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Five Lessons I Learned from My MilKids

 Posted by on September 11, 2018 at 10:59
Sep 112018
 

I was not raised in a military home. I grew up in the same house my entire childhood, went to school with the same classmates from beginning to end, lived close to relatives, knew everything about my city and could blissfully plan and anticipate things happening more than six months into the future. But then I married a soldier, and all of that changed. I also went and had a couple babies to add to the mix, you know, just to keep things extra crazy.

Liz

I realized early on that my children were going to have unique childhood experiences that I would have no idea how to navigate. I looked to the expertise of seasoned military spouses and parents who have raised strong, resilient children and was able to get some excellent insight.

But I have to say, watching my children grow and handle the curveballs MilLife has thrown at them – in their own ways – has provided some amazing pearls of wisdom. It turns out that I am raising some of my favorite teachers. Here are some of the lessons I have picked up from them along the way:

  • Always welcome the new kid. This past year, my children were rezoned after one semester into a brand-new school. Because we lived in a district with a large civilian-based population, many of my children’s classmates were concerned about starting over, because this was something many of them had never had to do before. My children were such good supporters for their classmates, because being the new kid is something they are SUPER familiar with! Not only were they able to console peers who were leaving friends behind for the first time, but they were also able to spot and include the kid who was sitting alone in class or on high alert for the students at recess who looked displaced, so they could invite them to play. As a grownup I won’t need to save anyone at recess, but that doesn’t mean I should ever outgrow the childhood trait of helping the new kid. I know what it feels like to be the person dropped into the middle of somewhere completely foreign and left to figure it all out on my own. I know what it feels like to try to infiltrate friend circles that are already well established. Therefore, I can become more sensitive to spotting the person who looks like they are lost and could use a friend.
  • You are worth getting to know. I am in awe of the way that my son can just go over to any group of kids and ask to join them in play. Sometimes his request to join in gets shot down, but often he is welcomed—completely oblivious to the fact that he has just done something so beautifully brave. I am not always like my son. I tend to wait until I’m invited instead of boldly asking to join the group, but this kind of bravery does not need to be reserved for our children. I may not receive the reciprocation of interest that I was hoping for every time, but that shouldn’t keep me from reaching out the next time.
  • Everywhere is an “adventure assignment.” I have been completely shocked by how my kids are able to embrace the best parts of every single place that we’ve lived — and even more so by how they are able to move to every place with honest excitement. They are looking at the best parts of what their new home has to offer. Each place holds its own charm in my children’s eyes. From them I learned that adventure happens where we make it.
  • Use insight from your old home to make your new one better. My kids can take something great that they’ve learned from their old home and use it to help improve their new one. One thing that my children noted was missing in their new school was a “student ambassador” position. My daughter took the initiative to write to her principal and let her know how the future new students of her school might benefit from a friendly peer to show them the ropes on their first day. One of the best things military families bring into our new communities is our vast array of experiences. Each of us has useful ideas and insights to help the existing organizations and programs in our communities grow. Watching my kids take initiative in this way has helped me remember that we can be both learners and leaders everywhere we go.
  • Being resilient doesn’t mean you always have to be tough. The military lifestyle is so rewarding, but it can also be very hard. We all applaud our military kids for being resilient—for rolling with the punches and moving forward into the unknown with grace and strength, for living with a sense of duty and patriotism that matches a lot of adults—but that doesn’t mean they have to be on their A-game all the time.

Our family is getting ready to move again, and this one is really hitting my kids hard. Sometimes they randomly cry and feel anxious that they won’t fit in. Sometimes they say, “It’s not fair.” This doesn’t mean that they’re not resilient or strong or capable. It just means that they’re human.

Watching my amazing kids let down their guards like this has reminded me that no one requires me to keep a strong front all of the time either. It is okay for me to vocalize my feelings, to express my disappointment, or confess my worries. Having a moment to recognize those feelings in myself doesn’t make me weak. Pushing on in spite of those feelings and coming out stronger on the other side is how true resilience is fostered.

So, what about you? What lessons have your military kids taught you?

