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How to Talk to Your Kids About World Tragedies

 Posted by on September 26, 2016 at 07:00
Sep 262016


Bubble wrap ‘em. I’ve wanted to bubble wrap my kids’ hearts, minds and skins on many occasions. That’s what all parents want (right?) — to protect our kids from the hurts, fears and tragedies in the world. I guess packaging them like precious porcelain doesn’t do much for making them resilient human beings even if the image gives us the false sense of keeping them safe. One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is the knowledge of how to handle tragedies and difficulties in a healthy way. So how do we equip our kids with coping skills when we are still trying to figure that out as adults?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommends parents and those who work with children act as filters before funneling information of national tragedies and crisis to children. They suggest we present the information in a way the child can understand, cope with and adjust to. Here are five ways to act as filter and guide as you help your children process what happened and build coping skills to see them through life.

1. Check your emotions. Your emotions speak louder than words.

When my kindergartener came home from school on 9/11 she started asking me about why airplanes were flying into buildings and people were jumping out of them. Already emotionally charged from having seen it on the news during my work breaks, I did my best to answer her questions as simply and factually as I could, but I know my emotions weren’t in check. That was confirmed when I asked my daughter (now 20) to remember that day. Mostly, she remembered how mad I was at her teacher for letting the class watch the news coverage. Yikes. Emotions have more hang time in memory.

2. Limit media exposure. Turn it off. Keep exposure to the images, commentary and media’s tragedy-branding theme songs to a minimum.

As adults, we tend to crave the information, and want to know the latest developments. But for our children, all that exposure to the raw images, media frenzy and regurgitation of information isn’t healthy — it forces them to focus on the fear of events instead of how to cope with them. If you do allow your children to watch some of the news coverage, watch it together and use it as a conversation starter. Talking about what happened, the fears the event creates or anything that worries your kids or you is a healthy way to cope with tragedy. Model it and they’ll join the discussion and learn with you.

3. Ask your kids. What did you hear? Do you have any questions? And actively listen to their answers.

Find out what they’ve heard and what their questions are so you know where to start with the information. This can help you find out what their fears are early on and can help you assess what they may need to know in order to help them learn to cope. School shootings were the tragedies that scared my kids the most. It’s something they understand as they go through lock-down drills in school multiple times every year. When you discover their fears, you may be able to help them reframe how they view things. Help them understand the lock-down drills are for safety, just like buckling seat belts. You practice it so when you need it, it’s already in place to keep you safe.

4. Answer their questions. Be direct and honest and stick to answering only what they ask.

There’s no need to overload kids with information. Provide them with the answers they need and ways to cope with the emotions. Let your main message to your children be that it’s OK to be upset by what happened, we’re going through this together and will help each other through it. This is also an opportunity to teach your kids about compassion and empathy. As they tell you how they feel, talk about how you all think others may feel. Take it a step further and discuss how you may be able to help the victims. What is something you can do together to help those suffering? Helping others is another way to cope with the darkness in the world…add in some light.

5. Support when needed. Be there for your children emotionally when they need it.

Model caring and compassion to your children and others, and your children will notice and repeat. After you help them or someone else, explain to your kids how you knew they needed support, what made you decide to act and what to do. Teach them what they can look for in others that will clue them in to someone who may need help. Kids are small, but their hearts and minds are mighty. Give them the power to look for ways and means to help others. Show your kids that being there for someone only takes small acts, but can mean the world to the person in need at that moment.

A little girl in my daughter’s preschool lost her dad during the attack on the USS Cole. Soon after that tragic loss, when my husband would pick up our daughter from preschool, the little girl would always come up to him. Maybe it was his haircut or uniform, but whatever the reason, she just wanted to tell him about her day and other times about her dad. He would take some time to listen and return a hug if she wanted one. Maybe it was her way of feeling close to her dad — a preschooler’s way of getting a message of love through. Whatever it was it seemed to put a smile on her face and helped her at that moment.

Join the conversation. Please share what things helped your kids process and cope with world tragedies.

Hypothetical Parties, Guppies and You

 Posted by on September 5, 2016 at 07:00
Sep 052016


You’re invited to a get-together Saturday afternoon. It sounds like fun. It’s at the restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. And, as luck would have it, you’re free on Saturday! The only catch is that you don’t know anyone who will be there for reasons I’ll leave open to your imagination. Maybe you just moved to the fictional land in this scenario, maybe you run in different circles, maybe work and shuttling kids around keeps you in your own lane six days a week or maybe you are just seeing the light of day for the first time in months since your baby was born — your hypothetical, your choice.

Even for the socially gifted, this is not an ideal scenario because parties, meetings, work, school, volunteering or pretty much anything else is a little less scary when you know someone else who will be there. It’s that safety-in-numbers thing that’s engrained in our brains from an early age.

If you’re an introvert, or you’re shy, or you just feel awkward in new social situations, you might flake on this thing on Saturday. It’s hard to face something alone; it makes you vulnerable — I wouldn’t fault you for making that call. In fact, I’m the flaker in that scenario. I’m almost always awkward the first time anyone meets me — I can’t say for sure if that’s how it comes off, but I feel that way. I’ve just never been one to float seamlessly into a conversation. No, walking up to a group of strangers makes me feel like I have a flashing neon sign over my head that says, “One of these things is not like the other.” No thanks, I’d rather stay home than stand around checking my phone, trying to look important in between telling the same condensed story of my life to strangers.

Let’s say the exact same get-together is happening on the same Saturday (and, we’ve already established that you’re free), but your neighbor who’s made you feel welcome since the day you moved in is also going. A party full of strangers doesn’t scare me at all if I have a wingman. Awkward pauses don’t happen and judging my what I can tell of my own body language, I probably look more approachable.

Swap this hypothetical party out with almost any other situation, and you get the same result. No matter where we are or what the situation, we are stronger when we band together. When we, as military spouses, or a military community as a whole, choose to be inclusive and support each other instead of nitpicking and judging each other, we are a strong unit, a total force. We are a school of fish that can fend off the toothiest of sharks instead of fragile guppies swimming along solo.

I don’t want to be a guppy. I want to feel empowered swimming along next to equally empowered fish. Empowered fish are strong, confident and they look out for their own. So, to swim in this school of positive, empowered fish, there are a few ground rules:

  1. Squash conversations that only exist to cut people down. It sounds heroic, but anyone can change the subject. You don’t have to publicly shame anyone, just refuse to talk about other people negatively.
  2. Introduce yourself. Greet your new neighbor or the mom at the park who looks like she’s having one of those days.
  3. Have one face. Nothing brings back high school like the term “two-faced,” but it applies here as well. I said it years ago in a blog somewhere here on Blog Brigade, the military community is a small town. So stick to one face, and make it a good one because it will get stuck like that.
  4. Be inclusive. Look, I’m not saying you need to invite everyone to everything. I don’t want to feed the entire neighborhood dinner either. But, be inclusive when it’s necessary. When there’s a new family on the block, extend an invitation. When you know someone doesn’t have any plans or family in town for a holiday, remember: the more, the merrier.
  5. Be civil. Like number four, we know at this point in our lives that we aren’t going to be friends with everyone. For whatever reason, some people don’t mesh — it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Not meshing is one thing, being rude is another. Let’s exchange some mutual respect and continue to coexist like civilized adults.
  6. Encourage where encouragement is due. It doesn’t matter how busy I am; I can pick up on signs of stress in another person. As much as I like to stick to my own schedule, I will always detour for someone who needs to talk. I can be a couple minutes late if someone needs a hand. Humans trump schedule.
  7. Give up grudges. Apologize, accept apologies and move on.
  8. Participate in the network. The military community is full of talent and, in a weird second-cousin-twice-removed kind of way, we are all connected. It’s easy to get wrapped up in competing — wanting to be the best in your field of expertise, wanting to have the last word or the best social scene. It’s far more beneficial to be a team player and support each other on our journeys than it is to keep our heads down and go it alone.

Vulnerable isn’t a popular feeling — people tend to dislike it. I’ve been the new kid on the block, so have you. I’ve made abrupt 90-degree turns, like recently deciding to head to grad school to pursue something that seemed ridiculous even a year ago. What encouraged me? It was a supportive network, an empowered group that didn’t say judgmental things, like “How are you going to have time for that,” or even the slyly condescending, “Oh, I sure wouldn’t want to do that, but good for you.” No, success, positivity and ambition are contagious. My recent decision was met with comments, like “I’m so excited for you,” and questions from people who genuinely showed interest.

So, don’t be shy. Spread it around. Be a friend. Be a cheerleader. Let’s have more “You go girl (or boy),” and less eye rolling. And let’s not wait around for someone else to be the bigger person, we can handle that.

Mommy and Me Go Back to School

 Posted by on July 27, 2016 at 08:00
Jul 272016


Yesterday I registered for my first semester of graduate school and had a fantastic first meeting with my advisor. That overachieving student in me woke up and shot out of bed for the first time in nearly 10 years. With the adrenaline I had pumping right then, I probably could’ve read my first textbook cover to cover, unfortunately, the textbook assignments haven’t been posted yet.

Today was a little different. I spent the entire morning trying to log into my student orientation. When I was finally in, I was greeted by a header that read, “Karen S.” Which is only an issue because my name isn’t Karen. If ever there was a head-to-desk moment, this was it. I had visions of my hard-earned master’s degree with the name Karen on it, and I wondered — only half seriously — if it would be easier to just legally change my name or get back on hold for the remainder of the day.

I have to see the humor in that situation. I mean, it is a pretty funny story. But, there is a lesson in it — aside from the all-important realization that the tech helpline is long on knowledge, but short on appreciating my jokes. Yes, this snafu was a hearty reality check alright. You see, I’m not the only one going back to school this fall. My son will start kindergarten (sniff, sniff), and my daughter will head to preschool for the very first time ever (sniff, sniff, cry uncontrollably).

As a mom who has worked from home longer than my babies have been alive, I saw the opportunity in them starting school. No more am I juggling my schedule around a 3-hour “school day” or no school at all. More uninterrupted time means I can accomplish more in one day. Not to mention it’s a good distraction from the fact that my kids are growing up.

Just yesterday, after my most frustrating day of grad school to date (granted I don’t start until the end of August), I was still able to remind another military spouse that there isn’t much that a mom with a goal can’t handle. And I stand by that. We can multitask. We can focus while the noisiest toys in the house sound simultaneously, cereal flies across the room and the dog barks at every … single … person walking down the sidewalk.

But, though I’d like to think so, we aren’t superheroes. To be successful, we do need a plan and some serious organization, after all this isn’t just keeping track of one person’s assignments, it’s that on top of everything else moms already do.

Put it (all of it) on the calendar

I already know I’ll get a calendar of all my assignments on the first day of class. That magical paper is getting printed and posted by our family’s communication station (which isn’t as complex as it sounds — it’s a calendar and bulletin board in our pantry). I will also post the monthly calendars for both kids in there as well — no mom wants to be the one that forgot about preschool pajama day.

Make time for school

My grad school is 100 percent online, which for convenience’s sake is more fabulous than fabulous, but it also means forcing myself to block off a time and space where I focus only on school. I figured this out years ago when I started working from home, but it’s only human to find distraction in laundry, errands, whatever is on TV and — of course — my family. I don’t have the luxury of an actual office in our quaint 1,200-square feet of townhouse, so the best I can do is section off a space for my desk in the living room. That’s my setup, and while it isn’t a favorable study space when we have a full house, it should do the job when I’m the only one home. As a backup, I’ve also found an installation library right down the street from both of the kids’ schools. Who says you can’t still be hover mom when everyone’s at school?

Fight the urge to “mom” all day

As far as small kids go, mine are pretty patient. When I tell them I need them to play on their own for 15 minutes so I can finish something, they’re pretty respectful. But a 5-year old that respects your time is not always all the respect you need to get the job done. Someone will always need a drink of water. Someone will always give you puppy-dog eyes because it’s been eight minutes since you last played with her and she’s bored. There will always be laundry, and a dirty dish, and an errand. My biggest challenge — and maybe yours too — will be tuning everything else out. I want to give my goals just as much attention as I do everyone else’s. It’s not selfish, no matter what that mothering instinct is telling you.

So, from my freshly organized desk, I’ll wrap this up so I can focus on the last few days of summer with my kids. We’re full of butterflies, and with our new school clothes (them, not me — there’s no dress code for distance learning) and a fresh stack of school supplies, we can’t wait to kick off a successful school year.




11 Mythbusters for Soon-to-Be Milspouses

 Posted by on June 20, 2016 at 15:38
Jun 202016


Congratulations on your engagement to the military — err, your fiancé. Actually, you know what, it’s best that we lose the sugarcoating sooner rather than later: You really are marrying your fiancé and the military. And while we’re clearing things up, the military wears the pants in this matrimony.

I remember being a military girlfriend before I was a military spouse — there was a whole world I didn’t know about. I didn’t even know the right questions to ask, because there were answers I didn’t even know I needed.

But ever since that saber slap to the rear, I’ve never been the same. I learned quickly that military plans trump my plans and that the best way to figure something out is to ask the real experts, fellow military spouses. So, as my wedding gift to you, here are some military-life myths that are so busted.

Myth 1: Your service member’s salary increases with every new dependent.

Yes and no. You are a salary increase (unless your soon-to-be spouse is already a parent), but any future, adorable kids won’t get your spouse a raise. It’s a one-and-done situation.

Myth 2: Someone, somewhere will tell you everything you need to know.

Oh, if only there was an appointed military spouse fairy godmother — unfortunately, there’s not (told you we weren’t sugarcoating anything). You’ll spend a lot of time tracking down your own answers, and sometimes different people will give you different answers to the same questions. Talk about fun!

Myth 3: Homecomings are the stuff of dreams.                     

Chances are you’ll look forward to a homecoming just as much as your wedding day — and rightfully so. But it’s important to wrap your mind around the idea that it only needs to be perfect for you and your spouse; it will never seem perfect to anyone else. My husband’s first homecoming was delayed two days. All the plans I made to welcome him home were foiled. And he finally came home in the middle of one freezing, cold night. There was no brass band. There was no ceremonial flyover. It wasn’t what I expected, but it is still one of the best days of my life.

Myth 4: Give it time; you’ll get the hang of it. See also: It will all make sense in a few years.

No, some things will never make sense. Other things will start to make sense, then those things will change. Do other spouses a favor: If you make sense of a part of military life, share it with your peers. Write a blog. Write a book. Post it on Facebook.

Myth 5: It’s hard to make new friends after each move.

The military community is a welcoming one! Once you make some friends after your first PCS, you’re golden. After that, you’ll always have a friend of a friend somewhere. And military spouses who came before us would envy the existence of social media groups, our addition to the typical clubs and mandatory fun “opportunities.”

Myth 6: Uniforms are always irresistible.

