Close
You are now leaving the Military OneSource website.
Thank you for visiting our site.

Close
You are now leaving the Military OneSource website.
Thank you for visiting our site.

Close
You are now leaving the Military OneSource website.
Thank you for visiting our site.
    

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.

Show You Care with Care Packages

 Posted by on January 29, 2018 at 16:49
Jan 292018
 

When my husband was deployed, one of my favorite things to do was send him care packages. It made me feel useful – it was something I could do from home to make his life easier. Here are a few tips I learned over the years to make creating and sending care packages painless:

Lee-Anne

  • USPS provides free supplies. Simply call 800-610-8734, select Order Supplies and ask for the Military Care Kit. It comes with flat-rate boxes, labels, forms and tape.
  • Make the post office visit a breeze. I would send a package about every three weeks when my husband was in Iraq. I would typically fill a box up slowly and by the time it was ready to send, I forgot what was at the bottom. I eventually started to keep a sticky note on the top flap of the box and wrote down what went in so that it was much easier to fill out the custom’s form at the post office! Also, do yourself a favor and check the prohibited items list first. Half the contents of my first care package were rejected because I didn’t read the list.
  • Utilize homemade gifts and online shopping. I make my own beef jerky and cookies and would send those items routinely (vacuum sealed of course), as well as other personal items like pictures, letters, funny little crafts or snacks. Everything else I ordered online. Many online sites even ship for free (on most items) to APOs and FPOs.
  • Know what to send and when. In the beginning, my husband needed many of the basics but didn’t have a good internet connection. I had to order things for him like slippers, batteries (alkaline only), snacks and a small fan. I even ordered a mattress pad and had it shipped right to him for free. As time went on he needed less, and the packages took on a more fun and easy nature featuring a lot of kid’s crafts and drawings.
  • Consider shipping time. Most packages can make it to the Middle East in about two weeks, but some take longer. If you have a specific deadline, plan ahead! Most of the time you can get away with shipping three weeks out, but during the holidays I would plan for up to five weeks. And of course, sometimes packages get lost. For three months after my husband’s unit moved to Syria, my family and I were sending packages and he didn’t receive any of them. Then about a week before he left that base, he got all 37 packages at once. He was a bit overwhelmed and ended up giving most of it away, but at least he did get them all.
  • Be cautious about what you send. Sometimes packages get lost forever. I would recommend that you don’t send that priceless family quilt or the only photo you have from Nana’s wedding in 1934. Remember that sometimes these packages get opened by someone other than your loved one first, so don’t send anything you are not okay with someone else seeing.

Overall, I’ve learned to not stress when it comes to assembling and shipping care packages. Most service members just like receiving them, so don’t worry too much about what’s in it or how perfect the decorations are. Be thoughtful and have fun with it and they will know that you care!

The Short Deployment

 Posted by on December 11, 2017 at 12:31
Dec 112017
 

My husband left three days ago. The kids finally stopped asking what time daddy will be home. I’ve grown accustomed to cooking for three again (and by that I obviously mean snacking and takeout). The flare-up of chaos and malfunction that always follows a deployment send-off has slowed to a maintainable severity.

Kristi

We’re okay. We have our new normal and we’re ready for the long haul until our Marine comes home. And, a week and a half later, he does.

Just when we found our stride and were getting used to being “just the three of us” again, he’s back. His gear is literally everywhere. He’s craving actual home-cooked meals and the only thing in our pantry is a rainbow of cereal boxes. He’s adjusted the shower head to his height — it now sprays me directly in the face – and he hangs his towel haphazardly where my perfectly tri-folded towel usually hangs. I’m now forced to share the TV remote, unable to sell him on continuing my rom-com binge.

Adjusting to deployment and reintegration is easily my least favorite part of being a military spouse. Even glass-half-full military spouses can agree that the changes at the beginning and end of deployments are tough – once the adjustment period passes, it’s usually smooth sailing.

But, when your service member is tasked with frequent, but short spurts of separation, as opposed to the more traditional six-plus months of deployment, you’re in a constant state of adjustment (cue my crazy laugh).