A Real Mom’s Guide for the School Year

 Posted by on August 13, 2018 at 10:18
Aug 132018
 

I work from home with a full kitchen at my fingertips, yet I spend six minutes, at most, on my own lunch. Why do I spend more time than that packing a lunch box for my picky elementary school kid? I could drop some serious coin on fancy lunch boxes and reusable plastic bags. I could follow one of those meal-prep videos that tries to convince me that I can pack a five-star lunch without breaking a sweat (lies). But I don’t, and I won’t because it’s not necessary. This year, I’m wrestling the school year out of the grip that social media-induced comparison has on it. I’m going to stress less and learn more. Here is my real mom guide to the upcoming school year:

Kristi

  • Lunch. If your kid eats a school-provided lunch, let me tip my hat to you. I count on leftovers (either kept warm in my kids’ thermoses or warmed in the school microwave) and stuff rolled up in tortillas. To round out a meal, I throw in some pre-sliced fruits and veggies. On mornings when I feel like it will be the miracle of my life if we can get out the door by 7:55 a.m., I grab baby carrots because they need no slicing and a banana because they come in their own disposable container!
  • Homework. As a kid, I hated homework. As a mom, I still hate homework. This year, I’m doing something a little unconventional – we’re doing homework before school. My kids both insist on waking up with the sun, and — because they’re both so much like me — they are bursting with creativity and purpose in the morning. I have a feeling this will help them focus for the day and remove making a huge mess and watching TV from our morning routine.
  • Volunteering. Between you and me, the military doesn’t function without military spouse volunteers. We are hard-wired to pitch in when asked, and we’re often so good that we just see a need and jump in without being asked. That said, we cannot do everything. If you’re already volunteering with a dozen organizations, this isn’t your year to add PTO or Room Mom to your resume. When you spread yourself too thin, you can’t do much good.
  • Teacher Gifts. Back-to-school, major holidays, Teacher Appreciation Day, Spring Break, end-of-year gifts — stop the madness. I’m all for showing appreciation for getting my kid one step closer to becoming a functioning adult, but Spring Break shouldn’t require a teacher’s gift. Pick one or two of the days above to give your kids’ teacher a gift and put your blinders on to avoid the judgmental stares at morning drop-off on the rest of these occasions.
  • Routines. Let’s be honest: mornings are chaos and often involve digging anything resembling a matching pair of socks out of the dryer on the way out the door. But, here’s the after-school routine that works for us:
    • Use the one-drop rule. We only set things down once. This eliminates the “picking up” before bed that no one likes.
    • Talk! This one is so important and it’s the first thing cut on busy days. Ask your kids about their days but use specifics to avoid getting “fine” or “nothing” as answers. Try, “How did your spelling test go today?” or, “Was so-and-so back at school today?”
    • Do something that isn’t watching TV. Let your kids go play outside. Have them read. Read with them. Let them go be kids. They need this time to decompress after working their little brains all day and having to sit still.
    • Dinner. We rarely do this at the table, and I know some may think it’s wrong, but believe me, my kids are nourished, we talk, and they know my husband and I love them. The dinner structure doesn’t change that.
    • Go to practice or go nowhere. Depending on what night of the week it is, we may have a chill night at home or we may be bouncing between events.
    • Take baths, read stories, go to sleep. Sometimes it’s a late night, and the one or two of these don’t happen. We do the best we can and that is almost never perfection.

Overall, it’s important to know your limits – and know your kids’ limits. Talk to your kids’ teachers. Reign in the activities and the goals; you can’t do everything in one year and neither can your kids. Instead, pick a couple goals and master them. This year, I want my daughter to learn to read and tie her shoes. I want my son to learn his multiplication tables and grasp situational awareness. I want my husband to learn that “next to the dishwasher” is not the same as “in the dishwasher.” Personally, I want to turn work off by the time my kids get home and dig socks out of the dryer no more than two days a week. Good luck this school year, parents!

Traveling Solo (with the kids!)

 Posted by on July 16, 2018 at 15:05
Jul 162018
 

Spring break 2018 was a big one for our family. This was the year that I got to take the trip I’d salivated over my entire adult life. I went to Bali. But, after returning home to Japan, explaining the trip highlights to friends and family wasn’t exactly how I pictured. Instead of, “I can’t believe you went to Bali!” I got more of these reactions, “I can’t believe you went to Bali by yourself with the kids!” For some reason, traveling solo with the kids is considered some heroic, death-defying leap of faith, but here’s the thing: It’s really not. If you’re willing to do your homework, you can rock a solo trip, too.

Kristi

Getting There

Before we could get there — as in Bali — I had to get to the point where I felt comfortable traveling solo overseas. I got a lot of strange looks and cautionary tales from my parents, husband, and people I talked to in line at the commissary for various reasons — some valid, some I can only assume stemmed from wishing they could take the same trip.

