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Living Your Best Holiday Season

 Posted by on November 13, 2018 at 12:57
Nov 132018
 

Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 is my absolute favorite stretch of the year. The day I dust off our unnecessarily large collection of pumpkin décor is the day the holiday season officially starts in our house. It’s a time for excitement and comfort and tradition (or at least as much tradition as we can salvage on the military’s agenda). I don’t think I’m alone in my annual countdown to the holidays. Everyone is a little more festive this time of year, and it shows, especially on the calendar pages.

Kristi

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I get to a point somewhere in December when all I really want to do is wrap presents, bake cookies, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate and watch holiday movies with my kids. But, I can’t. I have to do all the things this season dictates.

You know the things — you do them too. There are kids’ holiday concerts, unit parties (there are at least half a dozen of those for various audiences — families, unit-wide, just officers, just enlisted, potluck, etc.), spouse club events, the base tree lighting, the community events, Secret Santa shopping and getting gifts for everyone you’ve crossed paths with in the last 12 months.

Even if we wanted to do everything, we can’t — or, rather, we shouldn’t. If we spend the holiday season RSVPing yes to every invitation, we won’t have time to pause and look across the room, over the whipped-cream-topped hot chocolate mug at our favorite people — our families — and soak in all the warm and fuzzies that make the holidays the season of the year we all look forward to.

Making sure you have enough time for the little things (that are really the big things) requires you to say no sometimes. And, if you do it well, you’re guaranteed to start the new year guilt-free and with all the same friends and acquaintances you entered the holiday season with.

  1. RSVP Early, Honestly and Realistically. You often know the second you receive an invitation whether you have intentions of attending or not. If you’re busy on the day of the event, RSVP no right then and there so you don’t forget. If you aren’t busy, but you just don’t want to go — brace yourself — that is OK! But RSVP no right then. Don’t say maybe. Don’t say, “I’ll have to see what my spouse’s schedule looks like.” Don’t say, “If I can get a sitter, I’ll be there,” then never bother contacting a sitter and begin recalling the last time you used a headache or sick kid excuse. I can’t speak for every host, but I would rather you tell me no outright than RSVP maybe or yes, only to change your response at the last minute — which often puts hosts in a tight spot — or worse: just flake without explanation. There are never (ever) hard feelings for people who RSVP no, but never responding or flaking at the last minute (unless you or your kid really are contagious) is inconsiderate to the host. If your plans do change — we’re all in the military community, we get it — just be honest with the host and do it as soon as possible.
  2. Be Intentional and Strategic with Obligations. Do your kids need to visit Santa 12 times? They probably don’t. So, choose one event with Santa and check that box. Do you need to attend six different cookie exchanges? Your sweet tooth says yes, but we can all agree on the one-and-done philosophy. Being intentional and strategic with your holiday plans means that you think about all these things. Think about your priorities this holiday season. If your priorities are to maximize time with family because — gasp — your service member is home, then put your focus there. You can unapologetically say no to several events that will pull you away from your priority. If you’re new to the area and friends are on your Christmas list, choose events with like-minded attendees — other unit families, work functions, spouse events and even school events (kids are really the best icebreakers). You’ll probably want to skip the massive events, like the community tree lighting, where there isn’t much of a chance to make social connections.
  3. The Grinch Clause. For anyone, like me, who has pumpkin running through their veins each fall and turns back into a child counting down to Christmas, saying no to events is going to be weird. Being overbooked and exhausted is a holiday tradition, right? It doesn’t have to be. Let this be the year you don’t do all the things. You might just find that you enjoy the holidays more because you’re more focused on seeing the holidays through your kids’ eyes and holding them a little tighter while you can. You might find that you don’t feel the need to go internal on Jan. 2 because you need a break from socializing and spending. Don’t schedule away these weeks you’ve waited an entire year for. Take from it what you really want, be honest and polite when you decline invites and don’t ever feel like you must explain why you’re choosing your holiday priorities over someone else’s.
Nov 062018
 

Anyone can show appreciation for military service – and there are many ways to do so besides saying “Thank you for your service.” Whether there’s a military family down the street, or your service member lives across the country, here are ten simple ways to actively support military families and show them their service and sacrifices are valued.