  • My deployment pity-party is now a bimonthly routine – and all that comfort food is making my skinny jeans shrink. Weird.
  • Making plans and booking babysitters is tough because I have so many dates floating in my head — he’ll be home the 14th, but he leaves again on the 20th…or was it the 22nd?
  • Young kids may still be rusty on the concept of time. Guess how many times I’ve said, “Daddy will be home next Friday,” and that was the end of the discussion. Never! It’s always followed by, “Is that tomorrow?”
  • When my husband gets home, my kids and I typically bombard him with news and activities — maybe that’s just characteristic to living overseas. We can’t wait to drag him on the next adventure, but I’m learning to factor in a down day before we bug him full force.
  • My Marine is seeing tons of foreign places — a perk for him, but I have major travel envy. I don’t so much wish he was here with us, but wish we could go with him!

Luckily, there are perks, too.

  • We don’t have to miss him. Even the most independent military spouses have moments where emotion sneaks up on us. The beauty of short deployments? There’s not enough time to really miss each other.
  • The souvenirs are spectacular.
  • We maximize time when he’s home. We love to travel and be social, but we’re also homebodies with a solid appreciation for sweatpants. The pressure of knowing we only have one weekend while he’s home to go here or there is really motivating.

Do I complain about these short deployments? Obviously, yes. But, if you focus on quality over quantity, short deployments aren’t that bad. Adjusting to being in a constant state of change is the challenge in front of our family right now. It might not always feel like it to us while we’re in the thick of it, but I would have to say we’re all kind of rocking it in our own ways.

Planning a Happy Homecoming

 Posted by on November 9, 2017 at 15:46
Nov 092017
 

Homecoming. That one little word has so much meaning to us military spouses. It’s the moment we live for during a long deployment —dreaming about how we will look and the way we will stand when our hero first catches sight of us. I know I’m not the only one who watched hundreds of reunion videos online and cried at every single one of them.

Lee-Anne

The entire process of deployment is completely out of our hands, so it’s easy to go to extremes perfecting the only part that is in our control: the return. And so, we put huge (and unnecessary) amounts of stress on ourselves preparing. Perfect outfit…check. Pretty signage…check. We even obsess over the first kiss. I know I’m not alone in that either!

My husband just came home from deployment last week and let’s just say that it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Here are a few lessons I learned:

  • Be flexible. Plans will change – and then change again and again. Don’t diminish the happiness of the moment by being disappointed that it didn’t go as planned. Flights will be delayed, locations will change and the baby may just spill milk all over your new outfit three minutes before you need to leave the house. None of that matters.
  • Don’t overdo it. Your spouse is excited to see you – not your big, perfectly hand-lettered poster. And let’s be real, that clunky thing will only get in the way of your first hug. If you feel compelled to be artistic, be realistic about how your signs will fit in your car with four gigantic duffel bags of gear – and don’t let it hurt your feelings if they don’t even notice them because they’re too excited to see you.
  • The house doesn’t have to be perfect. My husband had so many new things to look at when he got home that it was a bit overwhelming. The house was tidy but I didn’t have time to clear the countertops of all the junk mail or organize the linen closet. And guess what? He didn’t even notice.
  • Talk about what might happen before it does. My husband and I spent hours on the phone in the two weeks leading up to his homecoming. I expressed my wish that it be just us as a family when we picked him up. We talked about how some of the experiences he’s had have changed him – and how mine have changed me. I gave him the lowdown on the kids’ schedules and what I had been using for punishments or incentives.

It’s okay to have a rough plan, but make sure to leave room for changes and hiccups. And most importantly, make sure to relish the moment when you lock eyes with your spouse after months apart. Homecoming is not a fairytale; it’s just another moment in time but it’s an important one, so celebrate it! And remember, happiness always outweighs perfection.

OPSEC: Can You Keep a Secret?

 Posted by on July 11, 2017 at 09:34
Jul 112017
 

My son got really into my husband’s birthday this year. He wanted to buy him a present instead of just re-gifting things from his own room that he didn’t want anymore. So, I took him out and let him choose a board game that my husband would like. If we’re being real, it was a mutually beneficial gift — my son wanted to play the game with his daddy just as much as he wanted to give it to him.

Kristi

The entire ride home we conspired like the sneakiest of birthday elves how we would get the game inside without my husband seeing it, and how it was critical that we keep it a secret. He seemed to understand perfectly; we even locked our lips and threw away the keys somewhere along Highway 1.

