Thursday, January 5, 2017

PCS Diaries Part III: Getting There and Finding Home

Assimilation, or lack thereof.

When I committed to writing a three part PCS series back in October I truly thought I would write them all in about 3 weeks. My diatribe about how everyone thinks we have it super easy first, then the pack out the next week, then the physical move/unpack the week later.

When you move to a new place it isn't the physical move that is the challenge. While purging and packing and driving can be physically exhausting, it is the emotional toll that it takes that is hard. I hear so many conversations and see so many Facebook posts on the tips and tricks of physical moves. Tape colors and typed signs (and basically everything I talked about earlier in this series), but I often don't hear about the emotional toll, or the tips and trips to feeling at home in your new space. And honestly, can we really teach anyone how to be happy?

The NPR article that originally sparked the idea of this series, and talks about how "easy" everything is, is missing 90% of the point. Moving physically is expensive, yes, and the military takes away some of the physical and financial burden. But they can't take away the emotional burden. And the emotional burden of ripping away the familiar every few years is incredibly difficult to articulate.

One of the reasons I've avoided this post is that I haven't felt at home in Colorado yet. I hadn't transitioned. And to write a final part to this story would have been a lie. Boxes have been unpacked long ago and the kitchen has been organized and the kids have been enrolled in school, I've just not felt like I had completed this move emotionally. Mentally I was still back in California with my amazing friends, supportive neighbors, and warm sunshine. I missed my routine and the sound the palm trees made in the wind and the knowledge that I could drive 10 minutes and dip my toes in the cold ocean. I had made a home there. And now Uncle Sam was telling me I needed to make another home somewhere else. Somewhere dry, cold, beautiful and mysterious.

The hard part has been finding my footing. We are a Navy family in an Air Force land. As I've aged I'm becoming much more melancholy about the nomadic lifestyle. In my 20s it was an adventure and I truly 100% believed that and lived that. Now in my mid 30s, as most of my friends are settling into their forever homes and their kids are attending forever schools, I am living in a rental in an unfamiliar place. It felt wrong. Like I was wearing the wrong sized shoes on a hike. And this hike is at high altitude where I have to stop every few hundred yards and contemplate where I am going, why I am going there, and why my feet hurt. The big question of "WHY?" has plagued me this time and I wouldn't be authentic if I said I had found the perfect answer. I'm also envious of my civilian friends who seem to have it all figured out. I'm jealous that they can count on where they are, they can map out the next 10 years and know that the friendships their kids are forming so innocently and excitedly won't be ripped away in a few short years.

So here I am, two months after moving to my new place, finally writing the last entry of this series. The kids are settled into their schools, we all have doctors, I've met other families and kids and moms, and we have been skiing a number of times. And I am finally, finally, starting to feel at peace with being here. My daughter has been the catalyst to my burgeoning happiness. She loves the mountains and the snow, she loves her school, she's learning to ski and loves it. She is embracing the newness and the beauty in a way that I am trying to foster and emulate. Experiencing Colorado through her eyes, eyes that light up when snowflakes fall, has been incredibly healing for me.

Give yourself grace when you move. It doesn't matter why you are moving: PCS for the military, job change in the civilian world, to care for family, or just a change of scenery. I will always suggest taking advantage of where you are: discover what makes your area unique and create a list, tackle that list and make memories wherever you go. Logically I know that we only have one life, and a life of experiencing new things is a privilege many would love to have. But don't deny yourself the time and space to be sad about the move itself.

When I got her I felt incredibly guilty for how I was feeling. So guilty that I avoided writing because I didn't think I had anything meaningful or useful to say. It was the walk through this experience, and the feedback I was receiving from other military spouse friends going through similar transitions, that made me realize that I did have something useful. And that is simply permission to walk your journey and feel your emotions and be kind to yourself. And that is why Part III is about the emotional transition and not the physical transition.

Happiness is a choice in a lot of ways, but not being happy doesn't mean you are broken. It means you are human.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Heartache of Moving

December is an emotionally charged month for me. I think the holidays tend to be full of memories for people - both happy and sad - and I know that it's a good rule of thumb to be gentle and kind to one another this time of year.