Our original spring break travel plans were squashed (as they so often are) by a change in mission. My husband had to attend a month-long course back in the states that just happened to start the week of our kids’ spring break (aka one of three viable vacation times). As I saw it, I had three choices:

  1. I could carry out our original travel plan — a seven-day Japanese road trip. My hesitation with this was being down a navigator and a set of hands to lug baggage and kids to and from different hotels.
  2. I could cancel the road trip and stay local for spring break. I refused to seriously entertain this idea because my travel wish list is long and our time stationed in Japan is short. I couldn’t accept wasting an entire week just because the Marine Corps switched up the plans on me.
  3. I could make new travel plans that I was comfortable handling on my own.

I ultimately decided that the road trip was too much to handle on my own. I wasn’t going to have fun, so what was the point? Instead, an all-inclusive resort in Bali seemed manageable. All I had to do was get us there and back. I booked three plane tickets.

As I mentioned, there were travel concerns, many of them mine. The only way to ease those fears, and to truly be prepared for a decent number of what-if scenarios, is to do your homework. This wasn’t my first time traveling solo with the kids, but it was my first time traveling from one foreign country to another foreign country. This wasn’t just a day trip from Monterey to San Francisco.

First, I checked the State Department’s website to confirm that we did not require a visa and to check for any travel warnings for Indonesia and the Philippines where we would have a hefty layover. We did not require a visa for Indonesia which kept things simple, but there were travel warnings. Luckily, Bali was not the site of the more severe, recent threats, although pickpocketing, theft and break-ins are widespread. The State Department does an excellent job specifically naming the threats and entry and exit requirements, which was exactly what I needed to feel confident before traveling.

My next step was enrolling in STEP, the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Once enrolled, you receive alerts (should any surface) prior to and during your trip. You also input your travel information — dates, number of people traveling with you, ages, where you will be staying — so you are identifiable and easier to locate should something arise. It’s morbid, I won’t deny that, but I felt better after enrolling, and it certainly made my husband feel better knowing that I was on the U.S. Embassy’s radar (even if I was one of many). Enrollment is free, and if you have your passport numbers handy, it just takes a couple of minutes.

Next, I did what military spouses do best — word-of-mouth research. I talked to people who had made the trip. I set some particularly grim expectations about the Manila airport where we had a layover. (It wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be.) I coordinated an airport transfer with my resort in Bali to avoid the nightmare of getting a taxi at the airport.

Packing

I packed simply, knowing I was the only muscle in our party of three. My concern while traveling was being able to keep a hand on the kids and the luggage at all times. The kids each carried a backpack with a portion of their clothing (in case we lost a suitcase), snacks and a couple things to do on the plane. I brought my carry-on (with a couple outfits), and we checked two small, rolling suitcases.

I purchased a travel wallet — and used that in lieu of a purse — to keep all our passports, cash and my identification and credit cards in one spot. I never wanted to find myself distractedly digging through my bag. While off the resort, I used a belted wallet (that I refuse to call a fanny pack). It was slim and fit right inside the waistband of my skirts. I just carried my credit card and a small amount of cash. Everything else was in the safe in our room.

A word on what I packed — for an American abroad, the goal is to blend in as much as possible. I packed clothing that kept me covered while we were off the resort, especially my shoulders on the days we visited temples. This was not just respectful of the culture, it was a requirement.

Making Sure Everyone had a Good Time

I shared my travel itinerary with my husband and parents and sent a text during each leg of the trip to keep their fears at bay. To make sure the kids had the time of their lives, we spent a lot of our time at the resort pool and beach — they would’ve done this all day, every day if I let them.

To make sure I got my own vacation, I scheduled a few tours that took us to the iconic temples, rice terraces, beaches and shopping districts. That’s what I enjoy when I travel — getting to know the culture, the food and the people. My kids were miserable these days — it peaked when my daughter puked red Fanta all over the back seat of our SUV. So, don’t feel like it was peachy all the time. It was a lot of compromise, but I got exactly what I wanted out of it. My kids still ask on a weekly basis when we can go back to Bali. And we made it back safely with nothing but fond memories of spring break 2018.

Moral of the story is – don’t be intimidated by traveling alone with your kids. It is possible to have a great experience that allows the kids to have fun, and for you to have the vacation of your dreams.

Tips to Keep your Kids Reading This Summer

 Posted by on June 26, 2018 at 11:21
Jun 262018
 

When my boys were younger, one was an avid reader and the other was not. During the school year, the natural progression of their curriculum kept them engaged in reading. But summers were another story. Even my read-a-holic rebelled against daily reading as he got older, especially when the pool was calling his name. I had to find creative ways to keep them reading over the summer. Here are some of the tricks that worked for us.

