The other night, after my spouse had loaded the dishwasher after dinner without being asked, I went into the kitchen to add a few stray dishes and push the start button.
First, though, I rearranged everything - that glass should be on the top, that bowl should be facing the other way, the silverware should be sorted by type into each basket with the knives pointing down …
Wait. Why was I doing this?
Because that’s the way I’ve always done it.
For 26 years before my husband retired from the military, I did things my own way. I didn’t necessarily think my way was perfect. But, spending more than half our marriage without him, my way was usually the only way. There was no else around to do things any differently.
The same was true of pretty much any adulting done around our house. I had my own system to pay the bills (and sometimes juggle accounts to stretch things until their due dates, or pay something late, with no one being any the wiser). I shopped for insurance, applied for mortgages, picked out houses, bought cars. I decided what to eat, shopped for it and cooked it. I cleaned the house. I did the laundry.
Often times I worked full time, too, but my job was never as demanding as his so it always made me sense for me to do the bulk of the domestic chores. Plus, I was home alone so much that it didn’t much matter.
He did help out when he could, but that always felt like when a guest comes for dinner and offers to clean the table afterward – it’s a nicety in return for something you did for them.
Like many of you, the biggest duty I took on by myself was parenting. For the last 15 years, again with my husband gone more than half the time, I played the role of both “good parent” and “bad parent” to our two kids, being the “fun” one and the “hard” one at the same time.
During deployments, especially, it was me and the kids against the world. The three of us together were a well-oiled machine. They knew that I was the one – the only one - who would fulfill all their needs on a daily basis. As the kids grew into teenagers, we each knew our role in the family and how to respond to – and soothe – each others’ stresses. We knew how to make each other laugh, and we knew when to back off.
Then my husband went on terminal leave, followed by retirement. He was home with us 24/7. Twenty-months later, he’s still here.
Suddenly there was a fourth member of our merry little band.
We’ve all had to adjust. The kids have had to get used to letting dad in our private jokes. They’ve taught him our routines and traditions. They’ve started to sense his moods and learn his quirks, just like they know mine.
I realized it wasn’t that my spouse didn’t want to be an equal parent and domestic partner. He didn’t know to be those things.
And I didn’t know how to let him.
I was used to being the queen bee, and running the house on my terms, the way I wanted. After almost two years, we are still adjusting. The latest sign of progress: Tonight I thanked him for loading the dishwasher, and I didn’t touch a single thing in it.
Here are seven things I’m working on being better at, to help my spouse feel like a better husband, dad and partner:
When you need (or just want) something done, ask. “Hey, can you please go switch the laundry over?” is a good start. My husband’s almost always happy to do things when I ask, and at first he waited for me to ask because he didn’t know what he should be doing, if anything. It may seem obvious to us, the ones who have been doing it alone all these years. But it isn’t so obvious to our frazzled spouses who are just struggling to fit in in their own homes.
Acknowledge the good stuff, and don’t complain about the bad. “I really like the way you grilled that chicken last night.” And if the dishwasher isn’t loaded just right? Trust me, the dishes will still get clean.
Give options, but not necessarily an option to say no. “Both kids have activities at the same time tonight. Which one do you want to attend?” Of course, don’t be mad if your spouse picks the easy route. I recently gave mine the choice of picking one kid up at swim practice, or taking the other to the dentist. Bet you can’t guess which one he chose - and I can’t say that I blame him!
Let your partner be a parent. Learning to relate to the kids was one of the hardest things for my husband. He was reluctant to say a single harsh word to them, even when they deserved it. I also don’t always agree with his parenting style (nor does he agree with mine.) But neither of us is right or wrong, as long as the end result is the one we agreed upon. I’m learning to sit back and let him handle situations on his own. He’ll never become comfortable as a parent if I don’t give him the chance to be one.
Be grateful. A little appreciation goes a long way, as does a little praise. Thank him for putting the groceries away, even if he did put the cereal next to the cat food.
Create a to-do list. My husband has done this a few times recently and it has been a great communications tool. He makes a list of things that need to be done, then we decide who will do what.
Relax. Give up the power. This relates to most of the things above. I don’t need to control everything. And, really, who wants that responsibility? For once in my life, post-retirement, I have someone to share it all with. And that is something to embrace and celebrate.
This year may well see a ginormous shift for us. It has come to my attention that the master’s degree I am pursuing is going to take a whole lot more concentration as we progress toward the walk. Coupled with a change up in the neighborhood dynamics, it looks like we will be moving to a more traditional schooling pattern for my girls. My two kids are currently reporting in grade school as homeschool students in our district.
