Jo, My Gosh! - Stories & advice that feel like coming home
You're a military spouse or significant other looking for support for our crazy beautiful, messy awesome life. Stories & advice that feel like coming home. Relationships (including long distance and military), care packages, DIYs, recipes, & the things that matter.
This post is sponsored by EventPrep. All opinions and work are my own.
The second month of my marriage I spent (mostly) frustrated with what my life and career had become. I was a teacher who left my school and career after five years to marry the love of my life. The only problem? My license didn’t transfer to the new state that would become my home for 3 1/2 years. What’s more, the costs of transferring my license were too much for our young marriage and desperately low bank account. With astronomic student loans, purchasing a car when both of our old clunkers died within days of each other, and my loss of income, we just couldn’t swing the thousands of dollars it would take to qualify for a job that I had done–and excelled at–for the last five years.
We married in July. My former colleagues and many friends went back to their jobs in August.
And I didn’t.
Instead, I was in our apartment, in a new city, with few friends, and–because John needed the car to get to work and we only had one anymore–no transportation.
It was depressing to say the least.
But I’ll be really honest: it was a point of growth for me and my career.
I started writing because I had to try something. I worked on my blog. I nervously sent out pitches to outlets. One freelancing gig led to another, which led to another, and another and another and another. And then one of those jobs led to a career and a full-time position, which then led to another one.
I still love teaching and I still miss being in the classroom every day, but I’ve also had experiences, first as a freelancer, then as an editor, and now as a digital communications manager, that I would have never otherwise had.
You can make lemonade out of military lemons, too.
If you’ve ever wondered what you’re doing with your life…
If you’ve ever been frustrated with the (lack of) career opportunities that the military life presents you…
If you’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit but never were able to scrape together the money to invest in yourself…
You need to sit up and take notice. Because this is too cool to pass up.
Are you ready to become an entrepreneur?
EventPrep is an event planning company founded by veterans. They see veterans as “great learners, people with the training and discipline to be successful as a business owner, but also people who understand the value of working together as a team.” EventPrep goes out of their way to make sure the organization is welcoming to veterans, including a 20% discount on franchises to veterans who want to start their own business.
Now they’re reaching out to military spouses, too, with a very exciting and very generous giveaway.
Let me repeat that: this is a giveaway for an entire business franchise. And it’s only for military spouses. And they’re giving away five.
That’s pretty cool.
Those five winners will also receive:
Tuition to the six-day Franchise Training Boot Camp at EventPrep’s national training facility
Reimbursed travel costs (up to $500)
Tools, skills, and knowledge needed to become an event planing entrepreneur
To get started, you just need to complete the entry form by July 15. From there, you’ll submit a candidate profile form by July 25. By July 31, the top 25 military spouse candidates will be chosen; those chosen will submit a video about themselves and why they’re throwing their hat in the ring in August. The videos of those selected to be the final ten in the running for the franchises will be posted at the end of August, with voting from the general public starting on August 20 and ending September 14.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of 1 Natural Way, a TRICARE breast pump provider. All opinions are entirely my own.
This year a good friend of mine found out that she was pregnant during the first few months of her husband’s deployment. And I realized how little I knew about dealing with a deployment while pregnant. After all, John and I were engaged during his year-long deployment to Afghanistan and we didn’t have kids, either.
I felt a little lost.
I wanted to be the best friend possible while still respecting her space and her privacy. She’s a brilliant, independent woman who always has things on lock. Like, always. And honestly, I didn’t quite know what would be the best, most helpful thing for her without insulting her or overstepping boundaries or making her feel weird.
If you’re reading this, chances are you know someone affiliated with the military who is pregnant or a new mom (or you are that person). I want you to meet a company that is going to make your life– or your friend’s life– just a little bit easier. 1 Natural Way is a TRICARE breast pump provider that works to make sure you are able to take advantage of your TRICARE benefits easily, all at no (or very, very little) cost to you. 1 Natural Way stocks well-known and reputable breast pump brands like Kiinde, Medela, and Spectra. The process to order a free breast pump through 1 Natural Way is easy: fill out the insurance information form found here, choose the breast pump model you like (they’re all TRICARE-covered), enroll in 1 Natural Way’s Resupply program to get supplies and products sent to you monthly, and upload your prescription. Your breast pump and supplies will be shipped to your front door.
1 Natural Way makes breast pumps and accessories so easily accessible, affordable (free is the best!), and worry-free so you have one less thing to worry about during deployment. (Because honestly, you have more pressing things to worry about anyway.) They take it off your plate so that you have a little more time so you can be the best mom and spouse possible, especially during a deployment.
