For most, this time of the year holds the excitement of the school year ending, the promise of fun summer adventures ahead filled with long days at the pool, weekend barbecues emitting the scent of grilled hotdogs, kids playing outside until the waning sun forces them in to fall asleep with sun-kissed faces.
For military families, this time of year is PCS season. It’s that time when so many families watch as all of their earthly belongings are packed up in boxes and crates by expedient (and hopefully careful!) movers, taken away with the hopes of a reunion a few weeks or months down the road. It’s when those same families cancel their utilities, pack up suitcases that will carry them through the next few weeks of temporary homelessness, scour the internet for information about their new neighborhoods, make charts comparing schools, places of worship and commute times. Countless “See Ya Later” parties are held (because in the military, it’s never goodbye, it’s always see you later), squeezing in one last lady’s night out with your current sisterhood, a final backyard twilight movie for the kids.
It’s a tough time of year when you laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh, wishing that this group of friends with whom you’ve been thrown together by the fate of the military would never grow apart, but knowing that your next duty station holds a new, separate but equal sisterhood that will somehow never compare and yet will also overshadow all previous experiences simultaneously.
You give one last hug to the friend who held your hand during childbirth while your husband was deployed, or the friend whose children you watched while she was down and out with the stomach flu and couldn’t muster the energy to solo parent, or the friend who loved your children like they were her own, with whom you commiserated about the craziness of parenthood and this insane military life we lead over bottomless cups of coffee or wine (depending on the time of day, of course).
While we’re busy feeling all the emotions, torn between sadness of leaving our village and excitement for starting our next military adventure, our kids are busy processing what all of this means to them.
Most kids respond to the turmoil with tears, tantrums and personal setbacks. They leave their current duty station frequently asking why they have to move, lamenting about missing their friends, their school, their home and anything and everything in between. Some weather the storm with minor hiccups, lots of questions, and some extra snuggle time with their parents. They find ways to say their own see you laters to their friends, writing out cards, drawing pictures, promising to stay in touch via any and all social media applications available to them. They exchange friendship bracelets, BFF necklaces, articles of clothing and yearbook messages.
And yet, our youngest kids don’t totally understand what is happening.
Our babies are oblivious, our toddlers are cranky, but our preschoolers are finally starting to learn the realities of their military brat existence. They know they are leaving, but don’t really understand why. They vaguely understand what it means to move to a new house, and try desperately to make sense of what it means to say see you later to their little playmates. They saw the movers pack up their things and put them in a truck that drove away, they’ve heard their parents discussing new homes and locations, and they’ve been told time and time again that they will soon be saying see you later to their friends but will make new friends in a new school soon.
It is a lot to process for a young mind, but somehow, they fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and take away the important parts: Our preschoolers give the most hugs, laugh with their friends most readily, and love fiercely without abandon.
Just last week, surrounded by a neighborhood filled with moving trucks and packing crews, we found ourselves in the midst of an impromptu playdate on the playground with my daughter’s classmate, where she ran around with her friend, giggling the way only little kids can giggle. They slid down the slide holding on to one another, pushed one another on the swings, and when it was time to go in for lunch and naps, gave each other a hug and looked forward to seeing one another in school the next day. On his way out, her little friend picked up a pile of leaves, solemnly walked over to my daughter and handed them to her saying, “This is to remember me by when I move to San Diego.”
I teared up and had to look away. My daughter hugged those leaves to her chest like they were the best treasure she had ever received and carefully carried them to our patio. It was the purest, most sincere form of saying see you later in the way only a preschooler can.
PCS season is hard on all of us, regardless of whether we’re leaving or staying. Perhaps we can learn a little something from our preschoolers: Giggle as much as possible, have fun with your friends, and don’t forget to save a leaf.