What if you and your family were asked to move every two years? Just pack up your life and head to another home that was chosen for you without even a consideration that the tiny master bedroom might not fit your king bedroom set or that perhaps you wanted a bigger kitchen with an island? Some people would wholeheartedly love the adventure of it all, while others might politely respond, “No, thank you. I’m just fine right here.”
It’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? Because what if you fall madly in love with your faraway location and home and all the friends you’ve turned into family, only to face the fact that you’ll be leaving everything you adore in two short years? It’s not an option to stay, certainly not for Liz’s family who is following the career path of a Naval Flight Officer. So what do you do? How do you turn a temporary situation into a pretend permanent one, and then hope your kids are able to do the same? Luckily, Liz is here to share her experience and her family’s temporary home in Japan with us. It sure looks permanent! Welcome, Liz!
Hello, everyone! I’m Liz. We are a family of five but only four of us live here; our oldest, Adan, flew from our nest almost two years ago. Dave, my husband, is a Naval Officer, and I am a stay at home mother. Dave was a Naval Flight Officer when we met and I was a single mother of a sweet little boy working as a Chiropractic assistant. He lived on the East Coast and I lived on the West. God decided we needed a major change in our lives, so he brought us together at a Naval Aviation convention in Reno and two years later Dave asked both my son and me if we would marry him. I said yes with tears streaming down and legs of jello, and my little boy said yes with a huge smile and a couple of missing teeth.
Our new family began when my father and Adan, who was seven at the time, both walked me down the aisle. In the twelve years that we’ve been married, we have had two more children, added a pup to our lives, moved every two years serving our country, lived overseas twice (three, if you count Hawaii. Because Hawaii felt like we were living overseas), and have lived in seven different homes. In a few months, we will be moving to our next location and our next home once again. We are going back to the United States.
Adan is our first and oldest at nineteen. He moved to Pittsburgh after high school to go to college and to work. He is not the little boy I speak about above as he is a young man now, but in my heart he remains that little boy. He is a natural musician and writer and loves reading. He self taught himself guitar as a young boy and can write a song beautifully in no time, strum his fingers and sing to you, and I promise you will have tears in your eyes. He has melted my heart that way many times and he probably used it to his advantage when he was a teen and wanted something from me! He knows his mother quite well. Dave and I are looking forward to seeing what he will do one day as the world is wide and open to him right now with so many possibilities.
Everett is our six year old. He started kindergarten last year and I tell everyone who asks how he is doing that he is still in the honeymoon phase of school. He wakes up excited for school and has the biggest smile when I pick him up every s-i-n-g-l-e day. He is oh so very sensitive and caring. He dislikes seeing others hurt in any way and picks up on peoples feelings very easily. He claims to be part Japanese as he has come to love this country of Japan, and says he never wants to leave. He loves books, books, books, and anything to do with dinosaurs, maps, space, how the world works, nature, and trains.
After living with three males and pregnant, I was content knowing I could have another boy. I LOVE boys and always felt like I was a Boy-Mom. All my children’s’ sexes were surprises to the very end, so when my midwife told me “take your baby” and I saw that I had a baby girl, I melted and cried, melted and cried. Alexandra is four years old and her nickname is “Cookie.” I named her after a movie I saw when I was ten years old that impacted me deeply, about a little girl who was strong, courageous, bold, loved deeply, wore dresses and jeans, got muddy and dirty, loved her father and mother, and had an understanding of life beyond her tender years.
I told myself at ten years old that if I ever had a daughter, I wanted a daughter like that and I would name her Alex. And I now have my Alex with those same character traits. She is the baby of the family and her father and two older brothers love and protect her deeply. She loves baby dolls, the color pink, her dollhouse, and baking with mom but also loves splashing in puddles with her rain boots on, matchbox cars, trains, running with the boys and books, books, books.
