This year I felt prepared. My son attended orientation, met his teacher in advance, and started school on the first day — not in the middle — of the school year. I always assumed that my children would have a childhood similar to mine, but that was before I became an Army wife.
I lived in the same town from birth to age 23. Stability and consistency are words that come to mind when I think of my school years. I attended exactly one elementary, one middle and one high school. Looking forward, I knew exactly which school my friends and I would attend just by virtue of zoning. The same group of students progressed together starting from the days of nap time, through school dances, to high school graduation. Even my bachelor’s degree was earned at a university in — you guessed it — my home town.
My Son’s Experience
We moved from Germany to Maryland just after my oldest son turned five. Once we settled in, I called to ask about part-time preschool to kick off his educational experience. I quickly learned that Maryland law required full-time kindergarten for five-year-olds. It never once occurred to me that I couldn’t wait until he was five going on six, as many other states allowed. I had a cry, a glass of wine, filled out paperwork and bought school supplies. I then dropped him off for his first day of school ever…in November. (Side note, always research educational laws before you PCS so you aren’t surprised.)
After two tearful weeks, he finally settled into his new role of kindergartener. Despite him missing the August start date, his wonderful teacher made him feel welcome. I am incredibly grateful at how masterfully she eased his transition from being home with mom to being in a classroom 30 hours a week. (Hooray for fantastic educators!)
Before long, my son wasn’t the new kid anymore, as other students joined throughout the year. Sadly, classmates also left throughout the year, including my son’s best buddy. My little guy was sad about his friend’s departure for about two weeks. I realized that this wouldn’t be the last time my son would start in the middle of the year, would be the new kid, and would have to say goodbye to friends.
What it Boils Down To
I’m going to say it — by comparison, I had it easy. These are things my military child will have to brave that I never did:
- Being the new kid every few years. I was never the new kid. We started and finished together, which is a luxury my son won’t have. Perhaps this will help him gain confidence, flexibility, and help learn new ways of inventing and introducing himself.
- Saying goodbye to friends. When my son’s friend moved away, I wanted to help. I contacted his teacher, found the little boy’s mom on Facebook, and our sons became virtual pen pals.
- Saying goodbye to teachers. I only said goodbye to teachers on the last day of school, not in the middle of the academic year. My son will have to do this at some point, and he’ll have to adjust to the rules and personality of a new teacher.
- Welcoming new kids throughout the school year. In my childhood, it was rare and exciting if a new student started at our school. For my son, this will be the norm. I will use this opportunity to teach him to welcome and befriend new children.
- Dealing with a deployed parent. My dad went away for a few short business trips while I was in school. As a military child, my son will have a period that he won’t see dad after school, won’t be able to share about his day in person, and won’t be able to work with him on homework. (Yikes…that last part means it’s all “Team Mom.” Please send wine!)
In conclusion, my son has barely scratched the surface of his educational career, and we will both have a learning curve. I look forward to supporting him as best I can.
A 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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