Picture this: five days, four cats, three thousand miles, two increasingly crazy twenty-somethings, and one car…
To my civilian friends, this probably just sounds like a bad rom-com; my military friends, on the other hand, will easily understand this short, mad period of time. You know what I’m talking about: the horrible little acronym that strikes mild panic into even the most seasoned pros of military spouse-dom, the PCS move.
I may be exaggerating, of course. I’m sure there are many military families who are so accustomed to PCS-ing that my tales of woe sit in an awkward place between “cute” and “pathetic.” But for us first-timers, there’s no shame in admitting that the first time is chaotic. However many calm, collected listicles of “top tips” you read, however organized you feel after that Staples splurge, there are still going to be delays, and breakages — and, in my case, lots of cat poop.
Nevertheless, I learned some things on that smelly, achy, often boring journey. And, despite my relative rookie status as a military spouse, I have discovered precisely four key elements to keeping you emotionally sane during even the most arduous PCS move.
1. Accept that it’s going to suck.
In our case, the whole escapade was set to be a disaster before we even left, and not just because we’re both full-time dweebs. It’s impossible to have any pretence of a smooth ride when you’re cramming two humans, four cats, and hundreds of pounds of luggage (and snacks) into a relatively compact Nissan Sentra. Unless you’re cruising across country in a brand-new Ferrari and you’ve somehow managed to spring clean yourselves down to one case — your journey is going to suck.
So there we were, crammed in and covered in cat hair. Such was our existence for five days, as we traveled from Virginia to California. I can only imagine, with immense respect, how much harder it would have been to PCS with small children, or an older car, or to a foreign country, or if we’d been sick (fortunately for us, it seems that a diet of Chex Mix and drive-thru burgers are a sufficient diet to keep illness at bay.) Once we reached our destination, we stayed in a motel that could easily have been a set piece for a horror movie. We looked at houses that were little more than concrete huts. We waited for weeks for our furniture to arrive, sleeping on a hastily acquired Wal-Mart futon and living on microwave burritos.
It sucked. But embracing that fact right off the bat will keep you at least a little more sane. If you have delusions that you won’t have silly fights and that you’ll find a house immediately and that your stuff won’t be broken when it does arrive, then you’re in for an even worse ride. Mentally preparing yourselves to be broken down in the middle of the wilderness, hysterical from one too many games of Mad Libs … well, that’s the first step towards Plan B (and C, and D).
2. Save that money.
Of course, it’s always, always important to save money wherever you can. I’ll put away the wagging finger now. It’s also a no-brainer that picking up sticks and moving is going to push your financial limits, so yes, it’s especially important to have some money squirreled away when PCS Move time rolls around. In our case, we thought we were fine, with a little saved up and a few credit cards between us. How quaint of us to be so deluded; after a string of financial hiccups, which ultimately meant mine was the only card we could use, I ended up footing the bill for everything until we were finally installed in our new home. I’m now in mourning for the loss of my credit score.
We did do several things right, though. We got the cheapest hotels and ate the very cheapest food. There’s little luxury in roadside motels and drive-thru diets, but accepting that fact and doing it anyway will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Also, no-one is too good to eat Lay’s chips for breakfast. Just sayin’.
3. Be nice.
This move really taught us that if we’re going to argue — or sulk, cry, and whine, in my case — then we’ve got to learn to do it better. Put it this way: PCS-ing when you’re PMS-ing is a recipe for disaster. So we added a pinch of maturity and let things simmer for a while, and it worked wonders.
You’re going to be frustrated and pissed off, of course. We already covered the “broken stuff and long waits” thing, but taking it out on each other isn’t going to do anyone any favors. I might not be a relationship counselor, but a little common sense dictates that in the heat of the moment, it’s important to take a second, cool off, and tackle your beef with a bit of respect. Another obvious point, but a crucial one.
4. See the bright side.
When I found out we were moving to the California desert, I was initially very resistant to the idea, painfully aware that I might detest every second. Emphasis, of course, on “might.”
A change in attitude, I learned, is a marvelous thing, and now that we’re here, I can’t help but feel that this life is a deeply wonderful one. I’ve seen parts of this beautiful country that I’d never seen before: the endless plains of Kansas, the deep red mountains of New Mexico, the dense aspen forests of Arizona. I now live in a glorious, sprawling desert. The desert is a far cry from the blasted hellscape I imaged; its beauty presented itself to me so keenly that I couldn’t help but fall in love. I wake up to see the sun rising over the mountains, and at night I look up and see more stars than I thought it was possible to see.
Naturally, moving house this often feels like a trial, but it’s so, so important to keep positive thoughts close by. For me, it was helpful to keep a mental sticky note of the word “adventure,” and return to it every time I felt overwhelmed or pessimistic. Yes, in the moment you might be sticky-hot and hungry, and your car might smell like body odor, but think outside that hot tin box. You’re getting to see new places, try new things, and it’s all part of your spouse’s job.
Choosing to find the humor, the excitement, and the beauty of your PCS move is, ultimately, the only way to stay positive during these turbulent periods. So good luck with that first move, new military spouse. May the odds be ever in your favor!