Fast forward eight minutes later: The front door hadn’t even closed behind us when I hear, “Daddy, we just got you a birthday present! It’s so fun! Bet you can’t guess what it is!” My adorable little blabbermouth did more than give away his dad’s birthday gift that day; he also gave me the perfect opening anecdote to a more serious topic: Operations Security, or OPSEC.

We’ve probably all heard it, and we likely even know the importance of protecting it, but sometimes we are so overcome with emotion (like my son) that the urge to brag or vent online clouds our OPSEC judgement. One post, couldn’t hurt, right? We can be clever with our phrasing, right? My profile is private, so I can say anything, right?

Not quite. One post might be all it takes to compromise OPSEC. Even clever phrasing can be cracked by the wrong hands. And a leak can happen via a private profile — it just takes a second for someone to take a screenshot and share your post, and even if they do it with the best of intentions (like pride or moral support), it could end up in the wrong hands.

Before you post to social media, think:

  • Does my post give any specifics about the location of my service member or his or her unit?
  • Do I name any dates (deployment, homecoming, mobilization, etc.)?
  • Am I giving away any details about what my service member is working with — meaning the size of the unit, weapons, morale, leadership, the name of the unit, etc.?
  • Am I advertising that I am home alone? (While not a direct OPSEC no-no, it compromises personal security.)
  • Am I posting any pictures that could give away any of the above?

It can be so tempting to take to Facebook and vent about the havoc of the deployment curse or type out a version of “EEEEKKKK!” he’s coming home in three days, especially when some spouses and parents do it all the time. But, when in doubt, it’s better to keep quiet.

I’ve been a military spouse for more than six years, and went through two deployments in that time. But anytime you read about my deployment experience (through a blog or my social media channels), it’s void of the details listed above.

When you really stop and think how one status update could affect the safety of your loved one, the success of a mission, your own safety at home, or even (GASP) postpone a homecoming date, it’s just not worth the risk. Social media is a great way to keep up with all the friends we make along the way in the military, but it’s no place for a secret, and — as my son showed me — neither is a six-year-old.

Jun 272017
 

I’m not the first military spouse to move overseas, and I know I won’t be the last. Yet, I spent the first 24-48 hours scouring military and base-affiliated websites, military spouse blogs and Facebook discussion threads trying to figure out where to start and what to pack in which shipment. I am a huge fan of efficiency and organization and it bugged me that I couldn’t find exactly what I needed. So, since I know you clicked on this blog because you have some serious packing and planning to do, not to hear my anecdotes and wit (don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for that another day), let’s get right to the OCONUS (that’s outside the continental U.S., by the way) to-do list that worked best for me and my family.

Kristi

  1. Get the web orders. Print them. Read them. Hold them in your hand. Basically, make sure the OCONUS move is official before you start jumping through hoops. Check the dates so you can see what kind of timeline you’re working with. Make several copies — at least three, and keep them in a central location (like a moving binder).
  2. Make doctor appointments for each member of your family. This will inevitably take more time than anything because the military takes family member health pretty seriously. Several people need to see the paperwork post-doctor visit, so the sooner the better. If anything gets red-flagged on any family member’s paperwork, don’t freak (ahem…like I did). Each installation is different, and the process is all about making sure your OCONUS installation can accommodate any medical conditions you may have (i.e., my son gets hives and I have a heart murmur).
  3. Get your passports and visas. If you already have a tourist passport (the blue book), you are ahead of the game. But, if it will expire while you’re overseas, renew it now. To apply for or renew your tourist passport, visit the State Department website for the necessary paperwork, timeline and process. Most post offices and a handful of other places around town can take your picture. Instructions for your no-fee passport (this is the one you will need when you are traveling on official orders — essentially your PCS to and from your overseas destination) will come from your command, and you will likely be directed to an office on your installation to complete this process (post office workers will look really confused if you ask them about it because they don’t handle no-fee passports). Be advised that (at least in our case) they were much pickier about the photos, and we couldn’t use a photo used on any other passport, and it takes longer to process. Whether or not you need a visa is dependent on your destination country, and it may be impacted if you (the military spouse) plan to work in that country. Be sure to ask early to avoid surprises.
  4. Decide if your pets will make the trip. If they will come with you, make sure you know what your receiving country’s policy is on pets. For instance, I can speak from experience about Japan: Authorities require two rounds of rabies vaccinations (even if your pet is already current), a blood test and a 180-day quarantine. The vet on your receiving installation is a perfect resource.
  5. Complete Level I Antiterrorism Awareness Training. This is done online for any adults on the orders via Joint Knowledge Online. It’s quick and I even learned a few things!
  6. Plan, clean out and pack. It seems most common that OCONUS movers have three separate shipments (that’s our case and the most common I’ve seen):

