Watching the Emotional 'Bluey' Episode 'The Sign' as a Military Parent

(Photo courtesy of Ludo Studio)

Over the weekend, my family and I watched the highly anticipated 28-minute episode of the cartoon "Bluey" titled "The Sign." For the uninitiated, "Bluey" is an Australian cartoon featuring a family of anthropomorphic blue Heeler dogs. It's one of those shows that is just as much for the parents as it is for the children; while kids love the beautiful imagery and delightful storylines, parents also watch along, often with tears, as the episodes evoke a deep sense of nostalgia and the brutal heartache of parenthood. 

While the Heeler family, for all intents and purposes, seem like a typical Australian family, those of us in a military family especially appreciate the occasional episode featuring Rusty, an Australian red Kelpie whose father is often away from home for military service.

But unlike the more joyous episodes of  "Bluey," "The Sign" had me in tears from the start. The story is a continuation from the previous episode, where viewers learned that the Heeler family had put their Brisbane home up for sale and were planning to relocate to another city. "The Sign" deals with two parallel storylines: One is the upcoming nuptials of two secondary but beloved characters, and the other is the conflict and guilt that Mom (Chilli Heeler) and Dad (Bandit Heeler) feel for uprooting their family for a new job prospect. 

As the spouse of a U.S. military service member and a mom who loves a military kid, I can relate hard to the anguish and ambivalence about moving children (and ourselves) away from a lovely place we've called home. But perhaps it's serendipitous that this episode aired during April, which the Defense Department established as the "Month of the Military Child" in 1986 to honor the contributions that military children make to their parent's (or parents') service to the nation. 

According to the DoD, more than 1.6 million military children are in the United States, and their lives are dramatically impacted as a result of moving every 2-3 years because of at least one parent's military service. While many military children have and will learn to navigate the challenges of parents spending prolonged amounts of time away due to training and deployments, moving and changing schools is one of the core experiences of a military child -- for better or worse.

"The Sign" may not totally capture the impacts associated with a permanent change-of-station, or PCS, move, but it certainly reflects the existential angst that comes with it. While Bluey and Bingo question their parents about the wisdom of the decision (Chilli: "I think it could be good for our family." Bluey: "But it could be bad for our family."), Chilli's ultimate answer to her children's questions hits every military parent right in the heart: "I wish I could tell you which one it was going to be, but I don't know." 

Sometimes, as a civilian military parent, I feel I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place: to keep my family together by moving or allowing my child some geographic and educational stability while their service member parent moves ahead for their next job. Even if the choice is for everyone to pack up and go, there is no way a military parent can say with certainty that this next town or school is going to be great. 

We can't say this "career move" is truly worth taking our children from their favorite activities, friends or house, even though military parents are always being told that our children are resilient and they can do anything. All the assurances in the world still don't silence those worries that come to us in the middle of the night: 

  • What if I am wrong? 

  • What if I choose wrong? 

  • And if I did choose wrong, can my child and I weather the consequences of that choice?

For so many of us, when the morning comes, all we can do is make educated guesses, come up with a plan, carefully execute this plan and hope for the best. 

As the summer PCS season is fast upon us, as many of us watch our children say goodbye (or, optimistically, see you later) to their friends ready for their next big adventure, we can only be awed by the spirit of our military children to speak their big emotions, adapt and thrive despite constant changes. Sometimes, as I watch my own kid, I can only whisper to myself as Calypso, a teacher at Bluey's school, does in this episode: "Everything will work out the way it's supposed to."

Dr. Jeanette Yih Harvie is a research associate at Syracuse University's D'Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families and a military parent.

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