Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Is it real?

SMS

The calendar is full of obscure national holidays.

Why, in the last week alone, we’ve been encouraged to celebrate National Chocolate Parfait Day, Beer Pong Day, Scurvy Awareness Day, and National Lumpy Rug Day.

Last month, we were afforded the opportunity to recognize Ex Spouse Day, National High Five Day, Bat Appreciation Day, and National Cheeseball Day. And next month, we’ll gear up for World Jugglers’ Day, Hug Your Cat Day, and Waffle Iron Day.

And nestled in there — among all those weird holidays praising Paul Bunyan, Peach Blossoms, and Ear Muffs — on the Friday before Mother’s Day, is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Is Military Spouse Appreciation Day a real holiday? Or is it just another unsung observance like Extraterrestrial Abductions Day and Tell a Fairy Tale Day?

According to Jacob Stein of the Congressional Research Service, there are only “11 permanent federal holidays established by law … New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, Inauguration Day (every four years following a presidential election), George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.”

The vast majority of “National Holidays” such as Grandparents’ Day, Squirrel Appreciation Day and even Halloween are not established by an act of congress, but rather, are the result of widely recognized tradition, brilliant corporate marketing campaigns, or a bunch of goofy college kids who are good at social media.

However, there are a some special days of the year that, although they are not deemed to be federal holidays, they have so much national significance that the President of the United States issues an annual proclamation calling upon the public to honor the cause, event or individual.

Military Spouse Appreciation Day is one of those significant public observances.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan established Military Spouse Appreciation Day by Proclamation 5184, recognizing the countless sacrifices and unselfish contributions made by Military Spouses since the days of the Continental Army:

“[Military Spouses] subordinated their personal and professional aspirations to the greater benefit of the service family. Responding to the call of duty, they frequently endured long periods of separation or left familiar surroundings and friends to reestablish their homes in distant places. And there they became American ambassadors abroad. As volunteers, military spouses have provided exemplary service and leadership in educational, community, recreational, religious, social and cultural endeavors. And as parents and homemakers, they preserve the cornerstone of our Nation’s strength—the American family.”

Thirty years later, Military Spouses continue to support their husbands, wives, families and country, despite facing serious career obstacles and family hardships because of their unpredictable, mobile military lifestyle. Why don’t we recognize “Accountant Spouses,” “Engineer Spouses,” or “Chef Spouses” in the same way as Military Spouses? Because being a Military Spouse is not just a description based upon a husband or wife’s job – it’s a lifestyle commitment that requires a sense of duty, honor and patriotism.

Especially now, it’s crucial that the public shows its appreciation for our all-volunteer military force, along with the family members at home. Like their husbands and wives, Military Spouses need to know that their sacrifices are worth it.

This year, Military Spouse Appreciation Day falls on May 8th.

During the week you may feel compelled to celebrate Star Wars Day (May 4), Ferret Day (May 5), and Lost Sock Memorial Day (May 9), but carve a little time out of your busy calendar to recognize a truly important national holiday.

On May 8th, commemorate Military Spouse Appreciation Day by acknowledging that, not only is it a real holiday, it’s really important.

Confessions of a TV Junkie

meetingsIn the basement of a dingy community center, a florescent light buzzes over a dozen or so people seated in a circle of metal folding chairs. Some nibble anxiously at store-bought sandwich cookies, while others sit in nervous silence. There is a screeching of chair legs against linoleum, as one bleary-eyed woman stands with a trembling Styrofoam coffee cup to speak.

Hello, [clears throat] my name is Lisa … and I, … I am a Binge Watcher.

It’s been one week since my last television fix, and I’m here to share my story.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I didn’t even know what Binge Watching was. In fact, while our Navy family was stationed in Germany, we felt lucky that Armed Forces Network aired day-old episodes of Survivor and American Idol. The rest of the time, we entertained ourselves with middle-of-the-night live football broadcasts, quirky BBC cooking shows, and strange AFN public service announcements.

But when we moved back to the States, my husband and I discovered the joys of Digital Video Recording. Despite this, our television use was purely recreational. We were mere “social watchers,” catching a recorded program here and there, and streaming a movie over the weekend. Little did we know, we were perched on the slippery slope of instant gratification.