Written by: Lizann

Five easy ways to show appreciation for a military family that lives nearby:

  • Be neighborly. Sometimes military families live in one location for the service member’s entire career, but it’s very common for them to move a lot. Whether you think they will be neighbors for years or for a short time, try to get to know them. Introduce yourself, ask their names, offer to share a cup of sugar, etc. A little neighborly friendliness means a lot to military families who are used to being new in town.
  • Share local tips. If you have lived in the same town for more than a year, you may be a local expert compared to a brand-new military family. You know a good hairdresser, where to get the best deals, and where to find a fun restaurant. Share your wisdom with your new military neighbors. Ask them if they need recommendations for places to go or ways to save money in the community.
  • Lend a hand. Military families are typically strong and independent. Many hesitate to ask for help. But even if they are too proud to ask, almost every military family needs help sometimes, particularly while the service member is away. Offer to help in specific ways—mowing the grass, getting their mail while they travel, watching the kids during a doctor appointment, etc. If you offer something specific based on your own skills, your new neighbors will most likely be grateful and accept your kind offer.
  • Include military families. When planning neighborhood events, make sure to invite your military neighbors. Even if you don’t know them yet and aren’t sure they will be interested in neighborhood traditions, it never hurts to extend an invitation. Military families feel appreciated when they are included in the community.
  • Don’t judge. The military community is very diverse, in every way. Your military neighbors may be politically conservative or very liberal. They could have any religious background or perhaps none. They may have lived in communities all over the world or spent years living in a tiny military town. They may have several pets or none, lots of kids, or perhaps they are both working professionals. They may keep to themselves or be very outgoing. Try to get to know them before jumping to conclusions.

Five ways to show appreciation for distant military family members:

  • Connect on holidays. Distance doesn’t have to prevent you from celebrating holidays with your military loved ones! Include them in holiday celebrations via video calls. Send cards or care packages so they know you appreciate them.
  • Offer to visit. Service members and their families can’t always take time off to come home. There may be more flexibility for you to visit them instead of expecting them to travel to you. Suggest different options so you can see each other while respecting the demands of their military training schedule.
  • Send care packages. Everyone appreciates a care package from home. You can send special gifts and favorite foods from home – not just to deployed service members but to the family members, too. A care package can be the perfect way to recognize a birthday or anniversary, or just a thoughtful way to share love from home.
  • Send help. Everyone appreciates a little extra help now and then. When you live far from your service member, you may feel like there is nothing you can do to make their life easier. But you can help from afar by sending a meal delivery or assisting with a grocery delivery service. Ask them what else might be helpful: a lawn care service, help from a handyman, house cleaning service, etc. The smallest gesture of kindness can make a huge difference to a military family far from home.
  • Listen. Military life can be challenging. Occasionally, service members and spouses need to vent their frustrations and loneliness. When they do, be a supportive, listening ear. Don’t try to toughen them up by telling them “you signed up for this” or that you have your own struggles. Just try to listen and be supportive. That’s the best way to show appreciation for a military family.

It’s as easy as that, folks! Go forth and show your appreciation for military families and service members. Is there anything else you would add to this list? Share with us in the comments!

Getting Back to Basics

 Posted by on October 29, 2018 at 14:11
Oct 292018
 

Fall is a busy time of year with back-to-school and extra-curricular activities starting up again. You might be fresh off a PCS move and wanting to get rooted in the new community. Rushing around to PTA meetings, soccer practice or the gym might help you meet a lot of people, but it’s also likely to leave you feeling frayed and exhausted. The fall season doesn’t have to be all hustle. Here are five tips to help you dial back the busy and move forward feeling calm and connected with your military community.