Yep, my kids are gonna hit public school after only ever having experienced pre-school many years ago.
My greatest concern is not that they will be under stimulated after the dynamic day we usually have at home. It’s not that they will be unable to complete the work because we have deviated from the scholastic norm so much. What I am worried about is their growing sense of self and their ability to make it through a year still smiling. School is not what it was when I went. It’s much worse now.
I have one kiddo that is the life of the party. She is the class clown when we meet up with other friends for group classes. She has the spark of every rainbow ever created bursting from her little body. She is smart and creative and powerfully athletic. She is also physically disabled and is often chasing toads in her wheelchair.
My other one is a dreamer plain and simple. She is the kid that watches how it’s done so they know exactly how to do the thing right - that when they finally get to do it, there is nothing left to get. She is the one with the light of distant stars in her eyes with a touch of moon dust and clover in her pocket.
Thankfully our school system is tiny. When I say tiny, I mean one elementary school and one middle school small. The kids go to a county high school small. The elementary has 10 classrooms for six grades small. Classes of under 20 small.
I mean no metal detectors small.
This move to public school affords us to tackle two different conundrums with one proverbial stone. I need concentrated school time for my own studies as I begin earnest work on my thesis. My kids are interested in exploring learning in a more structured style. It helps that our neighbors’ kids are going back to school from homeschooling and will be in the same school and possibly in the same class.
I know that the life dreams my girls whisper at bedtime are beyond my current abilities to support them to. It might be time to reach out to those other resources that a school environment will provide. Beyond the social experiment in peer to peer socialization everyone is so worried about when we homeschool. With several friends who are teachers throughout the U.S., I know that there are opportunities afforded only to school kids that are feeders to the kinds of programs that will get them better positioned to achieve their dreams.
Having a science teacher plugged into the pulse of extracurricular activities is something missing from our current structure. Having a district to be able to help support my athlete in her competitive goals is something homeschooling has a hard time replacing. There are just some things that are better taught in a group setting. Gathering homeschoolers for a project is like herding cats into the bath. Rarely do we have the numbers or regular availability for team sports.
Homeschooling has given us the ability to see this opportunity as a social experiment of sorts, as an investment in learning how “the other half” learn. A tenant of our schooling has always been that to learn by experience is always the best practice.
It is important to be able to walk a mile in another’s shoes when given the opportunity, and this is that chance. If it goes south in a hand basket, being homeschoolers, we will just continue our current curriculum at home with the interim school time chalked up to something to revisit with a better plan in mind.
What do I most look forward to – six hours of uninterrupted writing time and new friends.
What do I most dread about this experiment, early morning school buses and IEP meetings.
Confused by how much financial aid you are actually receiving? Not sure exactly how much you owe your college?
You’re not alone.
NewAmerica and uAspire, a nonprofit group that advises students on the financial aid process, has released a report saying that many colleges use language and missing information to paint an incomplete picture of how much students actually owe.
In the study, called “Decoding the Cost of College,” the group gathered financial aid award letters from 900 schools and 36 percent of those never showed a total amount due. In a summary of the report, the group said “award letters lack consistency and transparency.”
The study did not indicate which 900 schools were chosen for the study.
The group listed these key findings:
Confusing Jargon and Terminology: Of the 455 colleges that offered an unsubsidized student loan, we found 136 unique terms for that loan, including 24 that did not include the word “loan.”
Omission of the Complete Cost: Of our 515 letters, more than one-third did not include any cost information with which to contextualize the financial aid offered.
Failure to Differentiate Types of Aid: Seventy percent of letters grouped all aid together and provided no definitions to indicate to students how grants and scholarships, loans, and work-study all differ.
Misleading Packaging of Parent PLUS Loans: Nearly 15 percent of letters included a PLUS loan as an “award,” making the financial aid package appear far more generous than it really was.
Vague Definitions and Poor Placement of Work-Study: Of institutions that offered work-study, 70 percent provided no explanation of work-study and how it differs from other types of aid.
Inconsistent Bottom Line Calculations: In our sample, only 40 percent calculated what students would need to pay, and those 194 institutions had 23 different ways of calculating remaining costs.
No Clear Next Steps: Only about half of letters provided information about what to do to accept or decline awards, and those that did had inconsistent policies.
Bottom line, if you don’t understand your financial aid award letter, ask questions, early in the process.