When Dave arrived in Japan a few months before us, he was assigned a townhouse on a base 30 minutes from where he would be stationed. We have no choice but to take what is offered and so we make the best of what we get. It can be different every time we move and it is always different overseas. In Hawaii, we were assigned our first ever huge single family home overlooking Pearl Harbor with a wonderful Lanai and plenty of room. But then in Rhode Island, we were assigned a teeny tiny home where we were bumping elbows and couldn’t fit any furniture in right. You just never know what you’re going to get. For our next move to the US, we will be moving into a townhouse we bought ten years ago. We only lived in it for a year before we were stationed in South Korea. We’ve been renting it ever since, so it will be nice to see it again and work on it a bit for the couple of years we are there.
We are on a Navy base that houses about 3,400 Americans ,and our base is located in the small Japanese city of Zushi. Zushi is a city with a population of about 59,000 residents, and the name Zushi actually means street, alley, or intersection. Zushi is known for its beaches, marina, and for the summer events that take place here. It is about an hour train ride south of Tokyo.
It may sound very touristy but it is not – except for the summer time, and even then it doesn’t compare to other places – and we find the city calming as we are surrounded by both beaches and forest. We love the area we are in because everything is convenient when it comes to our children. Our son’s school is right behind our home so it takes us no time to get there, and our kids have so many little friends to play with at the tiny park right next door to our house.
The beach is a five minute train ride from our home and then a 15 minute walk. We have local markets if you choose to do your shopping that way instead of at the commissary on main base. A five minute train ride takes you into the downtown area with restaurants and small town shopping. We have neighbors who are all in the same boat we are in. We understand each other, we get what this kind of life means. It can feel like a small town America but if that becomes too close for comfort, you can get away for a while. We always prefer to be immersed in the culture. You just learn more that way and you realize quickly that the world is ever so huge and that not everything is about you. We are just one sliver among so many people.
We always try to make our temporary housing feel permanent. You quickly learn to be very creative and to not be so picky about things! This isn’t always the case, of course, because when you realize you have limited storage space and have to figure out how to make 35 things fit into an area that only holds 20, or you realize that your laundry will be staring at you often while you eat your meals because it will be sharing the same space as your kitchen, then you can become a bit out of sorts – initially, anyway, and with occasional frustrating moments that make you ask “Really?”
As soon as we know where we will be stationed, we try to get as much information about the possible housing situation and then Dave and I decide what to take or not take with us. We always take our basics like beds, a dresser, some living room furniture, small end tables because those always come in handy, very few kitchen items, and if we think we can fit a bookcase we bring it. We love books and we like a piece to hold the things that are special to us. Everything we do not bring with us, the Navy stores for us.
Items that we never leave behind are our family photo bins from before we went digital. And we always bring our framed photos to hang on our walls, even if they’re small walls. We also bring our books because I love collecting books and I’m a voracious reader. Dave loves reading, too, but two moves ago we realized we couldn’t bring them all with us anymore so we bring only what we want to read again, think we will reference again, or the ones that are special to us. I always claim I’d rather have more books than shoes. And I mean it.
I make our assigned house a home quite quickly. I love being organized but not obsessive about it and getting it done quickly. I love knowing that I can start living and getting our kids settled and with clutter around and boxes staring at you, it just doesn’t make you feel very settled. That is so important to both of us.
So while he is at work, I am busily cleaning, sorting, figuring it all out, and he’s used to coming home and seeing that a lot has been accomplished. I always begin with the kids’ bedrooms and making sure they have a cozy place to sleep. The kitchen is also a priority.
The kids, of course, want to peek into boxes and ask to open certain ones, so that can become more work – but that’s okay. Some of these things they may not have seen in a very long time as we receive new things we have had in storage. It can be like Christmas! There are still some things in storage that we have yet to use from when we got married. I know it sounds crazy, but hey, we have a crazy life sometimes. It really is a team effort with Dave helping when he gets home from work and on the weekends when we are both together. I can say that we have most everything done in about a month, give or take. Most people are surprised by how fast we set things up, but we feel much better about getting it done and getting the real living started.
We also buy lots of plants, and plant a little garden. Here, we made our own little Japanese garden in the area that is part of our porch. It is not a large space, but it suits us just fine. It’s lovely to look at and peaceful.