Back to the story
There’s a lot to be said about just being there for someone. So that’s what I did. But I’ve been curious since then to find out what is actually helpful; what other military spouses who have gone through a pregnancy really need and want from friends and family during deployment.
Of course, I reached out to the Jo, My Gosh! community and asked them for their opinions and experiences. Here’s what they said… (and trust me, they had a lot of fantastic things to say!)
“The best thing anyone can give you during a deployment & pregnancy is FOOD! You can always freeze it and save for desperate times. I know cooking takes up a lot of time and I try to feed my kids as healthy as they will let me. ” -Tiffany
Food is love. And cooking something for someone who needs a break or needs a really tasty meal that isn’t cereal or a microwavable dinner is a lovely way of showing you care. Not close by? Have a pizza, Chinese, or other food delivered to that new mom’s door. (You might want to call her first to make sure she’s at home, though.)
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jasen Morenogarcia/Released
2. Babysitter“Honestly, the best thing anyone did for me during my pregnancy was to babysit my son so I could run errands alone, or just have some alone time, and the couple times my mom and I got pedicures together.” -Kimberly
If your friend is a mom times one (or two… or four), a babysitter is both a thoughtful and a necessary gift. Since she’s pulling double duty and doesn’t have a partner to help spell her, chances are she’s running extremely ragged and could use back up. If you’re in the area, volunteer to watch her kids for a few hours every week. If you’re far away, you can gift her a few hours of babysitting time. Hopefully she has a babysitter that she’s vetted and the kids are familiar with. If not, you can help her find one through safe and secure websites like Care.com.
3. Yard work
“I am expecting and my husband is deployed! Every Saturday one of my neighbors have come over and mowed my lawn for me… I am overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness those around me have shown during this deployment! ” -Bethany
Things like trimming, weeding, and mowing are often not high on the things-that-must-be-done deployment triage list. Add morning sickness, a bunch of kiddos, or a tiny baby and work time outside for moms and moms-to-be can be extremely limited (or non-existent). But the truth is, grass grows whether or not it’s during deployment. Many communities and HOAs have regulations and rules about the upkeep of the yard. If you live close by, work together with other neighbors to rotate the responsibility of mowing. This is another task that can easily be gifted and scheduled, even when there are miles between you and the recipient.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson, MCBH Combat Camera/Released
4. Your presence
“Other Spouses supporting (rallying around) me just by being there, bringing food, and asking what I needed… helped me to know others care.” -Trista
You don’t need to spend a dime to be a good friend. Often, during deployment, people ask the spouse at home how the serving spouse is. And often others forget to check in and make sure that the spouse at home is okay too. Make it a point to keep in touch with your friend. Sometimes a text or a note in the mail can make all the difference during very lonely times.
5. Mean what you say
“Friends who consistently said ‘call if you need anything’—and meant it. When I came down with the stomach flu in my final trimester, these consistent offers helped me reach out to ask for a grocery delivery and to ask for a ride to the doctor when I didn’t think I could drive myself. And friends who just said ‘I’d like to come to that appointment with you, if it’s okay’—sometimes it’s easier to decline offers than to ask for something.” -Caitlin
Open the dialogue between you and your friend early and often. Let her know that you’re there for her. And then actually mean it. That’s it. Be a friend. Do the thing. It’s not that hard, but you have to show up.
6. Celebrate anyway
“The sweetest thing anyone did for me was a baby shower. A group of ladies that have their guys deployed with mine threw me a very sweet intimate shower. It was just so sweet because it was a group of women going through the journey of deployment with me. We could just sit and enjoy each other.” -Kaitlyn
If you’re the one waiting for someone to come home from deployment, it often feels like life is on hold. But celebrations are part of life, and whether it’s through a baby shower or a birthday party or a girls’ night, they should happen. You can take pictures and video and find other ways to help share these special moments with your friend’s spouse.
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jamica Johnson
7. Be a reassuring presence
“I had wonderful friends that lived down the road, they were always present whenever I needed help with the house or dog…” -Shelby
Sometimes you just need someone to be there for the little things. Sometimes those little things turn out to be the things that really, really matter.
8. Pay attention
“I was pregnant and had hypermesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness. I was still working in a small office of about 10 people and they were all understanding and helpful. My 2 closest co-workers made sure the only toilet was always clean should I need to vomit. And my sense of smell was overwhelming so they would clean out our small refrigerator regularly, as well as retrieve anything I needed from it so I wouldn’t be subjected to any odors. It was one of the most thoughtful things ever done for me!!” -Sherry
I love Sherry’s story because it is just such a kind, thoughtful gesture. Doing small things with love and attention to the person you care for makes all the difference in the world. What are the things you notice or know about your friend? How can you use those things to make life a little better for her… especially during a really tough time?
