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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Parenting and the Military

My husband was recently reflecting on how much he has and is going to continue to miss until he retires. I imagine that has got to be extremely hard on him. Since I didn't have my children until long after I left the service, I cannot really relate. All I know is the craziness of playing mom and dad while my love is deployed. I'm the one who is up in the middle of the night nursing sick children and cleaning up dishes at the end of a long day. I'm the one who gets frustrated dealing with Tricare bills and reps after an ER visit that may or may not be approved from a middle of the night visit. I'm the one who juggles the bills and wrangles with small people who would rather jump off the bunk bed then take a nap.

I have had my share (and then some) of parenting frustrations. Honestly, I don't know how some single parents do it. I guess though, I could be called a single mom from time to time. Though, when I'm down in the dumps and ready to hang it all up and change positions with my husband, I remember what I would be missing. Sure, I wouldn't have to do all of the above all by myself. I wouldn't have to change diapers or wipe bottoms or clean up spilled milk. I don't think I'd really trade it all though. Because for all that I get a bunch of great stuff too. My husband misses a lot of great stuff and for that my heart breaks.

I have enjoyed first steps, first words, birthday parties, dance classes, trips to the beach and the first words read. He received pictures.

I have been there when my oldest made her first friend. He got to hear about it over the phone.

I celebrated the Baptism of one of our children with my friends and family. My husband only knows this momentous occasion through a photo album.

I hear the stories they tell me and dreams and hopes for the future. Daddy misses out sometimes.

I am there when they are missing him and wanting to be held by him. I can't always fix that. I can't bring him home, and it brings me to tears. I can't even tell him all the time because as sweet as it is, I feel it's better for me to wait until he's home to share that stuff.

Parenting in this life is not always easy. The grass isn't greener on the other side. One parent is often envious of the other. One parent is always wanting something else. One parent is usually missing the other. One parent cannot do the amazing things that the two of them can do together. One parent can run the house and raise the kids, but it's when mom and dad are under one roof and enjoying the little moments that the house is a home and the people in it are a whole family again.

While I know this doesn't reflect everyone's situation, it's true for us and I know that my husband has been struggling with this concept for some time. He wants all the happiness in the world for our children. Even though, we are accustomed to it and do just fine apart, because of the children getting older and more attached to dad, the prospect of being gone for awhile again is a little scary for all of us.

Thanks for letting me share an honest moment with you all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tax Relief, the HEART Act, Education and Pay Raises...

Is tax relief on the horizon for military families and veterans? What other big changes may be coming our way?

Earlier this week, "the House passed $1.3 billion in tax relief for military families facing significant financial hardships due to extended deployments. The bill represents a robust effort to reduce the tax burden on military families -- including helping more military families to access the Earned Income Tax Credit, offering small businesses a tax incentive to pay their National Guard and Reserve employees called up for active duty, making thousands of veterans eligible for low-interest home loans and ensuring that more military families are able to receive Recovery Rebates" (Office of the Speaker of the House, May 20, 2008).

So, what is the HEART Act?

Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008

To read what was originally introduced to the House: H.R.6081

Some key aspects (there are others not listed here) that are addressed you may be interested in are:
  • Information on Recovery Rebate for Military Families;

  • A piece concerning combat pay being possibly included as earned income in regards to the earned income tax credit;

  • Mortgage revenue bond changes for vets;

  • Survivor and Disability Payments;

  • Wages and differential military pay;

  • Retirement plan distributions for persons called to AD;

  • Roth IRA and Educational savings contributions from military death gratuities;

  • Employer wage credit for those employees called to AD;

  • Qualified military benefits and how they relate to state payments to miltary personnel...
and much more.

It was updated as "Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by House" and that can be read here: )[H.R.6081.EH]

Did I read that there may be changes in education benefits?

Apparently, there is a 21st Century GI Education bill in the works. This might immediately sound appealing to the troops and soon-to-be veterans, but is it a good idea?

According to IDS Staff Editorial, Indiana Daily Student (May 18, 2008) that I read on CBS, "There are several major differences between the new bill and the WWII GI Bill that are crucial to the success of and impact on military operations. Most importantly, the original bill was passed after the war was over and troops had returned home. It was intended to deal with an onslaught of young men in the labor force and keep the economy afloat in order to circumvent another 1930s-style economic decline. Finally, it was meant to reward those who had lost economic opportunities while serving, many due to conscription. By ignoring these specificities, the new bill will not have the same positive impact." Okay, that all makes sense and most of us knew that, but what does this have to do with the 21st Century GI Bill?

IDS (2008) went on to explain that, "While almost everyone agrees that we as Americans are forever indebted to our veterans and that they are certainly deserving of generous benefits, a bill that does this at the cost of bringing our military to its knees is simply not worthwhile. Regardless of opinion on our country's current military engagements, bleeding the armed forces to death in the name of veteran benefits is not the way to solve the debate."