Eventually, we needed more episodes to be entertained. Our digitally savvy kids introduced my husband and I to the allure of services such as “On Demand” and “Hulu.” How intoxicating it was to take a double hit of “The Bachelor” and chase it with “Deadliest Catch” all in one evening!

Soon, we were hooked, and there was no going back.

Before we knew it, we were spending perfectly sunny weekends holed up in the family room of our base house watching episode after episode of random television series. We told everyone that we were “just catching up on ‘Modern Family’” or that we were “simply wondering what all the hubbub was about ‘Downton Abbey.’”

Ironically, it was the show “Breaking Bad” that nudged us into the deep dark abyss. We’d been jonesing to see the AMC series for a while, and when we found out that the first 54 episodes were On Demand for a limited time leading up to the final season, we knew we had just scored.

During our epic three-week “Breaking Bad” bender, we finally hit rock bottom. Our family room looked like the scene of a rave party, strewn with soda cans, popcorn and Chinese take-out boxes. Our pupils were permanently dilated as we stared, transfixed, into the psychedelic LCD screen, our cold, clammy fingers gripping the smudged remotes.

We were so strung out after that binge, we quit cold turkey for a while, satisfying our cravings with short doses of “House Hunters” and “Seinfeld” reruns in hopes that we’d avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms of rapid detox.

However, lately, ads keep popping up for April premiers of “Game of Thrones,” “The Real Housewives of New York,” and “Wolf Hall.” The final season of “Mad Men” premiered on April 5th, and we still haven’t finished watching “House of Cards” and “Downton Abbey” … What’s a TV junkie to do? Binge watch, of course!

I must confess that Spring Premiere Season has triggered my recent relapse. Although I’m not sure there’s a 12 step recovery program for Binge Watching, I’m absolutely certain I’ll gain 12 pounds if I don’t get up off the couch and stop watching so much TV.

So, mark my words: I’m quitting Binge Watching for good this time. I’m 100% serious. No more lounging in sweatpants on Sunday afternoons pressing “play” hour after hour. Spring has sprung, and I’ll be spending all my time in the great outdoors. I swear, I’m going to do it, and there’s no time like the present.

And I’ll start just as soon as the “Mad Men” final season is over.

No day like tomorrow

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My column was late this week.

A spaceship wasn’t hovering ominously over Rhode Island. Our base house didn’t burn down. My computer didn’t seize up with “the blue screen of death,” although that did happen back in ’07 just after my husband deployed to Djibouti. None of our kids came down with double pneumonia. And miraculously, I wasn’t arrested for fraud after filing our tax returns.

Nope, I don’t have one decent excuse for my column being late. Truth be told, I procrastinated.

Normally, I submit my column to newspaper editors on Fridays for publication the following week, so that I can spend the weekend watching the kids’ sports, barbecuing with the neighbors, and walking the dog along the water.

Come Monday, I know it would be smart to write 200 words on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; leaving Thursday for rewrites and editing, and Friday for polishing and submission.

But that makes way too much sense.

Friday is eons away, I think to myself. Today, I’ll get laundry done, mop the floors, wash the minivan. Getting housework done will free me up to write more tomorrow.

But between the puppy being afraid of the vacuum cleaner, the hour-long call from my mother, the search for missing socks under the kids’ beds, and that riveting episode of “Cops” I had to watch until the end, I barely manage to defrost the pork chops.

On Tuesday, I wake with a purpose. I’m going to make some headway on that column … as soon as I think of an idea. What will I write about this week?

My notebook in hand, I sit in a sunny spot in the backyard to let the dog sniff around while I search for inspiration.

Hmmm … the beds could really use a bit of weeding. Three hours later, there are piles of garden debris out by the curb, my fingernails are packed with dirt, and I’m on my way to Home Depot for grass seed, tomato cages, and annuals.

On Wednesday, I determine that, if I spend the day in front of my computer, I can turn out 600 words and still have Thursday for editing. All I need is a subject. I troll the Internet, looking for topics, current events, some nugget of news that might feed an idea.

Let’s check Facebook to see what’s trending.

Big mistake. An hour later, I have scrolled all the way down to 2012, got sucked into a comment debate over whether mustard or ketchup is better on hot dogs, and watched a string of YouTube videos of dogs with human voiceovers.

I figure I’ll switch out the laundry and try again after lunch, but the afternoon brings a case of the sleepys. I convince myself that a 20-minute catnap on the couch will do wonders, but you can probably guess how the day goes from there.

Thursday I wake up stressed, which should provide adequate motivation to meet my 24-hour deadline. But by dinnertime, I have done everything BUT my column. I organized the junk drawer, swept out the basement, clipped my toenails, put our National Geographic magazines in chronological order, and dug the fuzz out of the keyboard with a toothpick.

I plan to let my editors know on Monday, I just can’t do this anymore.

Friday and Saturday pass in hopeless defeat. But on Sunday, I notice that the sky did not fall. The Earth did not implode. I am still breathing. My editors probably haven’t even noticed that my column is late. I realize that my fear of failure has caused me to create conditions where success is impossible. With the dangerous awareness that I could play this cat and mouse game with myself every week if I so dared, I finally sat down and tapped out this column about procrastination.

I hit send and promise myself: I will put an end to this self-destructive habit, and I’ll do it first thing — tomorrow.

My kids are total BRATS!

Month-Of-The-Military-Child[In honor of April, The Month of the Military Child, I rewrote the following article, which originally appeared in Military Spouse Magazine a couple of years ago.]

From the time I toddled around in droopy diapers, to the day I drove off to college in my VW Bug, I lived in one small Pennsylvania town. The kids who picked their noses next to me in Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class were the same ones who walked across the stage with me at our high school graduation. I had one hometown, one high school, one brick house, one yellow bedroom, and one best friend who I gabbed with each night on my one candlestick rotary phone while draped across my one mock brass twin bed.

By contrast, as a military child, our oldest went to three different high schools. He grew up in eight different homes, in three different states and two foreign countries. He has said goodbye to six different best friends, six different piano teachers, and four different Boy Scout troops. He played on three different varsity football teams, and his academic transcripts are almost as complicated as the US Tax Code.

Essentially, my son and his two younger sisters are total BRATS.

No, not that kind of brat. Although our kids have definitely displayed their fair share of unruly behavior, infuriating teen arrogance and near juvenile delinquency; I’m calling my kids “military BRATS,” which has an entirely different connotation.

Back in 1986, former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger established April as The Month of the Military Child. Military Commands and communities will be holding special events honoring the 1.7 million children of military families. Operation Military Kids, an organization dedicated to military children, asks that everyone “Purple Up!” as a show of support – wear purple in April to recognize the unique challenges military children face, such as deployments, family separations and frequent moves.

So why am I calling my kids BRATS during the month of April? Although it is fairly common knowledge that “military brats” are children of US servicepersons, few know the true origin of this term. According to WilliamsburghMilitaryInsider.com, “B.R.A.T.” may be an old acronym for “British Regiment Attached Traveler,” used to describe dependents accompanying British Army members being stationed abroad.

Over the years, the term expanded and evolved to become a universal descriptor for kids who move with their military parents. Regardless of the technical definitions and historical origins, the term “military B.R.A.T.” means so many different things — both good and bad — to each military family.

The acronym B.R.A.T. might as well stand for all military parents’ fears that their kids will be Bewildered, Reluctant, Afraid and Timid after each move. We put them in new schools, worried that they will be Bullied, Ridiculed, Abused and Taunted. Wracked with guilt, we feel Blameworthy, Remorseful, Apologetic and downright Terrible.

However, we military parents fail to remember that our BRATs are Brave, Resourceful, Amicable and Tolerant. After every move, they make new Buddies, form new Routines, find Acceptance, and feel Triumphant.

But kids will be kids, even the military ones, so they milk our guilt for all it’s worth, and lead us to believe that they are miserable.

They Bellyache, Refute, Accuse and shed Tears. They claim that all the students in their new school are Buffoons, Rednecks, Airheads, and Tramps. They tell us they might be able to cope if they were given Bonuses, Riches, Allowance and Toys.

And every time, we get suckered. As the Bills, Receipts, Arrears and Taxes pile up; the stress causes Balding, Reflux, Anxiety, and Tension headaches. Before you know it, we’re stocking up on Botox, Rogaine, Antacids and Tequila.

But regardless of the challenges of our military life, our children don’t succeed despite their military upbringing, they succeed because of it. And when they grow up and lead their own lives, they bring with them Beautiful Recollections of American Traditions.

