What Memorial Day Means to Me, A Military Brat

May 26, 2017

Memorial Day is celebrated around the country as a day off from work, a time for pool parties and barbecues with friends and family. For military families, it has a much different meaning – one that stays true to the essence of the holiday’s origins.

Origins of Memorial Day date all the way back to the post-Civil War era, where the day was designated to honor fallen soldiers and was originally known as Decoration Day, in reference to the flowers that would decorate the graves. In 1971, Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday by Congress and celebrated nationwide.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families

Many of us are fans of the ever-popular series, Chicken Soup for the Soul – I know I love curling up and reading them! Recently, a new series of feel-good short stories was published, this time focusing on military families, with royalties benefitting the USO.

chicken soup

Image Credit: Chicken Soup for the Soul LLC

One of our own contributing bloggers, Lauren B. Stevens, was recently featured in this book with a piece called, “Like a Dandelion.” Having grown up as part of a military family, Lauren embodies the true meaning of what a military brat is – in a good way!

As she mentioned to me during this interview, the term “military brat” stands for Bold, Resilient, Adaptable and Tolerant and the dandelion is the unofficial symbol of the military brat – many people see it as a nuisance weed, but it is resilient, adaptable and grows everywhere.

Growing Up in a Military Family

I was able to talk with Lauren about her experiences as a military brat, patriot, mom and published author for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families. Right off the bat, I could sense her extreme pride to be part of a military family and she explained some of her inspiration behind her piece, “Like a Dandelion.”

She says, “My childhood seemed completely normal -- it was all I knew -- until my father retired and I had to attend civilian schools. Surrounded by kids who had grown up together made me realize how different, wonderful, colorful and accepting my childhood was.”

Moving around as a child, Lauren learned the true meaning of being a resilient military brat. She was uprooted multiple times and even as an adult, this adaptability followed her. She attended three different universities and often found it difficult to stay in one place.

“My essay is entitled, "Like a Dandelion." The dandelion is the symbol that military brats (trust me, we prefer the term brats) have adopted, significant because of the dandelion's ability to grow and prosper virtually everywhere. When your childhood consists of one move after another, you have no other option but to adapt by uprooting yourself and quickly planting roots with ease.”

Now, as a wife and mother, she is staying rooted for the first time.

“Putting down roots for our son is really important. Already at age 4, my son has been to two different schools,” she says. She explains that even though her son is young, he’s already expressed an interest to stay at his current school. “I want him to have consistency,” she notes and adds, “I do wish I could easily show my son where I grew up, you know, without having to save for international plane tickets!”

An Interview with Author, Lauren B. Stevens

What does being part of a military family mean to you?

As the child of a serviceman, I grew up with an acute awareness of my American citizenship, as well as an intense pride in my country. Brats are taught from an early age that they are representatives of their country, and their behavior in host countries is a direct reflection of American culture. What many civilians don't realize, is that if a child gets into trouble on a military base, his father or mother (whoever is active duty military) can be reprimanded by their superior; in this respect, your actions as a military kid can directly affect a host culture's opinion of the United States of America, as well as your parent's military career.

lauren and dad

Lauren and dad, Gerald, in Germany

What does Memorial Day mean to you & your family?

It's funny because Memorial Day really doesn't strike me as a picnic and beach day -- it just wasn't that way for me growing up. As an adult, I'm lucky enough to have a service member in my family, so my son has been taught that Memorial Day is a day of respect for the fallen. My father entered the Air Force at the end of the Vietnam War, so Memorial Day hits a lot closer to home for him, as he remembers fallen classmates.

laurens dad in uniform

Lauren’s Dad in uniform for basic training and enlistment card

What does being a patriot mean to you?

I’ve been taught, since birth, to respect and honor our nation's flag, as well as the many men and women who serve and have served our country. Having not chosen military service for myself, I have an even greater respect for those who have been called to serve their country. Seeing our nation’s flag flying, and our national anthem sounding at events serves as a reminder of my pride in country; that moment of silence is such a simple way to acknowledge the sacrifices military members make to protect and serve our country on a daily basis.

What role does writing play in your life?

I was lucky enough to begin a second career once my son was born, and am incredibly grateful for a supportive husband. I've always loved writing but was never in a position to focus solely on the craft, and ended-up selling books for a publishing house (rather than writing my own). I just attended a writing conference that had a wonderful session called the 80/20 rule; eighty percent of my writing is dedicated to making a living, and the other twenty percent is for passion purposes. My essay in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families, is an example of the twenty percent of writing I do solely for myself.

Do you have any special words for our troops at home or overseas?

In a time when morale in our country is at an all-time low, I respect and appreciate the dedicated service of our country's military members, no matter their beliefs. I would also encourage military families, as well as their extended families, to reach out to their local USO branch; military families and veterans can greatly benefit from the many services the USO offers, and extended family members and friends can serve by volunteering their time for the USO. The simple act of buying this book supports the services the USO provides, as a portion of each book sold benefits the privately-funded organization.

If you’re interested in learning more about the USO, you can find information on how to support here. Read an excerpt from Lauren’s essay below and find the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families.

“I pluck a white, fuzzy dandelion, fill my lungs with air and exhale in short bursts. The tiny seedlings take flight, some landing just feet away, others lifting high on gusts of wind and traveling as far as the eye can see. There is purpose to these tiny seeds, each traveling and landing in an unknown spot and planting its roots before again going to seed and traveling far across the fields. The dandelion is me and every other military brat who has spent a childhood repeatedly flying, planting roots, and flying away again.

“Where are you from?” It is a simple question complicated by my father’s Air Force service. By the time I was twelve, I had lived in four states and three countries. “Home” was wherever my family resided at the time.

I wouldn’t trade my childhood as a military dependent for any other existence. Military life taught me discipline and resilience, exposed me to different cultures, and provided my family a lifetime of memories.

Like the dandelion, military children grow up everywhere, quickly planting roots before being swept away to try new places. We thrive wherever our “seeds” land and make friends with ease, deeply rooted in the shared experience of military life. We blossom and thrive in new environments before being swept away in the wind of our military parents’ move to new stations.”

*Excerpt used with permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul LLC.