Cassie

  • Find Good Reads. I cannot tell you how many trips we made to the installation library. We saw it as an adventure. In middle school, we would scour the aisles to find the popular series of the day. When they were younger, we would scour the kid’s section for a hidden treasure. Installation libraries have always provided a destination that is out of the house and full of possibility. It was rare that we would return only with what we were looking for when we arrived. We always found something better. Summer is the time to let your kids explore books they wouldn’t typically choose during the school year. Reading outside their comfort zone might be precisely what they need to be bitten by the reading bug.
  • Start a Kid’s Book Club. This works well, especially if the service members are deployed. Book clubs don’t have to be an adult-only activity. Gather a group of families from your unit, or a group of friends and their kids, and pick a book together. When my husband was deployed to Iraq, we had a Friday supper club where five families gathered together for food and conversation. Why not throw in a book too, especially if the kids are small? There is something to be said for gathering the unit kids around a book – and each other. The simple act of togetherness can go a long way.
  • Explore the MWR Summer Reading Program. Enroll in the DoD Morale, Welfare, and Recreation’s summer reading program. This year’s program offers new and exciting activities including crafts, STEM events, recommended reading lists, incentives, films and more for children, teens and adults. If you’re a member of the Guard or reserve or don’t have access to a local installation Summer Reading Program, you can still participate in the Summer Reading Program virtually.
  • Create a Reward System for Reading a Short Period Each Day. This will look different for every family. Different types of rewards motivate kids; try stickers, screen time or maybe a sweet treat. Set an age-appropriate goal for reading each day. If you aren’t sure how long your child should be reading, ask their teacher before the school year ends. Make a chart or special journal you can use to keep track of reading goals achieved. And when they achieve or surpass their goals, be sure to celebrate their accomplishments!
  • Keep a Consistent Schedule. Set time aside each day for your child to read, at the same time every day. Make the library a regular part of your summer by planning out weekly trips. Be mindful of the time of day you choose. It may be a good chance for you to discover at what point in the day your child is most engaged. Maybe they are an after-breakfast reader, or maybe they love reading before bed. Setting a schedule with your child instead of for offers consistency and can reduce the frustration you might receive from them when it’s time to read.

Keeping your kids’ reading during the summer can be a real challenge. Everyone wants a break, but regular reading over the summer can keep little brains focused on more than just the pool. Good luck!

Jun 052018
 

Ah, summer — the days are long and your kids’ attention spans are short. It’s the season you truly come to appreciate teachers and vow to up the spending cap on teacher gifts next year. And, it’s the season that despite all your best efforts, you’re bombarded daily with that dreaded phrase: “I’m boooooored.”

Kristi

We need a game plan to dodge the boredom. Huddle up, parents! I have some tried and true ideas to share with you. Since military families are all over the world, I’ve compiled some universally applicable activities.

Get in the water. It doesn’t matter where you are, there is water nearby — ocean, river, lake, backyard pool, base pool, splash pad, water table, etc. If you don’t have any of these liquid resources, hook up a sprinkler in the backyard. Aside from the pool, the beach, the sprinkler and a local fountain that we’re pretty sure you can play in, my kids love:

  • Ice block excavation — Fill a container with water and a lot of small, colorful objects, freeze it and let your kids chip away at the frozen block outside.
  • Water balloon fights — Get the neighbor kids involved and make a day of it.

Explore uncharted territory. No matter how adventurous you are or how long you’ve been stationed where you are, you’ve probably missed something. Seize the (long summer) day! Find a hiking trail, beat the heat in a museum or take a day trip out of town.

Move “boring stuff” outside, and watch it become awesome before your very eyes! Here are a few activities that are more fun with an outdoor twist:

  • Painting — Try spray-bottle art, splat canvas, frozen water colors (freeze diluted water colors in ice cube trays with popsicle sticks) or sidewalk paint. Let them paint rocks and hide them around the neighborhood or set them up with a canvas and let them paint a landscape. Paint a shower curtain. Use fingers, feet, sponges, brushes, leaves — anything goes outside!
  • Drawing — Trace shadows, do a collection of nature rubbings, draw with sidewalk chalk, or just draw in the sunshine.
  • Chores — I can’t get my kids to clean their rooms, but they love to sweep and organize outside!
  • Games — Buy or make giant versions of their favorite games. As an added perk, it’s fun for adults, too!