As we celebrate the sacrifices and triumphs of military children this month, I’m beaming with pride when I say that our kids are most certainly, undeniably, complete and total BRATs.

Puppy Personality Disorder

 

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A week ago, my life was normal. I showered regularly. I ran errands. I cooked and cleaned. I watched TV. I slept in a bed.

And then, my husband and I drove from our base house at Naval Station Newport to a cranberry farm in Massachusetts, and picked up a wriggling ball of fur that has changed everything.

We felt a twinge of guilt taking an eight-week-old Labrador retriever away from his littermates, with whom he had spent his days snuggling and tussling. But ever since the death of our beloved dog Dinghy, who saw us through deployments, PCS moves, and an overseas tour, we knew another dog would enhance our family. So we wrapped the puppy in a blanket and nuzzled him all the way home, happily ignorant of the chaos that was about to ensue.

We named him “Moby”, a tribute to our tour of duty in nautical New England. However, other apt labels have occurred to us this past week, as we have learned the multiple facets of our new puppy’s complex personality.

Puddle Maker has christened every rug in our house, and we’re now considering buying stock in puppy training pads. Kibble Gobbler inhales scoops of puppy food as if he is a starving prisoner, usually with one paw plopping in his water dish. Spawn of Cujo has an active period after meals, involving relentless ankle biting, broom chasing, and upholstery shredding. During this time, we can’t approach Staple Gun for fear that, what might seem like a sweet lick on the nose will turn out to be a needle-teeth lancing of that sensitive area just inside the nostrils.

Sweater Snagger sinks his fishhook nails into us when we carry him down the porch steps for potty time. Although he seems to know what is expected of him, Little Con Artist enjoys delaying the potty process long enough that we are forced to stand out in the cold while he innocently plays in the mud.

After following me around the house biting my shoes, Limp Noodle insists on taking a nap while laying over my feet. I sit motionless so as to not incite further mayhem, while the housework doesn’t get done, food doesn’t get cooked, and I don’t shower. This is generally the time that our base neighbors come by to see the newest member of our family. They all remark at how calm Little Faker is, and ask me why I’m looking so bedraggled these days.

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After the fourth night sleeping on the floor beside the dog crate, I needed a break from Puppet Master. Just like the dog training book instructed, I gave him a special treat and put him in the playpen we’d assembled in the kitchen. I praised him, closed the gate, and left to drive the girls to school.

Fifteen minutes later, my base neighbor called. “What are you doing to that poor dog?!” he blurted, explaining that he could hear incessant yelping through the thick walls of our shared duplex.

I rushed home to find that Mr. Passive Aggressive “made a deposit” in his playpen in protest over being left alone. But that’s not the half of it. Canine Picasso also smeared it all over the floor, rug, bed, gate, toys and himself. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the morning scrubbing and disinfecting, and although everything looks clean, we may need to deworm the children just in case.

At first, I thought Moby was the one with the personality disorder, but I realize that it’s me who’s lost a grip on reality. I’ve transformed from Navy Mom to Pin Cushion, Pooper Scooper, Feed Bag and Personal Slave. I’m so delusional that, despite multiple contusions, baggy eyes, and a complete loss of hygiene standards, I’m utterly blinded by love.

Call me crazy, because in my mind, Moby is The Cutest Thing On The Face of This Earth.

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Snack in the City

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“Do you want that apple now?” I ask my daughter, for the third time since boarding the train to New York City. I brought Anna’s favorite snack in my backpack, hoping that a Granny Smith might keep my temperamental teen satisfied on our trip to visit colleges.

No, Mom,” Anna huffs, “I told you, I’m not hungry.”

As I turn toward the window, my mind wanders to a decade ago, when Anna, our fiercely independent middle child, disappeared.

She was one of those kids who would go off with a box of figurines, and lose herself in pretend play for hours. My husband or I would find her somewhere in our house, surrounded by her characters, her huge brown eyes flitting from one to the other, her wee lips muttering the voices in her imagined scenario.

But on this particular occasion, she’d been gone so long, we were concerned.

