This is a story of failure.
Nearly two years ago, in August 2011, I learned that my family would be moving to El Paso, TX from greater Austin, where I’d lived for a decade, where my kids were born, and where my job was. My husband at the time was a soldier, and the Army had issued him PCS orders to Ft Bliss.
Being an Army wife made me an near-expert in military acronyms. PCS stands for permanent change of station, as opposed to deployment to a combat zone, which is considered temporary… even though many deployments are longer than a soldier’s stay at their “permanent” posting. My favourite acronym? POV, for personally owned vehicle, or what you or I would call “car.”
We’d known there was a chance we’d have to move shortly after he returned from Afghanistan in July 2011. My husband’s entire unit, with a handful of exceptions, would be moving to Ft Bliss, El Paso. Right until the day he got orders, he was assured that he was in that handful that would get to stay at Ft Hood, near(ish) Austin. I was the rare Army wife who got to stay put for years. Two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and a PCS to Korea, and my soldier had kept coming back to Ft Hood. I assumed we’d just stay again and registered the kids for kindergarten.
Once we learned we had to move, we had two weeks. We ended up moving the day before the girlies would have started kindergarten with two of the other kids on our street. My employers agreed to let me keep my job. That’s right. They. Let. Me. Keep. My. Job. I was moving 600 miles and one time zone away, and they said, “Sure, Sadia. Keep doing what you’re doing, except from your new house instead of in the office. And we’ll keep paying you what we pay you.” Now that, my friends, is how you support military families.
I put my most positive face on the move. It would be an adventure. We would build a new community after relocating. We would learn all about the culture of the Borderlands. I would finally have my chance to learn Spanish. My commute would go from an hour+ each way to run-a-brush-through-my-hair. I made sure I had plenty of mommy cards and business cards in my wallet.
I tried to make friends at my daughters’ school. The only person who bit was one German army wife. I tried to make friends at the girls’ dance studio. I made one friend the whole year I was there. I joined the local professional choir, and made two deep friendships that I suspect will last the rest of my life. I tried to join the local mothers of multiples group, but it had been inactive for years. I considered starting one myself, but none of the twin moms I ran into ever reciprocated the interest in developing a relationship. My daughters, too, tried to make friends, but my notes to parents inviting their kids for playdates or dinners were never answered. With the exception of the elderly couple next door, people on my street didn’t talk to each other. I was deeply grateful to a friend of my husband’s from their time together in Korea. He, his wife and their two sons were almost the entirety of our social network.
I’m sure there were a lot of reasons that I wasn’t able to find my niche. The other Army wives didn’t have careers. The other career moms didn’t, for the most part, speak English, and my attempts to morph my French and Italian into Spanish didn’t cut it. I didn’t really end up having that much time to find a place for myself in El Paso. In February 2012, my husband informed that our marriage had ended. It took 90 days to get divorced and another 60 to find, purchase and move to a new home back in greater Austin. J, M and I were residents of El Paso for a total of 359 days.
We didn’t move back to the same neighbourhood in which we’d lived before. Actually, we’re not even in the same Central Texan suburb. We have an enormous network of amazing people from the last time we lived in the area, but we’ve also managed to develop that community within our new neighbourhood and school that I was desperately seeking in El Paso.
Our first playdate at M and J’s new school was initiated by the other mom, not me. As it turns out, she was a twin mom, but hadn’t realized that my girls were twins too. My daughters’ Girl Scout troop leader and I have become good friends, and I’ll be co-leading the troop with her next year. She offered to carpool my kids and watch them in the afternoon for an entire week so they could attend Girl Scout camp with her daughter without my having to miss work. I hit it off with a mother whose daughter is M’s good friend and, as luck would have it, she’ll be my daughters’ teacher next year. When I called her on Tuesday last week to chat, she asked if my girls could play hooky from summer camp to spend the next day with her. All three girls had a blast, and their future teacher got a baseline on their reading and math abilities so that she can be ready to challenge them in second grade. Sunday morning, I got a text from the neighbour two doors down, asking whether her daughter could spend part of the day with us while mom finished up a paper for a summer course she’s taking for her nursing degree. We moved here 315 days ago.
I don’t know what the difference was between our El Paso experience and the one here in Central Texas. Perhaps my loneliness was obvious, despite my attempts to hide it. Maybe I was just too desperate in El Paso for people to want to befriend me. I’m certainly more confident on my home turf. Perhaps my social cues are that of a Central Texan and not of an El Pasoan. Maybe it’s that Austin is a college town and many of us, perhaps the majority, are transplants from elsewhere who have had to start over here.
I really thought that the girls and I had personalities perfectly suited to the Army lifestyle. We’re all intensely outgoing, able to start up a conversation with just about anyone. We’re all comfortable trying to learn new languages… me more than the girlies and J more than M, but still far more adventurous than the average American. I thought it would be easy to connect with new people, no matter where we were. If all else failed, I’d find my tribe among local moms of multiples.
What I found, though, was that moving from Austin to El Paso at age 32 was just like moving from the United Kingdom to Bangladesh at age 8. I couldn’t find my footing. I couldn’t find my sense of home. No matter how hard I tried or how long I stayed, I was always a foreigner. I tried to normalize things for the kids in El Paso, but I was desperately unhappy. As I’ve said many a time, my happiness at returning home was far greater than my sadness at getting divorced. Pathetic, huh?
If nothing else, this detour taught me where home was.
Sadia is the mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full-time as a business analyst. She co-parents at a distance with her soldier ex-husband and his teacher wife. She decided to retire her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school in order to better protect their privacy, and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.