If you’re like the vast majority the military spouse community, you’ve dealt with at least a few frustrations when it comes to your career. I know I have. My story isn’t much different than many other spouses’. When John and I married, I left my job as a high school English teacher, moved out of the state to John’s installation, and realized that it didn’t make any sense to get licensed again… we’d be moving soon and the costs associated with a new teaching license would not justify the enormous probability that I would not find a job before we had to move again.
So I started freelancing and built a writing career instead.
It was hard. Really hard. I totally feel for spouses who have careers and skills that aren’t as easily transferrable to remote, work-from-home, or portable careers.
The truth is, there are a lot of military spouses out there who want to work but can’t thanks to the exceptionally high ops tempos, work schedules of their significant others, and needs of the military. Then there are the holes in resumes (thanks, PCSes!), the potential of moving overseas, and the difficulty convincing employers to take a chance…
And it hurts military families’ finances (both short- and long-term) and it hurts military readiness as more folks decide that a long-term career in the military isn’t for their family.
One thing won’t fix all of the problems when it comes to military spouse employment, but every little bit helps.
And LinkedIn’s new announcement is a pretty big bit, actually.
Actual free stuff for you
Staring in July 2018, LinkedIn will make available one free year of LinkedIn Premium to every single military spouse during every PCS to a new installation… and at the end of their family’s military service.
That’s right. One free year every time you move to a new installation. (And once your family ends their service, you’ll also get one more free year.)
LinkedIn Premium packages cost $29.99 a month, which means that one year of LinkedIn Premium costs $359.88. And that means that LinkedIn’s new program will save you almost $400… every time you move.
I didn’t grow up in a military family. In fact, I knew very little about the military until I started dating John. (And then, oh boy, did I learn A LOT in a little bit of time.)
But I did grow up in a family that prepared me to live military life. I grew up with parents who taught me important skills and mindsets like resiliency, empathy, and organization. But they also taught me one other thing about life that really made my military journey a lot easier.
They taught me about creating (and finding) magic in the ordinary. It didn’t cost a lot of money; sometimes it was just a sprinkler in the backyard or eating waffles and ice cream for breakfast on a hot summer morning. It was more about the attitude and excitement and less about the actual thing.
The happiest military spouses I know know how to create and find magic in the ordinary, too. They’re the ones that summon a deep joy for life. They’re the ones that find ways to make life a little easier because they see life as an adventure. They celebrate the little things.
You can do that too. Here are six ideas to get you started…
1. Go on a mini road trip
Deployment is hard on everyone in the family. It’s easy to get into the same rote patterns and to just try to make it through the day or the week or the month. Sometimes everyone needs a little bit of magic. Pack up the kids for a surprise road trip. You don’t have to go far– you just need to go somewhere that is a little out of your ordinary. Maybe that means heading to the dollar store, grabbing a few kite kits, and heading to a park you’ve never visited. Maybe it means going to the movies in the middle of the day just because. Maybe it means going to that froyo place or hiking a bike trail or just driving across town to another playground. As the mom or dad, you get to set the tone for how cool (or lame) this trip is. Your kids will follow and they’ll remember that little piece of magic you gave them forever.
2. Enjoy Italian vineyards
Unless you’re one of the few, super lucky military spouses who are actually stationed in Italy, most of us have to settle with a little imagination. Grab a bottle of your favorite Italian wine and a wine glass. Pull up a playlist like this one and relax outside on your balcony or patio for a few minutes. If you have a little more time, fix yourself a plate of bruschetta, too.
Not sure what wine to pick? Cavit Rose is a lovely imported Italian wine that is crisp with fruity tones. It pairs really nicely with fish and white meats like chicken and pork, but you can also just enjoy it alone or in a cocktail. (Here are 25 fun cocktails that are perfect for rose wine.)
3. Be a little fancy
Never use that beautiful vase? Or maybe it’s the platter from your wedding. Is it a recipe you’ve been holding off trying? Do the thing now. Buy flowers for yourself and put them in that vase you love but never use. Bake a cake (or buy one) and slide it onto that platter that’s just collecting dust. Try the tough recipe. Or do something else that is just a little bit out of your ordinary; something that is just a little bit “much”. Because honestly, it’s fun being a little over the top sometimes.