Aside from splitting your belongings into three piles, the biggest difference between a CONUS and an OCONUS move is the weight limit, a max of 18,000 pounds (but this depends on rank and dependents). This may mean some serious downsizing or at least reprioritization of what you can live without for your time overseas. If it helps, our express shipment is being packed first, followed by household goods, and storage will be picked up last as a sort of safety net for anything that doesn’t make the household goods cut. Keep in mind that you will also be bringing luggage with you. For Patriot Express passengers, this is two pieces of luggage 70 lbs. or less each, a carryon and a personal item; if flying commercial, make sure you show orders upon check-in to waive baggage fees.

  1. Learn a little bit about where you’re going. My must-see travel list for Japan is longer than my packing list. It’s also significantly longer than the list of survival Japanese phrases I know. We are having fun as a family learning a little culture, language and geography before we arrive, so we can do our best to embrace the culture after we land.

Aside from the usual PCS steps — like notifying your kids’ schools, turning off utilities, changing your address, and making plenty of copies of everything to hand carry — this is the bulk of the work ahead of you. It looks simple, but account for processing time, appointment scheduling and the fact that something (or worse, somethings) will go wrong. Hiccups are a part of everyone’s OCONUS PCS story. They are just one more thing we will all have in common when we get where we’re going.

Celebrating the Deployed Daddy

 Posted by on June 13, 2017 at 10:22
Jun 132017
 

I have a love/hate relationship with holidays while my husband is deployed. Aside from the emotional toll they take, I struggle with how to make him feel included in special occasions from so far away. Some holidays are harder than others to bring him into the fold, but Father’s Day is the toughest – a whole day centered on him when he’s not physically here with us. So, how do we celebrate daddy while he’s deployed?

Lee-Anne

I’ve learned from experience that planning ahead is necessary. Some care packages take four to eight weeks to arrive because of his remote location. Therefore, I shy away from sending anything perishable and ship far in advance. I’ve come up with a variety of ways to celebrate our soldier on this holiday with a little help from my kids. Here’s what my Father’s Day care package contains this year:

Scribble Paintings

My son has recently started learning how to write, but my daughter can barely babble a few words. The perfect solution for both of these scenarios? Scribble painting. I gave them a few paints and small canvases that I picked-up at the craft store and let them go nuts. After it dried, I added vinyl letters and let them paint over everything again. Once the vinyl letters were peeled off, the word “daddy” was left among their artwork. The total cost for the project was under $10.

Clay Hand & Footprints

Salt dough is super easy and my kids love it. I’ve outlined the recipe and instructions that I use below. After your dough is ready to go, press your children’s hands or feet into the dough, then bake at 200 degrees for three hours or so. After it cools, your kids can paint to their heart’s desire. Total cost for this project was less than one dollar.

Salt Dough Recipe

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • ½ cup warm water

Mix together and knead well. Allow to rest in shallow pan or bowl. Flip upside down to display the smooth side. Recipe renders one large or two small clay pieces.

Photobook

Online photo websites almost always have a coupon or discount available. I recently created an eight-by-eight book with photos and quotes from my kids. I asked them questions like, “What are the top three reasons why we love daddy?” and “When daddy gets home what’s the first thing we will do together?” Total cost for this project after taxes, shipping and discounts was less than $15.

Homemade Cards

One of the simplest things you can do is let your kids draw pictures and make cards for daddy. My son likes to draw pictures and then write a story – it’s not always legible, but the recipient is pretty forgiving.

Whatever you send, it will be well received, so don’t stress – enjoy it, be creative and have fun. Happy Father’s Day to soldier dads everywhere!

