6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

The late spring/summer is traditionally PCS season for the military community. For those unfamiliar, PCS refers to Permanent Change of Station aka moving. There are hidden expenses that always seem to pop up along the way, but for the most part, we’re not financially responsible for the move but we are responsible for coordinating the process.  Seeing as how psychologists routinely state that moving is considered one of life’s most stressful situations, it’s absolutely imperative that military families develop a system to help schlep their worldly processions from Point A to Point B.

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This past summer, our packers told us that our framed Billy Joel concert poster is the whitest thing they’ve packed yet. True story.

This blog post will not be an article about the need to put together an important documents binder, nor will it advocate for developing a color-coded system for boxes to assist in the deployment of said boxes into the new house. This blog post will not talk about the best resources for researching schools, veterinarians, and hair stylists. And this blog post will not discuss the importance of documenting high-value and moderate-value items is because stuff will inevitably break during the moving process.  This blog post is going to talk about the really important stuff when it comes to PCSing.

6 Honest Tips for Surviving a PCS

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1. Keep a Winged Butterfly Corkscrew Near You at All Times

Rumor has it that there are a few unicorns out there who are able to resist alcohol during PCS season. I am not one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re calling preschools begging for a slot or searching for the cast iron skillet that you’ll eventually find in the box marked ‘Downstairs BATHE towls’, it is imperative that you keep a winged butterfly corkscrew near you at all times. Not only will it open bottles of wine, it can assist with the opening of an assortment of beers and mini-bottles. It can also be used as a box-cutter and while not preferable, the arms can be used to spread peanut butter. And in a fit of desperation, it can also be a toy. It wasn’t my proudest parenting moment but once, I gave my then three-year-old daughter a winged butterfly corkscrew and told her it was a metal doll in order to keep her occupied as I frantically opened boxes searching for her prized pink elephant that had somehow managed to be packed earlier that day. The winged butterfly corkscrew was all I had within reach.

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2. Don’t Forward Your Mail to Relatives with the Same Last Name

Learn from our mistake and you will avoid a lifetime of political mailers and AARP membership requests. Many moves ago, we had a transition period of about 30 days before officially reporting to another installation 2000 miles away. Obviously, we took advantage of this ‘free’ time and traveled our little hearts out. Because of this, we had the not-so-smart idea of forwarding our mail to my husband’s parents. It has been 6 years since that particular move and all parties involved are still suffering from the consequences of our ill-informed decision. When it came time to forward our mail to our new duty station a few states away, all of my in-laws mail somehow ended up at our new place. For months. And months. And we have lived in three different states since that particular move and yet we still receive the occasional piece of junk mail addressed to my in-laws. On the positive side, we always have something to use to start a fire. #glasshalffull

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3.  There Will Always Be Someone Who Hates Where The Military Is Sending You Next

Facebook and other forms of social media are invaluable tools during PCS season. Yes, there is a seedy underbelly in the world of military-related Facebook groups and there are some that certainly #leanin into the military spouse stereotypes. I’ve even personally witnessed a close friend get hit with the ban stick because she accidentally posted something twice that was deemed self-promotional (it wasn’t). And being the great friend that I am, I didn’t take a stand and leave the group in solidarity because it really is a great source for information. The joke is on the all-knowing administrators though because I sometimes post questions on behalf of my shunned friend. Muwhahaha.

When I accepted my husband’s marriage proposal (which involved a plaid fold-out couch and a satirical book – try not to be jealous ladies), it didn’t take me long to learn that in addition to raving about favorite assignments and duty stations, people love to complain about the places they’ve hated with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. You may be excited that you have orders to Hawaii but there will always be a Debbie Downer who chimes in with school data, traffic patterns, and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Delighted about going to Germany? Negative Nelly will likely talk about the gray skies, ridiculous recycling standards, and the abundance of wursts. No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who hated that installation/assignment. It’s best to ignore them and not let them get you down. On the flip side, you will also find people who loved assignments that are traditionally looked down upon. So for every person you meet who despised Italy, you’ll someone who really enjoyed their time at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Keep that in mind.

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4. Make Sure The Truck Driver Locks the Back Door of the Truck

The load-out from when we PCSed from Washington DC to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas was quite disastrous but we emerged with an important PCS lesson – always make sure that the truck driver locks the back door of the truck before driving off. On the night of that pack out – around 11:05 pm, my husband and I sat on the front steps of our townhome and watched the truck holding all of our worldly possessions drive away. And at 11:06pm, my husband took off running toward the truck to alert the blissfully unaware driver that the back door flew open (pictured above). The driver’s response? “Oh, it’s been doing that a lot lately.” We’ve moved two times since then and have incorporated checking the lock of the truck as part of our move-out process. You should probably do the same.

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5. Ziploc Everything!

While unpacking kitchen boxes after having the military move us for the first time, I was absolutely aghast at the amount of packing paper that was used to wrap a fondue fork. Four (!) large sheets to wrap one teeny tiny fondue fork. We have 16 fondue forks (I like fondue – don’t judge!). You do the math. From that move on, I learned to dump the contents of every drawer in the house into corresponding ziploc bags. My schedule may not be as demanding as Renata Klein’s (any other Big Little Lies fans out there?) but I am not going to spend the time it takes to unwrap every single wine cork I’ve saved over the years (trophies of my accomplishments) or each magnet from our travels. It’s not good for the Earth and it is not good for my sanity. Ziploc anything and everything that can be bagged. Toys? Sure! They have large ziploc bags available now – they even come in 3-gallon sizes. Office supplies? Bag ’em up! Clothes? Fold ’em and bag ’em. I recommend zip-ties as well. You may look like Dexter checking out with your haul but at least you’ll be prepared for your PCS.