4. Indulge with a magazine
One of my favorite ways to unwind and take a mental vacation is to splurge on a pretty expensive magazine called CrossStitcher. It’s British and imported (and comes with a cross stitch kit in every issue). It is not cheap, but I set it aside for a Friday or Saturday after a long week. It’s a beautiful magazine that just feels so luxurious to read… and it really makes me feel like I’m on vacation while I’m reading it. The anticipation of getting to page through my favorite magazine helps me get through rough weeks. Pick up your favorite magazine–or maybe one that you’d love to read but never buy– and set aside thirty minutes that’s just for you. Make it luxurious. Take a bubble bath and read or pour yourself a drink (maybe Cavit Rose?) and enjoy the simple pleasure of just being.
5. Break a rule
Maybe you have a “no food in the living room rule.” Or a “no dessert before dinner” rule. Maybe you have strict bedtimes. Or maybe it’s something else. Surprise the family by breaking one of those rules–intentionally–and with a plan. No food in the living room? Have a picnic in the living room while you watch Coco on Netflix. (If you’re worried about the mess, spread a blanket just like a real picnic.) No dessert before dinner? Pick a hot day and have an ice cream bar FOR dinner. Strict bedtimes? Just this once, play glow-in-the-dark tag in the backyard wayyyy after lights are usually out. Breaking a rule with a fun alternative might just be the zing your family needs to get over a difficult bump in a deployment.
6. Try something new
It’s super easy to get into a rut during deployment. Same food. Same routine. Same frustrations. Rinse. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. The good thing is that it’s also super easy to get out of a rut and do something different. One of my favorite ways to do that is by bringing home a new food to try–something exotic that you might not otherwise try, like My/Mo Mochi. Mochi is a sweet Japanese rice dough that is wrapped around ice cream.
Military life can often be lonely. Frequent moves that take you states–or countries–away from your family and friends… deployments… trainings… a scary news cycle that never seems to turn off…
And not only can it be lonely, sometimes people decide to voluntarily detach themselves from people and places. It makes saying goodbye and being far from home less painful. But it doesn’t make the loneliness any better.
Fortunately, for your military spouse friend, you are awesome (because you’re reading this post, and clearly you want to help your military spouse–or significant other–friend). And you want to make sure they know they are loved and remembered. You want to ease their loneliness. This post is for you.
Sometimes you just need someone who will sit down and just… listen. No judgment. No criticisms. No advice. Just listening. If you haven’t lived the military life, that’s okay. You don’t need to have lived it to be able to listen and be empathetic. If you’re not sure what to say, here are a few ideas for you.
2. Send a card
Getting mail is so much fun… and often military spouses are on the sending side of mail, but not the receiving side. Slip card with a handwritten note into the mail for your favorite military spouse. You don’t have to do it for a particular reason… and it’s fun to send a card even if you live in the same zip code. Check out military spouse-owned Hello Rosie Co. for sassy cards and stationary!
3. Share a cup of coffee
Military spouses run on caffeine. (And it’s no surprise why!) If you’re in the same place, set up a coffee date to decompress together. If you’re a little farther away, a gift card or sending the actual java is a great way to do that. Swatara Coffee Co. is a veteran-owned small business that ships gourmet coffee across the US and to APO/FPO/DPO addresses. (I can vouch for its quality– Swatara Coffee Co. is the shop my husband and I opened after John left the Navy.)
4. Surprise them
It might not be a girls’ night out or a trip to Vegas, but bringing over a homemade meal or raking leaves, or simply hanging out after a tough day can mean a world of difference to a military spouse who feels forgotten, especially during a deployment.
5. Gift a box
A subscription box is the perfect way to reach out to a military spouse who lives far away from you. (And it’s a super easy way to do it. You don’t have to remember to do anything– just purchase one box, or a subscription, and set it and forget it!) MilSO Box is one of those subscription boxes, and it is awesome. Every month centers around a theme and offers full-sized products. From spices and candy to notebooks and mugs to specialty items that are branch-specific, all of the items that come in the box are made in the USA and/or are from veteran- and military spouse-owned small businesses. (I just love that!) Use JOMYGOSH10 to get 10% off your order and make a military spouse (or yourself) happy.
If your milspouse has kids, give them a break (especially if they’re dealing with a deployment). If you’re not physically present where they are, arrange a few hours of babysitting and pay for it. (Make sure you talk to the military spouse first.)
This is a sponsored post. I received a complimentary stay from La Quinta Inns & Suites in exchange for a blog post. All opinions are my own.
The night before I flew out to Austin, TX for a conference, it snowed 12 inches here in PA. I’m not joking.
So you can imagine that when I touched down in beautiful, warm, sunny, and snow-free Austin, I was beaming. And I hadn’t even seen the hotel I was staying at.