I grew up in a military community and surrounded by aviation, so no one was too surprised when I married a Naval Flight Officer. When I became a spouse, I already had a love and pride for what my husband was doing, and so becoming his wife meant that I could now take care of someone who deeply loves and takes care of our country…and that meant the world to me. As his wife, I feel like I am also serving along with him.
The best part for us about living overseas has been watching our children live in these wonderful countries we have been exposed to and fortunate enough to be part of. Something that touched Dave and I deeply was when our oldest son told us he was writing his University entrance exam on how living in Korea as a young teen helped form him and truly impacted him as a person. Watching our two youngest understand more and more about Japan and immersing themselves through learned words, phrases, and songs, and seeing them bow and greet Japanese citizens on the streets on their own is special. Their experiences have been our joy. And for us as a whole family, it is exploring, trying new things, new foods, new places, and doing our best to learn about the culture.
We love the safety of living here. We feel comfortable walking late at night, never having to look behind us, never worried about having anything stolen, and our children are safe to run and play without fear of anyone having ill intentions. Japan is a very safe and respectful country, and the feeling is throughout all of Japan. We love the cleanliness, the order, and how everything runs on time here. And we love the trains, watching our kids ride them, and how convenient they are.
The worst part is being away from family and our oldest son. Adan started his first year of college the same year we moved overseas. That certainly was not what we had ever imagined or expected. We wish we could take a drive and visit with him for a weekend and hug him to pieces, but we cannot. We wish we could comfort those who need us in person and not by phone. FaceTime is nice, but hugging grandparents face to face is better. We feel sad about the family time the kids miss out on with extended family members. And sometimes, we just miss what we consider normal like taking an easy exit, not getting so darn lost at times, reading signs you can understand, driving on the side of the road that my brain is used to, and satisfying a craving that you can easily get in the States. What we have found most rewarding about living overseas is that it has taught us to become more focused on what is important like our marriage, our children, serving others, and leading a more simple life. We already learned years ago to limit ourselves on material things because of our frequent moves and so we have learned to simplify life more. This just opens up more time for other things. It is also rewarding to reconfirm over time that this is one of our callings in life.
I’m the queen for having to be pushed out the door by my sweet husband to go do something for myself that actually involves leaving the house where my children cannot see me or hear me! If I could pick a few things I enjoy for myself, one would be going out to have coffee with a friend. There’s something about coffee and conversation that just go so well together, and I love it.
I’m a runner, so if I can get a run in by myself, that is great, but usually I am a morning runner with my daughter as I push her in the jogger and I love this, too. Alex can thumb through her books during a long run and be content, so she makes running easy for me. Running is an escape and a fresh beginning to my day. I feel strong and invigorated for whatever I have to tackle and even though I have Alex with me, it is me time because I’m doing something I love and bettering myself. After the kids and my husband are in bed during the weekdays, I am always reading a novel, writing, working on my photography, researching, working on children’s literature, and even though it sounds like work and it is, it is enjoyable for me because I am passionate about what I do. This may not sound like a lot of me time, but I’m easily satisfied with small and simple things.
I hope our kids remember that we made this home as cozy and warm as we could for them, and that we all really loved this little townhouse. We all seem to fit so well in it. I want them to remember how much they were loved, hugged, and kissed to pieces all the time. I want them to remember how much we talked to them about their feelings and that we always stopped to listen. I hope they remember that even though Dad had a busy job, that he called every day to check in with us. I want them to remember the fun we had talking, reading books together on the bed or the living room, and setting up trains or playing with the dollhouse in the living room. I want them to remember how much they enjoyed turning our dining room table into their art, writing, craft, and painting table, and how Dad and I never cared but encouraged it. I want them to remember the knocks or door bell rings at our front door and seeing their little neighborhood friends peeking through the side window to see if they could play. I want them to remember our occasional Saturday pajama morning till early afternoon days hanging out in the living room because it was just nice to wake up to Dad being home and not going to work. I want them to remember all the times we spent with books scattered and piled around us for the last couple of years and reading them together. I want them to remember all the times we danced in the living room with them to fun music and acted silly. I want them to remember that we taught them less is more and that living a more simple life here in our home has always proven to be better. And the last thing I want is for them to remember that the reason they lived in Japan was because their Dad was serving his country.
