How DOES a transient childhood affect adult psychology?

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My Life on the Move

by: Kelly Fitzharris Coody

(And yes, that’s me in Kindergarten, then Preschool on the left, and me, as an adult, on the right. And, no, I haven’t had plastic surgery–sometimes, when we go through puberty, our faces change.)

Let me start with a small tale that is apart of a German Christmas tradition: December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. []

As a child in Germany, my brother and I would partake in this tradition yearly. We also ate a hell of a lot of Kinder eggs and wore scary-looking ski masks in the winter.


Fast forward to present-day: As an adult in the states who is bilingual in English and French (and quite a bit of German, too), a woman whose first memories were formed out in the German countryside in this massive, crazy-looking three-story house where we built snowmen every year, you can see where I’m a bit of a cultural mutt.

I was present when the Berlin wall came down; before, during (I watched the damn thing happen from a hotel window), and after. And then we moved back to the states in 1990, to the touristy white sands of northwestern Florida. 

I’ll often get asked, “Army brat?”  (usually by a young guy)

And answer with a sigh, “No, my dad was in the Air Force.” 

Young guy: “Oh, well, what did he do?” 

Me: “He was a fighter pilot and later a flight instructor.”

Young guy: “Oh my God. Top Gun is one of my favorite movies!”

Me: ::eye roll::


Don’t get it twisted; I’m not hating on Top Gun; it’s a classic. But it’s also a movie. Meaning um, it’s a movie? It’s a fictional account! As iconic as Top Gun is and was, try watching it with a former fighter pilot. (Ahem, dad.)

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With each place I had to say goodbye to, a part of myself was seemingly trapped back with it as I waved somberly out the back windshield.

I can say with confidence that, as a child from a military family, sometimes you just don’t feel quite complete or like you can completely fit in (as an adult). Because, really, how can I? It’s as though a part of me is in Aschaffenburg, Germany, Niceville, Florida (and yes, this is a real town), Hampton, Virginia, Wichita Falls, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona and even Austin,Texas. And now, in Fort Worth, Texas….you get the picture.

Yeah, I lived in Europe, adopted quite a few of the customs, but I’m an American. My dad was an officer so people either love me or hate me, for reasons that I still don’t quite understand.

Guys wanted to come over to my house (not to go on a date), but to talk to my dad about their chances of becoming a pilot. 


The New York Times posted an article back in July of 2010 about this very topic: how does a transient childhood affect adult psychology?

It concluded that moving a lot during childhood “may” do long-term harm. There are quite a large number of variables, hence the word “may,” but they address all of that and more in said article.

Of course the introverted fared worse than the extroverted, according to the study.

The article started with some pretty negative and shocking statistics: “Adults who had moved a lot were more likely to have died when researchers did follow-ups 10 years later.”[]

And as I sit reading this, an adult who had a transient childhood, struggles with depression daily, I started screaming silently inside my head. 

“But don’t panic,” then chides the article. 


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I will say, though, that the moves got harder every time, meaning that the older I got, the harder the move was. To that end the New York Times article was spot-on; the parts I question are the never-addressed question of: why? Why do we feel restless and dissatisfied as adults? It’s a popular theory that as human beings, we are defined as a sum of our experiences. And if that’s true for my brother and I (along with countless other military kids), then we have very few people that are a sum of our exact experiences. Maybe we feel restless and dissatisfied because we view the world so differently than the people surrounding us. 

I have a lifetime of irreplaceable treasures and memories, but only three other people in the world share that with me (My dad, my mom and my brother). And I guess that’s not such a bad thing after all.

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Nevertheless, when my dad had to go TDY to Saudi for a year when my brother and I were in elementary school, we understood. We cried. [TDY is a military way of saying “away on business”]. I’m sure my mom cried even more, but maybe she didn’t.

We should revel in the fact that we have a wealth of knowledge and have faced and overcome adversity that other people have never had to face. Our diverse backgrounds mean that we can strike up and hold an intelligent conversation with almost anyone; and that we know what it’s like to be the new kid, to be bullied, misunderstood or ostracized. 


That’s the Saudi jewelry my dad brought back for me. The one on the left is “Kelly” in Arabic. 

So, even though I went through a lot of heartbreak, heartache, and then puberty while moving to Wichita Falls (not fun), I also learned a lot of valuable lessons. I learned languages and excelled in school, contrary to what the New York Times article said. Depressed or not, I still wake up every day and make my life happen. And I think we’re doing just fine.

I post this article today in tribute to my father, whose 60th birthday is today! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!



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