Aaron’s last duty station was in El Paso, TX at Fort Bliss’s medical detachment. Because he was there for his general surgery residency, we were there for a total of six years. Five years of residency and one year of research in the surgical field. In that time Aaron bought a house, we got married (twice – there’s a fun story there), I graduated from college, and we expanded our family 3 separate times. We built an entire life.
Then we got uprooted, Aaron got sent to Korea, and we moved to Houston to await his return for a fellowship in plastic surgery.
Before we left, I made a friend or two. Both were pregnant with boys at the same time I was. One friend gave birth a month and a half before me, the other a week after me. So my oldest kiddo has a couple friends that are very close in age, and I had the pleasure of mom friends I actually liked seeing (I’ve heard that’s rare as the kids get older). One of those friends moved to Colorado while we were still stationed in El Paso, but another was a civilian.
I don’t meet too many civilians who are willing to get close to me and form a lasting friendship. They all know I will leave eventually, and keep a polite distance. Occasionally though, I got lucky. Not only did I make a close friend, but she even traveled here to Houston when my son had surgery to help out for a few days.
I’ve had close friends since childhood, and I have a huge family, so it was surprising that the person who reached out to help me was the person I’d known for the shortest amount of time. In another post, I talk about not wanting to be or feel forgotten. I was touched by such a gracious act from a friend, and I know that no matter how far away we end up moving, I will not forget that friend or that one act that irrevocably changed how I felt about “family”.
As we drove back into El Paso we were immediately barraged by dust – a trademark of the desert climate I had escaped when Aaron’s new assignment sent us to east Texas. I shuddered at the thought of baking sunshine and unyielding allergens, and the inevitable runny noses, cough, and sneezing that accompanied allergies in myself and my kids.
All of that rushed away, replaced by a feeling of coming home when I turned onto the street where my friend lived. Happy memories surfaced, and despite the climate my dread evaporated, a smile and a sense of calm and safety returned. This was a place where we could be ourselves, where we were happy, and where we had been accepted. I never imagined associating that feeling with anything from El Paso, so I was also surprised.
My children strained against the belts on their carseats, eager to get out of the car after a long trip, and stretch their little legs. Thankfully, there was a nice, safe space for them to run out all that pent up energy with friends. We changed into swimsuits and they ran out to the water bouncy castle while I caught up with my friend as if no time had actually passed.
Water was a fairly new experience for my kids, they never particularly liked it before, but our beach trip at the beginning of July was a turning point. I found they enjoyed playing in the water, as long as I wasn’t holding soap and a washcloth nearby. You see, they still hate baths.
The kids played in water, played with all their friends’ toys, we took them to a playground and splash pad, and we had some movie time. Meals were certainly eventful with five little boys at the table, and for a few days, my friend’s house was filled with laughter, shrieks of joy, and occasionally some tears. We cooked meals together and took turns cleaning up after the kids.
So much joy packed into two-and-a-half days made my heart sing.
It would have been a perfect trip if my husband had been able to come, and despite having fun and getting the chance to play with their friends, the kids frequently asked for Daddy and talked about missing him. I missed him, too.
Being at my friends’ house always inspires me to try to be a more crafty parent. She is incredibly talented at being a stay-at-home-mother, something I struggle mightily with, and she always has great ideas and activities to do with her kids. Being around someone as sweet and nurturing as my friend is can make me feel inferior at times. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but my constant struggle to be a better mom is a bit of a sore spot for me.
When we left, a goodbye that had plans for a visit in the not-too-distant future, I left with ideas on things to do with my own kids. My boys are more destructive and much louder than hers, so some of the things she’s able to do wouldn’t necessarily work well if I tried to do them with my kids. But it did inspire me to adapt some of her kid-friendly solutions, and as a result, my downstairs has become more kid friendly.
I came home with a new plan; new activities and intentions to be more present with the kids, and a new appreciation for the concept that family doesn’t have to mean a blood relative. When you live far away from your family, you tend to create your own.
They say it takes a village, and maybe some of that village are friends and acquaintances. People in your life superficially or temporarily, like teachers, babysitters, pediatricians, neighbors, etc. But I truly believe some of those people are more deeply involved, and those people who are there in the lurch, when you are at the lowest and really need help.
We had a “kid-venture” trip to El Paso, a trip for the kids to see friends and have a good time before school starts. But I hope the kids also learned a valuable life lesson while they had all the wonderful and new experiences with different toys and activities. I hope they felt what it was like to be safe, able to be themselves, and accepted for that.
They’re too young to understand the lesson of gratitude that this trip taught me, but as they get older, I hope it’s a value I can continue to instill in them as they gain friendships while we bounce around from assignment to assignment in the military. I want them to understand the value of friendship, and putting effort into friendship in order for it to survive, and that true friends can become family.
“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” – Harry Dresden in Proven Guilty a novel in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” Stitch, from Lilo and Stitch.