The other night one of my daughters began to reflect on the past.
“There were a lot of good things about living in Arizona,” she said. “We went to a good school, we had good neighbors, lots of friends.”
She actually didn’t stop there, and she had a great point. There really were a lot of good things about living in Arizona. In my mind, however, there were a lot of negative aspects to the 14 months we lived there as well. Those negative parts are what led me to stop her in her unsolicited promotion of the state.
I did take it a step too far. I have a tendency to be too real with everyone, regardless of age -- certainly regardless of feelings. It might not be one of my greatest traits.
“You had great friends in Arizona, but you also have great friends here -- and more of them,” I responded.
That wasn’t bad -- was it? The seven-year-old listened from the dinner table, probably able to predict the tough punchline that was coming.
“But I can guarantee you,” I continued as my wife glanced back at me with a silent ‘STFU’ look. “That a lot of those kids have already moved on.”
As I was counseled later that evening -- appropriately, I should say -- I realized that perspective of mine crushed the kid. And, yes, I did regret using the words that I shat [SIC] out of my mouth. But after a lot of thought I’m still unsure of what I was supposed to say.
I’ve put my family through a lot lately. Three years ago we left Japan. We were in San Angelo, Texas for exactly one year. Then I dragged my family to Phoenix where my kids entered kindergarten and I worked a dreadful evening shift as a television news photographer. Then, once my wife and I realized we probably weren’t going to win financially -- her as a courageous high school teacher and me in my field -- and that there was no sign of my shift becoming family friendly, we decided to move again. So after 14 months, we packed up and headed to San Antonio.
The hassle doesn’t end there. My kids had already started first grade when we lived in Arizona. They entered school #2 once we returned to Texas, of course, but the house we were living in was only a short-term rental. This meant that when we moved into our current home, the poor kids entered their third school -- just to get through first grade! Absolutely, we feel 100% awful about that.
It’s difficult to move when you’re a kid. It’s not exactly fun as an adult, so imagine being small and just along for the ride. I grew up in the military, moving every three years or so. I never moved three times in one year, so I feel for these kids. I get it -- to an extent. My kids are also very different people compared to who I was growing up. And that’s good. Those girls are smart, strong, good-natured kids who want to be friends with everybody and save the world.
I was good-natured, too, but I was completely at ease with being quiet and unknown, just living peacefully in my own world. I was a loner. I wouldn’t encourage my kids to grow up as loners. Thinking about it now, that’s actually kind of a sad life for a child. I don’t remember caring too much about abandoning relationships and changing schools. Some were more memorable and better than others but I wouldn’t say I ever got attached to anything.
I continue to acknowledge that everything is temporary and can disappear at any moment. So when I tell my children to basically, “forget about your friends, because they’ve forgotten about you,” I really don’t mean to be so harsh. Obviously, I need a better way to say it. My intent is to encourage them to live in the present and appreciate what they have now. This is proving to be difficult. Kids absolutely love to remember the good times. They have a hard time letting go and transitioning to new routines. It’s why military kids often pride themselves on their resilience once they’re mature enough to realize it’s a trait they’ve developed. Resiliency in that sense is something that most kids around the world cannot even comprehend.
At the dinner table the other night, my daughter was only trying to remember the good times. I gutted her emotionally by taking offense and thinking she was dwelling on the negatives of her latest transition. I mistook her innocent reminiscence as a comparison. Additionally, I failed to look at the subject from her point of view. Long shifts, late nights, and minimal family/social time did not promote a healthy work-life balance. The kids didn’t have to deal with that. Sure, I wasn’t home in the evenings and on weekends, but they were still able to enjoy school, play with friends, and go outside -- what more do kids really want at that age?
The very small moment of interaction that this entire story is based around has made me look at the way I translate my thoughts to others. This brief conversation honestly could have had a much bigger psychological impact than I imagined. A seven year old can’t live happily thinking that all of her friends are going to forget about her, and that relationships are expendable. Friends are everything to them. My kids are everything to me.