What About The Kids?

My mailbox is jammed with back-to-school catalogs and it got me thinking about one of my Army families. Dad is deploying soon after the school year starts. Last time his son was an infant. Now the boy is starting preschool and they also have a two-year-old girl. Along with backpacks and crayons, I wondered what was on their to-do list as they prepped the kids for the year ahead?

I found many sites with long articles and early childhood development-type strategies that sounded smart. But I kinda just wanted to know, mom-to-mom, what the deal was. So I called the wife and asked. Elle* was kind enough answer a few questions and share a few tips (*all names changed for privacy.)

Questions

ME: Last time, you were a new mom, your son was a newborn and your husband John missed the first year. Is it harder this time or easier?

ELLE: It’s harder now. Last time, Jake was a baby. John missed milestones. Now he’ll be missing Jake expressing his imagination and the person he’s becoming.

ME: What’s the most important thing you want to do right now?

ELLE: I want to make sure both kids have the best relationship possible and make great memories with John. The impression John leaves now is what they’ll have left to hold onto and that I’ll reinforce. So I’ve been doing a lot more of the disciplining. Being more of the “bad guy” and letting John be the “good guy.” 

ME: What’s one of the harder parts?

ELLE: You don’t want to scare the kids but, other kids talk. They hear the news. You can’t control what your kids will hear. And bedtime. That’s when they miss John most. During the day, they’re busy and he’s usually at work so, they don’t expect to see him then. 

ME: What’s a wish-for? What one thing could a civilian do to be supportive at this time?

ELLE: I think it would be nice to be invited to things without the invitation being all about John’s absence. So it feels normal and not overly dramatic. So we just feel included. It is a big deal for us that he’s gone, but I want to give my kids as much normal as possible. Dad’s just at work. Dad will be back.

Tips

A big thing is maintaining a routine (good for all kids!) You also want them to feel connected to the deployed parent and help them visualize the passage of time. Below are some tips from Elle. I also spoke to an Air Force wife, Christina, who has a teenaged daughter. Of course, these tips work whether it’s daddy or mommy that’s deployed.

Take one of Daddy’s shirts, sew the arms and bottom closed, then stuff it with batting and sew the neck closed so kids can snuggle with it. They also make plush daddy dolls that have a picture of the soldier.

Help them keep a journal each night of the exciting things they did that day so they can remember and tell Daddy.

Start a deployment chain where you either make the paper chain and take one link off each day as a count down. Or add a link for each day they’re gone. Or put a penny in a jar for each day, then use that money to buy Daddy something or go shopping with Daddy. Or you add jelly beans to a jar for each day.

Jelly Bean Countdown

For most deployments, you’d need more jelly beans than I have here. But as the jar fills up, it’s easy to see that means Dad or Mom is closer to coming home.

~Make a Daddy Map. We put up a world map and then added tacks for where we were and where Daddy was. Then we used yarn to attach each point. Every stop he made along the way to Afghanistan, we added another tack and more yarn. So we were always connected. We only took off yarn with each stop on his way home. 

Record Daddy reading bedtimes stories. Skype whenever you can.

Let my daughter “take care”of something that belonged to Daddy. Always just something small, but she was in charge of it and got to give it back to him.

Let your child make a life-sized drawing of themselves and then mail it to their deployed parent.

Take lots of fun picture of them together, laminate them and let the kids play with them.

-There are some awesome ideas on Pinterest too.

Every child is different

Even if you make awesome routines, follow tips and do everything, “right,” every child is different. I knew one boy that was having a hard time so I called in the FDNY to give me a hand. I’m hoping Elle and John’s kids do well. But I will keep them in mind and from time to time I’ll consult my Child Expert; my 8-year-old daughter Sofia. She’s full of great ideas on how to make someone smile in any situation.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

A Few Good Moms

There are more amazing moms out there than you can shake a stick at (but don’t run with that stick or you’ll poke an eye out!) With Mother’s Day coming up, I wanted to introduce just a few of the incredible military moms and spouses that have touched my life. Also, I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted your help surprising my mom.

Surprise

A few weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a project about moms. You had to make a self-recorded video talking about a mom who inspired you and one attribute from a list. I chose my mom and “strength.” She doesn’t know I did this. Or that it was shown at an event. Or that I’m sharing it here. Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t usually focus on me. And that I’m a little camera-shy. So this is sure to be a surprise.

Military Moms

About 1% of the country is active duty and if you add all vets, that number gets up to around 6%. With such a small population, you may not know a military mom or spouse. So allow me to introduce some of the incredible women I’ve met:

Mrs. K– Her first child was born after her husband deployed and she handled that whole first year solo. Now she has two kids and soon must prepare them for his upcoming deployment. When I first met her is when I realized that families serve too. I wrote a post about her.

Dee– Her husband was a Marine that served in Vietnam and 3 of her 3 sons have served in the military: Marines, Navy, Air Force, and one is still serving. She never sleeps soundly when they’re gone. She prays daily for all in harm’s way, not just her own.

Ginger– Both of her daughters wound up marrying soldiers. She didn’t raise her hand to serve but you can bet she’s done her share of worrying and making care packages. Oh, and flying to wherever in the world she had to in order to meet new grandchildren.

Jenn– Her huband has PTSD. He told me that after a rough period, he begged her to leave him, just take the kids and go have a better life without him. She said no. That she loved him and couldn’t imagine being without him. He also said, “no offense to anyone else…lol, but I think I have the most wonderful wife in the world.”

Other Jenn–  I was delayed at the airport for hours along with Jenn and her daughter. We started as strangers and left as friends. Jenn has a lightness about her and an awesome sense of humor. I think her ability to laugh at what is absurd or even herself is helpful in all kinds of stressful situations, such as her husband’s many deployments.

“Mrs. Noba”– Like a few people on this list, we’ve never met in person. She’s a fellow blogger that writes about many topics including having a child with autism and, at times, her life as a military spouse. What I love is her fearless spirit, sometimes dark humor and honesty.

Abigail– Combat Medic and mother of 3, she is one of thousands of moms who serve in the military. When I was missing my daughter for a few days, I got a “perspective check” when I received her letter. She would not see her children for a year.

Denise– An Air Force Mom who volunteers at the USO and cares for all troops the way she hopes someone would treat her own son…counting on the sisterhood of motherhood. I wrote a post about her.

Gold Star Moms– I met one at the USO when I was with Denise. The name refers to a mom who has lost a child in service to our country. I’m not sure what the right words are when a mom’s worst fear has come true. I remember one year at a Veterans parade when the Gold Star Moms went by, one of them said back to the crowd, “No, thank YOU for not forgetting.” My way of not forgetting this Mother’s Day was to donate to their organization.

Snowball express– This charity helps “create hope and new memories for children of our fallen military heroes.” They do special things for these kids and their surviving parent. So I sent them something too. Giving to charity is not part of my normal Mother’s Day “shopping,” but maybe it should be.

Sandra Beck and Robin Boyd– two moms and hosts of Military Mom Talk Radio. They devote their time to finding programs and sharing ideas that help military families. I met them when they interviewed me. I love how they support anyone who has a good idea that can help. If you know of something that makes a difference, please reach out to them.

Thanks Moms

To all the women who can make another human being feel loved and give them the certainty that they are worthy of being loved…and all our military moms and spouses who do this during difficult times and long seperations, I give you my heartfelt thanks. On Mother’s Day and every day.

flower's for Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of Tinyspitcracker

© Gina left the mall, 2013