LAKE PLACID - Military service can be very tough on the family, especially the spouses and children of the men and women who serve in combat. The kids are knows as brats, military brats, a term that may bring to mind troubled youths who often act up and get into trouble.
While no doubt some do, just as some kids the world over and in a variety of circumstances fit that mold, the term is a historical acronym for British military kids and stands for British Regiment Attached Traveler.
The earliest known use of term brat goes back to 1707. Back then, the children followed in the wagon train, usually on foot, often assigned to care for livestock and pick up droppings that could be dried and used to keep the fires going at night. While the living conditions have improved, what hasn't changed is military families move a lot, on average eight or nine times before their kids graduates from high school.
Jordanna Mallach, program director for Homeward Bound Adirondacks, poses by artwork at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
(Photo — Naj Wikoff)
In the United States, there are more than 15 million military brats, not including the children of the diplomatic corps or those of the foreign military or diplomatic corps stationed here. Think about just the impact of moving on average every two years on building and losing friendships, one's connection to a school or community or one's ability to study.
For military brats, many normal aspects of life are constantly being broken with one parent, and sometimes both, gone for long stretches of time and sometimes emotionally and physically changed by their military experience. For the military brat, all this is normal. It's how they experience life.
While many kids are raised within the military on or near bases, others are not. Think of the children of the National Guard, especially those of single parents, as divorce rates are high in the military. Think of the challenges a child faces relating to other families in their community who do not have parent away in Iraq and Afghanistan for months at a time. For those who move from base to base, the coping skills they learn can be counter productive when they and their parents have to shift from military to civilian life. The impact of this upbringing stays with them long past their teenage years, indeed throughout their lives.
The Lake Placid Center for the Arts and Homeward Bound Adirondacks have joined together provide a window into the life and experience of military brats through hosting the traveling exhibit "Unclassified: The Military Kid Art Show," a joint effort encouraged by Homeward Bound board member Kat Chace, herself a military brat.
"It's a very powerful exhibit," said Chace. "Each grouping features a different age group from children drawing their feelings to an art class coming together to draw theirs to memorabilia from different places where people lived. I was a military brat. I never lived more than two years in one place. It's all I knew. You just learn to make friends quickly and move on. I like the way the exhibit reaches and expresses the different ages with the show. There may be veterans who come see this. There may be people who remember their parents or their grandparents who served, particularly those of my generation when we came back from Vietnam and there was absolute silence. I think it's important to bring their service out into public awareness."
"I think anything that provides an opportunity for the greater population at large to gain an insight into military life and the military community is beneficial," said Jordanna Mallach, program director for Homeward Bound Adirondacks who currently serves in the National Guard. "I think as a society we need to continually work to bridge the militarycivilian divide as only one percent of our nation currently serves, and the divide is growing bigger over time rather than smaller. I think this is a very user-friendly way to provide the community with a little bit of an insight into the life of a military child."
"My daughter was two and a half years old when I deployed overseas," said Mallach. "One of the things I read before I left is that it is very hard for children to understand about time. So if I said I am going to be gone for 365 days. You know what that means. You can look at a calendar, but for children they have a different perspective. So the weekend before I left, we invited all her friends over, and we made a paper chain that had 365 links. Each day before she went to bed at night she was able to take off a piece of the paper chain, and that way she had a visual understanding as to how it was going in terms of the time I would be coming home. The other thing I did was to videotape myself reading books to her, and on the more difficult days, her father would pull a video out of the closet, each time with me reading a new book to her. That helped."
"This is one of our first experiments of exhibiting an outside show that has been touring around the country," said James Lemons, director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. "We wanted to provide our audiences something they wouldn't have a chance to see if we were not able to bring it in. I think the exhibit is a really clear demonstration of the power that the arts can have in helping society as a whole. The project was originated as a way to allow family members who were struggling with issues arising from their loved ones being away from them for periods of time and who were facing situations overseas that could lead to injury or death. It's a really palpable demonstration of how working in the arts can lead to healing. I think that's really clear when you look at the progression of the pictures."
"This exhibit says to me that there is a need for this culture to be recognized, helped and loved," said Debbie Neal, wearing an "I'm a military brat" pin. "It is a really great show. My friend Donna Musil put it together. She is an individual who went to a different school every year of her life. Her father died as a result of PTSD when she was 16. And that was it. Then she was in limbo."
"The exhibit is not just about war heroes or statistics, it's about recognizing that these pictures, particularly the ones from the kids, really reflect that there is a part of being a military family that were are not conscious of, that it's not just the adult who serves, but it is the while family that serves," said Bob Ross, president of Homeward Bound Adirondacks.
"Unclassified" will be on exhibit until Nov. 15. On Nov. 13, "Letters Home," the powerful theater piece based on actual letters from soldiers serving in the Gulf Wars, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit online at www.lakeplacidarts.org or call 518-523-2512.