But I Didn’t Really Know What I “Signed up” for…

News flash: military life isn’t a Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure book. But it can be scary, and the choices you make might not turn out the way you think, because I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect when they marry into the military.

I wish people would stop saying “You know what you signed up for.”

Because, actually, I didn’t.

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Telling a military spouse that he or she should know what to expect out of military life is condescending and should be banned. Sure, there are some obvious challenges, but no one’s challenges are ever exactly alike, and by bunching them together and saying they’re all the same can make someone feel like their experiences really don’t matter. It makes them draw back from their peers, and disconnect from the ‘support’ network they thought they could count on.

Military spouses, we have to stop telling each other to suck it up. Each time we do, we crack the foundation in our solidarity a little bit more. We need to support each other through the ups and downs of military life. Let’s be in this together.

I didn’t know what I signed up for. I knew the title of the book, but I had no idea who the characters were, what the plot twists would be, or how it might end.

So why do we tell each other “You knew what you were getting into?”

How could we know all the twist and turns of a life we hadn’t even lived yet? Some challenges require us to stand there in a full-blown, can’t-get-through-this moment in order to come out stronger on the other side. How else do we glean the knowledge (and survival skills, am I right?!) to pass along to MilSpouses who follow us?

If we don’t leave the bread crumb trail, who will?

When we marry a service member, we have no way of knowing what plot twists will be waiting. We might not have the tools to fix cracks in our relationship. We might not know how to process the emotional stress of going through labor alone during a deployment. And we certainly won’t ever be able to understand why fate calls on our loved one to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

We can’t read the book of life backwards, people!

I really appreciate military spouses who tell me some honest, raw, emotional truth based on what they’ve lived. There were times they didn’t want to finish the book, but they kept reading. And now they know things others don’t. They have suffered and survived.

Imagine if we didn’t have those people in our lives, but rather, ones who tell us to ‘suck it up’ because we knew what we were getting into?

Did we choose our own adventure? We sure did. Are we strong enough to survive? Absolutely. But should we have to ‘suck it up’ because we ‘knew what we were getting into?’ Absolutely not. We deserve better. And we owe it to each other.

Do you think a military spouse really knows what they ‘sign up for’ when they marry a service member? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

PCSing During the School Year: Be Prepared and Ask Questions

According to Department of Defense’s (DoD) Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the military moves roughly 530,000 service members and their families every year. More than half of those moves are during peak moving months of May through August. That leaves more than 250,000 service members and their families moving off season: during the academic school year.

While moving during the summer months may add a heavy workload to the DoD, moving in summer presents an ideal time for families to transfer schools without missing crucial educational requirements for military connected children. In contrast, moving the other 250,000 military members during the school year brings an entire new set of challenges for military members.

When changing schools during the year, there are plenty of hurdles both parents and students face. The important thing is to gather as much information and ask as many questions to school administrators and teachers before (and after) you PCS. Being organized and prepared is key to a successful mid school year transition.

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Here’s a solid checklist and questions for parents with school-aged kids to ask, but we’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks when moving during the school year, too!

Research and Compare Curriculum – Do your research before you move.

  • Will the school be able to meet the educational needs of your child?
  • Compare curricula of your current and new schools.. You need to know if your child will struggle to keep up or be ahead of peers and thus bored in the classroom.
  • Collect and review important schoolwork showing your child’s academic aptitude.
  • Compare current schoolwork to curriculum in new school. What type of math are they teaching? Does the school use Common Core or has it opted out?
  • Plan a conference for your child’s current teacher or counselor to review the new school’s curriculum.
  • Take a picture of your child’s text book covers, websites they use and gather work samples of current work.
  • Ask the new school how new students who are behind/ahead of current grade-level objectives are handled.

The Teacher(s) 

  • Educational continuity is at risk each time a military child – no matter what grade they are in – moves to a new school.
  • Teacher-to-Teacher Letter – A great preemptive idea is to have your child’s current teacher write a letter to the new teacher – even though you don’t know who it will be. This is a perfect venue for teachers to share information about your child’s learning methods or insight into behavior.
  • Meet with the your child’s current teacher before you PCS. Take lots of notes at a parent-teacher conference. These notes will be critical when you advocate for your child’s education or services at the next school.
  • Administrators Ask your current school to explain procedures for withdrawal and forwarding your child’s records to the new school.
  • Ask for a copy of your child’s records to hand carry to your new location.

Education Binder – Compile a binder that is home to all of your child’s important documents, including:

  • Report cards – all of them, even ones from previous schools.  It allow teachers to know the educational history of your child.
  • Schoolwork samples
  • Assessment results
  • Teacher comments and conference notes
  • Individual Education Plan
  • 504 plan
  • Shot records
  • Speech or occupational therapy evaluations/summaries
  • Letters from teachers (to teachers), including specialty teachers (music, coaches and art teachers, for example) if applicable
  • Test results (Cog AT, Iowa Assessments, reading readiness, SAT)

Families On The Homefront offers a free downloadable Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder to help parents advocate for their child and help tell their child’s education history.

