How I Found My Village While Stationed Abroad

When we learned that our first duty station would be Wiesbaden, Germany, my husband and I were elated. I soon realized that I would be raising our 2-year-old and a 5-month-old sons without my hometown support network of family and friends. I had grown accustomed to my little village and wondered how I would fare on a different continent.

Our first few days in Germany were rough. My husband arrived before we did and had no leave left to help us settle in. The boys were sick with colds, jet lagged and confused. They missed their family and friends in Florida, and were getting reacquainted with this “dad guy” for the first time in a year. I broke my foot, had no European driver’s license yet, and had to hobble around base with two kids in a double stroller.

Our early days abroad were filled with frustration and tears…from all of us.

I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. I needed a community. Luckily for me, I was open to new experiences and new friendships, put myself out there, and found a village.

how-i-found-my-village-while-stationed-abroad

Finding My Friends
Everything changed when I met Mareike, my next door neighbor. She was a native German married to an American soldier. Her daughter was the same age as my oldest son, and Mareike was due with a second daughter any day. Mareike and I were thrilled with our overlapping similarities and my friendship with her connected me to so many others. We enjoyed play dates with lots of coffee, swapped babysitting, and shared food across our back yard fence. Mareike introduced me to German culture, her German friends, and an online parenting group that she created.

From the parenting group, I met four more remarkable ladies:

  • Amber attended the first play date I hosted. I admired her love of travel and how put-together she looked, despite having an infant in tow. (For the record, I’m talking cute nails and perfect eye shadow!) We quickly became Zumba and clubbing buddies and shared many fun nights.
  • Shandi hosted a margarita night and I was thrilled for an adult get-together. Online she was a spitfire and in person she delivered just as I’d hoped. A mother of three, her children quickly became close friends of mine. Shandi and I shared the same sense of humor and I admired how she never felt the need to sugar coat anything. We adventured together, with and without our children, and made some incredible memories.
  • Sarah and I connected in a sidebar conversation when our mom group got into a heated debate. A mother of four, she was a proud Texan who made the best salsa. Although she had twice as many kids as I did, she was always cool, level headed, open minded and fun. We spent many evenings making laps around the neighborhood, wearing our children on our backs, and talking about anything and everything.
  • JP was my first full-time working mom friend. An Air Force Airman, with boys close in age to mine, we learned to cultivate our friendship outside of business hours. She and I shared evening walks, wine nights and weekend activities. Our little guys are now best buddies as well. Luckily for me, she now lives at my current duty station, so the good times continue!

Finding My Family
These ladies became my family and I became theirs. During illness, when babies were born, during divorces, and PCS moves, we helped each other. We cooked, watched each other’s children, lent out cars, sheets, pots, pans and cleaning supplies. We were each other’s sounding board, helped when spouses were TDY, or when we needed to vent about military life. We breastfed together, changed diapers together, laughed together and cried together. We were our own little village.

It’s been one year since I lived in Germany and I am still in regular contact with these important women. Whether through Facebook, video chats, telephone calls, or seeing each other in person, our friendships are deeply rooted in the time our lives overlapped abroad. I will always be grateful and will never forget my little village.

 

Jackie Toops Head ShotA self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.

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