If you were consumed by news of NFL kneeling and election results this week you probably missed a pretty astounding milestone: the U.S. Labor Department reported that there are now more job openings in the U.S. then there are people to fill them.
This is the first time this has happened in 20 years.
CNN reported that at the end of April there were 6.7 million job openings.
Does that mean the odds are in your favor to find a job?
Experts told CNN that it is possible that the numbers represent a gap that shows how the jobs and the people searching for jobs are not in the same place. The large number of jobs available also may indicate that there are not enough people with the right qualifications to hire for those positions.
What it may also mean is that if you polish that resume and begin networking with vigor, you might find yourself in front of a hiring manager faster than you would in a meager job market. So take advantage of it, and get to work.
CNN also reported that the average job search lasts 10 weeks. That can be a very long 10 weeks if your household relied on your second income. Search for jobs not only in your direct career field but also in related fields where you can flex your know how and talents to fit an employers’ needs.
Before you apply to each job, review your resume and rewrite as necessary to show strengths that might be beneficial to each new employer. Be willing to be open-minded and learn new skills on the job.
At the end of the day, a job you never considered may become your dream career.
This week I am participating in two vastly different symposiums that neatly bracket my scope of practice. I am an integrative nutritionist, herbalist, and chef.
On Saturday I went to a day-long intensive class learning about the varied uses of one herb given by a visiting herbalist who is an expert in that plant. It was held at a world renowned herbalist’s school. On Wednesday, I will attend an end-of-the-year symposium discussing diverse research on the broader topic of metabolism given at Harvard honoring the graduating doctoral students in the program.
Integrative medicine is the bridge that links Western compartmentalized medicine with the whole person biopsychosocial framework held by traditional systems of healing. Integration of the delicate balance of the healing presence associated with many CAM modalities into the rigors of a double blind controlled clinical study is exactly what we need to learn to do.
So much of what is becoming understood about how molecular structures change is leading the drive to understand how we become us. We become us by what we ingest. However, there is arguably a lot more to healing than electron transport train function or cholesterol ratios.
But this is a lot of specific, technical speak that is pointedly of interest to those in my field and few others. The point here is that students of science are tasked with not only keeping up with the latest and greatest innovations but also finding ways to integrate lessons of the past.
Students learning to be integrative practitioners need to learn to be a walking thesaurus of sorts.
One of the dangers of integrating the old and new into the same research platforms is the distinct probability that the outcomes of the research will inevitably go to the highest bidder. It is the job of the student and practitioner, in my opinion, to give equal weight to scientific breakthroughs and the art of traditional medicine.
My current classes are both discussing how to write evidence based papers on integrative topics. That means big ole research papers supported with cited references. This first half of the term is dedicated to searching only biomedical databases of peer reviewed published data.
That is, understanding what criteria make up good research will come in handy when we move on to the next part, finding supporting data within the traditional modalities where there are no nicely indexed databases to search. Learning to distinguish good research from bad makes evaluating research in more obscure and unindexed realms more reliable.
On the flip side, learning how to design a study that truly takes into account both the compartmental needs of the gold standard clinical trial and the need for individualization of treatment present in many of the systems being studied will prove difficult. Herein the choice of cohort and treatment center will need to be carefully examined to ensure the least number of variables introduced into the study. Intraprofessional bias may be a hurdle to jump as well.
The ability to couple both kinds of research leads to well-rounded and supported changes in treatment that can find a place in both a biomedical practice and a traditional practice. Working in new and traditional research helps more patients in the long run, which is after all the whole purpose of doing research in the first place.
Spending concentrated time in both worlds keeps the flexibility of language moving, allows me to become a better practitioner and researcher.
As we move forward in the light speed realm of medical research, it behooves us to remember that not all gold standard trials result in the best treatment for every patient, nor does every ancient technique stand alone without support for the surrounding system.
Integrating the two takes the ability to speak several profession-specific languages while holding deep respect and compassion for the usefulness and necessity of all to heal the ailments of our collective patient base.
My husband says I can make a new best friend in line at the commissary.
I’ll bet many of you are the same way – you move to a new place, and within five minutes you’ve met someone who will be the emergency contact for your kids’ school. Or the person who will be your go-to pet sitter. Or even someone you’ll spend more time with over the next two years than you do with your husband.
That’s military life. We bond fast.
And we bond hard
Friendships are not so easily forged in the civilian world.
We were in our new home for six months before I had one local Facebook friend. I was flummoxed by my inability to meet people and, when I did, the lack of common interests with which to start a conversation.