But you guys, I am an absolute hot mess right now. If you are a close friend of mine you're probably nodding your head right now because I've been texting you with how off I feel. How right now I've been pretty sad and confused. How this move has left me more off balance than I've ever felt on a Navy move. How I just feel out of place, out of touch, and swirling in this snowy unfamiliar landlocked place.

Part of moving is trying to go through old things and give away or throw away what is unnecessary. This time I have dove deeper than in previous years (probably because my kids are older and I have more time to do thorough purging). The pictures are hitting me hard. The memories are hitting me harder. And I'm having trouble piecing together the joy of this season matched up against how empty and un-rooted I feel. I look back over the last 20 years with my husband and just can't believe that we were that young. Where has the time gone? What have I done that is good with that time? Did I absorb and enjoy my kids as babies enough? Did I ignore the boxes and just lay under the tree with my kids enough? Am I enough?

Thanks to Facebook I often get reminded of what I've done in past Decembers.

At this time in 2010 we were packing up our newborn and 1 year old and heading to Virginia.

At this time in 2012 we were packing up our 2 and 3 year olds and heading to Kansas.

At this time in 2013 we were packing up our 3 and 4 year olds and heading to California.

And this year we just arrived in Colorado.

My December Facebook memories are full of boxes, long car rides, and filling final days with "bucket list" items. Right now I'm sitting at my desk looking out on a snowy white lawn. And I'm so confused about how less than 2 months ago I was laying on a pool lounge chair watching my kids swim with their friends under the palm trees. I feel like Dorothy after the tornado. Where the hell am I?

The change is getting harder for me as I get older. I'm finding it harder to place adventure ahead of my homesickness. And I honestly don't even know where I'm homesick for at this point, just that I am longing for HOME. A place that is consistent and smells familiar and that houses our memories for longer than 2 years. Not vanilla rental homes that I have to squeeze my furniture into and pray it doesn't look too Frankenstein.

And then I feel guilty.

I love my life. I have so many things that I know I am incredibly blessed to have. My kids are healthy and happy and if I'm being honest they are handling this move a hell of a lot better than I am. The people make this life amazing. My kids are learning about the diversity of this country and how to live with many different kids of people, climates, and backgrounds. I'm proud of them and of how accepting and resilient they are. Their hearts are wide open, while mine is crying because it's feeling lonely.

At 35 I guess I'm just not as breezy. This won't be a post where I end on some high note and profess how attitude is everything. It's a post where I say: If you just moved and you're sad, well, you're not alone. You are normal. It is okay. This is HARD.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

PCS Diaries Part 2: The Pack Out

The day before our packers were supposed to show up they called and told us that they would actually be coming a day later. They estimated they only needed two days to pack instead of three, so they would see us later in the week. This is not the first time this has happened: the mad scramble to organize and purge only to be told the night before that they'd be a day late. This works great if and only if their estimates are correct. When we moved out of Kansas they squeezed to two days and then only sent 1.5 people the first day. Watching them madly try to pack my entire kitchen (and pretty much 100% of my breakables) while the truck was idling outside with the annoyed driver staring at his watch was not fun.

Thankfully, this pack out went very smoothly. We were hooked up with Ace Moving and Storage out of Los Angeles and the driver helped with packing. If you have the opportunity to request a company out of Southern California I highly recommend Ace.

Some tips if you are being packed out:

1. Organize everything you can so that when you arrive at your destination things end up in the same room. If you are an overachiever, use different colored duct tape and go around the house after the packers leave and color code your boxes (for example: blue tape for boys room, red tape for kitchen, yellow tape for living room). Do it by rooms in your NEXT HOUSE. They will label boxes by your current house. If you know that your living room furniture will be going in the basement of your next house, label it so that your unloaders take it the right place.

** I found this especially important this move because of the change from sea level to 7,000 feet elevation. Carrying boxes up and down the stairs was... interesting... Exhausting. Where the hell is the oxygen?!?!

2. Use bags (we use the giant ziplock bags) to organize toys, kitchen goods, clothing, jewelry, desk items, and more. Sorry, environment.

3. Decide what is pro-gear and set it aside for the packers. MILSPOUSES GET PRO-GEAR TOO! If you are close to your weight limit, make sure that all of those textbooks you've kept get put in the pro-gear section with your husband's flight gear, books, heavy uniforms, etc.

4. Section off a bathroom/small bedroom for items that belong to the house (fireplace screens, remotes for any lights, garage door openers, keys, etc). Put signs all over this door and keep an eye on it. Many packers get into a zone - if you can lock the door, do it.

5. In your "do not pack" room also include items you plan to move yourself (expensive jewelry, personal electronics, fire box with important documents, suitcases with clothes for the road, etc). Make sure you pack your necklaces in such a way that they don't become a tangled blob in transit. I use snack size ziplocks but know people who use paper towels. I'm sure there are many great methods - just do SOMETHING.

     5a. The things you haul in your vehicle are subject to reimbursement. If you are stuffing your car full of items, make sure you weigh your vehicle. It can easily mean a few hundred dollars in your pocket. Weigh empty at your current duty station, full at your current duty station, then full again at your final destination.** the military changes this policy and the rules surrounding it often, please look those up to make sure you get your $$.

Good wine comes with me. Coffee comes with me too (creature comfort).

6. Think carefully about what you will need on the road and at your new location. Creature comforts can mean quite a bit on moves where kids are cranky, you are tired, and everyone feels like fish out of water. Remember new climates and even climates along the drive. We pack in a few very large suitcases but then bring overnight bags so that we can transfer only what we need for that evening. We don't like lugging in a weeks worth of clothing just for a one night pitstop at a hotel.

7. If you are living in your home while they are packing, ask them to pack your bedding last. Keep all toiletries and clothing you need in the "do not pack" room. It is easiest and most efficient if you give your packers a "free for all" to pack everything in sight. If you tell them "don't pack this half of the bathroom" don't be surprised if they pack your contact lens case and toothbrush. They are paid to be efficient - make it easy for them.

8. The tip vs. no tip debate rages in the military. Tipping is completely optional and up to you. I've read military instructions not to tip because not all military families can afford it. They don't want higher ranking families treated differently because of the expectation of better tipping. I won't talk about whether we tip cash or not, but what we do make sure to do (and recommend all families do) is to provide access to water (cooler full of bottled water) and food. They are in your house for a long time, allowing them access to snacks and drinks is a kind gesture. We also provide lunch for our packers and let them request what they want. Most are really sick of pizza so we don't assume or plan ahead for those meals, we try and cater toward what they like. Our packers this time requested In 'n' Out the first day and Burger King the second. Easy trips through the drive-thru and they were very appreciative.

The pack out requires eyes and ears in the house. I try not to be overbearing or too picky with my packers, but I do make myself a presence and am assertive about certain items. For example, I had one move where they packed a lot of my art and framed items in boxes without separation. As you can imagine, my frames were scratched up (the backs of pictures scratched the fronts of others). In another move, packers packed a huge framed print of mine WITH MY INK ADDRESS STAMP loose in one box (I am still WTFing over that 3 years later). If you look closely, you can see a 3-moves-ago address lightly imprinted on the photograph. So now I'm annoying about how they pack my framed prints and canvas art. In my 6 PCS experience, they usually mean well, but many aren't super careful.

Make sure you point out high value items. Not all $$$ items look like they are worth a lot. We have a tailhook that is very valuable and most people would just think it is a hunk of black and white metal.

9.  Ask questions about how they are protecting your furniture. Because of the nature of government contracts, there is no standard practice for military moves. We've had moves where every tiny piece of ours was wrapped in a ton of plastic and others where there was almost nothing. If your stuff is going into storage and they are just using blankets (which usually belong to the driver) ask questions about how it will be protected in storage.

Which brings me to the last part of our own story...

When our driver arrived at our house on October 26th we started negotiating a delivery date with him. We had asked for November 7th when we put our move request into the system. Unfortunately, drivers do not need to heed requests from the customers. They only have to get items to locations within a timeline, not on a specific date. This can be stressful for families who want to try and actually enjoy a long drive cross country - they end up with the choice being "racing the truck" or having their stuff go into storage (with higher chance of damage because of extra handling and no promises about re-delivery).