Julie

  1. Prioritize sleep. Self-care is the most important thing you can do for yourself, your family and your coworkers. With adequate sleep you are mentally sharper and emotionally stronger. Sleep helps your body fight off viruses and heal more quickly. Lack of sleep can cause you to be irritable, and coffee can only do so much. Be kind: get your sleep.
  2. Reduce screen time. Spend your time doing things that matter with the ones who matter. Instead of shushing your kids or significant other because you’re watching TV, make screen-free time to interact with your family. Break out a board game, read a book, do a puzzle or turn up some music and have a dance party. Enjoy the slower pace for an evening and see how calm it makes you feel.
  3. Say no. Sometimes you feel obligated to say yes and then find you’ve overextended yourself. It’s okay to say no to people in your life. You cannot give yourself, your family and your work their proper due if you are also on every board, club, committee and taxiing kids around too. Be selective with your “yes” and you’ll be happier with time you spend helping others, and you’ll do a better job of it.
  4. Stop gossip in its tracks. Don’t waste your energy or time listening to or engaging in negative talk about others. Like mama said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” When negativity starts, counter it with positive, change the subject, or say you don’t want to be part of negative talk and walk away.
  5. Avoid the trap of multitasking. Multitasking is a sneaky beast. You think you’re getting away with doing a lot of things at one time, when you’re just doing a lot of things poorly. It is better to do one thing at a time and do it right and then move on to the next thing. When forced to multitask (work and life happen), take time to refocus yourself before you start the new task to avoid making mistakes.

Try to pause for a moment and think about getting back to basics instead of drowning in the rush of doing everything at once. What brings your soul joy? Find a way to keep those activities. What causes you constant stress and anxiety? These activities are the ones you need to give more thought to. Dialing back your goings-on a notch gives you the time you need to be more focused, invested and rested, allowing you to get ahead at work, family and in your military life.

Oct 262018
 

On a Saturday afternoon, I was snapping pictures of our dog Molly surrounded by moving boxes and paper, joking about how I wasn’t sure what day of the week it was. We were in full move-in mode. That weekend, I had finally unpacked my suitcase for the last time this summer.

Cassie

On Sunday, the hubby and I strolled down Front Street in Wilmington, North Carolina, and found a pub to watch the Patriots game. The woman working behind the counter asked us if we had decided which direction we would travel to evacuate. In the whirlwind of unpacking and settling into our new home, we’d heard nothing about Hurricane Florence heading straight for us.

On Monday, we planned to stay.

By Tuesday evening, I was in the shower crying, not because I was scared to evacuate and leave my husband behind to care for his Marines, but because I was furious that I had to get the suitcases out again. Deciding what to take wasn’t hard. I packed the dogs, a few boxes of pictures I couldn’t replace and the one box of memories that I’d be crushed to live without. I was gone within the hour.

What I returned to after being tucked away at my mother-in-law’s house in Northern Virginia, glued to the Weather Channel and local news outlets, can only be described as heartbreaking chaos. I caravanned home with a friend who was returning to her hometown of Morehead City. As we got closer to the coast and neared the outskirts of New Bern, remnants of the storm revealed our region unraveled. Fallen trees that had been sawed to clear the roadways, standing water in the ditches, debris, damaged crops and billboards that had been violently rolled up like rugs on the tops of their frames. When we crossed over the bridge and passed through New Bern, we discovered a war zone. Our war zone.

The street lights were still out in the small town of Havelock. Business owners were just beginning to unboard their businesses and sweep up debris. I lost cell service shortly after my friend and I parted ways about an hour from my house. Electrical crews roamed the roads. Lines circled corners at the sparsely open gas stations, and trees – giant Carolina pines – littered the landscape, fallen and broken like matchsticks everywhere I looked.

On the main road leading through the many small seaside towns headed toward Camp Lejeune, soaking wet carpet, ruined furniture, and piles of drywall that had been removed from homes and businesses devastated by the storm surge littered the roadways. When I got to the base, at first glance, things seemed “fine” until I drove through our neighborhood to find trees through houses, debris everywhere and more matchstick pines that were no match for the howling wind and rain. We were very lucky to have sustained minimal damage. But in the coming days, I learned just how the area, in general, had faired.

The battle for contractors, insurance adjusters and containing mold was just beginning. Friends had trees through roofs, collapsed ceilings from the onslaught of driving rain and flooded houses. Now, a few weeks into the recovery effort, we have all learned more than we ever cared to know about what to do in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

