Life in the Fish Bowl
written by: Michele Allen
MilitaryByOwner staff writer
The moving truck doors screamed open and it was as if an alarm was ringing that alerted every kid under the age of thirteen in the four block vicinity to stake out who the new neighbor’s were.
“That was the Webber’s house”, one said. “They only had boys,” a little girl chimed in. My three kids stumbled out of the back of our Expedition and sized up their new friends. Because as military kids, they knew that these kids that lived on their street on our base wouldn’t just be neighbors, they would be friends. Like an unspoken pact, military kids welcomed, “fare welled” and waited for the next truck to see who would be their next friend, living in the old friend’s house.
In 23 years of military life, our family lived on 5 bases spanning ten years. It’s an experience like no other, except perhaps a college apartment complex where everyone wanders in and out of each other’s apartment at will, except for perhaps 203 at the end of the hall where the residents sneered at you over their calculus texts and waited for the door to slam shut at your departure. Like those college apartments, sometimes it was great when your living room was packed with 20 friends shouting at Monday Night Football until the wee hours, and sometimes you wanted a set of deadbolts to just keep everyone out for 2 hours so you could sleep, study or actually have a little privacy!
Living on Base accelerates all the normal moving phenomena. Friends are met and made quicker; information about the community is gathered faster. “Where do you get your hair cut?” without the use of a Google review. “Don’t let your second grader have Mrs. Jones.” “Oh yes, soccer tryouts are today. Does little Jack want a ride?” These conversations only happen on a street on a base or post where everyone is part of the same society. Working for the same Boss, wearing a military uniform and the badge of having moved themselves more times than they want to count.
Almost every house is full of kids or friends close to your age that maybe haven’t jumped into the kid cruise ship yet. Some might be bristly or hard to get to know. Years ago, I enacted the 60 day rule. “Don’t determine if this person is a trusted friend until 60 days have passed.” You see, I have found that some appear crazed, frustrated even angry while they are moving in to their home… only to return to blissfully happy neighbors once the boxes have been unpacked. While others, seem so friendly and fun at the first street barbeque, and end up screaming at a neighbor’s kid for cutting across her grass just two weeks later. So I never let anyone under 60 days into the family skeleton closet … who knows where those skeletons might end up?
Ohh the downfalls of base living can be deep and steep. Consider that the military member may come home to see the same people that were making his life stressful all day pulling in the driveway right next door. “Hey Jim, did you like making my life miserable all day?” “Gee Paul, let’s forget all that and have a beer.” Actually one of my favorite moments was when our favorite neighbor pulled his jeep right up onto our porch steps just to break the ice from a tense day at the office with my husband. Nothing says, “Let’s work this out “more than a Jeep blocking your front door.
Let’s not forget the housing police. Sometimes even more crazed than a millionaire’s HOA standards, those little trucks with their nasty yellow notes that dictate the length of your lawn and the placement of your trash, don’t just stop at your front door, but can run their complaints through the commander’s office. And yes, there is the lack of privacy. Like a fishbowl, almost everything can be observed. Want to have just one couple from the street over for dinner, better wait until the dark of night so the whole neighborhood doesn’t see them parading down the street with their dessert. Thinking about hosting a barbeque, but know that the folks two doors down have a 10 year old bully that punches your son. Be prepared for that kid to be standing at the gate asking…. “Can I come in??”
Overall base living is an amazing experience where families collide together to celebrate holidays and occasions like they have known each other for decades. They laugh and cry together as if their circles will not be ripped apart with the next moving season. There is always a friend to commiserate with, sugar to borrow, an emergency room companion and a neighbor who understands exactly why your husband is gone for the next 90 days and shovels your snow. This collision of lives have resulted in some of the most important and life shaping relationships of my life. People whose faces I many not see again for many years but know I can reach out across the miles and it’s as if we are sharing a coffee on my front steps. Because weren’t they just living in the Webber’s house?
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