PCSing With Kids: Embracing Goodbyes and Starting Over
by AmeriForce Media - September 24th, 2021
“This house is bothering me,” my 3-year-old said just three weeks into living in our new rental. Our latest PCS was the hardest move — emotionally — for my family because the home we left was our longest. It was a city that welcomed my two sons over four years. While I was going through the grieving and planning process of the move, I didn’t fully understand the impact the change would have on my oldest son.
We PCS’d two months after my husband returned from a six-month long deployment. It was our second cross–country move, but our first with a baby, a 3-year-old, and dog. All the feelings came. Excitement for finally having my husband home, sadness for leaving our friends and West Coast life, and dreading the logistics to get us to the East Coast.
Quickly planning a PCS wasn’t what we expected, but the unexpected is on brand for the military. Relocating with children is a whole new territory, one neither my husband nor myself fully comprehended until midway through the experience.
But here’s the thing — kids are resilient. Their bounce back rate is faster than you’d expect. This has been true for my experience in most situations, but leaving friends, familiarity, and routine is intense for children. I noticed it especially when I caught my son saying things like, “I can’t wait to see Hudson and Matthew on my birthday,” “Are we going back to San Diego later?” and “I miss my home.”
Saying “goodbye” before we moved felt like an out-of-body experience. We squeezed in last–minute play dates. I tried to get together with as many friends as possible in a week’s span. It didn’t feel like we were actually leaving. It felt like we’d be back. But the truth is we are a military family and returning beyond a visit isn’t up to us — at least not yet.
I can imagine now that my son must have felt a similar disbelief that our time in California was ending. In a short amount of time, we said our goodbyes, our house got packed up, and we started a 6 day road trip.
We took our time driving. We stayed in fun hotels, ate lots of BBQ — you have to if your route takes you through Texas, Oklahoma City, and Memphis.
We were surprised at how well the children adapted to the time in the car, hotel stays, and gas station bathroom breaks.
Of course there were plenty of missed naps, headaches induced by the repetition of “mommy,” cramped legs, panic from 2 AM baby wake ups in a hotel room afraid of disturbing neighbors, and an anxious dog who would try to crawl from the back of our SUV up to the front seat any chance she got.
The road trip worked because we got rid of all expectations. My husband and I took charge of one child during rest stops. For instance, we’d arrive at a gas station; he’d take our 3–year–old with him to the bathroom. I’d stay at the car, change the baby’s diaper and then pump the gas. When he returned, I’d go to the bathroom while he moved the car and fed our dog. Once I returned, he would give our dog a bathroom break and then we’d be back on the road.
The most challenging part of our off-cycle PCS move wasn’t getting there, it was finding our home. By the time we arrived in North Carolina, we were sick of hotels. Sure, our unloading and packing system was seamless at that point.
The challenge was finding an adequate home to rent in a city where the number of rentals was few and far between. We spent six days in hotels, while we toured some of the worst rentals imaginable until we found our home. With the help of friends in the area who watched our dog, and the experience of hotel stays, we survived.
Now that we’re settling into our new city, I’m establishing our new normal. My son is enrolled in a bi-weekly preschool. We attend a local MOPS group and an outdoor nature school program. If I’ve learned anything in my almost 10 years as a military spouse, immerse yourself into the community, not just the military community. You will feel less like an outsider and your kids will have activities they’re excited about.