In our case, the driver definitely needed to push the date up and asked for November 2nd. My husband couldn't do that (he had to attend a work ceremony on November 3rd) but luckily for our family I was able to flex. So I booked my hotel for the drive out and made plans to arrive November 1st.

Then the day of the load up (10/28) he informed us that a job he had schedule on the way was cancelled. He would need to meet me in Colorado Springs on 10/31. At a house where our lease didn't start until 11/1. **start panic**

Luckily I was able to call our landlord and pay for two extra days pro-rated to our lease. I was able to change my plans and on 10/29, MUCH earlier than I was hoping or expecting, I hit the road alone to make the drive between the LA area and Colorado. I arrived the afternoon of Halloween, saw our house for the first time (sight unseen rentals are a military specialty and something I may write about one day), and got ready for the next morning by placing signs on all the doors (girls room, boys room, master, living room, dining room, etc.)

Bottom line: moving is exhausting even with packers. One of the worst things you can say to a military family is "oh, it must be so nice to have packers" or "wow, moving must be easy when you don't have to do anything". Newsflash: there is a lot to do. There is a lot of prep (despite what the media may say) and there is a lot of oversight. There is also a lot of unknown and negotiation that goes into these moves behind the scenes. Younger military members may not know all of their rights or what to ask/expect out of their packers.

Next post: the drive out and the unload. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Quick Note from Colorado

Sorry for my lack of blogging my PCS. Truth be told, I have no internet at my new house so I haven't had a chance to write again. As soon as I'm back on the grid I will be publishing Part 2: The Pack Out and Part 3: Delivery of HHG. I'll probably follow up with a blog on costs of PCSing, claims, and any other fun stuff that comes up while I unpack and assimilate. For now I'm just trying to acclimate to living at 7,000 feet!

Anyway, I'm currently in the library of my new hometown "studying" (blogging...) for my Colorado state school counseling exam tomorrow afternoon. It's been over 10 years since I finished graduate school so to say I am nervous and daunted is an understatement. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 24, 2016

PCS Diaries: Part 1

Part 1: The Purge

It's that time again. We've been in California for almost three years. We feel at home in our school, church, and neighborhood. So in true military fashion, it's time to go. Once you start to feel really cushy in a place, it usually means that Millington will be calling with orders to somewhere new. This will be our 6th Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move with the Navy.

This time we are moving to Colorado. From the sea to the mountains. Surfing to Skiing. Wine to Beer. Lots and lots of change.

But before we can fill up our mugs with hot cocoa and teach our kids what that white stuff called snow is, we need to actually do the move. PCS moves are very complicated with lots of moving parts and different contractors and timelines. It isn't fun and it isn't easy.

Moving is hard for EVERYONE. Military and civilians alike. Anyone who has moved from one side of the country to the other knows that the physical part of moving (packing boxes, loading them, unpacking) is NOT THE HARD PART. The hard part is new schools, new homes, new doctors, new sports teams, new dentists, etc. It's not being able to take your kids to the best pediatrician because, of course, that pediatrician has a waiting list that parents get on at 4 weeks pregnant. It's moving mid school year and having your kid need to learn a new teaching style and walk through the hard days being the "new kid". It's not having a single article of clothing for the climate you are going to **raises hand**. The actual purging, packing, and unpacking is a small fraction of the stress. But since it seems to fascinate some people how "lucky" we are, I wanted to write it up for everyone to see.

I decided to do this Diary series after reading a recent NPR article that tries to illustrate and outline moving costs in the military and how the government isn't keeping track of what they imply are rising costs ($11,000 average in 2001 and $16,000 average in 2015). Some readers have pointed out that the rise appears to reflect inflation rates since 2001, but I'm not a finance brain so I can't say whether that is accurate or not. The article also implies that we, as military families, are essentially wasteful hoarders with no motivation to throw anything away because "the government is picking up the tab". Add this to the common mantra among civilians of "oh, it must be so easy to move if they pack you up, drive it out, and unpack for you" I decided it was time to write a real-time play by play of an average PCS move.