  1. Take preparation and evacuation orders seriously. I did not want to evacuate, but I did. And I’m glad. Know that if your service member is considered essential personnel, they may not be able to leave with you. Before I left, I went to the store for extra food and propane for our camping stove, ensured clean drinking water was on hand, and bought a hefty supply of batteries. In our case, it took several days for power to be restored to local businesses, let alone our home, and it took much longer for grocery stores to carry perishables. I brought perishables back with me when power was restored. Don’t get caught unprepared and know that it will take time for your area to return to “normal.”
  2. Document, document, document. Before you leave, take pictures and video of your home before the storm, inside and out. After the storm, do the same. Inspect your house from top to bottom. Look at your roof. Look in your closets. Look in your attic or basement. Leave no corner or your home or belongings unchecked. If you rent your home, notify your landlord of damage. If you live on an installation, notify housing immediately. Follow up regularly. In the chaos of a disaster, even government agencies can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of reports. Things can and do slip through the cracks. Be your own advocate but be as patient as possible while ensuring your housing authority is aware of the damage.
  3. Call your insurance company. Whether you are a homeowner, or you carry renter’s insurance, call your insurance agency. Depending on your carrier, your policy may cover some of your evacuation expenses and may reimburse for food spoilage, even if your home is not damaged.
  4. Follow local social media outlets. During a storm, local media outlets can be like a lifeline to the outside world. They will provide information about resource distribution centers, road closures, school closures, and daily updates on the impacts to critical services such as water and power.
  5. Call for reimbursements. Once services have been restored, such as cable and internet, check with your service provider regarding rebates during the storm. Often, companies will reimburse customers for outage time during a natural disaster. Again, be diligent and keep an eye on your bills. You may need to call more than once (like me) to ensure your account is properly credited.
  6. Be cautious of those who come to “help.” Your community will have an influx of relief workers and volunteers who legitimately want to help. These people are saints and deserve hugs and kindness and thank you’s all around. But major disasters can also bring companies trying to take advantage of the vulnerable by overcharging for cleanup and repairs, or by taking payment and disappearing. It happens. Check the Better Business Bureau and report unsavory individuals to your local government, who typically keeps an ongoing list of these organizations. Be aware of your surroundings. Report suspicious activity. Lock your home if you must relocate. Again, be your own advocate.
  7. Be part of your community by giving back. Our community is strong, motivated and patient. We are a community of givers and unsung heroes, like the crew of Marines who moved furniture out of a house with a tree through it, or the friends who wiped everything down to save things from molding. Strangers have climbed on roofs to secure tarps in the pouring rain. Neighbors have helped pull out soaking wet insulation or have given supplies to people they’ve never met. Countless people opened their homes to families who lost everything. We are a community of Florence Warriors. Do not be afraid to help a neighbor pick up branches or clean up debris. If you are making a supply run to mitigate your own mold problem, offer to pick up supplies for someone else. If you hear of a distribution center, tell someone. Give. Give time. Give kindness. Give patience. And know that together, as a community, you will thrive in the rebuilding of your community.

Finding the Right Counselor

 Posted by on October 23, 2018 at 10:33
Oct 232018
 

When seeking a counselor, it’s important to find one that understands you, and for military spouses, it is essential to have a counselor who is familiar with military life. The first time I worked up the nerve to seek professional counseling was during a deployment. My husband had been gone for a few months and I was struggling to manage our four kids, our household and a part-time job on my own. I needed a listening ear. I needed a safe place to vent. I needed someone to help me find a way through these struggles.

Written by: Lizann

A professional counselor can offer all those things… if they’re the right person. Unfortunately, during my first phone call, the counselor made the mistake of telling me to use “all that extra deployment money” to hire a maid. I was stunned. Too bad this was a non-combat deployment where my husband was making less money than usual.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of my counseling experience. I was able to request another counselor, along with a list of providers to call, so I could find one that was a better match. I ended up finding a professional counselor who was married to a retired Air Force pilot. Not only did she understand deployment stress, but she had numerous insights that pointed me in the right direction. Since then, I’ve learned that finding the right counselor may take some time, but it is worth the effort.