I wish they could conveniently forget how it hurts to leave a place that they have come to love so much and say goodbye to their little friends. The feelings that come along with transition and starting over again and getting into a new routine can be hard on little ones. It really depends on each child. So if this is the case for one of my little ones, I hope they conveniently forget this part, too.
My favorite part about being a mom is watching them grow and learn. Seeing them smile or laugh about something, watching them learn something for the first time, and seeing them experience different things from good and not so good is inspiring in many ways because it teaches me to stop and pay attention to what really matters. And of course hugging, kissing, and loving on them even when they are 19 years old!
And the one thing that has surprised me most about being a mother is how scary it can be even after 19 years of being one, to love these children to no end and know that life can deliver hardship to them without any warning and that all you can do is pray for unwavering Faith that all will work out well for them, and hang on tight.
I wish someone had told me to be okay with the mother that I am. To understand that there are different seasons to mothering and that we all choose different paths and different ways to parent. And that your season will change with time and that it may not be exactly as you imagined, but that it does change. Being okay to say no when everyone else is saying yes and to understand that your children may not be ready for what other children the same age are doing is a weight off a parent’s shoulders. Accepting that my family is fine just the way it is becomes a peaceful thought.
Also, I wish someone had somehow prepared me for them growing older and leaving home. It hurts like crazy and turns you upside down. Because as much as you want them to begin their new life, you also wish you could have them little all over again. To pray with persistent faith and patience. And learning to let go little by little, with an understanding that their purpose has already been written, releases many fears and anxieties and let’s you breathe a little easier. And that their failures and setbacks are needed because they are also what can turn into their eventual successes.
What is this life really like for me? This is what it is like: It is pride and humility. It is happiness and hardship. It is receiving what others sometimes wish for and sometimes wishing you had what others have. It is an adventure and it can feel lonely. It is making new friendships and then leaving them behind. It is making a home happily and then taking it down often. It is your children smiling and saying that they love it one day, and then crying and claiming that they don’t the next. It is eating dinners with your husband home and eating many dinners without him. It is being far away from family and then buying a ticket to go back home. It is hard and it is easy. It is laughter and it is tears. It is loving your temporary home or not, and wondering when you will live in your very own.
It is jumping in with all abandon but then having to hold on tight at times. It is setting your goals aside for a while during the time that you follow his, and then trying to start them again when you get to your new place or not. It is feeling normal and then something occurs that you cannot explain to others who aren’t in your shoes, and you realize that this Navy life is its own world within a world. It is figuring out many things with your husband and having to figure out a lot on your own. It is always trying to figure out how to make life seem as normal as you possibly can for your children. It is a lot of trial and error, wins and losses.
Perhaps this sounds like your life? I wonder. A lot of people ask if I’d change anything about my life, or even wish for a different one. No, not ever. Being a Navy wife has made me love my husband more and vice versa, and it’s made me resilient and toughened me in ways that only this life could have done for me. It has given me a wide-open view of the world and people unlike myself. It has taught me to face fears and take risks that can only make you grow in life and not stay stagnant. And I wish to continue growing and learning.
John Paul Jones, a Naval hero during the Revolutionary War, is famous for many quotes, but this is one that has been spoken in our home on many occasions, “He who does not risk, cannot win.” Even when it is hard, I really choose to win at this.
I know that moves are really difficult, especially for kids, so please know we’re all sending our positive thoughts to you in Japan, Liz, as you embark on your next adventure! Thank you so much for sharing your patriotism and unique way of living with your own kids with all of us. It was a true learning experience with lots of good reminders.
I loved how Liz described her life. Equal parts wonderful and difficult. A constant push pull. And just when you get the hang of life in one spot, you’re off to another. Does this sound like your life? Or does it sound like something that would give you a heart attack? Ha! I would love to hear which camp you’re in!
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.