“Anna?!” I bellowed, eager to find her in a corner, lost in a complex drama involving Buzz Lightyear, Polly Pockets, and My Little Pony. Just as my mothering instinct was about to mobilize a grid search of our entire neighborhood, I heard something in the bonus room over our garage.

Sure enough, there she was, sitting in a heap of paper, pencils, yarn, fabric, and my sewing basket, dumped upside-down. “Lookit what I made, Mom,” she coughed out, her voice box sluggish from hours of dormancy.

Anna held up her creation, a full-length garment of white fleece. After making sketches in a Hello Kitty notebook, she settled on a sleek one-shoulder design with an elegant neckline and fitted skirt. Anna modeled her gown for us, and we looked on in amazement at the sophisticated silhouette and even hand-stitching. Apparently, Anna had seen someone do it on TV, and was now determined to be a fashion designer.

Ten years later, we’re on our way to The Big Apple to follow Anna’s dream.

Sitting beside my seventeen-year-old daughter, I still see her big brown eyes flitting, lost in thought. Intuitively, I know that she is envisioning what it would be like to be a fashion design student in NYC, walking city streets in stylish outfits, sketching on sunlight-dappled park benches, and hailing cabs to meet friends for lunch in Soho.

My baggy brown eyes are flitting too, but I am imagining rat-infested alleys, marauding pick-pocketers, subway stairwells reeking of urine, and catcalling ne’re-do-wells. My husband and I would much rather send our daughter to college somewhere in rural Vermont or Wisconsin, where sleepy Campus Police officers busy themselves writing citations for spitting on the sidewalk. But we know, Anna must see for herself.

Emerging from the subterranean chaos of Penn Station, we begin our two-day odyssey. Piles of old snow are melting, revealing a winter’s worth of grit, grime and garbage. Dirty water drips from scaffoldings and fire escapes above us, sometimes landing in our hair. The subway stations are a hideous cornucopia of acrid odors and filthy corners piled with discarded cigarette butts.

The housewife in me wants to spray the whole place with bleach and give it a good scrubbing. Anna, on the other hand, is mortified that I am a quintessential tourist, fiddling clumsily with my maps and subway diagrams, stopping every few blocks to mutter, “Now, which street is this?”

Despite her embarrassment, we manage to visit all the fashion design schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn in two days, using only a Metrocard, one $12 cab ride, and just under 42,000 Fitbit steps. After our last tour at Parson’s School of Design, Anna slumps over a chair in the admissions office, sore, tired, and overwhelmed with the realities of the big city college experience.

I thought I’d be relieved if Anna was disappointed with urban life, but my parental instinct to protect my daughter from danger is tempered by my need to support her dreams. “Hey, you want that apple now?” I offer, groping in my backpack. As I hand over the once flawlessly crisp Granny Smith, I see that it is now a mushy, oozing ball of bruises.

“Whaddya say we take a cab and go get chocolate shakes?” I say, tossing the fruit into the trash, “I know a great place on the upper East Side.” As we walk out into bustling Greenwich Village, I realize that, no matter where my daughter’s aspirations take her, she’ll always be the apple of my eye.

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Coffee Shop Office

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My inspirational view from the mezzanine at Starbucks.

Several days a week, I drop the kids at school, and head downtown to one of my secret haunts. No, it’s not a bingo hall or a betting room, and I haven’t drained our meager savings into a slot machine. It’s not a watering hole, and I don’t sit at a bar with a Jack-n-Coke and a pack of smokes. It’s not a local flea market, and I don’t have a penchant for collecting wagon-wheel lamps.

Truth be told, I go to coffee shops.

I’m a big fan of coffee, but I’m not there for the brew. Simply put, it’s the only place I seem to get any work done.

I became a freelance writer in 2010, while our Navy family was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. After 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom to our three kids, I was looking for work that was more stimulating than clearing the lint trap in the dryer. Freelance writing seemed the perfect solution, and I quickly committed to churning out weekly columns for a stateside newspaper.

Each morning, I’d walk the kids to school, then sit at our home computer for a few hours of writing. Sometimes, I’d tap away all day and forget to eat lunch, and if you could only see my paunch, you’d know how rarely this happens. But most days, I found it hard to focus.

Multitasking seemed mandatory, so I’d put a load of laundry in before sitting down to write. And while I was at it, I’d fill the dishwasher, defrost a roast, and vacuum, because I wouldn’t want those tasks nagging at me when I’m trying to concentrate. Inevitably, the dryer would buzz, and folding would occur in front of the television. I’d tell myself it’s time to get serious, but the closer my deadline loomed, the greater the chance that I’d spend the afternoon cleaning out the junk drawer.

I knew I needed an outside office, where I couldn’t convince myself that dusting the ceiling fan was more important than writing my column.

At our next duty station in Florida, I tried Starbucks in downtown San Marco. Other than the bone-chilling air conditioners and questionable bathrooms, I loved my new workspace. By the end of our two-year tour, I was spending entire days in my coffee shop office, taking a break mid-day to power-walk along the water or eat my packed lunch on a sunny park bench.

The only distraction was people watching, which ironically provided endless fodder for my writing. The Starbucks employees, riddled with piercings and tattoos, made me think deep thoughts about youth, and what I would do to my daughter if she ever came home with a bolt through her tongue. And the eclectic patrons, whose willingness to stand in long lines for overpriced coffee never ceased to fascinate me. There were caddy stroller moms, gruff construction workers, corporate types talking to hidden devices in their ears, and loners like me.

After PCSing to Rhode Island, I scoped out the Starbucks on Thames Street in Newport. Considering that there is a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru every half mile in New England, I knew the Starbucks would have an more eccentric crowd. Preppy yachtsmen whose boats are docked at the nearby wharf, throngs of cruise ship tourists wearing fanny packs, busy working stiffs ordering lattes to go, couples who argue in hushed tones, and others like me who eavesdrop.

In this little microcosm of society, I’ve formed relationships. There’s Kip the friendly retiree, who tries to convince me to do transcendental meditation. There’s Lori the working mom, who stops to chat before running to the office. There’s Tom the construction worker, who thinks I know more about football than I really do.

We are a family of sorts, and without knowing it, they support me in my endeavor to write, and I appreciate them for inspiring me with wacky ideas. For moms who work from home, procrastination can be a constant battle. I’ve found that coffee shops keep me on track. After all, a day at the office should always involve a good cup of coffee.

Fast Friends

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My true friend, Tina, who I met in the YMCA locker room while stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

What makes a true friend?

We could wax philosophic on the issue, carefully tempering real-life accounts with the well-researched results of valid clinical studies of human behavior and sociology.

Or, we could just Google it.

WikiHow.com has an impressive list of tips to help you decide whether your friend is true, and as an added bonus, each tip is accompanied by a delightfully gender-neutral cartoon illustration. According to the WikiHow authors — who I imagine in a dank sweatshop in the basement of some corporate high-rise, tapping away at long banks of dusty computer terminals — true friends give support, listen, don’t badmouth, stick to their word, have no secret agenda, and are super-fun to hang out with.

Just under the Stayfree ad, HuffingtonPost.com author Lindsay Holmes says that there are “11 Signs of Genuine Friendship”, and these include “being present” and “having our backs.” On PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Alex Lickman turns Japanese, submitting that true friendship is marked by a certain chemistry known in Japan as “kenzoku.” And on a chubby little site known as TinyBuddha.com, Lori Deschene offers an exhaustive list of the “25 Ways to Be a True Friend.”

Despite the fact that I spent a whole 27 minutes scanning Google, my scientifically inadequate research did not turn up one expert, author, blogger or internet wacko who mentioned the length of the relationship. As a military spouse, this is a relief, because if we were required to “be present” with a friend for a long period of time, military spouses wouldn’t have many friends at all.

Most military families move every two or three years. When we leave one duty station for another, we say good-bye to the friends we made there, keeping in touch through Holiday cards and social media. At our new duty stations, we slowly form new relationships. Our “friends” become those people in our immediate location — whether we live on base or on the economy — even though we have other long-term friends far away.

So, when we have a party, we need someone to pick us up from the auto mechanic, we need a name for the “emergency contact” on our kids’ school forms, or we’re just looking for someone to sit in the driveway and drink wine with, we call our “friends” in the local area.

