I was 18 years old the first time I moved away from home. And it changed me.
I learned how to live with another female.
As a girl with only brothers, this was a big one. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have a fantastic first roommate and each one that followed brought me new perspectives and immense joy. I learned how to express my feelings in a new way since it turns out that other girls enjoy talking out their emotions instead of just laughing them off and pretending they don’t exist like my brothers.
I learned I could enjoy a McDonald’s $1 Hot Fudge Sundae over the course of three days to make sure I did not spend too much money. This required a LOT of self-control on my part. I am a sweetaholic. Budgeting became a reality and all those little conversations I had with my parents growing up sure paid off.
I learned to be responsible for myself. I never missed class, worked hard (enough) to do well, and made sure I ate vegetables. I also made it my responsibility to never miss a social gathering. Extreme extrovert alert. The best thing about this move was that everyone was new. It was a fresh start for all of us and my need for human contact allowed me to make the best friends of my life. I still rely on these women for their support, prayers, comfort and laughter.
My second move was a temporary one. I studied abroad in college in Austria and enjoyed every single minute. I traveled my tush off and learned that a big loaf of pumpkin seed bread and a block of goat cheese could suffice for multiple meals (budgeting win again!). I did have to learn the hard lesson of the beer 15 — the freshman 15 that I didn’t gain my freshmen year came on strong in the form of copious amounts of Austrian beer made by local monks. I was just supporting the monastery of course.
In all honesty, that move taught me the balance between my fearlessness and safety.
Now as a mom, I can’t believe how I used to hitchhike, but I found safety in numbers (I never did it alone, I am not that stupid). My love of adventure and travel was born.
College ended, and I met the love of my life. The one I said yes to. The father of my future children. Our whirlwind romance had us engaged in under six months and married a year after we were first introduced.
For my third move, I moved to the border of Mexico in Del Rio, Texas. It was a small town half inhabited by military members and their families with only a few stoplights and mostly fast food as dining options. Kirby (hubby) had been living there for four years between pilot training and instructing and already had his group of friends with their significant others.
This move taught me what it felt like to be an outsider.
I was new to the military, young and strangely isolated by being the only one in the group who didn’t know all the stories; the crazy weekend pushes to the bar, the previous couples drama or the stories about my husband outside of the ones he had previously shared with me. I never truly felt like I fit in, partially because we were only there one year and partially because I worked odd hours at a hospital. It was not until move five that I really understood move three for what it was.
Phoenix was next. We were only there for nine months, but this is the move when I became a mother. It was a big transition as you all can relate. I learned selflessness in a way I could never have explained before. I don’t think words can adequately express how you think you’re selfless when you get married, but you have no idea until you have a baby. This was Phoenix for me.
I walked a tightrope to make having a baby and having a social life balance itself. I made an incredible lifetime friend who didn’t have kids but saw me sinking and threw me a life jacket. She came and sat with my baby while I napped for 45 minutes. She didn’t judge me at house parties when I put my baby to bed on the floor surrounded by pillows. She laughed with me, at me and included me. I threw her a mojito party while we waited for her BAR results to be published. I learned the value of a military spouse friendship.
On we went to Italy for move number five.
This move changed me in ways I will never forget. I really learned HOW to be a military spouse. By that, I mean that I learned what it means to support each other in celebrations, additions to the family, and losses. We grew our family, lost a friend and begged God to heal another friend who had become our family.
Move number five taught me how I was wrong about move number three.
It taught me that as much as everyone tries, it’s natural to fall into the habit of texting the same people every day without any intention of leaving anyone else out. No one tries to make someone else feel isolated because we have all been there. That was a good lesson.
I found my person in Italy, my person who I would never stop texting. The one that got me, the one that I called when I needed to make it through the witching hours before bed with a little of my sanity left.
Try to find that person because they matter.
I learned what deployment felt like and what sacrifice really meant.
I was there with my friend when her baby was born and was there when she got home a week later from her mastectomy. I learned that no matter how much was going on in my life, someone else had more going on in his or hers. This move molded me into a more empathetic person.
I discovered how to maximize our time traveling between the TDYs and deployments, so we didn’t waste a single minute of our time abroad. I became an expert traveler and will never be deterred by ‘the kid factor.’ I learned how to set realistic expectations. The traveling gave me a bigger worldview which is vital to growing empathy.
Leaving Italy was heartbreaking. I felt I had found my home and the best military friends a girl could ask for, but then we moved to South Carolina. Move number six was fantastic albeit short. I took the lessons from move number five and jumped in headfirst to making friends and finding my people. I quickly found my running buddies, became besties with my neighbors, and had a church community.
South Carolina is where I learned that I could be a working mom.
I got a part time gig at the hospital and loved my coworkers. I am so thankful for those women and men who I had the privilege of working next to because they helped me grow my knowledge of a different side of nursing and supported me with a flexible work schedule during my husband’s next deployment.
In the 15 months in Sumter, my husband was there for five of them.
I learned that I can totally do this parenting thing solo because I am capable, but I would never want to.
I learned that even though my husband was thousands of miles away, I still felt supported. However, the kids were a little older and I found it more difficult to explain where daddy was and what he was doing. The first deployment of “Daddy is at this LOOOONG job fighting the bad guys” wasn’t working anymore.
I learned what it sounded like to children because as my daughter pointed out, “don’t the bad guys have kids, too?”
My heart grew and changed again.
Here we are in Argentina, move number seven, and now we are gearing up for move eight.
Argentina has taught me that I thought I was worldly but that I really wasn’t. I thought I had seen poverty, but I really hadn’t. At least not in the ways that I have here.
I learned so much about myself here. I learned that I was afraid in group settings when I couldn’t be myself. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re working so hard just to translate what the heck is going on.
As someone who has no social anxieties in regular life, I felt truly out of place. It gave me a whole new perspective on immigrants and decided that upon our return, I would reach out to anyone in our future communities who may feel that way.
This experience has truly made me empathetic. I thought I was before, but this has shown me just how much my mind and heart can change. This place taught me about maintaining the dignity of the poor and setting any presumptions aside.
As I think about leaving here, I realize that I would not be the person I am today without all those previous moves. Thank goodness I am not the same version of my 18-year-old self, but honestly, thank goodness I am not the person on move three or even five. Because each move has molded me into (what I would like to think) a better person.
I have no idea how many moves are in our future, but I can smile knowing I will be different on the other side.
In what ways have your moves changed you?