People were nice and friendly, even more so than I expected. I know some other parents through my kids’ activities. I started doing some volunteer work with a local organization that I care about and made some great acquaintances.
But it just wasn’t the same.
Then something magical happened.
A retired military spouse named Catherine, who was also feeling a little lonely, started a Facebook page for spouses in our local area. Though the group is open to any spouse, those of us who are married to retirees seemed more attracted to it – or maybe more in need of it.
The page grew by word of mouth and in a few months it had grown to 140 members. There is a core group of eight or ten of us who get together regularly. We’ve done coffee-type events at people’s houses, paint and sip parties, movie nights, breakfast dates, lunch dates, dinner dates, shopping trips and even a beach cleanup.
We also play breakfast bingo every week at Chick Fil A.
Other than the PTA spaghetti and bingo night at my kids’ school in Germany, I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually played bingo sober before.
But let me tell you, these ladies know how to have fun, even at 8:30 on a Thursday morning at a fast food restaurant.
Chick Fil A bingo was my first “event” a few months ago. One of the ladies in that spouses’ FB group posted that she was going, and I figured, why not?
That first time meeting up was like a blind date. I had her FB profile pulled on my phone, so I could see her picture. The only thing that would have made it funnier was if I had to swipe right.
Some weeks we have more than half dozen from our group join us, other times it’s just one or two. Some have little kids at home. Some are grandparents. Some have full-time careers or go to school, or both.
But no matter what, the conversation is easy and lively and funny.
Before this group, I was struggling with the lack of social interaction. I don’t miss the military at all, and I talk regularly to several friends who are military spouses, both still active and retired.
But, as much as I love those sisters, it’s not the same as being right in front of someone and becoming friends in the context of where our lives are now, post-military.
It took a lot of moxie for Catherine to start that FB page. I am forever grateful to her for that.
It also took a lot of gumption for each of us to blindly walk into a meet up at Chick Fil A, the movies, or Panera Bread, having no connection to each other besides the fact that our husbands were once in the military.
And the weird thing is, we rarely talk about the military. I don’t even know which service most of the other women’s husbands served, or their rank.
We’re just regular people now, no longer known to each other simply because our spouse’s serve in the same unit, or because we met at a “mandatory fun” event.
We were brought together by one small shred of military commonality, and we’re bound by embracing the changes we are all going through in life after the military.
It’s a new kind of sisterhood, to go with whatever the new normal is for each of us.
Did you just arrive at your new duty station? Are you visiting before the big move to look at housing? Carry some freshly printed resumes with you and hit the pavement too. It’s never too early to start making connections and introducing yourself to the new neighborhood.
Click on the links below for details about each of these military spouse only hiring fairs hosted by The U.S. Chamber Foundation. Registration is required and they often fill up so don’t wait until the last minute!
Longtime military spouse supporter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, is creating a new program called Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones (MSEEZs) to help address the issues military spouses face in finding employment.
The foundation launched the effort in collaboration with USAA, and is working with both public and private companies and foundations to connect military spouses with employers and employment-related tools and resources.
The first cities picked to be economic empowerment zones are places like San Antonio and Tampa where many of the necessities are already in place. Planners envision the zones as a “one stop shop” for spouses as they seek employment.
A recent study by the Foundation, called Military Spouses in the Workplace, found that the majority of military families need a second income, but only 50 percent of military families are able to have dual income because of the inability of the military spouse to find a job.
Hiring Our Heroes will launch several MSEEZs throughout 2018 in cities across America in hopes of fostering a collaboration between key stakeholders to help identify best practices that will support and advance the mission of connecting military spouses with meaningful employment opportunities, ultimately strengthening the financial security of our 21st century military families.
I don’t remember when I fully understood that May is a problematic month for me. I know it has been so for a very long stretch of my life. It is both my most favorite month and also the month I most prefer to keep at arm’s length. In working on a project for school, I am required to write a timeline of my life and I have been struck by certain patterns. Events in May seem to top the list.
May is traditionally seen as the glorious bursting forth of life after the rains of April washing all the seeds of the earth as they are heated with lengthening sun. In truth, buds quite literally burst open in the warm sun as they swell with cell growth at a rate that we can see with the naked eye and measure by the hour in some plants.
Ladybugs emerge from the window panes while orange newts and garden snakes sun on the slate path. Skunks and peepers dominate the still chilly nights. Goslings and eaglets. Bunny kits scatter when I walk to the car in the morning. You can almost hear the buzz of the electrons being transferred as the sun rises stronger every morning.
