Letters of War: Hope in a Cedar Chest

love-lettersYears ago, we inherited a cedar chest from one of our adopted Marines. I didn’t think much of it. Honestly, it was just another thing I had no use for, but it was an interesting piece of furniture, nonetheless.

Naturally, as a military spouse, I made it a point to give it a purpose, in order to justify dragging this thing around from move to move. I filled it with deployment memorabilia I would come across.

While doing so, I began to notice through the years of things, email began to dominate most of our communication. Something about the convenience of instantly being able to communicate the thoughts and feelings that overcome and overwhelm you when the love of your life is miles away, is a blessing and impossible to resist. However, out of habit l would still write letters on paper. Even when he would insist it was no longer a necessity, I would still write to him.

My husband is not the type that shows excitement easily, but the bounce in his voice when he would tell me he got a letter has always been addicting. I loved hearing his plans for the pictures, how he planned to keep some in his wallet, versus the pictures he planned to pin to his wall. It was a brief moment of reprieve from the distance. I loved soaking in every bit of this happiness as he was holding something from home; a serendipitous moment for me. For a second, it almost felt like he was much closer to home.

I am not sure how most families do it, but in our family, we describe time by its location before, during, or after deployments. Stretching time, slowing it down, and filling it with a lifetime of memories become the most important orders of the day. That “Welcome Home” moment is one where space, time, and distance collide, and produce a most surreal reality. It’s the moment where our deepest thoughts and feelings are conveyed within that long powerful grip of our initial embrace. At home, his laughter finally echoes and booms down the hall, as if he never left.

Fast forward several deployments later, and we now have three beautiful children. Duty stations have come and gone. The treasure chest has been moved more times, and to more houses, than most people live in through two lifetimes. But as I like to whisper to my children, “Adventure is what we do for a living, baby.”

It was not until our most recent move to the opposite coast that anyone really paid attention to the treasure chest. Truth be told, I was busy battling the humid, fly-filled Carolina heat, helping my husband carry furniture into our new home, when I noticed the girls huddled in a corner of the garage going through the many contents of the aging cedar treasure chest.

My heart could not have been more delighted. Our children, marveling at prom corsages, the dried flower I picked for my hair at his boot camp graduation–which my husband completely freaked about, because of course: it was government property! Photos collected of our first car together, our first dogs, teenage pictures of us in our first home in base housing.

However, the letters stole the show— 18 & 19 year-old Mommy and Daddy–back when we were just Tim and Aliyah. Teenagers madly in love, writing boot camp letters to Recruit Meehan, and making the most incredible plans that turned out to be an even more incredible life.

I suppose I must have known this day would come, because I separated the risqué ‘love note stack’ from the more ‘PG’ love letters. It was endearing throughout. As we stopped and listened to our kids read some of the letters aloud, I felt every inch of the distance that these letters have traveled, only serving as fuel meant to relight our passion for one another till the end of time.

As our children continued to read our story, it became their story. The fiery flame of the young warrior (Tim) and the nurse (me) liquefied into a placid existence. The story solidified into the concrete joys of our first baby. A few deployments later, we were on our third baby. Ultrasound photos with the nickname ‘Peanut’ on the back, with holes were they were once pinned on his Iraq wall.
Sitting over the treasure chest with our not-so-little ‘Peanut’ in my lap, we spent the next few hours laughing, sometimes crying, remembering and reliving magical moments captured, and forever encased, in words we once lovingly shared.

I am sure I could probably pull up emails of that same time in our lives at any time. However, personally, the romance in this kind of beautiful life can only be told and truly appreciated sitting on a dusty garage floor with my family, sifting through our aging cedar treasure chest, and reading out loud our letters of war.

Posted by Aliyah Meehan, USMC Spouse, Director of Family Engagement, Sandboxx

Are Invisible Friends Real Friends?

hopscotch-girlI just found out today that my 5-year-old has an invisible friend. She is our baby and this is the first of our 4 children that has had an imaginary friend. We were raking leaves and picking up the front lawn when she said, “Boy, am I glad Kayla isn’t here.” I then asked, “Who’s Kayla? Is she a friend from school?” My daughter responded with slight irritation in her voice, “No, Mom! Kayla is my invisible friend. She HATES helping around the house and especially HATES brushing her teeth! I don’t think you would really like her.”

