow bedspread.
It might just be time to go clean out that attic.
Susan’s comment about running with the bulls is no metaphor. She called one day (from Texas) and talked about her Pamplona adventure.
She ran with the bulls, she said, because "It was on my list of things to do before I turned 30."
"I didn’t get that list," I complained.
"No one gives it to you," she said with a hint of "duh" in her voice. "You have to make your own."
Read more from Susan and other military kids on the Spouse Calls blog.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Contact her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog athttp://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls