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Guest Blog | #MyMilFam Going Home

 Posted by on November 26, 2014 at 15:05
Nov 262014
 

Guest Blogger: Natalie Burke

Author Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again, even if you questioned whether you wanted to.

I grew up as an Army brat – with all of the relocation and forced flexibility that implies. I swore as an adult, I wanted to plant my feet firmly in one place for the rest of my life. Then, I began my career as an elementary school special education teacher alongside the librarian mother of Navy LT Will Burke. The pressure for a meeting built after my father met Will’s father at a military conference.

Both of our families started trying to get us together. We finally met at a military mass at the National Basilica in Washington and started dating.

Within four months, Will was deployed to the waters off North Africa. We kept in touch by the internet and satellite phone. We got married this summer and I was plunged back into military life which I see in a less ego centric light than I allowed as a child or even young adult. Now, I can see the gifts that military life has given me. As things change, I’m very quick to adapt to it. In an increasingly globalized society, I have the ability to move through other cultures easily and with an open mind.

I do not look forward to the day Will deploys again, but I have a strong support network and I’m an informed advocate for the services made available to military families such as spouses clubs and Family Readiness groups.

Military families know that life isn’t always easy, but we are committed to working toward the greater good. Part of that includes educating our civilian friends and neighbors. They are very quick to thank our service members, and often their nuclear families, for their service. But when those service members deploy, lending an ear or a helping hand would be welcome for a lot of military families who really dig in their feet and try to get everything done on their own. They may not look up and ask for help, but a demonstration of understanding for the spouse left behind — and an extra dose of love and support for a child missing a deployed parent – can change everything for an hour or two. And that can make all the difference.

 

 

Jul 302013
 

San Diego Military Wife

Blogger Biography: “San Diego Military Wife” is a Navy wife and mother of two great kids. She writes about her life as a military wife and keeps families informed of deals and events for military families in the San Diego and Camp Pendleton area.

I recently read an article that had a list of 24 things you’ll do as a new parent. It got me thinking about all the things military spouses do while our husbands are deployed. Some women have never had to do some of the things we do without blinking an eye.

Here are 24 things you may find yourself doing as a military spouse (at least these are some of the things I’ve been through):

1. House hunt, pack up a house and move into a new house by yourself.
2. Plan out the landscaping for the back yard of the house that you just moved into, hire and then supervise a bunch of guys to work on your backyard.
3. Move furniture.
4. Be hospitalized with a life-threatening case of meningitis while your spouse is in the middle of the ocean with no way to come home.
5. Take the garbage to the curb every week.
6. Snake a toilet—gross!
7. Fix pipes.
8. Make all financial decisions.
9. Try to explain to a five-year-old why daddy is in another country helping other people even though we need help at home.
10. Paint walls.
11. Hang pictures.
12. Stay up until 2 a.m. so that you can email with your spouse since he is in a different time zone.
13. Prepare to move to another country and then find out two weeks before the move that you are actually staying where you have lived your whole life.
14. Have your phone within a few feet of you for the entire deployment just in case your service member calls.
15. Pick up dog poop.
16. Find out you are pregnant three days after your husband leaves for deployment and telling him through email.
17. Fly the red eye while pregnant and with a one-year-old to be with your sick father-in-law.
18. Deal with your spouse’s family.
19. Document every moment of your life, so that you can email him pictures (Yes, I have a video of my daughter’s first poopoo in the potty).
20. Fix a fence.
21. Mow the lawn.
22. Make sure your kids have fun while your husband is gone, but not too much fun that they will look back and realize that daddy wasn’t there.
23. Jumpstart a car.
24. Be the one who gets up in the middle of the night when you hear a noise.

The most important thing you will do as a military spouse is find out just how strong and capable you really are. We are some of the strongest women in America.

What are some of the crazy things you have had to do as a military spouse?

Finding Your Attitude of Gratitude

 Posted by on November 19, 2012 at 08:00
Nov 192012
 

Finding Your Attitude of Gratitude

Staff Blogger Kelli

Kelli

I took my van in this morning for two new front tires and an oil change. It’s never a good sign when twenty minutes or so after dropping your car off you get a phone call from your mechanic. What was going to be a somewhat manageable bill has more than doubled. I have a right front bearing that has to be replaced. <Insert long heavy sigh, rest forehead on desk, bang lightly>

Car issues are just one item on my list of the things that make me grumble and whip my anxiety into a frenzy. In no particular order: dental bills, mechanic bills, deployments, middle school, to include middle school aged children, school events and field trips. Don’t forget politics, gas prices, and the miles between me and my family. I have more bills than I have money, my kids need things, I want things, and I have no idea what the future holds for us. Are there orders? Do we retire?