Know Your Rights

Military families have rights and responsibilities regarding children’s education. It’s up to you to understand these rights and responsibilities. Don’t leave your child’s right to a good education in the hands of a stranger. Own it!

  • Interstate Compact – Start here! Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission  is fighting to level the playing field for military family education.
  • The School Liaison Officer’s job is to help parents navigate the local school system, every base/post has one, contact them for insights about your school or if you have problems with placement of services.

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Information About Your New School

  • School calendar – Ask for the new school’s calendar right away. It will list important dates you need to know.
  • Registration requirements – Every school is different but most schools require PCS orders, proof of residency and immunization records.
  • Holiday hours – Call the new school and learn when the school will be open to register and take a tour hours.
  • Appropriate placement – Gifted and Talented and special needs programs often differ between schools. Understand what the school offers and how placement works for your child.
  • How does the new school handle new students with IEP/504 plans, documented academic struggles and/or academic discrepancies?
  • How do they program for Gifted and Talented students? Not all schools are equal when it comes to curriculum or testing.
  • Speak with a grade-level teacher and/or counselor to get a feel for the school climate and available programs.
  • Does the school offer a way for your child to connect with a peer school is back in session?
  • Secondary students: understand transferring credits, graduation requirements, ranking and how to determine appropriate academic placement.

Contact Your New School – Once you arrive, get on the phone and be ready to get to work.

  • Register and tour the school as soon as possible. Bring the education binder with all your important documents, share your education binder when you register so staff can place your child accordingly.
  • Ask about the school’s procedure for reviewing and implementing a new student’s IEP or 504 plan. Schedule any necessary meetings to review your child’s IEP or 504 plan.
  • Ask about procedures for parent/teacher conferences, schedule on within the first two weeks of school and share your education binder with the teacher as well.
  • Don’t be shy. Parents need to be involved within weeks of arrival at their new location. There will be a ton of information and insights you WON’T have access to unless you make yourself available and start connecting.

Organization and preparation are keys to a smooth school transition, especially one during the year. The loss of support, routines, and social networks associated with changing schools can be challenging for both children and parents. Being prepared for this transition is your best chance to ease the anxiety of changing schools. Start early and be sure to follow up when you arrive. We all know that as parents, we aren’t happy in a new location until our children are happy and settled.

Have you recently moved during the school year? What is the best piece of advice you have for others?

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Air Force spouse, mother, and freelance writer. Stacy was published in the popular book “Stories Around the Table – Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life.” She is also a judge for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year 2015. 

Parenting Military Kids: It’s Time to Get a Babysitter

I need to get something off my chest: lately, I have been feeling like the odd-man-out, and I am completely bewildered! None of my friends ever get a babysitter and go for date night with their spouse…EVER!

Do people think they aren’t good parents if they leave their kids with someone for the evening? I’m not sure, but listen to me on this one: I think leaving your kids and heading out for some personal time will make you a better parent! And for me, getting away from the house and the kiddos is crucial for my husband and I to reconnect. When we are home, we could go days without actually connecting because of busy schedules, housework, honey-do lists, kids, and all the other distractions! Not to mention, I work from home, so I’m with our kids all the time!

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“But I can’t afford a babysitter.”

“We live so far from family, I don’t trust anyone else.”

Stop it right now! Do a swap with a friend; you watch their kids on Friday nights, and they will watch your kids on Saturday nights (or whichever days works best). You don’t have to pay someone, you can trade babysitting for favors. Have your elderly neighbor watch your kids, and in return, your husband mows her lawn.

You can make it work!

And the date doesn’t have to cost money either. Go for a run together, have a picnic, take the dog for a walk. I don’t care what you do, just get out and do it!

I promise you that disengaging from your home life for a short ‘break’ can only help your mental well-being! I feel like it’s made me a better parent, and it’s been good for my kids, too! They get to stretch their wings, and have a little time away from mom and dad. I promise, they are just as annoyed by you, at times, as you are by them! And it’s good for your kids to meet new people–expand their horizons; let them learn to trust people other than you! It will build their confidence and teach them how to behave in the world. They need to know that there are other people out there who do things differently, and that there is more than one way to handle a situation. These are life skills that they are missing out on if you take the burden all on your own. It takes a village, as they say.

The feeling I get when I come home and my little guy runs to me for hugs and kisses is the best. You have to go away for them to miss you! Not to mention, I think you set a good example for them by showing them how to lead a healthy and balanced life, especially with your spouse. I don’t think it’s too healthy to be completely and totally consumed by one area of your life, but neglect another. You have to nurture and care for yourself in order to properly nurture and care for others!