 

Nov 152016
 

My husband has been through a lot of deployments in his 15 years of military service. Most of them were combat, but one was non-combat. For his first three, I was his girlfriend. For the last three, I have been a military spouse with kids. Every deployment was different and had its own unique challenges.

Lizann

Lizann

No matter where your spouse is deployed, or how long they are gone, it is always a challenging time. When we compare ourselves to other spouses or fight about who has the hardest deployment, then we all lose. Let’s debunk some common myths about what makes a ‘real’ deployment.

‘Real’ deployments are combat

False. In 2015, the DoD reported that over 150,000 troops were serving in other countries besides Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Many American troops deploy for the purpose of training in other environments or cooperating with other nations. Not all deployments are combat, but that doesn’t make them less challenging for military families who are separated from their loved ones.

‘Real’ deployments are one year long

False. Different branches deploy for different amounts of time. Army deployments are often 13 months long with two weeks of R&R in the middle. Marine Corps deployments are usually closer to seven months, without any R&R. Air Force and Navy deployments can be anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the specific mission. The Coast Guard often deploys for a few months at a time, returns for a few months and then deploys again. None of the deployment cycles are easy for military families.

Shorter deployments are easier than ‘real deployments’

False. Even deployment work-ups where the service member leaves for a few weeks or a month can be a strain on the family. Because, of course, that’s when everyone gets sick and everything goes wrong! Military spouses need to acknowledge that any time away from your loved one is difficult. Instead of competing over whose deployments are harder, let’s support each other through all deployment ups and downs.

Troops are now doing fewer ‘real’ deployments

True, depending what you are comparing. Right after 9/11, many troops were doing back-to-back deployments. Since 2012, the deployment tempo has slowed down. The military is aiming for a dwell time of 1:3. This means that for every year deployed, the service member should experience three years at home. The Army has achieved this average since 2012. The Marine Corps is still far from it. Their current ratio is 1:2. This is not ideal, but it is better than it was 15 years ago.

‘Real’ deployments have limited communication

True. The spouse at home is always limited in how he or she can contact the deployed service member. Even though communication options have improved, one-way communication is still one of the biggest tests of deployment. In some locations, service members have little access to the Internet or phone. In other locations, bases have Wi-Fi and even allow troops to use personal cell phones. This means some deployed members are able to Skype, Facetime, or text their families.

‘Real’ deployments are hard

True. Whether you are a military girlfriend, spouse, or parent, deployment is a challenging time. Even if the service member is not in combat, not in a hostile environment, and has great communication options, there is still an emotional toll from being stressed and alone for many months. Whether you are parenting alone, working on classes, or working your first job, deployment is never easy. You never know what challenges another person is facing. Their deployment could be different from yours in many ways, but I guarantee that it is still one of the hardest things they have been through in their life.

The Real Deployment Cycle

 Posted by on August 29, 2016 at 07:00
Aug 292016
 
Kristi

Kristi

Welcome to deployment — be it your first or 50th (bless your resilient heart), you are in the company of some extremely strong stock. Deployment isn’t for the faint of heart — serving overseas or at home.

You’ve no doubt heard a lot of encouraging pep talks about how “you’ve got this,” and I have no doubt that you do. But, I remember the whirlwind of that first week of deployment (the highlights anyway). I kept coming back to a feeling that I closely associate to the one I had during childbirth: Why wasn’t I warned?

To be fair, I know I technically was warned, on the big stuff — the gist, childbirth and deployment are not times I want my sources to skimp on the details. I remember one predeployment brief in particular where they sat me down at a table among friends and showed me a PowerPoint slideshow of the phases of deployment — your basic denial-acceptance-grief-coping-excitement cycle (that is likely out of order, don’t quote me on that).

But no one pulled me aside, friend to friend, looked me square in the eyes and translated what those phases would look like in living color. Had they done that, it would have sounded something like this:

  1. You will wear only sweatpants and pajamas for a time. I can say now without shame that I went to a movie with my group of deployment buddies one evening, and I realized when I got home that my fly was down the entire time. That’s when you know you’re out of practice with any pair of pants requiring a zipper.
  2. You will get lax with hygiene. That first deployment, I think I changed my razor blade three, maybe four times — which I’m only just now realizing was incredibly icky. To my defense, that deployment overlapped with winter, so some of that was seasonal.
  3. Your diet is going to get weird. If you and your spouse don’t have kids (which was our situation the first time around), you might find it easy to scrap cooking altogether. I reverted back to the diet of my bachelorette days: chips and dip, popcorn, delivery pizza, drive-thru, etc. My diet got so weird, in fact, that I unintentionally cut out red meat, and eight years later, I still don’t eat it. If you have kids, you’ll probably start eating a lot of mashed or nugget-shaped foods — depending on the age of your kids. That second deployment was a lot of smoothies, mashed sweet potatoes and hummus for me and the kiddo.
  4. You will become furious with people for reasons you can’t understand just because they complained about missing their spouse for the weekend. Oh no, you didn’t.
  5. You will find superhuman ambition. That first deployment changed the course of my life forever — bear with me through the cheesiness of that line. I lost the teaching job I was offered due to budget cuts, so I was bored out of my mind — nothing to do for the first time in my entire life. So, I took a nod from a friend and pitched a column about my military spouse experience to our local paper. They bit. I wrote that column the entire deployment and two and a half years more. It led to the writing job I’ve held more than five years — which includes this blog you’re reading now — it’s the reason I’m going to grad school. And it all started because I was bored. That’s my story, I’m sure yours will be equally unexpected and incredible. Never underestimate the brilliance and strength of military spouses with time on their hands.
  6. You will be the bearer of bad news. It’s the Murphy’s Law of the whole situation: Something will go awry on your watch. You’ll likely have to give bad news over video chat, email, phone call, penned letter, carrier pigeon, etc. It’s not fun. The best advice I can give is grit your teeth, roll up your sleeves and deal with it (whatever it is). When you report the details across the miles, be confident. You handled it — no big deal. I always try to keep things in perspective: Yes, the dog got out and I had to chase her down the street and my son’s diaper leaked all over everything, but at no point was I in danger. Life is stressful — believe me, I get it, but don’t make each conversation with your deployed spouse negative. Find a balance that leaves you both looking forward to your chats.
  7. You will have to do it yourself. This is a good point to pause so you can go do whatever that is — fish your car keys out of the toilet, change a tire, be mom and dad, etc. Then, come on back and start back at number eight.
  8. You will get sappy. Have you ever teared up at a movie and then couldn’t believe you let yourself get so emotional? I cried at a Journey concert over the lyrics “I’m forever yours, faithfully.” My circle of friends hasn’t let me live that down to this day. I’m not a public crier, but sometimes deployment is driving and we are just the passengers.
  9. You will feel guilty for having fun. Eventually you have to liberate yourself from the sweatpants and have a little fun. Maybe it’ll be 24 hours, maybe two months — the length of your phases is your call. But you will find yourself laughing and spending time with friends, but guilt may be your plus one to the fun. Give yourself some slack. Laugh with your friends, do something on your bucket list — even if you’re flying solo. Go out to lunch. Travel back home to see your family. Get a pedicure. You’re doing a lot for your family (whether it’s just you and your spouse or you, your spouse and some adorable kiddos), so you deserve some “me time.”
  10. You will get downright giddy as you round the corner to homecoming. I cleaned, grocery shopped and cleaned some more for 48 hours straight leading up to homecoming day (part one). I envisioned the grandiose reunion, the ticker tape, the jazz band, and I was ready for it all.
  11. Your reunion will feel a little anticlimactic. You have your spouse in your arms, and at the end of the day, that is literally the only thing that matters. That is what you waited and wished for every day for months. As happy as the reunion will be, it’s worth mentioning that it won’t look like that scenario playing out in your head. It can be delayed (prepare yourself in advance for that). It might be dark. It may be cold. You might have a cold. Your spouse may have some readjusting to do. You need to slow down, ditch the vision of the ideal reunion and focus on reintegration. Love each other. Respect each other’s space and routines. Be patient. Be together.

That’s every last detail — the real breakdown of your deployment phases. They may not happen in that order, and you may come back to the sweatpants (or any other phase) a few times. But, that’s OK — because, one phase or another, you will get through it.

