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Spouse Speak: Recently Deployed

This post originally appeared in the August 19, 2009 edition of The Flagship.

By Vivian Greentree

My husband recently deployed (I say recently because my donut of misery still has too much green on it to say anything else … still it feels like forever!) and I have been doing all the typical stuff for trying to keep my kids connected with their dad through our normal routines.

For instance, we are on a care package schedule now, wherein my oldest, MJ, practices his writing skills in telling dad what he’s done and the youngest, Walker, displays his ability to draw circles and color them in. There is always a golf magazine that my oldest saves from the mail with a reverence that is almost comical – “I get to be the one who puts it in the box,” he says. And, I think the only sacred box of cookies in the house, the only box that isn’t in danger of being raided by grubby little hands on the sly, is the one that has been earmarked for dad. Always Chips-Ahoy (not enough chocolate to melt but enough to make a good cookie). Oh, and his special hair gel. My military man knows how to look good even in the desert thank you very much!

So, thinking about what to put in our care packages has become a running point of interest with me and the boys – “NO! Daddy does not want you to send him that frog. NO! Not even if you put it in water on the way over!” We also read We Serve Too! (www.weservetoo.com) before bedtime a lot. I found that particular book when an organization I’m a part of, Blue Star Families, held a Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces program here in Virginia Beach for our local military families. The National Guard representative who came had a slew of books aimed at helping military children cope with the challenges of having a deployed parent. I have found it to be invaluable in starting conversations with MJ, who’s 5, about his feelings of missing his dad. And, it shows him that he and his brother are serving in their own way – as children in a military family – which allows him to replace some of that anger he has towards missing his dad with the pride of being a military child who is working hard in his own special way.

And now, I have just added another tactic for getting through this deployment (while retaining my sanity!) which has proven to be quite the hit in our house. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to an idea by a military spouse friend in Florida who told me she has a friend who has been carrying her deployed boyfriend’s picture around on a stick. I know, sounds odd. Like a warped version of a blow up doll date. However, she has been taking pictures of herself with her “flat Stanley” at all the fun places she goes and then puts them up on her blog for her friends and family, and most importantly, Stanley, to see. Flat Stanley has been to baseball games, a friend’s baby shower (probably glad he actually wasn’t there in person for that particular one!), out to dinner, and to the pool. I decided to try it out for myself. So, MJ and I picked a picture of my husband and enlarged it. Given my lack of craftiness (though surely I must be given points for ingenuity) we used what would otherwise be known as a barbecue skewer to tape his picture to. Oh yeah, and given our tendencies towards water play, we laminated it.

MJ calls it ‘dad on a stick.’ And, since his creation, DOAS has been biking with us, on a picnic, and to the pool. He’s peered over MJ’s shoulder while MJ was working on his letters, gone to Habachi with us, and he’s even tagged along to “George Washington DC” on our trip to the Smithsonian (he was the only one in the car who didn’t complain during the six hour trip home, when we got stuck in traffic).

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The pictures we take I send to Mike. It gives him a pictorial of what we are doing and allows him a window into our world. He says it is bittersweet – obviously it makes him wish it was he who was actually here helping MJ with his school work or even here being trapped in the car with us during horrible traffic instead of a paper version of himself. Still, he says he enjoys the whole process and seeing what we are doing, even telling me new places he wants DOAS to go (to a Pearl Jam concert is one that has been mentioned). And, MJ and Walker are all about finding outrageous new scenarios for DOAS to be involved with, especially as they try to show dad what they want to do with him when he gets home. Last week, when I had class, MJ asked our babysitter if DOAS could help make Mac and Cheese with them. Accordingly, in this most recent care package, there is a picture of MJ holding DOAS while he helps stir the macaroni with the carefully printed message of, “We’ll eat Mac and Cheese when you get home! You can use my Spiderman bowl!”

So, if you have a deployed spouse and are looking for a fun summer project to do with your kids, why not make a DOAS (or a MOAS)? While he doesn’t compare with his living, breathing counterpart, at least he’ll be able to invoke some of the comical, yet poignant moments that help get us through these long separations. Plus, unlike his real-life counterpart, my DOAS agrees with everything I say!

Vivian Greentree lives in Chesapeake, VA and is the Membership Director of Blue Star Families. She is also on the Governor’s Commission for Nation and Community Service. If you’d like to get involved with BSF, contact Vivian at vgreentree@bluestarfam.org.