  1. Ask questions up front. When seeking a new counselor, which military spouses can find for free through Military OneSource, it’s good to ask them questions and explain your priorities. The more they know about you, the better they can support you through counseling. The more you know about them and their style, the more comfortable you will feel.
  2. Explain your situation. Outline the major challenges in your life right now, whether that is a deployment, health issue, family drama or just stress. What is the situation that you want to focus on with the counselor? Has anything changed recently?
  3. Share what you’ve already tried. Have you already been to a doctor? Talked to your parents? Seen another therapist? Are there resources you recently lost because of a PCS move or deployment? Let them know what you have already tried and whether anything helped. Then listen as they suggest new ideas.
  4. Ask about military experience. Military OneSource counselors are generally familiar with military families and clients. Some are former veterans or current military spouses. Talking to someone with military experience makes it more comfortable for you to explain military life challenges. They should also be familiar with military programs that may help you.
  5. Be honest. The more open you are about problems in your life, the more likely the counselor can help you work through them. They will need to understand how the problem is affecting you at home, at work and with your extended family. Your counselor may suggest unusual ideas or ask you to do something brave. Be honest about whether you feel able to follow through with their suggestions. If you don’t think something will help, tell them why.
  6. Make an action plan. A counselor may offer practical things you can do to change your current situation. You can treat it like homework or look at it as an opportunity to step forward. Write down what you are going to do next, along with a reasonable date to accomplish the task. “Within the next week, I will make that phone call. By the end of the month, I will do this activity.” Having specific short-term goals should help you take baby steps towards conquering your current challenges.
  7. Decide if you want to keep this counselor. There are many professional counselors in the world. And now that many can “meet” via phone call or video call, you aren’t limited to counselors in your geographic area. If the counselor doesn’t feel like a good match for you, contact Military OneSource or TRICARE to get a list of approved free counselors. You can call and choose anyone on the list, and even request a second list if you exhaust the first one.
  8. Schedule the next appointment. If you don’t set up the next appointment, it may never get crossed off your to-do list. Tell the counselor when you would like to talk again. Would you like to meet weekly or monthly?

Counseling can be an incredibly helpful process if you take the time to find the right person. If you take these steps before and during your first session, it will give you a good idea what to expect in future meetings, and you will get the most out of free counseling. Do you have a personal experience to share?

Military OneSource offers free non-medical counseling to service members and immediate family. Best of all, the service is confidential, and the counselors know military life, so they understand the challenges you’re facing. To learn more about non-medical counseling, check out this article.

Loving Every Day

 Posted by on October 15, 2018 at 15:04
Oct 152018
 

To really understand our relationship, you need to know that my husband is a Marine Corps pilot. Confidence comes naturally to most pilots — they must be sure of themselves in the plane, and that often translates to daily life. In fact, since the day we met, my husband and I have had a running agree-to-disagree understanding. He says he’s confident; I say he’s cocky. After 10 years we can still correct each other, roll our eyes and smile at this.

Kristi

So, as any sassy woman would, I try to keep him grounded. (That’s a little pilot humor for you.) I don’t spend much time fluffing his ego. We communicate mostly with quips, one-liners, sarcasm, the occasional cheesy joke, fact-based statements and venting to each other about whatever the headache of the day was. Even though that’s how we’ve operated for 10 years, I know I should probably be better about saying the mushy stuff more often. I’ve gotten better (I think) about saying things like, “You’re such a good dad,” “You’re my favorite person” or “I’m so proud of you.” But it’s out of my comfort zone to spout off deep stuff.

I’d heard of Military OneSource’s Love Every Day program but honestly never gave it a second look until I needed to try it for this blog post — how very “investigative journalist” of me. It’s a 21-day program aimed at improving communication between couples. You don’t need to be married, and it doesn’t cost a cent. You just fill out some information, and you’re in. The only catch is that you both have to register and confirm the registration to get started.

So, I briefed my husband on my assignment and that I needed his participation to make it work. Not really knowing what this whole program entailed, I gave him my best guess when he asked reluctantly what he had to do. I told him we were going to get daily texts to remind us to say nice things to each other. His response was: “Why do we need an app for that? I can just set an alarm on my phone.”

I had to admit that he had a point there. But, because he’s a good sport, and I’ve spent 10 years supporting his career, he went along with it. He owed me one, right? For roughly a week we got nowhere because one of us — maybe both of us — never accepted the invitation to join. I would get a daily text, and I would try to log in through the link I was sent, but I always received a “Tick tock — still waiting on your partner to join” message.

With my deadline looming and my husband now on a different continent, I bugged him again. “Did you get a text for Love Every Day?”

His text in response: “I hate passwords.” So, that’s a yes.

Somehow though — my best guess is that he finished setting up his account — we were both in.

