Tag Archives: Moving

My kids are TOTAL BRATS!

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From the time I toddled around in droopy diapers, to the day I drove off to college in my VW Bug, I lived in one small Pennsylvania town. The kids who picked their noses next to me in Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class were the same ones who walked across the stage with me at our high school graduation. I had one hometown, one high school, one brick house, one yellow bedroom, and one best friend who I gabbed with each night on my one candlestick rotary phone while draped across my one mock brass twin bed.

By contrast, my son just started his senior year at his third new high school. By the time he drives off to college next year, he will have grown up in eight different homes, in three different states and two foreign countries. He has said goodbye to five different best friends, five different piano teachers, and four different Boy Scout troops. He will have played on three different varsity football teams, and his academic transcript will be almost as complicated as the US Tax Code.

Essentially, my son and his two sisters are total BRATS.

No, not that kind of brat. Although our kids have definitely displayed their fair share of unruly behavior, infuriating teen arrogance and near juvenile delinquency; I’m calling my kids “military brats,” which has an entirely different connotation.

HOW’D THEY GET THIS WAY?

Although it is fairly common knowledge that “military brats” are children of servicepersons, few know the true origin of this term. According to WilliamsburghMilitaryInsider.com, “B.R.A.T.” is an old acronym for “British Regiment Attached Traveler,” used to describe dependents assigned to accompany British Army members being stationed abroad.

Over the years, the term expanded and evolved to become a universal descriptor for kids who move with their military parents. Regardless of the technical definitions and historical origins, the term “military B.R.A.T.” means so many different things — both good and bad — to each military family.

The acronym B.R.A.T. might as well stand for all military parents’ fears that their kids will be Bewildered, Reluctant, Afraid and Timid after each move. We put them in new schools, worried that they will be Bullied, Ridiculed, Abused and Taunted. Wracked with guilt, we feel Blameworthy, Remorseful, Apologetic and downright Terrible.

THE UPSIDE

However, we military parents fail to remember that our BRATs are Brave, Resourceful, Amicable and Tolerant. After every move, they make new Buddies, form new Routines, find Acceptance, and feel Triumphant.

But kids will be kids, even the military ones, so they milk our guilt for all it’s worth, and lead us to believe that they are miserable.

They Bellyache, Refute, Accuse and shed Tears. They claim that all the students in their new school are Buffoons, Rednecks, Airheads, and Tramps. They tell us they might be able to cope if they were given Bonuses, Riches, Allowance and Toys.

And every time, we get suckered. As the Bills, Receipts, Arrears and Taxes pile up; the stress causes Balding, Reflux, Anxiety, and Tension headaches.  Before you know it, we’re stocking up on Botox, Rogaine, Antacids and Tequila.

But regardless of the challenges of our military life, our children don’t succeed despite their military upbringing, they succeed because of it.  And when they grow up and lead their own lives, they bring with them Beautiful Recollections of American Traditions.

And as I watch my kids go off to another new school in another new town, I’m proud to say my kids are most certainly, undeniably, complete and total BRATs.

Tips for helping your BRATs in their new schools:

  • It’s Child’s Play – Allow your kids to invite classmates and neighbors over to play often. It’s simply the best way for your child to make new friends, and by hosting playdates at your house, you will be in a better position to guide your kids’ choices.
  • Fashion Sense — Allow your kids to express their opinions regarding back to school clothes. Only they know which pair of jeans or which shirt will give them the boost in confidence they might need to get through those “new kid” jitters.
  • Take Pride — Remind your kids that, by serving their country, military families live uniquely adventurous lives.  Quell their fears about fitting in by giving them a sense of pride in being extraordinary.

 

SEPT2013

She’s a rich girl

Money can't buy happiness, but life experience can make you rich.

Money can’t buy happiness, but life experience can make you rich.

In the darkness of Room 318, my husband’s gravely snore could be heard over the rattle of the air conditioner. Normally unable to sleep with any kind of racket, I was out like the proverbial light, my mouth agape from the utter exhaustion that comes with moving.

Middle-age didn’t help either.

Our son, draped over the makeshift bed we created for him out of hotel chair cushions and extra blankets, tinkered on his laptop, chatting with Facebook friends about the new school he will enter in the fall.

In an identical room one floor above, silently laid my mother — who had come to help us move in to our assigned base house — nestled tightly between our two daughters.

“Grammy?” our youngest whispered in the darkness.

“Hu, wha?” my mother came to, her tired eyes at half-mast.

“I don’t wanna move here.”

“Oh, Sweetie,” my mother tried to regain lucidity, “I know you’re going to miss your sunny house in Florida, but you’ll love all the seasons in Rhode Island. Now, try to get some slee . . .”

“Well, I’m OK with that. It’s just that . . .”

“I totally understand, Lilly — snow gets me down sometimes too, especially during February and March. And when it snows on Easter – I have half a mind to catch the next Greyhound bus to the Bahamas. And another thing . . . “

“No, Grammy, I . . .”

“But think of all the sled riding you’re going to do!” my mother offered, attempting to recover from her self-absorbed rant.

“I’m not talking about that, I . . .”

“Oh, I get it now, you’re worried about your new school being too hard.”

“Well, no, I’m kind of afraid of . . .”

“The dress code?”

“Not . . .”

“Bullies?”

“No . . .”

“Boys?”

“GRAMMY! Listen to me!” Lilly blurted in a hybrid whisper-scream so as to not wake her older sister.

“I’m sorry, Sweetie, what are you afraid of? Grammy’s all ears.”

In the silence, Lilly tried to pinpoint her feelings about going to private school for the first time, living in a New England resort community, and going from flip-flops and hush puppies to Topsiders and lobster.

“I’m scared, because all the people here are rich,” she finally admitted, “and we’re not.”

Surprised by Lilly’s admission and exaggerated perception of reality, my mother scanned the recesses of her half-conscious mind for an appropriate response.

“Don’t be so materialistic, Lilly,” her older sister, Anna, suddenly blurted from the opposite side of the bed.

Grammy chuckled at the irony that Anna, who had been obsessed with making money for shopping since she went door to door selling her old baby dolls in the first grade, would admonish her sister for concerning herself with money.

“It’s not funny, Grammy,” Lilly pouted, feeling embarrassed and ganged-up on.

“Oh, Lilly,” Grammy pulled her closer, stroked the soft butterscotch hair away from her face, and allowed the words to flow without aforethought.

“You’re right. Your Dad doesn’t make tons of money — he chose to serve his country even if it meant taking a lower salary than he could make outside of the military. And your mom put aside her career as an attorney to follow him and raise you kids. No, your family doesn’t have a lot of money like some of the folks in this town.”

“But you know what?” she waited for replies from the pillows flanking her own head.

“What?” the sisters said in hushed unison.

“’Rich’ people might have big bank accounts and vacation homes in the Caymans, but those possessions aren’t really worth much in the whole grand scheme of things. What matters more is the value of your life experiences. Living all over the world, courage, patriotism, sacrifice, honor, camaraderie, respect, service – that’s the stuff that money can’t buy.”

Before Mr. Sandman lulled them all back to Lala Land, Grammy kissed her granddaughters on the head and eked out one final edict: “Lilly, you’re a military kid – hold your head up high, because you’re the richest girl in town.”

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Happy to have Dad back after a year in Djibouti, Africa

Family fun in Spain

Family fun in Spain

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Reaching new peaks in Switzerland

Winter to Spring 2010 364

Boxed up in London

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Bullied by brother in Bavaria

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Snoozing in the heather in the Irish hills

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Risky business in Rome

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Proud of Dad on his promotion.Winter to Spring 2010 865Wet and Wild in the Alps

The Bottom Drawer

Forgotten, but not lost.

Forgotten, but not lost.

Ironically, there are benefits to moving so often as a military family. Every few years, we’re forced to go through all the used markers, pillowcases, snow boots, kitchen utensils, Barbies, tae kwan do trophies, tax records, and saucepans, and throw a bunch of stuff out.

As a person who attaches sentimental value to everything from seashells and matchbooks to stained bibs and hospital bracelets, this can be stressful. But the sands of time grind away my sentimentality, and eventually, I end up chucking out mementos that I formerly believed to be too precious to part with.

As we prepare for our next military move to Rhode Island, I’m reconsidering items I thought were useful or nostalgic enough to haul around for so many years. For example, Aunt Millie’s (may she rest in peace) old end tables, with the cigarette burns I thought I’d buff out one day, were relegated to the donate pile. Although I kept one file of my kids’ artwork, anything with cracked macaroni or yellowing glue was photographed and discarded. Similarly, clothing that has not been worn in the last five years – except for my college duck boots which I hear are coming back into style — has been delivered to Goodwill.