When the Uber pulled up to the drive, I was surprised. Gone was the La Quinta that I remembered from years of childhood road trips. It was updated, refreshed, and chic. I mean, just look at these pictures:
This was the lobby and common area. The windows looked into the courtyard and pool area. In the evening it was a wonderful place to crash and get some work done; in the morning, there was a continental breakfast available for free in this area.
This was the view from my room! The courtyard was meticulously landscaped and cared for and was just a lovely, quiet piece of paradise. You would not have guessed that the hotel was in a pretty busy area, near major roads. It was certainly an urban oasis.
This is another view of the courtyard. I just could not get over the massive renovations that were done to this property. It was really obvious and just gorgeous!
Just another peek at a feature of the lobby: a fireplace and cozy nook to chat! (I stayed away from it since I had had enough of fireplaces and the winter in PA this year!)
The room was just as inviting as the grounds and shared spaces in the hotel. My room had a comfortable bed in a well-appointed room with a spacious desk and a door that led to the courtyard.
The bathroom was clean, well-kept, and stocked. It was exactly what I needed after a long day of travel– a shower in a bathroom that just felt nice to be in.
Here’s another angle of the room with the door that led to the courtyard. The windows let in a lot of Texan light, which was such a nice change of pace!
La Quinta Inns & Suites renovations are happening all over the country as they update their brand (and fortunately many of them are happening close to military installations). But that’s not the only thing that is military-related with LQ. They are doing so many wonderful things in the military community… and few people know about what they’re doing.
Let’s talk about La Quinta Inns & Suites military discount first, even though it’s not the only thing they do for the military community. Those who sign up for their La Quinta Returns Military Rewards will receive 12% off La Quinta’s best available rates when you book through their website. During your first stay, you’ll get 2,000 bonus points to help you get to the next reward quicker. (Rewards for things like free stay and gift cards start at 6,000 points, so your first stay gets you one-third of the way there.) You’ll also start as a Gold Rewards member which means you get 20% more points during every stay (so you can rack up those rewards faster) and you’ll also get two free room upgrades every year.
The La Quinta Returns Military Rewards program is open to any active duty service members, veterans, or military spouses. You can sign up for free here.
Opportunities for the Whole Military Family
La Quinta Inns & Suites does a lot quietly to help veterans transitioning out of the military land softly in a new career field. Through partnerships like Hiring Our Heroes and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, they actively look to recruit not just service members transitioning out, but military spouses and caregivers, too. Their motto is simple but striking: “Not just Military Friendly. Military Family Friendly.” More than 1,500 military-affiliated employees have been hired at La Quinta.
The hotel chain also actively works to contract with military spouse-owned or veteran-owned small businesses. For small businesses, getting a contract with a national company is the stepping stone to a solid, stable future. Find out more about this initiative here.
The La Quinta that I stayed in Austin was managed by Army veteran, Holly Tisser. When Holly was in the Army she was a track vehicle mechanic who worked on Abrams tanks. (I’m in awe!) When she got out of the Army, she found her way to La Quinta and began as a housekeeping supervisor and worked her way up to general manager over a 20-year career. Along the way, she’s trained six veteran fellows and has sat on board and participated in national initiatives with the organization, giving her perspective and opinion as a veteran.
“I think La Quinta is great… it’s been such a wonderful company to promote from within,” Holly said when I spoke with her. “Just their respect for the military… I really believe that LQ supports the military with the programs they do.”
For most of the US, Memorial Day is the start of the summer, a three-day weekend, and a chance to get the grills out. It’s not controversial or a cause for a lot of philosophical discussions. But for military families, Memorial Day often can feel like a flash point of the military-civilian divide. Many currently military families honor people they personally know who have died during service. Staples of Memorial Day celebrations–sales, picnics, and parades–are often at loggerheads with how military families think the day should be observed.