I’ll be quite honest, getting two people set up was a little tricky, but once we were in, the questions were really good! It wasn’t at all the cheesy romantic stuff I had built up in my brain. Quite the opposite — many of the questions or tasks did a solid job of finding favorite memories or qualities of my husband or our relationship that I love but keep to myself. Love Every Day drew them out so that we could talk about them. For example, like most couples we’ve told the story of how we met — oh, I don’t know — about three million times. But, one of the Love Every Day questions was “What do you remember most about the first time you met your partner?” That is a memory I don’t vocalize when I tell the story, not even to him. But, now we’ve talked about it and the conversation added some depth to our story.

I also appreciated things that seemed to have no trace of cheesy romance. Questions like, “What is the best thing about your day today?” gave us a break from nightly venting session. Sharing our complaints and frustrations is important for our own mental health, but sometimes we get focused on that and forget to share the good stuff.

All in all, I’m happy that we did the Love Every Day challenge. (That’s not the official name, but competitive people like us respond best to challenges.) I see some complications if you’re trying to do the challenge during a deployment or detachment (as was our situation), but it would probably be perfect for pre- or post-deployment. For the days we missed because he was out flying and didn’t respond in time or I was busy trying to do all the things here back home, I took a screen shot of the daily question, so we have a reel of conversation starters to choose from that are deeper than the usual, “How did your day go?” Because it’s too easy to answer that with a “fine” or, in my husband’s case, a whole bunch of pilot jargon that flies over my head, (That’s the last pilot pun, I swear — I’m done.)

What do you think, would you and your partner try the Love Every Day program?

Self-Care: You Have to Love YOU First

 Posted by on October 2, 2018 at 09:16
Oct 022018
 

Self-care and self-love are buzzwords these days, but what exactly do they mean and why is it so crucial to take care of yourself? It’s easy to get caught up in all the things we do for others, especially in the military world. There’s always something or someone that needs our attention. Making time daily to put yourself first will not only help you to recognize just how awesome and special you are but will also put you in a better position to enjoy the life you are living.

Kelly

Self-care is simply that: caring for yourself. It can come in any shape or form that speaks to you and your unique wants and needs. Whatever you choose, it should make you feel good and be specifically for you, not anyone else. Self-care can be practiced daily, weekly, monthly or just in the moment. Below, I outline a few ways I make myself a priority and share ideas for how you can do the same.

  1. In the Moment. If you find yourself in a stressful situation or you made a mistake, it can be easy to beat yourself up. Instead, by breathing deeply and forgiving yourself, you are practicing self-care.
  2. Daily. I take 15 minutes every morning to meditate, stretch and set an intention for the day – prior to engaging with anyone or checking my phone. My mantra is: Energy in before I send energy out. I tune out the world and all the things I need to do and take time to tend to my own needs. Other ways I care for myself daily: go for a walk, see a movie alone, get my nails done or carve out time to read a book. Challenge yourself to set up a morning or evening routine that allows you to focus on yourself for a few minutes. You’ll be amazed at how centered you will feel!
  3. Weekly and Monthly. Set up a weekly yoga practice or a time every month to check in with loved ones who live far away. Finding time to connect to yourself and those you love will do wonders for your mental wellness.

My advice to you? Choose a self-care ritual to practice each day or a few times a week for a month and note how it affects you and your interactions with others in a journal. This will encourage you to find what works for you and see how self-care can positively affect you over time. Above all, enjoy each day and remember you are worth it.

Mother Nurture: Giving Birth During a Storm

 Posted by on September 19, 2018 at 15:25
Sep 192018
 

When I learned that my baby’s due date would fall during my husband’s deployment, I knew that the birth would be challenging. We spent months deciding where I should give birth and how to get the most support from family and friends while he was away. After contacting a doula and a friend to be there with me in the hospital and inviting my mom to stay with our other young children, I felt as prepared as one can possibly be for a deployment baby.

Written by: Lizann

But one thing we didn’t plan for was a natural disaster. One week before my due date, we learned that there was a Category 3 Hurricane heading straight for our coastal North Carolina town. Although evacuations were optional, many local families either evacuated inland or prepared to spend the days home with their service member, sheltering in place. For me, as a pregnant mom with a deployed spouse, neither of those options were possible. I couldn’t evacuate, because driving inland around my due date could mean me going into labor while stuck in hours of traffic. But staying put with young children in a home that might lose power for several days seemed equally dangerous.