This energy is infectious and sends my focus to scatter with the winds that swirl with the thunderous storm drafts.
The events that have happened in May over the years are difficult to list without sounding like a litany of personal catastrophe alternating with ridiculous coincidence. Suffice to say that there are several birthdays - mine, my Dad’s, and my daughter’s. There are several personal childhood surgeries always landing in May. Having spent a lot of years in a private school, it marks the beginning of summer being let out several weeks earlier than our public school counterparts. Last, but arguably the most catastrophic, it is the month that took my Dad from me.
That last one might seem to many like the biggie, but it really was just the universal exclamation point on an already crystal clear message. May is trouble.
Ever since I was a kid, May has been a month of anxiety. My May usually meant either packing like a crazy person to spend the months before the next school year overseas, or prepping like a crazy person for surgery on my knees so we could leave for overseas as soon as I was recovered enough.
In reading over this assignment I have the regular sense of déjà vu as I write out yet another seasonal march of weirdness in May. In the last few years I have made a study of May, and this year is no different. I know that I started focusing on May the year we bought this house. We closed on May 1.
When the realtor put the key in my hand that early May morning, I felt for all the world like there was a shift in the fabric of the universe. It was a shift I knew well having felt it a few times before already. For once, however, I actually was able to focus on it and understand that it was a shift into another plane of my progression in this life and to be welcomed rather than a ticket to a new level of panic and terror.
That first May at our house in Grove Hill was a great and glorious one. One for the record books. It was filled with new experiences, hard work, and a personal sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was the beginning of my next go around.
The following May was among the most terrible as it was an anniversary of a huge loss. For almost 25 years, now more than half my lifetime, I have been without my Dad. He was killed in a car accident in May so very long ago. May is our shared birthday month and I firmly believe a little of his soul lives in his granddaughter born on a Mother’s Day that happened to fall the day before his birthday.
It is interesting to note from a purely clinical side that the majority of my manic episodes begin in May. I have had this pointed out to me recently by a few learned folks in both my professional and personal circles. The key now will be to get a plan together so the summer doesn’t explode into pixie dust or dragon flame and I have a shot at not collapsing again next May.
So to say May is complicated is somewhat of an understatement.
In working with a Shaman from a long way away a couple years ago, I learned to hear myself in a way I had never before. So now I listen to May with ears tuned to my energy. I have learned about the fire in the belly of one with a connection to the May energy, the fire of Beltane, the bursting of bud.
The flipside to all of this is that I absolutely adore the nature of May. After the winter, May feels like I can breathe again, even and especially with all of the blasted pollen. There is finally enough sunlight that I feel like I am alive. Every day, even the rainy, chilly one, I can see progress of each leaf growing, I can smell the oxygen being returned to the air by the plants, I can feel the Earth warming under my feet.
May is such a glorious riot of emotion that I get turned around and upside down. I can’t contain the energy that zooms around and begs, no demands, to be entertained. A May thunderstorm will for sure remind you how small and insignificant you are. May is very merry and also very problematic.
When American actress Meghan Markle weds Prince Harry this weekend she will take on a title much more important than anything royalty could bestow upon her. She will become a military spouse.
Prince Harry served in the British Army for ten years, rising to the rank of Captain. He served two tours in Afghanistan.
While visiting the U.S. several years ago, he told Michelle Obama and gathered military families that his tour in Afghanistan “changed his life.”
Since then the Prince helped create and support the Invictus Games, an annual world-wide sporting event to celebrate wounded warriors and give them an opportunity to compete athletically. The inaugural games, held in London in 2014, drew more than 400 athletes who competed for five days in front of a crowd of 65,000 people.
He has trekked with injured service members to the North Pole. He told British GQ, "This extraordinary expedition will raise awareness of the debt that this country owes to those it sends off to fight - only for them to return wounded and scarred, physically and emotionally. The debt extends beyond immediate medical care and short-term rehabilitation. These men and women have given so much. We must recognise their sacrifice, be thankful, so far as we can ever repay them for it."
Prince Harry’s dedication to his brothers and sisters in arms is the focus of his days. Now, we welcome his new bride into the fold.
Though she, thankfully, will never experience the hell of deployment or the exhaustion of a PCS, she is our sister in arms.
Like her husband, she is certain to kneel to tend to our wounded and bow to honor our dead. We are thankful for her service as she makes serving her new military family a focus of her days too. In turn, her military family will envelope her in love and devotion.
Welcome, Meghan. We’re glad to have you. And, we’ve got your back. Always.