Sign up for camp. Wherever you are, someone is hosting a summer camp. Your installation likely has a day camp, like Camp Adventure (which my son went gaga for last summer). If not, scour the local community. You can let your child pick one or block out an entire month.

Start an epic project. I’m starting to run out of fridge space to hang my kids’ many masterpieces, so I started picking a few projects that will span several days (maybe even weeks), accomplishing one step each day. Here’s some epic project ideas:

  • Make rock candy and have your kids document the progress in a science journal.
  • Grow vegetables and track the growth.
  • Build something together! Kids love tools. Let them help you build a lawn-sized yard game, a fort, water table, reading tent or a lemonade stand.
  • Make a life-sized self-portrait. Have your kids trace each other on the blank side of some leftover wrapping paper on day one. They can decorate it for a few days, then cut it out. Let them hang them on their bedroom doors when they’re finished.
  • Mail a letter to a far-away family member each week. Your kids can write a letter or draw a picture depending on their ability.
  • Take on a summer challenge. Sign up for the summer reading challenge at the library. Decide THIS is the summer your kid will learn to read, swim, ride a bike or tie shoes. Then work practice into your summer plans.

Set the standard early. Kids love structure even if they think they don’t. Set a schedule that has mandated reading time, meal times, outdoor play and — as my husband calls it — independent play time (which means to find something to do that doesn’t require adult participation). You can also make a “Bored Chart” with parent-approved activities they can do when they’re bored.

Military kids have high thrill thresholds for summer. This is when they’re used to PCS chaos and major life changes, so boredom is fierce when they are staying put. The big things like family vacations and family visits will take care of themselves, but for all the long hours in between, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to think like a kid and let summer feel like a vacation. Ready? Break!

Military Life According to MilKids

 Posted by on April 24, 2018 at 11:25
Apr 242018
 

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my dad was offered a job that would have moved us out of town. Because I was a bratty teenager, I felt my “You can’t move me in the middle of high school; it’s not fair” argument was as valid as my dad’s argument for career advancement, better pay, blah, blah, blah.

Kristi

We ultimately didn’t move. My dad found a job elsewhere in my hometown. The pay wasn’t as great as the opportunity he passed up, but we got to stay put. I got my way. If I know them at all, my family would agree it all worked out, but I’ve always harbored some guilt over the way I acted that summer.

We ask a lot of our military kids (mine will gladly tell you I ask them to take the trash out, clean their rooms and brush their teeth way more than a nice mom would). They didn’t ask to grow up in a world where the only constant is the lack of consistency. They change schools and make new friends every two or three years, and they regard mom or dad being gone as something as ordinary as Monday rolling around after a weekend.

It’s a tough job, but they always come through, and the military community rallies behind them. There are free tutoring resources, specialized non-medical counseling options, Operation Purple Camp, Daddy Dolls and books dedicated to them. Each April has even been deemed the Month of the Military Child, for crying out loud. That’s the only recognition I’m aware of that celebrates the sacrifices and resilience of kids just because of their parent’s profession. But, if you ask me, they deserve it, all of it, and more.

I had a thought the other day: Do they know how amazing they are? Do they know the why behind daddy leaving or our family moving? Do they think we’ve gypped them in some way, and is that going to materialize in some sort of passive-aggressive phase in 10 years (a mom needs to be prepared, after all)?

So, channeling my inner Lois Lane, I sat down and interviewed my kids. J, my son, is seven, and R, my daughter, is nearly five.

The interview

Me: Where were you born?

R: The United States!

Me: Do you know which state?

R: Sorry, no. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.

J, laughing at his sister: New Bern, North Carolina


Me: How many places have you lived?

J: Do you mean countries, or states, or—

Me: —whichever.

J, speaking with his hands: OK, so three states, plus Japan.

R: THREE!

J: Nuh-uh, you only lived in two sta—

Me: There’s no wrong way to tell me. She said three. That’s right, three places altogether.

R, dreamily as she sits in her kitchen in Japan: Wow, I can’t believe I got to live in California.

J: Yeah, that’s where the Great Chicago Fire happened.

Me: Nope, that was in Chicago, Illinois.

R: Where is “Illi-snows” at?


Me, sensing the rabbit hole: Next question, which house was your favorite so far?

J, still giggling from question one: This one is funny because the laundry room is right by the kitchen. All but one of his houses has been like this.