Luckily, with support from my family, I was able to find the help and resources that we needed to get through this very high-stress time. I am not the only military spouse who has been in this situation. Natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and forest fires can strike any time, including during deployments. Even when the service member is home, the military base may call them up for emergency response teams, which means they are unable to stay with their families. Every year, many military families are faced with the difficult choice to evacuate themselves or to shelter in place without their service member spouse.

I ended up giving birth to my son in the base hospital just as Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina. It was a terrifying experience, especially since my service member was overseas. But my consolation was in our preparations. I was confident that my other children would be okay, since I had left them with my mom, a generator and lots of additional food and supplies. I was able to communicate with my husband through the American Red Cross. I wasn’t alone in the hospital because I had previously arranged for a doula through Operation Special Delivery. And because I had let the unit Family Readiness group know about my situation, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a teddy bear and small flower bouquet in the hospital recovery room. If you find yourself in that difficult situation, know that you aren’t alone! Here are some steps to get you through a challenging natural disaster.

  1. Make an emergency plan. Some natural disasters, like hurricanes, give you several days of advanced notice so you can prepare. Others, such as earthquakes and forest fires, happen without warning. When you move to a new area, take the time to learn about natural disasters that can happen in your area and how locals prepare for them. Discuss various options with your spouse, so that you can agree on how to react and what to do with your children and pets during different types of disaster scenarios. You should also stock up on basic emergency supplies, like bottled water, flashlights and food (MRE’s work well for this) so that you won’t have to rush to the store when a disaster is announced. Use FEMA.gov or Ready.gov to make your preparation checklists.
  2. Know your evacuation options. Often, military families are stationed far from their families and support systems. An evacuation may mean driving to an unknown town to shelter in a hotel. The other option is to join locals at a public place like a school gymnasium. Military bases often provide temporary emergency shelters with generated electricity, but you should expect to pack your own bedding and food for these locations, and some may not allow pets. Listen to local news and officials about where to go and when to evacuate, and follow the evacuation preparations in this article. In my case, all pregnant women past 38 weeks were encouraged to shelter at the base hospital, in case they went into labor. Although the hospital and base were officially closed, the medical personnel on the delivery floor sheltered at the hospital to assist the handful of women who gave birth during the storm. My children were not allowed to join me at the hospital, so I had to prepare my house and arrange for my mom to take care of them while I went to deliver my baby.
  3. Know your local resources. There are numerous resources available to military families, before and after natural disasters. You can use the American Red Cross to convey an emergency message to your service member. My doctor helped me do this once I was admitted for delivery, so my Marine could go to the Communication tent and get in touch with me during delivery. Military OneSource provides free non-medical counseling which you can use before or after an emergency to work out your options, pursue different resources and find the support you need. Talking to someone else can help relieve your stress and help you think more clearly during an emergency. Finally, stay in touch with your military unit or base to learn about specific support organizations in your area, or research the organizations listed here.
  4. Save money for emergencies. You never know how much you will need for a natural disaster, but you should always keep an emergency fund in a savings account. You may need this for gas, plane tickets, or to pay for a hotel. If you suffer from spoiled food or a mandatory evacuation, insurance may help reimburse the costs, but it can take a while to receive the check. Because I was concerned about my mom being stuck at my house with two toddlers and no electricity for several days, we decided it was important to invest in a generator and fuel. Although it was a big purchase, it was worth it because it gave us both peace of mind when preparing for the storm.
  5. Get support. Call in your local support squad and let them know if you need extra help handling a disaster with your spouse away. Perhaps you can team up with other parents to share childcare and storm prep work. Or you can have a friend pick up emergency supplies at the store for you. Make sure you are in communication with the military chain of command, even if you do not live near the base. During an emergency, the Family Readiness personnel (FRG, FRO, or Ombudsman) may try to reach out and contact families to see who needs additional support. Talk to your service member about getting onto the email list or phone contact list for the unit, so you won’t be left out.

Giving birth during a natural disaster was a stressful experience I would not wish on anyone. By using your resources and planning ahead, you can reduce your stress and handle the experience, even without your service member.