When significant events (birth, illness, loss) happen in the lives of military families, the length of their relationships has no bearing on their friends’ desire to help out. For example, when I had an early miscarriage while stationed at JAC Molesworth in England, we were touched by the flowers, cards, condolences and phone calls from other military families we hardly knew. Similarly, while stationed at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, I signed up to make a meal for a new family who moved into base housing and just had a baby. I rang their doorbell on my assigned night and said, “Hi, you don’t know me. I’m Lisa, and I live down the street. I made you a Shepherd’s Pie … can I see the baby?”

Military life is unique, and our friendships differ from civilian culture in that camaraderie forms the basis of many of our relationships. We value unspoken trust and support among people working for a common cause, without regard to the length of the relationship.

So when your new civilian friend has a significant event in her life, she may think it’s a little odd when you show up with a lasagna, offer to drive her kids to school, and mop her kitchen floor. But do it anyway. You may have only met her two months ago in the preschool pick up line, but she is your friend and she needs help.

She’ll eventually understand that, even though military friends don’t always fit those internet checklists, they more than make up for any shortcomings in shared history with loyalty, sincerity and dedication.

And that, my friends, is a major “check in the box.”

Wary of War-weariness

 

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All I did was go to a movie, eat a jumbo tub of popcorn, and fall asleep watching TV. But I’m totally exhausted.

Not in the fatigued sense of the word, but exhausted as in spent, drained, tapped out from the endless barrage of negative news related to the military.

My Navy husband and I have been lazing around most evenings, staring like zombies into our television until peeling ourselves off the couch and wandering off to bed. During these marathons of nightly sloth, our metabolisms slow to a crawl, allowing maximum fat storage, and our breathing decreases to a rate symptomatic of clinical coma.

“Hey Hon, you wanna go to the movies tonight?” my husband called from work to suggest. Although the outing still involved sloth — and thanks to the theater snack bar, gluttony — we thought leaving the house earned us major points for effort.

We’d wanted to see “American Sniper” ever since its December release, and were even more intrigued by Navy Seal Chris Kyle since the media coverage of the murder trial surrounding his death at the hands of ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh.

The movie did not disappoint, but it certainly devastated. Watching the horrific portrayals of what our veterans have endured tapped into our deepest human sense of fear, morality and justice. I was too riveted to cry until the end, when real-life footage of hundreds of people and waving American flags lining Interstate 35 in Central Texas to watch Chris Kyle’s funeral procession had me blubbering like a baby.

Back at home, we resisted the urge to spend the remains of our evening on the couch, opting instead to channel surf in bed, which ironically lent itself to even more inertia. Pressing the clicker, I came upon the HBO documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.”

“Hey, that just won an Oscar,” my husband piped up from his pillow. According to the documentary that portrays the stresses on the staff at the VA’s only Crisis Hotline Center, over 22 veterans kill themselves every day, and in 2012 the number of active duty suicides surpassed US combat deaths. The responders are shown deftly fielding tense calls from veterans who want to hurt themselves or others. Many callers report flashbacks and insomnia. Some have weapons or have ingested pills. Some hold on until police arrive. Others hang up.

Photo courtesy of va.gov.

Photo courtesy of va.gov.

Drained from digesting so much popcorn and gut-wrenching reality, my husband snored that night like a hacksaw.

In the morning, we heard the news: “The jury rejected Eddie Ray Routh’s insanity defense, finding him guilty of two counts of murder.” Two years ago, Routh’s mother, knowing that Chris Kyle worked with struggling veterans, asked if he could help her son who had recently been diagnosed with PTSD. One week later, Routh shot and killed Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield at the rifle range where Kyle often took fellow vets.

It took the jury less than two hours to decide that, despite evidence that Routh suffered from mental illness, he did not meet the burden of proof for legal insanity. In the hours that followed the verdict, commentators, reporters, and the public debated whether justice was served.

Some recognized the complexity and irony of the case, and wondered whether Chris Kyle, who served his country with distinction as a Navy Seal sniper through four combat tours, would still be helping fellow veterans if Routh hadn’t slipped through cracks in the VA’s system. Whereas others went to simplified extremes: “Only in back-assward Texas would they convict the killer of a child-killer” and “I’d give Routh the chair two times over.”

Just as I was hoping to take a rest from all this disheartening news about our military veterans, my husband brought home a Stars and Stripes article by Travis Tritten. On February 25th, top enlisted leaders told Congress that our military is woefully unprepared for conflict because servicepersons are anxious about their uncertain future. The 24-hour cycle of war-weary news regarding further drastic defense cuts and constant threats to jobs, pay and benefits has taken its toll on morale and readiness.

