It’s PCS Season: Who’s Your Neighbor?

School’s out and it’s PCS time, or moving season, for many military families. We aren’t moving this year but are saying goodbye to a couple families who are. We don’t live on base and are not part of any sort of tight-knit military community.

But when my daughter met another military kid at school, there was an instant connection and understanding. They knew their friendship had an expiration date, at least geographically for the time being, and it made their time together even more special.

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Military families are easy to spot when they arrive into a base housing neighborhood. The moving truck pulls up and neighbors stop over to welcome the new family, asking about their prior duty station and offering tips on schools and the best pizza in town.

There is an understanding among military families that neighbors are like a revolving-door, some are on their way out and some on their way in. Nobody stays more than a few years and then it’s off to the next duty station. I was introduced to this concept right off the bat.

Clint and I had just moved into our first house together in Navy housing and made fast friends with the couple next door who were about our age, sharing spaghetti dinners and happy to be socializing with people who understood military life.

A few weeks later, Clint received orders for a 6-week school in Newport, RI. In typical military fashion, we swiftly packed for an extended trip and spent 6 weeks in the frigid Northeast. On our flight home following the school, we talked about settling back in to our home and looked forward to dinners with our friends next door.

I’ll never forget the sight that welcomed us home that day: Nestled in our neglected knee-high backyard grass that would never win “yard of the month” were random side tables and old lawn furniture with a note stuck to it:

“We moved and didn’t want this stuff. It’s yours!”

And just like that, visions of a stable community vanished before our eyes. I suppose we could have, but we never got around to inviting the new neighbors over for dinner. They had older kids and we were childless at the time and we just didn’t see the point in investing in friendships that wouldn’t last.

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Moving into an off-base neighborhood is a different story entirely. Neighbors are often established homeowners who plan to stay at least until their kids finish high school, if not longer. We moved into one such neighborhood a few years ago and I found myself holding back on mentioning our military status.

As proud as I am that my husband serves our country, I just wanted, if only for a couple weeks or so, to bask in the illusion that we might live in this neighborhood forever. I knew we wouldn’t, but why did I have to announce it upon arrival?

Introducing ourselves to neighbors, I wanted so badly for their kids to want to play with my kids and be friends. I didn’t want anyone rejecting us because we would likely move in a few years, adopting my “what’s the point?” attitude from years before.

You know what, though? Eventually it leaked out. It had to. Maybe it was Clint’s high and tight haircut, the base stickers on our cars or the sea bags sitting in plain sight in the garage. I braced myself for rejection, holding my breath when my kids asked for play dates. And guess what?

The fear was all in my head! People were nice and welcoming and ready to invest in friendship, no matter the length. No one held our military status against us in the friendship department. Lesson learned.

We don’t always show up waving American flags, announcing our arrival. If a moving truck pulls up in your neighborhood this summer, there’s a chance it could be a military family, looking for some semblance of normalcy by moving into an established neighborhood.

Be curious.

Be inviting.

Be friendly.

My neighbors have certainly been and it’s made all the difference.

And if you’re like me, keeping your guard up as a military wife at your new duty station, thinking you are protecting yourself and your family from eventual heartache, maybe let someone in, literally and figuratively.

My attitude towards friendship has changed over the years. Because of laughter, connection, shared meals, and someone to walk to school with, friendships are beautiful, whether it’s for a season or a lifetime.

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