R: I really like Nana and Papa’s house because they don’t have an upstairs.

Me: But, that wasn’t one of our houses.

R: Oh, yeah.

J: I liked our California house because it had soft, “turney” stairs. A landing.

R: I “reery, reery” liked those swirly stairs in our cabin.

J, now in complete hysterics: We didn’t live there either! We were just there on vacation.

R, joining in the contagious laughter: Oh, yeah, right.


Me: What school was your favorite so far?

R: MISS KELLI’S SCHOOL!!!! The CDC in Monterey, California.

J: This one, this one! Because I get to go upstairs every Wednesday. Apparently, stairs are synonymous with cool.


Me: What is the best part of moving?

R: That we’re in the military!

Me: Right, that’s why we have to move, but what do you like about moving?

R: Ummm…OH! We get new furniture, but it’s really the furniture we already had!

J: I like hotel rooms. They’re really nice. Oh, and airplanes, of course.


Me: What’s the worst part about moving?

R, with eyes as big as dinner plates as she flashed back to the Japanese Encephalitis vaccination: Getting shots. I hate shots.

J: It takes a long time to get there and get our stuff.


Me: Is your dad gone a lot?

J: Mmmhmmm.


Me: Where does he go?

J: To work.

R: And Hawaii! And he eats pancakes.


Me: Do you miss him when he’s gone?

J: I only miss him when I’m at home because when I’m at school, I’m having fun.

Me, teasing and only mildly hurt: So, you don’t have fun with me at home?

J: (blushing) Mooooommmm, stop!


Me: What is your daddy’s job?

J: Being in the military…

R: I forgot the name…

J: …I think it’s the…Army?

My husband, bounding into the room: WHAT!?!

J, jumping two feet out of his dining room chair: Ahh, oh yeah, Marines! I meant Marines! We all laughed, and I kicked my husband out of the room again, so I can get some organic answers.


Me, whispering as not to disturb the Marine in the next room: What do Marines do all day?

J, deadpan: Paperwork.

R: And fly airplanes.

J, summoning the courage to name drop again: It’s a C-130…or a CB30

Me: You were right, C-130.


Me, just for fun: What is mommy’s job?

J: To get us to school on time.

Me, shrugging: Well, that is something I do.

R: Your job is bigger than outer space!


Me: How many friends do you have?

J: So many that I can’t even count them.

R, modestly: Like a 100.


Me: Where do your friends live?

J: Most of them…I actually don’t know. They could be anywhere by now.

R: Ooooh! I know where one friend lives! I saw her!


Me: Why do you think we have to move?

J, very matter-of-factly: Because we’re in the military, and I know that because someone told me.

R: …chewing a piece of chicken…


Me: You’ve lived on base and off base. Which one is better?

J: On, because on base we have a library, the MCX, two squadrons, a pool, another pool and a gym. Oh! And I get to play outside until colors.

R: Off base, one of my friends lives there.


Me: Would you rather live in one place forever or move around?

In unison: MOVE AROUND!!!

Me: Why?

My husband, who had snuck back into the kitchen: Why?

J: Dad, you can’t ask us anything, only mom can ask.

J, staring at me expectantly, clearly unaware I already asked: Well, are you going to ask me?

Me: Exhale. Why?

J: Because living in one place is boring. And, I notice that we’re in a pattern. We move every two or three years.


Me: Where do you think we will move next?

R: B’ginia.

J: Yeah, Virginia, because they have tree houses there, and we could probably get one. Or a pool…


Me: How many places do you think you’ll live by the time daddy retires?

R: I can’t count that high, I’m only four.

J: Like, 100


Me: What does retire mean?

J: Retire means that you get taken away from your job and you have to go find another job.


Me: What is your favorite thing about being a military kid?

R: We get to move and then we get new furniture, but it’s really our old furniture, but we missed it, so that makes me happy.

J: We get to move a lot.

I go through phases of guilt for asking so much of these kids — uprooting them, making them endure such a boring house while my husband is away (thanks a lot, son). But, getting their thoughts made me feel so much better. Most of what worries me doubles as their favorite parts of their childhood, and we’re giving them a pretty cool one. We all are.

Apr 172018
 

Moving up, out, and into adulthood can be an exciting time for you and your high school senior. I’m a firm believer that the universe has a way of making this transition easier. Of course, we will all miss our children’s smiling faces and reminisce about how much they’ve grown and all they have accomplished. But there is a little place in every parent-of-a-senior’s heart that secretly will not miss picking up smelly lacrosse gear, vacuuming those little AstroTurf pebbles out of the carpet or constantly barking at them about chores. As parents, we want to make sure our kids are prepared to leave the nest. Here are some tips for parenting seniors through the transition into adulthood.