As I contemplate what tragedies could befall the next generation of veterans, I realize that we can’t rest on war-weariness. We should get off our lazy duffs and do something to help those who served tirelessly. Volunteer. Make a call. Write a letter. Spread the word. Let our elected officials know that the United States military cannot defend this country without adequate support for servicepersons, their families, and our veterans.

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Please share the VA’s Crisis Hotline contact information: call 1-800-273-8255 Press1; text 838255; or confidential chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net.

Snow Day Slumber Party

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Yes, that would be my child wearing the snorkeling goggles….

At the time, I thought it was a good idea. At the time, I thought it would be fun. At the time, I thought it would make me look like Mother of the Year.

Yes, at the time.

My brain must’ve been frozen when I had the bright idea to allow our teenage daughters, Anna and Lilly, to invite friends to a “snow day slumber party,” because it didn’t exactly turn out as I had envisioned.

My husband picked up our excited daughters and their friends from school after early dismissal, while I was at home frantically vacuuming our base house in hopes that no one would notice that I haven’t dusted since Truman signed the Marshall Plan.

Upstairs, while sucking a dust bunny and a paper clip from a corner, I heard them.

The back door burst open with an uproar of giggles. Backpacks thunked on our government-issue-linoleum floor, and I heard the suction-breaking sound of our refrigerator door opening. Our daughters and their friends swarmed the house like marauding bees, buzzing with excitement from room to room, until finally settling in Lilly’s bedroom to post the first of many slumber party selfies and Snap Chats.

Instinct told me to hide in my room for the next two days, communicating with my husband via cell phone to bring me wine, Pringles and People magazines. But if I wanted these teenagers to think I was a cool mom, I knew I couldn’t cower in fear. I checked myself in the mirror (Okay, trendy sweater and some decent boots, at least I’m looking the part…), took deep breath (They’re teenagers, not blood-sucking zombies, right?), and entered the fray (Here goes nothing.)

Leaning nonchalantly on the door jam, I interrupted the group draped over Lilly’s bed. “Hey girls, how’s it going?” Sensing my pathetic need for recognition, Anna shot me an “Oh Brother”look, but her friends flashed genuine smiles. So far so good.

Later in the kitchen, I knew that a cool mom would create a Pinterest-worthy slumber party dinner like Euro-Asian fusion organic kebabs or something. However, the best I could muster was turkey noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Mercifully, the girls hailed the low-brow buffet as the “perfect blizzard meal” and my reputation was spared.

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Despite the fact that my mental stability depends heavily on my nightly couch time, my husband and I relinquished the entire first floor of the house to the giggling gaggle, so they could splatter brownie mix all over the kitchen, light popcorn bags on fire in the microwave, charge expensive movies on our Netflix account, and make more noise than a herd of stampeding Wildebeests.

The next morning, while silently suffering anxiety over making the perfect chocolate chip pancakes — Oh Lord, please don’t let me burn them this time – I noticed that our house had turned into a combat zone, strewn with dishes, socks, bendy straws, blankets, popcorn, sweatshirts, soda cans, cell phones, and lip gloss.

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Thankfully, the group went sledding after breakfast, giving me time to wash the dishes, tidy the house, and take a shower. Towel drying my hair in my bedroom, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I think Im a cool mom after all, I thought. Sipping my coffee, I reached out to separate the blinds, hoping to catch a heartwarming glimpse of the girls sledding in our snowy Currier and Ives base neighborhood.

“Oh, good God,” I sputtered, coffee shooting from my nose. Apparently, sledding is not thrilling enough. Apparently, it is more fun to jump off our garage into a snow bank. Apparently, this experience is even better if you film the stunts and upload clips to social media for all your friends — and, unfortunately, their parents — to see.

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Driving the girls home in our salt-splattered minivan that afternoon, I chuckled at myself for trying so hard to be a cool mom, and realized that I should just be thankful I was returning the girls home with no apparent injuries other than a few minor hot chocolate burns and a bit of sleep deprivation.

Despite it all, motherhood is truly rewarding, I thought while looking out at the winter wonderlandand then, I made a mental note to update our liability insurance.

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