Taking Readiness into Our Own Hands

 Posted by on September 18, 2018 at 10:57
Sep 182018
 

Even though I did, in fact, cut the cake at L.I.N.K.S. classes and pass it to the youngest Marine Corps spouse because I was the *cough* oldest *cough* spouse in attendance, it really wasn’t that long ago that I was a new Marine spouse. But even after 10 years, I don’t have it all together.

Kristi

The latest shakeup in the Marine Corps universe was sparked by MARADMIN 166/18. This memo basically announced the “reset” of the Unit, Personal and Family Readiness Program, or UPFRP. The civilian family readiness officers (FROs) we all know and love — the ones who would loop us in on all the unit events that our service members would forget to mention on the daily — are essentially being phased out at the unit level. This means that Marine spouses are at a bit of a crossroads — we must reclaim ownership of our readiness and the readiness of the people to our left and right.

Because every unit is different, you may not even realize your FRO is gone until you don’t run into her at the Christmas party, or you might be ferociously checking your email settings to solve the mystery of why you don’t receive weekly unit emails anymore. It’s not your email settings, Semper Gumby Sister, it’s the times.

Since our readiness point of contact is just taking on the role as a side gig on top of their full-time assignment, things are going to change, and more responsibility will fall on Marine spouses once again. So, how can you make sure that your family readiness and the family readiness of the people to your left and right doesn’t suffer during this time when we’re all just shrugging shoulders? You take charge!

  1. Handle your own business. This doesn’t mean you’re totally on your own. Learn all you can from your Marine, the unit, the fellow spouse and base resources. If you need help, get help. There is a whole wide web of resources on base and on an actual website, like Military OneSource, just waiting for you to use them.
  2. Get educated. We all know our ABCs, but do you know your Alpha, Bravo, Charlies? The Marine Corps is a whole new world, much different than the civilian life outside the gates, and it takes some getting used to. Luckily, there are a whole mess of classes you can take for FREE to learn the ropes. Take a L.I.N.K.S. class — if you were paying attention at the beginning of this blog, you know they offer cake! Take the sponsorship class or the OPSEC class. They have baby-focused curriculums, marriage workshops, financial workshops, team building and communication workshops. There’s no limit, you can take them all!
  3. Tune in. It’s not hard to hear people when they talk to you, but it is very much a learned skill to listen with intent. When you talk to another spouse at a playgroup or unit function and you hear clues that she might be depressed, or she is stressed about child care or a deployment, you need to be an active bystander. That means doing something.
  4. Respond. Knowing how to respond to the needs of other spouses starts with making sure you know which resources are in place. Maybe you need to send the spouse to the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society for budgeting help, or to the unit chaplain to talk through feelings of depression. Maybe you just connect the spouse with another unit spouse who hosts weekly playdates. Your job in these situations is to point people to the experts and follow up as a friend to make sure they’ve gotten what they needed.
  5. Lead. It doesn’t matter how busy you think you are, you can do something. Whether you dive into heading up unit activities or a spouses’ group or you just unofficially take a new spouse under your wing, you can take charge somewhere. You have a skill, an interest, a degree or a talent that can be used to better the unit and better the experience of the people in it.
  6. Teach. I had a pastor tell me once that he hated the word “graduation” because no one should ever be done learning. You likely still feel new in some capacity as a military spouse (because things are always changing, remember — even duty stations), but you know enough to help someone who is brand new to this life. Help the next generation of Marine spouses by looping them in when you plan unit events, letting them head up a committee or bringing them along to one of the many educational opportunities. It’s important to make sure the next generation has the knowledge they need to be successful after we’re retired and enjoying the civilian life.

I’ll be honest, I was a little thrown by this whole reset. I’ve only ever known the Marine Corps with FROs (see, I’m not that seasoned), but I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think it’s going to be a good thing with the right amount of care. It gives the units within the Marine Corps the chance to get back to that community vibe where everyone is connected, and everybody helps — even if “helping” is just handling your family’s readiness and contributing an occasional potluck dish. Every Marine spouse knows something another spouse doesn’t. It’s time to pitch in and be a mentor. It’s time to be accountable for ourselves and our unit family.

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?

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