Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reintegration: Lessons I'm Learning

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Often when we are going about our day I think, this is a Reintegration issue, I should blog about this. Based on what I've read and seen in person, I strongly believe everyone going through Reintegration goes through some very similar experiences. I will say that I think my husband and are family are handling things pretty well, and I've been very proud of us. But I do feel strongly that no one is sailing through Reintegration.

I thought I would share one challenge that keeps coming up over and over again. This might sound strange but for some reason ordering from a menu in a noisy restaurant just becomes too overwhelming for my husband lately. All the pages and pages of choices, someone standing over or in front of him asking him for a decision, lots of people around and loud background music have turned out to be a real problem, again and again. I am sure just having difficulty with something as simple as ordering food has to be very frustrating for him.

I am learning in several key facets that keeping things very peaceful, quiet and simple are vital to keeping him feeling calm. We have had a few times where he just had to leave the restaurant completely or didn't order anything while the rest of us ate. We have been away from home a good bit this summer, so cooking meals for him and staying home have not been an option unfortunately. I am trying to learn how to keep this situation as simple as possible going forward. Maybe talking to him about what he wants for dinner before hand or if I just quickly pick something for myself then can talk to him and help him decide - maybe those things might help.

If there's one lesson I've learned again and again it's that if I get agitated when he's agitated it is not good. So I really am trying harder and harder to stay very calm, speak very mildly and not talk too much.

How about you? Did you experience challenges when going out to eat? How did you handle it?

Monday, July 29, 2013

5 Ways To Make Family Skype Calls More Fun

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Skype calls when the picture is actually clear and you can hear on both ends can be quite fun. This is not an easy feat, many families have an incredibly hard time with poor connections. But when things click, it's awesome. Day after day conversations can get a little boring. Here are some ideas to keep conversations fresh and fun.

1) Show up in masks or costumes. A good surprise and laughs are guaranteed when you show up looking not like your regular selves. Could be fun to work together with kids to figure out costumes or make and decorate masks out of paper plates or cardstock.

2) Keep a list of fun, strange and silly things that have happen to family members each week to share. Silly stories from home are great fun for someone who misses home like crazy. Let kids tell their silly stories.

3) Gather a few pieces of the children's schoolwork to share. It's fun for parents to see what's happening at school and keep up with all the new things the kiddos are learning.

4) Sing favorite songs. Music has special powers to inspire and cheer people up. A few fun family favorite will definitely put a smile on your loved one.

5) Tell jokes. We bought two kids joke books so our little girl could share a few jokes with Dad every call. It was great to see Daddy try to get the punch line on some of the riddles and jokes and then burst out laughing. You can never smile or laugh enough in a war zone. Jokes are a welcome reprieve from a lot of seriousness.

Those are my five ways to spice up Skype calls. How about you? Do you have any special things you do to make Skype calls more fun?

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Great Deployment Goodbye Gift

badge image via Staples / all other images via

I thought I would share with you a little craft project I came up with to send to my husband at the beginning of his deployment. I took two of these self-laminating name tag holders and then chose four photos to put inside. You can buy the badge holders at any office supply store in a box of about 10 for less than $10. I thought these would be the perfect size for him to keep in his uniform pocket with him all the time. I always imagined that during hard times, if something bad happened or he got injured that he would feel we were there with him and he could pull out the photos any time and feel us with him. He carried them in his shoulder pocket for the entire year and still keeps them in his uniform pocket even though he's home.

You can really personalize this project by the photos you choose. I wanted to chose the four most important things I thought would make him feel safe and loved. I chose a photo of our little girl, a photo of him with me that our little girl took, a photo of our church and a picture of Jesus Christ. You could easily use a photo of your home, his truck, his dog, extended family, maybe even a photo of your bed to remind him of where his bread's buttered,  if you want to get a little sultry. There are all sorts of options.

I took the measurements of the badges and then I just pulled my four photos into a new Word document and sized them to fit the badges. Then I printed them out all on one sheet of paper, cut them to size and put two, back to back, into each badge holder and sealed them up.

I discarded the snap-on clips and instead took a piece of red, white and blue grossgrain ribbon and tied the two badges together with a bow on top. I put our family photos on the outside. It turned out so simple but cute with the patriotic ribbon holding it together. I know by how he treasures those photos how much that little project meant to him. I was really impressed to see how well they held up too. They show a little age but the plastic lamination is still in fantastic shape.

If you try this I would love to hear what photos you use or if you did something similar tell me how you did it. I love to learn from you!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dealing With Relationship Fears During Deployment

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Today I just want to put two things out there to my MilSo friends. First it's totally normal to worry that your relationship will survive deployment. There are relationships that don't survive it. But the vast majority do. But some days those demons will get in your head and not easily let go. My antidote for those fears is this. Be laser focused on living your life the best you can. Be your best you. That way when he does get back, you will be your best yet and he will probably be quite excited about that.