There’s still nothing like seeing my Marine in his uniform (any one of them). But the enchantment fades ever so slightly when you smell your first overripe flight suit or you have to start budgeting extra time in your morning routine to assist with buttoning, pinning, rolling, creasing and tucking.

Myth 7: Moving is a pain.

Moving has actually become my favorite part of military life. Sure, I’m a little jealous of my friends who’ve settled into their dream houses, but our time is coming. We just have to go see the world first — and that’s pretty awesome.

Myth 8: Everything is free!

There’s no easy way to tell you that you do have to pay for your groceries…and vacations…and your spouse’s uniforms. Military families get a few awesome benefits, like basic medical and dental needs, rentals from Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and…umm…your ID card is free. Commissary groceries are up to 30 percent cheaper than the supermarket down the street, and you can avoid tax by shopping on base. Housing will also cost you your basic housing allowance (sometimes more), so house hunt wisely.

Myth 9: Only the outgoing spouses make it in the military.

Type A, type B — it doesn’t matter as long as you have a healthy amount of love for your service member, a side of flexibility and a fine-tuned sense of humor.

Myth 10: Military kids are “brats.”

I lived in the same town for 22 years, so I had no idea how to help my kids who move every 2-3 years. But they’re great! My son is social. My daughter goes with the flow. They are resilient. They are patriotic. They are respectful. They both love the moving adventure, and I always make a point to tell my kids how lucky they are. They’ll learn about the Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. at school, and they’ve been there. They’ve seen them firsthand.

Myth 11: You can kiss your career goodbye.

I’ll be honest, moving and involuntarily catering to your service member’s career makes your own career progression a bigger challenge than it is for some people. But, military spouses — I believe — have some advantages. We have access to educational benefits, like the GI Bill. Programs like the Military Spouse Employment Partnership and Spouse Education and Career Opportunities are making strides to keep spouses military spouses employed. These days, we also have telecommuting in our back pocket. I’ve worked remotely for nearly 7 years. And, if you’re still not convinced, military life actually led me down a career path I never expected. It didn’t break my career; it made it.

Jun 162016


If your morning shuffle makes you look like a zombie actor’s stunt double and your brain is so foggy you put the milk in the pantry and the cereal in the fridge, you might be a new parent. Parenting takes a lot out of you, and the transition into parenthood is tough physically and mentally. Becoming the stay-at-home parent adds another level of transition into the mix, even more so if your partner is on active duty and deploying.


While that may sound, and occasionally look apocalyptic, it is very doable and one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever done. But how do you go through this full-time parenting gig without losing yourself along the way? I’ve got five tips to help you get through the zombie zone and into that sweet spot of family life.



  1. Nurture yourself first, so you’ll have something to give to your family. Schedule some of what makes you happy into every day or at least once a week. Whatever your passion (music lessons, art, crafting, golf, reading, cooking, pursing an education, etc.), you need to actively pursue it. Schedule it when you can — during naps, after kids are in bed, get a sitter or wait until your partner is home to tag-team kid duties — but find time for you.


Kids make life richer; they aren’t an excuse to stop doing the things you love. It took me years to earn my degree, but I continued to attend college as a young parent because it fed my soul. When we were stationed in Sicily, I was able to work part-time for MWR to earn enough money for a babysitter on the nights I had class (when hubby was deployed or on duty). I applied for scholarships and took college classes on base.


  1. Live in the moment so you don’t multitask your life away. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day juggling of feeding, changing diapers, slaying the laundry monster, and the rest of your to-do list. Actively engage in what you are doing, and you’ll find yourself completing tasks instead of spinning your wheels on 10 different things. When you are feeding the baby, relax and enjoy the interaction and closeness, because this time won’t last very long. When you are deliberate with your actions you get more done and appreciate life a bit more.


Adjust your priorities. It’s OK to let the house go a little and focus on the basics. Rest, food, bathe, oh — and breathe. Breathing is good.


  1. Schedule your day so you can be spontaneous. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but trust me on this. Once you establish a schedule that works for you and your baby (or children), you will know your windows of active time and naptime and can take advantage of them. You need to get out of the house — sometimes to preserve your own sanity and other times to do the necessary shopping. Schedules help you do that and keep the kids happier.


When we were stationed at NAS Sigonella in Sicily, I stayed cooped up in the apartment for a while until I figured out that planning outings around my infant’s schedule made both our days better. Sometimes I planned for her to nap on the bus or in the car. Other days I found a quiet place for her to nap in the stroller, and we still had plenty of days where she napped in her crib. Manipulating the place of the feeding or nap, while sticking to the schedule, gave me newfound freedom to get things done or go to an impromptu lunch with friends.



  1. Wear your clothes, so you can connect with adults. I know that sounds silly to say, but if you are in the trenches, you know there will be days when you feel like managing to get a shower is an award-winning accomplishment. Pajamas or sweats are easier to roll with, but you still need to put yourself together so you won’t be in hermit mode every day. Once you’re dressed, with shoes on, you’ll find you are more productive and more sociable.