Some collections, however, get pared down with each tour, but are never completely discarded regardless of their current usefulness. For example, I’ve been adding to several tubs of old t-shirts for years, because someday, I WILL make each of my kids a t-shirt quilt before they go off to college. And, I have at least four boxes of old toys and books that WILL seed the fantastic playroom I envision for my future grandchildren. I WILL use that stuff someday, I swear.

And then there’s the stuff I recently whittled down to one bottom file drawer. It contains documents that not only took years of hard work to assemble, but cost me over $90,000 to acquire. When my husband and I first married in 1993, this collection was huge and took up at least a dozen boxes. But with every tour, the contents aged, became obsolete, and were thrown away.

Other than a few musty books which reside on our shelf just for show, the bottom file drawer now contains the only tangible evidence of my career as a litigation attorney.

The hanging folders in the bottom drawer have tabs inscribed with titles such as “Resumes,” “Transcripts,” “Licensing,” and “Writing Samples.” Even though none of these documents have been referenced since I quit working in the 1990s to raise our kids, I keep them all neatly filed in case I need them to land that six-figure partnership offer in a high-powered litigation firm one day.

Although I won’t readily admit it, I know down deep inside that these old documents, now yellowed and stained with spots of rust from ancient paper clips and staples, will never realistically serve to supplement any future application for my employment. But I can’t bring myself to throw them away, just in case.

Besides, the file drawers above contain my children’s birth certificates, report cards, physical forms, the deed to our first house, mortgage documents, college savings statements, the dog’s shot records, orthodontist’s bills, car insurance policies, passports, tax forms, orders and other essential documents memorializing 20 years of life as a military family.

Like my college duck boots, the tub of t-shirts, and those old toys, my legal career will stay packed away a while longer. I WILL get to them eventually. In the meantime, I’ve got other, more important things to do.

 

I can’t wait to move!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

My column in the March Issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

Well, first, there’s the heat. The year-round, thick, hot, humid, gnat-infested, sweat producing, Florida heat. The lousy palm trees certainly don’t do much to shade us from the relentless sun around here – I swear, it shines about 300 days a year! I don’t know how the locals can take it.      

And then there’s the sand. Not just any sand, but that fine, sugary Florida sand that you don’t feel until you’re back from the beach and you find out it’s all over your house. It’s a real hassle, I tell ya.

Of course, we can’t forget the local culture, and all its slow cooked “southern charm.” I swear, if another person opens a door for me or calls me “ma’am,” I’m gonna lose it! I’m sick and tired of sweet tea, cornbread, barbecue, fried chicken, coconut shrimp and tropical drinks!

Thank goodness, we got orders out of this place! Good riddance!

Part and parcel of the military experience is The Military Move. Every few years, we are forced to “pull chocks” – say good-bye to what has become familiar and settle in a new place. It’s tough, and sometimes we develop subconscious strategies to help us cope with the stress.

We settle our families into every duty station – be it Kentucky, California, Alaska, Arizona, Italy, Japan, or Florida. Even if it’s difficult at first, we eventually find our groove. The kids make friends, we get jobs, we find a pizza place and join bunco groups. As time passes, we incorporate local foods into our meals, we adopt local customs, we use local lingo such as “Yes Ma’am,” “You betcha,” “Prego,” and “Aloha.”

And just as we begin to embrace our new lifestyle, we get orders to someplace else. It never fails.

However, military spouses won’t allow themselves to wallow in self pity for long. After shedding a few tears – usually over a little wine and copious amounts of chocolate, or vice versa – we pick ourselves up and simply start seeing things differently. Our new orders may dictate that we must move from Paradise to Poughkeepsi, but somehow, we convince ourselves that we need a fresh start.

As for me, our new orders say that we have to move from the secluded southern beaches of Naval Station Mayport, Florida, and settle in the chilly north, at the Naval War College, Rhode Island. In the coming months before we pull chocks, I’m sure I will shamelessly blubber and hug my Mayport friends at a neighborhood fire pit. I will most likely feel no guilt as I gorge myself one last time on southern fried chicken and biscuits. And I’m pretty sure I will get misty when I take one last shell walk on what has become “my beach.”

However, to ease the pain, my subconscious mind will say, “This duty station is the threshold of hell, and the new one will be WAY better. Seriously.”