I was stunned. And to be honest, worried. Was she describing a part of her that she thought I didn’t like? Am I too hard on her about brushing her teeth and picking up her room? Tears welled up in my eyes and my heart began to ache.

I never had an imaginary friend as a child. I had siblings. Why would I need an imaginary friend? But my daughter has 3 siblings and still has a need to have someone else in her life. What was that need? What happened? How do I fill it? I’m supposed to be their constant, their rock! I want to be everything my children need! They already endure so much with Daddy being away, moving every couple of years, switching schools, joining new clubs and sport teams, and making new friends.

After I collected myself, I proceeded to ask a couple of the questions that were swimming around in my head.

“Where did you meet Kayla?”
At the park by our house.
“When did you first meet her?”
The first time our babysitter took us there this summer. Kayla was at the park and she asked if I wanted to ride the sea-saw.
“Do you play with Kayla at school?
Yeah, she LOVES recess! And don’t tell her I told you, but she’s kinda messy in Art.
“What about your friends at school? Do you play with them at recess?”
Of course!
“So your friends at school have met Kayla?”
NO MOM!!! Ugh! Don’t you remember she’s INVISIBLE?! MY FRIENDS CAN’T SEE HER!

Melody started Kindergarten this year. Last year, she went to half-day preschool 5 days a week. I was a stay-at-home Momma, and we spent every afternoon together. This past summer, I started a part-time position, which required a sitter during the day. So she no longer had the one-on-one time we had enjoyed. This is when her new friend, Kayla, entered her life.

Kids feel change, too! They have many of the same emotions we experience as adults. And even as adults, we respond differently to change. Allow our kiddos to be kids. Let them explore their emotions. Try to understand how they are coping and dealing with change. Listen when they decide to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. And most of all…give them extra hugs.

How have your children dealt with the changes that come with being a military kid?

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant

Happy Thanksgiving from NMFA!

Though many will be together today, there are some that are not. With warm hearts, and hopes of holidays spent together soon, we wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2014 resized

A Full Home and a Full Heart, Thanks to 3 Midshipmen

macy-comes-home-087It’s just before Thanksgiving and our house is abuzz with excitement. You can feel it; the anticipation of days off from school, delicious food, and decorating for the upcoming Christmas holiday. You know–it’s that cozy, warm, fullness in your heart feeling. The holidays. Friends, family, and magical moments with the people you love.

But every now and again, for us military families, you get hit with an intense moment of loneliness. I felt it the other day when I was walking through the parking lot on the way home from running some errands. The wind blew and made the air chilly for Southern California… and I felt it. The need for my family. For the traditions from home. And for those friends who’ve known me since I was young. I feel it at least once every year during the holiday season and this year is no different.

Our assignments with the Air Force have all been full with new experiences and adventures, and amazing people who I am so grateful to know. I have loved all of our assignments, but the one I hold on extra tight to is our time in Annapolis, Maryland when my husband (remember, he’s Air Force) was a professor of Engineering at The United States Naval Academy.

This assignment was special for many reasons, but what made it extra special was our experience as a Sponsor Family for several young Midshipmen from The Naval Academy. We signed up to be a sponsor family within days of arriving in Annapolis, and I was so eager for the experience. Little did I know, these three particular young men would end up meaning so much to all of us.

Weekend after weekend, we would drive to the Academy promptly at 12 noon, and our 3 Plebes (freshman) would pile into the minivan, crisp in their uniforms, sitting among the car seats. Duffle bags of laundry in hand, we would drive home, and for the next 12 hours (they had to be back no later than 12 midnight) our home was their home. They would sleep, eat (oh, they ate so much), play with the kids, help around the house, do their laundry, study, and watch A LOT of TV.

These boys became like my sons–my kids’ older brothers. They were at our house the day we brought our 3rd child, Macy, home from the hospital. I will never forget taking pictures of these boys holding 2 day old Macy. They were at our house just days after my own father unexpectedly passed away. We always did our best to be there for them; break ups with girlfriends, failed tests, and when one of them also unexpectedly lost his father. Three years of ups and downs.

I loved having them around the most during the holidays, when the semester was winding down for them, and the buzz of going home to family and friends occupied their thoughts. That feeling of loneliness, longing for family and old friends, wasn’t as strong. My home was full, and my heart, fuller.