You have options in your day if you are dressed at the beginning of it. You can find and build a support network of friends that are in the same situation as you. Our second home in Sicily was farther away from base, so to find other moms I got involved with the local playgroup. We explored our little town of Santa Maria La Stella, went site seeing, hosted lunch play dates and watched each other’s kids when needed. That did my soul good and wore out my toddler so she napped like a champ, which in turn left me with a bit more me time.



  1. Date your partner. Between parenting, housework, career and the other activities of your life, it is easy to let exhaustion be an excuse to push off date night. Don’t let that happen. It’s important to reconnect with your partner daily and to have a regular date night each week. You don’t always have to go out of the house, but you do need to have regular time together and away from the kids.


You can have fabulous date nights on a budget. Check out your local Morale, Welfare and Recreation center for inexpensive and adventurous date ideas. Remember, your base usually has discount movies and you’ll find military discounts on different tickets at your ITT office. Be creative and surprise each other. Caring for one another as partners will make your parenting teamwork easier and more natural.


All parents go through this zombie stage. Pull yourself out of it with help from those who have been there. The friends I made while parenting my young children hold a special place in my heart. Those mothers helped me find myself when my zombie days blurred into one another. They reminded me that the best parts of life begin in parenthood. You have unique talents, knowledge, experiences and dreams you need to continue to nurture, because that is the well you draw from when you raise your children, solve problems and care for your family.


12 Tips for the Newbie MilSpouse

 Posted by on December 17, 2015 at 07:42
Dec 172015


I just realized the other day that my husband is well past the magical halfway mark to retirement and we are quickly approaching the home stretch. This happened when I was referred to in conversation as a “seasoned spouse.” The foodie in me instantly thought “Ooh yum! Seasoned with what?” Then I realized it was a polite way of saying I have” been around the block a time or two.” Wait, was I just called old? When did this happen, this seasoning stuff? Some days I can’t believe how fast we got to this point, and other times I think, “Gosh! I have no idea what I am doing.” Who’s with me on that one, seasoned or not?

Neither of us were military “brats” so this life was all new to us. As I thought back on the years (Did I just say “years” plural? Maybe I am more seasoned than I want to admit.), I remembered all the awesome advice and tips I got from spouses who have walked this road before me. So I want to pass their advice along, as well as share some things I have learned over the years.

  1. The military community is small. Be courteous to everyone, because you will see them again one day if your spouse serves more than four years. You do not have to like everyone you meet, but you should be respectful of everyone.
  2. And speaking of being courteous, let’s talk about gossip. Don’t do it. Mark your “It stops here” role on the Gossip Train early and maintain it.
  3. Get involved. Being a part of a family readiness group does not make you a “dependa” or a spouse without her own life. It means you have a giving heart and are involved. No shame in that.
  4. Don’t fight the dress code on an installation. You are a guest on the installation, even if you live in base housing. Now is not the time to be a clothing vigilante. Put away the shower shoes or throw on a cardigan. There are bigger battles to fight.
  5. Do not get involved in the rank game. A good rule of practice I maintain is to never discuss my husband’s rank with anyone. As spouses we can mingle with anyone we want. That means you may find yourself friends with the E-1 spouses all the way up to the spouse of a general. Don’t judge and make friends based on their SPOUSE’s rank, or you will be missing out on some good friendships along the way.
  6. There is always, always, always, something good in every duty station. Some locations might be filled to the brim with positive, and others may require a magnifying glass and digging, but there is something good. I promise. I am looking at you folks stationed in the desert.
  7. The early days of your military marriage may be some of your hardest, but they will soon be fond memories of an era you wish you could go back to. I personally miss when weekend entertainment was having cookouts at our friend’s houses because that is all any of us could afford. Moments like these turn into memories of “the good ole days.”
  8. Life can also happen outside the gates. I know it’s easy to fall into the grind of base living because everything is so convenient, but make it a point to get out into your surrounding community at least once a week. Go exploring, go shopping, visit a park, do something. When I look back on everywhere we lived, the memories that first come to mind are always our time in the community, not how quickly we could get to the commissary.
  9. Ask for help. Especially if you are new at this life. It’s hard to pick up and move away from everything you have ever known and be dropped into the middle of a new life — especially one full of so many rules and where people speak another language (military). Use the support services on your installation. That is what they are there for. Don’t “tough guy” it up.
  10. Attend your branch’s version of “Military Spouse 101” class — then attend it again in 5 years, because you will learn something new.
  11. Find a milspouse mentor. Military spouses are an AWESOME and diverse group of folks. Find a spouse that emulates the qualities important to you and learn from them. There is no need to blaze your own trail when one has already been cut for you. Save your trail cutting skills for other paths that will come your way.
  12. Keep working on you. Follow your dreams even as your follow your spouse. If this involves going back to school, do it. Even if it takes twice as long. Build a career if that is important to you. Roll up your sleeves, dust off your resume and get to applying. Think outside the box and you may find your dream job looks completely different than you thought it did. Just don’t ever stop doing things for you.