I asked the Jo, My Gosh! community to share their thoughts about Memorial Day. Here’s what they said:
1. Your choice is not mine
My husband has lost more friends than I have, but we both have names and people that we remember this day. Everyone does that in their own way. I may be a little sad and nostalgic, but most service members celebrate by having a beer to honor their missing friends. Some towns celebrate with a parade. Some family members remember with a picnic or BBQ. So I would never tell someone how to celebrate or what to do, as long as their intention is to honor the service members who died in previous wars. – Lizann, Seasoned Spouse
2. It’s hardest for Gold Star families
My gold star mom friend has a celebration of her son’s life on Memorial Day at section 60. But it’s still not happy. 14 years hasn’t lessened that pain, she’s learned to live with it. As a former Arlington Lady, I saw it so often when I’d go to section 60 to visit those I was honored to serve, and the wives and children were having a glass and remembering. – Karen
3. Know about the holiday
I want other people to know the meaning and why the holiday is observed. It’s okay for us all to gather and enjoy having the time off, nothing wrong with a beach weekend or BBQ. Just make sure the meaning of the day isn’t lost on us. It’s the respect that we’re paying forward. -Lindsey
4. Your celebrations don’t offend me
I don’t have a problem with going out and having fun this weekend, we do too but at least know why and what Memorial Day is all about. -Julie, Soldier’s Wife, Crazy Life
5. Here’s how to thank
Stop thanking veterans for their service on this day; rather, thank them for their friends sacrifices. -Rose
6. Don’t disgrace the weekend
The weekend is not meant for partying, getting drunk and disgracing the true meaning There is nothing wrong with spending time with family and having a cookout but still take some time to have a moment of silence , reflect, visit a memorial, celebrate with dignity to honor the sacrifice, do something kind in the name of the fallen . -Sierra, The Daily Impressions
7. We don’t celebrate
Our family always thinks it’s weird that our town doesn’t have a parade and we don’t celebrate. It’s hard to make them understand that it’s not a day we feel like celebrating but a day we reflect and feel for those families. It’s more of a somber day in our home for us and a day we reflect. -Jenah
8. It’s not a happy day
My husband is the serving spouse, not me, but he often feels frustrated when people tell him, “Happy Memorial Day” typically followed by, “thank you for your service.” Any appreciation for his service is thoughtful, but Memorial Day isn’t “happy” for us and we want to spend it remembering and honoring those that have died serving their country. -Hannah
9. I want to stay blessed
Memorial Day was borne of tragedy, and while people can and SHOULD celebrate the day, they should understand they’re celebrating the lives of those lost while serving. . . I hope that I stay as blessed as I have been to never have to celebrate my service member or any family members on this day. -Christa
10. It’s okay if you don’t want to observe it
It’s okay if you don’t go to a parade or a memorial. It’s okay even if you don’t think about people who died or honor those who died. No one should be forced or guilted into observing Memorial Day. That’s part of our freedom as Americans, too, and that’s also a freedom that service members fight to protect. -Sarah
11. Learn more
I wish schools would take the opportunity to have students do a project/research for Memorial Day. There are so many names listed on the monuments (DC or local) and even more that aren’t. -Amanda
This is a sponsored conversation on behalf of Holt’s Cigar Company via SoFluential Media. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Father’s Day can be an emotional time for both kids and their dads during deployment. And of course, not all things can be solved with a care package during deployment, but I do think that the act of creating something special and sending it to someone you love for their enjoyment can be very cathartic and help loved ones feel a little closer.
Creating a care package is easy because it’s all about the person receiving it and the person (or people) putting it together. If you need a few ideas for how to get started, don’t worry: you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s a quick primer on how to start creating care packages:
Now, let’s get to what to actually put into this Father’s Day care package!
1. Beef Jerky
Especially if your significant other is overseas, beef jerky is a great way to send something flavorful that will keep in the heat or without refrigeration. If you want to send something extra special, go local or gourmet and send meats or flavors that you normally wouldn’t send like buffalo or Cajun.
2. Trail mix
If you have kiddos, this is a lovely way to get them in on the action. Have them brainstorm what Dad’s favorite snacks and foods are and then create a trail mix from them. Think outside the box. If Dad loves Oreos, why not include minis in the trail mix? Patriotic mixes of candies can be found this time of year–so jazz it up with a bit of color. And, Dad loves healthier options, a health food store often has exotic nuts and dried fruits that will be fun to include too. If it’s not exactly what regular trail mix is like, who cares? It will still be fun and tasty.
3. Handmade gifts
It’s always lovely to send things made by the kids on Father’s Day. If Dad is deployed, just make sure that any precious pieces of artwork or creativity can either come safely home or the creators (and parents) are okay with them not making it back. Consider having the kids make pieces of disposable art– or decorating the inside and outside of the care package itself.
Send a USB drive with a special Father’s Day message. If the kids are too young to talk into your phone or video camera, taping special–or simply ordinary–moments can be a lovely way for Dad to connect with his children. Just remember: never videotape or photograph and send anything that you would be uncomfortable with strangers seeing.
Get some of those pictures on your phone printed and into this care package. Many dads have access to the internet during deployment and can see the photos you upload to social media or send through email… but there’s nothing like holding a physical picture of your kids and spouse or significant other.
Sure, it’s old school and a little cliche, but sending a booklet of coupons or rain checks for Dad to cash in with his kids once deployment is over is still one of those pull-on-your-heatstrings kinds of gifts. If the kids are old enough, ask them to come up with the ideas– you (and Dad) might just be surprised by the kinds of things they want to do and miss while he’s away.
