It is hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I love the holidays because it is a time for the family to come together. As our children have grown and gone their separate ways we see less and less of them. I have always seen us as a close-knit family, but as our children are all grown that becomes a little more difficult, working around everyone’s schedules and sometimes it just isn’t possible. Our youngest is a Marine stationed half a world away :(.
Almost 10 years ago was the first Thanksgiving we were apart from our children. They will never know how hard it was for us to not have them with us, and up until a year ago, I didn’t realize how hard it was for them.
I met my husband when he was enlisted in the Air Force and stationed at a small site, about an hour’s drive from my hometown. We got married in January of 1987 and spent the next 18 years of our marriage, raising our children in the Air Force.
My husband was an enlisted man, and while the pay was not great, we had housing, good medical care, and most of all, we had job security. As our children got older and many years of changing schools and moving almost every 2 years, we decided, after a 22-year career in the Air Force, to retire and try to find a better paying job on the outside. We didn’t have a home to our name, and we had been away from family all of our married lives, so it was time to settle down.
My husband found a job soon after retiring working for a gas and electric company. It paid better than we had ever made in the military and life was good, but he hadn’t been there more than a year when the company decided to divest and sell off all the parts of the company. After almost one year of helping the company transition, he lost his job. This was right in the middle of the beginning of downturn of the economy, so that finding a job that paid well and one that you enjoy was a lot more elusive than we thought.
By the winter of 2007 life was hard and we were struggling financially. My husband reconnected with an AF friend who was now living in Alaska. He was working in the IT department for a bank, and they had a position that he felt he may be a good fit and that paid well. Even though we had spent our first 18 years of marriage moving around this was different. We would be moving as civilians, no housing set-up on the other end and thousands of miles away in Alaska. All we knew about Alaska is that it is remote, cold and they get lots of snow.
It took the company six months to make the position permanent, and over this time we talked about the pros and cons of accepting the job, and finally decided that it was an opportunity that we could not pass up, but what about the boys? One of the reasons we retired from the Air Force was to give our children more stability, to be around family, and the chance to make friends that they could see on a regular basis. Trent and Travis our twins were just getting started in college, and their older brother, Tyler, was a junior in college. It wouldn’t be fair to them to ask them to pack up and move again, and start over somewhere else. The college in Anchorage might not accept all of their classes, or even have the degrees they were pursuing.
Despite the financial strain that it would put on us, we decided that my husband’s military retirement pay would allow us to keep our house in Nebraska for the boys to stay in while we would go to Alaska alone. (This decision while difficult, helped our oldest to get out of college debt free, as all he had to pay for was his classes and neither he nor my husband and I had to pay for any dormitory costs for any of the children.) As a mother it was breaking my heart, my eyes still sting with tears thinking about it, but I also knew it would happen sooner or later, so just rip that Band-Aid off and roll with it. And roll with it we did!
I guess at that time I thought the boys were so into their own lives they didn’t need us as much anymore, and when we sat them down to tell them our decision in the early summer of 2008, they didn’t seem to take it too hard.
In June of 2008, we packed up our two Subarus and headed North to Alaska. We ended up staying in Alaska for almost two years before we moved back to Nebraska. In that time the boys did grow up more and had to take on more responsibilities caring for themselves, and a home. I messaged them at least on a weekly basis and had to intervene on a regular basis between some of their brotherly squabbles with each other.
I remember how proud I was when November came around and I heard that Tyler our oldest was doing a Thanksgiving meal at the house. That meal with his friends has become an annual tradition that he has kept going since 2008. They called it Beefsgiving and every year at this dinner, Tyler would tell a story about how Beefsgiving came about. Up until last year, my husband and I only knew that it was an annual event amongst Tyler and his friends, we didn’t know anything about the story until Tyler wrote and printed the story in a very colorful book he had published. I thought it was such a cool idea, and he gifted us with a copy.
When my husband and I read the story, we had to laugh because we got to see the story through the lens of our child’s eyes and it was quite the awakening. I told our oldest, I would need a red pen to make some edits because his perceptions and what really happened were two different things.
Just to give you an idea of the difference in perceptions, and I thought we were pretty good at being open with our kids about most things, I will highlight the parent/child perceptions below:
Parents: We left in June of 2008
Tyler: We left right before Thanksgiving
Parents: We left to provide for our children
Tyler: We left to chase our parent dreams
The story goes on to talk about how Beefsgiving came about, the idea, the preparation, and all the things that went on that day, from cleaning the house, and the twins being inconspicuous during that time, to the meal itself, and all the fun they had. It is full of some pretty comical illustrations my son drew, as well.
In the end, I learned the boys missed us more than I thought they would, and that is heartwarming. Tyler’s friends were awesome and came through for him, and they have remained a close-knit group, and while part of me is sad that us leaving affected him more than I realized, the bonds that he formed will see him through tough times. All children need to have more than just their parents in their lives, especially when life gets hard.
I am so proud of all our boys. Now I especially know how they all were impacted by our leaving, even if their “Perceptions” were a little off. 😉