The Last Word

The Joy of MovingA Military Wife and Mother Learns That Home Is Where the Heart Is

By Anita Doberman

Experts say that moving is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. If that’s true, it’s a miracle my husband and I made it as long as we have. Like many military families, we have moved around – six times in five years, to be accurate.

If you ever have experienced the joys of relocating, you don’t need an expert to tell you what you experienced. And if you’re a military family, it’s just another “perk” of the job.

Learning a few tips about movers and the immense power they wield will make your life a lot easier. Be nice but vigilant. Pick your battles: “No, don’t pack up my garbage, but yes, you can put the kids’ clothes all together.” Order pizza for lunch – it will make it a lot easier to convince movers to wrap up the liquor bottles or cleaning products that they swear they’re not supposed to pack.

My children are young, and up to this point, the stress of moving had fallen exclusively on my husband and me. Doubly on my husband, because he has to deal with me. On one move to Alabama, he asked why there were footprints on the wall of our new home.

“Because I was kicking it,” I replied, as if the answer were obvious. I was not keen on the house we had been assigned: When I opened a closet, the door fell on me. Can you blame me?

A couple of days ago, my oldest daughter, Luisa, who is 5, asked, “Why do we have to move so many times, Mommy? It’s not fair.”

A new world was opening up for me; my children soon would understand the stresses of moving. I wanted to answer Luisa’s question by plunging into a discourse about the unfairness of life and our need to have positive attitudes in the face of uncertainty.

But I spared her the long talk and said, “We move a lot because Daddy is in the military and we have to go where his job tells us. Daddy has a very important job – to defend the country – so we have to make some sacrifices. But we get to see lots of different places and meet new people and friends.”

“But, but, but” – she says “but” many times when she’s upset – “then we have to leave them.”

“Everything has a beginning and an end,” I replied. “Home is where there is love and security, and you will always have that, no matter where we live.”

Did I pass the test? Was my answer satisfactory to her, or was it too preachy? Did I even believe it?

I have an active imagination, and after Luisa’s question, I worried that I was depriving my children of continuity, a hometown, a sense of place. I already could see the title of some scholarly article: “Military Children Suffer from Hometown Deprivation Syndrome (HDS): The Doberman Family, a Cohort Study.”

As soon as I had this thought – at midnight – I woke my husband and asked if he ever would let our children be in a cohort study.

“What? Yes, no, whichever answer will get me back to sleep.”

Perhaps he had a point. Worrying about this issue at midnight was useless, and I could do nothing about it anyway.

The next day, I was walking on base with our children when they the national anthem started playing. Luisa stopped and, without looking at me, put her hand on her heart. I was touched and surprised, and I asked how she knew to do that.

“Of course I know, Mommy,” she said. “This is what we do on base, and I’ve done it since I was a baby.” She likes to emphasize the fact that she is a big girl now.

Luisa’s gesture made me realize that even though my children don’t have a hometown, they still have a sense of security and familiarity. For me, familiarity came from growing up in the same home, a literal stone’s throw from uncles, aunts and cousins – picture a big, loud Italian family – and knowing everyone else in the neighborhood.

For my children, the national anthem, military men and women in uniform (many of whom my 2-year-old, Eva, tries to hug), flight lines with noisy planes and helicopters, carry a sense of familiarity and security.

“Home” as an idea is different for everyone.

No need to worry about cohort studies. I have to keep this essay around, and make sure I have a good answer when the next child asks me why we have to move so often. And I had better make several copies; I have four more children to go.