The Power of Dandelions

Each spring my mother handed flat-edge screwdrivers to her four children and ordered us into the yard for dandelion-removal duty. Many hours of my childhood were spent uprooting a flower that was only determined to be weed in the 20th century. Dandelions were beloved and revered for their beauty and medicinal benefits – until they weren’t. But despite our efforts to minimize their presence, they still appear each spring. Dandelions are resilient – they put down roots anywhere and everywhere, they bloom wherever the winds carry them, and they survive in a broad range of climates. Just like the children of those who serve in the armed forces.

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The dandelion is the official flower of the military child. Approximately 1.8 million children have a parent who serves in the armed forces. My children are just that – children. Curious, adventurous, stubborn, amazing, lovable, and terrific children. The fact that their father is in the Army doesn’t define them. Every family has their own story – the Army just happens to be a part of ours. Currently, their father is away more than he is home. And to them, the idea of home is somewhat of a unique concept. Our son has moved six times in his eight years and our daughter has moved four times in her four years. And we have no plans to settle in one place anytime soon. I’ve wiped away tears because they miss their father, I’ve held their hand as they walked into a new classroom full of unfamiliar faces, and I’ve comforted them as they processed the pain of missing the friends they left behind. It’s during these moments that I wonder if my husband and I are doing a disservice by subjecting them to this lifestyle.

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Our children are still of the age where they love to pick dandelions and give them to me as tokens of their adoration. When I see these simple flowers held by dirty little fingers accompanied by a beaming smile, I am reminded that they will be okay. Our children will emerge from their childhood without traditional roots planted firmly in an area with extended family and familiar surroundings. Rather their roots will be far-reaching and strongly anchored with love in our little family of four. They also have each other. And as parents, we will provide shade during the times of transition but eventually their own resiliency will allow them to bloom no matter the environment.

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Eleanor Roosevelt told us that “the purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” While our children may not have a traditional white-picket fence childhood, theirs has been and will continue to be full of rich experiences. They are learning just how small the world can be and how we’re all more alike than different. They are brave. They are confident. They are resilient. Just like dandelions.

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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.