In February 2017, I considered myself fortunate because for the first time in my marriage to my Marine (and possibly, maybe I’m overshooting, the history of the Marine Corps), I knew for roughly 18 months that we would be moving to Quantico, Virginia after my husband graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School. For the first time, I didn’t have to do the supportive spouse song and dance in response to my husband coming home every day with a different idea about what he’d like to do for his next tour, or why yesterday’s idea wouldn’t pan out because of something he heard in the rumor mill. Maybe school, maybe a squadron, maybe a promotion in there somewhere, maybe I’ll just get out — there was no speculation. I’d been planning for Quantico because all viable logic, not to mention the overhanging payback tour, pointed to Quantico.
What did I do with all the extra time that was not spent spinning wheels over hypothetical plans that would never materialize? Well, for starters, I knocked out half of a master’s degree (if we ever need a scale by which to measure the time we spend entertaining hypotheticals as military spouses, we now know it’s roughly 50 percent of a master’s degree per year). I also started my own D.C.-based job search, spent a considerable amount of time convincing myself we could do a DITY move, and then I zeroed in on an epic pre-move purge of all the stuff I didn’t want to waste time packing myself.
I cleaned out my kids’ closets. I gave away movies that we rarely watched and books that we rarely read. I remember vividly packing up two books. I bought these two books just before my husband earned his gold wings. We weren’t married yet, not even engaged, but I knew he was it for me, and I knew there was a very real possibility he would get his wings and find out he was moving to Japan. The two books I bought and hung onto for over nine years (of marriage and CONUS PCS moves) “just in case” were: a Japan travel guide and a book of survival Japanese phrases. Those were the first books I pulled off the bookcase and put in the giveaway box. At peak purge, I gave away our dining room table. I don’t think I even sold it — just put it on the curb — and I photographed our couches to list on the base classified pages the next day. The purge is a sickness, y’all — I couldn’t be stopped.
But, this wasn’t my first rodeo, mind you. It didn’t matter how sure I was or how much I cleaned house, I never made a single hotel reservation or contacted a single Virginia school until I had the long-awaited hardcopy of orders in my hand. Once I had that glorified piece of paper, I checked the report-by date. I double-checked the spelling of all of our names (the editor in me is hard to contain). Then, I opened the cage, releasing my long-stifled urge to plan, and I let it run wild all over the northern Monterey-to-Quantico route.
It took me just a few weeks to schedule movers, give our notice at the housing office, and select a company to ship my husband’s precious truck cross-country so he wouldn’t miss out on the joys of traveling the width of the country with his moody wife, two kids, a cat, a dog, and a whole lot of stuff because “someone had to drive the other vehicle.” I booked hotels from California to Virginia, planned a mini-vacation in Seattle and another long stopover in Chicago where we would celebrate my daughter’s fourth birthday in a luxury skyrise. We were going to explore Montana and gaze at Mount Rushmore. And, when we did arrive in Virginia, I had our housing list whittled down to the top contenders. My move binder was the stuff of dreams; color-coded tabs, daily mileage breakdowns, attractions and restaurants along the route, contact numbers, and reservation numbers.
There was nothing left for me to do but figure out how to commute into Washington D.C. for work. You see, in the middle of all that planning, I was also offered (and I’d accepted) a job with the State Department. It was the job I’d been hoping for, and because I had timed graduate school perfectly (knowing we were moving to the D.C. area and all), I qualified for this job (a paid internship). I’d be able to attend my graduate school commencement ceremony at George Washington University and start working my way up in the department that inspired me to go back to school in the first place. The only news I needed was confirmation that my security clearance was complete.
I got a different kind of news.
It was delivered in person very early one weekday morning. The kids weren’t even awake yet, and I was only half a cup of coffee deep (not deep enough, for anyone wondering).
My husband wanted to know if I was still up for moving to Japan.
I couldn’t recreate the expression on my face if I tried, but the first words out of my mouth were, “Are you *bleeping* serious?” My husband isn’t a big practical joker, so that was more of a reflex reaction than a legitimate question. I knew he was serious.
Months prior, he put feelers out about going back to a squadron, specifically in Japan. He knew there was a need for pilots, and, well, he is one. The timing wasn’t right, so we left it alone, thinking we just weren’t meant to go to Japan (me finally letting go of the Japanese books probably makes a little more sense now).
Once I established that he was, in fact, *bleeping* serious, I was excited! Like, the most excited I’ve ever been about orders. We were about to embark on a huge adventure. It wasn’t until a few hours (and several more cups of coffee) later that I realized there was a lot to do before said adventure could start. Moving overseas is a huge undertaking under normal conditions, but I had to first completely undo one PCS.
Once we had the new orders in hand, I used my glorious moving binder to call hotels from coast to coast and cancel our reservations, then that sucker went in the garbage. We walked that morning to the housing office and said with as much dignity as we could muster between the two of us: “JK, guys, we’re actually not moving until May now.” They understood, but said we no longer snuck out before the rent increase in March…apparently everyone was full of surprises that day. We cancelled the movers. I kindly asked the Quantico-area preschools to stop calling me. We broke the news to the kids. Their top concerns were:
- Do I still get to turn four even though we’re not going to Chicago? Yes.
- I’m sad I don’t get to see Mount Rushmore. Can we do it later? Yes.
- Do we get to ride on an airplane? Yes.
- Do they have French fries in Japan? […no clue…] Yes!
Seriously, that was it. Then we told our parents. That was a bit more involved, but everyone put on brave faces.
We sold our cars. My husband graduated from NPS. The kids finished school. We made it through all the screenings, passport applications, and Patriot Express reservations. We made arrangements to leave our sweet kitty (my daughter’s baby) with my aunt and uncle in Texas. The last call (the hardest one for me to make) was the one about my job. My career was the sacrificial lamb in the middle of all the excitement. And as excited as I was for what this move promised for our family, I couldn’t deny I was bummed about the one thing I lost in it all. Ultimately, it was the best time for me and for everyone in our family when I really looked at the situation under the microscope; the job was hard to let go of, but I was confident that something else would be there when I was ready.
Fast-forward a year. We’re in Japan. Yes, we made it. I graduate with my master’s in six months. Still waiting on that perfect job, but I’m gaining amazing philanthropic experience in the meantime. The kids adjusted beautifully to Japan, and we’re checking off bucket-list travel destinations left and right.
My story of change and surprise has two morals that I hope you’ll take away from it:
- Ink is not permanent, especially whatever brand of ink they use in the Department of Defense printers.
- If you ever hope to PCS to Japan, buy books to prepare you for the move. Move them around the U.S. with you for nearly a decade (time will vary). Then, give them away and wait.
Has your military family ever had cancelled orders at the last minute? How did it work out? Leave a comment and share it with me!
Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse