Creative Ways to Connect Your Child and Your Soldier

August 29, 2011 · Filed Under Deployment, Fun, Military Parents, Relationships · Comment 

Fun with Flat Stanley

It’s never easy for children to be separated from their parents and loved ones, whether it is for military duty or something such as serious illness or injury. Keeping connections between close family members can be just a little bit easier by using a new twist on the traditional Flat Stanley project. Instead of just one Flat Stanley having adventures with lucky individuals, children and their beloved soldier will both get to have adventures and make memories with this Flat Fellows activity, easing the physical and sometimes emotional distance separating them.

How to Make Flat Fellows

If you, your child, or your soldier, have never read the classic Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, begin by sharing this story together. You can read the book aloud to your young child, recording your voice, or your older reader can record his own voice. Send the audio file to your soldier, or if it is easier, send the actual paperback book and let him read it for himself.

Once everyone is familiar with the tale, the new twist on the project, Flat Fellows, can begin with these first steps.

  • Take a full-height picture of your child or have her draw one of herself on cardstock paper. If you are using a photo, print the picture on white cardstock or other heavyweight paper. A sheet of 8.5” x 11” is an easy size to mail when folded in thirds.
  • Arrange to either receive a full-height picture of your soldier, have your soldier draw one himself, or have your child design one.
  • Take 2 folders with brad bindings on the inside (add paper to the folders), 2 journals with pockets, or even 2 scrapbooks, and add a Flat Fellow to each one.
  • You can copy the following phrase into the journals or on pages in the folders, have your child write it out, or come up with your own (just make sure to do it for both journals).

I am your new Flat Fellow friend

And I can’t wait to see where you roam.

Take me along wherever you go,

And bring me back to your special home.

Make sure to write about it for                           (fill in with name of child/soldier)

He/she can’t wait to hear all our tales.

Even though we can’t always be right there

Our special love never fails.

Once you have your new poem inscribed, you can explain to your child and your soldier how this is going to work. Your child will keep the journal with the Flat Fellow who looks like your soldier, while your soldier will get the journal with the Flat Fellow of your child.

Why Flat Fellows are Important

The idea behind this project is that your soldier and child will each record notes about what the Flat Fellow saw, what the Flat Fellow might have eaten, and anything the Flat Fellow might have done. Your child can take pictures of her Flat Fellow going down the slide at the park, sitting in your child’s bike basket, or riding in the car going to Grandma’s. If you go to a movie, your Flat Fellow can take the ticket stub and add it to the journal. Let your child be creative. Your soldier can be inventive as well about his activities, perhaps taking a picture with his Flat Fellow in a bunk or writing about how many friends the Flat Fellow has met.

The main goal of doing this activity with your child and your soldier is to build another opportunity for them both to feel connected with each other. Even though they are far apart, their Flat Fellows can be witnesses to the little things in life that make all of the difference. You can continue this project for any length of time, but doing it for at least 2-3 weeks should give you a good supply of memories for the journals, but the longer you continue the project, the more interesting the adventures might become. It can also make a great Christmas present for both your child and your soldier to receive the newly created Flat Fellow journals or scrapbooks so they both know what the other has been doing. Separation from loved ones can be difficult for children (and adults), but finding positive ways to form new types of connections will help bridge those distances and keep kids thinking about new ways to have their Flat Fellows share their own adventures.

Photo credit: Jason

Adjusting to Life After Your Soldier Returns from Deployment

July 25, 2011 · Filed Under Deployment, Health · Comment 

Happy Couple

You’ve waited months, perhaps more than a year, to welcome your soldier home. You’ve shopped for food to make his favorite meal, arranged for his parents to visit upon his return, and helped the kids make signs welcoming him home. But are you really ready for the return?

Sometimes even after all of those sleeplessness nights, counting days until the return, the homecoming doesn’t always lead to sunshine and rainbows. There is often a honeymoon period when you won’t be able to stop looking at each other, and the kids will be stuck like honey to his side. However, some military families are caught off guard by the feelings of resentment that might emerge, the adjustment to new routines, and the fact that somehow life went on during deployment and not everything is just how it used to be.

Possible Threats to the Honeymoon after Homecoming

Even thinking about the idea that there might be negative emotions upon return from deployment might be more than you want to do. However, preparing for the possibilities will help to diminish the likelihood that these situations will occur, and the effects of them won’t have to be so severe. There are bound to be adjustments that need to be made – start thinking early about how things have changed for you during deployment and what those changes might mean to your soldier.

  • The children have an earlier bedtime, necessitated by the fact that you needed an extra 30 minutes alone each night.
  • The kids have had one authority figure in their life and aren’t used to the ramifications of two in the house.
  • You have developed a new weekend routine. On Saturday the kids do their activities, you spend the afternoon working on projects, and in the evening you hang out with other kids and their moms.
  • Your mom spends at least 2 afternoons each week at your house, helping with the kids and household chores.
  • The financial planning has been on your plate and you have developed a method to the madness.
  • You’ve met new friends and enjoy one evening a month going somewhere special with them as a treat for you.

While all of these scenarios are not necessarily negative ones, the effects they might have on your relationship with your soldier upon his return could become negative if you’re not prepared. Make a realistic assessment of how your relationship looked and worked before deployment and make sure that you don’t just assume that it will continue in the new routines without compromise. Your soldier will be facing his own readjustments so it is imperative that you work together as a team to make the homecoming a long lasting positive experience.

Make sure you communicate regularly about daily life. You might be used to independent living and decision making, but you need to remember to include your soldier in the daily routines.

Be watchful for signs of PTSD in your soldier or other stress related issues. Don’t hesitate to encourage him to seek help or talk with someone yourself. Also keep in mind that you might benefit from sharing with a third party how you are adjusting to life after homecoming.

Be aware of changes in the kids’ behaviors, either increased anxiety over your soldier being gone for even a few minutes, or rebellious behavior that tests the waters. Nip this in the bud and work together with your soldier to form a parenting unit. Don’t let the kids create a great divide between you now that you have just gotten him home.

Soon after homecoming sit down and revisit the responsibility list. Maybe you will continue to mow the lawn now, and he wants to take over weekend cooking for the family. Go over the family calendar and get your soldier up to speed on the activities of everyone and how he can participate and help. Just don’t direct the show – form a team. Whatever your decisions are, work on making them together.

Photo credit: Rachel

The Bonds That Tie

Over at PBS.org I have written a post about the meaningful bonds that are forged during military service… among soldiers… among wives… among parents…

Throughout the course of our lifetimes, we make and break bonds with people. Some bonds are formed in friendship: schoolmates, neighbors, fellow workers. I have close friends from each of those groups. I maintain, however, that the bonds forged in military service are perhaps the strongest of all bonds. Stronger than steel. Stronger than adversity. Stronger than time.

We all know the story of veterans sittin’ around and one says, “No shit!! There I was…” followed by a story of improbability or hilarity, typically punctuated with profanity, irreverent phrases and sordid images. It will end with much backslapping and hearty handshakes. The circle might contain members of a single unit or a single war, or it might contain an assortment of veterans from many of this nation’s conflicts. But they are bonded and tied to each other by the commonality of their service. Some are bonded by the mettle and the blood of battle. You need look no further than the Illiad or the St. Crispen’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V for evidence of the emotional connection these men share.

[snip]

Some of my closest friends today are people I didn’t know before my son deployed. We met via military blogs (including my own) and private online Internet forums established by parents of soldiers — one by a Third Infantry Division parent, another established by military moms for military moms. These were places to share information, to share worry, to celebrate good news and to commiserate when the news was bad. These were places that let us share this bond, hammered and shaped by our worry for our sons and daughters.

These relationships are equal parts ethereal and practical; as much emotional as they are physical. It involves both the spiritual and the material worlds — prayers and novena candles as well as care packages and cookie recipes. It is an inclusive sisterhood for which we did not volunteer, but in which we are now forever members.


You can read it all at PBS/POV: Conversations on Coming Home

With A Little Help From My Friends

blue star

When I first began with the Blue Star Moms, I wasn’t sure about how we were going to get things going as far as packages for the Troops or our Wounded Warriors. Things have moved so fast in a positive direction that I know that being a part of this, even beginning this Chapter, is something I was supposed to do. I know that may sound silly to some, but I am a firm believer that if you are meant to do something in life then the Universe will allow you to succeed. If you truly want to accomplish anything, feel it in your heart, it will come your way, in one manner or another, you will get what you need. By giving you receive.

Mind you, I have felt helpless many times in my life; when my son was in the Intensive Care Unit at birth, I felt this way. It was up to him to begin to breathe on his own without a respirator, which he did after a few days and now, all these years later he serves his Country with pride. Many times throughout my life I have felt that I could not deal with certain things that have come my way but always, I have been able to come up with the courage to see things through. My palms may get sweaty but I “put on my big girl undies and deal with it.” So, when more Moms began to contact me to join with me on this endeavor, I found ways to get things together, some times overnight! From standing up and speaking to a group of strangers about what a Blue Star Mom actually is, to putting together new member packets for familys, it has been a lot of work. And I have enjoyed every part of it.