IDS (2008) alleges that critics have said the bill fails in that it puts a significant strain on the Armed Forces. Critics are said to assume that "those who have served their 36 months might take off to pursue their degree. While recruiting would be improved because of the benefits, retention would likely plummet, and the cost of training new recruits would be significant. Some even suspect that this bill is an underhanded attempt to end the war in Iraq by overextending the military's budget to the point where it cannot continue to fight overseas. Webb failed to deny this consequence, simply stating that the bill will help soldiers transition to civilian life and benefit those who do not wish to make a career in the military. While individual soldiers would benefit, Americas armed forces would ultimately be impaired" (IDS, 2008).

I did see talk in other places as well that improving the GI Bill might adversely affect retention rates. In particular, Rick Maze of the Army Times wrote an article on this very subject earlier this month: CBO: Better GI Bill would cut retention 16% (Maze, May 8, 2008).

Pay Raise?

You may have already seen talk about a pay raise expected for next year. I know I have. People get excited, but with this year's pay raise debacle, I wouldn't be getting your hopes up. That's not to say that a pay raise won't be proposed and approved. Rather, it goes back to what your mom might have told you about waiting until your chickens hatch. ;)

So, there seems to be a lot going in D.C. these days in terms of service members, their families and veterans. Keep your eyes open. It's going to be an interesting year.

Pomp and Circumstance

Excuse the cross-post, but I figured I'd share here as well. I posted the article this morning on "My Crazy Amazing Military Life", to read more over there, click here: YES HERE

‘Tis the season for graduations. Well, this past weekend, I finally walked in my cap and gown. I completed my graduate program last fall and already received my Masters degree in the mail, but I hadn’t walked yet. It’s a little odd because while I finished the program in 2007, I’m considered part of the Class of 2008. Ah, heck, I’ll take it. :) It was an exciting occasion, and I was delighted to have my husband home to share it with me.

I commenced my studies back in the Spring of 2006 because I had an interest in one course the program was offering. It was “Terrorism”. Right up my alley, I thought. I dabbled in the subject when I was active duty and study the obligatory “Terrorism Awareness for Marines” as part of my path for advancement. Still, I couldn’t justify signing up for just one graduate level course so I opted to apply for the entire degree program.

Along the way, I studied White Collar Crime, Forensic Behavioral Analysis, Victimology and many other enthralling subjects. Many of my classmates were police officers, justice system employees as well as military personnel and veterans. It wasn’t an easy program, but the knowledge I gained and bonds I developed with my classmates were worth the struggles.

My husband has been telling everyone. He’s so proud. I’ll admit, he wasn’t always 100% behind me on this. He figured a Bachelors was sufficient and more than most people had attained in their lifetime. I told him, I’m not most people. He argued it would be expensive. Yes, but it’s an investment and it’s not something I’ll ever lose. He even said I already was employable and had a portable career. Right again, but this was I made up my mind on. (Truth be told, I love being a student).

I have always wanted to work within the Federal Government and after doing research in fields that interest me, I knew that this degree program would give me a leg up on some of the competition in my field. Now, that it’s all said and done, he’s glad I went through with it. He cringes everytime I utter the letters “PhD” though. Alright, so that may be many, many years down the road, but a girl can dream can’t she?

So, ladies, if you are thinking of going back to school, get out there and get your education on. You can do it! If I can do it while juggling kids, a job and a fluctuating deployment schedule, so can you.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mission: A Night Out (without children)

The mission: a night out.

The strategy: secure a reliable sitter (which is harder than most people think).

Mission accomplished: my man and I actually enjoyed a lovely evening out together, without children. It was the first time in, well, forever actually.

Good friends, great entertainment and awesome food made for a memorable evening we won’t soon forget. Though, I found myself thinking of the kids on and off all evening. Were they behaving? Did they eat their dinner? Were they missing us? Did they get to bed at a decent hour? I actually (really, really) missed the little boogers. I know—I have to get over the mommy guilt. Time and again I say this and people advise it. Still, I don’t know whether its because I’m with them practically 24/7 or if it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to having to pass on evenings out because of sitter cancellations in the past, but it’s difficult for me to not to think about them when we’re apart. I don’t ever feel out of mommy-mode.

People who’ve known me since I was young will likely be surprised by that. Heck, I used to travel alone, dine along, and go the movies alone, without a care in the world. I was never responsible for or to anyone until our first baby came along. I valued my “me” time. I took full advantage of my freedom. I thought I would always have freedom in this sense. I was in denial when I coaxed my husband into trying to get pregnant the first time. I felt ready for a baby. I told him we could still travel and have fun and it would be no problem with a baby. Well, it wasn’t, but you add two more babies to the mix and things get pricey and children get whiny and antsy and sometimes going out with everyone is more of a hassle than it’s worth. Don’t get me wrong, the zoo trips and circus visits are a blast. Still, you can’t enjoy a nice meal out at a fine-dining establishment while you are juggling sippy cups, chasing a toddler and convincing a picky preschooler to eat her food. It’s just not right. It’s not fair to the other diners and frankly it’s really expensive to feed those 3 extra mouths. *sigh* I digress.