Cooking and decorating was more enjoyable knowing it was going to be enjoyed by, not only by us, but our “Mids,” as well. Those three young men, although they had no idea, were giving our family an extra purpose, an extra drive to make our house feel warm and welcome. They made our time in Annapolis meaningful. Although we opened our home and time to them, they gave us so much more.

Being a sponsor family is an experience I will always look back on with a grateful heart. Sadly, we weren’t in Annapolis for their entire four years at the Academy because the Air Force moved us to Los Angeles at the end of their junior year. Text messages and emails show up often, with updates from life in the Navy and Marine Corps.

I hope they will always know how special they were to our family, how often they cross our hearts, and even though they are no longer students, we are always here for them. And nothing will change that.

Jenny-ZollarsPosted by Jenny Zollars, Air Force Spouse

These MilSpouse Bloggers Got It Going On!

With more of our family members joining social media, it’s getting easier for military families, like mine, to keep loved ones updated with our lives—especially if OCONUS orders send us overseas. Many military spouses turn to the interweb to document their own military journeys, and many have found their way to blogging.

Blogging has quickly become a great way for military spouses to find others in the same boots, and some online friendships turn into real life friendships. If you’re a military spouse looking for a new way to keep the family updated with stories and photos – try blogging.

And while you’re at it, you have to check out some of our favorite military spouse bloggers:

My Camo Kids: An Army Wife Life
Wife of an Army Infantryman, registered nurse Lora’s blog shares the wild and crazy that comes with having 5 kids, from ages 15 to age 4! She chronicled her husband’s three deployments, and writes about her journey towards becoming a Nurse Practitioner. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Lora knows how to keep the plates spinning!

My-Camo-Kids-Blog

Embrace the Adventure
Jordan, a deep-rooted southerner who married her college sweetheart, a United States Marine, uses her lifestyle blog, Embrace the Adventure, to do just that: embrace, navigate, and appreciate the unique and fulfilling lifestyle that the military has to offer. With a captivating smile and spectacular photos of her family’s life in the Golden State, Jordan’s blog instantly makes you feel like you found a new friend.

Embrace-the-change

Ramblings of a Marine Wife
If you want humor, Kara’s blog is the first stop. This working mom of two and Marine wife holds an MBA, and a witty take on life. From What She Wore Wednesday posts of her sassy (and dressed-better-than-us) daughter, to sharing all the best details from their family’ tour in Okinawa, Ramblings of a Marine Wife is one to add to your daily reads.

Ramblings-of-a-Marine-Wife

SpouseBUZZ
If you have ever googled anything military related, you’ve probably landed on SpouseBUZZ before. That’s because the Military.com owned site doesn’t leave any topic unturned. From “What not to wear to a military ball” to asking blunt questions, like “Why the low expectations for military spouses?” SpouseBUZZ lets your voice be heard. And we’ll be the first to tell you: all the juicy conversations happen in the comment sections.

SpouseBUZZ

Jo, My Gosh!
Started as an outlet to share the creative care packages she was sending to her then-fiancé during his deployment, Jo, a Navy wife, continues to share her creativeness with care packages. But now, she also gives a true taste of what military life has been like for her, with stories, tips, and a list or two from the now-seasoned military spouse.

Jo-My-Gosh

M.O.M (My Own Moment)…Please!
Jennifer is a Navy spouse, mom of two children, and one crazy English Bulldog. She’s the founder of MilitaryOneClick.com, and blogs about real life: the good, the bad and the ugly (including the time she had to scrub baby poop off her husband’s forehead while in public). So, naturally, sometimes she just wants to scream, “Can I have My…Own… Moment…please!?”

Mom-Please

Who are some of your favorite MilSpouse bloggers? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Are Veteran Kids Military Kids, Too?

NMFA-Veteran's-Day-2014-165“I’m a military kid too, right Mommy?” Zana, my 4-year-old asks hopefully. “I want us to be a military family!”

Clearly, I’ve been talking about the National Military Family Association a lot. And our recent trip to New York for the Veterans Day sealed the deal–military kids are awesome. Both girls had the privilege to walk with dozens of military families representing our Association in America’s Parade. Our message was so powerful that even a 4-year-old heard it loud and clear. It’s cool to be part of a military family!

