Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Grow where you're planted.

Grow where you are planted.
When I was a newlywed military wife, someone told me that it was important to "grow where you're planted." At the time, I thought, "Well, duh," but as years -- and moves -- came and went, I learned it wasn't as easy as all that. And I've known military spouses who've never stopped yearning to get back to that one golden posting . . .

I would say that the most difficult move was to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It was a year after my father's death, a year after my second child's birth, and it was to a very French-speaking part of Quebec. (There are areas of Quebec that have significant anglophone populations.)

I was still grieving, I was still struggling with postpartum depression (though it wasn't diagnosed as such), and I had no confidence that my French would be sufficient to communicate.

I think it was the only time in my career as a military wife that I actively resisted the move. I asked Steve if there wasn't some way we could request a different posting. But the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean (CMR) had sponsored his Master's degree, and he was obliged to give back at least 42 months (a month two months for every month he was in school).

At first, it was hard. I came back from a basic shopping trip in tears because I hadn't been able to understand the cashier when she asked whether I would be paying by cash or credit card ("Comptant ou carte de crédit?" said in rapid-fire staccato). It was a small moment of humiliation, a hiccup on the everyday.

I was accustomed to sailing through routine social interactions with ease. I was used to understanding and being understood.
An everyday scene in our PMQ (private married quarters military housing) at CMR.
Don't you love the wallpaper border, especially the laboriously cut out strips for the door panels? 
But I had a small epiphany: this, I realized, must be a small (very, very small) taste of what it's like to be an immigrant. To feel like an outsider. To be unsure of what is being said to me, or that I am making myself understood. To feel incompetent and afraid.

Every excursion was a challenge. I wanted nothing more than to stay home with my babies and make meals for my husband.

But I consciously fought my feelings of isolation. Early on, with the "grow where you're planted" admonition in mind -- and with the sense that I was a kind of immigrant, I decided two things:
  • I would get to know the community of other military wives.
  • I would improve my French so I could communicate.
For the first objective, I went out of my way to introduce myself to our neighbours, most of whom had children the same age as ours. I walked up to groups of women in the park and started conversations. (This is decidedly against the grain for me.) By the time we left, three years later, I had helped to start a thriving playgroup and had even been the co-president of our Officers' Wives Club. 

As for my French, I started out by talking freely with the children: I felt they were non-judgmental and welcomed my efforts. I'm sure the same would have been true of the adults, but I never stopped being shy around them. I knew I had reached a milestone when I could carry on a conversation on the phone in French without batting an eye. 

In the end, it was one of the happier interludes in my life, a time of growth. It was not what I would have chosen, but I would certainly do it again.


  1. This is a great story. I love this saying, and I've never heard it before!

    1. I'm surprised you've never heard it. Maybe it's a military thing. But I've kept it in mind with each of our moves.

  2. Having moved many times myself, I really loved reading this. I can say I felt somewhat the same about Singapore- I actively resisted the move, but I'm certainly glad I went (though I thankfully didn't have to deal with (much of) a language barrier there). Working with immigrant populations I have learned a lot about how difficult it is when you are not only unable to communicate, but also unfamiliar with cultural norms and expectations. A lot of people retreat into their homes (and depression). I'm impressed with your conscious efforts to grow- it's something I need to keep in mind as we settle into our new home.

    1. I get the impression you're already well on your way -- especially meeting neighbours. And the kids will drag you the rest of the way!

  3. It must be hard to move around like that! I think I would do the same as you did by going out and meeting the neighbours.

    1. It can be hard, but it's the right thing to do.

  4. I think attitude can make all the difference. Great post!

  5. The golden posting... wow that rang so true for me. We've been lucky, in that we haven't moved too much in my 26 year career as a military wife, but there certainly has been favourite postings. I often joke that if we could take our favourite things from each posting and put them in one place, what a place that would be! That just goes to show you though, each place has favourite things.

    1. That's true! There's been something I've loved about each place. Wouldn't it be fun to roll the all up into one?


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