If you've just stewed and fretted the entire time he's gone it's going to be written all over your exhausted face and show in how little you've evolved and grown while he's been gone. The best recipe is to keep working on your fabulousness. (Yes I made that word up and I love it.) Again, these fears happen to everyone but how you deal with them have a huge power over whether your relationships will or won't survive.

Second, there will very likely be days where you really don't know if your relationship will survive. You will very likely have at least one ugly, sad conversation with your significant other that may end in one or the other saying something to that effect. Even though they are deployed and you can't imagine fighting, it will happen. In some phases of deployment it will feel like that's all you do is get into bad conversations. Here's my healing balm for these days. These bad periods usually pass and blissful times return. Don't get too glum. Learn how you can best approach your loved one when these things happen. Sometimes it good to just not talk for a few days. Sometimes it's great to apologize for your little mistakes even if they made bigger ones. When you say sorry to someone for something small they're more likely to apologize to you for what they've done.

This advice does not apply when egregious acts have been done by one or the other partner. I'm not saying stay no matter what. I am saying under normal circumstances small bumps and blowups can resolve themselves over time. It doesn't mean your relationship is doomed or over. It can feel like it when you're in the middle of the unhappy stuff. I have learned that the hardest conversations can bring the biggest growth in our relationship.

But know that both these scenarios are very normal. It doesn't mean you're doomed to lose your relationship or that you're crazy. It just means you are going through some very normal things. Take heart and don't get too worried or upset. Just keep focusing on doing your best, being loving and kind. Those simple things will take you a long way and build your confidence and your relationship strength.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Pros & Cons Of Christmastime R & R

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I thought I would share some Pros and Cons about scheduling R&R during the Christmas/New Year holidays like we did. It definitely has some good things about it and some challenging things as well. Hopefully this will be helpful for those of you who are just starting a one-year deployment in late summer because your R and R will likely fall around the holidays and you'll have this info when your service member applies for leave.

1) It was great to have my husband here while our daughter was out of school for Christmas break. She missed one day of school on the day he came home. Then he left two days before she went back to school in January. We were really torn about trying to avoid doing R and R during the holidays or doing it then so she was out of school. That worked out well for us so she didn't have to miss much school. 

2) It was great to be able to celebrate the biggest holidays of the year as a family. We were able to visit extended family in wintry weather too. I was glad I never had to feel sadness about us not being together for Christmas.

3) It was right in the middle of our deployment, so when R and R was done, we had a little less than half way to go. That was comforting to know we were on the downhill side when he went back.

4) Transitioning into the new year after he went back to Afghanistan seemed natural and kept us busy. Once he left we had to regroup to return to our weekly school schedule just as everyone else was regrouping from the holidays - basically doing the same thing. That made the transition a lot easier.

1) We wanted to take a real vacation together as a family or meet him in a vacation spot like Hawaii. Unfortunately at that time of year the prices are double what they normally are at vacation destinations. Hawaii was off the charts expensive and options were slim. Taking a nice vacation at twice the price just wasn't something we wanted to do as much as we would've loved to be away from home where we could all really relax.

2) Getting business done like doctor's appointments, banking, visits to government offices, etc. during two weeks where there were big holidays right in the middle of the week was a challenge. Lots of people were out of town or offices were closed. It made our schedule very tight on the few days where we could conduct critical business he needed to get done while he was home.

3) The holiday weeks are already hectic. Throwing in the stress of deployment R and R can up the stress and exhaustion quite a bit. We went to bed before eight on more than one night completely worn out. With all the celebrating and events it can feel like you are cheated out of quiet time together as a family. We had very little downtime over the two weeks.

4) Places tend to be a lot busier during the holidays and there is a lot more traffic. With everyone off work everywhere we tried to go was extra busy which made things slow. Not great when your time is limited and you're already exhausted.

So those are my major Pros and Cons of having R and R during the Christmas season. Any time you have R and R is fantastic. I hope these ideas will help you decide if it's something you want to try for. For you other military families who've done R and R, have you tried holiday leave and how did it go? Or did you chose to do it another time instead. I love hearing about your experiences.

Thanks for coming by!

Friday, July 19, 2013

R&R: The Time Change Cooking Disaster

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One of the things I was most excited about doing for my husband when he came home in the middle of his deployment for two weeks was to cook for him. We talked on the phone about all his favorite meals, I made lists, shopped, planned and was totally ready to wow him during R and R with everything he loved to eat. I just didn't realize how a 12+ hour time change for him would mess with our plans.