But are we a military family?

My older daughter, Lira, was born when my husband was an active duty Marine—so she was definitely a military kid. But is she now? And what about Zana? Does being the child of a veteran count?

I thought about the poem written and recited by military kid Laura Marin at our Veterans Day reception:

“I’m an unrooted child. My life is mostly in brown boxes.”

“I’m leaving behind all that is familiar, again. I’m facing the unknown one more time.”

dave-and-liraNone of this describes my kids’ lives. We’ve lived in the same house, since transitioning out of the military, with no plans of moving. They don’t have to deal with deployments and separations. They don’t have to change schools or constantly make new friends. But they do have that military kid spirit.

They are proud. They are resilient, and even though one of my daughters wasn’t born and the other can barely remember when Dave was in the military—they are military kids.

They are growing up with a love of country. They respect and honor service. And like many veteran kids—they have to deal with the after-effects of military life . Dave was medically separated after having his spine fused (among other injuries), and can’t physically do what he once could. Going for a run isn’t an option, but he’ll ignore the pain and hold the girls on his shoulders when we go for a walk.

So Zana, yes. We are a military family. And we share this sentiment, also from Laura’s poem:

“Sleep peacefully in your beds at night United States of America. My family and I got your back.”

Do you think kids of veterans are still military kids? Let us know your thoughts!

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Our First Duty Station: Making a House a Home on a Newlywed Budget

rachel-marston-dityFort Belvoir, in Alexandria, Virginia has been the first official duty station for my husband and I since getting married. Before he received orders to Fort Belvoir, he’d never heard of the installation, and honestly, it wasn’t one we were expecting. Despite not knowing much about Fort Belvoir, I was just excited to put together a home with my husband, so the unknown wasn’t much of a concern for me.

Getting married was the easy decision for us, but deciding to live on-post or off-post took a bit more consideration. Searching for housing was an emotional rollercoaster for me. After all, I was planning my wedding AND a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) at the same time. I saw my husband’s leave time between an overseas tour and a stateside move as the perfect opportunity to get both done.

Eventually, we decided living off-post in an apartment would be an advantage to us. Right now, it’s only my husband and I, and between the two of us, we don’t really have many belongings. He was coming from barracks life, and I had been living with roommates. Our goal was to get the most out of our Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) straight out of the gate, so to speak. One of our favorite tools for accessing the housing market and staying in budget was AHRN.com. It allowed us to use our BAH rate to find a home off-post that fit our needs.

AssemblingFurnitureOnce we moved my belongings to Fort Belvoir, we realized we didn’t come close to filling our two bedroom apartment. We knew we didn’t have much, but we didn’t anticipate an empty living room! (All the living room furniture in my previous apartment belonged to my roommates.) Whoops!

It was important for me to have things from everywhere my husband and I have traveled and lived, so I brought a little Texas flair, and he brought a little Boston. We met while we were both in New York, so we have many decor items from there, too.

Finally, after a year of planning and lots of agonizing PCS details, we began putting together our first home. Not only did we incorporate where we came from, but we also had to be mindful of our budget. We created the home of our dreams on a very tight (and newlywed) budget using these tips:

IKEA for the win! I know, I know. The furniture isn’t really built to last forever, but it’s great to have as temporary starter furniture. We bought our couch, coffee table, side table, entertainment center, DVD case, curio cabinet, and tall lamps there. We plan to get more ‘durable’ items in the future.

Give the thrift store a try, too. Our installation has a thrift store on-post and there are also several other stores in our area we visited to pick up some items. You can land a deal on some great designer home goods and art work for your brand-new home at a steal of a price!

Scope out your options online. Practically everything in my home office was acquired online and shipped to my home. That made it easier for the bigger items because it came straight to our door. There are websites out there offering free shipping, which came in handy for us! Overstock.com offers their Club O program to military members for free, which includes a 5% discount and free shipping, too. Be sure to read the reviews on items online. We bought our futon bed online on Target.com, but we were able to see it in store, too. So if you have the luxury to go to a brick and mortar store to see it in person, do it!

Do you have any tips for newlyweds on putting together their first home?

rachel-marstenPosted by Rachel Tringali Marston, Army Spouse, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia