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May 22, 2008

Milspouses: A Virtual Family Readiness Group

Mrs. G has a great post up about milspouse bloggers. Back in March when The Unit returned from a one year deployment to Iraq, I linked to a great post by Homefront Six. I loved her analogy about military wives piecing together our own "quilts" to keep ourselves cozy and supported. To me, that conveys just the right message. We are not helpless victims, nor are we children who need psychiatric help or government subsidies to make it through deployments. We were fully competent adults before we met our spouses and - mirabile dictu! - given half the chance, we find ways to overcome the challenges of long separations. Certainly, few of us do this successfully all by ourselves. Women (and most, though not all these days, milspouses are women) are social animals. But as HF6 notes, there are many ways to skin a cat:

Ideally, every spouse dealing with a deployment will have a wonderful FRG supporting them. Ideally. But that doesn't always happen. And sometimes, the FRG cannot meet all of the needs that a family may have during a deployment. It may just not be possible. The FRG cannot be all things to all people. Such is life.

We are a resourceful bunch, us military spouses. We bloom where we are planted. We make lemonade out of lemons. We kick deployment gremlin butt. We do it all. But we don't do it alone. We can't (loathe though I am to admit that).

So we quilt.

We piece together our support and make a "quilt", if you will, that surrounds us and keeps us warm. Some pieces can come from our neighbors and those that live around us. Some pieces can be found in church. Or at the gym. Or at a play group. Or at work. It's colorful. It's unique. The panels may change based on the circumstances under which it's needed.

And what do you do when you can't find a piece for that quilt? A certain fabric or thread? The same thing you don when you can't find anything in the stores near you...you call friends and family in other towns, other states, and other countries. Those long distance connections can often provide us with the pieces to the quilt that we lack. And when we can't find that piece that we need any other way? Where do we turn?

Yep. eBay.

All jokes aside, one of the best ways for military spouses to throw themselves a lifeline is through blogging. Military wives can be astonishingly inventive in a pinch. One friend, Andi Hurley, started SpouseBUZZ as a virtual support group for military spouses, be they male or female. And just to prove the old adage that it never pays to hang back thinking, "Oh, I'll never fit in...", one brave blogging SpouseBUZZer, Maintenance Toad, is unrepentantly male ! The Princess has met the man and he more than holds his own in an often estrogen-laced environment, adding a bracing dash of pepper to an already lively and fun group of writers.

And virtual support groups aren't just for milspouses, either.

Milparents have options on the Internet too. Inspired by the success of SpouseBUZZ, intrepid milspouse blogger Liberal Army Wife (or LAW, as she's more commonly known) teamed up with several other milbloggers to start The Parent Zone. As Carrie can attest, in many ways having a child deployed to a combat zone is more difficult than dealing with separation from your spouse. The Parent Zone offers parents of deployed military the opportunity to meet and talk with other parents, exchange information, ask questions, and most importantly share their experiences. Often this is the difference between feeling panicky and alone and being able to put temporary feelings of discomfort into their proper perspective. Talking with someone who is going through (or who has already been through) a deployment helps lighten the load.

I know! Midway through last year our dishwasher suddenly broke down. Imagine my surprise when, during an email conversation with Mrs. G, I learned that she knows all about fixing dishwashers! She was able to give me the gauge on possible causes and I never even had to call a repairman. Having your dishwasher break down might not sound like a big deal, but there are times during a deployment when it seems as though everything that can go wrong, happens at once.

That was one of those times. I had ants pouring into my house for no apparent reason (and I couldn't seem to get rid of the little buggers - I HATE ANTS!), my dishwasher broke, my telephone started making this odd buzzing noise and I was having daily migraines that made it almost impossible for me to sleep at night or think clearly. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to about a problem makes your whole world seem brighter.

I'm a big believe in helping people find their own solutions to life's challenges. I've never seen what good it does to encourage government to step into our lives with more intrusive programs. It seems better to me to encourage people to get creative and take advantage of all the amazing options that exist in today's world (and it's hard to deny that today's military spouses have far more options than we did 25 years ago when there was no Internet, no family readiness groups, when many if not most families only had one car - I know that I used to have to wake my babies up at 4:30 and drive my husband in to work if I wanted to have the use of a vehicle during the day). Today's milspouses are so much less isolated. There is cable TV, and most communities they live in have plentiful stores, libraries, and amusements. There are also volunteer opportunities in both the military and civilian communities for those with too much time on their hands.

At a party I attended recently, I met a woman who works as a docent for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. That's just one example of a great way to fill the empty hours (and meet people and learn something!) during a long deployment. There is no reason to sit at home and feel lonely or depressed these days simply because your husband or wife is deployed. So pick up that newspaper or get online and check out the amazing opportunities that are out there. Check out SpouseBUZZ, The Parents Zone, or one of the fine blogs over at Milblogs.

Because for a milspouse, home doesn't have to be a place you long for. If you choose to, you can carry it in your heart everywhere you go:

...for a military wife home can never be a place, really, or a time. Times change, and even the people we meet are often far less constant than they appear to be. But somehow, friends are a gleaming thread running through the hopelessly tangled skein of our lives. Pull on it, and everything suddenly slips into place effortlessly; all the snarled knots come untied. They know, without our having to tell them, certain things about us. We share, not everything – because no two people share everything – but the important things. A friend will be there to celebrate quietly with you those moments that mean something to you. And that can make all the difference, for then you carry home inside of you wherever you may roam.

Because home, you see, is the people you care about. A home is love.

Posted by Cassandra at May 22, 2008 06:22 AM

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Great post Cass. I've always been honored to be part of a club that consists of such strong women, some of the strongest I've ever met.

Now about that ant problem. Pray they aren't these. hopefully it's not related to the phone buzzing.

Posted by: Mrs G at May 22, 2008 01:19 PM

I've always loved that aspect of military life..the support we give to one another.
It isn't sympathy, it's empathy because we've all either been there, are there or going to be there soon.
The goal is just to get everyone to that finish line...be it homecoming from deployment, TDY, whatever....

Posted by: Carrie at May 22, 2008 02:25 PM

YES! You've captured it! "home is love" and "home is the people you care about" which is why home becomes those who share that waiting-time with you and who pitch in to help you do what needs to be done. Thanks for saying it so well!

Posted by: lela at May 22, 2008 04:45 PM

This was a wonderful post. The quilt analogy was and is one of my favourites. Now - how DID you get rid of the ants! can you believe, I get them up here, on the 3rd floor??

Thanks for the plug for Parentszone. We have had a wonderful response so far.


Posted by: liberal army wife at May 23, 2008 07:12 AM

I'm ashamed to say I brought out the tactical nukes on their little ant-like a**es. As I said, I hate ants.

I tried ant baits and my usual fallback (boric acid powder), because I really dislike pesticides. But nothing was working. I tried tracing their nests outside and pouring boiling water down the holes.

Finally after coming home from a weekend trip, I noticed that they were tunneling all underneath my flagstone walk out in front of my house and there was a HUGE hole they were going in and out of. So I went to Costco and bought this Ginormous thing of pesticide and poured that down the hole. I also had to spray both my doorsills where they were coming in repeatedly.

It took about 2 weeks for the last of the buggers to die off. I think there must have been about a gazillion of them out there. I think they were planning a march on Washington DC and I foiled it just in time. Seriously, I live in the woods, so I do try not to use poison but these things were just everywhere and there are limits to my tolerance.


We had ants when my kids were babies and we lived in Mississippi. You couldn't even leave a bottle of cough syrup out at night - I had to submerge it in a basin of water with a rock on top or my bathroom would be covered in ants by morning. That is no fun when you have 2 sick babies. So I just HATE ANTS. With_a_passion :p

I've tried chalk and cayenne pepper too (or grits - sometimes you can pour those around the anthill and they'll eat them and explode). But nothing worked this time.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 23, 2008 07:55 AM

Eat them and explode... you are a master tactician, Cass, in the war against ants. Will you be leading the charge in the areas of Biological and Nanotechnological warfare against Ants?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 23, 2008 08:43 PM

I conquered ants only to find cockroaches.
As clean as I am, and as organized as I try to be, occasionally one gets past the boric acid line in the sand.

They are not invincible. They get crunched.
I get satisfaction. Life is good.

Posted by: Cricket at May 26, 2008 09:37 AM