Cassie

  1. Financial management classes. Most high schools now require students to complete a personal financial management class before graduation. If your high school doesn’t, insist that your child take an online course.
  2. Allowance changes or a job. “Mom, I need money for the basketball game.” “Mom, I need gas money.” “Mom, can I have money to eat out with my friends?” “Mom, I need a haircut.” We’ve heard them all. If your child is able to hold down a job while also continuing with the demands of his or her extracurricular requirements, great! A part-time job in high school is a great option. If your family relies on the allowance route, consider slowly increasing your child’s allowance while reducing the number of a-la-carte money handouts. With the increased cash comes the increased responsibility of budgeting his or her own money. One strategy for determining an appropriate allowance would be to add up what you pay for annually—haircuts, gas, clothing, extracurricular handouts, etc. Allot this amount, monthly, into a teen checking account they can manage on their own (with guidance from mom and dad, of course). This can help your senior learn to budget and understand how much things cost in the real world.
  3. Let them make mistakes. When your child leaves the house, they won’t have you to rescue them every time they turn something in late or they forget their lunch at home. Teach your child logical consequences by allowing them to learn from their mistakes. Put the ownership of their daily activities on them. It will not kill your senior to make their own lunch, to reload their own lunch account (included in the allowance budget), or to track their own grades. We can keep a watchful eye by checking in, but as they near adulthood, it should be less often and with more of the responsibility on the child.
  4. Teach them basic skills. True story, my son did not know how to deposit cash into an ATM until this year, and he is 17. I just assumed he knew, but he didn’t. Teach your children basic skills—how to pick out produce in the grocery store, how to read nutrition labels, how to compare prices, how to tip the server, etc. When it’s time to replace the tires on the car, ask them to do the research. Don’t assume that your child knows the ins and outs of adulthood. Take the time to share your knowledge in a loving way.
  5. Establish expectations of adulthood. Talk to your child about how you see your communication changing when they leave the house. Come to a consensus on a reasonable amount of communication. Let’s be real. They may not want to call us every day (even though we’re awesome) but it’s not unreasonable to ask to hear from them regularly. If you see your financial role changing in their life, share that with them and together, come up with a plan to ease that transition. If they are college bound, set a realistic GPA you expect to see at school. Talk about how they will manage real world situations that will require them to make good choices. Communicating, openly, about how life will be different will help you and your child grow.

Preparing your senior for adulthood and letting go of some of the responsibility of your child’s daily activities is hard. You have been the momager or dadager for almost 18 years! Don’t think of it as “letting go.” Think of it as teaching them to survive and thrive as a young adult. Be honest with your child about what they can expect and prepare them with knowledge. Then, prepare yourself for that first call home when they ask for your advice. Just because they leave the house doesn’t mean you stop caring. You are simply entering a new phase of your relationship. Good luck!

Apr 092018
 

April is the Month of the Military Child and is the perfect time to celebrate our MilKids for rolling with the punches that military life brings. To celebrate, spend the day with your kids, focused on activities that show how great military life is – including learning to overcome the challenges that come with deployments and PCS.

Julie

  • Purple up! Join others in wearing purple on Thursday, April 26, 2018, to celebrate military kids. Schools and businesses across the nation will wear purple to show support and appreciation for MilKids’ strength and sacrifices.
  • Explore your base. Go to MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to find the locations and hours for the facilities your base offers. Together, discover and enjoy what you have earned by serving: parks, bowling, pool, gym, library, exchange, sports fields, MWR and more.
  • Plan a trip. Visit your base Information, Tickets and Tours office to see what events are happening and what discounts they can offer. Let the kids help choose what to do and make the plans with your guidance.
  • Watch TV. Sharing your kids’ favorite shows together can give you more to talk about. For preschoolers, Sesame Street for Military Families offers shows and downloadable activities by military life topic.
  • Surf the web. Show your kids, tweens or teens Military Kids Connect where you can watch videos, play games and learn more about military life. You might learn something more about each other, too.
  • Follow your USO. Find your local USO center on the map and then call them or follow them on their social media pages to discover what free or discounted events they offer.
  • Treat your MilKid. Give your child a budget for the day and let them decide where to go and what to spend money on. Use this opportunity to share and compare movie, toy and food prices on and off base so they can see how far they can stretch their money.
  • Gift them education. Teens stress a lot about applying to college and for scholarships. Take a day and help them find military scholarship opportunities and help them apply.
  • Hit a homerun. Make active memories with your MilKids on base. Bring your sports gear and see how many sports you can play in a day. Between the laughs, bloopers and exertion, you’ll have inside jokes to enjoy for years.