When my husband came home having lost TWENTY pounds of muscle in the first six months, I was a little alarmed and even more determined to feed him everything I possibly could before he left for the second six months. He couldn't even wear most of his clothes. We had to go buy him a pair of jeans he could wear for the two weeks. (Thankfully he gained some of that weight back during the second six months).

So he got home for his two week break and I was ready to cook up a storm. On his second night home I start dinner and by the time I'm done cooking he had fallen asleep. Not just "nap" asleep but "for the whole night" asleep. He slept on the couch from early evening until early morning. Then I had this big beautiful dinner and no man to eat it. Putting it all in the fridge was SO sad, knowing we'd missed that chance to enjoy the meal together and that it would never be as beautiful and delicious the next day heated up in the microwave. So sad.

My dreams of making him a big breakfast were ruined when he was awake at two in the morning and had already have a breakfast hours before I even woke up. If I was lucky I got to make him lunch and then he was asleep again by early afternoon and into the night.

In the two weeks he was home I may have made two or three meals that we all actually ate together as a family. Most of the second week we were traveling and either eating with family or eating out. Most nights he wasn't around for dinner, fast asleep wherever he fell in the afternoon or early evening.

When it comes to military life, having expectations is often futile, but being flexible and understanding the circumstances you are in are invaluable. I learned quickly to let go of my expectations about all our beautiful meals together and just keep reminding myself that he was home and that I should enjoy every single moment of it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MilSo Life Lesson: Compartmentalizing Stress

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One of the best lessons I have learned as a military spouse is to compartmentalize stress. When your husband is deployed, you have the entire house and family to keep afloat and you're exhausted you learn what is really worth getting worked up about, giving your time to or even entertaining in your thoughts.

Very quickly you learn to prioritize. For me it became 1) Keeping my husband, child & myself alive, healthy and sane. Everything else became a distant second, third or just plain dropped off the scale all together.

I did not have time to pout, sulk or have hurt feelings. I had a Navy family to keep afloat. I didn't have time for extended family drama and learned to take appropriate actions when necessary but definitely not to let it keep me up at night! Too busy for that!

I let go of unnecessary commitments and learned not to feel sorry in the least when I had to say "No" to requests for my time and invitations that made my life more stressful than less.

Learning what stress I was willing to entertain and what I refused to pick up was a something I learned through trial and error. I learned how to be helpful to my husband and provide him an escape valve for his frustrations without his negative feelings affecting me. I learned to let go of it all as soon as we got off the call. This was super valuable. While I expressed love and compassion and wished all good things for him, his frustrations, exhaustion and stress were not necessary for me to carry as well. Taking a few minutes to cleanse myself of those negative energies allowed me to return to a healthy state very quickly after a frustration-filled call and to tend to responsibilities that were mine to manage.

Emotional exhaustion teaches you pretty quickly that you can't worry about your significant other dying in the war every day. Or that your relationship will fail, or a million other tragic, terrifying worries that can plague the mind. Some days that worry is heavy and some days you just have to say, "Ah screw that. I can't worry about that today" and live your life. Learning not to obsess over doom & gloom possibilities means it's more likely you'll get some sleep, be healthier and happier during deployment. Remembering that the odds are in your favor that things will be okay can be helpful.

I also learned how important it is to take time for me. If you see a woman acting crazy or looking downtrodden it's usually because she isn't making time to take care of her own well-being. My big lesson during deployment was that it's no one's responsibility but my own to carve out that time, make it happen and take good care of myself. No one wants a crazy lady for a wife or a mom. They are okay with you taking some time to pull yourself together and keep it together. It requires awareness, discipline and organization, but you're always better for having done it!

These are important skills that I needed to learn as part of my human experience. Things that I wasn't as good at before. I consider these things the blessings of deployment. These are hard earned lessons but they will serve me for a lifetime.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Deployment: The Hardest Day Of The Week

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Friday nights always seemed like the hardest day of the week during deployment for me. It was easy to stay busy during the weekdays but on Friday night for some reason it always hit me that my best pal was so very far away.

Maybe it was hearing everyone talk about their weekend plans, or knowing that all my married lady friends would be busy all weekend with their husbands and kids that made it seem especially lonely. Maybe it was regret that I hadn't made plans to go do something with other people. 

Most weekends of deployment, Clementine spent with her mother so I was here alone, even when she was living here and going to school. My weekends during deployment often consisted of watching TV on Friday night until late, maybe even falling asleep on our big comfortable couch. Then I would wake up Saturday morning and watch home decorating or cooking shows for a few hours while blogging or working on some other creative project. Some weekends I would find a romantic movie marathon on some cable network and watch while I worked in my pajamas right through the afternoon. If there was a movie in theaters that I wanted to see I would venture out early in the day Saturday by myself.