I am actually feeling a little panic. My shoulders are tense, there’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and I am pretty sure I just gained a pound. Why can’t I be the weight loser not gainer when stress visits? How do I keep from completely unraveling?

For me, it’s called finding perspective. Put everything in its place and refocus your outlook. I have to step back from the looming mountain of “oh my heck.” This morning that mountain doubled in size, just since the phone call from Howard. That’s my mechanic.

A long time ago, Oprah did a show on having an attitude of gratitude. As a young overwhelmed mother of two at the time, I guffawed at her suggestion of keeping a gratitude journal and the empowerment it could lead to. I needed a maid, more money and a personal hair stylist. How was writing down stuff going to help?

Then I had another child.

Then we had a one year deployment.

I was struggling with loneliness, stress and a bad attitude. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of three little children, a squeaky tight budget and feeling way too young to be that old, a mother of three and a PTA president. I know, right? The whole PTA president thing… why in the world would I even take that on?

I decided I either had to get my head in the game or get it examined, so what would it hurt to just test the gratitude journal. It didn’t cost anything but effort.  And the phrase “keep an attitude of gratitude” was a rhythmic chant going through my brain. That HAD to stop.

So I started writing about five things each day that I was grateful for. My first entry was May 26, 1997. I wrote almost two full pages. I wrote about how much I loved my husband, my children, my mom and dad, and other mushy stuff. I was pretty regular in the beginning. As the deployment progressed and my anxiety grew, gratitude entries started to look more like the following:

Seriously? I don’t even know what to write. But I’m going to write something. I promised Oprah, but I refuse to sit here and come up with five things. I’m tired and this was not my favorite day. 1. My children are breathing, I’m grateful for that. 2. The dog’s gas seems to have gone away, totally thankful for that. 3. And the highlight, I found three Oreo’s those little monsters missed and I am eating them now in my room with the last of the milk. BOOYAH!

I laugh looking back, because I wasn’t kidding when I said the highlight was the cookies. It was like a special gift that I could sit, unmolested by tiny hands and sweet voices asking me to share.

Other than providing great amusement for me today, that practice of finding the good each day did something else than just get me through that long deployment. It began changing the way my brain worked.

Although I have not been diligent in keeping the gratitude journal, I have kept the concept of having an “attitude of gratitude.”

Even during some very difficult moments in our family, we have found ways to smile, even while crying. It doesn’t bring someone back, fix something that is broken or find something that is lost. What it does is help us take a second look at those looming mountains and realize they aren’t quite as steep as we initially thought. Finding the silver lining, or the positive light in a dark day, even if it’s a pen light, refocuses our life lens. More often than not we have found better solutions to our problems than we would have had we just stood around bemoaning our fate.

Thank you, Oprah. I apologize for mocking you all those years ago, even if it was in my own head. I owe you a debt of gratitude for the part you played in helping me move my attitude into the light.

Oct 042012
 

What I Wish I Would’ve Known before My Husband Deployed

Staff Blogger Kristi

Kristi

Oh, that dirty, little word…deployment. Veteran spouses brush it off saying, “Oh, another one? Let me know when you’re on your way home.” Newbie spouses are torn between their instincts to freak out and put on a brave face. In the days leading up to my husband’s first deployment, I was a classically confused newbie. I cried alone, put on a brave face for everyone else, and before I knew it he was gone.

It then occurred to me that despite the excellent presentations from our family readiness officer, I’d spent all my time worrying about the goodbye and I had no clue what to expect from day-to-day now that he was gone!

I spent the next six months learning these things the hard way.  I hope I can save you a little time!