So, I beg of you, please go. No more excuses, just go.

Do you think it’s important to use a babysitter so you can take time for yourself and your spouse? Share your thoughts with us!

alicia-steelePosted by Alicia Steele, military spouse and blogger at Two Kids and a Blog

Running Towards an Enhanced Career: Lace Up and GO!

You are at the starting line, with the finish probably no where in sight. A gun goes off. And then you run.

For me, this applies literally–to actual running–and metaphorically to continuing my education. Currently, I’m attempting both. Both journeys are endless pursuits of self-fulfillment and self-improvement.

I started running about five years ago. We had just moved to sunny southern California, and my husband promptly deployed. I knew just a handful of people, had a job that I disliked, and was spending too much time moping about.

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So I ran. I started with up and back loops in my neighborhood. I took the dog for company, and we chatted about how my day went, what was for dinner, and what type of treat he wanted when we got back.

Those first weeks were painful. I was doing Couch25K before that was a ‘real thing,’ and I was frustrated. I remembered, from high school track, what it felt like to go fast, and I remembered my sub-three minute 800 meters. I remembered flying around the track. Now, I was barely wogging (if walking and jogging had a baby) along, even with frequent trudging breaks.

Right now, I am going back to school for an additional certificate in education. I am scared out of my mind. I’ve been out of school for over five years, and this whole program is online. I’m not sure how to pay for this, or how much work it will be, or if it will be worth it in the end.

But I’m trying it. If it is a disaster, at least I tried.

That’s how I viewed running when I started out: even if I am the slowest person on the road, I’m still faster than the person who never left the couch.

So I kept going. I laced up my shoes and pushed myself farther and faster every single day. One day, I was running again, not just jogging or trudging, but flying.

Education isn’t new to me; I’m a teacher. So you could say I’m pretty comfortable around a classroom. However, my program is in teaching English as a Second Language. English is my first, and only, language. Fine, I can throw a few “holas” around, and could probably find the bathroom if lost in France. Beyond that, I’m hopeless. How am I going to be able to teach children who are coming in without any English language skills?

Also, we just moved. Once again, I have no connections to the education world in sunny SoCal. My course requires that I teach sample lessons. I need to find a classroom. I need to do so many things to make this successful.

As the worries about ‘what-if,’ and ‘what-then’ overtake my mind, I think back to the very first race I ever ran post-high school,:an off-road 5K up in the hills of Camp Pendleton with my running buddy. I was so nervous at the starting line, my stomach was knotted up. I was pretty sure I might actually throw up, or pee my pants. Then my friend looked at me, smiled, and the gun went off. There we were, two former track runners conquering this intensely hard trail run together, side by side the whole entire way. The amazing part was that we both placed in our respective age groups. She got second in her group, and I pulled off a first place finish in mine. At that moment, I was hooked. I loved running, and everything about it.

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I’ve run many races since then. I have only placed in one other race–second place in that same trail’s 5K the following year. But each and every time I cross the finish, I am victorious. My journey to that place, in that moment, has been a triumph of my will over my body, the weather, the road, and my negativity.

My favorite races have been the hardest. The Marine Corps Marathon 2012 was the hardest race I ever ran. Completing a marathon less than six months following a PCS move from SoCal to DC, training through humidity and heat, and healing an injured knee, was just plain hard. But nothing would stop me from lining up that morning; not even Superstorm Sandy, and not even the nausea that hits before every race. I hit the wall hard at mile 20, but trucked along, pretty sure that I would need to stop, but willing myself forward. When that Marine handed me my medal, I had tears of absolute joy rolling down my cheeks.

Right now, as I look over my program–the expense of it all, the time required–I’m pretty sure I might throw up. How on earth can I balance military life, being new to my region, raising a toddler, and taking these courses?? But then I remember how satisfying it is to cross that finish line. How rewarding it is to overcome all of the obstacles placed in front of you by the military, by motherhood, by finances, by sheer self-doubt.

So, I’ll lace up my shoes, pay that hefty bill, and move forward. I will overcome everything in my path. I am a runner. I am a mother. I am a determined, courageous, highly-educated military spouse who WILL advance my career. Because when I reach the finish line of life, I don’t ever want to say I didn’t get off the couch in any part of this journey.

Have you ever conquered something awesome in your military life? What made you push through and do it?

meg-flanaganPosted by Meg Flanagan, a special and elementary education teacher who holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education Consulting, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Pass the Torch: Put Your Black Friday Savings to Good Use This #GivingTuesday

You’ve downloaded the shopping apps, checked the sale papers, and even sat outside the toy store waiting to buy the coveted gift of 2015. You know how much it costs and where the best place is to buy it. But have you given as much thought to this year’s charitable donations?

