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The end, the beginning

Our experiences and transitions prepare us for what is to come

The march to graduation includes a procession of “lasts.” Last day of class, last lunch to pack. Finals. This is especially true for my husband and me this spring, as our youngest child completes high school.

When I wrote my first Spouse Calls column, we were the parents of a grade-schooler, a middle-schooler and a high-schooler. Their experiences have often found their way into this space, particularly at milestones like graduation.

Into Africa

Peace Corps volunteer employs the adaptability she developed as a military brat

On Mother’s Day, Sheila and Randy Sellers were in an airport en route to Africa. Between PCS assignments and Randy’s deployments, The Air Force couple and their now-grown children have lived and traveled around the world, but this was a different kind of trip: a visit to their 23-year-old daughter, Dana, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia.

The following day, Dana Sellers awaited her parents’ arrival at a friend’s house in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. While waiting, she sipped coffee and answered questions via webcam about her Peace Corps experiences. Discussing her training to be a healthcare educator, she stopped mid-sentence, a faraway look in her eyes.

Once a military spouse ...

Military friendships and connections are not always severed by divorce

We met at a party over hors d’oeuvres and chit-chat. When the subject of military life came up, she said, “I used to be a military spouse, but we’re divorced now.”

She told me the transition from military family to divided family was somewhat difficult for her children, but military friends have been helpful. The father of her children is active duty Air Force, and when he was deployed some of his military friends stepped in to help keep the children connected to military life and to other military kids with deployed parents.

His and hers?

Military husbands often defy stereotypes but don't want to be treated like women

Military Spouse Appreciation Day is May 8, a date intended to recognize all military spouses. However, male military spouses sometimes feel overlooked by this day of recognition. One website dedicated to male spouses, MachoSpouse.com, is promoting the first Male Military Spouse Day this week as well (May 7). Some military husbands I talked to, while agreeing that most spouse programs don’t quite fit them, were ambivalent about the need for their own day of appreciation.

Male spouses are getting more attention these days, said Army spouse Dave Etter, the host of a podcast called Male Military Spouse Radio.

Kids with the right stuff

MCOY Award recipients driven to serve, succeed

It’s an impressive group of individuals. One promotes the rights of women and girls in the Middle East. One is a record-holding competitive swimmer. One is an Eagle Scout. Another founded a nonprofit to help wounded veterans, and another volunteers to support children of deployed servicemembers. Yet another overcame homelessness and domestic violence to become a leader in his community.

Each one is a military child, chosen to represent his or her parent’s respective military service branches as recipients of Operation Homefront’s 2015 Military Child of the Year Awards. Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit providing emergency financial and other assistance to military families. This year’s awards honored four boys and two girls.

Bad news is old news

Critics of military spouses will always be there; we don't have to join them.

The Internet is a rough neighborhood for military spouses these days, and unfortunately, some of the cyberbullies are from our own block. Military spouses and families were singled out in recent online opinion articles, some written by military veterans. The editorials use belittling language to accuse military spouses of having a sense of entitlement to what we have not earned, which according to these writers is just about everything from smoothie discounts to common respect.

Publication on respected sites like The Washington Post gives these opinions power and reach and creates fodder for Internet trolls, as if they needed any. However, the vitriol is not new, nor is it news that in military life we are often our own worst critics. These articles and the resulting spate of online mudslinging reflect the many criticisms of military spouses I’ve heard in person over the years, very often from military members and spouses.

Seeing the sites

Blogs for military families cater to a wide audience

Blogs and online resources for military spouses are not just “mom blogs” anymore. They’re as varied and unique as their audience members. Some are cerebral. Others are focused on careers, travel or moving. Whatever the interest, it seems a military spouse has created a resource to cover it.

Andria Williams, a writer, Navy wife and mom of three young children, said she started Military Spouse Book Review as a gathering place for women in military life who love books.

By kids, for kids

New magazine emphasizes community and context for military childhood

Officially, April is the Month of the Military Child, but being a military kid knows no season nor age. It’s an experience that lasts a lifetime. Army spouses Janine Boldrin — a writer — and Amy Crispino — a teacher — wanted to make that experience as positive as possible, for their own children and others.

Together they created a magazine, Military Kids’ Life, a platform for military children to express their individuality and find connections around the globe. The second edition of the quarterly magazine, which features content from military children, debuts this month.

An empty nail

In every season, I need a place to hang my hope that even a life of change has its constants.

A shaft of light came through our living room window on a sunny summer day, and a misplaced glint of sunshine caught my eye. I did a double take, wondering why a blank section of wall gave back this one little spark. Closer inspection revealed a small, shiny nail protruding from the wall.

Its presence puzzled me briefly. Then, I remembered why it was there. It was a leftover from the previous Christmas, which had been our first in this house. At the beginning of Advent that year, I hammered the nail in place — above the shelf where our nativity scene was displayed — to suspend the angel above the stable and its inhabitants. Weeks later when the decorations were put away, the nail was left behind. It remained there hiding in plain sight, unnoticed until its reflection gave it away.

Stuck on you

Inventory labels bring to mind a lifetime of moving memories

Unpacking my suitcase after returning from a visit last week with my mom, I almost overlooked one of the gifts I brought home. Mom gave me quite a few things she knew I’d like to have: embroidered tea towels that belonged to my grandmother, a handful of old photos, an antique sewing box. Among these treasures was one item that might not seem like much of a gift — a little blue inventory sticker. I had to smile when I saw that she had saved it. I remember when she told me she found it, more than 40 years after her last military move.

It was after I had a similar experience while cleaning the floor one day. I moved the kitchen trash bin to vacuum in the corner, and there it was: a little blue sticker. It was imprinted only with a number, “120,” but I recognized it immediately, because I’ve seen thousands like it in a variety of colors. An inventory sticker.