Our packers arrive tomorrow. The plan is that they will pack Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then load the truck Friday. Our family will drive out in early November. [Fun fact: No, the military will not ship cars in the continental United States. We either have to drive both or pay out of pocket to ship one or both.]

My husband and I have been purging for months. While the NPR article states that weight allowances for moves is based on family size and rank, it is actually only based on rank. An O-7 with no kids will have a much higher weight allowance than an E-4 with 5 kids. It's just the way it goes, like it or not. If you go over you are required to pay per pound the amount you have exceeded your allowance. There absolutely is financial motivation to purge. Also, for anyone that moves a lot, there is a motivation to purge just to remain sane and somewhat organized. To imply that we are all sitting around eating bon bons while our packers break a sweat packing clothes from when our 10 year old was a toddler is unfair and untrue. Military families work hard to build happy homes for ourselves even in the most foreign of places. Work that requires taking a critical look at items that less transient families probably never have to consider.

So ride along with me over the next few weeks. There will definitely be ups and downs. There will definitely be lost and broken things, hard goodbyes, and sweet surprises. But hopefully I can give my readers (and some of the civilian journalists that seem to have interest) a real look into an average military move. 
Friday, July 15, 2016


It feels like yesterday and a eons ago in a way I can't quite articulate.

First day of deployment: friends and family rally around. I remember being shocked and touched by the outpouring of support the day my husband flew off into the unknown. Flowers, wine, chocolate, magazines, funny gifts, notes, left lovingly by people who understood. Day one of deployment is paralyzing so the outpouring is much appreciated.

Back in 2011 on my husband's last deployment he was driven to the carrier by friends because our kids were in bed and I didn't want to drag them out into the night. I kissed him goodbye on our porch and then walked back inside, leaned on the door, and heard our old antique clock nearby "tick tick tick tick" in the quiet. I shook my head thinking of how time would be something I would be paying so much attention to. How many months have passed, how many to go, how many how many how many. It was there that I promised not to wish away the precious months with my kids. At that moment, I had a 6 month old baby snoozing in his crib. That is a precious time, and I knew that wishing away the months was a mistake.

Halfway through deployment: Or so we thought...
Things are routine now. But they've been gone "forever" and it still feels like "forever" to go. I've met many military spouses that think halfway is the hardest part. While it makes sense to frame it as "all downhill from here" like you are on the top of the hill of the roller coaster, many think of it as a valley and feel helpless in the face of the long climb ahead. I'm not sure how I feel about halfway, even after four deployments. It depends on the day or even the hour at that point.

We had an awesome halfway this deployment. Our CO and XO wives poured their hearts and souls into making the whole evening magical and full of surprises. We had dinner at an amazing restaurant, read hand-written notes from our husbands, and toasted each other. I even ran into the ocean in a cocktail dress. It doesn't get much better than that!

Extension: Oh, extension...
I was sitting on my porch on my 35th birthday and my friend pulled up to take me to lunch. When she got out of her car her face was sullen. "Have you heard?" she asked

"Heard what? That I'm old?" I answered hopefully. Knowing that that wasn't the answer but hoping it wasn't what I feared.

30 day extension. On my freaking birthday! What the hell, universe? Seriously?

We were 6 weeks from homecoming at that point but had heard rumors that they wanted the carrier to stay on station longer to keep pressure on ISIS. But we had all hoped that the Navy would keep the 7 month commitment to families. That was wishful thinking.
Listen, the Navy loves to spin extensions as something to be proud of. Proof that what our spouses are doing is working, that they are needed, that they are professional warriors and 30 days is a drop in the bucket. But between you and me? They suck. Moving finish lines suck. Telling your kids that daddy will be gone longer than expected when they've already been missing him for so long sucks. Thinking of all the new things you will now have to do alone sucks.
We get it, we move on, and we embrace the suck. But it doesn't change the fact that it is like tripping over the hurdle when you are so close to the finish line you can feel it.