Just because it’s Father’s Day doesn’t mean that Dad doesn’t need the basic staples you usually send to him. Whatever that is– razors, socks, juice boxes–make sure that you include those in this box too so he doesn’t go without. (You can always include a note to let him know the celebration will happen when he’s home.)
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of 1 Natural Way, a TRICARE breast pump provider. All opinions are entirely my own.
“I thought deployment on my own was hard,” one of my friends said to me one day. “But deployment with kids? It feels impossible.”
She had been battling an raft of on-going kid illnesses– the flu, fevers, colds, earaches. The list didn’t seem to end. Throw in sleepless nights and children who didn’t want to stay in their own beds, and she was frazzled. More than frazzled, if we’re going to be really honest.
That’s not uncommon in the military community. Military life throws a heck of a lot at just one person. Then add a spouse… and a kid… or two… or three… and it can get hectic and frustrating fast.
The good news? If you’re feeling a little frazzled (or completely in over your head, that’s okay, too!), there are a lot of parenting programs, websites, and apps out there to help. They’ve been made with military families in mind… not as an afterthought! And the cost of absolutely free is definitely a bonus.
Let’s talk about free stuff
Thanks to 1 Natural Way for sponsoring this post and allowing me to bring you these wonderful parenting resources. 1 Natural Way is a TRICARE breast pump provider that works to make sure you are able to take advantage of your TRICARE benefits as easily and painlessly as possible and all at no (or very, very little) cost to you. In stock at 1 Natural way are high-quality products like Kiinde, Medela, and Spectra. Simply fill out the insurance information form found here, choose the breast pump model you like (they’re all TRICARE-covered), enroll in 1 Natural Way’s Resupply program to get supplies and products sent to you monthly, and upload your prescription. Everything ships directly to your door. (Woohoo!)
1 Natural Way makes breast pumps and accessories easy and hassle-free so you can spend your time on the things you love: your kids. And that’s why you’re here–because you want parenting resources for military families. So let’s get to it!
Now, let’s talk about more free stuff!
The USO offers a whole-family mini day retreat called EmPaCt. Kids get the opportunity to lead parents through play-based exploration and fun.
2. Sesame Street For Military Families
Sesame Street has an entire website (and an app too) dedicated to supporting military families, kids, and their providers (like doctors) dealing with all of the joys and obstacles that military life has. From informational videos for adults to fun videos (that also teach) for kids, to experiential games, to printables and conversation starters for families, there is so much research-based information available for families through Sesame Street. And that doesn’t even include their in-person live events through the USO.
The Armed Services YMCA offers a variety of opportunities for parents and children, which sometimes can include parenting help and classes. If you need a break, most ASYMCA’s offer respite child care for infants through tweens and safe places for children through classes and programs.
4. Army Community Service Programs
Some Army posts provide parenting programs through Army Community Services. For example, Fort Carson has a beloved Nurturing program which includes child care, classes for parents on topics like potty-training, and play groups for children. Fort Riley offers a New Parent Support Group headed by nurses and social workers, with classes and a play time offered as well.
5. Visiting Nurse Program
The Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society provides a visiting nurse program to families with newborns. The nurses check on the baby’s general health and provide health checks. They can also answer parent questions and educate caregivers on a variety of child-related topics as well as help assuage new parent worries.
6. The Military Birth Resource Network
MBRN’s mission is “to enable continuity of care by providing the necessary community, network, resources and awareness to our military families stateside and those stationed overseas.” You can find out more about the network and the services they offer for military spouses and families who are ready to give birth or who have just welcomed a new baby into their family here.
On- or off-base, libraries can provide a wealth of programming for parents and children. Check your local one to see if they have any parenting groups that meet.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Morgan K. Nall/Released
8. Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
At some installation’s USOs, there are in-person reading groups for parents and young children through the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. Some of these programs include craft time, others are focused on particular topics, like deployment.
9. New Parent Support Program
Many installations offer the DoD’s New Parent Support Program. The program covers a wide range of topics that are are military-specific and more general to new or expecting parents. To find the closest offerings to you, search here by clicking the drop down menu and selecting “New Parent Support Program.”
10. Real Warriors
Real Warriors provides a wealth of knowledge and articles for military couples who are becoming (or have just become) new parents. Check out their library of articles here.
11. Babies on the Homefront
This app, from the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, keeps information and help close to parents at all times including information about play time, behavior, and self-care. You can also visit their website for videos and articles with information specific to military families.
