Last April, during the Month of the Military Child, I watched my four-year-old daughter pick a dandelion from the front yard of the house my husband and I owned on a quiet street in a civilian community. She blew on the flower and shrieked with delight and, as translucent seeds took flight, made a wish.
I reveled in her joy but couldn’t help but see the seedlings through a different lens. They conjured memories of rootlessness while flying through the wind. Most all seedlings can plant themselves in any soil and sprout flowers and this is especially true with dandelions. This must be why dandelions are the official flower of the military child: because of their ability to sprout anywhere.
Yet I knew, as a grown military brat, I would always keep that feeling of being swept away before any part of me could feel permanent. As I watched my daughter play I realized I’d never be able to fully shake the sense of urgency which inherently comes with always being an outsider, either. It is something at my core.
There’s even a more official term for it: Third Culture Kid (TCK).
According to the BBC, TCKs are known as citizens of everywhere and nowhere. On average, they make their first move before the age of nine and live in one or more countries throughout their childhoods. And, they “have an inner sense of rootlessness and restlessness.”
“Growing up as a military brat or TCK has a profound effect on an individual’s life and shapes the way one thinks, feels, and behaves; as a child and an adult,” according to Brats Without Borders, a nonprofit run by brats for brats of all ages and branches of service.
As I watched my daughter I thought about my own childhood wishes.
If you’d asked me as a child what one wish I’d want granted, I’d probably have said to have an entirely different lifestyle.
To not have to understand the difference between what was beyond my control and what I wished for.
The need to go; the desire to stay.
The need to see; the desire to be seen.
The need to to hide; the urge to fit in.
The need to learn and find your way.
And, the requirement to do all of it quickly to survive socially.
It was as if I were a miniature soldier and Dad’s human intelligence training had rubbed off on me subconsciously, even though I was very young. I had to learn to be one in the crowd and never stand out. In some ways it felt I was never part of anything.
In my early 20s, just six years into adulthood, I had a friend who’d nudge me to, “just say yes” when asked by a local if I was from that city. I’d forever longed to put roots down of my own and decided the place I’d graduated high school. Despite the fact I’d only lived there less than two years by the time I was off to college, it seemed as good a place as any. I had no idea what home meant. But I knew I had to find one.
“Yes,” I answered the strangers at my friend’s urging, narrowing my lying eyes to look through the slatted wood of the docks at the soft wake from the boats.
As if, if I said yes it would be the truth, not just a wish.
Now, after wishing I’d escaped what I long considered a rootless identity, I’ve not only accepted it, I fully appreciate it. It’s been eye-opening to learn more about TCKs as I write my literary memoir of growing up within a military family.
Although it’s not an official holiday, I’m glad there is a day to honor military kids – National Military Brats Day on April 30. While I may have lost out on some things, I feel fortunate to have had so many unique experiences. There were benefits and some unforeseen consequences. All of this made me who I am today. Now, I’m proud to be part of this club of shared experiences.