While we are just a bit young to be thinking of retirement and where we will settle after retiring, we aren't too young to be thinking about retirement in the military sense.
A few weeks ago, on Dec 16, Joe reached an anniversary: 21 years in the military. Twenty-one years. (Congrats on making it that long!) He could have retired last year after he hit that 20-year mark. He could have dropped his retirement paperwork at any point in this last year. He could put his paperwork in next week.
But he actually just reenlisted for two more years. Although he can still retire at any time. And this new reenlistment won't last forever. We'll have to retire from the military eventually; and eventually means sooner rather than later.
With that military retirement comes a lot of decisions. The main decision is where to live. We don't have to stay here in SC since we're only here because that's where Joe is stationed. We're not from here.
And that's the problem ... both of us were military brats so we don't consider any particular place as home. We don't have a home town to go back to after retirement. We've been talking about where we want to retire to for the past, oh, 10 years. Yet we've never come up with a definite plan of where that will be. We just talk, but never decide.
At one point Colorado was on our list (and still is). It's a beautiful state and I enjoyed my time living in Colorado Springs way back before Joe and I were married. I like a change of seasons. They have a large Down syndrome community and support system and for the most part the school districts there are educating students with disabilities the way we envision Kayla's educational experience. They seem to have a better understanding and grasp of inclusion; we wouldn't have to be reinventing the inclusion wheel as we are doing with the school system here. But most of our family is here, on the East Coast and it's hard not living near family.
Staying in SC is definitely an option seeing as how we bought a house here. We're going on our 4th year here and there are a lot of things I like about the area. There are plenty of things to do; we always seem to be busy going to this event or that event. There is a pretty large community and support system for Down syndrome/disabilities in general. The humid summers are brutal though, and as I mentioned above, I like a change of seasons and you don't get much of that in the South. But mostly ... we're becoming more established in this area; in this community.
For me that is important in relation to Kayla. The early growing up years are the formative years. She's finding her place at school. People know her. Students are used to her. I want her to grow up with kids, students, and friends who will know her most of her life. Who will be used to her. Who will accept her because they are used to her being there. Who will be ok with her differences because that's all they would have ever known about her.
The downfall to staying here is the school system. We've had to really advocate (fight) for her right to be in a general education classroom with the supports she needs to be successful. It's hard to be the first one to make changes in such a big way. While things are better this year we still have middle and high schools to get through and I anticipate the fight is only going to get tougher. And trying to 'blaze a trail' for other kids that come after Kayla is exhausting; it's mentally and emotionally draining and has already taken a toll on me.
She's only 2 years away from middle school. Middle school is hard no matter where you are or what differences you might or might not have. I would like her to be established in a school system that is already used to her. The longer we are here the more time she will be ingrained in this community ... yet we don't know if this is where we want to settle down and raise both of our kids. We don't know if this is the school system we want them in. But the longer we wait the older she will be. I would hate for her to start over at a new school in a new state with new students in her last year of middle school or first year of high school.
Not to mention I have reservations about the middle school she is zoned for. I've heard for several different parents not-so-great things about this middle school. I've heard from a couple of families that are looking to move to another housing development so their child will be zoned for a different middle school. I've heard parents cross their fingers that their child will ace their audition to a local arts middle school so they don't have to go to this school that we are zoned for. (Which might be an option for Kayla as well; I need to look in to what would be required for her audition to this school, but I am going to encourage her interest in drama and maybe that will be an option for her).
Another plus of staying here would be way in the future - after Kayla was finished with high school. I would like for her to attend the REACH Program at the College of Charleston. There are programs at colleges and universities all over the states that she could possibly go to as well, but the REACH program is slightly different and feels more inclusive to me. Maybe by the time Kayla is finished with high school other places will be offering the same type of program that CofC does, so there could be other options.
I wouldn't change my past of growing up as a military brat and having to move around every few years. Kids adapt to change; I know that. So far Kayla has shown resiliency in the changes she's endured with going to new schools. I think I adapted pretty well to change and moving when I was growing up. I have friends that I made when we were at Hanscom AFB, MA, and Zweibrucken, Germany, and, McGuire AFB, NJ that I still keep in touch with. But that's not to say it wasn't hard. It was hard to move, be the new person, to start over at a new school. It was hard to say goodbye to friends each time we moved. And I worry that it will be that much harder for Kayla because of different reasons.
When Joe does retire the military will move us one more time at their expense. This doesn't have to be within a year of his retirement either - he could use it later if he wanted to. So we could pick a place on a map and basically move anywhere. I'm just feeling overwhelmed on where to even begin researching places to live ... our main priority would be the educational system and what that would look like for Kayla.
We are just finding it hard to figure out where exactly that place will be.