Moving Again…But This Time Without Orders

Most of the time when military families move it’s because of orders. But recently, my husband and I took a little leap of faith and moved locally. We had been stuck in the renting cycle for a while, and after some thought, decided to put our VA loan to good use and buy our first house!

Our lease was ending in the spring, so we began looking for houses in December/January. We started by making a list of want we needed, wanted and our absolute deal breakers. Then we worked on our budget. This really helped us figure out how much we wanted to spend with our VA loan. I used Excel templates to compare rates, mortgages and taxes. At the end of the day, you absolutely want to make sure you’re able to afford your home. Lastly: location, location, location. We mapped out a 2- to 3-mile radius of where we wanted to be, and even though we don’t have any kids, we made sure to check the local school districts as well.

Once we had a general outline of what we were looking for and a budget, we started going to open houses. Even if we didn’t love the layout of a house, we went anyway. We did this just so we could gauge how well the places were built and get a feel for the age of them as well. Also, you might be surprised when you see a place in person. We spent about two months looking around at places and didn’t find anything that we loved. Then one night, I saw a condo online. On our checklist, it hit all the marks, but aesthetically, the place needed some TLC. On top of that, it was very overpriced. I convinced my husband and realtor to look at it with me anyway, and after seeing it, we agreed that we wanted to make an offer. We sent in a fair, but low offer based on the amount of renovations it needed. It took almost a month of negotiations with the owner, but we finally got our new home within our budget!

There was endless paperwork during the negotiation process. We were constantly with the mortgage company, inspectors and realtor. When closing day finally came, we signed more papers and got our keys. We immediately began renovations – which we mostly did ourselves – and completely transformed the house in two weeks. But our biggest misstep was packing – we completely underestimated packing. We are so used to big moves that we barely packed anything in boxes. We ended up just throwing everything into our cars and shuttling it down the road. It was a mess. Here are some takeaways from our experience:

  • Don’t underestimate your local move. Use your pro packing skills or you will end up driving in circles, literally.
  • Get your finances together ahead of time, and stick to your budget.
  • Your future house might not look exactly how you want it to – a fresh coat of paint makes a world of difference.
  • Start looking early. Look at everything because you might just change your mind.

Happy house hunting! I hope all your future home buying adventures go smoothly.

Preparing Your MilKid for (Another) New School

It’s PCS season, which means that military kids across the country are preparing to enter a new school. For some students, who move every two to three years, this is a familiar yet dreaded routine. Parents of military kids can’t erase the difficulty of starting over and making new friends … again. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your child’s transition to a new school goes as smoothly as possible.

Before the move to a new school:

  • Begin researching early. You can begin learning about a new duty station before your service member has official orders. School options will be directly related to the area where the student lives, so it’s important to research schools and housing options at the same time. You can use websites that provide school “grades” to get a general overview of local options, but do not rely solely on these reports. You will get more detailed feedback by discussing schools with local parents. Try the local base spouse groups or neighborhood groups for more reliable information. You also have the option to call potential schools and speak with the principal or administrator to see if the school is a good fit for your child. Be sure to ask about start and end dates for the school year, the enrollment process, and any requirements for transferring credits.
  • Contact a school liaison officer. An SLO (school liaison officer) is a great resource for military families. Contact the SLO at the school you are leaving to gather all essential documents for your student. Then reach out to the SLO at the new location to learn about the local school options, ask questions or get more details about the transfer process. The Department of Defense provides a list of SLO offices at edu.
  • Know your student’s rights. The Interstate Compact is a document that protects the rights of military children moving to new school districts, especially across state lines. It details the student’s ability to enroll in the appropriate grade, continue advanced courses they were previously taking, and complete exams or graduate on time. The compact also guarantees that students with special needs can continue to receive necessary treatment and services.

During the move to a new school:

  • Hand-carry essential paperwork. When moving to a new location, be sure to gather all the paperwork you will need to register your student at the new school. Do not pack these documents in boxes, because they may be lost in the move. Be sure to include shot records, recent physicals, birth certificates, income verification (service member’s LES), and the school’s application, which can usually be downloaded online. You should also hand-carry the student’s education binder discussed below. Once arriving at the new location, save a copy of the lease or mortgage or a utility bill to show proof of residency.
  • Put together an education binder. This should include at a minimum the student’s report cards, any IEP or 504 plan paperwork for the student, input from the classroom teacher, standardized test results, gifted and talented designation, plus samples of recent work. You can also include feedback from coaches or elective class teachers, any awards the student received, reading lists they have completed, and notes from Parent/Teacher conferences. Saving all this information in one place will make it easier to give new teachers and administration a quick overview of your child’s needs and abilities.
  • Discuss the school with your child. Depending on their age, your student will have different questions and fears about a new school. Take the time to listen to their concerns and discuss how you can face those challenges together at the new location. Try to put a positive aspect on the move and point out new opportunities, because it’s natural for children to focus on the negative aspects of moving and all that they are giving up. Research sports teams, extracurriculars and clubs that may interest your child and help them make new friends. Set up a tour so they can visit the new school before their first day and talk through their daily routines.