By evening time I would be antsy and bored to get out of the house, if I hadn't yet, and I would get dressed and find somewhere to go and wander. I would often start at a favorite Mexican take-out restaurant then hit a few stores between there and home. I might buy a couple small things we needed or splurge on a new shirt. After church on Sundays I would often straighten up the house and spend some time writing letters to my husband to mail throughout the coming week.

Looking back I wonder why I didn't try to make more plans with friends. That was one thing I planned on and expected I would do while my husband was gone. Even though the weekends often felt deeply lonely, I found I usually preferred the quiet of being alone for so many hours. I needed the physical rest and to slow down. It helped me recharge my batteries and take time to think about things that I love and are important to me in all parts of my life. It was time to exercise my creativity, to listen to my soul and give attention to my life.

The ebb and flow of deployment is so individual to the person experiencing it. How did you like to spend your weekends? What day was the hardest for you?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Helping When There's Nothing You Can Do

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Some days you'll get a called from your deployed loved one and they will be distraught, frustrated, angry and more. Unfortunately you can't fly over and fix any of the things that are bothering them, causing them grief or driving them crazy.

They might want to vent their frustrations on you or just plain might not be very, shall we call it, "polite." Here's the best thing you can do in these situations since there really isn't much you can do. I tried this many times and it always helped diffuse bad situations and bring calm to conversations and peace in the aftermath.

"I am so sorry that things are difficult. If there was anything I could do to change things for you I would do it in a heartbeat. I have complete faith in you. I am praying for you and so are many other people. I know God is watching out for you and He knows how you feel. I believe things will get better. You can do it. You are strong and wonderful. I love you and am sending you warm thoughts and positive vibrations."

Just telling them you have faith in them and that they are in your prayers does wonders. Just yesterday my husband thanked our daughter for her prayers while he was in Afghanistan and he told her that he felt them and that he believed they did a lot of good. He also wrote us a card in the last weeks of deployment that shared very similar sentiments.

When you tell your loved one that they are not alone, it must be one of the most comforting gifts you can give them. Sometimes it's all they need to get through a rough day and keep trekking forward with confidence, peace and contentment.

Do you have any specific things you do in such a situation as this? Please share in the comments below. It's so great for us all to enjoy each other's experiences and learn from them. Sending you and yours my very best wishes. Prayers for those of you in deployment now.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The He's Home Everyone! Syndrome

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A lesson learned during the reintegration process. Don't have big expectations about making plans, socializing and spending time with other people once your man returns from deployment. Here's what I've learned from my man about being around other people and reintegration:

  • He is super tired and does not have a lot of stamina for planned events. Never wants to go when it's time to leave and doesn't want to stay long. Plan accordingly and lower your own expectations.
  • Crowds tend to make him anxious and he starts getting on edge. He's used to being on alert all the time, when you throw him into a busy environment, his spidey senses feel like they are on overdrive...and remember how tired he is. Bad combo!
  • While you're excited to let people see that he's home, he may feel like he's being paraded around. I have avoided this and yet I still get that complaint even when we just go to church, etc. Situations where people will make a fuss over his return should be gently entered in to. He might be just fine once he gets there or he may not be able to handle it. Gauge the situation and be supportive.
  • Give him small opportunities to get to know and bond with people who have been your big supporters while he's been gone. Introduce him, tell him why it meant a lot to you and then let him chat with them on his own.
  • Anticipate that he may fall asleep in church, a movie, or anywhere you go. Again, he didn't get a decent night's sleep for the past year. Any time he feels he is in a safe and peaceful place his body will likely shut down for desperately needed rest.
  • Even if he suggests or makes social plans, when it's time to execute the plans he may not want to go at all and be grumpy. Don't make any plans that you can't easily excuse yourselves from without a lot of explanation.
  • Avoid loud noises. Even just hearing me doing the dishes can be a little jarring for my husband right now. Be mindful of places where there is a lot of noise that might rattle him that wouldn't even garner notice by you. Be sensitive to his rattled senses and emotions.
  • Try to let him take the lead on activities he feels up to doing. When I pushed and pushed for him to go with me to an activity that was really important to me it didn't go too well. We got there late and ended up leaving early and I felt the whole night was worse than if we'd not gone at all.
  • Appreciate and recognize ebbs and flows. Some days things might not bother him much at all and other days they might feel like a ton of bricks hitting him. Know that some days will be better than others and anticipate that how he feels will change from day to day.
  • Be patient. Reintegration is a whirlwind. Some days are amazingly happy and other days can be terrifyingly difficult. Do whatever you can to lighten his load and to work together as you go forward. There will be time for friends and fun, just don't rush it. Be willing for forego some of your fun to stand by his side.

What have you learned from your reintegration experience about reintegrating into your social life? I'd love to hear your wisdom!