And then finally, after 8 months and 240 "sleeps" as my kids like to call them:

Homecoming: the thing that makes it all (almost) worth it.
Our squadron spouses were all crossing fingers and toes that all of our air crew could make it back together as one unit. Our planes flew hard for 8 months of combat cruise and then had to make a long 2,800 mile journey back to our base. We are a west coast squadron who deployed with an east coast carrier. So when they hit 400 nautical miles off the coast they took off. And we all sat in silent prayer hoping that no warning lights would pop.
And they made it. And they were home.

Welcome home USS Truman, Carrier Air Wing 7, and especially to The Wallbangers!

Thank you to Tanya Craft Photography for coming out and patiently awaiting the arrival of our squadron! You aren't just a great photographer, but you've been a wonderful neighbor to me and my kids.

Lastly, one of the sailors in the squadron made an amazing video that illustrates the fun, crazy, much unseen parts of deployment and the mighty Hawkeye. From port calls to catapult shots, night carrier landings to laying on the beach in Dubai. So many ups and downs to a carrier cruise: (this is a Facebook video so the link will take you there)


I hope this gives you a glimpse into the last 8 months of my life. I'm sad I wasn't able to write to you all during that time. Hopefully that changes as we face our next adventure: PCS. We don't know where, we don't know exactly when, but we know it is soon. Never a dull day!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

In the Waning Days

This deployment was nothing like the last one in many ways. If you have been a reader of my blog, you know I've been totally absent. Last time John was gone I would write 3 or more times per week; it was my outlet and my saving grace, but it wasn't to be this time. The world has changed, we are more interconnected, and I simply didn't feel safe with "anyone" (or even my small group of readers) knowing that I was home alone with two kids for eight months. Especially with the mission my husband and his squadron was tasked with.

It was different in many other ways too. My kids are older and so I was definitely less drained and had more time to myself than 2011. I had a much larger "village" with school, sports, dance, friends, and friends who became family. I live in a wonderful neighborhood in a beautiful area with gorgeous weather. The lonely, physically exhausting deployment of 2011 was not repeated and I am grateful.

We are in the waning days. There is a bright light at the end of this long tunnel.

I am so proud. Proud of my husband for his service and sacrifice. Proud of my kids for their strength and good nature. Proud of my fellow navy wives - some going through their first deployment, others going through their 7th or more. Proud of myself for juggling the many tasks and roles somewhat gracefully over the past 240 days.

It is a controversy in the military community about whether military families actually "serve" the nation. Make any mention about a spouse taking an ounce of credit for her servicemember and you are met with a chorus of internet disdain (just google "dependa" if you want a taste of that vitriol). And while you'll never see me sporting a bumper sticker proclaiming that as a Navy wife that I have the "toughest job", I also do not believe that families and kids have "nothing" to do with the success of the US military. No, I wasn't issued to my husband, but my husband wouldn't serve if he couldn't do so with the kids and I by his side. And while my kids aren't flying off an aircraft carrier every day, they are definitely cuddling their daddy dolls and longing for their father every night. My kids have sacrificed. My fellow Navy wives have sacrificed, and I have sacrificed. I am okay saying that, proud even.

Every month we would send a box out to the squadron to brighten their days and decorate their space seasonally. On one of the last months we sent out a box with a "Here Comes the Sun" theme. I asked the families in our squadron to submit a photo or video with what they are most excited to do once their sailor gets home. As I opened emails with submissions I was struck with how simple some of the wishes were. "Play with my toys", "snuggles", and "sharing pizza" were some of the popular ones. For others, the request was more serious and heart wrenching, "I can't wait for you to meet your son".

Wallbanger "Here Comes the Sun" video, 2016 (sorry it isn't embedded, just click the link and it should work):

These are sacrifices. These families are serving in their own way. No, it doesn't take away from the men and women standing the watch, manning the rails, sleeping aboard the carrier, and flying thousands of missions. The Truman will have traversed over 50,000 miles of ocean on this deployment and they deserve all of the accolades. But as I kiss my kids goodnight over the next few nights, the last nights of deployment, I know that they have served too.

Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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