Plans have a way of unexpectedly changing when you’re part of a military family

Guest post by Kristina Klein
Post author Kristina and her family.

The ability to live in the present is especially important for those of us who are dependents of military members because we have to live our lives in short increments. Our spouses are pretty much property of the U.S. Government, and we can’t really look too far into the future. So I am always starting some new project, volunteer job, or like now, searching for a real, paying job. If you asked where I see myself in five years, I have no idea — where do you see the U.S. Economy in five years?

I was in the kitchen cooking fajitas for dinner while our almost three-year-old son was in the living room playing when my husband read me an email he received earlier that day — an email that would change all of our plans. We found out in a few sentences that we’d be living in Japan by the following April.

We thought we were living in Bellingham, Washington on military orders for the next three years. I had just finished my Associates transfer degree, and was gearing up to transfer to a four-year university and knock out those last two years of school. I was excited to take the classes I had so far worked hard to get to — and the day after I received my acceptance letter was the same day my husband received the email.

We were left completely in the dark about any additional details — Japan in April is all we knew. After my husband read me the email, I felt a literal shifting in the planes of existence as I knew them. With the realization of what that email meant for me, tears I could not control starting pouring out of my face. Tears were falling down into the frying pan of chicken, peppers, and onions I was robotically stirring.

I managed to finish dinner for my hungry boys and serve it to them, then everything from there is fuzzy. I don’t know if I ate, but I remember walking to my bed and grabbing a roll of toilet paper to blow my profusely snotty nose into. I was in our bed between sleep and crying for two solid days and nights, mourning the loss of my college education and the future I had planned, all the while the universe was spiting me, taunting “I thought I taught you not to plan for the future…the future is not in your hands.”

Life has this funny way of letting you think everything is on track, and just when you’ve got your future plans laid out before you, BAM! You take a sharp turn. Sometimes it’s the loss of someone we love dearly, and sometimes it can be as simple as having to move out of the country you need to be in for your plans to happen.

I LOVED college, and when I say that I loved it I mean it. I loved the work, I loved how one day of learning something new could change my entire perspective on humanity, which for me is everything. I drank in the knowledge like a thirsty child, because up until that point I had never felt I had a purpose on this earth and education gave me a sense of worth. Coming home from an hour-long class and having to close the blinds, and lay down for a mental break for an hour or two just so my brain could process thoughts without the light of day interrupting was a kind of high I had never felt.

I spent the next few months alternating between being productive and completely necessary tasks by day and sitting around on my crusty old broken couch, wearing sweatpants and wallowing in my own misery and boredom. I watched Downton Abbey and other various selections form the British Romance genre of my Roku. As miserable as part of me was, the other part of me was starting to come around and look forward to aspects of living in Japan. I read a lot of books about Japanese culture, food, and history, which really helped me become more comfortable with the inevitable. The more I learned, the more I started to look forward to it as a new chapter in our families adventure.

In March, we left Seattle and after about 24 hours arrived to our new hometown in Kanagawa, Japan, nestled in the countryside between Mt. Fuji and Yokohama.

Now it is just over a year from the day we received that email. Our family has been in Japan for about seven months, three of which my husband has actually been home. Life is decidedly more difficult than I care for it to be on a daily basis. I don’t really have a simple answer as to why. Mostly, I think it’s because my son is having an especially hard time adjusting to life with his Daddy being gone on a ship, not having his grandparents around, and at times some general culture shock and anxiety.

Dealing with what this does to his behavior and general disposition takes up most of my time, and every bit of effort I can muster. His behavior has even affected my social life. Truth is, it’s been a bit of an adjustment for me not having my incredible husband around to help out. Navigating the social circles around here has its challenges as well, as you can imagine, living on a base in a foreign country requires making friends that you can trust as though they were your family.

I still sometimes think about where I would be if I was in Bellingham, toting my backpack through the woods on my way to and from the University every day. The truth is, it still hurts a bit that I’m missing out on that. I could keep going on in some melodramatic fashion, but it’s been over a year since we received that earth shaking news and I’m trying to move on. Frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m still standing, still waking up every morning and actually finding real joy in my new life abroad.

And guess what… I’m still learning.

Comments on Plans have a way of unexpectedly changing when you’re part of a military family

  1. Thank you for writing this – it’s a window into a world I don’t know at all. I hope you and your family can find some happiness in Japan, for as long as you are there!

  2. Good luck. I spent six years living in Yokohama. It was a very different situation, as moving to Japan was something I’d dreamed about and planned for years. Despite that, I struggled quite a lot in my first year. Life got easier for me the longer I stayed. I hope the same proves true for you.

  3. As a military kid, I can say that your strength will teach your son more than you even know. It’s rough being on an adventure you didn’t ask for, but it sounds like you are doing the best you can and that’s amazing. People expect you to be just THRILLED you’re in (to them) an exotic place and that you must be SO EXCITED. Either that, or you must be just MISERABLE and they feel so sorry for you. Truth is, you’re living somewhere in the middle and you need to be commended for being a stable force for your son AND your husband.

    I’m assuming a lot with my comment, but when someone is in the military, their ENTIRE family is in the military and some of us still consider it family. So big hugs and positive thoughts from a former military brat, and I wish you the best!!

  4. I am so happy to see a post from another military spouse! I can totally appreciate what you are saying. The adventure of moving to a new place is exciting, but is also disrupting, even though you agreed to this lifestyle. I feel like a perpetual planner, having to revise my goals and sometimes the timing of my dreams because things change, and they can change quickly! I’m so glad to hear both your disappointment and joy in your experience, because you definitely can feel both about the same situation, and it seems like sometimes people think you should be either one or the other (like the previous poster stated). I hope you and your family enjoy the journey, and get more time to do it as a family!

  5. Thank You all for your kind words! We truly are enjoying our new life in Japan. It really is an amazing country to live in and we definitely take advantage of our time together.

  6. Thank you for this. I’m a military wife and we recently moved to Hawaii three months ago. I gave up a job that I loved and was very good at. As a result, I’m having the most difficulty adjusting out of the three of us. Sometimes this life wears on me. And sometimes it feels like even my husband doesn’t understand. I’m a play-it-safer so the military lifestyle pushes me outside of my comfort zone. But I love it because it forces me to grow and adapt to new situations. Eventually, life will be delightfully boring and I will miss the military and the excitement that comes with it.

  7. I have been in those exact shoes, except instead of a 3 year old I had and infant.
    We survived 3 years (37 months, but who was counting) in Okinawa, Japan. We came home in May of this year and had reverse culture shock!
    I loved Okinawa and I miss lots of the local lifestyle. The base life, eh I could have done without that. My son, as little as he was, truly got the most out of our time there.
    It really does suck when your husband isn’t there and you’re in a totally unfamiliar country, but there’s so much to enjoy that helps make days go by faster.

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