Pros and Cons of Having a Baby Overseas

 Posted by on March 27, 2018 at 09:08
Mar 272018
 

Growing your family is always an exciting decision, but it can be a little different when you are stationed overseas. When my husband and I first got to Europe, we thought we wouldn’t want to have another baby so far from family. After being there a while, and meeting mothers who recently delivered babies on base, we were convinced that it was possible and eventually, we decided to have our fourth child while stationed overseas.

Lizann

Since it is different than being in the States, there are a few factors you must consider when deciding to have a baby while stationed outside of the U.S. I’ve outlined the pros and cons below with some tips from my experience to help you with your journey!

First up, the “pros”:

  • Military hospitals: Base hospitals are staffed with American doctors and nurses who offer the same quality of care you will find in the States. In some small hospitals, the care is more personal than what you find stateside. Our base hospital only averaged one birth per week, so each mother was given the star treatment while she was a patient.
  • Citizenship: A baby born overseas to two married American citizens is automatically an American. However, if at some point in the future your child might want to become a citizen of the country they were born in, that’s a possibility.
  • Supportive community: Overseas bases generally have a tight-knit American community. This means bringing meals to new mothers, helping with rides to school for older children and sharing baby clothes or gear. While not all units are the same, there’s a good chance the groups you connect with on base will be happy to help you.

Next up, the “cons”:

  • High-risk pregnancies: Military hospitals overseas aren’t always equipped to handle high-risk situations. In these cases, you will be referred to a specialist off base or to a local hospital. Fortunately, TRICARE covers all prenatal care and birthing procedures, even if you are referred off base. They will also cover a translator to accompany you if an English-speaking doctor is not available.
  • Extra paperwork: Instead of a traditional birth certificate, the baby will receive a Certification of Birth Abroad. Parents will need to follow instructions for obtaining the birth certificate and possibly a translation from the local government. You will also need to apply for a Social Security number and a passport as soon as the baby is born. Military bases have classes and can offer support throughout the paperwork process.
  • Travel complications: One challenge to having a baby overseas is that the baby is not able to travel out of that country until they have been issued a passport. There are ways to expedite this process, but it still takes at least one to two months. Consider this when planning a move or a vacation.

With quality care from a base hospital and support from the American community, having a baby overseas can be a smooth experience. Were any of your children born while you were stationed overseas? Share your experience with us.

PCS MilKid Safety

 Posted by on December 27, 2017 at 10:50
Dec 272017
 

Setting up your new home after a PCS is a beast of a job, especially when towers of boxes are staring down at you from the ceiling – which can be a real safety hazard for your kids. Maybe you’re finding yourself preparing to move…. well, again. Or maybe it’s your very first time. It’s relatively easy to keep your kids safe in a home that you’ve had an opportunity to childproof – but what about when you’re amid moving chaos? Here are a few tips to consider for keeping your milkids safe while you put your new home together:

Julie

  1. Use caution with medication and cleaning supplies. Your belongings tend to end up in random places throughout the house when you’re unpacking. Make sure medication and cleaning supplies end up behind a childproof lock or in a high cabinet where little hands can’t reach them.
  2. Check for carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you move into a home that already has them, make sure to change the batteries and test them. If your house doesn’t have them, you’ll want to install them as quickly as possible.
  3. Take precaution to prevent falls. It will take time for your family to adjust to the layout and architectural elements of your new home. Install safety netting to keep children from falling through railings that are too wide and repair any that are loose or broken. And, be sure to install gates at the top and bottom of staircases.
  4. Keep trash bags out of reach. Remember that plastic bags and packaging (which you’ll have a lot of during a move) are choking hazards.
  5. There’s no substitute for supervision. Pocket change will undoubtedly end up in the couch cushions, toys break, and sinks and bathtubs can easily overflow. It only takes a second for an accident to happen. Make it a rule to keep one eye on the box you’re unpacking and the other on the kids!

Once all the boxes are out of the way, do a walk-through of your new home, paying special attention to anything that will be at the eye-level of each of your children. This will allow you to identify and correct any safety issues before your child finds them. Wishing you many new memories in your new home!

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.