The most important advice I can give is to honestly enjoy the time. The military life is one of the most unique ones around, so embrace it. Say “YES!” to duty stations you never dreamed of going to. Say “YES!” to living outside your comfort zone, and watch what the world has in store for you.

Give it Back: A Lesson in Paying it Forward

 Posted by on November 26, 2015 at 22:42
Nov 262015


Somewhere around four years and three states ago, my son lost that breathtaking excitement a child gets out of something as simple as a cardboard box. Maybe all the moving has desensitized him to cardboard, who knows? At age 2, my daughter still has it. She gasped so long after opening a care package from her Nana and Papa that I had to remind her to take a breath, and this was before she even knew what was wrapped up in the packing paper.

As their mom, I knew it was on me to deliver an attitude adjustment (or, in my daughter’s case, bad attitude prevention). Teaching graciousness, thankfulness and respect is my job and my husband’s job. It’s definitely not the job of a cartoon character or a teacher (trust me, teachers’ plates are full without adding this to the lesson plan). So, last holiday season I decided to take action against:

  • Tantrums brought on by the word, “no”
  • Stand-offs because I gave my kid the red straw when he was clearly (silently, in his own head) envisioning sipping his milk through the blue straw
  • Whining
  • Complaints of boredom
  • Complaints that all of our toys are boring
  • The sense of entitlement
  • Selfishness
  • Dinnertime protests against anything unprocessed or covered in cheese
Not-so-random acts of kindness

My plan was to get the kids involved in giving back. For 25 days, we worked together to help others, give instead of receive and make our community an all-around better place for everyone. Every day, for 25 days, the kids opened an envelope to find their act of kindness mission for the day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Hold the door open for 10 people.
  2. Hide five $1 bills around store shelves for shoppers to find.
  3. Leave stamps in the stamp machine at the post office.
  4. Donate supplies to the animal shelter.
  5. Send cookies to work with daddy.
  6. Donate change to the Salvation Army.
  7. Drop off lunch for firefighters.
  8. Pay the tab for the car behind us at the drive-thru.
  9. Donate canned goods to a holiday food drive.
  10. Mail letters to loved ones.
  11. Donate stuffed animals to the police station to comfort children in traumatic situations.
  12. Take cookies to hard-working teachers before their holiday break.
  13. Clean up trash around the neighborhood. For safety, the kids wore gloves, and anything especially gross was mommy’s job to clean up.
  14. Deliver flowers to a nursing home, and ask that they be given to the resident who most needs them.
  15. Compliment three people.
  16. Donate clothes, toys and books we’ve outgrown.
  17. Mail a care package to a service member spending the holidays overseas.
  18. Leave money with a parking lot attendant at the airport to cover the fees for the next driver. (I initially wanted to do this at the hospital parking garage, but the parking was free. I figured stressed holiday travelers could use a little kindness too. The attendant was so excited to be a part of this act of kindness that you would’ve thought I’d given her a check for a million dollars!)
  19. Give Santa a present at the mall — the kids drew him pictures.
  20. Leave a stack of pennies next to a fountain with a note that says, “For wishes.”
  21. Deliver breakfast or coffee to the gate guards.
  22. Drop off crayons and coloring books to a hospital waiting room.
  23. Leave bus fare on bus benches around town.
  24. Pack and deliver chemo care packages to the cancer center.
  25. Donate a toy to Toys For Tots.

Some of these will be back this holiday season, but I’ve been busily brainstorming a few new ideas to throw in the mix:

  1. Corral shopping carts left around a parking lot.
  2. Deliver holiday treats to our neighbors.
  3. Cheer on runners at a race.
  4. Please and thank you day — say them all day when you ask for something or receive something.
  5. Plant a tree.
  6. Leave homemade bookmarks with kind messages inside books at the library.
  7. Let someone go ahead of us in line.
  8. Donate school supplies — pencils and paper aren’t usually on anyone’s mind after August, but those supplies run out, and teachers often dip into their own pockets to provide for their students.
  9. Clean up a neighborhood park.
Make it work for your family

My kids are pretty young, so, for now, the acts of kindness are fairly simple with lots of parent involvement (which I didn’t mind because even grown-ups need reminders once in a while). If you have older kids, you might find success in volunteering time or giving your teenagers the reins to come up with ideas of their own.

This is a tradition that I absolutely fell in love with last year, and I can’t wait to get started on the acts of kindness this holiday season. However small, my kids are making a difference and they’re seeing the value in that. These gestures can turn someone’s crummy day around (even our own). They can offer a little hope in a hopeless situation. They offer thanks to someone in an otherwise thankless job. They can cause a chain reaction of kindness. A little kindness goes a long way, and that’s a lesson worth teaching at any age.

You Can Do Anything 2 Times, Right?

 Posted by on October 6, 2015 at 10:56
Oct 062015
Guest Blogger Julie Green

Guest Blogger Julie Green

Blogger Biography: Julie GreenI am mom to one hot mess of a toddler, wife to a Navy sailor, and dedicated mosquito slayer (I am on the marketing team at an outdoor pest control company.) I love writing about life, whether that’s being a working mom, a military spouse or just being a woman — beautiful chaos and hilarity ensues with all of that.