So, I can’t wait to move to Newport. The quaint little towns. The ocean-splashed cliffs. The lobster. The quirky New Englanders with their funny accents and old-school mentalities. The Technicolor falls and the frosty white winters.

I’m 100 percent certain. There’s not a doubt in my mind. No question about it: our new duty station will be WAY better than this one . . . [gulp, sniff] . . . Seriously.

Try these tips to ease the pain of constant change

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Look for my column about traveling with kids in the April issue!

Why I love being ordered around

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Mayo-nnaise to Foley: “I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to g… I got nothin’ else!”

To everyday civilians, “the pursuit of happiness” typically involves career, home, love, and family. It’s no different for military families, with one important exception: ORDERS.

Unlike their civilian counterparts, active duty servicepersons must pursue their happiness within the strict confines of written military orders, which are lengthy documents that appear to be written in alien code.

Military orders seem riddled with gibberish, and might be easily replicated as follows: Sit on a computer keyboard for about ten minutes, periodically shifting positions. Once enough “XXXXXXXXs” and “UUUUUUs” have been typed, print out about 15 pages; staple. Trust me, even the most seasoned soldier or sailor wouldn’t immediately notice the difference.

However, buried amongst the seemingly nonsensical verbiage are key phrases such as “Report no later than August 2013” and “Newport, Rhode Island,” which, although embedded in gobbledygook, are important mandatory instructions regarding the next couple of years in a serviceperson’s life.

We are a Navy family who’s seen our share of military orders. Our most recent written orders arrived a month ago. Besides “RTTUZYUW” and “UUUU–RHMCSUU” my husband’s orders indicate that this summer, he must report to a new job at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

The hidden message contained in the gobbledygook.

The hidden message contained in the gobbledygook.

Our last orders instructed my husband to report to Naval Station Mayport, Florida in March 2011, and before that to Africa Command, Stuttgart, Germany in July 2008. Before that Djibouti, East Africa. Before that Norfolk, Virginia. Before that Molesworth, England. Before that, Monterey California. And so on, and so on.

I can’t prove it without the assistance of an experienced cryptographer, but I think that our orders might also contain mandates such as “///GET OVER IT///” or “///NO WHINING–YOU’RE IN THE MILITARY///.” We must follow military orders regardless of inconvenience or hardship, like moving your son before his senior year, or leaving the church that you like so much, or separating your youngest after she finally made a new best friend. None of that matters. We are at the mercy of the U.S. Navy.

So why do we continue to let ourselves get ordered around?

In today’s unstable economic climate, one might think that mere job security is what motivates military families to keep following orders, and with all the news of “fiscal cliffs” and “sequestration” there is some truth to this.

However, regardless of job security, a deep attachment to a military culture develops. With each successive move, military families not only become more resilient, but also cultivate a strong identity and pride in their unique lifestyle. Believe it or not, we become so accustomed to being ordered to go somewhere new, we often look forward to it after being in one place for a couple of years.

I must admit, I’ve wondered if our affection for military life might be a twinge of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe it’s rooted in fear of what’s on the outside, like long-term prisoners who are afraid to be released from prison life. Or maybe it’s a compulsion, like Pacino’s Michael Corleone in Godfather III (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”)

Sargent

Truly, I know our affinity for this lifestyle is rooted in honor, duty, courage, loyalty, patriotism, respect for authority, and sacrifice for others. These concepts have become muddled in today’s society, so we feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to raise our kids in a military environment where those virtues are emphasized. We live and work with other military families who have a common understanding of good and evil, right and wrong.  We don’t need a permanent hometown — it’s the similar sense of values and camaraderie with our fellow military families that makes us feel at home.

No doubt about it: non-military families are fortunate to put down roots in one place where they can make close friendships and foster stable school, family and community ties. They might not understand how a family like mine could be happy about moving to Rhode Island after less than two years in Florida.

But we are happy about our ninth move in 20 years, because it’s part and parcel of our military lifestyle. To quote a common saying which adorns many a sailor’s front door, “Home is where the Navy sends us.”

Purchase signs like these at www.signsofpatriotism.com.

Purchase signs like these at http://www.signsofpatriotism.com.

Sharing Happiness

My phone rang this week, and for once, it wasn’t my kids or my husband or my mother or my carpool partner or my in laws or one of those pre-recorded doctor’s appointment confirmation messages.

