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Monday, February 6, 2023

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A Tale of Two Childhoods

tale-2-childhoods“Mary, I would love for you to write about this. I have struggled with whether or not I am cheating my children, but in the end decided that I am not. They are traveling and seeing the world, and they have things I did not have and I had things they do not, but in the end it’s all good!” — Ann B., former “military brat”

Like me, my friend Ann grew up in a family that relocated frequently. Many of you, with the high percentage of military families in this area, may have grown up this way, too. By the time I was 3-years-old, I had lived on three continents, thanks to my father’s career in the Foreign Service. I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; moved to London, England at 18 months and then to the Washington, D.C. metro area at 3. In contrast, my kids — ages 8 and 11 — have lived in the same country, same town, same house since birth.

In addition to my peripatetic early childhood, I continued as a Third Culture Kid* into later childhood and adolescence with stints in Iceland and back in Brazil. I attended six different schools before I graduated: three public schools in the U.S., one missionary-run school in the Amazon basin, one military base school and a one-room school sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Iceland.

My kids? They have spent their entire elementary career at the public school near our house and, if all goes as planned, will continue through high school in the Stafford County school system. They have been with many of the same classmates since kindergarten, whereas I had to meet and make new friends every two to three years.

Growing up, I enjoyed my family’s frequent moves — once the “first day” jitters wore off — and imagined that I would continue in this lifestyle as an adult. For my college essay, where I was asked to write about my future career choice, I wrote that I’d like to be a teacher at an international school. Well, that did not happen, and I’m happy with my small-town lifestyle.

There are unexpected pleasures, I find, to setting down roots. It is a joy to see my two grow up with their friends and to experience the stability of routine and familiarity. My daughter is still friends with two of the girls from her infant play group. This is something that I never had as a child…a close friend with shared experiences over many years.
While I have memories that range over continents and cultures, they are fragmented and diffuse. Laura and Joe have layer upon layer of memories of local outings and events. “Remember the time…!” we say, sipping our milkshakes at Goolrick’s while gazing at the high chair they both used to sit in. “Remember the time…?” we say, heading to a renovated, but still-familiar, King’s Dominion.

Swell the music and cue the soft focus. My childhood may have been very different from what my kids are experiencing, but both shared love and hugs, bedtime stories and goodnight kisses, parents who try their best to be firm, yet fair; and family traditions to anchor each year. I agree with Ann when she concludes, “It’s all good!”

*http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/where-is-home-for-a-third-culture-kid/

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