  • Baby wipes are a hot commodity in the desert.  Had I known this, I would’ve sent the first package full of baby wipes the day I dropped my husband off!
  • Customs forms are confusing. First of all, you have to press hard enough to practically etch your information into the post office counter! Why do I list United States as the country when my husband is clearly not in the United States? I’ll be quite honest I still haven’t totally figured those things out after two deployments. My tried and true method is to simply make sure every piece of information from the deployment address ends up on the customs form. Whether you put the unit number in the zip code or street address box appears not to matter since my husband always got my packages. And, as a friendly little piece of advice, you can ask the postal worker for extra forms so you can endure this frustration at home instead of in a room full of strangers.
  • Non-military friends and strangers will take the news of the deployment worse than you. Outsiders have a hard time understanding your amazing strength and independence. It’s not their fault; it’s just foreign territory for them. They’ll ask questions that will make you mad, make you cry, and other times they’ll be so upset you may need to comfort them!
  • It’s probably not as bad as you think. War is dangerous, of course, but movies and media have a flair for the dramatics. Not every day is a scene from Saving Private Ryan; don’t stress yourself out expecting the worst.
  • Watching the news is a dangerous little game. Ignorance really is bliss, isn’t it? Unfortunately, we need the news, to an extent, to stay informed, but if you catch yourself lying awake at night obsessing over an image from a newscast it might be time to turn off the evening news and catch a good sitcom instead.
  • Deployment doesn’t equal isolated from civilization. During my husband’s latest deployment he was within walking distance to an Exchange. Clearly he didn’t need me to send survival supplies; in fact, I often wonder why he wasn’t sending me packages!
  • Something will go wrong while he’s gone. Kids will get sick. Freak storms will hit. DVD players will break with your favorite holiday movie inside the day you’re hosting a holiday movie marathon, leaving you no choice but to tear the DVD player apart. Anyone else have that one happen?

Some things I only learned once he returned home.

  • Homecomings rarely look like the movies. For six months, I pictured waving an American flag in a subtly patriotic dress with perfect hair as my husband ran to me. Yes, Chariots of Fire style (music optional). It turned out that my husband was two days late getting home and arrived around 10:00 pm on one of the coldest nights of the year. It was still one of the best days of my life even though it didn’t really match up with that perfect Hollywood image I had in my head throughout his deployment. That image carried me through some of the hardest days, though.
  • You did what?! The second you hear anyone talk about a deployment you realize that some things are classified for a reason. Words like fired, bullets, and the names of certain infamous leaders, organizations, and places are enough to send chills down any military spouse’s spine. I’m sure that there are all kinds of things that my husband experienced living in a war zone that he hasn’t shared with me, and maybe that’s the way it should be because, as we know, ignorance is bliss!

Above all, just remember that every deployment is different. We all have little things that we learn along the way. What did you learn from a deployment that might help out other military spouses?

Apr 162012
 

Deployment Superpowers: The First Time Changes Everything

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

One of the current blog call topics is all about deployment superpowers. Oh yeah, guys. I found mine during my husband’s first deployment to Iraq. Can I just say that I never thought I’d be standing with my rear in the air, scrubbing out the inside of an outdoor trash can? It’s amazing what happens when the hubby disappears and you’re faced with “clean it yourself or deal with the stench of rotten food stuck to the bottom for eight. long. months.” I voted for option A. Trash can cleaning was just one of the superpowers I discovered while my hubby was away. Here are a few others.

Plumber. I now know how to unclog a toilet with a plunger, to use a “snake” to retrieve little, metal cars from said toilet, to clean hair from drains (mostly mine, anyway), and what NOT to put in the garbage disposal to avoid a call to a real plumber. FYI—garbage disposals don’t like shredded carrots, potato peelings, or rocks from fish tanks. Just sayin’.

Fire tamer. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know how to light the grill before my husband left, much less start a beach fire. I’m totally a pro, now. And I only burned one pair of flip flops during the learning process.

Sports ninja. I consider myself somewhat athletic. But having little boys brings new meaning to the word “energy.” Every afternoon, while the kids were outside, I stayed out with them. I learned to ride a push scooter, to skateboard, and to jump on a trampoline without breaking an arm. I even coached my son’s basketball team with another mom. We were six and two for the season, thank you very much.

CPA. Now, I will admit that I handled the finances even before the hubby left, but doing taxes ALONE, and budgeting for groceries ALONE, and buying a car ALONE are things I had never done before. We even had a no-pay-due when my husband first deployed. That means we didn’t receive a paycheck because we were overpaid two months’ worth of our Basic Allowance for Housing during a move. The lesson to be learned there? If your service member is overpaid, know that it will come out of their check eventually. Avoid these things by staying on top of your family’s Leave and Earnings Statement. Check it monthly and plan ahead! Fluctuations in pay happen A LOT.