“Hey Lisa, what have you been up to?” she asked. I was dumbfounded. I had not received a purely social call in months — it was as if I had forgotten what to do. My mind raced as I tried to remember how to engage in idle chit chat.

Why on earth is she calling me? I thought. I mean, we only know each other because our husbands work together, and besides, I’m new here, but  she’s lived here for years. She has plenty of other friends to call . . . there must be some problem.

“Oh, you know, the usual . . . busy, busy, busy!” I lied, waiting for her to ask to borrow money, or give her a ride to the airport, or buy overpriced candles for her son’s baseball team fundraiser.  

“Well, listen, I really need some exercise… would you like to go on a power walk or something?”

You’d have thought I was a double winner on the Price is Right Showcase Showdown by the way I reacted.

“Really?! Yes! I would love to! What time?! Where do you want me to meet you?! I’ll go anywhere! I already have work out clothes on, so I am ready to go whenever you are, so just say the word and…”

“Nine-fifteen at the Park and Ride lot on Wonderwood Drive,” she interrupted my pathetic ramble.

“You got it!”

I arrived twenty minutes early, and sat desperately waiting to spot her mini van. When she arrived, I bolted from my car as if it had burst into flames.

“Hi!” I yelled and waved across the parking lot, startling her out of her morning haze. For the next hour, we did what housewives do so well – analyzed, pondered, proclaimed, opined, pontificated, empathized, chastised, gossiped and even listened a little bit, all under the guise of exercise. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Back in the parking lot, my new friend suggested that we make the outing our new Thursday routine. I eagerly agreed, and nearly skipped back to my car with a goofy grin.

On the drive home, I thought, Finally, a real friend. I can’t wait for next Thursday. Boy, I wish we could meet Tuesdays and Thursdays. But maybe that’s too much. I don’t want to scare her away. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I did come on too strong. I don’t remember listening all that much, actually. I think I did most of the talking. Why do I always do that? She was probably wondering whether I’d ever shut up. I’ll bet she will call and cancel next week because she thinks I’m an annoying blabbermouth….

I pulled into my driveway, put the car in park, and looked at myself in the rear view mirror. Not only did I realize that, on the walk, my bangs had fallen into that unflattering middle part that made my face look like a full moon, it also occurred to me that this had all happened before.

Suddenly overwhelmed with that bizarre déjà vu sensation, I tried to recollect the past. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the internal conversation I just had with myself was the same one I had in 2008, 1998, 1996, 1994 and 1993 – basically, every time the military has ordered us to move.

After every move, I busy myself with setting up our new life – new house, new schools, new doctors, new dentists, new music teachers, new gym, new church, new pizza place, new routines — a daunting task which keeps me occupied for several months. But once the new routines are in place, there’s nothing left to do except live.

I don’t care whether you live in Poughkeepsie or Prague, boredom eventually sets in. You find yourself dawdling on the internet, throwing dinner together last minute, ignoring housework, and eating too much. You put on work out clothes every day, but never make it to the gym. You call your husband at work even though you know he can’t chat. You write long e-mails to friends from the past who are too preoccupied to write back. Even your own mother tries to get off the phone when you call, and your last resort, the family dog, has no good gossip to share.

You are bored out of your mind.

As I fixed my bangs in the rear view mirror, I remembered the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who disappeared “Into the Wild” (the name of the book by Jon Krakauer) to live free from obligations and relationships. After spending over three months utterly alone, he finally realized that he had been wrong about life all along. Days before he died of starvation trying to make it back out of the wild, he wrote “Happiness is only real if shared.”

Remembering the quote helped me understand why I always get a little pathetic every time we move, and although I’m in no danger of starving anytime soon (quite the contrary in fact,) I realized that everyone needs a good friend or two to nourish the soul.

The Lame Duck in the Chicken Coop

For the last three years, I have been living in conditions that could be described as very similar to that of a chicken coop.

I reside on the 4th floor of a stairwell base housing unit on a US Army barracks in Germany. Our building looks almost identical to about 40 other housing units on this base, each one lined up neatly on patriotically named streets, within walking distance to the schools, commissary, and mail room, and all surrounded by a humongous fence.

However, it is not the appearance of this base that makes living here like living in a coop (truth be told, the fence and sterile buildings make this place more reminiscent of an asylum.) Nobody is throwing feed corn at us. No one has laid an egg as far as I know. But it is the pecking order that renders this place like an enormous cage full of clucking hens, strutting roosters and peeping chicks running wild.

