Growing up gypsy: Reflecting on a military childhood
Ever wonder what your kids will think about their unconventional childhood someday when they’re old enough to realize that moving all over the country (and maybe even the world) is not exactly the norm? We do, too! That’s why we decided to ask a young adult about her experiences growing up in a military family. Her responses may surprise you!
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Darcey Ross (formerly Curtin) and I am the oldest of three children. My brother, Conner, is Autistic and just graduated High School. My sister, Maggie, will be a Junior this year. My dad served in the Navy for a few years before switching over to the Reserves, and eventually the Army. He has a Masters in Geology, Engineering, and retired in 2011 at the rank of Army Major. My mom stayed at home with us and made sure all of the moves went smoothly. I’m sure that all of our moves were hard on her, especially with a child that has special needs, but she never let it show. No matter where in the world we were, she always did her best to make sure we felt at home.
My brother and I were both born in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. We lived in the military housing on Tripler Air Force Base for the first four years of my life. I don’t remember much of it, but when I asked my mom, it was described it as, “A cement block with no air conditioning and screaming toddlers.” Our second move was to Virginia in 1999, where we lived off post. I remember that Virginia was my first time experiencing snow. Once my mom had bundled me all up in my coat and snow pants, I proceeded to put on my flip-flops, not fully comprehending how cold it was outside. My sister was born there in 2000, then on to Missouri for only a few months before being sent down to Florida. I am very aware of how military life changed for our family during those two years, because we lived there during 9/11. Before the towers fell, there was only a very nice, elderly security guard at our post gate who handed out candy to the younger kids. After 9/11, new gates were built and armed guards with hardened faces guarded the entrance to our home. I think that was the year that I truly recognized what it meant that my dad was in the military. After that it was back to Missouri for a year, then to Hawaii for almost 5 years, then on to Leavenworth where we have lived for the past 8 years. Kansas City is the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and I have to say that I’ve fallen in love with this city.
What was your favorite part of growing up in a military family that relocated occasionally?
Moving around a lot as a kid gave me to opportunity to be familiar with other areas and cultures, something that many kids my age didn’t have. We usually drove instead of flying when moving to another place, so we would end up stopping at a national park or visiting landmarks. I am also very appreciative of the many different people I was able to meet and all of the friends I have made over the years. I was able to have so many amazing experiences at a young age that many people aren’t able to have in their lifetime. I remember meeting someone who had lived in one place their whole life and had never seen the ocean. That was unfathomable to me! Even though it was sometimes difficult to leave places that we’d grown to love, I will always be grateful for being a military kid.
What was the most difficult part of being a transitory family?
Military kids get asked this question a lot. A good portion of the answers are usually, “moving all the time,” “leaving my friends,” and “switching schools.” While those were all hard things to get used to, the most difficult thing for any military kid is being away from their parent(s). Having to move from one place to another, sometimes while my dad was deployed in Iraq, was very rough on me as a child. Trying to adjust to a new place without one (or for some kids, both) of your parents is challenging on everyone involved. Mad props go to my mom for handling moves and milestones in our lives without my dad, and making them feel just as special.
How did your parents keep you connected to friends and family while you were living far from them? Do you feel like you were able to create genuine connections with them in spite of the distance?
The invention of Skype helped a lot with keeping us connected to people we had left behind, but before that, we had a day set aside during the week to write letters or send postcards to our friends out of state. Over time, we have drifted apart from some of our friends, but ultimately I have been able to stay connected (or reconnect) with people I have known since early childhood. My mom always taught us to value the friendships that we had made, and how important they were to that part of our lives.
How did your experience as a gypsy kid shape you as a person?
I learned early on to be grateful for what we had. Sometimes we would move into military housing that was smaller than our last home, and have to get rid of some of our things. My mom had a rule that we could only have a certain number of toys. If we wanted something new, we would donate some of our other toys to make room. While I hated this rule as I kid, it helped me learn to never take anything for granted. Having to relocate often also meant that I had to learn to quickly adapt, since I didn’t know how long it would be before we moved next. As an adult, I have never had anxiety or difficulty switching from one job to another, and I’m more open to change than I believe that I would be if I hadn’t grown up in the military.
What advice would you give to Moving Moms about raising well-adjusted kids in spite of an often uncertain lifestyle?
You’re doing way better than you think you are. Your child might not have the best science project, your house may never be fully unpacked, and you might end up being the parent that has to keep your child on a leash (we had to!), but it’s okay. Your kids love and appreciate all you do for them, even if they don’t know how to fully express it.
What was your schooling experience? What was the best part and the most challenging aspect of it?
We were home-schooled off and on depending on where we lived. I don’t think that I have any complaints about my education early on, but I think that I liked being homeschooled a little more than being in public school because it gave us a little more freedom. We could go on vacations whenever we wanted, we would go on nature hikes, conduct really cool science experiments, and sometimes there would be days where we didn’t do anything at all! I definitely didn’t have a typical school experience growing up, but as a result I got to go on way more field trips than any other kid I know and graduate early.
How has your experience shaped the way you intend to parent your own children some day?
I want to give my kids a lot of the same opportunities that I had growing up. Taking annual vacations and teaching my kids to be appreciative of what they have is a priority of mine. I hope to not take things too seriously, either. Traveling with my family helped me to be more curious, adventurous, and to question things around me. Those are qualities that I hope to pass on to my own children someday.
Do you know someone who grew up in a gypsy family or want to share your own experiences? We’d love to talk to you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.