Volunteer extraordinaire. After all our years in the military, I knew the best way to stay informed was to volunteer for our unit, which I did. What I didn’t realize, though, was that people eventually thought I knew what I was doing. I found myself in a position to mentor brand-spankin’-new spouses and help them through a time that was difficult for all of us. I also discovered that during the worst parts of that deployment, when we knew our unit had suffered multiple casualties, I had a sisterhood I didn’t even know existed. You guys? The folks I met during that deployment are some of the best friends I have in my life. Volunteering was the best thing I could have done to make it through.

Education tamer. When the hubby left, Frick and Frack (my kids…no, those aren’t their real names) were seven and five. I attended every parent/teacher conference, volunteered in the library, went on field trips, and walked my kids to school every day in an effort to ensure they weren’t going to light the school on fire when someone wasn’t looking. But, mainly, I did it because if I didn’t, no one would. And as I mentioned before, I like to be kept informed.

It’s now eight years later and my husband, it sometimes feels, is gone more than he is home. Do I miss him when he’s away? Sure. A quarter of our family is missing—a sixth if you count our dogs. But what I discovered during that first deployment is that there is a difference between surviving in the military and thriving in the military. Yes, I’ll gladly give up trash can cleaning duty the minute he walks back in the door, but I discovered that I CAN do it, along with a lot of other things I didn’t think I had the strength to do alone. That deployment changed me—in a good way. I value every minute of time with my husband even when we fight. I am a hundred times tighter with my boys. And I can light the grill with the best of them. What are your deployment superpowers?

Cheers,

Cassie

Guest Blog: What It’s Like When He Leaves

 Posted by on April 10, 2012 at 08:00
Apr 102012
 

Guest Blog: What It’s Like When He Leaves

Blogger Biography: Traci believes that every day is a new adventure … and in the Army, that is always the case. Seventeen years of marriage, four deployments, and two kids into this adventure, she’s still loving the fabulous life of the Army Family. An upcoming PCS move has the family gearing up for the next chapter and looking forward to new challenges.

Saying goodbye to someone you love is never easy. Add to that the stress of preparing for deployment, planning the next months without the love of your life in the picture, and the uncertainty of military combat missions and you have a pretty taxing scene on your hands.

In the days leading up to goodbye, there is a certain pressure to say and do and feel and think, well … more. Say all the things you want him to know before he leaves, do everything you can to enjoy your time with him, feel his presence so you can have it with you even when he’s gone, and think of all the things you’ll miss about him so you can memorize them, cherish them, and hold them close for future reference. It’s an impossible task, but one military spouses take on time and time again.

How do you plan events so special that they take the place of all the events he will miss over the next year? How do you say “I love you” enough to cover all the “I love yous” you’ll miss? How do you absorb the sight of him so that you can remember what it’s like to have him sitting at the breakfast table, working on the home computer, playing ball with the kids in the backyard, or walking in the front door after work? The truth is … you can’t. It’s just not possible.

So why all the pressure to do this over and over again? For me, I think it’s just the way I deal with the separation. I want to make sure I’ve done absolutely everything I can to prepare myself emotionally. I find myself staring at him, taking in every single feature, touching his face to memorize every tiny detail, and talking about our very favorite memories together. These are the things I want to have with me when he’s gone and the things I want him to take with him as he goes.

Then, it’s time. It’s time for the final goodbye, the last kiss, the closing remarks. It can never be enough and yet it has to be done. There is a moment … a moment when his back turns to move on to the next thing … to get onto a government bus, to step onto a plane, to walk to formation, or to walk out the front door … that marks this as THE. END. It’s the end of … dwell time, of R&R leave, of his time at home, of your time with him, of the normalcy you’ve worked so hard to create … and it is so heartbreaking you’re not sure you can survive it. A flash of panic rises in your throat and you’re not sure you can breathe. But you do. You take one breath, and then another, then another. You swallow the silent protests that threaten to spill out at any moment … begging him to stay, cursing the concept of war, and admitting that you’re just not sure you can do this … and you smile, and wave, and say goodbye. For now.

Making the Most of Post-deployment Leave

 Posted by on April 5, 2012 at 08:00
Apr 052012
 

Making the Most of Post-deployment Leave

Kristi

Remember getting birthday cards as a kid? It sounds heartless, but since we’ve all been there, I’m just going to tell it like it is. We didn’t care how mushy the card was; half the time we didn’t even realize who it was from! The most important thing was what was nestled in the middle of that folded cardstock. I’m talking cold…hard…cash. In our minds we already had that money spent, and we couldn’t possibly get to the toy store fast enough.

Now, as adults, we’re a little more considerate and understand that it’s rude to expect money. So we silently read the front of the card, open it, and keep a poker face while reading the text and hand-written message on the inside. Only after it’s obvious that we’ve thoughtfully read every last word do we acknowledge the money sandwiched in the card like we couldn’t possibly have noticed it before we finished reading because we were captivated by the sheer poetry of the greeting card.

That inner child in us, though, still lets that money burn a whole in our pockets and that pocket burning feeling has now carried over into other aspects of our lives, like post-deployment leave. Before my husband was even halfway through his latest deployment he was already spit-balling some post-deployment plans. A repeat of the last post-deployment two week vacation—a tropical “better late than never” honeymoon in Jamaica—was out of the question now that we were parents, which was just fine with me because after that vacation I needed another week off to recuperate! Why does relaxation have to be so exhausting?

This time my husband and I decided to spend two uninterrupted weeks at home, just us and the baby. No hotels, no airports, no Caribbean tan, no plans at all…just the way we wanted it. What could go wrong?

Somewhere around 48 hours into our little family “staycation,” I was already getting a little stir crazy. Why did I think it was a good idea to jump from six months of basically living alone (with the exception of an infant, of course) into full-blown, distraction free cohabitating? I’d lost complete control of the TV, I’d transitioned from going to bed around midnight to crashing closer to 9:00pm, there was a lingering smell of boy and pepperoni wafting through the house, and I was getting tired of biting my tongue about the man clutter that was slowly overtaking our (relatively) clean home.

It wasn’t long until I realized that the stress of relaxation was getting to my husband, too. Apparently, I’m no picnic either, and I wasn’t disguising my disapproval of his housekeeping techniques and channel selections very well. On top of that, he was still adjusting to being home with Jack and me. Perhaps we dove in head first when we should’ve just been getting our feet wet.

We needed a day trip, a DIY project, or anything that could change up the scenery. So, I tasked him with building not one, but two tables and refinishing a dresser.  We also took a little family day trip to a nearby town. And there it was; we were relaxed. We were once again enjoying our down time and we were both a little more pleasant to be around.

The cold hard truth of post-deployment leave can be summed up in two sentences:

  1. It is well-deserved and warmly welcomed.
  2. It needn’t be longer than two weeks.

Keep in mind that you and your returning spouse worked your tails off over the course of the deployment in order to spend a few days together before getting back to life as usual. Make the most of your time together by planning something that you both agree on—partially so you both enjoy it and partially so no one can be blamed if the plan flops. Don’t feel pressured to take an exotic vacation before your spouse has time to finish unpacking from six months in a foreign country, and certainly don’t think that you have to stare romantically into each other’s eyes for fourteen days without blinking—unless you’re into that…no judgment here!

Realize that by the end of the leave you’re both ready to get back to real life. Don’t feel guilty for wanting some quiet time alone; you just spent the last six or so months getting used to that and it would be crazy to think that you could completely change in a few days. And—just a little secret between friends—your spouse is probably feeling the same way. That is just the way the world works, togetherness is wonderful, but personal space can be equally as wonderful.

Post-deployment leave is a pretty major part of the reintegration process after deployment, so it may turn out to be one of those characteristic exhausting vacations. At the end of the two weeks, though, you’ll return to alarm clocks and crazy schedules without that post-deployment leave sitting in your pocket just waiting to be spent. And with a big sigh of relief, hopefully you will feel like it was time well spent!

Our “Countdown Candy Jar” helps with deployments

 Posted by on April 30, 2009 at 16:23
Apr 302009
 

Our “Countdown Candy Jar” helps with deployments

“As a military family, one of my most pressing concerns is the effect my husband’s absences will have on my children.  Aside from the practical things we do to ready ourselves for a deployment, there is an emotional dimension that isn’t as easily checked off the list as enough pairs of black socks.”

Editor’s note: Today marks the first of a series of columns from a respected and experienced Military Spouse, Vivian. Vivian is an active duty milspouse and military affairs correspondent for a Virginia newspaper. Today, she turned a question from a reader about deployment into a column for you.

Question: “My son is divorced and has a 5 year-old son.  He is getting ready to deploy for 15 months and is afraid his son will be affected by his being away as he shares custody for him.  Any suggestions?” Continue reading »

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