The Meat and Potatoes of Life
‘Resilient, but human’: Military teen speaks out
Special to Stars and Stripes May 26, 2023
There was a time when I believed hell was a fiery place where bad military spouses were condemned to perpetually raise teenagers. Having brought up three teens while my Navy husband was active duty, I look back with pride that I survived with only a few minor bumps and bruises.
As much as we think raising teenagers is tough, we often overlook our teens’ experiences. We buy into the adage, “Military children are resilient!” and carry on through multiple deployments and PCS moves. As long as we find an orthodontist, a soccer team, a clarinet teacher and a pizza joint at each duty station, they’ll be fine.
Until recently, there’s been a dearth of research about the effects military life has on adolescents. In the past few years, surveys and studies have begun to pose the question, “So, how are military teens, anyway?” The responses have prompted more questions that have yet to be answered, but at least someone is finally asking.
Three years ago, two military teenagers got tired of waiting and took the matter into their own hands. In April 2020, they launched BloomMilitaryTeens.org, a website run entirely by military teenagers as a forum for military teens to read, write, learn, express, connect and empower. Bloom’s content has been so successful, it even garnered the attention of the White House.
I recently picked the brain one of the organization’s founding teen writers, Genevieve Oakley, who serves on Bloom’s Outreach Team. I met Genevieve through the nonprofit I co-founded, Orion Military Scholarships, which provides military teens with opportunities to attend select boarding schools for stable, uninterrupted high school experiences.
Genevieve described her typical “Army brat” upbringing: “[B]orn at Fort Carson, moved nine times by age 14.” She became accustomed to changing schools every year or two. “[W]hen the house was filled with brown boxes, it meant summer had arrived and new fun was on the way. … I am in awe of the annual courage it took to so confidently walk into the unknown and make it my own.”
She relayed common annoyances like having to repeat academic testing at each school, having to prove herself on every soccer team and being forced to buy different lesson books from each piano teacher. “There was very little consistency and it resulted in my 10 years of piano lessons yielding what can only be described as pathetic results.”
But Genevieve’s affectionate and witty nostalgia about her unique upbringing came to a full stop when she described one PCS before seventh grade. “If I ever become famous and my autobiography hits the shelves, there will be many chapters dedicated to my move to Sanremo, Italy.” Five hours from the closest military base, Genevieve found herself being homeschooled online, deprived of peanut butter, peers, teachers, the family’s dogs, and practical ways to meet Italian kids. “I was miserable, struggling to find things to do with no friends and no social structures to make me happy.”
“This move substantially changed who I am and my outlook on life,” Genevieve recalled, confiding that she struggled with anxiety, depression, OCD, misophonia and an eating disorder for which she developed coping mechanisms that were both healthy and unhealthy. Seeking control, Genevieve found peace through letter writing and working out. However, she fell prey to “diet culture” at times, driven to “alter my body to make me appear more appealing so that I could fit in. This struggle is not unique to me or military teens, but is definitely highly associated with the constant moving and unstable conditions I grew up in.”
Despite it all, or perhaps because of it, Genevieve just finished her freshman year at Indiana University where she double-majors in political science and international studies, minors in Spanish and is earning a certificate in political and civil engagement. Someday, she hopes to attend law school and work for the United Nations, “a career path undoubtedly influenced by my military background.”
“I am resilient and hardworking and strong,” Genevieve said. “But I will also never hide my previous struggles with mental health. No matter who you are, we are all human. … [R]esiliency is not a smooth road, and sometimes we stumble and need assistance.”
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com