By Maggie Phillips, Biden Fellow for Military Families
The most quoted line from The Wizard of Oz is the one its heroine, Dorothy Gale, repeats to return to Kansas near the end of the story. “There’s no place like home,” she incants, and the power of those words transports her back to the farm she inhabits with her aunt and uncle. It’s a statement with which most people would agree, regardless of their background.
Whether home is a happy place full of warm memories, or a place you would rather forget, you probably can’t think of anywhere else quite like it. But what about Dorothy’s epiphany at the end of the film? “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again,” she says, “I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
That’s a statement most military-connected kids would struggle to understand: According to the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), a military family will move six to nine times while their children are school-age. That’s why, in observance of the Month of the Military Child, the Biden Foundation launched Picturing Home in April. We encouraged kids from military-connected and civilian families to submit artwork on what the word “home” means to them. Although military life can be very different from civilian life, Picturing Home was intended to show that across America, kids have much more in common than they have differences. The results were moving and illuminating.
One Picturing Home submission was from Abby Huisman, whose father serves in the Air Force. Her poem, “Finding My Home In a Military Life,” speaks to an experience of home which — no disrespect to L. Frank Baum — will be much more familiar to most military kids than Dorothy’s farm. Abby describes a difficult life, but one that has made her adaptable and tough.
“My favorite colors are orange, purple and blue,
But I’ve never been able to paint my room”
As anyone who has looked at the bare white walls of a set of military quarters can attest, military life can sometimes seem drab and colorless. But like Dorothy’s sojourn to the colorful reality of Oz, military kids have experiences that can provide them with a broader perspective than the world outside their door. Whether Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve, their military parent’s service to the nation automatically sets their reality apart from that of their civilian peers. Events on the news that can seem remote to most Americans often have concrete consequences for military-connected kids, whether that means a move or a parent serving away from home. Frequent change may mean that military kids can’t always paint their rooms, but it can also provide a vibrant array of perspectives and experiences.
Fourth grader Abby has moved five times in nine years, and all the magic words in the world can’t send her “home” in the sense that Dorothy means. Abby concedes this is difficult, but she doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her:
“I’m not sure you know, but I’m never really alone.
Because after every move, I always find my home.”
This is the kind of resilience we see in our military-connected children in schools and communities all over the country. These young people are remarkable, but they should not have to rely solely on their own resources to deal with their unique challenges. Fortunately, much has been and continues to be done. The Biden Foundation, in partnership with MCEC, will work to support military-connected children, including the children of National Guard and Reserve members, to ensure parents have the resources and educators have the training they need to equip every child for success.
We are deeply appreciative of each and every submission to Picturing Home, and we encourage kids from military and civilian backgrounds alike to continue sharing their stories with us throughout the summer. The Biden Foundation remains committed to ensuring that military-connected children always find their home — wherever that may be.
To learn more about Picturing Home and to share your family’s story with the Biden Foundation, click here.
Maggie Phillips is a proud Army daughter of 31 years, Army spouse of 9 years, and mother to three great Army kids. She is the 2018 Military Family Biden Fellow.
This post is part of our “The Heart of the Issue” series, blogs authored by the Biden Fellows. Each Fellow has a close connection to one or more of the Biden Foundation’s policy pillars, and their updates will bring you straight to the heart of the issues that drive our work forward. Read Part 1 of the series here.