The days and nights leading up to a deployment can be the hardest on your heart. There is a clock above your head that ticks louder and faster as the date draws near. Sometimes you aren’t sure you can handle the pressure, but you do. The date comes…and then goes. You watch the plane take off, you watch the ship sail away or you drive away from the base wondering how you’re going to get through this deployment.

The first couple of months actually fly by, and I sit back and think, “Man, I can do this. I’ve got this.” I let myself free float out of protection mode and into automatic pilot. And while I do in fact “have this,” I hit a mental wall a few weeks ago. I find myself feeling very lucky because I have a job I adore and an insane 2.5 year old that keeps me busy — very, very busy. From the time he wakes up in the morning until I lay down at night, my days are full. Of course, I think about my husband all the time, but I’m going 100 miles per hour. I’m distracted. And for the first couple of months I put my son to bed and find anything and everything to do to keep moving. You would think my house would be spotless, right? Ha. I wish. Turns out my after-hour distractions do not include cleaning or laundry. I digress.

One evening I check the mail, and I have a letter from that sweet husband of mine. I’m reading and smiling because he starts telling me all the things he misses about me. He misses earrings not making it to the jewelry box, soda cans all over the house and the string of clothes on the floor that stretches from our bedroom door all the way to the shower. (He must love me if he is misses my annoying habits.) But in the letter he asks me, “What do you miss most about me?” I read this, fold the letter up and immediately go about distracting myself.

This nags at me for a week. I find myself thinking about it driving, in the shower, on my lunch break. What do I miss most? I come home one evening and after getting my child to bed, I pour a glass of wine and revisit the letter. I come to my answer, get out a pen and a paper to write him a letter back — and the floodgates open. Thankfully I have an amazing sister who sits on the phone with me and lets me ugly cry my way through the first “I miss him so much I am physically hurting” night and then has me laughing hysterically by the end of the conversation. It happens, but it passes.

These are times it is important to lean on the support system you have. Sometimes these people aren’t the family you’re born into —they’re the connections you’ve made along this journey. Maybe that connection is another spouse from the command, with whom you have lots in common, or the coworker who has been through umpteen deployments. Maybe, like me, it is your sister who has no idea what you’re going through, but just loves you and lets you vent.

If you’re wondering what I miss most — to answer the big question — it is being his wife. I miss the quiet moments in the evenings spent with my legs draped over him on the couch— me on my tablet and him watching yet another military movie. I miss waking up in the night and hearing his slow, steady breathing, and cooking dinner at the stove when he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist (while sneaking food off the counter).

It isn’t fun to think about (especially when you have six months of the deployment left), and I don’t even make it through the letter that night. But, while sharing a cup of coffee with a veteran spouse and telling her about the letter and my fears, she asks me if I had blogged about it. She reminds me that writing is cathartic for me and says maybe I should consider it. It could help not only me, but others going through the struggles of deployment. So here I am, deleting and re-writing, inserting, and copying and pasting my way through a really hard blog post.

That’s life though, right? Trying to delete, re-write, and copy and paste things so they look really pretty when, in fact, life sometimes just isn’t really pretty. Some days are good and some days are rough. Yesterday marks three months, and my son and I are doing awesome. If we made it through the first three months, we only have to do that two more times, and you can do anything twice. Right? I feel blessed that I found that husband of mine to love and miss — even if he comes with a side of deployment.



Maddie’s Answer: Military Spouse Appreciation

 Posted by on June 8, 2015 at 14:44
Jun 082015


Dear Maddie,

Any advice for civilian military spouses looking for federal employment? Or anything that is conducive to moving every few years?



Hi Kallie,

Let me start by saying, as a fellow active-duty military spouse, I can empathize with this question. Finding federal employment is a great start to landing a job that can usually be easily transferred as your husband gets orders every few years. However, if you are like me, and many others, you may just be wondering “how in the heck do we break through the federal hiring process to get hired?” Well, here is the good news. The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities, or MySECO, is where you need to start. In addition to articles and tips to help you write a successful federal resume, you can speak with a career counselor at no cost. Career counselors can help you with your resume, offer interview tips and even help you decide what direction you want to take with your career. Seriously, visit the website and then give them a call.

I also highly recommend becoming a mentee in the Military Spouse eMentorship Program. They can connect you with a spouse that is already working in your career field. Your mentor is there to help you succeed through networking, sharing personal stories of the path they took to reach success in their career while being a military spouse, and offer career advice from the industry.

