I cried at Chick-fil-A today. I went there to eat my feelings, but instead I ended up making everyone around me exceptionally uncomfortable.
I fully believe that Chick-fil-A is a place to be happy. To eat the Lord’s Chicken, to lick Chick-fil-A sauce directly from the perfectly portioned container and to drink three lemonades while “watching” your kids in the play area.
I went ahead and ruined it for everyone else who was just looking to have a nice meal and be treated with the kindness that you only get from the adorable grandmothers and grandfathers who wipe the tables and say nice things about your kids, no matter how psychotic they are acting.
For this, I apologize.
My family has had a rough summer.
We are coming off our second move in under a year and it has taken more of a toll on us than I had anticipated. We have had to leave two schools, two sets of friends, and two houses that we have made into homes. It’s tough to move anywhere in the summer, and we really miss our support network.
Military life is all my kids have ever known. Our most recent move marks the first time that my 6-year-old, Kathie Lee, has come to the hard realization that our life is different from the rest of the 99% of people in this country.
She earnestly asked me why her grandma and grandpa always go back to the same house.
“Because, honey, it’s their home,” I replied. “It’s where they’ve lived for years, and it’s where they will always live.”
“But why don’t they move around like us? Why do we always have to move?” she said.
It was like a punch to the gut.
I have been a military spouse for almost a decade, but having to explain the reasoning behind our lives being upended every couple of years to two developing humans is new to me.
I tried my best to impart to her that her dad is serving his country. I told her that service to others is paramount to our family and that each day he puts on his uniform, it makes the world a better place. I told her how proud I am of him, and of she and her little sister, Hoda, for helping her papa protect the United States by supporting him through moving. I told her how brave she was to keep her head up when he has to be away on deployments and TDY’s.
It wasn’t good enough. Nothing I can say to her will be. It will be hard until we retire, which is a long way down the road for us.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for all of the experiences that this unique life has given us.
We have lived in three countries and had the opportunity to travel to places that I never imagined I would get to visit. We have friends all over the world, and I feel like I am made better by each new friend and place I am fortunate enough to encounter.
This matters a lot less to a 6-year-old than a 36-year-old.
I know in time she will appreciate the photos of her eating Berthillon ice cream under the Eiffel Tower and having neighbors who taught us how to say good morning in Arabic, but let’s be real — she’d rather be swimming with her friends or cousins in the neighborhood pool.
We have moved six times in nine years. I was under the impression that I fully understood the stresses associated with PCSing. Until now, however, I have not conceptualized that they evolve, and they will be increasingly painful as my girls get older.
It finally registered that I am not going to be able to make this better for them, and it just hurts.
I realized this when I was watching my girls play with a couple of other military kids at Chick-fil-A. I knew they were military kids because they were wearing Arizona Diamondbacks hats in St. Louis. I knew because of of how polite they were. I knew because they also seemed desperately in need of some other kids to play with. After speaking with their very kind parents, I found out that they had just moved too and were feeling lonely.
An overwhelming wave of guilt enveloped me.
I haven’t been the parent my kids deserve because I’m stressed.
So, I started bawling.
In the most crowded place in town at the busiest time.
Even though I tried my hardest not to look at anyone because I was so embarrassed, I caught the eye of the other mom. She gave me a kind, knowing smile. It made me cry harder. Her boys were a bit older than my girls, but I knew she understood why I was so upset, and it was comforting and heartbreaking all at once.
I could have ended it there, but like a weirdo, I pulled $5 from my wallet and handed it to the mom. I told her between sobs, “You are raising exceptional young men. Please buy them a treat on me.” Oy. She thanked me and I walked back to my table. It was just so bizarre.
I looked up at my girls who were screaming with delight while playing hide and seek with the boys. I took a deep breath and swallowed my tears. My Kathie Lee, who was carefree and happy, looked over at me with her freckled cheeks and flashed me our signature thumbs up. I pressed my thumb against the glass of the play area and she smiled her first grade toothless smile.
We had a different conversation when we got home. It involved a lot of tears. However, this time I told her that I know how hurt she must be feeling. I told her that I understand she’s angry and sad at having to leave her friends.
I know it because so am I.
I’ve had to say goodbye to many friends I knew I could not keep. I told her that no matter what, no matter where her dad or I happen to physically be, that we’ve got our hands on her back.
I also told her that she, and every single other military kid, has something special in his or her heart. They understand how to deal with change, which is something you can’t learn unless you live it.
I know that someday she will come to realize it’s cool to be different. I told her that makes her extra amazing.
There are moments when you are certain your kid has grown up a little, and this was one of those. Le sigh.
I know many of us didn’t sign up for this life, especially our kids. I certainly did not. I also know, though, that it has made me better. It has beaten me to the ground. I’ve had to pick myself up or grab a hand of another spouse time and time again. But, we’ve made it up. I’ve never stayed down, and neither will my girls.
They have me, they have their family, they have friends all over the world. Most importantly, they have each other. That’s what I have to keep telling myself.