12. VA’s Parenting Course
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a six-module parenting class available for your use online. Login whenever you’re able and learn more about topics like age-appropriate behaviors, positive discipline, and how to manage emotions as a parent. The course is meant to serve military and veteran families and broaches military-affiliated parenting topics.
13. Military OneSource
Oh yes, of course Military OneSource is on the list! This governmental website has become a lot more user-friendly in recent years. With articles and videos that cover nearly every military community topic under the sun, it’s probably no surprise they have a bevy of parenting articles available for military families too.
14. Parent to Parent Workshops
Provided by the Military Child Education Coalition, the Parent to Parent workshops are designed to help parents learn how to advocate on their child’s behalf when it comes to their education. You can learn more about this program here.
Photo: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin A. Flinn/RELEASED
15. Zero to Three
Zero to Three provides parenting resources for families regardless of military status; however, they also have a subpage on their website dedicated strictly to military families and resources for those families. It includes article series, children’s book recommendations, and videos. Check it out here.
The Department of Education has a website dedicated to help parents of military kids with special needs navigate some of the challenges and difficulties that may arise. Take a look here.
It’s 2:30 AM, and you’re saying goodbye to your spouse leaving on deployment. It’s dark and your eyes hurt from crying. The six months or nine months or twelve months stretch out in front of you. You hug them and know that you’ll have to leave go and have to walk away.
It’s 6 AM, and the kids are already cranky. Your spouse is already gone for the day, and you’ve already helped to uncover a PT belt from the cavern under the bed that seems to eat all of the things they always need last minute.
It’s 9:15 AM and you’re scrolling through employment sites trying to find a job that fits your family’s needs… and that you maybe won’t have to leave when you PCS in two–maybe three–years.
It’s 11:32 AM, and you’re standing in your empty house, saying goodbye to the walls, to the places where your child stood up for the first time, where you and your spouse ate pizza sitting on the floor because the furniture hadn’t been moved in yet, where your sister and her family talked for hours when they were able to visit that one time.
It’s 3:47 PM, and you’re picking up the kids, hurdling through the Commissary, driving the speed limit on base (of course!), and trying to make it home so your complete, little family can spend a few precious hours together before your spouse leaves (again) for training.
It’s 5:17 PM, and it’s a drill weekend, and everything is breaking, and you are just. So. Over. It.
It’s 7:58 PM, and you’re a brand new spouse with zero friends in the area, your spouse is working all the time, and you are just… you.
And maybe, somewhere in a very dark, little part of your brain, you definitely, definitely, definitely don’t feel appreciated. You don’t get awards. There’s no one to see you in the middle of the night when you wake up, reach for your spouse, and there’s only an empty space next to you. There’s no cheering when you’re at an IEP meeting alone, trying to figure the new school system out (again). Or when you’re packing another care package and writing out another customs form. Or when you can’t listen to another second of the news.
It can be rough when people don’t know what to say or what to do. When your spouse is deployed to another country that most folks don’t even know we have a military presence in. When you are tired and sick and can’t get seen by your PCM fast enough. When you feel like everyone else gets the kudos, but you showed up to work with your shirt on backwards and living in fear that you’ll miss a precious call from your spouse. When you just feel so damn lonely.
You are loved.
You are amazing.
You are enough.
Repeat that to yourself:
You are loved.
You are amazing.
You are enough.
And believe it.
You might not have an award. Military Spouse Appreciation Day may pass with little fanfare. Most people might not understand what you do or what your life is like. You might not even hear from your spouse for weeks on end.
Maybe that’s your life today. Maybe you’re feeling just a little annoyed or frustrated or tired or underappreciated. Maybe you’re tired of feeling left out. Or ignored. Or forgotten. Maybe you feel like life is passing you by while your spouse gets the accolades and thanks.
But what you do and who you are is important.
You are a PCS warrior who packs up your home and travels across the country or world to create a new home out of just a few boxes, often without your spouse.
You are a multitasking maven who learns and relearns and re-relearns new school systems and teachers after each move so that your kids get the best education you can give them.
You are the foundation of your family, unmoving in a life that is constantly rocked by announcements and deployments and trainings and fears.
You are a task-master who keeps the wheels moving. When you’re not sure that you can do it all, you somehow do.
And even when you are none of those things, even when you are curled up on the couch with a quart of ice cream, wearing a shirt that hasn’t been washed since– you’re not sure– and missing your spouse and your parents more than your heart can bear, you are enough.
Remember that you are part of a vast group, stretching back for thousands of years, of women and men who have loved someone in the military, who have waited, who have watched, who have prayed and worried and waited again. That what you do is invaluable. You love your family. You care for your family. And you do it through moves and deployments and frustrations and career changes and unemployment and uncertainty and births and deaths.