School was a struggle for me as a child. I don’t suppose I’m unlike many people in this way. Most of us have memories of feeling awkward and uncomfortable as we tried to work our way through various grueling social situations all while dealing with the issues of growing up. In my case, I lived life as the new kid, which raised everything several levels above typical awkwardness. I attended somewhere around 15-17 schools by the time I was a sophomore. The number is vague given that some of the earlier years are a bit of a blur, where various schools and moves start to run together. It’s tough to even mention the incredibly confusing 5th grade year where I went to at least 3 different schools, although it could’ve been 4. I actually used to think the total figure was in the 20s, until I sat down recently to genuinely work it out. When I realized it was something less than that, for a moment it didn’t seem quite so bad. For a moment.
The moves themselves were difficult enough without the struggles with school. These weren’t just moves across town, or even the state, each one was typically across country somewhere. Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Utah, Tennessee, to name a few. (The Florida / Arizona route became particularly familiar.) We went back and forth between the states so many times that these moves became our only family vacations. We would pack up all our belongings, make the trek across the states, unpack and settle into a new rental house, a new city, and for me – a new school. Then, a number of months later, we would do it all over again. Along the way, we slowly left bits and pieces of what little we already had behind. It became a known fact that the moving trucks would lose a box or two, but in most cases, my dad became obsessed with lightening the load. It seemed easier for him to not have to deal with hauling something around than taking all of our possessions with us, which included pets. It took me a while to learn to this. Every time I would get a cat or a dog and I would grow attached, moving time would come and my heart would break. Dad would proclaim that it was impossible to move with an animal, so I’d have to give them away. I eventually stopped asking for pets.
The number one question that people ask me when they find out how many moves I’ve experienced growing up is if I’m an army brat. I’ve had a very well-practiced answer for this question over the years: “Oh, no. My father was a computer programmer on contract jobs and when the contract was up, he’d move on to the next one, so we went wherever that took us.” While this is partially true, I’ve always felt the need to avoid the uncomfortable real reply of: “Oh, no. My dad was a drunk and an addict. He was very smart, and was in high demand for his work, but when anything pressured him even slightly, he would quit. We would move.” I also used to say that I wouldn’t change a thing about all of the moves, that those experiences shaped me and gave me opportunities to make friends all over the country. I had even convinced myself that was how I felt about it, but the truth is that I absolutely would change it. I look at my husband and friends who grew up in one town and went to school with all of the same people through every grade, and here they are years later still with friendships and connections from those days. I had a hard-enough time making friends at all as the perpetual new kid, let alone maintaining the ones that I did have given how short-lived they were.
I see parents now who plan their careers and homes around where a child will go to school. They put great thought into these decisions, and if they absolutely need to move because of a job or other factor, they wait for the right timing so that it doesn’t disrupt the middle of the school year. That concept is wholly unfamiliar to me, but I happen to think it’s a beautiful one. Having an alcoholic parent who put himself first, who didn’t have any consideration for how he was impacting his kid by moving her in and out of school after school is not something I’m proud of, but it was my life. It is absolutely a big part of what shaped me, and while I commented above that I would change it in a heartbeat, that doesn’t mean that I regret it. How can you regret something you can’t control? I am grateful that I was so resilient. I am grateful that I was a smart kid and that at least the academics side of school wasn’t an issue. I am grateful for who I am today, I happen to like myself and it is all of these things in my life that have led me here.
Am I angry at my father for all of the moves? Yes, I absolutely am. But, part of the healing process for an adult child of an alcoholic is to face those emotions that were shoved down and look at the reality of the situations instead of brushing things off as if they were all okay. This certainly was not okay, and it feels liberating to acknowledge that.