When I moved here three years ago, I quickly became cognizant of this unique social order. As a new arrival, I took some time to nest, but after my rooster flew the coop for work and the chicks went off to school, boredom and loneliness set in.

I wandered the range in search of a flock to huddle with, but none could be found. Sure, there were hens everywhere (and a few stay-at-home roosters, I wouldn’t want to be sexist,) but I soon realized that I was at the bottom of the pecking order and would have to scratch and claw my way to roost with the others.

Careful not to count my chickens before they were hatched, I eventually laid the foundation for my social acceptance into the flock. By my second year, I was already familiar with most of the gaggle and was huddling with them, clucking away as we walked the chicks to school together, hatching plans for shopping trips, complaining about our wattles and chicken fat, and cackling on our shared patios.

I was securely perched at a comfortable elevation in the social pecking order, and life was generally good. As new chickens entered the coop, we chuckled from our high roost, fully aware of the work that they would need to do to find their places in our flock. Frankly, we got downright cocky.

Now, at the end of my third year of this tour, I must fly south and find a new flock in Florida. Thoughts of moving are leaving me a little wistful and reflective. I find myself pondering weighty ideas such as, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and “Who came first, the chicken or the egg?”

This melancholy state has brought about a need for the comfort and companionship of the other hens in my coop, but alas, I have discovered that, as an outbound hen, I have been dumped back to the bottom of the pecking order! With only two weeks left in the coop, I find myself scratching for social scraps! How did this happen? Did I do something fowl?

After some thought in my pea-sized brain, I realized that I have become a lame duck in this chicken coop. I am no longer a contender in the social order simply because I am about to leave. As such, there is no reason for the other hens to invest valuable time in further incubating our friendship in this particular coop.

It’s not personal, there’s no reason to get my feathers ruffled, the sky isn’t falling. It’s just the way things work around here.

So as I prepare to take wing, I will thank my fine friends for their companionship, offer each a peck on the cheek, bid them a final cock-a-doodle-doo, and fly, fly away.

 
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Confectionary Comforts

Running my fingertip along the wrinkled peak of thin, gold foil, I find an edge. I insert a nail under the delicate lip and lift the sheet, hearing it crinkle as it expands like an accordion. I pause a moment, just long enough to pinch the end of the tiny paper strip, and tug it free from its host.

Satisfied that the sheath has been removed intact, I crumple the shiny square of foil and paper strip into a ball, and discard it. Popping the freed morsel into my mouth, I let it sit on my tongue for a few seconds, and feel my body’s heat react with the sugary drop. As it melts, a fragment of almond is revealed. In a sudden movement of tongue and teeth, I swipe the nut between my molars and feel it crack under pressure.

As I swallow the delicious mixture, my fingers search the bag for my next Hershey Kiss with Almonds. . . .

More than I should, I find myself reaching for chocolate. One might think the rich texture and undeniably delicious flavor of this popular confection tempts me, but I have a different motivation for eating chocolate.

Like a baby, I crave something soothing and repetitive when I’m stressed, tired or bored. Since Gerber doesn’t make pacifiers for 44-year-olds, and my husband isn’t inclined to rock me in a rocking chair, I opt for sweet treats.

I’m not talking about gorging on devil’s food cake, or slurping up Hot Fudge Brownie Delights. While I have been known to indulge in those delicacies from time to time, I find more comfort in chocolate treats that lend themselves to a prolonged ritualistic enjoyment of the process of eating chocolate.

We’re about to uproot our lives here on this US Army base in Stuttgart, Germany, and move back across the Atlantic to Mayport Naval Station in Florida.

Stressing over the logistics of this particularly complicated move has caused a flare up in my need for comfort, and as such, I’ve been hitting the chocolate pretty hard. Hershey Kisses with Almonds have been my recent remedy of choice, mostly because eating each tiny morsel involves several repetitive steps that I find quite soothing.

When I can’t get my hands on those, I turn to other chocolaty treats for my therapy. Most recently, I have eased my stress with Girl Scout’s Thin Mints Cookies. Regardless of the nutrition label, an entire sleeve of these delectable disks is really needed to calm the nerves.

Extracting a cookie from the top of the stack, I place it on my tongue and allow it to steep. The chocolate coating slowly melts, and then my saliva soaks into the crisp center, dissolving it into a mouthful of minty mush. I chew any remaining crunchy bits and swallow, as I lift another disk from the sleeve. 

Usually, one sleeve will do the trick, but on particularly stressful nights, I’ve been tempted to take the second sleeve from the box. I resist this urge, knowing that the guilt of eating so many Girl Scout Cookies will only add to my stress and thereby increase my need for confectionary comforts.

Even as a child, I remember ritualizing my consumption of treats. I never understood a kid who could take a bag of M&Ms, tear open the top, and pour the whole thing into his upturned mouth. What a waste!

I, on the other hand, would maximize my enjoyment, spreading the contents of each bag out, and separating the candies out into their colors (which were, back then, orange, green, yellow, dark brown and light brown.) I would then analyze each pile, eating only the most flawed morsels. Those that were misshapen or had an imperfect “M” were goners. I continued this process until I had whittled the lot down to one of each color. Those five, the Chosen Ones, would be scooped up together and ceremoniously sacrificed in one final chomp.

This may all sound nuts, but in times of stress, everyone turns to something for relief, and I figure that three-quarters of a bag of Hershey Kisses with Almonds is measurably better for one’s mental and physical health than three packs of Camels and a pint of Jose Quervo.

So why not dissect a dozen peanut butter cups, nibble the chocolate off the nougat center of a Three Musketeers Bar, or methodically pick apart a pair of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls? It tastes good, it feels good, and stress melts away as fast as a chocolate Kiss on your tongue.

The Stuff Families Are Made Of

Recently, I’ve been told that my family of five weighs nearly 18,000 pounds. 

No, we are not morbidly obese – that figure is actually the total weight of all of our stuff. Everything from the half-chewed pencil in the desk drawer to the 1978 Baldwin upright piano, and all the socks, cookie sheets, end tables, and dog toys in between.

As a military family, we have to move every few years. Each time, a team of movers wraps all our stuff in paper, packs it into boxes, nails it into crates, weighs it, and delivers it to our next temporary home.

Prior to every move, we take a few weeks to sort through our 18,000 pounds of stuff and “purge” unnecessary items like old clothes, outgrown toys, and beat up furniture.

Getting rid of things has always been difficult for me. As a child, I used to squirrel everything away – toys, coins, rocks, shells, candy, notes, photos, etc. – and I am still doing it to this day. I can attach practical or sentimental value to almost anything to make it worth keeping.

Fourteen years ago we were about to move from England to Virginia, and were sorting through our stuff in preparation to be packed. My husband was going through all the little drawers in his big roll top desk, and came upon a small white plastic clamp holding a hard brownish object.

“What the heck is this?” he asked, holding the clamp up to the light.

“Oh, that’s Hayden’s umbilical cord.” I said, briefly looking up from a file box of bank statements.

“His umbilical cord?!” he said, astonished, tossing the dehydrated fragment back into the drawer. “That looks like something you’d find in a bowl of Chex Mix…what if I had accidentally eaten it? I’m throwing it away.”

“WAIT!” I shouted, lunging for the dried up morsel of sinew. I held the plastic clamp and gazed at the petrified remnants of the bridge of flesh that once connected my son and me. I thought of the life-giving nourishment that flowed through the cord and how it symbolized my undying love for my son.

Just then, my husband interrupted my reverie, “Hon, you’re not going to keep that thing are you? It’s like a dried up piece of raw chicken!”

As I reluctantly threw the scabby scrap into the trash, I wondered if discarding our original physical bond might adversely affect the emotional tie between my son and me. 

Crazy, I know.

That is the insane thought process I go through every time we move.

I could give in to my hoarding tendencies and tell myself that every scrap of paper and old shoe is indispensable, because it is useful or holds some dear memory. But then, the US military would fine us for going over the allowable weight limit for a family of five.

Thanks to Uncle Sam, I am not a hoarder, but I still battle my propensity to packrat every time we move.

This time, I hesitated over a restaurant matchbook from a night when the kids didn’t embarrass us. I had a lot of trouble parting with my 1980s Bermuda bag and its buttoned covers, still convinced that wooden handled purses will come back into style. And I couldn’t get myself to part with the tin drum that my son used to beat when we went Christmas caroling with the neighbors.

With each move, I have to remind myself that, although our stuff comforts us and makes us feel at home in unfamiliar places, the 18,000 pounds of stuff that follows us around the world does not make us who we are.

It is merely stuff, without which, we still have a hefty family life, weighty with memories, loaded with laughter, and laden with tons of love.

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