In terms of military assignments, I’ve been pretty fortunate. Even for some locations with mixed reviews, I have always found something positive about my time there. Bloom where you’re planted and all. What I never expected was to instantly and thoroughly dislike a place I lived.
We arrived in Belgium on a cold, wintery day in early January. It was dark, rainy, and grey. It would stay that way for weeks. The sun didn’t rise until after 8 a.m. and it got dark around 4 p.m. I was miserable, and although I tried to keep my unhappiness to myself, I’m pretty certain my husband was aware something wasn’t right. I was sullen and moody; I missed the mild winters and bright sunny days of our previous home in Alabama. I missed our beautiful house, friendly neighbors, and I missed working.
It was the first time in our marriage that my military status wasn’t driving a move. I had left active duty for the Reserves and we had jumped at a job opportunity for my husband overseas. It seemed like such a cool experience, and we were filled with romantic notions of travel, learning a new language and working with international colleagues. Then we actually moved and reality hit.
Suddenly I was a stay at home mom in a foreign country with no friends or way to speak with my neighbors. I lived in a house with no furniture in a place where the weather made it difficult to be outside. My husband worked in a very small office so even opportunities to socialize with fellow spouses were limited.
I felt we had made a huge mistake.
The challenges of settling in were compounded by the bureaucracy of paperwork, the idiosyncrasies of Belgian culture, and the unfortunate incident of having our license plates stolen.
All of these feelings took me quite by surprise, making me feel incredibly guilty, disappointed in myself, and frustrated. A typically upbeat person, I’m usually happy where I am, and this wasn’t my first time living overseas. I knew things would be challenging, at least at first, and that it wouldn’t be the same as being in the U.S.
Still, the sadness was there, lurking underneath the surface as I went about setting up our home, and I couldn’t make it go away. In fact, I was miserable.
Slowly, as the days got longer and the temperatures warmed, the ball of sadness and anger I’d been carrying around began to ease. I made some friends, began volunteering and and got into a routine of fun activities with my toddler. My irritations about missing home were replaced by planning trips, having friends and family visiting, and watching my son play with new friends. We had some amazing family vacations – Portugal, Rome, Paris and Amsterdam — and as with many aspects of military life (or one spent moving frequently), you find a way to adapt.
While our time here has certainly had its highs and lows, we have made a life here. We had our second child, adopted a third dog, and traveled as much as a family with two small children possibly can. We also made it through two more cold, dreary winters.
Then we learned my husband had been offered an exciting new job opportunity back in the states. We talked and talked about it, weighing the pros and cons, before deciding to accept.
It seems silly to admit, given that we are in control of our moves now, but underneath the excitement of the new job and new home, there is some sadness. We are soon to be smothered by the endless to-do lists and general stress of a complex move but still, it’s there. Unexpected, unplanned. Catching me off guard.
Immediately, I started thinking all the things we haven’t done yet; that one last trip we didn’t make; the place I didn’t get to visit; the place I wanted to go to again but didn’t get a chance; and the restaurant we’ve been planning to try but never managed. I realized that even if we had stayed here five more years, there would probably always be some things left on that unfinished business list. And that’s OK. Because that’s part of the journey.
While I’m ultimately happy we are leaving Belgium, it will, despite all my initial misgivings, hold many wonderful memories for us.
As “pcs season” enters full swing, many families are saying good-bye to their temporary homes. Some may be very sad, or very happy, or like me, a little in between. Even if your next move doesn’t leave you thrilled, there are ways to help make the best of a bad situation.
First and most important is to get out of your comfort zone. Leave the house. Get out and about – -see what parenting groups are offered on the base or in the local area. Despite this community being on the smaller side, there were a surprising large offering of weekly activities from infant massage to playgroups to toddler reading time at the library. Many communities, both military and civilian, have Facebook groups where you can ask questions or set up play dates.
Travel, travel, travel. This doesn’t have to consist of grandiose vacations or elaborate plans. It may not be easy for some people for personal comfort reasons or budget concerns, but I can say that the traveling opportunities have been some of the most exciting times during our stay here. It also will be one of the things I miss the most. Even if you can only afford to drive to a new town and walk around or have lunch, it can be a huge help in making a place seem more appealing. Pack a picnic and explore. Go to the library and read some travel books, or get lost planning a fun trip online. The research and planning is half the fun!
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up if you just don’t like a place. We can’t always control our feelings, and denying how we feel or not talking about unhappiness can make it worse. Accept that it is not the ideal place for you, but do what you can to make the best of it, and know that somewhere better could be just around the corner.