This weekend was such a great time and allowed me that few hours to rejuvenate and reconnect with my friends and husband. I had forgotten how wonderful dinner and show could be and how it brings peace to the soul. Laughter truly is the best medicine. It cures whatever ails you. For me, as of late, it’s been stress with crazy family schedules, deadlines for various things, mountains of laundry and piles of dishes. Rejuvenated, I feel ready to take on my role at home again with a new zest. Don’t get me wrong, cleaning the bathroom still doesn’t look inviting.

So, if you are reading this, and haven’t done so lately, make sure to make sometime for you. Get out of the house; go out for the evening with your beloved. Have a blast and make it a night to remember because we all (moms especially) know how far and few between those nights can be.

Be good to yourself.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sleeping - Then and Now

Once, long ago, during a field exercise I participated in, combat instructors played the "enemy" and sought to "attack" my platoon. It was exciting, it was my first real experience practicing things I had learned as far as strategies and tactics in the field. We were all relatively young, so the shifts which we were to take to sleep seemed doable. I had the first watch that night.

Laying in the dusk in shallow foxhole, my chin propped, hands on my weapon at the ready, and my eyes scanning the horizon. Of course, it was muddied with trees and foliage so the horizon wasn't much. My ears alert for any sound. Members of my platoon lay sleeping in their foxholes on either side of me. I had it covered. I stood watch for roughly 4 hours. I never knew how boring that could be. I just wanted to move. I didn't know if I was cut out for this. Nonetheless, my watch was up, so I awoke the folks on my sides and alerted them it was their turn. One woke with a burst of energy asking for a recount of what took place the hours before. The other, well she just sort of lay there lifeless. She had no ambition. Still, she took her post, awake and assured me she "had this". I double and triple-checked. Yes, yes, go to sleep. Okay, then.

At this point, the air was much cooler, the night heavy. Everything around us black save for a tower's blinking light in the distance. About an hour later, after I fell into a deep sleep, I awoke. You know how when you can feel someone staring at you?

Screaming in sheer terror (hardly stealth was I), I was scared out of my mind. Sitting part on my hip and part out of my foxhole was a man. Not any man, but a face of a skeleton, painted white with black and red markings. He was small but wore this evil grin as if to say There's no escaping now. I screamed and screamed (yes, a high-pitched girly one).

He just sat there.

It took me what felt like an eternity to realize where I was and who this guy was. He was a combat instructor. At one point, I finally said, Oh, sh$t. I'm "dead" now right? He laughed and drew an X on my neck with a black marker to indicate he "killed" me. I felt like a fool. I had slept through this man sneaking up on me and so had my backup. She was snoring away, gee thanks I thought.

Fast forward to modern day. I can't sleep through anything. A child snores, I hear it. Someone gets up to use the bathroom, I hear that too. One of my children talks in their sleep, you guessed it, I hear it. Sometimes I even strain to hear what is being said. It's quite funny actually.

The moral here? Well, apparently once you become a parent a restful night ceases to exist. That's the case for me anyway. I'm always vigilant of what's going on in my house. I hear the dog many rooms away, running in her sleep. I hear my husband's breathing beside me, and even in another room, someone tossing and turning in their crib. I've been known to rush into a child's room as they are about to roll off a bed just to save them from crashing to the floor. My husband always ask how I knew it was going to happen. I just had a sense, I guess.

Apparently, I should waited to join the service until I was a mother, then I would have heard every crack and snap of the branches in the field that night. I would have told that combat instructor to back away from me with one eye open and one eye closed and not even had to move an inch. Maybe, I would have been able to employ my heightened mommy awareness. Maybe, I would have been able to use the eyes in the back of my head. Then again, I don't know if I could torn myself away from my children for an exercise like that. Something about lullabies and lavender at a nighttime bath are much more appealing to me now then dirt, camo paint and the faint smell of sulfur in the night air.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Name Calling

Now, I will admit, I've been called some interesting things in the past. Ignorant and foolish men have had some inappropriate and colorful names for military women. You may even know a few. I shrugged them off. I figured why stoop to that level, right?

As a civilian, people have called me much nicer names, my favorite - veteran! Somehow that impresses folks. Truly, I'm no hero. I'm just happy to be among the ranks of many other great servicewomen and servicemen.

In all my days, I never thought I'd be called names by my children. No, no, they aren't horrible little brats. They think they are funny. Apparently, I need to give them a lesson in humor.

Here's the story. You know how you feel like you are constantly cleaning up after someone, sweeping the floor, paying the bills, changing a diaper, fixing a meal, etc.? Heck, I felt like that even when I was gainfully employed outside of the home. At any rate, you likely know the feeling if you are a parent. It can be downright frustrating. You almost find yourself dreaming of a great big "thank you" spa gift certificate to drop into your hands at your tiredest moment. It doesn't, but you still dream.

The other day, while running back and forth from lunch on the back deck and clearing things into the kitchen, my eldest beckons, me.....

Oh waiter!

Oh, yes, she did. My jaw dropped. I half laughed and half fumed for a moment. My husband laughed at me when I regaled him with this story later that night. He stopped laughing when he was going to tuck the kids into bed and a child called to him: Hey, big guy.

Yes, yes, my children need a lesson in respect this week.

You can stop chuckling now. I imagine you have a similar story. Come on, spill it.