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6. Flatten Packing Paper as you Unwrap and Unpack

Life is so much easier if you flatten packing paper as you unwrap and unpack the Target and IKEA showroom that is your house. Of course you can always request the movers to unpack for you but HAHAHAHAHAHA. We have moved 10 times in the last 13 years and it didn’t take me long to realize that shoving crumbled up pieces of packing paper into garbage bags was the least efficient method of packing paper removal. Perhaps you will be assigned the fabled moving company that will return at a later date to pick up your boxes and packing paper but if you’re like most of us plebeians, you’ll be at the mercy of your town’s recycling program and people ISO of packing supplies on Facebook. Make your life easier and flatten paper as you go so it can be smacked, whacked, and stacked to the max (oh dear – I’m now quoting Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown – this is what my life has become).

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So there you have it – my six tips for surviving a PCS and doing so with grace and aplomb (ha!). I’ve been a part of this rodeo for over 13 years now and I’ve learned that no matter how stressful the uncertainty, the planning, the execution, and the settling into a new life feels – it all works out in the end. Life has a funny way of doing that. A sense of humor is a crucial ingredient of the military lifestyle. Without it, life just isn’t much fun.

So what are you some of your tips for surviving PCS season? How do you handle PCS envy? How do you tell the kids – do you keep them informed of the process from the beginning or do you not break the news until orders are in hand? How do you say ‘see you later!’? And most important – what drink of choice is in your hand while tackling everything like a boss? Bottoms up!

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“That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.”

In the hours leading up to the government shutdown, the majority of the 24-hour news outlets had some variation of a ‘Shutdown Countdown’. It was impossible not to draw references from the countdown we experienced just a few weeks prior. Except this time, non-New Yorkers didn’t fill the streets of Times Square, Anderson Cooper reported from the comfort of a studio, and King Julien’s didn’t have a kid-friendly version of the countdown on Netflix. This countdown was different. This countdown was personal.

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Government shutdowns are nothing new. It seems like every fall, the threat of a shutdown looms. Our congressional leaders’ inability to pass a budget is up there with pumpkin-spiced lattes, crunchy leaves, and North Face fleece jackets as a sign that harvest season is upon our nation. The legislative branch of government might as well lean in and wear leggings, flannels, and Uggs as they cater to their special interests while publicly declaring their tireless crusade for justice and liberty for all.

My husband arrived home from TDY overseas last Thursday and received word that his TDY the following morning was postponed due to the impending shutdown. The kids (and myself) were thrilled to have him home for the weekend but we knew it came with a price. Non-essential government workers are furloughed and essential personnel will continue to serve this country without pay. As of this morning, Congress has yet to reapprove the 2013 bill that allows military members to receive paychecks during the shutdown – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected the motion brought forth by Senator Claire McCaskill in the early morning hours on Friday by stating “My hope is that we can restore funding for the entire government before this becomes necessary. I’m going to object for tonight but we’ll discuss again tomorrow.” According to news outlets, it was not discussed the following day (it is noted that as I write this post, this topic is being discussed on the Senate floor).

We’re currently teaching our eight-year-old-son the game of chess. For whatever reason, he has trouble remembering that while pawns can move in a forward direction, they can only capture diagonally. He is constantly questioning why the pawns aren’t offered the same advantages as the knights or the rooks. And we’re forced to answer, “That’s just the way it is. That’s the way the game is played.” And the fact that we have to respond the same way when he asks “Why do you still have to wear your uniform and go to work, Daddy?” is absolutely infuritating. He hasn’t made the connection that military members are being used as pawns but I’m sure he will in due time – he’s a smart kid.

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There are about 1,292,000 million active duty members of the military (about 800,000 serve in the seven different reserve components) who reported to work this morning despite the shutdown. The roughly 0.4 percent of our population who swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, will continue to do so even though without the assurance that they’ll be able to support themselves and their families. Right now, there are Americans on dangerous missions – some known, some unknown – risking their lives and upholding their oath. It shouldn’t be too much to ask the government to uphold their end of the bargain. The families of the two soldiers killed in the Apache helicopter crash on Saturday morning will not receive the death benefit entitlement until Congress passes a bill to appropriate such funds. Why is this acceptable?

Military members are no strangers to being used as pawns in the legislative process. In fact, last time we were stationed here in the nation’s capital, there was a shutdown. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept it. The majority of Americans voice support for the military – they’ll applause when uniformed members unveil the flag during a sporting event and they’ll shake the hand of a returning vet and thank them for their service – but does that really count? But I can’t help wonder how many of the fans who cheered the loudest during the pre-game ceremonies at Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field yesterday are contacting their legislative representatives today and demanding action on behalf of the military and behalf of our broken nation.

This morning, my husband laced up his boots, kissed me goodbye, and left for work before sunrise. He is going to continue to do his job, despite Congress not being able to do theirs.

 

That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

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Military families are no strangers to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.