Please note that portable careers have evolved so much in recent years thanks to technology. If you have no idea where to even begin finding a portable career, check out “Portable Careers for Military Spouses” to get you started and help you think outside the “typical portable career box.” Telecommuting is becoming mainstream and companies and employees are eagerly embracing it. Depending on your career field, you may be able to talk to your current employer about keeping your job even as you PCS around the country or across the world. Be sure to notify your employer in plenty of time before your impending move and be prepared to present a game plan on how you think your position would work well as a telecommuting career. For example: do you just need an internet connection, computer, and phone to work? Sweet. Then show them how easy that will be to provide from your new location. How will you handle working in a different time zone from your company? Are you open to staying up late or getting up early? Tell them. Does your job offer flexible hours where you can work whenever works best for you as long as you meet your deadline? That’s even better news for you. Work this into your “this is why keeping me on will be great” speech. Remember to think about your proposition from your employer’s perspective and be prepared to answer those questions.

The good news is that military spouses make awesome employees and employers know that. So dust off that resume, brush up on your interview skills…your career awaits.


I Am the Mother of a Bully

 Posted by on November 21, 2014 at 08:00
Nov 212014


Bullies have been around as long as people have been on the planet. As a community, we do not tolerate bullying, nor should we ever. We try to give the bullied strategies to deal with bullies, help them recover and stand stronger.

Then one day, we realize our child IS the bully. There is this moment of mixed emotions ranging from anger and embarrassment to sadness, sorrow and sometimes failure that rushes you like a giant wave you weren’t ready for. It’s shameful and we bear that burden of shame directly on our parental shoulders.

But it happens. In fact, at some point in every little angel’s development, he or she WILL be the bully; you just might not be aware of it. It’s very normal for kids to switch roles between being a bully and being bullied. The struggle is real when you realize YOUR child is the poster kid for the anti-bully campaigns. That is a hard thing to swallow.

I am that mom. I have a bully. Even writing this breaks my heart.

Never say “not my child.” I sat in a conference with one of my children who had a legitimate concern with a teacher. When it escalated and I felt parental intervention was needed, I wrote a letter detailing the situation and my concerns. I wrote the letter before hearing the teacher’s side and gaining her point of view. When we left the conference, my husband and I turned to our child and said, “We love you and we will fight dragons on your behalf, but you had better be sure you’re not the dragon.”

Childish and adolescent behavior is not who our kids are, it’s what they’ve done. Your child IS wonderful. Growing up is hard. Don’t label your child because of a behavior. I have a child I labeled. I work so hard not to, but darn it, this kiddo is determined to stretch me as a mom and make me grow. But the effort is worth it because my child is worth it. The very traits that make my little boy difficult will bring success. I just have to fight through this time of maturing and “becoming.”

I have learned to see him as the man he will be one day. I picture him as I know he can be. If you don’t consciously have a mental image of your child, take a moment and get it. You’ll need it to motivate you to keep working through the moments you want to give up.

When kids are at their worst is when they need us to love them the most. When we know that we have tried to teach kindness and charity and our child does just the opposite, it’s devastating and causes us to question our worth as parents. If you have a child that seems to repeatedly choose this path, it can become debilitating to a family.

Take inventory of your motives. Are you addressing the bullying because you are embarrassed and it is a reflection of your parenting skills, successes and failures? Or are you trying to teach your children to grow up to be good, kind and caring? Or is it both? Odds are, it’s both. I challenge you to take yourself and your feelings out of the picture. When you remove yourself, you will be amazed at how much more you can focus on helping your children navigate the waters they seem to be getting lost in.

When I stepped back and realized that it didn’t matter how I looked as a parent but instead mattered what I did, I was able to start focusing on really teaching my son and holding him accountable. I’ve had more than a few phone calls from parents and schools. My child IS typically the bully, but even so, I’ve learned to listen before reacting and passing out snap judgments.

  • Dig further into a situation, ask some hard questions and even meet with the kids and other parents. Model conflict resolution.
  • What I found was my child is not a monster but struggles with anger management, appropriate problem-solving and impulse control. Now I’ve got something to work on.
  • I also found a brilliant child who stood up for himself, managed to get his needs met and who would not be taken advantage of. I am seeing the strengths of WHO he is.
  • I found a child frustrated by a situation, struggling to find control and swallowed up by low self-esteem. He was wounded but too prideful to let it show except by striking out. Now I know how to nurture him.

How do we encourage and nurture these personality traits they will need to be successful adults while softening their hearts and building compassion? It has not been easy for me and it’s not over.

  • Provide opportunities for service or work without pay. Work alongside them in shelters, soup kitchens or other community projects. Let them see you serving others. Talk with them about what they saw and if possible how it made them feel.
  • Never reward unkindness, regardless of the reason. Teach them they will never regret being kind regardless of a situation, but they might regret being “right” if it means being mean.
  • Hold them accountable and allow natural consequences. Don’t protect them from themselves. If you start when they are young, the consequences won’t be as scary as when they are older, but the lesson they learn will serve them the rest of their life.
  • Get help if you need it. There is no shame in reaching out, but there might be regret later if you don’t. Start with calling Military OneSource (800-342-9647) if you don’t know where to go for help.

I love my children with all my heart even when they have been the cause of it being broken. However, sometimes the clouds part and I SEE clearly the wonderful people they truly are. It’s just enough for me to pick up the battle and keep fighting even though it’s the greatest battle I will ever fight with some of the deepest wounds no one will ever see.

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