After your child begins at a new school:

  • Follow up with teacher conferences. You do not need to wait until the next scheduled parent/teacher conference to discuss things with your child’s teacher. Set up a meeting with your child’s teacher within the first few weeks of them starting at the new school. This is a good time to discuss any details of military life (moving, deployment, previous duty stations) that may be unfamiliar to the teacher. Verify the student’s placement levels and enrollment in special programs. If you have an education binder for your student, you can discuss any gaps in curriculum that they might miss between schools and decide how to best solve these.

Starting at a new school is a challenge for military students at any age, but with preparation and assistance you can help the process go more smoothly for your child.

When I’ve Got It and When I Don’t

Military spouses (and kids and service members, for that matter) are taught to do more with less. We’re conditioned to hurry up and wait. We’re trained to sway with each disappointment, changed plan or separation that blows our direction. We handle it all because we’re made of the most resilient stuff on the planet, and frankly, because we must.

Somewhat unintentionally, I’ve made a career of laughing off all the ridiculous things military spouses encounter on this wild ride. A little newspaper column in New Bern, North Carolina, that started as “something to do” at our first duty station when I couldn’t find a job before the start of the school year turned into my becoming a blogger. But it is my unfortunate privilege to now know that not every aspect of military life is punchline material. Sometimes sarcasm and snark can’t fix it, and we just can’t handle it on our own no matter how much we think we can. Luckily, we don’t always have to handle things ourselves.

Sources of support for military spouses and kids:

  • Each other. The people around us at our installations know better than anyone what we’re going through, even if they’ve never been in our exact position. Ideally, we have “our person” at each duty station. If you don’t – maybe a sour PCS is the thing you are having trouble coping with – remember you can always lean on your person from the last duty station.
  • Spouse clubs. These organizations are headed by volunteers who have stepped up to help. Having a rough start to parenthood? Accept their offer for a meal train. Personally, I’ve offered to come over and hold newborns so a new mom can sleep, or take a shower or run an errand solo. Take people and organizations up on offers! They wouldn’t offer help if they weren’t willing to give it.
  • Nonprofits and private organizations. Aboard most installations (or nearby), you’ll find resources like the American Red Cross and the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society that aren’t Department of Defense-affiliated but exist (at least in part) to support military families. The Red Cross can help with messaging deployed service members and can also help coordinate getting service members home in the case of a family emergency, like the birth of a baby, or if an immediate family member is critically ill or dying. If finances are a source of stress, the Relief Society can help with budgeting. They can also provide financial assistance. Nonprofits and private organizations can be very targeted, so chances are you can find support specific to your needs, whether your stressor is grief, addiction, financial crisis, baby blues, child-related issues or something else.
  • Non-medical counseling. If you want to talk to a mental health professional, you have some options. You can choose to see a military and family life counselor face to face. In-person may be the most impactful, but if you live in a small military community, it may not be as appealing for fear of bumping into your counselor at the commissary. So, you can also choose to talk to someone over the phone or through a secure chat. Military OneSource provides both options, and offers specialized conversations based on your specific needs. Your comfort with whatever arrangement you seek is vital. If you aren’t 100% comfortable, you won’t get out of it what you need.
  • Medical attention. If you suspect you have the flu, you don’t hesitate to call the clinic and make the first available appointment. But for some reason, seeking treatment for mental health has a stigma. Just because the symptoms of stress aren’t always physical doesn’t mean they don’t warrant a trip to the doctor. If the other options on this list aren’t improving your stress level or symptoms, or if you’ve thought of harming yourself or others, don’t delay medical help.

For those times when it’s just too much, you have resources in your corner. The only catch to accessing help, though, is realizing the toughest truth for military spouses: We can’t always be the helper; we must accept help sometimes. So, knowing yourself the way that you do, you know when you’re facing something too big to power through on your own.

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