Life Hacks: How to Survive the Holidays Away

 Posted by on December 7, 2015 at 08:00
Dec 072015
 
Julie

Julie

Shhh…(read this in a whispering, nature-show-host Australian accent). Right over there — look between the hobby-store shelves — you’ll see the first Nordic land elves tending to candy cane fields and rows of evergreens. Crikey — I witnessed those elves frolicking in the hobby stores this August! That is just too soon. I can’t deal with it. I savor the holidays with my family, and seeing the decor so early in the year makes it seem like it’s an everyday occurrence. Military families don’t always get to spend holidays with one another or their extended families.

With each new deployment date announcement, my mind raced through the calendar to see which holidays we were losing. I’m not typically such a negative nelly, but spending birthdays, anniversaries, federal and religious holidays alone is a big deal, especially when you are stationed overseas or across the country from your extended family. It’s something you have to prepare for mentally and plan out to make it through without falling into the pit of depression. For those of you who’ve been there, you know I’m not being melodramatic. It really is a big deal and it is best to face it head on.

Unwrap it

From experience, I can tell you that the best place to start is in your own mind. Whether you are the one leaving on deployment or the one left behind, you both need to readjust your thinking and expectations of the holiday. Take a moment to whine and complain to one another and get it out of your system. It isn’t what you want, but you can’t change the situation, so change how you think about it. It will be tough, but you can make the holiday special if you work together and plan ahead.

Reframe it

Focusing on what you can do to make the holiday special within your current circumstances is the best use of your time and efforts (verses wallowing in the pit of gloom). It will be tough, but with planning, you can make it memorable and fun. Whichever holiday(s) you are planning for, you can use the following life hacks and just tweak them to fit your situation.

Keep traditions

Brainstorm (or make a list, for all you fellow type A’s) with your family about what traditions really make the holiday for each of you. Include food, drinks, games, songs, events, etc. Then look through the list and have everyone pick out at least one thing they can’t live without. That will be the basis for your plans. Find ways to keep or observe and share those key family traditions wherever you are located.

  • Take pictures, voice memos or videos to send to one another (including family and friends).
  • Email pictures, voice memos, videos, letters and eCards to stay connected and involved.
  • Mail picture, voice memo, videos, letters, cards, baked goods or wrapped gifts early.
  • Purchase, wrap or pack gifts with deployed member before they leave.
  • Set up a contact near home and in the service unit to help you surprise your spouse on holidays.
  • Use real-time video call applications to watch each other open gifts or be part of some activities.
Add new

Just like you learn to distract a toddler from an impending tantrum, you have to distract your mind a bit — or at least give it something new to look forward to. One way our family has found to do that is to introduce something new into our holidays each year (kudos to my uncle for the idea). This started out with adding a new dish to our family meal and morphed into trying new activities for the day.

  • Play a white elephant gift exchange (Google it for the rules). The gifts tend to be anything from gag gifts to useful or just fun. Some gag gifts (we call them bombs) continue to turn up year after year. We adopted this during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it works for any occasion.
  • Invite others without local family to your holiday table and activities. Be the family and support that your friends need. Include them in your activities and involve their favorite traditions too. This is really where the military community is at its best, when we look out for one another.
  • Arrange a progressive dinner with other military families. Brunch and parade watching at one house, then everyone travels to the next house for a late dinner and football or board games, and later, everyone heads to the last house for dessert and enjoys a group game like white elephant.
  • Adopt new traditions from your host country if you are living in a foreign land. Do a little research about the particular holiday, and try out one of the customs. For the American-specific holidays, you can still include customs or recipes specific to the country in general. Change it up!
  • Go to events and volunteer before, during and after the holiday. Make a week of celebrations and helping others instead of focusing only on the one day. Take in a movie, parade, concerts, and serve at the food bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter or other community organization.
  • Create your own activities if there aren’t any around that suit your tastes. An ugly sweater party, board game night and silly games you see on late-night comedy shows that you turn into neighborhood tournaments should help jump start your creative ideas for entertainment.

Embrace the change. You’ll be surprised at what you enjoy and will want to continue to do year after year. We’ve adopted some of the new food and activities into our family traditions. Holidays away from family can be tough, but with planning, you can have memorable and fun-filled celebrations that connect you across the miles.

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