Today is Giving Tuesday—a day where Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers are encouraged to share the holiday spirit by giving back to their communities and the organizations that support them. We know you work hard for your money, and you make careful choices when it comes to spending. We have found an option we think you’ll be pleased with.

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Your donation to the National Military Family Association makes a huge impact.

Last year, NMFA sent more than 3,000 military family members to our Operation Purple® Programs, and awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships and professional support to military spouses and caregivers through our Spouse Scholarship Program.

How does your gift make a difference?

$30 will provide that military child a full day of meals at Operation Purple Camp.

$100 sends one military kid to an Operation Purple Camp, where they don’t have to worry about the stressors of military life while they enjoy a summer-camp atmosphere with other military kids.

$500 provides the funds for a military spouse to obtain a certification and, ultimately, a job to help provide a stable financial foundation for their family.

$1,500 allows a military family of three to attend an Operation Purple Family Retreat or Operation Purple Healing Adventures camp, where they can reconnect, create new memories, and learn skills to overcome the obstacles military families face.

$2,500 covers a semester of college for that military spouse, helping them achieve their goal of higher education and a coveted degree.

For 46 years, military families have depended on NMFA. Now they’re depending on you. Why not use those Black Friday savings to make a noticeable difference for our nation’s families?

Donate now and watch your dollars do amazing things.

Together we’re stronger.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

No Hum-Bugs Allowed! Everything You Need to Know About European Christmas Markets!

We live in a highly politically correct society. Growing up, Christmas parties were the norm in grade school. Today, you can barely get away with having a “Holiday Party” or a “Winter Social.”  On the other hand, most of America is upset about a red cup at Starbucks.

To be completely honest, I don’t get too bent up about what words to use (despite being a writer!), and I’m adult enough to respect other people’s ways of life.

However, since moving to Germany, Christmas has taken on a whole new life of it’s own for me!

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Christmas Markets
If you are currently stationed in Europe, you’ve probably started hearing the buzz of the famous Christmas Markets…and for good reason!

Despite not even needing to be Christian to absolutely love and enjoy these delightful markets, the name still remains the same as it has for hundreds of years. Depending on where you are, it may vary, but it all means the same, “Christmas Markets.”

Here in Germany, locals, service members, and tourists, alike, all go nuts for the annual Weinacht or KristKindles Markt. You could be a direct descendant of Scrooge himself, yet somehow, attending any market will surely put you in a jolly mood!

Have you ever walked into a room and just felt an electricity in the air? This is what Christmas Markets are like! The smell of pine in the air, the most beautifully handcrafted items, food so delicious and, of course, Glühwein, the seasonal mulled wine, all create this magical feeling. It’s as if there is a “No Hum-Bugs Allowed” rule in the market vicinity!

Whether you are stationed in Germany, Italy, England, or elsewhere in Europe, your country is sure to have their own versions of Christmas Markets, with the same, general theme of putting anyone in a good mood and serving up delicious food and drinks–all with an enchanting Christmas theme.

Shopping
Do you dread Christmas shopping? While many markets may have similar items, each market often has some unique and amazing items for sale. This makes holiday shopping a blast! Plus, who doesn’t love drinking warm wine while window shopping and looking at beautifully crafted items!? Your friends and family back home will love receiving thoughtful gifts from the foreign country you are living in, instead of the typical gifts we often receive that don’t have a unique touch.

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Culture
The Christmas markets are also perfect opportunities to learn more about your local culture as well. Each country has their own versions of Santa, and the kids are sure to have a great time seeing the beautiful costumes and learning about the legends and traditions.

So, whether this is your first year stationed in Europe, or your fifth, like us, you’ll never get tired and bored of these magical markets. Go find a local one, or even make a trip of it and explore some of the world’s largest and oldest (Dresden, Nurnberg, Strasbourg) and most enchanting Christmas markets this year.

Some popular markets to attend are:
Germany: Dresden, Nurnberg and Koln
France: Strasbourg, Colmar and Lille
Italy: Verona, Balzano and Trento
UK: Winchester Cathedral, Caerphilly and Liverpool

Planning on going to a Market in Germany?  See what other tips and places the EconomicalExcursionists suggest while in Deutschaland!

Have you ever been to a Christmas Market in Europe? Which was your favorite?

LeAnna Brown currently doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, so to delay major life decisions, her and her husband, Andy, have decided to move to Europe and travel the world via Travel Hacking. After almost 40 countries down in four years and only a few thousand dollars spent a year on travel, they have learned to penny-pinch their way to a bare minimalist lifestyle to help them see and appreciate the world. Read more about their close-to-free travel adventures at EconomicalExcursionists.com, or join in with the EE community on the Facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving, Military Families!

With warm hearts and joyful spirits, we wish you and your military family a Happy Thanksgiving. Need a reason to be grateful for your military life? We’ve got 30 reasons to give thanks!

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