Duty on the Homefront

This essay by BSF Director of Programs, Casey Spurr, originally appeared in the May 29, 2009, issue of The Flagship.

momSome days I feel like I should be a better wife. Other days I believe I’m a completely inadequate mother. There are even times when I think I’m not very good at either. I know I’ve complained too often about not wanting my husband to leave yet again. I’ve put my son to bed a little too early just so I can cozy up on the couch for the latest episode of American Idol, admittedly a guilty pleasure. And I’ve quietly (okay, sometimes not so quietly) envied my husband for an occasional night out on the town with his squadron mates when he’s away simply because I don’t have the time or energy to do the same, forgetting that he would much rather be in my position – at home with our family.

I sometimes struggle to maintain our family schedule and all of the responsibilities that come with managing our home as my husband comes and goes. There are certainly days when I’m at the top of my game and I surprise even myself, but other days I simply just muddle through. I don’t always remember to pull the trash to the curb on Friday. We eat takeout far more often than I’d like. My 2-year-old has seen every episode of Curious George that PBS Kids has to offer, even though I’ve read enough to know he shouldn’t be watching television at all. And I keep meaning to get to that clean load of laundry that needs folding. I just can’t seem to move it to the top of my list of priorities. It might mean I’d have to skip my shower today, and frankly, those fifteen minutes of daily solitude have become a personal luxury that is simply nonnegotiable in my mind. Pulling an outfit from the clean load of laundry seems like a reasonable alternative to me.

But the reality is, for all of my shortcomings, I’m doing the best I can. I’ve never promised to be perfect, but I have promised to give it my all. I want nothing more in life than to be the best wife and mother I can possibly be. Perhaps that’s a bit old-fashioned, but it’s really all I want. Sure, I have dreams separate from my family – I’d love to write a book, complete that graduate degree I’ve been talking about for far too long, travel more internationally – but ultimately, I will feel the most successful if I am a good wife and mother. And I’m trying. I really am. I may not always get it right, but it isn’t for lack of effort.

What I’ve learned is that as military spouses, we can’t do it all – and no one expects us to (except ourselves, of course). When we stop chiding ourselves for the dishes we didn’t do or the fact that we got our kids to school a few minutes late, we can learn to accept that we’re doing the best we can. Perhaps then we can remember that making time for ourselves is important, too. We must accept that we simply can’t do everything and still maintain our sanity. And that’s okay.

I was on the phone with a dear friend this week as she simultaneously discovered she had a week-old container of yogurt in her purse and had forgotten to throw away a dirty diaper she had changed in the car that morning. I could hear the frustration in her voice as she disposed of both and desperately tried to clear the foul odor from her car. Given that her husband is set to deploy to Iraq for a year, I’d say she’s doing quite well. Moldy yogurt and a smelly diaper are certainly just the beginning of the many things that will slip past her in the next year, and I hope she won’t be disappointed in herself as each new blunder outdoes the last. It’s to be expected in this unique life we lead.

Life as a military wife isn’t always easy, and I’m not ashamed to say so. In fact, I think I owe it to other military spouses not to pretend it’s effortless. The role we take in life is most assuredly a tremendous honor, but it is also an incredible challenge. Nothing could bring me a greater sense of pride than to know that my husband is part of arguably the most honorable profession in the world, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he loves what he’s doing. Being a supportive military spouse, however, comes with a certain set of challenges that only those who do it could ever really understand. I’ve heard on more than one occasion from well-meaning outsiders, “You knew this is the way it would be when you married into the military.” It’s true that I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew it would be worth it. Having the knowledge in advance of the challenges ahead of me, however, doesn’t do much to lighten the load. What it does do is remind me that my commitment to providing a stable environment for our family is the only motivation I need to get through even the most challenging of days. And it reminds me that I have an important role in our military, too.

The truth is, while I sometimes secretly wish my husband worked a more traditional schedule and our family wasn’t faced with the obstacles of a military family, I wouldn’t change a thing. He loves what he does, and for all its idiosyncrasies, I love what I do, too.

Casey Spurr is a Navy spouse and lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and 2-year-old son. She is also the Director of Programs for Blue Star Families. To find out more about Blue Star Families or to become a member, please visit www.bluestarfam.org.