Military kids have a different view of the world than most American children. As they bounce from station to station, they leave behind their new friends, their teachers, schools and pretty much everything but their families. It is a difficult childhood. I know because I was one of those kids.
You’ll notice I don’t call them military “brats.” Honestly, I don’t know where that term came from (seems like no one really does), but to me it always felt like a slight.
Sure, military kids might have some troubles adapting to their new school, but it might be their second or third one of the year. Any “brattiness” you might see is not because they are bad kids. It is because they have been yanked from school, once again, just as they were getting adjusted, only to face being the new kid again.
In addition to that, before each move your mom shows up at your bedroom doorway with a box. Maybe two. That’s all you get to take with you. Usually you can only fit some clothes and a few favorite toys and if you are lucky you get to keep your dog or your cat. If the deployment is far away pets go away with your friends, along with most of your possessions.
So, that new kid in class is no “brat.” That kid is dealing with a deeply felt loss that most people can’t see.
Giving Back to the Troops
I am writing this from Bangladesh. As a special education teacher, I was asked to offer my expertise to some of the first schools in this country to take kids with special needs. And at the embassy I was honored to meet with the U.S. Marines that watch over the embassy, its staff and U.S. travelers.
These are service members who have left their families behind to keep people like me safe on the other side of the world. As a military kid, I know what deployment means for these guys—and their families. Even before I’d left for my trip, I knew I wanted to do something special for them.
So I contacted my friend, Daniele Massey (who was actually the 2013 Teacher of the Year for all the schools run by the Department of Defense). What could we do for these men and women deployed so far from home?
We immediately thought of student art. I have student art from 1995 that still moves me. So, Daniele reached out to a school at Camp LeJeune and asked those kids to send a message to the Marines.
The children of the deployed sending messages to the deployed. Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?
Who knows better the personal price these servicemen are paying to protect their country? Who knows better about missing kids’ birthdays and Christmases and graduations? When you hear of a service member being sent overseas for a sixth or seventh time, you need to picture that sixth or seventh heartbreaking goodbye.
So I arrived in Bangladesh with a packet full of handwritten cards and letters. These kids live a life of loss, but this packet was full of praise and thanks, jokes and pictures. They know those tough Marines are dads and moms, sons and daughters. They know of the heartbroken dogs and cats that have been left behind. The kids want to bring a smile to a friend in a faraway country. Someone just like their own mom or dad.
I also slipped a letter of my own into the packet. I thanked them for their service and shared the email for the teacher and classroom the letters came from. I know some of those kids will have moved on again before they ever know how much their letters meant. But their kind actions will live on.
I also made a request. I asked the Marines to add a page in the back of the packet to share where they are stationed and what the letters meant to them. Then I’ve asked them to pay it forward. There are Marines stationed at embassies all over the world and I’ve asked that the letters be sent on to another embassy. And another embassy. And another embassy.
And I will ask one thing of you as well. Strike the term “military brat” from your vocabulary. Wherever that term may have come from, there is no such thing. They are just kids, trying to adapt to a world of loss and change, and their hearts are bigger and sadder than any child’s heart should ever be.