However, when it came to sending care packages to our Troops, I didn’t really know how we were going to accomplish this on our own. Where to begin, who to talk to, nothing. I was as new at this as a fresh recruit getting off the bus at bootcamp! We are all new to this still, we didn’t have a lot of contacts except each other and the income/donations were not there yet. The cash donations we have received we have stood many hours in the heat, cold, wind and on hard concrete for. It is the least we can do, in my estimation, just a little discomfort is well worth the outcome. We do this thinking of our soldiers in the heat and cold, far worse conditions then we put up with.

We have been blessed with over 7,000 packets of the instant coffee from Starbucks customers to send to our Troops. We have been able to send handwritten note cards in every single package that we have been able to send to date. These come from those who visit our table when we do things like enduring heat of 103+ degrees at the Annual Chili Cookoff and local dog show. We have had bake sales to raise funds to ship the boxes that we knew that we would eventually, somehow be able to fill. I knew that we were on the right track, I could just feel it in my heart. The angels were listening to be sure!

I received an email from Operation Homefront regarding school supplies for military children to sign up on the website they gave me and was able to list our chapter to receive donations from local Dollar Tree stores. I figured we would receive a little something that we could pass along to the children, even receiving 10 of something would be better off then where we were at the time, with a whole lot of nothing except what we, the moms, were purchasing to send on our own.

Lo and behold, when we received the first call to go and pick up those items, there were at least 15 boxes between just two of the locations chock full of school supplies! We ended up with enough to assist 111 children plus, of various ages and in different locations. We were overjoyed to be able to receive such a generous contribution from the local communities.

Once I saw those coming in, I figured I should get back in the non-profit mode that I used to be in when the boys were in Cub Scouts and see if I could convince another store to do something so I went to Borders Book Store. To my surprise, the assistant manager was a “Navy brat” and they decided then and there to do a book/school supply drive for us. We ended up with over $5,000 in new books, backpacks and other items for the military children to give to them along with their school supplies. What an awesome blessing!

Once the drive for the school supplies was over, we were still wondering how we were going to be able to support our Troops. My own paycheck can only be stretched so far even when I do shop at Wally World and the “D” store. Many of our moms were out of work due to slow downs at their places of employment, like many others and we were all stressing about our children being deployed yet again. What to do, what to do?!?

Then, to my surprise, I received another notification from a local D store. Was I the right person for them to call? They had some care package items that they had collected and wanted to give them to someone and they had my name so could I stop by and pick them up? Taking my pick up truck over the next day, I picked up an entire truck bed of boxes loaded with care package items like hand sanitizer, razors, foot powder, combs, snacks of all kinds, candy and more! I wanted to cry, I was so overwhelmed at the amount of items that I actually needed assistance to pick up the rest.

We sent out 55 boxes on our first campaign, that was over 4 months ago with donations from family and friends. Last night, our third packaging to date, we packaged 150 boxes and actually ran out of boxes to fill. We had donations from not only the D store customers, but also from members of the local Veterans Administration staff, local community members and business owners. People just pop in at our meetings and drop off items for us to send. The local Rotary Club is sending 100 more packages to our Troops with names we have been able to supply to them. A local dental office has bought back Halloween candy and given it to us, over 400 pounds came in last night along with notes written by children from a local school thanking our Troops. A grandma showed up with donations and her teenage grandson, gave me the donations and left him there to help us, she said to give her a call when we were done having him work! He was quite the worker too!

The Army recruiter called me tonight, a local Pastor called him, the church has taken up a collection of items and they wanted to know who to give it to so he told them he had someone who would take it all, he made me laugh when he said he knew just who to call.

I have felt helpless, not knowing how we were going to accomplish all that I had envisioned our chapter doing to support the troops and their families, but apparently there are plans from above to show me that there are many helping hands out there. I wanted to be able to send to more then one soldier, and my wish is coming true. I know that there are many who don’t know how to help so they give, one dollar at a time, to our Troops. By doing this they don’t realize just how much they are helping each of the moms in our chapter, and all of our family members. Their outpouring of love and support is going overseas, each box as full as we can get it. You don’t have to hold a sign in support of our Troops, just go to a local Dollar Tree store and tell them you want to give to the Operation Homefront collection they are hosting.

We will sort, count, bag, and box. We will label each box, fill out the customs forms, load our vehicles and drive to the post office. We will join together, no longer helpless by ourselves, but stronger together in completing these packagings for our Troops and Wounded. With a sense of love and friendship we send those supplies over one way or another and the funds to do so will come to us, one way or another to get this done. We have enough right now to send 100 of those 150 packages to the war zone, we still need more funding to get the rest over in time for Christmas and we still have 10 large boxes that need funding to go to our Wounded in Landstuhl. That of course is my next wish! And I believe, that one way or another, it will come true.

Mamaw
Proud Mother of an American Soldier

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